Friday, November 28. 2 Corinthians 10 – 12

“If I love you more, will you love me less?”

If you’ve ever had your heart broken, you can know how Paul feels when he writes 2 Corinthians 12. In all probability, Paul spent more time on, with, and in the Corinthian church then he did with anyone else. He visited them repeatedly (chapter 13 mentions three visits).

And yet, for all the love he showered on them, their affection lay elsewhere.

I’m reminded a bit of Hosea in the Old Testament who, despite his undying love for his wife, found her constantly seeking affection in the arms of other men.

For the Corinthians, the “man of God” was a show boat, someone who would compliment them, perform for them, tell them what they wanted to hear, and be forever in their debt. Paul however rather acted like a parent who took his job seriously – and he regarded the Corinthian Christians as his children.

To keep the peace, Paul might have decided to simply bypass Corinth and let someone else deal with them. But while Christianity is to be characterized by peace and unity, it is also to be characterized by a changed life with a value system more in keeping with that of God than that of the world. As a preacher, Paul is in the life changing business and his mandate is to cultivate that change in the lives of others.

Preachers must speak the truth of God. It won’t always be popular. We must make sure that the words we speak are accompanied by a love that can be seen by those who hear us – a love for them expressed not just in words – in fact, perhaps seldom in words – but in how we treat our listeners. We must also make sure that we are sufficiently independent that we are never tempted to temper the message of God to fit the mold of worldly Christians – even if they are leaders in the Lord’s church – in order to make our own ends meet. Sometimes, rather than leave where he isn’t wanted, the preacher must stay and use the whip God has given him to effect the change God wants (1 Corinthians 4:21). I can’t imagine that when Paul arrived in Corinth and found the church worldly and unrepentant that he just let it go. On the other hand, he did eventually move on – but probably with a heart still broken.

Thursday, November 27. 2 Corinthians 7 – 9

“Too much talk and not enough action” is a line from an old Paul Revere and the Raiders song about things not going right in the world and why that is. The line always come to mind when I read 2 Corinthians 9.

For over a year, Paul has been planning and encouraging Christians in Greece and Asia Minor to take up a relief collection for their poor brethren in Judea. He has had two goals in mind: first, of course, he wants to relieve the suffering of the brethren there. But second, he hopes to create a bond between the two groups: Jews and Gentiles. His hope is that Jewish Christians will praise God for the obedience that accompanies the gentiles confession of the gospel of Christ (9:13).

The Corinthians seemed eager to jump on the bandwagon. But alas, there has been “too much talk and not enough action.” From each contributing congregation, Paul is also calling for them to send a representative of their church to accompany their contribution to the congregation in Jerusalem. His concern is that the little group will get to Corinth and there will have been no contribution. So . . . he’s sending some representatives early to make sure things go right. This is the practical part of this chapter.

But there is an instructive part. First, a principal from scripture: when it comes to helping the poor, God has high regard for those who give generously (see Proverbs 11:24-25; 22:9 and Deuteronomy 15:7-10). Second, to be generous toward the needy is to adopt the attitude of God (compare verse 9 with Psalm 112:9). Third, Paul suggests a reason God blesses generously is so that the recipients of His blessings can likewise be generous. Finally, he writes that when we are generous with the needy, it results in thanksgiving to God.

The child of God is an heir of God. We should act like the wealthy people we really are.

Tuesday, November 5. 2 Corinthians 11 – 13

“It’s amazing what can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.”

But of course, folks do care who gets the credit.  Recognition and status is a huge component in any society and the Corinthian one was no different.  But status, recognition, “face,” only serve to divide, and Christianity is not about division but unity.

Though the Corinthians owed their place in Christ to Paul and his efforts, there was a movement underway to diminish his value.  Other teachers, eager for pre-eminence, were working to discredit him.  In defending himself, and his ministry, Second Corinthians becomes  the most personal of all Paul’s letters.  His personal defense is most focused in the first three, and the final three chapters.  In the last three, there is a focus on weakness.

Totally counter-culturally, Paul, beginning in chapter eleven, exalts weakness.  This is the characteristic Paul’s opponents have attributed to him and rather than rebut the criticism, Paul embraces it.  Unlike his opponents, Paul does not burden his brethren and often goes without to supply what they need.  This is not the action of a status seeker, not the action of a sacrificial ministry.
It is, however, the action of one who follows Christ.  Looking at the list of problems Paul faced at the end of chapter eleven, one might wonder how anyone suffering all this could possible have the approval of God.  And yet, no preacher of the first century accomplished more of lasting endurance than Paul.  It was in his weakness that the power of God could be seen.  There’s no other way to explain Paul’s success.

It is more amazing what can be accomplished if we seek to give only God the credit . . . and the glory.

Monday, November 4. 2 Corinthians 8 – 10

“I’m not commanding you to do this . . . but get it done.”

This about sums up Paul’s message beginning in chapter eight of Second Corinthians.

The church in Jerusalem is suffering. Whatever money used to be in this church – and there was some – its growth, the ravages of time and circumstance, have all conspired to impoverish the congregation. Along with that is the fact that Jewish Christians and gentile Christians didn’t get along well – especially in Jerusalem. At this stage of his ministry, Paul has two very specific goals. First, he wants to take up a collection to help the brethren in Jerusalem where the Church was born and from which, by the plan of God, the gospel began to be spread. Second, he wants the contribution to come from gentile Christians and in that way, create unity among the brethren.

Paul very much wants this contribution to be from the heart of the givers – not just obedience to a command. It’s why he mentions the example of Macedonian Christians, acting entirely on their own, pleading for an opportunity to be a part of this ministry. It’s why he talks about a gift not “grudgingly” given (9:5), but generous and cheerful.

Paul wants them to give because they want to give, not because they have to give.

So what if they don’t want to? Does that excuse them from the obligation?

Not in Paul’s book. The whole tenor of chapters eight and nine is that not wanting to is unacceptable behavior. It certainly does not follow the example of Christ – the most important example Paul cites (8:9).

In the Old Testament, no one was supposed to come into the presence of God without a gift, and while this specific command is not mentioned in the New Testament, it is the theology that undergirds Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 16: “On the first day of the week, each of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income . . .” Though the collection was to serve the work of God (and that was always its purpose), the giving is not “for the work,” but rather, a gift to God. God doesn’t need our gifts to do His work. He expects our gifts because He is God, and we are His people.  He expects these gifts to be cheerfully given, because that’s how He gave to us.

Sunday, November 3. 2 Corinthians 4 – 7

Calling, behavior, and hope.

These are three significant themes in Second Corinthians.

As the book begins, Paul asserts that he is living up to his calling, serving faithfully in a ministry that brings life. The Corinthians are recipients of this ministry, and they should live up to the calling they have embraced. “Living up to it” means “watch your behavior.”

Behavior is important if they expect to receive the hope of their calling.

One hope is that they will become more like Jesus, reflecting the Lord’s glory (3:18) revealing to the world the life of Christ in our own life (4:10).
But another hope is the future home in the presence of Christ, what is now unrealized and unseen. This world is troublesome to the Christian. That’s why he looks forward to the next, the heavenly dwelling, the eternal house (5:1ff).

This hope, however, is dependent on behavior. Let’s make no mistake. The hope is not “achievable” by behavior – you cannot earn this heavenly dwelling. It is already ours because we are Christians. We just have not taken possession of it yet. On the other hand, we can lose it if we fail to live up to our calling. We are, after all, new creatures in Christ. That is why, in chapter five, at least three times Paul urges attention to behavior. Our goal should be to please God (5:9). We should no longer live for ourselves, but live for Jesus (5:15).

The final command is in verse twenty: “Be reconciled to God,” which sounds a bit strange since we have already been reconciled to God. Why must we do what has already been done? God has reconciled us to him, but we must act like people who have been reconciled. We may not behave in ways more common to those alienated from the Lord.

Calling, behavior, and hope. They are all connected.

Saturday, November 2. 2 Corinthians 1 – 3

In the presence of God, the glory of God (what one sees of the presence of God) was transferred to Moses so that his face shown radiant.

I have no clue what that looked like – but it was a sight sufficiently foreboding that it scared Aaron and all the leaders of Israel (Exodus 34:29ff). Had it been me, I would have been tempted to cover my face so it wouldn’t be so scarey. But Moses took the opposite tact. Moses covered his face after he spoke to Israel.

Why?

So they would not see the glory of God fading from him. As long as his face was radiant, all Israel knew that he stood approved and empowered by God. Moses did not want Israel to see that, over time, the radiance faded.

Paul’s point in chapter three is that the ministry of the new covenant, Christianity, is so superior to the old, that the glory of God in its recipients should not fade, but grow more obvious every day.

Often we think of our conversion, or the moment of our salvation, as the high point of our religion – just as Sinai was the high point for Israel. But it’s not supposed to be that way. We are called to be transformed into the likeness of Christ with ever-increasing glory, and this all is made possible by the Spirit of God.

Do you see Paul’s point? The lives of Christians must change, and for the better, as time goes on. This is the sign of a growing relationship with God. The change must be seen in improving behavior. Christians have other options, but none of them are viable.

Sunday, November 11. 2 Corinthians 13. Acts 20-21

    Why would Paul, a Christian, write to other Christians these words: “Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13)?

    That little phrase, “in the faith,” refers to being a Christian.  It’s used that way a number of times.  Luke writes about being strengthened “in the faith” (Acts 16:5).  It’s different from having your faith strengthened.  Paul writes the same thing in 1 Corinthians 16:13 (see also Colossians 2:7).  Paul writes of unity “in the faith,”(not unity in faith – the former referring to unity among Christians) and being healthy “in the faith” (Titus 1:13) and loving those “in the faith” (Titus 3:15).  Peter writes about “standing firm” in the faith.”

    In all of these cases, the writers point to our religion and call all adherents to give it their attention and care.

    But then, in 2 Corinthians 13, Paul adds: “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?”

    The whole thing should give us pause.

    Paul seems to be saying: “Examine and test yourself to see if you are a Christian.”

    This will present a problem for those whose theology allows for no doubt regarding one’s standing with God.  After all, “once saved, always saved,” right?

    No.  It isn’t right.  Being a Christian isn’t just a matter of some “membership” – or a “name it and claim it” idea.  It is about Jesus living in us.  Throughout 2 Corinthians, Paul has urged the Corinthians to follow Jesus’ example.  At the end, he tells them that if they do follow Jesus, and it can be seen in their lives, they will be “in the faith.”  If they don’t, no matter that they have been baptized and call themselves Christians, they won’t be “in the faith.”

November 10. 2 Corinthians 10 – 12

    2 Corinthians 10 – 12 is Paul’s  focused dedication to defending himself and his ministry.

    Throughout the book, Paul has returned often to his own situation: his feeling of impending death in chapter one; his troubled mind over the disappearance of Titus in chapter two; the persecution he has experienced in chapter four; and the great challenges he has faced in serving Jesus in chapter six.

    These have been interrupted somewhat by chapters eight and nine as he encourages them to participate in his current project of collecting money for the poor Christians in Jerusalem.  He returns to them in greater detail in this section.

    A student of mine once commented on this section: “I’m a bit repulsed by Paul’s focus on himself here.  He’s bragging, and I don’t think that’s very Christ-like.”

    But the student missed the point.

    To the Corinthians, Paul was not bragging.  He was nuts.  What person in their right mind, wanting people to follow him (and even give him money) would boast of these kinds of hardships?  They are not at all what we would expect of someone who was “successful” in his career.  We are more likely to turn from him than embrace him.

    And that’s the problem.  The Corinthians, to give it a 21st century spin, are looking for successful ministers in expensive suits traveling first class, being driven about in black Expeditions and inspiring audiences with well told stories that motivate them to “enjoy God’s success . . . as I do.”  Men of God, blessed of God, do not have the kind of difficulties Paul does.  So they have turned from Paul.

    Paul’s point in these sections is that he is successful.  The fact that he never asked them for money (as opposed to the “successful” preachers who were always asking for money) should indicate that.  The fact that they would never have known the gospel had Paul not brought it to them indicates his success.  But more than that, Paul’s apparent earthly failures have allowed God to work marvelously in his life.  How else would you explain what he has accomplished (far more than his opponents)?

    Paul, astoundingly to the Corinthians, glories in his failures, because it allows God to work and be seen.  And that’s why his “boasting” is not boasting at all, but an example worth emulating.

Friday, November 9. 2 Corinthians 7 – 9

    To say the mood was tense might be the understatement of the year.

    Parents had gathered in the principal’s office.  Their foster child had been accused of attacking another student with a coat hanger and was being suspended.  The parents had been called in from work.

    Parent to child: “Did you do this?”

    Child: “No.”

    Principal: “He’s lying.  He was seen doing it.  We have a witness.”

    Parent: “Who is the witness?”

    Principal: “A teacher.”

    Parent: “May we talk to the teacher?”

    Principal: “No.  The teacher is busy”

    Parent: “We’ll wait.”

    The principal, with a look of disdain and exasperation (and obviously in an attempt to get rid of the parents) called for the teacher.  The teacher arrived.

    Parent: Did you see my son attack that student?”

    Teacher: “No.  I was told about it by another student.”

    Parent: “What student?  May we have a name?”

    The teacher gave the name and the parents asked to question the student.

    Principal.  “That student is in class.”

    Parent: “We’ll wait.”

    Knowing he had a mess on his hands, the principal called in the student.

    Parent: “Did you see [my child] hit someone with a coat hanger?

    Student: No

    Teacher (embarrassed and with more than a little incredulity): You told me you saw him hit [student’s name]!

    Student: No, I said I saw [another student’s name that was similar] use a coathanger as a weapon.

    An embarrassed silence filled the room.

    Principal to parent: Perhaps with all that’s happened you should take your son home for the day.

    Parent: Absolutely not.  He isn’t guilty of anything.  If he misses the day, he will look guilty, feel like he’s being punished, get zero’s for the day and miss a whole day’s work.  Plus, there is football practice after school and he will not be allowed to participate because he missed school today.

    Principal: That is, of course, your choice.  He can go back to class.  Thank you for coming in and helping us work this out.

    Parent to principal: You were going to suspend my son on  the testimony of a teacher who didn’t witness the event and whose information was faulty.  You owe my son an apology.

    Principal to student: Sorry.  Now, can we all get back to work?

    Parent: I don’t think so.

    Principal: I said I was sorry.  What more do you want?

    Parent: I want you to BE sorry.

    True story.

    Real sorrow is seen and heard in deed and voice.  It sounds and looks different from sorrow that is expressed solely because one was caught in a crime.  The difference may be difficult to describe, but we all know the difference when we experience it.

    Real sorrow, the kind Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 7, is an imperatival precursor to repentance.  And repentance is an imperatival precursor to salvation.

Thursday, November 8. 2 Corinthians 4 – 6

    What does success look like to you?

    Is it having most of what you want, projecting an image other people will admire and want for themselves?

    How can we have or project that image when, in fact, we are weak and powerless and poor?  How can we project that image when all we are comes as a gift from someone else, by His benevolent grace and not through any achievement on our own?

    As 2 Corinthians chapter three ends, Paul writes that our lives, whatever they have been, are being transformed into lives that will being Christ glory.  That’s not going to happen if our own glory keeps getting in the way.

    So as chapter four begins, Paul says he has renounced the ways of this world, the ways of “self,” and focused solely on Jesus and what He can accomplish.  Though it may look like he is a failure to people of the world, great things are being accomplished by God in his life and with his life.  That couldn’t happen if Paul kept getting in the way.  Weakness in us gives God a chance to work.

    Keep that in mind the next time you are going through a particularly rough patch.  This is an opportunity to be transformed by God, and to allow Him to work in your life.