2 Corinthians Chapter 1
Commentary by Ron Beckham
Verse 1. "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia:"
It was late in 56 AD, and Paul was writing this letter with Timothy (acting as amanuensis or secretary to Paul); and it was sent to the Corinthians with Titus. Paul later actually went to Corinth, where he wrote his letter to the Romans.
Notice Paul in this verse is an apostle by the will of God. All too often, we are given office in the church through the will of men. Some years ago, I spent an afternoon with a bishop from a certain denomination. He wanted to know why I longed so much to minister the gospel of our Lord, and I gave him my testimony. I told him Jesus died for me, personally touched me, and drew me to Him, when I was 15-years old. Later, He unmistakably called me to ministry but I ran away, because I was afraid. Back in His Arms, I am only fully alive when I serve Him, and I want to serve Him more.
I asked the bishop, a very personable man, how he came to be a minister, and he told me of a youthful struggle as to which profession he would enter. Would he be a lawyer? Following much thought, he became a minister. He was "called" by his denomination, after he completed his studies. Yes, we may be called by men, but we also must be called by the will of God.
From Paul’s perspective, by the way, Timothy, though much younger, and without Paul’s office, had the same standing with God he did ("Timothy our brother"). So did the Corinthians, who he called "saints." The church is not a denomination, a place, or a name; it is a state of being within the Person and Body of Christ. We are owned by Him, called by Him, and the highest office in the church is "saint" ("called out one"). ALL who are in Christ have attained that office. When we are in Christ, we "have it all," for we have HIM (and He has us). We are His "saints" and He loves you and me.
Verse 2. "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
True grace is unmerited favor with God, obtained through the cross of Jesus Christ. There are rare times in life when we experience a sense of peace. Our cares fall away, as we stand in the presence of something or someone so beautiful that we are awestruck, taken by that which we see. REAL peace is lasting, though, and it only comes from the grace of God. There is no grace without Jesus Christ, for His is "the only Name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
The cross, which was an ugly thing, becomes beautiful, when you understand that this cruel instrument was used by God to end death - forever. For you. Oh, your body might fall away for a time, but it is Him you want; more than money, more than success; more even than this form you walk around in. You body will be restored, in His time, as will everything that is truly important to you.
You can be at peace, because through the cross, which ruined the body of Jesus Christ, you have been given LIFE. You are offered His grace, and in Him, you are given the "peace of God."
Verse 3. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,"
The key to this book (to this LIFE, for that matter), is here. The word "blessed" is a form of the word "praise." We find that the comfort, the mercy we have hungered for, is given us when we start honestly giving praise to God (instead of seeking it for ourselves). "Mercy" is the gift of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We became a race of rebels, who did not want God. If we feel we are somehow "ethical" in our dealings with others, we still have the problem that we are a "self-ruled" people, who don’t want outside interference. We were created to praise God (and be loved by Him).
"Comfort" is the key to our lives, because the word is "parakaleo" which is "to call along side of." This was the promise of Jesus, to His apostles, in John 14:16, and 16:7, that the "Comforter" (the One called alongside), would be given to them. It is also the promise to YOU. In departing from this world, Jesus said "I will send Him to you." He has given us forgiveness in Christ, and we live within the comfort of the Holy Spirit of God. We praise our God, for we are forgiven. Also, we are truly WITH Him, like we have never been with anyone before, and even better, HE is with US.
Verse 4. "who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."
We are comforted (by Him) in our trouble. The question is, why do we have trouble (tribulation) at all? One of the answers is right here: So WE may comfort OTHERS who are in similar distress. And how we do this is interesting. It is not so much our comfort we give them, but God’s! How did we get through that horrible mess in our lives? By the intervention and comfort of the Holy Spirit of God. How do we REALLY comfort another person? By sharing with them, through Christ, what the Holy Spirit of God has done for us. Actually, it’s more. We truly don’t have to say anything, for people tend to see the presence of God in our suffering, and gain courage. Our greatest witness is to courageously and joyfully face (in His strength) whatever life sends our way.
We all know that the person who is devastated by loss, does not want our advice. Instead, the current idea is to just "be there" for them, and that is good. But also, PRAY for them - a lot. And, it is in prayer, that the Lord is apt to remind you of that which may be precisely what that other person needs at that moment. I don’t know what to say - but HE does. Be there for them, which may help that other person. Be there for them, but also be OPEN to the Lord. HE has a great deal to offer the person who is in distress.
Verse 5. "For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ."
We have certainly noticed there is much trouble in life, and we don’t like it when things are not as we want them to be. A great secret is here, for there is never any lost with God, except you also receive much in return. It has been my experience that I have always received much MORE than any loss, though not in ways I expected.
For instance, "trouble" is often curative in nature. We are sinners (Romans 3:23) after all, and I don’t know about you, but through the years, I was often astonished by my stupidity (sinful thoughts and actions are stupid in nature). All of us have negative tendencies, and we see that sort of thing in David (Psalm 51). And like in the life of David, God allows not only suffering, but also amazing consolations in our lives.
The combination of the two, will lead to renewed faith in God. You could well say there is a formula here, which is: Suffering plus consolation equals Faith (S+C=F).
Part of our problem in life, is that we easily "see" our suffering, but often we don’t perceive the consolation of God, for many years. Tragically, some NEVER see His consolation; but for those who do, it’s time to also discover the JOY of the Lord (within the suffering of this life).
Verse 6. "But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer;"
Our afflictions in life are often for other people.
We usually go through life without ever understanding that we are God’s gift to someone else. The husband is selected by God, to LOVE his wife; but he typically decides SHE will serve HIM! The wife often cooks, cleans, serves, etc., but misses his real need, deep in his soul. He does the same to her. Taking out the trash just doesn’t touch that deep ache within the one he is supposed to love.
The concept that you are God’s gift to others, carefully enclosed within the ribbon and gift wrap of suffering, is offensive to most. We try to throw off the gift wrap - "Let someone else suffer - not me!" This verse is so clear. If we suffer, it is for others (perhaps far in our future), that we may comfort them in their distress. Our suffering qualifies us for them, that they will listen to us about Christ (will see Christ within us).
The same with our consolations. We have been given much in Christ, and they will want to hear about consolations, too. But to the one who suffers, it is your suffering (like theirs), which will enable them to LISTEN about your consolations in Christ.
Verse 7. "and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort."
Here’s a guarantee you can bank on. Here’s a certain HOPE you can count on. Whatever sufferings you are experiencing, they are DESIGNED in such a manner that you will receive the consolations of God. Here’s a good example - wheel chairs!
I hated being in wheelchairs, and as a boy, I was in them for years! People looked at you with those pitying eyes (but bless them, Lord, for their concern), and sometimes they just plain got angry! Like the little lady who placed her body squarely in front of the wheel chair, and wouldn’t let us proceed. She shook her finger at me, and shouted, "That’ll teach you to run out in traffic," and then stomped away! The fact that my problem was not from an accident, never occurred to her. (And I became very obese, after years of inactivity, but that’s something else).
The fact is, since I have been teaching at the convalescent home, I have observed that my years in the wheelchairs are actually a BENEFIT! I do not know why it is a benefit in EVERY way, but I do know THIS one. And that is, when you are speaking to an audience where ALL of them are in wheelchairs, they listen more attentively and with extra receptivity, when they know you were in one, too. It is my whole LIFE that people will know our Savior, and if those wheelchair years will aid in that process, then I PRAISE Him for those years.
There ALWAYS is comfort, hidden within the sufferings of this life.
Verse 8. "For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life;"
There is a prevalent teaching that "trouble will not come to us, beyond our ability to endure it." While I recognize such teachers are attempting to comfort those in need, the teaching simply is not true. Often, the idea is based on 1 Corinthians 10:13, where Paul correctly points out God "will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation, will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it."
Unfortunately for that doctrinal belief, the key word in 1 Corinthians 10:13, is "temptation" rather than "trouble" or "tribulation." We ARE tempted, but God is with us, and we no longer need to fall into sin. Here in Verse 8, Paul relates to us a terrible mess he got into, which was so bad, so overwhelming, that it was completely beyond all reason. We will study 2 Corinthians 11 (God willing), where, in the second half of the chapter, Paul relates trouble like our worst nightmare. It is likely most of us could not emotionally or physically survive the trouble which came to those people - constantly.
And he was depressed, disheartened, overwhelmed - there is no other way to understand the phrase in this verse "we despaired even of life." Remember, tribulation WILL come, but God is with us in all of our trouble. As He was for Paul; so also He is for you.
Verse 9-10. "indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us,"
Trouble brings trust.
Here’s another great reason for suffering. Perhaps the greatest of all: Most people think that to die is worst of all. Yet Paul, who thought (along with his companions) that he would die, many times, found a wonderful treasure in the sentence of death. He learned to not trust in himself, but in God, Who raises the dead.
Death has no hold over you. In Acts 14:19-20, where Paul was stoned at Lystra, he was left for dead. Many teachers have said that he WAS dead, and God returned him to life, for his work was not yet done. That may be true, for God does indeed raise the dead. He DID raise the dead, He WILL raise the dead, and He DOES raise them, more than we know. Afraid of dying? Give your life to Christ in God, Who raises the dead ). Trust in Him.
Verse 11. "you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many."
Trouble causes us to pray.
There are so many REASONS given for human suffering, in this chapter. Another is here is this verse, and it is that, in the midst of trouble, we learn to pray. Here in America, about the only time people give thanks, is to thank Him for food. Not many do that, and even less believe that our food really comes from Him, anyway. But it does. And it is when we LACK the means to purchase adequate food for our children, that we really start to learn how to pray. We often sat down to breakfast, not knowing what the children would eat for dinner. And when the food did come, miraculously, I found myself uttering spontaneous phrases, like "Wow, THANK You, God," and "Hallelujah" (which, of course, means "praise the Lord).
Paul was OPEN in his trouble. During the years of my wife’s severe mental illness, we kept it so secret, that people later asked, "why didn’t you TELL us?" And we should have. Real tribulation brings out prayer in other people, and when the answer comes, in response to the prayer (and it will), many will be able to give THANKS for this work that God has done.
Verse 12. "For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you."
Joseph Excell observed these remarks presuppose Paul was told he had been accused of "insincerity" by his opponents. Paul opens his heart and shows the simple love of God, he had for these people. My mother was a child prodigy on the piano, later playing on the radio, teaching lessons, and so on. Now, she will not play, because she cannot "read the notes" and her "fingers are not good." But she CAN play, for when I come up to her door (before she knows someone is there and stops), I am struck by the beauty of her music. I encourage her to play, for it is her HEART that we long to hear.
Matthew Henry said, "the conscience is God’s deputy of the soul, and the voice of the conscience is the voice of God." Paul had the clear conscience of one who does the will of God, out of love. As J. Vernon McGee stated, about this verse, "by God’s grace, through suffering (see previous verses), simplicity and Godly sincerity (KJV) was produced in Paul’s life. Suffering is a mercy of God, and it produces qualities in our lives that are to be shared.
Dr. McGee said, "My friend, if today, you are on a bed of pain, and you are in the will of God, that bed can become a greater pulpit than the one preachers stand behind." Trouble is God’s opportunity to express His love through our lives. Simply be open about your life, and let God do HIS work through you.
Verse 13. "For we write nothing else to you than what you read and under- stand, and I hope you will understand until the end;"
Paul has no hidden agenda, and there is no "hidden message" in any of the Scriptures, for that matter (contrary to what some teach). These verses have been about suffering, and it is obvious there is suffering in the world. Pick up a newspaper from any day, any city, and you find suffering; but what is that suffering about? These verses have been revealing the reasons for suffering, in your life and in mine. Often we can’t figure it out, because the purpose of our suffering (verse 6) may be for the benefit of someone in our future; someone we may not even have met, & won’t, for many years.
Another series of truths in these verses, involves the Person of God. Pre- supposed here, is that 1) God exists, 2) He is Sovereign, 3) He has a purpose in allowing your suffering, and 4) it is a good purpose, for He is good (and He loves – you). This is very simple, and God intends that you will understand.
Verse 14. "just as you also partially did understand us, that we are your reason to be proud as you also are ours, in the day of our Lord Jesus."
Our purpose in all of this suffering we have been discussing; all this LIFE we live, is that we might give something of God to one another. We are to delight in one another, as God in Christ cares for us. It is vanity (to recall Solomon in Ecclesiastes), to be "proud" of money, a prestigious marriage, social standing, importance in employment, physical beauty, and so on. Such are a waste of time, if they become the focus of our lives. Even good health is in this category, if it becomes our passion.
You are my purpose in living, and I yours (as God enables us), for we are one in Christ Jesus, given to love one another. Even this, though, can be vanity, for mere philanthropy, without the power and love of God, can be a mask for bringing glory to ourselves. Our glory in life is that the work of God may be done in the lives of that other person.
Verse 15. "In this confidence I intended at first to come to you, so that you might twice receive a blessing;
Paul longed to come to them; that he might give to them of the Holy Spirit of God. This was his consistent desire (as it should be ours), as seen in his desire for the Romans (1:1) when he wanted to bring to them a spiritual gift. Another place is Romans 15:29, where his intention was to come to them in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.
Our ability to help another person is quite limited. We give the food, and they get hungry again. The doctor who restores a patient to health, knows that surgery (wonderful and led of God it may be), will be followed by a need for MORE surgery in a few years. Our physical blessings are transitory, at best. Bring the Holy Spirit to a person, however, and you change them – forever.
Verse 16. "that is, to pass your way into Macedonia, and again from Macedonia to come to you, and by you to be helped on my journey to Judea."
It is not wrong to receive help from another person, as led by the Lord. Paul sometimes refused help from others, and as led by God, he would occasionally SEEK help FROM them. To refuse all assistance, can actually become a problem, for the OTHER person has just as much right to give, as you do.
Notice the references in this section. Paul is answering a letter or letters from them, and his statements are responsive in nature. We do not have the letter(s) from Corinth and do not completely understand. This is important for it goes to the authenticity of these writings. These are real people and this is a real letter, much like the one found in the attic – you may not understand all your grandfather was writing, but you would see the authenticity of his love for the woman who was to become your grandmother. A forger (writing many years later) would avoid the obscure at all cost. As in verse 1, the author was Paul the apostle (as led by the Holy Spirit), and you are reading a letter written in the year 56 AD.
Verse 17-18. "Therefore, I was not vacillating when I intended to do this, was I? Or what I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, so that with me there will be yes, yes and no, no at the same time? But as God is faithful, our word to you is not yes and no."
We often tend to plan lightly, for what we are doing. Let’s go out to dinner, we may announce, at the last possible moment. Our minds are easily changed and we often care very little about what we do. Paul was a different kind of man, who did everything on the basis of answered prayer, and because of the leadership of the Holy Spirit of God.
Paul not only teaches us to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17), but was a man who DID exactly that! As he spoke, he was always submitting his words to the Lord - what we (and the Corinthians) hear in these verses, is from God. Paul did not share "according to the flesh" but based all on God (Who is faithful to us). WE vacillate, but God does not; and we can trust the words of Paul, because he looked to God.
Verse 19. "For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us – by me and Silvanus and Timothy -- was not yes and no, but is yes in Him."
Paul (and Silvanus and Timothy) had spoken a clear, simple message among these people, and that message was Jesus Christ. He said to them, "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and He was buried, and He rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This was utterly clear, simple and profound – What we need is Christ, and what we are given is Christ "Who died for our sins, according to the Scriptures." Paul had only one message to give (as should we), and he gave it (Him) consistently, at all times.
Verse 20. "For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us."
Now Paul (and Silvanus and Timothy) was consistent, because Christ in God (of Whom Paul was ambassador) was also consistent in every way. We’ve all had the experience of asking someone something, and the answer starts, "Well, yes and no…" Not so with our Lord; not so with Paul. "Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8), and His response to the need of your heart, is "Yes."
Our Lord, as stated, is utterly consistent in His message to you. You need to be "born again" (as Jesus said to Nicodemus, in John 3:3, 7); "born in the Spirit" (John 3:8), and when you look to Him, you will find Him, for He has promised that you will. The "Son of Man" (Jesus) was to be "lifted up" (crucified – John 3:14), and in His death, you CAN be made new. There is no "yes and no" but only "yes" for you and for me.
Verse 21. "Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God,"
Question: Who told Paul he could say such things to you? By what right does he speak to us? Because he spoke not only to the Corinthians, but like your grandfather’s letter you found in the attic, he speaks to you, also. Who told him he could do this? The answer is – God! Paul was given us by Christ, and establishes our Lord in us. He was appointed, ordained, selected – to speak to you, right now. To such a man, we must listen; for he was sent to you and
Verse 22. "who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge."
In real estate sales, we find the concept of "earnest money." When the seller of the property receives a contract from a potential buyer, he is justly concerned – what if the buyer does not follow through and buy the property? Should I take my property off the market for him? How do I know the buyer can afford to buy my property? So the buyer, understanding this, not only offers a signed purchase contract, but also pledges something of great value to the seller, which is to belong to the seller, should he not follow through.
In our case, the purchase contract was written in the Blood of Jesus Christ. He died for you, and WILL follow through on all He has pledged. But, since there is a little TIME left before "close of escrow," and since we tend to become afraid and doubt, He has given us more. Our "earnest" is the Holy Spirit of God, this Precious Gift, Who is with us and IN us, all the days of our lives.
Sign the contract! Say "yes" to Him. "Sell" yourself utterly to Him, and you will not regret that decision, now, or at "closing," or in all eternity. All that is of value in life, and in eternity, is given to you.
Verse 23. "But I call God as witness to my soul, that to spare you I did not come again to Corinth."
Paul is explaining why he did not go to Corinth, at a certain time. If he had, he would have done so to CORRECT them, as we see in the first letter (1st Corinthians). "I wanted to spare you all that," he is saying. He prayerfully sent the first letter, and had been praying for them, ever since. With that letter and with prayer, they had all that was needed. If Paul was to come to them now, he would not come in correction, but he would come in love.
Verse 24. "Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm."
We do not Lord it over one another. The "minister" is the servant of all, and we minister to one another, in order to HELP the other person. Paul had told them to "imitate" him (1st Corinthians 4:10), and the answer to what he meant by that, is found right here in this verse. We are to imitate him, by becoming ourselves people OF FAITH IN GOD. They too, now had such faith, and therefore were imitators of Paul. We need to do the same. For our trust in God is not based in the faith of some other man, but we directly entrust our lives to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. In FAITH, in His grace, we stand in Him.
2 Corinthians Chapter 2
Verse 1. "But I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again."
As Joseph Excell pointed out, the division of chapters (between 1 & 2), is unfortunate, because this (and the next three verses), belong to the paragraph which started at 1:23. When Paul said "I would not come to you…again" it is noted there is one visit recorded for him (in Acts), and that is Acts 18:1-18, where he encountered the delightful Priscilla and Aquila. For some reason there is endless debate here, as to how many times Paul went to Corinth, and the argument is better left alone (for it detracts from the Word of God, and accomplishes little).
As to the "sorrow" part, Paul had written them (1st Corinthians) a very strong letter, in which he censured them about divisiveness, personality cults, immorality in the Church, lawsuits, selfishness, abuses of the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, and even about denials of the Resurrection. He called them (insulted them, actually) "babes" (babies) in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1). He did not wish to do this to them again.
In some ways, when you and I minister to one another, we are like parents, one to the other. We encourage, share, admonish, and yes, discipline among ourselves, in the Name of Christ. Yet, notice that the parent who acts in love, disciplines - but acts also with reluctance, out of love for his child (just like Paul).
Verse 2. "For if I cause you sorrow, who then makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful?"
Paul was not willing to pain those who made him glad; just as we must not discipline the one who has done no wrong. He would not visit them, when to do so, would cause pain to them both (to Paul and to the Corinthians). As Excell points out, the "I" is emphatic in the Greek, and carries none of the strange selfish meaning, which some attribute to this verse.
Our normal state, with one another, should be love, in the presence of our Lord, in the company of one another. Paul did not wish to be made glad by their sorrow, much like the parent is not pleased at the sobs of his little ones. I was in a hospital recently, and saw the tears in the eyes of my pastor, as he comforted the parents of the child who had just gone to be with the Lord. Those tears capture the heart of Paul, in relation to the people to whom he wrote.
Verse 3. "This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all that my joy would be the joy of you all."
As stated in relation to verse two, the heart of every child of God, should be filled with love. Something else we should feel is – joy! We are to have this joy for others, as though they were our own child, who just won the big game! We delight in the success of others! That’s precisely the way Paul was in relation to the flock of God.
The typical condition of those in the world is (instead) sorrow, interrupted by periodic bouts of elation, which is sometimes confused with joy. Paul was open with these people, and he would respond as he was led by God. They had written to him (1 Corinthians 7:1), with concerns about the actions of certain people in the church, and Paul had responded with the letter we call 1st Corinthians.
Paul had already heard reports that the majority of the Corinthians had responded well to his letter. However, some still opposed the freedom we have in Christ, and evidently the opposition was led by a group of "Judaizers" (see Paul’s responses in Chapters 10-13). The real source of joy in life, by the way, is found in the Holy Spirit of God, and it was in Him, that Paul wrote these letters.
Verse 4. "For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you."
If we had the manuscripts (the originals) of 1st and 2nd Corinthians, they would be stained with the tears of Paul. We will see the originals in eternity, by the way, for much like the ark is preserved (Revelation 11:19), and our tears are kept (Psalm 56:8), the Word of God is alive (Hebrews 4:12) – forever (Isaiah 40:8).
It is with this very kind of anguish and love, that Jesus Christ died for you. He died that you might know Him, and know the love which our God has so freely given – to you!
And if your life is difficult, He is simply allowing a work within you. He says to you, "My son (My daughter, My child), do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves, He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights" (Proverbs 3:11-12). So should we love our children, and so God loves you and me.
Verse 5. "But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree -- in order not to say too much -- to all of you."
Paul now begins to address the situation of the man who had committed sexual immorality with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1 & forward). He had told them "deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh" (1 Corinthians 5:5 – throw him out of the church). They had actually been previously "glorying" (1 Corinthians 5:6) in the situation, and Paul had told them "your glorying is not good."
They had been "puffed up and had not mourned" (1 Corinthians 5:2 – do we mourn that sin is in our land; in our church?). But now they had indeed mourned and had cast him out. They had then become saddened by these events, and so had Paul. He gives them the advice, by the way, that we should give, as parents, as pastors (we are all, to some extent, pastors to one another) – to not be too severe.
Verse 6. "Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority,"
When you have provided discipline, in whatever context it may be necessary (perhaps as an employer, in relation to a worker who will not work), enough is sufficient. In all discipline, the aim is to achieve a desired result, and it is never to bring harm needlessly to that person. The sentence for this man had been excommunication, which may not seem severe in our society of many churches, but in that context, it brought that which was needed for them all.
Note (as Excell comments) that this man’s name is never given. Paul reflects the Jewish attitude of the time, that "there is a criminal cruelty in needlessly calling a blush of shame into a brother’s face." As led by God, we protect those around us, in every possible manner, including the reputation of our brother, our sister, our neighbor, friend and even our enemy (who may later become more than a friend). There are lines with other people we must not cross, and only the Holy Spirit can show us where those lines are.
Verse 7. "so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow."
Forgiveness ought to be the norm among Christians. Indeed, however, it (forgiveness) is so rare in this world, that we are considered abnormal, when we do forgive. A form of the word "crestians", which means "kind hearted", was used among the Galatians in relation to the early Christians. The word reached the language by accident (for Christians) in their culture, for they found the earliest believers to actually BE so kind hearted, they thought the word "kind hearted" was their name.
Are we kind hearted? Are we forgiving of others? Paul was our model in this regard. He told us to work (or not eat) in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, noting that some were disorderly and did not work (3:11). He commanded them to work (3:12), and then told others to not associate with those who will not work (3:14). But then he concluded, "yet do not count him as an enemy, but treat him as a brother" (2 Thessalonians 3:15).
We are to be strong and firm, but also gentle and kind, loving one another in the power of God.
Verse 8. "Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him."
Keep in mind here that the offender within their midst, had performed incest with his father’s wife. There are those who teach this was his step mother, but the Greek actually does not support that. In a church I attended, years ago, an exuberant man who really seemed to love the Lord, was suddenly accused of sexually abusing his grand children. I left that church but later was told he went to prison for what was done.
Incest is a terrible crime and prison is reasonable – a right place for the person who commits the crime of incest, which is a violation of trust at a basic level. But can we truly forgive such a person and welcome them back into fellowship, into our church, into our homes, into our hearts, when they honestly repent of what they have done? That is precisely what Paul tells us to do. And J. V. McGee reminds us, "We are all capable of any sin."
We had a lengthy conversation about this verse, during this morning’s Friday Study, and caution was urged, as to accepting certain offenders back into our midst. As Don Araiza urged, "Love them, and also be cautious about (premature) association...wait for (true) repentance and change in their lives." Yes! In the same place that Christ urged us to be "harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16), He also cautioned us to be "wise as serpents." We are given brains and we should use them. After using our brains to protect our little ones (and after much prayer) we are to RECEIVE our truly repentant brother.
Verse 9. "For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things."
You (your faith in God) will be tested. This is not "tempted" but tested and it will happen to each one. The aim, in our walk with God, is that we will become truly responsive to His Spirit; which is to say, to express His love and His will to all we meet. As gold is tested for purity, so we will be tested in the fire of God, until we are found pure in His love, pure in Him.
Paul was entrusted with the Gospel, not as pleasing men, but "God, Who tests our hearts" (1 Thessalonians 2:4 – it is our impure tendency to please ourselves). The blind Milton said, "My vision Thou hast dimmed, that I may see Thyself, Thyself alone." We will be tested until we see God alone. We are to see Him in the face of that homeless person over there; in the countenance of our spouse, who hurt us beyond measure; and upon the brow of our enemy, who stabbed us through. We will be tested and we will see God.
Verse 10. "But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ,"
Paul now knew these Corinthians had become obedient (2 Corinthians 7:6 & context – Titus had told him). It really didn’t matter to Paul, by the way, that they followed him, but he had told them the will of God, and they (we) must follow Him (God). Obedience is an expression of faith in God, and they were now trusting in the Lord.
Paul would accept their decision about forgiveness (as in this verse), for to know someone is truly a compassionate (forgiving) person, you can trust your back to them and you will be safe. You can depend on their judgement, in areas like – forgiveness.
Verse 11. "so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes."
A key reason for forgiveness is given here. We are to be full of the love of God which is in Christ Jesus – and the enemy wants to take our love – away. Our love (His love in us) is to be expressed in forgiveness. And just as surely as the mirror reflects light, so we should reflect the forgiveness of Christ, to the one who repents. Just as God receives them, so should we. The enemy is subtle, but our lack of love is like the alarm clock in the morning – it should wake us up.
If we don’t forgive, we have the problem of the Ephesians in Revelation 2. – We may be doctrinally correct, but if we are lacking in love, we have missed it all. Additionally, the repentant person (who is already in a state of grief at what he has done) can be sent back into sin by our rigid and severe response (the enemy would like that). This is the observation of Matthew Henry, and if you think for a moment, it is our observation, too. We need to become a people of the forgiveness given in our God.
Verse 12. "Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord,"
Paul is at this time completing his thought about the painful circumstances in which he had written 1st Corinthians. He wanted to come to them, but instead stopped in Troas, at the direction of the Holy Spirit. (This is where we must stake our lives – in following God). Just like Paul, we have desires which are sometimes good, sometimes less good, but we must learn to follow God (and not merely our own desires).
This, by the way, was the city Troas (not the district by the same name), and the name of the place had been recently changed by the Romans from Antigonia Troas to Alexandria Troas. It was well known by them, because the Romans thought it represented Troy, which they thought was the "cradle of their race" (Excell). Paul had stopped there during his second missionary journey (Acts 16:8-11) but left because of the vision which led him to Macedonia.
He now stopped there on the way from Macedonia to Corinth, and found this "open door" which was a flourishing Christian community (Acts 20:6-7), where he could minister to them. He stayed there at least once more, before he was to be martyred (2 Timothy 4:13). Excell is among those who thought it was probably at Troas where his final arrest would take place (the one that led to his execution).
Verse 13. "I had no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia."
It was Titus who was to bring word to Paul about the Church in Corinth, and I can imagine Paul "beside himself", waiting for information. He paced around, probably for days, looking for Titus, but then he went to Philippi, in Macedonia. It was there Paul found Titus, this younger man of God
Verse 14. "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place."
Matthew Henry correctly stated, "A believer’s triumphs are all in Christ. In ourselves we are weak, and have neither joy nor victory; but in Christ, we may rejoice and triumph." We are "more than conquerors" through Him Who loved you and me (Romans 8:37). Our accomplishments are small and do not last, and like the child who delights in the work of his father, we delight in God, Who leads us in His Triumph in Christ.
J. Vernon McGee relates this to the many triumphal entries of the Roman armies (they won a lot of battles, and this happened often – Paul would have seen these processions. After a great victory, the procession would last from early morning until late in the night. First they would see the people (captives) who were going to be released. In the back were those to be executed. In between, were the strange animals and trophies of victory, taken in battle.
Verse 15. "For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing;"
Running all through these triumphal entries of Roman armies, were clouds of incense, burned to "gods" credited for the victory. Sometimes the procession was so obscured by these thick clouds of incense, that people could not see. We are the fragrance of God, as He expresses His utter victory in Christ (through ordinary people, like you and me). We’re amazingly like plain, brass lamps, filled with the fire of God.
Note that we (or rather, God in us), can be perceived, both by those who love Him, and also by those who choose to NOT receive our Lord. I have been amazed, down through the years, by the many who have inquired, at one time or another, "You’re a Christian, aren’t you?" My amazement is reasonable, for I’m ordinary in every way, except one – God is in me - even me. And both the "lost" and the "saved" will perceive Him in you, as well, when Christ is in you. His sweet savor of victory will be manifest through you, just like incense will permeate a room.
Verse 16. "to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?"
J. Vernon McGee observed that in the Roman triumphal entry, there were those who were going to be set free, and those who would be executed, but all of them were in the triumphal entry (Jesus died for us all). Bishop Wordsworth made the delightful comment about this verse – "In them that are saved, and in them that perish, the odour is fragrant to God, though those who breathe it may be variously affected by it."
To some (Acts 4:11, Romans 9:33, 1 Peter 2:8), Jesus (the Chief Corner Stone) becomes a Stone of Stumbling, which grinds to powder, those on whom it falls. To others, He is Life! The rabbis also spoke of the Law as "an aroma alike of death and of life."
Years ago, when I was in an intensive care unit, they could not understand why I was dying; because the medicine they gave was designed to give life – but I was dying. It turned out the large quantities of penicillin-derivative had created an allergy, and to this day, the easiest way to kill me, would be to give me penicillin. That which gives life to the one, will kill another. In the case of our Lord (Who gave Himself for the sins of the world), there are those who will not receive Him, literally will themselves to eternal death.
Verse 17. "For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God."
Paul asked, in the preceding verse, "Who is adequate for these things?" The answer is – none of us. Our whole relationship with God is "In Christ, in the sight of God," as in this verse.
A key concept for me, these many years, is from Matthew 10:8, "freely you have received, freely give." This statement was made to the "twelve" when they were sent out by twos, in a "practice run" to the "lost sheep of Israel" (10:6). As I look on our lives, I see in retrospect, that we have experienced many "practice runs", designed to bring us into conformity to Him, as He always intended.
I was in sales, and sometimes did quite well; but other times were financial disasters, during which I thought about "bad luck", regretted that I was ever born, took (and practiced) all the "success" classes ever invented, worked 60- to 70-hours a week; often to little avail. It was like I was a faucet, which was turned on and off, at surprising, unexpected, and disturbing times.
Yet God wonderfully provided, even as I failed to do the job. Time-and-time again, God gave what was needed. And He did not only do this with money and with food, but He provided amply what was needed inside as well – Enabling us to understand the Word of God, receive His Son, and be given abundantly of His Spirit.
Freely, abundantly, each one of us has received – and let us also give the good things of God, to everyone who comes our way.
2 Corinthians Chapter 3
Verse 1. "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you?"
In a file cabinet, in my closet, I have "letters of reference," which extend back some 40-years. Such letters have been customary in our society, and that was also true in the Roman Empire. If you are my potential employer, you will need more than letters from 30- or 40-years ago - you need to know who I am (and it’s a good time for us to become acquainted).
As to Paul’s situation, there were plenty of guys running around to the churches of that time (like Corinth), with "credentials" in the form of letters of recommendation. Many of them were "judaizers" who had the outward credentials but lacked God’s heart for people.
Paul had given these people - Christ! Under his ministry, they received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. He taught them and nursed them, with the good things of God. Of all people, they should have been satisfied with his ministry, and yet there were those of the law who had planted seeds of doubt, and the Corinthians WONDERED about him.
Verse 2. "You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men;"
Paul was the "midwife" who had "birthed" these people into Christ. In 1953, I was attending a meeting at Hume Lake, in California, and the speaker was my pastor, Howard Ervin. (As I wrote this, Howard was in his 80’s and still taught a Bible study on Friday evenings). He always clearly spoke of my (our) need to receive Christ, and touched inside by the Holy Spirit, I went forward and received our Lord.
I have no trouble recognizing Howard as my "father" in the faith, who led me to the Lord. If he had called me on the telephone, I would NOT need some kind of letter (perhaps faxed to me), authenticating him and his ministry. Because of Howard’s faithfulness (and the work of the Holy Spirit through him), I am changed. I have become Howard’s letter (and the Lord’s), written on my humanity, in the blood of Christ. The ministry that is authenticated by changed lives, reveals the presence of God.
We are made alive in Christ, and the promise of His life is extended to those we meet - expressed through you and even through me. Since this writing, such a short time ago, I have learned Howard is now with the Lord. But Howard is ALIVE in Christ, and because of his faithfulness, so am I.
Verse 3. "being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts."
We have read a lot of letters (epistles) and many are part of the Bible. Paul wrote such letters, as did Peter, John, Jude, and James. Paul himself was a "letter" (as were the others), written by God, addressed to you and to me.
The surprise is that you and I are also such letters, written by the Son of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and sent to the world. "Dear…(fill in the name), this is Ron (or your name, if you are in Christ). Receive this person as My child, because they are in My Son. Give them every consideration you would give to Me…" YOU are a letter from God.
Jeremiah related (31:33) "I (God) will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts." Ezekiel reported (11:22) "I will take the stony heart of their flesh, and I will give them a heart of flesh." These verses are fulfilled for us, when we receive the Lord, the Son of God.
Verse 4. "Such confidence we have through Christ toward God."
The trust that we are given to receive Him, also brings confidence IN Him.
"Trust" is faith, and I love the entry verse into the "faith" chapter of Hebrews (11:1), "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." This "faith" is not of ourselves (Hebrews 12:2), but is wrought in Christ, imparted to us; the gift of God. If it was of us, it would not be evidence of Him.
We understand all these things about laws, covenants, letters, and so on, not because we are somehow skilled in understanding God or in having faith, but through the Son of God, Who gave us the Spirit of God. All we do is receive the finished work of Christ, the Son of God, and in Him, we are given the capacity to have faith in Him. His Spirit is planted deep within our hearts, and much like we are given eyes that see, He has given us His Spirit, that we might understand.
We have confidence in Christ, in God.
Verse 5. "Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,"
If we are unable to understand this verse, or we feel like failures as Christians, it is explained in John 15:5: "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me, you can do nothing." It is Christ Who has done the work - our job is to be - in Him. The branch does not produce the fruit – It is the Tree that produces the fruit, through the branch. We are never "failures" – we need to relax, and let Him express Himself THROUGH you and me.
We are merely flesh, and cannot save, or truly love, or trust, or do any good and lasting thing, except Christ (the Vine) expresses Himself through us (the branches). We can baptize, perform the Lord’s Supper, teach His Word, and lay hands on people - but without Him, these are mere rituals done by people.
We are not sufficient in ourselves. Do you sometimes feel - incomplete? Without Christ, you will always have that gnawing emptiness; a sense something is missing (because you ARE incomplete). Sufficiency is from God, through Christ. In Him, you can rest, because you are now more than adequate - in Him.
Verse 6. "who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."
The New Covenant is as high as the heavens (the far flung galaxies) are, in relation to the earth; and indeed the Old Covenant, though holy, is designed for this time, this earth. When we stop at a red light, it is commendable, and the lives of those in cross traffic are saved because we stop. When we respond to "Thou shalt not commit murder," It is a good thing and certainly does protect our neighbor.
The moral teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha), can be summed up by the phrase, "Do not do harm to one another," and when you add to that, "Honor God and do not blaspheme His Name," you essentially have the Old Covenant. Commendable, but inside we know it (keeping the law) is insufficient to save.
Each of us knows our thoughts, intents, and our past, and recognize we need a Savior. To leave the realm of the law (which reveals our sin), and enter the realm of the Spirit, we must be changed. In the one, we are (from God’s perspective) pronounced dead, and in the Other, we are made alive (in Christ).
What is our authority to minister? Is it because we graduated from a certain college, have some kind of title, or wear a certain uniform? It is none of these. We only are sufficient as ministers IN HIM. If we give one another the letter of the law (don’t do this; don’t do that), we lead others only into the conviction of sin. We need the Spirit of Christ, who gives us life.
Verse 7. "But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was,"
How was (is) the law (the ministry of death) glorious? In relation to the law (in the Book of Exodus), we see the ocean split into dry land; a pillar of fire and smoke; water coming out of rocks; food from nothing, right outside their tent flaps each morning, and Moses was transformed from a man of human effort, into a man of faith, a servant of God. His face (Exodus 34:29) shone with the glory of God when he talked with the people. But the greatest glory of the law is that it "kills" (2 Corinthians 3:6) by letting us discover our bankruptcy of the soul and our need of God. Moses saw his need of God, and so should we.
Verse 8. "how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?"
How is the ministry of the Spirit, greater (more glorious) than the ministry of the law (preceding verses)? One aspect is certainly discussed in Psalm 147:5 (& context): "Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite." You see, our attempts to keep the law, will reach right down inside of us, and declare us to be sinners - and then just leave us there! And we are given ultimately, no permanent remedy for our sin in the law! (The sacrifices in the Law were illustrative of Christ but for those people, they were only conditional and temporary).
From your encounter with the law, you will have no place to go, but up, for the law cannot bring you up, but only reveal you for what you are. Jesus pointed out that our problem with the law, is that it does not merely consider our outward actions, but our inward attitudes.
If you are angry with someone, or think he’s "nuts" (Matthew 5:22); if you are furious at that other driver on the freeway - you have sinned and are guilty before the law. If you address the merest thoughts of adultery (or fornication), you’re guilty (Matthew 5:28) in the sight of a Holy God.
God understands (Psalm 147:5) your limitations and He loves you personally, so much, that He wants you to - live! The law understands and makes you die. Understanding in the Holy Spirit of God, is limitless, filled with love, and you will live in JOY - forever! Do you see how the One is higher than the other?
Verse 9. "For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory."
The law is beautiful. Can you imagine how this world would be, if people did not murder one another, anymore? What if we did not steal from each other? What if people stopped lying? Even if we all lived in the harshest desert, life would be better, because we would become at peace with one another. Wouldn’t that be glorious? Yes, it would be, and the law is glorious! The only problem - we are not glorious. For, when we receive the information from the law that we are not perfect, we typically respond by hiding our flaws, and pretending we don’t have them!
The ministry of righteousness, on the other hand, from outside of us, and in the heart of God. He brings His heart, His love, in Christ Jesus, and plants the good seed of faith - deep inside of you and me. The seed begins to grow, and in amongst our stony ground, will grow the most beautiful "flowers." These are "flowers" such as love, purity, faith, gentleness, etc. That which we could never do on our own, begins to happen, because He who loves us and died for us; now lives in us, and He will bring it to pass.
Verse 10. "For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it."
For years after I quit smoking - oddly enough the times I wanted to smoke, were when I was confronted by a "No Smoking" sign. The law is like that, for it tends to reveal the deep rebelliousness within us all. Now, I did not quit smoking because of "No Smoking" signs. It was rather that I could not quit, for literally years, and then I prayed that one more time, and God delivered me.
"No Smoking" signs are good and they have a fine purpose, but to actually quit smoking is better. So much better, the one cannot be compared with the other. The moon is glorious but the sun is much more so. If the moon suddenly disappeared, we might have earthquakes and flooding, but many would live. Without the sun, everything would quickly die. So is the Spirit infinitely greater than the law. The one is good, but it kills, and the Other gives life.
Verse 11. "For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory."
The law is passing away. There will not be any "No Smoking" signs in eternity, because no one would want to smoke. It is unnecessary to say "Thou shalt not commit murder" in a setting where death is unthinkable. You don’t steal when you have everything, and even more important, when you are enabled to really LOVE that other person, you don’t hurt them.
The incredible thing, is that eternity has already begun for us - right now! It is not that we have to somehow wait for sin to be put away, for Jesus has already done what is needed, and more!
Paul said "we were dead" (Ephesians 2:5). We are already sitting "in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus" (2:6). Because of His grace, through faith (2:8-9), "good works" have been created in us, in Christ Jesus (2:10). We no longer need to be under law, because we have received the Spirit of God.
Rejoice - for Someone glorious has come and is imparting His Life; right inside of you. The "old" begins to fade - when you receive the New.
Verse 12. "Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech,"
The law is like the black velvet (of a jewelry store), upon which the diamond ring is placed. She (the bride-to-be), will receive the ring with joy, but will give little thought to the velvet, for it merely points to the ring. Receiving the ring (itself a promise), she experiences a reasonable onset of joy, and typically wants to talk a lot about her husband-to-be. She has the hope of a more complete life, and wears that ring, if you think about it, because of the promise of so much more. We have great hope in Christ, our Beloved, and more-and-more, we will want to share our love of Him.
Verse 13. "and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away."
There’s a minor controversy about this verse (from Exodus 34:33-35), for some teach Moses was simply afraid people would see the glory of God was fading away (as this verse appears in some translations). Others teach something along the line that he was protecting them from the glare. I think a wider look at this verse is better, for it is not merely an isolated statement, but part of a context. The whole of Moses’ life (and that of Israel), is, by the way, a parable to help us understand God’s intentions for mankind.
Most of the people Israel (as most of the world) were not believers, though outwardly, they were of that nation. Many go to Church but do not personally know Christ. There is a "veil" over what people see, and tragically, many indicate a lack of understanding by trying to approach God merely though "good" works or POSITIVE intentions.
Paul was bold (verse 12), and compared his approach with Moses (verse 13), who instead veiled the glory of God. It’s not that Moses did something good or bad, right or wrong (as some teach), either - again, his act was a parable that we might understand why some do not believe. They do not believe because they do not see, and the glory of God remains veiled because people generally do not want to see God.
Paul offered the Spirit of God, and was open, because the Holy Spirit gives life. Moses offered the law, which was beautiful, but to the faithless, it kills. There was that aspect of Moses’ dealings with the people, which was like a funeral. Depending on the culture, those at a funeral might wear black, or white, or are veiled, or whatever. Paul operated boldly, openly, because he offers life - to you.
Verse 14. "But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ."
Years ago, my wife referred to me as "Hard-headed", because I did not see (or adopt) her point of view (and she had a point). But this is more than just a change in a way of looking at things – Paul is urging us to a whole new LIFE in Christ Jesus. We are to be made NEW, different, in Him. This is the way of faith in God, that it leads to Christ - HE is the One given for the sins of the world.
To be "hardened" is to refuse to receive God the Son.
There are those who will not see. Something that is veiled cannot be seen (because it is veiled). But Jesus Christ is openly offered to you. Is it your problem that you do not understand God? - Turn to Christ; abandon yourself to Him. Take the risk, and we who receive, will perceive more than we ever dreamed – We will understand His love.
Verse 15-16. "But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away."
It’s incredible to me, that at one time, I read about the sacrifices in Leviticus (a part of the Books of Moses) and did not see Christ. As the author of Hebrews correctly pointed out, "It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4). Then what was the meaning of all those sacrifices of bulls, goats, and other animals, in the Book of Leviticus?
They were historical parables, revealing to the people of that time, and to us, in picture form, our need of Christ. "We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all" (Hebrews 10:10). Moses, in every way, was more than just a man; he was a parable, and he pointed to our Lord, Jesus Christ.
There was a time when I looked into Scripture, and did not see, because there was a "veil" on my heart. Thanks be to God, the veil is now taken away – and in Christ, we can SEE. Paul said, "Awake sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light." (Ephesians 5:14).
Verse 17. "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
When you turn to God in Christ, the Holy Spirit becomes the Lord of your life, leading you and guiding you, in every good and perfect way. In Him, we have freedom, like we never before dreamed. People often think of "freedom" as the right to do "whatever we want." But if you and I each have that kind of "freedom", we will eventually infringe on the rights of each other, and find we do not have "freedom" after all.
Paul taught us we are "called to freedom (only) do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, serve one another" (Galatians 5:13). There is true freedom when we are enabled to love one another more than ourselves. If we only stand up for OUR "rights", we can never, ever be free. Freedom is abandonment to the love of God, and sharing His love with one another.
Verse 18. "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit."
We are transformed, in Christ. As Joseph Excell pointed out, people are "singularly UNLIKE Christ - by nature like Satan; by grace like Christ." It is astonishing that we who are NOT like Him, gradually BECOME like Him, because of the power and love of God. From glory to glory, His people, acquire His character: nobility (to those who are not noble; peace to the restless; joy to the unhappy; and usefulness to the one who formerly would not follow God.
It’s like we become some kind of mirror, dim and pitted we may be; reflecting Him, His glory - the very glory of God. How are we to be "light" (or "salt" for that matter – Matthew 5:13-16)? We don’t have a clue. It is the LORD, the Spirit of God, Who transforms us into the very image of God. We don’t even know, really, what that "image" is about, but He is doing that precise and wonderful work, IN those who simply BELIEVE - in Him. He imparts HIS glory to ordinary people; just like you and me.
2 Corinthians Chapter 4
Verse 1. "Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart,"
Whatever ministry we have, it is by the mercy of God, and is undeserved. God does not need us, as He has demonstrated in my life, over-and-over again. Not to my hurt, but to my joy, for it is important to recognize this, that to minister in His Name (to have that privilege), is to receive mercy - and it is a clear sign that He loves us, without limit. Because of the mercy of God, we can have courage and hope - we do not lose heart.
The outward circumstances of our lives are less relevant, as we perceive the inward work of God, often (but not always) manifested in prayer, in service, teaching, or a comforting touch for the one in need. It is the Holy Spirit Who enables us and prompts us to help one another, and it is not a burden to serve, but a gift from God.
Verse 2. "but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."
To have a double motive is the natural state of mankind. To become honest (as we are drawn to do in Christ), should be a surprise to every one, for deceit (often disguised as the "white lie"), is the way of humanity. All too often, the " minister" performs a ritual, or gives a talk - out of duty, and not out of love. I have visited with a number of clergymen who do not believe, yet the ministry is their job, and they cannot stop (for they would not have a job). Mark Behrens pointed out this verse is like the old covenant, which pointed to Christ, but became a mere ritual, because they chose to not have faith.
For years, I was distressed by a young man I met in seminary, who was already ordained; but he LEFT the ministry after graduation, choosing to become a funeral director, instead. (The door to ministry was closed to me at that time, and I was distressed by his choice). Actually, I have come to accept Dan’s decision, because it was the leading of God, and it is the will of God we must seek. None of this should be done from the efforts of a man. If the ministry is not right for you – work elsewhere, just like Dan.
To "minister" is not for money, or fame, for a career, or any other secondary motive, but for the benefit of that other person, and for the glory of God. We are to have no other motive than to love and follow the will of God. He knows what we should be and do; even when we do not. Look to Him.
Verse 3. "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing,"
Joseph Excell has the understanding of this verse, and he asks "How can a ‘veiled’ truth (this verse) be a ‘manifested’ truth (verse 2)?" And the answer is, "the gospel is bright, but the eyes that should see are willfully closed."
WHY do people so often close their eyes to the reality of Christ? I believe the answer is in the words "sensuality" and "denial." The drinker denies that he is a drunk, because he ENJOYS the sensual experience of drinking (alcohol). There is a temporary relief from fear, and there are momentary flights into elation. If the drinker realizes "I am a drunk," addicted to the numbing effects of this substance, he is in great danger - for he has taken a step toward stopping the use of that which temporarily makes him less afraid.
To acknowledge Christ is to understand we truly are insufficient in ourselves; and to SEE that we are always on the edge of losing - everything! Scary. We often deny Him, Who would set us free, and give us peace. The drinker keeps on drinking, and people enjoy the sensuality of certain thoughts and actions, which TEMPORARILY make think they feel better. We need the permanence of salvation in Christ. We need joy instead of elation, and His love in the place of fear.
Verse 4. "in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."
The "god of this world" is the character we know as "Satan," or the "adversary." He is the enemy of the true God, and the enemy of mankind. He hates you, and would kill you in a moment, if he could (our Lord protects you). Many follow him, though, for much like the drunk (commentary on verse 3) can become temporarily elated by the substance that is killing him, Satan will, for a time, allow sensual pursuits to mankind. You can indeed find "pleasure" for a time, but then be ruined - forever.
Note that Jesus Christ is the "image of God." He created man and woman alike in that image (Genesis 1:26-28), and there is no need for the endless speculation about the NATURE of that image. What is it? The answer is right here - CHRIST is the Image of God (see also Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:15). To the extent we contain Jesus Christ, we are in that Image, and the Image is in us. If we do not receive Him, we are like the drinking glass - Designed to hold water and satisfy thirst, we become only an object of frustration, when we are empty of Him.
Verse 5. "For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake."
My ideas, my speculations, my theories about life, are useless to you, just as yours are ultimately not useful to me. I have written a novel, called "Achaia" which was a lot of fun to write, and allowed me to express endless speculation about what I consider was the nature of the pre-flood world. But I have not been able to get publishers to read it, and it occurs to me the world may not NEED more speculative ideas. Yes, we are to LISTEN to one another, but our SATISFACTION will not come from a mere philosophy of life.
You need Christ! Knowledge is valuable, but you need Christ, deep in your soul. You need to be SATISFIED at the depths of your being, which will not be reached by sensual experience (verse 2), or mere knowledge - no matter how interesting that "knowledge" may seem to be. We need the Lord.
I am your servant, to the extent these words give Christ to you. And we are servants to one another, in the body of Christ. It is not our MINDS that need to be changed, it is our hearts that need Jesus Christ. If you and I give Him to one another, we satisfy the purpose for which we were created, and re-created - in Him.
Verse 6. "For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."
Jesus tells us that we "are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14) and defines that "light" as "good works" which "glorify your Father in heaven" (5:16). John the Baptist had a specific function given by God, which was to bear witness of the Light, that all might believe (John 1:6-8, and forward). John’s "job" was to introduce the need for repentance ("make straight" the hearts of men), so that people would be ready to receive Jesus Christ (the Light). Yet Jesus referred to him as a "burning and shining lamp" (John 5:35).
If you asked the moon about "his" light, "He" might correctly reply, like John the Baptist, "It is not my light, it is his," and he would point to the sun. (Yet, the moon, from our perspective, seems to have light). Our minds and hearts are illumined (made to understand) by our Lord, and people might look to us and talk about "our" light. But I, like you, can only point at Christ, and with wonder in our eyes, we say "It is Him; He is the Light." And He is.
This week's study: 2 Corinthians 4:7-12
Verse 7. "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;"
Two things are very personal (to me) about this verse: 1) The more acquainted I became, down through the years, with men who had titles like "pastor" or "priest" or "minister," etc., the more puzzled I got, because they have flaws, just like me. And, 2) I finally decided to avoid the ministry (after first seeking it for a long time), because of my OWN flaws - there is enough trouble and confusion in the world - why add to it?
What I did not understand, is that we are ALL "earthen" vessels. The word "earthen" brings to mind a common, rough, clay, brown-colored pot, for common use. And that is exactly what Paul had in mind. He had become a kind of rough, "blue collar" worker - a tentmaker. Truly, we are all just human beings, and we have nothing lasting in life to offer - except Him, Who died for us.
Now, the surprise is that we find the obvious power of God, in a very ordinary person, and that is exactly the point - The excellence of the power is of Him, and not of you and me. The person used for the glory of God, is like the gold coin found inside the earthen pot, hidden there for just this moment - for the person who is in need.
Verse 8. "we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing;"
"Pressed (afflicted) on every side," is what it says, and I really don’t particularly care for that imagery, for we like to be FREE. Paul was afflicted, pressed, in every way. From a human perspective, Paul was like a shirt on an ironing board – pressed flat by circumstances too great to bear. Yet in the Spirit, Paul was FREE, like few of us will ever know in this life.
Circumstances pressed Paul but he was not crushed by them. Life is overwhelming, many times, but we do not have to be taken by life to the point of despair. (We have a secret) – we have HOPE in Christ. The troubles we experience, though they press us down, are temporary in nature. We too often forget that Christ is with us, and when all is done, we will be with Him, who truly LOVES you and me.
Verse 9. "persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;"
Jesus promised us, "If they persecuted Me" (and they did), "they will also persecute you" (John 15:20). But the most wonderful promise is in this verse: You will not be forsaken. After they persecuted our Lord on the cross, He physically left our midst. Before He left (and in the same context as John 15:20), He continued, "If I do not go away, the Helper" (the Holy Spirit) "will not come to you; but if I depart" (and He did), "I WILL send Him to you" (John 16:7). He (the Holy Spirit) has been sent to you, and He loves you.
We are not forsaken (not alone in our suffering). Life often knocks us down, but we are not destroyed. Do you see this? - You cannot die! They can kill the body, for a time, but "to be absent from the body, is to be present with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). If you are in Him, the most important part of what you are, will never die. Your illness (any illness you have) is only temporary, and so is any "death" you might experience. Give yourself to Christ - You will never die, and you will truly LIVE, here on earth.
Verse 10. "always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body."
Philo commented, life is like "the daily carrying about of a corpse." We tend to object that kind of imagery, but there is a great truth, here. Paul commented, "If we be dead in Him, we shall also live with Him" (2 Timothy 2:11), and that is exactly what baptism pictures, in relation to our life in Christ Jesus. We are dead to this world, but ALIVE to God. Where it counts, we have LIFE.
Paul teaches us, "Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptized into His death? Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ Jesus, were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4). Verse 5 continues, we are "united together" in the likeness of His death" (and His life).
If you go to a store where they sell plants (nursery), and buy a little packet of seeds, it might occur to you they (the seeds) are dead. Leave them in the packet, and sure enough, nothing will ever happen. But you buy them, because you know that if you put them in the ground (like Christ was in the tomb), and water them (like the Holy Spirit gives you "living water"), they will GROW into something wonderful! And so will you - in Him. Others will see Him in you, and they will want Him, too.
Verse 11. "For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh."
It’s the normal human response to avoid any suffering. We often want to be well, and handsome, tall, intelligent, young, slim, strong, and with just the right touch of "cute" so others will be drawn to us. Yet life is really not about us; it’s about Christ IN us. If we are ordinary, short, maybe somewhat sickly, and a little overweight…If we are old, and not so cute, and not as bright as we might hope…Yet there is SOMETHING about that person, and we wonder, what IS it about them? Then we discover; it is Christ!
Our "disadvantages" are actually wonderful; for when Christ works in us and through us, others can look and see, and UNDERSTAND it is not us who do the work, but Christ in us! Our weakness makes people look for another Cause, and this Cause is Him. A teacher of the Word of God is like a dead man (the imagery in these verses); for instance, any life in this study, on the Friday Study website - is Christ. I have nothing to offer you, and yet He, on the other hand, has EVERYTHING to give to us both.
Verse 12. "So death works in us, but life in you."
This verse puts everything in life, into its’ proper focus. Life, for us, is not about us, at all; it’s for the other person., I was not born (and reborn in Christ) for me - I was born and reborn for YOU, and you for me, and both of us for Christ (and Christ was given for us all).
We are His! Drag me away, Lord, for I am dead! But He Who lives in me, is ALIVE, and He is giving this dead person WORDS, that I might speak to You. And you are given to every one of us; for this is the body of Christ.
Verse 13. "but having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, I believed, therefore I spoke, we also believe, therefore we also speak,"
In the sense that we are truly dead to this world, and alive in Christ, our experience (for each one) is the same. This verse is a quote of Psalm 116:10, by the way, where the context refers to us (humanity) as "simple" people, brought low, saved by the Lord, at rest in Him, delivered from death, and in the land of the living (Psalm 116:1-9). And yet, the Psalmist was "afflicted" and said "in haste" that "all men are liars."
Ever think that (all men are liars)? But the Psalmist went to the Lord, and took His cup of salvation, trusted in Him, and the section in Psalms, continues with the beautiful and haunting verse, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints" (Psalm 116:15). We die to this world, that we may be ALIVE in another (in Him).
Verse 14. "knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you."
These are those who say that Jesus is a great teacher, but cringe away from references to His death for us on the cross. It’s important, ESSENTIAL to your life, that you carefully read this verse, in this context, which includes chapter 5, verse 15 - Jesus Christ "died for all!" Jesus died on your behalf, as your Substitute, and you have no future, no standing with God, no LIFE, except though Jesus Christ Who died on the cross for your sins, and gives you LIFE in the sight of God. It isn’t "what’s in it for me" anymore – it’s about our Lord. We are ALIVE to Him and He is alive to you and me.
Faith, in such a setting, means that if life goes well, we should continually be in praise before Him shouting (in our heart or out loud, it does not matter), "Thank you, God, praise You, God, for You are wonderful!" And if we suffer in life, our prayer is just the same.
Verse 15. "For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God."
All things are for our sake. When you think God does not hear you, remember this: ALL things are for you. Even when He does not seem to hear your cry, it is for your sake, that you may be drawn to more faith in Him. The end result of this, is that grace might run rampant through us, like a sweet plague of love, which "kills" us, but gives us life.
And when this joy in our Redeemer, sweeps through us, we become thankful, and our praises will resound, to the glory of God.
Why do we not have revival? Maybe the answer is right here, that we do not recognize that ALL THINGS are for our sakes. Perhaps it is time for us to see the grace of God in our lives; time to thank Him, from a sincere, grateful heart, and praise our glorious God. I’d like to try it (we might start a revival).
Verse 16. "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day."
Therefore, we do not lose heart. Paul had as much to be discouraged about, as anybody I’ve ever heard about (as we shall see, later in this Book of 2nd Corinthians). And he has already told us he got discouraged (2 Corinthians 1:8), just like you and me. But he caught this, this - IDEA! That even our sufferings are designed to bring us to GLORY in Christ!
Our "outward man" is indeed perishing. Anybody in my age group can tell you there is a gradual shutting down of vital forces of life. When I was in San Diego, helping one of my sons move, I dropped things that I could have carried with ease, just a few years ago. I open my mouth, reach for a brain cell, and the word just isn’t there. It happens to everyone, in Christ or not.
Yet the "inner man," that place where Christ has chosen to live, is RENEWED in Him.
Verse 17. "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,"
Our "light affliction." I have visited with Jonathan Merchant and watched him struggle in relation to his newly paralyzed, 23-year old body. I sat with Bob Douglass, as he took 2-years (it seemed a lot longer) to die from cancer. I intend to prayerfully be there for the Viet Nam widows (they made me "Chaplain" of their group), who long for their husbands, with a love that cannot be replaced. Their afflictions do not seem "light" at all.
And yet, they are light in one way - our afflictions are only temporary. All our sufferings are "for a moment" when we are in Him. Bob is healed, Jonathan will be healed, in this life or in the next. You and I are healed, as well.
Another reason for comfort, in this verse, is that our afflictions are doing a work in our lives, not only for us, but also for those we meet. We are being prepared for eternity, for glory, and if my problems are useful in that direction, then I say, "Amen" to any "trouble" I might seem to have. Bob did that, and Jonathan is doing just as well. It’s time for you and me, with our light afflictions, to do the same.
Verse 18. "while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
We (people) tend to focus, to dwell, on that which is seen. My 84-year old mother, is one of the nicest people you could every meet. And she gets around very well, considering everything. Yet, she tends to focus on what she once was, and she chooses to miss the fact that she is doing very well. Don Araiza reminded us of a phrase from the "Desiderata," which is "gracefully surrendering the things of youth."
My mother is doing GREAT, when we consider that whatever limitations she may have, are only TEMPORARY in nature. A little while, and she will be with Him. A little while, and you and I will be there, too. Have you trusted in Him?
The problem with your sufferings, your afflictions, that they really are permanent, until you trust in our Lord, Jesus Christ. In Him, all your trouble will soon be put away. At the wedding supper of the Lamb, my Mom will be precisely the 20-year old person she longs to be, and she will be with Him. Amazingly, even I will be there, for I have received Him, who loves you and me. Will you be there? Trust Him now; ask Him into your heart, and I’ll see you in a moment of time, at the wedding supper of the Lamb.
2 Corinthians Chapter 5
Verse 1. "For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."
This is a beautiful truth, in Scripture, that our bodies are like dwelling places. Yours is intended for you, but also for our Lord (you are to have a Roommate). Paul taught us in 1 Corinthians 15:19, that our body is a temple, built to be occupied by the Holy Spirit of God. You are to live in it, with Him. This is not unique to Paul's teachings, for Jesus presented a similar idea, when He referred to His own Body as "this temple", in John 2:19,21.
From an earthly perspective, if we lose our bodies, in some manner, we lose everything. If some of my freedom of movement is gone, through something like imprisonment or paralysis, my car may be of less use to me, because I may not be able to drive it. The ultimate in loss, from a human standpoint, is the loss of my life, for if I die, all "my" possessions in this world, are no longer available to me. But, if I lose everything here, I gain much more, for I have a better place to live, made by God, eternal in nature. If I buy a car, it wears out in a few years, and so does my body and yours. A careful reading of 1 Corinthians 15, indicates (verses 42-44 & context) God takes that body which falls away from us, and makes it into something wonderful! We do not need to be afraid of any loss, for in Christ, we are made new - forever!
Verse 2. "For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven,"
What do you "groan" earnestly for, in life? What do you want? Is it money? Do you think about the lottery constantly, and wish that you would win? Perhaps you want to change some life circumstance or another. It can be argued that what we want, defines who we are. What you ultimately need is to be clothed with your habitation which is from heaven. We are to finish the life God has set out for us ("run the race" as Paul described it) – he also said we will "finish the course."
If you win the lottery, you might say, "I will tithe from whatever I get!" And that's good, if you do exactly that. But tithing or not, your bills paid off or not, you will not find true satisfaction, for what you really want, is not part of this world system, at all. Though in one way, we are already complete (Ephesians 1:3), our ultimate fulfillment is going to be found in eternity, and not on earth. We trust in God, and so we wait for HIS decision as to when we go there. In the meantime, we wait, and we ache to be with our Lord.
Verse 3. "inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked."
This is a good Scripture to underline and remember, for it says we shall not be without a body. "Naked" here, is a reference to the concept of entering a bodiless state, which is taught by some (as in "eastern" religions). But we "will not be found" in that condition.
If you are afraid of losing your life, you need to do two things: 1) Receive Christ, who gives you LIFE, and 2) Rejoice, for you are now in Him, clothed in His righteousness - forever. Trust in Christ, for you have everything you will ever need – in Him.
Verse 4. "For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life."
Life can be hard. Note that while we are in this "tent" (our bodies in this life), we groan. J. Vernon McGee was fond of saying, "It's Scriptural to groan." Now, Paul & J. Vernon did not mean that we are to complain about our problems - and we certainly do not need to moan all the time for something like money. Turn to Him, in your need. Learn to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and He will deliver you (and give you peace in the midst of the storm).
We groan because of trust - we have become certain about the joy which is to come, and we long to be with Him. To be "mortal" is to not be fully alive. True LIFE will find its fulfillment AFTER this one (if we are in Christ). He is our joy, and we love Him so, that we desire to depart and be with our Lord.
Verse 5. "Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge."
We have all heard the question, "Why was I ever born?" And maybe you are wondering that very thing, right now. Wonder no more! You were placed in this world to discover Jesus, to receive Him, and live in Him, for all eternity. We have seen in previous verses (particularly chapter 1), there is purpose in any suffering we might endure in this life.
And how can we know that we have this life in Him? From two wonderful sources: 1) This Word (the Bible) we are reading right now, tells us so (as in 2 Corinthians 5:17), and 2) He has given the Holy Spirit of God, as a "down payment" promising even more. In the Spirit, we KNOW these words are true. Just as He gives eyes that see, He gives us the Holy Spirit, that we may understand.
Verse 6. "Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord,"
It can be seen how distant people are from God, by the value placed on our human condition. Millions of dollars are spent on clothes, makeup, physical fitness, cosmetic surgery, and so on. All are designed to enhance the human body (make us desirable to other people). Yet, as Paul observed, "while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord." Our confidence, our hope, must be in Him, and not in these frail "tents" which are wasting away, even as we worry about them.
What then, do we quit taking baths, or harm ourselves to hasten the process of coming to Him? Good heavens, no! For you have already been told that "your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own" (1 Corinthians 6:19). Therefore, keep your body in good condition, that it may be usable for Him, but glorify the Lord, and not yourself. Let your confidence be - in Him.
Verse 7. "for we walk by faith, not by sight"
When we walk by sight, we are always disappointed. The beautiful becomes less attractive, and we are easily misled. To walk by "sight" includes deciding what another person is thinking, and "sight" here is the whole process of human decision-making; based on what is encountered in life. A failure of someone to smile at a certain time, can be interpreted as "They don’t like me!" How tense it is to live our lives by taste & touch, smell & hearing, sight, and by our mere thoughts – For by them, we are often misled. Don Araiza pointed out that our expectations of others should not be so high.
To "walk by faith" is not an easy matter at first, for like a child who learns first to crawl and then take steps, we must learn to walk in faith. The parent speaks to the child, and the child does not understand, but through excitement and effort, understanding does come. The Holy Spirit of God is Communicating to His people. Do you and I "hear" Him? Occasionally. Have you noticed, sometimes a Scripture verse is sent – to you! How do you know that? The answer is, through the Holy Spirit of God – and if you know through Him, you are beginning to understand.
Faith is a matter of trusting in Him (His character, His ability, His love), that He has good in store for His people. The next step is to understand that He leads those who long for Him. This "life in the Spirit" is sometimes a matter of walking out on the "ice" (to get to the other side). Will it hold you? – Try it (Him) and see.
Verse 8. "we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord."
This verse is a sort of "twin" to Philippians 1:23, where Paul revealed he would rather "go and be with Christ." But he was "hard pressed" (found it difficult to choose, if the choice was his), and the reason is in verse 24, "Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you." As we saw in chapter 1, of 2 Corinthians, our life is not our own. We were created for God, and for one another.
We all remember things we did that make us ashamed; times we acted without courage, without honor. Here is your opportunity to be a person of courage – no matter how bad your circumstances may be: trust in God! No matter what the pain or heartache, wait for HIM to decide the outcome of your life. Praise Him in all circumstances, and though we may wish instead to go and be with Him – Wait on the Lord.
Verse 9. "Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him."
You were created for me (for all of us), and I for you. We were designed for GOD’s purposes, that we might be useful for those to whom we are sent. I like the analogy of the screwdriver that decided it wanted to be a hammer – it might succeed in becoming self-willed, but life will surely be a headache. The screwdriver was created for the purposes of the carpenter, and not for its own ideas.
If you want a challenge, here it is: Our job; the reason that we were created, is to be pleasing to the Lord. In serving Him, He may well assign us to serve other people. Well and good, for the nobility of purpose in life we have always secretly hungered for, is found in Him (and not in ourselves). Serve those people to whom you are called, just as He so leads you; so do.
Verse 10. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad."
We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Jesus, when He was here with us, did not come to condemn the world (John 3:17), "but that the world through Him might be saved". Yet we now see Him in eternity, and this Lamb, who died in your place, is revealed as the Lion, Who is the Judge of this world.
There is only one escape from "the wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:16), and that is to receive Him now. Paul, in Romans 7, is shown as a man who could do nothing right, in the sight of God. How was this crisis resolved in Paul? How is it resolved for you? For me? – "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:1). Paul gave himself utterly to God; he let himself be led by the Spirit of God.
When we live in Him, our judgment in eternity, will be based NOT on punishment, but on rewards. When I was a child, my father decided to pay me for good grades (he had become desperate). I was a poor student and did not work very hard (I received few rewards), but my father loved me, and I was still his son.
So it is with Christ. You and I right now are deciding our future in eternity (laying up treasures someplace or other) that will decide our fate –forever! But remember, in the "works" you do, "walk (not) according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1 – again). Look to Him, for "(His) yoke is easy" (easier than our own) "and (His) burden is light" (Matthew 11:30). "Works" that are acceptable to God are done in faith, and bring peace.
Verse 11. "Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences."
Note this "fear of the Lord." The one who has not known the "fear of the Lord" just does not understand, for God is holy. The fear comes in, when we recognize that, in and of ourselves, we are not holy. Alfred Plummer views this as the "fear excited by the thought of standing before the judgement seat of Christ, and having one’s whole life exposed and estimated." Paul’s life was filled with holiness and all they had to do was LOOK and see the Holy Spirit within. It should touch our conscience that we do not have the holiness of Paul.
The New Testament word often used for "holy," carries the meaning, "set apart." When we read the daily newspaper, any day, any place in the world, we are struck by the low state of humanity. People do rotten things to one another, and our comparison (as to how we measure up) is ultimately not with each other – but God compares us with Himself. Tragically, most have no desire to be set apart for Him.
He is not a part of this world system at all – "His way is perfect" (Psalm 18:30). In Foxe’s "Book of Martyrs," we are shocked to read that the unjust have been killing each other, and also those who trust in God, for centuries – actually since the beginning of time. And doing it in the name of "religion."
God is not pleased with the actions of our human race, and when we figure out that He is displeased, we should reasonably become afraid. But Paul continues with the good news, that we can be acceptable to God, and gain a clear conscience. When we know God, through Christ, we are His; and you no longer need to be afraid.
Verse 12. "We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, so that you will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart."
"My" ministry is not only "mine" (God loans these things to us for a time), but yours is also mine; and mine is yours. We are so much brother and sister, parent and child, in the Lord, that we should GLORY in the accomplishments of each other. "This is what my SON did", we beam about our child, which is precisely the way we should feel about the guy in the next pew at church.
"Actions speak louder than words" and James picked up this idea, when he said "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:20). And Paul agreed with James, for he wrote "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works" (Ephesians 2:10). But Paul also alerts us to another danger, here in this verse, that we as people tend to "take pride in appearance" and miss the point – that our true ministry is from the heart (and from the Lord, Who lives IN that heart). Don Araiza asked, "What is the motive? – It’s the motive that counts in all that we do."
Verse 13. "For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you."
Sometimes we get a little bit "nuts" ("beside ourselves") in life. You only have to read about the recent events in Columbine, or Bosnia, or the Mid East, or the Sudan, or Los Angeles, to understand this place must be the insane asylum of the universe. Yet there is a good way to be "nuts" in life. The bridegroom is typically "nuts" over his bride. The new mother is often "beside herself" with joy. The right new job, can fill us with elation. And to walk away whole from cancer, is a feeling like no other.
Paul here is speaking of our walk in the Spirit of God, our ministry to one another. In another place (Ephesians 5:18), he makes an interesting comparison, suggesting there is a similarity between becoming "filled with the Holy Spirit" and simply being "drunk." In this "walk in the Spirit" we do unexpected things (even to ourselves). We experience surprising emotions, like – JOY! Yet, we are given a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7) in Christ, that we may truly serve one another. (My ministry is for you, and yours is for me).
Verse 14. "For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died;"
Why do we "witness" of our Lord, to other people? We do it because we are compelled by the love of Christ to touch that other person with the Spirit of God. And how do we witness to them? The best "witness" of all, is a life that formerly was selfish, but is now filled with the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.
The NEED for witnessing to them is very great, for in dying to the world, the world died to Christ. Whatever opportunity anyone may have ever had to be right with God through good works, ended at Calvary. He died for your sins and in doing so, He is revealed as the ONLY means of salvation for every person – for you.
Have you ever thought of what it means to be DEAD in the sight of God? And yes, the "dead" are animated (have movement, thoughts, and attitudes) in relation to other people. But those who are not in Christ are dead to God. If you went out to the cemetery, and dug up a body, for the purpose of having a conversation with it, the situation would be both ludicrous and sad – Our relationship with God, based on grace and faith, is reasonable, when you consider that we are given LIFE in Christ (we become ALIVE to God, and can finally commune with Him).
Verse 15. "and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf."
Have you ever lamented, "What is my purpose in life? Why am I here? The answer is right in this verse! Christ died for me (and you) – therefore I (and you) live for Him (Who died for us all). He loves you; He died for you; He rose again, and beckons you from the heavenlies: "Come, walk with Me." To walk with Him IS the purpose for which you were created.
"I was born to die." We’ve seen that on bumper stickers and on tatoos. We were ALL born to die; but wait, there’s more: We can die now, but still have LIFE (abundant life – we rise to life in Him). No more living for ourselves, in our selfishness, but for Him, Who died that we might LIVE. We are to learn to live for God and for one another.
Verse 16. "Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer."
In this world (according to the flesh), people are usually valued by their usefulness – to us! We tend to value people of "our" nationality (national origin), because they remind us we are a part of something larger than we are. We like to be with them, because they make us feel good – about ourselves. We like people with money (if they tend to share it). There is a certain prestige to us, if we hang around with good looking people, and/or people high on the social ladder. All of this is sin (according to the flesh).
In Christ, we enter a whole new world, in which we no longer are to value people in this manner. Those of that time and place, actually saw Christ, while He was here, and Paul points out that they no longer had that opportunity. Instead, they now had something far better – they could encounter Him inside, in the Spirit; the same as you and me.
And because we have this relationship with Him, we can meet one another in that same Holy Spirit. Your money is no longer important to me, and neither is your social standing. We are ONE with each other, when we are in Christ.
Verse 17. "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."
This is one of the most wonderful Scriptures in the whole Book! If you are in Christ, through simple faith in Him, your sinful past is done away, in the sight of God. All your doubts and uncertainties about life, that terrible thing you did ("How could I have done that?") – all is gone, in Him.
What’s it all about, is contained in the preceding verses. You, if you want, can clutch at the troubles of your past, and many do – because it’s FAMILIAR to us. We are used to guilt, and tend to hold on. From a human perspective, it’s respectable to hold on to guilt. ("I did it, but it’s honorable to feel badly about it, and therefore, I’m not so bad"). The real news is, we ARE Bad, and Jesus Christ died, that we may become NEW in Him.
After we are new in Christ, does God sometimes lead us to remember past sins, to make AMENDS for what happened before? Yes – often! Do we sometimes carry the old life into the new? Yes, that, too. A major first step in the new life, is to recognize that Christ has set us free. Then, let Him do HIS work in you, and be prepared for one surprise after another – Life really IS new, in Christ Jesus!
Verse 18. "Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,"
These verses are a further discussion of what it is to be "in Christ." We just saw (verse 17) that we are "new" in Him. Now we find that not only we ARE new, but we also discover, to our surprise, that we DO new things, as well.
There is a process, where we become "Romans 8 people," because we find ourselves "walking according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:1). I have been very slow to minister, because I recognize I am inadequate to do the job (Romans 7). I am often surprised when God uses me, and may well leak a few tears, or even laugh out loud for joy – God uses ordinary people, like you and me, as ministers of reconciliation to this world.
There are interesting statement in this verse. These include He "reconciled us, and He "gave us the ministry." We are all "disciples" when we truly come to Him (a disciple is a "learner" or "student"). And there is a time when each of us is sent. When we go in His Name, even if it’s only to our work site, or to our home, we are ministers of reconciliation. We need not be afraid, for HE gives the ministry, and it is of God. We are not alone, for He is with us.
Verse 19. "namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation."
Those of the world make repeated attempts at "do it yourself" religion. What people often miss, is that God the Father, was in Christ, in His ministry, in His death for you and me, and in His resurrection from the dead. The Father (Who is Holy) is not "counting" (an accounting term, like "reckoning") our sins against us, because we receive His Son.
We, who are set free from our prisons of depression, failure, sin, loneliness, and anger, are given a ministry of reconciliation. We are to tell the world, what He has done. It’s not even a hard job, because He goes before us, and prepares the hearts of those who will receive. And often, the best way to tell others, is simply to DO as our Lord instructed in John 15:12, "love one another as I have loved you."
Verse 20. "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."
One of the problems we as people have, is that we long for status – we misunderstand what importance is all about. When I visit another country, I have the right, if I have a need, to visit the ambassador or MY country, who resides in that land. He is indeed, an important person, and I would need a compelling reason for him to see me. It should also be noted that the place where he resides and works (the embassy) is a tiny place of sovereignty for my country. And often, the president of this country, will give important words to the ambassador, who then speaks them to the leader of THAT land.
We are ambassadors of Christ, sent with a message of reconciliation to the world. The place where we stand is the sovereign soil of God. If we are in prison, the concrete of the cell we stand in, is holy ground, for Christ is in us. He gives us the words to speak, and the power to speak them. We reside in Him, and He is in us. Our ministry, our function as an ambassador, is that others might come to Christ, and be reconciled to God. We have the right to speak to them, and we have the power of God.
Verse 21. "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
Hans Lietzmann made a wonderful, accurate statement about this verse (and about our Lord), when he said "God placed our sins on the sinless Jesus, and as our Substitute, God punished Him with death." There are a lot of misconceptions about our Lord. One of them is found in the word "sinless," and the other in the word "substitute."
It must be understood that we, as a human race of individuals, have no standing with God, at all. We are a planet of rebels, from God’s perspective. We were created to be one with His Son, and instead we offer Him "do it yourself religion" that does not please Him in the least. We need to be righteous before Him, and we are not.
Jesus became our Substitute, a sinless offering, Who brings into us, the righteousness demanded by our holy and pure God. If I could die in the place of any of my children or grandchildren, I would. If I was able to somehow die for them, it might somehow prolong their lives here on earth, but the major problem would still remain: What they really need is not to "live long and prosper," but to be acceptable to God.
When they (and we) say "yes" to Christ, and receive this Sinless Lamb of God, Who died for the sins of the world, the Father accepts His Righteousness as ours, and we are set free. He is what my children and grandchildren need. He is what you and I need, because He died for the sins of the world, that we might "become the righteousness of God in Him."
2 Corinthians Chapter 6
Verse 1. "And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain--"
Paul said "you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s" (1 Corinthians 6:20). How do we receive the grace of God in vain (as in this verse)? By taking the label of "Christian," yet living carnal, worldly lives, spent in "my" purposes, instead of God’s. How can you and I be "workers together" if one of us is not a worker?
Now, this "work" is not difficult, because it is summed up in the word "believe" (John 6:29 - "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him who He sent"). Does this mean we "believe" and then do nothing? Not at all. It means that to truly believe in Christ is to give up living for ourselves and look to God in what we do.
Verse 2. "for He says, "At the acceptable time I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you. Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation--"
This verse is a quote of Isaiah 49:8, which is in a chapter right in the middle of a wonderful section in Scripture about the Messiah of Israel. It continues (49:9), "say to the prisoners, ‘Go forth’ to those who are in darkness; show yourselves…they (we) shall feed…neither hunger nor thirst…neither heat nor sun shall strike them, for He who has mercy on them will lead them" (Isaiah 49:9-10). God intends to satisfy your soul. If you have waited; wait no longer - turn to Him now.
When I was 16 years old, I drew back from full commitment to Christ. What if I LIKED this "sin" they talked about? I was too young, I thought, to give my life in such a manner! I had so much to DO first. Then followed fifteen of the most difficult and unsettling years of my life, as I ran from the One who intended to refresh me with the "living water" of God. NOW is the day for your salvation. NOW is the time to turn to Him. For I can personally testify that He LOVES you; and you will find peace only in Him.
Verse 3. "giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited,"
You see, the ministry is not done by you and me, but by God, through us. If you are swept up by the Spirit in prayer, and intercede successfully for that person, it is God who did the work. He enables you to pray, gave you the prayer, and answered it; all in the power and love of God. Every good and perfect work is from Him.
For some reason (actually the reason is the grace of God), our Lord chooses to work through people. (Shhh - I’ll tell you a secret - He doesn’t need us). The prayer, the word, the touch on the shoulder you give, are the work of God, and He uses ordinary people in His love for us and for those around us. He uses fallible people, who make mistakes - we are that fallible people and we are enabled to be the ministers of Almighty God.
Verse 4. "but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses,"
To provide a word of encouragement, a timely Scripture, a prayer, friendship, a listening ear, is to be a "minister" or "servant" in the sight of God. If you do such things (or want to), you might read these verses carefully, for they tell HOW to be effective in ministry. The first quality of a good minister (servant) is found in the word "endurance" or "patience" or perhaps "perseverance." Jesus said "You will be hated by all for My Name’s sake" (serving others will not make you popular) "but he who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 10:22). One of the key "fruits" of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22) is "patience" or "longsuffering." J. Vernon McGee said "patience is something I have always lacked," and yet he put on that radio show, day after day, year after year, and he was patient with those who wrote and criticized his ministry.
A minister will be placed into the fires of "tribulations" or "afflictions." We will see in 2 Corinthians 7:4, there is potential for JOY in tribulation. One very interesting reason for this is seen in Hosea 5:15, "In their affliction, they will diligently seek Me." Trouble brings us to God, and having truly come to Him, we can now joyfully serve those around us.
In "needs" or "hardships." I was so astonished, during our years in Arizona, how many hours I worked, and how little I made. I recently received a copy of my Social Security earnings statement, and when I "saw" at those years, I looked away in embarrassment. And yet, we never went hungry (though we often worried unnecessarily), and we learned to trust in Him.
Distresses. Psalm 2 is an excellent examination of what happens to the person who casts off the protective cords God places around us (2:3); for God will "distress them in His deep displeasure." The Psalmist continues "Kiss the Son (the Messiah) lest He be angry" and "blessed are all those who put their trust in Him (verse 12).
Verse 5. "in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger,"
A mistake many have made, through the centuries, has been to bring trouble on themselves, as some kind of "penance." This was common during the centuries after the early church, where they sometimes mutilated themselves (and then regretted what they had done). This can also be seen occasionally in the Philippines, where someone will have themselves crucified, as an outward religious act. Happily, such activities are NEVER necessary, because (as you’ve noticed), life contains plenty of trouble, without us bringing more on ourselves.
Paul received the 39-stripes of the Jews (5-times, 2 Corinthians 11:24), he was often sent to prison – he was involved in "tumults" (which might be defined as a "confused uproar" as in Acts 19:23-41); in sleeplessness (that’s hard; I like my sleep), and fastings (NKJV).
Paul often went hungry. During our years in Arizona, a number of times we sat down to breakfast, and had no idea what we would have for dinner that night (and had no money to buy food). God always amazingly provided for our food. You might have our experience, or you might have Paul’s, but God WILL bring you through.
Verse 6. "in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love,"
Verses 6 and 7 are very much like the "fruits of the Spirit" of Galatians 5:22, and we produce NONE of these fruits by ourselves. The branch does not produce fruit, unless it "is receiving from the Tree. An example is Aaron’s rod (a shepherd’s stick) which "sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds" (Numbers 8:1). Aaron’s rod had not been near a tree for years and yet it bore fruit, because of the power of God. You do not have to have strength to be pure, or have perfect knowledge to be longsuffering, and kind – you are GIVEN these capacities by the Holy Spirit of God.
People often compare themselves with others and decide they are pure. We have information about something and pass it off as knowledge. We suffer for awhile (perhaps before we finally explode with anger) and think we have suffered long. We give a superficial gift out of pity and think we are kind. We lust and confuse it with love. We need the Christ of God, to come and FILL us with His love. We are given His love, in the person of the Holy Spirit, Who creates in us purity, love, and the ability to suffer with a good heart.
Verse 7. "in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left,"
The Word of TRUTH. What are we to do, that others might see and receive Christ? We are to speak the truth. When Paul spoke before Agrippa and Festus (Acts 26:24-25), he was accused of being "mad" (nuts) by Festus. Paul’s response was the simple truth, "I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason". Jesus Christ is "the truth" (John 14:6) and Paul spoke of what Christ did for him, for you, and even for me.
This Bible is the Word of Truth and it speaks to the whole world of the righteousness of God in Christ – a PEOPLE has been REDEEMED from this world. If YOU are a part of this people, you can speak the simple words, as Paul did, about what Christ has done for you. The Word of Truth is a true and honest weapon against the enemy, in your right hand, and in your left. You do not need to be afraid, but simply TELL of Him, Who is in your heart. And the Holy Spirit will go before you, and convict those who listen, of sin, of righteousness, and of the judgment on this world (John 16:8).
Verse 8. "by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true;"
This verse is a continuation of verse 4 – How do we commend ourselves as servants of God? - Our reputation will speak for us. Here in verse 8, we find that some will say good about us and others will speak evil. Look at the ones who regarded Paul and the other apostles as "deceivers": The leaders of the Jews at that time had forgotten that Abraham, Moses, and David were men of faith. The men who dishonored Paul, had lapsed into religious formalism, abandoning the power of God for the tradition of men.
A verse that has reverberated in my heart for many decades, is 2 Corinthians 13:5, where we are told to "examine" ourselves, to see if we are in the Lord. And the question is, HOW do we do that? One way is to look at those who love us, and those who are our enemies. We are set FREE to serve the Christ of the Living God, and there are those who will hate us for the freedom we are given in Him. Dishonor, evil words, and deception about us, may actually be positive statements, when those who say such things are mere formalists who have missed the love of our Lord. Others will love us simply because we are free in Him.
Verse 9. "as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death,"
It’s hard to think of Paul as "unknown". The Greek here in this place, refers to "nonentities, not worth knowing, without proper credentials" (Plummer). Jesus taught us "go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher;’ then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you; for whoever exalts himself will abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (John 14:10-11). Paul received such words to his heart, and took the lowest place, that he might serve you and me. He was then raised to honor among those who love God. Who raised this Paul?
It is Christ who caused Paul to be well known, and to live. He received punishment from his enemies, and most of us would not survive such treatment. From a physical perspective, Paul’s life was a kind of "death", a miserable existence. And yet he LIVED, and he is ALIVE right now. Look at your life right now, as I am looking at mine. Let’s take the risk, and LIVE for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who died for you and me.
Verse 10. "as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things."
I do not like being sorrowful, and have reluctantly understood what it means to be really poor (having essentially nothing), in the way of this world. The Greek here is for the "abject poor, who have literally nothing and are in imminent danger of real starvation" (Rogers). There were many times, we had nothing to eat for our children, and then the phone would ring, or a knock would come at the door, and we would have what was needed for our little ones.
We all want this elusive "joy" and this is difficult, but "rejoicing" tends to come through suffering. This is not a suffering that we cause for ourselves, but is rather something allowed by God, that He might make us rich in the Lord. It isn’t what we have in life, but WHO we have, and His Name is Christ Jesus, who has saved us from our sins. We are truly given all we need - in Him.
Verse 11. "Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide."
Cleon Rogers was a scholar of New Testament Greek, who said about this verse, "to have the heart wide open, means there are no secrets in it" ("The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament", page 405). He quotes Hering, "I am speaking to you frankly, with an open heart, hiding nothing of my life from you". Part of the "punishment" Paul received, by the way (verse 9), was in the form of rejection from the very people he honestly loved and truly served.
Our tendency, when we are attacked, is to put up "walls" and to hide from our attackers. Families contain those walls and so do churches, corporate board rooms, and bars. We only reveal so much to others, and we forget that our Lord Christ was wide open, even to the point of death. His apostles observed this about Him, and they also became open. Is it risky to be like that? Oh yes; but it is also the only real way to live, and it is the path to JOY, in our Lord.
Verse 12. "You are not restrained by us, but you are restrained in your own affections."
I have been in churches, where the people are kept in bondage. You are commanded in them, to FOLLOW such and such a person or persons. I recall one such place in a western state, where I was being interviewed for a teaching position. A pyramid was drawn on a board in front of me – the people were at the bottom and the pastor was at the top. Men were superior to all women in their minds, and she (a woman) could only speak to Christ through her man. Though the income would have helped us at that time, I did not take that job, and we left that church.
We are not to restrict one another. In marriage, the "restraints" we have for one another, are to be cords made out of the purest love. In church, the minister is to gently feed those in his congregation, and we remain with him (the minister) out of love – never bondage. God created "affection" among us, and this is perhaps the strongest word possible in the Greek, to describe the love we are to have for one another. We are set FREE in Christ, and yet are willingly bound together – in love
Verse 13. "Now in a like exchange -- I speak as to children -- open wide to us also."
When we look at most children, we think, "Aren’t they beautiful?" and they are. The natural state of a child is to be open wide to the world and the people around them. The unharmed child has an enormous capacity for trust. Jesus challenged us to "become as little children" (John 18:3), and then went on to caution us that we will "not enter the kingdom of heaven" unless we do. We had something as children. We lost it, and we are to find it again in Christ.
It is frightening to think of really being OPEN with other people. "They will hurt me," we think, and they probably will. "They won’t like me," we lament, and it’s probably true. Paul urged us to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15), which is the right WAY to be open. We must learn HOW to be open, to be vulnerable, and we can only truly learn through the Holy Spirit of God. Let Christ into your heart anew, and His Spirit will teach you how to become open – with a heart of love.
Verse 14. "Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?"
Now, to be "open" in the manner described by Paul (verses 11 and 13), is only possible in our Lord. Often a woman will decide to marry some man who is not a believer, thinking he will come to the Lord, after they are married. J. Vernon McGee has pointed out this will probably not happen, for the power to change this person is BEFORE marriage, much more than it would be at a later time.
We do not take this verse as some kind of "law" for our lives, for Paul has just pointed out (in verse 12), we are "not restrained" by him. He (and the Holy Spirit through him) are giving us good advice, that we might find happiness in life. When we are offered marriage or a business partnership, or whatever, we PRAY, as in all things, and let the Spirit of God decide our answer. We look to Scripture, we seek the advice of those around, and we pray – THEN we make our decision.
Verse 15. "Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?"
"Belial" is a word found in the Old Testament, at least in four places. In Deuteronomy 13:13, it is translated into the English as "corrupt", and speaks of those who would lead us to other "gods." In Judges 19:22, it is translated as "perverted", in the context of men who wanted to seize and "know" other men. 1 Samuel 30:22 uses the English "worthless" to translate the words "men of Belial" from the Hebrew. In 1 Kings 21:10, 13, Jezebel urged Ahab to find two "scoundrels" (men of Belial) to denounce Naboth, so he could be killed and Ahab might then take his vineyard.
In each Scriptural use of the word "Belial", we find those who have motives contrary to the leading of God and the love of Christ. When we enter into a business partnership or a marriage with an unbeliever, we must understand that the other person will not be "open" as in verses 10 and 13. They will have a hidden agenda, which will be for the benefit of themselves, and not for us. We are to be "open" (in love), with others (verses 10 and 13), and we are to associate ourselves with those who also are open in that same manner. God wants to protect us (and them) from hurt.
Verse 16. "Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’"
The temple of God is seen in history as a building (in history and in our thinking). Much like a church, the temple was a place of meeting, where men and women could encounter God. In the light of such Scriptures as 1 Corinthians 6:19 (and this verse), we are astonished to find WE are the temple of God, because the Holy Spirit of God lives IN us. In 1 Corinthians 6:19, and on into verse 20, it is discovered "you are not your own" anymore, but you belong to God. You were "bought with a price" (the blood of Christ), and our life is now one that is to bring glory to Him. His temple is holy.
As it says in this verse, the Holy God, maker of heaven and of earth, chooses to live in you and in me. When we confess our sins to one another, we are really confessing to God, who lives in that other person. To seek the prayer of another, is really to ask the God who lives in them. When we go for advice, we go to the temple of God. The Lord most high, lives within us; He walks among us, and He gives us, one to the other, in His love for you and for me.
In Christ, we are no longer "in agreement" with this world. Christ is in us and this fundamental difference places us at odds with those who are not His people.
Verse 17. "Therefore, ‘Come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you.’"
We tend to become angry at some sins, like homosexuality, and overlook others, like gossip, cheating on taxes, or taking pencils from work. But God who saves us, considers all sin must be avoided, for it separates us from Him. James so correctly points out "whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all" (James 2:10). We overlook adultery in our culture, calling it a "victimless" crime. James compares adultery to murder (James 2:11) – the adulterer murders not only the heart of their spouse but also the hearts of the innocent children. When you take the wife, the husband, the mother, the father; you murder their peace, replacing the good in them with anger and fear.
As Paul has been discussing in these verses, we are to be open, and not have double motives in our dealings with people. We are to become clean, and separate ourselves from that which is considered by God to be unclean. To become honorable and decent, wholesome and pure, is within our reach, when we enter Christ Jesus. As it says in 1 Corinthians 10:13, He gives us the capacity to resist temptation. And when you take Him at His word, God the Father will welcome – you.
Verse 18. "And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me, Says the Lord Almighty."
This is what you have been waiting for, all this time. You might have tried hard in business, and succeeded or failed. You might have a successful marriage, or not. You may have taken drugs like alcohol to deaden the pain. But no matter what you do, something ESSENTIAL has been missing, all this time. There is a missing piece in the puzzle of your heart, and nothing seems to fill it for long. Do you remember that time as a child, when all was RIGHT, if only for a moment? Christ is that perfect "fit". He is the eternal sacrifice for your past, and He will restore you to joy.
He died for your sin, and brings you to that place where all can be right again. Or even more accurately, He takes you to a BETTER place, where all things are new and clean in Him. And like it says in Psalm 27:10, when you feel you are forsaken by everything important in life, "the Lord will take (you) up. " He who died for you, offers forgiveness to you and is extending His Hand. Receive Him now, and trust Him forever.
He is your Father. You are His child, and He loves you.
2 Corinthians Chapter 7
Verse 1. "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
The "promises" Paul is talking about are in the preceding chapter. We are promised salvation (6:2). We are given true fellowship with one another (6:11,13 - our hearts are opened wide to one another). God has promised to dwell with us (He is our God and we become His people - 6:16). If we say "yes" and are made clean in Christ, He promises to welcome us into His kingdom (6:17). The Lord Almighty becomes your Father, and you are His child (6:18).
These are His promises to us, and they are (He is) so great, we are reasonably drawn to lives of holiness, before Him, and in relation to other people. We are to be cleansed from sin. Sanctification (being set apart and made holy in relation to God) is done in us by the Holy Spirit of God (2 Thessalonians 2:13). EVERYTHING (salvation, sanctification, eternal life) was done in Christ through His cross. Because of Him and what He did, we are given the Holy Spirit, Who is washing us in holiness. Don’t be like Peter, who said "Never shall you wash my feet" (John 13:6), but let Him cleanse your life. (You’ll be glad you did).
Verse 2. "Make room for us in your hearts; we wronged no one, we corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one."
Make room for other people in your heart, especially for those who have become clean in Christ Jesus. As to those who love Him, you can identify them by this verse. The one truly in Christ bears no malice toward other people, but loves them. They don’t corrupt others, but instead bring them to the Bread of God. You have to wonder about the "tele-evangelists" who are continually asking for money, because Paul "took advantage of no one." Set others FREE and don’t lead them into bondage. "Love" is an action word.
Jesus told us to "love one another" (John 13:34). And we are to love them, just as we love ourselves. If you think you do not love yourself, think about the amount of time you spend caring for yourself. You probably bathe, clean your teeth, care for your hair, trim your nails, scent yourself, wear clothing, and you spend a lot of time on these pursuits - probably much more time than you give to any other person. Make room for others in your actions and in your heart.
Verse 3. "I do not speak to condemn you, for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together."
When I returned from Japan at 20 years of age, I asked to be sent to Maine, partly because I wanted to see the place of my birth, and partly to meet my grandparents for the first time. I was filled with apprehension, because my parents had been estranged from them, since before my birth. I hesitantly called them, they were surprised, we arranged to meet, and then we had one of the most wonderful evenings of my life. We were glad to see one another, and treated each other with love, because we were family - a prodigal had come home. We did not condemn each other but instead made room for each other in our hearts.
To be "family" is to be willing to let that other person stay in your home. To be "family" is to consider even DYING for a family member. If it were possible and it would help them, I would die for any of my children. We have become new in Christ, we are His special ambassadors to this world, we are taught His Word, but more than anything we are given love. We do not condemn others anymore, because they look different or are from a different church. We are given love, one for another. What is your attitude toward someone who is in Christ, but of another denomination? - The answer can define who you really are.
Verse 4. "Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction."
When you see a young couple (or an older couple) "head-over-heels" in love with one another, what do you think? Some might be jealous and think, "they make me sick" but others will be PLEASED for them, because love is beautiful. When we see that couple, what emotions typically are they experiencing in relation to one another? - They have CONFIDENCE in the love of that other person. The man will BOAST that she is his, and she will also boast of him. They derive great COMFORT, just from being in the presence of the one they love. They overflow with JOY in the other’s presence, or merely at the THOUGHT of that other person. No matter WHAT the trouble (affliction) in life, each has their beloved, and that is enough.
That is the kind of love Paul had for the Corinthians and that is the kind of love you and I need to have for one another. Greek words like "Eros" or "agape" or "phileo" are not at issue here, for this is not linguistics but instead the heart. We are to ABANDON ourselves, in perhaps OUTRAGEOUS love, for God, and for one another. It is expected we will DELIGHT in the presence of our beloved. You might think, "Isn’t it RISKY to be that open with strangers" (from a human perspective). Yes, it is. I have been dealing with Christians for over forty years, and I could tell you stories that would make you cautious. But I have also learned that it is better to love and to lose, than to be safe and not know love.
Verse 5. "For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within."
Paul had sent these people a very harsh letter (1st Corinthians), attacking their thoughts and practices in a variety of ways, and he had been especially upset about the man they had condoned, who was cohabiting with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1 & forward). J. Vernon McGee made the interesting comment: "Someone is going to say to me, ‘I thought the Scripture is verbally inspired and that Paul was writing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when he wrote to the Corinthians.’ That is correct. This is the inspired Word of God…How is it then that Paul was rebuking himself? It was because Paul was human. God had him write like that to let you and me know how human he really was."
Paul did indeed write as led by the Holy Spirit of God. But here he was in Troas, pacing back and forth, wondering, "did I do the right thing?" He was a guy, a human being just like the rest of us. The difference between our lives and his, is that he was COMPLETELY sold out to the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. He loved these people, but he had doubts. "Did I hit them too hard? Perhaps I was too harsh. Should I have been softer to them?" "Afflicted…conflicts…fears" - do you ever feel like that? You’re in good company, for Paul the Apostle had just those feelings about the people he loved.
Verse 6. "But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus,"
At last, Titus came to Paul, with information about the response of the Corinthians to Paul’s first letter! Note that he saw the arrival of Titus as God’s comfort to the "depressed" (or "humble"; perhaps "cast down"). God uses people - He wants us to NEED each other, which tends to draw us into love. The Lord (Who lived inside of Paul) could have revealed the news about the Corinthians in a dream; or simply impressed the information into Paul’s mind. He could have sent an angel. And in a way, He did, for here came Titus, with just the news needed by Paul at that time. (Paul had been depressed, just like the rest of us get sometimes).
It’s time we learned to comfort one another. So often the husband yells at the wife that she should stop "complaining all the time," when in fact the real reason she complains is because he does not comfort her. Help that other person. Speak kind words to them. Do they need information? - Go to the library or onto the Internet, and get it for them! Just like Titus was to Paul, so should WE be to one another.
Verse 7. "and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more."
It was not just the arrival of Titus that excited Paul so much (though it was great to see him), it was the NEWS Titus brought about the Corinthians. Titus was excited as well (he too had been "comforted" by those at Corinth). A great change had come upon the people. They now LONGED for God and the things of God. Before, they had criticized Paul and thought they were spiritually superior to him, but now they wanted to see him. They mourned their previous sinful natures, and their love for Paul had reached the point where they had a genuine ZEAL for him and for the Word of God.
Verse 8. "For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it -- for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while –"
It is unpopular, these days, to talk of disciplining children. And there is indeed danger in the correction of others. To discipline harshly and without love, brings harm to that person. Paul said "You fathers do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Also, "You masters (bosses), do the same things to them (your workers), giving up threatening" (Ephesians 6:9). We are to train up others so they may become sound and mature, but all must be done for THEIR needs and not merely our own. Paul had disciplined these people.
I was a "Doctor Spock baby" and was raised essentially without discipline. When my father would lose his patience and charge me like an enraged bull, my mother would leap between us, shouting "Oh, Earle, don’t hurt the boy." They would start to fight, and after a few minutes, I could wander away, untouched, but with a sad heart. I grew up willful, angry, and in great need of correction.
The good parent, the effective boss, the careful shepherd, must discipline, and yet all must be done in love. Correction done in love brings a good outcome, and therefore Paul did not regret what he said. And yet, he did regret, for love not only corrects but also cares. To be truly sorry, as were the Corinthians, is to express repentance (a change of direction), but then after, comes growth and joy.
Verse 9. "I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us."
Here’s what I want for my children: Faith, honor, dignity, purpose, goodness, self-control, soundness of character, a longing for justice, compassion, and trust in our God. We see from our quarrels and our wars and our violence, that such characteristics are not natural to man. We learn them through receiving God, and by using the gifts of God to help one another.
Correction will uplift that other person, and lead them into a life of honor, of love. We are not precisely "leaders", for when we honestly "lead", we serve, that you may suffer loss in nothing. To become sorry in a Godly manner, is to become whole inside. The true minister (we are all ministers to one another) does not recite empty words, or threaten, and is not after your money. The servants of royalty, in medieval times, would dress their master in fine clothing. As a child of the King, you are royalty, and I am to dress you in His robes of righteousness, honor, and love.
Verse 10. "For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death."
I was "saved" when I was 16 years old, but then I ran away, to 15 years of wasted time, toying with atheism, eastern religions, and finally a recognition of my need for Christ. I have ached as I considered those wasted years, and have repented of what was done. Godly sorrow includes a recognition of what Christ has accomplished - He became the Way to God, by dying for our sins.
I was depressed, in those 15-years, many times, and recognize the difference between the sorrow of the world, and the sorrow that leads to salvation. In the one is only regret that leads to bitterness and a living death of the soul. The other takes us to Christ and His Living Water, Who refreshes and gives life. We don’t need to dwell on our sins, for the Holy Spirit will convict us of them, and then lead us to joy in the Arms of the Christ of God.
Verse 11. "For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter."
To sorrow in a Godly manner, is to be led into indignation - at ourselves! And there is a holy fear, as we discover who we really are, and then - Who God is! There is a zeal which demands we be cleansed, to become clean in Him. Oh, how we come to desire our Lord and the cleansing He brings through the Cross of Christ!
There was a time, before this Godly sorrow was produced, when we perhaps became satisfied with who and what we were. We likely had a philosophy of life that answered a lot of questions, and possibly we seemed wise to other people. But Christ on the cross gives the lie to our complacency, for in Him dying for you and me, we see our wickedness and our need of God. Jesus SATISFIED the requirements of a holy God for your life - you are vindicated, cleared of all past crimes, and set free in Him!
Verse 12. "So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the offender nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God."
Paul had reported to them his horror that a notorious sinner was among them; a man was committing sexual immorality with his father’s wife! (Please see the commentary on 1 Corinthians 5). They had actually felt proud of themselves, that they were so "tolerant" of sinners. They did not understand that sin is contagious and those who "tolerate" sinners, will become like them.
Paul wrote not to the one who sinned (God would take care of him) but to protect the body of Christ. God the Holy Spirit is reaching through the words of Paul, right to your heart and mine. What are you allowing in the name of tolerance? It is God’s intention that you will be set free from that which will bring you down. Be sensitive to Him when He speaks to your heart, because He really cares for you.
Verse 13. "For this reason we have been comforted. And besides our comfort, we rejoiced even much more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all."
Emily Dickinson said, "If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain…If I can ease one life the aching, or cool one pain…I shall not live in vain." That was the heart of the apostle Paul, who found HIS "comfort" in the comfort of other people. Titus was apparently "beside himself" with joy, at the change in the Corinthian people. They found joy in the salvation of others; in serving people just like you.
At this point in history, people are determined to find personal comfort. Money, prestige, power, ease in travel, instant communication without true involvement, gratification - these are the personal goals of our race. Paul stands out from us like a diamond on black velvet, because he understood he was not created to be served, but to serve. We have the same call - What will we answer to the call of God?
Verse 14. "For if in anything I have boasted to him about you, I was not put to shame; but as we spoke all things to you in truth, so also our boasting before Titus proved to be the truth."
Paul tended to boast about the people he served, much like a proud parent tends to boast about their child. And if you think about it, the parent is not so different from Paul. The good parent clothes the child, feeds the child, protects the little one - the true parent SERVES the child out of love.
That was precisely what Paul did for the Corinthians. He was a Jew, they were Greeks, and yet he served them from an unlimited reservoir of God’s love. He fed them the Bread of Life, clothed them with righteousness, and protected them from harm. So should we act toward one another. This child (the Corinthian church) was taken out of harm’s way, and Paul was saying, "See Titus, I KNEW they could do it!"
Verse 15. "His affection abounds all the more toward you, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling."
We are not talking here about obedience to Paul, or to Titus, but obedience to the Holy Spirit of God. First we give ourselves to God, and only then do we sit under the ministry of any man (2 Corinthians 8:5). When we belong to God, we begin to trust, first placing our faith in Him, and then, cautiously, we receive instruction from those God sends to us.
You see, an element of love is TRUST, and sure, the enemy will do his best to mislead us (often using people to lead us off the track) - but God will warn us when we go astray, and pull us back to His way. Trust in God, be watchful of people, but RECEIVE in love, those whom God has sent to help you through.
Paul was able to say of the Corinthian church, "I have confidence in you in everything" (NKJV). To work and live in relation to others and to not have trust between you, creates anxiety for all. To be safe with other persons starts with you. - The best way to create trustworthiness in your spouse, your children, and those who work with you, is for YOU to become a person of trust. Become open, decide to be honest (in love), even to your hurt; you’ll have a better life - guaranteed. (And here’s an extra: This kind of confidence leads to --- joy).
Verse 16. "I rejoice that in everything I have confidence in you."
To have confidence in another person, is to TRUST them. If you think about it, trust is one of the rarest commodities in this world. Divorce is rampant in our society, and most married people are deeply unhappy with their lives. The true reason for the unhappiness and the divorce is a lack of trust. You simply don’t feel you can TRUST that other person. When God teaches us to love Him and love one another, He is offering us a life of trust, of faith, where you can REST content in relation to that other person.
What God wants to give us is the ability to turn our back on the other person in safety - They won’t stab us when we aren’t looking, and they will defend us in areas where we cannot see. The body of Christ was designed for this, and we can only be this way, when we become repentant people, and ourselves become trustworthy. We are to be a people of confidence, because He loves you and me.
2 Corinthians Chapter 8
Verse 1. "Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia,"
Paul is writing TO the Corinthians, but is writing ABOUT another group of churches, the Macedonians. The latter area was formerly a country north of Greece that conquered all of Greece, under Phillip of Macedonia, father of Alexander the Great. At this time, all Greece, including Macedonia, was a part of the united Roman Empire.
Paul is going to teach us about the wonderful grace of God. "Grace" is something given to us that we do not deserve. We do not earn His grace through works, but are instead given everything, out of His love. To think we can earn our salvation is to fail to understand the love and mercy of God. Paul talks of his people Israel, in Romans 11:6, and says "if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace."
All that we have, all that we are, all we have of Him, is totally the grace of God, given in His love for You and me. But this grace is given in a surprising and unexpected way, as we shall see in the next verse.
Verse 2. "that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality."
This verse begins Paul’s definition of the grace (unmerited favor) he referred to in verse one; where we see Paul as a proud "father", who loved his "children" in the Lord. The surprising news here is that God’s grace is not necessarily found in our GETTING something from Him, but is expressed most beautifully when we are enabled by God to GIVE, in the power of the Lord.
In their deep affliction, they found JOY, because though they were poor, they gave much. In our country, at this time, we have much but give little. It isn’t only money we can offer, by the way, for we can give our time, our comfort, encouragement, friendship – and when we give, it is not to be some kind of mere philanthropy, it is the grace of God – to you and me.
God enables the giver to give, and it is His grace to the giver, allowing you to participate in the things of God, in the lives of people.
Verse 3. "For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord,
It is not grace when we give out of some kind of guilt, at the prompting of some televangelist. We give of our own accord; we give freely, because of the prompting of the Holy Spirit of God. Jesus said "freely ye have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8) and when you do, you discover the grace of God. You will find rest for your soul.
Tithing is not necessarily "10%". It is not based on your "gross" or your "net" income. Real tithing is the heart that yields to God, in relation to the need of others. This is much like "fasting", which is not merely going without eating. It is the giving up of what you have (your time, your money, your life) to fill the need of someone else (Isaiah 58:6-12). Give of your heart, of your own accord, as led by God, and His grace will fill you.
Verse 4. "begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints,"
It isn’t some pastor who should be begging his people to give; it should be the people (including the pastor) who give from their hearts. Much like his gift to us of prayer, God is doing us a favor, by allowing us to participate in the support of others. Did it occur to you to wonder why you receive the income you do? Is it because you’re such a great guy? Because you’re so clever? No, it’s because God, who is full of grace, is opening a door, that you may help those in need.
The strong are made strong, that they may help the weak. It is an intelligent rich man who sees that he is rich in order to help the poor. What "gifts" do you have in life? They were GIVEN to you, that you might receive the grace of God, in helping others. This is why you are alive; why you are here.
Verse 5. "and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God."
Paul continues to express that we receive the grace of God to become the people of God, who give to others in their need. When you are truly in the Lord, you will be led by the Spirit of God, to places and thoughts never before expected. Jesus said "the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8).
Notice in this verse we FIRST must give ourselves to the Lord, and it is only AFTER we can truly give ourselves to others. It is not that we give to other people, by the way, just because we think we ought to, and it is not due to the urging of someone else. We give because we took the risk and have abandoned ourselves to God in Christ, as we are led by His Spirit.
Verse 6. "So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well."
Since verse 1, Paul has been writing to them about the churches of Macedonia, who had been given the grace of God, in that they were enabled to give to those in need. This was wondrously done in them through the will of God (verse 5), and Paul had urged Titus to share the unexpected JOY of giving, with the Corinthians. They, like us, need to know the delight that comes from sharing what we have, in the will of the Lord.
All your life, you have wanted to be complete, which is what people are after when they take drugs, engage in illicit sex, continuously overwork, or whatever. If you seek to satisfy yourself, it can never happen, for you were created by God to know Him, to receive His Spirit, and to respond to His will. Titus would finish the work of God in them, by revealing that the grace of God becomes complete in Christians when we serve others in their need.
Verse 7. "But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also."
James correctly said "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17). Jesus (through John) alerted the Ephesians that to be doctrinally correct but lack love (Revelation 2:4 & context) is to miss it all. Paul also captures this in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. There is a need in us that is not going to be met by merely the proper expression of some element of the Christian religion. If we say things well, or are apparently faithful; know a lot, are earnest, or even do loving things – We may still not know what it means to be complete in Him.
The source of all we need, is found in John 15:7, where Jesus commands us (for our good and for His glory), "Abide in Me," and you are to let His "words abide in you." The result is, "you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you." To be complete in Him, you must abide in Him, and THEN you will experience the grace that will "abound in this gracious work" (as in this verse). It all comes from your PERSONAL walk with, and in, Jesus Christ. And He will draw you to serve others in His Name.
Verse 8. "I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also."
Note that Paul does NOT command them to some mere religious act, but points them in a direction where they may be complete in Him. God will stretch us in a direction that will TEST the sincerity of our love, our faith. To say we have faith is good. To say "I love you" can be wonderful. But Jesus alerted us, "Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21).
Our love will be proved (tested), until finally we no more live for ourselves, but for God. It is unnatural (from a human perspective) to place others before ourselves, and even placing others first can be merely an outward religious act. We will be proved; and if we pass the test, we will find JOY and love in the Lord and with one another. The walk in Christ is not a series of commands (don’t do this; don’t do that) but is an opportunity to express and receive love the love of God in relation to other people.
Verse 9. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich."
We find exceeding GRACE in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, here on this earth.
We are simply given EVERYTHING in Him, and He is the ultimate model, for your life and mine. He had it all (He came from eternity – Micah 5:2), and gave it all up, for you and for me. We don’t even know how "rich" He was, because we have not yet been to the place from which He came. We needed a Savior because we are sinners before a Holy God. We were helpless. Jesus loved this world and gave everything for you.
But He gave up everything for a PURPOSE, that through His loss we might FIND it all! And He says to us "if anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (Luke 9:23). To become complete in His grace, we are to abandon our selfishness and follow Him. The works that come after, will be from Him, and not merely from ourselves.
Verse 10. "I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first to begin a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it."
Often times, we are prompted in our hearts to do some good thing. And then, we may become distracted. The cares of this world creep in, and we later wonder, was that really the Lord’s will (to do this or that)? We shrug, and go back to our lives as they were before. We may still attend church (or not), and tithe (or not), but the vision God gave, has been dimmed in our hearts and lives.
Paul is giving his opinion, his observation. A year ago, they had been drawn to give much, like the Macedonians (verse 1 and forward) had been drawn to give. But the Corinthians had become distracted and did not follow through. I find that often God will prompt my heart in something, and then I develop all sorts of opinions about what He meant. I muddy the waters and subsequently must return to His original, simple touch in my heart. The "waters" then clear and I can do His will.
Verse 11. "But now finish doing it also, so that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability."
Many years passed, from the time God called me to His work, until I was willing and able to do that which I was called to do. During the years I avoided that call, one word described my life: INCOMPLETE. No matter how much I strove to be fulfilled, I remained empty inside.
It had been a year since the Corinthians knew they were drawn to give. To be drawn to act for God, is to find the grace of God. But much like Pilgrim in "Pilgrim’s Progress," they were soon off the path and into the cares of this world. If our desire is good, and godly, we must complete it according to the ability God has given each one.
Verse 12. "For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have."
Jesus sat in the Temple, and watched how the people put money into the treasury (Mark 12:41-44). (Just as He is watching you and me). He saw "many who were rich put in much". And He also saw a poor widow, who put in little (12:42). It was at that point He called His disciples to Him and said, "this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood" (John 12:43-44).
That is precisely the lesson Jesus gave them in relation to the "loaves and fishes" (Matthew 14:15-21, Matthew 15:32-38), where we see that God can take the little we have, and turn what we give into something great. He does not need your riches – What He wants is your heart.
Verse 13. "For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality,"
When the other person has better income than we do (and we are struggling), our tendency is to cry out, "Why him and not me, Lord?" The other person may be better looking, have a more attractive job or ministry, and so on. Down through the years, I have often met workers who feel they know more and are better qualified than their supervisors. "Why not ME, they ask?"
The answer is that God DOES have your well being in mind. And He gives more to the one, so that he will, in turn, give to the other. He does not have in mind that the one will suffer in the giving, but that all might have enough. Jesus said "My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:30). Your giving is to become an "easy" thing and then it will become a joy.
Verse 14. "at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality;"
If you are a person who has enough income, are sufficiently good looking, have a desirable marriage, are healthy, etc., has it occurred to you God has a PURPOSE in this? These days, it’s impossible to ignore the homeless in our midst. They are at our convenience stores, asking for money as we enter. Do we help them? What if they spend the money we give on alcohol or other drugs?
As to who you give to and when you give, you’ll have to look to your heart, and if the Holy Spirit lives in You; follow Him! And that’s the key. What is given to You, is ultimately not for you at all, but for the purposes of God. And always remember, His intention is that ALL will have enough. He not only loves you, who may have enough, but He also loves (very much), the one who is suffering need. He expects you to love them, too.
Verse 15. "as it is written, ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack."
This verse is a quote from Exodus 16:18, where the people Israel had just discovered the edible substance manna, outside their tents. The word "manna" in the Hebrew literally means something like "What on earth IS this stuff?" (16:19). It is interesting they were told "let no one leave any of it till morning" (16:19), but they did it anyway (16:20), and it spoiled when they did. God was teaching them to have faith in Him for today (don’t be afraid for tomorrow) – He loves us and will provide for our needs.
We know He is doing the same with us, because Jesus, when He gave us a model prayer (Matthew 16:9-13), taught us "give us this day our DAILY bread" (6:11). Not "give us a lifetime of security" but, "provide for us TODAY!" God will patiently teach faith in Him, through both our abundance and our lack, if we simply let Him do the work needed for our lives.
Verse 16. "But thanks be to God who puts the same earnestness on your behalf in the heart of Titus."
God gave Titus a concern for the Corinthian people. We have all heard of the missionary who "knew" he was "being sent" to some people or another. And the real secret is that we are ALL sent, the husband to the wife (and vice versa), and the person to his or her neighbor. When you go to work and are grumbling "I hate Mondays," the Lord in your heart is likely urging "Speak to them (at work) about My Son… Tell them how I helped you." God SENT you to that workplace.
It was God who put love into the heart of Titus for the Corinthians and it is God who enables you to care for that person who is your friend. We often think of a man and woman having love for one another, and yet don’t consider it was God Who gave them that love in the first place. The love we have is often misused, for we are flawed sinners, but it is God Who gives love.
Verse 17. "For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest, he has gone to you of his own accord."
It is good to receive instruction from other people and also to capture the vision they have, of the "work" of the Lord. But it is even better to have your own vision from God; your own understanding of His desire for your life. You can only go so long on someone else’s zeal for the Lord – You must find Him for yourself.
Titus listened to Paul and he was excited (and challenged) by what he heard. But when he went to the Corinthians, it was because he was drawn directly by the Spirit of God, and he wanted to go.
Verse 18. "We have sent along with him the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches;"
It can’t be stressed enough that God sends His very best. He has GIVEN His very best, the Son of God. As to who "the brother" is, in this verse, there are as many opinions as there are theologians, but it is enough that his "fame" was everywhere. He was a man who faithfully preached the Gospel of our Lord. The BEST was being sent to them.
As this is written, my two year temporary job has run out, and I have no income. And yet, I am on the coast of Israel, listening to the waves of the Mediterranean Sea, through the window of a luxury hotel, and all is paid for the next 12 days. God provided this trip and God will provide for you. He will send the right word, through exactly the best person possible to feed your soul, and He will provide for your every need.
Verse 19. "and not only this, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us in this gracious work, which is being administered by us for the glory of the Lord Himself, and to show our readiness,"
It is time for the people of the various visible churches to once again listen to the leading of God. You (we) must select men, not merely on the basis of an education in theology, but because they will administer the glory of God to the people. Religious training is good, but a heart for God, His Word, and His people, is infinitely better.
The purpose in ministry is twofold, and is 1) for the glory of God, that He may be revealed, and 2) for the people of this world, that they may hear about the One who died for them. When God appoints us for a work, it is not done for our glory, but for His, and it is not for our benefit, but for those to whom we speak. Be ready to speak for Him.
Verse 20-21. "taking precaution so that no one will discredit us in our administration of this generous gift; for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men."
Paul had become a good man, in that he followed God, Who is good. In his heart, he had completely given himself to the Lord, and therefore, had become acceptable to the Father. And he had gained understanding that, wherever possible, we are to be of good reputation among men. He also knew the work of God is a gift of God, to those who serve.
In verses 18 and 19, we see indications about how our behavior is to be "honorable." They sent "the brother" (Paul sent his very best), and did it not merely on his own authority, but as "appointed by the churches." Here was a man who sought God, and where appropriate, took the counsel of other leaders. And he recognized fully that the work they did was not for themselves, but was for the glory of the Lord.
Here in verse 21, we find Paul acted in an "honorable" manner (an uncommon word in our society). And we must continue to note this was not only "in the sight of the Lord" but he also acted with honor "in the sight of men." And so should WE be a people of honor and grace, doing all for the good of men and the glory of God.
Verse 22. "We have sent with them our brother, whom we have often tested and found diligent in many things, but now even more diligent because of his great confidence in you."
"Our brother" seems to be a reference to Titus, a man who was very useful to Paul. This was a young man tested by Paul (and by God), and found to be a diligent person. Keep in mind that Paul sent those who would have been useful to HIM. "Our brother" had passed the test and was shown as an effective worker. He was perfect in service to Paul and was therefore the one Paul sent to the Corinthians.
The lamb for the Passover was to be without blemish (Exodus 12:5), and was killed as a substitute for those who had sinned. Christ, our Lamb of God, was without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:19), and was sent to die for you and me. As Paul saw, God always gives His best. We, in turn, are to give OUR best, both for God and for one another.
Verse 23. "As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brethren, they are messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ."
Paul was a true leader, who reasonably gave praise for the effective service given by those around him. He called the much younger Titus "my partner" which is to say, his equal in the service of God. Even more compelling is the phrase "messengers" - actually the word "apostoloi" in the Greek, which we translate as "apostle" or "sent one." He was honoring Titus and the others with the same title "apostle" which he also held.
We may not be called and sent to whole countries, as were these men, but we are called, and we are sent. God sends the husband to the wife, not for his purposes, but ultimately to bring "glory to Christ." Does your wife call you faithful? And wife, do you bring the glory of Christ to your husband? God sends us to be ministers to our children. To our neighbors and to those we encounter at work. How would Paul rate our performance?
24. "Therefore openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you."
Often people respond to their pastors, those whom God sends, with gossip and criticism. And pastors, like bosses, tend to "beat the sheep" in return. Instead, we are to reply to God’s gift (the pastor and the people are gifts to one another) with love. Sometimes, the one we have in the pulpit is insufficient as God’s man, and then we must look to the Lord (instead of gossiping to others). We may find we are called OUT of that place, or we may be led to remain and PRAY for that pastor.
Here "the proof of your love" refers back to the first verses of this chapter, where Paul urges them to have hearts that GIVE to others. He had used the example of the churches of Macedonia, who had little but gave much. We are to be a people who GIVE, in a variety of creative ways (as led by the Holy Spirit), to those who are in need.
2 Corinthians Chapter 9
Verse 1. "For it is superfluous for me to write to you about this ministry to the saints;"
Some things are just self-evident (it's superfluous to even talk about them). You don’t steal. Adultery is simply wrong. Murder is unthinkable, and that includes the willful killing of an unborn baby. Down deep, you know you should not do these things. All these are wrong because of another very evident truth: God is real and He said in His commandments to us: "Don’t!"
In addition to - do NOT do this or that, we are to DO certain things as well. We are to have hearts and hands that give to others in their need. One of the great themes in Scripture is that we are to share what we have with widows, orphans, and the stranger in our midst (for instance, the homeless). And if we look deep inside, we already know this. We only pretend to ourselves that we do not know, because we are a selfish people.
Verse 2. "for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the Macedonians, namely, that Achaia has been prepared since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them."
The other day, I talked with the former pastor of a large church (for 25-years), who is now a "financial advisor". He expressed pleasure that he was out of the ministry, citing his parishioners as the reason he left. "At least now they (his customers) are honest with me about their finances" he said. His former "clients" (his parishioners) had not given sufficiently for projects within the church, which caused him to experience frustration.
Generally, where the church is alive spiritually, the members GIVE liberally. This was Dr. J. Vernon Mc Gee’s observation and he went on to state, "I have … been to some churches that really are dead spiritually. They don’t give much, for they are dead in their giving. The size of the offering is a pretty good barometer." A group of people with a generous, willing heart, such as these Corinthians had become, tends to be contagious, and stirs others to give as well.
Verse 3. "But I have sent the brethren, in order that our boasting about you may not be made empty in this case, so that, as I was saying, you may be prepared;"
Paul really KNEW people. "I’ll pray for you," we say, and then we forget. Things come up and we often don’t follow through. The Corinthians had made a "pledge" of what apparently was a generous amount of money. Paul, who was bragging about their generosity to other Christians, was holding them accountable, and would send men to help them remember.
Verse 4. "otherwise if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we -- not to speak of you -- will be put to shame by this confidence."
The Macedonians had very little, but they gave a lot (see 2 Corinthians 8:1-3). Paul had used them as an example to spur the Corinthians (who had more than the Macedonians).
It is important that we follow through on our promises and be people who keep our word. I’ve seen many people shake their heads and say, "Don’t work with Christians; they’re the worst!" And the sad thing is, many "christians" are less than reliable in business dealings.
Jesus said "let your ‘yes’ be yes, and your ‘no’ be no" (Matthew 5:37). In other words, if you say something, DO what you have said. If you promise something, then do it. Paul, who had much experience with people, was making sure they would follow through. This is much like the good parent who tells the child not to run out into the street, and then also WATCHES to make sure the child stays on the sidewalk.
Verse 5. "So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness."
We’ve got a lot to learn about planning. We impulsively say, "I’ll do…(this or that)" but we have no plan for carrying out our promise and we do nothing. God, who places His purposes into your heart, also provides the methods for getting them done. If the Corinthians just put a little money aside, here and there (Paul was suggesting), the gift would not be burdensome at all.
When you are ready with a gift in plenty of time, it’s not a strain and you’re glad to give it. But waiting until the last minute is stressful and the tendency is to resent the giving. Jesus said "My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:30), but we often make things harder than they need to be.
Verse 6. "Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully."
If we invest just a little bit of money, we stand to make a little. Though with human investments, we often can lose what we have. Our investments in the kingdom of God always succeed. To "sow bountifully" in the Kingdom of God is to succeed in life.
Often, God will prompt your heart to GIVE to this person or that. When you give in such a manner, you KNOW it was the right things to do. Those are the times when you also receive information (from Him) about how MUCH to give. And when you give in the will of God, He will give back to you "good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over…for the in the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38).
We do not give because some person told us to. We don’t give merely out of good intentions. We give because our God has prompted us to do that very thing. When we sow bountifully in this manner, we will reap bountifully as well. We do not give to get something, but God (who loves you) GIVES to the one with a generous heart.
Verse 7. "Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."
In your heart, Christian, God will place a desire to give. He will also point out those who need to receive your gift (which may take various forms, like money, a prayer, a hug, a kind word). In Psalms 37:4, we learn "He will give you the desires of your heart" – He will cause your desires to become His, and when the gift and recipient are revealed in your heart, you MUST give. To give in such a manner is the doorway to joy, for the giver and for the recipient.
Our first need is to give and our second is to give WILLINGLY. Jesus said we are to give "expecting nothing in return" (Luke 6:35) and that is the key to successful giving. Often when we give "grudgingly or under compulsion" (as in this verse), it is because we are worried – we think they might not pay us back. Just give cheerfully to anyone who is in need and don’t worry about yourself at all (see commentary on verse 8).
Verse 8. "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;"
The reason you don’t need to worry about yourself in giving (see commentary on verse 7) is because God will take care of you. When He leads you to give, He will provide the way for you to do it. This is a principle found throughout Scripture (and one I did not understand for many years). The first time I encountered it was during our "lean" financial years, in relation to Haggai 1:6, "He who earns wages to put into a bag with holes." It seemed that no matter how much we earned, it was not enough. It was like my wallet had a hole in the bottom. In Haggai, they did not have enough because they were not building the Temple, as God had directed. In our case, He wanted me to be a person who would give, even when I thought we did not have enough.
If you give as God directs you to give, He will provide for all of your needs and you don’t have to be afraid. This is seen in Proverbs 11:24, where Solomon teaches us "There is one who scatters, yet increases more; and there is one who withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty." When God directs your hand to give, go ahead and do so, and He will abundantly provide for your needs.
Verse 9. "as it is written, ‘He scattered abroad, He gave to the poor, His righteousness endures forever’."
Paul is quoting Psalm 112:9, from the Septuagint translation – that verse is "he has dispersed abroad, he has given to the poor, his righteousness endures forever; his horn will be exalted with honor." The Psalm contains a definition of a "good man," by stating that the good person "deals graciously and lends" (Psalm 112:5). This is not lending and expecting something in return, but simply giving to the one in need. If they pay you back, fine; if not, praise the Lord.
This is absolutely consistent with Luke 6:35, where Jesus startled his disciples by telling to "lend, expecting nothing in return." He continued in that verse by promising "your reward will be great." It may not always be the reward you have anticipated but He WILL take care of you, and as He said, "you will be sons of the Highest" (Luke 6:35), which is the best reward of all.
Verse 10. "Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness;"
Have you ever wondered where your income is from? You possibly are like just about everybody else and think it’s because you’re such a hard and clever worker. Actually, the principle is here in this verse, and if we believe it, our lives will be changed and we will find peace.
Almighty God is the one who supplies the seed to the farmer. God is the one who places the money into your pay envelope. If you are an entrepreneur, He gave you the brains and the good circumstance to own that business. His intention in giving to you, is that you will, in turn, give to those around you. You are to provide for your family, give a fair wage to your workers and be generous with others, because GOD has provided for you.
Verse 11. "you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God."
Paul now tells them (in the next verses) of the RESULTS of faithfulness in giving. Two are mentioned here. You will be enriched in everything that is truly important in life. J. Vernon McGee, who said from his long experience, "I have never known anyone who has gone broke giving to the Lord’s work," also said "I don’t think the blessings He gives to you will always be material blessings." God often gives in ways that are better than money.
The second result of your decision to give, is that you will produce thankfulness in other people. And this is a special kind of thanks, because we thank the Giver of all good things - God. So often we thank our doctor, our spouse; some human helper (and it is good to thank them). But the real Author of the good you have received is God, and you should reasonably thank Him – often.
Verse 12. "For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God."
Often charitable organizations start within a Godly context and later continue to be charitable but give no credit to God. True giving is indeed when you help others, but there is an extra part that needs to be acknowledged. Yes, our giving must supply the needs of those who have less than we do, but also cause many to thank God for what He has done (through us). "Saints" here ("called out ones") are those who trust in God.
There are those who have given to this ministry. The Friday Study website did not occur by accident – people have given their time and money to make it happen. I thank God for them and if you benefit from this ministry, you might want to thank Him, too. As J. Vernon McGee said about this verse, "when you give, it will cause people to thank God for you. It is God who will get the praise and the glory."
Verse 13. "Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all,"
James said "faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17). Paul knew the same truth, alerting us that we were "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). This is the proof of our faith, that we become obedient to the confession of gospel of Christ (as in this verse) by caring for others.
We reveal who we truly are, partly by the liberality (or lack of it) with which we give the love of God to those He has placed in our lives. We can give His love to others in a variety of ways - the example here in these verses is money (but that is not the only way to give). As to money, we are no longer tight with it, but we LONG to share with others in any need.
Verse 14. "while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you."
In Christ, we become a people who yearn for one another, because of His love in us. We PRAY for each other, and all this is the grace of God in us. It is His gift to us, that His love is expressed IN us. "Grace" as we have seen, can be defined as "unmerited favor" and is shown as we share His love with those around.
I have discovered in Scripture and from His Spirit, that through Adam and then through Noah, we are one people one human race. When we read any newspaper, we see that something is wrong with us, for we do not ACT like we are one. Sadly, our hearts are divided, but then we receive Christ and we are made truly one in Him. With Him, our hearts yearn to express God’s grace in the lives of other people.
Verse 15. "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"
James (4:6) quotes Solomon (Proverbs 3:34), who reveals that the gift of God to mankind is GRACE (again – unmerited favor). This was made possible through the Gospel (good news) of Christ (2 Corinthians 9:13). The grace of God has always been extended, but we don’t know what giving really IS, until we are in Christ. Oh yes, we might give something, but we cannot know what it means to pour ourselves out in the will of God, until we are in Him.
And so we thank Him. Oh God, what JOY is in Your Name, Your Spirit, Your Son. How we love You and praise You. We receive You now, because we see we have not fully known You before. Not like this. Let us become a people O God, who give in the grace of God, in His Spirit, because of the Son, in joy and in love. In Jesus Name. Amen.
2 Corinthians Chapter 10
Verse 1. "Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ – I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent!"
Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Britain, said "Being in power is like being a lady. If you have to remind people you are, you aren’t. Paul had been given authority in relation to these people. It was for God’s purposes and Paul was God’s man. Yet a number of them had rejected the leadership of this good man.
He was a humble man and was gentle. Yet his letter (1st Corinthians) strongly answered every one of their concerns. They used this against him and said insulting things about him. The phrase "meek when face to face with you but bold…when absent," was a quote. He was quoting from the letter they sent to him.
Verse 2. "I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh."
"I don’t want to hurt you" Paul is essentially telling them. Yet there were some among the Corinthians that he WOULD come against. Specifically it was those who called the work of the Holy Spirit in him, to be "according to the flesh."
Jesus encountered similar objections, as in Matthew 12:22-37, where He healed a demon possessed, blind and mute man. The Pharisees said He did this by "Beelzebub" when in fact it was the Holy Spirit in Him, Who healed the man. That’s slander against God. He called it "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" and said their sin would "not be forgiven" (Matthew 12:31). It wasn’t precisely Paul who was attacked here. It was the Holy Spirit in him, and He would call them into account for what they had done.
Verse 3. "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh,"
It’s dangerous to come against the work of God. Those who came against the Holy Spirit in Paul, are dead, just like the rest of us will be dead at some time or other. The next stop after death is to encounter God. Jesus said "every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men (mankind) but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men" (Matthew 12:31).
God is infinite in power and is well able to defend Himself. To come against a true prophet of God is to come against the Holy Spirit, and will place you in extreme danger. The man of God is just a man, but God is in him, and the weapons he uses will not be according to the flesh but are wrought in the heart and might of God.
Verse 4. "for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses."
You are a fortress. You have defenses to keep others at a certain distance and emotional weapons to attack them when they get too close. You formed these mechanisms at an early age and they are human in origin. God intends to bring your walls down, just like He did the walls of Jericho. He wants your fortifications and weaponry to be Divine (of Him), rather than human (of the flesh).
Your human defenses are inadequate. They will not be sufficient when we receive life in prison or living death in a hospital ward. His weaponry is available to us in Christ and He is "divinely powerful", in and for you. The armies of hell or another human being will not be able to stand against us, when we put on His armor and trust in Him.
Verse 5. "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,"
God wants more than just your outward obedience. Those who teach that some kind of religious "works" can satisfy Him, make that mistake. He knows our thoughts (Psalm 139:2) and He will change the way we think. Two areas of our thoughts which need correction are listed in this verse. They are: "speculations" and the "lofty thing."
Theologians have been speculative and argumentative for literally thousands of years, about the Bible and about God. During a recent TV show, it was said "only 15%" of the New Testament was accurate in its’ statements about Jesus. Here were "theologians", 2000 years later, saying (in a lofty manner) that they "see" more than the eyewitnesses of that time. The Bible stands every test of archeology and such "theologians" should be careful, lest their speculations be destroyed and they literally go to hell.
Verse 6. "and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete."
There is going to be a time when the Church is brought to a place of obedience to God. I have been fascinated that that the mainland Chinese Christians have been praying for American Christians for many years. They feel we are too soft and are in need of persecution, in order that we might come close to God. They have a point. I think, however, we should choose to repent and give up our superficiality now, rather than waiting for an answer to the prayers (for persecution) of our Chinese brethren.
Note that as a man and as a Christian, Paul was not a physical or spiritual coward. He was ready to do battle at any time. The longer I am in Christ, the LESS I see of any correlation between humility and avoiding a fight. The "armor of God" (Ephesians 6:10-17) should be a tip-off that we are to be soldiers in a war (and not merely aesthetics in a monastery).
Verse 7. "You are looking at things as they are outwardly. If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ's, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ's, so also are we."
The Old Testament contrasts between people are fascinating. David and Saul, Jacob and Esau, Cain and Abel – often the differences are subtle and can only be explained that one of them merely "sees" with his senses and the other learns to "see" through the eyes of God. The man of this world can only perceive outwardly and can never truly understand. We must think about more than the outward evidence; we must turn to the Spirit of God.
There is a confidence in Christ. For years, I looked only at the outward evidences and questioned my salvation. I should have looked to God. The Christian may be poor or rich, healthy or in a hospital bed, successful or not. Assurance of salvation can only come from abiding in Christ (John 15:4). Paul had the same assurance which is available to you and me, and people can say what they want, because we belong to Him.
Verse 8. "For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame,"
We are each given spiritual gifts and are each given authority in the body of Christ. These gifts are granted so we will be equipped to help one another. I am given to you and you are given to me, and the whole purpose is for the glory of God and the good of all. Paul tended to get very excited about the people "given" him in Christ. He referred to it as "boasting" but it actually was an expression of his love for them. The husband boasts of his wife out of love, just as the loving parent speaks highly of his little (or big) children.
All authority is of God and is not for our destruction but is to build us up. There is no shame in the body of Christ, for no matter what men do to us, it is only GOD’s opinion of us that truly matters. You can smile at "defeat" because it is God who has the victory in you.
Verse 9. "for I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters."
"It is not my intention to frighten you with my letters." Through Paul, the Church learns we don’t need to be afraid of God, or those that God sends to us. All that God does and God allows, is done in love. Don’t be afraid – He loves you.
In our culture, we are resistant to "criticism" and assume it is always negative when someone corrects us. Actually correction can be an excellent thing, because we all need to be changed. A good section of Scripture to underline is Hebrews 12:5-13, particularly verse 10, where we see that God "disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness." The section in Hebrews is actually a commentary on Proverbs 3:11-12.
Verse 10. "For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.’"
This verse does suggest Paul was NOT a great looking guy, which is consistent with the material I researched for a term paper on him in college. The references agreed he was short and not particularly imposing in appearance. It is interesting they found his speech "contemptible", because he had been a widely-respected public speaker for a long time.
His sermons tended to be somewhat long, which is evidenced in relation to Eutychus at Troas, who went to sleep while Paul was talking, fell from a third story window, and was killed. (Through prayer and the touch of Paul, Eutychus was brought back to life – Acts 20:6-12).
But those who called his speech "contemptible" likely did so for another reason – they probably did not know our Lord. God chose an "earthen vessel" in Paul (ALL His selections are earthen vessels, by the way) – We are to SEE that God’s man is empowered by the Holy Spirit and not by himself. God chooses ordinary people to DO extraordinary things. The fact they did not understand, implies they did not know the God who sent Paul.
Verse 11. "Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present."
To Paul’s detractors he was writing, "Watch out, because I’m going to be just as tough in person this time as I was in my letters." Paul had answered their attacks and concerns in his previous letter (1st Corinthians) but he had been gentle with them in person.
Jesus Christ was much the same. Apparently He was not imposing physically (Isaiah 53:2) but His life here on earth was FILLED with the Holy Spirit. In the written Bible, we find we are sinners (Romans 3:23), and because of our sins, we have a death sentence on us (Romans 6:23). Yet when Jesus came to us, He was "gentle and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29). We should receive Him now, because the next time He is here, He will be our Judge (1 Timothy 4:1).
Verse 12. "For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding."
We should not compare ourselves with other persons. Comparisons are unfair and misleading, because we are not physically or mentally the same. Each one was carefully built by God, complete with both our abilities, and also our limitations. The purpose (of who we are) is to bring us to God. The limitations you see in that other guy, are there for God’s good purpose in him. The abilities you think you have, are for the glory of God, and are given so you can help that other person.
Our true comparison is always with God, and therefore we all fall short. "Pride" can be defined by the phrase "delusions of grandeur", because we have nothing to be proud about. To be arrogant and think we are something when we are not, shows a lack of understanding. To be proud is to be ignorant, and in danger of judgment.
Verse 13. "But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you."
Paul was well aware there were limitations on his life and ministry. This is seen in places like Galatians 1:1, where he starts his letter by stating his ministry is not from man (such as a Church board, or even from himself) but through Christ and the Father. He only did what God led him to do. In this verse, he refers to the "measure" or limits on his ministry, specifically including the Corinthians within the sphere of his authority from God.
He will not "boast" or glory about someone else’s ministry (as though it was his) but he absolutely DELIGHTED in those he ministered to. That included the recipients of this letter, and Paul, who viewed them like his beloved children, would SERVE those people.
Verse 14. "For we are not overextending ourselves, as if we did not reach to you, for we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ;"
He is not overstating his case by reminding them he (and his ministry team) was the FIRST to come to them in the Name of Christ. They were now treating him practically like a stranger, as though he did not come to them at all. It’s very hard to honestly try and help someone, and then be treated as an outsider by them.
1 Peter 1:18-19 is interesting because it shows we are not saved by anything of this world, such as by our money. And we are not saved by keeping some kind of conduct we received as tradition from our fathers. But we ARE saved by the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He came, He was perfect (God’s precious Gift), and we killed Him. Just as Paul was rejected, so was our Lord – The one sent by God will strangely find rejection from many people.
Verse 15. "not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men's labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you,"
We have a CERTAIN hope in Christ, as we see in places like Titus 2:13, were we are encouraged to look for the "glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ." Our hope in Him is absolutely certain. But the "hope" in this verse is slightly different than the hope we have in our Lord. Paul hoped he could serve the Corinthians more.
We are to be "the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14) and Paul certainly brought light to this people. He loved them and many had (incredibly) responded by rejecting him; the gift God had sent. He knew he was sent to them and the fact they did not like him, would not stop him. He wanted to be accepted by them (enlarged in their thinking), so he could serve them more (impart more faith to them).
Verse 16. "so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another."
Paul was also called to other regions and peoples beyond Corinth. God was leading him and he was sensitive to that leading, just as we should be. The Corinthians should have fully received him as the man God had sent to them. But they were looking to other men and were accusing him (who first brought Christ to them) of usurping the ministry of others. There was no "sphere of another" here – Paul was the one sent to them.
Paul saw the situation and knew God sent him to them. He understood their hearts and recognized that their rejection of him would bring harm to them. In Hebrews 4:13, we are taught "there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to whom we must give account." God sees your heart and knows your motives. He also often reveals you to those who are sent to help you.
Verse 17. "But he who boasts is to boast in the Lord."
This verse is from Jeremiah 9:24, which says "‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches. But let him who glories, glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight’, says the Lord."
People boast, often in subtle ways (like "name dropping"). Our wisdom, strength and money are temporary, and are gone in a moment of time. If we boast in such things, we are fools and will be disappointed in life. Youth goes quickly, and suddenly our ability to make money just isn’t there anymore. The stuff you consider valuable is likely not as important as you think it is. (But you can have something much better). Turn to the Lord; love Him – Your trust in Him will last forever!
Verse 18. "For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends."
We often see the one who "commends himself" in Church. This is the person (or Church) who thinks their "creeds" (doctrines) are better than anybody else’s way of believing. Yes we must believe in Christ but no, we are not all to be the same. Oswald Chambers said "the Christian must be consistent to the life of the Son of God in him, not consistent to hard and fast creeds. Men pour themselves into creeds, and God has to blast them out of these prejudices before they can become devoted to Jesus Christ.
So it is not that we commend ourselves but it is important that GOD commends you and me. How do we please Him? How are we commended by Him? Jesus told Paul "My GRACE is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" as we will find in 2 Corinthians 12:9. We are to give up doing it ourselves and start trusting in Him. By receiving the grace offered in Christ, we can please God the Father. There is no other way.
2 Corinthians Chapter 11
Verse 1. "I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but indeed you are bearing with me."
If Paul was a good ole’ country boy, he would be saying something like, "C’mon, fellers, let’s set a spell n’ talk this over; gimme’ jus’ a moment fer a little foolishness, here…" There’s sometimes a tongue-in-cheek quality to Paul, for he was touching them with a little dry humor. And indeed, he HAD their attention and they WOULD listen to him for sure. This verse would lead them to what he was about to say.
Verse 2. "For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin."
Paul had become a man who saw life (and people) from God’s point of view. The "jealousy" here, is God’s desire that the Corinthians (and the rest of us, also) would be kept from sin. Paul was not after these people for himself, but his heart was instead to bring them to God.
The "Husband" of the Church is Jesus Christ, and we are betrothed to Him for all eternity. Paul and those like him, have just one goal – that you might be presented to Christ, pure and innocent, lovely in heart. To those of us who are sinners, it sounds impossible, but ALL is possible in the Cross of Christ. Sin is in your past, but "pure" is truly descriptive, in God’s eyes, of those who are in His Son.
Verse 3. "But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ."
As humans, we so easily stumble into sin. In the Genesis account of the Fall (Genesis Chapter 3), you could decide Eve was kind of dumb, because, from the written account, she seems to have fallen so quickly. But consider her from the aspect of innocence. What if you had never known sin, and then you were confronted with it? What would YOU do? Eve fell, and did Adam, and I’m sure God chose EXCELLENT representatives of the human race. If they fell, you and I would have, too.
We do have a clever enemy. But "cleverness" is not intelligence, nor is it love. Our God (Who is in us) simply understands – everything! He has all knowledge. And God not only knows us, but He also loves us without limit. Our minds are no longer to be led astray. When we choose to abide in Christ, He will keep us safe from sin.
Verse 4. "For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully."
In reality, there isn’t "another Jesus", but the enemy has been busy down through the centuries, making counterfeits so that people remain confused. And these counterfeits bring demonic spirits with them that further add to the confusion in life. The strange thing is that so many will receive false religion, and embrace the demons that come with them.
It’s not only strange but it also is tragic, for misplaced faith is even worse than no faith at all. People who receive other "scriptures" are in great danger, because the Bible brings us to the Lord. You can often meet those who revere Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) and view Jesus as a "great teacher." And they feel "enlightened" with this (they bear false teachings "beautifully" as Paul says in this verse). The problem is that Jesus Christ is more than a teacher – He’s the Savior of the world.
Verse 5. "For I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles."
Paul knew who he was, for the Lord had told him. In Acts 9:15, Ananias was told about Paul by the risen Christ, "he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel." The same information was imparted directly to Paul. He was Christ’s "apostle" (sent one).
One person of God is not inferior to another. We tend to regard a pastor within a big Church as "blessed" (they are), and the one leading a tiny Church as somehow "inferior" to the other guy (not true). In football (soccer), the center forward tends to receive notoriety by scoring many goals, but his team does not win unless the other players are effective on the field. All of the people of God are special in His sight.
Verse 6. "But even if I am unskilled in speech, yet I am not so in knowledge; in fact, in every way we have made this evident to you in all things."
Some of the Corinthians had referred to Paul (gossiped about him, actually) as "unskilled in speech" and in this verse he was simply quoting their statement. He did not argue the point with them, but instead pointed out that literally that he knew far more than they did. This was not bragging, because the statement was true. God had equipped him and sent him, on their behalf.
As stated by Paul elsewhere, "the Gospel which was preached by me, is not according to man; for I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12). It is not merely our theological training, but the revelation of Christ, in His Word, and through His Spirit, which is needed by the world.
Verse 7. "Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you without charge?"
"The man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3). Jesus was "gentle (meek) and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29). Matthew 11:29, continues "and you will find rest for your souls." Paul became humble before God (and the Corinthians), as stated in this verse. If you want to understand humility, study the life of Moses: note that he had become rough (through his first 40-years in the desert); he was a person in authority, and yet he was a humble man. Jesus humbled himself and gave us rest. The true people of God will provide REST for others, including that "living water" we all so desperately need.
Tongue-in-cheek but serious in intent, Paul asks the outrageous question, did he "commit a sin" in humbling himself? Paul had led them to Christ, and he exalted them beyond measure, when he brought them to Christ. Everything he gave them was freely given. My Dad always said, "There’s no such thing as a free lunch," and that is so often true. But it does not take into account the FREE gift of Jesus Christ to a dying and starving world.
Verse 8. "I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you;"
Often a missionary has no independent source of income. The Bibles they give, the money for the places in which they live, the food they eat and share, is typically from the funds sent by those in another land. Paul functioned as an independent contractor (a tent maker) but also provided for them through gifts from other Churches.
He used the phrase "robbed other Churches" as a tongue-in-cheek expression of his annoyance with them. The Macedonians and others had given to their hurt, in backing the missionary activities of Paul, and he would not have them insulted by the reaction of these Corinthians to Paul’s ministry.
Verse 9. "and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so."
I’ve met many in ministry who are wholly supported by donations. And that’s fine. The Pastor has often given up his income in order to serve his congregation. The Lord hears the needy (Psalm 69:13) and it’s on the ground of poverty that those in ministry are to receive sustenance from those they serve. Some ministers provide for themselves, and that’s fine, also, for our needs, our abilities, and our situations are not all the same.
Paul refrained from receiving income or expenses from the Corinthians, but he did, on the other hand, accept sustenance from the Macedonians. I’m sure he was led by God in both decisions. Our needs are different, as were those of the Corinthians and the Macedonians, and the one who gives, receives from the Lord. God’s purposes will be unique for each one, and we must not look to people as we decide to receive or not, and to give, in certain situations, or not. We must look to the Lord.
Verse 10. "As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be stopped in the regions of Achaia."
The problem with boasting is that so often the stuff we boast about is just not true. It may contain something of the truth, but if it is not all true, then it is a lie. Testimonies sometimes grow in the telling, and that is not good. Jesus is "the truth" (John 14:6), and if we are in Him, we are to be like Him. Paul was telling the truth about the situation in relation to these Corinthians, and he would tell it to all Achaia (or the whole world), if necessary.
Verse 11. "Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!"
Paul is asking them, "Why am I doing all this boasting? Do you think it’s because I don’t love you?" Did he lead them to Christ because he did not love them? Did he give his life in the teaching of them, because he did not care? Why was he spending all this time raising money for their needs, and writing them letters, if they did not matter to him?
He’s been stating this in a deliberately sarcastic manner, so they might see how ridiculous their position was. Paul loved them with the everlasting love of Christ, and yet they preferred false teachers (verses 13-15) over him. It’s interesting to note that people often pick the wrong leaders and trust the wrong persons. We should be less drawn to physical appearances and more to the Word of God. When we learn to see life through the Word of God, as revealed by the Spirit of God, we will make much better choices.
Verse 12. "But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting."
Paul is spotlighting the false religious teachers who had crept in among the Corinthians. Now, if Paul was "boasting" about the work of God he had brought to these people, the false teachers had boasted much more (but for no reason at all). Paul wanted to show the false ones up for what they were (as revealed in verses 13-15). They were actually workers of Satan, and Paul would reveal their true nature. He would cut them off from harming these people.
Note that Paul loved those who did not care for him. The Corinthians were rejecting him for insufficient cause, but his leading in the Spirit had not changed – He loved them with God’s love, and it was his job to protect them.
Verse 13. "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ."
There are false workers among us. They work hard, and may be very religious, but they’re false in every way. It is not how hard we work, but it’s our trust in Christ that divides us, false and true, before a Holy God. Such people knock on doors, publish books, quote the Bible, and talk boldly. But they are false, disguising themselves as workers of Christ. They have been very busy down through the centuries, and you see them historically in places like the Spanish Inquisition; often killing gentle souls who loved our Lord.
Satan is both active and clever, not only entrapping people within lives of outrageous and embarrassing sin; but his greatest ploy is counterfeit religion. A store owner won’t take a $20.00 bill with a picture of Mickey Mouse on it, but all too often we of the Church take the false, right along with the true. There are many good and wonderful leaders sent by God out there, but others are not from Him – We need to pray – a lot.
Verse 14. "No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light."
Lots of what is called "religion" is not of the Lord. "But they are so nice" we might say about a body of people who have faith in something-or-other. I was in a "Hindu" (Sri Ramakrishna) monastery at one time (during the years I was away from the Lord), and the "monks" in that place were very pleasant. They were nice guys.
But were they God’s men? It’s very likely none of them were, because the prevalent belief of that place was "all roads lead to God." I had fallen away from Christ, and possibly some of those "monks" have now been touched by the Lord – I hope so. The official belief system of the place was essentially that it didn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe in something. However, Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father except by Me" (John 14:6). It DOES matter what you believe and who you believe in. Satan masquerades himself and causes confusion, for no other reason than to lead people away from our Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 15. "Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds."
Just like Satan pretends to be "good," his people do the same. I have met many ministers and priests, down through the years, who give eloquent religious talks, but who seem have no personal relationship with the Lord. They are the ones who are in it for some other reason than a heart that longs to serve Jesus Christ. It’s dangerous to be like that.
The problem with false Christians is that they are going to experience a terrible judgment for their deception, both in this life and the life to come. You can only fool a true Christian for a while, and then they will repent, turn to the Lord, and escape the clutches of the enemy. The phonies don’t have it so good, for they must repudiate their false teachings before they can turn to God. It’s hard for people to admit they’re wrong, and we must PRAY for those who walk in darkness but pretend to be in the light.
Verse 16. "Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, so that I also may boast a little."
Now, of course, Paul was in no way "foolish" but they (the Corinthians) were acting toward him as though they thought he was, and he was throwing the concept back into their faces. It’s important to RECEIVE those God has sent to You. In the last few verses, we have seen there are some who only PRETEND they are from the Lord, and we must guard against them. On the other hand, you should RECEIVE those who really are from Him.
How do we know the difference? For one thing, all Paul’s talk about "boasting" in these verses was designed to reveal the love that God longed to express through him, to the Corinthians. Paul’s heart was to give them the love of God, but they were rejecting God’s gift. Can you imagine Paul being given to YOU, so that you might learn from him? They had that gift, but were inclined to throw him away, in favor of someone else who was better looking and more adept at public speaking. Don’t rest in externals – look to the heart.
Verse 17. "What I am saying, I am not saying as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting."
Paul is very careful here to point out, as Matthew Henry observed, that boasting is not approved of by the Lord ("I am not saying as the Lord would). Had Paul not added this, there would be doctrines today which emphasize boasting as a sign of "spirituality."
Paul was angry with these people (the Corinthians), by the way. Actually, he was angry FOR them. It should be noted that Moses, who was very humble (Numbers 12:3), also had a temper, as seen in Numbers 16:15, where it says he "became very angry." Mercifully, the man of God can be very human, and still be loved by God.
Verse 18. "Since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also."
The false teachers (false "apostles", verse 13), were quick to take the glory for themselves. And incredibly, the people of the Church at Corinth, were LISTENING to them. Paul was infuriated that these "deceitful workers" (verse 13), had crept in and were pretending to represent God.
But God gave Paul a mouth, and an eloquent one, at that, and he would use it against such men. Since they were bragging about their credentials, Paul would soon present his own.
Verse 19. "For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly."
It is amazing how the foolish often think they are wise. Both Psalm 14 and 53, start with the phrase, "The fool has said in his heart, there is no God." And yet, the "atheist" thinks he is wise. Bertrand Russell, a philosopher of this century, is an example of a very bright man, who publicly and consistently rejected God.
Yet his rejection of God was a denial of reality – God is real and therefore, the "brilliant" Bertrand Russell died a fool. He won’t deny the Lord anymore, because there is a Judgment, and there is a God who Judges those who deny Him.
The Corinthians tolerated foolish people, even extolled them. In their own way, they were just as foolish as those who say "there is no God."
Verse 20. "For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face."
Paul is saying their decision to accept false teachers and reject the true, is just as ridiculous as selling yourself into slavery. It’s just as dumb as giving yourself to a cannibal. It’s crazy like asking someone to take advantage of you, or saying, "Please hit me in the face." Don’t abase yourself like that. Trust in God and RECEIVE the one He has legitimately sent to you.
Verse 21. "To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison. But in whatever respect anyone else is bold, I speak in foolishness; I am just as bold myself."
A careful study of the life of Paul, indicates he was a highly educated man. For instance, he was trained by Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), one of the greatest rabbinical teachers of all time. But Paul took literally, Jesus’ words, "Do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you ought to say." And it’s true that we can trust Christ for our words. Every time I sit down at this keyboard to write a study or a sermon, I have nothing to say. Through our Lord, I (and you) have EVERYTHING to say. We are weak, but He is strong.
Paul states in this verse that he did not come to them in his own strength and agrees that he seemed "weak" to them. He acted without boldness in his approach to them, deliberately withholding his natural oratorical ability in order to assert Christ (and not himself). He entertained the thought that to be "weak" before them (in comparison with the false teachers who were "strong" in manner), might have been a kind of foolishness - in reality, he could be just as bold and forceful as any speaker who ever lived.
Verse 22. "Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I."
And now, Paul begins to cite his credentials in relation to them. He asks rhetorical questions about the false apostles (verse 13): Are they Hebrews? Israelites? Descendents of Abraham? And his implied answer is yes, to each question, indicating that the "false workers" (verse 13) Paul was encountering, were the "Judaizers" who had plagued him for years.
There were lots of counterfeits in relation to the early Church, just as there are at our point in time. The "Judaizers" falsely taught that in order to be a good Christian, you must also become a Jew, and keep the whole Law.
These men walked around with flowing robes and entrapped many into a life of bondage. God had picked His man with great care, though. Paul was not only filled with God’s Spirit, but he also had earthly credentials that were better than those of the Judaizers.
Verse 23. "Are they servants of Christ? I speak as if insane, I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death."
What if you had to take a physical beating for Christ? What if it was not just one, but MANY such beatings? What if you went to jail for your faith – many times? What if you were nearly killed for your faith – often? Paul uses the word "insane" and his life indeed would drive most of us over the edge.
Those who think that the ones led into ministry have an easy time of it, just have not read the life of Paul. His "credentials" are bizarre, from our perspective, and yet God led him through every one of those beatings and imprisonments. You cannot effectively deny that Paul was in the will of God, and yet he suffered terribly, all the rest of his days.
But also look at this: He had the power of Christ in his life (2 Corinthains 12:9). He knew Christ intimately (Philippians 3:8, 10). He was free from the condemnation and guilt of sin (Romans 8:1-2). He understood love, like most of us never even begin to comprehend (1 Corinthians 13). He’s with the Lord right now (Philippians 1:23). Trust in God, follow Him, and don’t be afraid - He will bring you through.
Verse 24. "Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes."
It is well known that the lashes used had bits of metal and bone tied to the ends of them. Paul’s skin would have been literally torn from his back. It would have hurt him for months, and then it would happen again, and the still-healing scars would be torn open once more. Why did this happen to him? – Because he loved and served the Lord.
And yet, Paul did not decide to suffer. He suffered, as stated, in the will of God. Oswald Chambers said, "To CHOOSE to suffer means there is something wrong with you. To choose God’s will, even if it means suffering, is a very different thing. No healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he chooses God’s will, whether it means suffering or not." Paul understood that perfectly, and he suffered in the will of God.
Verse 25. "Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep."
The metal and/or stout wooden rods used at that time for beatings, would break the bones of the one(s) beaten by them. It would be like being hit by a police baton. I have a friend who was hit by such batons. His arm was broken and his arms and legs are now paralyzed. As to shipwreck, by the way, I saw the movie "Titanic" and when I did, I developed an instant belief that I do not wish to be shipwrecked. Paul was beaten with rods an incredible three times; the same number of times he was shipwrecked. This is a man who suffered for his Lord and for his testimony about Him.
Simon Peter walked with Christ for three years and then walked in His will for the rest of his life. He had much to say about suffering, and the following is right on point: "…Let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator" (1 Peter 4:19). Paul LIVED what Peter taught in that verse. Paul never sought suffering, but when it came to him, he continued doing good, and praised the God who made him. We should do the same.
Verse 26. "I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren;"
I’ve read a number of accounts describing river crossings on the American frontier. Without the technological advances of our time, such crossings are very dangerous. Many lives were lost. We all have reason to be concerned about "muggings" in modern day America. We were on foot in California, the other night, in a location where concerns about robbery were quite real. Recently in Maryland, we were, for a time, in a similar setting. Paul was in such places all the time. His own countrymen were out to kill him. Those who WEREN’T his countrymen tended to want to kill him, also.
Once, when I was in my 20’s, I was stalked by a bear (he was really after the food in my ice chest, at the campsite where I was staying). It was terrifying – he (she?) was loud, and big! Paul lived in a time when wild animal encounters were actually common and such events would not have been pleasant.
It’s interesting, by the way, that Paul places encounters with "false brethren" right up there with being chased by wild animals. Come to think of it, there actually is a great similarity between the two kinds of occurrences.
Verse 27. "I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure."
Paul worked hard. He had a full-time job as a tentmaker and he also had another full-time position as an evangelist and teacher. He traveled a lot, by the way – often not at his choice. I find that if I don’t get 7-hours of sleep a night, I don’t do well the next day. I don’t do very well when I’m hungry, either, and the doctors recommend we drink lots of water. Paul went without sleep, food, and drink, lots of times.
For three years, I lived in a tiny trailer, in the desert, in Phoenix, Arizona. The first year I had no heat, and it gets cold during winter nights in the desert. No matter how many blankets or layers of clothing I slept in, I was cold! Paul was exposed and was cold, constantly. Remember here, by the way, that Paul was citing these lacks as his CREDENTIALS to be an apostle, for the benefit of the Corinthians. Essentially, he was giving them (and us) his resume. (Imagine putting "cold, hunger, sleeplessness", etc., on your resume).
Verse 28. "Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches."
As a pastor, I meet a lot of other pastors. The interesting thing is that many of them (and their wives) are walking cases of "burn-out", just waiting to happen. Many just can’t take it anymore and I have met those who have left the ministry. One of my Board Members and I have discussed possibly offering some kind of assistance and help to pastors because of the "daily pressure…of concern for all the Churches" Paul mentions here. Most pastors simply love their people.
The typical contact of a parishioner to a pastor is some kind of crisis. "My daughter is in the hospital; can you come right away?" Or, "My father is dying, what should I do?" The pastor and his wife are just people and they typically love the people God has placed into their lives, but people can only do so much. All the other things that happened, Paul referred to as "external things" (including his own suffering), but the pressure of the ministry was much more.
Verse 29. "Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?"
Paul identified with the people he served. He said, "to the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22). It no longer mattered who and what he was, because his commission was to bring many to Christ, and he knew the Lord would watch out for him.
He really cared for all the "flock" of God. The Corinthians were falling into sin. They tended to follow the wrong leaders and be led astray by them. Paul deeply loved them and he cared greatly about what would happen to them. He loved the people of God and made their distress his personal concern.
Verse 30. "If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness."
When we write a resume, we emphasize our strengths. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter publicly stated (in response to a question), that he sometimes had thoughts about women other than his wife. He was being honest (as Christians should be), but his admission was one of the factors that led to his failure to win re-election. He talked about his weakness, and it cost him his job.
Paul did not emphasize his strengths (though he did have a lot of them). He instead was much more willing to talk of his deficiencies. A key reason was the power of God. Paul previously said, "we have this Treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us" (2 Corinthians 4:7). Paul wanted them to turn to God; not to any man - not even to himself.
Verse 31. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying."
What do people think of you? I have often been surprised to read of a "quiet, well-mannered boy next door," who was later revealed as a serial killer. Our perceptions of people are limited and we are often in error in our judgments. Paul regarded much more than his own ideas or the opinions of other people. He looked to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Corinthians thought Paul was a liar, but God knew he was true.
Your reputation with men will not last. You and I are merely human and others can find fault with any one of us. We can be thought to be liars by people, when we are, in fact, true. Let us each be washed clean in the blood of Christ and let HIM be the Judge of our hearts and lives. Other people can’t effectively judge us. We can’t even judge ourselves. Be true, and be satisfied that HE knows our hearts. REST in Him.
Verse 32. In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me,"
These words reflect events related in Acts 9:19-25. The newly converted Saul (Paul) had been proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues of Damascus. His hearers were amazed, because they recalled he was the one who had previously been persecuting Christians (before his conversion). He constantly defeated others in argument. They got fed up with him, and were lurking at the gates of the city, waiting to kill him. In the Acts account, we saw the Jews who were after him, and here in 2 Corinthians, we find that this "ethnarch" was in on the plot, as well.
Verse 33. "and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands."
God has a way of escape for you. In Acts 9:25, we find that the disciples of the Lord, lowered Paul down in a large basket, through an opening in the wall of Damascus. They (his enemies) had all the exits covered. There was no escape. But a way was provided for him.
If you are in a prison cell, or are trapped within the walls of cancer, God has a way for you. It may be you will be released or healed. It may be you will be put to death or will die from the disease. But Jesus died for you, and whether this body lives or dies, you are ALIVE in Him, and are free. Because of Him, you can never die, and you don’t need to be afraid.
On a recent Sunday, we attended a small Church in central Los Angeles, called Abiding Love. We sang a beautiful song, "Jesus Done Fixed it, and It’s All Right." And because of Him, it certainly is.
2 Corinthians Chapter 12
Verse 1. "Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord."
Paul’s "boasting" of Chapter 11 was actually a showing of Paul’s qualifications to a people who had rejected him. But he is now essentially saying "Enough of that" for he knew that to "boast" (to speak of himself) would ultimately not convince them of his sincerity. The heart of man is perverse and ultimately we can only learn through the Spirit of God.
The Lord now led him to speak of "visions and revelations" of the Lord. Our arguments may be good, but they only go so far. Finally, we must bring that person to the Lord, who gives each one a vision of Himself. We may not encounter Him visually in this life, but we will have a vision of His majesty in our hearts. We can hear about Christ, but we must KNOW Him – personally.
Verse 2. "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows such a man was caught up to the third heaven."
A lot of people teach that when Paul said "I know a man", he was speaking of himself. And they cite Verses 5 and 7 ("on behalf of such a man I will boast" and "to keep me from exalting myself") as evidence, and that may be true. But we have just completed a Chapter (11) where Paul said things like "I did this" and "I did that" and such-and-such happened to "me." Paul was not ever shy about using the pronouns "I" and "me" in any context.
Actually, who he was speaking of is much less important than what happened – a man glimpsed the paradise of God (Verse 4). From a Scriptural perspective, by the way, there are three "heavens" – 1) the atmosphere, 2) the interstellar vastness of outer space, and 3) the place Paul terms as "paradise" in verse 4. This is the "Eden" of Genesis 2:8. This man actually went there, though whether he took his body with him when he went, he did not know (and neither did Paul). It is important to see that God does give miracles to people.
Verse 3. "And I know how such a man whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows"
Again, it’s not clear whether this man was physically taken into heaven or if he left his body behind, for a time. When we studied Ezekiel and his visions, we had similar concerns and yet it does not matter – What is important is that he saw a real place, and he came back to share that God has wonderful places and promises in the future of people just like you and me.
Matthew Henry correctly pointed out that to dwell on that which we cannot know, is "presumption" and Paul himself said he did not know (this verse and in verse 2). Julian of Norwich, who lived about 700 years ago, cautioned us: "It is not fitting or wise for the servants to pry or demand to know (God’s) secret plans." We are to love God and let Him show us what we need to see. (And He does long to show great things to those who love Him).
Verse 4. "was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak."
The reason he was not permitted to speak those words, is because we don’t have a vocabulary (or understanding) sufficient to describe what was seen and heard. To make the attempt would only take away from them. I’ve read that bees utilize a basic form of language. They can direct others of the hive to the location of pollen. Bees might benefit from electricity that would heat and cool the hive at various times. Yet if we tried to communicate such concepts and applications to them, their language would not contain the words necessary to convey the ideas needed.
So it is with the things of God. Eternity contains a PLACE where we will be able to see, hear, speak, and move in relation to objects and other beings. And yet the "physical" laws of that place, as we see in places like the Book of Revelation, are utterly different from this present universe. Our need is to look to Christ. If we focus exclusively on questions about the "physical" properties of heaven, we miss the point.
Verse 5. "On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses."
This verse suggests Paul was not the one who had the visions, for he commends the other man but would not boast on his own behalf. Except, as he continues, in his own weaknesses. Have you considered just how alien Paul’s expressed ways are? People flaunt their STRENGTHS, not their weaknesses. And yet Paul, who was a strong man, exhibited his weaknesses for all to see.
We’re going to get a good look at this aspect of Paul, as we get deeper into this Chapter. For now, it’s sufficient to note that our weakness is more valuable than our strength, for in our weaknesses, we see our need of God.
Verse 6. "For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me."
Paul had an amazing resume, as we have discussed before. He had the equivalent of a PhD in theology, having trained under the great Rabban, Gamaliel. Paul was probably a former member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, and he also was BORN with Roman citizenship (a rare honor).
As Paul pointed out, if he talked about himself, he would be telling the truth. Yet he discouraged this, and the real reason is that he wanted to give the glory to God. There is no profit in you and I glorifying ourselves. What we are in this world will not last, but what is of God, will endure.
Verse 7. "Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me to keep me from exalting myself!"
Two concepts that are rare in modern theology are expressed here: 1) that God, who is all-powerful, allows (or even causes) things like sicknesses in our lives, and 2) these troubles are in our lives for a good reason. As an example, the fact that I was in wheelchairs and hospital beds as a child has had wonderful outcomes. For example, the experience made me weak, that I might turn to Christ.
Entering my teen years grossly overweight (and without any particular muscle development), certainly shaped my present (at that time) and my future. Most amazing of all, I meet lots of people in wheelchairs, (computers are MADE for wheelchair people), and the fact I have been in one, too, sort of lets me into the club. God is sovereign and can do anything He wants, but He also loves you, and is acting on your behalf in ways that you do not presently understand.
Paul was given a physical problem and he is not specific about what it was. It was Satan (the adversary) who initiated the problem. God had a purpose in allowing this act of the enemy, which was to curb Paul’s pride in himself.
Verse 8. "Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me."
We don’t want to be sick and Paul was no different than we are. Physical limitations are not considered valuable in this world. Paul did the reasonable thing and asked repeatedly (three times) for this problem to be taken away. He asked in faith. If you do not think so, it implies you feel you have greater faith than Paul, and are in a position to judge his faith. This was a man of faith, and we should all be like him.
Some say he was wrong to pray three times, and they go on that he should only have prayed once. But Jesus taught us to keep on praying until we get the answer (Luke 18:1-8). Others have said he should have kept ON praying, but the true reason he stopped is in the next verse – he quit because he was answered, and the answer was "No."
Verse 9. "And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me."
What’s really IMPORTANT in life to you? The grace of God, as in this verse? Quite often we give lip service to verses like Luke 14:27, where Jesus said, "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple." Sometimes a limitation like sickness IS the cross in our life.
Jesus had just finished saying (Luke 14:26) that we must "hate" our relatives, and even ourselves, in order to effectively follow Him. By "hate" He meant we are to love God more than any relationship or possession we have on earth. We must love Him, even more than we love ourselves or those "special" people in our lives.
To give up what we want is to be "weak," for the strong person takes what he wants. The rich man does what he wants, but his butler, on the other hand, responds to the wants of the rich man. To go to the cross is to decide you want God’s power in your life, more than your own. Just as Paul before you did, you will receive the grace of God, for His power will perfectly dwell in you, and you will find the joy of the Lord.
Verse 10. "Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
Here’s a shopping list of the things we generally DON’T want, as 21st century men and women: We don’t want to be weak, and we certainly don’t want to be insulted. (We respond with coldness when others are insulting to us). As discussed in the last verse, we want to be STRONG, not weak. To be persecuted is the worst nightmare of the paranoiac, who, like just about everybody else, wants to be left alone to do what they want. Who, after all, wants difficulties of any kind?
Yet these difficulties make us weak for a PURPOSE, for when we are WEAKENED as men and women, CHRIST’S STRENGTH will fill the void of that weakness and He will potentially be strong in us (verse 9). Like Paul, we need to love Christ so much, that whatever comes in life, we will be content in Him, letting Him do His perfect work in you and in me.
Verse 11. "I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody."
All that Paul was saying, all this verbiage, should have been unnecessary. All this presenting of his credentials, this PROVING of himself to them – he had better things to do, and so did they. They should have just RECEIVED this man (sent to them by God). We waste so much time going over the fundamentals, when we should be serving one another (and our Lord) in His Name.
All they had to do was LOOK at what Paul had done: The same miracles, the same trust in the Holy Spirit of God, the amazing changes in the lives of his hearers – all that was done by the original apostles of Jesus, was done by him, too. And ALL of the apostles were "nobodies", just as we also are, too, for it is the Lord (and not ourselves) who does the work of God.
Verse 12. "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles."
Some years ago, I went on a quest – What are these "gifts of the Holy Spirit", and are they active for us today?, for the "signs, wonders and miracles" all came from the "gifts" which arose in relation to the events of Acts 2:4. You can go back into the commentary on 1st Corinthians, chapters 12 and 14, on the website (www.fridaystudy.org) and see what was decided. Romans 11:29 is provocative on this subject, where Paul says "the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable". God does not change, but people do, and we have less of a tendency toward faith than the apostles did.
Thousands come forward at the crusades of Billy Graham and Greg Laurie, and it’s NOT because they are persuasive men. It’s because they are men willing to be "weak" (verse 9), by letting Christ do His work through them.
Paul, who had great faith, performed signs and wonders among them, just like it was done through the "original" apostles.
Verse 13. "For in what respect were you treated as inferior to the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not become a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!"
The Corinthians were petulant and felt hurt by Paul. It’s always a surprise when we reach out to someone and they respond as though we did something wrong. That’s how the Corinthians treated this man of God (the one God had sent to them). Paul was using sarcasm toward them ("Forgive me this wrong"), in order to wake them up.
The basis of such hurt feelings is pride, which is rooted in insecurity. The Corinthians thought they deserved the best and Paul (who was short and had been beaten up a lot) didn’t seem good enough for them. This made them feel they would somehow appear less in the eyes of others, and so they covered up their pride-based insecurity by rejecting Paul. Do we sometimes do the same?
Verse 14. "Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you; for children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children."
Paul mentions another concern of the Corinthians: They didn’t want to provide for the needs of others. He touches this by saying he would not be a "burden" to them. He reassures them but also drops in an insult by referring to them as "children." Indeed, to the extent we resist helping others, we remain immature, all of our lives.
Now, they WERE his "children" in the Lord, because he led them to Christ. But it was time for them to grow up and become mature, which we do when we become willing to pass on that which has been given to us. The key word is "responsible" and we remain like children until we are willing to take Godly responsibility for the needs He shows us in this world.
Verse 15. "I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?"
Paul would have given his life for them. Indeed he HAD given up his life, in relation to the needs of others. And in 66 AD, he would be beheaded on a street in Rome, because he followed his Lord and served the needs of people like these Corinthians. We have seen that Paul had lots of natural advantages in life, and he did not need to suffer for the needs of others. But he did serve and he did suffer.
So the question is, since he spent his life for them, and gave himself to them without measure, why did they reject him? Why did they love him less? I wonder about this, when I hear a wife say to her husband (or him to her), "I don’t love you anymore." To marry someone is to give them your LIFE. And when this gift is given, we simply become just as ridiculous as the Corinthians, when we throw such a love away.
Verse 16. "But be that as it may, I did not burden you myself; nevertheless, crafty fellow that I am, I took you in by deceit."
They (the Corinthians) really had two choices. They could either 1) accept Paul’s love for them as genuine (evidenced by all he had done for them), or 2) decide he was some kind of deceitful (crafty) person who was trying to trick them out of something.
The latter option is so ridiculous that, if they were honest people, they would have no choice but to accept it that he loved them. The manipulative, insecure, and dishonest person must continually find "evidence" against the person they have already decided to reject. They do this in order to remain prideful (see commentary on verse 13); that is, to uplift themselves. Paul was breaking right through the little "games" they were playing.
Verse 17. "Certainly I have not taken advantage of you through any of those whom I have sent to you, have I?"
Paul has now established that he loved these people. If the Corinthians were even remotely honest, they would respond with love in return. There is another possibility and he would now nip that one "in the bud." They had shown themselves to be people who must blame others (like in a modern corporate setting) – Since they could not reasonably blame Paul anymore, they might blame the others Paul had sent to them.
Maybe they would now blame Paul indirectly, by accusing the brothers Paul had sent their way. He must deal with it now, before it even occurred to them to switch their offended feelings onto someone else.
Verse 18. "I urged Titus to go, and I sent the brother with him. Titus did not take any advantage of you, did he? Did we not conduct ourselves in the same spirit and walk in the same steps?"
Continuing the thought in verse 17, Paul now starts naming names. They could not reasonably be resentful and envious in relation to Paul anymore, but what about, hmmm – Titus? Yes, what about this young man Paul had sent to them? Would they now reject HIM, as they had attempted to do with Paul? Probably.
But they could not reasonably do that, either, because everybody knew of Titus that his affection "abounded" toward them (2 Corinthians 7:15) and they had received him at that time (he was probably better looking than Paul). Another one sent was "the brother", a famous orator discussed in the commentary on 2 Corinthians 8:18. What about their response to HIM? They loved "the brother" and they should have loved Paul, too, for he was the one who sent this wonderful "brother" TO them.
Verse 19. "All this time you have been thinking that we are defending ourselves to you. Actually, it is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ; and all for your upbuilding, beloved."
All through Chapters 11 and 12, we have witnessed Paul "boasting" about his credentials. He has continually presented his "resume" of experience and education to the Corinthian people, who seemed to want ANYBODY (except they did not want Paul). I would not want his resume, because in Chapter 11, he "boasted" of things we would all want to forget.
But now, we learn for sure what we suspected before: In all that he has been saying he has been led by the Spirit. All the words in this letter have been the will of God, and there’s still more – all this was for the "upbuilding" of the Corinthians, because Paul (and the Holy Spirit) loved them. There is much confusing input in our lives, just as it was for the Corinthians. But always remember, God loves you, and His will is that you will be built-up in Him.
Verse 20. "For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances;"
Paul recites a list similar to the "sins of the flesh" shown in Galatians 5:19-21. An interesting inclusion here is "gossip" which is a subtle, but very dangerous sin. I suggest that when someone comes to mind and you don’t like something about them – Instead of telling somebody else how you feel, PRAY for that person you don’t like, and then pray for yourselves, that the Church may be delivered from gossip.
Notice that Paul’s whole purpose in the last few Chapters, has been that the Corinthians will be delivered from the strife, jealousy, and so on, that he names in this verse. You may or may not like Paul’s methods, but God likes him, and who He likes is all important. Paul’s heart was pure in relation to the Corinthians. He loved them and longed to seem them delivered from sin.
Verse 21. "I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced."
To succeed, for Paul, would be to see the Corinthians delivered from sin. To "humiliate" himself, as in this verse, was to carry out the will of God in their lives. He mourned because of their strange tendency to profess Christ and yet live for themselves.
It is incredible (a word I use a lot, because life is incredible) that we sometimes turn to the Lord and yet live for ourselves. God’s choice for the Corinthians was – Paul! THEIR choice was somebody (anybody) ELSE! God’s choice for you and me is that we might be pure, in and through Christ, in thought, words, and deeds. Who has God sent to help YOU, in your life? Who are you listening to? It’s time to listen to God, and to the one(s) He has sent.
2 Corinthians Chapter 13
Verse 1. "This is the third time I am coming to you. Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses."
There has been a lot written about how many times Paul visited the Corinthians. Some have said the "third time" of this verse meant he was threatening to send a third letter. Others think he was hindered from visiting before and this was to be his third attempt. The simplest interpretation of events is often the best and it’s sufficient to receive it as he said – He intended to visit them in person for the third time.
Paul quoted Deuteronomy 17:6 in this verse, and it’s interesting that the issues revealed by Moses in that place, involved life and death. He said someone should only be sentenced to death on sufficient evidence. The issues of Paul also involved life and death. Life to those who are in Christ, and death to those who reject Him. The continued attacks on Paul by the Corinthian people, suggested that many of them did not know Christ. Certainly they were not exercising discernment from the Holy Spirit.
Verse 2. "I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again I will not spare anyone,"
Paul was God’s agent, and as such, he carried out the will of God in the lives of those to whom he ministered. There were those among the Corinthians who were like a cancer within an otherwise healthy body. Paul would be to them as a skilled surgeon – he would not spare any who wrongfully infected the body of Christ.
The judgment of God is fair, by the way – We are all condemned to death because of our sins. Christ died for all, and the judgment of God is that all who trust in Him will be saved from spiritual death. But the "lost" will enter eternal death – by their own choice. None will be spared except those who follow the Son. Paul, who followed the Lord, reflected his Master, in that he was both full of the judgment and the mercy of God.
Verse 3. "since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me, and who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you."
The Corinthians were something like Thomas, the "doubting" apostle (actually, all the apostles doubted, one way or another). Thomas had to SEE before he would believe. Actually, part of the wonder of God is that we "see" Him in our hearts, when we merely open ourselves to Him and His Word. The Corinthians should have simply looked into themselves for the evidence that Christ spoke through Paul. The proof they needed was already in their midst, brought to them by Paul in the first place.
Paul came to them in weakness. That is, he did not win them by his oratorical skills, or by the great learning he had received as a child. They were won by the Christ of God in him. Paul the man stepped aside and let the Holy Spirit do the work. They were swept into the kingdom "not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit," as the Lord said in Zechariah 4:6.
Verse 4. "For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we will live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you."
Every time I sit down to prepare one of these studies, I am reminded of my weakness. I have nothing to say, and yet Christ has everything to say. The Lord was killed and died a terrible, degrading death. Yet His executioners are long dead and He is alive by the power of God.
All people, including you and me, are weak. We just think we’re strong for a time, and then, as we get older, we learn the truth we should have seen as children. Paul, like Christ Himself, is an example to us of how God’s strength is manifested in outward weakness. Yes, we are weak, but if we live in Him, we have HIS strength and we shall always be alive (in Him). The same Power that raised Christ from the dead, is operating in you and me.
Verse 5. "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you unless indeed you fail the test?"
Many years ago, I was having a very difficult time and some Christian people told me, "If you’re having so much trouble, you’re probably not saved." The words hit me like a physical blow and this verse became my "watchword" for decades. I examined myself over-and-over again, to see if I was in the faith. The net result was interesting, for the Lord used this examination to show me that, indeed, I do belong to Him. Not because I deserve it, but because of what HE did for you and for me.
Here are some questions that Alan Redpath suggested we ask ourselves in relation to the "test" of this verse: Am I consciously creating the impression that I’m better than I am? Am I honest? Do I exaggerate? Do I pass on confidences? Am I trustworthy? Am I self-pitying? Does the Bible live to me? Do I enjoy prayer? Do I pray about what I spend? Am I touchy? How do I spend my spare time? Am I proud? Do I complain? Is Christ real to me?
These are excellent questions, and as you pray about them, make your own list, for the Lord may have special questions, just for you. You might think people who ask such things are "too hard" on themselves but think about this: "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I test the mind…" (Jeremiah 17:9-10). Fearlessly look at yourself with Him, and trust Him, for Jeremiah continues "…I give every man according to his ways." The Lord will take our "little faith" and turn us into people who TRUST in God. Trust Him - and take a look at who you are.
Verse 6. "But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test."
Paul was challenging them to examine themselves with the same scrutiny he had applied to himself, under the searching gaze (and protection) of the Holy Spirit. Note that Paul says he did "not fail the test" which means that he examined himself, just as we see him suggest in 2 Corinthians 13:5. For if he did not take the test, he could not have passed.
Paul has been building toward this point for several chapters. The Corinthians were doubting the sincerity of this man of God, but he had passed all tests and KNEW he was in Christ. Take the test, just like Paul – you’ll be glad you did. To become open is to find the humility of Paul. To be open is part of what it means to "take up your cross". To be open in such a manner is to find God, in ways you never expected.
Verse 7. "Now we pray to God that you do no wrong; not that we ourselves may appear approved, but that you may do what is right, even though we may appear unapproved."
Our love for other people is not about ourselves. We do not love in order to receive some kind of credit. To love someone is to give them something of our Lord. It is His love that all of us really need. Paul wanted them to be delivered from narrow, petty, sinful ways of looking at life and other people.
Paul did nothing and said nothing, just to make himself look good. He wrote to them, and visited them, with the goal in mind that they would live wholesome, righteous lives, even if it meant Paul would remain unappreciated for what was done. We were not created to live for ourselves, but instead we were made to help others in their need.
Verse 8. "For we can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth."
Paul did not know ALL the truth, any more than we do. But he did know the One who IS the truth (John 14:6). Paul was for Christ and would do nothing against Him. His whole concern in this letter was that something good and true might be given to the Corinthians.
Everything of importance to Paul was in giving Christ to people. The person who is of God becomes willing to give his or her life, that others might know our Lord. Some of the Corinthians had thought Paul was untrue, and yet this man could only act for his Lord, and he was true to Him.
Verse 9. "For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete."
If it was true that he was weak and the Corinthians were "strong" (in the Lord), Paul would say something like – "Wonderful!" Unlike the people we so often find in our culture, he actually rejoiced when others did well. And it did not matter what they thought of him, IF they were made complete in the Lord.
Paul prayed for them. Keep in mind that when he prayed for them, he was praying for many who did not like him. And yet he PRAYED for them anyway, and with just as much genuine fervor, as if they were his actual sons and daughters. Our responses should not be based in how people treat us. Prayer is directed to the NEED, and is not in relation to whether we are appreciated or not.
Verse 10. "For this reason I am writing these things while absent, so that when present I need not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down."
The Corinthians had said of Paul, "his letters are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible" (2 Corinthians 10:10). And even though he knew this, he still wrote (instead of blasting them in person). He did not wish to destroy them – his ministry was to gently lift them up.
God, who has all authority, gives differently to various people. The intelligent person will understand that, and we should restrict ourselves to God's will for our lives. Paul loved the Corinthians (though many of them did not like him). He also loved God, and he carefully stayed within the limits God had set in relation to these people.
Verse 11. "Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you."
What does God want from you? He wants you to be filled with joy (to "rejoice"). Up to this time, your "happiness" has probably been based in the circumstances of your life. If things were good, you were happy; if things went bad, you became sad. Paul (and the Holy Spirit of God) wants to shake you loose from dependence on circumstances, and give you lasting JOY, along with the peace of God. All this comes from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.
God intends for you to feel COMPLETE inside and to be comforted at all times (even in jail or the cancer ward). He also wants us to find out that our "differences" are superficial – we CAN be "like-minded" with other Christians. We are to live in peace with one another – that is His goal. When all in this verse is present in your life, you will KNOW that God is within you.
Verse 12. "Greet one another with a holy kiss."
The key word is "holy" (or "set apart"). I think the Church gave up greeting with the "holy kiss" because we tend to lack holiness. It was a lovely custom but it can be dangerous for a human race that is inclined towards sin. (Additionally, we tend to avoid "holy" hugs and kisses because we are a people frightened by true intimacy.)
Obviously, we can go too far with displays of affection. They can be misinterpreted and our exuberance can get us into trouble. But the pendulum tends to swing too far, and those of the Church have historically been more apt to greet one another an icy coldness, which is not "holy" at all.
Verse 13. All the saints greet you."
The loneliest hermit in a mountain cave, needs people. God has given us one another, to greet and love, in Christ Jesus. The things that frightened us about people have been done away in Him. He longs that we "may be one" (John 17:22), just like the Father and Son are one. In the phrase "the saints greet you", it is important to see that God intends to take you out of loneliness and bring you into active fellowship with other people.
Verse 14. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all."
If you have received the grace given you in Christ Jesus, you have the love of God the Father. If you have them, you also have been given the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, whether you fully recognize His gentle Hand in your life or not.
It is true that if you receive Christ, you’ve got it all. You may not APPROPRIATE all His benefits, but in Him, you are given the POTENTIAL for joy without limit. Everything, everyone else in your life, is transitory and relationships will not last. Even to be together for life is to see the togetherness tragically end in death. Not so with our Lord: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:7), and "His love and peace shall be with you" (Hebrews 13:11). We shall live in the joy of the Lord - Forever.
And the bonus is: We will be reunited with all those (in Christ) that we "lost" during our time here on earth. You and I are going to have "joy unspeakable and filled with glory". If you have Christ, you have the Father, and in them, you have the Holy Spirit of God. And because of them, any separation from your brothers and sisters in Christ will only be for a time. Lift up your head and rejoice in your God! (For He loves you and me).