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Category Archives: 2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians 12 – Spiritual Highs and Thorns

My friend has this problem…  

We have all been in various situations where we have heard somebody somewhat awkwardly say, “Uh…I have this friend who is having this problem…”  When we hear this, our first assumption is that this person is sharing their own personal problem but don’t want to admit it.  Is that what Paul is doing here at the beginning of 2 Corinthians 12 with this someone who went to the third heaven?  It is a possibility, but we don’t know.  Whether its Paul or somebody else, Paul definitely doesn’t fully understand what happened fourteen years ago.  What he does know is that it doesn’t matter how “high” your most spiritual experiences take you, we don’t need to be boasting or comparing yourself to others.  After all, if Paul wanted to boast, he could because he could back it up.  But we shouldn’t.  So he won’t.  

Because of this blasted thorn…

Even if Paul wanted to be proud, he couldn’t because God has given him a burden that he describes as a thorn in his side.  What was this thorn?  We don’t know, which doesn’t keep people from speculating.  Many people think it was a disease, partly because the way Paul says he asked that it be taken away but it remained sounds like an illness.  Others have suggested it has to do with the constant persecution that Paul experienced throughout his ministry.  It’s also been suggested that it had to do with his own guilt about his early persecution of Christians.  There is also a way to combine the last two, in that Paul was constantly persecuted by people who thought like he used to think.  Paul approved of the stoning of Stephen as a zealous Pharisee.  Now, Paul was stoned, imprisoned and persecuted by people just like “Saul,” every time a reminder of what he had done.  I tend to think something along these lines, but its all speculation.  There are lots of ideas much more bizarre, but not worth going into.  

Ultimately, what matters is Paul’s understanding that God had provided him with humility through his weakness and that through his weakness God’s power was truly demonstrated.  This willingness to accept our own weakness and give them to God to use for his glory is what is truly powerful and what we really need to focus on in this passage.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2012 in 2 Corinthians, Pauline Epistles

 

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2 Corinthians 11 – Paul’s Concern for the Virgin Church

As I was growing up, this passage quickly became a favorite. On one hand, Paul seems to be mocking the people that have lead the Church astray. On the other hand, this passage was the first time I realized that Christians suffered for their faith. This passage has also come to mean a lot to me as a minister later in my life. At the end of his list of all the things he has gone through, he then adds his daily concern for the Church. The longer I’ve been in ministry the more I understand what Paul is saying here. There is never a time when I “go home from work.” This isn’t a complaint really. It is just a reality that the Church, and those I have been given the task of taking care of, are continually on my mind.

I’m not trying to compare myself to Paul really. The list itself makes me feel sheepish in my faith. I just love that the emphasis comes down to his overwhelming concern for the Church. His concern for the Church in Corinth is that they will easily turn away from Christ. The imagery he uses here is that he has presented them as a pure virgin to the groom, who is Christ. His concern is that they have become easy and loose with who they are allowing to influence them. He wants them to know the Christ for whom they are holding out for and to not easily fall for a counterfeit.

When we birth Christ into someone, do we take the time to make sure they understand who Christ really is? We tend to get them into Christ but never help them see who Christ is so that they can fully follow Him. Just in case you were curious as to how Paul feels about those who present a false Christ, he compares them to the Devil. I’d rather not fall into this description.I have a friend who, when his church baptizes someone, they encourage them to only read the Gospels for the first year of their new life. They want to make sure that these babes in Christ know what the voice of Christ sounds like and be able to distinguish between the voice of Christ and other voices, including his own.

 
 

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2 Corinthians 10 – Seize the Thought

This picture says “Be Bold.” Can you see it?

This is an interesting and challenging chapter, balancing the humility of Christ with the boldness by which we might tear down strongholds.  Paul recognizes that there are some problems in Corinth that must be dealt with and it appears that some might have said of Paul that “he is bold when writing letters from far away, but when he’s here he’s unimpressive and his speech amounts to nothing.”  In other words, Paul expects that some will hear his letter read, recognize how convicted they should be by Paul’s instructions, and simply respond, “No big deal.  It’s just Paul.  He’s all bark and no bite.  I’ll ignore him when he gets here too.”  Paul’s promise to those people is that he will arrive with all of the forcefulness that is necessary to demolish foolishness and sin in the church.

In fact, Paul challenges us to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.  I love this idea.  Last year in one of his sermons, Bill told the church that God doesn’t just want to forgive you of your sins.  God wants to take your sins and weaknesses and redeem them so completely that he turns them into strengths.  God can even use our sins for the benefit of his Kingdom.  This is obviously not an encouragement to sin, but helps us see that he can take our evil thoughts, capture them, redeem them, and make them obedient to Christ.  That’s bold stuff.

Starting in verse 12, Paul acknowledges that there has been some competitive Christianity going on.  He essentially says, “Look, I don’t need to figure out where I stand by measuring myself against others.  When people do that they are fools.  I measure myself by what God measures me by.”  Paul wants to be clear that God has given him authority for his ministry and that his ministry in Corinth was within that authority and he hopes to do more and go farther.  And yet, the authority was and is God’s.  The success is God’s.  Paul’s just the messenger.  If people claim to be better than Paul, they need to realize that Paul only claims to do God’s work.  So if you think your work is better than Paul’s work, then you are implying that your work is better than God’s.  And be careful…that’s a dangerous place to go.

Paul really illustrates here that as ministers of God’s Kingdom, it really is important (and he proves it’s possible) for humility and boldness to exist in Christian leaders.  If you ever find yourself to meek and humble to boldly speak out against sin in the church you need to read this passage.  If you ever find yourself feeling a little too bold, proclaiming that others should be more like you (competitive Christianity) then you need to read this passage.  It requires balance.  Are you balanced?

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in 2 Corinthians, Pauline Epistles

 

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2 Corinthians 9 – Challenge to Give Generously and Cheerfully

Have you ever had that awkward moment when someone had told you they would do something and after telling others of their (pending) generous action you then realize how shameful you’ll look if they don’t come through? Yep…that’s where Paul is in this section of his letter.

He makes sure to emphasize that it will be to his shame if they do not come through. It would be tempting to put a huge guilt trip on them to make sure they own up to their word. That being said, he does remind them that whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

“God loves a cheerful giver” seems to be a verse that is often used to excuse not giving very much. While there is room for that, we need to be sure and keep the right focus here. Even though Paul is telling them to give at a level that matches their heart and where they can be cheerful about it…not giving grudgingly…we need to keep the right focus here. Paul challenges them to keep digging deeper. We should continue to look at our level of giving and see how we can continue to push ourselves deeper in our giving.

Anytime this is brought up in the pulpit it seems as though people hear it as they are being strong armed into giving more so that ministries can function. While giving does need to happen so that the functions of the church can continue, there is a major element that Paul points out in verse 12, the service of giving is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. This needs to be a major focus in our mindset of giving, not that we have to, but that we do so as though we are saying thanks to God. Paul reminds them at the end that people will praise God for their obedience and their generosity.

A friend of mine took this challenge seriously and felt the need to give God the first fruit of his labor. When he finished school and got his first job as a Physicians Assistant he gave his first paycheck to God because he knew God had blessed him with this job and wanted to say thanks and demonstrate his faith that God would continue to provide. His example has stuck with me. Sit down and look at where your money goes. Are there things you could sacrifice for a month as a sacrifice in order to give back to God? How can you challenge yourself to be a more generous giver and be cheerful about it.

 
 

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2 Corinthians 8 – Churches Giving to Churches

2 Corinthians 8

Dear Corinthians, remember when you were excited about giving to the church in Jerusalem?  Well it seems like you aren’t now.  Did you know the church in Macedonia is struggling financially.  They are in a recession, and they gave so much more than you did.  And don’t think I made them, because it was their idea.  And their collection was taken up after they had given to God and provided for my needs.  Then they took up a collection for the poor.  Just thought you should know.  In fact, why don’t you step up and finish the giving that you began a year ago.  I know you can give more than the Macedonians, since they are much poorer than you…if you’re willing and faithful.  If you aren’t, then don’t give.  If you are, then do.

Yeah…Paul can be pretty persuasive.

At the end of the passage there is a discussion about Christians in one area providing for Christians in a poorer area.  The church today has almost completely abandoned this concept.  Paul believed that wealthier churches should give a portion of their contribution (budget) to poorer churches.  We do a little bit of this today under the description “missions” but most of that goes to foreign churches and missionaries.  Rarely does the rich church in a town help support the poor church across town.  It’s too bad, because if we did I think it would set an example in unity and kingdom living that would impact many other areas of Christianity.

Kent’s Soap Box Moment of the Day: I will also point out that the financial interdependence of the early churchdoesn’t completely fit our view of how the congregations of the church are to be “non-denominational.”  It’s true that each congregation is to be led by a group of spiritual shepherds who are led by Christ.  Other than the Apostles, there doesn’t seem to be a church power structure outside of the local congregation.  However, the early churches do appear to communicate, financially support, and influence one another.  In other words, they had social, functional, and financial relationships.  We do very little of any of these today.  You couldn’t say they were non-denominational because they were pre-denominational.  The basic ideals of the Restoration Movement (that led to the modern establishment of the Churches of Christ/Disciples of Christ/Christian Churches) were that we could become post-denominational and become united again as the first churches were.  This desire is why I am a member of the Church of Christ today, although I do wish we still had more of the Restoration Movement desire for unity that we used to have.

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2012 in 2 Corinthians, Pauline Epistles

 

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2 Corinthians 7 – Being a 10% Culture

Paraphrase of Paul in this chapter, “I don’t like saying things that will upset you.  But let’s be honest, you needed to have some pretty tough sings said to you.  And while I felt bad that I might hurt your feelings, it is tough conversations that lead to sorrow which leads to repentance.  And since you repented, then I guess we all know I was right to be so hard on you.”

Shorter version, “Spanking you hurts me more than it hurts you.  But I do it because I love you.”

Several weeks ago I had an opportunity to visit another church and the class teacher shared that his workplace is a “10% culture.”  In normal social contexts, when people have difficult conversations they tend to share 90% of what needs to be said.  However, that last 10% that is the hardest to say is often the most important thing that needs to be heard.  So in their workplace, the encourage people to occasionally ask, “Alright, give me the 10%.”  Once you do this, you humbly accept the advice or admonishing that you need.

THAT BEING SAID, the teacher cautioned (all of you out there with confrontational personalities pay attention here) that you can’t enforce your 10% onto others.  In other words, if you go tell somebody how to fix a problem they don’t think they have, you just became the problem.  

So all of this is to say what Proverbs says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  This culture opens us to sharpening one another.  But we have to have strong relationships (as Paul mentions earlier in the chapter) for this kind of culture to be possible.  

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2012 in 2 Corinthians, Pauline Epistles

 

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2 Corinthians 6 – Paul’s Example and Yokes

Paul’s Great Example

I really love a challenge.  I can’t stand when somebody says I can’t do something.  I will be twenty-nine this month and I am still a sucker for a double dog dare.  When I am working on a puzzle I can’t solve, I can’t sleep. All of this means that when I just finished the biography of Steve Jobs, I wanted to build a company in my garage, be crazy all the time and “put a dent in the universe.”  The guy revolutionized six difference industries.  Today I installed blinds on two windows.

This passage about Paul’s work has a similar effect on me, although it hits much closer to home since I actually have a shared passion with Paul.  As I read Paul recounting the struggles and successes they have had I am both humbled and inspired.  I mean, I am a minister and I have had some tough weeks, but not compared to this list.  Paul was serious, genuine, convicted and ready to put his own “dent in the universe” although not by revolutionizing technology, but rather by bringing into being God’s very own revolution.  And I am proud to be a part of the revolution still today.

This is what a strong Christian marriage should look like. Only a single guy could use this metaphor and live.

Don’t Get Yoked

This passage is most often applied to marriages where one spouse is a believer and the other is not.  However, Paul is commenting on any relationship or partnership.  Essentially, be aware that your values aren’t the same as the world’s values.  You are light, so don’t partner with darkness.  When you have any kind of partnership where the two parties involved have fundamentally different foundational beliefs, you are going to have problems.

It isn’t the first time Paul has commented on marriages to unbelievers.  In 1 Corinthians 7 he is talking about how you can come to Christianity as you are.  So if you are married to an unbeliever, then become a Christian who is married to an unbeliever.  Don’t divorce them unless they are the one pushing for the divorce.  On the other hand, in verse 39 of that same chapter Paul seems to instruct that if you are a Christian and are unmarried that if you choose to get married you should marry a Christian.

Now, I will stop for a moment to point out that throughout 1 Corinthians 7, Paul goes back and forth between giving us commands from the Lord and his own advice.  Some of the comments made above fall in the sections that appear to be his advice, so do with that what you will.

Back to the point…marriage (and any other partnership) is hard enough without differences such as whether or not you believe in God, absolute truth, or what the standard is for good living.  Do yourself a favor, marry a good match.  If you don’t, find a minister who can do marriage counseling because they are cheaper and might convert your spouse in the process.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2012 in 2 Corinthians, Pauline Epistles

 

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1 Corinthians 4 – Crumpled Envelopes

Jars of Clay

God took saw the darkness in the world that was blinding people to what He was doing.  They couldn’t see the Gospel because they were blinded by the “god of this age.”  And in our age, certainly there are other “gods” such as greed, self-reliance, denial of truth, immorality, and many others that blind many in our world.  But in that blinded world of darkness, God brought forth a light.  This light was good news because it responded to the darkness and stood against the bad news of the world.  I think it’s important that we always think of the “Gospel” or good news in this way.  While the good news is that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, the good news must also continually adapt to respond to the bad news that exists in every generation.  And God took this bright shining light, this great treasure of good news, and he placed it within each of us.

But don’t get too proud here.  The light is the treasure.  We are merely earthenware jars that the treasure is stored in.  In my office, there are three framed pieces of art and two diplomas.  The art was all shipped to me in cardboard tubes and the diplomas arrived in envelopes.  Today, all of these items hang around in decorative (and occasionally expensive) frames.  They hold a special place in my office because they are each special to me.  (The art includes a poster with all 150 psalms on it, a page out of a Vulgate Bible, and a replica of Van Gogh’s Still Life with Bible.)  However, the tubes and envelopes have long been disposed of.  Even though the envelopes were essential to protecting these items and getting them to me, they weren’t the treasure themselves.  It would be silly to have a framed envelope hanging on the wall.  In the same way, we are but jars of clay that hold a great and beautiful treasure, that is to say, God’s beautiful good news shining inside us.  But don’t get mixed up and think this is about us.  We are but crumpled envelopes with the privilege to carry the world’s most valuable treasure.

Psalm 116  

And yet, it’s not always fun feeling like a crumpled up envelope.  In verse 8-9 Paul talks about how we might be hard pressed but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed.  And yet, he did feel crushed, despairing and abandoned in chapter 1.  This chapter gives hope to people who feel as Paul did in chapter one.  We aren’t broken or crushed.  In fact, we are more like the psalmist in Psalm 116, which Paul quotes in vs 13.  He then goes to this psalm that tells us a person who feels completely beat up but finds that through faith they remain grateful for what God has done and what he will do.  And so with the same voice that the psalmist offers praise through great struggles, we too believe and therefore speak because we know the true blessing of the Resurrection.

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2012 in 2 Corinthians, Pauline Epistles

 

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2 Corinthians 3 – Recommendation Letters and Unveiled Faces

Letters of recommendation are an important part of life today. As a minister, I’ve had many teens use me as a reference for jobs, scholarships, and college acceptance. It is important to have someone vouch for your character then you are unknown by those you are in contact with. A good reference can go a long way. Facebook, background checks, the Internet, etc. makes it easier to check someone’s credentials today.

In the ancient world, letters of recommendation were of high importance as people traveled with business. These letters let the church know that the person who has arrived are genuine and not just a random person showing up out of the blue, claiming to be servants of Jesus.

Imagine if you were an employer and got a strong recommendation for someone and found out later that it was a forgery. This seems to be what the church in Corinth is accusing Paul of. Looking back at the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians and chapter 9, they might have scoffed that he seemed to be writing a reference for himself in order to tell everyone how great he was. He defends himself against slander and opens himself again to possibly being charged again with writing another self-recommendation. He will come back to this charge a few more times. This hurtful accusation seems to be one of the main reasons for this letter.

The Spirit is the letter of recommendation for Paul that has been written on their hearts. How much greater is the Spirit than any other letter? Greater than letters on stone with Moses. Greater than any letter written with ink. The Spirit has surpassing glory that will last forever.

Moses was veiled because the glory was passing away. We have confidence to be bold because the glory of the Spirit does not pass away. Christ takes this veil away and gives us reason to be bold because we have found our freedom in Christ. We, who have unveiled faces, reveal the Lord’s glory and are being transformed into his image with “ever-increasing glory.”

How does this reality change the way you live? Does your life reflect the glory that has been placed upon you in Christ? If you stopped and shared the Gospel with someone, would they already know it by how you lived?

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel, and, if necessary, use words.”

– St. Francis of Assisi

 

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2 Corinthians 2 – Aw Man…(Forgive Them)

In his first letter to Corinth Paul discusses the protocol and rationale to excommunicating a member of the church who is blatantly living in sin.  The community of believers must take a stand against sin.  One of the challenges that always exists in Christian community is that we are set free from sin and death and yet we are bound to a new set of rules and standards.  As Christians, we are called to do everything we can to find God’s will and God’s standards and then bring our lives into alignment with his will.  When a member of the community  is willingly and intentionally disregarding God’s standards then the rest of the church must step up and remove them.  This isn’t done for the purpose of bring mean or judgmental, but with hopes that it will convict them into repentance.  It also ensures that the church doesn’t allow God’s standards to become blurred.

Anyhow, all of that is to say that in 2 Corinthians 2 Paul is writing about just such a situation.  The good news is that it worked!  The bad news is that the church has refused to bring the excommunicated brother back into the church.  Why withhold forgiveness from somebody who has repented?  Why not bring them back into the fold so that they can be encouraged, blessed and begin contributing to the church again?  Certainly God has forgiven them and Paul desires to do so himself.  The church must step up and gladly recognize that the difficult and painful process of excommunication was successful and begin the (often more difficult) process of forgiveness and reconciliation.

I had somebody in my office a few weeks ago telling me about a difficult relationship in their life.  Their family member had finally said something so horrific (and it really was) that he was telling me that he was now actually relieved.  “Now that they said that, I don’t have to care about them any more.  That relationship is over now, thank goodness.  Right?”  My response wasn’t what he expected.  After talking about the difficult circumstances surrounding this problem we came back to his question of whether or not he was justified in abandoning the relationship.  I asked, “When you stand before God and He asks you if you did everything you could to make the relationship right, can you say yes without getting a sick feeling in your stomach?”

“Aw man…”

His honest response is probably what most of us would say when we consider if we need to take the first steps in rebuilding the broken relationships in our life.  Especially if the estranged person has repented and desires a restored relationship.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2012 in 2 Corinthians, Pauline Epistles

 

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