An earnest desire

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was meant to restore the fellowship that he had with them when he first established their church. The dishonorable behavior of some of the church’s members had caused Paul to pay them an unpleasant visit and resulted in harsh treatment of the offender. Paul urged the Corinthian believers to forgive the sinner (2 Corinthians 2:7) so that he wouldn’t be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Paul said, “So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan: for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:8-11). Paul went on to explain that his ministry of reconciliation was intended to restore fellowship between God and mankind and that we are all new creatures in Christ. Paul stated:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:16-19)

The Greek word that is translated reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:18, katallage (kat-al-lay-ay’) means exchange “i.e. restoration to (the divine) favor” (G2643). Reconciliation has to do with God’s ability to give us credit for Christ’s righteousness even though we haven’t done anything to earn or deserve it. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talked about putting off the old self and putting on the new self in order to be renewed in the spirit of our minds (Ephesians 4:22-23). Paul said that the new self is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

Paul addressed the Corinthian sinner’s transgression by admonishing him to cleanse himself from the moral pollution that had affected not only his body, but also his spirit. Paul said, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). Paul’s use of the term beloved indicated that he was speaking to someone that was a follower of Christ. The Greek term that is translated beloved, agapetos (ag-ap-ay-tos’) is “spoken of Christians as united with God or with each other in the bonds of holy love…meaning conjoined in the bonds of faith and love” (G27). Bringing holiness to completion was probably Paul’s way of referring to the process of sanctification which unites believers with Christ and each other. Paul implied in his letter to the Ephesians that it is possible for us to achieve spiritual success. He said that we are to “be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1). Paul’s reference to a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God was connected to the peace offering that was a part of the moral and ethical instruction of God’s chosen people (Leviticus, Introduction, p. 113). Leviticus 1:3-9 states:

“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”

The offering of a male without blemish signified the perfection, as well as the completion of the sacrifice that was being made. The Hebrew word that is translated blemish, tamiym (taw-meem’) “means complete, in the sense of the entire or whole thing” (H8549). Tamiym is translated blameless in Genesis 17:1-2 where it says, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.'” Christ’s atoning sacrifice fulfilled the requirement of perfection that God demanded from Abraham and all those who would seek entrance into his kingdom. Jesus told his followers, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and he later instructed a rich young man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21).

The blood of the sacrificed animal was symbolically thrown against the sides of the altar in order to depict the violence involved in the act of atonement. Leviticus 17:11 states, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make an atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” The Hebrew word that is translated “to make atonement for” in Leviticus 1:4 is kaphar (kaw-far’). “On its most basic level of meaning, kaphar denotes a material transaction of ‘ransom’…The righteous God is neither implacable nor capricious, but provides Himself the ‘ransom’ or substitute sacrifice that would satisfy Him. The priest at the altar represents God Himself, bringing the requisite offering before God; sacrifice is not essentially man’s action, but God’s own act of pardoning mercy. Kaphar is first found in Genesis 6:14, where it is used in its primary sense of ‘to cover over.’ Here God gives Noah instructions concerning the ark, including, ‘Pitch it within and without with pitch.’ Most of the uses of the word, however, involve the theological meaning of ‘covering over,’ often with the blood of sacrifice, in order to atone for some sin. This means that the ‘covering over’ hides the sin from God’s sight until the death of Christ takes away the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29, Hebrews 10:4)” (H3722).

When he instituted the Lord’s Supper, a celebration of his sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus told his disciples, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16). The Greek words that Jesus used that are translated earnestly desired, epithumia (ep-ee-thoo-mee’-ah) epithumeo (ep-ee-thoo-meh’-o) were meant to emphasize the passion that Jesus had to complete his mission of saving the world. Epithumeo means “to fix the desire upon” and stresses the inward impulse to do something regardless of the outcome (G1937). Epithumia suggests that it was an irrational longing that drove Jesus to give up his life for his friends (G1939). During the Lord’s Supper, Jesus revealed that he would be betrayed by one of the twelve apostles that he had personally chosen to serve with him. Luke’s account of the incident states it this way:

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this. (Luke 22:17-23)

Jesus’ earnest desire to institute the Lord’s Supper may have been centered around the fact that it would be the remembrance of him that would keep his ministry active in the hearts of believers. Jesus pointed out that even Peter, who was the most vocal in his allegiance to Christ, would be subject to Satan’s devices. Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:31-34).

Paul’s compassion for the sinner in Corinth that had disrupted his ministry was most likely a result of his understanding of the schemes of the devil. Paul talked extensively about spiritual warfare in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul encouraged believers to be joined together with the Lord in order to defeat Satan. Paul told them, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13). Paul mentioned his own struggle against spiritual forces in connection with the incident in Corinth which had disrupted his ministry. Paul said, “For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more” (2 Corinthians 7:5-7). Paul was encouraged by the fact that the Corinthians had repented and were also seeking a restoration of their fellowship with him. The Greek word that Paul used that is translated longing in 2 Corinthians 7:7 is translated earnestly desire in the King James Version of the Bible. In the same way that Jesus earnestly desired to eat the Lord’s Supper with his disciples, the Corinthians wanted to restore fellowship, or you might say, have communion with Paul.

Paul explained to the Corinthians that the grief he had caused them had served a purpose in that it worked to bring them back together and strengthened their relationship with each other and the Lord. Paul said, “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us” (2 Corinthians 7:8-9). Paul referred to a godly grief that brought the Corinthians to a place of repentance. Repentance has to do with thinking differently about our behavior. The Greek word metanoia (met-an’-oy-ah) in a religious sense implies “pious sorrow for unbelief and sin and a turning from them unto God and the gospel of Christ” (G3341). The reason why Paul associated repentance with godly sorrow may have been because it is the conviction of the Holy Spirit that produces repentance in the believer’s heart. Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Comforter and said, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 15:26). Paul talked about God as the one who comforts the downcast (2 Corinthians 7:6). In this instance, comfort has to do with coming along side and encouraging someone that is in need of help (G3870).

Paul talked in his letter to the Ephesians about Christians being fellow citizens and “members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:19-21). The metaphor Paul used of a holy temple in the Lord was meant to connect the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law with the process of sanctification which unites believers in and to Christ. Paul identified the Holy Spirit as the source, or you might say, the power that drives sanctification when he said, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). The Greek word that is translated are being built together, sunoikodomeo (soon-oy-kod-om-eh’-o) is derived from the words sun (soon) which signifies union (G4862) and oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-eh’-o) which means “to be a house-builder” (G3618). Oikodomeo “is used metaphorically, in the sense of ‘edifying,’ promoting the spiritual growth and development of character of believers, by teaching or by example, suggesting such spiritual progress as the result of patient labor.” Paul wanted both the Ephesians and Corinthians to understand that what he was doing may have been painful for them, but was necessary for their spiritual growth. Paul told the Corinthians, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter” (2 Corinthians 7:10-11).

Paul contrasted godly grief with worldly grief in order to point out that grief in and of itself was not the objective of his message. Paul wanted the Corinthians to see that the work of the Holy Spirit was essential for his preaching and teaching to be effective. Paul said that worldly grief produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10). What he likely meant by that was that the sorrow we feel when we do something wrong can sometimes be overwhelming, Excessive grief can lead to things like suicide and depression. One of the ways that we know that the Holy Spirit is working in our hearts is that we experience the comfort of God as we admit our mistakes and take responsibility for our wrong actions. Paul said “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). In other words, godly grief draws us closer to God, not away from him. Paul said that godly grief also produces earnestness. The Greek word spoude (spoo-day’), which means “speed,” is translated many different ways, e.g. diligence, haste, earnest care, and forwardness (G4710). One of the ways to think of earnestness is a person in motion, someone that is always making forward progress. This is an important aspect of the Christian life because believers will inevitably experience setbacks and must be able to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start over again whenever they are overtaken by sin or become the target of Satan’s devices. An example of this was Peter’s restoration to the ministry after he had denied Jesus three times. Jesus asked Peter, “‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep’…And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me'” (John 21:17-19).

Paul told the Corinthians that they had proved themselves innocent by their indignation, longing, and vindication by God (2 Corinthians 7:11). The Greek word that is translated proved, sunistemi (soon-is’-tay-mee) means “to set together” (G4921). What Paul may have meant by proved themselves innocent was that the Corinthians he was talking to had remained members of the body of Christ. They had not left the church because of the trouble they had gotten into, but had stuck it out and worked through their conflict with Paul. Paul was commending them for it and said, “So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all” (2 Corinthians 7:12-13). Paul’s experience with the Corinthians was considered to be a success because it led to the church being built up and the faith of the believers that were there being strengthened to the point that they became an encouragement to others that were struggling. Paul said that Titus’ spirit had been refreshed by the Corinthians. In other words, Titus, a fellow minister and friend of Paul’s, was able to take a spiritual vacation because of the remarkable turnaround at the Corinthian church.

A perfect fit

Part of the reason Paul knew it was foolish of him to boast about his super-apostle position in the ministry of Jesus Christ was because he realized he was equal with everyone else when it came to God’s mercy or compassion. Paul stated, ” Again, do you think that we excuse ourselves to you? We speak before God in Christ. But we do all things, beloved, for your edification.” The Greek word translated edification, oikodome (oy-kod-om-ay’) means “architecture that is (concretely) a structure” (G3619). Paul talked about the believer’s body being a tabernacle or tent and said, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). With regards to edification, Paul was implying that the building of God, our eternal home in heaven was being constructed by way of his ministry.

From Paul’s statement, we know that the process of edification is connected to the teaching of God’s word. One of the clues Paul gave us about how the process of edification works can be found in 2 Corinthians 13:9 where it says, “For we are glad, when we are weak, and ye are strong; and this also we wish, even your perfection.” The Greek word translated perfection is katartisis. “This word means making a fit” (G2676). Kartartisis is derived from the word katartizo which comes from the words kata and artios. The word artios “stresses that in which nothing is maimed. It refers not only to the presence of all the parts that are necessary for completeness, but also to the further adaptation and aptitude of these parts for their designed purpose” (G739). Apparently, Paul was saying that the strengths and weaknesses of each believers’ knowledge of God’s word should balance each other out so that when we are joined together in the body of Christ there will be no discrepancies in our understanding of the scriptures.

Paul concluded his letter to the Corinthians with the statement, “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11). Paul’s commands to be perfect and be of one mind suggested that he expected believers to study God’s word and to discuss their beliefs with other Christians. The Greek word translated mind, phroneo means “to exercise the mind, i.e. entertain or have a sentiment or opinion” (G5426). Paul’s statement to be of one mind was specifically meant to express the uniting of everyone’s opinions; what we might refer to today as a consensus or everyone being on the same page. With regard to edification, Paul’s instruction to be perfect meant that there would be a perfect fit or joining together of everyone’s minds so that individual opinions were adjusted according to the truth of God’s word and therefore, there would be no errors in the Corinthians’ thinking.

Love

Paul concluded his discussion of spiritual gifts with this statement, “But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:31, NKJV). Paul’s reference to a more excellent way was meant to describe the ultimate attainment for a believer who wants to become like Christ. You could say that Paul was unlocking the secret to a successful Christian life. He said:

I may be able to speak the languages of men and even of angels, but if I do not have love, it will sound like noisy brass. If I have the gift of speaking God’s Word and if I understand all secrets, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I know all things and if I have the gift of faith so I can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give everything I have to feed poor people and if I give my body to be burned, but do not have love, it will not help me. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NLV)

Paul was talking about a way of life the ran counter to the mainstream culture of his day. Paul’s ministry took place when the Roman Empire was at the height of its success. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written around 55 B.C., when Nero had just become the emperor of Rome. Nero was one of the most violent leaders of the Roman Empire who killed his own mother and made public his hatred of Christians by burning them alive.

Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 emphasized the importance of putting others above ourselves. His statement “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7, ESV) suggested that Paul expected believers to strive toward perfection in their pursuit of loving others. In fact, Paul likened Christian love to the completeness or perfect maturity that a believer is able to achieve in his or her life. Paul stated, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (1 Corinthians 13:9-10).

The Greek word translated perfect in 1 Corinthians 13:10 is teleios. “Teleios means brought to its end, finished” (G5046). When Jesus was dying on the cross, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The word he used, teleo and teleios are derived from the same Greek word telos, which means “to set out for a definite point or goal” and by implication, “the conclusion of an act or state” (G5056). Paul made it clear that the goal every Christian should be to love his neighbor as himself (Matthew 22:39), but he also understood that perfection was not something that could be attained in this life. Paul concluded his discussion with a statement about life after death. He said, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face;: now I now in part; but then shall I know even as I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). What Paul was saying was that everything we know about each other right now is like a snapshot that can only capture a brief moment in time. When we get to heaven, we will see the whole story and be able to recognize the truth about who we really are. We will have a type of full perception that enables us to be perfectly united with everyone we love (G1921).