2 Corinthians 13

2cor13.jpgGreetings!

Final Warnings

13     This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” 2 I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, 3 since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. 4 For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you.

5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? 6 And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.

It is very sobering to test your faith.  Do I really trust Jesus with my salvation?  Faith is behaving as if what we believed were really true.  Does this faith show in my words and actions . . . and thoughts?  Am I drawing towards Jesus or away from him? 

 7 Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9 We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection. 10 This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.

Paul is giving them every reason and every opportunity to repent, but he is fully prepared for some serious church discipline if they don’t.  I truly wish we would have had that in more U.S. churches in the early 1900’s as they started to liberalize. 

He sets a great example of sharing the truth in love.  Real truth, real love. 

Final Greetings

11 Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints send their greetings.

14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Notice the Trinity in v. 14?

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2 Corinthians 12

2cor12.jpgGreetings!  Paul has a vision and/or experience with Heaven.  He is the “man in Christ.” 

Paul’s Vision and His Thorn

12     I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say.

7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

There is a lot of speculation about what the thorn was, but I tend to think it is ambiguous so that we can imagine how our “thorns” would apply as well.  It could have been a temptation, or his vision problems or opponents?  Some pro-gay theologians think it was homosexuality, but that is a self-refuting argument for them.  It would prove that it was indeed a sin.

The world hates weakness.  It mocks and reviles it.  Yet Paul is proud of his weaknesses, because they help reveal the power of Christ.  Oh, that we would all delight weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties! 

What a wonderful vision that must have been – “inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.”  But one day believers will find out.  It certainly seemed to energize Paul and give him endurance through all his trials and sufferings.

Paul’s Concern for the Corinthians

11 I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. 12 The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance. 13 How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!

14 Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? 16 Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! 17 Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent you? 18 I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not act in the same spirit and follow the same course?

19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. 20 For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. 21 I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Paul had been harshly and unfairly criticized by members of the church he loved.  Yet he was quick to forgive them and made himself vulnerable to them.  It is a great lesson in how to deal with conflicts among believers.

2 Corinthians 11

2cor11.jpgGreetings! 

Paul and the False Apostles

11     I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that. 2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.

Skeptics try to criticize God for being “jealous” but they don’t realize that their is a good kind of jealousy.  God is our creator and has a right to be worshiped!

 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. 5 But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” 6 I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way.

We need to use discernment and wisdom to determine if teachers are false or not.  Many false teachers have crept into churches and the leaders don’t kick them out or discipline them because the want to avoid conflict.

7 Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so. 10 As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine. 11 Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! 12 And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about.

13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

It is sometimes hard to judge when the false teachers are so slick.  We have one in our church.  People let their guard down because he is a retired pastor, but he denies most essentials of the faith.  He won’t say Jesus is God.  He dismisses parts of the Bible he doesn’t like and even tought a class that parts were wrong (I went ballistic!).  He talks a lot about love and peace but his teaching is one-sided. 

Always test what these teachers say in light of scripture.

Paul Boasts About His Sufferings

16 I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17 In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18 Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19 You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20 In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!

What anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.

[1][1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Paul recites an amazing list of what he endured for the Gospel – and this wasn’t even the end of his story!  It got worse for him.  It is humbling to consider how little I have had to give up, and it motivates me to give more while I can.  May we all be motivated to live, love, give and serve in ways that glorify God.

2 Corinthians 10

2cor10.jpgGreetings!  Paul’s ministry was under attack so he had to defend his credentials.  That is an awkward position to be in.  We don’t want to be proud, because all we have, including our faith, comes from God.  But there is a time to set the record straight on things.

Paul’s Defense of His Ministry

10     By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” 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. 6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

Strong words!  Christianity has gotten too wimpy in many places.  People are afraid to boldly declare that Jesus is the way.  They have no concept of church discipline, so all sorts of bad theology has crept into the church – so much so that the false teachings are considered to be the true teachings! 

7 You are looking only on the surface of things. If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as he. 8 For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it. 9 I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. 10 For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” 11 Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.

It appears that Paul was not a particularly gifted speaker.  That may have been for the best, as he had to rely on the words of God to make his points.  So many churches and teachers get in trouble by thinking it is by their cleverness and speaking skills that people are converted.  God may use those, but it is God’s word that does the ultimate work.  He promised that his word would accomplish what He desired and achieve the purpose for which He sent it (Isaiah 55), but He made no such promises about my words.

12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. 13 We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you. 14 We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. 15 Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, 16 so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in another man’s territory. 17 But, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

What do we concern ourselves with most – what we think of ourselves, what others think of us, or what Jesus thinks of us?

2 Corinthians 9

2cor9.jpgGreetings!  Paul continues his message on giving here. 

9     There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints. 2 For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. 3 But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.

Paul is encouraging them to give generously.  It is a tricky balance to motivate people to give for the right reasons.  Too much pressure can turn the “giving” into an obligation. 

The next passage sums it up nicely and verses 6-7 are good to commit to memory.  Giving generously is joyful and rewarding.  We are truly laying up treasures in Heaven as Jesus noted in Matthew 6.  I don’t know precisely how it works, but I know that if Jesus said it then it wasn’t just marketing spin.  And I know the joy in giving that we can experience right now. 

As Randy Alcorn says, giving can be a blessing and a test.  God has given us so much in terms of financial resources and access to spiritual knowledge, whereas many people can live and die without the riches we have or even hearing the basic Gospel.  What are you doing with your financial and spiritual resources to advance the kingdom?

Sowing Generously

6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:

“He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” 

10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Our generosity is evidence of our faith and a witness to others.  And the people we help do pray for us.  We have three World Vision sponsor children, and I am always humbled when I hear that they are praying for us.

2 Corinthians 8

2cor8.jpgGreetings! 

Generosity Encouraged

8     And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5 And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. 6 So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7 But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

I like how he refers to the grace of giving.  It truly is a gift.  It was only after I became a believer that I really wanted to give and enjoyed giving. 

But as much as I give, people like the Macedonians put me to shame.  We give from our abundance and they gave out of poverty, and they urgently pleaded for the privilege of sharing.  What a contrast and an inspiration. 

It is indeed a privilege.  You will have all of eternity to remember how you handled the material resources God provided you.  If you are reading this you are probably one of the 2% of the richest people who ever walked the planet.  Think about that as you consider how to manage what God has entrusted to you.

8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

10 And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.

13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, 15 as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.”

If you think that sounds a bit Communistic, keep in mind that this giving was voluntary.  Paul will explore that more in the next chapter. 

Titus Sent to Corinth

16 I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. 17 For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative. 18 And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. 19 What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. 20 We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. 21 For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.

Accountability seems like a mundane issue, but a lack of it can undermine whole churches and ministries.  No one is above temptation, so we need solid controls over financial activities.  Transparency is always the best route to take.

22 In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you. 23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ. 24 Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

2 Corinthians 7

2cor7.jpgGreetings! 

7     Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

How do we purify ourselves?  By adding cleansing agents such as the Holy Spirit, and by removing bad things.  We can do practical things to avoid sin and temptation.  People who battle jealousy or resentment can pray for those whose things they covet or who have hurt them.  Those who battle lust can avoid viewing certain things.  Those who battle greed can give away more. 

Paul’s Joy

2 Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. 3 I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. 4 I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.

As hard as Paul is on the Corinthians, he reminds them of his love.  That can be hard to do when one must criticize others.  It is easy to make them into enemies. 

5 For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.

Even Paul was hindered by fears, but he was comforted by God’s providence. 

8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

Godly sorrow is authentic and brings about change and salvation.  Worldly sorrow is insincere and is really just sorrow over getting caught or having consequences.

 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. 12 So even though I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong or of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. 13 By all this we are encouraged.

Are we indignant and alarmed over our sins?  Do we long to see them stopped?

In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you. 14 I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well. 15 And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling. 16 I am glad I can have complete confidence in you.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.