Notes on 2 Corinthians 5:12-15

2 Corinthians 5:12‑15  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The apostle felt, as we have seen, that he could appeal to their consciences, now that self-judgment was begun in the Corinthians. We have been and are manifested to God; and I hope also to have been manifested in your consciences. This might have seemed, to ill-disposed men, savoring of self-complacency. It is really what every saint walking in the truth with integrity of heart is entitled to say, whatever an enemy might insinuate: a blessed state and statement doubtless; but what does not grace give to and effect in the Christian? And when strife and party feeling are rebuked and hushed, conscience cannot but approve what is of God, even in those most defamed like the apostle. In this confidence of love he had written, and quickly guards the sheep from any misleading shaft; and this for their sakes rather than his own. A calumny indeed injures not the assailed, but those who are influenced by it.
“For we are not again commending ourselves to you, but giving you occasion to boast on our behalf, that ye may have [it] with those boasting in face and not in heart. For whether we are beside ourselves, [it is] to God; or are sober, [it is] for you. For the love of Christ constraineth us, having judged this, that if1 one died for all, then the all were dead [or, died]; and he died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who for them died and rose.” (Vers. 12-15.)
Nothing can be conceived more admirably than the apostle's delicacy, as far from indifference to the saints as from lording it over them, and equally far from the arts of those who, while ingratiating themselves with the Corinthian assembly, in order to exalt their own reputation and lower the apostle, were blinded by the enemy to attribute to him their own unscrupulous ways. He loved the saints with an unsullied conscience and an unselfish heart, and he counted on their confidence, now that grace had begun to work restoratively. As he did not seek to commend himself by what he said of his ministry, so neither did he again by appealing to their consciences as to his ways. He was but affording them occasion for boast, as he says, “on our behalf, that ye may have [it] with those that boast in face or person, and not in heart.” (Ver. 12.) For, on the one hand, holiness and truth go together, care for God's glory and love of His children; and, on the other, those who however fair in his presence aimed at undermining the apostle, were serving not the Master but their own belly.
But was he not inconsistent and capricious, at one time so ecstatic that none could follow his transports, at another so sedate as to chill his brethren and abridge their liberty? Not so; “For whether we are2 beside ourselves, [it is] to God; or are sober, [it is] for you.” (Ver. 18.) Cold is the heart that knows no rapture before God as one thinks of His grace in Christ. Such certainly was not the Apostle Paul's case, as we may see in many a doxology which interrupts a chain of closest reasoning, and yet more when the love of Christ or the counsels of God are before his eyes. But the same Paul can come down to the most ordinary questions of daily walk, can regulate the relations of husband and wife, or of master and slave, can prescribe for a weakly man, and check a woman's taste for dress. There is one name, and but one, which draws out and accounts for both feelings, raising the heart above all that is seen and temporal, yet giving the most lively interest in the smallest detail of the life that now is. And He who bears that name is both God and man in one person.
“For the love of Christ constraineth us, having judged this, that, if one died for all, then the all were dead [or, died]; and he died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who for them died and rose.” (Vers. 14, 15.)
If transported when turning to God, the need of saints and desire for the Lord's glory in them awoke sober thoughts; nor this only, for the love of Christ urged his soul toward men, sinners no less than saints, in loving service and faithful testimony of the truth. If there was the solemnity of manifestation before the judgment-seat of Christ, there was the constraining energy of His love. There was no vain conceit of man's improvableness, no crying up of intellectual culture, nor even the most distant hope of good from further moral training. He had judged this that, if one died for all, then the all died or were dead. Christ's death for all is the proof that it was all over with mankind. If He went down in grace to the grave, it was just because they were already there, and none otherwise could be delivered. In this way of death is Christ here known, not a living Messiah to reign over the quick, but One who died for all, for all were under death; and it is a question of man universally, not of Israel only, and of the power and triumph of life in Christ over death.
Hence, if nothing short of this is the judgment of the Christian, as of the apostle, if there is no slighting of the fatal effects of sin, if death is seen and owned to be written on all, the death of Christ, though so unsparing in its import becomes the ground of deliverance; for we have judged also that He died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves. There is then life in Him risen, and this not in Him only, but for those who believe. He is our life. And such is the meaning of “those who live;” not merely those alive on earth (though this be implied, of course) but living of His life, in contrast with all dead.
It is contended, as I am aware, that ἀπέθανον can only mean “died,” and not “are” or “were dead.” But this is an oversight from pressing too technically the aoristic force, so as to clash with English idiom. We may see how harsh it would be to absolutely redoes us to the English preterite by a glance at the same or a kindred word in the case of Jairus' daughter. Even the most servile of translators gives us Matt. 9:1818While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live. (Matthew 9:18) as “My daughter is just dead,” (ἄρτι ἐτελεύτησεν) though he represents verse 24, “For the maid did not die but is sleeping,” (οὐ γὰρ ἀπέθανεν); and Mark 5 as “My daughter is dead"(ver. 36), but “The child did not die” (ver. 39); and Luke 8, “She did not die.” Is it not evident that the nature of the ease modifies the aorist? Although strictly ἀπέθανεν expresses only the fact that one died, still, death being for the present final, it may be used for, as it implies, the condition of death: if one died, one is dead. But where express precision is intended, the perfect appears as in Luke 8:4949While he yet spake, there cometh one from the ruler of the synagogue's house, saying to him, Thy daughter is dead; trouble not the Master. (Luke 8:49), “My daughter is dead,” τέθνηκεν. Yet in verses 62, 68, it is in both cases ἀπέθανεν. To say here “She did not die,” and “she did die,” is mere pedantry, not good English; and in this connection the Authorized Version more fittingly gives “she is not dead,” and “she was dead.” It is not that the aorist is ever used with impropriety, or confounded with the perfect; but that the fact in Greek is enough, where English gives the state.
The same thing is no less appropriate here, where death spiritually, not physically, is in question. Grammar does not touch the question, whether the death is of all men as such, or of the saints; ἀπέθανεν might be used either of death by sin or of death to sin3. There was intention, it seems, in retaining the same word for all as for Christ, though a different expression for men might have been used, as in Eph. 2 But this would have interfered with the aim, which is to mush as possible to link His death in grace with theirs in sin. “If one died for all, then the all died,” or “were dead.” And that this is the universal condition of mankind, is made the more apparent by the further judgment that He died for all that those who live, &c. It is not ζῶντε as including all for whom He died, but of ζῶντες as some out of all, those that live in contradistinction to all dead. It is the solemn judgment of faith that all are dead, whatever appearances may say; it is its no less sure but happy judgment that Christ died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves, but to Him who for them died and rose. What men call a judgment of charity is Satan's cheat, and as far from the truth as from real love. It is the delusion of trusting appearance and feeling and reason against God's word. True love according to God owns that all are dead, but in the faith of Christ's death seeks that others too might believe and live, and that those who live should live to Christ.
The reader will observe that Christ's resurrection is associated only with “those who live.” This again confirms the special class of the living, as only included in, and not identical with, all for whom He died. Those who would narrow the all for whom He died to the elect, lose the first truth; those who see the special blessedness but responsibility of the saints,, those that live, lose the second: He died for all; He was raised again for the justifying of those who believe, and who consequently had life in Him; that they might live no longer to themselves, as of old in their sinful folly, but to their dead and risen Savior. It was not only “the terror of the Lord” that acted on the apostle's soul, but the constraining love of Christ, His outgoings of heart, and labors of love were not bounded by the church, however dear to him; as we saw, he would not only feed the flock, but “persuade men.” He knew what the judgment-seat must be to sinful man, but he knew also the efficacy of Christ's death, and the power of His resurrection. If Christ died for all, he earnestly sought all, and preached to all, urgent in season and out of season. The judgment which faith gave him seems therefore, like the context before and after, to take in all men, no less than the saints; whereas another line is brought in out of harmony with what we have, to speak of death to sin only, limiting the range of the first clause to the elect, instead of seeing its universality.
Thus the apostle sees death come in for all, and judgment awaiting men as such; and because this was the fact for all, Christ dead for all. Promises avail not, nor the kingdom: so complete is man's ruin. Else a living Messiah would have sufficed, but no! only a Savior that died could meet the case; and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live to themselves, but to Him who for them died and rose. This closes the door, not for Him only who died, but for those that by and in Him live, on the world and man. Not “all” alas! but only “those who live,” really live to Him who died and rose for them. All outside Him and them is death; and they, now living, are called to live to Him: how could those who rejecting Him have not life?
This is practical Christianity. They are bound, as they owe all, to the Savior, but to Him not in this world, but gone out of it as dead and risen for them. It is Christ who determines and characterizes all for the Christian. It is not Christ as He was when coming into the world on this side of the grave; nor Christ as He will govern the world by-and-by in power and glory, but Christ who for them died and rose. Thus is He known to the Christian, and thus is the Christian to live. Nor is it, as sense and tradition reckon, that in the midst of life we are in death, or exposed to it, but that now in the midst of death we by grace live, but would live and own our obligation to live to Him who dead and risen is in a new sphere, to which we too belong, though still on earth, as the apostle proceeds to set forth, man as well as self being done with to faith, and ourselves belonging to Him. Thus He who is the source of life is also the object of life to the Christian; and this in His full character of death and resurrection, so as to act the more on the affections. For if He died for us in grace, He rose for us in power, that we might devote ourselves thus set free to His service and glory.