Archive for March, 2020

2 Corinthians 3:5-9

In 2 Corinthians 3:5-9 Paul makes clear that his ability to preach the Gospel is not his own, but comes from God. Paul doesn’t consider himself sufficient for the great task of changing lives for Jesus. Only Jesus is sufficient for such a big job. “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Some people refuse to be used by God because they think of themselves as “not ready,” but in a sense, we are never ready or worthy in our own strength. If we were, the sufficiency would be in ourselves and not from God.

Spurgeon wrote “Our sufficiency is of God; let us practically enjoy this truth. We are poor, leaking vessels, and the only way for us to keep full is to put our pitcher under the perpetual flow of boundless grace. Then, despite its leakage, the cup will always be full to the brim.” The ancient Greek word for covenant (diatheke) had the ordinary meaning of a “last will and testament.” Paul’s use of the word reinforces the sovereignty of God, because it is not a negotiated settlement, but a divine decree. God anoints those who minister in His power with the power of the Holy Spirit within. Through that power we can give new life through the shed blood of Jesus.

There was glory associated with the giving of the law and the old covenant. At that time, Mount Sinai was surrounded with smoke; there were earthquakes, thunder, lightning, a trumpet blast from heaven, and the voice of God Himself. Moses put a veil over his face after speaking to the people. As glorious as the radiant face of Moses was, it was a fading glory but the glory of the new covenant endures without fading. “Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?”

Paul reminds us that if the old covenant, which brought death had this glory, we should expect greater glory in the new covenant, which brings the ministry of the Spirit and life. The new covenant will far exceed the glory of the old covenant. “For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.” The old covenant was a ministry of condemnation, but the new covenant is the ministry of righteousness. The old covenant is passing away, but the new covenant will remain forever. The old covenant had glory, but the glory of the new covenant far outshines it, just as the sun always outshines the brightest moon.

2 Corinthians 3:1-4

In 2 Corinthians 3:1-4 Paul asks about the need for a letter of commendation? He has one – the Corinthian Christians themselves. Such letters were common and necessary in the early church. A false prophet or apostle could travel from city to city and easily say, “Paul sent me, so you should support me.” To help guard against problems like this, letters of recommendation were often sent with Christians as they traveled. “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you?” Paul himself sent letters of commendation on many occasions but here he will describe his letter of commendation.

Paul has a letter of recommendation, but it isn’t written on paper. Paul says the letter is written in our hearts, and it is known and read by all men. There was nothing wrong with a letter of commendation written on paper, but it is much better to have a living letter of commendation! The Christians at Corinth, along with groups of Christians wherever Paul had worked, were Paul’s “living letter” to validate his ministry. “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.” Many think the main reason God granted the miraculous signs and wonders among the apostles was to serve as a real life letter of commendation.

Paul’s letter of recommendation has an author, Jesus Christ. The Corinthian Christians were indeed Paul’s letter of commendation, yet he realized that he did not write that letter – Jesus did. Paul is not trying to say, “I made you the Christians you are,” but he is saying, “God used me to make you the Christians you are.” Paul was merely the instrument God used to reveal Christ to them. “And 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 human hearts.” Paul’s letter of recommendation was written with a “pen” and the “pen” was Paul himself. He “wrote into” the lives of the people he served.

Paul’s letter of recommendation was written with ink, and the “ink” was the Holy Spirit. Paul’s letter of recommendation was written on tablets, and the “tablet” was the hearts of the Corinthian Christians. Paul knows that what he has just written might sound proud in the ears of the Corinthian Christians. “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.” Paul knows these are big ideas, but his place for thinking these big ideas is in Jesus, not in himself. Paul always keeps things in perspective. He was appointed and anointed by God to deliver the message of Jesus Christ and the Gospel, but it was God working in and through him that gave him confidence and the ability to lead the churches to become Christ Followers!

2 Corinthians 2:12-17

In 2 Corinthians 2:12-17 Paul explains what he did on his way to Macedonia. Paul was interested in ministering where God was opening doors.  The only way our work for God will be blessed is when it is His plan, not ours. I love the statement that ‘what God originates, God orchestrates’. And that is what Paul was doing when he went to Macedonia. He was going through the door of opportunity that God opened. “When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.”

Even though there was an open door, Paul felt he could not do all that he needed to if he did not have Titus there.  Paul did not regard himself as a one-man show, he knew he needed other people with him and beside him. But even though he didn’t have his key people with him, Paul is still grateful because he knows God can make good things happen no matter what the situation. “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.” More than anything, he wants the Corinthian Christians to know he is following Jesus Christ as his General.  More than any plan he may declare to the Corinthian Christians, Paul’s plan is to follow Jesus Christ.

Paul knows that we are the chosen to be used by God to reach the world. It’s hard to understand why He chooses to work through very fallable and sinful people to share the Gospel, but it is His plan to save the people around us. “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” In Paul’s mind, this fragrance is like the knowledge of God, which people can smell when the triumph parade rolls by.

Paul wraps up this chapter differentiating his ministry from others who are ‘peddlers’ who water down the Gospel for their own benefit rather than servants who God has called and anointed to carry out His commission. “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” Paul is clear that he and his band of brothers were sincere – pure and transparent messengers from God. Barclay says, “It may describe something which can bear the test of being held up to the light of the sun and looked at with the sun shining through it.” Paul and team were the real deal when it came to being God’s messengers.

2 Corinthians 2:8-11

In 2 Corinthians 2:8-11 Paul tells the church that even though this member was living deep in sin, he has repented and now they need to love him again. They were slow to discipline his sinful lifestyle, but once they did they are now equally slow in allowing him to return to the body even with the correction and repentance. Paul tells them it is time for love and healing.  They needed to reaffirm their love to him. “So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.” Hodge explained “When the offender is made to feel that, while his sin is punished, he himself is loved; and that the end aimed at is not his suffering but his good, he is more likely to be brought to repentance.”

Paul wrote strongly in his first letter about the need to discipline this man, and the Corinthian Christians met the test by doing what Paul said to do.  Now, he puts them to the test again, telling them to show love to the now repentant brother. “For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything.” Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to be obedient in all things. Would they find it easier to be obedient when it came to being “tough” than when it came to being loving? Often we are more willing to discipline than to allow someone who repents to be restored to the body.

Forgiveness is one of the hardest things we do as individuals, but also as the body of Christ. Even if the church must treat one as an unbeliever, we must remember how we are to treat unbelievers: with love and concern, hoping to win them to Jesus, anxious for repentance. Paul models forgiveness in how he responds to this man. “Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” Satan is looking to take advantage of our mistakes, as a church and as individuals. Lack of forgiveness is definitely one of the ways Satan can divide the church.

Paul warns the church not to let Satan outwit them around this area of forgiveness. His words have the idea of being cheated by someone out of something that belongs to them.  When we are ignorant of Satan’s strategies, he is able to take things from us that belong to us in Jesus, things like peace, joy, fellowship, a sense of forgiveness, and victory. Satan is out to destroy the church, plain and simple. And division in the body is one of his main ways of doing exactly that. Guzik writes “Satan’s strategy against the man was first of lust, then of hopelessness and despair.  Satan’s strategy against the church was first the toleration of evil, then of undue severity in punishment.  Satan’s strategy against Paul was to simply make him so stressed and upset over the Corinthian Christians that he lost peace and was less effective in ministry!” He’s out to destroy all of us. We must stand together against him.

2 Corinthians 2:5-7

In 2 Corinthians 2:5-7 Paul continues addressing the Corinthian church and why he didn’t visit them. It would take some maturity for the Corinthian Christians to receive Paul’s correction this way. It is easy for us to think a person offering correction is our enemy and sometimes is against us. But usually others bring correction because they love us, as Paul loved the Corinthian Christians. His goal was not to grieve them, but to love them. There was a man in the Corinthian congregation that had sinned against the church. Paul is addressing the pain that has been created in the church.

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure – not to put it too severely – to all of you.” Paul displays real pastoral wisdom and compassion. He refers to a specific person among the Corinthians, but he does not name the man. Certainly, this man is happy his name was not recorded in God’s eternal word. Who is this guy Paul is talking about? He is probably the same one that Paul told the Corinthian Christians to confront in 1 Corinthians 5. The phrase ‘such a man’ is used in both books to describe the man sinning in an incestuous affair. He lived immorally with his stepmother.

He is definitely living in sin and the church knows about it. He was punished by the church. “For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” Apparently, the man was put under the church’s discipline, even as Paul instructed in 1 Corinthians 5. He received this punishment which was inflicted by the majority. After receiving the punishment, the man apparently repented, but the Corinthian Christians would not receive him back! Therefore, Paul tells them to not be too severe, to consider their punishment sufficient, and to forgive and comfort the man.

Sin is a real issue, not only with God, but within the church. It needs to be dealt with in love. Paul had sharply rebuked the Corinthian Christians for their casual attitude towards this man and his sin earlier. Paul told them to put the man outside the spiritual and social protection of the church family until he repented. The church apparently did that, not thinking that he would repent and come back wanting to be part of the church. Now Paul must tell the Corinthian Christians to restore the man after his repentance. They were just as wrong in withholding forgiveness and restoration to the man when he repented as they were to welcome him with open, approving arms when he was in sin. Sin carries a price, but when sin is repented we also need to forgive and love.

2 Corinthians 2:1-4

In 2 Corinthians 2:1-4 Paul continues to explain why he did not go to Corinth to visit the church there. He defends himself against the Corinthian Christians. Some among them criticized him because he changed his travel plans and did not come when he planned to. They used this change of plans to say of Paul, “He is unreliable and untrustworthy. We don’t need to listen to him at all.” But Paul explains there were many reasons why he did not come as planned, one of them being he was trying to spare the Corinthians. “For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you.”

Paul’s most recent visit to Corinth was full of conflict and unpleasantness. Clarke wrote “Because of the scandals that were among them he could not see them comfortably; and therefore he determined not to see them at all till he had reason to believe that those evils were put away.” Paul didn’t want to return again and have more conflict. Paul also knew that another painful visit would not be good for him. The constant conflict with the Corinthian Christians could really damage his relationship with them. “For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained?”

Just like parenting kids, there are times you have to pick your battles. It seems that Paul thought it best to give the Corinthian Christians a little room, and give them space to repent and get their act together. He didn’t want to rebuke and admonish them all the time. So instead of another visit, he wrote this second letter. “And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all.” A letter could show Paul’s heart, yet not give as much opportunity for the deterioration of their relationship. It would give them room to repent and get right with God and Paul again.

Paul was focused on saving the relationship more than being right. He hoped that his letter would get all the painful work out of the way. Then when he did visit them personally, it would be a pleasant visit because they would have taken advantage of the opportunity he gave them to get their lives right. “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” Paul did not enjoy confronting the Corinthian Christians. It was hard for him to do, and he did it with many tears and a broken heart. His goal was not that they be grieved, but instead that the Corinthian Christians would know the love which he had so abundantly for them and repent from their sin. Ultimately Paul knew the rift between him and the church was nothing compared to the canyon between them and God.

2 Corinthians 1:20-24

In 2 Corinthians 1:20-24 Paul reminds us that God promises are true and trustworthy because of the nature of who He is. “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” Spurgeon wrote “We might never have had this precious verse if Paul had not been so ill-treated by these men of Corinth. They did him great wrong, and caused him much sorrow of heart… yet you see how the evil was overruled by God for good, and through their unsavoury gossip and slander this sweet sentence was pressed out of Paul.” God is faithful and Paul reminds us that His promises will come true.

Paul and his associates were commissioned by God and filled with the Holy Spirit. Understanding this should have made the Corinthian Christians understand the anointing that Paul and his team had. “And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” God calls us and then provides us with all we need to do the work He has set aside for us to do. But beyond the call we are given the Holy Spirit within us to seal the deal and be the assurance that we are His people.

Guzik explains that Paul refers to three aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work within us:

  1. Has anointed us: The only other place where the New Testament speaks about anointing is in 1 John 2:20 and 2:27. Every use speaks of an anointing that is common to all believers, not a special anointing for a few Christian superstars. The idea behind anointed is that we are prepared and empowered for service. The fact that we are anointed means that we share something with the Old Testament prophets, priests, and kings who were also anointed ones.
  2. Sealed us: In the ancient world, a seal was used to identify and to protect. If something was sealed, everyone knew who it belonged to (the seal had an insignia), and the seal prevented anyone else from tampering with the item. The Holy Spirit is upon us to identify us and to protect us.
  • A guarantee: The word guarantee is the word for a down payment. We have been given the Holy Spirit as a down payment for the fullness of what God will do. The Holy Spirit is a pledge of greater things to come. As Christians, God has purchased us on the lay-away plan and has given us an impressive down payment. He won’t walk away from the final payment because He has so much invested already.

Paul has taken a serious oath to serve God’s plan. The Corinthian Christians had assumed that Paul did not come in person because of selfish reasons. They wanted to think he simply was not a man of integrity or was just afraid of conflict. Paul sets them straight and insists that it was out of concern for the Corinthian Christians that he did not make the visit at that particular time. “But I call God to witness against me – it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth.” Paul is careful to point out that he is no one’s lord in the church, even though he is an apostle. “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.” It has been said that God reserves three things to Himself:

  1. First, to make something of nothing
  2. Second, to know future events
  • Third, to have dominion over men’s consciences

Paul is not lord over the Corinthians. He is a man on God’s mission to teach and serve the church.

2 Corinthians 1:16-19

In 2 Corinthians 1:16-19 Paul continues to discuss his visits to Corinth and explains why the travel didn’t happen as had been expected. The first visit was so unpleasant and sensing no benefit in a second visit, Paul abandoned his plan to see them on the way back from Macedonia. “I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea.” Paul desperately wanted the church to not only receive him openly and warmly, but he was hoping the Corinthian church would be a sending church and support his trip to Judea.

In Paul’s day, when a distinguished guest came to a city, his friends and supporters met him a distance away from the city and walked into the city with him. They also sent him away the same way, walking with him for some distance away from the city. That didn’t happen at Corinth. The Corinthian Christians had accused Paul of being fickle and insisted that if Paul were a man of integrity he would have come in person as he had written earlier. Paul’s change in plans made the Corinthian Christians say that Paul must be a man who says Yes but means No and says No but means Yes. “Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time?”

Paul defends his reason for changing his visit. Paul was criticized as a man who couldn’t decide on a plan or who could not carry through on a plan. His enemies among the Christians in Corinth seized on these circumstances to make Paul look bad. “As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.” As God is faithful, so Paul was faithful in what he said to the church in Corinth. Paul was such a man of integrity that he could liken his truthfulness to God’s faithfulness. And that wasn’t a stretch, in spite of what the church people felt about him. Paul did not plan the change in plans – it happened and he had to respond.

Paul preached a Jesus who is completely reliable and worthy of trust. It wasn’t right for the apostle of such a faithful Savior to be so quickly considered unreliable and untrustworthy. Paul could not so sincerely and so strongly preach a Jesus who is not Yes and No and be untouched by that Jesus. Understanding this should have made the Corinthian Christians more trusting towards Paul. “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes.” Can we imagine God the Father ever saying “no” to God the Son? God the Father will always say “Yes” to the Son and will always affirm what the Son says.

2 Corinthians 1:11-15

In 2 Corinthians 1:11-15 Paul reminds us just how powerful prayer is in all of life. He knew the value of intercessory prayer and was not shy about asking the Corinthians, despite their many spiritual problems, to pray for him. The Corinthian Christians were really helping Paul when they prayed for him. “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” Prayer works and is filled with power. So Paul asks for the church to pray, not only for his own situation, but also that people will see God at work and be drawn to His action.

Paul defends himself against the accusation that he is fickle and unreliable. He simply states that he has a clear conscience before God and trusts that the Corinthian Christians will understand this. “For our boast is this: 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.” He describes his work as one of simplicity and integrity, not something he has done on his own but only has happened through the grace of God. The Corinthian Christians had become cynical. They believed that everyone had bad motives and was out for personal gain and power.

Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to know he had no “hidden meanings” in his letters. His meaning was right out on top for all to see. He shared it openly and honestly and the church needs to take it at face value. “For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and acknowledge and I hope you will fully acknowledge – just as you did partially acknowledge us, that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.” In Paul’s life there were no hidden actions, no hidden motives and no hidden meanings. He is who he said he is and wants them to take him like that.

The Corinthian Christians accused Paul of being unreliable and untrustworthy because he said he would come at a certain time and did not. He was unable to come as planned, so instead he sent a letter. Paul promised to see the Corinthians after his trip through Macedonia. “Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace.” He changed his plans and decided to see them first on his way to Macedonia and then again on his way back. That first visit was a confrontational one. Paul wants to give the church some grace and give them another opportunity to get their attitudes in order.

2 Corinthians 1:7-10

In 2 Corinthians 1:7-10 Paul reminds us that while we may face challenges and suffering, we also can be confident that Christ will be there to provide us comfort. As we endure this Covid-19 virus, this brings the promise of stability to us. God’s not moving. He’s not going anywhere. We can have a faith that is unshaken because even if we face suffering, we won’t face it alone. “Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” Scripture promises we will all face suffering. But it also promises that with that suffering we will experience comfort.

Paul makes it clear that he’s been there, done that, when it comes to suffering and affliction. He doesn’t tell us exactly what the situation was, but we can see that it was overwhelming and beyond what he and his ministry partners could endure on their own. “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” Guzik suggests five different potential situations that Paul might have been referring to:

  • “Fighting with “wild beasts” in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32)
  • Suffering 39 stripes after being brought before a Jewish court (2 Corinthians 11:24)
  • The riot at Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41)
  • A particular persecution shortly before Paul left for Troas (Acts 20:19 and 1 Corinthians 16:9)
  • A recurring physical malady”

 It wasn’t merely uncomfortable for Paul and his friends. It was a ‘burden beyond our strength’ or a ‘sentence of death’. The suffering and calamity that Paul faced was completely overwhelming. Suffering comes in a wide range of size and time. Some of what we will face will be more than we think we can handle – which is where God shines. “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” If all our challenges were small enough that we could handle them on our own, we wouldn’t need God. It’s when we are overwhelmed and unable to deal with it on our own that we finally figure out we need to press into God.

He’s got quite a track record.  Raising people from the dead, healing people from terminal diseases, and on His resume goes. God is the only answer to our suffering, large or small, but particularly when it is too much for us. He alone can deliver us. He did it for Paul. He will do it for you and me. But we need to run to Him and seek His face and ask Him to come to our aid. “He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” Paul shows us that God is faithful and works in the past, present and future. He never stops coming to our aid. He is our rock and our rescuer.

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