2 Corinthians 6 contains Paul’s words about their ministry. He appeals to the church at Corinth “not to receive the grace of God in vain”. What does Paul mean here? That God’s grace – his forgiveness and salvation through Jesus – ought to change us. We should not remain the same. It should rock our world. Jesus did not go to the Cross as a small token – He gave Himself completely to totally transform our lives. He died that we could experience fullness of life and live victoriously. Sometimes Christ Followers miss that and act like they are still under the bondage of sin.
Paul goes on to explain the struggles he and his band of followers have dealt with by “great endurance”. Those words are important because it is something God wants from each of us as Christ Followers – to endure – be steadfast – keep on pursuing Him. Paul lists their struggles as:
- 5 beatings
- sleepless nights
Who said that serving God would be easy. Paul’s list certainly shows it is not – in fact anything but easy. But he also reveals the secret to how they were able to endure. He lists the key characteristics they clung to. Check out his list;
- the Holy Spirit
- genuine love
- truthful speech
- the power of God
- the weapons of righteousness”
Quite a contrast between those two lists. But Paul gives us yet another list – this time the contrast between the way they were treated. He shares the truth about how their ministry was viewed and responded to – and there are some difficult responses they had to deal with. Check out the list of how they were treated:
- “honor and dishonor
- slander and praise
- impostors, and yet are true
- as unknown, and yet well known
- as dying, and behold, we live
- as punished, and yet not killed
- as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing
- as poor, yet making many rich
- as having nothing, yet possessing everything”
What dedication Paul and his ministry partners had to have – resolve to stand firm and stay focused in spite of the challenges that life brought. But Paul delivers some strong words as he wraps up the chapter that can be difficult for us to hear: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers….what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever….separate from them”. Often this section is used in light of marriage – that a Christian should not marry someone who is not a believer in Jesus. But I think it is more sweeping than that – we should consider it in all key relationships – business partnerships – close friendships – any relationship that is deep and ongoing. Does that mean a couple that has been married outside this guidance should be ended? Absolutely not. God never intended these words to be relationship or covenant ending words. But they are given for our consideration before we enter into relationships. It can keep us from some of the heartaches and struggles that will come if we become unequally yoked. We can’t serve two masters. Neither can our relationships. Ponder and keep this in mind before you enter your next one!
2 Corinthians 5 contains some great promises from God, an understanding of what is to come, and a description of our role as Christ Followers. Paul begins by talking about our human bodies as being a “tent” our “earthly home”. That will give way to “a building from God…..a house not made with hands….eternal in the heavens”. What a contrast and promise. Our current state is pretty unsettled and unstable. Tents are a somewhat limited form of shelter – they can be easily swayed by the surroundings and are not terribly stable. But God has prepared something much better for us in eternity. And here is the promise: “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee”. God has prepared our place – it isn’t something we need to worry about. Our role is to receive His gift of grace and cling to His promise of an eternity prepared by Him. And he sealed that promise with His Spirit – it is a guarantee. We often get money back guarantees in our human world today. But God has given us an eternal guarantee that will last forever!
Paul notes that “while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord”. We can’t truly receive all that God has for us in our mortal nature. That comes when we end live on earth. But while we are here, we should take a cue from Paul who tells us “we walk by faith, not by sight…. we are of good courage….we make it our aim to please him”. Is that your aim? Are you focused on walking in faith just to please an audience of One? Does it matter? It certainly does. And Paul gives us the reason why how we live makes a difference: “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ….each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body….to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart”. God cares about our heart – that is the real qualification for our eternity. Are you ready? Have you prepared to stand before the judgment seat? It is coming for each of us – no free passes – no get out of jail free cards – we have to give an account.
So how do we deal with the reality that we all screw up and fail pretty regularly? Paul tells us the secret: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come”. We are a new creature when Jesus comes into our heart. We can live a life that is different. It doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes and sin. If that were the case Jesus would not have needed to go to the Cross. But it does mean that our motivations are different with Him at the wheel and we truly can learn to walk in obedience to God’s will and by listening to His whispers and the Holy Spirit in us – we can live a much better life.
Each of us as a Christ Follower need to realize that like Paul, “we are ambassadors for Christ….God making his appeal through us”. We are his messengers. We are the way He chose to deliver the good news to those in our patch. We have a job to do. How are you doing sharing Jesus? Paul says “we implore you….be reconciled to God”. He and his team had a heart to share the gospel because it is a high stakes reality. Folks who don’t know the message and deal with sin through Christ have a dim future. The message is basic and clear: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”. Jesus paid the price. He is the hope for the future. He is our Savior and Lord. Are you letting people in your patch, in your home, in your office or place of work, even in your church, know about Jesus?
2 Corinthians 4 contains some insight into Paul and his attitude regarding ministry. He writes several times that “we do not lose heart” in this chapter. Doing the work of the ministry is just that – it is work – hard work that doesn’t always go as smoothly as you might want. Paul shares some of those challenges in this chapter. The song “Trading My Sorrows” is taken from this chapter of scripture. You might want to play it as you read Paul’s journey of serving here.
Paul lists some of the challenges he is facing. Check out his list and see if you understand why he is focused on not losing heart:
- “Renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways
- Refuse to practice cunning
- Refuse to tamper with God’s Word
- Afflicted in every way but not crushed
- Perplexed but not driven to despair
- Persecuted but not forsaken
- Struck down but not destroyed”
Paul and his little band of ministers are struggling in a battle because “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel”. It is a war – with real consequences – and one that requires us to not lose heart even when it seems things are going the wrong way. Paul does something really important here – he keeps everything in perspective. Yes there are challenges – there are bad things happening. But he tells us “we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord”. This is the mission that every ministry and church must follow – to preach Jesus Christ as Lord – not themselves and how great their work is. That doesn’t matter. The ministry is all about Jesus – no more or less.
Paul shows us that the task is to “let light shine out of darkness” and live in a way that the world can see Jesus as we walk daily. “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not us”. We demonstrate God’s love to the world – not by what we say – but by how we live. What to people see when they observe your life? Do they see Jesus at work in you and through you? Do they see God’s grace poured out on all those in your patch? Do they see you focused on being part of winning the battle for people’s souls? Do they see God’s power expressed by the way you live? We have a huge task at hand. And it matters much for eternity sake!
Paul closes the chapter reminding us of our frailty and the reality of being a human being: “our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day”. We are on a path leading to the end of our life on this earth. That is a fact – we are all going to die. So the question really is – are you prepared for what comes after death? God is in the business of “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison……we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen….. things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal”. Life on this earth is preparation for eternity. That is the reality. God has a plan – He wants us all to be ready for that day. As God gives us His grace He is getting us all ready “as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God”. Are you ready? Have you received God’s grace – the gift of His Son on the Cross some two thousand years ago? Don’t miss this. It is the power of God to save us for eternity!
2 Corinthians 3 begins with Paul asking “are we beginning to commend ourselves again”? He is reminding the church that commendation does not come from self, but from others. And the greatest commendation of all comes from a changed life. That is what our lives should be for Jesus. “You show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of the human heart”. We are to be the letter that the world can read that shows how the love of God has changed us. It is not about anything we do – but the power of God in us to help us become like Jesus. Often we can forget that reality. At the end of the day – we don’t cause change – God does. We don’t make a difference – He does. He can use us and will if we are walking in obedience – but on our own we have nothing to take credit for.
In fact, Paul goes on to make that point very clear as he says “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God”. Have you thought about the reality of that statement before? Bottom line is that we are not the center of the universe – not even our own universe. There is only one center – and that is God Himself. None of what happens in this world is really our doing. We are part of His Creation – and can be a part of His plan – but we must never forget it is His – all His – and when we try and claim it for ourselves it won’t go well. This truth is a foundational truth that we all need to get our arms around. God owns it all. God is in control. That is a comfort and should give us much hope – the world doesn’t really ride on my back. Whether I admit that or not – it truly doesn’t. It is not my load to carry.
And that gives rise to the reality that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”. So many get this wrong. They think of God as a limiting factor to what they want to do when in fact He is freedom – freedom from having to carry the load on our own because it truly is in His hands. Freedom from all the responsibility for the world around us when it is all His. Freedom to live and love His way because He gives us the strength and ability to be like His Son. He wraps the chapter with this awesome promise: “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another”. We are all being transformed to glory. Have you thought of that before? God has a wonderful plan for each of us – and we are in the process. The more we cooperate and learn His ways and live in obedience – the faster that transformation occurs – but God has us on a path and we are moving down that road toward glory. What a blessing to know that the Father loves us so!
2 Corinthians 2 seems to be a somewhat painful chapter for Paul to write. He talks much about pain – pain caused by issues in the church. There has been a rift in the church and someone has caused pain that has impacted the entire body. So how are we to handle things when there is a problem in the church? Too often the church doesn’t handle this well at all. We sometimes “shoot the wounded” so to say rather than deal with the issues that come into the body God’s way. What does Paul tell us? “You should rather turn to forgive and comfort him…..reaffirm your love for him”. That doesn’t sound like the way most churches deal with issues does it? But it is exactly how Jesus modeled life for us. We have to learn to forgive and love!
Why? Paul says it is so “I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything”. Forgiveness is not an emotion. It is an act of the will – to set someone free even when they don’t deserve it. I was listening to a talk show this week which was addressing the reaction of a couple small communities where two women working in convenience stores were murdered. The talk was whether or not the shooter deserved forgiveness. Local pastors were calling for that – not because the young man deserved it – but because it was what Jesus told us to do. Forgiveness is an act of obedience as Paul says – an act of the will. It sets both the person who has committed the wrong and the person wronged free. Without forgiveness bitterness takes up root and causes the wrong result. Paul says it is important that “we would not be outwitted by Satan”. The enemy wants us to hold on to wrongs and cause us to be bitter and controlled by our past. God wants to set us free from that with forgiveness.
Paul goes on to talk about the work of the ministry. “We are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing……as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ”. Do you stink for Jesus? OK – maybe that is a bit course – but the reality is that our lives should smell of the gospel and people should know when we are in their presence that we are serving Christ. Do they know that about you? Are you causing people to come to grips with the reality that there is a choice between life and death – salvation and perishing – and they must make a choice if they want eternal life? Paul lived that way. We need to as well!
2 Corinthians 1 is Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth. He begins this letter with a focus on suffering. He reminds the church that God “comforts us in all our affliction….so that….we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God”. God is our source of comfort when tough times happen. Paul throws in those two little words that mean there is much more to the story – “so that”. God allows us to go through suffering so we know how to comfort others who will experience the same things. We often think we have it pretty bad – but we fail to have much perspective on the whole subject of suffering. Paul knew what it really was – “we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too”. Few of us in the US know what suffering really is all about.
Paul did know along with those who were in his inner circle of ministry. Check out what he says: “we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself….we felt that we had received the sentence of death”. Have you been to the point in suffering where you were burdened to the point you wanted to die? Why would God allow anyone to be pushed that far? Why does all this suffering need to happen? Paul gives us insight in the why here: “that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead…..He delivered us…..On him we have set our hope”. We have to get past ourselves. We have to be so totally spent that God alone is the only source of hope. Have you been there? Do you know that God is the only answer?
Paul reminds the church that they were to “help us by prayer”. That is how we can bear each other burdens. We need to become very focused on intercession and lifting one another up in the body through prayer. Suffering will come – to all of us – but with that comes the opportunity to learn God’s strength and be involved through prayer and support. Paul tells us that “the testimony of our conscience that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you”. As we go through the challenges of life – we have opportunity to experience the grave of God – in fact – “that you might have a second experience of grace”. God wants us to experience Him in our lives.
He alone is the source of overcoming. “all the promises of God find their Yes in him” – that is Jesus Christ. He is our victory. He is the power to live God’s way. It is God Himself who “establishes us with you in Christ…..has anointed us……. put his seal on us……given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee…..stand firm in your faith”. God doesn’t want us to suffer alone. He has given us Jesus – anointed and sealed. He has given us His Spirit so we can stand firm. We are guaranteed of His faithfulness over and over in His Word. So why do we go it alone? Because we fail to come to Him when we face various trials. They are for our own good as they test our faith and bring us toward maturity. We don’t need to go it alone. He has a plan for victory. The only question is whether we allow Him to work in us!
1 Corinthians 16 ends Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. As he wraps up he handles some housekeeping and future planning. He begins by talking about giving. “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come”. God does expect us to give to the ministry of the Body. He gives freely to us, not only that we may live, but that we may learn to give to others as He prospers us. All we have, after all, is from Him. We tend to forget that and believe that we make our money and accumulate our stuff all on our own. That is really a pretty dangerous and self-centered way to look at it. God gives us the ability to make money. It is all His. And it is important we not only don’t forget that truth, but that we learn to give generously back as well. Paul expected that of the church in Corinth, and God has a similar expectation for you and me – it is called tithing – and we need to live by it.
Paul goes on to talk about things in Ephesus – but his description likely is accurate for the places you and I live today as well. Check out how Paul describes things: ”a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries”. There was significant opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus where he was – but there was also a battle occurring as well. Doesn’t that describe your neighborhood and community? There are many who don’t know the gospel, but it isn’t as easy as it seems it should be. We have the answer to eternal life – yet people refuse to receive or come against that message. So people are kept away and in the dark. Paul is committed to making a difference before he moves on. Sometimes we just need to continue to minister to those in our patch and not get in a hurry to go to the next opportunity.
Paul ends things with a list – a powerful list – of things he asks the church to do. We would all do well to read and heed this list. Paul tells them:
- “Be watchful
- Stand firm in the faith
- Act like men
- Be strong
- Let all that you do be done in love
- Be subject to such as these (the saints)
- Greet one another with a holy kiss”
Paul is giving direction on how the body needs to live. We can’t forget that we are under attack and face a very real enemy. Sometimes we think that since we are in the church all will be well. That is not necessarily the way it works. We must be vigilant in our efforts to stand together and be ready for the challenges that will come our way. Are you living the way Paul calls us to live? If not – now is the time to make those changes!
1 Corinthians 15 is a very powerful chapter. Paul begins by reviewing the facts around the life of Jesus. He is making the case that this is the foundation for the church and our spiritual lives. It has to be true in order for our salvation for it is the Truth ”in which you stand, and by which you are being saved”. Jesus birth, life, death and resurrection are the very core of Christianity. Here is the description of Jesus as shared by Paul beginning with His death on the Cross:
- “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures
- he was buried
- he was raised on the third day
- he appeared to Cephas
- then to the twelve
- he appeared to more than five hundred brothers
- he appeared to James
- then to all the apostles
- he appeared also to me”
Paul is laying out the witnesses to Christ’s resurrection. Does it seem like a little overkill here – a few more details than needed. Not really since this is the very foundation of our faith. Paul is making sure there is no doubt that Jesus arose. He wants no one to doubt that Jesus overcame death. He says it this way: “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain”.
He goes on to remind us “But by the grace of God I am what I am”. All of us can make that statement. It is by God’s grace that any of us are alive and living life as we do today. God is the Creator and the Giver of all. We sometimes forget this truth. We buy into the old adage that we can pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and go get the American dream all on our own. I don’t think it works quite like that. We tend to buy into the lies that we should live this way: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”. While we will all die at some point – life as a Christ Follower is not about just enjoying whatever happens. God has a plan for us. And Paul reminds us that who we hang out with impacts our ability to live according to His plan: “Bad company ruins good morals”. We need to surround ourselves with the right folks. If we don’t we will mess up and Paul is clear that we must not “go on sinning”. Who are you hanging with these days?
The chapter ends with my life verse. Do you have a verse that defines your life? God gave this too me over 30 years ago as the key verse to define how I live. Paul ends the chapter with it: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain”. I have had that verse memorized since my college days. And often I come back to it when I am discouraged with my work for God. It has been the rock of my relationship with Him. It ties into the truth Paul has shared earlier – to be steadfast, immovable, abounding I have to be surrounded with the right folks. We won’t live that way in isolation. But the key for me has been the last few words – knowing my labor is not in vain. I often hear the whispers from the enemy that all the things I do to minister for God don’t matter. After all, I am just a lowly sinner and no one is really listening. But God’s promise here keeps me focused and moving forward. I realize it is not my job to make sure my labor matters – God has promised that and takes that responsibility. My job is to just keep on walking faithfully in obedience and leave the results to Him!
1 Corinthians 14 is a difficult chapter from Paul. It falls on the heels of the love chapter and he reminds us of that as he begins with “pursue love”. That is the excellent way as he described it. He once again goes back to talking about spiritual gifts and says “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts”. You will recall that in chapter 12, Paul lists out the gifts and gives us some guidance around them. Gifts are given to us as Christ Followers by God through His Spirit and are given for one major reason – to build up the body of Christ. Paul reinforces that when he teaches “strive to excel in building up the church”. And later he says “let all things be done for building up”. Gifts should never divide or tear down – if so they are not from God. We have to keep them in balance with His framework for the church.
Paul focuses on two of the gifts primarily in this chapter – the gifts of prophecy and tongues. I don’t think they are called out as being the only ones that matter but rather as examples of how they can take us off God’s track into the weeds. Both are gifts from God with a very specific purpose. Prophecy is described as a gift for unbelievers that they may be drawn to the truth while tongues is a gift given for the believers. Both have very specific guidelines for appropriateness and use and must be kept in the framework of building up the body, not just personal use.
Paul does give us a very clear roadmap on the power of prophecy done well. He gives us the steps that occur when a non-believer hears this gift in action:
- Called to account
- Secrets of the heart are disclosed
- Falling on his face
- He will worship God
- Declare that God is really among you”
When God’s gifts are used God’s way – powerful results occur. When they are used incorrectly – division can happen. We have to be careful to follow His direction and make sure they are used to build up the body of Christ. “God is not a God of confusion but peace”. His gifts will never cause disruption in the ministry but will guide it toward His glory!
There is one other difficult section in this chapter regarding women. Check out what Paul writes: “women should keep silent in the churches….they are not permitted to speak…..but should be in submission…..If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home”. At first glance this really is troubling for many. But I think the lesson her is not focusing on the literal translation that women need to keep quiet but rather than the reality that men need to step up. Most churches would have to close their doors if women kept silent and did not serve. Why? Not because men shouldn’t or can’t lead and do the work of the church – but because men don’t.
This does reinforce the reality that God has a very specific design for the home. Men are given the task of leading. But our world is very different than Paul’s world 2000 years ago. I don’t claim to understand exactly how these verses should be applied for women – but I am absolutely confident how they should be applied to men. Men need to step up and lead. They need to quit passing the buck and pushing their responsibility to know God’s truth and teach it to their families onto their wives. The problem is not with the women – it is men who fail to do what God has instructed and designed. I’ll let someone much smarter interpret the first part. I only know that before we can worry about that – men have to get their act together!
1 Corinthians 13 contains Paul’s “more excellent way” as he ended the prior chapter. Love is that formula. There is no chapter in scripture that shows us God’s heart more than this one. As we see over and over – God is love – and here Paul helps us understand exactly what that means. He starts by contrasting actions that do not have love as the foundation, and just how empty those things are. The actions he describes are not bad in and of themselves, but without the proper motive behind them, they miss the mark completely. “If I” turns into “I am nothing” when love is absent or not the motivation. A lot of us lost track of that reality. We think that somehow we are in good shape because we are doing stuff. But stuff alone is not the key. Stuff done from love is what makes it work. That is the reality of our God that makes being a Christ Follower so unique.
Paul gives us a list of what love is, and what love is not. See how you are doing with these things:
- Rejoices with the truth
- Bears all things
- Believes all things
- Hopes all things
- Endures all things
- Never ends”
Love is not:
- Insist on its own way
- Rejoice at wrongdoing”
Love is God’s heart. It is how He is. And His desire is that we all learn to love as He does. It means we must “give up childish ways” and put on the very nature of God. Love is not easy. It is an absolute choice. It is an act of the will. We won’t always feel like loving, even those in our family that we live life with every day. But God does want us to love and to learn to put aside our selfish ways and live His way – total, unconditional and complete love.
Paul ends with these words: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love”. Love has some good companions, but it is the most excellent way. Love is the greatest gift we will ever give, and the most important gift we can ever receive. God taught us how to love. “For God so loved the world that He gave”. Love is an action. It means we must do something. It also means we must not do somethings as well. Are you loving God’s way? It is the most excellent way to live!