“Feeling Important, Because You Are!” (2 Corinthians 5:11-21)

Let’s have a poll question today to start our discussion of the second half of 2nd Corinthians chapter five …

Which of the following would you see as the position of greatest import and potential impact? …

  1. Chief Executive Officer of a Fortune 500 company?
  2. A leading member of Congress?
  3. A pop star with 17 million followers on Twitter?
  4. Manager of the Baltimore Orioles or head coach of the Dallas Cowboys?
  5. An ambassador of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

You selected number “4”?  Logical, but wrong. The correct answer is “5.”  And that is what you are if you are a redeemed sinner-turned-saint through the blood of Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul again turns to a jocular defense of his ministry leadership role, it being criticized within the Corinthian community by opponents. They said things about him that he was arrogant and boastful about his activity and roles in the church. We know also that they did not think he made the most impressive personal presentation. And some simply called him a nut-case, saying he was out of his mind. They had visible successes and grandiose impressions; Paul was talking about an inner faith and a future, unseen hope…

2 Corinthians 5:11 – Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.

Paul said that his motivation was directed toward the Corinthians for their eternal well-being, however poorly they might interpret it. The message that came to Paul on that Damascus Road changed everything about his life and motivation. His life had a new purpose and drive.

14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

I’ve gotten a bit of a feeling that some folks are wearying of my Greek word references. Sorry … just trying to make passages come alive a bit more. But do this … look back at those verses 14 and 15 and think about what word – if better defined with all the color of its usage in the original language – would most make these verses jump out even more?

I think it is rather clearly the verb “compels.”  What did Paul mean when he chose this word, and how might the original readers have understood it?  The word means in a more literal sense to “press tightly” … like to squeeze something together. This word was used in Luke 8:45 to describe the throngs of people who were around Jesus and pressing tightly against him – in that moment when the woman who needed healing exhibited her great faith by somehow reaching through the “press” to merely touch the hem of his garment. So Paul was saying he felt the squeeze to live life in an intentionally bold way of high-level motivation and action.

In fact, Paul no longer just had simple, worldly categories of seeing people as, say, being rich or poor, important or mundane, slave or free. No, rather he saw them in one of two categories: stuck in the old category of lost in sin in a lost world controlled by the Evil One, or a totally new creation in Christ.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

People were either reconciled to God or not. Those who were at peace with the Lord now had a new role to play as agents of reconciliation. This is the biggest story of big stories. It is what EVERYTHING is about. Life if not really about all the survival stuff we think is materially important. No!  We have a new mission, and it ain’t no small thing … it is awesome …

20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

So, don’t you feel better about yourself right now?  Hope so.  And oh, that means you’ve got work to do that counts for eternity, doing that work today, tomorrow, and every other day until the end. You can stop reading now and go be an ambassador in your world.

Advertisements

“The Tent Life” (2 Corinthians 5:1-10)

Most of us do not live daily with fear of mortality. However, some who live with life-threatening medical conditions would differ from the majority. I think also of several of our missionaries in more remote and hostile conditions. They may not always know what dangers could be lurking nearby.

The Apostle Paul was a guy who had a profound sense of these dangers. He suffered greatly for his boldness for Christ, getting beaten up so significantly on one occasion that he appeared to have died. And we see from the overall flow of Paul’s writing that he pretty much expected it to not be a matter of “if” he would be put to death for his ministry work, but “when.”

Always remember that Scripture verse references and chapter divisions are not original but were added at a later time. We are sometimes left to scratch our heads as to why a division was made at a certain point … like this transition today from the end of chapter four to the beginning of chapter five. Let’s bring back those final three verses from the previous chapter to set the stage today …

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Paul is speaking of the wasting away of the human body. If you haven’t had this experience yet, thrust me, believe me, it’s coming!  It is a startling thing to realize that you simply can no longer do something that was a regular event of your earlier life (like running from filming a kids scene at the ark out back and into the church where the main group was rehearsing, only to have knees ache and sciatic nerve feedback for days afterward!). And Paul says that these momentary troubles cause us to have a perspective that helps us to let go of this visible, physical world and to rather cast our vision above to the permanent world that is yet to come.

He continues to flesh out these thoughts as we turn to the next chapter …

2 Corinthians 5:1 – For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Yes, the failures of human weakness and the difficulties of mortal life lead to a groaning. Ugh!  Y’all laugh at me for my endless running and baseball illustrations – the things of life I like the most – and here Paul is like me (or am I like him?) giving an illustration about something of regular familiarity. Remember that Paul was, by trade, a tentmaker.

Surely he thought about life, ministry, theology, big issues, etc. while he was working on tents. And what better illustration of the aging process than an aging tent. The older the tent, the more it was tattered, developing holes that needed to be repaired (surgeries!), and the more that it simply wore out and became frail. It you’re a person of that time who was living in a tent that was getting ravaged by the elements of time, you might wish for the day you’ll be able to trade it in for a new tent.

And here’s another reason for this tent illustration of the human body to be such a good metaphor: it was actually used of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In John 1:14 it says of Jesus … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. The Greek word for dwelling is of a tent / tabernacle. Christ took on our human form, our tent, to be like us in all things, yet without sin (Hebrews 2:14-18).

Paul says that it is God’s plan to make us this way. And beyond that, he has put the Spirit into our lives as a deposit – a word that takes an entire phrase in English to translate the idea of a down payment with the promise of the full payment that is yet to come.

So we are intentionally left by God in a position of mild, albeit growing, frustration with a human house that fades away. But this gives us perspective …

6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 For we live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Yep, Paul says, it can be frustrating, but it causes us to have to trust God in faith while looking forward to a better home with the Lord. Meanwhile, the appropriate life plan is to live our time here in productive ways that please God; that is the picture to have and the main idea to think about in our daily routines.

And if that is not enough motivation, Paul reminds us that there is a court date appearance we must all face. Understand, this judgment seat is not about salvation. This is for those who know the Lord to either gain great rewards for things accomplished while living in the “human tabernacle” or to suffer an empty loss at having little accrue due to foolish camping follies in our tent life.

So, how’s your tent life coming along?  Do you have some holes and thin spots?  It’s OK, someday you’ll be done with the camping life in living in such a temporary home. You’ve got a house just up ahead … actually, it’s a mansion.  So, chin up – go do something productive for the Kingdom of God right now.

“Not Losing Heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1-18)

I will be very honest with you. I have had times and seasons as a pastor where I have just wanted to throw it all overboard, head far out into the country with my beloved Jack Russell Terrier and simply raise chickens for a living. There is nothing quite so hurtful or frustrating as attempting to serve God and people with pure motives, yet being falsely accused of wrongful motives or of having insufficient gifts and accomplishments.

Even as I write that paragraph above, I know that I have had it very easy compared to most who have set out to do this thing called pastoral ministry. That is especially true compared to the Apostle Paul.

A number of years ago I was terribly discouraged, having had some opponents suggest I should just move on, quit, die … whatever … just vacate. Many things were not going well. So I spent a couple of days to go back to the roots of it all – to the New Jersey church where I met Christ as a child. I know the very spot where I sat that Wednesday evening. I found the doors of the church unlocked, with nobody around. So I went to that spot and spent some time in prayer.

Next, I went into the sanctuary and sat in the very pew where I was weekly with my father, while my mother was on the side stage as the church organist. And sitting there for multiple hours, I read all the New Testament letters and epistles. That is where it hit me and when the Spirit spoke to me, saying essentially, “Randy, you’re being a wimp!  Don’t you see all the troubles and conflicts that these early church leaders had to endure, especially Paul?  Stop your whining and get back to work.”

As we read the 4th chapter of 2 Corinthians today, though filled with great stuff, to get the big idea, simply read the first and last verses together: “since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart… we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Paul faced so much opposition and criticism, some of the worst of it emanating from Corinth. The accusations so often leveled against him were actually the bullet points on the resumes of those most loudly pointing their fingers at him. And Paul simply said that his plain teaching was a “what you see is what you get” reality of the gospel facts. Anything not plainly understood, or whatever was veiled, was that way due to the efforts of the Evil One and his pervasive cast of darkness over the world systems. Whatever light that would break through would only shine because the same God who created the world by calling light out of the darkness would do the same to cause the lost to see the gospel.

The message of salvation in Christ was a great treasure. And the irony of it all was that this treasure – revealed to and preached by fallen creatures like Paul – was the most valuable thing imaginable, yet entrusted to the most fragile thing imaginable. It is kinda crazy-looking … like storing your entire fortune in a clay pot out in the backyard. But when people saw the persecutions and hindrances thrown at servants like Paul, and saw also his perseverance with the gospel message, it was a communication of great power. What should be a terrible defeat was instead an ongoing display of victory that was spreading ever more and more.

So, yes, it can be nasty sometimes when serving the Lord. Even your own teammates may slap you down at times. It will never be easy-going and smooth-sailing in this turbulent sin-filled world. But that is only discouraging if your eyes are merely focused upon this world. When the larger and eternal picture is brought to bear upon the mind, it all makes sense. True values are now in sight. Losses today equal gains for eternity. Fixing our eyes on the unseen – that’s a plan; but it is a plan that needs to be mentally renewed, over and over … like … well … today!

2 Corinthians 4:1 – Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”[from Ps. 116:10] Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

“Unfading Glory” (2 Corinthians 3:1-18)

Whenever in our varied careers we have made job changes, we understand that it is characteristic to give the prospective employer some references as to the genuine nature of our abilities and experiences. It is wise for the interviewing party to check out those references by making a phone call or email contact.

Letters of reference were a part of the ancient world of Bible times as well. We see Paul writing words of commendation about associates. But checking credentials was much more difficult in an era without electronic communications or even a well-defined postal system. Anyone could produce their own letters of reference from famous people far away, claiming them to be genuine. And it is not as if anyone could easily authenticate these communications.

And apparently Paul’s opponents had trafficked in something of this sort. In any event, they were proud of their references while claiming Paul’s background was rather scant. Paul had a better answer for them…

2 Corinthians 3:1 – Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Paul says that all the confirmation they needed concerning the effectiveness of his genuine ministry could be seen in the mirror. Their lives had been changed by the gospel message that Paul and his companions had brought to them, along with the founding of the church community. He could make this bold statement upon strong authority and in great confidence …

2 Corinthians 3:4 – Such confidence we have through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

In the previous chapter, when thinking about the complexities of the gospel ministry, Paul exclaimed, “who is sufficient for such things?”  And here he answers that his sufficiency – his competence – is strong through the power of God.

It is great to have outstanding credentials. Hey, I gave a HUGE chunk of my life (nine consecutive years, not counting doctoral studies after that) to the attainment of education and ministry credentialing. It’s nice, and I’m thankful for it, but academics alone are not the fuel of effective ministry. Quite a number of those with whom I went through those years did not enter ministry work, and many who did were not able to sustain it for a lifetime. It takes God’s blessing to make it happen fruitfully, and Paul had that blessing.

This was the ministry of the gospel, the fulfillment of God’s promises in what was the new covenant. The old covenant – loved so much and promoted by Paul adversaries – came with great glory. But it was not the final deal, not the final chapter of God’s work …

2 Corinthians 3:7 – Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

Before commenting on this, let’s take a moment to read the seven verses from Deuteronomy that gives this account that Paul is talking about …

Deuteronomy 34:29 – When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

The law given to the people through Moses was amazing!  This truth was evident by the radiance that accompanied its transmission to the people through God’s servant. Moses had to cover his face!  But this great law, wonderful as it was, did not really bring life. Rather, it brought condemnation. The law revealed God’s perfection. The covenant was not able to be kept by the people – who repeatedly broke it and went into sinful directions. But God, in His grace, would promise a new covenant.

12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[reflect] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

The law was transitory – fading and passing away. It was ultimately insufficient. And the Israelites who did not accept Christ were like those with a blinding veil over their eyes, something that could only be taken off by Christ. And in him, through his work on the cross, a greater glory has come. This new covenant of grace, redemption and freedom will not fade away. It grows and expands, all the way through to the eternal state.

When you read this, you cannot help but be so very thankful to have had the opportunity to live at a time when all of this is in the past. We have a completed record about it. And though we don’t know all the details of what remains to get us to our ultimate destination, we have such a clear understanding as to what has foundationally made it possible. It is not fading, it is growing in brightness and intensity.

“We Smell” (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)

There are some people who like both the smell and the taste of coffee, some who like the smell but dislike the taste, and others who totally despise both. Count me in that last category.

I last had a cup of coffee in the summer of 1988 while on a missions trip to Scarborough, England. I was leading a music team that was doing beach ministry by day on the shores of the English Channel, while presenting concerts in community centers and churches in the evenings. The mayor of Scarborough heard about our presence and invited us to tea in her mansion. But it wasn’t tea, it was coffee I was served. I took a couple of sips to be polite, but at a moment when all were looking in a different direction, I surreptitiously dumped the remains into a large, potted plant (probably killed the thing later!).

I call coffee “skunk juice.”  I frequently have trouble distinguishing one odor from the other. I just know that this is not my imagination, and though I likely have a bad attitude about coffee, it TRULY does smell much like a skunk (to me). So, I did some scientific research and was quickly able to find multiple articles identifying that there are indeed overlapping chemical components, called “thiols,” in each. I have included the chemical chart as evidence.

In our passage today, Paul references a well-known, historic occasion where odors in the air had decidedly different reactions from people, depending upon who you were. When the Roman legions would return home victorious from their conquests, they would march into the city in a parade that exalted the general and his troops, while also displaying the conquered prisoners. Incense was burned on this occasion and filled the air with varied aromas. For the soldiers, it was a smell of victory; but for the prisoners, it was a stench that portended their death or slavery.

Paul somewhat mixes the picture by describing himself and believers as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession. But having been captives of His love and grace, we find it to be as victors with him who overcame death.

The smell of Christ’s victory is the aroma also of our lives as we are identified with him. For those who know Christ or who are being called by him unto salvation through our service, this is the aroma of life. But to those who reject Jesus and the gospel, the smell for them is one that leads to death. It is a paradox of Christian life and ministry!  And Paul asks, “who is equal to such a task?  (He’ll answer that question later by saying that we are sufficient in Christ – 3:5).

Paul further states that his ministry and that of his associates was not like that of many others with whom the Corinthians had contact – people who demanded payment for their services. Though Paul could have rightly expected this (as we covered in 1 Corinthians), he did not take anything from them. And here also, Paul says he is not like these others who peddle the word of God for profit.  The Greek verb for “peddle” is only used this one time in the Bible. It was a term of derision used to describe unscrupulous street merchants who were commonly known to cheat people with their sales. In the same way that the contemporary phrase “used car salesman” frequently has a negative connotation, so did this word. Synonyms could be “huckster” or “hawker.”  Paul’s ministry was not like this; it was genuine and sincere, as from God.

We all smell; we all have an “odor” to those around us. We want that aroma to be sincere, as we want to come off smelling like Christ in a genuine way. This will be attractive to those who have a work of the gospel going on inside them. However, this may offend some who are hostile to the gospel, but that’s not our problem. We need to be faithful. And we need to be sure our lives are not excreting some other odor!

2 Corinthians 2:14 – But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.

“Painful Ministry” (2 Corinthians 2:1-11)

Imagine reading a piece of mail correspondence from one person whom you know to another group of people with whom you are also acquainted. The letter references a variety of events that are common knowledge to both, but which are largely unknown to you. Therefore, you would be somewhat confused as to how to put all the pieces together as to what had happened and relative to who had done what.

This is essentially the situation we have as we continue reading here in the early portion of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. As we’ve referenced earlier in these devotionals, there were more than two letters from Paul to the saints in this early New Testament church. This is merely the second inspired letter that was intended to be included in the canon of Scripture. There were other letters and a number of visits being referenced at varying points.

What is clear is that there were issues of sin, conflict, confrontation and discipline that had gone on within the church community, much of it involving Paul as an Apostle and authority. These conflicts caused much grief and painful relationship between Paul and the Corinthian congregation. Hard things were said (in person and in writing), and there were tears of distress, anguish and grief.

What was the situation that stimulated this season of difficulty?  Historically, it has been thought that it related to the individual in the first letter who had committed incestuous sin … the thought being that the congregation had treated him very severely – to the extent that though he was now repentant, they were unwilling to forgive him. However, it is now more often believed that this relates to another situation not addressed in the first letter. We might speculate that it was something targeted specifically at the Apostle Paul, perhaps wrongly questioning his apostolic authority and good intents. This offender was severely censured and in time had become repentant. Paul is saying that enough had been done to discipline this person, the apostle was forgiving him, and they should likewise do the same.

The principle underlying this forgiveness and restoration of mutual love is a wonderfully timeless takeaway point to always remember. If the conflict was allowed to go on, this would play into the hand of the great enemy, Satan. It was already bad enough that this situation had erupted and caused the severity of grief all had experienced. To not forgive the person was to continue the damage and to accomplish the advance of the Evil One’s agenda … or as Paul calls this dastardly plan, “the schemes” of Satan to attempt to outwit the church family.

I can tell you rather certainly that there is nothing worse in the world of doing church ministry than to have to get involved with disciplinary matters of people in sinful behaviors and attitudes. There are occasions where the behavior has blinded the person from seeing the wrongful nature of it, and they are therefore rather unapproachable – seeing the confrontation as arrogance and power-posturing of people in leadership. Often they have some measure of a following who don’t see the full picture and who are sympathetic to the offender and his viewpoints. Before long, there are factions and an overall feeling of conflict and dissention in the church family. The ministry of outreach particularly suffers, as all energies and thoughts are focused within the walls and upon the strife.

By God’s grace, we as a church at TSF have been largely spared the scope of painful conflict as Paul is addressing in this passage today. But we have not (nor will we ever on this side of eternity) escaped all conflictual situations. Sometimes it is necessary, in godly love, to confront sin and error. As always, the goal to not to lord it over anyone or to “win” and bring punishment and pain upon anyone. The goal is restoration, not punitive action, as much as that may at times please the flesh in the heat of conflict.

The desired outcome for all is to be like Christ in our interpersonal relationships both within the church and in front of an unbelieving world. And Paul will have some beautifully colorful pictures of this as we read on later in this chapter.

2 Corinthians 2:1 – So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? 3 I wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. 4 For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.

5 If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. 6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 9 Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 10 Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

“Yes Means Yes” (2 Corinthians 1:12-24)

As many of you know, the fourth of my five sons was married in the last year and has moved with his new wife to begin an exciting life in Colorado, even buying a new house a couple of weeks ago. My wife and I want to visit with them and see their new home and the lives they have established in that place. But so far, every attempted plan has fallen through for one reason or another. I’m pretty sure they don’t think we’re trying to avoid seeing them!

Plans fall through; things happen. Paul had said he was going to come and visit the Corinthians, but it did not eventuate as he had hoped. And now there were people in the church there – likely in the category of false teachers – who were using this story as an opportunity to impugn the apostle and his motives.

We live in a time of great political and philosophical division. It is the regular and daily experience to hear people in leadership vilified in awful ways. A person does not actually need to have done something terribly wrong to be effectually wounded, all he has to have happen is to be accused of the deed and a certain number of people will believe it. This was the stratagem of Paul’s opponents – they were helped as his reputation was tarnished and thrown into doubt.

So Paul is on the defensive, as he will be through much of this letter. Here at the beginning he tells them essentially, “what you see is what you get, I ain’t very complicated!”  He was simply serving God by speaking the truth with integrity and sincerity. There was no personal gain in it. And he hoped that over time they could become fully convinced of this.

The inference of his opponents was that this fellow who spoke out of both sides of his mouth about visitation was also a person whose message could not be trusted as truthful. And to that charge Paul spoke strongly that there was no vacillation going on. This was a certain message of the gospel.

The certainty of the gospel is illustrated in three truths about the believer’s relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

First, there is an anointing of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation. The picture looks back to the anointing of priests at the time of their induction into ministry.

Secondly is the seal of ownership. In ancient times, a seal on a document specified the owner of it and granted that document its authority and veracity.

Thirdly is the deposit of the Holy Spirit. This banking/financial term spoke of a down payment that affirmed the necessity of full and final payment to come.

These are three awesome pictures that give us confidence in a broken and messed-up world. We possess stuff that is so much greater and more lasting than the vicissitudes of this material age.

(Here is an update on the friend I mentioned yesterday as a prayer item: Dave has survived a 12-hour surgery, with the doctor reporting that it went well. Some of the vein / blood supply complications that were the issues of greatest concern and threat apparently were successfully managed. I am not sure it can be said at this juncture that he is “cured,” but it is certainly a report well on the positive side of the ledger. I would remain thankful for your continued prayers.)

2 Corinthians 1:12 – Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. 13 For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, 14 as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.

15 Because I was confident of this, I wanted to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both “Yes, yes” and “No, no”?

18 But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” 20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

23 I call God as my witness—and I stake my life on it—that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.

“Been There and Back” (2 Corinthians 1:1-11)

When you are about to go through something very difficult like, say, a complicated surgical procedure, who do find most helpful and comforting in conversation?  Is it the 20-something with stellar health and a beach body, or is it someone who has successfully survived and recovered from your same affliction?

Of course, it is the latter. And why?  Because they know internally and experientially what you are facing. Their reflections make them extra sympathetic and insightful. You feel from them that they know and feel your pain, your fears, etc.  And having survived it and recovered from it, they are able to give you comfort and hope.

As Paul begins his second (inspired, canonical) letter to the Corinthians, he jumps rather quickly into some of the main ideas that he will expand upon throughout.

Few people in church history could ever put together such an extensive list of trials and difficulties as could the Apostle Paul. In this opening greeting, he references some non-specific afflictions that brought him and the others suffering with him to a state of hopelessness. It looked like all was lost. Death appeared to be the only escape.

So what was this experience in Asia that he references just generally?  The commentaries all offer five or more plausible possibilities. And that makes my point. Paul had no shortage of difficult experiences of suffering. Some were personal health struggles, some were with opposition from civil authorities, while other conflicts occurred with false teachers inside the church.

But these experiences, though unpleasant for sure, had purpose in the mind and plan of God.

  • The sufferings made Paul and his co-sufferers dependent upon God, because there was no other resource.
  • These difficulties were marks of their fellowship with Christ in his sufferings … yes, this is par for the course for the Christian.
  • Such painful experiences and comforting deliverances made it possible for Paul to comfort others in their pain.
  • Cumulative experiences of suffering and deliverance give the believer a new level of overarching confidence and hope in future deliverance and in final salvation by a faithful God and Father.
  • The role of the Christian is to trust God and be faithful to stand in prayer for one another as we all battle the difficulties of life in a fallen world.

And in line with that last point, for those of you reading this devotional on the date of its publication – March 13th – would you pray today for one of my very close college friends and baseball teammates, a guy named Dave. He has been battling pancreatic cancer and has successfully advanced to a point of a surgery to remove a tumor. It is a very delicate and complicated surgery of 10-12 hours duration, though he might not be able to survive it. His faith is incredibly strong and he is very upbeat about it. But the whole thing is very intense for his family as well. Thank you everyone!

2 Corinthians 1:1 – Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

“Background of the 2 Corinthians Letter” 

Do you find some people difficult to follow in conversation because they chase every mental rabbit that crosses their brain? Before one thought can be finished, another is triggered by the first conversation, and then another, and so the pile begins to grow. Getting back to the original thought is like untangling that extension cord that has been pushed around on the garage floor for the past couple years.

The Apostle Paul was a writer who was like this. It is evident in his style, especially in the book we survey today – that of the second letter to the Corinthians. It is believed to have been written on his third journey, composed in Macedonia (the northern portion of modern day Greece). After his extended time in Ephesus, we turn to chapter 20 …

Acts 20:1 – When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said goodbye and set out for Macedonia. 2 He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, 3 where he stayed three months.

The various letters of Paul to the Corinthians involve one of the more complicated studies in New Testament literature. Not only do we have the two letters in the inspired Scriptures, there were at least two other letters that Paul references having written to them. Here is a best shot at a chronology of visits and letters …

  1. First visit of Paul to Corinth
  2. A letter written to them (lost to us) that they misunderstood (see 1 Cor. 5:9-11)
  3. A second letter – known to us as 1 Corinthians – to address a list of problems
  4. Second visit of Paul to Corinth – described in 2 Cor. 2:1 as a “painful” visit
  5. A third letter – lost to us – it was disciplinary in nature (2 Cor. 7:8-9) and grieved Paul to have to write it (2 Cor. 2:3-4)
  6. A fourth letter – the text of 2 Corinthians.
  7. Third visit – mentioned above in Acts 20:2

Much of this letter of 2 Corinthians involves Paul dealing with the issue of false teachers who had come into the church family and created many problems. Beyond that, these self-appointed authorities sought to personally discredit Paul and the content of his teaching. Their exact doctrine is unknown, but it likely contained elements of legalistic Judaism and a rising error called Gnosticism – this latter heresy involving teaching that took away from the person of Christ and his perfect humanity.

It would have been understandable if Paul were to have essentially given up on the Corinthians and allowed them to go their own way. Sometimes we have to do that with people who have simply sold out completely to errant beliefs and values. But Paul was unwilling to do this with the Corinthians, having a pastoral heart of compassion for them, even while confronting them in love. There is a balance in that.

We have had a slogan in TSF leadership circles that dates back over 20 years. Our history as a church in the early years was to work with people who had life crises, even of their own creation. We have sought to be a place of both mercy and compassion along with bold confrontation. The slogan goes something like this: We will exhibit grace and compassion to very imperfect people who are walking toward God and growing in faith, while also loving people enough to get into their face when they are walking away from God.

Ministering to broken people is a messy business. When you do it, there are going to be times where it does not succeed. Difficult people have a pattern of turning issues around and making their problem be your problem. While trying to help, you may well be accused of “handling the situation wrongly.” Whereas they spilled the milk all over the kitchen floor, you are accused of not cleaning it up the right way.

In such situations – actually in all situations – we need to hang on to truth and hang on to the Lord. This idea is seen in this representative passage from 2 Corinthians … seeing here also Paul’s irritation, yet also his persistence to hang in there with these wayward people and get them connected rightly to God.

2 Corinthians 10:1 – By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! 2 I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. 3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

There is simply no way around the truth that ministry is difficult, and those who do it are going to have detractors and critics. I hate that, and it is difficult for me as a person who wants to please everyone. But that is never going to happen on this side of eternity.

“Brothers and Others” (1 Corinthians 16:10-24)

Thinking back now over 40+ years of church ministry, I have so many warm memories and connections of others with whom I’ve been blessed to serve God together. Just today, as I write this, a former fellow staff member from many years ago called to chat briefly and ask a couple questions. Another wrote to me a few days ago to alert me to the announcement of a much older mutual staff associate in Dallas who had recently passed away.

In church ministry, it is inevitable to have both up and down times of serving with others. There are seasons of serving that are difficult, not only due to wrestling with occasional opposition, but the tasks are great. Seeing God supply and guide in a joint venture brings people together in ways that are valued over the course of an entire lifetime.

The Apostle Paul had similar relationships, and we often get fleeting glimpses of them in the final sentences of some of his letters. And in this final section of 1 Corinthians, we see that Paul has taken the pen at some point to finish the letter personally, having used an amanuensis (secretary) to write his dictated remarks.

Paul’s special young disciple was Timothy, who was on his way to be with the Corinthians. Knowing of his own somewhat difficult experience with this rough crowd and their “issues,” and knowing of Timothy’s more timid personality, he tells the readers to not treat the young man contemptuously.

Apparently the Corinthians had hoped for Apollos to return to them. And though Paul had encouraged this, it appears Apollos was not in any hurry to get there. He probably knew well of their “issues” also.

Paul also reflects warmly on an entire household of people there who had given so much for the growth of the church in Corinth. As well, he personally mentions some of the good men who had travelled to him with news from Greece and who would be returning home.

Greetings are sent from Aquila and Priscilla who had known the Corinthians earlier, yet now being in Asia with Paul and leading a church in their home.

Paul also sends greetings from other churches in Asia (modern day Turkey) where the gospel was spreading. It was the Apostle’s desire for all these scattered Christians to have a sense of the scope of gospel successes throughout the world, that all would be encouraged and strengthened by this knowledge. And that too remains a timeless truth. I love to hear of the growth of our missions-connected churches in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Looking at the big picture of it all, ministry is complicated. It is difficult. It involves a lot of sinners working together. Thus, Paul again directs them toward an overarching attitude of love … verse 14 – “Do everything in love.”  Hey, that would make for a good theme verse for any church!

It really is a blessing to have each other to do life together, as we serve the One who in love has saved us from eternal destruction. We can never have too much of this perspective and this motivation for the most important things in life.

1 Corinthians 16:10 -When Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. 11 No one, then, should treat him with contempt. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers.

12 Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity.

13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.

15 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, 16 to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. 17 I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. 18 For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.

19 The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house. 20 All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

21 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.

22 If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.

24 My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.