Growing in Christ
"He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45
Paul shares with a struggling church the powerful effects of the Cross of Christ.
Practical and Pastoral Observations on 2 Corinthians (please read each chapter slowly and meditatively before reading observations below):
Introduction: Corinth, even by standards of the day, was a city known for its striking immorality. The temple of Aphrodite employed 1,000 prostitutes. The Greek korinthaizomai ("to act like a Corinthian") came to mean "to fornicate." Acts 18 describes the founding of a small church in this context during Paul's second missionary journey. The church faced many struggles, some of which Paul addresses in this letter, written about 55AD. The central theme is the cross of Christ and it's practical implications for personal and community life.
2 Corinthians 1
God's grace brings peace (v.2), mercy and comfort (v.3). He is faithful to His Word (v.20), He establishes, anoints and seals us with His Holy Spirit as pledge (v.21-22) of our sure hope.
Suffering and comfort: Though we suffer - sometimes in the service of others, by God's grace comfort is equally abundant (v.5). The comfort we give to others is the comfort we have received from God (v.4). All we have we have received. We are faithful because God is faithful (v.18).
Helping and being helped: Paul's plan and expectation was to receive help (probably goods and finance) to continue from Corinth to Macedonia, then again to receive help on his return to Judea (v.16). Help may be mutual or one-way. Helping is a "new-normal" in Christ.
The Unequivocal Yes in Christ: Our "yes" must be authentic but, even as such, is simply an echo, affirmation and "amen" to the prior, eternal YES of God (v.20). He is us who established, anoints and seals us in pledge of His promise. (v.21-22).
Afflicted to the point of despair: When I am burdened beyond my strength, despairing even of life (v.8), I set my hope in God who raises the dead (v.9) and will deliver us (v.10). Why does God allow such extremity? So that we may learn fully to trust (v.9). v.20 "For as many as are the promises of God, in Him (Christ) they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen (Yes) to the Glory of God through us."
Personal Application: I will be a comforter: in comfort or suffering (v.5) I will look for opportunities to comfort others with the comfort with which I have been comforted (v.4). I will be faithful: through all, to my word (v.18-19) as God is faithful to His.
My Prayer: Lord, established in You by Your "Yes" and comfort, in all circumstances and challenges, let my life also be this "Yes" and a comfort to others as I listen and speak with those around me.
2 Corinthians 2
Satan's schemes: Satan work is multi-faceted. He seeks a full destruction of the sinner in the Corinthian congregation through excessive sorrow in self-accusation and introspection (v.7), harm to the whole congregation (v.5), estrangement between the Corinthian congregation and Paul (v.4), and ongoing sorrow in Paul's heart (v.13, the "unrest") of not knowing the response of the Corinthians to his 'sorrowful letter' (v.4).
Satan must be overcome. Christ is the One who overcomes him. Thanks be to God (v.14)!
Forgiveness is not complete until the forgiven person is also comforted (v.7) and reaffirmed in love (v.8) in the presence of Christ (v.10). Let not the person be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (v.7) and be taken advantage of by Satan (v.11).
God always leads us in triumph: God's triumph in Christ is over Satan, sin and its consequences both in individuals and in community. The image of triumphal procession is from the common Corinthian experience of a Roman general parading captives through the streets. In these parades incense was burned to the Roman gods and emperors. In a greater way, Christ in those whom He leads in victory, is a "sweet aroma" bringing the knowledge of Him everywhere (v.14). This Gospel of victory over Satan is simultaneously a foretaste of "life to the believer and death to the rejecter" (Ryrie) (v.16). As such, the Gospel takes from Satan his ability to take advantage of the breakdown in relationship in Corinth (v.11). Victory is certain. We can affirm:
I triumph only "in Christ" (v.14);
I am a fragrance "of Christ" TO GOD among those being saved / perishing;
I am always sincere, i.e. consistent with being in Christ, speaking "in the sight of God" (v.17).
Personal Application: I will quickly accept the repentance of the sinner, as God forgives me. I will put the matter behind me so Satan can take no advantage. I will judge my sincerity in all things by these standards: is my word or action "from God" (would God do it?), is it consistent with being "in Christ," and does it stand up "in the sight of God" (v.17)?
My Prayer: Lord, make my life such a fragrance of Christ, sincere and triumphant for the Gospel and for Your Glory. Cause me to know every hour the manifestation of your victory over Satan, allowing no bad odor near me, only the sweet aroma of the knowledge of God in Christ in every time and place.
2 Corinthians 3
We Commend not Ourselves because we are not adequate in ourselves. Adequacy is and comes only from God (v.5) who gives us, as servants of a new covenant (v.6), grace and even glory.
But the work of the Spirit is changed lives in Christ for which only the Lord is adequate. The Spirit of God writes a letter to the world on human hearts (v.1) which produces confidence (v.4), adequacy (v.5), life (v.6), glory (v. 8), hope and boldness (v. 12), freedom (v.17) as the Holy Spirit transforms us into the image of Christ (v.18).
Two Covenants are at work and can be set side by side, the letter which cannot give life and the Spirit which does (v.6).
Moses and the Law: On the one side is the letter of the law which, though glorious in the context of the sin in surrounding nations, was not adequate in itself. In revealing sin it ministers condemnation and death. The glory of God in the face of Moses was veiled and faded away. Those today who look to Moses alone remain veiled (v.15) and cannot see the fullness of the glory of God.
Christ and the Spirit: On the other side, given in Christ, is the Holy Spirit. The ministry of the Spirit is life, the righteousness of Christ and unveiled glory. This covenant gives hope and liberty leading to boldness and greater glory. V.18: "We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit."
Personal Application: I am reflecting the grace and glory of Christ more and more and, like Paul, encouraging others to join in the glorious journey of grace. I am gazing at Christ. I am adequate in Christ and being transformed into His image. I will walk this life in hope, confidence and boldness.
My Prayer: Father, the covenant of Moses brought to the earth great glory, though we were weak and could not rise to it. But the covenant of Christ raised us up in the cross and resurrection to walk in grace, liberty and glory. Praise your name! Lord, I would gaze on your face forever, transfixed and transformed!
2 Corinthians 4
Do not loose heart: God's glory (chapter 3) and mercy (4:1) is that we do not loose heart (v.1, 16). This is the goal of the magnificent passage of v.7-18). To loose heart, or to prioritize myself above those who are perishing, is a denial of the Gospel.
Veiled: the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God (v.3-4, 6) is veiled to those refuse Christ. This is consistent with the purposes of the "god" of this world. But for those who do not close their eyes, lights shines out of the darkness.
Salvation is always and only from God: God sheds mercy (v.1), truth (v.2), light and glory (v.4), in Christ so that we might know Him truly, who to know is eternal life. We cannot produce light. Only God. We are earthen vessels. He is the treasure (v.7). We are as described in the first portion of each contrast (v.7-11); God produces the second portion as His overcoming gift of salvation in our extremity. ..."we do not lose heart for though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day (v.16).
The limitations of our resources and this life: Only our body is decaying (v.16) and momentary (v.17), only those things which can be seen are temporal and participate in our affliction; these are of no comparison with the eternal weight of glory to come (v.17). Strengthened by so great a salvation we are servants (v.5) in this glorious ministry of mercy and do not loose heart. "Just as physical light shined at creation, so spiritual light shines in the hearts of those who become new creations in Christ." (Ryrie) Only God produces physical light and only God creates the eternal spiritual light of the glory of God in the face of Christ (v.6).
Personal Application: I will not loose heart. I will look to the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ. While showing practical compassion to all who suffer in this life I must never forget the ultimate goal of the eternal (v.18).
Lord, may I serve you as Lord and those around me as a servant for the sake of
advancing the Gospel. Father, in this I look to you alone for salvation, hope
and the strength of the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 5
Our eternal house: Paul contrasts our temporary earthly tent (v.1) with the coming gift of our permanent 'house/body’ in the heavens (v.1). This "building from God" (v.2) is evidenced by the resurrection of Christ and pledged in the present by the Holy Spirit (v.5). It is a glorious gift as outcome of the work of the cross and a compelling reason for the ministry of reconciliation (v.18) and appeal "now is the day of salvation" (6:2). Yet, whether in our present body or in the gift to come, we have one ambition: to be pleasing to Him (v.9).
The judgement seat of Christ (v.10): It is because of this day of judgement we persuade men (v.11) urging everyone to trust Christ alone. Christ the judge overlooks superficial appearances which may impress men, seeing only the reality of the heart (v.13) which has embraced or rejected him.
Our motivation: Our love of Christ (or for Christ) is what compels us to please the Lord urges us forward in the ministry of reconciliation that all might have opportunity to know and love him also.
Reconciliation: Reconciliation is through the cross of Christ and brings newness of life. The old [‘no longer’ v16] is replaced by the new [v.17]). When we are reconciled and made "new," we also are given the ministry of reconciliation, both the joy and the urgency of Christ's calling, that all might receive the "house not made with hand, eternal in the heavens" (v.1).
Change your self-image: I must not look on myself the old way - 'according to the flesh' (v.10 'bad'=worthless), but in the reality of the new creation. v.15-16 "...He died for all...therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh...therefore if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." How can I relate to myself and others rightly if I do not see each rightly? May I see and love, constrained by the love of Christ (v.14) as He sees and love as He loves!
Personal Response: I will seek and make opportunities to exercise the ministry of reconciliation (v.18) as an ambassador of Christ (v.20) - making peace on earth resulting from peace with/from heaven. I will urge those to whom Christ sends me to "become the righteousness of God" in Christ (v.21).
My Prayer: Lord, thank you for the promise and gift of a house not made with hands. Give me to see myself and others as You do, and if/where I am not seeing rightly that You give me right eyes! Give me love and passion for the lost, make me an ambassador of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 6
So many wonderful themes in this chapter...
Working Together with Him (v.1) speaks of our relationship with Christ as a magnificent divine partnership. He is Lord, yes, and the vine from which we branches draw life to produce fruit as an extension of Him. How marvelous we are not left alone!
Not Receiving Grace in Vain (v.1): Could His grace come to us in vain? Sadly yes, if not embraced, received and passed on. We must embrace the grace of salvation today, we must extend His grace to others, today for salvation. None of "the most precious gift ever given" can be wasted, God forbid.
Servant of God: as servants of God we experience both sorrow and glory. Paul lists 10 sorrows (v.4-5), 10 glories (v.6-7) and 9 tensions between the two (v.8-10).
Either/or is so much easier than the both/and of vs.4-10 or the "living in but not being of" spoken of in vs.14-18. In each case we see not "opposite" truths, but truths incomplete without the other.
What a range of experience comes to those who are servants of God! God's glory sustains us in our sorrows. In all we experience, we cannot be reduced by any offense (v.3) or by the smallness of our own heart (v.11-13).
All for the King: We are in partnership with Christ but not with the world (v.14). Holiness is separateness of heart (v.17) in total allegiance to the King as a citizen of heaven, even while walking in the world, loving the lost in the world and pointing the world to Jesus as Lord and God as our Father. Only if I have no desire for the things of the world system can I live as a "servant of God" (v.4) - desiring the positives of vs. 4-10 while willing to accept the negatives also.
Personal Application: I will waste no opportunity to embrace grace in my weakness or to extend grace to others in partnership with Christ. May I live "in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left..."(v.6-7)
My Prayer: Lord, I pray for Your gentle sensitive guidance to live in purity as I am fully engaged in the world incarnationally - while not of it, loving it or yoked to it.
2 Corinthians 7
God's great promises that we be his children forever (6:16b-18). This call us to the purity of holiness worthy of that relationship (7:1). This holy relationship is to be evidenced in both body and spirit (v.1) and in our relationships with one another, through both joy and pain (v.2-3).
Emotional Pain: When the relationship is damaged we, like Paul, may be for a time emotionally distraught (v.5) seeking comfort from the Lord (v.6-7). To heal the relationship Paul did not withdraw from the high standard of holiness but was willing to endure the pain of pursuing the goal of a holy relationship through truth and repentance (v.8-9).
Transformative Repentance: The sorrow that leads to transformative repentance (v.10) leads to life. Sorrow without repentance leads to death. Wonderfully then, godly sorrow (v.11) leads to repentance and is, as such, a gift so that salvation may be received (7:9-10). The result is joy (v.12-16). So in all the process we can be comforted as we yield to the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
I appreciate Paul's emotional transparency about the costliness of Christian community (v.5ff). May the "godly sorrow" (v.11) of repentance produce in me also a deeper fear of the Lord, earnestness, fundamental change of behavior, longing and zeal for holiness - both in myself and in the messianic community.
Personal Application: I will not seek to avoid the "godly sorrow" (v.11) of repentance but earnestly desire the full benefit of its work in me towards "perfecting holiness" (v.1). I will not bail before the work of God in me or between me an those in the messianic community is complete. I welcome the judgement that "comes first to house of the Lord" because of the blessing I've experienced repeatedly from right response to it. I fear much more the "sorrow of the world" (v.10) than "godly sorrow" (v.11) knowing the grace and healing of "repentance without regret" (v.10).
My Prayer: Father, I desire the fullness of your promises (6:16-18). Cleanse me through godly sorrow and repentance to purity both in flesh and spirit (v.1). Cause me to desire Your "perfecting holiness" (v.1) with "earnestness, longing, and zeal" (v.11).
2 Corinthians 8
God is generous beyond measure: God's great generosity of grace, if gratefully engaged, makes those who honour Him generous also, so bringing God further glory. It is Christ who first showed us generosity in His incarnation and the cross (v.9) that we, in the abundance of what we graciously received, would be generous also, transformed by the gift of God in Christ and in His suffering.
Abounding in joy and in affliction: Even in affliction I can have joy from outside my circumstance, a joy which overflows into liberality and generosity of spirit (v.2). In fact, the Lord would have me abound in everything; faith, knowledge, earnestness, loving, giving (v.7).
We give freely, first of ourselves to the Lord: Giving is always voluntarily, giving ourselves first to the Lord (v.5), then giving ourselves to those in need in proportion to what we have (v.3). This process of giving as spiritual response to the generosity of God in Christ (v.9) is repeatedly called a "gracious work" (v.6, 7, 19).
Equality: This "gracious work" gives benefit now in one direction, then perhaps, according to need, in the reverse or another direction - that there would be no want but mutual love and equality (v.14-15).
Personal Application: I will spill over, give freely, faith, so encouraging others to have faith; love, so encouraging others to love; earnestness, so encouraging others to be earnest; material goods, so encouraging others to give freely of material goods.
My Prayer: Father, Your riches - in creation and in grace - when we were rebels and purposely wanderers, ignoring You - astounds and humbles me. Your grace brings me to worship and to desire to be like You. Lord, may it be so. May I reflect You in grace and generosity then first of all.
2 Corinthians 9
We show our love for God and trust in Him by giving freely as He as given. As we express His character in this way, He blesses us with yet more to enable us to bless others with yet more.
Value of a giving plan: Paul affirms preparing to give (v.2, 7) followed by giving (v.5, 13). While there is no shortage of need, need alone does not result in giving. Paul affirms a plan, implemented.
Heart of the giver: Our heart is under our control so that we can do as we purpose to do. We should never pressure anyone to give, in which case it would not be a gift. Rather a freely given gift brings cheer to the giver (v.7).
Giving as seed and harvest: Giving is a seed (v.6) which bears fruit. This harvest includes 1.) blessing to the person whose need is met and 2.) further resource for the giver (v.10), both to meet his/her need and to supply greater generosity in the future.
Thanksgiving: is directed to God, both in the giver and in the one who receives. In both thanksgiving is the overflow (v.11-12).
The Abundance of God: From the fountain of the heart of God, in the full and free forgiveness of the cross, flows continually more, in ways Paul struggles to express (v.10ff). Because of this, however abundantly we may give, there remains and is given, sufficient, both to do and give more, as good deeds reflecting expressing the heart of God. The purpose of God's abundant blessings is that I might have not only enough but "abundance for every good deed" v.8:
"God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed…"
Personal Application: I will grow in trust of God to provide by giving freely, without first thought of my own need, which will be provided by God. I will 1.) have a giving plan and 2.) carry money to give spontaneously beyond any plan.
My Prayer: Lord, give me a heart like yours, who though rich, became poor for me. Lord, enable me to trust You like that so I would trust You to give to others as You have given to me.
2 Corinthians 10
Meekness: (v.1) is not weakness but strength, given by God, exercising self-restraint. Meekness comes from walking in the Spirit. Power to control others can be drawn from walking in the flesh (sarx) but this temptation is to be rejected.
Spiritual authority: God is the source of our authority in spiritual warfare over spirits who set themselves up against Christ (v.5). Satan's weapons and strongholds include "ignorance, prejudices, beloved lusts, carnal reasonings and proud conceits by which Satan keeps men as his own property" (Matthew Henry). The Word of God pulls down these strongholds as we take every thought captive to serve in obedience to Christ (v.5).
Most challenging and critical of these truths are to take every thought within me (including self-talk) captive to the obedience of Christ. If I am not thinking right and believing rightly in regard to myself, to spiritual opposition and regarding Christ's approval of me - I am at sea.
Debate about authority: The question is important not because of ego or personality preferences but because the very Gospel is at stake. Paul was appointed apostle by Christ at his conversion (Acts 26:16-18). Authority comes not simply from asserting it (boasting v.13) or by commending oneself (v.18) but from the commendation of Christ (v.18).
Personal Application: I am in Christ. All who are in Christ have God's authority to overcome dark spiritual beings who stand in opposition to Him (v.4-5). I will take "every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (v.5). I will measure myself not by myself or others (v.12) but by God's standards. I will not commend myself but leave commendation to the Lord (v.18).
My Prayer: Father, may my confidence only be in You, both to overcome spiritual opposition and when I stand before You justified and approved only in Christ. I dare not have confidence in my flesh or any supposed human achievement. It's You Lord, alone that I trust.
2 Corinthians 11
Paul's motivation: Paul envisioned the goal of his church planting mission to be the privilege of presenting to Christ, His bride, redeemed and made spotless by His shed blood, utterly devoted to the Savior (v.2). This was worth all the work and hardship and resistance and suffering Paul faced (v.24-29).
Paul's suffering: Christ's mission from heaven to earth involved voluntary submission to suffering, both for us and for the world, that we might be saved. Suffering as we obey Christ appears inevitable, both physically (v.23-27) and spiritually (v.28). As this was true for Paul it is likely to be the experience of all Christ's disciples who share in advancing His saving mission to the world.
Paul's opponents: To turn aside from devotion to Christ will inevitably involve for those who turn away, as was the case for Adam and Eve, the experience of being deceived (v.3) because there is no other Gospel (v.4). The issue in discerning truth is not "who is the most skilled speaker?" (v.6) or "who presents the most impressive bearing of authority?" but "who is a servant of Christ?" (v.23). This involves both the message, which is in alignment with Christ, and a demonstration of His character (v.20.
Let us compare ourselves not with each other but with Christ. Suffering and hardship may not be guaranteed but is certainly likely among those who serve. This may even involve having our motives misjudged or being criticized unjustly while pouring ourselves out for others. Yet those who are deceived will suffer incomparably more under the dominion of Satan.
Personal Application: I will not complain when busy, weary or overextended in the service of Christ. I will suffer, if need be, hardship or death in the process. My service of people is but an expression of my service of Christ. I will feel or tolerate no self-pity in doing so but remain rooted and joyful in Christ.
My Prayer: Father,
my desire is to be rooted and joyful in Christ. I fail here so often focusing
instead on my effort, duty or sacrifices. Forgive me, "God and Father of the
Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever (v.31)."
(On a personal note on Jan 26, 2023 I see that, in the Lord's timing, the last time He brought this chapter in this rotation was the day after accepting responsibility for leading the newly formed Global Church Planting Network which appeared at the time to be the greatest challenge of my life, for which all that had gone before was preparation. This chapter came by rotation the morning after a dream of fighting a serpent which I journalled Feb.16/2009. In it, I killed the snake which was seeking to kill me but in death the snake's head continued to snap its jaws. I have indeed found the Lord's victory to be the secure and lasting one.)
2 Corinthians 12
This may be the most personal chapter in Paul's letters, both exhilarating and painful.
Glimpse of paradise: Paul's out-of-body experience (v.2-4) occurred before his first missionary journey and provided both context for his sufferings and motivation to continue nevertheless. God's glory is such that it cannot be expressed by humans (v.3-4). Many near-death-experiencers have testified similarly. Life after death is more certain than life in this world. Once we come to that realization, life in this world becomes more focused and purposeful.
In 1969 the Lord's presence came into my college dorm room in an utterly overwhelming way and Yahweh spoke His name ("I AM"). I've never been able to relate the experience to others adequately in words and did not even try for several decades. Since then, like Paul, I have never for a moment doubted God's existence, power or calling.
Physical Limitation: Paul's thorn in the flesh was given after his vision of heaven to keep Paul from assuming himself to be higher than others (v.7). The "thorn" could have been limited eyesight, migraines, malaria, epilepsy or any of our limitations. It's importance lies in Jesus' explanation (v.9a) and Paul's resulting willingness to accept weakness in order that the power of Christ dwell in him.
Marks of Calling: The essence of apostleship is to be sent with a message or task. The marks of Paul's calling include inexpressible words spoken to him in paradise (v.2-4), the ability to persevere through hardships (v.10,12), signs, wonders and miracles (v.12), seeking not what belonged to his hearers but their souls for God (v.14-15).
The eternal fruit Paul seeks: Paul is concerned that when he visits he may be humiliated to find the Corinthians still unconverted (v.20) and unrepentant of their pagan ways (v.21). This is not what Paul wishes or what Paul believes the Corinthians wish (v.20). There is limited time to turn wholly to Christ.
"I will gladly spend and be expended for your souls." (v.15)
Personal Application: I will spend and be expended for that fruit that remains; the souls (v.15) of those I know and love and those souls I hardly know or will never know in this life. In this pursuit we can be content in hardship when we know the grace and power of Christ. We can be weak in ourselves when Christ is strong in us (v.10). I stand in weakness empowered by the ineffable.
"And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness." (v.9)
My Prayer: Lord, how can I express Your Glory? Even the 'tongues of angels' (I Cor. 13:1) fall short. Yet, Lord, show me Your Glory!
2 Corinthians 13
Paul's Third Visit: Paul's first visit is recorded in Acts 18:1, his second 'painful' visit referred to in 2 Cor. 2:1. The purpose of this letter is reconciliation. Yes Paul does not know if his effort will be successful, Paul is not even sure the Corinthians are yet even Christians. Therefore he concludes with three emphases.
1. The Possible Necessity of Church Discipline: If sin and unholy behavior continues without repentance, church discipline must take place, beginning with a trial including witnesses (v.1) to determine the truth.
2. The Crucial Test: Is Christ indeed in you? (v. 5) Paul does not know if he is relating to those who are in Christ or with those who are yet unregenerate. The Corinthians want to test whether or not Paul is an apostle. Paul wants to determine if the Corinthians are Christians.
3.) The Power of God: Jesus was crucified in weakness but raised by the power of God (v.4). Likewise, God is complete and makes those who are in Christ complete (v.9).
Because of Christ in me (v.5), though I am weak in the flesh, the power of God is given me (v.4) that I may do right (v.7), living the truth of Christ (v.8), strong and complete (v.9) in Him.
There is no world faith today with the richness of vision for the human being restored to God's perfection - not absorbed into God or kept a great distance from God, but maintaining personhood - being made like Him, as is given in Christ by the Gospel.
A Hopeful Closing: Paul ends on a note of hope, urging Godly, Spirit-filled life in community (v.11-12), greeting the Corinthians in behalf of all who are in Christ (v.13). Paul closes with a clear witness to the Trinity who is the source of our hope and salvation (v.14).
Personal Application: In Christ I am complete. Therefore I will rejoice in Him (v.11) with steady heart, eye and faith in all circumstances, including opposition and overly busy days.
My Prayer: Lord, help me understand and experience what it means to be complete in You; a fully human person, created in Your image and now being restored in the glorious redemption that is in Christ Jesus.