Understanding The Bible
BY THE AUTHOR
Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
PAUL’S MINISTRY 1:3-7:16
Exercised in suffering and rejoicing 1:3-11
The genius of Christianity is that in the midst of deep and real suffering there may be genuine joy.
All of God’s blessings are bestowed upon us “in trust.” He intends we shall pass them on to others (v.4).
Paul’s experience at Ephesus (v. 10) became an illustration of the “Three Tenses of Salvation”: we have been saved from sin’s guilt; we are being saved from sin’s dominion; we shall be saved from sin’s presence.
Sincere and triumphant l:12-2:16a
Verses 17-20 of chapter 1 answer the charge which they had made that he promised to come, then did not dare to come.
Proposed visit 1:12-16
Vindication of delay 1:17-2:13
This letter is in lieu of his visit. He would have come through Macedonia had he not felt led to change his mind. He wished to allow the first letter to have its effect of repentance (2:1) in order that he would not have to deal with these things when he did come. He is deeply grateful to God that genuine repentance has been manifested by so many of the church.
His triumph 2:14-16a
Paul here uses an allusion to the Roman triumphal procession. When the Romans gained a victory over another country, they would bring prisoners back with them. All the prisoners had to march; some of them would be saved from death; while others would be killed in the arena or some other way. The priests marched alongside the procession as it proceeded to the temple, swinging their censers. All the prisoners smelled the wafted incense. But it was a savor of death to some and the savor of life to others.
Thus, the gospel that Paul preached was similar. It was the “savour of life unto life” to those who believed; but the “savour of death unto death” to those who rejected. The gospel blinds, hardens, and brings judicial judgment to those who continually refuse and reject it. It is a sad truth that even where the gospel has been preached in the Spirit and no one accepts it, the meeting is still not a failure. If men will .not have life, God will give them death: if they will not have light. He will give them darkness and that in great measure (cp. Isaiah 6). The gospel is quite as efficient in condemning and slaying as in forgiving and giving life.
The sufficiency of God -- his credentials 2:16b-3:5
The apostle recognizes no human power or credentials are sufficient for such an eternity-determining task. He thanks God for supernatural “letters of commendation” written in flesh and blood converts, whose changed lives attest not only the power of God, but become the credentials of the one whose preaching was God’s instrumentality in their miraculous change.
The New Covenant—the theme of his ministry 3:6-4:15
of the glory” 3:6-4:7
We have here a comparison and contrast between the Old and the New Covenants. The word “letter” is a Paulinism for “law, “ the Mosaic moral law. Observe, it is that which is engraven in stone which has been done away. (This is our crushing answer to Seventh-Day Adventism. The ceremonial law is admitted by all to be “done away” (according to Hebrews). But that was not on tables of stones! It was the 10 Commandments which were “engraven in stones.“)
If the Old Covenant was glorious, how much more glorious is the New Covenant! Put a candle beside the sun -- the candle has no glory compared with the glory of the sun. So is the Old Covenant when compared with the New.
Israel’s nation conversion is primarily in view in 3:15-16; cp. Romans 11:26. But whenever an individual Jew turns to the Lord, the veil is taken from his eyes (Romans 11:25).
The contrast is between Moses with veiled face (3:13) and Christ with unveiled face (4:6). As we look into the Word as into a mirror (3:18), the Lord with unveiled face shines upon the page and the reflection shows on our face; and our face, character, and being are changed (i.e., metamorphosed, transfigured) from a mere outward glory to an inward glory, so that we are made like Him.
Would you be beautiful? Then GAZE into the unveiled face of the Lord in the Word and become “radiant” (Psalms 34:5 RV).
4:2 answers the accusation that he was scheming with friends by private letters.
4:3 shows that light will penetrate into the hearts of men only as God takes His Word and pierces the veil (the word “hid” means “veiled”), in 4:4-7 the veil is unbelief. Satan put it there and only God can remove it. This glory within us is the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Verse 7 is an allusion to Gideon and his pitcher with a torch within. At the present time, this is accomplished by “putting to death” the flesh. One day, when the fragile clay vessel of our body is broken (5:1), the glory will shine forth (4:7). When our clay vessels get out of the way, then that light will shine forth.
Suffering contrasted with the New Covenant’s glory 4:8-15
Hymn of tribulation! Only the Bible can explain how seeming defeat becomes victory. This is the same message as the first chapter. In proportion as we reckon ourselves crucified with Christ, the life of Christ will flow through us.
*Motives for effective ministration of the New Covenant 4:16-6:2
The impermanence of the material and the permanence of the
Paul lived “in the light of eternity.“ He evaluated everything by eternity’s yardstick. Note contrasts:
outward -- inward;
light -- weight;
moment -- eternal.
The most real things in the universe are the intangible -- love, hate. God, etc.
The assurance of immortality 5:1-5
Paul here contrasts the tent with the solid building -- the temple that shall be ours. The tent will be taken down -- the temple shall never be moved; the tent is the result of human forming -- the temple is reared by God. (“If”: a most significant word; it does not say “when, “ but “if.” Paul expected to be caught up; he didn’t expect to have his tent taken down! In any event, he was assured of an eternal, incorruptible body.)
The assurance of immediate entrance (at death) into the Lord Jesus’
There is no intermediate state. Death to the believer is just a doorway into more abundant life! What then if the vessel of our body be crushed (by persecution, 4:8-9)? All people can do is send us home to heaven sooner!
*See Dr. Mason’s article in Bibliotheca Sacra, July, 1954, pp. 213-228.
A consuming ambition to please Him! 5:9
“Wherefore, we labor” -- literally, “we are ambitious” to please Him, whether here or there!
“Ambitious” occurs 3 times in the N.T.: Here, Romans 15:20 (“strived”), and 1 Thessalonians 4:11 (“study”)
A solemn realization that all must give an account to God 5:10-13
Believers -- at the Judgment Seat of Christ v. 10
We are going to see ourselves as He sees us and, evidently, so will everybody else. We will stand, “stripped of all disguise, “ “laid bare. “ We did things, but we used the body for an instrument. This should lead to a more careful walk. Will there by any reward for “ex corpus” benevolence in the light of the clause “deeds done in the body”? A. J. Gordon thought not! Don’t will it; give it now while you are “in the body.“
Unbelievers -- at the Great White Throne Judgment vv. 11-13
Knowing the awesome terror of this judgment, we plead with men (v.20). No wonder Paul’s concern caused him to give himself to the rescue of the lost with such reckless abandon that some thought he was crazy (“beside ourselves,“ v. 13; cp. 1 Peter 4:17-18).
The mountain torrent of Christ’s loving compassion 5:14a
“Constraineth us” -- i.e., constricts (controls) us like a mountain stream in a narrow gorge; such streams have great power.
“The love of Christ lifts me up, crowds me on!” It is not our love for Christ, but Christ’s infinite love through us (as channels), flowing in compassion down into the lowlands of sin with refreshing streams of the water of life.
Basic and logical gratitude to Christ 5:14b-15
For His sacrifice in our behalf! This is not the language of sudden emotion -- of snap decision. This is the studied conclusion and conviction of one who has thought it through and “judged” the facts as the true basis for action.
The New Creation Life lived to Christ 5:16-17
Even though we have known Christ after human standards, henceforth know we Him no more after human standards but after the standards of the “new man, “ (This is not a contrast between truth about Christ while on earth and truth about His present exalted heavenly position, as some have mistakenly taught.)
If a man is in Christ he is on New Creation ground. The New Creation is something that sin can never enter. Old things have passed away as far as God’s estimate of us is concerned because we have become new creatures in Christ Jesus. The verse has reference to our standing, but we should make it true of our state also, and something is radically wrong if our state does not increasingly approach this positional fact.
His commission to us as “Ambassadors of Reconciliation” 5:18-21 In
verse 18 it means “everything (in the new creation) is of God”;
not everything in the universe.
Verse 19 may be read: “God was in Messiah reconciling to Himself the world, canceling their transgressions. “ The world needed to be reconciled to Him, not God to the world.
The work of Christ is so far-reaching in effect that the (ceremonial) position of the world in relation to God has been changed by the cross (Colossians 1:20). It does not mean that the world has been saved, but the way into the Holiest has been brought so near that those who were afar off may, by one step (the step of faith), enter into the very presence of God (Colossians 1:21; Ephesians 2:11-21).
An ambassador (v.20) is not a spy, but one who goes openly to another
land, representing his land and the ruler of his land. We do not use
devious and unethical means.
An ambassador cannot speak his own message but must transmit his
An ambassador does not meddle in the politics of the country to which
he goes. We are not to ape the Jesuits.
When an ambassador speaks, the whole power of the country he
represents is back of him. This is the meaning of our Lord’s words, “I
will give to them the keys of the kingdom of heaven. “ The whole power
of God is back of us when we speak the gospel through which sins are
remitted to those believing and retained by those rejecting it.
An ambassador shows the people what his country is like by the way he
lives. “We are a colony of heaven” (Philippians 3:20). There is no good reason
for God not to have taken us home the minute we were saved, except that
He left us here to be witnesses for Him. Obviously then, we should
maintain the dignity of the heavenly land we represent.
An ambassador is recalled before war is declared. One day war will be
declared from heaven and an invasion of earth will take place, but
before that takes place His ambassadors will be taken home in the
Ambassador ship means “You instead of Christ. “ People get their
impression of the message, character, and the love of Christ from you
and from me. “We pray you in Christ’s stead” - just as though Christ were
sent back into the world. We are to be “Christs” in this world -- His
Verse 21 is a continuation of the message started in verse 19: “cancelling their transgressions. “ In verse 21 insert “He” to remove any ambiguity, thereby making it read: “He hath made Him to be a sin-offering in our stead, He who knew no sin.”
The urgency of the whitened harvest (cp. John 4:34-38) 6:1-2
We commonly quote verse 2 for the unsaved. But note the context. If we do not -- as Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation -- get out and reap in the whitened harvest field during this “day of salvation” (Church age) before the night of judgment falls (John 9:4), then the harvest will rot in the field. It is our “now time” of opportunity. Now or never! It is an exhortation to believers!
Otherwise, God’s grace will produce no dividends in our lives and, as far as fulfilling the purpose for which He saved us is concerned, His grace will have been “in vain” (6:1; cp. 1 Corinthians 15:10-11).
The sufficiency and testing of his ministry 6:3-10
Only Christ can make a minister -- no school nor ordination board on earth can do that. And when He is allowed to “make us, “ oh, what He can do!
The New Covenant’s appeal to separation 6:11-7:1
The appeal is based on a father’s exhortation to his children. “Out of a wide heart” he pled that they should not be “constricted” in their attitude toward him, but “Open wide your hearts to me, “ he says.
Evidently they were giving attention to false leaders whom the apostle feared were alienating their affection both from him and from Christ (11:1-3). (This theme will be developed in chapters 10-13.) To follow their false teaching (11:4, 13-15) is to be sharing an “unequal yoke” with unbelievers. He demands that this “yoke” with these sham apostles (11:13) be broken, and the “yoke” with God’s true servants (Paul, etc.) be restored (7:2, etc.), thus again becoming “workers together with God” (6:1). (Note the constant contrast between Paul’s sincerity (1:12,17-18; 7:2) and the insincerity of his opponents (4:2; 10:12; 11:12-15).
The appeal attaches itself with promises -- promises of fellowship and communion with God. There may be a cost, but there is a special blessing in doing the will of God. The sense of His Fatherly love and care will well repay any cost which obedience may involve.
The common interpretation which uses this passage to forbid a believer to marry an unsaved person is not a correct one here. We establish that principle through other Scripture which says marriage must be “only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39). But the tense of the verb “be not unequally yoked” does not permit that interpretation of verse 14 here. The literal reading is: “Do not keep on in the yoke with an unbeliever, “ whereas the married believer is specifically forbidden to leave an unbeliever (1 Corinthians 7:12-14).
Thus the passage is not referring to marriage but warns against continuing in a “spiritual” yoke (religiously) with an unbeliever. This yoke must be broken. “Do not keep on in it. “ Dr. Scofield once said, “This passage was the most difficult for me to interpret of any in the Bible, until I became willing to obey it and break fellowship with religious apostates.
His heart in the ministry 7:2-16
Paul wondered if he had written them too severely in his previous letter. But now that he has been comforted by the return of Titus, who brought news of their repentance, it makes him rejoice that he did write that letter (even though it caused pain and sorrow for a time). He states his confidence in their complete loyalty (v.l6).
CHRISTIAN STEWARDSHIP 8-9 (cp. 1 Corinthians 16:1-4)
Giving is a gift of God. We don’t give unless God has given us the grace to do so. We are naturally selfish, and God is the only one who can change us. Here we have liberality of the most sacrificial type, born out of the deepest poverty. Paul hadn’t asked the Macedonians to make a supernatural sacrificial gift -- they did this of their own free will. Paul says to the Corinthians, “You are full of every other grace; exhibit this grace also.“
8:9 proves that Christ did not begin at His birth. He was not rich here on earth, but in heaven before He left His Father to come to earth for us,
8:12 shows that God is not unreasonable; He does not expect us to give what we do not have; but He does expect us to give in proportion as He has prospered us -- in proportion to what we do have. First there must be a willing mind. From our Lord’s evaluation of the widow’s gift of two mites (“all her living”), we learn that heaven measures a gift not by the amount given, but by the amount left after the gift is presented to God. (One mite would have been 50% giving, far exceeding anyone else’s gift that day. But she gave both mites--100%!)
In 8:14 he explains that just now the Corinthians’ abundance will supply the need at Jerusalem; some day perhaps Jerusalem’s abundance may supply their need. God balances things in this way.
Paul says he is not going to make the mistake of taking this money to Jerusalem without witnesses (8:19). God’s work must be transparently honest!
The promise in 9:8 is to one who has fulfilled 9:7. Give till it hurts? No. Give till it stops hurting and you get great joy in giving!
Giving is an act of priesthood. We as believer-priests are to offer sacrifices to God of ourselves and our means (Hebrews 13:15-16).
This chapter is not concerned with debts but with voluntary gifts. Debts are a matter of honor and are an inescapable obligation upon every member of the family, church, or organization contracting them. They are not just a matter of optional free-will offerings. But though everyone involved in a debt owes his or her just share, the blessing comes when with gladness of heart we freely give over and beyond our nominal share. We ought to pay debts (no reward to us, Romans 13:8). Reward comes from voluntary giving to Him out of love.
CHAPTERS 8-9 VARIOUSLY VIEWED (2 outlines by former students)
Outline No. 1
Example of the Macedonian saints 8:1-6
Example of Christ 8:7-15
The accredited treasurers 8:16-9:5
The principles of stewardship 9:6-15
The Macedonians’ gift 8:1-8
Christ’s gift 8:9
The Corinthians’ gift 8:10-9:14
God’s gift 9:15
Of self 8:1-7
Of substance 8:7-9:7
Of God (God’s part in giving) 9:8-15
Outline No. 2
ACCORDING TO 1 CORINTHIANS 16:2 and 2 CORINTHIANS 8 and
|Carefully||“Provide things honest”||8:21|
|Consecutively||“First day of (every) week”||16:2|
|Systematically||“Lay by in store” (i.e., at home; the church is not the storehouse)||16:2|
|Proportionately||“As God hath prospered”;
“according to that a man hath”
“every man according as he purpose in his own heart”
|Collectively||“Every one of you” (we can do some things together we cannot do atone)|
|Universally||“As I have given order to the churches of Galatia“||16:1|
|Voluntarily||“If there be first a willing mind”; “according as he purposes in his heart”||8:12; 9:7|
|Joyfully||“Cheerful giver” 9:7 (literally, “a hilarious giver”)|
|Sacrificially||“Liberality out of deep poverty”||8:1-3, 7|
VINDICATION OF PAUL’S APOSTLESHIP 10:1-13:10
Whom the Lord commendcth 10
Paul’s opponents have captured the Corinthians’ attention by gross exaggeration of their own importance. Paul puts a needle in their balloon. God’s commendation is all that counts.
His jealousy over them 11:1-12
He is fearful lest they be deceived by interlopers. His jealousy is that of a father over his daughter. Paul had left them in good spiritual state, but declension had set in; he fears that “the chaste virgin” might be sullied.
False apostles 11:13-15
These men are masquerading as servants of God. Satan’s business is to have ministers of righteousness, but theirs is a bloodless-cross; it is a false gospel that they preach.
Glorying in his sufferings and exaltation 11:16-12:11
His perils 11:16-33
If ever we are inclined to feel we have done anything for the Lord, this passage will be a good antidote!
His rapture to heaven 12:1-6
By verse 4 we understand he heard things beyond the power of man to shape into words, or that which God would not permit him to tell about.
Scripture speaks of three heavens:
Atmospheric heavens (in which birds fly)
Stellar heavens (the starry hosts)
Third heaven (Throne of God)
This experience probably took place when he was stoned at Lystra and dragged out of town dead (Acts 14:19).
His suffering from Satan 12:7-11
Paul wanted it removed; but Christ still answered, “Sufficient for dice is My grace. It is in the forge of infirmity that strength is wrought.”
The signs and spirit of his apostleship 12:12-13:2
He did not expect maintenance 12:12-18
Keep tender in your heart that spot where gratitude grows. Learn not to take things for granted, but consider each as a fresh gift from God.
If they don’t do something before Paul comes, he will do something
when he comes! 12:19-13:2
Themselves the proof of his apostleship 13:3-10
“Are you saved? Is there a change in your lives? If so, then I am an apostle. If something has been done, it shows the power of God through me.”
He puts the squeeze on them. Unless they wish to admit they are “reprobates, “ then Paul is an apostle! Obviously they would not admit that. Hence, he has them pinned down in any attempt to void his apostleship.
CONCLUDING SALUTATIONS 13:11-14
Beautiful as tins benediction is, it is a shame that many other excellent Scriptural benedictions are not also used.
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