2 Corinthians 11

Read 2 Corinthians 11.

Despite a lifetime of love, discipline, and teaching from good parents, young people sometimes reject their parents, even denouncing them, and choose instead to make foolish and sinful decisions.

That is the kind of heartbreak that comes to mind when I read 2 Corinthians 11 today. Paul poured his heart and soul into the Corinthian church. He loved them, wrote to them to give them guidance, and visited them when necessary, all to present them to Christ like a good father would present his virgin daughter to her husband. Despite his work and ambition for them, he dealt with constant concern that they would follow another Jesus or a different spirit than the Holy Spirit. This was due to the fascination that so easily overcomes us. Adam and Eve simply needed to trust God and keep his commands but Eve was fooled by the prospect of something greater than what God offered (v. 3). Likewise, the Corinthians flirted constantly, it seems, with false doctrine and new religious ideas. Instead of maintaining “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (v. 3), Paul was concerned that they would leave Christ for something a bit more sophisticated or seemingly more spiritual.

This danger continues for us today.

Instead of studying the scriptures looking for a greater understanding of God’s character and Christ’s glory, Christians may become enamored with religious symbols and ceremonies because they feel more spiritual.

Or, instead of looking into the Word for God’s revelation, they turn instead to books where the author claims to have fresh revelation from God. Jesus may be—often is—referred to by these churches, preachers, or authors, but the Jesus they speak of is not the one who calls us to childlike faith and simple obedience. Their Jesus is a distortion, a false Christ, who claims to offer more than what the scriptures give us or who demands that we do more than fall on his grace for our spiritual life and take his word by faith for our daily growth. Christ is all that you need; as the infinite Son of God, he is more than enough. His work on this earth in life, death, and resurrection can save your soul eternally. His words and his church offer more than enough to satisfy the longings of your soul. Don’t be Eve-like, looking for something better than Christ or additional to Christ. Cling to him and follow him all the days of your life.

2 Corinthians 10

Read 2 Corinthians 10.

Chapters 8-9 were about the collection Paul was coming to receive from the Thessalonians. He was concerned, though, that during his visit, some tough love would be required as well (vv. 1-2).

It is unclear who Paul was expecting to have a confrontation with, but it is clear that he wanted to avoid the confrontation, if possible, by appealing “by the humility and gentleness of Christ” (v.1) to his potential opponents.

If they did not back down, Paul promised to be bold (v. 2) in his confrontations with them. That was the opposite of what the Corinthians expected (vv. 10-11). In the past they found his letters to be strong but his real life approach to be weak (v. 10). This time he promised just the opposite (v. 11). He was confident that he had the spiritual weapons he needed to win the victory in Corinth for Christ (v. 4).

And what were those weapons? Argumentation (v. 5) and church discipline (v. 6).

When Paul says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” he is speaking of the battle of ideas, of truth claims. When he encountered false teaching, he was more than prepared to defeat their arguments with his own argumentation. He was also capable subjecting thoughts to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

What we see in the first 6 verses of this chapter is that spirituality and clear thinking and communication are not enemies but partners to the glory of God.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of teaching out there that disparages a godly use of the mind to trade it in for something more “spiritual.” To Paul, using his mind for the glory of God to rebuke and correct false teaching was a deeply spiritual act. Developing his mind was part of living to the glory of God; so was using it for the good of God’s people.

I find that a lot of Christians are not readers. We spend little time developing our minds and filling it with great content to be used by God. Some even try to set “spirituality” against the intellect as if they were enemies. But part of following Christ and maturing in him is learning to control your own thoughts as well as to refuse Satan’s. In addition to spending time daily in God’s word, be someone who regularly reads in order to be more effective in service for Christ. Join a small group and a Calvary Class and let us help you identify your weak areas and learn to grow in them.

2 Corinthians 9

Read 2 Corinthians 9.

Though they had many spiritual problems, the Corinthian church apparently had some level of generosity for the Lord’s work, for Paul wrote in verses 1-2a: “There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord’s people. For I know your eagerness to help….”

Nevertheless, Paul did teach in this chapter some principles about giving to the Lord’s work. Perhaps he was nervous that the Corinthians might not be as generous in reality as they claimed they would be (vv. 3-5). With that preface out of the way, Paul reminded them of an important life principle: You only get out in proportion to what you put in (v. 6).

If you have a bag full of seeds but only plant one of them in your garden, don’t be surprised if one plant or fewer grows out of the ground. That’s how farming works; you reap in proportion to what you have sown. Having said that, Paul urged the Corinthians to give freely, from their hearts, not because it was the “right thing to do” at the time but because they loved the Lord and his work (v. 7).

Interestingly, Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians that God would bless them according to their giving (vv. 8-11). This blessing must have a financial component to it because verse 11 says, “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.” That statement is not teaching “The Prosperity Gospel” which claims that you will get rich if you give enough of your money. But, if your heart is right in giving (v. 2), the passage says in verse 10, “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.”

In other words, if you give happily, in faith, God will not only see to it that your needs are met in this life, but he will reward you in eternity.

If true, why do so few Christians give more than 10% of their income to the Lord’s work? The answer is a lack of faith. It comes from fear that, if I give too much money to God’s work, I won’t have enough money for my life.

That’s similar to a farmer saying, “If I plant all these seeds, I won’t have any left to eat.” But, to borrow a phrase from our world, you are “eating your seed corn” instead of planting it to produce a lot more corn in the future.

You have to have faith that (a) God will make a harvest out of the seed money you give to his work today and (b) that he will provide for your needs in the meantime.

Do you believe that? Does your giving to God’s work show that you believe it?

The harvest may not arrive for you until eternity. But, be certain of this, the Lord of the harvest will reward you if you plant financial generosity for his work in this world.

2 Corinthians 8

Read 2 Corinthians 8.

Way back on May 11 we read Acts 19, then broke off our reading of Acts to read the two letters to the Corinthians. It seems clear that Paul wrote both of these letters during the two years (Acts 19:10) that Paul was in Ephesus. In the middle of Acts 19, verse 21 says, “After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia.” Corinth is in Achaia which is the southern peninsula of Greece. Paul’s purpose for going to Jerusalem by way of Macedonia and Achaia was to collect an offering from the churches in Greece to help the believers in Jerusalem who were suffering under a famine. Today’s reading, 2 Corinthians 8, discussed that offering for the believers in Jerusalem.

First Paul described the generosity of the Macedonian churches (vv. 1-5). Macedonia is the northern part of Greece and the churches there were the Philippians, the Thessalonians, and others. These churches were facing trials of their own (v. 2a) but were generous in their giving (vv. 2b-5). Paul used their example to encourage the Corinthians to give excellently (v. 7a) as well, which they had already promised to do (vv. 10-15).

This chapter closed with a description about how Titus and someone else were coming to collect the offering from the Corinthians (vv. 16-24). In the middle of that section, verses 19-21 discussed the level of accountability that they used in carrying this gift. Paul said in verse 21, “For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.”

In Paul’s world, people paid traveling speakers for their wisdom and even for religious instructions. That gave dishonest, unscrupulous people an opportunity to take advantage of people by asking for money “for a good cause” but keeping much, if not all, of it for themselves. Paul wanted to guard against the temptation to take that money (“to do what is right… in the eyes of the Lord,” v. 21) and against any appearance or accusation of stealing it (v. 21b: “but also in the eyes of man”). Accordingly, each church sent a representative with Paul to accompany this offering to Jerusalem. That way, there were plenty of witnesses that every dime collected was given to the Lord’s people.

Having good financial controls and accountability do not lift one’s spirit to worship. However, the Bible says repeatedly that someone’s attitude about money reflects that person’s walk with God. The Bible warns us again and again about false teachers who are looking for financial gain and for others who will use the Lord’s work as a means to wealth. Many ministries have been victims of embezzlement; others have enriched the ministers in ways that were perfectly legal but not righteous. These fiscal missteps are both sins because they take what was given to the Lord’s work for personal enrichment. I believe the Bible teaches us to give generously to the Lord’s work; I also believe that it requires us to handle the money given to the Lord’s work appropriately.

Ministries are not the only places where money can be embezzled or mishandled. If you are given the opportunity to handle an organization’s money, be someone who welcomes good supervision and financial controls. They will protect you from false accusations as well as temptation.

2 Corinthians 7

Read 2 Corinthians 7.

At the end of chapter 6, which we read on Friday, God’s word told us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (v. 14). One reason to obey this command is the promise of God in verse 16, “I will be their God, and they will be my people” and the promise in verse 18, “I will be a Father to you… says the Lord Almighty.” These are promises of a unique, personal, family relationship with God. What relationship with an unbeliever can replace that? There is no greater promise that could be made to a man or woman than this kind of love from God.

Today’s passage began with the word, “therefore.” What Paul says in verse 1, therefore, is a conclusion based on those last few verses of chapter 6 where Paul repeated these promises of God from the Old Testament. Given that God has promised us this, what is the best way we could respond? According to verse 1, “let us purify ourselves… perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” As believers, we learn to choose righteousness over sinfulness, holiness over unholiness, by believing that God’s promises of fellowship with him will be better–far better–than anything sin can offer us, including the companionship of being yoked with unbelievers.

In the moment of temptation, this is one truth we can remind ourselves of to help us choose what is right over what is sinful. This isn’t the only thing we have to help us be holy, but it is a powerful motivator when the lure of temptation draws us toward sin. Since we reverence God, let us choose what is holy over what is unholy. May God grace us to do that today.

2 Corinthians 6

Read 2 Corinthians 6.

This chapter continues the thread of the past several chapters. Paul commended the ministry of himself and his co-workers to the fickle, loveless (v. 12) Corinthians. Verses 1-2 here in 2 Corinthians 6 wrapped up the discussion from chapter 5 about the importance of the gospel message which Paul and his men preached. Verses 3-10 laid out the reasons why Paul and his associates should be loved and championed by the believers in Corinth. Then, in verses 11-13, Paul directly urged the church in Corinth to give that love and acceptance to him and his coworkers in the gospel.

In verses 14-18 Paul changed the subject to the relationship the church in Corinth should have with unbelievers. This seems like a sudden change in subject, like a driver who unexpectedly made a right hand turn from the left hand turn lane. This is not Paul’s usual style for moving from one topic to another, so it is possible–likely even–that this section is connected to the previous section. Verses 11-12 pleaded for the Corinthians to “open wide your hearts also” to Paul and his associates. Those verses, plus this section, may indicate that Paul feared the church was turning away from his leadership and toward some other kind of spiritual leadership, a leadership that came from “unbelievers.”

Note how verse 16 says, “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.” Given the strong presence of idolatry in Corinth, it might be that the Corinthians had moved from merely eating food offered to idols (as we saw in 1 Corinthians) and had begun mixing Christ with some of the other religious practices in Corinth.

If that is true and the Corinthians were flirting with idolatry in some way, then how would this passage apply to us today?

First of all, the most common application of this passage–don’t marry an unbeliever–would still apply. Verse 14 laid down a command that would apply across many dimensions of a believer’s life.

But, secondly, consider the phrase, “we are the temple of the living God” (v. 16b). The wording of that verse seems to suggest the entire church as God’s temple, not our individual bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Maybe the church in Corinth had begun accepting unbelievers into membership, treating them as if they were Christians even though they were freely mixing Christianity with idolatry.

Maybe they had begun using the idol temples as places for Christian worship and the unsaved population around them was confused.

Maybe they even began consulting with false teachers from the idol temples, borrowing some of their ideas to mix with the scripture.

These days there are churches that perform secular songs in their worship services. There are churches that recommend books and authors who are “spiritual” but not Christians. These would, in my opinion, be violations of this passage. 1 Corinthians 6, then, teaches us to be careful about how we treat those who don’t explicitly claim to follow Jesus.

We may read books by secular authors but we should never treat any book but God’s word as the authority on any subject. To do that would be placing that book on a level similar to scripture.

We certainly should allow unbelievers to attend our church After all, this is a place where they can hear the gospel and see it lived in our lives. But we should not act as if everyone who attends weekly is automatically a believer.

What is your relationship to unbelievers? The Bible certainly calls us to be in contact with them so as to give the gospel message and live out our faith among them. But be careful about giving them acceptance or an audience that is equal to or greater than the acceptance and authority of Christ himself.

2 Corinthians 5

Today, read 2 Corinthians 5.

Yesterday in 2 Corinthians 4, we read that Paul and his companions did not lose heart despite the hardships they faced because they have a ministry that transforms lives by the power of Christ.

Today’s reading continued the theme of serving the Lord despite the costs that come with it. Another reason not to lose heart is eternity–“we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven” (v. 1b).

Believers should long for eternity (vv. 2-8) but live for Christ with the time we have on this earth (vv. 9-10). Living for Christ means reaching out to non-believers with the life-transforming power of the gospel message (vv. 11-21), so this is why Paul and his team kept traveling, kept giving the gospel despite the pain of persecution and the difficulty of dealing with disrespectful churches.

There are so many powerful verses in this chapter!

  • verse 7: “For we live by faith, not by sight.”
  • verse 10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
  • verse 11: “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.”
  • verse 15: “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
  • verse 17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here.”
  • verse 20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
  • verse 21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

But the one that stands out to me today is verse 9, “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.”

Pleasing God is not the same as trying to earn his love or his salvation. That’s impossible; God loved us unconditionally when we were still sinners and saved us as a gift of his grace alone. But, once saved by God’s grace, we want to become holy like he is and to rescue sinners like he did. God is pleased with these things because they are the evidence of the life of the Holy Spirit within us (v. 5) and because they show that we are “no longer living for” ourselves “but for him who died for” us “and was raised again” (v. 15).

Now that we are God’s children, our goal is to please him with our lives. Is this a goal that we think about daily? Whatever you face today, consider what it would look like to please the Lord in the things you pay attention to, the decisions and choices you make, and what you do with the time in front of you.

2 Corinthians 4

Read 2 Corinthians 4.

In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul defended his ministry to the Corinthians (3:1-6) and argued that the Corinthians themselves were a proof that God was working in Paul and his partners as they ministered.

In both 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul addressed an undercurrent of disrespect the Corinthian believers had toward him. If God used you to establish a church, then some of the people there started disrespecting you, it would be natural and very human to become discouraged about the ministry. Add to that the kind of persecutions and pressures that Paul and his team faced (4:8-12) and it is easy to see how Paul might have been tempted to quit serving the Lord altogether.

Paul did not downplay the problems he faced for the gospel, but he opened this chapter by saying that, despite these problems, “we do not lose heart” (v. 1). Instead, the ability he and his team had to keep serving the Lord despite the very human weaknesses they had, reminded them that it was God working through them, not their own power or ability (vv. 7-12, 16-17).

Today’s chapter also touched on the method they used to reach people for Christ. Their method was to set “forth the truth plainly” (v. 2). There was no need to use deception or pressure or any other tactics to get people to trust Christ (v. 2a) because the problem unbelievers had believing the gospel was a spiritual problem, a blindness from Satan that veiled the glory of Christ in the gospel (vv. 3-5). The right approach, then, was to “preach Jesus Christ as Lord” (v. 5a) and depend on God’s power to save people (v. 6).

What were their qualifications for this ministry, then? Simply that they believed in Jesus: “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself” (vv. 13-14). They gave the gospel and called people to repent and trust Jesus because that is the truth they believed when they became Christians.

Too often we are quiet about our faith because we think we don’t have the best arguments or the right answers or that we are not personally persuasive. These are excuses; what matters is that we have believed the gospel ourselves (v. 13) and that we are relying on God to work through us when we speak (vv. 5-6). Is there someone in your relationships–at work, in your family, in your neighborhood–who has not heard you share Christ? Is one of these excuses the reason why? Let the truth of this chapter encourage you and embolden you to speak up. Only Christ can remove the veil of unbelief from a person’s spiritual eyes. Our job is to faithfully and plainly share the message. If you get a chance today, step up to the opportunity to speak about Christ.

2 Corinthians 3

Read 2 Corinthians 3.

Why is it that when people hear the gospel or read the Bible, some believe but others are unmoved, unchanged? How can someone study the Bible for years without coming to believe that Jesus is the Christ and that he died on behalf of sinners? How can a devout Jewish person read Isaiah 53 without falling to his knees to confess Christ, calling on God to save him?

The answer to these questions is here in 2 Corinthians 3: 14-16: “But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

Anyone who knows how to read can read and interpret the Bible properly, but not everyone can believe what the Bible says.

Here in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul tells us that this is because we are blind, by nature, to God’s truth in Christ. The reason why people don’t see him in the Bible and come to trust in him is that “a veil covers their hearts” (v. 15). Only the work of the Spirit of God (v. 17) can welcome Jesus and believe the Bible when they encounter his truth.

Then, once we’ve come to know Christ by faith, we can study the Bible’s depiction of Christ clearly without the veil of unbelief over our eyes (vv. 17-18).

This is how we should pray for unbelievers that we’re witnessing to–that God’s spirit would open their spiritual eyes to see the light of Christ in the gospel. It is also why salvation does not depend on how good your presentation skills are or how perfect your arguments for Christianity may be.

Salvation is a spiritual act; it requires the work of God’s Holy Spirit. So ask for the Spirit’s help when you witness, the Spirit’s illumination, conviction of sin, and regeneration in the hearts of those to whom you witness.

2 Corinthians 2

Read 2 Corinthians 2.

One of the issues we have in interpreting 1 and 2 Corinthians is that there were letters exchanged between the Corinthians and Paul that we do not have. Paul also referenced visiting them (v. 1: “another painful visit”) but that visit is not discussed in Acts–though scholars have made a good explanation of where it could have happened. Some have compared reading 1st and especially 2nd Corinthians to listening to one half of a phone conversation. If you’ve ever done that, for instance when your spouse is talking on the phone in your presence, you know how confusing it can get. You listen to what your spouse says and then try to imagine what might have been said on the other end of the conversation, the one you can’t hear. At least, that’s what I do when someone is talking on the phone near me….

Anyway, we have these two letters, but there were other communications between Paul and this church that we don’t have. That means we have to speculate somewhat. We can still understand what the Holy Spirit was teaching through Paul, we just don’t know–for certain, at least–all the details.

It is true that Paul commanded the church to discipline a man from the church in 1 Corinthians 5:13. It is also true that, here in 2 Corinthians 2, Paul commanded the church to restore a man to fellowship who had been under discipline. Some scholars think, though, that this is actually a different case of church discipline than the one Paul ordered in 1 Corinthians 5. Whether the man referenced in the passage today is the same guy as 2 Corinthians 2 or not, it seems clear that the church had removed him from its fellowship (v. 6) and that he repented and sought to be restored to fellowship (v. 7a). But the Corinthian church was having a hard time with the forgiveness part. In verse 7 Paul commanded them to “forgive and comfort him” and in verse 8 he encouraged them “to reaffirm your love for him” (v. 8b).

Forgiveness is sometimes easy. When someone has sinned against us in ways that we also have done toward others, we might find it easier to forgive. When we don’t really feel like we’ve been harmed, it may be easy to forgive. When we empathize with why someone sinned, it is not nearly as hard to receive that person’s repentance. But those situations–the easy to forgive ones–are rare. Much of the time we wallow in the pain caused by the sin of others and we are tempted to return equal pain and then some more to the one who sinned against us. Imagine an entire church filled with people who felt that way. Imagine what it must be like for the repentant sinner not to be received. Forgiveness is rarely easy, but it is always right when there is repentance. If you are struggling to forgive someone, even though you know they have changed their minds about their sin, ask God to give you the grace that he showed to us when he forgave us in Christ.