Tag Archive for: 2 Corinthians

Click here for the reading: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10.

“Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” The Apostles understood the urgency of carrying the Gospel into all the world and placed no obstacle in anyone’s way, nor did they allow anything to dissuade them from fulfilling their calling.

“We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (vv. 3-10)

Knowing the urgency of the message and understanding that “now” is the time and no other, Paul would suffer greatly for the sake of Christ, so that man might come to a knowledge of Him and find salvation. Through all of his trials, he could rejoice knowing that God the Holy Spirit was working faith in the hearts of those who would believe.

The time to believe the Gospel is when you hear it, and the time of preaching the Gospel is now. May we recover some sense of urgency, some measure of the zeal of the Apostles, some taste of their dedication. Let us be ready to hear and believe. Let us be ready to proclaim the Gospel whatever may befall us. Let us trust the Lord to sustain us in all things and bring to completion the work He has begun in us and all who believe in Him.

Click here for the reading: 2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9.

Paul’s foolishness is holy wisdom. The wisdom the Corinthians admire is not wise in Christ, whose ways lead Paul into an upside-down life that turns the world upside down. The dizzying world of Paul’s service in Christ is not one for every sermon, but it may be fruitful for the preacher to tackle what happens when the word has its way in a man’s life – the life Paul describes in this pericope. Wisdom abounds in the midst of suffering.

Indeed the only way to the wisdom of Paul is through the suffering of Paul. Therefore he must boast of what he suffers. His resume in 11:22-28 is first of what is useless and then of his sufferings. What proved useless are the very things of which his opponents – likely the judaizers who plagued and perverted his gospel wherever he went – boast. Their ethnic boasts are nothing to him, who could likewise boast. Instead, his CV is suffering after suffering and every last bit of it in Christ’s way. When nothing more dramatic is happening, he suffers the anxiety of his care for the churches in Christ throughout the world. He is a man turned over to suffering so that the nations may be turned over to Christ.

In that way of suffering in Christ even the marvelous vision Paul was given of paradise is not ground for speaking, still less for boasting. What is greatest and most heavenly is occasion for silence. What is lowliest and saddest is the occasion for Paul’s boasting because in his suffering he finds God’s power made perfect. Heavenly visions do not sustain the weak man – the power of God perfected in his weakness sustains the man weak for Christ’s sake.

Strange to say, even that weakness has been a part of God’s delivery of Paul from service of sin to the service of Christ. The thorn in the flesh is at once “a messenger of Satan to harass” and divinely given to prevent Paul’s conceit – to keep his resume of suffering from becoming a resume in praise of Paul. If Paul’s labors are greater than all others, his thorn is so peculiarly his that it keeps him peculiarly humble for an apostle with so many grounds for boasting.

The thorn sent by Satan thus also works for the purposes of God. Truly, all things work together for good for them that love Him, that are called according to His purpose. If He purposed Paul’s salvation and Paul’s calling to service for Christ, then even Paul’s thorn will serve those holy purposes. If He purposed all Paul’s sufferings, then even Paul’s sufferings shall serve His gospel. All things shall serve Paul’s salvation and through him the salvation of the nations called by the gospel. So that Paul’s salvation and the salvation of the nations may not be of him who runneth nor of him who willeth but of God who showeth mercy. In our weakness, how great is His power to save!

As noted in the previous study on Sexagesima, Paul speaks against the “super apostles” who were plaguing the Corinthian congregation. These false teachers were making themselves out to be something great on their own merits and were disparaging Paul as being nothing in comparison. The reading beginning in 2 Corinthians 11 for Sexagesima is more or less Paul’s final assault on these men. The reading for the First Sunday in Lent, 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, gives us one of Paul’s major appeals to the Corinthians themselves. These false teachers wanted only what they could gain from the Corinthians; Paul, on the other hand, suffered much for the sake of the Corinthians.

“Working together with Him,” which is to say, with Christ, “we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1). The false apostles were leading them astray, and as Peter says, “it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter 2:21). The one who turns his back on Christ after coming to know Him stands under a far greater judgment than the one who never knew Him at all. Capernaum will be brought down lower than Sodom and Gomorrah, because it refused to receive the mighty works of Christ (Matthew 11:23). Therefore, for the Corinthians to depart from Paul and the Gospel is not a matter of preference or just choosing a more likable teacher, but a matter of life and death.

Paul also emphasizes the urgency of his message. Those who think that there is always time for the grace of God will be caught by surprise, whether by the Lord returning or by their own death and being called to account. “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20). ““Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). Now is the favorable time; now is the day of salvation!

With this in mind, Paul expresses very clearly everything which he has suffered for the sake of the Corinthians. The false apostles, who did not love the sheep but only want to profit from them, did not suffer in the same way. A false teacher is not willing to suffer, because a false teacher is not in Christ who suffered on our behalf. “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:4). “You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep” (Ezekiel 34:3). “These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 12-13).

Paul’s suffering, on the other hand, demonstrates the genuineness of his affection for the Corinthians. What false teacher would suffer everything that Paul suffered only for the sake of his own belly? Yet Paul endured everything for the sake of the Corinthians, because of his love as their spiritual father. If he lost much for the sake of Christ, his loss was their gain. In the ease of the false teachers, unwilling to suffer, the Church was being torn apart; in the suffering of Paul, the Church was built up to eternity.

The lectionary reading should be extended to include 2 Corinthians 6:11-13, because these verse clarify Paul’s point in this passage nicely. “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians, our heart is wide open.” Paul has held nothing back from them. The issue is not because of a stumbling block on his end, for nothing in his ministry offended in that way. The issue is the Corinthians being hardened against him by the alluring voice of false teachers. “You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.” He calls for them to turn from the works of darkness and return to the light of the Gospel, confident that, as their spiritual father, they will listen to him.

The authority of the preacher is derivative in nature. Men preach the Word, which is not their own, in season and out of season. For good reason, the men called to proclaim the Word of God are called stewards and not masters, because they are answerable to the Master in all that they do. Yet the great temptation of preachers is to center their authority in themselves, whether because of their knowledge, ability, or in comparison with other men. The false apostles who were plaguing the Corinthian congregation despised Paul out of pride. “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account’” (2 Corinthians 10:10). Paul apparently was an unimpressive speaker, and his enemies exploited that to their own advantage.

These “super apostles” built each other up in a false confidence. As Paul says, “When they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12). The pastor who boasts of his own ability has missed the point, because it is not personal ability that makes him what he is in the Lord. “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18). Lest we misunderstand Paul’s point, he also writes to Timothy: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Seeking our commendation from the Lord and not from ourselves or from men is not an excuse to be lazy or immoral. Rather, “let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips,” because self-praise is a fruit of the flesh and not of the Spirit (Proverbs 27:2).

On the other hand, there is such a thing as false modesty. Paul explicitly says, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (2 Corinthians 10:17). The men whom God has called into the ministry should not be ashamed of the authority which comes from the Lord. To be ashamed of what God has sent you to proclaim is tantamount to being ashamed of God. It is boasting in the flesh that Paul condemns. As he says to the Galatians, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). Let the one who boasts boast in what the Lord has done, even to unprofitable servants like us.

Paul, in a fit of what he calls madness, proves his point yet further. It is foolishness, because Paul speaks like a madman in answering the fools according to their folly (Proverbs 26:5). If they have any ground for boasting in the flesh, Paul has more. These false apostles love the position of high honor, but do not suffer for it. They seek the rewards of speaking on behalf of God without recognizing the cross that must go with it (Matthew 23:1-12). Paul suffered much for the sake of the Gospel, a cross laid upon him by the Lord (Acts 9:16). These are not generic trials, as if one could apply them to any situation. Many of those who preach the Word have not suffered as Paul suffered for the Gospel. The crosses that the Lord sends to discipline his people are not the same, nor should we magnify them into meaninglessness.

However, the ultimate point that Paul makes is one that applies across the board. Whatever the cross may be, if we boast, let us boast of our weakness, for the Lord declares that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Our actual weaknesses, not our imagined ones or our sins, testify to the mercy and the grace of the Lord. We are “jars of clay” bearing the treasure of the Word (2 Corinthians 4:7). Those who bear this office “have this ministry by the mercy of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1). “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory, for the sake of Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1).

As a final note, Paul’s motivation for such foolish boasting to show his own weakness stems from a “divine jealousy” for the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:2). From fear that they were being led astray like Eve was deceived by the serpent, Paul speaks against those who were leading them away from their first love. “As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!” (2 Corinthians 11:10-11). The false teacher does not seek to build up the flock, but rather to exploit it. “For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive” (Romans 16:18). Do we as pastors seek to instruct those entrusted to us as a father with his children, or out of a desire to appear orthodox? Is our jealousy divine or fleshly? Let us not compromise the Gospel out of a desire to seem fatherly, to be sure, but let us remember that we are called to be spiritual fathers. Those commended to our care for a time are not our enemies, but sinners for whom Christ died.