Reflections In 2 Corinthians 2:14–7:1
We are well aware that there are many problems facing the Lord’s people today. New difficulties arise before old ones are cleared away. Being firmly persuaded that the Word of God furnishes the answers to help in every situation, I asked myself these questions: How is it that God’s people can be so divided on so many issues? Would not obedience to God’s Word and dependence upon the Lord unite us together? I found the answer in Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians. The Corinthian saints were divided because they were occupied with the wrong man (1 Cor. 1:11-12). They were powerless to cope with the problems until they had learned what Isaiah 2:22 (KJV) states: “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for what account is to be made of him?” In 2 Corinthians we are given God’s answer – the solution.
The two epistles of Paul to the Corinthians are “wilderness” epistles. The saints are viewed as having been set apart from this world by a divine call (1 Cor. 1:2). This world, which to the eye of faith has become a wilderness, furnishes nothing to sustain that faith. The Christian passing through this world has the responsibility to live in complete dependence and obedience to the Lord. Failure to do so is the root cause of all the break-ups and break-downs in the family as well as in the assembly (church) testimony.
God allows this time of testing in the wilderness in order that we might learn what is in our hearts. But what is of much greater value is to learn what is in the heart of God, and that is Christ. Then, as we learn this, we turn away from ourselves to find in Christ the answer to every need.
The Root Cause Of Problems
In reflecting on this portion of Scripture in Corinthians we must bear in mind the great object the apostle had before him. He longed to see the Corinthian saints lifted out of their low spiritual condition as he had described it in 1 Corinthians 3:1, “And I brethren could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal.” Their carnal [self-centered] condition had led to worldliness and moral laxity, which further opened the door to assembly disorder and doctrinal error. It left them with little spiritual discernment and no spiritual strength to cope with their problems. This is much of what we are facing today.
This condition, exposed in the first epistle, is addressed in the second epistle to show God’s way of transforming us into the moral likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ. There are two aspects of this truth. Objectively, or in an absolute sense, God has purposed this transformation for us in Christ. Subjectively, or in a personal way that applies to each believer, this change is accomplished in us by the Spirit, who works out God’s purposes for us. As that transformation is accomplished, problems are solved in a God-honoring way. Self is set aside, in all its varied forms. In its place Christ is seen in all His moral beauty.
It is not the intent of this article to be occupied with difficulties and problems, but to see God’s remedy for them. That does not mean that we try to avoid or escape the problems, for we cannot run away from them. Rather, we see God’s provision to meet every need – and that provision is in Christ.
Change Is Possible
The apostle Paul himself had been in extremely stressful situations as expressed in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 and 4:8-9, “Pressed out of measure, above strength … despaired even of life … troubled on every side … persecuted … cast down.” In spite of these outward dangers, Paul did not faint nor become discouraged. Instead, he saw himself identified in testimony with a victorious Christ (2:14-15). By his conduct and preaching, a sweet fragrance of Christ rose up to God. Paul, who called himself the chief of sinners, was now the greatest vessel God had raised up for the shining forth of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (4:6). Only God could bring about such a change in the life of any person. What God did in Paul He is also doing in each one of us who have believed. God, by His Spirit, is writing Christ upon our hearts (3:3). The law could not do that. It could only tell man what he ought to do – what was expected of him, but it could not change him (Rom. 8:3-4).
The Christian has received new life (Christ) and a new nature that delights in what is of God. The Holy Spirit now dwells in the believer and occupies us with Christ, where He is in the very presence of God. As I am occupied with the Man Christ Jesus where He is now, a transformation will take place in me, a moral change, making me more and more like Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).
One Great Hindrance
The greatest hindrance to the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer is self. Good self or bad self is still self. Self-esteem, self-worth, self-image and self-love are at best an occupation with the wrong man – the very man whom God has set aside and condemned in the death of Christ. God is not attempting to improve man in the flesh: “Old things have passed away; behold all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
The question might now be asked, “How does this teaching help solve problems?” First of all, we have to admit that “in me [that is, in my flesh] dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18). The problems which cause us so much trouble in our individual lives, in our families and in the assemblies find their source in our flesh. If we do not learn from God’s Word that the flesh profits nothing, then God teaches us by our own failures. How sad it is if we have to learn it that way. Yet, what is even sadder is that we have grieved the Holy Spirit; every failure or sin necessitated those unfathomable sufferings of Christ on the cross. But as I learn how wretched the flesh is in me, I turn the eye of faith away from self and find in Christ an Object of supreme delight – that One in whom God finds eternal joy and satisfaction!
It Begins In Me
After experiencing how wretched the flesh is in me (not in my brother or sister), I must accept the teaching God has given in many portions of Scripture. He is teaching us to look away from self to Christ and, in so doing, we take on His moral features. These include obedience and dependence upon God, and patience, meekness, self-control as well as many other qualities as seen in Galatians 5:22-23. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit working out practically in the life of each believer. In 2 Corinthians 4:7 Paul explains that our bodies, which he calls “earthen vessels,” contain this treasure – which is Christ dwelling in the believer. As the vessel is broken up, the light that is within shines out.
In 2 Corinthians 5:10 the apostle Paul reminds us that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Then everything we have done in our lifetime will be manifested in the light of His holy presence. Our motives, our self-seeking, even if they were mixed in with our service for the Lord, will all be made known.
What was done in secret or in public, at the workplace or at home, in private counseling or in public preaching, all will be laid bare. How searching this is! But remember, when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, the sinful nature in which we sinned is no longer in us. We will then be with and like Christ; and we will rejoice that our old selfish, sinful nature is once and forever done away. Only what was of Christ will remain forever. If we, like Paul, would live our lives in the light of that Day of Judgment, what a difference it would make.
Christ Really Is The Remedy
It is far easier to sing, “Nothing but Christ as on we tread,” than it is to live it. To live it means that it will govern my manner of behavior, what I wear, how I spend my money, where I take my vacation, how I speak to my wife or husband and my attitude towards my children. It will affect relationships in the home, at the workplace and in the world. You can be sure it will also introduce an atmosphere in the assembly that is Christ-honoring, showing forth indeed the mind of Christ. Having the mind of Christ equips us to face all dangers and difficulties and enables us to make the right spiritual decisions. Then the question is never asked, “What’s wrong with this or that?” Instead, the question will be, “What is pleasing to Christ?” “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
Paul concludes our subject in 2 Corinthians 7:1 by giving a word of encouragement: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved.” If we allow God to work in our lives to put aside self and to fix our eyes on the Lord, then we will experience the deep peace and joy of fellowship with the Father. Then all the suffering or sorrow that we pass through here will be worth it. Faith looks beyond the present and evaluates everything in the light of eternity (4:17-18). May Christ be reflected in greater measure in my life – and in yours.
By Jacob Redekop
Nothing but Christ as on we tread,
The Gift unpriced – God’s living Bread;
With staff in hand and feet well shod,
Nothing but Christ – the Christ of God.
—Samuel O’Malley Cluff (1837-1910)
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