2 Corinthians 1:21-22

2 Corinthians 1:21-22

Established in the Spirit

In Paul’s continued self-defense against the Corinthians—a defense, mind you, that he shouldn’t have to give in the first place, as the Corinthians should readily accept his apostleship by now—he further evidences his apostleship. The faithful God and the Amen who is Christ called Paul to be an apostle (vv. 18-19). Paul repeats this point by highlighting four actions that God took upon Paul and his cohorts (Timothy and Silvanus) to be messengers to the Corinthians. In vv. 21-22, Paul says that God established, anointed, sealed, and gave the Spirit to Paul et al. Let’s look at each of those in brief.


God is the one who has established Paul et al. with the Corinthians, and he has done this in Christ. This word “established” has the sense of “confirmed,” and is used that way in most of its appearances in the NT. And it’s usually meant in the sense of confirming a message or messenger with signs, prophecies, or gospel truth. What’s ironic is that Paul uses this word in a similar sense in his first letter to the Corinthians. In 1:6, he tells them that the testimony he is giving them about Christ has already been confirmed among them. Sounds like the Corinthians didn’t get the message the first time, so he had to repeat it at the start of his next letter to them. He’s saying, “OK, Corinthian brothers, let’s try this again. Before I go any further, let’s go back to the basics: God gave me a message for you. This message was confirmed by God among you. Got it?” Now in 2 Corinthians, he’s saying, “Look, guys, God established us with you in Christ. We’re not your enemies. We’re brothers. We’re in Christ together!” And this is no wishful thinking. This word connotes a confident setting a matter in stone, and with God as the doer of the verb, it’s clear: What God has established, no man can eradicate. Again, in his first letter to them, in 1:8 (just 2 verses after his reminder to them that the testimony has been confirmed), he says that Christ will “sustain” them “to the end.” That word “sustain” is our word “established” in 1:6, and in 2 Cor. 1:21. Paul assures them of God’s certain and faithful work of joining them in the fellowship of the Son (1 Cor. 1:8-9). Back in our text, Paul is reminding them of this wonderful truth: God’s children are forever joined to God and to each other, because they share the fellowship of Christ!


Paul moves into the second action word that speaks of God’s work. God has anointed Paul et al. By Paul’s use here, he alludes to the OT practice of consecrating a person for service, pouring olive oil on a prophet, priest, or king. And this word is used 4 other times in the NT, and in every instance except for here, the word refers to God’s anointing (chrisas) Christ, the Anointed One (Christos) to proclaim the gospel (Luke 4:18), to be God’s predestined servant through-and-through (Acts 4:27), confirming that anointing with miracles (Acts 10:38), and the one whom the Father anointed with the oil of gladness beyond any measure any other had received (Heb. 1:9). Paul’s saying, then, that he and his cohorts have been set apart for the service of proclaiming God’s gospel. As Christ was anointed to preach the good news, now Paul has been so anointed. The Corinthians, likewise, can take part in this anointed service of their Christ together, if they will but yield to God’s confirmation of Paul as apostle.


Paul continues to speak of God’s divine activity in his life, and the third word he chooses is that of sealing. Although this word can be used literally (e.g., in the sealing of the resurrection tomb in Matthew 27:66, or in the sealing of Paul’s letter to the Romans in Romans 15:28), Paul typically uses it metaphorically. He does so in Ephesians, when he speaks of the Ephesians being sealed with/by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). How he uses it there is how he uses it here. Paul et al. have been sealed by/with the Holy Spirit. When God puts his seal on someone, he’s saying, “You are mine. You belong to me. No one else has any legal right to you.” Paul is reminding the Corinthians of the fact that they are mutually owned by God, the one who has the legal rights to them, because he has legally redeemed them by the blood of the Son.

Spirit-guarantee (Downpayment)

Finally, Paul uses one more word to speak of God’s action towards Paul et al. God has implanted in their hearts the Holy Spirit as the guarantee. This word “guarantee” is better translated “downpayment,” or “deposit.” The word refers to the pledge to fulfill a promise made (cf. Gen. 38:17, 18, 20). It has to do with the first installment of a payment, which installment ensures the continuation of subsequent installments until the promise is fulfilled. For instance, if you were to buy a car but could not pay the price of the car all at once, you’d make a downpayment. That would function as your promise to the bank or dealership that you’re good for it, that you will make the rest of the payments in due time. Meanwhile, you get to drive the car without yet paying it off entirely. This word when it appears in the NT is used only by Paul (here, and in 2 Cor. 5:5; Eph. 1:14). In every instance, Paul uses it as a reference to the Holy Spirit, who functions as the certain ground on which God’s promise of our salvation and inherited blessings rest. You can’t get any greater proof or certainty that God will be faithful than God himself in the Holy Spirit! Indeed, without this sure proof, we’d have no guarantee at all. Calvin, for instance, says, “It is on good grounds that he [the Holy Spirit] is called an earnest, because it is owing to him, that the covenant of God is ratified on both sides, which would, but for this, hang in suspense” (Commentary). Were it not for the Holy Spirit as our downpayment, we’d have no hope or confidence that God would be faithful to us. But, of course, God will be faithful, because God said so! The proof is in the Godhead. What an assuring truth!

When boiled down, these four actions of God refer to the same thing: God’s assurance that he is with his people and has equipped them with what he has called them to. As the early 19th-century hymn rhetorically asks, “What more can he say than to you he hath said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?” What a sure, firm foundation, establishment, anointing, sealing, and Spirit-guarantee that we all in Christ receive, by the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.