Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

February 8, 2015

Tom Lowe

 

The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians

                   

            IV.    Authority of Paul’s Ministry. (10:1–13:10).                         

                       C.    The Credentials of the Apostle. (12:11–18).                                                     

Lesson IV.C.3:His Behavior as an Apostle. (12:14–18)                           

 

 

 

 

2nd Corinthians 12:14-18; NKJV

 

14 Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.

15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, less I am loved.

16 But be that as it may, I did not burden you. Nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you by cunning!

17 Did I take advantage of you by any of those whom I sent to you?

18 I urged Titus, and sent our brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? Did we not walk in the same steps?

 

 

Introduction

 

As Paul approaches the end of this letter to the Corinthians, the apostle prepares the way for his third visit: “I am ready to come to you” (12:14).  To this end he expresses the nature of his future conduct, which will be in line with the basic principles of his ministry among them (12:14-18).  He explains why he declined to accept support from them—his motive had been misunderstood or misrepresented.  The sins of the Corinthian church must be set right and the falseness of allegations against him exposed.  Far from seeking peace at any price, Paul is determined to see that all these wrongs are corrected.  But ironically it will be through his own weakness, for that is how Christ’s power is demonstrated.  But he is apprehensive as to the moral and spiritual condition in which he will find them (12:19-21).  They may be certain that he will be as firm in his discipline as their situation demands (13:1-10).

 

 

Commentary

 

14a Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you.NIV

 

Paul had founded the church in Corinth on his first visit there (Acts 18:1-18).  That second visit was the painful visit (2:1) which followed the writing of 1 Corinthians.  At that time, he had warned those who were persistent in sinning to repent of their sin (2:1; 13:2).  It was probably a short one (1 Corinthians 16:7), and involved much humiliation due to the scandalous conduct of some of his converts (see 21 and 2:1).  It was probably made during his three year stopover at Ephesus, from where he could pass so easily by sea to Corinth (see 1:15, 16; 13:1, 2).  After this visit, he had abandoned plans for another visit and had instead written a “stern letter,” warning the Corinthian congregation that it was the churches responsibility to punish the wrongdoer (2:1-4; 7:8-13).  Now he was planning to visit them again (the third visit).  Instead of being grateful, the Corinthians criticized Paul for changing his plans. There were terrible sins in the church, and Paul wanted them judged and put away before he came for his visit.  Otherwise, his visit would just be another painful experience.  Sin in the church is like cancer in the human body; it must be cut out.  If you will compare the sins existing in the Corinthian church (sins of the spirit as well as sins of the flesh) with 1 Corinthians 13, you will see that there was a lack of love in the congregation.  Paul had dealt with these sins in 1 Corinthians 5-6, but some of the offenders had persisted in their disobedience.  They were permitting their old life to take over again (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), instead of living the new life.

 

As always, when he was with them he will “not be burdensome.”  Even though Paul had been misunderstood on this point before (11:7-12), his principles stand firm.  There are two reasons.  First, his demand of them is far greater than money: “for I do not seek yours, but you.” He continually asked of them the best they have to give—themselves, so that he might present them to Christ as a “chaste virgin” (11:2), an acceptable offering of his ministry to God (Romans 12:1; 15:16).  He does not intend to enlist people for what they can give, or for any external advantage which he or his church may gain from them.  It is their very souls he hopes to win for Christ and the kingdom.  Oh listen to this man, dear reader.  He says, “I was not after what you had, I was after you; I wanted to win you for Christ.” I can imagine Paul setting at a small table as he wrote this and the tears he shed because he loved them so much.

 

It must have greatly irritated the Corinthians that Paul would accept nothing from them, for again and again he returns to that charge.  Here he lays down once more one of the supreme principles of Christian giving.  “It is not your money I want,” he says, “It is you.” The giving which does not give itself is always a poor thing. There are debts that we can discharge by paying money, but there are others in which money is the least of it.  So, Paul explained that, as on previous visits, he didn’t want to be paid or fed.  The Corinthian church was too divided; accusations might result from him accepting any money from them.  Paul didn’t want their possessions anyway; rather, he wanted their allegiance and friendship.

 

The question of money must have been a touchy one (as always!) in Paul’s relation to the church at Corinth.  It played a significant role in chapters 11 and 12 and now he returns to it.  Paul insists that he will not change his method of operation at this point.

 

The second reason that Paul gave for standing firm in his principles concerning money is illustrated in the final part of verse 14.

 

 

14b For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.NIV

15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved.NIV

 

“For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children,” is simply a statement of life as we know it.  It is the normal duty of “parents” to provide for their little “children,” rather than the other way around.  One does not expect little children to put money aside for their parents’ future.  It is the parents who work hard and diligently to see that the children have food and clothing.  The children ordinarily do not take this much care of the parents.  So Paul is saying he would like to be permitted to act as a parent to them.  The apostle makes use of this analogy only as an illustration of why he does not take advantage of his right as a minister of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:6-12b).  He does not mean by this that grown children have no obligation toward their elderly parents when they are in need (Mark 7:10-13), but that it is natural for parents to bring up a family in the spirit of unselfish giving and not ask for financial reward or support.  Paul had been the Corinthians’ spiritual parent.  As their father, he had promised his spiritual children—the Corinthians—as a pure bride to Christ (see the 11:2).  But Paul was concerned: Were the Corinthians abandoning their devotion to Christ (11:2-3)?  These doubts were the reason for much of his stern admonishment in this letter (10:1-7; 11:3-4, 16-21; 12: 20-21; 13:2, 5).

 

As a “parent” naturally loves his or her child, so Paul loved the Corinthians.  As their spiritual father, he wasn’t going to ask for money on this visit.  Paul, like a father, would gladly spend himself on them.  Fathers in the first century were expected to support their children, saving money and possessions as an inheritance for their sons or a dowry for their daughters.  The fact that he refused financial support wasn’t a sign of his rejection of the Corinthians but a sign of his great affection for them (see also 11:11).  Paul was willing to go beyond storing money for them; he was willing to spend himself—to completely exhaust his finances, time, and energy—on them.  Paul’s love for them was more than a parental love, it was a self-sacrificial love.

 

The true parent does not think of his own future security, but of the needs of his children.  He does not look for material returns, or even for gratitude.  The real satisfactions of life are in what we are able to do for others.  Love which “seeketh not its own” will often produce the results which positive love seeks in vain.  This selfless love is Paul’s motivating power.  After expressing his love for the Corinthians, Paul asked what any parent would ask his or her children: “Will you love me after I have spent all my life loving you?”

 

For the Corinthians the apostle is willing to go beyond mere obligation: “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (15).  The “I” is emphatic.  His time, money, and strength are freely theirs, even at the possible impoverishment of his own health and years.  The words “very gladly spend and be spent for your souls, is an indication of how willing he is to work for their spiritual good.  The words “very gladly” and “spend and be spent” express the eager readiness to do whatever will help the Corinthians, no matter what it costs him.  “Spend” refers to Paul’s manual labor to support himself, his faithful ministry, and the hardships he has to endure to carry on his work.

 

Paul’s statement, “the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved,” expresses his current sad relationship with the Corinthians, and answers the question in 2 Corinthians 11:11 [“Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!], and indicates how unnatural it would be for the Corinthians to respond with a decreasing love for the apostle’s increasing manifestation of his affection for them.  He loved them more abundantly than the false teachers who were in their midst did, yet he was loved less by them.  But that did not make any difference.  Even if he had no hope of them returning his love, he would keep on loving them.  In this he was truly following the Lord.  Why did they withhold their love from Paul?  Because they did not have a sincere love for Christ—“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).

 

 

 

16 But be that as it may, I did not burden you. Nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you by cunning!NLT

17 Did I take advantage of you by any of those whom I sent to you?NLT

 

In verses 16-18 Paul denies the charge that in money matters he had been dishonest (11:20; 1 Corinthians 16:2-4), which shows that he had realized the danger of such suspicion, and was trying to avoid it.  He may have anticipated such an insinuation by the Corinthians and refuted it: “But be that as it may, I did not burden you. Nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you by cunning! (14)

 

Paul has been speaking in the sight and hearing of God.  He has no need to argue his case before the Corinthians; he stands at God’s bar of judgment, and what he has said has been said out of his consciousness of union with Christ.  It is what God thinks of him that matters.  Then why speak at all?  He has done it for the sake of helping them, of restoring the broken relationship, of getting rid of the poison that has been infecting their minds and disintegrating the Christian fellowship.

 

Paul’s boast that he had never accepted any money from the Corinthians was a direct challenge to the false teachers.  Ever since they had arrived in Corinth, they had tried to find ways to extort more money from the church (2:17; 11:7-12).  The false teachers had to discredit Paul in some way, and they had done so by casting doubt on the collection for the destitute Jerusalem Christians (see 8:1-9:15).  “Was this Paul’s devious way of collecting even more money for himself?” “Would he dip his hand into the pot once it was all collected?” According to them, the Jerusalem collection was Paul’s way of taking advantage of them.

 

From the start, however, Paul had guarded against such accusations.  The Corinthians had proposed the collection in the first place (8:10).  At the time, Paul had told them to set aside money every Sunday while he was gone.  Also, Paul would have nothing to do with collecting the money.  Moreover, he wouldn’t even deliver the collection to Jerusalem (see 1 Corinthians 16:1-3).  Paul wasn’t going to have any contact with the money.

 

Finally, Paul asks the Corinthians a legitimate question: How could he trick them out of their money?  Paul assumes that they might concede the fact that he did not “burden” them: “Very well, you will say; granted that I did not live at your expense, but that I used my cunning, so that I might trap you all the more craftily.” The charge whispered by his opponents was that the apostle’s apparent sacrifice for them was just another trick of his fox-like nature to deceive them.  What he had refused in person he had pocketed through his agents whom he put in charge of the collection for Jerusalem.  He had not really been out anything.  The only “trick” Paul had played on them was his refusal to receive financial support.  In this, he disarmed them so that they could never accuse him of being interested only in money.  The apostle didn’t use clever methods; he preached the Word of God in its simplest form.  He didn’t send other men along after him to take up offerings for his support.

 

But who were the “crafty” ones (11:2-4, 13, 15)?  The Judaizers had used crafty methods in order to exploit the church (see 2 Corinthians 4:2), but Paul had been open and without deceit. These self-seeking intruders at Corinth would no doubt have liked nothing better than to get their own hands on the offering.  But instead they had been put in an embarrassing light by Paul’s refusal to accept personal support, so they’ve resorted to crafty lies to undermine the confidence of the Corinthians in his apostolic authority.

 

These suspicions, trumped up against the apostle by his opponents, he answers with a series of four questions (17-18).  The basic issue, bluntly put, is “Who, of the men I have sent to you, was used by me to defraud you?” (17). It is supported by a second, “Did “Titus” take advantage of you? (18). These first two questions have an implied “no” as the answer.  One commentator writes “These questions are quite ludicrous.” The Corinthians have to admit when pressed that Titus and the brother[1] whom Paul had sent with him had conducted themselves with an unquestionable integrity when they came to initiate the collection.

 

Paul next assumed complete responsibility for the collection and united his integrity with that of his emissaries.

 

18 I urged Titus, and sent our brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? Did we not walk in the same steps?NRSV

 

“I urged Titus,” probably means I urged Titus to visit you.  Titus went more than once to Corinth.  He seems to have gone there to start the collection, perhaps even before Paul wrote 1 Corinthians (8:6).  Paul had given Titus the difficult job of delivering the “severe letter” to the Corinthians (see 7:7-9).  Titus had accepted the challenge and had done a masterful job of exhorting the Corinthians and smoothing over their relationship with Paul (7:7). He will return later to lead in completing the collection (8:6, 16-24).  The visit meant here is perhaps the first one, when the collection was started. The questions asked indicate that Titus is above reproach, and that the Corinthians have seen in him a quality of spirit and action fully in harmony with the unselfish and devoted service of Paul to them.  Titus had earned the respect of the Corinthians (7:13-16).  It appears from this passage that Titus worked for his living by engaging in some secular occupation.  That is suggested by the questions, “Did we not walk in the same spirit?  Did we not walk in the same steps?” In other words, both Titus and Paul followed the same policy of working so that they would not have to be supported by the Corinthians.

 

It seems that the Corinthians had one last charge against Paul.  They could not say that he had ever taken any advantage of them; but they seem to have hinted that quite possibly some of the money collected for the poor of Jerusalem had stuck to the fingers of Titus and of Paul’s other emissary and that Paul had got his share that way.  The really malicious mind will stop at nothing to find a ground for criticism. Paul’s loyalty to his friends leaps to defend them.  It is not always safe to be the friend of a great man; it is easy to become involved in his troubles.  Happy is the man who has supporters whom he can trust as he would trust his own soul. Paul had followers like that. Christ needs them too.

 

Since the Corinthians had admired Titus, Paul reminded them that Titus was functioning as his representative.  As the one sent, so is the one who sent.  Have they not acted “in the same spirit?” have they not taken “the same steps?” This final pair of questions indicate that Paul expected a “yes” answer.  If they had found nothing wrong with Titus’s conduct, how could they find anything wrong with him, the very person Titus was representing?  Titus had learned what steps to take from Paul.  How could Paul’s own steps be any different?  Both Paul and his messengers were blameless in their motives and actions.  The suspicions of the Corinthians are in contradiction to what their own eyes have seen.

 

The apostle is able to hold to and successfully defend the basic principle of his ministry among them in relation to money because (1) his motive is simply and sincerely the sacrifice of himself for others; and (2) his handling of the delicate matter of the collection is able to pass the test of open inspection.

 

This appeal would have been even more persuasive because Titus himself was delivering the epistle known as 2 Corinthians.  His impeccable behavior among them would be a continual rebuttal to the gossip of those who were discrediting Paul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] This “brother” was probably well known to the Corinthians, and perhaps a Corinthian; probably one of the two mentioned in 8:18, 22.

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