2 Corinthians 1:24
Working for the Joy of Others
This post marks the final post for chapter 1 (10 in toto). In it we see a theme that Paul introduces from the start. He emphasizes their (Paul’s and the Corinthians’) mutual connection in Christ, and the kind of relationship they should have: a joyful union. But first, Paul says, “Not that we lord it over your faith.” Clearly, that’s the complaint he’s hearing from the Corinthians. They mistakenly believe Paul to be a taskmaster, ordering them around, calling the shots, and demanding obedience. Paul denies the charge. True faith’s master is God and his word, not a mere human, even if he’s an apostle or prophet from God. Not even God’s chosen leaders are permitted to be domineering shepherds (see also 1 Peter 5:3). Calvin says, “For faith ought to be altogether exempt, and to the utmost extent free, from the yoke of men.” Paul even goes out of his way to avoid being seen as their lord. He tells them that he didn’t want to make another painful visit (2:1), so he’ll wait to visit them when they wise up. Paul’s no tyrant.
And if the Corinthians can’t accept that he’s not being tyrannical, then their relationship will not flourish as it ought. God put Paul in their lives for their joy, and he made Paul not their lord but their fellow-worker. The ESV has it, “we work with you for your joy,” but literally Paul says, “we are fellow-workers for your joy.” I think the literal rendering highlights the contrast he’s making. He’s saying, “we’re not your lords; we’re your co-workers.” The truth of the matter is that they have one Lord, Jesus Christ. And the sooner the Corinthians recognize this, the sooner they will receive the joy that their Lord intends for them to have through his apostle, Paul.
Paul’s desire in ministering to the Corinthians is not for them to work for him as lord, but for him to work for their joy. The Corinthians got it all backwards. He wasn’t in their life to be served but to serve. Paul, therefore, connects these verses with vv. 3-4, 6. He was sent by God to comfort them; and they were sent by God to comfort him with the comfort with which the God of all comfort has comforted them. Paul models for the Corinthians how they need to be towards each other: workers for joy. As Paul was not against but for the Corinthians, so must they be for each other.
Of course, this way of living is not only for the Corinthians but for the whole church. It’s for you and me. It’s for all those who call Christ their Lord. You’re not each other’s lords; you’re co-workers, fellow-servants under the lordship of Jesus Christ. You’re not of Apollos, of Cephas, or of Paul. You’re of Christ. We’re on the same team. We don’t have to compete against each other. If you’re going to beat your brother, beat him in love. Out-love your brother.
We have the privilege of working for the joy of one another. Christians are in the business of reminding each other that the joy of the Lord is our strength. As Paul reminds us in the final part of the verse, we stand by faith. When our faith is weak, our standing is unstable. Our faith is strengthened when it is reminded of the object of our faith: the triune God. In fact, it is this God who sustains us when we’re weak. We weak ones have been blessed beyond measure with the gospel, so we have the honor of encouraging and comforting staggering souls and troubled hearts with the only truth that can give joy to the joyless or joy-losing: the good news about who Christ is and what he has done for sinners in need of a savior. Can you think of someone in need of joy? How can you work for their joy even today?