2 Corinthians 5:1-21

Submitted by admin on Fri, 2009-10-23 12:50.

Posted in | printer-friendly version »

The surety of the resurrection hope enabled Paul to maintain his focus on the unseen future realities. “For we know,” he said with unwavering assurance, “that if our earthly home, [this] tent, is dismantled, we have a building from God, a home in the heavens, [an] eternal [one] not made with hands.” The apostle regarded the physical body as a tent or temporary dwelling for the real self or the inner person. Whereas the body may be destroyed or undergo the natural process of decay after death, this has no bearing on the future life of the individual. All who have faith in God and his word of promise know for a certainty that they will have a new dwelling from him. The resurrection body will not be subject to death and decay, for it is not a body belonging to the human sphere and so is spoken of as not being made with hands. This body is eternal and suited for life in the heavenly realm. (5:1)

While in the earthly tent and subject to afflictions and hardships, believers groan. Like Paul, their yearning is to be clothed with the home from heaven. This is the permanent dwelling that will be enjoyed eternally in a state of freedom from sin and its baneful consequences. (5:2)

One’s existence and activity as a person are dependent on having a body. Paul represented the body as the clothing of the real self. Therefore, once the true selves of believers are clothed with the resurrection body, they would not be “found naked.” (5:3; see the Notes section.)

The apostle repeated the thought about “groaning” in the earthly tent and spoke of being “weighed down,” suggestive of being burdened with trials and distress. He wanted to put off the tent that bore the pain resulting from sin. This did not mean that he wanted to die and be found “unclothed” or without a body, but he yearned for the time when the temporary tent, the mortal body, would be “swallowed up by life,” replaced by the new life in the eternal resurrection body, liberated from the burdensome consequences of human sinfulness. (5:4)

God is the one responsible for the sure expectation that the mortal body would be replaced by an immortal one. Paul expressed this thought with the words, “And he who has prepared us for this very [purpose] is God, who has given us the deposit [arrabón], the spirit.” God’s spirit works powerfully in the lives of believers, and their having received the spirit serves as a guarantee that they will receive an incorruptible body. Possession of the spirit is comparable to having a deposit or down payment, assuring that the full payment is to be received. (5:5)

Endowed with God’s spirit as the deposit for what would be granted to him in the future, Paul, despite the difficulties and pressures he faced, was always confident or mustered up courage. He was confident even though he knew that, while at home in the physical body, he was absent from the Lord. The implication is that the apostle did not doubt that he would be with the Son of God after his life on earth ended. (5:6; see the Notes section.)

Paul and fellow believers did not walk by sight, for they were not personally with the Lord Jesus Christ. Their walk or their course of life was one of faith, focused on being united with him in the future. (5:7) Paul’s confidence about personally being with Jesus Christ was so firm that he could speak of being pleased about coming to be absent from the physical body in order to be at home with his Lord. (5:8)

In keeping with his sure hope, the apostle determined to be acceptable to the Lord Jesus Christ, whether at home in the physical body or whether away from it. At the time of Jesus’ return as king and judge, believers would be either alive on earth or out of their earthly bodies (because of having died). So it appears that Paul meant that his desire was to be found in an approved condition at the time of Christ’s return (whether that be while he was still in his earthly “tent” or whether that be after his earthly life had ended). (5:9)

For believers, Christ’s return will result in a time of judgment or accounting. Paul continued, “For all of us must appear before Christ’s judgment seat, that each [of us] may be repaid for the things done in the body, whether good or vile.” The nature of this judgment is not primarily for the purpose of determining punishment. It will be an assessment of individual conduct or whether the deeds done in the body merit censure or approval. Although believers come to be in possession of the real or eternal life in its ultimate sense, the Lord Jesus Christ will have them render an account regarding how they have used the gifts entrusted to them, the manner in which they have treated others, and their motivations, words, and deeds. (5:10)

While on earth, Jesus revealed that, at the time of judgment, persons who proved to be faithful and industrious would be rewarded, and individuals who were indolent and did not use their potential to the full in advancing his cause would lose rewards. (Luke 12:35-48; 19:15-19) Details concerning this judgment are not provided. Nevertheless, the certainty of the future judgment should give believers reason for serious thought about the way in which they are living their lives. They need to have a wholesome fear of the Lord Jesus Christ, being serious about wanting his approval at the time of judgment.

In discharging his commission as an apostle, Paul did so with a full awareness of his accountability to the Son of God. For this reason, he could speak of “knowing the fear of the Lord.” On account of his reverential fear, Paul sought to “persuade men,” conducting himself in a manner that would appeal to the consciences of those with whom he shared the good news about Jesus Christ. He diligently avoided whatever could have given rise to needless offense, maintaining exemplary conduct and not insisting on his own rights. His fellow workers likewise demonstrated a wholesome fear of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the apostle’s use of the first person plural verbs may have been intended to include them. (5:11)

To God, nothing about Paul’s thoughts, words, or deeds nor those of his close associates were hidden. So the apostle could say, “We have been made known to God.” He then added, “I hope that also to your consciences we have been made known.” In view of the individuals who had questioned his motives and made attacks against him, Paul did not speak with the same confidence about the Corinthian believers as he did about God. In their case, he expressed the hope (not the complete assurance) that their individual consciences would have responded favorably to the way in which he had conducted himself while with them. (5:11)

Paul did not again attempt to recommend himself (as some might have wrongly concluded). His aim was to give the Corinthians occasion or grounds for “boasting,” or taking pride in him, and thus being able to respond to persons who boasted on the basis of outward appearances (literally, the “face”) and not the “heart.” The “face” or outward appearance could have included eloquence and an impressive personality. Persons who gloried in outward appearances (which can be deceptive) failed to see what the “heart” is. They did not recognize the real person, the identity of the individual in the inmost self and which identity is reflected in attitude or disposition, word, and action that are of a nature which commends itself to the consciences of others. (5:12)

Paul’s zeal, devotion, and intensity may have caused some to conclude that he was beside himself or seemed to be out of his mind. If he appeared as one who had lost his senses, it was for God. Especially in view of the great mercy extended to him, Paul had an overwhelming sense of the unmerited kindness he had been shown, and this motivated him to exert himself vigorously to carry out his ministry. If he appeared to be of sound mind as he taught the truth about Jesus Christ, it was for the Corinthians or for their benefit. (5:13)

The “love of the Christ” can refer either to the love Christ has for believers or the love believers have for him. In the context of the surrender of his life, the more likely significance would appear to be his love for believers. This love has either impelling or controlling power. The Greek word synécho can convey the thought of exerting pressure, which may be either to prompt action or to restrain activity. Modern translations have variously rendered Paul’s words. (5:14) “For the love of Christ urges us on.” (NRSV) “For Christ’s love compels us.” (NIV) “The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ.” (J. B. Phillips) “For the love of Christ controls us.” (REB) “We are ruled by Christ’s love for us.” (CEV) “For the love of Christ overwhelms us.” (NJB)

The Greek participle meaning “we having judged” (form of the verb kríno) relates to having come to a firm conviction. Paul and fellow believers had no doubt that one, Christ, had died for all, and “so all have died.” Death is the penalty for sin, and Christ took upon himself the full penalty for all sin and all sinners. In that sense, all died with him. (5:14)

For believers, the fact that Christ died for everyone has had a profound effect on their lives. Upon accepting him and his sacrificial death for them, they have ceased to be dead in trespasses. As persons granted a newness of life as approved children of God, they no longer live for themselves, conducting themselves in ways that are typical of persons without any relationship to him and his Son. Instead, they live for the one who died for them and rose from the dead, earnestly seeking to do what pleases the Son of God and serves to further his interests. (5:15)

The status of believers as persons who have ceased to be under condemnation and are in possession of a newness of life has also resulted in looking at others differently. Speaking of himself (and probably also including fellow believers), Paul continued, “So from now on we know no one according to the flesh. Even if we have known Christ according to the flesh, now, however, we no longer know [him in this way].” This knowing “according to the flesh” relates to looking at others on the basis of outward appearances, using the standards of evaluation of a world in a state of alienation from God. Approved children of God do not “know,” recognize, or regard anyone on the basis of outward appearances, including eloquence, impressive personality, social status, wealth, or influence. (5:16)

The significance of knowing Christ “according to the flesh” depends on whether the first person plural Greek verbs apply to the apostle only or include the Corinthians and other believers. The biblical accounts provide no indication that Paul had seen or heard Jesus speak during the time he taught in Jerusalem. As one whom Gamaliel instructed, Paul must have heard something about Jesus, leading him to draw conclusions about him. (Acts 22:3; 26:26.) These conclusions would have been “according to the flesh.” They would have been based on faulty human reasoning. Examples of the kind of conclusions to which individuals came are preserved in the Scriptures. Some maintained that he was a “good man”; others insisted that he deceived the crowds. (John 7:12) There were Jews who regarded him as a prophet, but others viewed him as an impostor, a transgressor of the law, a drunkard and a glutton, a man who enjoyed the company of tax collectors and sinners. (Matthew 27:63; Luke 7:16, 34; John 9:16) The very fact that Paul had been a rabid persecutor of Christ’s disciples reveals that he considered the Son of God to have been a deceiver, a false Messiah. In that distorted sense, Paul “knew” Jesus “according to the flesh.” (5:16)

Other believers may initially have held like negative views about Jesus, views that were based on things they had heard about him. All such former knowing of Jesus “according to the flesh” ended when they put their faith in him. (5:16)

Believers are “in Christ” or at one with him as members of his body. “If anyone [is] in Christ, [he is (or there is)] a new creation.” Those who are at one with the Son of God are children of his Father, forgiven of their sins and in possession of a new life free from condemnation. In that sense, they are new persons, eliminating any basis for making judgments “according to the flesh,” outward appearances, or human standards or opinions. In the case of believers, “the old things have passed away.” Their old or former condition ended and, by reason of coming to be at one with Christ, “new things have come to be.” From a state of enmity with and alienation from God, they entered into an approved relationship with him as his children, united to him through his unique Son. (5:17)

Paul gave the credit to God for the change that had taken place, saying, “But all things [are] from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation.” Sin alienated all humans from God, making it necessary for sins to be forgiven in order to end the condition of alienation. God himself provided the means for reconciliation by having his Son die for sinners. As one who had become reconciled to God through Christ, Paul was entrusted with the “ministry of reconciliation.” (5:18)

Commenting further on the nature of the reconciliation, Paul continued, “God, in Christ, was reconciling a world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and he committed the message of reconciliation to us.” It is “in Christ” (or by coming to be at one with him through their faith in him and what his sacrificial death accomplished) that God made it possible for the world of mankind to be reconciled to him. Because his Son died for sinners, God no longer reckoned transgressions against those who accepted his arrangement for having their sins forgiven. Paul was one to whom the “word” or “message” of reconciliation was entrusted. When discharging the ministry that had been granted him, he made known to others how, on the basis of their faith in Christ and what he had accomplished by his sacrificial death, they could become reconciled to God as part of his family of beloved children. (5:19)

Because Christ is the one through whom the reconciliation is effected, Paul, as one who made known the message about reconciliation, acted for him. The apostle’s role was that of an ambassador for Christ. It was also God’s will that humans accept the arrangement he had made for them to be reconciled to him. So God’s appeal for humans to be reconciled to him was being made through Paul and other believers, and it was also an entreaty that was being made for Christ, the one who wanted humans to be at peace with his Father and had made reconciliation possible through his sacrificial death. (5:20)

Jesus Christ did not “know” sin from the standpoint of his being sinless and so as one who had never experienced sin as a participant. But God made him “sin for us,” having him take upon himself all human sin (past, present, and future) and its penalty by dying for sinners. As a result, in Christ, “we might become righteousness of God.” By coming to be at one with Christ as members of his body, believers come to be “righteousness of God,” having God regard them as having the flawless uprightness of his Son, the head of the corporate body. The Son is the perfect image of his Father, and his righteousness is the same as that of his Father. (5:21)


In verse 3, the Greek word for “clothe” or “put on” is endyo, and a form of this verb appears in the oldest extant manuscripts and many others. There are manuscripts that contain a form of the verb ekdyo, meaning “take off” or “strip off.” This accounts for the different renderings in modern translations. “Because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.” (NIV) “In the hope that, being thus clothed, we shall not find ourselves naked.” (REB) “If indeed, when we have taken it off, we shall not be found naked.” (NAB) “If indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked.” (NRSV)

Jesus Christ had assured his disciples that he would be with them to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20) But this referred to his being with them in spirit. While in their earthly “tent,” believers are not with him in the literal sense but (as Paul expressed it [in verse 6]) are “absent from the Lord.”

In verse 17, the concluding words differ in ancient manuscripts (“look! new things have come to be”; “look! all things have become new”). The oldest manuscripts contain the reading without the expression that is rendered “all things.”