Archive for April, 2020

2 Corinthians 7:13-16

In 2 Corinthians 7:13-16 Paul recounts the blessing of Titus’ visit to the church at Corinth. His carrying of Paul’s letter and subsequent impact of it was a blessing to Paul. “Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all.” The experience Titus had in Corinth, and the report he brought back to Paul, was more than encouraging. It showed that Paul’s attempts to drive repentance had worked and God had done a work in the church through Titus and the letter. It was cause for rejoicing and celebration.

Paul had been “hopefully” boasting to Titus that the Corinthian Christians would respond well to the severe letter.  But it is unlikely that Titus was equally as sure!  “For whatever boasts I made to him about you, I was not put to shame. But just as everything we said to you was true, so also our boasting before Titus has proved true.” But Paul’s boasting to Titus was found true! Paul had to encourage Titus to make the trip and carry the message. But I’m sure after much prayer and intercession, the outcome was achieved and Titus delivered exactly as Paul had boasted that he would.

Titus likely went to Corinth with some fear and trepidation. He wasn’t sure what to expect. But now, Paul assures the Corinthian church that Titus loves the church more than ever. It’s likely that Titus had seen a lot of ugliness among the Corinthian Christians.  Titus may have had a “chip on his shoulder” against them.  So Paul wants them to know that after he saw and reported their repentance, Titus loves them more than ever now! “And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling.” Titus had witnessed the power of repentance and see how the church moved to obedience of following God’s Word in how to treat Paul and the ministry team.

Paul ends this chapter with rejoicing. It could be questioned – was it sarcastic that he would rejoice over this very stubborn and challenging church? Unlikely as Paul, even with the frustration and pain he has endured, has seen God move among them through Titus’ visit and heard of the repentance that moved through the church. He is giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are changed. “I rejoice, because I have perfect confidence in you.” Paul’s ultimate concern was his relationship with the people he ministered to. This shows that people were just as important to Paul as ministry.  He didn’t want to do “ministry” at the expense of his relationships with people.

2 Corinthians 7:10-12

In 2 Corinthians 7:10-12 Paul continues his explanation about why he did not regret sending his confrontational letter to the Corinthian church. He wanted repentance – a turning around and going the opposite way of sinful behavior. It sounds like a harsh word in the world we live in today. But it is an essential aspect of the Gospel – without it there can be no forgiveness of sin. “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” What was it that the Corinthian Christians had to repent of?  Take your pick!  It could have been any number of things, but no doubt it also included this: there were probably some “anti-Paul” people who criticized the absent apostle severely and unfairly, and the Corinthian Christians did not defend their godly spiritual father before these detractors.

Paul made the Corinthian Christians feel bad for their sin.  But he did it in a godly way.  He used the truth, not lies or exaggeration.  He was honest, not using hidden agendas and manipulation.  He simply told the truth in love. “For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” Paul knew he could succeed in making them feel bad (sorrow).  But the relationship you have with that person will suffer loss.  You can win the “battle” yet lose the “war.”  Paul wanted to protect his relationship with the Corinthian Christians, so he would only make them sorry in a godly manner.

All the time he had repentance as the target outcome he was seeking. Repentance must never be thought of as something we must do before we can come back to God. Repentance describes what coming to God is.  You can’t turn towards God without turning from the things He is against. Spurgeon wrote “People seem to jump into faith very quickly nowadays.  I do not disapprove of that happy leap; but still, I hope my old friend repentance is not dead.  I am desperately in love with repentance; it seems to be to be the twin-sister to faith.” Paul was looking for the Corinthians to be set free from the impact of sin, and repentance is that path.

Paul again reminds them of his choice to write a letter rather than come in person. But the focus of his letter wasn’t to call out the ring leader in the church that was stirring people up against him. The purpose of the letter also wasn’t to make Paul and his team out to be victims. He wasn’t trying to take sides but rather to demonstrate his love and concern for the body of Christ. “So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God.” Clarke wrote “From all appearance there was never a Church less worthy of an apostle’s affections than this Church was at this time; and yet no one ever more beloved.”

2 Corinthians 7:6-9

In 2 Corinthians 7:6-9 Paul talks about how God had helped lift their spirits with Titus. In spite of all his frustrations with the Corinthians and in the midst of all his afflictions in ministry, Paul had real confidence and hope because Titus brought him a good report of how things were going in Corinth. “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.” This was Paul’s life in ministry. It was a life of great blessing but also a life of many conflicts and fears.

Here is the reality of Paul’s life. On the outside, Paul was constantly in conflict with enemies of the gospel and worldly minded Christians. On the inside, Paul daily battled with the stress and anxiety of ministry. He wrestled with the need to rebuke the Corinthian church, and struggled with whether that would work. But he chose to do it and while done with some fear and stress, he went ahead and did it. “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it – though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while.” Paul knew his letter would make them feel some pain and shame, but he knew it had to happen.

Guzik wrote “It helps if we remember the sequence of events. Things were going badly among the Christians in Corinth, and in an attempt to get them on track, Paul made a quick, unplanned visit that only seemed to make things worse (the “sorrowful visit” mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2:1). After the failure of this visit, Paul decided not to visit Corinth again in person at the time but instead sent Titus to them with a strong letter of rebuke. Paul was very worried about how the Corinthians would receive the letter and whether it would turn them to Jesus or just make them angry. When Titus came back with good news from the Corinthian Christians, Paul was greatly relieved.”

Paul’s motive with the Corinthian church was not to make them feel bad. He wasn’t trying to put them down and make them subservient to him. He had one motive in the letter he sent to the church via Titus. He wanted repentance of their sinful ways. “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.” Paul makes a clear separation between sorrow and repentance. They are not the same things! One can be sorry for their sin without repenting from their sin. Sorrow describes a feeling, but repentance describes a change in both the mind and in the life. Paul wanted the Corinthians to repent!

2 Corinthians 7:2-5

In 2 Corinthians 7:2-5 Paul asks the Corinthians to open their hearts to him and his fellow ministers of the Gospel. Paul was completely honest with the Corinthian Christians. He then tells them they must be honest also and be open to seeing the truth about Paul and his ministry. The Corinthian Christians believed many bad things about Paul – that God wasn’t using him, that he didn’t have the kind of image, authority, or power an apostle should have – but their problem was not an information problem. Their problem was with their hearts. “Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.”

He then goes on and defends his ministry and the impact they have had on the Corinthian church. Despite what some troublemakers said about Paul, they had no good reason to criticize him. Paul’s desire isn’t to condemn the Corinthian Christians but to restore the bonds of fellowship he once had with them. Paul really loved the Corinthian Christians and the church there. “I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together.” It is possible to confront without condemning, though those who are being confronted rarely think so. Paul desires to live and die with these brothers and sisters – they are in the family of God together.

Paul has been bold in his criticism to the Corinthians, but he was also bold in his boasting about them. “I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.” Look at how describes his view of the church:

  1. I am acting with great boldness toward you
  2. I have great pride in you
  3. I am filled with comfort
  4. I am overflowing with joy

Paul doesn’t have an issue with the Corinthian people as a whole – just the small naysayers that were out to undercut his work of the Gospel. God brought comfort to Paul by hearing about the work God did among the Corinthian Christians.

Paul reflects on challenges he had in some of the other areas he ministered. Paul had a hard time in Macedonia, but Titus came to Paul when he was in Macedonia and he brought a good report of how the Corinthian Christians were turning back to Jesus and to Paul. “For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn – fighting without and fear within.” The uplifting words Titus brought were important to help Paul and his team deal with the very real struggles they faced at every turn. Paul experienced the comfort of God through human instruments – in this case Titus. Often when we turn away from people, we turn away from the comfort God wants to give us.

2 Corinthians 7:1

In 2 Corinthians 7:1 Paul builds upon what he had just told the Corinthian church to do – the need to separate from worldly influences so that we can live a close life with God. “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” Paul then tells them there are two things they need to do in light of what God has promised:

  1. Cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit
  2. Bring holiness to completion in the fear of God

As Paul gives these two items for the church to take action on, he includes himself in the equation when he uses the word ‘us’ in his instruction.

He begins with what we need to take away – things that defile us. There is a cleansing that God alone does in our lives, but there is also a cleansing that God wants to do in cooperation with us. The main aspect of cleansing comes to us as we trust in Jesus and His work on our behalf. Our sins are cleansed from us and we are made white as snow. This work of cleansing is really God’s work in us and not our work. But here, Paul writes about a cleansing that isn’t just something God does for us as we sit passively; this is a self-cleansing for intimacy with God that goes beyond a general cleansing for sin.

There is another aspect of cleansing that God looks for us to do with the participation of our own will and effort; not that it is our work apart from God, but it is a work that awaits our will and effort where we are to cleanse ourselves. This aspect of cleansing is mostly connected with intimacy with God and our usefulness for service. Clarke explains “How can those expect God to purify their hearts who are continually indulging their eyes, ears, and hands in what is forbidden, and in what tends to increase and bring into action all the evil propensities of the soul?” Our pride, our legalism, our self-focus, our self-righteousness, our bitterness, and our hatred can all be far worse to deal with than the more obvious sins of the flesh. We need to cleanse ourself from all ot these things to have holiness.

Paul continues to tell us what we need to add. Paul isn’t writing about us becoming sinless or perfect. Paul does tell us we are to bring holiness to completion which will make us whole. The admonition here is to focus on cleansing ourself, not play Jr Holy Spirit and concern ourselves with cleansing others. That’s not our job. Most of the time we are more concerned with the holiness of others than our own holiness! Spurgeon wrote “I suppose that, the nearer we get to heaven, the more conscious we shall be of our imperfections. The more light we get, the more we discover our own darkness. That which is scarcely accounted sin by some men, will be a grievous defilement to a tender conscience. It is not that we are greater sinners as we grow older, but that we have a finer sensibility of sin, and see that to be sin which we winked at in the days of our ignorance.” We need to focus on cleaning up our own life and becoming holy in God’s sight.

2 Corinthians 6:14-18

In 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 Paul explains some of the underlying issues that were impacting the Corinthian church. They had allowed unbelievers to influence the church and pull it away from God. Paul tells us not to be bound to an unbeliever. “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” This is often pointed at marriage, where the interpretation is that marrying an unbeliever will cause some challenges in staying faithful in your walk with God. But Paul’s talking about much more that that here.

It really applies to any environment where we let the world influence our thinking. When we are being conformed to this world and are not being transformed by the renewing of your mind we face a likely risk that will pull us away from God. The underlying issue Paul is focused on is the issue of influence. Paul’s not saying we should never associate with unbelievers. We just must be aware that being in the world should not cause us to be of the world. It can happen subtly unless we have our spiritual radar on. “What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?”

Idolatry is one way that this can reveal itself. When we have idolatry in our life, it influences our thoughts and actions and definitely can get between us and God. The Corinthian church was wrestling with it. If we are honest, we likely do too. “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Redpath wrote “It is not a question simply of trying to empty your heart and life of every worldly desire – what an awful impossibility! It is rather opening your heart wide to all the love of God in Christ, and letting that love just sweep through you and exercise its expulsive power till your heart is filled with love.”

So what are we to do since we live in the world? We have to make sure we love the right things – beginning with God. We need to focus on loving that which is eternal rather than the things of the world that the enemy puts in front of us at every turn. Paul makes clear that this message comes from ‘the Lord Almighty’, a Greek word only used here and in the book of Revelation. “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” Hodges explains the real point of this message: “A man cannot accept reconciliation with God and live in sin; because the renunciation of sin is involved in the acceptance of reconciliation. Paul never assumes that men may accept one benefit of redemption, and reject another. They cannot take pardon and refuse sanctification.”

2 Corinthians 6:6-13

In 2 Corinthians 6:6-13 Paul has just given us a long list of the challenges he had to endure to be a faithful ambassador of Jesus. But even as he gives us a long list of those struggles, he quickly moves on to tell us how he used the resources of God through the Holy Spirit that enabled him to faithfully carry on. “… purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;” Paul uses both offensive and defensive weapons as he battled the attacks of the enemy against the Gospel of Christ.

As Paul concludes his resume, he gives us a list of how the world thought of him vs the way God viewed His faithful ambassador. Look at the contrast:

God’s view vs the world’s view

  • Honor vs dishonor
  • Praise vs slander
  • True vs imposter
  • Known vs unknown
  • Alive vs dying
  • Not killed vs punished
  • Rejoicing vs sorrowful
  • Rich vs poor
  • Everything vs nothing

“…..through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as 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.”

So which of those views is correct? According to the things which are seen, the world’s estimation was correct. According to the things which are not seen, God’s estimation was correct. Paul certainly lived for an audience of One. While he had to endure the attacks and sufferings that were put on him by the enemy and the world, he kept his eyes on the prize of serving God and sharing the message of Jesus Christ. As fellow believers who have also been given the role of an ambassador, we have to choose how we will live. Will we live to serve God and be viewed through His eyes, or will we cave and live in a way to make the worldly view the one we care about?

Paul is practicing what he preached and prepares to speak the truth in love with an open heart. He loves God’s people, but He loves the truth more and won’t be swayed in his mission. “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open.” The Corinthian church has played the victim card in the past. Paul’s not buying it. Their issues came by their own choices. “You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections.” They loved the world too much, and Paul will deal with that in coming verses. He challenges them to be open to putting any selfish and worldly attitudes behind so they could be healed as a body. To do that they have to open their hearts. “In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.”

2 Corinthians 6:1-5

In 2 Corinthians 6:1-5 Paul builds on the reconciliation offer from God through Christ he talked about in the previous chapter. Paul makes clear that we are not on our own as an ambassador for Christ – we are partners with Him in that ministry of sharing the Gospel. It isn’t that God needs you or me to get the word out. Instead, God’s plan is for us to work with Him because it is for our good. “Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” As ambassadors we work with the One who sends us. God delegates power and authority to us as ambassadors and then reveals His agenda to an ambassador empowered to fulfill that agenda.

The Corinthian church had received the grace of God. But they were potentially guilty of receiving it but not acting as ambassadors to those around them. They had received it in vain. God’s grace isn’t given because of any works, past, present or promised; yet it is given to encourage work, not to say work is unnecessary. God doesn’t want us to receive His grace and become passive. Paul knew that as God gives His grace, we should work hard, and then the work of God is done. “For he says,”In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Paul has helped the church discover God’s grace, and now he is trying to create a sense of urgency for them to live as ambassadors for Christ.

Paul’s ministry was blamed and discredited by the Corinthian Christians. That has been an ongoing way of treatment. But Paul is clear that they are wrong for that approach. Paul has done much to assure he was not a stumbling block:

  • He was willing to forego his salary as a minister of the gospel
  • He was willing to allow others to be more prominent.
  • He was willing to work hard and endure hardship.
  • He was not afraid to offend anyone over the gospel of Jesus Christ
  • He would not allow his style of ministry to offend anyone.

We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;”

Paul could not do anything about false accusations except live in such a way that any fair-minded person would see those accusations as false. He uses the experience of his life to make the point that he’s endured a lot of challenges to be an ambassador for Christ. Look at his resume. He endured:

  • Afflictions
  • Hardships
  • Calamities
  • Beatings
  • Imprisonments
  • Riots
  • Labors
  • Sleepless nights
  • Hunger

The list of trials and sufferings Paul has endured is impressive. His life has been filled with stress and pressure, but he has faithfully carried on as a minister of the Gospel. Any normal human would have struggled to continue with the mission, but not Paul

2 Corinthians 5:18-21

In 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 Paul gives us the 50,000 foot view of God’s plan for us – Jesus Christ. The work of reconciliation that makes us a new creation leading to an eternal destiny with God is based on one thing and one thing alone – the death, burial and resurrection of Christ on the Cross. This is all God and requires nothing from us except believing and receiving the gift of grace God offers. “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;”. God uses us to share the message of Jesus with those in our patch. That should be our response to His plan to save us.

This reconciliation came at an extreme cost to God. At some point before Jesus died, before the veil was torn in two, before Jesus cried out “it is finished,” an awesome spiritual transaction took place. The Father set upon the Son all the guilt and wrath our sin deserved, and Jesus bore it in Himself perfectly, totally satisfying the justice of God for us. “….that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” As horrible as the physical suffering of Jesus was, this spiritual suffering – the act of being judged for sin in our place – was what Jesus really dreaded about the cross. That was the real pain and suffering He endured.

So Paul has made clear the plan of God for mankind. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. There is no plan B. It’s Jesus, or you are on your own and will stand before God as a condemned sinner. For some reason, God chose us to be His messenger of truth to those in our patch. We are to be ambassadors for Christ. We serve God in a land that is not our long term home, serving the One and only King. But we should not just receive the gift of grace for ourselves. We need to let God use us to shout His answer to sin from the mountaintop. “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

As an ambassador Paul makes a simple, strong, direct plea. It’s the same plea we need to make to everyone around us – that they need to be reconciled to God through Jesus. God’s already done that painful and costly work through the Cross. All we have to do is believe and receive it. Jesus took our sin to the Cross and the resulting gift offered to us is amazing. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Through the simple act of faith in Jesus, we can immediately change from sinner to a righteous saved person.

Spurgeon said it this way: “What a grand expression! He makes us righteous through the righteousness of Jesus; nay, not only makes us righteous, but righteousness; nay, that is not all, he makes us the righteousness of God; that is higher than the righteousness of Adam in the garden, it is more divinely perfect than angelic perfection.” And Harris wrote “Not only does the believer receive from God a right standing before him on the basis of faith in Jesus (Phil 3:9), but here Paul says that ‘in Christ’ the believer in some sense actually shares the righteousness that characterizes God himself.” What a Savior!  What a God!

2 Corinthians 5:15-17

In 2 Corinthians 5:15-17 Paul gives us one of the important truths in all of scripture – God died for us. And us means everyone – no exceptions. God created us for the purpose of living for Him, not for ourselves. It is a corruption of our nature that makes us want to live for ourselves and not for the Lord. “….and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Our love for God, and our life for God, is expressed in the way we serve others. When we say that we live for God, we can not use it as an excuse to neglect serving each other.

We can’t look at each other the way we used to. We are spiritual beings created by God on purpose with a plan for our life. That’s true of every living person on the planet. God has a plan and a purpose for our life. Every person is unique and purpose created, and we need to see one another through that reality. “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.” Even those who knew Jesus in the flesh found their new relationship with Him through the Holy Spirit far more rewarding.

So, to have known Jesus in the flesh didn’t guarantee anything. Hughes wrote “Great numbers had followed Christ in person who afterwards deserted Him and demanded His crucifixion.” Even the disciples were poor followers of Jesus until they knew Him by the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Remember the night before He went to the cross – the disciples couldn’t stay awake and Peter denied even knowing Him. After His crucifixion they hid in fear. But once they met Him after the resurrection they were filled with power and boldness and took the message of Jesus Christ to people all over the world of their day.

Paul then lays one of the greatest truths in all of scripture on us. This is a promise for anyone. Anyone! It doesn’t matter what class, what race, what nationality, what language, or what level of intelligence. Jesus died for all of us. Paul teaches us the great principle of regeneration. Jesus Christ changes those who come to Him by faith. The saved are not “just forgiven.” They are changed into a new creation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” It isn’t just “turning over a new leaf” or “getting your act together.” The life of a new creation is not something God does for us but in us. It is a gift from God received by faith.

Guzik explains “Living as a new creation is something God works in us, using our will and our choices. So, we must both receive the gift of being a new creation and be challenged to live the life of a new creation. All this is God’s work in us that we must submit to. This reminds us that at its root, Christianity is all about what God did for us, not what we can or should do for God.” And Spurgeon wrote “Beloved, if you have no more religion than you have worked out in yourself, and no more grace than you have found in your nature, you have none at all. A supernatural work of the Holy Ghost must be wrought in every one of us, if we would see the face of God with acceptance.” Are you a new creation?

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