Be patient with them, pastor. They don’t understand.

“But we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves….” (II Corinthians 1:8-9)

Something inside the hurting pastor thinks, “If I could just make them see what I have to deal with, the people would understand and might be a little more sympathetic, instead of making their endless demands on me.”

Good luck with that, pastor.

Paul tried it. Several times in his epistle we call “Second Corinthians” he attempted to get across to that ever-needy congregation what he was going through, the price he was paying to extend the gospel of Jesus, and the ongoing burden of shepherding the people of the Lord.

They. Did. Not. Care.

They wanted their needs met and wanted it done now. Whatever Paul was going through was his own personal business; they had their own problems, they reasoned.

So, shepherd of the Lord’s people–I’m referring to you!–the next time you are considering taking a few minutes of the Sunday service to let the congregation in on your personal travails in the hope that they will call off the hounds and become more supportive, take a lesson from Paul.

First, he gave it a good try. “If they only know,” he must have reasoned, “they’ll stop this foolishness.” Yeah, right.

Continue reading

The 10 Best Things in II Corinthians (Part 2)

(On November 1, we published the first 5 of the “ten best things in Second Corinthians.” Today, we complete the list.This ranking, of course, is purely arbitrary and personal, nothing official.)

6) II Corinthians 8:1-5 —  A great example of giving.

The Lord’s churches in the region of Macedonia (which took in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea) were something to brag about.  Paul used them as examples: “This is how it’s done!”

Denominational publications will highlight an individual church for its outstanding record in ministry, growth, or evangelism. Critics will often take exception to doing so, suggesting that to single out one church for its accomplishment is to encourage pride and makes other churches feel inferior.  Maybe so, but there is good scriptural precedent for using the heroics of one congregation to inspire others.

You have to love the way Paul adds layer upon layer in lauding the giving of the Macedonians:

Continue reading

The 10 Best Things in Second Corinthians

(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?”).

Continue reading

Plain-speaking and Clear Speaking in the Lord’s Work (from II Corinthians)

“For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand.” (II Corinthians 1:13)

Jessie was a matron in one of my early pastorates. As generous a soul as ever lived, she once made two bookcases for my office and assured me, “These are for you, so take them when you leave.”  That was over 40 years ago, and today, those bookcases are in our bedroom, one on each side.

But Jessie had a little quirk that drove me up the wall.  She would sometimes drop by the office and say,”Joe, what did you mean in that remark you made last week when we were standing in front of the church?” “What did you mean by what you told me yesterday?”

I learned to answer, “Jessie, whatever it was, I meant what I said and nothing else. There were no hidden meanings to the words.”

Jessie’s habit, no doubt picked up over a lifetime of conditioning, was in over-analyzing matters.  She would walk away from a conversation and relive every word spoken, searching for hidden meanings and implied messages. Poor thing. That is not a happy way to exist, I’ll tell you.

The Apostle Paul was being harassed by some in the Corinthian church who accused him of saying one thing and doing another, insisting that his messages did not always convey the full story. In II Corinthians 1:13, he tells them to stop that, to take his words at face value. On this verse, John MacArthur says, “(Paul’s) continuing flow of information to the Corinthians was always clear, straightforward and understandable, consistent and genuine. Paul wanted them to know he was not holding anything back, nor did he have any secret agenda (10:11). He simply wanted them to understand all that he had written and spoken to them.”

The president in my lifetime who was gifted (afflicted?) with the plainspeaking gene was Harry Truman. Merle Miller wrote a book about Truman by that title, “Plain-Speaking,” in which he interviewed people who had known HST all his life. Almost to a person, they said the same thing about Truman, that he said what he meant and meant what he said.

Continue reading

Why Pastors Love Second Corinthians So Much

“For we write nothing else to you than what you read and understand, and I hope you will understand until the end; just as you also partially did understand us…” (II Corinthians 1:13-14)

Pastors like Moses because they identify with his situation so strongly. Against great odds and at incredible risk, long after retirement age, he performed feats of leadership still talked about thousands of years later. And what’s more–the part we particularly appreciate–he did so in spite of the constant bickering and harassment of God’s people.

Moses literally dragged God’s people to Canaan.

The people he was called to serve, those for whom he was devoting the last third of his life, these who were his pride and his joy–they were his biggest headache.

That’s why we love the epistle called Second Corinthians so much.

In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, the membership is called immature and carnal and it’s easy to see why. They were divided, cliquish and clannish, competitive with one another, and callous anyone they didn’t approve. The lessons the apostle teaches on spirituality, spiritual gifts, and love are some of the finest in Scripture.

When we come to his second letter to that church, we might expect more of the same. Instead, it was like Paul was writing to a different church altogether. These people have become angry and resentful toward him, the man who started their church and poured his lifeblood into building it up.

Continue reading