TODAY’S READING: 2 CORINTHIANS 1-4
“For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 2:17
Paul is comparing the ministry of him and his co-workers with others that have come to the Corinthians. Paul says that he and his co-workers speak in Christ in sincerity while the others are peddling God’s word.
So, how did Paul and his co-workers speak in Christ in sincerity and not peddle God’s word?
First, we need to understand that Paul is referring to God’s word and Christ as the same thing. You can be a peddler God’s word or you can speak in Christ. God’s word, or the word of God, and Christ are the same thing.
For Paul, the word of God is not the Bible. Elsewhere in his letters, when Paul is referring to what we know as the Bible, he uses the Greek word graphe, which means writings or scriptures.
Then, for Paul, what is God’s word, the word of God, Christ?
In Luke 24:25, Jesus asked the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then, in Luke 24:46-47, Jesus said to all the disciples, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
It was necessary that Christ should suffer to enter his glory.
The Christ suffered and rose from the dead so that repentance and the forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed.
This is the word of God.
This is Christ.
As Jesus told the disciples, the scriptures – the law, the prophets, and the psalms – witness to this word of God, Christ. But, the scriptures themselves are not the word of God, Christ.
It is the word of God – the necessity of Christ suffering and rising from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins – that was Paul’s singular focus. In 1 Corinthians 2:2, Paul said, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Paul was occupied with the word of God, Christ.
According to Paul, this word of God, Christ, can be handled in one of two ways. It can be peddle. Or, it can be spoken of in sincerity.
What is the difference?
The Greek word translated peddler is kapeleuo. It means to trade in, to peddle for profit, to traffic in something for gain. Kapelos were small retailers or shopkeepers in comparison with emporos who were much larger merchants. Kapelos were often resellers, trading in second-hand goods.
How does a kapelos sell?
They haggle. They negotiate. They wheel and deal. These traders had a reputation for lying about their product and/or cheating on the price of their product for their own personal gain at the expense of their customers.
Tradition says that a kapelos was typically a wine merchant, but there is little written evidence of this. However, the Septuagint does make this association. Isaiah 1:21-22 says, “How did a faithful city, Zion, full of justice, in whom justice slept, become a harlot, but now murderers are in her? Your money is not genuine; your innkeepers mix the wine with water.” The word innkeepers is the Greek word kapelos.
How do peddlers sell?
Mixing water into wine. Mixing something of lesser quality into the product they are selling.
But, consider Jesus’ first miracle in John. He turned water into wine. He did not mix wine with water. Therefore, “When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.'” (John 2:9-10)
John says this was the first of Jesus’ signs that manifested his glory (remember the Christ must suffer to enter his glory) and caused the disciples to believe in him. Turning water into wine was such a powerful sign of Jesus’ glory because he said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Jesus came to give life, abundant life. Jesus never mixed anything, especially death, with the life he came to give.
So, a peddler of God’s word mixes something else into the pure message. The pure message is that the Christ needed to suffer and rise from the dead so that repentance and the forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed. The peddler, though, mixes other things into that pure message.
For their own personal gain.
But, Paul is not preaching the word of God, Christ, for his own person gain. He just said that through him and his co-workers God “spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him [Christ] everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-15)
What does Paul mean that they are a fragrance, the aroma of Christ?
In the Old Testament, when a sacrifice was offered it was done to emit a pleasing aroma to God. So, when Christ was crucified on the cross, his sacrifice emitted a pleasing aroma to God. Not because God was pleased to harm Jesus, but because of the love of God that Christ revealed on the cross. So, Christ’s suffering love emitted this pleasant aroma.
Paul says that he and his co-workers are also emitting this pleasing aroma of suffering love. Therefore, their preaching is a sacrifice. It brings suffering to them. It is not for their own personal gain. It is sincere.
The Greek word for sincerity Paul uses here is eilikrineia. it is a compound word of krinos and eile or eilo. Krinos means judge, discern, distinguish. Eile meas sun. And, eilo means cause to turn.
Some think that that eilekrineia means distinguished from or by the sun. The idea was that the thing being done was suspended from the rays of the sun. Therefore, the thing was pure, without spot, and immaculate.
But, it seems likely that eilo, not eile, is the actual word combined with krinos. In this case, the idea would be a judgment that causes turning. According to the Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, the metaphor was that of grain or wheat sorted and purified by rolling or bouncing on the screen. You would end up with pure grain, or grain without mixture.
Therefore, Paul and his co-workers did not mix anything with the pure of God, Christ. Paul preached in sincerity, without mixture, that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
What does preaching a mixed word of God look like versus preaching it purely?
That’s what Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3.
To preach a mixed word of God means that you are a minister of the letter. A peddler teaches the literal scriptures. Instead of sticking purely that Christ suffered for you to give you life, the peddler adds the letter of the Old Testament to the pure message of the word of God, Christ. And, the letter of the Old Testament says that you need to offer sacrifices to God, you need to kill, in order to have your sins forgiven.
This is why Paul calls the ministry of the letter, the ministry of the literal reading of the Old Testament, a “ministry of death” and a “ministry of condemnation.” “For the letter kills.”
When you are a peddler of God’s word, you mix in death, condemnation, and causing suffering to the pure word of God, which is dying, justification, and suffering for others so that their sins are forgiven. Having your sins forgiven is life.
Paul contrasts this with his ministry, which is “of the Spirit.” “The Spirit gives life.” Therefore, Paul has a “ministry of righteousness.”
People peddle God’s word for their personal gain. They mix into the pure word of God – Christ must suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins – the need to obey rules, tithe, make sacrifices, etc. to receive forgiveness. Peddlers personally gain from this because they can control those who are following them. This is religion.
Paul’s ministry is not for his personal gain. He himself is suffering by speaking the word of God, Christ, in sincerity, without mixture. Paul’s ministry is of the Spirit, and the Spirit only says what Jesus said – that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
Therefore, Paul says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Freedom, not control, is the result of Paul’s ministry.
How did Paul preach the word of God, Christ, in sincerity and not as a peddler?
Without adding anything to it.
By the Spirit and not the letter.
Always speaking life, never death.