Archive for the ‘2 Corinthians’ Category

2 Corinthians 13:9-14

In 2 Corinthians 13:9-14 Paul wraps up his second letter to the church at Corinth. He’s readying for a trip to visit them knowing that there would be some difficult conversations and direct truth to be delivered. Paul’s hope is that the people in the church will be restored. Sin creates a divide between us and God. It gets in the way of relationship and ultimately will prevent us from entering eternal life with Him unless we deal with it and are restored through faith in Christ. That’s what Paul is praying for these folks – that they will be restored to right relationship with God. “For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for.”

Paul writes this letter to try and get the church to mover toward repentance so his time with them may not be filled with conflict, but rather with joy. “For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.” Paul knows he can’t ignore what’s happening in Corinth, but he’d rather not have to come and be the heavy handed minister that preaches fire and brimstone and uses authority as a club to force people to repent and find their way back to God. He’d love them to take care of their sinfulness before he arrives.

Paul’s goal is that the church will be made complete and be built up, not torn down. Paul wanted to build up the Corinthian Christians, to make them a complete and Christ following body.  They were already a body strong in spiritual gifts and personal testimony.  But their strength was not complete.  They were not like a building that was just a foundation and a bit of rubble.  They were like a building built tall and strong – for one and a half walls, with the other walls crumbling or barely started.  Paul wanted them to be made complete. That meant addressing and rooting out sin wherever it existed.

Paul ends his second letter on a positive note. He wants joy for the church. And he tells them exactly how to achieve it. “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” God puts the church in place because as humans we’re meant to live in community. And the Christian life is not a solo experience but rather should be lived with others. Paul is coming to help make that a reality. “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Ultimately, all of us fall short without grace and having the Holy Spirit live in us and through us!

2 Corinthians 13:5-8

In 2 Corinthians 13:5-8 Paul prepares the Corinthian church for his visit. Paul asks the Corinthian Christians to consider a sobering question: “Am I really a Christian?” “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.” We should be concerned that every believer have the assurance of salvation, and know how to endure the attacks that come from Satan in this area.  At the same time, we also understand that there are some who assume or presume them are Christians when they are not. Paul issues a challenge to all all of us – do we pass the test of being a Christian?

Redpath writes “We are often very ready to examine and test others.  But first, and always first, we must examine and test ourselves. “That was the trouble at Corinth.  They criticized Paul and failed to examine themselves.” Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” Redpath continues “To examine yourself, in fact, is to submit to the examination and scrutiny of Jesus Christ the Lord – and this never to fix attention on sin but on Christ – and to ask Him to reveal that in you which grieves His Spirit; to ask Him to give you grace that it might be put away and cleansed in His precious blood.”  Self examination “takes the chill away from your soul, it takes the hardness away from your heart, it takes the shadows away from your life, it sets the prisoner free.”

Spurgeon wrote “Now, ‘prove yourselves.’ Do not merely sit in your closet and look at yourselves alone, but go out into this busy world and see what kind of piety you have.  Remember, many a man’s religion will stand examination that will not stand proof.  We may sit at home and look at our religion, and say, ‘Well, I think this will do!'” “I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test.” This is not about perfection, in ourselves or in others; but we should see real evidence of Jesus Christ in us. We need to have Christ alive in us. Spurgeon described it this way: “Now, what is it to have Jesus Christ in you?  Christ in the heart means Christ believed in, Christ beloved, Christ trusted, Christ espoused, Christ communed with, Christ as our daily food, and ourselves as the temple and palace wherein Jesus Christ daily walks.”

But we pray to God that you may not do wrong – not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed.” Paul knew there were some among the Corinthian Christians who were disqualified for eternal life and salvation.  Their thinking was worldly because they were of the world, not of the Lord.  This is a hard truth to confront, but it is better to know now than when it is too late! “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.” Paul refuses to sugar coat the reality in the church. He does what he has always done, speak the truth. Is Jesus alive in you? Or just someone you know about in your head but not in your heart?

2 Corinthians 13:1-4

In 2 Corinthians 13:1-4 Paul reminds the Corinthian church he is coming a third time to visit. “This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” On his first visit to Corinth, Paul founded the church and stayed a year and six months.  His second visit was a brief, painful visit in between the writing of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. This visit will be very different. This time he’s coming as a judge and has enough evidence to not only call out sin and sinners, but carry through on the warning he made on his second visit that sin would not be spared again.

Paul has been warning this church for some time that sin cannot be tolerated. God won’t tolerate it, and when we stand before Him at judgment, without the shed blood of Christ our sin will lead to our punishment. But the church has largely ignored his warnings and now the time has come for confrontation. “I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them – since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me.” The false apostles have been clamoring for Paul to show more power and authority.

Well they are going to get it when he comes this time. These false apostles have accused Paul of being too weak and humble to be the leader of their church. Paul deals with that head on. He tells them they will see proof that Christ is speaking in him. This time when he comes, it will be with rebuke and a mission to clean house in the church. He’s warning them to clean it up before he comes, because Christ’s power will be evident. “He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you.” What appears to be weakness is not really so, but patience for the church to get its act together.

Jesus often displayed humility and didn’t walk around wielding power over others. At least not until it was necessary. But today Jesus reigns in power with the Father. There is no weakness in Him at all. He sits at the right hand of God over all the earth. “For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God.” Paul lived a life filled with Christlike love, gentleness and humility. He wasn’t a showy leader. He didn’t walk around demanding attention or demonstrating his power or authority. “For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.” But he understood how to let Christ live through him and live under the power of God!

2 Corinthians 12:18-21

In 2 Corinthians 12:18-21 Paul continues to defend his past dealings with the Corinthian church. Some were falsely spreading rumors that he and his team were taking advantage. He defends Titus and the rest, along with his own actions. In every way they had acted appropriately and never done anything financially inappropriate regarding the Corinthian church. He is becoming very frustrated with these false accusations by false teachers. “I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?”

Paul makes clear that what he’s been telling the church is not making excuses because he has nothing needing an excuse. He makes clear that he is speaking the truth before God, who is the One he answers to. And even as some falsely accuse him, his pastoral heart shines through. In the midst of accusation he is still focused on building up the church at Corinth. “Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved.”

Paul’s heart was for the church, not for his own well being. He’s still concerned that the same problems that have plagued his interaction with the church all these years will continue to be a problem when he comes again. Paul calls out the behaviors that have been issues in the past, and makes it extremely clear that those things are not Christlike and are completely unfounded. “For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish – that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.”

Paul’s planning his third visit, and is afraid the church will have the same old problems that haven’t been repented from. Sin gets in the way of all that God wants to accomplish. The sins Paul calls out are not unique to this church, and certainly are areas that churches wrestle with confronting. But Paul doesn’t want to waste a trip ministering to ungodly people that pretend to be Christ Followers. “I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.” Paul’s anger and mourning would not be directed to those who had sinned, but those who have sinned and failed to repent and return to right standing with God. He’s not asking for perfection, but he is requiring repentance!

2 Corinthians 12:14-17

In 2 Corinthians 12:14-17 Paul addresses the concern that he’s trying to deceive the Corinthian Christians. On his first visit to Corinth, Paul founded the church and stayed a year and six months.  His second visit was a brief, painful visit in between the writing of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians.  Now he is prepared to come for a third time. “Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.” He’s also clear that he’s not seeking any money or support from the church. Even though it should be a normal part of following Christ and being in a church, Paul’s not going to be a financial burden in any way.

Paul gives the testimony of every godly minister.  They do not serve for what they can get from God’s people, but for what they can give to God’s people.  They are shepherds, not paid wage earners. Paul is the spiritual father for many of the Corinthian Christians, and as his spiritual children, he’s not looking to them for support. It shows the immaturity of the body of believers there, not the desire of Paul that they not support him and his team as the other churches they served were definitely providing support and footing the bills. But beyond immaturity, the thing that really irritates Paul is the lack of gratitude from the church.

Paul was a true minister of the Gospel and was willing to spend whatever he could to assist these believers grow. Paul’s heart was genuine and pure – he loved the people even though it wasn’t necessarily mutual from some. He has experienced much heartache from this body and yet he continues to love them more and more and do all he can to serve them and lead them to maturity. Paul was unappreciated by the church and yet he did not resent it nor withhold his love and willingness to minister to them. “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?”

Then comes the ‘but’. Paul reminds them that he has not burdened them in any way. They have not made any financial investment in him. Some in the church, those ‘super-apostles’ who were nothing more than false teachers out for their own gain, have accused him of being crafty in his ways and deceiving the church. “But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit.” Of course, those are crazy and false charges. The real question he asks is “Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you?” He reminds the church that neither himself, nor any of his team, has ever done anything inappropriate, either financially or in any other way. The charges were ludicrous by the false teachers.

2 Corinthians 12:11-13

In 2 Corinthians 12:11-13 we realize that Paul has not only accepted the thorn in his flesh, but has used it to bring strength into his life. Jesus exhibited this very thing on the Cross. Redpath wrote “Could anyone on earth be more meek than the Son of God to be hung on the cross, hung in our place that He might redeem us from our sins?  As that point of absolute weakness was met by the mighty power of God as He raised Him from the dead, I wonder if the pressure of the thorn in Paul’s life was a reminder of the power of the cross.” God’s grace is not automatic. We have to be willing to let go of self and focus on Jesus to access it. But when it is upon us, look out.

Paul, even though he has plenty to talk about, is not what he wants to do. The Corinthian church and the false teachers in it have forced Paul to spend time validating himself as their spiritual leader and shepherd. He sees it as a waste of time and focus, but it was necessary to address the claims and charges from the false ‘super-apostles’ in the church. “I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing.”

Paul still is trying to deflect the focus from himself. He didn’t want the limelight on himself, but he also didn’t want these masquarading false teachers to get credit for things they certainly had nothing to do with. Paul and his ministry team had been patient and worked diligently to teach God’s truth and carry the Gospel to the church. And there were plenty of signs and wonders and mighty works that had been done among them. And Paul wants it to be clear that it was God who performed those things in and through him and his team, and not at all done by the false apostles of the day. “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.”

Paul addresses the concern of the Corinthian church that he hadn’t treated them as well as other churches under his care. Paul makes it clear that if there was a hint of truth in that charge, which there wasn’t, the only difference was really that the Corinthian church had not supported Paul and his ministry team at all like the other churches. Paul’s difference in treatment was that he hadn’t requested or taken any money from Corinth. “For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!” Paul sarcastically asks their forgiveness knowing that he’s done his part to care for the church like all the others under his shepherding.

2 Corinthians 12:10

In 2 Corinthians 12:10 Paul come to a point of contentment, a place that many of us struggle to find. Through his weaknesses and other challenges, God made Paul completely dependent on His grace and on His strength.  But it was all for good.  Paul’s continued – even forced – dependence upon God made him stronger than he would have ever been if his revelations had made him proud and self-sufficient. “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul knows it is the secret weapon to being effective as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Guzik writes “Many of us think that real Christian maturity is when we come to a place where we are somewhat “independent” of God. The idea is that we have our act so together that we don’t need to rely of God so much day to day, moment to moment. This isn’t Christian maturity at all.  God deliberately engineered debilitating circumstances into Paul’s life so he would be in constant, total dependence on God’s grace and God’s strength.” As Americans, that flies in the face of what we’ve been taught to think. We often think of God as a ‘parent’ we will outgrow in the same way our own kids outgrow their need to live with us at home. But that’s not God’s plan at all.

Guzik continues “Paul was at such a level of spiritual strength and maturity that God had to deliberately introduce a thorn in the flesh. Most of us provide our own thorns, and half an honest look will show us enough weakness to make us constantly and totally rely on the grace and strength of Jesus. But even if we were to grow to the spiritual strength and maturity of a Paul, God would say to us as well: “I need to keep you depending on Me in everything.  Here is something to depend on Me for.” This is a place of victory, not of discouragement!” Our goal should not be to move away from God as we mature. That isn’t maturity at all. Our goal should be to move into more dependence upon Him.

Then Paul says something completely foreign to how we might think. Being weak is actually a sign of being strong. God’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ was not a punishment for Paul designed to keep him weak for any reason other than to show how God’s strength could be clear and evident in him. We need only to review his life and resume to know there was actually nothing weak about Paul at all. But the reason he was so strong was not because of himself. It was because of God’s strength and grace poured into him. Calvin wrote “The valleys are watered with rain to make them fruitful while the summits of lofty mountains remain dry.  A man must become a valley if he wants to receive the heavenly rain of God’s spiritual grace.” God’s strength becomes real in our life when we admit our weakness and seek out and rely on God’s strength. That was Paul’s secret.

2 Corinthians 12:9

In 2 Corinthians 12:9 we know that Paul’s asked God repeatedly to take away the ‘thorn in his flesh’. And God had a response for Paul.  The answer was not what Paul was necessarily hoping for, or expecting.  But God still had a response.  We often close our ears to God if He responds in a way we were not hoping for, or expecting. Paul hears God loud and clear. The thorn isn’t going away any time soon. “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Instead of removing the thorn from Paul’s life, God had given, and would continue to give, His grace to Paul.  And that grace was more than sufficient to meet Paul’s every need. Paul was intent in his desire to be relieved of this burden (thorn).  But there are two ways of taking away a burden.  It can be done by removing the load, or it can be done by strengthening the one who is bearing the load.  Instead of taking away the thorn, God is clear that He would strengthen Paul as he continued to carry it, and God would show His strength through Paul’s apparent weakness. Walking as a Christ Follower is not about us or how strong or powerful we are. It’s about us letting the power of God carry us.

As humans we really don’t believe God’s grace is sufficient until we believe we in our own strength and efforts are insufficient. It flies in the face of the American way of pulling up our own bootstraps and just trying harder and harder to achieve the things we want to accomplish. That thinking is a huge obstacle to accepting God’s strength. Before we can truly do that, we have to embrace our own inabilities, inadequacies and weaknesses. And until we take ourselves off the throne of our life and admit we can’t do it alone, we will not experience the overwhelming sufficiency of God’s grace that He wants to pour out upon us.

Guzik answers the question of ‘How did God’s grace make the difference?  How did it meet Paul’s need at this point?’

  1. Grace could meet Paul’s need because it expresses God’s acceptance and pleasure in us. Grace means that God likes us, that He is favorably disposed towards us; we have His approval and promise of care.
  2. Grace could meet Paul’s need because it was available all the time. When we come to God by faith, through the blood of Jesus, His grace is ever ready to meet and minister to our insufficiencies.
  3. Grace could meet Paul’s need because it was the very strength of God. Grace is not weak or wimpy. Instead, it is the power of God to fulfill what we lack.

Bottom line is that God’s grace is always sufficient to overcome anything lacking within us. But we have to be willing to admit our need, and then allow God’s grace to fulfill what only He can do through us. Grace is not about us beyond getting out of the way and letting God be God in our lives.

2 Corinthians 12:6-8

In 2 Corinthians 12:6-8 Paul reinforces that he really has something to be able to boast about if he wanted to. He just made a very compelling argument to that fact as he finished the last chapter with a very long list of things he had experienced for the sake of speaking the truth of the Gospel. But he also makes it clear that while he had plenty of experiences that he could focus on in his own life, it is Jesus he wants to talk about. “Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.” He doesn’t want to dwell on his past resume, but on the Gospel.

Paul knows he is not immune to the danger of pride.  No one is. Poole wrote “The best of God’s people have in them a root of pride, or a disposition to be exalted above measure, upon their receipt of favours from God not common to others.” As humans, we’re all prone to fall into pride. God had chosen to give Paul a ‘thorn in the flesh’ to keep him grounded. Paul reveals the real reason for telling of his heavenly vision: not to glorify himself, but to explain his thorn in the flesh. “So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.”

Paul understood that this great trial related to a thorn was actually a gift.  Spurgeon wrote that “Paul does not say, ‘There was inflicted upon me a thorn in the flesh,’ but ‘There was given to me.'” Kruse explains that in the ancient Greek the word skolops (thorn) shows “something which frustrates and causes trouble in the lives of those afflicted.” When we think of a thorn, we think of a somewhat minor irritation.  But the root word Paul uses for thorn here describes a tent stake, not a thumbtack! In a strange way, the thorn was both ultimately given by God, but it was also a tool of Satan.

Paul wanted it gone. Satan undoubtedly jumped at the chance to afflict Paul to attempt and take him off the path of obedience to Jesus Christ and his mission to share the gospel. But God had a purpose in it and although Paul was frustrated and even beaten by the continual ‘thorn’ in his life, God chooses to leave it in place to assure Paul doesn’t fall to the temptation of pride as the false teachers of the Corinthian church were continually doing themselves. Paul definitely wants it gone – “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” It is not just an aggravation, it was a pain and Paul continued to pray that God would remove it.

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.

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