The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: June 2017 (page 1 of 2)

Introducing the Radical

Familiarity with the Bible is a good thing.  The better we know it the better we know the God whose word it is.  But over time, familiarity has its bad side.  The same words read repeatedly progressively lose their impact.

So it is with Paul’s self-introduction at the start of Romans.  The Roman church doesn’t know him.  He’d never visited their city.  So his greeting is a bit longer here than in other letters.

What, we might ask, occasioned Paul to write this letter?  Yes, the Holy Spirit.  But Paul had natural reasons too—the Holy Spirit operating in the human realm. It’s 57 A.D., about 25 years after Jesus’ crucifixion.  Paul is in Corinth on his third missionary journey.  From there he’ll re-trace his route and take the Gentile churches’ collection money to the poor church in Jerusalem.

Map of Paul the Apostle's Third Missionary Journey in the New Testament

Then he plans to visit Rome and hopefully use that church as a base to reach Spain . . .

Roman World AD8

I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done–by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.  It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.  Rather, as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”  This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.  But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you,  I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.  Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there (Romans 15:18-25).

With those plans in mind, Paul writes to the Roman church . . .

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God (1:1).

He introduces himself with three descriptive phrases—familiar to the Roman church and to us, but really quite radical.  He is, he writes,“a servant of Christ Jesus.”  The Greek in which he wrote is doulos—slave, bond-servant, one who gives himself up to the will of another.  “Christ” is “Christou”—Greek for the Hebrew “Messiah.”

What’s radical to unfamiliar ears is that this Jesus had been crucified about 25 years earlier.  Yet, Paul claims this Jesus is the Hebrew Messiah, and he (Paul) is his servant.

Second, Paul identifies himself as a man “called to be an apostle.” The Greek apostolos refers to one sent on a mission with the full authority of the sender, in this case with the full authority to represent Messiah Jesus.  Paul claims to have been called to that mission—and he’s been engaged in that mission now for 2 ½ mission trips which have resulted in churches planted from Asia Minor to Greece.

Third, Paul describes himself as a man “set apart for the gospel of God”.  The Greek aphorizo refers to being separated for a special purpose, which we now know is to serve Messiah Jesus by undertaking the mission of making known the gospel (good news) of God.  No letter is as theologically-rich as Romans; but Paul is primarily a proclaimer of good news.

Enough of him.  This letter to the church at Rome centers in the gospel . . .

. . . which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son . . . (1:2,3a).

This good news (gospel) hasn’t suddenly appeared out of nowhere, like the sun breaking the gray sky peeking over the horizon.  Prophets promised it and wrote it in the holy Scriptures.  But this gospel spotlights, not so much an event, as a person:  the Son of God.

. . . who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord . . . (1:3b4).

Paul doesn’t discuss what has come to be known as the doctrine of the Trinity.  What he tells the Romans and us about this Son of God is sufficiently and mysteriously radical as it is . . .

First, the Son (in which this gospel centers) “was descended from David” considering his ancestry from a human point of view.  That marked him as a descendent of Israel’s greatest king with the potential of being even greater than his forefather.

Second, the Son “was declared to be the Son of God in power . . . by his resurrection from the dead . . . “ Wait!  Don’t rush over those familiar words.  He was crucified.  But then resurrected.  And, according to the witness of the Holy Spirit, that resurrection made a declaration about that Son.  It declared him “Son of God in power”.

Third (and this follows closely on the second point about the Son), he is “Jesus Christ (Messiah) our Lord”.  No, Caesar, you may claim the title kurios.  And you may demand worship as kurios.  But you are not kurios.  Jesus, the Messiah, is kurios.

. . . through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1:5-7).

Paul’s call to apostleship, he writes wasn’t a reward for merit; it was a call of grace—unmerited favor, undeserved love.  And his call to apostleship carries a powerful purpose . . .

“to bring about the obedience of faith . . . among all the nations”.  Commentators historically translate that to mean either (1) the obedience that results from faith or (2) faith which is itself obedience.  For what it’s worth, I strongly favor the former.  Paul wants to call people from among all nations to faith in Messiah Jesus the Lord, but then to the obedience that comes from that faith.

Paul’s mission is breathtakingly broad:  to bring about the obedience of faith “among all the nations.”  The Jewish Messiah is no parochial deity!

“for the sake of [Christ’s’] name”.  For the sake of his reputation.  That he might be known and praised. For his glory.  That his name might be universally exalted above all.  Paul doesn’t preach so his name might be on the lips from all nations, but so Jesus’ name might be.

“ . . . including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”  These Roman Christians have been called to belong to Jesus Christ.  Their faith in him evidences their call to him.  Our faith in him evidences the same:  we have been called by the gospel and the power of the Spirit to belong to Jesus Christ.

Paul addresses his letter “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints . . . ” .   God loves the world (John 3:16), but he especially loves those whom he calls to be his holy ones (“saints”) .  Paul wants them (and us) to know that.  And to know from the beginning that his message to them is one of grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  That message he’ll unfold in the rest of this magnificent letter.

* * *

We may be most familiar with Romans.  That’s good, because its news is so good.  But familiarity may also be bad.  It may have taken the radical edge off the letter.  We may read it with a ho-hum.  I pray we won’t.  I pray we’ll be able to read it as if for the first time, so that we will realize how extremely out of the ordinary it is–starting with Paul’s greeting.  May it  stir our heart with a breath of fresh faith and hope . . .

Grace to you and peace
from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

And if we want to be a bit more radical, we might personalize it like this . . .

God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ
send you, Allan (insert
your name),
grace and peace.

 

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Romans: Its Impact

I write my “devotional commentary” blogs for two reasons.  One, writing helps me think more deeply about Bible texts.  Two, I hope the Holy Spirit may use whatever insights I may have to help you think more deeply about Bible texts.

Having said that, I must admit I approach Paul’s letter to the Romans with some trepidation.  John Piper has called it “the greatest letter ever written” (and spent at least two years of Sundays preaching through it).  Many commentators consider is the magnum opus of Paul’s writings.

Here are a few of the famous lives which Romans has impacted . . .

AUGUSTINE.

In 386 A.D. he sat in a friend’s garden, weeping over an imminent change in his life.  A neighborhood child’s song floated on the air with these words:  “Take up and read.”  He opened a nearby scroll and read spontaneously from Romans 13:13b,14—“Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.  But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts thereof.”

Later he wrote his response:  “Not further would I read, nor had I any need; instantly, at the end of this sentence, a clear light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”  In short, Romans changed him from a lustful, self-gratifying man into a believer whose life still impacts the church.

MARTIN LUTHER.

In 1515, Luther, a professor at the University of Wittenberg, began to teach Romans to his students.  The more he studied, the more he realized the doctrine of justification by faith was crucial to the letter.  He describes his ensuing struggle and eventual conversion . . .

“I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the righteousness of God,’ because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and deals righteously in punishing the unrighteous … Night and day I pondered until … I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before ‘the righteousness of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gateway to heaven.

JOHN WESLEY.

In the 18th century Wesley wrote this in his journal . . .

“… went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans … About a quarter before nine while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken my sins away, even mine; and saved me from the law of sin and death.” 

OTHER SCHOLARS IN LUTHER’S WORDS.

Luther wrote the following in his preface to Romans . . .

“This Epistle is the chief book of the New Testament, the purest gospel. It deserves not only to be known word for word by every Christian, but to be the subject of his meditation day by day, the daily bread of his soul … The more time one spends in it, the more precious it becomes and the better it appears.’ He spoke of it as ‘a light and way into the whole Scriptures …’ Calvin said of it ‘when any one understands this Epistle, he has a passage opened to him to the understanding of the whole Scriptures.’ Coleridge pronounced Romans ‘the most profound work ever written!’ Meyer considered it ‘the greatest and richest of all the apostolic works.’ Godet referred to it as ‘the cathedral of the Christian faith.’ … Gordon H. Clark recently wrote of Romans that it is ‘the most profound of all the epistles, and perhaps the most important book in the Bible …’ Hamilton, in his recent commentary on Romans, calls it ‘the greatest book in the Bible.”

(The above historical information compiled from https://bible.org/seriespage/exploring-riches-book-romans-romans-1-16.)

GALATIANS.

Romans and Galatians share the same theme, Galatians being “Romans condensed.”  In 1969 I sat in a “Romans and Galatians” class at Bible college.  Like a light suddenly turned on in a darkened room I realized Christ had died for all my sins, and I understood for the first time his righteousness was mine before God.  I could add nothing to nor take anything away from the justification he gave by grace and I received by faith.  I had grown up in the church, sat in hundreds of Sunday school classes, heard as many sermons and was preparing for Christian ministry.  Yet, subconsciously I always assumed, somehow, I was right with God through Christ’s life and death plus my “being good.”  Crazy, I know.  But that day in that classroom, the gospel of Romans and Galatians set me free.

BIBLE COLLEGE GRADUATION.

I was blessed to be chosen to deliver the sermon for my graduating class.  So, in May 1971 I stood before hundreds in a packed local church in Springfield, Missouri and preached from this text . . .

“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God . . . “ (Romans 1:1).

We, I told my fellow-graduates, are servants of Jesus Christ.  We are his authorized ambassadors to the world.  And we have been set apart for God’s gospel.  It was that Word which propelled me into 44 years of pastoral ministry.  I hope it did the same for all of us that night so long ago.

MY PRAYER.

Father, I’m inadequate to comment on Paul’s letter to the Romans as it should be communicated.  In coming weeks, therefore, I pray the Holy Spirit will enable me to proclaim its gospel, so that unbelievers may be brought to faith in Christ and believers will grow in the grace and knowledge of this great gospel.  “For from you and to you and through you are all things. To you be the glory forever and ever.  Amen” (from Romans 11:36).

 

 

 

 

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Apollos and the Not-Full Gospel

According to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center, 70.6% of adult Americans identified themselves as Christians.  According to another poll, 42% claim to be born again or evangelical Christians.  While still another claims 22% born again/evangelical.  (According to the National Association of Evangelicals, evangelical Christians “take the Bible seriously and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.”)

Which study is right?

This isn’t about statistics or “brands”, though.  It’s about whether these self-identified Christians are really Christians.  And, if I am and you are. 

We are walking our way through the Book of Acts, pausing to study Paul’s letters at the point he wrote them.  Having finished the Corinthian correspondence, let’s briefly pick up Luke’s account in Acts 18 . . .

When he landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch. After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples (Acts 18:22,23).

Map of Paul the Apostle's Third Missionary Journey in the New Testament

In the first sentence, Luke reports how Paul ended his second journey and, in the second sentence, how he started his third.  Then, unexpectedly he introduces us to Apollos . . .

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John (Acts 18:24,25).

 Image result for map alexandria egypt

Today Alexandria is Egypt’s second largest city.  It boasted the largest library in the ancient world and was home to a Jewish population containing scholars who translated the Hebrew Old Testament into common Greek (the Septuagint).  Apollos was a native of that city, a well-educated Jew “with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.

Arriving in Ephesus (author Luke doesn’t explain why) Apollos “spoke with great fervor (literally, “fervent in spirit”) and taught about Jesus accurately”.  But, Apollos’ “gospel” was deficient:   “he knew only the baptism of John.”

What does that mean?  Was Apollos preaching the gospel?  Was he even a Christian?  That he had been “instructed in the way of the Lord” and that he “spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately” leads us to label Apollos a Christian gospel preacher.  That “he knew only the baptism of John”, however, causes us to hesitate.

Sound like we’re headed for the theological “weeds”?  We’re not.  The issue is major:  what makes one a real Christian?  Or:  how does one become a Christian?  Or:  what constitutes the Christian gospel?

Our clue in this instance is to ask, “What was “the baptism of John” which Apollos knew ‘only’”?   We find the answer from the pen of Matthew . . .

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'” (Matthew 3:1-3).

“I [John the Baptist] baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11).

So, John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance to get ready for Messiah’s coming.  That, however, isn’t Christian baptism nor does it provide the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This is clear from the kind of “believer” Apollos’ ministry produced.

Author-Luke fills us in.  Apollos left Ephesus for Corinth.  Early on his third missionary journey, Paul arrived in Ephesus . . .

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.  Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.  But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. God did extraordinary miracles through Paul . . .(Acts 19:1-11).

Two vital experiences were missing from Apollos’ “gospel” . . .

One, baptism “into the name of the Lord Jesus.”  By such baptism, the believer professes union with (“into”) and allegiance to (“the Lord”) the crucified-risen Christ. Should children be baptized?  This text doesn’t address that.  Is baptism necessary?  This text makes it a vital part of the gospel and of becoming a Christian.  Inconvenience (or embarrassment) shouldn’t keep us from it.

Two, the coming of “the Holy Spirit”.  This reception of the Holy Spirit coincides with the apostle’s gospel on the Day of Pentecost . . .

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off– for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”  Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day (Acts 2:38-41).

When we are baptized, we should pray for and expect the Holy Spirit to “come upon” us.  In this case, the Holy Spirit signified his presence with tongues and prophecy.  On other occasions, he may express his presence with other gifts and fruit.  But this coming of the Holy Spirit is central to the gospel and to becoming a Christian.  Paul taught ” . . . if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9b).

So, Luke is showing us baptism in Jesus’ name is central to the gospel.  And he’s showing us that the coming of the Holy Spirit is central to baptism.  Apollos’ “gospel” lacked both.  Enter Priscilla and Aquila . . .

He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.  When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 18:26-28).

* * *

Despite studies done, we don’t get to self-identify as a Christian.  We become a Christian the full gospel way.  If you haven’t been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, do it.  Publicly profess your unity with and allegiance to Christ.  And pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon you as part of your baptism.  He is the power for living the Christian life.

If you have been baptized and filled with the Spirit, remember Whose you are and Who empowers you.  And know this:  the Spirit of Christ may do more wonderful things in you and through you than you can now imagine.

 

 

 

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The Corinthians End (2)

God is the Great Actor.  But we mustn’t be passive.  This is obvious from Paul’s letter’s conclusion . . .

“This will be my third visit to you. ‘Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you.  For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you” (13:1-4).

At his first visit, Paul planted the church in Corinth (Acts 18:1-8).  His second was severe and grievous (2 Corinthians 1:23; 3:1).  On his third, citing Deuteronomy 19:15, he will discipline the stubbornly unrepentant.

They see Paul’s Christ-like gentleness as weakness.  But, if it’s power they prefer, it’s power they’ll get in the name of the resurrected Christ—not to protect Paul from criticism, but to uphold his apostleship.  To deny that is to deny the Christ who commissioned him.

Of what kind of discipline does Paul warn?

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you– unless, of course, you fail the test?  And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.  Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed.  For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.  We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection. This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority– the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down” (13:5-10).

Paul urges them to self-examination.  For if they can affirm their faith in Christ, that will confirm Paul is Christ’s apostle.  This is what Paul wants.  He wants them strong in Christ.  He wants them mature (“perfect”).  He wants to use his apostolic authority to build them up.  He wants to find the church in order when he comes.

“Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.  All the saints send their greetings. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (13:11-14).

Paul concludes affectionately—“brothers”.  “Good-by” (Greek, chairete) may also be translated “rejoice.”  What follows are four staccato-like exhortations which summarize four of Paul’s points in the letter, all referring to the church as community.  The consequence of their obedience with be an enjoyment of God’s presence.

The “holy kiss” would normally be reserved for family.  Thus Paul urges them to express the unity he urges.  The mention of “All the saints” reminds the Corinthians unity transcends their local situation; they are part of something greater than themselves.

The benediction is beautiful, also interesting.  They’ve already experienced Christ’s grace, God’s love and the Spirit’s fellowship.  What exactly, then, is Paul wishing for them?  That they may continue in those blessings by responding to Paul’s admonitions.

So Paul is finished.  Hopefully, his words will move the Corinthians to properly prepare for his visit.  But we don’t know; Scripture says no more about Paul and the Corinthians.

However, the letter of “First Clement”, an extra-biblical document written to the Corinthian church some time between 80 and 140 A.D.  describes a flourishing church after a half-century of historical silence.  Clement mentions especially their faith, piety, hospitality and knowledge.

Why the dramatic change between the turbulent church of Paul’s day and the “golden age” Clement describes?  Davin Peterlin, pro-rector and academic dean at International Baptist Theological Seminary in the Czech Republic, published the following answer in “The Asbury Theological Journal”, in the Fall of 1998 . . .

“We do not know unless we accept the most obvious explanation:  that the believers took seriously Paul’s words, written or spoken, and turned unreservedly to God for forgiveness, support, and strength . . . [Paul] visited [Corinth] after the Roman imprisonment . . . In the period that followed, the differences that had troubled the church largely vanished.  The various groups within the congregation . . .lived together in harmony. The church enjoyed long and undisturbed peace. The believers cared for each other and forgave each others’ mistakes and sins. They were content with whatever gift God gave them and in turn God chose to bless them even more richly.”

If true, the Holy Spirit worked miracles of grace in the hearts of the restive Corinthian church.
* * *
But they were miracles in which the Corinthians played a part.  Take Paul’s staccato exhortations for example:  Paul promised the God of love and peace would be with them as a consequence of their aiming for maturity, listening to Paul’s appeal, being unified in mind and living in peace with one another.
Reformed theology, which emphasizes God’s sovereignty (perhaps best briefly captured in Romans 11:36–“For from him and through him and to him are all things”)  might make us assume God is active and we are passive (acted upon).  We’d be mistaken.  God may be the initiator and the empowerer, but we must act–and are responsible to do so.
Let me make this personal.  I’m lonely for our Father.  I want to experience his presence.  Yet I shy away from prayer.  Do I expect the Holy Spirit to swoop upon me like some celestial bird?  Even if the longing for the Father’s presence is from him, it’s up to me to practice the discipline of seeking just as it was up to the Corinthians to heed Paul.  God is calling.  Will I answer?
 

 

 

 

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The Corinthians End (1)

Nobody writes letters anymore.  So I expect someone to publish a texting version of the Bible soon.  You know, all lower-case, unorthodox abbreviations and just the bare bones of the 66 books.  2 Corinthians might end with just “see ya” or “later”.

But not in Paul’s version . . .

I’M NOT INFERIOR!

Why would Paul write that?  Because the visiting “super-apostles” claim he is.

I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing (12:11).

Paul continues his “foolish” boasting begun in 11:1 (theoldpreacher.com/plain-foolishness/).  Sam Storms (Pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) well-understands Paul to be saying this . . .

“You have driven me to indulge in what I find detestable. The fact is, I should never have been forced to speak up for myself. You have all the evidence you need to speak commendably on my behalf. I established the church in Corinth. I trained you in spiritual truths. I set an example for you of Christ-like humility and sacrifice. Where have I failed you? Notwithstanding all this, when the interlopers came strutting into Corinth, maligning my character and undermining my authority, you not only kept your mouths shut, you actually agreed with them!”

Corinth is a troubled and troubling church, though not surprisingly.  Corinth is a rebuilt city after war-time destruction, now only 80 years old.  Soldiers and former slaves (“freedmen”) populate it.  Pagan deities rule it.  Immorality corrupts it.  Skilled rhetoricians enthrall it.  Power-demonstrations captivate it.  The newly-planted church divides over its favorite preachers.  And “super-apostles” call Paul a fraud because of his sufferings.  So in the letter’s end, he defends himself.

The things that mark an apostle– signs, wonders and miracles– were done among you with great perseverance (12:12).

Paul insists the Corinthians should have recognized him as a true apostle because of what they’ve seen in him.  And they never should have felt inferior to other churches because he didn’t accept their financial support.

How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong! (12:13).

Paul sarcastically admits he fell short of true apostleship by not taking their money!  “Forgive me for this wrong!”

I WANT YOU, NOT YOUR MONEY!

Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.  So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent you?  I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not act in the same spirit and follow the same course? (12:14-18).

Paul refuses to burden them.  As a father spends everything he has and expends himself for his children, so Paul gives himself to preach the gospel to the Corinthians.  They’re his “children” in the Lord.  Titus, whom Paul sent to deliver the “grievous” letter and to re-start their collection for the poor, similarly refused to take advantage of them.

I’M NOT REALLY DEFENDING MYSELF!

“Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening.  For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.  I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged” (12:19-21).

Do the Corinthians presume Paul is defending himself?  He assures them that he speaks of himself ultimately for their sake.  He doesn’t want them misled from Christ by the “super-apostles”.  And God bears witness to his word.

His third visit to them, though, looms.  It causes him anxiety.  Unrepented sexual sins remain in the church.  In view of Paul’s disciplinary letter (the “lost” one), all kinds of reactionary talk may break loose.  And this may humiliate Paul, the “father” of these Corinthian “children.”

D.A. Carson (theologian and New Testament professor Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) comments:

“Not for [Paul] the haughty sternness of egocentric leaders who can with dry eyes and a high hand discipline members ensnared by sin. Paul is too much aware of the intertwining of responsibilities in the body of Christ. He cannot even distance himself entirely from their sin. He himself feels humbled in the face of it, just as a father feels humbled by his son’s rebellion.”

* * *

I’m amazed at Paul’s patient perseverance!  Over my years of pastoring, some people rejected me.  As much as it depended on me, I tried to make those partings peaceful.  But always my attitude was, “If you don’t want my ministry any more, so be it.”  Never once (that I can remember) did I try to persuade them to stay for fear of false teaching elsewhere.  Did I just presume the Lord would take care of them?  Did I count on their finding one of the “good” churches in the area?  Was I even relieved to see them go under the circumstances?

Peaceful partings depend on members too.  Instead of discussing the problem with the pastor, too often (even with the best intentions) they spread their discontent to other members.  Now four have a problem with the pastor.  Go to the pastor!  Even if the decision’s already made to leave the church, go to the pastor and at least part in peace.  (On the other hand, talking may produce a solution!)

In a country with a church on every corner, a member leaving the one I pastor doesn’t mean he’ll be church-less.  But it may mean he’ll not be getting the whole truth of God’s Word.  Somehow we’ve got to find a way to do rejection better.  More patience.  More love.  More tongue-control.  And more concern for the well-being of the leaving member.  And for the church.  For everyone’s sake.  Including Christ’s.

 

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Scripture (Prayers) from a Friend

Prayer, according to the Westminster Catechism, “is an offering of our desires unto God for things agreeable to his will in the name of Christ with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.”  Great definition!

Paul urges us to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Great admonition!

But what to do when we’re too discouraged to put our desires into words?  Or when we’ve fallen into a rut repeating the same words the same way?  (Does God get bored with our prayers when we do?)  Here’s where Scripture reshaped into prayers can meet our need.

A dear friend (though she’s a wonderful “character” in a one-of-a-kind good way) sent me the verses below, telling me she uses them to pray for me and others.  I reshaped them as a prayer for my own use—and maybe for yours?

“O God, You are not a man that You should lie.  Nor are you a son of man that You should change Your mind.  Do You speak and then not act?  Do You promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19).

Thank You for not showing favoritism!  Otherwise, I’d be easily overlooked (Romans 2:11).

Thank You for being with me, so I need not fear.  Thank You for being my God, so I need not be dismayed.  You strengthen me and help me.  You uphold me with Your righteous right hand.  Therefore, now I am strong.  Today I stand (Isaiah 41:10).

The word that goes out from Your mouth will not return to You empty.  It will accomplish what You desire and achieve the purpose for which You sent it (Isaiah 55:11).

Your Son, O God, walked among the sick and healed them.  This was to fulfill what You spoke through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases” (Matthew 8:17).

Your Son, my Savior and Lord, bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds we have been healed (1 Peter 2:24).

O God, You have given us fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority (Colossians 2:10).

Your Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, is living in us by faith.  So You will give life to our mortal bodies through Your Spirit who lives in us (Romans 8:11).

God, You didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

In this world even a righteous man may have many troubles, but You deliver us out of them all (Psalm 34:19).

O Lord my God, I called to You for help and You healed me (Psalm 30:20).

You forgive all my sins and You heal all my diseases (Psalm 103:3).

You sent forth Your Word and healed us; You rescued us from the grave (Psalm 107:20)!

This is Your holy Word.  I pray it in the name of Jesus Your Son, our Savior.  Amen.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Signs of a True Apostle

The continuationist/cessationist debate nags at me.  A blog, a video, a comment—almost anything brings it to mind. So does 2 Corinthians 12:12.  Here it is in context . . .

“11 I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. 12 The things that mark an apostle– signs, wonders and miracles– were done among you with great perseverance” (2 Corinthians 12:11,12, NIV).

Verse 12 reminds me of that debate because cessationists claim this verse teaches that miracles marked a man as an apostle.  And, since apostles died by the end of the first century A.D., so did miraculous gifts.

Before unpacking these verses, let’s define terms. Most simply, a cessationist believes the gifts of the Holy Spirit (sometimes limited to the “miraculous” gifts) ceased with the death of the apostles.  The continuationist believes the gifts continue to today until Jesus returns.

In 12:11 Paul refers to the “foolish boasting” he did in 11:1-33 (http://theoldpreacher.com/plain-foolishness/).  “ . . . you drove me to it,” he claims.  In other words, “When the ‘super-apostles’ cut me down, you should have defended me. Instead, you took their side.  Listen, I’m not inferior to them in any way.”

In 12:12, according to the NIV translation, Paul is saying, “You saw me perform the signs of an apostle—‘signs, wonders and miracles.’”  So, says the cessationist, there we have it.  Miraculous works were the marks of an apostle.  But they’re all dead, and with them, miraculous gifts must be.

But the NIV translation is poor.  The better translation of the Greek is . . .

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works (ESV).

How to interpret that, though?  Does it mean Paul performed “the signs of a true apostle” accompanied by perseverance and miraculous signs?  (In this case, he’s not identifying the signs of a true apostle.)  Or does it mean perseverance and miraculous works were the signs?  The better ESV translation leaves it unclear.

Either way, miracles weren’t the work of only apostles. Stephen and Philip both performed wonders and signs, but were not apostles.

And Stephen, full of grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8).

“And the crowds all paid close attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs he was performing.  For unclean spirits, shouting loudly, came out of many who had them.  And many who were paralyzed and lame were healed” (Acts 8:6,7).

Other non-apostles also exercised spiritual gifts . . .

The seventy-two: “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go . . . ‘Heal the sick who are there and tell them, “The kingdom of God is near you”’” (Luke 10:1,9).

Ananias: “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord– Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here– has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized,  and after taking some food, he regained his strength” (Acts 9:17-19).

Church members in Ephesus: “When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).

Philip’s daughters: “Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven.  He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:8,9).

Believers in Galatia: “Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (Galatians 3:5).

Believers in Rome: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:6-8).

Believers in Corinth:  “For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit;  to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,  and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:8-10).

Believers in Thessalonica:  “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire;  do not treat prophecies with contempt” (1 Thessalonians 5:19,20).

These were not apostles who exercised spiritual gifts, many the so-called “miraculous gifts” such as prophecy, tongues and healing.  How then can spiritual gifts/miraculous gifts be signs that the person is an apostle?  If they’re not, then the argument that the apostles’ death marked the end of the gifts falls apart.

Why is this theological debate important?  Why should it matter to “ordinary Christians”?

One, if spiritual/miraculous gifts have ceased, those who believe they continue and practice them are deceived and involved in something not of God in God’s name.  Two, if they have not ceased, those who believe they have are missing one of the wonderful graces the Lord has provided for the Christian life.

Much more must be said, of course.  And I’ll weigh in more in future blogs. But here in 2 Corinthians, where Paul refers to one of the debate-issues, we’re called to thoughtfully consider it now.

As we do, here’s a good prayer-song, not for spiritual gifts per se, but for the Holy Spirit . .

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The Vision and the Thorn

“As the heavens are exalted above the earth, so my ways are superior to your ways and my thoughts to your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9, my translation).

Few passages portray that truth more than 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.  And few discomfort me more with personal application.

THE VISION

“I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know– God knows. And I know that this man– whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows–was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.  Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say” (12:1-6).

Paul began boasting in 11:1, driven to it by his opponents’ boasting which was misleading the Corinthians from Christ.  He continues here, although visions don’t authenticate apostleship.  “I know a man in Christ”—Paul refers to himself in the third person to refrain from the proud “I was caught up . . . “

It happened in the early 40’s, perhaps while he preached at Tarsus (Acts 9:30), prior to his first missionary journey.  His vision was so powerful he couldn’t tell if he was “in the body or apart from the body”.  Nor was he “permitted to tell” about the “inexpressible things” he heard.  The “third heaven” and “paradise” are synonymous.  Calvin thought the term symbolic, referring to the highest and most perfect place.  But many in Paul’s day viewed the “first” heaven as the realm of the clouds, the “second” as the realm of the heavenly lights and the “third” as the realm where God dwells.

“Paradise” in Scripture refers to the Garden of Eden (in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament), to the place where Jesus told the dying thief he would be with him that day (Luke 23:43), and to the place where the overcomer will eat from the tree of life (Revelation 2:7).  Paul, apparently, was “raptured” to that heavenly paradise (the original word probably Persian meaning “pleasure-park”).

Thus Paul “out-visioned” the “super-apostles” and perhaps dropped a few jaws of the Corinthians who extolled spiritual experiences.  But Paul “plays down” his vision because he didn’t want anyone to think more highly of him than what they could actually see in his life and message.

THE THORN

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on (dwell in) me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (12:7-10).

Paul remarkably admits the extraordinary greatness of these revelations could have led to conceit.  So, “there was given me a thorn in my flesh . . . “  By whom?  Certainly not Satan, who would have celebrated Paul’s conceit.  Our only other option is the Lord.

Paul calls the thorn “a messenger of Satan”.  As with Job, the Lord used Satan for his purposes (Job 1:6-2:8).  He came to “torment” Paul.  The Greek kolaphizo literally means “to beat with a fist” or to “buffet” like hurricane-force gusts of wind.

“Three times” Paul begged the Lord “to take it away”—three times perhaps referring to three bouts with the thorn.  But what was it?  Everything from some sort of eye disease (Galatians 4:15) to mental depression.  Paul, though, doesn’t identify it, so we can assume its nature is unimportant.

Paul implies he was right to pray for healing—until he received revelation to the contrary.

“My grace is enough for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

 

I set the sentence that way to show the parallelism between “grace” and “power”.  The Lord’s grace is the Lord’s power; the Lord’s power is the Lord’s grace.  To put it another way, grace isn’t only undeserved favor; it is also undeserved power.

C.K. Barrett explains “made perfect”:  “a scene of human weakness is the best possible stage for the display of divine power” (The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 317).

Therefore Paul says he will be more than happy to stop begging for deliverance and to boast about his weaknesses “so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  “Rest on” is literally “dwell in” like the Lord’s glory in the Old Testament tabernacle or in the “Word made flesh” (John 1:14).

Paul lives for Christ.  Thus he is well-pleased for Christ’s sake (that is, that Christ’s power might be seen) with “weaknesses, hardships, persecutions, difficulties.”  Furthermore, he is well-pleased with these afflictions, because when he is weak (in himself) then he is strong (in Christ’s power resting on him).

 THE UNCOMFORTABLE APPLICATION

I’ve prayed repeatedly for the Lord to heal me of Primary Lateral Sclerosis, at least to remove a couple symptoms.  So far, nothing.  Often I “hear”, “My grace is sufficient for you”.  Is the Lord telling me what he told Paul?  Or am I just recalling a familiar promise?  I don’t know how to tell.

Another question:  how do I boast of my weaknesses?  Not by citing how many people read my blog, but by listing my PLS symptoms.  Wheelchair-bound.  Swelling, aching feet.  Overall bodily weakness.  (Enough already!)

Here’s the uncomfortable part.  In this condition I have to be seen delighting in these weaknesses, trusting the Lord that his power is at work for his purposes.  That’s not natural!  It’s also impossible.  I can’t do it however hard I try.  At best, my “delight” is momentary.  You’d better look quick to see Christ in me!

So that brings me full circle.  In order to have authentic delight in my weaknesses—delight that reveals The Lord’s grace resting on me—I need the Lord’s grace.  And that means day by day—even hour by hour—I must earnestly ask for grace, even while I’m pleading for the Lord to take my PLS away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Plain Foolishness

Ever find words escaping your mouth instigated by some moron picking on you?  That’s Paul in this section of his letter (2 Corinthians 11:1-33), only his unexpected words were Holy Spirit-inspired.

THE STAKES:  A DIFFERENT JESUS

“I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that.  I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.  But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough” (11:1-4).

Paul’s doesn’t boast to defend his reputation.  Rather, like a father who wants his daughter pure for marriage, Paul has promised the Corinthians to Christ, their “husband”.  But he’s afraid they’re replaying Eve–“ . . . just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” 

FOOLISH BOAST: “I’M NOT INFERIOR TO THE ‘SUPER APOSTLES’”

“But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.”  I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way. Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge?  I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you.  And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so.  As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine.  Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!” (11:5-11).

Greek culture esteemed eloquent speakers.  Paul wasn’t.  Furthermore, no speaker worth listening to preached free.  He accepted support from the Macedonian churches (his enemies may have called it “robbery”) so as not to burden the Corinthians.  Preaching freely to the Corinthians is his ongoing love-boast before God.

MASQUERADING AS CHRIST’S APOSTLES

“And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (11:12-15).

Paul’s opponents argued they preached in Corinth on the same terms as he did.  But, as long as Paul didn’t accept money, they had no ground to stand on.  Therefore, Paul openly charges that Christ hasn’t commissioned them.  They work to mislead their hearers, disguising themselves as Christ’s apostles.  Like Satan, whom they serve, they “masquerade as servants of righteousness.”  They’ll suffer the deserved fate in the end.

Paul’s indictment is obviously strong.  What are these men teaching that evoked such judgment?  Almost certainly some sort of lawkeeping-for-righteousness, which is probably one reason why Paul claimed Christ’s New Covenant-glory far outshone that of the Old (3:7-11).  When they preached Old Covenant they dishonored the sufficiency of Christ.

BOASTING LIKE A FOOL

“I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.  Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast.  You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise!  In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face.  To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that! What anyone else dares to boast about– I am speaking as a fool– I also dare to boast about.  Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I.  Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.  I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.  Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” (11:16-30).

Paul says he will boast the way his opponents do. His next words drip with uncharacteristic sarcasm:  “I know how happy you are to put up with fools, being so wise yourselves; and how you will still go on putting up with a man who enslaves you, eats up all you possess, keeps you under his orders and sets himself above you, or even slaps you in the face” (NLT).

He goes on to boast of how hard he works, how much he suffers to preach the gospel and how much he feels the pain of others.  What he endures is almost beyond belief.  Either Paul is lying or divinely called.

BOASTING OF WEAKNESS

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands” (11:30-33).

“ . . . lowered in a basket” is the ultimate indignity, the escape-route of a common criminal.  Why include this?  Paul is boasting “of the things that show my weakness.”  Yes his foregoing list reveals his hard work and his suffering.  But it shows his weakness.  Beatings, shipwrecks, in danger and all the rest isn’t the picture of a man supernaturally immune from suffering.  He’s weak.  And only God’s grace in the person of the Holy Spirit enabled him to press on.  Like Jesus Christ, his Lord, Paul suffered to bring the life-saving gospel to lost sinners.

* * *

Were Paul or any of the Lord’s other apostles alive today would we recognize them as apostles?  Would they measure up to 21st century Western world expectations?    Would their weaknesses repel us?  Would we crave instead camera-pleasing men who could captivate us with a turn of the tongue?  Or would we see Jesus in their sufferings?  Would their scars remind us of him?

And would their hardships endured to get us the gospel remind us of its worth and confirm their authenticity?  Would we say, “If he suffered so much to preach the gospel in Christ’s name, he must be divinely sent and it must be true?”  Or would we say, “If this gospel might make me look like a loser in the world I want no part of it”?

See if this song shows the right perspective . . .

 

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For Whose Applause?

Everyone needs approval, applause even.  But from whom?

Paul’s “severe letter” (lost to us) moved the Corinthians to repent of allowing the so-called “super apostles” visiting Corinth to disdain Paul (7:7).  But they were still in Corinth, their anti-Paul rhetoric still demeaning Paul and his gospel.

“Now I, Paul, plead with you. I plead with the gentleness and kindness that Christ himself would use, even though some of you say I am bold in my letters but timid in person. I hope it won’t be necessary, but when I come I may have to be very bold with those who think we act from purely human motives” (2 Corinthians 10:1,2, New Living Translation).

Paul refuses to hit them with apostolic commands.  Instead, he appeals to the Corinthian church, not with the authority of the risen Christ, but “with the gentleness and kindness that Christ himself would use”.  This is his ministry model.

His detractors say he’s bold in writing, timid in person.  But he’s ready, if need be, to be bold in the face of those who think his motives are just like the rest of the world (literally, “according to the flesh/according to the sinful nature”).

We are human (literally, “in the flesh”) but we don’t wage war (“soldier, fight”) with human plans and methods (“according to the flesh” or “sinful nature”). We use God’s mighty weapons (“our weapons are divinely powerful”), not mere worldly weapons, to knock down the Devil’s strongholds (literally, “for the pulling down of strongholds”. With these weapons we break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God. With these weapons we conquer their rebellious ideas, and we teach them to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, New Living Translation).

D.A. Carson, (theologian and research professor  of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) observes . . .

“Worldly weapons in this context are the kinds of tools of the trade relished by the intruders: human ingenuity, rhetoric, showmanship, a certain splashiness and forwardness in spiritual pretensions, charm, powerful personal charisma. Such weapons they will not find in Paul’s arsenal, so they think him inferior; but Paul responds by openly disavowing such weapons. He would not want to defend himself on that score, for his weapons are of an entirely different sort. They are spiritual weapons, and they are divinely powerful (or powerful in God’s perspective or for his service).”

Paul’s weapons, then, must be the gospel of Jesus Christ, truth, righteousness, humility, etc.  These are the weapons Paul uses to fight a spiritual battle, to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (ESV).

The NLT interprets “strongholds” to be the “Devil’s”.  But Carson says that these “strongholds” are “the way people think, their sinful thought patterns, the mental structures by which they live their lives in rebellion against God.”

And Sam Storms (Pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) interprets “every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” (NASB) to mean “every arrogant claim, every haughty or prideful thought, every pompous act that forms a barrier to the knowledge of God; i.e. every argument used to rationalize sin and unbelief and delay repentance.”

Paul proclaims that  his weapons conquer all this.

“And we will punish those who remained disobedient after the rest of you became loyal and obedient. The trouble with you is that you make your decisions on the basis of appearance. You must recognize that we belong to Christ just as much as those who proudly declare that they belong to Christ “ (2 Corinthians 10:6,7, New Living Translation).

“Punish” seems a strong word for the apostle who is pleading with “the gentleness and kindness that Christ himself would use”.  However, here he is probably warning the Corinthians who are still adamantly insisting that Paul is “walking according to the flesh.”  “Those who proudly declare that they belong to Christ” are probably proclaiming to have a special relationship with Christ (spurred on by the “super apostles”?) that Paul doesn’t have.   Moreover, Paul charges they are judging “on the basis of appearance”—Paul literally falling short in that category.  However, Paul argues, “ . . . we belong to Christ . . . ”

“I may seem to be boasting too much about the authority given to us by the Lord. But this authority is to build you up, not to tear you down. And I will not be put to shame by having my work among you destroyed. Now this is not just an attempt to frighten you by my letters. For some say, “Don’t worry about Paul. His letters are demanding and forceful, but in person he is weak, and his speeches are really bad!” The ones who say this must realize that we will be just as demanding and forceful in person as we are in our letters.  Oh, don’t worry; I wouldn’t dare say that I am as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are! But they are only comparing themselves with each other, and measuring themselves by themselves. What foolishness!” (2 Corinthians 10:8-12, New Living Translation).

Paul admits he may sound boastful about his authority; but he’ll not be ashamed of it.  The Lord authorized him to build up the church and he won’t let his work be destroyed no matter what!  He’s not trying to frighten them by his bold letters.  But let it be known:  when he comes he’ll be just as bold in person!

Paul mocks the “super apostles” who are demeaning him.  They make their own behavior the standard, then tell each other how wonderful they are!  They’re nothing but fools.

“But we will not boast of authority we do not have. Our goal is to stay within the boundaries of God’s plan for us, and this plan includes our working there with you.  We are not going too far when we claim authority over you, for we were the first to travel all the way to you with the Good News of Christ.  Nor do we claim credit for the work someone else has done. Instead, we hope that your faith will grow and that our work among you will be greatly enlarged.  Then we will be able to go and preach the Good News in other places that are far beyond you, where no one else is working. Then there will be no question about being in someone else’s territory.  As the Scriptures say, “The person who wishes to boast should boast only of what the Lord has done.”  When people boast about themselves, it doesn’t count for much. But when the Lord commends someone, that’s different!” (2 Corinthians 10:13-18).

In answer to his detractors, Paul will boast, but only about the work God has assigned to him.  He had brought the gospel of Christ all the way to Corinth.  Now believers existed together where before there were none.  He claims credit for his work, no one else’s (an obvious dig at the “super apostles”).  His wish is that the Corinthians will become a firm base from which he can take the gospel to others who’ve not heard.  Through it all, his boast is not in himself, but in what the Lord has done through him.  The ESV translation of 10:18 fittingly concludes Paul’s thought:  “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”

Paul makes it glaringly clear:  he’s not living for people’s approval; he doesn’t care to gain their applause.  He is living for the Lord.  He has, in other words, an audience of One.

* * *

Our take-away is this simple question . . .

For whose applause are we living?

 

 

 

 

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