Comfort / Encouragement from Second Corinthians

Chapter 1
(2 Corinthians 1:1-2) - Greetings to the church
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4) - The God of all Comfort
(2 Corinthians 1:5-7) - Sharers in Sufferings and Comfort
(2 Corinthians 1:8-10) - Learning through Suffering
(2 Corinthians 1:10-11) - Hope and Prayers
(2 Corinthians 1:12) - Paul's Beginning Defense
(2 Corinthians 1:13-17) - Paul - An Open Book
(2 Corinthians 1:17-19) - Vacillation of Purpose?
(2 Corinthians 1:20-21) - Amen to the Glory of God
(2 Corinthians 1:21-22) - What God Does
(2 Corinthians 1:23-24; 2:1) - To Spare You

Chapter 2
(2 Corinthians 2:2-4) - Anguish of Heart
(2 Corinthians 2:5-7) - Accepting the Repentant
(2 Corinthians 2:8-11) - Love and Forgiveness
(2 Corinthians 2:11-14) - No Rest for Paul's Spirit
(2 Corinthians 2:14-16) - Which Aroma Will it Be?
(2 Corinthians 2:17) - Peddling the Word?

Chapter 3
(2 Corinthians 3:1-3) - Letter of Commendation
(2 Corinthians 3:3-4) - Written by the Spirit
(2 Corinthians 3:5-6) - Servants of the New Covenant
(2 Corinthians 3:7-11) - Letter Kills - Spirit Gives Life
(2 Corinthians 3:11-13) - Reason for Boldness?
(2 Corinthians 3:13-16) - What is Fading Away
(2 Corinthians 3:17-18) - With Unveiled Face
(2 Corinthians 3:18) - From Glory to Glory

Chapter 4
(2 Corinthians 4:1-2) - This Mystery of the new covenant
(2 Corinthians 4:3-4) - What the god of this world does
(2 Corinthians 4:4-6) - Glory in the face of Christ
(2 Corinthians 4:6) - Physical Creation to the New Creation
(2 Corinthians 4:7) - Treasure in Chipped Pottery
(2 Corinthians 4:8-10) - Power to Overcome
(2 Corinthians 4:10-11) - Life of Jesus Manifested
(2 Corinthians 4:12-15) - Bringing Others to Life
(2 Corinthians 4:16-18) - Consciousness in the Inner Man

Chapter 5
(2 Corinthians 5:1-5) - This Old House
(2 Corinthians 5:6-8) - Of Good Courage
(2 Corinthians 5:9-10) - Right Ambition
(2 Corinthians 5:11-12) - Persuading Men
(2 Corinthians 5:13-15) - Crazy for Christ?
(2 Corinthians 5:16-17) - Basis for the New Creation
(2 Corinthians 5:16-17) - Power of the New Creation
(2 Corinthians 5:18-21) - Comments about Reconciliation
(2 Corinthians 5:20-21) - Ambassadors for Christ

Chapter 6
(2 Corinthians 6:1-2) - Begging Extended to Urging
(2 Corinthians 6:3-4) - What it Takes
(2 Corinthians 6:5-6) - The List Goes On
(2 Corinthians 6:7-9) - And the List Goes On
(2 Corinthians 6:9-10) - Finishing with a Crescendo
(2 Corinthians 6:11-13) - Openness to the Corinthians
(2 Corinthians 6:14-16) - Need for Serious Separation
(2 Corinthians 6:16-18) - We are the Temple of God

Chapter 7
(2 Corinthians 7:1) - Perfecting Holiness
(2 Corinthians 7:2-4) - Confidence in The Brethren
(2 Corinthians 7:5-7) - Returning to Previous Concern
(2 Corinthians 7:7-9) - Getting To Repentance
(2 Corinthians 7:10) - Changing the way of thinking
(2 Corinthians 7:11-13) - Fruit of Repentance
(2 Corinthians 7:13-16) - Increased Confidence

Chapter 8
(2 Corinthians 8:1-5) - Special Offering
(2 Corinthians 8:6-7) - Abound in this Gracious Work
(2 Corinthians 8:8-11) - Poverty and Riches
(2 Corinthians 8:12-15) - By Way of Equality
(2 Corinthians 8:16-19; 22-23) - Earnestness and Honesty
(2 Corinthians 8:19-21; 24) - Honorable in the Sight of All

Chapter 9
(2 Corinthians 9:1-5) - Boasting about the Gift
(2 Corinthians 9:5-7) - Sowing and Reaping
(2 Corinthians 9:8-9) - Abundance for Every Good Deed
(2 Corinthians 9:10-12) - God's Multiplier
(2 Corinthians 9:13-15) - Proof of Ministry

Chapter 10
(2 Corinthians 10:1-2) - Beginning of Paul's Defense
(2 Corinthians 10:3-5) - Divinely Powerful Weapons
(2 Corinthians 10:3-5) - Destroying Speculations
(2 Corinthians 10:06) - Taking Every Thought Captive
(2 Corinthians 10:06-07) - Punishing Disobedience
(2 Corinthians 10:08-11) - What You See Is What You Get
(2 Corinthians 10:12-14,18) - Actions Speak Louder Than Words
(2 Corinthians 10:14-17) - Boasting in the Lord

Chapter 11
(2 Corinthians 11:1-3) - Jealous with a Godly Jealousy
(2 Corinthians 11:4) - Preaching Another Jesus
(2 Corinthians 11:5-8) - Not an Inferior Apostleship
(2 Corinthians 11:7-12) - Paul's Handling of Finances
(2 Corinthians 11:13-15) - Deceitful Workers
(2 Corinthians 11:16-21) - Bearing with Paul
(2 Corinthians 11:21-23) - Paul's Trials
(2 Corinthians 11:24-29) - More of Paul's Tribulations
(2 Corinthians 11:30-12:1) - Further Appeal and Recollection

Chapter 12
(2 Corinthians 11:30-12:1) - Further Appeal and Recollection
(2 Corinthians 12:2-5) - Caught up to Paradise?
(2 Corinthians 12:6-9) - The Thorn in the Flesh
(2 Corinthians 12:9-10) - Power is Perfected in Weakness
(2 Corinthians 12:11-12) - I Should Have Been Commended
(2 Corinthians 12:13-15) - Reaffirming His Love
(2 Corinthians 12:16-19) - Some Upbuilding
(2 Corinthians 12:20-21) - “I Am Afraid”

Chapter 13
(2 Corinthians 13:01-03) - Confirming Every Fact
(2 Corinthians 13:04) - Weakness vs. Power
(2 Corinthians 13:05-06) - Run This Test!
(2 Corinthians 13:07-10) - For the Truth
(2 Corinthians 13:11-13) - Coming to a Close
(2 Corinthians 13:14) - Weakness vs. Power - Part 2

Greetings to the Church

The Christian life is often compared to a long race or a challenging journey. As Jesus discussed His second coming, He spoke of a slave that did not have the inner strength to stay faithful until his lord arrived. "If that evil slave says in his heart, My master is not coming for a long time, and shall begin to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know" (Matthew 24:48-50). With that illustration as a base, He went on to tell the parable of the ten virgins, five of whom were foolish and five of whom were wise enough to prepare for a long wait for the bridegroom's return. The exhortation, of course, is for the Christian to be prepared for whatever challenges come in his life, and to be faithful until his physical death or until the Lord's return. Early on, this is one of the themes of the book of second Corinthians.

To these brethren, the apostle gives a fairly standard greeting: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:2). These words are more than just a mumbled greeting; they are actually a prayer that God's magnificent grace and peace that passes understanding might be granted to each individual within the purview of this epistle.

Paul was tremendously concerned about the church in Corinth, and in this letter is doing his Holy Spirit-inspired best to keep this congregation on track and the saint’s salvation intact. Modern Saints would do well to heed the contents of this powerful and motivating epistle.

The God of all Comfort

So, who could use some encouragement? Saints in the first century, just as modern brethren, faced all kinds of challenges in their daily walk as they sought to serve the Lord in each of their congregations. They needed real encouragement, or as often translated, comfort. God, then, through the Holy Spirit and the apostle Paul - intensely interested in the spiritual success of these brethren - offered them this encouragement. This is not mere "hype," empty encouragement and false hope. This is the real comfort that comes from an all powerful God, the God who also knows how many hairs are on the head of each person (He knows the details of our lives, in other words), the God who understands and is able to give His saints the encouragement they seriously need.

Therefore, since the brethren often suffer intensely for the faith, it is good for them to know that the God whom they cannot see understands their suffering, and is indeed able to comfort and encourage them - if they will pay attention to what is written. God's mercies are great, and His comfort is great. May each one found in Christ Jesus participate in His mercies, and may each be strengthened through God's tremendous comfort!

Sharers in Sufferings and Comfort

God can supply abundance whenever and wherever He chooses to do so. The Almighty, according to His own word, makes the earth 'bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater" (Isaiah 55:10). This abundance of the earth is not the only abundance; the point to which God is pointing is the distribution of His word. "So shall My word be," said He, "which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11). The abundant harvest of eternal souls is God's great purpose. But there are also some "abundances" which those who participate in the gospel share as well.

The battle for the soul is intense, but Paul expressed his hopeful confidence in the eternity of the brethren. "Our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers in our sufferings, so you also are sharers in our comfort" (2 Corinthians 1:7). The principle is the same, whether it be Christ, whether it be Paul, or whether it be the saint of God: first the cross, then the crown; first the suffering, then the comfort or encouragement. May modern saints be spiritually geared up so that they may endure their suffering, and share their encouragement.

Learning through Suffering

What the Christian must remember is that the eternal Father is working an eternal plan. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, His ways are higher than our ways. 'Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" is Paul's exclamation. "How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!" (Romans 11:33). One of the most unfathomable aspects of God's ways is how He uses suffering as a vehicle for His overall plan. In fact, one of the main queries of the atheist concerns how a "good" God could allow "bad" things like suffering to occur. (Side note: an atheist, if he is trying to be at all consistent in his reasoning processes, cannot admit that "bad" things happen, because the very concept of "good versus bad" requires an outside standard giver [God] to define what is good or bad!) But God uses suffering to forward His purpose, including the suffering of His Son, Jesus Christ.

What lessons can the modern saint learn from this discourse? Certainly it is clear that suffering is something that God allows the saint to experience as part of his learning to be obedient to the Father in all things. In addition, through extreme suffering, the disciple of Christ learns to trust in God, to trust Him who raises the dead. If the individual Christian can learn to trust in the power of God to raise him from the dead, or to deliver him from what appears to be certain death, then the saint can trust God for all lesser things also. Hence it is written: "we are fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, in order that we may also be glorified with Him' (Romans 8:17).

Hope and Prayers

The situation in Ephesus must have been beyond description. The words the apostle Paul uses to describe the conditions of him and his fellow preachers and teachers give us a glimpse of the incredible "affliction" that they endured, and these words were coming from a man who was no stranger to trials and persecutions. "Burdened excessively," he relates, "beyond our strength." "We despaired even of life," he superadds, and "we had the sentence of death within ourselves." He and those with him were pushed to the brink, to the edge of what those who still walk in a fleshly body can bear. In the process, even he learned to "trust in God, who raises the dead."

In God's divine economy, He somehow pays attention to the prayers of faithful saints, and they have a positive impact on the deliverance of His "favored" preachers and teachers, as well as Saints imprisoned for their faith. He can, and will, grant deliverance until such time as He decides that it is time for the Christian to make his "departure" from the earthly realm. Then the "hope of the resurrection of the righteous" kicks in, and God's sure word never fails to accomplish its purpose!

Paul's Beginning Defense

The apostle Paul had significant enemies inside the congregation at Corinth. These enemies attacked him on a personal basis, ranging from castigating his personal appearance to challenging his apostleship. The purpose of such attacks was ultimately to destroy the doctrine Paul preached, and to hinder his authority to correct and discipline. | His enemies within the local body are unnamed, but some of them came from the ranks of those who wanted to meld the teachings of Christ with Greek philosophy. This, of course, would have catapulted the false teachers into positions of influence and authority. More than in any other epistle, the apostle deems it necessary to face these challenges, and, when necessary, defend his apostleship. Modern saints would do well to consider the nature of the challenges, and carefully to note the divine responses.

The apostle Paul is often insistent that he accomplished what he did only by the grace of God; he carried out his responsibilities, but he is always willing to acknowledge that the major work was the result of God's grace. The apostle's conscience is clean in regard to his conduct in his contact with the world in order to reach the lost; but he is especially confident in his interaction with the brethren, for herein he had closer and more frequent communication. Thus he is ready to deal with issues inside the congregation.

Paul - An Open Book

As an exponent of the gospel, part of Paul's work involved calling people to repentance. Outside the church, he would be exposed to being ridiculed, threatened, run out of town, or incarcerated. Inside the church, his life would put under microscopic examination, because even Saints - when they are feeling pressure to upgrade their performance - often try to find fault with the person who calling them upward. Hence, the details of elders, teachers', and preachers' lives can often undergo a level of scrutiny that others would not experience. The apostle lets the congregation in Corinth know he is ready for such probing, "Our proud confidence is this," he asserts, "the testimony of our conscience." He is open to all challenges.

The language of the epistle here is important. One of the reasons for its importance is that it shows that this is a real letter, and not something made up by someone pretending to be an inspired author. Herein Paul is defending the legitimacy of his sincerity in pointing out in a very high level and spiritual way that his plans for being in Corinth did not work out. "Therefore," he points out to his potential critics, "I was not vacillating when I intended to do this, was I?" (2 Corinthians 1:17). And it also shows the clear difficulties of travel and communication that God allowed even His apostles to experience in the first century. This, of course, has been the condition of the world until extremely recent modern times. These records help us moderns, who can communicate nearly instantaneously with anyone in the world and who can travel anywhere on earth in two days, to have a glimpse of what it was like in not-so-ancient times!

Vacillation of Purpose?

One of the key ingredients in a productive and successful life is to make sure that goals and activities line up in a forward moving line. This, of course, maximizes use of time and produces the best results with the least expenditure of effort. However ... not all things go according to the intentions of the careful planner. "The mind of man plans his way," was the observation of the sage Solomon, but the Lord directs his steps" (Proverbs 16:9). James also issued a cautionary note, stating, "You ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that." " (James 4:15). Unforeseen circumstances change the plans, and each Christian has to build some flexibility in his life or he will find himself continually frustrated because his plans are not working out. Thus, the apostle Paul, planning on coming through Corinth on his way north to Macedonia, and then stopping in again on his way south, found it advisable to change his plan due to internal issues in Corinth. "I call God as witness to my soul," is how he presents his case to the brethren, "that to spare you I came no more to Corinth" (2 Corinthians 1:23). Paul's plans changed, but he did not want the brethren to think that he is operating in an arbitrary, "wishy-washy" manner.

The apostle Paul thus is not vacillating in his interactions with the church at Corinth. The Jesus whom he serves, the Jesus whom he imitated, is all about 'yes." Hence his goal, in the sight of God, was to get to Corinth. The problem, in this case, was with the Corinthians. Paul's statement is worth re-emphasizing: "To spare you I came no more to Corinth." The "yes" that was in him was turned to "no" by the Corinthian Christians themselves. In this long explanation the apostle has undercut the criticism expected from entrenched enemies in the congregation at Corinth, and is prepared to continue to do battle over doctrinal and schismatic issues at work in that particular church.

Amen to the Glory of God

Jesus is the Creator; Jesus is the Savior. Righteous and true are His acts and judgments, and He is faithful to keep and carry out His word. "God is faithful," affirms Paul, and the result is that those who imitate Christ are faithful in their words as well. "Let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes,’ or ‘No, no,’ " was the teaching of Jesus Himself in the Sermon on the Mount, "and anything beyond these is of evil" (Matthew 5:37). Not only is the saint not to punctuate his words with epithets, but he is to make his "yes" be a "yes," and his "no" be a "no." God’s "no" is indeed a "no," but His emphasis is that He wants to say, "Yes!" The Jesus that was preached among the Corinthians by Paul and others is the One by whom all the faithful things of God come to the believers.

The promises of God are indeed "Yes" in Christ Jesus. God is the One who is for all the positives - the "Yes’s" - of earthly life as well as eternity. The apostle Paul, as a liv­ing exponent and example of those "Yes’s", is not going to be one whose "Yes" could be a "No" at the same time. Hence, when he planned to come to Corinth, that was his positive intention, and his enemies would have no ground for criticism because he had to delay his coming "to spare" the congregation his rod. He wants their repentance and his return to them to be an "Amen to the glory of God" through Christ.

What God Does

God does much more for the Christian than simply forgive his sins. It is true, of course, "that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15), and that this salvation is of inestimable value. But "the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the Beginning of the creation of God," (Revelation 3:14), has additional wonderful blessings for the faithful follower of Christ. Immersion in Jesus’ name, for example, is not only "for the forgiveness of sins" but also that each immersee might receive the indwelling Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). The apostle Paul, in writing to the brethren in Corinth, wants to remind the saints of some of the tremendous things God has done for them so that they might focus on the blessings of being in Christ rather than being selfish and fleshly minded.

"As many as may be the promises of God," the apostle had pointed out to the brethren in Corinth, "in Him they are ‘Yes!’ " The modern saint should take some time to contemplate these tremendous promises God has given to each of His children of faith, processing the weight and the eternal value of what have been listed here. The saints are: 1) established, 2) anointed, 3) sealed, and 4) given the Spirit as a pledge. There is no reason for playing silly games or thinking small!

To Spare You

The church at Corinth was divided. Some said they were "of Paul," others "of Peter," others "of Apollos," and some claimed they were "of Christ." In the midst of this division, there were those who were bringing Greek philosophy and a Greek world view into the congregation. These had positioned themselves as leaders and teachers in the congregation, and were responsible for fomenting the developing schisms - schisms that threatened the future of the local body of Christ. Hence the apostle Paul had written, "If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him." He then superadded, showing the flash of the sword of God’s word at these so-called enlightened ones, "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God" (1 Corinthians 3:17-19). Because leaders of the factions were trying to gain popularity with those who were still fleshly minded in the church, and because Greek philosophy said that the body was going to be immoral even if a person was a Christian, then "immorality of such a kind that does not exist even among the Gentiles" was allowed to persist. The apostle said that the congregation had become arrogant, allowing one of the men to have "his father’s wife" without doing anything about it. Paul had to take matters into his own hands, since the congregation would not act without his pushing them. In this discus­sion, then, he asked this question, "Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?" (1 Corinthians 4:21-5:2). Such is the setting for the follow up letter the apostle wrote to the brethren.

In this discussion, the apostle also wants to make it clear that the course each individual takes, and the course of the congregation as a whole will take, is a matter of their own free will. "Not that we lord it over your faith," is the remark he inserts for clarity, "but are work­ers with you for you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm" (2 Corinthians 1:24). He is encouraged that their faith at this point is still intact, and is making it clear that his work with them is for their joy and encouragement.

Anguish of Heart

The apostle Paul was the one who started the congregation at Corinth. He came into the city on his second missionary jour­ney, having been run out of Thessalonica and Berea in Macedonia and without knowing anyone in the area. Taking a position with a fellow tentmaker named Aquilla and his wife Priscilla, he began the initial work of converting people to Christ. When the congregation had developed sufficiently, he went on to Ephesus, then on to Judea and Antioch of Syria, from whence he had been sent out. He loved the people in Corinth, and earnestly desired the salvation of their souls and the future steadfastness of faith for the congregation. Out of this anguish of heart, he writes the words in this second epistle, calling them to true repentance and commending them for any progress they have made. Positively approaching the issues, he makes his key point: "We are workers with you for your joy."

The apostle is not throwing the words "sorrow" and "glad" around lightly. These are earnest descriptions of what he is going through on behalf of the saints at Corinth. Eternity clearly hangs in the balance for many of the brethren in Achaia; the statement that "out of much affliction and anguish of heart" show the apostle’s intense and continuing concern. That concern and those tears stand as a great example of how much modern saints should care for the souls of the lost and the continuing faithfulness of the saved.

Accepting the Repentant

It seems that this concept – that sin is tremendously destructive - is hard to grasp. Over and over again mankind plunges into its depths and continues to pay the price of ruined lives and destroyed relationships, let alone the unseen cost of separation from God. Even Christians can fall into sin’s traps, as the scripture warns the saints: "Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust," was James’ com­mentary. "Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death." Having made this stern, stern warning, the elder in Jerusalem’s church added, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren" (James 1:14-16). Sin had worked deceptively and destructively in Corinth, so much so that Paul had to take matters into his own hand. Concerning the congregation’s refusal to deal with a situation wherein a man had his father’s wife, Paul had written, "I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh" (1 Corinthians 5:5). And he had superadded, "Remove the wicked man from among yourselves" (1 Corinthians 5:13). The congregation had assembled and followed Paul’s instructions, the goal being "that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."

The leadership of the congregation would really need to set the tone in welcoming back this individual. They would need to "restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, looking to themselves, lest they too be tempted" (Galatians 6:1), while at the same time intelligently monitoring the progress of the penitent, making sure that he did not fall back into the same proclivities. God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

Love and Forgiveness

God desires that His children have their minds set on the things of the Spirit. But it can happen that the disciple ends up having his mind set on the flesh for a period of time. When such saints finally get their minds off a fleshly mindset and now have them set on the things of the Spirit, they are sometimes nearly overwhelmed by the destruction caused while their focus was wrong. In that state, their spiritual condition is tenuous, and Paul and the Holy Spirit give instructions: "You should forgive and comfort him, lest somehow such a one be overcome by excessive sorrow." The natural tendency of many is to be hesitant to associate with someone who has besmirched their own reputation, to say nothing of that of the Lord Jesus and His church. But the instructions call the believers in Christ to come out of their comfort zones, and "forgive and comfort" the penitent saint in the process of restoration. "Wherefore," pleads the apostle, "I urge you to reaffirm your love for him" (2 Corinthians 2:8).

Failure to forgive when forgiveness should be granted is falling into Satan’s trap just as much as thinking forgiveness has been granted when it hasn’t (as in following a false plan of salvation). Paul was leading by example. He was the one who initiated proceedings against the immoral man, and now - for the sakes of the brethren - he is leading by example in forgiving the same man. In this way, the full intent of the gospel can be carried out in saving the lost, conserving the saved, and restoring fellowship to those penitents who had wandered off the "strait and narrow."

No Rest for Paul’s Spirit

Later in this epistle, Paul will indicate the intense concern he has "for all the churches" (2 Corinthians 11:28). This concern is derived from Paul’s knowledge of the immensity and diversity of the battle that each saint must fight in the spiritual realm. "Our struggle," adverted Paul to the Ephesian brethren, "is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). With Satan and his entire array of demonic influences working on the church, Paul’s concern was indeed justified. He was likewise conscious that there was the possibility of saints - indeed, whole congrega­tions - be "tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming" (Ephesians 4:14). Part of that scheming would be the rejection of a wayward saint who had truly repented and wanted to come back to the Lord. Hence cometh the instructions to the congregation at Corinth, "in order that no advantage be take of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes" (2 Corinthians 2:11).

The apostle Paul really cared deeply for the eternities of the brethren in Corinth. It was to communicate this love and concern that he shared some personal details of his having "no rest" for his spirit as he earnestly waited for positive news from Titus. Hopefully they listened.

Which Aroma Will it Be?

Studies have shown that the deepest embedded memories in a person’s life are often associated with the sense of smell. The fragrance of special flower at a wedding, the aroma of dump­lings cooking on a wood stove, the fresh scent of the air after the first shower following a long dry spell ... these all evoke the pictures and events surrounding those times. It is also important to remember that the Lord designed the sense of smell - not only the organs designed to be sensors for odors, and the nerves for their transmission, but also the way the brain itself processes those. A rose smells sweet because of the brain’s way of handling the incoming nerve impulses, and a latrine has its unpleasant odors for the same reason. Most people, without any sort of human programming, tend to perceive the same types of scents as savory, and they likewise tend to categorize others as fetid. The apostle Paul is going to use this nearly universal human experience to begin a fairly long, almost "stream consciousness," sidebar to his discussion on his concern for the Corinthians until he heard from Titus.

Jesus had warned disciples that "the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it" (Matthew 7:14). Most people, then, are going to have a poor or hostile view of those who proclaim and teach the gospel, regarding them as worthy of the scrap heap. But for those who hear and obey the word of God, those who preach and teach are highly regarded, and appreciated for their knowledge, their work, and their sacrifices for the sake of Christ and redemption of the lost. For the first, then, proclaimers of the word are an "aroma from death to death"; for the second, an "aroma from life to life." In either case, because of the gravity of what is at stake, "who is adequate for these things?" (2 Corinthians 2:16)

Peddling the Word?

It is no secret that greed is a motive for those who would claim to preach the word of God. Peter had warned that "there will be false teachers among you." Their appeal would be "sen­suality" in one form or another, "and in their greed," said the apostle, "they will exploit you with false words" (2 Peter 2:1-2). These false teachers and preachers would seem to be a sweet fra­grance to those who are perishing because they would be hear­ing what they want to hear. But those who preach the gospel as now recorded in scripture are not so regarded. As Paul discussed the idea of false preachers twisting or perverting the gospel, of himself he said, "For am I now seeking the favor of men or of God? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of God" (Galatians 1:10). It is clear throughout the teachings of the New Testament writings that anyone whose preaching and teaching pleases God is not going to be popular with the major segment of the human population. This truth will continue to be a challenge operating within the church of the living God, and in the comparatively near neighborhood of denominational preachments and doctrines.

"We are a fragrance of Christ to God," was his overriding comment. Ultimately, whether that fragrance to those who would not believe was an aroma from death to death, or whether that fragrance was regarded as the sweet aroma from life to life among the sons of men, what counted was his fragrance to God. Paul was going to continue to take his own advice and "preach the word, in season and out of season." Not an ear-tickler, or a crowd-pleaser, the apostle was sincerely going to speak "the truth in love." If he was able to save some, he praised God. If he needed to shake the dust off his feet, he did that also. But he preached the truth!

Letter of Commendation

A Jewish couple, usually listed as Priscilla and Aquila, hosted Paul when he had first come to Corinth because Paul was a tentmaker by trade and they worked together. The cou­ple became very knowledgeable Christians, and traveled to Ephesus with Paul when he left Corinth. The apostle then left this couple in Ephesus to lay the groundwork for his preach­ing and teaching ministry when he returned. While Priscilla and Aquila were in Ephesus, a man named Apollos came into the synagogue, having origins in Alexandria, Egypt. He knew the story of Jesus accurately but only knew about John’s im­mersion, not knowing about immersion in Jesus’ name. This couple took Apollos aside and "explained to him the way of God more accurately" (Acts 18:26). Presumably Apollos was properly immersed, and sub­sequently they encouraged him to go to Corinth to preach. "And when he wanted to go across to Achaia," was Luke’s record of the events, "the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he arrived, he helped greatly those who had believed through grace" (Acts 18:27). The congregation in Corinth did not know Apollos, so he needed a letter from trusted brethren recommending him. Not so with Paul!

Ultimately, the congregation at Corinth was a representation of the success of the gos­pel of Jesus, and a credit to Christ Himself. You are, says the apostle, "being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us" (2 Corinthians 3:3). Can human effort alone cause another to be born again? Can human labors by themselves have even one person’s sins forgiven, or put the Spirit within the new convert? On a broad scale, who determines where the gospel itself will go, and where it will be positively received? "For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent," declares the Lord, "and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep quiet, until her righteousness goes forth like brightness and her salvation like a torch that is burning" (Isaiah 62:1). It is Jesus the Christ who accomplishes all this. Hence, of the Corinthians Paul emphasizes, "You are a letter of Christ."

Written by the Spirit

The Law of Moses constitutes a significant portion of the vol­ume of the sacred writings moderns term "the Bible." In spite of its volume, however, the Law or Old Testament is not the signifi­cant thrust of the scriptures. That which constitutes the "new cov­enant" or "the faith of Christ"—which centers around what Christ accomplished through the cross and in His ascension—is rightly the focus of the inspired word of God. "Therefore let no one act as your judge," the apostle Paul instructed the congregation at Colossae, "in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day." In other words, the Colossian disciples of Christ were not to allow the Judaizers of their day to foist the practices of the Old Covenant upon them. The instruction continues, wherein the apostle points out that these "things are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ" (Colossians 2:16-17). This is a statement to ponder over: the substance belongs to Christ! Thus the Corinthian brethren were not products of the Law, but "a letter of Christ."

Would Paul then need a letter of commendation to the church at Corinth? The Corinthian Christians themselves being Paul’s letter, none other was needed. But this "letter of Christ, cared for by us" was actually written by the Spirit of the living God! Thus, the information coming in this epistle, has the Spirit’s backing. "And such confidence we have through Christ toward God" (2 Corinthians 3:4). The brethren would be wise to "listen up!"

Servants of the New Covenant

The apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, often exposited the superiority of the new covenant over the old. The old covenant, or old will, was temporary, and was set aside when the new cov­enant took effect. With this the writer of Hebrews agrees, working off the Old Testament quotation wherein Jesus spoke aforetime by the prophet and psalmist David: "Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (in the scroll of the book it is written of me) to do Your will, O God.’" (Hebrews 10:7). The inspired writer of the epistle to the Hebrew brethren then noted, "He takes away the first in order to establish the second." Then he superadded, for clarity and expansion, "By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:9-10). To be, then, a promul­gator, expositor, and servant of this will—or covenant—would be a high honor indeed.

The fact that Paul regarded himself as a servant of the new covenant is interesting. Normal­ly, people don’t think of themselves as servants of concepts. He had written, in his first epistle, "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Corinthians 4:1). There was a type of servanthood connected with the transmission of the truthfulness of the mysteries, or the revealed secrets of God. As a servant, then, of the new covenant, the apostle is making it clear that this covenant is "not of the letter, but of the Spirit." It is interesting that another name for the new covenant would be the covenant of the Spirit. The conceptual differences between the covenant of the Spirit and that which was "of the letter"—the Law of Moses—are immense. The fact that Paul was made adequate as a servant of the new cov­enant, with its emphasis on who the Spirit is and what He does, is evident in the inspired records of the New Testament writings. If Paul had not stood for the covenant of the Spirit, as he detailed in the epistle to the Galatians, the church as a whole would probably have been gone from the surface of the earth forever.

Letter Kills - Spirit Gives Life

"The Law," inculcated the apostle Paul, "is holy, and the commandment is righteous and holy and good" (Romans 7:12). If the Law and its associated commandments are good, how is it that the Law failed? The problem is sin and the carnal desires of mankind. "Sin," explained the apostle, "taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me" (Romans 7:10). The Law only acts when it is broken; and in breaking the Law by violating one of the commandments, the individual is put to death spiritually. The apostle Paul, servant of the new covenant and steward of the mysteries of God con­tained therein, would thus call the old covenant—which was the covenant "of the letter," having come "in letters engraved on stones"—the covenant of death. By contrast, the "covenant of the Spirit" is also the covenant of life.

The superlative nature of the new covenant continues to be expounded upon by the apostle. "For if the ministry of condemnation has glory," speaks Paul of said Law, "how much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory?" The righteousness of God only comes to those who are indwelt by the Spirit of God; thus the expression "the ministry of righteousness." The apostle superadds, "For indeed what had glory [the Law], in this case has no glory on account of the glory that surpasses it [the new covenant]" (2 Corinthians 3:9-10). That old covenant, with the paltry glory as compared to the brightness of the glory of the new covenant, was in fact temporary. "For if that which fades away was with glory," says Paul of that which came with the fading glory of Moses’ face, "much more that which remains is in glory" (2 Corinthians 3:11). The new covenant is eternal, and comes with a glory much more powerful than that which shone in Moses’ face!

Reason for Boldness

Moses was a bold man. He had some boldness when he struck down the Egyptian slave driver and buried him in the sand, but he had to flee to the land of Midian for forty years. In that time, he may have lost what boldness he had; when told to go to Egypt, his response to God was, "Please, Lord, now send the message by whomever You will" [meaning "send the mes­sage by somebody else"] (Exodus 2:13). But step by step God emboldened Moses, and he was able to stand before Pharaoh as the one in control of the situation—unmoved and unthreatened by Pharoah’s power or ragings. Later, from Mt. Sinai on through the travels in the wilderness, Moses had to stand almost single-handedly before the rebellious sons of Israel. It was with the strength of the Lord and with boldness that he repeatedly, with his face shining with the fading glory, delivered the suc­ceeding sections of the Law to Israel.

But the tie-in to glory is not simply the glory to be attained at the resurrection on the last day. "We use great boldness in our speech," adverts the apostle, "and are not as Moses, who used to put a veil over his face" (2 Corinthians 3:13). By great contrast, "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" (2 Corinthians 3:18). The Christian has glory now, glory seen in the shining face of Christ, and this glory is the source of strength and courage in en­abling the saint to use great boldness in his speech. This is part of the covenant of the Spirit; the glory that is seen with the unveiled face is in the realm of faith, as revealed by the word of God. What a blessing it is for modern disciples of Christ to be able to operate under the terms of the new and unfading covenant, the faith of Christ!

What is Fading Away

The Old Covenant, with its ten core commandments being thundered from Sinai, seemed on the surface to be very perma­nent. But with more information coming through the succeed­ing revelation from God in the writings of the New Covenant, it becomes clear that the Old was designed from the beginning to be temporary. "There is a setting aside of the former command­ment...," said Hebrews’ author, "for the Law made nothing per­fect" (Hebrews 7:18-19). The Law, with its statutes, ordinances, and commandments, was necessary because it was the means by which God showed Israel its sinfulness and hence its need for a Savior. It also contained the prophecies, foreshadows, and types so criti­cal in establishing the truthfulness of God’s coming to earth as a Man—to die by crucifixion as the sacrifice, to be raised from the dead and viewed by witnesses, and to ascend to glory as High Priest and King. But from the beginning, the Law was designed to fade away.

The good news is that "whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." (2 Corinthians 3:16) When­ever a person turns to the Lord in immersion, his inner man beholds the glory of the Lord, and he now participates in the unfading, permanent, eternal covenant. With the veil now removed, he can see what God has always wanted His children to see.

With Unveiled Face

Abraham dispatched a trusted servant to go back to his people and get a wife for his son Isaac. Rebekah agreed to go with the servant, and undoubtedly with high hopes enjoyed the camel caravan from Paddam-Aram to the area that would become the Promised Land. As the troupe approached the locality of Isaac, Rebekah asked who the man in the field was. When the response was that the man was the master (Isaac), "she took a veil and covered herself" (Genesis 24:65). Until the man and wife were united, there was a veil between them. While there is no direct New Testament reference back to this, it is interesting that until a person is united with Christ in immersion, there is a veil of separation between that individual and Christ.

Paul uses the expression "beholding as in a mirror." In 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, as the apostle talked about the gifts of the Spirit such as special knowledge, tongues or foreign languages, or prophesying, he spoke of those as passing away in connection with the coming of "the perfect thing." The perfect or complete thing, was in this case the completed word of God, which came into existence as the apostle John wrote his last contributions and as the gifts of the Spirit—given through the laying on the apostles’ hands—died out. The completed New Testament writings are thus referred to as a mirror into which a person could see clearly, as contrasted to Paul who at the time of 1 Corinthians’ writing could only see somewhat unclearly. The mirror, then, that shows clearly the "glory of the Lord" is the completed New Testament. Only those with "unveiled face" can behold that glory, and only they will be transformed in the inner man.

From Glory to Glory

God goes to a lot of work to define the word "glory." Glory in a general sense has to do with brightness or shiningness. By exten­sion it refers to honor heaped upon an individual, drawn from the idea that the floodlights of a stage would draw attention to the actor being called back for another curtain call to the standing ovation of an audience, or the spotlight directing the focus of the throng in the theater on the solo portions of a chorale performance. But the Father used the whole spectacle of Jesus, including His crucifixion and bodily resurrection, to give glory a specific or spe­cialized meaning. That meaning is the brightness of the God who is light. Jesus, say the scriptures, "is the radiance of [the Father’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature" (Hebrews 1:3).

In all phases of the transformation, it is the Spirit who is accomplishing the work. "Glory now" is the result of the transforming work of the Spirit in the inner man, and "glory then" will also be the result of the transforming work of the Spirit. The new covenant really is "the covenant of the Spirit"!

This Mystery of the new covenant

The word of God puts pressure on mankind. The very concept of repentance requires that every human being be moved out of his comfort zone and coming on over into the "newness of life" being offered by the gospel of God. Human nature tends to resist change, especially if said change is going to require effort. Hence God uses the maximum positive/negative gradient to effect change in men. He points out that if they don’t change, the eternal hellfire awaits; or if they are willing to walk in His ways, the glories of a magnificent heaven are the reward. God, in His gracious and merciful manner, tenders His offer in a gentlemanly way, bringing the message to mankind through messengers who themselves have shared in the human experience. The intellectual and far reaching faith concepts thus come to the lost with a human touch. But in spite of the tenderness of the loving Father, mankind tends to become angry, and they vent their wrath over the supposed injustice of God on those who carry the message. This is one of the reasons apostolic messengers such as Paul offer themselves as examples of how the hostility should be handled.

Paul has put his statements out on the table, ready for examination of any who would choose to criticize him rather than listen to and process his message. Those who will preach the message of the gospel of the glory of Christ and proclaim the transforming potential embodied in the scrip­tures of this section, will face rejection and persecution from those who do not want to overcome their own personal inertia, face their sins, and walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Be imitators of Paul, as he was of Christ!

What the god of this world does

Satan is the prince of darkness, the spirit that is now work­ing in the sons of disobedience. In His long war against the Al­mighty, he has made it his mission to confuse the sons of men, to get them to worship idols (or anything other than the true worship of God), and to turn away from fellowship with Christ. All the wars waged on the physical surface of this planet, all the destructive economic policies of nations, all the confusions of denominational false teachings, all the pressures of Islam, Hin­duism, and Buddhism, all the personal and private disputes, all the forces of "the new world order" ... these are all part of the efforts of Satan, raised up against the knowledge of God revealed through Jesus Christ. Conscious of the scope of this warfare, Jesus prayed on the west side of the Kidron before He crossed to Gethsemane: "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all mankind, that to all You have given Him, He may give eternal life" (John 17:1-2). Because the glorification of Jesus - His ascension to glory - is the key mechanism in giving mankind eternal life, it is to be expected that Satan will do everything he can to attack the understand­ing of that glory.

Regardless of what point the blinding occurs—whether on one end of the spiritual spec­trum it is in failure to see that the Bible is the word of God, or whether on the other end it is an unwillingness to process the transforming power of the gospel of glory—the result is the same. The trapped man cannot see the "light of the gospel of the glory of Christ." This, then, is clearly what the entire battle is all about. This also is no mere intellectual side note; Paul and the Holy Spirit say that those who do not see this light of the gospel of the glory of Christ are perishing.

Glory in the face of Christ

The apostle John made it clear that Jesus’ purpose in com­ing to earth was to explain God, at least to those of mankind who have a desire to know Him. The foundation for believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is laid in the Old Testament writings: the law, the sacrifices, the history, the foreshadows, and the prophecies. Hence as Jesus comes into the world, the writ­ers of the gospel accounts can quote freely from those scrolls to establish the truthfulness of their records. Following Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, appearances, and ascension, the New Testa­ment writings can continue to quote from that which was read in the synagogues every Sabbath. In this way they could establish the truthfulness of their claims concerning Jesus, who now lives triumphantly in glory. Jesus is thus "the radiance of the Father’s glory, and the exact repre­sentation of His nature" (Hebrews 1:3). In this way Jesus in His glorified state is the complete revelation or explanation of the Father.

What did Paul see? What was shining? It is worth emphasizing, since it is the most im­portant saliency of the word of God: what Paul was seeing was the glory of God in the face of Christ! The old covenant came with a comparatively paltry glory shining in the face of Moses, a temporary glory; the new covenant came with a tremendously intense glory shining in the face of Christ, a permanent glory. This glory is not only seen by men such as Paul by direct revela­tion, but it is also seen in the inner man by the revelation of the written word for anyone who is truly born from above! Thus "believing is seeing."

Physical Creation to the New Creation

The human mind is engineered in such a way that it can detect patterns of obvious design as contrasted to random work­ings of nature. The intelligent design movement, for example, has had to go to great lengths to try to define how mankind in general detect the difference between human-caused carvings on the wall of a canyon as contrasted to the natural erosion marks of water. Ordinarily such efforts would not be necessary. But the refusal of the atheist/evolution crowd to recognize that life absolutely had to be structured has driven proponents of design to identify the processes which humans go through ba­sically instantaneously in recognizing the differences. The God who thus engineered the human mind to recognize the difference between design and natural randomness also ordered the human mind to recognize that the patterns set in motion in old testament writings must also be products of His design. Recognition of such patterns, called types or foreshadows, also causes the honest member of the human race to conclude that God must also be the author of the scriptures just as surely as He is the designer of life.

The God who said that light was to shine in the darkness is described as now shining "in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." In the heart of the Christian—in the inner man—there really is a light shining, just as surely as there was light shining on the first day of Creation. It is not metaphorical light; it is light! "You were formerly darkness," said Paul in another place, "but now you are light in the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8). The same light of the glory of God that is shining in the face of Christ is now shining in the inner man of the Christian, and it is transforming him into the likeness of that same glory. Shine, Christian, shine!

Treasure in Chipped Pottery

Mankind has always had a tendency to take too much credit for its accomplishments, and generally refuses to recognize the role and power of God. King Nebuchadnezzar, of Babylonian fame, is a good example. Although warned by God in a vision in­terpreted by Daniel, the king stepped over the line. "Is this not Babylon the great," he arrogantly reflected, "which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?" (Daniel 4:30). By the decree of God, Nebu­chadnezzar lost his mind for seven seasons of time, unkempt and drenched by the dew. This was so that he would recognize that the "Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes" (Daniel 4:25). As powerful a king as was Nebuchadnezzar, his might and power were only in the physical realm. The Christian is a king in the spiritual realm and has excessively greater power than any earthly king could ever have, although it is in the realm which is unseen by the physical eye. Hence God has some provisions in place to keep such spiritual kings from exalting themselves, those who have the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ shining in their hearts.

The servants of God, like their Master the Lord Jesus, are humble. Rather than claiming credit for what was accomplished through them and making the mistake of Nebuchadnezzar, they recognize and acknowledge that what was done was done by the grace of God. They are excited that the surpassing greatness of the power should be exhibited through them as being of God, and that He get the glory!

Power to Overcome

God allowed many of the first century Christians to suf­fer greatly. The apostles, for example, underwent great persecu­tion for the faith, and—by the grace of God and the future of the church—never caved in or recanted their testimony. When mod­ern saints are in the process of establishing the truthfulness of the New Testament writings, one of the key pieces in the evidence is this: the apostles had every earthly reason to back away from their asseveration that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead but not a single one of them did! If the story of the Christ were fiction, held together by twelve or thirteen conspirators, it is almost totally un­likely that all of them would have stood firm for such a lie in the face of tremendous opposition. The record of the apostle Paul is especially interesting in this regard. At first a persecutor of Christians, he turned to the Lord and became one of the gospel’s most dedicated proponents. He, in his own words, lost everything of earthly value in becoming a disciple of Christ and in preaching that Jesus was raised from the dead. "If we have hoped in Christ in this life only," was his comment on this subject, "we are of all men most to be pitied" (1 Corinthians 15:19). It would be absolutely stupid to suffer so much and die a martyr’s death for something he knew to be a lie. Thus God, in His big plan and overarching panoramic view, allowed the apostles and other early Christians to suffer greatly to establish the truthfulness of the New Testament writings for the benefit of those weighing the testimony in the twenty-first century.

Jesus repeatedly taught that "whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it" (Mark 8:35). The modern Christian needs care­fully to process the concept that he must die to self and live totally for Christ. Living totally for Christ includes the suffering involved in carrying out in the body the dying of Jesus. Then, and only then, can the exemplary life of Jesus be manifested in the life of the saint.

Life of Jesus Manifested

The world, in its current condition, could certainly use a multiplicity of saints who would imitate the character of Jesus. Such was the intent of the Lord Himself as He laid the framework for the onrushing new covenant in His teachings presented dur­ing the "Sermon on the Mount." In simple words, He commu­nicated the grand concept: "You are the salt of the earth ... you are the light of the world ... be the sons of your Father who is in heaven ... be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mat­thew 5:13-48). The apostle Paul would, as an addendum, add his voice, exhorting the brethren, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). What is needed, then, is an exhibition of the life of Jesus to the lost world.

The tricky question is how that life of Christ is to be manifested while the saint still car­ries his mortal flesh across the surface of planet earth. When things are going well in an earthly sense for the Christian, this does not really give him a great opportunity to show the distinction between him and a positive representative of the world. It is only when the suffering comes that the distinction between the saint and the sinner will be really obvious, as the true child of God refuses to back down from his principles or twist the testimony of scriptures to alleviate his suffering. The only way the life of Jesus can ultimately be manifested is in the exhibition of the positive manner in which the saints face persecution and death.

Bringing Others to Life

It is the testimony of Jesus given by scriptures which reaches into the world and rescues the lost. The goal is to reach the truth-seekers, the ones who will carefully analyze any tes­timony and who will challenge anything that seems to be un­believable or out of order. One of the legitimate tests put to the apostles—the ones who first proclaimed that Jesus was raised from the dead—is whether they held to their testimony in the face of persecution and death. This is why, then, that Paul and others are described in his words as "afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed." They were delivered over to death, says the apostle, "that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." That life manifested is what brings life to the world. "So death works in us," he points out, "but life in you" (2 Corinthians 4:12).

The initial goal of preaching is to present the gospel of Christ to the lost, that they may be saved. Those who have some other goal will avoid the suffering that comes with preaching the true gospel of the glory of God; God always makes sure that the earthly reward of teach­ing the truth is not worth the suffering that goes with it. Therefore the apostle encourages the brethren, noting, "For all things are for your sakes, that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God" (II Corinthi­ans 4:15). "Death works in us," he had carefully pointed out, "but life in you!" What thanks would be given for such grace! What abundance of praises would ascend to the loving and mighty God for making such a plan possible! How God would be glorified on earth and in the heavenly realms for the redemption of His people of faith!!

Consciousness in the Inner Man

The apostle Paul was excited that the gospel of Christ was spreading to more and more people in his day! But the cost to him and his fellow proclaimers was high. Persecuted, afflicted, and struck down, these men kept right on preaching and teach­ing the gospel of the glory of Christ, and those who obeyed the gospel were overjoyed at the grace of God which was brought to their lives. This joyful thanksgiving thus redounded to the glory of God, and Paul was able to share in their thanksgiving to God and their giving glory to His name.

Part of the major purpose of God has been to produce a people "born from above" whose interest is in the things "unseen," whose interest is in the spiritual realm as contrasted to those whose interest is in the things of the flesh. Because they see with "unveiled face," they see the glory of God in the face of Christ and all that is connected with that. "The things which are seen," expounds the inspired apostle, "are temporal, but the things which are unseen are eter­nal." Properly processed, it is easy to see where the disciple of Christ should fix his attention.

This Old House

The outer man is decaying; there is no way to get out of this life alive in this mortal body (even the physical bodies of those alive at Jesus’ coming will be changed). This is an issue with which many people struggle. Over this writer’s lifetime, he has seen many of those who are clearly entering the last years of their earthly sojourn angry or frustrated over the fact that the body just isn’t going to get any better or any stronger. God, of course, mindful that we are but dust, is the One who offers the realistic perspective. His words, iterated through the apostle Paul, cannot be overstressed: "We do not lose heart—though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day." If the saint focuses on the realm of what he can see, which includes the decaying outer man, he will get very discouraged. The only positive solution for not losing heart is to continue to strengthen the non-decaying inner man.

In many ways the word of God communicates that a major driving force for the Christian is his desire to share in the positive resurrection of the dead. "In this earthly house we groan," asseverates the apostle, contrasting that with our "longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven." "Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God," are Paul’s encouraging words, "who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge" (2 Corinthians 5:5). This indwelling Spirit, given at the saint’s immersion into Christ, is God’s guarantee that he will receive the positive resurrec­tion from the dead. What better guarantee could there be?

Of Good Courage

People will pursue what they really want. Those who have been properly immersed into Christ will also pursue what they re­ally want; hence the word of God continually exhorts them to want the things of eternal value. The scripture also has numerous warn­ings against deception, self-deception, and deluding influences. These are the ultimate in mind games, and they pull the attention of the Christian away from the importance of things eternal and into a destructive here-and-now focus. The apostle Paul therefore is working on the minds of the brethren in Corinth to get them to have the correct perception about their eternity and their eternal body. "We long to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven," is one of his instructive comments. "We want to be clothed [with our immortal body] in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life," is another. Then he makes this hugely important statement: "Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a pledge." Having thus pointed out the purpose for the saint, the further comment is that God, on His part, gave the indwelling Spirit as His guarantee that He will grant the Christian the proper resurrection on the last day. This, then, for the disciple of Christ must be what he really wants.

Twice in this context the apostle says, "we are of good courage." "In this house," he in contrast had stated, referring to the physical body, "we groan," because "in this house" he was subject to privation, persecution, prison, and pain. "Being of good courage" was what helped him through all those challenges. The good courage translated into having confidence in his own eventual resurrection to glory, as well as being able to have a great attitude in facing down all earthly vicissitudes. He thus serves as a model for modern Christians, if they will honestly process the information given them.

Right Ambition

One of the goals of God’s scripture is to help God’s children exhibit positive attitudes through the trials life on earth presents to Christians. The word of God, therefore, paints the proper pic­tures for the saint so that he can align his priorities and his per­spectives accordingly. Earthly life is short, just a vapor; eternity is a long, long time—forever! This basic truth, of course, would not be known to the sons of man unless it were given in scripture, and the saint must really believe it is true. Hence, walking by faith in what the word of God says—rather than by making deci­sions based only on what may be seen in the material, temporal realm—involves believing in the promises of scripture through Christ in order to receive the proper resurrection body. In fact, God prepared "us for this very purpose." The disciple of Christ, therefore, is always of good courage" and prefers to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord in Paradise.

The Christian’s intelligent ambition truly is to be pleasing to the Lord. He wishes to avoid the fires of hell on the negative side, and on the positive side he really wants God to be glorified and multitudes of souls saved. "Hallelujah!," again shouts the great chorus of heav­en. "The fine linen," the clothing of the bride of Christ, who made herself ready for the return of the Bridegroom, "is the righteous acts of the saints" (Revelation 19:6-8). "Blessed," indeed "are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:9). The wisdom of God says to make getting an invitation to that marriage supper your highest ambition!

Persuading Men

A perusal of the gospel accounts shows Jesus’ tremendous drive to reach the sons of men. When the crowds got too thick and people were coming only for healing, Jesus would leave. "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also," explained He to major multitudes in the region of Capernaum who wanted all His continuing attention, "for I was sent for this purpose." The in­spired commentary of Luke adds: "And He kept on preaching in the synagogues of the country of the Jews" (Luke 4:43-44). The driv­ing force for Jesus’ intense desire to preach was His love for each person, and His earnest desire to help them develop the faith that would save them from the fires of hell. By His own rules He could not save them apart from their own willing participation. Hence, He reasoned and persuaded in the synagogues and performed miracles, trying to get His own people to recognize that He was the Christ, the Son of God.

Once the individual has been persuaded concerning Jesus the Son of God and has obeyed the gospel, the reasoning and persuading work must continue to go on so that he will not lose his salvation. Paul therefore appends, "We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, that you may have an answer for those who take pride in appearance, and not in heart" (2 Corinthians 5:12). The apostle and others who worked with him in the great work of persuading the lost and strengthening the brethren were Christian men of "substance" rather than exhibitions of "show." The congregation in Corinth could point out these men with the proper kind of pride, giving those with whom they were working examples of saints who had overcome sin and who were walking in the steps of Jesus. Knowing the terror of the Lord, they did indeed persuade men!

Crazy for Christ?

Paul’s life was on display for all the lost and all the saved in Corinth. When he stated, "I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences," he was giving permission for others to ex­amine his life and conduct. He had stated that he was not one who took pride in appearance; rather, he wanted people to look deeper to see the substance that was there as contrasted to the "show" that characterizes so many who would claim to be promulgators of the gospel. Because Paul was an "open book," and because he was straight-forward and honest, he was often accused of being crazy. As he was concluding his testimony before King Agrippa and the Roman governor Porcius Festus, the governor found himself cry­ing out, "Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad!" (Acts 26:24). From the governor down the lowest slave, there were those who thought he was crazy—espe­cially crazy to suffer so much for the gospel for so little earthly gain.

By definition those whose minds are focused on the flesh are also focused on the things of earth. The earthly mindset, then, would be to "get what you can while you can." The exhortation coming from Paul and the Holy Spirit is to no longer live for yourself. Die to yourself. Live for Jesus. Crazy to the world!!

Basis for the New Creation

There are a number of principles connected with Christian­ity that can be challenging to implement. Mankind comes into the world crying for milk and attention; but in Christ that is to be set aside: those who live in Christ should no longer "live for themselves." After years of being trained by earth’s circumstances for survival of self, the new spiritual order calls for disciples of Christ to alter their perspectives and mental habits so that they live "for Him who died and rose again on their behalf." This requires some regular and serious contemplation as the saint sets priorities and determines whether time will be spent on pleasure or on the spread of the word of God. How the follower of Christ views other people is also on the line—are they lost souls in need of the saving gospel, or are they tools to be used?

The faithful follower of Christ thus needs to see with "spiritual eyes" rather than with eyes of the flesh. What a person’s standing is in the world is not any part of the calculation of what a person’s standing is in Christ. "There is neither Jew nor Greek," was Paul’s conclusion on this point in another letter, "there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Even though Christ Himself was in the flesh, He is seen and known by the saints as He is in the spiritual realm. Based on that, Christians likewise view their brethren in Christ as new creatures, with no carry over from what they were in the flesh.

Power of the New Creation

The "Jesus who is" is the Jesus who is seated at the right hand of power on high. As awesome as Jesus was during the days of His earthly sojourning, He had voluntarily emptied Himself and placed Himself a little lower than the angels for the benefit of the souls of men. Jesus in glory, then, is much more awesome than Jesus in the flesh could have been. Paul, in writing to the brethren in Corinth, has carefully lined up his points of reasoning: 1) Christ died for all, therefore all died; 2) those who therefore live because of Christ should no longer live for themselves; 3) they then should live for Him who not only died but who rose again on their behalf; 4) even though the apostles had known Christ in the flesh, that is not who He is now and how He is to be known now; 5) if a person is in Christ, he is a new creation and is to be known by who he is in Christ.

But for the power connected with being a new creature in Christ to become operative, the "born from above" child of God needs to renew or reprogram his mind. "In reference to your former manner of life," Paul had instructed the brethren in Ephesus, "lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (Ephesians 4:22-24). God does "the heavy lifting," but He doesn’t do all the lifting. The loving Father expects His children of faith to be active in their salvation and transformation. Hence the apostle would also write, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2).

This new creation is prepared for spiritual warfare: warfare against any personal lusts of the flesh or of the mind, and warfare in taking the gospel into a hostile and alien world. As the prophet Ezekiel looked to future saints (from his perspective) coming up out of the watery graves of their immersions and being given the indwelling Spirit of God, he saw that "they came to life, and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army" (Ezekiel 37:10). Not only stand your ground, fellow new creation, but conquer the next section of the devil’s domain, planting the triumph flag of Christ on new territory!

Comments about Reconciliation

The earnest desire of the loving heavenly Father is to have a true relationship with His children, specifically His children of faith. The perspective of heaven is that even one sin is a major transgression and the just punishment is eternal damnation in the fires of hell. Another way of looking at the issue is that the good­ness of God simply cannot fellowship with sin. Hence, as soon as possible, the devil and his angels were cast into Tartarus, and eventually will end up in gehenna, which as Jesus stated is the hellfire "which has been prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). Such is the penalty for Satan’s sin. The inspired record is very clear that God cannot countenance sin, nor fellow­ship with sinners. Jesus, in His high priestly position, is described as "holy, innocent, undefiled, and separated from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26). Thus each of the race of men who have committed sin will also find their end in that same hellfire, unless he is reconciled to the Father.

God has no need to show mercy or compassion to man. But His desire for true com­panionship is such that He has been willing to offer Christ as the redemptive price and set in motion the possibility of such reconciliation. But this fellowship with the Almighty is not something that can be attained by what Paul elsewhere calls "mere man." He must be obedient to the gospel of Christ, reconciled to God, raised from the waters of immersion, and thus "born from above." Only those who are "born from above" can be in fellowship with Him who "is from above." Reconciliation clears the way for such a new birth, and hence such awesome fellowship.

Ambassadors for Christ

The uneducated man, in the realm of true spiritual things, does not know that he needs to be reconciled to God. Hence the Almighty and All-loving goes through much effort and much com­munication to show the individual his dreadful state if he appears before God on judgment day in an unredeemed condition. Working through the nation Israel, which He brought into existence and preserved by miraculous means, He defines sin. As the revelation, safely and divinely preserved in the sacred scrolls, continued to increase, it became clear that some sort of sacrifice was necessary to rescue man from the pit of sin. "Without the shedding of blood," the writer of Hebrews summed up, "there is no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22). All the elements of the sacrificial system pointed to the even­tual death of Jesus on the cross, the Lamb of God offering Himself for the sins of mankind. "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree," was Peter’s clarifying contribution (1 Peter 2:24). Finally, Jesus in His ascension becomes the great High Priest of the order of Melchizedek, and sprinkles spiritual blood in the spiritual tabernacle, that full redemption might be available for any who would obey the gospel. What an effort expended by the loving heavenly Father!!

The love of God for each lost sheep is certainly displayed in His desire for reconciliation, and the lengths through which He has gone to make that reconciliation possible. No wonder, then, the value He puts on fellowshiping with His children in the Lord’s Supper. No wonder, also, for the description of His wrath to be executed on those who reject His magnificent offer of reconciliation. "We beg you on behalf of Christ: be reconciled to God!"

Begging Extended to Urging

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling," was one of Paul’s exordiums. Salvation is not a one-time "saved and cannot be lost" issue. Thus the word of God is full of warnings about falling away, being deceived by false prophets, and being sucked in by the world. The bottom line is that God has done so much to reconcile man to Himself that He is not willing to com­promise on the necessity of the individual’s continuing faith in order for his salvation to be secure. "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf," is the way the apostle recorded the effort on God’s part, "that we might become the righteous­ness of God in Him." God rightfully expects the saint to lay aside the old self and the old way of life and to grow sufficiently in grace and knowledge that he walks in the footsteps of Christ.

The efforts of God to reach out to man must not be minimized. He is under no obli­gation other than His great love for each person to extend the possibility of redemption. These all flow from the system of thought comprising the new covenant, often given the title grace. Paul, preacher of the gospel and one who laid down his life that others might experience eternity in glory, is not desirous that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. Hence he took the word of God to the lost, opening new vistas for the spread of the message of Christ. He also took great pains, as exhibited in his letters, to keep the saved on track. In either case, the sincerity and intensity of his appeal rings out: "We urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain." Hear the message, heed the instructions, and hold on for all eternity!

What it Takes

God’s army is an all-volunteer army. There is no conscription, and the soldier can call off his enlistment at any time. Not enlisting in the first place, or bailing out from the long-term commitment will re­sult in the individual’s being cast into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, prepared for the enemies of God. So the call is issued: do not receive the grace of God in vain. The volunteers, then, in this army are in partnership with God. They are members strategi­cally placed by the Father Himself for the execution of His warfare against the forces of darkness and for the spread of His gospel and the consequent salvation of souls. Paul thus reminds the brethren of this in these words: working together with Him!

"Commending ourselves as servants of God," says Paul, "in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses" is what the soldiers of faith go through, and they do it with great attitudes. This is what it takes. Carry on!!

The List Goes On

The lives of the apostles, measured from an earthly perspec­tive, were hard. They were chosen by the Lord Jesus Himself, and He knew what they were going to endure for His name’s sake. When James and John approached the Lord about the possibility of their sitting at His right and left hand in the coming kingdom, He asked them a very probing question. "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be immersed with the immersion with which I am immersed?" (Mark 10:38). Their glib answer was quick in coming: "We are able." The cup that He was about to drink (or His "immersion" as He spoke of it) was His upcoming suffering. The chief priests and the scribes, said He, would condemn the Son of Man to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles. "And they will mock Him and spit upon Him, and scourge Him, and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again" (Mark 10:34). They obviously were not hearing Him very well!! This, then, serves as the backdrop for the apostle Paul’s continuing comments about what he, the other apostles, and ultimately other Christians go through.

Paul wants to be commended as a servant of Christ. He does not want the ministry discred­ited. He wants to be of no real offense to those seeking the truth. Hence he is putting together this list of requisites to meet these goals effectively. May modern saints be able to implement these as well.

And the List Goes On

All the faithful apostles made their original choice to follow truth. A bit of reflection will establish that they all were disciples of John the Immerser prior to being selected to be special envoys of Christ. In that setting, the Lord had stated, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear much fruit, and that your fruit should remain" (John 15:16). They indeed were worthy, as Jesus Himself noted following the exit of Judas from the assembly of those apostles at the institution of the Lord’s Supper: "You are those who have stood by Me in My trials" (Luke 22:28). The apostle Paul was of the same type of character once he turned to the Lord, and equally committed to the "bearing of much fruit" regardless of what he had to suffer in the process. But he never lost his great attitude and proper perspective on things eternal.

Because of the nature and ferocity of the spiritual battle, these men ultimately would have to know that their goal was to make the Father happy. "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God?" Paul asked the Galatian brethren. "Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10). Let us, then, pick up those weapons of righteousness, and fight the spiritual battle in such a way that it pleases the Lord!

Finishing with a Crescendo

"The thief," averred Jesus the Christ, "comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly" (John 10:10). While a person might have all sorts of vain imaginings as to what that abundant life might look like, the actual demonstration of that abundant life is exhibited in the lives of the apostles. To those who look for the abundant life to be filled with comfort, toys, and goodies, that exhibition is going to be a major disappointment. But when viewed from the perspec­tive of positive impact on people’s lives and eternities, and having a powerful purpose that will live on and on, the apostles of Jesus Christ are the supreme exhibition of making the most of earthly time and experiencing the true joy of the Lord. "By this is My Fa­ther glorified," Jesus had stated, "that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples" (John 15:8). The highest end of a true disciple of the Lord is to glorify Him, and "bearing much fruit" is how that is done. The Lord also pointed out one of His purposes, noting, "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full" (John 15:11). The apostles, then, are the exhibitions of those who lived the abundant life, who glorified the Lord in making many disciples, and who experienced the true joy of the Lord—all in spite of the tremendous earthly difficulties they experienced.

The inspired partial record of the apostles and their accomplishments leaves a legacy of tri­umph and victory that continues to call aspiring saints to higher levels of spirituality and action. Their lives, depicted in language such as "in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses," pictured as armed with "the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left," "regarded as deceiv­ers yet true," and "as dying, yet we live" call modern saints to emulate their spiritual power and character. Each of them finished their lives with a crescendo, despised on earth but going out in a blaze of glory. May the brethren of today similarly power on through whatever challenges the future brings, and carry the torch of the victorious gospel onward!

Openness to the Corinthians

Paul had emphasized that he had no secrets, that he had nothing hidden because of shame. His concern, then, was that the Corinthian brethren were still hiding some of their moral and doctrinal problems from him, and that some had hidden agendas in subtly working against the gospel. "We are ambassadors for Christ," he had stated, and as such issued the appeal, "we beg you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." That is an interesting appeal, considering that he is writing to Christians. The goal of God was clearly stated, "that we might become the righteousness of God." The follow up comment was stated thusly, "we urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain." His desire, therefore, was that they open up to him so that he could help them on their jour­ney of faith.

This is very interesting wording: "I speak as to children!" The picture is that of an older person’s trying to get a small child to open his mouth for the last bite of vegetables. The person of influence in the situation often opens his mouth in demonstration and encouragement to the child so that the child will open his mouth in like manner (the last bite of vegetables goes "down the hatch," and all is well). In this same manner, in the spiritual realm, the apostle had demon­strated his openness to the "children" in Corinth, that they might really open themselves up to the instruction which the apostle was freely offering them.

Need for Serious Separation

The scripture is replete with warnings about the attacks from Satan which will destroy the saint’s salvation. Some of Satan’s ploys are open, such as intimidation and persecution. Some are more subtle, such as craftily sneaking in false doctrine. But one of the most powerful and not easily seen methods of the prince of darkness is influence and pressure from friends, family, and associates. "Do not be deceived," the apostle Paul had warned the Corinthians in his first epistle, pointing out how easily this deception can worm its way in. "Bad company corrupts good morals" (1 Corinthians 15:33). People end up being deceived because there is a hidden part of them that is open to participating in the deception. Hence these warnings are severe and repeated in God’s holy word.

Back in the days of Ezekiel the prophet, God showed him in a vision the desecration of the temple by the Jews’ setting up of idols in the house of God. There was what he called "the idol of jealousy" at the entrance to the inner court of the temple, there were idolatrous carvings on the wall, women were worshiping Tammuz, and men were prostrating themselves before the sun. For these reasons, the glory of the Lord departed from the temple, as Ezekiel was permitted to see in his vision. These pictures from the Old Testament writings give us God’s viewpoint on the "agreement" between the temple of God and idols. "For we are the temple of the living God," asseverates the apostle. The disciple of Christ has now been warned to consider very carefully his conduct and his associations.

It must be re-emphasized: the battle for the soul is a tremendously vicious and violent battle. The subtle hooks of false doctrine are hanging from every rafter, and every association is fraught with the possibility of the disciple’s being pulled back into the world. The saint will honestly consider these warnings, and make adjustments wherever necessary!

We are the Temple of God

The temple of Solomon was a magnificent structure, worth billions and billions of today’s currency. That temple, however, was only a foreshadow of the "greater and more perfect tabernacle" or temple to come. "You also," Peter had noted, "are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood" (1 Peter 2:5). This spiritual house, or spiritual temple, is of far greater worth than that of Solomon, although that is not detectable in the physical realm. Because its worth must be processed through spiritual eyes, then the world puts no value whatsoever on it, and even saints are challenged a bit to be placing the proper value on it in their minds. But in knowing the value of this temple, then brethren can adjust their priorities and assessments accordingly.

The apostle had urged the brethren to be open with him as he had been open with them. His earnest desire was that they be honest with him, and therefore honest with themselves and with God. Their associations and behavior were being called to account by the apostle’s series of questions: What partnership have righteousness and lawlessness? What harmony has Christ with Belial? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? The modern Christian would do well to weigh in the balances of his thinking the eternal value of walking in the ways of this world as contrasted to the joys and eternal value of walking in fellowship with the Father!

Perfecting Holiness

The Almighty and All Wise set up the human race in families. From the beginning of Creation, verified Jesus, He made them male and female. Thus families came into being with fathers, mothers, and children. The ultimate Father designed the development of the human race and its history so that He could communicate the tremendous value of these points: "I will dwell among them and walk among them." "I will be their God, and they shall be My people." "Come out from the midst of the world, be separate, do not touch what is unclean, and I will welcome you." "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me." The Holy Father earnestly desires fellowship with His children, but that fellowship is only possible when the children decide to be holy and separate also.

When the apostle speaks of cleansing from all defilement of flesh, he is making an appeal for the brethren to eliminate from their lifestyles all the fleshly lusts, as Peter phrases it, that wage war against the soul. This, of course, requires serious introspection and absolute honesty in looking over one’s life, and then the implementation of the necessary changes. Cleansing the spirit ties in with James’ comment on purifying the heart; this is going down into the deep areas of "the spirit of man" and making certain that inner motives and desires are truly heavenly oriented. This too requires honest and deep introspection. When the things in the inner man are dealt with, and the things of the outer man are handled, then holiness can be perfected in the fear of God. The ones who do this are the truly "separated people" that God has looked for as He peered down through the centuries. And when it comes time for saints to pass through the gates of glory, these are those to whom He says, "I welcome you!"

Confidence in The Brethren

The apostle Paul has gone to great lengths to show the brethren in Corinth his openness toward them, and to appeal that they likewise be open to him. Early in the epistle he is very personal with them. "I intended to come to you," he had stated, "that you might twice receive a blessing." The apostle also commented on some of the strong measures he had taken, asserting "that to spare you I came no more to Corinth," giving them time to put their repentance in motion. He gave them instructions on receiving back a wayward brother, then went on to beg the saints themselves to "be reconciled to God." Paul had further emphasized, "our heart is opened wide ... in a like exchange, open to us also." Thus he presented to them a variegated set of appeals for their openness and for the furtherance of the gospel.

It is important to recall that Paul really laid down his life for the brethren in Corinth. Although he did not undergo the sufferings there that he experienced in other locations, he was willing to face them. He is excited to express, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, his belief in the positive outcomes of their futures in Christ. "I am filled with comfort," says he, in this vein, "I am overflowing with joy in all our afflictions." That type of belief, that type of encouragement, that type of positive perspective is what kept the apostle Paul moving forward each day with the gospel of glory, in spite of the afflictions he mentions. He believed the words he wrote in his first epistle: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Returning to Previous Concern

The scripture reminds brethren again and again how intense the battle is for the eternal soul of man. After his writing the first epistle to the brethren, he was anxiously awaiting word about the faith of the saints in Corinth. There were specific challenges involved in the case of a man delivered over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh by Paul, and his apparent repentance now required instructions for his being accepted back in the local body of Christ. But the devil is always a factor, as Paul noted in his words, hoping "that no advantage be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes." The devil had been able to tempt the man into an extremely immoral situation; the congregation now had to handle his coming back into fellowship with the appropriate care lest he "be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow," and his soul still end up being lost. Paul was very concerned about the church in Corinth, having, as he put it, "no rest for my spirit," and spoke of his leaving Troas and going into Macedonia to find Titus for information about the congregation. Then he launched into a long interlude before returning to the direct topic about the welfare of the body of Christ in Corinth.

The apostle Paul, as he fought the good fight of faith, clearly had his challenges and difficulties. The "fightings without," were daunting enough, but the "fears within" certainly added to his struggle. Modern saints who encounter challenges can be comforted themselves in knowing that the great apostle Paul had his difficulties external and internal. But they can also learn from Paul’s example in patiently waiting, being diligent in prayer, and focusing upward, knowing that at the right time God will provide the encouragement/comfort!

Getting To Repentance

One of the areas in which the prince of darkness and god of confusion is able to cause major disruption is in interpersonal relationships within the body of Christ. The congregation at Corinth had been enmeshed in schisms fomented by individuals who created issues by saying, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or some who claimed to be "I am of Christ." Greek teaching and philosophy was being injected into the gospel, and rampant immorality was being tolerated. The issue which ended up being pivotal was one in which a man was "living with his father’s wife," and Paul had to intervene by delivering the man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh so that his soul might be saved in the day of Jesus Christ. This second epistle indicates that the man repented and was to be welcomed back into the congregation. But before this letter could be written, the apostle shows his agitation over the spiritual health of the body in Corinth and the good news he received from Titus when Paul tracked him down in Macedonia. Building on that, the thinking progresses.

Generally sorrow is not thought of as being particularly desirable. Sorrow is associated with loss, with grief, with tragedy, with failed expectations. But this perspective is often only an earthly purview, wherein the basic thought is that all is to go well from a "this life on earth" set of goals or objectives. For example, when Jesus explained to the apostles that he was going to go to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed, Peter took Him aside and indicated that Jesus’ mind should not go down that road. Jesus pointed out to Peter that he was not setting his mind on God’s interests but man’s. The most sorrowful event in earthly history was the crucifixion of the Son of God, but it resulted in the most glorious events. Sorrow may be necessary to accomplish God’s earnest desire. "You were made sorrowful according to the will of God," is Paul’s overarching comment, "in order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us" (2 Corinthians 7:9). If sorrow was necessary to produce repentance in the Corinthian brethren, then it was a good thing.

Changing the way of thinking

This is a continual source of amazement: how far away from God’s way of thinking is man’s way of thinking. "Let the wicked man forsake his way," was the message of the Lord through Isaiah, "and the unrighteous man his thoughts" (Isaiah 55:7). The All Wise and All Knowing further commented, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9). Hence man on an individual basis needs to change the way he thinks, to bring his thinking in line with God’s as revealed in the scripture. This change of thinking is the true meaning of repentance. Paul, in his labor over the congregation in Corinth, is rejoicing that his letter brought them to the point of repentance.

The death that Paul is talking about, obviously, is spiritual death, the eternal separation from God in the lake of fire. Anyone whose brain is processing truthfully knows that this lake is not where he wants to spend his eternity. But "the god of this world," Paul had earlier noted, "has blinded the minds of the unbelieving" (2 Corinthians 4:4); they cannot see, or process, clearly. But those who have the sorrow that produces repentance will possess the salvation resulting in eternal life in the presence of Him who lives forever and ever. The message of Jesus, therefore, to the church at Laodicea, still rings throughout the brotherhood of saints throughout the world: "be zealous therefore, and repent!" (Revelation 3:19).

Fruit of Repentance

John the Immerser’s preparatory message was for the people to repent and be immersed for the remission of their sins. In fact, so significant was his call for repentance that the name for his immersion was the "immersion of repentance" (Luke 3:3). "Then Jerusalem was going out to him," recorded Matthew, "and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan, and they were being immersed by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins" (Matthew 3:5-6). The hearts of the fathers were in fact being turned back to the children, the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, and the people were being made ready for the Lord (Luke 1:17). But when John "saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him for immersion...," the record continues, he said to them, "Bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matthew 3:7-8). Repentance is much more than saying "Sorry," or having good intentions; there must be fruit or evidence. As the apostle Paul described his conversion to Roman governor Porcius Festus and local King Agrippa, he noted that following his immersion he preached to both Jews and Gentiles, "that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance" (Acts 26:20). This same Paul— in his correspondence with the brethren in Corinth—when he sees the actual change in performance in them, praises them.

He closes his words of commendation in this fashion: "So although I wrote to you it was not for the sake of the offender, nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God. For this reason we have been comforted." (2 Corinthians 7:12-13). Bigger than the issue of restoring the offender or helping the church welcome him back was the issue of the willingness of the congregation to follow the apostles and their doctrine. And so it is today.

Increased Confidence

No one can ever get away from the baseline of the meaning of life: at the end, it is eventually either heaven or hell. Jesus was of course extremely conscious of this, repeatedly saying that He did not come to condemn the world but to save the world. The world was already condemned, so His intervention was necessary to save whatever truth-seekers His gospel could find. As this gospel came to Corinth through Paul, with follow up effort by Apollos, the concern was that their salvation remain intact in spite of the schemes of the devil. Thus, as previously noted, the apostle was without rest in his soul until he could connect with his associate Titus, and from him receive news about the Corinthians’ standing firm in their faith.

Real joy and happiness has to do with a systematic means of deepening true spiritual relationships in Christ. When those relationships are in danger of being severed due to unresolved sin, then there is much anguish of soul rather than the rejoicing that God earnestly desires. With Titus’ report of the Corinthian brethren’s positive turn, Paul is greatly encouraged, and his confidence in the brethren proved not to be misplaced. "I rejoice," he ecstatically states, "that in everything I have confidence in you" (2 Corinthians 7:16).

Special Offering

The brethren in Jerusalem and Judea had suffered greatly. They had given of themselves as Jewish Christians to reach the Gentiles with the gospel, as Paul indicated in writing about this to the church in Rome: "For if the Gentiles have shared in their [the Jewish Christians’] spiritual things," he pointed out, "they [the Gentile Christians] are indebted to minister to them also in material things" (Romans 15:27). Furthermore, as is recorded in Acts: "And one of them [the New Testament prophets] stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius" (Acts 11:28). The brethren in Judea, then, were in need of financial assistance. At the close of a major meeting in Jerusalem to determine whether the Gentile Christians had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses, James and Peter and John made a request of Paul: "They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do" (Galatians 2:10). The result was that the apostle Paul made a major organized effort to put together a large offering from the Gentile churches on behalf of their brethren in Jerusalem and Judea, including the congregation at Corinth.

The reason that the Macedonian brethren were so eager to participate in making a contribution to support the poor saints in Jerusalem is evidenced in the conclusion of Paul’s thought: "And this," adds the apostle, regarding their participation rather than their non-participation, was "not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God" (2 Corinthians 8:5). That is of course the key for any Christian at any time: first give yourself to the Lord, and then whatever sacrifices are necessary are willingly given.

Abound in this Gracious Work

The Greek word for grace is charis, which is the etymological root for the English word charity. It is a very broad word, encompassing the grace or favor bestowed upon saints in regard to the blessings connected with being forgiven and thus capable of entering into fellowship with the eternal and holy God. But it also has to do with assisting people with their financial needs, hence one of the meanings of the word charity in modern English. Thus, as Paul is in the process of getting together a collection from the Gentile churches for the poor saints in Judea, he will refer to this as "this gracious work."

This gracious work was indeed to be a work of charity. More than the Corinthian brethren could realize from their limited perspective, the contribution to the Jewish saints was going to accomplish a major positive step forward in the plan of God. Their giving would greatly assist the brethren in Judea, it would increase the faith and love of the Gentile Christians, and it would do a tremendous amount to pull the Jewish and Gentile elements of the church together as one working unit. Paul and the Holy Spirit are thus putting a lot of effort and a lot of scripture into "this gracious work."

Poverty and Riches

God is a Master Strategist, and His plans—although often on a very large scale by human standards—never fail. His word is sure, and His prophecies are certain. For example, God through Elijah the prophet had stated that the family of Ahab, wicked king of Israel and husband of Jezebel, would be destroyed. Thus, even such an unworthy as Jehu, violent supplanter of Ahab’s house, could say, "Know then that there shall fall to the earth nothing of the word of the Lord, which the Lord spoke concerning the house of Ahab, for the Lord has done what He spoke through His servant Elijah" (2 Kings 10:10). This is an interesting expression: that nothing of the word of the Lord would fall to the earth! His word is sure, and His prophecies certain. One of those prophecies came through the New Testament prophet Agabus, who "stood up and begin to indicate that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world" (Acts 11:28). The inspired historian Luke recorded, "And this took place in the reign of Claudius." Claudius began to reign as Emperor (the Augustus) in AD 41 , and this famine was endured by the Jewish Christians in Judea during his reign. Thus Paul in his second and third missionary journeys (AD 49-52 and AD 53-57) was involved in arranging for and collecting an offering from the Gentile congregations for the impoverished brethren. Even earlier, from the congregation in Antioch, Paul (or Saul as he was then known) assisted the brethren in Jerusalem. "And in proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders" (Acts 11:29-30).

Many projects are begun that are never brought to completion. "Well begun" may be "half done," but it still is only half done! Hence this exhortation: "And I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it. But now finish doing it also; that just as there was a readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability" (2 Corinthians 8:10-11). They had the desire in the beginning; they needed the desire now to GET IT DONE!

By Way of Equality

God has never been interested in driving people into the ground, grinding the faces of the poor into the dirt (like those who oppressed Israel are pictured). He is the consummate Builder, the One who "gives to all life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25). He therefore is not interested in extracting from mankind their offerings. "The God who made the world and all things in it," this apostle had instructed the Athenians on Mars Hill, "since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with human hands, neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything" (Acts 17:24-25). The Almighty is interested, then, in free will offerings as a means of developing the faith of His disciples rather than actually needing the goods or money for His own use. And He is not trying to pull from the pockets of Christians resources they do not possess. These principles are evident in his continuing instruction to the brethren in Corinth concerning their part in the collection for the poor saints in Judea.

God worked on a massive scale to allow this inequality between the Gentile brethren and the Jewish brethren to develop. God could have supplied the needs of the Jewish brethren just by increasing the crops of their ground. But He chose, in order to increase the faith of all brethren, to bring this situation about. How great is His wisdom, and how unfathomable are His ways!!

Earnestness and Honesty

Even though Paul cannot be physically present in Corinth, he does have a network of men who work with him, and who can help guide the brethren. Names such as Luke, Aristarchus, Secundus, Timothy, and Titus show up in the account of Paul’s life in the book of Acts, and grace the openings and closing sections of Paul’s epistles. As Paul, then, discusses the collection for the poor saints in Judea with the church at Corinth, it is the name of Titus which pops up. Titus had been sent by Paul to Corinth to assist with some of the upset connected with a man who had been living with his father’s wife, and in consequence was also enlisted in aiding and encouraging the Corinthian brethren to get their offering ready. Titus proved to be an able and willing co-worker of Paul, carrying out his instructions and independently providing his direction and encouragement.

The apostle Paul wants this offering to be a major help to the poor saints, and he wants the brethren who contribute to know that the men involved are worthy of their trust. It is worth repeating: "They are messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ!" What high praise, and what a high recommendation!! May modern brethren imitate the openness and the honorable character portrayed by Paul as he urges the finishing up of the work on this strategic collection.

Honorable in the Sight of All

A sizeable offering was being collected by Paul from the Gentile congregations on behalf of the poor saints in Judea. The problem, of course, is that where money is involved (particularly lots of it) the thieves are gathered. This is true also of the Lord’s work and the Lord’s money. Even in the close proximity of Jesus was Judas Iscariot, of whom it is written: "He was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it" (John 12:6). All the disciples of the Lord would be aware of this part of Christ’s story, and hence would be extra careful in trusting someone with large sums of cash. Thus, as Paul is in the final stages of getting this collection ready, he wants to reassure the brethren of the care taken in regard to these finances.

When Ezra the scribe, in 457 BC, left Babylon for the city of Jerusalem, he brought with him an offering to the Lord. In the presence of the leading priests, he "weighed out to them the silver, the gold, and the utensils, the offering for the house of our God" (Ezra 8:25). When he arrived at Jerusalem, protected by the good hand of the Lord, he also delivered the offering. "And on the fourth day the silver and the gold and the utensils were weighed out in the house of our God" into the hands of the priests ministering there (Ezra 8:33). Thus everything was done honorably in the sight of men as well as in the sight of God. Paul is giving this same assurance to the brethren in Corinth concerning the saints’ offering for Jerusalem, that they might give with full confidence. "Therefore," he exhorts, "openly before the churches show them the proof of your love and our reason for boasting about you" (2 Corinthians 8:24). This, then, is how the church of the Lord today conducts its business as well.

Boasting about the Gift

The apostle Paul was personally very involved in the collection for the poor Judean saints coming from the Gentile congregations. When he met with Peter and John and the others in Jerusalem concerning whether the Gentiles needed to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses, it was clear that Paul was to keep going to the uncircumcised. "They only asked us to remember the poor," he recalled, "the very thing I also was eager to do" (Galatians 2:10). As part of his history of bringing "alms to his nation," Paul was personally committed to taking a very "generous" offering from the Gentile congregations of Macedonia, Achaia, and other provinces. In taking this collection from these brethren, he was openly enthusiastic and optimistic about their participation, which he called "boasting."

This truly "bountiful gift" would be a pretty large chunk of change. Paul has indicated his confidence in the size and readiness of the gift in his "boasting" to the Macedonians at Philippi and Thessalonica. The indications are that he was not disappointed, and he was not put to shame by the brethren. May it be so today!

Sowing and Reaping

People—saints—often have good intentions, but things get in the way of their execution. Sometimes unforeseen circumstances, such as blocked traffic, interfere with plans. Sometimes illness, or unexpected emergencies, or a shift in priorities can prevent the good intention from being carried out. Sometimes it is just plain laziness, or "I just didn’t feel like doing it" that result in the good intention’s not being carried out. Thus, when the apostle Paul was planning for the offering for the saints in Judea, he had to put some things in motion to help the saints carry out their good intentions rather than having them blocked by circumstances or a weakness in their characters. "So I thought it necessary," he explains, "to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, that the same might be ready as a bountiful gift, and not affected by covetousness" (2 Corinthians 9:5). Even those dynamic, suffering, awesome first-century Christians could be affected by covetousness!

God had a big picture strategy He was implementing. He could have just provided for the poor saints in Judea by pouring out His material blessings from the sky. But that would not have accomplished His long term plan and His agenda of bringing the Gentile and Jewish elements of the church closer together. Hence He placed Himself in the position of needing the Gentile brethren to make their contributions in faith in order that His magnificent plan be executed. He therefore promised that those who would sow bountifully would also reap bountifully. And this is a promise that He has never rescinded!

Abundance for Every Good Deed

When God cursed the ground because of Adam’s sin, from that point on man was forced to earn his living by the sweat of his brow. Part of the challenge of hacking the jungle back every day, fighting through the briars and brambles, brushing off insects, and warding off predators is that such a battle requires constant attention. The result is that people as a whole lose their proper focus on God and drift into a materialistic viewpoint. In other words, they tend to forget that God is the One who makes planting and harvesting successful in the first place, and without His generous provision nothing would be harvested. As Paul and Barnabas explained to the residents of the Roman province of Lycaonia, God "did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:17). How easy it was for the ancients to drift into ignorance about the true God! Even the saints of the new covenant can forget, thinking that all the fruit of their labor depends upon their efforts. Hence they are stingy when they should be generous, sowing sparingly when they should be sowing bountifully.

In general, the descendant of Adam tends to focus on planting his small supply of seeds in the ground, tending their growth, and gathering his harvest. He tends to forget that God is the One who gives the seed the capacity to produce a plant in the first place, that God is the One who makes it possible for the plant to get its water and nutrients. Hence, he loses his faith in God and focuses on trusting himself. The Father called the first century saints out of such a small-straw view, calling on them to trust Him to supply their needs. The scripture reminder is given: "He scattered abroad, He gave to the poor, His righteousness abides forever" (2 Corinthians 9:9). Trust in God, brother, with generosity in your finances, and watch God give the increase and assist the poor who truly need His help!

God's Multiplier

"Corn" is the older English word for any of the grain family; indeed "corn" is still used in that context except in the U.S.A. and a few other English-speaking locations in the world. "Corn" in the U.S. usually refers to maize which is derived from ancestral stock which was domesticated in Mexico sometime shortly after the peoples were scattered from Babel. But the English roots still show up in some modern expressions such as "seed corn," the grain left over from the previous year’s harvest which would be used for planting the new year’s crop. The whole process of sowing and reaping works because of God’s design; the plant which springs from the "seed corn" contains many more grain kernels than the single seed dropped into the fertile ground. This is God’s multiplier effect.

The specific application of the generosity to which the apostle refers is the special offering for the poor saints in Judea. It is easy to picture the disciple of Christ in Judea, who to some degree impoverished himself in getting the gospel to the Gentiles, struggling by God’s will to survive for a time, and then at a critical moment receiving a major contribution from the Gentile brethren. This, says Paul, "is through us producing thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints," he informs the brethren, "but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God" (2 Corinthians 9:12). If one saint’s sowing financial seed and having that multiply through liberality for the benefit of another saint, and the result is many thanksgivings to God, who on earth could possibly fault the heavenly plan and wisdom in such an outcome?

Proof of Ministry

Talk, as has been well said, is cheap. When all has been said and done, a lot more will have been said than done. What everyone is expecting of those who talk is action, the "walk" coming up to match the "talk." Furthermore, when it comes to actually caring for people, the word of God has a number of things to ponder. "But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need," stated the aged apostle John, "and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (1 John 3:17). That is certainly a fair question, followed with the exhortation, "Little children, let us not love with word of with tongue, but in deed and truth" (1 John 3:18). "If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food," added James, experienced elder of the church in Jerusalem, "and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for the body, what use is that?" (James 2:15-16). Thus, when the apostle Paul is encouraging the brethren to finish up the good work of sending relief to the saints from the rank of the circumcised, he is asking for action—he is asking for proof!

This all began with charis, the charity or grace that came from God Himself. This charis Paul modified with the word "surpassing"; the size of the gift was going to be overwhelming in size in order to tear down the barrier of the dividing wall that had existed between Jew and Gentile in the church. God was using these huge scale events—the famine, Paul’s working among the Gentile congregations, and the Gentile congregations’ willingness to participate—to accomplish this tremendous and long-term purpose. "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Beginning of Paul's Defense

There were still elements of dissent within the congregation at Corinth. Some of these appear to be, based on language from the first epistle, men imbued in Greek philosophy with the intent of bending Biblical teaching in that direction. To do so, they had to attack the doctrines that Paul taught, and to attack those doctrines, they had to attack his apostleship. Hence it is, in order to protect the church and the apostles’ doctrine, Paul is forced into a long defense of his apostleship. This, as it proceeds, is clearly a reluctant defense, and it is only because of the extremely dangerous nature of the attack that Paul is willing bring some of the things personally connected with him into the discussion.

With time and space between Paul and the Corinthian brethren, they might forget with whom they were dealing. This is the man who was turned from the worst persecutor of the church to its biggest promoter, having met the glorified Lord on the road to Damascus. This is the man who immediately began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, and who on a later visit to Damascus had to be let over the wall in a basket. This is the man who was stoned and left for dead at Lystra, who, when he had regained consciousness, had immediately gotten back up and went into the city. If the brethren stopped to consider the firm resolve and the iron will of this man, and if they processed his earnest desire to see the gospel preached and souls saved, they would recognize that by comparison they were mere men of flesh. But as such they tended to regard Paul as if he "walked according to the flesh." But he walked and warred according to the Spirit, and they should heed his appeal not to face his boldness.

Divinely Powerful Weapons

It seems incongruous, but the "God of peace" must wage war against the forces of darkness and destruction. Actually, it is a testimony of the horrendous nature of evil, that this God of peace must of necessity engage in that war, and that His servants must of necessity also participate in that warfare. "He who is not with Me is against Me," had said Jesus, "and he who does not gather with Me scatters" (Matthew 12:30). Hence the apostle Paul came into battle "in the name of the God of Israel," and specifically "in the name of Jesus the Christ." Contemptible, maybe, was he in physical appearance, but certainly formidable was he in spiritual battle.

God’s "divine power," asserted the apostle Peter, "has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence" (2 Peter 1:3). God gives that glory and excellence (manly, mature virtue) to his servants. In that sense, the goal is that God’s warriors "stand up and fight like men!!"

Destroying Speculations

In his rejection of the teachings of God, man in general, to some degree, unwittingly opens himself to the fake teachings and false doctrines of the prince of darkness. The apostle Paul, in describing the descent of ancient societies following the Flood, expresses the point in these terms: "For even though they knew God [they all knew the story of the deliverance of their ancestor Noah from the waters of the Deluge], they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (Romans 1:21). The ancients were not the only ones to become "foolish in their speculations"; the same pattern has been repeated generation after generation. Hence it is, in spiritual warfare, that new covenant teachings and the apostles’ doctrine are going to be directly involved in "destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:5).

There are many other examples of major areas of confusion that the devil and his servants are able to perpetrate. But every single confusion factor and every single false doctrine is countered intelligently by the word of God. The saint, properly taught, and trained to think clearly, can be involved in "destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God." The goal, of course, is not the knowledge itself because knowledge in this fashion simply puffs up the individual. But the goal is to use this knowledge to help deliver others from the net of captivity thrown over those who have been kidnapped by Satan, and deliver them into the freedom of the sons of God!

Taking Every Thought Captive

The human brain is a marvel and wonder, outrivaling anything else in the created universe. The estimated 12 billion cells, with their estimated 120 trillion connections, provide a matrix of nerves, electrical transmission (and even possibly some optical transmission), with the ability to process unbelievably complex algorithms almost instantaneously; that is staggering! How such things as love, joy, peace, patience, and the like, can be produced in the human soul and spirit and processed by the incredibly complex computer system that sits in its housing unit atop the shoulders is known only to the God who designed it and had the technical capability to activate it. But it is there, and the individual who has the stewardship of its capabilities is responsible for the choices it makes.

The secret to accomplishing spiritual goals is to be taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Certainly our Lord was so disciplined, and left us the example that we should walk in His footsteps. Men like the apostle Paul and others were maintaining control over their minds and thus able to serve as models for those who were to come later. The exhortations of scripture can therefore be implemented by each modern saint if he earnestly and intensely desires. "Do not be conformed to this world," is one exordium, "but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2).

The apostle Paul, armed with "weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left" is ready to do battle with the unscriptural detractors in Corinth. "For though we walk in the flesh," says he, "we do not war according to the flesh." The smart thing for his opposition to do would be to repent, and yield humbly to the authority and teaching of this great apostle of Jesus Christ.

Punishing Disobedience

Paul’s enemies in Corinth were engaged in ad hominem attacks. Their goal was to destroy the doctrines he preached by first destroying his reputation and his positive impact on the congregation. What was at stake, of course, was the eternal salvation of hundreds of souls in this spiritual warfare inside the church at Corinth. That is why the apostle emphasizes that "though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh." He does have weapons in this warfare, and these weapons are powerful enough to combat the forces of darkness trying to take control of the minds of mankind. "We are destroying speculations," he says, "and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God." These weapons, applied by the individual Christian to himself, enable him to take "every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" and thus escape the snares and schemes of the devil. But that is a battle that must be fought every day.

As an apostle of Christ, Paul could come with a "rod" if need be. The big talkers in Corinth needed to bring their every thought into obedience to Christ. If they hit that point, and then digressed, Paul was ready to punish all such future disobedience!

What You See Is What You Get

Paul’s enemies were quite willing to attack him from a distance and in his absence. Clearly, those who opposed Paul and the gospel which he preached were not honest men, willing to have a forum where the issues could be discussed openly and the evidence examined. Rather, they operated from the secret blackness of slander and malicious inuendo. Such tactics were of course not new to those who served the forces of darkness; they have been the norm since the serpent told the lie to Eve in the garden. The apostle, as an imitator of Christ, must expose the falsity of the misleading statements from his opposition.

The situation in Corinth had escalated to the point where the apostle could no longer keep silent, but with reluctance he must defend his character and his apostleship. To those who opposed him, and for the encouragement of those who supported him, he boldly states, "Let such a person consider this: that what we are in word and deed when absent, such persons we are in deed when present" (2 Corinthians 10:11).There was nothing hidden in Paul’s life. He was a classic example of "what you see is what you get." And they needed to get themselves spiritually ready, because they were going to see him face to face shortly!

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Some people are very skilled at manipulating others. Very often, they are capable of getting their target audiences to focus on the wrong details, to turn an event into something other than what it really was, or to misdirect their hearers with catchy phrases rather than remarks with substance. Such were the members of the opposition in the church at Corinth. "His letters are weighty and strong," they said, "but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible." Of what eternal significance is the "personal presence" of an individual? Even of Jesus it had been prophesied, "He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him" (Isaiah 53:2). The character of Christ is what counts! What if Paul’s head was somewhat misshapen following his stoning at Lystra? What if some of the "brandmarks" he bore on his body due to his suffering sundry persecutions were visible? Did those things, if they were there, discredit the truth and power of his teaching? Or his speech’s being "contemptible?" Who decides what is contemptible speech(or "hate speech") anyway? Bogus and misdirecting charges!! But such tactics have been used in the past ages, and will continue to be used against all who proclaim God’s truth.

While laying out his credentials as a worker in the vineyard of Christ, the apostle is also going to note that Corinth itself was within his "sphere" of influence. "For we are not overextending ourselves, as if we did not reach you," is his poignant statement, "for we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:14). What could his opponents point to in that regard? They are being shoved into their proper place by statements such as this: "For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends" (2 Corinthians 10:18). Amen!

Boasting in the Lord

There are those who produce, and there are those who try to steal that produce. There are those who labor, and there are those who illegitimately try to use the fruit of that labor for personal ends. Such men are wolves, "who come only to steal, kill, and destroy" (John 10:10). When Paul spoke to the elders of Ephesus, he reminded them, "I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me" (Acts 20:33-34). These men had lived in close association with Paul during the time he spent in Ephesus, and they knew the truthfulness of his unselfish statement. Some are interested in getting the financial fruit of someone else’s labor, while others are interested in using the people others have gathered as a platform for their personal agendas. Paul was honest and content to labor in the Lord, and to function as an apostle of Jesus Christ within "the sphere which God apportioned to us." No personal agenda, only the saving of souls!

Those who are selfish are generally not interested in the gospel’s reaching the lost; they are primarily interested in using what has already been accomplished for personal gain and prestige. The apostle, on the other hand, really desired that the Corinthian Christians "enlarge his sphere" by taking the gospel out to others, and backing him in his next evangelistic thrust. He explains that this is "so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another" (2 Corinthians 10:16). Again, the apostle clearly is not interested in using another man’s labor in the gospel to catapult himself into a position of high visibility. He is conscious that it is written: "But he who boasts, let him boast in the Lord" (2 Corinthians 10:17). Paul is continually aware that he functions in and is protected by the grace of God, as he explained to King Agrippa in Caesarea, "And so, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great" (Acts 26:22). To his opposition inside the congregation in Corinth, he can with the Lord’s full backing say, "For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends!"

Jealous with a Godly Jealousy

Because factions were developing in Corinth, there were those who were weakening doctrinally, twisting the terms of the gospel to suck more saints and others into their schismatic camps. The apostle Paul knows that to deviate from the apostles’ doctrine is spiritual death. Hence, he is going to wade into the issues of false doctrines and expose those who are promoting them. But to do that, he had to lay the foundation for his comments in this letter. He had just mentioned that he could be as bold as he needed to be to confront those who were troubling the congregation in this way. He had talked about his ability to wage spiritual warfare and destroy counterproductive speculations. He discussed the authority—the exousia—he had for building the congregation up. He had pointed out that what he was by letter he also was in person. And he had established the fact that his sphere of influence included starting the church in Corinth. None of his opponents had any comparative ground on which to stand.

The spiritual health of the congregation was being destroyed. Souls were about to be misdirected and sent toward the eternal hell fire. Paul’s fear and concern was certainly justified, and his jealousy for them was a godly jealousy. Paul is going to need to be bold and confident in order to expose these sneaky false teachers, and give of himself again to get the congregation back on track. But if he can salvage anything, it will be worth it!

Preaching Another Jesus

It is easy to throw the name "Jesus" around. But is it the Jesus of the New Testament record? The "Jesus" of the Mormons is a "Jesus" who once was a mere human being with a brother named Satan but who was able to attain to the priesthood and have this present earth as his own. The Muslim "Jesus" was a prophet who was taken up to heaven like Elijah and who never went to the cross or was thus resurrected. The "Jesus" of the Roman Catholics is a "Jesus" who reigns as co-regent with a "Mary" who says her heart beats as one with her "son" and who also suffers for mankind’s sins. There are a lot of Jesus’ out there, but none but One conform to the teaching of the New Testament writings. The apostle Paul is greatly concerned about the congregation in Corinth because they are willingly accepting twisted teachings. "For if one comes and preaches another Jesus," he says, "whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel, which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully" (2 Corinthians 11:4).

The New Testament writings are replete with strident warnings about false teachers, false prophets and false doctrine. Based on how quickly the Corinthian brethren were "bear­ing beautifully" with twisted teachings, it is clear that the modern saint must continually be on his guard also.

Not an Inferior Apostleship

The apostle Paul, voluntarily and at cost to himself, laid the foundation for the congregation in Corinth. Having done so, he warned those who came after him chronologically to be very care­ful how they built upon that foundation. In spite of his labors and warnings, others came in, preaching "another Jesus," talking about a different "spirit," and bringing a "different gospel." A major challenge and major concern for the apostle is that the saints in Corinth "bear this beautifully." Hence Paul is having to use every bit of persuasion possible, including an extended defense of his own apostleship, to turn the Corinthians in the right direction and recognize the false apostles and false prophets among them.

The apostle is engaged in a tremendous war for the souls of the saints in Corinth. On the surface, to an uneducated viewer, it might look like some sort of contest, an attempt at "one-upmanship." If, however, the opposition can gain traction in this face off against Paul, they can begin to successfully teach false doctrines and lead the saints down the path to an eventual hell! Paul has to win this one!!

Paul's Handling of Finances

The scripture is clear on this point: if a person cannot be trusted in the use of finances, they cannot be trusted to handle the precious words of life. Love of money is at the core a very spiritual issue, and serves as a barometer of the purity of the character of the individual. "You cannot serve God and mammon," Jesus had plainly said. "Now the Pharisees," Luke recorded, "who were lov­ers of money, were listening to these things, and they were scoffing at Him" (Luke 16:9-10). When the love of money is a driving force in a person’s life, it blinds him off to important spiritual truths, and short-circuits his thinking processes. "Beware," the Lord had spoken in another place, "and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his posses­sions" (Luke 12:15). The apostle Paul, then, was one who guarded himself against such base motives in preaching the gospel. Whether in Corinth or Ephesus, his character was the same: "I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes" (Acts 20:33). Thus, as he continues his defense of his apostleship to the Corinthian brethren, he brings the financial issue to the fore, and in the process shows the greediness hidden in his enemies working inside the congregation.

It is sometimes difficult for the saints to detect the wolves in sheep’s clothing. It takes men like the apostle Paul with the security of knowing the doctrines he preaches and with the unshakeable character to stand up to such entrenched and deceptive opposition. "But what I am doing," he asseverates, "I will continue to do, that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting" (2 Corinthians 11:12). Paul is showing that since the opposition could not "put up," they needed to "shut up!!!"

Deceitful Workers

Those who have the faith to the preserving of the soul must fight; they must fight the good fight of faith. The spiritually lazy Christian will end up losing the fight, and will lose his soul to the fires of an eternal hell. One of the reasons for this fight is that Satan has unleashed a tremendous number of false teachers and false preachers who pervert the way of righteousness and subtly or bra­zenly twist the gospel. The appeals they make to the flesh are many and variegated, but those appeals continue to work because people who are not interested in grappling for the truth are pulled into the various webs of deceit and lies. Such men were working inside the church at Corinth, and the apostle is in the process of exposing them.

Long-term, it is not possible to preach wrong and do right. Anyone who will not preach the apostles’ doctrine has his mind set on the flesh rather than on the Spirit. "The mind set on the flesh," the apostle had pointed out to the brethren in Rome, "is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so" (Romans 8:7). Paul is therefore confident that when the "fruit" of his opposition is placed alongside his, the contrast will be stark and clear. Thus he is not going to back off on his "boasting."

Bearing with Paul

Paul could wield the rod, but he would rather come "with love and a spirit of gentleness" (1 Corinthians 4:21). As he continues to deal with the church in Corinth, his patience is really on display. The congregation, instead of being doctrinally strong, has weak­ened considerably, putting the eternity of the saints in jeopardy. "If one comes and preaches another Jesus," Paul had pointed out, "you bear this beautifully" (2 Corinthians 11:4). Thus the apostle is having to defend his apostleship and the doctrines he preaches, to expose his opposition, and to get the congregation back on track. So, even if he would rather come with the rod, he is going to talk with love and gentleness, but with some force to his words also.

The apostle is just about ready to list some of the things he has gone through for the gospel. But he has just one more thing to say before he launches: "But in whatever respect anyone else is bold (I speak in foolishness), I am just as bold myself" (2 Corinthians 11:21). Speak on, Paul, speak on!

Paul's Trials

Everywhere the apostle Paul traveled, he encountered tre­mendous opposition to the gospel. Sometimes this opposition was external, and often from the Jews. But sometimes this opposition was internal, inside the congregations themselves, as at Corinth. To defend the gospel of Christ and the doctrines of salvation, the apostle has to defend himself and expose his opposition. "Such men are false apostles," he plainly stated, "deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:13). This is clearly entrenched and powerful opposition, that the claimants would be able to confuse some of the brethren about their being apostles of Christ. Hence Paul is going to challenge these men making such bold claims with some boldness of his own. "But in whatever respect anyone else is bold ... I am just as bold myself" (2 Corinthians 11:21).

The beginning of Paul’s listing of what he went through in order to proclaim the gospel not only silenced his opposition, it subjected them to total humiliation. The goal of such listing was to make sure that no truth-seeker in the midst of the congregation would even countenance the teaching or preaching of such men. The goal, then, was to elevate the Christ of the gospel, rather than glorify the outcast angel who disguised himself as an angel of light through the teachings of these fakes!

More of Paul's Tribulations

The apostle Peter, in his encouragement to the brethren, talked much of suffering in his first epistle. "Therefore, since Christ has suf­fered in the flesh," he posited, "arm yourselves with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God" (1 Peter 4:1-2). Those who would avoid suf­fering would also fall for the lusts of men. Hence, as Paul writes to the brethren in Corinth, one of the things he is essentially forced to bring forward is the amount of suffering he had experienced. While he makes it clear that he is not doing this out of arrogance, it becomes evident that in so doing he establishes the purity of his motives. He thus correspondingly exposes the fleshly and sinful motives of his opposition, entrenched so deeply in the congregation at Corinth.

The personal extremities to which Paul subjected himself also demonstrated that his clear and only desire was to spread the gospel for the sake of converting the lost and conserving the saved. "I have been in labor and hardship," he asseverates, "through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure" (2 Corinthians 11:27). Could any of the fake apostles and false preachers match this?

"But apart from such external things," he superadds, "there is daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?" (2 Corinthians 11:28-29). The intense concern of the apostle for each individual soul is apparent in these few verses. The brethren should listen to the instructions and teachings of the apostle, and failing to do so would clearly be the loss of their eternities with Christ.

Further Appeal and Recollection

The apostle Paul laid his life on the line for the souls of the brethren in Corinth, and not only in Corinth but also for all the brethren everywhere he preached. Since he suffered in labors, in imprisonments, beatings, and incarcerations for the sake of their eternities, he naturally is very concerned when even one of the brethren is in danger of losing his salvation because of being sucked back into sin. As he explains, "Who is led into sin without my intense concern?" The battle is not just on an individual basis, but it can be on a larger scale as well. "There is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches," Paul in his integrity had mentioned. This battle against the prince of darkness who can disguise himself as an angel of light is on all fronts at all times. Part of that battle was the war against the character and doctrines of the apostle Paul.

The experience of being caught up into Paradise was so overpowering and surreal that Paul describes it in almost third person terminology. "Boasting is not profitable," he had in­troduced this section, "but necessary." Speaking, then, as if the man who saw the visions was another person, the apostle goes back to the "boasting" issue. "On behalf of such a man I will boast," he avers, "but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses" (2 Corinthians 12:5). Can the enemies of the gospel match any of this? Clearly not, and once again their mouths are shut.

Caught up to Paradise?

The apostle Paul stated that he was "caught up into Paradise." This was a rephrasing of his affirmation that he was "caught up to the third heaven." The Jews had three heavens, which the apostle draws upon for his terminology. The first heaven was the skies in which the birds fly, the second was the expanse wherein the sun and stars are located, and the third was where God is located. The question would be whether the term "Paradise" can be more Biblically defined.

The word paradise itself originates in an ancient Iranian lan­guage called Avestan, and it means "an enclosed garden" or "garden with a wall." It is easy to see why the translators of the Septuagint would use "paradise" as the name for the original Garden of Eden, and why even in modern terminology "paradise" is sometimes used as the name for the idyllic home for Adam and Eve.

The word of God reveals to all who are interested the answer to the question, "What hap­pens when you die?" To do that, the New Testament writings are going to borrow words from Greek mythology—such as Hades and Tartarus—and redefine them so that they communicate the revelation that can only come from God as to what happens in the realm beyond the grave.

What was once down prior to Jesus’ ascension is now up! The wicked ones up to that time, and even now, are suffering in agony in the flames of Hades. But the saints of God, the redeemed, are now up, "absent from the body" but "at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). Hence, in the extremely awesome visions that Paul had, wherein he heard those "inexpressible words," he described himself as "caught up into Paradise." May each saint of God remain focused and faithful, so that at his passing from this life, he too may enter into that Paradise, waiting spirit

The Thorn in the Flesh

The enemies of Paul in the church at Corinth were using every possible technique to attack him, and thus attack the doctrines he preached. Therefore the apostle has to go to some extremes to assure honest readers that he is not arrogant or puffed up as some of the Corinthian opposition were. After describing some of his sufferings on behalf of the gospel, he then described how he was "caught up into Paradise." Paul by his own efforts could never accomplish that; it took a special act of God’s favor for that to happen. Consequently, Paul responds to his critics with these words, "On behalf of such a man I will boast."

The apostle had introduced this section of his discourse with the comment that "boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable." The recalcitrant Corinthians had forced him to go this far in a major effort to save their everlasting souls. "For if I do wish to boast I shall not be foolish," he adds to the discussion, "for I shall be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one may credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me" (2 Corinthians 12:6). Contrary to his blustering, high profile, puffed up opposition, the apostle is willing to let people have an honest look into his life!

Whether it was the apostle Paul or whether it is one of the modern saints, the key is to con­tinue to trust that God knows what He is doing. God is clearly involved, as in the case of Paul, with each of His children of faith on a personal basis and is working in each Christian’s life. When difficulties come, as they will, it is critical that the brother or sister move forward, walking by faith and not by sight. "Be faithful until death," said the kind and loving Savior, "and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).

Power is Perfected in Weakness

It is natural that mankind in general would like things to go smoothly, for health to be perfect, and there be no problems. That, however, is not how taking the form of a bond-servant, could not escape having to deal with these, neither could the apostle Paul. Paul had been stoned, shipwrecked, flogged, forced to flee, beaten, and burdened, and the faithful Lord stood with Him through all these. But when it came to his asking the Almighty to remove the "thorn in the flesh" which plagued him, there was no deliverance. This was to keep Paul from exalting himself, and, in the Lord’s far-seeing strategy, that the brethren could not honestly accuse him of being arrogant.

Christianity wins because, in spite of all the apparent advantages wickedness has, good overcomes evil. The word of the gospel is spread by those individual saints who keep preaching regardless of the fact that there might be a sword to their throats. It’s God’s power rather than human power that only becomes evident in these types of tests, and the spiritually interested take note. The others don’t care.

I Should Have Been Commended

O Corinthians, how much does Paul have to go through before you listen and quit your divisive and destructive actions? O saints at Corinth, what more does the apostle have to list in his personal privations, including his "thorn in the flesh," before his teachings and personal example are relevant? How many more "insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties" will Paul have to "boast" about be­fore you yield to the will of Him whom Paul represents? O modern "church goer," how much does Paul have to record before you listen and quit your divisive and destruction actio and personal example are relevant? How much more cataloging of his trials and travail are you going to have to examine before you yield to the will of Him whom Paul represents?

The clear legacy of the apostle Paul lasts today. His life, his sufferings, his patience, his per­severance, and his teachings all communicate to the serious disciple of Christ what it means to be a Christian. Who will listen? And who will follow? "Be imitators of me," he had exhorted in his earlier epistle, "just as I also am of Christ."

Reaffirming His Love

"You love brother more than me," is a fairly typical human outcry. It is not necessarily based on truth, but it is a very powerful manipulative technique that has worked for every generation of the squalling descendants of Adam. The church at Corinth—fleshly, divisive, quarrelsome, selfish—unfortunately was no exception. In addition to the apostle Paul’s care in wording as he "boasted" about his accomplishments and suffering in the Lord, he also had to reaffirm his love for them. As he had explained in his first epistle, "I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:1).

In modern society, love is something to be felt. That is not true, of course, but that is the prevailing culture; in consequence, many congregations try to create an atmosphere where people "feel" loved. Well, the congregation in Corinth certainly wasn’t "feeling the love" from Paul, but in a very deep way he demonstrated that he was the one with true love for them. "If I love you the more," he in hopefulness queried, "am I to be loved the less?" This is a question that rings down through the centuries.

Some Upbuilding

It is clear from Paul’s writing that he, from the beginning of his preaching in Corinth, had to be careful how he handled things. Take money, for example. He accepted financial assistance from other congregations such as Philippi, but not from Corinth. He had an idea from the outset that there were elements in the congregation that were money-driven and would use anything they could to destroy Paul’s reputation and influence. Hence, as he put it, using a little hyperbole, "I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to serve you" (2 Corinthians 11:8). To communicate more clearly how he desired nothing from them, he emphasized, "I will not be a burden to you." Restating his point in terms of finances, he animadverted, "I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls!"

Paul, the "crafty fellow," is being indirect in his approach to the brethren; their sensitivities on these issues is pretty clear from the way he introduces the things he wants to bring forward. "All this time you have been thinking that we are defending ourselves to you," he commented, leading into the idea that this had not been his major purpose. If they had processed a little deeper, they would have remembered from his first epistle that he had informed them that "it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court" (1 Corinthians 4:3). He was very conscious that his stewardship of the mysteries of Christ was to God, and to God he would answer. Compared to that, the Corinthians’ opinion of him did not matter. "Actually, it is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ," he openly states, "and all for your upbuilding, beloved!" (2 Corinthians 12:19). The logical process is clear; he was confident of his standing with the Lord, and therefore with no need to defend himself to the Corinthians. His goal, then, consistent with everything else he had said along the way, was for their edification and salvation!

I Am Afraid

Communication, in the days of Paul, by comparison to our own times, was very difficult. Until the invention of the telegraph in the 1800’s, letters had to be carried over difficult muddy and rocky roads, or across sea and ocean by ship. Hence, it was chal­lenging to maintain the contact necessary for good understanding and for updates on changing conditions. The apostle, therefore, did not know exactly what conditions were inside the congregation at Corinth without being physically there, and was concerned about what reception he would receive at his arrival.

The potential for strife and angry tempers to arise in connection with Paul’s coming to Corinth is also an indication of the intensity of the spiritual warfare each individual saint faces in his own life. When pressures cause such things as arrogance, slanders, and disturbances to arise, there is a definite lack of true spirituality on the part of the individual, and he can either deal with it or ignore it. Of course, if he ignores these danger signals about his personal spiritual life and rationalizes his behavior, then an eternity away from the presence of the Lord awaits him. The message from scripture is still clear: repent, turn from your wicked ways, and follow the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!

Confirming Every Fact

How does a leader like the apostle Paul handle issues such as strife in the midst of the congregation? How can he deal with the underlying jealousy that would drive so many hidden agendas? What can he do about the angry tempers, slanders, or the gossip? How can he call to account those who are arrogant, and those who create disputes and cause disturbances? How can he help those who are not repentant, who have not dealt with the impurity, immorality, and the sensuality in their own lives? (And we moderns are so thankful those were first century church problems and that we do not have to deal with them in the twenty-first century!)

The Christ who was speaking through Paul was (and is) indeed mighty—crucified, risen from the dead, glorified, exalted as Prince and Savior! That same Christ then was mighty toward the brethren, calling them to repentance or fierce judgment. But He was also mighty in them, giving them the power to overcome through His indwelling Spirit. That, therefore, was the encourage­ment the apostle hoped to bring, and that the changes of heart and action would ensue. Modern brethren: take note!

Weakness vs. Power

The Christ who spoke through the apostle Paul was indeed mighty. He is often described as the Mighty God. "The Mighty One, God," said the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad, appealing to their brethren in Israel that they did not intend to cause a separa­tion in Israel after taking the promised land, "the Lord, the Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows" (Joshua 22:22). And very often the expression, "the mighty hand" of God is used (Deuteronomy 26:8). "Who is this who comes from Edom," is the question from a vision of Isaiah, similar to the angel of the Lord’s appearing in the days of Judges and coming from Gilgal up to Bochim, "with garments of flowing colors from Bozrah, the One who is majestic in His apparel, marching in the greatness of His strength?" Thence cometh the answer: "It is I who speak in righteousness," saith the Lord, "mighty to save!" (Isaiah 63:1). "The Christ who speaks in me," thus animadverted the apostle Paul, "is mighty,"—mighty toward the Corinthians, and mighty in the Corinthians.

In his earlier "boasting" to the Corinthians, in an effort to get them to open their hearts wide to him and to process the important things concerning their salvation, the apostle had spoken of his weaknesses. One of those was his "thorn in the flesh," and in this trial one of the things he increasingly learned was that God’s "power is perfected in weakness." As he nears the conclu­sion of this second epistle to the Corinthian brethren, he then makes application of the principles connected with weakness and power. "For we are weak in Him," Paul says, ascribing this to himself and the other apostles, "yet we shall live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you." The power that raised Jesus from the dead was the same power that would enable the apostles to be resurrected and live with God forever. But an additional key point was that this same power was directed toward the salvation and conservation of the Corinthians’ eternal souls. Would they heed?

Run This Test!

Most people don’t like tests. Some people get nervous, and some even use the expression, "I don’t test well." But tests are necessary; without testing it cannot be known whether a product will perform as expected, or whether it will fail the purchaser after it has gone on the market. Modern "apps" (applications for cell phones, computers, etc.—terminology which would not have been even comprehensible 30 years ago at the time of this writing) often run "beta" versions as tests in the market before full release so that "bugs" in the programming can be exposed. Even the faith of saints needs tested: "Consider it all joy, my brethren," was James’ exordium, "when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance" (James 1:2-3). Tests are not only necessary, but, with the proper adjustment of perspective, a source of joy!

Only those who are in the faith of Christ at the end of their lives will pass through the gates of glory; all who fail the test will howl in hell. This indeed is the test worth passing. "But I trust that you will realize," Paul says to the brethren concerning himself and the other apostles, "that we ourselves do not fail the test" (2 Corinthians 13:6). The apostles were cho­sen by Jesus Himself, and were tested and trusted men. Hence Paul could say with absolute confidence that he and the others were continually facing the faith challenges in front of them victoriously, and their honest desire was that the saints in Corinth and in all the churches in all generations would likewise victoriously overcome.

For the Truth

Most earthly parents want their children to do what is right. Certainly the heavenly Father wants all men to do right, and even gives them a second opportunity to get it right after failure on their first attempt. The apostle Paul, in parallel fashion, regards the saints in Corinth as his spiritual children, and he wants them to believe and do right. In writing his letter to Philemon, church leader in Colossae, concerning the run-away slave Onesimus, Paul comments, "I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment" (Philemon 1:10). The slave was taught the gospel and was immersed under Paul’s tutelage, and hence regarded as his "child." Paul’s appeal was that Philemon would give this formerly rebellious slave another opportunity to do right.

The question from the first epistle is still on the table: "Shall I come to you with a rod or with love and a spirit of gentleness?" (1 Corinthians 4:21). Paul clearly has enough authority to go either way, depending upon the Corinthian’s choices. Whatever they choose, Paul will do the right thing. "We can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth!"

Coming to a Close

Paul has authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ. This authority emanates from the King over the church, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In reminding the rebellious brethren of Corinth of this authority, he had stated, "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you" (2 Corinthians 12:12). The false apostles—those who were making a claim to apostleship among them—could in no way demonstrate any authority or divine inspiration in teaching the gospel of God. Authority and power can only be entrusted to those with the character to use them properly, as the British statesman Lord Acton noted, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Paul’s character had been tested to extremities that most Christians would never know; he had listed some of the beatings, whippings, stoning, and dangers he had been through without compromising his character or the truth of the gospel message. His authority, then, could be used for tearing things down—causing disruption and disorder of every kind, and scattering Christians as spiritual carnage all over the landscape (as some were attempting to do). But Paul worked too hard and the cost of their souls to him had been too high for him to behave in that fashion. He is going to use that authority for "building up and not tearing down."

Paul’s closing thrust is succinct, but powerful. The saints at Corinth would do well to heed his words, not only for their personal souls but for the blessing that would come to the congregation as a whole. Thus it was, and so it is!

Weakness vs. Power - Part 2

There are myriads of details in the scriptures. They are all important, in varying degrees of implementation and/or priority, but at some point each detail is of critical importance in the plan and revelation of God, as Jesus noted in His quotation from Deu­teronomy: "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). But once in a while, it is important to be able to step back and get a broader picture of the scriptures and the revealed character of God. One of those broad pictures, a grand view indeed, is manifested in Paul’s magnificent finish to his second letter to the Corinthian brethren. "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all" (2 Corinthians 13:14).

As the apostle Paul closes this second recorded epistle to the shattered brethren in Corinth, this is his appeal to God for the unity of the brethren in spiritual fashion. To a congregation that may still be mired in impurity, immorality, and sensuality, this is a prayer that the grace of God may help lift them out. For those whose hearts have been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, creating strife and fostering jealousy, the petition is that the love of God might enable them to rise out of such depths. And to the brethren who have sunk into angry tempers, slanders, disputes, gossip, and arrogance, the pleading is for the fellowship of the Holy Spirit to enable them to lay those aside and put on a heart of compassion and real intersection of lives toward one another.

Modern brethren would do well to participate in all three of these major points as well!!