Life-Study of 2 Corinthiansby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In 12:19 Paul says, “All this time you are thinking that we are defending ourselves to you. Before God, in Christ we speak; but all things, beloved, are for your building up.” Along with the Corinthians, we may think that in these chapters Paul is defending himself. The title of this group of messages even speaks of Paul’s vindication of his apostolic authority. Apparently in these chapters Paul is vindicating himself; actually, he is neither vindicating himself nor defending himself.
In this verse Paul says that he speaks before God and in Christ. “In Christ” denotes the life by which the apostles speak; it refers to the means and substance of their speaking. “Before God” denotes the atmosphere in which the apostles speak; it refers to the sphere of their speaking.
It may seem that Paul is not consistent. In 11:17 he says that he speaks not according to the Lord, but as in foolishness. Now he says that he speaks before God in Christ. I do not think Paul would defend himself against the charge of being inconsistent. Either we understand him or we do not. Paul knew what he was doing and what he was saying. Today we also are accused of being inconsistent and contradictory.
Consider Paul’s situation in 2 Corinthians. When he was speaking as it were in foolishness, he said that he did not speak according to the Lord. In other words, Paul was saying that his foolishness, and not the Lord, was the motivation of his speaking. But in 12:19 he says that he speaks in Christ, by Christ as his life. He also says that he speaks before God, that is, in God as the sphere of his speaking. Here Paul seems to be saying, “I am not defending myself. Rather, I am speaking by Christ as my life and before God as my atmosphere. Furthermore, I speak for the sake of your building up. All things, beloved, are not for our vindication, but are for your building up. I would like to spend and be spent utterly for you. I don’t care to defend myself. I care for you and for your building up. This is the focus of my concern. I am not trying to convince you to receive me as an apostle. My concern is that you be built up. As long as you are built up, I will be satisfied. I am willing to give anything for this.”
Verse 20 says, “For I fear, that perhaps when I come, I may find you not such as I wish, and I may be found by you not such as you wish: that perhaps there may be strife, jealousy, angers, rivalries, backbitings, whisperings, puffings up, disorders.” Paul’s desire for the Corinthians was that they would be in Christ, live Christ, and be built up as the Body. However, Paul was concerned that when he came to them, he would find them not such as he wished. Moreover, he realized that the Corinthians might find him not such as they wished, for it might be necessary for Paul to be bold toward them and to discipline them. Hence, it would seem that he was not tender or loving.
In verse 20 Paul mentions strife, jealousy, angers, rivalries, backbitings, whisperings, puffings up, disorders. All these are characteristics of people living in the flesh for their own interests. The Greek word rendered strife also means debate, contention, quarrel. Likewise, the word for backbitings means detractions or evil speakings, and that for whisperings means secret slanders. By “puffings up” Paul means inflated arrogance. In Greek the word is a kindred word to “puffed up” in 1 Corinthians 4:6. The word for disorders may also be rendered disturbances.
In this verse Paul is saying to the Corinthians, “If you are such persons, I will be put to shame when I come to you again. I have been serving you and ministering to you. I have already written one epistle to you. If I find that you are full of strife, jealousy, angers, rivalries, backbitings, whisperings, puffings up, and disorders, I will be put to shame. God would humble me, and I would have to ask Him for mercy because of the pitiful result of my ministry. It would surely be a shame to me if these things are still among you when I come.”
In verse 21 Paul continues, “Lest when I come again my God should humble me in regard to you, and I shall mourn over many who have sinned before and are not repenting of the uncleanness and fornication and debauchery which they practiced.” In this verse there is no doctrine or theology. What we have in this portion of 2 Corinthians is something related to the practice of the church life. Many of today’s Christians do not pay attention to these chapters, because they do not feel the need for them. The reason they do not sense a need is that they do not have the church life. But these chapters are needed by those in the practical church life. We thank the Lord that, under His mercy, we do know our need for these chapters. To be conscious of our need is a sign that we are under the Lord’s mercy.
In verses 20 and 21 Paul mentions eleven negative things: strife, jealousy, angers, rivalries, backbitings, whisperings, puffings up, disorders, uncleanness, fornication, and debauchery. Some may wonder how it is possible for such things to be found in the church life. Oh, we need to wake up and not have a dream concerning these matters. Furthermore, we need to consider our own situation. With you is there ever any backbiting or criticizing? Perhaps when a certain person stands up in the meeting, you may say quietly to yourself, “There he is again.” Is this not a kind of whispering? Do you have any strife or jealousy, any anger or rivalry? Can you say that in the church life you have not been in rivalry with others? The items mentioned in verse 20 may be somewhat polite sins rather than gross sins. Those who are more cultured will criticize others behind their backs. Those who are cultured and refined do not criticize others in a crude way. Instead, they may whisper about them and backbite. Furthermore, we need to check whether or not we are puffed up. Inwardly we may have a puffed-up spirit, and we may display this outwardly in our attitude. Even though you may be educated, refined, and cultured, you cannot hide your arrogant attitude. Along with the more refined sins in verse 20, Paul names three gross sins in verse 21. It is possible for all these sinful things to creep into the church life. This was the reason Paul said that he feared coming to Corinth and seeing such things still present among the believers. That would have been a shame to him and to his ministry.
Chapter twelve of 2 Corinthians has no ending. With the kind of practical speaking we have here, it is difficult to have a conclusion. The matter is left open for further consideration. Hence, in chapter twelve Paul does not give a concluding word.
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