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Tell the Truth   Leave a comment

Image result for image of telling the truthMinisters and ordinary Christians face a constant temptation to tell people what they want to hear rather than what they need to know. Sermons that confront a congregation with their spiritual shortcomings don’t usually result in a pat on the back. Instead, they quite often yield criticism and hostility. That’s why strong evangelical preaching and discipleship has largely fallen by the wayside these days. To preach in a way that serves Christ and not people’s egos takes courage and it is easy to become disheartened when people turn a deaf ear to preaching that tells it like it is.

Thereforesince we have this ministryjust as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged. But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of Godbut by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God. But even if our gospel is veiledit is veiled only to those who are perishing among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselvesbut Jesus Christ as Lord, and  ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For Godwho said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

Paul repeatedly had to deal with discouragement in his ministry. There were plenty of preachers whose motives were less than honorable and who would do whatever they thought would gain a following. There were also churches who were readily seduced by flattering speech and winsome ways. It would have been all too easy for someone who remained faithful in preaching Christ and not themselves to grow weary of the downside of human nature.

Paul didn’t give in to discouragement. What heartened him were two things: the character of his ministry and the mercy of God.

Since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, he says, we do not lose heart (v. 1). Paul looked on his ministry as something he received not because of any personal merit but on account of God’s favor. Nor was this a matter of theoretical knowledge. Paul experienced God’s mercy firsthand when he was stopped dead in his tracks while pursuing Jewish Christians who had fled Jerusalem for the safer haven of Damascus (Acts 9:1-9). Then there was the surpassing splendor of the new covenant (this ministry). The privilege of being a minister of such a covenant more than compensated for the trials and tribulations that he experienced as an itinerant preacher.

As a result, Paul did not lose heart (enkakoumen, v. 1). The Greek verb means “to act badly” in the face of difficulties; “to give up” or “grow weary” while pursuing a worthwhile goal. Paul wouldn’t allow any obstacles inside or outside the churches to pressure him into abandoning his ministry. Instead of giving in to discouragement, he deliberately and categorically “renounces” the kind of behavior that characterized much of the itinerant speaking of his day. He described this behavior as secret and shameful (v. 2). The phrase is literally “the secret things of shame.” “Secret things” are a person’s innermost thoughts and intentions. These are deeds one hides because of their shameful character.

Paul rejected two types of shameful deeds. First, he does not use deception. Use is literally “to walk” (peripateo)–a verb that occurs frequently in Paul’s writings to describe the Christian life. The Greek term for deception means “capable of anything” (pan + ourgia). In the New Testament it refers to those who use their ability unscrupulously and denotes cunning or slyness. Not only does Paul not resort to deception, but, second, he does not distort the word of God. The verb distort (dolow) is commonly employed of adulterating merchandise for profit. Paul refused to follow in the footsteps of others who tamper with God’s word in order to make it more palatable to the listener or more lucrative for themselves.

Paul eschewed any behavior that was not according to the character of the gospel that he preached. His opponents, had no such scruples. They quite willingly exploited the Corinthians for financial gain (2:17; 11:20). Paul, instead, set forth the truth plainly. The Greek term translated “set forth” (th phanerwsei) refers to an open declaration or full disclosure. The contrast is between a straightforward and open message as opposed to a deceptive presentation of the gospel.

Paul told it like it was and we should tell it like it is.

By setting forth the gospel in a plain-spoken way, Paul “commended” himself to every person’s conscience.The conscience is where conviction takes hold that what one is hearing is the truth. Paul didn’t seek to commend himself to a person’s ego or intellect but appealed to their capacity to distinguish between right and wrong. He didn’t simply trust human judgment but commended himself in the sight of God. He was aware that what he did was done under the perpetually watchful eye of the Lord.

Paul went on in verses 3-4 to deal with the accusation that his message is veiled (kekalymmenon). It would appear–if we can read between the lines–that Paul’s critics reasoned from the absence of large numbers of converts (especially from among his own people) to some fault in his preaching. Paul was the first one to recognize that he was not an overly impressive speaker, as speakers go. This was deliberate on his part, as he would have his audience know only “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (see 1 Corinthians 2:1-5). So it isn’t surprising that he didn’t deny the charge. The conditional form that he chose acknowledged their claim: If [as you claim] our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing (ei + indicative). But what he didn’t allow was that there was some fault with the message that he preached. If the content of his preaching was veiled, it was not because he didn’t present the truthes of the gospel plainly (v. 2).

The fault lie rather in three areas. First, the audience was at fault. If there was a hidden aspect to what he preached, it only appeared so to those who were perishing. As in 2:15-16, Paul divided humanity into two groups based on their destiny:

  • those who are on the road to destruction (tois apollymenois)
  • by implication, those who are on the road to salvation.

To the one the gospel makes no sense (v. 3), while to the other it is plain as day (v. 6).

The fault lies, second, with the situation. The minds of those who are perishing have been blinded. The blindness is inability to see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (v. 4). As the Mosaic covenant shone with glory, so the gospel shines with glory. Of Christ is plausibly construed as objective: “the glorious gospel about Christ.”

Christ is further described as “the image of God.” To be an image is to be a true representation. We say today that a child is the “spitting image” of his father or mother. Wisdom is similarly described as “a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God and an image of his goodness” (Wisdom of Solomon 7:26). Paul stated that Christ is, not was, God’s image, for He alone brings to visible expression the nature of an invisible God (Col 1:15). To see Christ is to see God and to not see Christ is to not see God.

The fault lies, third, with the source of the blindness. Unbelievers cannot see the gospel’s light because their minds have been blinded by the god of this age (v. 4). This is the only place where Paul referred to the adversary of God’s people as a god. He was usually called Satan or the devil–although in Ephesians 2:2 he was named “the ruler of the kingdom of the air.” It could well be that these are traditional formulations Paul used because of their familiarity to his readers. But there is no denying the power of this being. He can destroy the flesh (1 Cor 5:5), masquerade as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14) and empower his servant, the antichrist, to work all manner of miracles, signs and wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9). Paul’s thorn in the flesh is attributed to him (2 Corinthians 12:7), as is tempting (1 Corinthians 7:5), scheming against (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:11) and trapping (2 Timothy 2:26) the believer. On more than one occasion Paul experienced firsthand his active opposition to the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:18).

The Christian, especially preachers, in our media-oriented society is pressured to use the pulpit as a stage for displaying eloquence, dramatic skill and fine oratory. Congregations add to this pressure with their desire to be amused and entertained. As a result, preaching is often seen by outsiders as just another stage performance. And what is hailed as a successful ministry is sometimes little more than good acting. But to his credit Paul said of himself and his coworkers in Christ, that “we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (v. 5).

The emphasis in terms of word order is on not ourselves (ou heautous khryssomen, “not ourselves do we preach”; v. 5). It is hard to determine whether Paul was on the offensive or defensive here. He certainly accused the Corinthian intruders later in the letter of putting on airs (10:12-18). But he also appears to have been faulted for ministerial arrogance (3:12–4:3)–although his claim to preach Christ and not himself was not an idle one. In 1 Corinthians 2:1-4 he reminded the Corinthians that on his founding visit he did not come to them with eloquence, superior wisdom or wise and persuasive words. This was so that they might know nothing while he was with them except Jesus Christ and him crucified. Now he is concerned that they know not only the crucified Christ but also Jesus as Lord, that is, Jesus as master of their congregational life.

What then is Paul’s role? In 1:24 he said that he didn’t not lord it over the church but worked together with them. Here he goes even further in defining his role as that of a servant (doulos). As an apostle of Christ, he could have merely said the word and commanded their obedience. Domination was not Paul’s style. He was there to serve them and used a command only as a last resort.

This is an important reminder for pastors today. If Christ is to be truly Lord of the church, then pastors must be content with the role of servant.

Paul went on to explain why he preached Jesus Christ as Lord. For God . . . made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (v. 6). The familiar caricature of sudden understanding as a light bulb going on in a person’s mind captures the idea. Knowing what, however? In verse 4 it was knowing the good news about Christ. Here it is “knowing God” –or more specifically, knowing “God’s glory”.

This knowledge, Paul said, God made shine in our hearts. It is commonly thought that Paul referred to his Damascus Road encounter, but Luke described that experience as “a light from heaven [that] flashed around him (Acts 9:3), while here it is a light that illumines the heart. Paul also uses the plural our hearts, indicating that this was (and should be) the experience of all gospel ministers. Some aspect of his conversion experience is undoubtedly in view. Perhaps it was the point at which “God was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Gal 1:15-16).

Paul pictured the conversion experience as a new creation (v. 6). For it is the God who said, Let light shine out of darkness, who illumines the human heart through knowledge of himself. The key thought is that God’s light dispels darkness, whether it be the physical darkness of night or the spiritual darkness of human ignorance. The idea of light dispelling darkness is a recurring one in the Old Testament. Perhaps the most familiar texts are Isaiah 9:1-2, where it is promised that those who walk in darkness in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali will see “a great light,” and Isaiah 49:6, where it is said that God will make his “servant . . . a light for the Gentiles.”

The light that dispels darkness in the human heart is found in the face of Christ. Paul was undoubtedly thinking of the Incarnation. The face is the image that we present in public. Christ’s face, then, is what He presented during his earthly ministry. This is the second time Paul linked knowledge of God irrevocably with Jesus Christ. The connection is a relatively simple one: To know Christ is to know God; to not know Christ is to not know God.

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Glory That Will Not Fade   2 comments

We all know the story  of how Moses went to the mountaintop and brought back stone tables with the Law written on them. His encounter with the Lord God had so affected him, that his face shone like many suns and he would put a veil over it so as not to blind the Israelites.

But if the ministry that produced death – carved in letters on stone tablets – came with gloryso that the Israelites could not keep their eyes fixed on the face of Moses because of the glory of his face (a glory which was made ineffective), how much more glorious will the ministry of the Spirit be? For if there was glory in the ministry that produced condemnation, how much more does the ministry that produces righteousness excel in gloryFor indeed, what had been glorious now has no glory because of the tremendously greater glory of what replaced it. For if what was made ineffective came with gloryhow much more has what remains come in glory! Thereforesince we have such a hopewe behave with great boldness, and not like Moses who used to put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from staring at the result of the glory that was made ineffective.

But their minds were closed. For to this very daythe same veil remains when they hear the old covenant readIt has not been removed because only in Christ is it taken awayBut until this very day whenever Moses is reada veil lies over  their minds, but when one turns to the Lordthe veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spiritand where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. And we allwith unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lordare being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lordwho is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:7-18

There is a fundamental difference between the old and new covenants. The old covenant was written in stone, the new covenant is written on the heart. It is a covenant not of the letter but of the Spirit. It is about the Holy Spirit changing the hearts of people.
Image result for image of shekinah glory mosesAlthough they are different, they are not opposed. The problem arose when people thought that the old covenant was the be all and end all. Instead it needs to be seen as a preparation and signpost toward the new covenant. There are still things to be learned from the old covenant.
The old covenant, the Law, came with glory. This was demonstrated by the fact that Moses (to whom the Law was given) had a shining face after meeting with the Lord (Exodus 34:29-35), though this glory did fade. If the old covenant is pointing toward something greater, then we can expect the ministry of the new covenant to have even greater glory associated with it. The Law brought death, for it could tell us what was right and what was wrong, but could do nothing to change people, so it brought a guilty verdict and a sentence of death.
Moses had to put a veil on his face to cover the shekina glory, but under the new covenant the glory is to be on open display. This veil represented the blindness of people’s minds to the true meaning of God’s  word. Those whose minds are hardened, unbelievers whether they are Jews or Gentiles, have minds blinded to the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.  Like the Israelites of old, who could not gaze at the glory of God in Moses’ face, they have a veil over their hearts. When Christ came the people, especially the religious leaders, rejected Him. All they could see was an end to the old covenant, they could not see that the new covenant, the very thing the Law had been pointing to, was being brought into being, so they killed Jesus.
We need to make sure we keep our hearts unveiled, so that the light of  the knowledge of God will shine in our hearts that we truly will be transformed by the renewal of our minds to become like Jesus mind.  We need to think and act like Jesus.
It is only when we believe in Christ that we can see what the Scriptures really say. When we read the Old Testament we need to look at it as pointing toward something and Someone greater — that is, Jesus. Any other way of reading it leads to misunderstanding.
For when we turn to Christ we receive the Holy Spirit and He takes the veil off our minds. The glory we receive is not a shiny face, but a life that is being continually transformed to become more and more Christlike. This glory does not fade, but increases day by day, year by year.

You Are Proof of Our Ministry   Leave a comment

We took a break for the holiday, but now we’re back to continue the study of 2 Corinthians.

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? We don’t need letters of recommendation to you or from you as some other people do, do we? You yourselves are our letter, written on our heartsknown and read by everyone, revealing that you are a letter of Christdelivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living Godnot on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts.

Now we have such confidence in God through Christ. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but  our adequacy is from God, who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spiritfor the letter killsbut the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:1-6

Image result for image of sawing off a branch you're sitting onIt was a common practice in the ancient world to expect a letter of recommendation from another person or group of people detailing their qualifications to do whatever it was they were coming to do. It’s similar to how we present a resume at a job interview. Of course, today, we often present a cover letter and resume by email before the interview, but in Paul’s day, they lacked mass communication. The Didache, a collection of early Christian writings, reveals that letters of recommendation were common in the early Christian world. If a teacher or evangelist came to a town where they were not known, it was common for them to bring a letter from another congregation, recommending the spiritual qualifications of the individual. This was necessary as even Lucian, the pagan satirist, noted that any con-artist could rip off Christians because they were so hospitable, inviting, and trusting.

Up to this point, Paul argued that the legitimacy of his apostolic ministry was based on his sufferings. The Messiah suffered, and what is true of Him is true of His people. Paul’s sufferings demonstrated the source of his ministry. That was a good argument as far as it went.

Now Paul switched his argument to answer the ongoing challenges to his authority. He now argued for the validity of his ministry based on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, using a line of reason that continues through to Chapter 4 verse 6,  in which he compared and contrasted the Old and New covenants as a way to demonstrate the difference between his type of ministry and that of others.

Image result for image of sawing off a branch you're sitting onThose in Corinth who were challenging Paul’s legitimacy were evidently claiming that some of the material in 1 Corinthians in which Paul defended his ministry, was serving as his attempt to recommend himself. They were likely claiming that Paul could only recommend himself and had no such verification from anyone else. He was not, according to their arguments, an apostle at all. That probably brought up some bad memories about how he was not accepted when he first began preaching. A bit sensitive, Paul responded with sarcasm when he asked if his defense of his ministry in chapters 1 and 2 sounded like another self-recommendation. In the ancient world, letters of recommendation showed that someone lacked their own evidence to back up the claims they were making. They were a substitute for credibility. Paul shouldn’t have needed that because the existence of the Corinthian Church is his letter of recommendation. The Corinthian Christians themselves were the source of his credibility. If they were the verification of his ministry, then the inherent question is, were they acting like it? What would people know of Paul based on the way they were acting? Paul basically told them that what was true of them was true of him. Thus, if they questioned his legitimacy and his ministry, then they called themselves and their faith into existence. If Paul was not a legitimate apostle, then they had just cut off the branch their faith rested on.

Paul referenced two well-known Scriptural references in verse 3: Exodus 34:29-35, the account of Moses and the stone tablets, and Jeremiah 31:31-34, the promise of the new covenant that would be written on the hearts of God’s people. Paul contrasted the Old Covenant with the New, promised Covenant, saying that his ministry was the fulfillment of the promise — a ministry empowered by the Holy Spirit and written on the hearts of people. Paul’s God had promised a time when He would give a covenant that would be written on hearts, not stone tablets. Paul’s ministry was the fulfillment of that promise, and so could not be defined by written letters. He was making a connection between the need for letters and the Old Covenant Law.

Rather than questioning his legitimacy, the Corinthians should have realize that Paul’s recommendation, which was the Corinthian Church, showed him to be quite legitimate and competent. Paul had confidence not only in his own ministry, but in the church at Corinth. This confidence didn’t build him up or  say anything wonderful about Paul the man. Every aspect of Paul’s ministry came from God. It was God Who chose Paul and made him fit for duty as a minister of the New Covenant. Just as God called men like Moses, Gideon, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and made them sufficient despite their insufficiency, so He did the same for Paul. In contrast, the Old Covenant law was expressed in writing and was not kept by men, leading to their death. Now, Paul’s ministry was sufficient because it was powered by the Spirit that empowers God’s Word, which should be obeyed from the heart.

 

Scandal for the Ages   1 comment

I almost made it through the season without encountering any Jesus resistance and that would have been such a nice accomplishment. Unfortunately, I had two incidents since Thanksgiving and the second one, last night, just made me feel the need to respond without yelling at someone in a parking lot.

Image result for image of nativityThe first, which is a repeat, is the neighbor who brings a petition around every year to ask people to protest another neighbor who puts out a lighted Nativity scene every Christmas. It is large and lighted, but they turn it off at 10 pm and it isn’t even on my block, so … “it neither picks my pocket or breaks my leg.” I never sign the petition and I think not many others do because the homeowner is still putting the Nativity scene out. If I ever see someone outside of the house when I’m out walking, I’ll ask them, but … “it neither picks my pocket or breaks my leg”, so I don’t really care.

Then last night in the grocery store parking lot (dang the unusually warm weather that made this possible) a group of people were accosting shoppers and trying to talk them out of the whole idea of Christmas. I was trying to buy ingredients for a birthday dinner. Get out of my way, please!

There is something about Christmas that provokes dissent from people who don’t want Christian symbols displayed where they can see them, particularly not on public property or … (gasp) … sung by children in public schools. While I find the overlording of their beliefs on those of us who do not agree annoying, I don’t think it rises to the level of a “hate” crime against Christians … despite the fact that, if it were directed at people of color, it would indeed be considered a “hate” crime. Some conservative commentators disagree with me, but I will point out that there are many parts of the world (Syria, Iran, Sudan, China, and others) Christians really are being persecuted and sometimes even killed for their beliefs. What is going on in America’s symbolic opposition to Christianity is something different.

Can we be honest about Christ and Christianity for a moment, please?

Jesus Christ was and remains a controversial figure. The natural reaction to Christ is to reject Him. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. He said people would reject Him — and reject us because of our association with Him.  In fact, when Jesus was taken to the Temple as an infant, Simeon prophesied that He would be a center of contention. Later Jesus predicted His own death and told His followers they must expect persecution too.

Let’s remember, His bitterest enemies weren’t atheists. They were the most religious men of His age, the Pharisees, who considered His claims blasphemous.

Our mistake in modern Western culture is to boil the gospel down to preaching on the need to be nice. Jesus wasn’t all that nice, folks. While He performed miracles of love and mercy, He also warned of eternal damnation, attacked and insulted the Pharisees, and could rebuke even people who adored Him in words that would make most of us today cringe if it weren’t in the Bible. At every step of His ministry, He made enemies and brought His crucifixion closer.

To many in His day, Jesus was a threat and He remains one today in many circles. We honor Him more by acknowledging His explosive presence than by making Him a mere symbol of nice manners. The Romans used crucifixion only against people they considered to be dangerous and society-disrupting. People weren’t crucified for being nice.

Jesus understood what He was doing when He said “I and the Father are one” and “Nobody comes to the Father except through Me.” Nobody had ever made such claims before. It enraged pious Pharisees and baffled His own disciples at the same time. After feeding thousands with the miraculous loaves and fishes, He announced that He Himself was “the bread of life” and unless you ate His flesh and drank His blood, you have no life in you.

That audacious teaching was too much. It cost Him many of His disciples on the spot. He didn’t try to coax them back by explaining that He was only speaking figuratively. There was nothing figurative about His language. He was foretelling the Lord’s Supper.

At virtually every step of His ministry, Jesus accompanied His words with miracles. Remarkably, His enemies disputed the words rather than the miracles. There was no doubt about the wonders He performed. He often performed them in front of large crowds. It was the meaning of His miracles that was controversial.

The blind saw, the deaf heard, cripples walked, lepers were healed. Where did He get the power to do these things? From God or the devil? He used the miracles to certify His power to forgive sins, the claim His critics first found outrageous.

His claims still reverberate. The Gospels attest the total coherence of His mission, the perfect harmony between His words and His deeds, even the careful order of His progressive self-disclosure. Few historians of any note argue that Jesus didn’t exist in history or even that the Resurrection didn’t happen. Too many people saw Jesus after He resurrected for it to be hoax. The honest historians admit that while the less honest ones try to develop theories of explanation that make no sense.

Jesus’ modern enemies, many of them claiming to be Christians, don’t try to disprove the miracles either. They simply assume He never performed them. Some of them assume He never spoke many of the words the Gospels record Him as saying.

I’ve never been able to get my mind around that skepticism. I believed it only until I actually read the gospels. The poet Tennyson remarked that Christ’s greatest miracle was His personality. Could anyone else — the four authors of the Gospels, for example — have made Him up, and put such resonant words in His mouth?

Such a strong and unique personality could only meet with a powerful resistance. This is why Christians shouldn’t resent the natural resistance of those who refuse to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Yeah, they’re attempting to prove Christ didn’t exist or has no power over them. Yet, in their own confused way, those people are upholding Jesus’ very testimony that He would be a scandal to those who thought themselves wise. Their resistance would prove how foolish they really were.

So, in a way, the anti-Christians are acting as servants of God.

Posted December 21, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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What’s That Bad Odor?   Leave a comment

The word of God is broad in its outlook. It deals with many areas of life. It doesn’t address some matters. It’s not a technical manual nor was it intended to be, whether in ancient times or modern. It doesn’t tell how to make sandals or oxcarts or how to make basketball shoes or electric cars. Instead, the scriptures tell us about life, reality, God, and our relationship with Him.

Image result for image of false prophetsPart of our relationship with God involves those who minister God’s word to us. The apostle Paul served the Lord by proclaiming the good news to the Corinthians and many others. Paul’s ministry was under attack at Corinth, and so he needed to defend himself from unjust charges. In his defense, he spoke of what he actually did in his journeys to demonstrate his integrity. Reading his explanation, we may learn much about the Christian way of life and about our partnership in the good news of Jesus Christ.

But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and who makes known through us the fragrance that consists of the knowledge of him in every place.  2 Corinthians 2:14

 

A true minister of God wants people to know that God will restore people to friendship with Him through what Jesus accomplished through his sacrifice and resurrection. This is good news! The minister job is to tell others this good news and share the joy. Notice Paul’s plan. He went to Troas to preach the good news. He had a gospel purpose for being in a certain place. Notice also his subject—the gospel of Christ. This should always be the theme of Christian preaching.

A true minister of the Lord also glories in God’s grace.

Grace is God freely working for the good of those who deserve wrath.

God’s free and sovereign grace was precious to Paul. God “opened a door” for him. The Lord provided an audience for his servant to speak to and He gave a believing response to the word among those who heard it (see also Acts 14:27; 1 Corinthians 16:9; Colossians 4:3 and Revelation 3:8). We must pray for the Lord to open doors for His message.

God also has a desire for the spiritual health and maturity of Christ’s followers. When Paul wrote of his lack of rest at Troas, we must remember the context of his remarks. He was not feeling sad because his buddy Titus was not around to fellowship with. He was concerned about the spiritual condition of the Corinthian believers and waiting for Titus’ report about them. When Titus was not there to give it, Paul felt restless about their spiritual condition. See 2:1-4; 7:5-7, 13-16.

A lot of us don’t give a lot of thought about the Great Commission and its whole task (Matthew 28:19-20) Our mission isn’t merely to evangelize in a popular sense, so that we can put another notch in our spiritual revolvers, like some Old West gunslingers. Instead, our mission is to make disciples, to baptize believers, and to teach Christians to obey everything Christ has commanded.

A true servant of Christ knows that the vitality of every local gospel partnership depends on correct knowledge of Christ’s teaching and a correct way of life that agrees with the gospel. Anything less should make Christ’s ministers uneasy about the people to whom they minister.

For we are a sweet aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and  among those who are perishing  to the latter an odor from death to deathbut to the former a fragrance from life to lifeAnd who is adequate for these things?

2 Corinthians 2:15-16

Verse 15 talks about a sweet aroma associated with God’s ministers. That makes the kids in my youth discipleship class laugh. Paul wasn’t talking about the kind of deodorant or aftershave the minister uses, but about the spiritual scent that the minister gives off. A true minister gives off a sweet fragrance to God—“the aroma of Christ”. Paul’s primary focus was on God. He was not all that concerned about what people thought of him or how they responded to him. According to my pastor, a minister develops “pastoral paranoia” when he thinks about people first. Every Christian carries the dreadful disease of people pleasing to some extent. It is something that eats into our relationships and can become very destructive of true fellowship. The cure is a primary focus on Christ and the gospel. When Paul ministered, he thought first about how God was viewing his ministry.

Pau’s “aroma” was pleasing to God because of his real, living union with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. God “smells” the surpassing beauty of his dearly loved Son, not the weaknesses of any particular believer. I appreciate that He looks at Jesus first before He sees my failures because if I had ot rely on my own fragrance, I’d be left out of the Kingdom of God. What matters most after every service, Bible study, small group, counseling session, or personal conversation is the fragrance of Christ toward God. It’s not about you or me; it’s about God!

Christ is the mighty conqueror and His ministers are part of the spoils of His conquest at the cross in this parade of God’s glory. Do you see the long line of Christ’s slaves (cf. Philippians 1:1)? There rides Jesus in resplendent glory, and following Him as captives of His grace are the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor/teachers from Peter, Paul, Titus and Timothy down through 2000 years of church history to the present day. Do you see them? There walks Clement, Justin Martyr, John Chrysostom, and Augustine. Following them are Calvin, Knox, Sibbes, Bunyan, Owen, Traill and Henry. Who is that coming next? Why it’s Whitefield, Wesley, Romaine, Williams, and the Tenants. And then there’s Carey, Paton, Spurgeon and Moody, and Morgan and Lloyd-Jones, and on down to our time. But all the glory is coming from the Man on the white horse, King Jesus the First and the Last!

All the spread of the knowledge of Christ is from God also. God spreads the story of His glory in Christ by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit makes the aroma of Christ known through us. And this fragrance is constant. Whether people receive the message about Christ or not, the Father is always pleased with its proclamation! It is an acceptable act of worship!

Along with many other passages, this text teaches that there are only two alternatives when people are confronted by the gospel. There are those who believe and live eternally and those who refuse to repent and perish eternally. Yeah, that’s a graphic term – perishing. There is no life outside of God’s grace. Those who are perishing regard those who preach Christ as the stench of death. I guess that explains the hostility.

 

Meanwhile, those who are being saved rejoice in those who preach Christ.

For we are not like so many others, hucksters who peddle the word of God for profit, but we are speaking in Christ before God as persons of sincerityas persons sent from God.  2 Corinthians 2:17

Except that in Corinth, there were false apostles who Paul said were intent upon dispensing a version of the gospel for financial gain. These false ministers opposed Paul at Corinth and twisted the word of God for profit. (2 Corinthians 11:1-4, 13-15).

Don’t we have similar circumstances today? Just think about some of the televangelists and mega-church pastors. I’m not saying all of them are false apostles, but that some of them are and I suspect most of us know who they are just by listening to their sermons.

God’s true ministers have pure motives. Christ is everything to them. They minister for the glory of God and the good of people. God is the source of their ministry and all benefits received through such ministers comes from God. These ministers are accountable in the sight of God Who is their ultimate judge.

 

 

 

Biding His Time for Good   Leave a comment

Paul’s trip to Corinth had been delayed by sickness and storm, but Paul also believed it had been delayed by the Holy Spirit for the good of the Corinthian Christians.

Now I appeal to God as my witnessthat to spare you I did not come again to Corinth. 2 Corinthians 1:23

The delay had given Paul time to think, but more importantly, it had given the Corinthian Christians time to contemplate what Paul had written in his earlier letter and repent of their own volition.

I do not mean that we rule over your faithbut we are workers with you for your joybecause by faith you stand firm. So I made up my own mind not to pay you another painful visit. For if I make you sadwho would be left to make me  glad but the one I caused to be sad? And I wrote this very thing to you, so that when I came I would not have sadness from those who ought to make me   rejoicesince I am confident in you all that my joy would be yours. For out of great distress and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tearsnot to make you sadbut to let you know the love that I have especially for you. 2 Corinthians 1:24 – 2:4 

Image result for image of hair pin curvesThe Bible wasn’t originally written in chapters and verses. 2 Corinthians was a long-form letter. Why some monk at some time decided to put a chapter break where he did is unnknown, but it makes no sense. I’m focused on topics, so I’ve chosen to ignore the chapter break.

We all know the modern expression “being there for me.” The idea is, if another person really loves us, they will “be there for us” at our time of need. Love is therefore measured in terms of one’s presence. Absence is seen as a failure of love, caring and compassion. Paul challenged this mindset. He felt that love can best be expressed, at times, by being absent. This may not feel right to us, and it certainly isn’t always the case, but in Paul’s situation with the Corinthian church, his absence at their time of need was meant as a benefit to them.

Paul wasn’t a stranger to Corinth. He’d already been there twice. After his initial visit to Corinth, Paul felt compelled to make a hasty second visit. We know this because Paul wrote briefly of this “painful visit” and of his future visit as coming for the “third time” (2 Corinthians 2:1; 12:14; 13:1). Some ugly and painful things seem to have happened during that second visit. Paul had to deal severely with some of the saints. It seems a particular individual must have made some kind of personal attack on Paul, which brought a strong response from the church (2 Corinthians 2:1-11). Associated with this “painful visit” was a “painful letter,” which caused Paul, as well as the Corinthians, great sorrow (2:4). Now, in spite of Paul’s stated intentions to come for a more pleasant visit, he had not yet done so.

Paul wasn’t “there for them” at the time of their perceived need for him. This must mean, some were saying, that Paul really didn’t care about them. Others were “there for the Corinthians” in their time of need. These “false apostles” who were causing trouble for both Paul and the Corinthians (see 2 Corinthians 11). Paul asserted his absence was a purposeful decision motivated by his love.

Paul was very serious about this, so serious that he called God as his witness that his delay in coming to Corinth was for their benefit, to “spare them”,

If you’ve never had an overbearing pastor who thought he could dictate your life, you’ve been most blessed. Paul was not that sort of spiritual leader. He didn’t wish to “lord it over” their faith. He had confidence they would stand firm. Because of his confidence in God’s ability to keep them and bring about their growth and maturity, Paul didn’t feel the need to come, as though the church would get straightened out only by his being present. He had done his part by coming to them and by writing to them concerning needed corrections. They needed time to implement these corrective measures. Not enough time had passed for the Corinthians to fully demonstrate their commitment to obey Paul’s instructions. To come too soon would be painful for both Paul and the Corinthians. He would be obliged to point out what they had not yet done, and they would feel pressured to do them by his presence. A delay gave the Corinthians time to do the right thing and meant Paul’s next visit would be one of great joy.  Paul delayed to allow the Corinthians time to complete their obedience.

Do you have kids? Ever been away on a trip and leave an older teenager in charge? Ever get a phone call from a neighbor who dropped by and found the house in shambles or reported a wild party the night before? Would you cut short a trip and dash home to clean up or would you call your kid and instruct them to clean up before you got there so you didn’t have to yell at them? I would choose the second option mainly because it’s a long trip back from anywhere to Alaska, but also because I’d rather say “Thank you for cleaning up” rather than “This place is a mess. Why should I ever trust you again?” Which do you think the kids would learn more from?  I would opt for a warm welcome and a happy reunion in a meticulously clean house over a confrontation.

Paul was doing the same thing by delaying his visit to Corinth. Paul’s absence is out of love for these saints, knowing it is for their best interest and his. Sometimes love is better demonstrated by keeping our distance from those we love than by being with them. I know that’s hard to accept for some people, but helicopter parenting has proven that over-involvement in your children’s lives is not a healthy thing. Neither is pastoral over-involvement in the lives of church members a good thing. Christianity is not a second-hand faith. We all must learn from the Holy Spirit’s ministry within our own hearts. And sometimes that means our mentors must take a step backward in order for us to grow on our own.

Paul visited many places and founded many churches, but the longest he ever stayed in one place was three years. He sent Titus, Timothy, and others out on their own, rather than keeping them at his side. Paul left churches to struggle and to survive without his presence, not because of his lack of love for them, but because he wanted them to learn to depend upon God’s Word and Spirit. This was accomplished by his absence, as well as by his presence (Acts 20:32; 1 Corinthians 16:15-18; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3). Plus we shouldn’t overlook that it is because of Paul’s physical absence that we have the inspired epistles he wrote to the churches.

There are times when we must demonstrate our love for others by our absence, even though this causes pain to us and to those we are not with. We must sometimes let others fail rather than rush in to rescue them. At times, we must step back and allow others to face the consequences of their folly rather than seek to cushion the blows they have brought upon themselves. This is true of our children, and it is true for others. Sometimes we must physically separate ourselves from others because of their sin — as both Jesus and Paul instructed as to church discipline (Matthew 18:15-201 Corinthians 5:1-13). Our society teaches us “unconditional acceptance,” which implies that we never draw back from those we love, even when they are doing things that are unacceptable. Our society does not know the Scriptures and doesn’t wish to obey them. Loving at a distance is painful, which is why most of us are unwilling to do it, but it is something we must do for the good of those we love as well as for our own good. Jesus is not physically present with us at this moment, but it isn’t because He has ceased to love us. He is not with us because that is better for us (John 16:7f.).

But if anyone has caused sadnesshe has not saddened me alonebut to some extent (not to exaggerate) he has saddened all of you as wellThis punishment on such an individual by the majority is enough for him, so that now instead you  should rather forgive and comfort him. This will keep him from being overwhelmed by excessive grief to the point of despair. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. For this reason also I wrote you:  to test you to see if you are obedient in everything. If you forgive anyone for anything, I also forgive him – for indeed what I have forgiven (if I have forgiven anything) I did so for you in the presence of Christ, so that we may not be exploited by Satan (for we are not ignorant of his schemes). Now when I arrived in Troas to proclaim the gospel of Christeven though the Lord had opened a door of opportunity for meI had no  relief in my spiritbecause I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and set out for Macedonia.  2 Corinhians 2:5-13

Some take Paul’s words in verses 5-11 to refer to the man who was “living with his father’s wife” from 1 Corinthians 5. I am inclined to believe that theory. It resonates with me. Is that the Holy Spirit or just a personal preference? I don’t know. The Bible study guide I’m using for this study doesn’t hold to that theory. The writer has reasons:

  1. Paul doesn’t specifically identify this person with the person mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5
  2. Paul’s reference seems deliberately vague; he seems to be purposefully avoiding naming names
  3. Nothing is really gained or lost by knowing exactly who Paul was referring to. The Corinthians knew who it was and what they should do.
  4. Paul spoke of the disciplinary measure to be taken against the man in 1 Corinthians 5 as though the outcome would be physical death. The writer thinks the Corinthians may already have attended that man’s funeral.
  5. It appears the person referred to committed some offense against Paul and the Corinthian church had taken up for Paul by censuring the person from their fellowship.

These are all valid reasons for believing these are two different individuals, although I really only feel resonance from #5. The others I think might be the study writer’s own reluctance to forgive sexual immorality after it has been repented. That’s just a personal observation. I’m not sure that it matters. Paul outlines how we should deal with those who repent of sin, regardless of which sins we’re talking about.

I’m going to suggest that Paul might have been practicing what he preached – not discussing the details of this man’s sin now that he had repented. We’re not supposed to bring up the repented sins … ever again. Discussing it in an open letter to the church sort of negates that principle.

Whatever the case here, it seems that during Paul’s second hasty and painful visit, he took an aggressive course of action which caused both him and the Corinthians great sorrow. Paul discussed it further later in this letter. We can surmise that some time during that visit, an individual reacted in an unseemly manner toward Paul and his apostolic authority. The church rushed to Paul’s defense and censured this man by excluding him from their fellowship. Regardless of what sin is being discussed here, the church exercised discipline on this man who had, at the time of the writing of this letter, repented, but the church had not yet forgiven him and received him back into their fellowship. Paul urged them to do so before he arrived to visit them again.

So, I still think it was the sexual sinner being discussed, but let’s ignore that and just look at what we know. Someone sinned against Paul. Maybe he said horrible things about Paul as the apostle was encouraging the church to discipline him for sleeping with his step-mother. The church took disciplinary action against that person at that point. They might have been reluctant before that, but perhaps his own words and actions condemned him, so they disfellowshipped him.

The man repented (presumably after Paul left town), but the church had not forgiven him and received him back into fellowship. Paul’desired to forgive this man and be reconciled to him, but Paul didn’t speak for the Corinthian church. The people comprising the church must first acknowledge the man’s repentance and reverse their disciplinary action. If Paul were to return before the church restored this man, Paul wouldn’t be free to fellowship with him because Paul would be bound by the church’s disciplinary actions against the man. When the church restored the man, Paul could be reconciled and find joy and comfort in his reunion with him.

The church’s failure to reinstate this man hindered Paul’s return, as it hindered the unity of the church,. It made the saints vulnerable to Satan’s attacks (2:11). Further, it placed an excessive burden of sorrow on this man, which is no longer necessary because of his repentance (see 2:6-7). Satan, the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10), loves nothing more than to accuse, especially when he can do so through others, like the church.

Sometimes we do things which seem to be spiritual, but which in reality are counter-productive. The church disciplined this man to protect the purity of the church. Good for them. Then, they went too far by refusing to receive him back into fellowship. Not so good for them. They were actually endangering the church and this man. Going too far with a good thing can be bad. We see this also in 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul spoke to a husband and wife who decided to refrain from sexual relations. This may be beneficial for a short time, Paul told us, such as when a couple sexually “fasts” in order to devote themselves to prayer (see 1 Corinthians 7:1-5), but sexual abstinence should not be maintained for too long a period of time, lest “Satan tempt them for their lack of self-control” (verse 5).

Church discipline is necessary for so long a time as the sinning saint persists in rebellion against God, but once repentance has taken place, restoration should quickly follow. Failing to exercise discipline is dangerous to the whole church (1 Corinthians 5:6).  Failure to remove discipline upon repentence is also dangerous to the whole church (2 Corinthians 2:5-11).

Despite Paul’s physical absence from the Corinthians, he was deeply aware of the presence of God in his life and ministry. He practiced the presence of God.

10 But whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:10, emphasis mine).

Paul was absent from the Corinthians, but he was never absent from God. Paul sought to practice the presence of God by living in a conscious state of awareness of God’s presence.

The two letters of 1 and 2 Corinthinans serve to remind us that sin is dynamic rather than static. After Satan tempted our Lord without success, Luke’s Gospel tells us that after “the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). Satan never gives up, and his temptations come in all sizes, shapes, and forms. We really should thank the Corinthians for their bumbling in dealing with sin because they gave Paul an opportunity to teach the whole history of the Christian church something we seem to forget every generation or two. As object lessons, the Corinthian saints are impressive poster-children.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul reminded these saints that he had previously written to them, instructing them not to associate with immoral people (5:9). The Corinthians misunderstood (or at least misapplied) this instruction. They sought to separate themselves from the unbelieving world, while they continued to embrace professing Christians who lived in ways even pagans would not accept. Paul instructed them to separate themselves from the man living with his father’s wife and to maintain some contact with the unsaved world, to whom they had the obligation to be witnesses.

Now in 2 Corinthians, we find the church had over-corrected their error. While they once failed to exercise church discipline where it was desperately needed, they were now reluctant to remove church discipline, when it was no longer necessary.

Living the Christian life is like walking along a path. You can stumble off on either side. Many times when we wander off the path in one direction, we over-correct so that we then depart from the path in the opposite direction. Let us beware of thinking that once we have dealt with a particular problem, we will no longer struggle with it again. The same problem may recur and, in our zeal to avoid falling into the same sin, we may venture to the opposite extreme.

We have our ups and our downs, our peaks and our troughs. We will struggle with sin as long as we live, just as the Corinthians did over the course of Paul’s ministry to them. Christian maturity and spirituality are not the cessation of sin, but the gradual reduction of the extremes to which we wander. The ideal in this case would be to walk a straight line. We won’t accomplish that in this life, but we can strive to avoid the hair-pin curves!

As Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthians continues, we see the dynamic nature of the spiritual life and the struggle with sin. We see some of the problems, still in embryonic form in 1 Corinthians, coming to full term and birthing before our eyes. We see other problems dealt with in such a way that new dangers arise. The struggle is life-long, and thus we suffer and groan, along with all creation, until sin is finally removed once for all.

Confidence Rightly Placed   Leave a comment

When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, he delivered some heavy criticism for the way that the Corinthian Christians were conducting themselves as Christians. He promised he would come to visit them. He set out on the journey and got waylaid by sickness, which delayed his arrival. Upon hearing that the Corinthians were complaining that he hadn’t shown up, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians in advance of his arrival. In response to their complaints, he professed his own and his fellow-labourers’ integrity and explained why he hadn’t traveled there more quickly.

For our reason for confidence is this: the testimony of our consciencethat with pure motives and sincerity which are from God – not by human wisdom but by the grace of God – we conducted ourselves in the worldand all the more toward youFor we do not write you anything other than what you can read and also understand. But I hope that you will understand completely just as also you have partly understood us, that we are your source of pride just as you also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus. 2 Corinthians 1:12-14

Image result for image of 2 corinthians 1:12-22Despite having been sick, worried and persecuted in recent months, Paul still trusted God to guide him on his journeys. Conscience witnesses concerning the steady course and tenor of his life and work. We, like Paul, are not judged by singular acts, but by the general course of our lives. We may confidently leave our characters in Jesus’ hands, and when questioned, rely on the gospel to measure our efforts.

Paul had no hidden messages in his letter. His meaning was clear. He meant what he wrote. Paul assured the Corinthian Christians that he really told the truth and he didn’t communicate with manipulative hidden meanings.

And with this confidence I intended to come to you first so that you would get a second opportunity to see us, and through your help to go on into Macedonia and then from Macedonia to come back to you and be helped on our way into Judea by you. Therefore when I was planning to do thisI did not do so without thinking about what I was doingdid I? Or do I make my plans according to mere human standards so that I would be saying both “Yesyes” and “Nono” at the same time? But as God is faithfulour message to you is not “Yes” and “No.”  2Corinthians 1:15-18

Why would Paul feel the need to justify his behavior? He was under attack by some of the Corinthian Christians. Remember 1 Corinthians? Some of them were stung by Paul’s rebukes and guidances. Rather than reform their own behavior, they attacked the messenger. They claimed Paul was unreliable because he’d not arrived when he said he would. Paul defended himself from the charge of levity and inconstancy. Christians should strive to keep a reputation for sincerity and constancy. They should not make promises that aren’t well-thought-out, and they shouldn’t change their plans without good reason, but there are times when we should listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Paul had been prevented from traveling to Corinth as he had planned, giving him time to learn their reaction to his previous letter. If he’d arrived on time, his presence might have interfered with the necessary soul-searching the Corinthians needed to do. They might have become so engrossed in confronting Paul that they might have avoided confronting the ideas Paul had put forth.

For the Son of GodJesus Christthe one who was proclaimed among you by us – by me and Silvanus and Timothy – was not “Yes” and “No,” but it has always been “Yes” in him. For every one of God’s promises are “Yes” in him; therefore also through him the “Amen” is spoken, to the glory   we give to God. But it is God who establishes us together with you in Christ and who anointed us, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment. 2 Corinthians 1:19-22

Paul knew their accusations were wrong for spiritual reasons. Paul had preached Jesus as reliable and trustworthy. It wasn’t right for an apostle of such a faithful Savior to be so quickly considered unreliable and untrustworthy. Can we imagine God the Father ever saying “no” to God the Son? God the Father will always say Yes to the Son and will always affirm what the Son says (Amen).

“We might never have had this precious verse if Paul had not been so ill-treated by these men of Corinth. They did him great wrong, and caused him much sorrow of heart . . . yet you see how the evil was overruled by God for good, and through their unsavoury gossip and slander this sweet sentence was pressed out of Paul.” (Charles Spurgeon)

According to my Bible study guides, the only other place where the New Testament speaks about anointing is in 1 John 2:20 and 2:27. Every use speaks of an anointing that is common to all believers, not a special anointing for a few Christian superstars. The idea behind anointed is that we are prepared and empowered for service. The fact that we are anointed means that we share something with the Old Testament prophets, priests, and kings who were also anointed ones.

In the ancient world, a seal was used to identify and to protect. If something was sealed, everyone knew who it belonged to (the seal had an insignia), and the seal prevented anyone else from tampering with the item. The Holy Spirit is upon us to identify us and to protect us.

The word guarantee is the word for a down payment. We have been given the Holy Spirit as a down payment for the fullness of what God will do. The Holy Spirit is a pledge of greater things to come. As Christians, God has purchased us on the lay-away plan and has given us an impressive down payment. He won’t walk away from the final payment because He has so much invested already.

Posted December 3, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity, Uncategorized

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