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A Commentary for Preachers of the Cross

Reading Time: 5 mins

There are some commentaries preachers ought not be without. One of those is Mark Seifrid's commentary on 2 Corinthians!

A review of: Mark A. Seifrid. The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Second Letter to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014.

As a seminarian and young pastor, I bought too many commentaries. In teaching future pastors, I caution them not to be over reliant on these tools. As one wag put it, “Read the Bible, it sheds a lot of light on the commentaries.” There are, however, some commentaries preachers ought not be without. One of these is The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Second Letter to the Corinthians, by Concordia St. Louis professor Dr. Mark Seifrid. With 2 Corinthians surfacing in Year B of the Three-Year Series on the Sundays after Pentecost, Seifrid’s work will be of inestimable value for preachers. Much more than a verse-by-verse commentary offering grammatical analysis, it is profoundly theological analysis of a letter which might rightly be identified as Paul’s pastoral theology of the cross.

After a quick historical overview locating 2 Corinthians in the context of Paul’s missionary work, Seifrid moves to the heart of the Apostle’s evangelical intention in the letter, noting how Paul not only preaches the Word of the Cross but:

“(He also embodies it) in his body and life. God’s saving work takes place sub contario in the crucified Jesus, contrary to all human thought and expectations. The delivery of that work in the apostolic Word takes on the same form” (xxxii).

 

Paul’s own cruciform life is a living letter in testimony to the power of Christ Jesus hidden under weakness and shame. “Christ wealth is present within his poverty” (329).

The high point of Seifrid’s work is his discussion of Law and Gospel, letter and the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:4-11). Contra N.T. Wright, Seifrid demonstrates how, “The claim that the old and new covenants are somehow the same because the “content” of the Law is communicated or imparted by both of them is built on a flawed and fatal abstraction” (122). Like Luther before him, Seifrid recognizes the Law is one thing and the Gospel another. So, “Moses, who is read in the synagogue, gives way to Christ and to the Spirit, who is present in the apostolic proclamation (3:15-18)” (123). Again, “The distinction between ‘the letter’ and ‘the Spirit’ is the difference between Moses in action and Christ in action” (128).

Christ is in action through the Apostle who is given the ambassadorial work of announcing the Word of Christ which brings reconciliation with God. The apostolic kerygma is not merely discourse about God for Paul. Genuine preachers “cannot speak of God without speaking of Christ” (198). Apostolic preaching is not egocentric self-promotion. The preacher is the “earthen vessel,” but carried within this unlikely container is the immeasurable treasure of the benefits of the crucified and risen Lord (see 2 Corinthains 4:7-15). Seifrid captures this with his discussion of Paul’s deadness in contrast to the ongoing vitality of Christ’s life:

“Jesus’ life is manifest in the apostle through a life-and-death drama. The present earthly life of the apostle is ‘ever again,’ brought to an end by the presence of the crucified Jesus. Only in this way may the resurrected life of Jesus be displayed in him. Paul speaks of himself and the other apostles as ‘we who live.’ They possess the life of this age. On account of the crucified Jesus, who is present in them, they are delivered over to death. The earthly life of the apostle is, thereby, transcended by ‘the life Jesus.’ That is, the life of the risen Lord is manifest in him. The sufferings of Jesus are reenacted in the apostles, and so is His resurrection” (208).

The sufferings of Jesus are reenacted in the apostles, and so is His resurrection.-Mark Seifrid

Justification by faith alone is not a static theory. It is the reality of suffering amidst God the Father’s work and being raised by Him to live in the midst of the vicissitudes and brokenness of this fallen creation by the promise of Jesus’ resurrection.

Faith is life in the midst of death. Seifrid observes in his exposition of 2 Corinthians 4:13:

“The fundamental passivity of the apostle again comes to expression here. His faith is not his own work but is the work of ‘the Spirit of faith.’ His faith in the midst of his trials is no heroic faith that is to serve as a moral example for others. It is purely and simply the gift and work of the Spirit” (209-210).

 

The Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of life, and the outcome of His work is the resurrection of the body to life everlasting. In his treatment of 2 Corinthians 5:1-17 (the Epistle reading for Pentecost 4/Proper 6), Seifrid probes the eschatological horizon in Paul’s words with the help of Oswald Bayer, noting:

“Once God is set aside, the entire burden for establishing life, happiness, and indeed one’s own self falls on human beings themselves, who by cleverness and luck must construct their life. Paul’s simple word, ‘We have a house... not made with hands,’ is the profound and comforting announcement that our life, happiness, and future have been secured for us by God, in Christ” (222).

 

Seifrid provides a brilliant take on how many of our contemporaries have succumbed to a secularized form of “works righteousness.” This always becomes a futile and fatal attempt to secure life by their own attitudes or actions.

In 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 (the Epistle reading for Pentecost 5/Proper 7), Paul speaks of the paradoxes in his own life and ministry under the cross. The Apostle has nothing. Yet, because he is in Christ, he has all things. “He is still teaching a church focused on wisdom, power, and wealth that true riches are to be found only in the ‘Word of the Cross’ which he bears” (284).

The Epistle reading for Pentecost 6/Proper 8 is II Corinthians 8:19, 13-15. It gives the preacher an opportunity to biblically address stewardship. This is an especially potent section of Seifrid’s commentary that develops Paul’s theology of a gift:

“The simplicity of giving cannot be separated from the simplicity of receiving. Love expresses its energy and source in faith; faith expresses its energy in love” (316).

 

Paul’s exhortation to generosity in his appeal to the Corinthian congregation is not a demand of the Law. Instead, it is anchored in the truth of God’s self-giving: “In all giving, God remains the one, unqualified Giver” (338). Our giving is a thanksgiving and confession of the gifts we have received from the One who for our sake was made poor, that in Him we might have the riches of God.

 Paul’s exhortation to generosity in his appeal to the Corinthian congregation is not a demand of the Law. Instead, it is anchored in the truth of God’s self-giving

Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:1-10; the Epistle reading for Pentecost 7/Proper 9) has occasioned much speculation and debate. Whatever this thorn was, Christ did not extract it from Paul’s flesh. Seifrid states:

“Yet, Christ did not remain silent or give him a dismissive, “No!” He gave Paul an answer that arrived, not simply from the heights of the divine throne, but from the depths of human suffering and need. Christ spoke to Paul as the One who Himself was ‘crucified in weakness’ but ‘lives by the power of God’ (13:4).

 

Jesus’ answer contains within itself the wonder of His own suffering and deliverance. His Word to Paul is inseparable from His person: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (449).

With these citations, I hope to have whetted your appetite to obtain and diligently study Seifrid’s exposition of 2 Corinthians. It is a commentary rich with theological insight as he draws on Luther, Oswald Bayer, Gerhard Forde, and others, demonstrating how exegesis stands in the service of proclamation.