Archive for May, 2020

2 Corinthians 12:1-5

In 2 Corinthians 12:1-5 Paul continues to discuss his resume as a minister of the Gospel.  He is tired of writing about himself!  He would much rather write about Jesus!  But the worldly thinking which made the Corinthian Christians think little of Paul was also making them think little of Jesus, even if they couldn’t perceive it. “I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.” The false teachers in Corinth were spewing lies about things they had seen or knew from the Lord. Those folks were making things up to try and elevate their status in the church.

Paul switches to a third person perspective as he shares his vision and revelation from God. So why did he decide to make the change in how he wrote this section? He is doing everything he can to relate this experience without bringing glory to himself. This is exactly the kind of lie that the false teachers were parading around Corinth claiming. “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.” Paul tells his story and takes the focus off of him being the man, so the impostors would not try to outdo him. Paul doesn’t seem to know exactly how it happened, so rather than focus on trying to figure it out we should believe because we can’t know how it happened either.

Paul goes on to share more details about this experience that happened some 14 years previously. The location of this event is called Paradise, but beyond that we don’t have much clarity around the details. Paul was ok with not knowing the details because he knew God knows. We’ll not know and understand everything until we have the privilege to enter eternity with the Father. “And I know that this man was caught up into paradise – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows – and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” So what did Paul hear? God didn’t want us to know, so He didn’t give Paul permission to speak.

Paul is sharply – and humorously – contrasting himself with the “super apostles” among the Corinthian Christians.  They would not hesitate to boast about the kind of vision Paul had, or many other things they felt separated them from the rest of the church.  In fact, they would write books, make tapes and videos, and go on speaking tours about such a vision had those been options in their day! “On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.” Paul is only willing to talk about his own weakness, not boast about anything he has seen or heard. He’s not about building himself up but showing his dependence on God for all things.

2 Corinthians 11:28-33

In 2 Corinthians 11:28-33 Paul wraps up the long list of things he has endured in order to be a minister and servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The list is long and painful to read. But he ends it with maybe the thing that most bothers him of all he has and continues to endure – the pressure of shepherding a church. “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” We don’t have much understanding or appreciation for what pastors and teachers have to endure to serve in the ministry. As shepherds of God’s flock, they carry a lot of weight and responsibility and it never ends. While many of us are feeling fatigue during this pandemic being in front of a camera and feeling under a microscope constantly, that’s been the life of a pastor for centuries. Paul feels it.

But it’s not weakness. It is love and caring that creates the pressure. “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” Paul’s deep concern was not for himself.  It was for others; for the weak and those made to fall.  Paul had many burdens, but few of them were for himself.  He, like Jesus, was truly an others-centered person. His concern was for those whom God had entrusted to his care. Hughes explained “This anxiety was based not only on disturbing reports which came to his ears, but on his knowledge of the savage subtlety of the enemy of souls who, he realized, would stop at nothing in his attempts to overthrow the work of the gospel.”

Paul goes on to make sure that he isn’t taking credit in any way, shape or form for living through the long list of things he has endured. “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” What Paul willing to boast about?  What are his credentials as God’s minister for the Gospel?  Only his scars and the things which show his weakness and absolute dependence on God. The weakness Paul refers to may be a specific illness or limitation; more likely, it is the life of hardship and stress he lived overall serving God. The false apostles in Corinth thought the things Paul endured made him look weak and unqualified to serve. Paul did not care if it looked foolish in the eyes of the world or those in the church who thought like the world.  Paul lived with an eternal perspective, not a worldly perspective. His focus was on serving God and Him alone.

Paul makes clear that he’s got his hand on the Bible in telling his story. It’s true and he’s not making things up. “The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.” Morgan wrote “God knoweth.  He knows what?  Knows all the suffering, knows all the trial, knows all the facts, which he has already referred to, that he is led everywhere in triumph all the way. ‘God knoweth.’  That is the secret of his deepest boasting.” And Paul ends this chapter recalling one of the first times God was there to guide him through a challenge beyond his own ability. “At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.” This is how Paul’s ministry began and he was fine with letting God continue to guide and protect him as he continued to serve as a servant of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:24-27

In 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 Paul continues to explain his resume to the Corinthian Christians. The false apostles who claimed superiority were parading around with their credentials, but they were paper only. Paul gives complete clarity to just how committed and dedicated he was to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.” The number forty was important in that it was the maximum beating that could be given. The Rabbis restricted the number of stripes you could give to 39 (forty stripes minus one). They did this not out of mercy, but they feared that there might be a miscount and forty stripes would be exceeded by accident.

Clarke describes what this was like. “The two hands of the criminal are bound to a post, and then the servant of the synagogue either pulls or tears off his clothes till he leaves his breast and shoulders bare.  A stone or block is placed behind him on which the servant stands; he holds in his hands a scourge made of leather, divided into four tails.  He who scourges lays one third on the criminal’s breast, another third on his right shoulder, and another on his left. The man who receives the punishment is neither sitting nor standing, but all the while stooping; and the man smites with all his strength, with one hand.” This punishment was not a simple beating, but severe in pain and how long it lasted. Paul had it done five times!

But Paul is far from done explaining just how much he has been pummeled as a minister of the Gospel. “Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned.” The Jews scourged people with forty lashes. The Romans used rods or wands to do their damage. Paul also recalls the attempt to stone him to death at Lystra where they left him for dead. So he endured plenty of physical pain for the sake of the Gospel. And if that wasn’t enough, he goes on. “Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea”. He was shipwrecked three times and spent 24 hours adrift in the sea. Paul traveled many miles for the sake of the Gospel and it wasn’t always smooth sailing!

And he goes on with even more sacrifice and suffering he has made. “…on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” What a resume!  Here’s the summary of what he endured:

  1. Five times received 40 lashes
  2. Three times beaten with rods
  3. Stoned and left for dead
  4. Three times shipwrecked
  5. A night and day adrift at sea
  6. Frequent journeys
  7. Danger crossing rivers
  8. Danger from robbers
  9. Danger from his own people
  10. Danger from the Gentiles
  11. Danger in the city
  12. Danger in the wilderness
  13. Danger at sea
  14. Danger from false brothers
  15. Toil and hardship
  16. Sleepless nights
  17. Hunger and thirst
  18. Going without food
  19. Cold and exposure

It wasn’t the mere fact of a hard life that made Paul a true minister of Christ.  Many people have hard lives, but are in no way servants of Jesus.  But for Paul, all these perils and hardships were things he freely chose, when he could have lived completely differently if he wanted to.  But he wanted to serve Jesus, and if these hardships were part of serving Jesus, he accepted them. That’s what being a minister of the Gospel is all about!

2 Corinthians 11:20-23

In 2 Corinthians 11:20-23 Paul confronts the Corinthian church about the way those who claimed to be “super apostles” were treating them like slaves. These false profits may be been legalists that were trying to put the church under bondage through strict application of the law. They used that to take control and claim authority over those in the church. “For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.” Paul explains how that approach took advantage of those who were willing to follow. It was not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and they were being deceived.

The Corinthian church was so gullible to these false teachers that they would take whatever treatment they were given. Paul sarcastically says he was too weak to take advantage of the Christ Followers in Corinth that way. “To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of – I am speaking as a fool – I also dare to boast of that.” Paul again acknowledges that these false apostles were bold and convincing in their speaking, but that he too would ask in a similar way preaching with confidence and a sense of the call that God has placed upon him.

Then Paul launches into his credentials. These false teachers want to compare resumes, Paul’s up for the challenge. He begins with his ancestry, which was more than enough to qualify him as an apostle. He was not only the seed of Abraham, but also was of the Israelites and beyond that was a Hebrew. Paul grew up in Tarsus of Cilicia but apparently his parents were Judean Jews who moves to Tarsus. “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I.” Paul knows that his blood ancestry itself does not make him an apostle of Jesus, but it was something the false teachers were continually pointing to so he starts with that piece of his resume.

Paul goes on the next address the claim of these false teachers as servants or ministers of Christ. They claimed it as the right to be honored and privileged. Paul knows it is something very different. Paul knows that being a minister is not about privilege, but service to those under your care. He worked tirelessly to serve people for the sake of the Gospel. “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one – I am talking like a madman – with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.” And he paid the price for that servant attitude and action with many different sufferings. Being a minster is not about what one gets, which is how the false apostles lived, but in what you can give to those in your care. Paul was a true shepherd.

2 Corinthians 11:15-19

In 2 Corinthians 11:15-19 Paul continues to explain the way the enemy works. We know from scripture the plan he has for each of us as humans is to “kill, steal and destroy” as Jesus told us in John 10:10. So it’s no wonder that the servants of Satan, his doers of evil and destruction, will try and look appealing and someone to trust. “So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” Clarke wrote “It is generally said that Satan has three forms under which he tempts men:

  1. The subtle serpent.
  2. The roaring lion.
  3. The angel of light.

He often, as the angel of light, persuades men to do things under the name of religion. And he positions his servants to do the same.

The Corinthian church has had a faction that continued to be antagonistic against Paul. As he writes, it is easy to sense both Paul’s sarcasm and his hesitancy to promote himself.  He would rather talk about Jesus, but that message is hindered by the church’s disregard of his credentials as a true apostle, a true representative of Jesus. “I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little.” He doesn’t really care what they think about him as a person. But he cares deeply about the Gospel and the truth of Jesus Christ. That’s when his ire gets raised.

Paul really dislikes talking about himself and this is an uncomfortable conversation for him to have. He also doesn’t like to discuss his resume or credentials, yet is forced to by the small group that continually works to undermine him. He’s not on a campaign to raise his stature with the church. He wants to preach Christ and Him alone, and put this nonsense behind him so he can minister truth without all the politics and subversion. “What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not with the Lord’s authority but as a fool.” He doesn’t claim to be speaking for Christ, but letting his life speak for itself.

Paul gets personal with the Corinthians here. The group that claimed superiority – the so called ‘super apostles’ – had no problem boasting about their credentials and place of authority in the church. It wasn’t based on God’s call, but their own desire to puff themselves up. Paul uses sarcasm to call the church out. “Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves!” He basically says if the Corinthian Christians are wise enough to listen to these self-inflated fools, surely they can listen to him for a while! Ultimately that is all Paul wants, for the church to listen to God’s truth which he delivers as God’s called.

2 Corinthians 11:9-14

In 2 Corinthians 11:9-14 Paul continues to school the Corinthians on how they should live as a Christ Follower. They have been missing the boat. “And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way.” The other churches Paul “robbed” were in the region of Macedonia, including the Philippian church. Paul thanked them for their generosity. Paul doesn’t want to insist the Corinthians meet the needs of the ministry. Giving should be something a Christ Follower chooses joyfully, which hasn’t happened in Corinth yet.

As a true apostle, Paul could “boast” that he took no money and that he was more interested in the integrity of the message than in his own needs. He was not going to allow anything to stop him from sharing the truth of Jesus. “As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!” Paul’s boasting in his weakness and unimpressive image was an embarrassment to the Corinthian Christians. Why did he embarrass them this way? It was only because he loved them and would find a way to bring them back from their worldly thinking. He’s on a mission to change them and is clear that God knows his motive is pure.

Paul wanted to expose these impostors parading around as apostles as frauds. He was willing to use sarcasm and embarrassing the Corinthian Christians to expose them. Paul would use every tool available to make the truth clear. “And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.” He wasn’t going to debate them face to face but rather expose the fact that these people walking around claiming to be super apostles were nothing close to the way they portrayed themselves and paraded around.

Paul minces no words. He calls them false, deceitful and disguising. These people were not interested in transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. That is what an apostle does – proclaim truth and become more like the master. They talked a great game but had no execution at all. “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” Paul calls them out and goes further, reminding us that these are the exact tactics the enemy uses in his effort to get us off track. He tries to appear as light but in fact is absolute darkness and his desire is to pull us out of the light into darkness isolated from the gospel of Jesus Christ. “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”

2 Corinthians 11:5-8

In 2 Corinthians 11:5-8 Paul defends his standing as an apostle. He takes head on the idea some in the Corinthian church had about other ‘super apostles’ that they held in higher esteem because of their view of Paul. He makes no excuses for standing tall. “I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles.” Paul probably writes sarcastically in reference to those who thought of and promoted themselves as “super-duper apostles.” It likely was not other apostles we know of like Peter or Apollos but likely some who claimed to be superior and definitely not someone Paul respected in that way.

Paul, according to the standards of the Greeks, was untrained in speech. In his day, the ability to speak in a polished, sophisticated, entertaining way was popular. The Corinthian church was a bit snobbish around things like that and felt Paul didn’t meet their expectations so they discounted him. “Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.” It didn’t matter to Paul because he wasn’t concerned with meeting people’s standards for a “polished” or “entertaining” speaker; he was concerned with faithfully preaching the gospel. He couldn’t have cared less. He was focused on teaching and preaching truth which is what he always did.

Paul makes it clear that he wasn’t going to follow the world’s thinking around speaking and money. In the culture of that day, if a public speaker didn’t take money for his speaking he was often disregarded as a poor speaker, with worthless teaching. Many people thought of someone who charged no speaking fee as strictly an amateur. But Paul didn’t care about the opinion of others when it came to his heart for preaching the gospel without being accused of doing it for money. “Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge?”

He did make it clear that the Corinthian church had been stingy when it came to supporting the ministry. He had never expected anything from them, although they should have given him much. “I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you.” Paul uses a strong word with the church when he says he robbed others. In classical Greek, this word was used for stripping a dead soldier of his armor. The Corinthian Christians should have supported him when he ministered to their spiritual needs, but instead he was supported by other churches even though the church at Corinth benefited from his ministry directly. They were allowing others to pay their responsibility.

2 Corinthians 11:1-4

In 2 Corinthians 11:1-4 Paul asks the Corinthian church to bear with him as he makes a point. Paul does not call the defense of his apostleship folly because it is stupid or nonsense. He calls it folly because he does it reluctantly, knowing his time and effort could be spent on far better things. He calls it folly because he knows that the things he believed to be honorable about his apostleship would be regarded as foolish by some of the Corinthian Christians. He views it as a waste of time, but necessary because of the obsession that some in the church have questioning his authority and leadership.

It is important that the Corinthian Christians understand and trust Paul’s apostolic credentials because Paul is jealous with a godly jealousy for their hearts. Paul’s godly jealousy is a good thing. “I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” Paul is like the friend of the groom, who watches out for the bride in the period between the betrothal and the wedding. The time of betrothal wasn’t taken lightly in Paul’s culture. If someone was unfaithful during the betrothal period, it was considered adultery, and a betrothal could only be broken by divorce. Paul is committed to helping the church be ready for their meeting with Christ at judgment day.

Paul’s concern was based on the experience of mankind with the enemy. Satan began his campaign to destroy mankind back in the Garden when he deceived Eve and has had all Christ Followers in his sights ever since. Paul wants to make the church aware of the attacks and schemes so they don’t fall prey to the cunning way the enemy attempts to derail us. “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” Paul understood that Satan’s deception of Eve in the Garden of Eden is an example of Satan’s deceptive tactics. His lie to Eve was surrounded by half-truths and enticing deception. It’s how he works to deceive us.

The troublemakers among the Corinthian Christians who stirred up contention against Paul didn’t only attack Paul; they also attacked the true Jesus by preaching another Jesus. “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you  accepted, you put up with it readily enough.” Paul warned against receiving another Jesus. There is one Jesus, one spirit, and one gospel. There are false teachers in the church today; the problem is that the church puts up with them and embraces them. Christians of this generation, like Christians of many generations, will have to answer to Jesus for their lack of discernment and willingness to allow false doctrine to be taught.

2 Corinthians 10:13-18

In 2 Corinthians 10:13-18 Paul teaches us that God assigns us to certain areas of influence and ministry. “But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you.” Paul’s authority in the church was not unlimited. God had granted him a sphere of authority, and that sphere included the Corinthian Christians, especially since he had founded that church. But he wasn’t going to go outside the area he knew God had ordained as his responsibility. It is important for the person in authority to not exercise that authority outside the sphere, and it is important for the person under authority to recognize the sphere of authority they are under.

Paul is clear that what God originates, He will orchestrate. He doesn’t call the gifted, He gifts the called. Paul knows that he is doing ministry under the power and authority of God. “For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. We were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ.” Paul and his team were there by God’s authority with the purpose of reaching the Corinthians. They brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to the area and were the first to minister to them founding a church to make sure the ministry would continue. But Paul knows it was by God’s grace and power that they were successful.

Paul is pleased with the work that had been done in Corinth. But he’s looking beyond the success they had here. “We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence.” As the Corinthian Christians grew in maturity and in outreach, their church would grow and plant many other churches. This would, by extension, enlarge Paul’s sphere of authority. Paul was looking to take the gospel further because of the Corinthian church.

Paul uses a quotation from Jeremiah 9:24 and rebukes the Corinthian Christians who found their glory either in Paul or by being against Paul. He sweeps all that away, showing we should not take glory in ourselves, in another, or against another – we should only glory in the Lord. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” It doesn’t matter how you testify about your own accomplishments. It is what God says about us that matters and will endure. We have to live for an audience of One. Nothing else matters. It is only what God has to say that will stand the test of eternity!

2 Corinthians 10:9-12

In 2 Corinthians 10:9-12 Paul addresses those who were trying to discredit and undermine his ministry. Paul’s critics among the Corinthian Christians felt they had “evidence” against him. The “evidence” was that Paul seemed to be tough in his letters but weak and unimpressive in person. So they used this as “evidence” to despise him as weak and two-faced. “I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters.” Paul’s humility and complete reliance on the power of God instead of the power of his own personality, coupled with his strong letters, were being used against him. They said Paul was like a dog that barks like crazy at a safe distance but is a coward when confronted face to face.

Their mistake was in relying only on outward appearance. These critics focused on only the style and presentation of his sermons, not the message itself. “For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” They didn’t listen to the truth Paul shared with the church – only the way he delivered that truth. Paul may have been quite ill during his time with the Corinthian Christians, and his condition may have made him appear this way. At the same time, whether Paul’s weakness in bodily presence and speaking ability was temporary or permanent, it didn’t bother Paul. He knew that when he was weak, it gave God’s power all the more opportunity to work.

Paul knew that in our weakness God is shown strong. So he continued to write strong letters and speak truth when in person. He didn’t allow anything to derail his preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present.” Paul writes to his critics with perfect clarity. Be careful what you ask for, because Paul was ready to bring it. “If you want the ‘tough’ Paul, you will get him. I will come to you with all the authority I have shown in my letters.” Paul was clear that he was ready and able to deliver the same message in person that he did through his letters.

Whoever Paul’s opponents and critics were among the Corinthian Christians, they certainly thought highly of themselves. Paul wasn’t going down that road. He would continue to lead with humility and grace and stay away from the nonsense that a few in the church wanted to pursue. “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” These critics were simply measuring themselves by themselves and only comparing themselves among themselves. This means two things. First, it means making yourself the measure of others. Second, it means making others the measure of yourself.

This was wrong for at least two reasons. First, there did not seem to be a lot of really spiritual people among the Corinthian Christians to give a good comparison to. Comparing to those who were weak as Christ Followers does not give a very  good measure. How much of a compliment could it have been to be the most spiritual person among the Corinthians? Not really much to have pride about there. Secondly, it was wrong because it only measured on a human scale, focused on outward appearance. When we let the Holy Spirit measure us through God’s Word, He measures us on God’s scale, and He looks at the heart. We should only ever compare ourselves to God’s Word (the unmovable measuring stick) and how we are living life compared to God’s plan and expectation for our life. It’s not about comparing ourselves to anyone else ever!

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