2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Paul endured immense suffering during his ministry in Asia, but it was God’s deliverance from these sufferings and the comfort he received that drove Paul to write about it at the beginning of his letter. Through this we can know how Christians should understand suffering and how we should respond to suffering.
The afflictions that Paul mentioned here refer to both external and internal distresses that come from serving Christ. We do not know exactly what afflictions Paul was experiencing at the time of writing, but riots, vicious personal attacks, being imprisoned and physical illness are not too far off based on other written accounts. Paul was so thoroughly burdened in his inner and outer being that he felt like he was going to die (vv. 8-9). It was in such circumstances that Paul wrote “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
How does one who was so deeply afflicted through his service for Christ express such high praise for the same God who ordained the sufferings he was enduring (Acts 9:16)? Paul trusted in the fact that God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the “Father of mercies” (v3). Mercy refers to God’s compassion and true concern for those who suffer for Christ’s sake. Here we see our God who chose suffering as a means for our sanctification (James 1:2-4), but who is concerned enough to ensure that we will not be crushed as long as we turn to Him (2 Corinthians 1:10).
Paul also recognised God as the “God of all comfort” (v3). When we talk about comfort, most times we think of personal well-being, peace, and freedom from pain and anxiety. But the original meaning of “comfort” is very different. “Comfort” in the original Greek (Gr. paraklesis) has the idea of coming alongside to fortify and strengthen. Therefore the biblical idea of comfort is to be personally involved in the strengthening and building up of another person in their weakness. This is the personal God of all comfort we worship.
So what place does affliction and comfort have in our Christian walk? Firstly, afflictions deepen our faith in God’s power instead of our own strength. Paul felt he was given the sentence of death, but it was only because of his faith in God’s resurrection power that gave him the ability to rely on God’s power more than himself (v8). Secondly, afflictions for the sake of Christ and His glory serve as evidence of our union with Christ and with fellow believers. It is only when we are unified with Christ and His mission through His body, the church, that we are able to share in His and each others’ suffering (vv5-7; Romans 6:3; Philippians 3:10). But it does not stop there, as we endure suffering in the present, God promises comfort that surpasses these sufferings, if not here in the present, then in future glory (Romans 8:18).
Thirdly, comfort that comes from God enables patient endurance in suffering (v6). Endurance by remaining faithful to God to the end can only last when there is patience. Patience here is the idea of the ability to wait for the return of Christ and the end of all suffering. So as we remain faithful to the hope of Christ’s return during our suffering, comfort is what enables us to find the strength to persevere. It is only when God comes alongside us to strengthen us through faith that we will be able to endure to the end (v7; Philippians 1:6). As one author puts it: “God may not always remove the afflictions that come our way, but God always comforts by giving the fortitude to face them.”
Lastly, God comforts so that we can comfort others. God always supplies comfort in abundance, not so that we can hoard it, but to overflow to others who require that same comfort that we have received. We comfort others by expressing our care for others, sometimes even while we are experiencing suffering ourselves, or even by being a testimony to the power of God’s comfort through your own suffering. David Garland writes “[Paul] knew how to comfort because he knew what it was like to feel unbearably crushed… He set his hope on God who delivered Christ Jesus from death and has faithfully delivered him in the past and will deliver him in the future. He shared this hope with others.”
We are definitely not experiencing suffering and persecution to the degree that Paul had to endure. But we still suffer broken relationships, disadvantageous positions, physical and mental fatigue or even illness, and toil beyond what we feel we can manage within 24 hours , all for the sake of Christ and His glory. Let us set our trust on our God of mercy and all comfort, who sympathises with us and comes alongside us to strengthen us for the challenges ahead. And as we receive God’s comfort while patiently enduring, let us allow God’s comfort to flow out to those who need that same comfort we have received. May our trust in God’s faithfulness lead others to worship God’s glory.
2 Corinthians 1:19-20
Integrity and trustworthiness are important qualities that people look for in others, especially leaders. People who possess such qualities are characterized by consistency and always making good on promises. Sometimes our integrity and trustworthiness may come under immense scrutiny, especially when we stand for the gospel of Christ that we proclaim. So what should we base our integrity and trustworthiness on, especially before other Christians?
Here we see Paul having to defend his own integrity before the Corinthian believers. He had mentioned in an earlier letter that he will stay in Corinth for a period of time before going on to Judea (1 Cor 16:5-7; 2 Cor 1:16). However, Paul had to make an emergency visit to Corinth to address certain accusations against him that could potentially poison the relationship between the church in Corinth and himself. Unfortunately, this visit had to be cut short because of some painful confrontation with Paul’s rivals, and decided to stay longer in Macedonia. This caused misunderstandings between Paul and the Corinthian church and Paul’s rivals used that to attack the integrity of his character.
Paul was unable to keep to his word of returning to Corinth due to those pressing circumstances, so how did he present his case for his own trustworthiness before the Corinthian believers?
Firstly, Paul testified by his conscience to the truthfulness and transparency in his dealings with the Corinthian church. Paul had written in an earlier letter that a clear conscience is insufficient to clear him before God and God is the ultimate judge of all actions and intents (1 Cor 4:4; Rom 2:15-16). However Paul’s conscience was greatly shaped by his understanding of Christ and His gospel, and through God’s power. That close alignment with God’s values allowed Paul’s conscience to be a valid judge of his actions. The challenge for us is to allow our mind, and consequently our conscience, to be increasingly shaped by God’s Word as we rely on the power of His grace. This informs our conscience to direct our actions towards what God deems right with greater accuracy.
Secondly, Paul based his trustworthiness on the faithfulness of God. Paul had established that his decisions were fully guided by the grace of God (v 12) and that he was appointed by God to preach the gospel. Because God is the ultimate standard of trustworthiness through the fulfilment of all promises in Christ (v 20), Paul changed his plans not out of his own self-interest “according to the flesh” but implied that God deemed it for the good of the Corinthians (v 23). As David Garland puts it: “Paul therefore does not respond to doubts about his character by saying: ‘Trust me! I know what I’m doing and it’s for your good.’ Rather, he is saying in effect, ‘Trust God, His promises have been fulfilled in Christ, and our faithfulness in dealing with you had been assured by our preaching Christ to you.’” In our own dealings with others, do they see that our actions are governed by a faithful God who has fulfilled all His promises to us in Christ? If the integrity of our actions are guided by our faithful God who works all things for our good, we have a much better basis for our trustworthiness like in Paul’s case.
Lastly, Paul identified with the Corinthians as fellow believers in Christ. The basis for their common identity was Christ, in whom God established all believers, including Paul and the Corinthian believers (v 21). Those who were established in Christ were then given the same anointing, which refers to the appointment by the Holy Spirit through the equipping for Christ’s mission or service (v 21). All believers, Paul and Corinthians alike, have been sealed as God’s possession through the redemption from sin through Christ’s blood, and have been given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of the full inheritance that is to come (v 22). It is on the grounds of this common identity as Christians that Paul can say “we work with you for your joy” (v 24). Paul is saying that he stands with the Corinthians as a fellow brother in Christ, therefore they can trust in his love for them through union in Christ even though he changed his travel plans. Our understanding of our common identity in Christ has to flow into our attitudes when we interact with each other. As we seek to rebuke and correct each other, let us not “lord it over” others’ faith to feed our own sense of self-righteousness. Instead we should be working together to build each other up as fellow believers united in Christ and being sanctified by Christ.
To summarize, the integrity and trustworthiness of our actions should come from a conscience that is increasingly conformed to God’s will and values. This should lead us to act consistently according to what God deems is good instead of acting out of self-interest. Our “gospel” to others should show that our actions are guided by a faithful God who has fulfilled all of His promises through Christ. The motivation behind our interactions with other believers should come from a proper understanding of our common identity in Christ. Let us ensure that we work together for the sake of building each other up as fellow believers who are all being sanctified while united in Christ.
When our conscience, thoughts and actions are based on the person and gospel of Jesus Christ, our integrity and trustworthiness will stand firm.
2 Corinthians 2:6-8
When a member in church lives in blatant sin, it not only affects the moral integrity of the church (1 Cor 5:6), other members of the church are hurt as well (2 Cor 2:5). This is why church discipline is so important. It is the instrument God uses to enable His people to share in His holiness through producing fruit of righteousness (Heb 12:10-11). It also demonstrates our love and reverence for Christ by sharing in His contempt for sin and preserving our union in Christ through moral purity.
Effective discipline, be it at the individual or community level, will always be harsh and unpleasant (Heb 12:11). But as long as we do it out of love for the offender for the sake of his/her repentance, we remain true to the aim of godly discipline. The objective and motivation for godly discipline is always for the reconciliation of the offender with God and His people by putting away sin.
Church discipline, when administered correctly, should ideally lead to godly sorrow and repentance (2 Cor 7:9-10). So how do we move forward when an offender has shown signs of true repentance when disciplined?
In keeping with the objective of reconciliation through discipline, Paul encouraged empathy and grace. Paul said: “For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough” (v 6). Acting out of love and gentleness, Paul recognised that when discipline had run its full course, there is no need to persist. Paul’s concern was that this individual would be swallowed up by excessive sorrow even after repenting.
David Garland writes: “Sinners must pass through a period of despair, but the danger comes when they become permanently mired in gloom and lose all hope of forgiveness. Feeling that there is no way out can present an even worse danger to the soul.” The sorrow and subsequent suicide of Judas Iscariot is an example of such despair (Matt 27:3-5). Therefore, allowing a repentant believer to remain in excessive sorrow goes against reconciling the believer to God and His people.
Paul instead encouraged the Corinthians to reaffirm their love for the repentant individual. Reaffirmation of love implies the need for the church community to actively express their love in concrete ways instead of just paying lip service. This is achieved through forgiveness and comforting (v 7).
When we forgive, we do not compromise on God’s values or ignore the sin, but instead we restore and maintain fellowship with the offending person as a church even in light of what had happened. Forgiveness was something that Jesus Himself had taught and practiced. Jesus taught forgiveness through the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:12), and as long as a brother/sister in Christ repents from their sin, we are to forgive them (Luke 17:3-4). Jesus’ prayer for God to forgive His tormentors during His crucifixion (Luke 23:34) bears testament to the ultimate display of forgiveness.
Why then should we make it a point to forgive? Firstly, forgiveness preserves the unity of Christ in the church (v 10). Secondly, it prevents Satan from disrupting the unity of the church community (v 11). Thirdly, as we learn to forgive, we grow more in Christ-like character.
With regards to “comfort” in verse 7, the idea is similar to that in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. Comforting does not carry the idea of making one feel comfortable with their past sins for the sake of being “at peace” with oneself. Instead it has the idea of coming alongside to strengthen the weak against further sin. This is done through providing support and encouragement to continue living worthily of the gospel of Christ.
As we commit to our responsibility of maintaining the church’s moral purity through discipline, let us always keep in mind God’s objective of reconciling the offending party to God and His people (2 Cor 5:18). And as the offender demonstrates signs of repentance, let us be quick to restore fellowship with him/her and continue to support him/her to live worthily of the gospel of Christ. Through this we can maintain the integrity of our unity in Christ, and through that unity we can stand against the schemes of the devil until Christ comes for us again.
2 Corinthians 2:15-16
Most of us think of Paul as a flamboyant and charismatic preacher of the gospel. We probably get that impression when we read his bold and emotionally charged letters to the various churches. But Paul himself reveals how his rivals thought of him: “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech is of no account.” (2 Cor 10:10) Because of this, Paul had to defend his fitness to speak as an apostle of God when he looked like such a weakling to his rivals.
Paul used an interesting illustration of Roman victory parades to describe his ministry. Victorious generals returning from war led the parades and their prisoners of war followed behind in chains. Throughout the procession, fragrant perfumes filled the air. At the end of the procession, the prisoners were then executed. As Paul and his team ministered to the nations, they were being led by their victorious general Jesus Christ. It was through Paul’s ministry that Jesus Christ spread “the fragrance of the knowledge of Him (Jesus)” everywhere they went. For those who are being saved and have come under the Lordship of Christ, this fragrance of Christ is the smell of life. To those who are perishing and reject the authority of Christ, this same fragrance is the smell of death.
How does this change the way we look at our own sharing of the gospel? This means that we must be found fully submitted to Christ, our victorious general, in all things. Before even sharing the gospel, we have to be Christ-led on a personal level first. As we submit to Christ’s leading, we will see the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ spread throughout all aspects of our lives. Be it in our home, workplace, church, or when we hang out with friends, people everywhere will know Christ and His gospel through us.
Also, we have to remember that the power of Christ’s gospel comes from Jesus Himself and not by our own abilities. Paul asks “who is sufficient for these things?” (v 16). Paul was saying that he was made worthy of his ministry not in his own power, but only through the empowerment of Christ (2 Cor 1:9). In the same way, effectiveness in our ministry can only be given by God in Christ and never by our own power or influence. Our role is to follow the leading of Christ through Scripture, with much prayer and daily turning towards Christ. This way, all glory rightfully goes to Jesus Christ, our victorious general who has redeemed us from sin.
So Paul may have looked weak by worldly standards, but because the message he proclaimed was Christ’s gospel, he could correct the Corinthians of their sins boldly with a clear conscience. Therefore, let us first be sure that we have a good knowledge of Christ’s gospel and that we are fully submitted to Christ. Even as we notice our perceived insufficiencies, let us always remember that the sufficiency of Christ and His gospel can only come from Christ Himself and no one else, not even ourselves. It is when we become less self-conscious and more Christ-conscious that we can aspire to be an “aroma of Christ to God” by directing all honour and glory to our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 3:3
Just as Paul sought to affirm the legitimacy of his ministry as an apostle of Christ given his circumstances and “weak” physical demeanour, he was also seeking to affirm the Corinthians of their status as God’s people. The Corinthians displayed saving faith through their sharing in the sufferings of Christ and His apostles (1:7) and their obedience to Paul’s instructions in his earlier grievous letter to them (2:9). Now Paul wrote that their transformed spiritual lives are proof of the legitimacy of his ministry.
In ancient times, letters of recommendation were written to affirm the status of an unknown Christian to a new church. The letter was carried around by this individual as a way of introducing him to the new church, like an ancient referee’s letter for a resume. Here Paul wrote that he had no need to re-introduce himself as a minister of God’s new covenant, because the transformed lives of the Corinthians were proof enough of his status as God’s minister (3:2-3).
What would Paul consider a “transformed life”? Here Paul contrasts between living under the Mosaic Law and under the working of the Holy Spirit (3:3). Paul mentioned that the Corinthians’ transformation was “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts”. What he trying to say here is that the Corinthians have changed not by following more closely to the code of the Mosaic Law. Instead, they were transformed from the inside through the Spirit of God and God’s Law was written directly on their hearts. This was according to Ezekiel’s prophecy for the new covenant: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
What does a person whose heart is transformed by the Holy Spirit look like? Firstly, he is able to comprehend the glory of God - the eternal superior work of the Spirit that can truly save – as he looks to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul writes that those whose hearts are “veiled” are really hardened in their minds to God’s Law and glory. “Hardened” has the idea of “made dull”. This does not mean they are intellectually dumb, but instead they are morally crippled. Their hearts lack the ability to believe and understand God’s glory displayed through Christ and respond in obedience. However when a person turns to God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (3:16), that “veil” is removed by the Spirit. It is then that the glory of God through Christ can be seen and understood in all its splendor.
Secondly, he demonstrates freedom (3:17). When Paul talks about freedom, he does not mean that we stop being subjected under any control and start living any way we want. Instead, he means that we are freed from slavery to the guilt and influence of sin, and come under the influence of the Spirit who leads us in righteousness. Before we could do nothing but sin against God, but now we are freed to choose good instead of evil and withstand the influence of sin.
Lastly, he shows signs of growth into the “same image” of Christ (3:18). As we behold God’s glory reflected through the person of Christ, Paul wrote that our hearts are transformed bit-by-bit into that of Christ. This continuous work of transformation into the moral likeness of Christ is done by no one but the Holy Spirit. And because this work is done in stages rather than instantaneous, we need to persist in allowing the Spirit to renew our hearts and minds. David Garland commented on the need for continual spiritual discipline: “The Spirit is not imposed upon us, and Christians must engage in spiritual disciplines that make the Spirit’s work possible in changing our lives at the fundamental level. God’s Spirit empowers us to do what we want to do and makes what we want to do to be right so that Christlikeness flows from us naturally.”
A godly ministry is one that sees hearts being transformed by the Holy Spirit. Change in behavior comes from transformation of a heart that is insensitive to God’s glory to one that is able to behold the awesomeness of His glory. That ability to comprehend God’s glory through Christ comes from turning from sin to God in repentance and faith, and through the work of the Holy Spirit “unveiling” that repentant heart. We see people being freed from the guilt and influence of sin and coming under the leading of Jesus Christ through the Spirit. And as these people continue to worship God and His glory through Jesus Christ, we will see their hearts and behaviors grow more like Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:1-2
In the previous chapter, Paul explained how his ministry of the new covenant finds its sufficiency in God and not in himself. His ministry is sufficient only because of the superior glory of the Holy Spirit’s ministry through the new covenant. Now Paul elaborates on how this has implications on his ministry to not just the Corinthians, but to all men.
Paul saw his ministry as being given to him by God’s mercy, showing that he did not attain his ministry through intellectual or philosophical competency. It is only because God mercifully revealed His true glory through Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Spirit that Paul could endure his bold ministry wherever he went. Paul’s ministry was never a walk in the park, and there were moments where he even despaired of life itself (1:8). But what kept him going was the undeserved honour he felt to be a minister of God’s new covenant through the Spirit.
Paul not only persevered in hardships, but also endured resisting the temptation to use crafty schemes and to twist the truth in order to create a following for “his gospel”. He renounced using hidden shameful practices to “win” people to the gospel. Neither does he resort to deception and tampering the gospel to cater to the “itching ears” of his listeners and avoid conflict. Instead, he simply lays the truth of the gospel bare before all men and leaves it to their consciences to judge if what he says comes from God.
How Paul’s listeners evaluate the gospel would determine how God will evaluate them. Those who respond in faith and repentance will be deemed God’s people. But those who continue to reject or are unable to comprehend the glory of gospel that Paul preached are deemed to be those who are perishing. Paul makes it clear that their inability to behold the glory of Christ through the gospel is an act of Satan and is the common condition among all who do not and will not believe.
Paul’s approach to evangelism has implications to how we share the gospel today. Many times even though we know in our heads that our gospel comes from God, but when we share it we see it as a product of our intellectual comprehension of the gospel. Because of that, the temptation is for us to find ways and means to make our gospel sound more appealing and eloquent to cater to our target audience. The danger of this is that we might fall into the trap of twisting the gospel of Christ into our own version of the gospel, replacing the glory of Christ with a worldly glory. When that happens, we are only leading others down the path of destruction.
Instead, as we bask in “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”, we need to keep in mind that this same glory is what makes the gospel sufficient. Replacing this glory with worldly wisdom and tactics will only degrade the gospel into something else. Because the glory of Christ’s gospel is self-sufficient, we do not need to tamper or change it in any way. Our role is merely to grow and conform to the knowledge of it and share it as it is. The message of the gospel is accessible to all, but how it is received would determine our listeners’ standing before God. “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing” (v 3), but to those who are being saved, this same gospel will be “a fragrance from life to life” (2:16).
So let us be bold and persevere in sharing the pure truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, knowing that Christ’s gospel is sufficient only in the glory of Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit, and not of our own glory.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18
Think of our own response to suffering -how often do we view a person’s suffering as a reflection of their faith or true grit? Many of us feel beaten and discouraged when hardship comes and we cannot seem to triumph over it. Some of us may take pride in being able to endure hardship. In our attempts to cope with present afflictions, we sometimes seek to trivialize them by comparing it with others who seem less fortunate or worst case scenarios.
Paul continued to explain his current state to those who see him only as “afflicted, perplexed, persecuted and struck down”. He wants them to take a closer look at what goes on behind his suffering. For Paul, hardships do not disclose human strength but God’s power instead. He used the metaphor of treasure in jars of clay to show that God had placed the treasure of the gospel ministry in frail and ordinary humans. First we understand that this treasure did not raise Paul out of ordinary human life, he still faced the weakness of trials and persecutions in this world. Secondly, it showed that the powerful, re-creative effects that gospel produced could not have been due to the weakness of Paul and other ministers. Rather than discrediting his apostolic ministry, Paul’s hardship pointed to the all-transcending power of God.
Paul chose to continue his ministry in spite of the hardships that came with it. Persecution accompanied their ministry and they endured the hardships in order that they could continue to proclaim the gospel to the Corinthians. This was so that more Corinthians would come to know of God’s mercy and glory. The increasing number of thankful responses would then bring more and more glory to God. The “life at work” in the Corinthians came at the cost of suffering by those who ministered to them.
Paul endured his afflictions by fixing his eyes on the future glory. Even as he noticed the deterioration of his current outer self, Paul saw the constant renewal of his inner self – the part of him that will last for eternity. As he put his faith in God’s power to raise him from death and his future glorious transformation by the Spirit, he considered all current sufferings in his ministry as light and momentary. When Paul wrote about the things that are seen and unseen, he was not making a distinction between the physical and the spiritual. Rather, he was distinguishing between our current reality, all its physical and spiritual parts of it, with our future reality, also fully physical and spiritual but fully transformed into the image of Christ.
In our various ministries, do we labour under the burden of trying to be wonderful in the eyes of others rather than simply trying to minister to them? Let Paul’s example reaffirm us that the power of the gospel comes from God and this power is all-surpassing. And when inconveniences and hardships look us in the eye as we minister for the sake of God’s glory, let us remember the glory and power of the new covenant that we hold within us.
As we entrust ourselves to this great treasure, then we can say in our frailty: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (4:8-9) And even as we feel the fatigue and weariness of ministry, let us look to the glorious hope we have when we are raised together with God’s people in the last days. It is then that we can enjoy the fullness of Christlikeness for eternity. But for now, we live as suffering captives under the rule of our King Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18
Modern culture dictates that we live for the moment, where the experience of all that life has to offer is all that matters and there is no need to care about the consequences. Some who are more prudent will live for saving up for retirement so that their lives will end in comfort and the feeling of fulfilment in “a life well lived”. Paul offers a perspective on the Christian life that might challenge these assumptions of life purposes.
Moving on from his metaphor of being jars of clay, Paul describes our earthly bodies as a tent. Tents give the idea of being temporary and fragile. In Paul’s time, they were used as an interim accommodation while a house was being built. Paul was assured that when the earthly body of all believers is destroyed, God promises physical resurrection to an eternal, indestructible body.
What gave Paul, and consequently all believers, such great assurance of receiving this eternal form with Christ? Paul writes that the Holy Spirit has been given to all believers as a guarantee for our resurrection into our eternal, glorified, purified bodies (1:22, 5:5; Eph 1:13-14). All believers can be assured of God’s promise of eternal life with Him when they experience the transforming and uplifting power of the Holy Spirit in this present life.
So while Paul lived in his mortal body, he groaned in longing for being fully in the presence of God with his future glorified body. The burden he had was not a wish for liberation from his suffering, deteriorating earthly body through death. Conversely, Paul’s hope was that through death, he could realise the fullness of life with Jesus Christ in his final, eternal, glorified form. It is in this hope that Paul walks by faith in this unseen glory, and not by the sight of his current visible, fragile, run-down condition.
So what are the implications for us as Christians today? We cannot take for granted that we all possess eternal life by virtue of the “immortality” of our souls. It is God, who graciously bestows eternal life upon all believers. And that is only fully realised after all have been judged by God for what they have done in their earthly mortal bodies.
It is in view of this final judgement that we must realise that what we do in our earthly lives do have moral significance and eternal consequences. Is this inconsistent with justification by faith alone? From Paul’s perspective, no one earns salvation by works, yet every person will be judged according to his or her works. Our works will testify to the presence of saving faith in our lives (James 2:26). One scholar writes that the body, “far from being a burdensome envelope for the divine soul, is the very place where man is tested and in terms of which he will be questioned in the judgement.” It is a time when we would prove whether we have saving faith in Christ.
So when we look at the purpose for our life as means to fully live out the human experience according to what this world has to offer, we are far too short-sighted. As Christians, we live under the knowledge of final judgement and in the hope of future eternal glorification into the full presence of Jesus Christ. Therefore in the meantime, “we make it our aim to please him (Jesus Christ)”, whom all man have to account for all their actions to in the Final Judgement.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18
Being a scholar of the Law, Paul knew that all humans are born sinners and are only deserving of death. God demonstrated the need for atonement for sins through animal sacrifice in the Old Testament. Death was the price for sin. However this sacrificial system was temporary and incomplete and was only meant to reveal the complete perfect sacrifice shown through the death of Christ for our sins.
Paul recognised that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was meant to be the perfect and complete payment to redeem us from sin, therefore “one has died for all”. “All” here refers to all who believe in God’s message of holy wrath against sinners in the Final Judgement and salvation from this wrath through Jesus Christ. The fact that while we were still in open rebellion against God, God sent His Son Jesus Christ to obediently die for our sins is the fullest demonstration of God’s love through Christ (Rom 5:8).
It is this love of Christ that compelled Paul to respond in live for Christ through living for Him. In the same way, the knowledge Christ’s death on the cross as payment to redeem us from sin must change the way we live now. The intellectual knowledge of the logic behind how Christ’s death met the requirements for the atonement for sin must not remain as knowledge, it must inform and mould the way we live in accordance to God’s standards for us. Those who respond in saving faith recognise that they no longer live for themselves. They willingly give up their own rights for the sake of Christ and the good of others, while not insisting on living their own way before God.
It is these believers who respond with a changed life who are described as being “in Christ”. Being in Christ requires that a person completely changes his entire being, his value system and behaviour. This means that a person identifies himself with the death of Christ by dying to his own sin, while understanding that just as Christ came back to life, he also is alive to God in Christ. Therefore, being dead to sin and alive to God means that our entire being has nothing to do with sin, but everything to do with God.
Does this mean that we will no longer sin? The Bible is clear that sanctification is progressive, and Paul described that earlier in 3:18, where we are transformed into the image of God “from one degree of glory to another”. So it does not mean that we no longer sin in this life, but it does mean that our hearts and minds, and consequently our actions, are increasingly conformed to that of God. Therefore we want nothing to do with the desires of our sinful nature that persistently goes against God.
Being in Christ also means that we are reconciled to God. Reconciliation is not only the cessation of hostility between us and God, but also includes the idea of mending a broken relationship. God desired not only the fulfilment of the requirements of the Law for our redemption from sin, but also the restoration of a personal relationship with those whom He redeemed. A scholar puts it this way: “Justification is a judicial term used in the law courts. A judge may acquit an accused person without ever entering into any personal relationship with him or her. He just announces the verdict, not guilty. The accused hardly expects to be invited over for dinner by the judge, and probably hopes that he will never see him again.” Therefore God, our Holy Judge, has decided that beyond our justification, we be reconciled in a personal relationship with Him.
Just as God has reconciled us to Himself in Christ, He has also given us the message of reconciliation to be proclaimed to everyone in the world (v 19). God desires for all to receive His message regardless of race, social status and gender (1 Cor 12:13). Therefore our desire would be to proclaim and persuade all people to be reconciled to God, out of the fear of the Lord’s judgement against those who do not believe and because of our love for Christ.
So what is our response knowing that out of love, Christ became “sin who knew no sin” so that we may be reconciled to God? Do we want to continue thinking and living according to the value systems and behaviours of this world, in opposition to God, therefore remaining in hostility and sin against God? Or would we rather die to our sinful nature through identifying with the death of Christ and live in a reconciled personal relationship with God in Christ? To those who choose the latter, let us then learn to reshape our hearts and minds according to God’s desires and to be part of God’s ministry of reconciliation for the world.
2 Corinthians 6:4-7
Continuing from his declaration of being an ambassador for Christ and his appeal for the Corinthians to be reconciled to God, Paul now urges them not to receive the grace of God in vain. The grace of God that Paul mentioned here refers to God’s work of reconciliation through Jesus Christ. Therefore, Paul did not want the Corinthians to end up with fruitless lives after having received reconciliation with God through Christ.
How did Paul play his part in ensuring that no one receives reconciliation with God in vain? He made it a point to make sure that his ministry was faultless so that he will not be an obstacle to anyone receiving the gospel by discrediting his ministry. The way he ensured that no one could find fault in his ministry was by living a life that is consistent with the truth that he taught.
Paul wanted everyone to identify him as a servant of God by his endurance in suffering, purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God. In enduring the suffering that came with his ministry and living in purity, Paul gave no opportunity for anyone to find fault with the gospel and the God he serves. “Purity” in this context includes faithfulness to Christ, sexual purity, innocence from guilt, and honesty.
In his interactions with all people, Paul demonstrated patience and kindness. He refrained from rushing into retaliating for wrongs done against him. Instead, he responded in kindness. This did not mean that Paul held back on any rebuke which was appropriate, instead he softened his rebukes in order that his hearers will benefit from them. In this, Paul demonstrated patience and kindness in the hope that those who received his ministry also received reconciliation with God.
Because of his genuine love for Christ, Paul also sought to display genuine love towards all around him. This included frank but gentle correction of people for their sins. It was out of genuine love for the listener to be reconciled with God that drove Paul to minister the way he did.
Paul’s company “spoke freely” and opened wide their hearts in full exposure of the positives and negatives of their ministry in order to appeal to the Corinthians hearts and for the Corinthians to do the same. He laid out his life to be assessed by everyone that they may see the all-surpassing power of God working in him for their sake.
What do our lives say about us as “servants of God”?
Does the knowledge of Christ and the implications of His life and death inform and shape everything we do?
Are we motivated by genuine love for Christ which overflows in love and mercy for people around us?
Do we endure in holy living, which often demands that we live contrary to culture, traditions, and social norms?
Do we maintain moral purity in our hearts as well as in our dealings with others?
Are we known as people who are patient and kind, but yet speak the truth?
Do people see the work of the Holy Spirit and the power of God in all we do, instead of seeing how wonderful our abilities are?
Like Paul, let us be known for the right things so that our lives will not turn others away from the gospel, and also that we will not receive God’s grace in vain and end up living fruitless lives.
2 Corinthians 7:1
Many Christians would have heard of or even used this “trademark” verse ‘do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers’ (2 Cor 6:14) at some point in their Christian journey. We understand it to be a command - that people who follow Christ must not seek intimate relationships or pursue marriage with someone who does not profess the same faith.
It may seem like an easy proof text to use as a sword on our fellow brothers and sisters, telling them that they should not date, court or marry people who do not share the same faith. But Paul intends to communicate something much more than what we often make this verse to mean. His emphasis here is the believer’s desire for holiness.
What does it mean to be unequally yoked?
A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals so that the animals are able to work together to achieve a common goal, in this case - to plough the land. The term “yoke” can also be used as a verb to describe two entities joined in a close relationship.
Therefore, an “unequal” yoke would mean placing animals of different kinds (like a chicken and a cow) under the same yoke to work together. This is a disaster!
Similarly, Christians and non-Christians are two different kinds/class/pedigrees of people. Unequally yoked relationships place believers in positions where they have to be aligned with unbelievers to achieve the same purpose (be it working, social, recreational or dating purposes). We are referring to relationships that are above mere casual work colleagues or hi-bye friends. These relationships have a camaraderie so close knit that it can have an actual and lasting influence over your life.
Paul emphasizes the differences in the nature of these unequally yoked relations with 5 rhetorical questions (v.14-16), all to which the answer is “none whatsoever!” There is no partnership, no fellowship, no accord, no portion and no agreement between a believer and an unbeliever. None whatsoever!
Do note that this does not mean Christians should live in total isolation from the rest of the unbelieving world. Paul himself had earlier written in 1 Corinthians 9 that he does relate to unbelievers. He becomes all things to all men that he might save some through the gospel, and he encourages us to do the same.
What then is the heart of Paul as he writes this to the Corinthian believers? What forms the basis for separation from unbelievers on a deep level? He continues with this affirmation that we (Christians) are the temple of the living God. God no longer dwells with his people in a sanctuary which was built, yet he resides in them as they are his temple. God dwells in you!
The focus of this passage is not on who you can or cannot have deep relationships with, rather the focus is the calling for us to be holy because we are the temple of God and God is in us. Therefore, God calls us to come out from the world, to be separate from unbelievers and all things unholy. It is not obedience to this call that forms the relationship we have with God. On the contrary, it is because our relationship with God has been formed, as a result it demands separation from everything unholy, including unequal relationships, that will lead us to unholiness.
And to the one who takes off the yoke that ties him to the world and instead yokes himself to God, God affirms this relationship with 3 promises – He will welcome us, He will be our Father and we will be sons and daughters to Him. (2 Cor 6:17b-18) Separation from the world leads us to fellowship with God.
Do we keep it within our hearts and treasure the promise that God will be our Father? Is fellowship with God valuable enough that we are willing to throw off the enticements together with the yoke this world offers?
Dig deep into your heart. If you do not see God’s promises as supremely valuable then consider this: God has unequally yoked Himself to us. We are a people entirely corrupted in sin and God is holy. Jesus came to take on the hatred God has against our sins, and suffered the consequence for us. And because of what Christ had done, God has given us a new heart; He promises that He will resurrect us, sanctify us, give us eternal life and He will be a Father to us and we will be sons and daughters to Him.
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Cor 7:1)
Let this be our prayer for our brothers and sisters, that we will strive to bring holiness to completion in the fear of God.
2 Corinthians 7:10
Prior to 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote a “severe letter” to reprove the Corinthians for rejecting him. Paul then writes 2 Corinthians with the intention to restore his relationship with the Corinthians, knowing that they have accepted and repented upon the “severe letter”.
Rebuke Is Out Of Love and Affection
How harsh was the “severe letter” you may ask? Paul says, “I am acting with great boldness toward you” (v.4) Here he refers to the boldness of speech which could be mistaken as a sign of unwarranted audacity. Speaking the truth can create animosity, which might further aggravate the situation. Nevertheless, Paul has decided to send this letter with all candor – the candor appropriate to Christ’s apostle and one who truly loves them.
Proverbs 27:5-6 says “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiples kisses.” This necessarily implies that rebuke is hurtful and might result in wounds. Yet Revelation 3:19 says “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.”
Did you think Paul penned the “severe letter” without considering how the Corinthians would feel? Paul knew that his heavy-handed letter would cause them great sorrow.
Having to send such a harsh letter, Paul had hints of “regret”. This does not mean that Paul wrote the letter in a rash impulse and would change his mind if given a second chance. Calvin illustrates it this way - “A father is grieved by his severity if at any time he has to chastise his son, but he approves of it nevertheless because he sees it is for his son’s good”. Therefore, seeing that the letter had caused them to repent, Paul does not regret the writing the letter and the effect it has brought. Even so, Paul had made it clear that he did not say these to condemn the Corinthians with hatred (v.3) for he has never intended to cause them grief.
Paul’s preoccupation is with the Corinthians; they are in his heart through life, to live and die together (v.3), no amount of change or suffering can break his love for them.
Love is not a warm and fuzzy feeling that pulls our heartstrings. It does not necessarily equate to being gentle, soft and comforting. Love is to lead brothers and sisters to Christ as demonstrated by Paul. And sometimes, it calls for desperate measures such as harsh open rebuke and risking relationships.
Do you love your brothers and sisters enough to take desperate measures when necessary? Does your rebuke for brothers and sisters outflow from the love you have for them?
Paul’s affections for the Corinthians are nothing short of an outflow of overwhelming love, so much so that the “severe letter” was written with out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause the Corinthians pain but to let them know the abundant love that he has for them. (2 Cor 2:4)
Upon seeing the earnestness of repentance in the Corinth Church, Paul was comforted and filled with great joy. Try counting the times Paul’s “joy” and “comfort” is mentioned throughout this chapter! Rebuke is indeed out of love and affection for the sheep and yet the same love and affection is magnified and expressed when the sheep demonstrates repentance after the rebuke! (Or unrepentance for that matter.)
Do you feel joyful, comforted or grief for your brothers and sisters?
Accepting and Acting Upon The Blessing of Rebuke
No one takes rebuke easily. We are sinful men entrenched in self-righteousness. We never like to be told that “you’re wrong” or “this is how things can be improved”. Well, now that we know rebuke comes from love and affection for us, how can we react to rebuke given?
Paul opens this chapter with an instruction in verse 2 - “Open your hearts to us” (ASV) or “Receive us” (KJV). Paul is instructing the Corinthians to allow his teaching to enter their minds so that they might ponder over it and heed his teaching rather than allow corrupt feelings or misguided opinions be an obstruction.
When a brother or sister comes to you with teaching and admonishing, do you reject them outrightly due to pride?
Paul later on mentioned that he rejoices because the Corinthians were grieved into repenting (v.9) and it is that godly grief which produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (v.10)
The selfishness of worldly grief produces despair and bitterness. That was the same grief that Esau and Judas had when Esau sold his birthright and Judas betrayed Jesus respectively. Yet Esau lived in self-pity and regret, and Judas sought to take his own life rather than repenting.
As sinners, we realize that we are helpless and hopeless in our sinful nature. Looking to God and seeing him as our creator and Lord, our sins ought to grief us so deeply that we turn to Christ to seek his forgiveness through repentance. And this leads to salvation without regret because of the precious and pleasant fruit it brings forth, which is the union with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Beloved, receiving (giving) rebuke is a blessing of love that we (our brothers and sisters) might turn to our Lord Jesus Christ with godly grief that produces repentance that leads to salvation without regret.
2 Corinthians 8:9
When it comes to giving, some people are miserly and cannot part with their money. Others may give generously in order to gain the praise of men or feel good about themselves. Obviously neither example is right, so how should we give?
God wants us to give generously and Paul makes that clear in his letter to the Corinthians. He encouraged them to complete the gift that they started collecting for the church in Jerusalem (8:10, 9:2)
But why should we give? Why does God want us to give?
We Give Because God Gave First
Paul appeals to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (8:9).
Jesus who was spiritually rich, became poor. He had equality with God, but he gave it up to come to earth as a lowly man, and ultimately took our place on the cross. He did this so that we who are sinful and spiritually poor might become rich in Him – so that we might become righteous, just as He is righteous (2 Cor 5:21).
Jesus took the initiative in reaching out to us. We were dead in our trespasses, but in Christ we have been made alive – by grace we have been saved (Ephesians 2:1,5,8). The Christian life starts with God giving us new life.
God’s grace thus becomes the reason for our giving – if there is any reason we should be giving at all, it is because God has first given.
How then should we give?
We Give Generously Because God Gave Generously
We give because God first gave – but how much did He give? What did He sacrifice?
God so loved the world that He gave us his only Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16). We often cite this but we forget what a great cost it is. Jesus had a perfect relationship with His Father. He shared in God’s glory and power, and He loved his Father. Jesus had abundant spiritual riches and He gave it all up because it pleased God to crush His beloved Son for our sake (Isaiah 53:10). God gave us the most precious and costly gift – His only Son.
Furthermore, we did not deserve His gift. We are undeserving because of our sinfulness and our rebellion against God. We are spiritually bankrupt, and nothing in us could possibly earn or deserve any good thing from God. All this shows us how generous God really is. In fact, generosity is an understatement.
In Christ, God has given us forgiveness, right standing with Him, a place in His family – so much more than what we deserve for going against Him. When we know God’s generosity, we will be thankful and we will seek to reflect God’s generosity. How do we reflect His generosity? We do so by being generous ourselves.
We give generously because we reflect God’s generosity in Christ.
At this point you may say, “I know God wants us to give generously, but hey, I already do that! I give a tenth of all I own to God. I provide for my parents, I give to the poor, sick and needy.” That may all be true, but the fact is that the amount is not what God is truly concerned with – God is concerned with our attitude.
And what should our attitude be like? What is the attitude of godly generosity?
Godly Generosity Is Joyful
Paul gives us an example – the Macedonians gave joyfully and willingly. They were not forced – in fact, they begged to be part of the giving (8:4). Even though they were poor, they did not have an attitude of self-preservation. They suffered a severe test of affliction and poverty (8:2). Instead of being bitter, they were joyful because through generous giving, they reflected God’s glory.
Some of us can give joyfully because we give so little, it doesn’t hurt us. It is easy for a rich man who earns $100,000 a month to joyfully part with $100. Others may “give until it hurts”, but there is no joy in the giving. They give generously but get upset that nobody recognizes their giving or that God never rewards them with the comfortable lifestyle they always wanted. Neither attitude is right. God says we are to give both generously and joyfully.
We are not generous for the sake of it. We need to bear in mind that godly generosity is joyful generosity. God loves a cheerful giver (9:7).
How do we achieve all this?
God’s Grace Enables Us To Give Generously
The Macedonians were generous because they loved their brothers. When we love someone, we give ourselves to them. We are willing to spend time, energy and money on them, and even more than that – we spare no expense to see that all their needs are met. We do this because we love them.
But why did they give themselves to their brothers? The answer is because they gave themselves first to God (8:5). When we love God, we love His family. Whoever loves God also loves his brother (1 John 4:20-21). The Macedonians loved God first and then loved their brothers also.
How then can we be like the Macedonians? Should we force ourselves to love God so that we can love our brothers?
The answer is that we cannot force our love for God. Jesus says that apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). If we cannot force our love, then we also cannot force our giving, because giving is the result of love. So how can we love God to give generously and joyfully?
Paul makes it clear that it was the grace of God (8:1) working in the Macedonians that produced this love and generosity in them. Because of God’s grace at work, the Macedonians gave themselves to God, and also to their brothers. They trusted God to provide, and they provided for their brothers. Because of God’s grace at work in them, the Macedonians were empowered to give generously to their brothers whom they loved.
So God’s grace is not only the reason for our generous giving. It is the secret to it. It empowers us to give generously. If we give generously, it is only because of God’s grace at work in us. We cannot boast. But if we consistently find it difficult to give generously and joyfully, if we are persistently stingy towards our brothers, or if we constantly disobey God’s call to be generous, perhaps His grace is not at work in us. But if His grace is indeed at work in us, we will take heed and be quick and eager to obey God joyfully and we will repent of our sins.
Do you have difficulty being generous towards your brothers? What are some ways you can give generously (not just money)? How many different ways can you show generosity to others?
Remember that God’s grace both is the reason and the power by which we are able to give generously and joyfully.
2 Corinthians 8:20-21
Financial management is a very sensitive issue within an organization, and the church is no exception. We see many cases of misappropriation and mishandling of church finances in the news.
This is not a new problem, and Paul saw the potential issues of accountability that may arise from an act of goodwill like collecting funds for the churches who are less well-off. To avoid such issues from surfacing, Paul wisely puts in place certain safeguards so that this act of grace will be blameless.
The NIV translates verse 21 as “… for we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.” This step of ensuring accountability to the Corinthians was so important to Paul that he took pains to ensure that the process of collecting funds was done correctly. Why did Paul think it so important to take these extra steps, when the act of collecting funds itself was seemingly so simple?
The honour of God and His Gospel
The collection of funds was understood as an act of grace, with the objectives of demonstrating God’s glory and Paul’s good will. (v.19) This means that through this act, God’s reputation and the credibility of the gospel that Paul preached were at stake.
If there were any lapses in integrity or mishandling of the funds during the collection process, it would undermine Paul’s authority and testimony as an apostle of Christ. This in turn will bring dishonour to God and discredit to His Gospel. Paul’s ministry of reconciliation for the sake of God would be negatively affected.
Our actions have implications on God’s glory and the testimony of His Gospel. This applies to all areas of ministry beyond financial matters as well. Does this mean that we are to be perfect? No. However if we take God’s glory and our witness of the gospel seriously, it follows that we do all we can to prevent God’s name from being tarnished.
Having this in mind, Paul wished to remain blameless in the collection of funds by not being directly involved. Therefore Paul wisely entrusted this ministry to trustworthy people. How did Paul qualify those whom he deemed trustworthy?
Qualities of a Trustworthy Servant
1. A God given desire to serve God
Earnestness comes up very often in this passage. The earnest desire to serve God and His people is something that can only be given by God through regeneration of our hearts. Astute financial management requires hard work, and the only way to persist in this work is through an earnest heartfelt desire to serve God. ?
2. A burden for lost souls
This was reflected in one of the emissaries who was famous for preaching the gospel (v. 18). The heart behind all ministries in the church must be to bring lost souls back to God. So while it is not wrong to spend on better equipment and facilities, the heart and mind behind these decisions must always be for the sake of reconciling people to God instead of merely for church members’ material comfort and convenience.
3. A desire to honour God
As mentioned earlier, the aim of good financial stewardship includes upholding God’s honour through our integrity and wisdom. God is glorified when we handle and use the finances God has given to the church in the way He intended it to be used. Do we as a church use our finances in a manner that demonstrates concern for those in need? Do we take to heart the commands of Jesus to help the widows (those powerless in our society), so much so that we will risk precious church finances to aid and shelter them? Do we exemplify the burden to glorify God in making these kinds of financial decisions as a church?
4. A cooperative spirit
Paul saw those who were sent to carry out the collection as “brothers” and “fellow workers”. We who are united in Christ must also work together as brothers and sisters in Christ to support decisions made in the church for God’s kingdom work, especially in the area of finances. Being united in Christ means that all who are part of that union look to the things of God instead of the things of man. This includes the desire to serve God, to uphold God’s reputation, and to have the same burden that God has for the lost.
You may realise that these qualities and principles are not unique to those involved with handling funds in the church, and rightly so. These are all part of growing in godliness, both as individuals and as a church. Therefore, financial management in the church must not be seen as distinct from the other “spiritual matters” like evangelism and preaching. The same principles that apply to preaching, teaching, and mercy ministry also apply to the administrative affairs of the church.
Therefore, as we serve in various ministries, even in administrative matters like finances, let us ensure that we make every effort to uphold God’s glory and reputation through our intentions and actions. Let us challenge each other in brotherly love to truly have the work of the kingdom at the forefront of our minds, to exhort each other that we do not need to live the Singaporean dream lifestyle, to put ourselves and our finances at risk and use it to help the poor.
2 Corinthians 9:8
When we invest our money (whether is it in financial products or cars and apartments) nobody in the world ever seeks to do it carelessly or without thought. We would do our research to make sure we are getting the best returns, or at least comparing products to find the best specifications or discounts for what we want to buy. Putting all our eggs in one basket is frowned upon, losing money carelessly in investments seems to hang over us like a mark of shame, and a bad buy is not something we would often boast to our friends about.
But how then do we view the way we part with our money to give to God? Some of us may think of giving merely as a routine, a lifestyle option that has been taught to us by our parents or church leaders. Others give because it is a Christian thing to do; affirming our belonging to the community. Some others give because it is a way we can give back to God for what He has given to us. Today let us explore the significance that you place on the giving of your money to God.
Giving with Faith
Giving is not so much a matter of balancing accounts, as it is a matter of faith. God is our provider and promises that He will supply our every need (Phil 4:19). To the one who sows bountifully, who gives generously to the kingdom work, (and even to the one who gives sparingly) Paul affirms that God is able to make all grace abound that you may have sufficiency in all things at all times. (v.8) Regardless of our attitudes to giving, God will be faithful to His promises that He will provide for us.
Having this in mind, we are exhorted to give according to what we have decided in our hearts (v.7). This implies that giving is done purposefully, not haphazardly. It is also not done with a desire of trying to gain God’s favour to extract some blessing from Him, but instead it is trusting that God has already provided and will continue to provide.
What fuels your giving? Some may do it due to social pressure, and others may do it to absolve their conscience. Does giving come from the confidence of God’s promise: God is able to make all grace abound that you may have sufficiency in all things at all times.
Giving with Worship
Many times we take sufficiency in “all things” to mean having enough money. The assumption behind this statement is that having money takes care of our needs. One question we might want to ask ourselves is this: to whom or what do you look to for the provision of your needs?
When we speak of having money as the master over our lives does not mean we bow down to a physical 50 dollar note, raise our hands towards it or sing praises to it. Looking to money to serve our needs, to empower us and enable us, rather than looking to God to fulfil all that, shows us who our master is. We serve money not in a way that we look to do money a service, but we look to it to do a service to us.
Is your trust in money that it is the great problem solver to carry our burdens and to help us find fulfilment? Is your faith in the money you earn or in God, the all-powerful, all-loving provider who promises to supply all our needs?
Paul clearly states that God is able to make all grace abound to us, enriching us in every way to be generous in every way. The concern of Paul (when a Christian gives) is not self-sufficiency but God sufficiency. God Himself is the source and providing sufficiently “all things”.
Giving with Thanksgiving
God provides and we give bountifully, and God provides more that we might give more. The result of this kind of giving is the overflow of thanksgiving to God (v.12). The recipients of this gift from the Corinthians gave thanks to God not so much that they received the monetary aid, but because of their obedience that resulted from the confession of the gospel of Christ (v.13). The thanksgiving in this passage is primarily that the Corinthians were showing themselves to be true believers and secondarily that they had received the relief fund from them.
Yes the recipients were worried about their church deficits, with their roofs leaking and their cash reserves emptying. But what was foremost on the minds of these people was still the salvation and eternal state of the Corinthian believers. And seeing the demonstration of the work of the gospel in their lives, thanksgiving to God overflowed.
So what are on the foremost of our minds this morning? Is it truly important to you that people be saved through the gospel? Let us encourage one another to give bountifully that we as a church will also reap bountifully, working for the Kingdom, giving glory to God.
2 Corinthians 10:17-18
In this chapter, Paul warns the Corinthian church about the fake apostles that have been leading them astray. He also points us to the true disposition of a believer.
The Matters Of The Heart
“You are looking only on the surface of things” (v.7, NIV). Paul chides the Corinthians for looking at outward appearances instead of the heart. They perceive Paul’s humility to be lowly and without apostolic authority! How foolish are these Corinthians!
Using this object lesson, Paul shows us that we ought to judge based on the matters of the heart, rather than outward appearances. The same goes for our spiritual growth, for why does it matter if we honor God with our lips, but our hearts are far away from Him (Matthew 15:8)?
The Heart For Christ
The heart for Christ is one that loves Christ. When we love Christ, we would be preoccupied with how Christ is like, how He thinks and what He loves. We will adopt these affections as our own! Christ’s utmost affections are for His own glory! So let us explore how we can have the heart for Christ and be focused on His glory starting from being Christ-like.
Throughout the bible, we are commanded to be imitators of Christ, to be Christ-like, to “have this attitude in (ourselves) which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5) so that “by this, all men will know that (we) you are (Christ’s) my disciples” (John 13:35)
Paul begins by demonstrating that his behaviour stems from his Christ-likeness – “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (v.1), so that the Corinthians would see that he is the rightful apostle of Christ Jesus.
Yet, being Christ-like is a tall order. Jesus commands us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). How can we possibly deny ourselves using our own sinful thinking and wretched heart? For if we were to use our own powers then it could only lead us to be more self-centered.
When we are Christ-like, we bear the image of God and reflect His glory. How then can we be Christ-like?
The Battle For Christ
In v.4-5, the warfare which Paul refers to is spiritual warfare, where we fight against the godless. As Peter Naylor says, the strongholds that Paul refers to are “men’s philosophies against the knowledge of God”. These arguments and opinions are “every product of human wit and wisdom, every design that is the fruit of rational yet godless artifice”.
To fight the godless, Paul used spiritual weapons to tear down the opposition – prayer, the word of God, love and the power of the spirit at work in his life. Similarly, we are to “take up the whole armor of God, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:13-18) to take every thought captive to obey Christ and be Christ-like.
By engaging in spiritual warfare through spiritual weapons, we demonstrate God’s holiness, power and glory. Yet, these spiritual weapons that we wield does not come from ourselves, nor is it meant to accomplish our selfish intentions. So by whose authority and for whom can we fight the spiritual warfare?
Our Authority In Christ
Throughout, Paul made no reference to his authority, rather he points to Christ’s authority. Paul’s authority came from God, which “the Lord gave” (v.8) By being Christ-like and wielding spiritual weapons with “divine power” (v.4), the authority came not from Paul, but from the Lord. Paul’s authority in Christ demonstrates his power from God. Every ability which Paul has origins from the Lord and thus God’s glory shines to all who sees Paul doing all things in the Lord’s name.
In contrast, the fake apostles exercised their own authority with worldly weapons such as their commanding and confident demeanor. Their authority was their own, to achieve their selfish purpose of gaining power and status.
Those who are not of god have their own intentions. What then is the goal of Christ?
The Goal Of Christ
Paul’s wrote this chapter to bring the Corinthians back to the heart of the gospel. He does not point them to himself, but to Christ! The Corinthians had rejected the gospel by accepting fake apostles and teachings.
Paul warns the Corinthians of the fake apostles and shows them the true disposition of a believer, that which is the fruit of salvation through the gospel.
He reminds them that he “first came (to them) with the gospel of Christ” (v.14), and now he is focused on building them up for the welfare of the church and not to destroy them (v.8).
By pointing the Corinthians back to the gospel, Paul was primarily concerned with the glory of Christ. The gospel story - Christ’s incarnation, death on the cross and ressurection are all for the glory of God! Jesus exclaims in John 12:27-28, “But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
The Glory Of Christ
In v12, Paul points out the foolishness of the fake apostles. For they “measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves”. With this reference, every man becomes his own benchmark. They would compare themselves to others and claim that they have not fallen short. They take pride in themselves, thinking that they have accomplished more than others. What self-deceiving mentality!
Brethren, let us remember that “our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God” (Romans 3:5) and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Romans 3:27-28 then continues to explain that we have no grounds to boast. For one is justified not by our own diligent works, but by faith which is granted graciously by God.
Paul says “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” (v.17-18)
However Paul was like, whether is it his Christ-likeness or his ability to wield spiritual weapons through God’s authority, God did through him and God alone should receive glory.
1 Corinthians 1:30-31 explains to us clearly - “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
In summary, we are to look into the matters of the heart by having the heart for Christ. By the Lord’s authority, we wield spiritual weapons to take every thought captive to obey Christ and be Christ-like. So let us focus on the gospel of Christ by building up the church and say, “Hallelujah, glory to God alone!”
2 Corinthians 11:7
The Corinthians were unhappy with Paul. He had refused their offer of monetary support. They felt insulted. He had humbled himself in this manner, but they had taken offence.
To make things worse, false apostles were comparing themselves to Paul (v12, 10:10). They said that they were better than Paul because they accepted money for teaching their gospel (2:17, 11:20) whereas Paul did not (11:9, 1 Cor 9:12b, 15).
The false apostles meant that if Paul’s gospel was worth anything, he would accept the Corinthians' money as his "fees”. Since Paul was preaching free of charge, his gospel must have been worthless. On the other hand, they accepted money and claimed that they were better than Paul and his gospel. This was how they justified their own greed.
But the false teachers and the Corinthians had missed the point. This was not what the gospel is about. What is the gospel about?
Christ humbled himself so that we could be exalted
Earlier in the letter, Paul reminded the Corinthians that Jesus "was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich" (8:9). Paul also says elsewhere that Jesus became sin for us, even though he was sinless, "so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (5:21). Paul preached "Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). Paul’s gospel was one of humility and self-sacrifice..
Jesus exchanged his riches for spiritual poverty and shame. Through his sacrifice, we have been lifted up. We have been exalted to our status as children of God. This is the heart of the gospel.
Where did the false teachers get it wrong?
They thought that their worth came from their money, status and intelligence. The false teachers came to Corinth, showing off their wonderful speaking skills. They made the proud Corinthians think that the gospel is about self-exaltation. But that was far from the example that Christ set for us.
So what did Paul do in response to the gospel?
Paul humbled himself so that the Corinthians could be exalted
Like Christ, Paul humbled himself for the sake of the Corinthians.
He preached the gospel of Christ’s humility and self-sacrifice, so that they might be lifted up. God lifted them not to material wealth or status but rescued them from the depths of their sin and lifted them up as His children. And God used Paul’s preaching of the gospel to do this. How did Paul bring them the gospel?
He did it by lowering himself. The gospel came to the Corinthians by the very means of humbling and self-sacrifice. Paul humbled himself. He worked with his hands, and accepted no money from them. He could have demanded payment, as was it right for the Corinthians to pay him for preaching and teaching well (1 Tim 5:17-18). But Paul did not accept it. Imagine giving free gift to someone and then asking them to pay you for it! This was not what Paul had in mind. Paul highlighted God’s free gift of righteousness by preaching the gospel free of charge (1 Cor 9:12b, 18). He lowered himself for the sake of the Corinthians, and they were elevated as a result.
This is the heart of Christ, which Paul demonstrated towards the Corinthians. So what should our response be to this gospel?
We humble ourselves so that others may be exalted
We should seek to follow the example of Jesus. Paul imitated Christ, and so we imitate Paul. We must learn to lower ourselves so that our brothers may be lifted up. That is what the gospel teaches – that Christ lowered himself so that we may be lifted up. Part of this includes bearing one each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2)
Do we, like Paul, seek the good of our brothers at great cost to ourselves?
We may look deep inside ourselves and find that the answer is less impressive than we thought.
Too often, we are only willing to help others if it comes at little or no cost to us. I can spare some time to counsel him if it doesn't eat into my personal time. I'll offer her some financial support only if I have extra. I would serve in that ministry in church but my job doesn't let me.
These excuses may be true. But how is it called bearing each other’s burdens if we are not burdened by that service which we give to one another?
Again, we may find that we just do not have it within us. We do not love our brothers enough to give of a little of ourselves to them, so that by our sacrifice, they may be encouraged, rebuked, lifted up.
We need to admit that we are spiritually bankrupt, poor in spirit (Mt 7) and in desperate need. We must see that we fail to reach God's standards. Our Christian love and sacrifice falls short in every way. We need to mourn for our sin, and we must thirst and hunger for righteousness. Righteousness comes from Jesus.
So let us look to the gospel of Christ. By his sacrifice, Jesus has given us the desire to live a life that pleases him. At the same time, he has given us strength and power to fulfill this task.
See the heart of Christ. See how he has humbled himself that we might be exalted. Then let us go also and do likewise.
2 Corinthians 11:30
In light of the glory and power found in the humble and self-sacrificial heart of Christ, Paul expressed that boasting of one’s own glory to justify their authority in the church can only be described as foolish (v 17). Foolishness is the opposite of humility, where one is unable to properly evaluate himself and mistakenly thinks of himself as the centre of the universe. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 14:1).
The Corinthians were so taken in by the eloquence of these false apostles that they willingly subjected themselves to the abuse of these false ministers (v 20). It was because of his deep love for the Corinthians and his desire to draw them back to “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (11:3) that Paul reluctantly played the fool’s game of boasting.
So what did the “fools” boast about?
The false apostles boasted in their Jewish heritage. They justified their authority by boasting that they were Hebrews, Israelites and descendants of Abraham. What they meant to say is that they were God’s chosen people, who are in a special covenantal relationship with God, and the rightful recipients of God’s messianic promises. This held more significance when full-blooded Jews were uncommon in a primarily Gentile community in Corinth.
As for Paul, he has met and even exceeded such criteria (11:22, Phil 3:4-5). However such justification holds no ground in God’s kingdom. Elsewhere Paul wrote that the criteria for being citizens of “the Israel of God” does not depend on being a Jew or Gentile, but by whether they were a new creation (Gal 6:15-16). Therefore boasting about “heritage superiority” falls flat on its face.
The false apostles also boasted that they were “servants of Christ” through their suffering. In their culture, overcoming hardships was considered noble and deserving of respect.
Paul did not denounce their suffering, but he boasted that he had suffered much more than any of them. Paul even thought of himself as a lunatic for boasting in such things, but he went ahead listing his tribulations for the sake of completing his discourse. He spoke of both external and internal suffering as he went about his ministry “to preach the Gospel where Christ was not known” (Rom 15:20).
Paul considers that all these boasting (both his and the super apostles’) as foolishness, a useless endeavour even to the point of lunacy. This leaves the question of what then would he rather boast in? Logically we would think that he would do better boasting about all his successes in his ministry. However, he wrote, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (v 30). How was that even convincing? Paul will explain himself later in his letter, and we will explore that in the next chapter. One clue we have for now is that earlier in his letter Paul wrote, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (10:17).
So what does foolish boasting look like today?
We may not hear of leaders boasting about their noble lineage or stoic lifestyle, but the spirit of their boasting rings true even in our modern culture.
Many teachers qualify themselves because of the numerous years they “have been a Christian”, and they might even have good biblical knowledge. This is our ‘cultural heritage’ that because a Christian has seniority in age or superior intellect, they deserve to be respected. However they “lord it over” their disciples, demanding submission by threatening character assassination or humiliation in front of others.
Some church members look for self-recognition and glorification from others by boasting about how much they have sacrificed for their service in the church. They expect that because they have foregone some activities in their lives that they would rather have done, they have suffered an injustice, incurred an opportunity cost and therefore deserve a “higher status” and “more privileges” in the church.
These examples may or may not sound familiar, but the most insidious “false apostle” is commonly found within ourselves. While we hold our tongues to avoid boasting outwardly to others, our hearts boast of our self-righteousness deep within.
“I’ve been in church for so many years, why should I listen to this new guy?”
“This person always fumbles around when he/she serves, thank God I’m not like that.”
“I’m serving so well in this ministry. I deserve a pat on the back.”
Boasting reveals the very things we find our worth in, and aims to use these to prove our worth to others around us. Jesus died so that we need not prove ourselves to anyone. He has done everything for you, even given up His life, that you can have acceptance and reconciliation with the True and Living God. Jesus completed this work for us because He knew we had no other way to be restored to God. Are these truths valuable enough in the depths of your heart that all boasting of our own achievements seems foolish and trivial in comparison?
So instead of boasting in our achievements, Paul presents to us the idea of boasting in our weaknesses. What does that look like and why does that seem like a more desirable option? We will explore that when we continue with Paul’s letter in Chapter 12.
2 Corinthians 12:7
What is your pride and joy?
We usually boast in the things that we are good in. We take pride in these things because they bring us the envy or applause of others and we find our worth or importance in these things. Our strengths are things that gives us confidence about ourselves.
On the other hand, weaknesses bring inconveniences. They can be physical, disorders that causes actual pain, like injuries, gastric or sicknesses. They can be psychological like low self-esteem. Or something spiritual like a feeling of being far away from God. These are physical, psychological or spiritual conditions that causes problems, make us reliant on others or less effective in doing work.
Nobody likes weaknesses. They make us feel inferior and we can see the glaring eyes of people looking down on us. It is in our natural tendencies to hide our flaws and focus on our strengths. Paul however goes so far as to boast in his weaknesses.
Where do these weaknesses come from?
Notice here how Paul describes this event: that this thorn was given to him. Christians love to think of God as the giver of our blessings, but here Paul says that God is also the author of our weaknesses. The pain that you feel in your body, the sickness you are suffering from, the incompetence you feel in school or in work, anything else people might shun, these are given to you by God.
Everyone has their thorns. And God gives these thorns for the purposes of good for those who love Him. (Romans 8:28) So what are these purposes that God is working through these weaknesses?
Humility through weakness
The harassment from the messenger of Satan was done so for the purpose of keeping Paul from becoming conceited. The great apostle Paul, with all his learning, divine revelation, and all his work done for the gospel, was still not spared from the sinful pull of pride, so God thought it would be a good idea to bring this thorn into Paul’s life.
What is it that you take pride in? Is it your abilities or talents? Career success? Or even your spiritual life? The sad truth is that if we could rely on ourselves, we would.
Pride causes us to think we have control over our lives, and God does not. But in fact, God is Lord over all things. And weaknesses are reminders of that. Your humility and dependence on God is far more valuable in God’s eyes than any temporary comfort that he could bring you.
Power through weakness
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
So where does your weaknesses lead you to turn to? Do you turn to the comfort of your family and friends? Do you turn to doing hobbies that you are good at? Do you look to drown yourself in work Or do they drive you to absolute reliance on the all sufficient grace of God?
Sometimes when reading this verse, we may read it as ‘God will make us more powerful through dealing with our weaknesses. We want more control over our lives, more resources to spend, more followers who listen to us etc. But this is the power of God that is being made perfect, not ours. And this is a promise given to all who are weak. That in our weakness, God shows that He is in full control of your life because we depend on Him. God provides for our every need and sustains us both in our work and to help us live with our inconvenient, painful and distress-causing thorns.
And what a promise we have here! That even in the ultimate demonstration of our humanly weakness, when we lie weak at the door of death, the power of God will be made perfect. Death will have no power over you, sin will have no power over you, but God will raise us up to our perfect bodies to reign with Him.
How do you view your weaknesses?
Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be embarrassed about the imperfections in our lives. Hiding them from each other does not make them go away, trying to change them leads us to boast in ourselves. Rather let us boast in our weaknesses, because the power of God is made perfect in them. For it is when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:15
Paul’s concern is that the Corinthians have been deceived by these so called “super-apostles”. As an attempt to lead them back to Christ, Paul defended himself from the unfounded claims made by these “super-apostles”.
In chapter 10 Paul said “if anyone should boast let him boast in the Lord”. This shows us that Paul does not boast in his own credentials. Yet in verse 1, Paul admitted to be playing the part of the fool by unleashing his credentials here.
Paul resorted to boasting because the Corinthians have not defended him against the false apostles, and therefore he must defend himself for the sake of the gospel. Paul is forced to boast not for his own sake, but for the sake of the truth.
The Corinthians were deceived by these “super-apostles”. There was a need for Paul to remind the Corinthians who doubted Paul’s apostleship, which was in Christ. Paul’s defence was not to build his reputation, but to rescue the Corinthians from the lies of the “super apostles” and to show them that they are not following Christ. In verse 21, it is evident that there are some of the Corinthians who were unrepentant, continuing in the sins that Paul has brought to light.
Why was Paul concerned about the Corinthians being deceived?
The Mark Of A Leader – Love for Disciples
We can see here that Paul was greatly concerned about Corinthians. His love for them is compared to that of a father’s love for his child (v.14) His great concern for the Corinthians’ spiritual state was the evidence of Paul’s love for them.
In verse 13 we can see that Paul did not “burden” the Corinthians financially. He refrained from taking money from the Corinthians for two reasons. Firstly, Paul did not want to stumble the Corinthians by leaving the possibility for them to think that he was after their wealth. Secondly, Paul wanted to treat them as a father would.
Paul makes reference to parenting by demonstrating his care to the people of Corinth - he brought them the message of the Gospel (10:14), he called them to a life of submission to Christ (11:2), exalted them at his own expense (11:7), loved them faithfully (11:11), sacrificed himself for them (12:15), devoted himself to them for their growth, and as with any good parent, points out their faults and disciplines them accordingly (12:20). Note that Paul is currently disciplining them by writing 2 Corinthians 12:11-21!
This is the measure of Paul’s love for his congregation; he treats them as his spiritual children. Parents are sacrificial benefactors who give their children all that is needed for them to grow and survive. Similarly, a leader would always seek the welfare of his congregation and to lead them onto a road of eternal life.
Therefore, Paul demonstrates his love for the congregation when he desires their sanctification. It is his love for them that makes him want the congregation to grow to be more like Christ. When Paul says that “For I fear that when I come, I might find you not as I wish…” he wishes not to act severely when he visits them the third time but he is forced to if the Corinthians do not repent from their sins (v.21). Paul does not wish to assert his authority to bring the Corinthians to obedience, but he is ready to do so if needed. Paul’s desire for sanctified lives is evident here, either through letting the church order itself through this letter or Paul having to discipline them in person. In both cases discipline will be demonstrated.
Church leaders care for the spiritual well being of their congregation. As demonstrated by Paul, love for the congregation results to gentle ways to lead them to obedience. However church leaders are ready to administer the appropriate teachings when harsher discipline is needed. It is not wealth, fame or adulation that leaders desire! They are more concerned for the welfare of the souls given to them.
True leaders have a stake in our spiritual lives. When a brother or sister in Christ continues to be unrepentant, a true leader would be disturbed and grieved. No true leader would absolve himself from a share of the responsibility to bring his disciples to Christ.
Our Response To Love
The Corinthians have constantly seen Paul at work. From the way that he built the church, to the way that he disciples them. Much has been shown to the people of Corinth, including signs, wonders and mighty works, which demonstrated Paul’s apostleship very clearly. Yet the Corinthians wavered and were persuaded by these “super-apostles” thinking that they are superior to Paul. They judged the validity of Paul’s leadership by their standards (2 Cor 11:6)! Clearly their response was not out of the same love that Paul had for them. They wanted to live their life on their own terms.
A lesson learnt from the Corinthians, how should our response to love be like?
With loving and wise leaders that show concern for spiritual wellbeing, it is ultimately for the glory of God. We show a lack of submission to God if we allow His gifts, which are evident in our leaders to be despised or be disregarded. Therefore, we should honor our spiritual leaders with obedience and love - the same love that they have for us.
“I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more am I to be loved less?” (2 Corinthians 12:15) Brothers and sisters, let us love our leaders, with the same love that they have for us.
2 Corinthians 13:11
Paul wrote this final chapter as a conclusion to 2 Corinthians. He meant it as a letter of encouragement to the Corinthians, urging them to examine (v.5) and prepare themselves for the third time that he is coming (v.1).
Paul’s aim of this chapter is for the restoration of the Corinthians (v.9). The restoration that Paul is praying for refers to the mending of broken relationships - within the Corinthians, between the Corinthians and Paul and even between the Corinthians and Christ Jesus. To make right the relationship between the Corinthians and Christ Jesus, the Corinthians had to repent of their sins, so that they may be made fit for their original purpose to glorify the Lord.
Similarly for us “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) We are to be continuously restored as a church to glorify our Lord.
What steps can we take to be restored?
In light of our continuous restoration to our Lord Jesus, Paul teaches us a few things that we can work on.
In verse 5, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to examine themselves, to see whether they are in the faith. They are called to test themselves.
Here’re some tests that we can apply to our lives to be certain that we are children of God, that we have been born again –
Paul then goes on to say “Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (v.5)
With Jesus Christ in us, we find ourselves to bear fruits of the spirit! Yet should our lives show otherwise, perhaps we would need to examine ourselves if we are of God; that we would desire to please God and would work towards the restoration of the church through repentance and brotherly love.
Encourage and Rebuke One Another
One evidence of brotherly love is that we are involved in one another’s lives, praying for and teaching one another through encouragement and rebuke.
In verse 1, Paul mentions that all charges are required to be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. Every charge would need to be established in the presence of two or three witnesses! Other than making sure that Deuteronomy 19:151 is fulfilled, this shows that we are to be concerned of our brethren’s spiritual growth, to admonish one another towards repentance. We are to be concerned about one another’s life, grief over our brother’s sins and point it out to him so that he might repent. Christianity is never the ride of an individual!
As Paul writes in verse 11, that we are to “comfort one another”. Comfort (parakaleō) means to console and encourage. The whole purpose of encouraging one another is to be united as a body in Christ, working towards a common goal of glorifying our Lord as Christ did (Jn 17:4). We are called to encourage one another so that we could be of one mind according to Christ Jesus. Paul’s instruction for the Corinthians to be of one mind is expressed as to “agree with one another” (v.11).
Through our encouragement and admonishing for one another, let us be restored to Christ and be of one mind according to Christ Jesus!
In order to bring about restoration, there must be discipline for those who rebel against the Lord.
Like any loving earthly father, one would discipline his child so that the child would be brought up right. The same goes for Paul. For the sake of restoration, Paul is ready to punish the disobedient and would not spare them (v.2). The church discipline to be ministered is not to tear down, but to build up the church (v.10)
In the same way, the church discipline that we minister must not be of wrath, hate or retribution, but of love, that we can aid our rebelling brother to be restored to Christ.
Even though not explicitly mentioned, Paul’s instruction was for the Corinthians to prepare themselves for his third visit (v.1), for he will not spare those that are unrepentant (v.2).
The Corinthians are urged to be ready for Paul’s visit. Similarly for us, the parable of the Ten Virgins reminds us to be ready for Jesus’ return – “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13) Let us be alert!
One of the ways we can be alert is to be watchful of the devil’s snares. As Peter exclaims, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)
Let us resist sin and hold fast in our belief in the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let us search our hearts, mourn over our sins and repent, in order to lead a life that is restored to Christ.
How can we achieve these steps?
By God’s powers, we are certain to be able to achieve these steps with perseverance!
With a step-by-step guide, we could’ve simply ticked the steps above as if it is a checklist, ready to be put aside. Yet throughout, Paul made an important statement by making multiple references to Christ. It is to show us that the restoration of the church is not by own powers, but by Christ’s.
Paul taught that Christ is not weak in dealing with the Corinthians, but is powerful among them. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God (vv.3-4) Paul meant to say that Christ is among the Corinthians, to bring them into a life of obedience. In fact, Christ’s power is manifested in the discipline of the Corinthians! This is demonstrated when Paul said “For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God” (v.4).
In Paul’s final greetings, he specifically mentioned the Trinity - “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (v.14) By this prayer, Paul is showing the Corinthians that only by God’s powers, can the restoration be fulfilled.
We would require the blessing of redemption, which is only possible by the grace of God. Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, taking all our sins away is only possible with the love of Christ. The unity within believers to be of the same mind in Christ Jesus is given by the Holy Spirit. Without God’s blessing, we would not be able to restore ourselves to our Lord Christ Jesus
Restoration is indeed God’s work through our efforts in loving Him! Therefore brothers and sisters, “let us aim for restoration” (v.11) by examining ourselves, encouraging and rebuking one another, carrying out church discipline and preparing ourselves!