The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: June 2017 (page 2 of 2)

Planting Money for Harvest

Paul’s teaching in this chapter about giving money is simply profound.  Let’s start though with a. . .

REVIEW:  THE OCCASION

When the Corinthians allowed visiting “super apostles” to belittle Paul, Paul made a surprise visit to resolve matters.  It went badly.  He retreated to Ephesus.  From there he wrote a letter to rebuke the Corinthians, sending it by Titus’ hand.  When Paul met Titus in Macedonia, Titus reported the good news of the Corinthians’ repentance, but the bad news that they had stopped setting aside money for the collection Paul would take  to the poor Jerusalem church.  Consequently, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians 8 & 9 to persuade the Corinthians to finish what they’d started.

SHAME ON YOU AND ME?

There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints. “For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be.  For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we– not to say anything about you– would be ashamed of having been so confident.  So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given” (9:1-5).

Paul admits it’s superfluous for him to write about serving the people God in Christ has set apart to himself.  But he writes anyway, warning  the Corinthians that he and they will be ashamed if they don’t take their part in “the collection”, especially since Paul has boasted of their eagerness.  Yet he doesn’t want them to give begrudgingly.  Let it be a gift freely given.

So should our giving be.  Make it a generous, gracious gift whether we’re giving our “regular” Sunday offering or to missionaries or to a needy Christian family.  Give as prosperity has been graciously given to us.

SOWING AND REAPING

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”  Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (9:6-11).

Paul applies an agricultural principle to money-gifts:  “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”

Paul may also have in mind Scriptures like these . . .

“One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.  A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:24,25).

“A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor” (Proverbs 22:9).

This sheds a different light on “the collection”.  For the sake of space, let’s just apply this to us.  When we give our money, we’re not just giving money away;  we’re sowing for a harvest.  And how we give (not what) determines to some extent how generous will be our reaping.  “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give (this is less a matter of bookkeeping and more a matter of heart-giving) not reluctantly or under compulsion (don’t give gritting your teeth or feeling “under the gun”), for God loves a cheerful giver (Smile, you’re on God’s camera!).

Here’s the question, Paul:  what exactly will we reap?  I see two “harvests”.  Paul identifies both in the following promises . . .

“God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work . . . Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”

Harvest #1:  Generous givers will reap a harvest of grace in the form of money and possessions.  I’m aware many commentators and pastors spiritualize this promise or reserve the reaping until heaven.  No way!  Paul specifically says, “ . . . having all you need” and God “will supply and increase your store of seed”.  That, however, isn’t a promise to build our bank accounts . . .

Harvest #2:  Generous givers will be graced so they can “abound in every good work”, thus spreading their righteousness to others, resulting in thanksgiving to God.  In other words, God will give givers more to give more—and he will be praised.

PRAISE TO GOD

“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.  And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (9:12-15).

Paul has now come full circle.  God supplies the Corinthians’ and our needs—and more so we can generously give to others with less.  When we generously give, our service meets the material needs of God’s people.  But more:  many expressions of thanks to God overflow.  Giving begins with God and ends with praise to God as God’s people give.

Paul can’t help but burst out in praise: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” But, we ask, “What is God’s indescribable gift?”  Is it the grace of God that abounds to the generous giver so he might give more?  Or is it God’s gracious gift of Jesus who took on poverty to make us rich?  The answer is YES!  BOTH!

Money is loved.  Lusted after.  Fought over.  But given to others for God’s purposes in Christ, money becomes a means of worship.  So let’s not “pay tithes” or “take a collection” or even “give an offering”.

When the plate passes, let’s joyfully, generously worship God who has given his indescribable gift of grace!

 

 

 

 

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Money: toward Equality and with Honor

I don’t want to drag out this “money-talk.”  So let’s finish off 2 Corinthians 8 in one gulp, but with serious thought about the two topics here.  The second is rather basic, though too often ignored.  The first is a bit challenging for us today, unlike Paul’s 1st century.

EQUALITY

“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little’” (8:13-15).

Paul is explaining further that “the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have” (8:12).  That is, having given the Macedonian churches as a model of an overflowing wealth of generosity, he doesn’t want them to think their gift won’t count if they don’t match it. Rather, his desire is that the currently better-off Corinthian church share with the worse-off Jerusalem church.  In one word, he wants “equality”. 

The Greek word is isotays—“equality as a matter of fairness.”  Raise some eyebrows. no?  Is this Barack Obama’s “distribute the wealth”?  Maybe even socialism?  Not really, but only in the sense that Obama and socialism are permanent policies, while Paul’s was occasional generosity.  He envisions a time when circumstances may be reversed.  He’s not advocating a new economic policy; he’s  solving a “momentary” problem.

Paul illustrates by quoting Exodus 16:18 (from the Septuagint–the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament).  There a miraculous equalization of manna occurred; here Paul means giving should result in an equal supply.

Does the equality-principle apply to us?  In a loose sense when we give our Sunday offering it does.  Sure the money mostly goes to pay salaries and building expenses.  But we hope more people will hear the gospel through our church, and so more of “equality of the gospel” will result.  That certainly holds true in our missionary giving and when we give an offering to help a member in financial need.

But the media show us the world.  We see homeless, hungry and nearly naked people in Africa, for example.  Some are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  How does the “equality principle” work here?   Given the magnitude of the problem, should we even try to give offerings toward “the equality of fairness”?  Those are questions we shouldn’t lightly dismiss.

HONORABLE MEN

Paul’s credibility has already suffered. because he’s refused financial support from the Corinthians.  We’d think that noble.  But, since itinerant preachers and skilled orators always asked for money, the Corinthians thought Paul “unprofessional” or even unscrupulous–especially now that he’s organizing a collection.  Those suspicions, of course, are fueled by the “super apostles” intent on discrediting Paul and his gospel.  So Paul is “taking pains to do what is right” and “avoid any criticism” . . .

“I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative. And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift.  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. In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you.  As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ. Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it” (8:16-24).

Even though this is “money-handling 101”, a few comments are in order.  One, Paul is assembling a team of known, respected men to carry the collection.  Titus we know, but not “the brother who is praised by all the churches.”  Maybe Barnabas or Silas or Timothy or Luke or Apollos?  With those two are “representatives of the churches” who give toward the collection.

Clearly, Paul is “taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.”

So must we.  Fraud or simply poor money-management have ruined many ministries and dishonored the name of the Lord.

Here are a few “duh, yeah” thoughts.  Local churches must be transparent about finances.  Elders should present a budget, which members vote to approve.  Members should meet at least annually to receive a report about how their offerings are actually being used.  Basic stuff–though I’ve read of churches that don’t do even that, and I’m shocked.

* * *

I’ll finish today with Jesus’ words to his disciples (us).  They nicely tie together Paul’s words and call for our prayerful thinking . . .

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.
Sell your possessions and give to the poor.
Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out,
a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted,
where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”
(Luke 12:32-34).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Excel in the (Spiritual) Grace of Giving

Paul’s instructions to the 1st century Corinthian church about “the collection” provide principles for our giving today.

Not a popular subject, I know.  But, hey, blame Paul.

I’m assuming that we  give money to our local church.  Further, I’m assuming many of us can give more generously than we do.  “I say this not as a command, but to prove . . . that your love . . . is genuine” (8:8). 

That appeal to genuine love deserves a comment.  Paul, of course, is collecting money from Gentile Christian churches for the poor Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem.  Rightly, then, he thinks of the Corinthians’ giving as an act of love.

Image result for Map Paul's 2nd missionary journey

The majority of our giving pays salaries and building expenses.  Only by a stretch can we think of that giving as an act of love–but maybe not quite as long a stretch as we might suppose.  This raises another issue to be briefly noted:  local church leaders must be responsible not to overburden the church with skyrocketing expenses.  There’s a fine line between urging the church to be more generous and presuming the Lord will bless foolishness.

We have none of that here, though.  This is a specific human need from which we are drawing general principles of giving.  Here’s today’s text . . .

Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything–in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you–see that you excel in this act of grace also.  I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.  And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it.  So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.  For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:6-12).

In 8:1-5 Paul cited the poor Macedonian churches as models of an overflowing wealth of generosity. Now he applies it to the Corinthians.

Apparently, responding to 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, the church had started to save up money for the collection; but they had stalled. Why we’re not told.  Gradual loss of enthusiasm?  Mistrust of Paul planted by the “super apostles”?  In any case Paul had sent Titus to Corinth (bearing the harsh, “lost” letter).  Now he wants him to get “this act of grace” completed.

For Paul, giving isn’t a matter of law or even command.  It’s an act of grace—that is, an act of generosity inspired by the Holy Spirit for the good of others.  It’s also (as we’ve seen) an opportunity to prove the authenticity of the Corinthians’ love.

Here, then, are two principles for us.  One, our giving isn’t a matter of law (“I tithe!”) but of grace (which isn’t measured by percentage but by generosity).  Two, our giving should prove our love.  Do we love God?  Our church?  Our missionaries or at least their mission and the lost they try to reach?  Our giving evidences (or not) that love.

Interesting (and maybe uncomfortably) Paul notes that the Corinthians excelled in the graces of miracle-working faith, inspired utterances and theological knowledge.  Paul urges them to “excel in this act of grace (that is, giving) also.”  And by linking giving with those other graces he makes giving just as important and just as much a sign of the Spirit’s presence.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich”.  By starting this sentence with “For”, Paul is explaining why giving is an act of grace.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was “rich” in heavenly glory being the eternal second person of the Trinity.  Yet he “became poor” for our sake.  That is, he became a mere human, a servant of humans, and a bearer of humans’ sin to the death as their sacrifice.  “ . . . so that you by his poverty might become rich”—rich in righteousness, rich in relationship with God, rich in the graces of God and rich in new creation life.

Here, then, is another giving-principle for us:  the Lord Jesus Christ is our model for giving.  Not the guy who got a hundred-fold back on his gift.  Not the guy who manages millions while giving to the poor.  The Lord Jesus Christ who left his “riches” to become “poor”.

Paul offers his counsel.  (“Judgment is another translation for the Greek gnomay, but perhaps too strong for the context. Paul is advising, not rendering a legal decision.)  To finish what they started a year earlier (and desired to) is to their advantage.  God will be pleased with their faithfulness.  Not that they need match the overflowing gift of the Macedonians:  they must give according to what they have.  Proportional giving.

A January sermon on giving stirs us; we determine we’ll give $20 more each week.  And we do.  But by March our enthusiasm wanes.  Summer’s coming, and we could use that money for vacation.  We’ve broken no commandment.  We just don’t follow through.  Like the Corinthians.  Commitment called for.

* * *

The Corinthians, as we’ve seen, were enamored with the works of the Spirit.  So when Paul links giving with Spirit “graces” like faith, speech, knowledge and love, we should sit up and take notice.  He’s implying that giving is as “spiritual” as mountain-moving faith, inspired speech, divine knowledge and godly love.

As with any other spiritual gift, we have to act on it.  This is why Paul urges the church to excel in this grace.  What might move us to do that?  One, prayer for the gift of giving.  (That sounds weird, especially when we’re naturally inclined to pray to receive!).

Two, a mental picture of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He was rich in heavenly glory.  Yet for our sake he became poor, not only by becoming human, but by becoming sin for us.  And he did it, so that we through his poverty might become rich with wealth the world’s economy knows nothing of.

How could we not give generously with his image in our mind and his Spirit working in our heart!

 

 

 

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From the Poor, Generosity Overflows

Paul’s got a project.  He’s collecting money from Gentile Christian churches for the poor Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem.

Image result for Map Paul's 2nd missionary journey

 

He writes about it in 2 Corinthians 8 & 9.  And from his specific words lays important general principles about our giving.

Nothing here, though, about tithing, which was an Old Testament practice.  For us, a tithe is a baseline for even more generous giving.  Nothing here, either, about funding the local church (mostly salaries and building expenses).  The early church had none of that.  Nevertheless, Paul’s specific situation offers us general principles about giving.

Today we’ll camp just on 2 Corinthians 8:1-5

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints–and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).

The Poor Jerusalem Church

The Jerusalem church was poor for several reasons.  Its growth included widows who needed care.  Jerusalem, and to some extent the church, was overpopulated with elderly Jewish families who moved there to spend their last days in the holy city.  The effects of a 46 A.D. famine lingered and persecution took its toll.  In the face of need, Paul is following through on his intention expressed to the Jerusalem church leaders: “They only asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10).

First Instructions to the Corinthians

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul had given instructions for the collection  . . .

“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me “(1 Corinthians 16:1-4).

The Macedonian Model

Now, in 2 Corinthians Paul tries to motivate the church to complete what they’ve started by pointing to  the Macedonian churches. Macedonia had been a Roman province since 148 B.C.  Paul had planted churches there in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea. They were extremely poor and severely afflicted, implying that their poverty in this relatively rich province resulted from persecution. Yet, an abundance of joy (about giving to help others) and their rock-bottom destitution flowed over (like a river washing over its banks) in a wealth of generosity.

They gave, not only “according to their means”, but even “beyond their means”—and that of their own accord.  Furthermore, they gave joyfully.  Their affliction was no excuse not to give.  Instead of turning them inward, they looked outward.

Now here’s the kicker:  they earnestly begged “for the favor” of participating “in the relief of the saints”.  (Never in 44 years of pastoring have I had a member raise his hand and plead, “Please can we give a second offering this morning?”)

Paul had hoped the Macedonian churches would give themselves “to us”—that is, to the collection as he believed God willed.  But they went beyond that.  First they gave themselves to the Lord making the collection an act of devotion to him.

Makes you wish you could hire Paul for a church money-raising campaign!  But it wasn’t Paul.  He makes it clear that this was “the grace of God” given among the churches.  C. K. Barrett (The Second Epistle to the Corinthians) comments . . .

Grace itself means generosity; theologically, the generosity of God in giving freely to those who as sinners deserve nothing except punishment.  Paul may mean (a) that the generosity of the Macedonians is the generosity of God himself, or (b) that God has given grace to the Macedonians with the result of making them generous; perhaps he would not have wished to distinguish between the two possibilities” (p. 218).

Sam Storms (pastor Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) calls this grace, “the operative power of the indwelling Spirit.”

Principles for Our Giving

Give According to How We Prosper.  Most studies show that the poor give proportionately more than the wealthy.  The reverse should be true.  In 1 Corinthians, Paul told each person to give “as he may prosper.”

Poverty or Affliction Shouldn’t Prevent Our Giving.  Over the years I’ve met people who told me they couldn’t afford to give.  Poverty didn’t stop the Macedonians; nor should it us.  Everyone can give something.

Give joyfully.  Giving is a “grace”.  Grace empowers generosity in the giver.  Grace is also what the recipients of giving receive in our gift, whether it’s money to fund the local church, support of missionaries, or help to the poor.  Participating in grace is a joy.  “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

See Giving as Part of our Devotion to the Lord.  Giving money isn’t just helping the church pay bills or putting food on the table for a missionary.  Giving expresses our devotion to the Lord.  If he doesn’t have our wallets, he doesn’t have us.  Make giving an act of worship.

More Money in Return?  In 9:6 Paul will promise “whoever sows bountifully will reap bountifully.”  That promise may mean gaining more money or receiving some other blessing, either in this life or heaven.  Givers to God receive from God.  Interestingly, though, apparently that was not what motivated the Macedonians.  They gave simply to generously meet the needs of the poor.  That’s the grace of giving.

Wouldn’t it be excellent if our church was known for that grace!

 

 

 

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A Peculiar Glory (Conclusion)

John Piper concludes his book:  “the Bible, consisting of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is the infallible Word of God, verbally inspired by God, and without error in the original manuscripts and . . . this can be known with a well-grounded confidence because the peculiar glory of God shines in and through these Scriptures.

“This also implies that the Scriptures are the supreme and final authority in testing all claims about what is true and right and beautiful.  In matters not explicit addressed by the Bible, it implies that what is true and right and beautiful is to be assessed by criteria consistent with the teachings of Scripture.  All of this implies that the Bible has authority over every area of our lives and that we should, therefore, try to bring all our thinking and feeling and acting into line with what the Bible teaches” (Piper, p.281).

That’s a staggering claim—and whole-world-encompassing, binding on all people everywhere.

AN UNDERSTANDABLE OBSTACLE

If you belong to another religion or have no religion or dabble in various “spiritualities”, this claim presents a huge obstacle.  Such a claim, you say, leads to intolerance, hatred, and finally violence.  Yet even a brief review of history shows that the lack of religious absolutes has led to totalitarian abuses.  Think Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.  When man rejects God, he makes himself supreme authority.

When Jesus Christ returns, he will execute a final judgment and do away with all unbelief and sin in a new world of righteousness and peace. Meanwhile, we call all people to believe his word—but we never use coercion to bring about faith.

A MASSIVE FOUNDATION

This may be the first time you have read an argument for Scripture’s truth based on God’s glory.  But, even if you’re convinced, no one just decides to see the glory.  God the Holy Spirit must open the eyes of our heart.  It’s a miracle for which we can pray.

FOR THE SIMPLEST PERSON

This has been one of Piper’s key concerns in this book—that the simplest person can have a well-grounded confidence that the Bible is true and the standard by which all other truth-claims are judged.

THE PECULIAR GLORY

Scripture reveals a peculiar glory, at the center of which is “the utterly unique glory of Jesus Christ” (Piper, p. 284).

In the Bible God glorifies himself in working for those who wait for him.  He glorifies himself through fulfilled prophecy, through Jesus’ miracles and through “Scripture-shaped lives of radical love” (Piper, p. 285).  But this “peculiar brightness shines through the whole Bible [and] comes to its most beautiful radiance in the person and work of Jesus Christ, dying and rising for sinners” (Piper, p. 285).

AN INBORN TEMPLATE FOR GLORY

Everyone knows God’s glory (Romans 1:21)—written in nature (Romans 1:19,20), in our hearts (Romans 1:15), and in the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4).  “When God opens our eyes and grants us the knowledge of the truth through the Scriptures, we know we have seen ultimate reality . . .

“When that happens, we enter a life of extraordinary purpose—to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9) (Piper, p. 285).

* * *

In a culture where the Bible is pushed aside, misquoted, treated as just another religious book among dozens of “truth-claims”, we Christians must have a basis for a well-grounded confidence that the Bible is true and holds final authority in our lives.  I pray Piper’s book does that for us all.

My blogs have been just summaries of that book.  It’s not only available to buy but to read free online . . .

A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by [Piper, John]UTF8&qid=
1493047788&sr=8-1&keywords=A+Peculiar+Glory
https://www.amazon.com/Peculiar-Glory-Christian-Scriptures-
Truthfulness-ebook/dp/B01M99IQ85/ref=sr_1_1?ie=

http://www.desiringgod.org/books/peculiar-glory

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Godly Grief

Occasionally we read a text and wonder why in the world is this in the Bible?  2 Corinthians 7:2-16 is one.

Paul begins with a plea, effectively setting the tone for the whole text . . .

Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy” (7:2-4).

The Greek simply says, “Make room for us” or “Welcome us.”  ” . . . in your hearts” is supplied by the translators.

Paul denies what the itinerant “super apostles” charge and the Corinthians accept.  But he is not condemning them, though he has reason to. They are in his heart in death or in life.  He boldly tells them how proud of them he is and how he overflows with joy for them.  Here’s why Paul rejoices . . .

For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn–fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it–though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while” (7:5-8).

Paul had left Troas and crossed the Aegean, hoping to meet up with Titus, whom he had sent to Corinth.  Earlier, Paul himself had made a brief, unannounced visit.  It had gone badly.  The Corinthians’ relationship with him had hit a new low.  After a quick exit, he’d written a hard letter hoping they would repent.  Now he anxiously sought Titus’ report about the results of the letter.

It was encouraging.  The church had treated Titus well and looked forward to Paul’s return.  Paul admits he had regretted writing such a grievous letter, but no more, for the letter grieved the Corinthians too—and had its desired result.

More than Paul’s relationship with the church is at stake.  The gospel for the Corinthians is.  If they believe these visiting “super apostles”, they may be led astray from Christ.  Things remain tenuous.  He begs, “Make room for us” while rejoicing that at least they’ve turned the right direction.

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.  For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter” (7:9-11, ESV).

“The New Living Translation” conveys well the sense of Paul’s words . . .

“Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to have remorse and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. For God can use sorrow in our lives to help us turn away from sin and seek salvation. We will never regret that kind of sorrow. But sorrow without repentance is the kind that results in death. Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish the wrongdoer. You showed that you have done everything you could to make things right” (7:9-11).

What is “godly grief” (ESV).  It’s “the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have”, the kind that “produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (ESV).  Or, as the NLT has it, the kind of sorrow “God can use . . . to help us turn away from sin and seek salvation.”

The Corinthians, misled by “super apostles”, had not only turned against Paul, they had turned from the way of salvation by grace through faith in Christ.  Paul’s letter had hurt them, because they realized what they had done.  And they repented.

Paul shows us that repentance is more than confessing sin, more even than grieving over sin.  It is also changing how one acts.  Godly grief produced in them an “eagerness to clear [themselves]” of wrong-doing.  It produced “indignation . . . fear . . . longing . . . punishment” for those who had misled them.  “You showed that you have done everything you could to make things right.”

So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. For whatever boasts I made to him about you, I was not put to shame. But just as everything we said to you was true, so also our boasting before Titus has proved true. And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. I rejoice, because I have perfect confidence in you” (7:12-16).

Paul explains that he wrote the “grievous” letter so the Corinthians might realize how indebted to and how loyal their love for him really is.  And now Paul fairly gushes.  He’s comforted.  He rejoices at Titus’ joy.  He’s happy his boasting about the Corinthians to Titus proved true.  His affection for them has grown.  Did he mention he rejoices?  And he has “perfect confidence” in them.  The alienation with the apostle has been healed.  And the Corinthians are back on the gospel path.

So, why is 7:2-16 in the Bible?

Several reasons, I think.  First, because it tells us more of what the apostle had to endure so we might have the gospel.  Corinth was an especially problem church.  Yet, from it we see Paul’s loving, pastoral heart.  And from it, we have two letters full of rich gospel truths.

Second, this text is in the Bible, because it shows us that relationship problems and doctrinal controversies in the church have existed in the church from the start. That doesn’t make troubles in our church pleasant.  But it implies they are normal–and from them God works great good.

Third, so we might make room for Godly grief that produces repentance.  To say it another way, so we might welcome the Godly grief our sin evokes and welcome the apostolic word when it rebukes our sin and demands our repentance.

Here’s an example.  I read Hebrews 12:10b–“God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”  I decide my illness is God’s discipline.  I want to believe it’s for my good, but I can’t make the connection between my PLS and sharing God’s holiness.  So I reject the whole idea and blame God for my suffering.  Then I read a blog that reminds me that God allows suffering, but he’s never the author of it.  At that point, I stand at a crossroads.  I can either delete the blog or meditate on it, letting its message sink in.

Soon I’m feeling sorry for rejecting Hebrews 12:10.  Another crossroads.  I can sweep away the sorrow or I can let it sink into my soul.  I choose the latter.  And that “grief” from God produces a mind- and heart-change.  I confess my sin of unbelief and choose to believe the word is true.

Godly grief produces repentance.  And both are good when we’re prone to make light of our sin and grieve the Spirit of our God.

 

 

 

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A Peculiar Glory (Chapter 17)

“How do human reasoning and historical scholarship . . . relate to the spiritual sight of the glory of God in the Scriptures?”  That’s John Piper’s question for chapter 17.

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This question matters, explains Piper, because someone might infer that our use of reason is not important since God reveals “the truth of his word directly to our hearts by the sight of his glory” (Piper, p.267).  That inference would be wrong.  God mediates his glory through biblical texts “which exist for us today and are understood by us today only with the help of observation, reasoning, and historical data” (Piper, p. 267).

PERSUASION BY REASON AND PERSUASION BY THE SPIRIT

Piper asks, “How did the average person even come to have a Bible?  And how did a person learn to read (French, or Greek, or English) in the first place, or to construe language orally?  And what mental processes does a person go through in order to find the true meaning of a text instead of a false one?” (Piper, p. 268).

Jonathan Edwards (17th century pastor/theologian) wrote, “There must be a knowledge what the things of the gospel are, before we can be sensible of the truth and reality and excellency of the things of the gospel” (Piper, p. 269).

THE MENTAL WORK OF PRESERVING AND INTERPRETING TEXTS

Therefore, Scripture must be preserved through generations, so we can know it.  That preservation includes reading and transmitting the text, producing faithful translations from the original Hebrew and Greek, and the mental work of careful reading of those translations.

FAITH COMES BY HEARING, SIGHT BY READING

We can’t see God’s glory in the word if we don’t hear or read the word.

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’  But they have not all obeyed the gospel.  For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:13-17).

THE ONLY PATHWAY TO SEEING GLORY IS HUMAN THINKING

To see the self-authenticating light of God’s glory in Scripture we must use human observation and human reasoning.  This is because God’s glory in his word is embodied in the meaning of the words.  Thus parents work to teach their children to read.  And we make it a priority to read the Bible zealously and accurately.

HOW DO WE DEPEND ON SCHOLARSHIP AND OTHER HUMAN AGENCY?

This doesn’t mean that we must depend on historians and apologists and scholars to prove the Scriptures true.  But we do depend on them to give us access to the Bible.  And we depend on them (and ourselves) to correctly interpret the Bible’s meaning.  Without human agency, Piper says, we cannot access the peculiar glory of God in his word.

THE PATH OF APOLOGETICS IS THE PATH TO LIGHT

What does this imply for the work of giving rational and historical arguments for the Christian faith?

“We prayerfully observe the facts before us, and we think about them in order to construe the meaning of what the inspired author (and God) intended us to see.  That is what we must do, whether we are seeking rational persuasion or spiritual illumination.  This is because both kinds of knowledge are rooted in real human history and real human sentences” (Piper, p. 273).

The apostle Paul is an example of a person transformed by God’s glory in the Scriptures.  “And he believes that the impact of the word of God on his life is a good argument for the truth of the gospel” (Piper, p. 273).

THE LIFE OF PAUL AS A COMPELLING CREATION OF THE WORD OF GOD

In Galatians, Paul defends his apostleship (Galatians 1:10-24).  Piper summarizes his argument like this . . .

Premise 1:  You know how totally devoted I was to traditional Judaism and how violently I opposed Christianity.

Premise 2:  The very ones I once tried to destroy are now glorifying God because of what they see in me.

Premise 3:  I did not consult with other apostles for the content or the authority of my new calling.

Conclusion: “I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

“Given how deep was his devotion to Judaism, and how radical was his opposition to Christianity, and how he has now done a 180-degreee turn and his risking his life to spread the very faith he once opposed, we are justified in inferring the truth of his claim to have encountered the risen Christ and received his message from him” (Piper, p. 275).

Of course, someone may argue that Paul had a delusional mental illness, was the victim of a hoax or made an honest mistake.  But, says Piper, Paul doesn’t write the way a deluded man would.  Read and find coherent reasoning and warm, personal relationships.  Second, says Piper, Paul endure decades-long suffering to spread his gospel—hardly the way of a con man.  And third, it’s hardly believable that Paul would repeat the same mistake about his revelation of Jesus Christ year after year.

“And thus the apologist would point out that the evidence is strong that when Paul explains the divine origin of his apostleship, he is speaking as a reasonable and honest man who knows what he is saying and why” (Piper, p. 276).

THE PATH OF APOLOGETICS MAY, OR MAY NOT, YIELD A SIGHT OF GLORY

This path doesn’t lead us to saving faith.  But it does give us an argument to overcome objections. It does strengthen our trust in God’s word.  And through “this valid narrative” of God’s work in Paul’s transformation the peculiar glory of God can break forth.

It did for many.  “And they glorified God because of me” (Galatians 1:24).  But not all.

HUMAN AGENCY NECESSARY

The relationship between reason and faith is not hostile.  The sight of God’s glory comes through the word and so depends on human agency.

“So while we are not dependent on human observation and reasoning to provide certainty of the word’s truth, we are dependent on human effort to bring the book to our hands and its meaning to our minds” (Piper, p. 278).

* * *

Because we claim that God’s glory in the Scriptures authenticates the Scripture, we could easily be branded religious fanatics.  That claim might even worry usare we religious fanatics?  Can we have a well-grounded confidence in the Bible as God’s word?

Human reasoning and historical scholarship support a “yes” answer.  They don’t prove the Bible is God’s word.  But neither do that disprove it.  Under the spotlight of rigorous human reasoning and historical scholarship the Bible holds its own as a reliable historical document.

Believing it to be God’s word doesn’t mean emptying our mind or denying the intellect.  Instead, we gratefully accept human reasoning and historical scholarship and welcome the Bible they place in our hands.

And we pray to see the self-authenticating glory of God in its pages.

 

 

 

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