(The first five follow….)
“For this end also I wrote that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things.” (II Corinthians 2:9)
We all have our favorite books of the Bible. This one–Second Corinthians–did not start out as mine. It just wormed its way into my mind and heart (and my preaching). It is such a keeper.
More and more, as I reflect on what God has done in Christ, what He is doing in our world, and what He wants to do through me, I return to Second Corinthians.
Recently, when I posted something from this book, several pastor friends messaged me privately to say how coincidental that was, that they are just beginning a series on Second Corinthians. So, since I love it so much (and like these pastors!), I’ve dropped a few articles here and there on this blog, hoping to encourage them in their study and preaching.
1) Take 2:9 — I wrote to you that I might know the proof of you (that’s how the KJV puts it) whether you are obedient in all things.
It all comes down to obedience, doesn’t it? It’s not what you profess or say you believe, but what you do. I refer you to the entire Epistle of James, also to Matthew 7:24ff (“everyone who hears these words of mine and does them”) and especially Luke 6:46 (“why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not what I tell you?”).
In the Upper Room Jesus told the disciples, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17). Later, throughout chapters 14 and 15, He told them the way they demonstrated/proved their love for Him is by obedience.
“Trust and obey. For there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus.”
2) Combine 3:5 and 4:5 for a great reminder of the two sides of our present reality.
“Not that we are adequate in ourselves…but our adequacy is of God” and “We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord….”
This dichotomy is found in other places, the best and clearest being John 15:5 and Philippians 4:19. “Without me, you can do nothing” and “I can do all things through Christ….”
When you and I come to the end of the rope, when we have used up all our resources and are crying out to the Lord for help, He does not panic. Instead, He seems to say something like, “Finally! I was wondering how long it would take before you learned you don’t have what it takes to do that alone. Now, move aside and let me show you how it’s done.”
My inadequacy is no problem for the Always-Adequate Lord. His strength is made perfect in our weakness (see II Corinthians 12:9). My inability is His opportunity.
3) 4:1 and 4:16 bracket a lovely chapter saturated with incentives to stay faithful.
“Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart” and “Therefore we do not lose heart, for though our outer man is decaying, our inner man is being renewed day by day.”
This is why we don’t quit, Paul says. Vs 1 gives two reasons: ministry and mercy. That is, the Lord has not dealt with us according to our sins (see Psalm 103:10), but has shown us mercy; and then He has put us to work in His field. So how can we walk out on Him now?
After looking back at two reasons not to quit, the apostle then (vs. 16) looks forward: God is renewing us day by day, and (vs. 17) our temporary light troubles are producing for us an eternal weight of glory.
And in between these two verses, we have nugget after nugget of blessing, insight, and promise.
–4:2-4 Contrasting the Lord’s transparent way with the crafty, dark way of the enemy.
–4:6-7 The Lord’s light may be shining out of very humble containers, but when you need a light, it’s the best thing in the world.
4:8-12 We may be having a tough time of it here, but we keep getting back up. Eventually, the world will see Jesus in all this.
4) 5:1 reminds us of what we know about things the world thinks of as “unknowable.”
“For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God….”
5:6 “…knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord….we prefer to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”
5:11 “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men….”
By this and other passages concerning life, death, resurrection, and the other side, we come away seeing that Scripture states many things as facts, not as hopes; as realities, not as guesses.
“We know that we know him,” says I John 2:3.
Without the revelation of Scripture–and in particular, the insights from the Lord Jesus Himself–we would just be pooling our ignorance on these matters. It would be your opinion versus my opinion, and one guess would be as good as the other.
“But now is Christ risen and become the firstfruits of those who slept” (I Corinthians 15:20). The resurrection changed everything. It confirmed everything Jesus claimed about Himself, every promise He gave about the future, and every insight He left about our reality for now and for ever.
So, what do you know? Ah, a good question, my friend, and one that deserves an answer. I’ll leave you to that, for it’s a work involving you, the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit.
5) 5:17 and 5:20 give us two facets of our changed reality in this world.
“Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation….” and “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating you through us, we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
This epistle is loaded with metaphors for the Lord’s people, each one carrying its own insights into our ministry.
–2:15 “We are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved….” I’m tempted to say here that some church members are stinking up the place, but don’t think I will. (smiley-face goes here)
–3:2-3 “You are our letter…..you are a letter of Christ…” Believers are living letters.
–4:7 “We have this treasure in earthen vessels…” Believers are clay pots.
–5:17 “…new creatures…”
–5:20 “…ambassadors for Christ…”
–6:16 “For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said….”
I do love this little epistle. The first 6 chapters have a character unlike the last 7 chapters, as we will see. The first part is focused on “who we are in Christ” while the last part is the most personal of everything Paul wrote. In defending himself and his apostleship against his attackers, he manages to leave behind some of the most helpful treasures in God’s Word.