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.

Spiritual success

A major problem with life is that it always ends in death. The goal of Jesus’ ministry on Earth was to overcome death, to make a way for humans to live forever. Jesus told his followers, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24, ESV). The Apostle Paul expanded on this point by stating, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2, ESV). The Greek word translated condemnation, katakrima means an adverse sentence or verdict (G2631). Paul was referring to the punishment that is associated with sin and made it clear that believers are excluded from God’s judgment of mankind.

One of the stipulations Paul placed on the believer’s freedom from condemnation was to “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). What Paul meant by that was to think about things from a spiritual or eternal perspective rather than a carnal or temporal perspective. Paul said, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). The Greek words translated spiritually minded, pneuma (pnyoo’-mah) phronema (fron’-ay-mah) have to do with the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit (G4151/G5427). In other words, Paul was saying that we need to listen to the Holy Spirit and let him tell us what to do in order to achieve spiritual success. Paul described this process as intercession and stated:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches our hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

Intercession is possible because the Holy Spirit dwells in the heart of the believer and is able to see what is going on from both a temporal and an eternal perspective. An advantage that believers have over unbelievers is that the Holy Spirit knows the will of God and can lead us to do the right thing in every situation. Paul stated, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV). Paul associated God’s calling with his purpose in the life of a believer and suggested there was a spiritual joining that takes place when a believer accepts Christ. Paul may have been referring to the marriage supper of the Lamb mentioned in Revelation 19:9 which is probably retroactive to the believer’s date of salvation.

In addition to the intercession of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer, Jesus is also interceding for believers in heaven. Paul asked, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). Paul made it clear that our spiritual success is not dependent on our knowledge or understanding of God’s will. Even as much as we might like to know everything that God has planned for our lives, we have to live on a need to know basis of what God wants us to do. Many of the things that we do during our life on Earth that are God’s will for us might not be known to us until we get to heaven.