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2 Corinthians Bible notes Stephen Thompson

Daily Bible thoughts 692: Thursday 28th August 2014:

 2 Corinthians 13:11-14

Here are some parting thoughts:

  • Obey the Word of God: ‘’listen to my appeal’’ (11). As an apostle, Paul knew that God was speaking through him, and HE is not to be ignored.
  • Set the bar high: ‘’Aim for perfection’’ (11). Don’t settle for anything less than what God has designed you to be in Christ Jesus. His plan for you is total Christ-likeness. Although that will not be fully realised in this world, go for it, and get as much likeness to Jesus as you can here and now. I think it was Robert Murray McCheyne who said it is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. I believe it is true to say that in the Christian life you tend to get what you go for. Someone said that we are, at this moment, as close to Jesus as we really choose to be. In terms of this Christian maturity, Paul says, ‘You aim for it, and I’ll pray for it!’ (11; see 9). That’s a dynamic combination!
  • Throw your arms wide: ‘’be of one mind, live in peace’’ (11). Likeness to Christ will be expressed in a love that shows itself in physical greetings that are culturally relevant and acceptable to propriety (12). But even more than that it will be seen in loving ‘’All the saints…’’ (13). If we are growing into the image of Jesus, we will find that we want to live in harmony with all our brothers in Christ, if at all possible. It is an interesting reality that if we choose to live in loving peace we will then experience the presence of ‘’the God of love and peace’’ (11).
  • Enjoy the fullness of God (14): The order is important. Jesus is mentioned first, because only through His gracious work on the cross can we ever come to know the love of God the Father experientially, as He sheds it abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). Consider a couple of thoughts on this well-known and frequently used blessing: ‘’…there is nothing to indicate that God required the benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:14 to be employed in the Christian churches; yet there is certainly nothing to show that it is incongruous to do As a fact, it has been made use of because of its deep importance doctrinally and because of its appropriateness, for those words are both a confession of the Christian faith and a declaration of Christian privilege.’’ A.W. Pink: ‘Gleanings from Paul’, p.98.

‘’As the ocean unites all lands, and is the medium through which they are able to exchange commodities, so does the blessed Spirit unite the Persons of the Blessed Trinity to each other, and us to them, and secures the oneness for which our Saviour prayed… Of course, we must be very careful of the tender sensibilities and holy disposition of our divine Confederate. We cannot ruthlessly grieve Him by our harshness or impurity at one moment, and turn to Him for his succour and direction at the next. Such divine union as lies within our reach certainly demands on our part watchfulness, a tender conscience, a yielded and pliant will, a heart which has no other love, no affection nor idol inconsistent with the Spirit’s fellowship.’’ F.B. Meyer: ‘Great verses through the Bible’, p.430.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, I never want to grieve you. Help me to be sensitive to you at all times.

Daily Bible thoughts 691: Wednesday 27th August 2014:

 2 Corinthians 13:1-10

As we have seen, strength in weakness is a big theme in 2 Corinthians. Paul did not feel any need to apologise for his weakness as he thought about Christ. In His crucifixion Jesus humbled Himself to a place of weakness. (Never forget that it was a path He deliberately chose). But it was the way to resurrection life and power (4). Paul knew that it would be just the same for him and his colleagues. Those critics in Corinth who were saying that Paul was weak needed to prepare themselves for an encounter with the power of God. In this case that power could be experienced in terms of church discipline. Paul was not ‘all talk and no action’. He had given warnings, and he would ‘deliver the goods’ if necessary. Of course, he hoped not to have to do that, as verse 10 shows.

Christian ministry (4) is about:

  • Fellowship with Christ: ‘’we will live with him’’. All authentic ministry flows from walking with Jesus in a vital relationship;
  • It is exercised ‘’by God’s power’’. And the more weak we are in ourselves the more the divine ‘current’ will move through us;
  • It is shown in service: ‘’we will live…to serve you’’. All of that great power is to be harnessed to the work of serving others. In fact, we just will not have the stomach for everything that Christian service demands without God’s enabling. Verse 9 shows something of the heart of this true servant of Christ, the apostle Paul. He was content to know human weakness if through that others could be strengthened. What price are you prepared to pay to have an effective ministry to other people?

We know that Paul had his critics in Corinth who undermined his ministry. But the apostle could see that if the professing Corinthian believers did a self-examination test (5) and came to the conclusion that they were truly Christians that would speak volumes about the authenticity of his ministry (6). You see, it was through Paul that they were converted. If they were genuine Christians, and it was through Paul’s preaching that they came to Christ, that surely was a powerful rebuttal of the mud-slingers’ position?

Paul could never act in a way that was contrary to the gospel or its moral implications (8). He wasn’t concerned about his own reputation, but just wanted to see the Corinthians avoiding the wrong and doing the right (7), and moving on to complete maturity (9; see 11 also). In chapters 10-13 he repeatedly threatened a severe use of authority, but he clearly hoped it would not come to that. It is probably true to say that the purpose of these chapters was to call the Corinthians back to their allegiance to Paul and his gospel, so that he would not have to take disciplinary action. He wanted their growth in holiness, and took no delight in the thought of using the ‘cane’.

Prayer: Help me, dear Lord Jesus, to walk in step with you every moment of every day. Let your power flow through me to energise always the most meaningful and fruitful service to others.

Daily Bible Thoughts 685, Tuesday 19th August 2014:

 2 Corinthians 12:11-21.
Someone seeing lots of miracles in their ministry could be in danger of getting swollen-headed. Okay, that shouldn’t happen, but it does. As John Lancaster pointed out in a recent message given at the ‘King’s Church’, Boston Spa, and based on Luke 5:1-11, the disciples’ fishing success nearly shipwrecked them! Pastor Lancaster was saying that this can happen in Christian ministry. So it’s interesting that right next door to the mention of ‘’signs, wonders and miracles’’ (12) there comes a line where Paul says ‘’even though I am nothing.’’ (11). It seems to me that the more humble you are, the more useable (to God) you are. As we have seen, Paul revelled in the things that made him weak, because they caused Him to cling to God for strength. Paul’s ministry called for ‘’great perseverance‘’ (12). In this there is a delicate balance of power and perseverance. There was a mixture of the spectacular and the mundane, ordinary, doggedly toughing it out through extraordinarily difficult experiences. Paul knew well the terrain of the mountain top and the valley and accepted both as part of normal Christian experience. If you are following Christ you will always need endurance. (It was another mark of Paul’s extraordinary humility that he did not burden this church by requiring from them the financial support that was his right as an apostle.) The Corinthians should have honoured Paul as the ‘real deal’, when they saw his ministry divinely authenticated, as it so obviously was (12), and not have been duped by the so-called ‘’super-apostles’’ (11).
Paul saw himself as a spiritual parent (14-17). As such, he didn’t expect his ‘children’ to take care of him. It was the other way round. Neither he, nor any of the men he sent to them, such as Titus, had exploited them. But the false apostles were fleecing them, yet they were quite willing to follow these brash talking men. ‘’ I have no interest in what you have-only in you. Children shouldn’t have to look out for their parents; parents look out for the children. I’d be most happy to empty my pockets, even mortgage my life, for your good.’’ The Message. Verse 15 expresses the heart of authentic spiritual leadership, and everyone involved in shepherding the flock of God will surely want to measure themselves against these words. They are deeply challenging. Every ‘good’ shepherd who wants to follow the Good Shepherd will give his life for the sheep. There are many ways in which this can be done. Alongside this deep love for the church at Corinth, there also went a fear of what he might find when he got to them (20, 21). Love for the sheep will always mean a hatred of the sin that stains and ruins their lives, and engender a desire to separate them from it.
Above everything, Paul was aware of living his life and conducting his ministry in the sight of God. It was not men’s judgment he feared, but it was the Lord’s approval he sought (19, 20). Again, the twentieth verse expresses how much Paul lived for others. ‘’I hope you don’t think that all along we’ve been making our defence before you, the jury. You’re not the jury; God is the jury – God revealed in Christ – and we make our case before him. And we’ve gone to all the trouble of supporting ourselves so that we won’t be in the way or get in the way of your growing up.’’ The Message.
Billy Graham once said that the smallest parcel he ever saw was ‘a man wrapped up in himself!’ Paul was not that man!!

Prayer: Help me to always walk humbly with you, my God; to persevere through difficulties; to know your power in weakness; and always put others before myself.

Daily Bible thoughts 679: Monday 11th August 2014:

 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: ‘’We must form our estimate of men less from their achievements and failures and more from their sufferings.’’

It is thought that in this passage Paul was probably talking about his own experience, in a humble way. In the opening verses he talks about knowing ”a man in Christ” who had a glorious visit to ”the third heaven” (2), but then he seems to identify himself as this man in (7). There are times when preachers may feel it is wise to give personal sermon illustrations in such a fashion. It appears to be the case that along with great privilege there also comes great responsibility, and there can be great cost too(7). Paul got to see ‘’surpassingly great revelations’’ but at the same time he paid no small price. There are gifts from God that don’t feel like gifts: ”there was given me” (7). There are things God gives His children that are like medicine; they leave a nasty taste in the mouth but they are for our benefit. I remember a preacher quoting someone who said: ”We weep at blessings clothed as sorrows”. That may take a little bit of thinking about , but the longer you have been a Christian the more likely it is that you will have experienced some of these ‘blessings’. ‘’Because of the extravagance of these revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty!’’ The Message.

No one can say with certainty what Paul’s ‘’thorn’’ was (7). Clearly, it was something Satan was allowed to do to Him (see also Job 1, 2 and Luke 22:31-34), but Paul knew that the devil was not in charge and that the Lord could remove it if He chose to do so (8). It may well be that the ‘’thorn’’ can take many forms, but it is something that comes our way to keep us humble and dependent on God, trusting in His power and not our own strength. I can think of difficult experiences that have driven me to prayer and fasting and caused me to cling harder to ‘the Rock who is higher than I.’ I’m sure you can too. A close relative once wondered out loud in conversation with me, ‘Why is it I have to face suffering to really have the prayer life that I should?’

Paul’s intercession was earnest (8). It was intense and heartfelt. He ‘’pleaded’’. ‘’At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it.’’ The Message. It is important to take note that Paul’s prayer was answered, but the specific request was denied (9). He got a very clear answer from God. He knew precisely what the Lord had said. There would not be a removal of the cause of weakness but an infusion of divine strength (9a). Do we fail to see some answers to prayer because they arrive in a different guise to the one we expected?

Paul’s response was not to kick back at God’s answer and complain (9b, 10). He wanted to know ‘’Christ’s power’’; he wanted to live and work in true strength. So he fully submitted to God’s work in him, even though his initial response was to say, ‘Please could I not have this?!’ (8). We might say that it was a blessing ‘clothed’ as a sorrow, and Paul came to see that. ‘’Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size…I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.’’ The Message.

R.T. Kendall says that ‘’suffering is the key to anointing.’’

Prayer: I thank you Lord that you turn our weaknesses into your ‘’opportunities’’ so that the glory goes to you.

 

Daily Bible thoughts 672: Thursday 31st July 2014:

2 Corinthians 11:16-33

” I told myself…that to be able to see the spot where Dietrich had managed, against all odds, to train young men for the ministry not in the state church but in the newly formed Confessing Church whose pastors refused to take the loyalty oath to Hitler, was important for our pilgrimage. Every day they risked their lives. Every day they stood against the Nazi machine, witnessing to another reality, an alternative truth and a transformed community.” Jim Belcher: ‘In search of Deep Faith’, p.10.

As we know, there were so – called ‘super apostles’ influencing the church in Corinth. These braggarts lifted themselves up and put Paul down. Shepherds care for the flock but false teachers ‘fleece’ the sheep (20). Spiritual abuse was taking place in that congregation. In speaking about ”boasting”, Paul is being ironic. There is more than a hint of sarcasm in his words. Paul’s boast was not about Himself, but it was of the Lord and His strength (30). His aim was to bring praise to God (31). His very weakness made him more deeply reliant on God’s resources, and that meant God’s glory shone all the more brightly in him and through him.

A key message of 2 Corinthians is that suffering is the badge of authenticity. It was clear to see that the persecuted Paul was the genuine article, and that the proud, egotistical false teachers were not. Here is a test of genuineness: ‘How much are you prepared to suffer for your faith?’ There are two words repeated frequently in today’s passage. They are ”in danger”. That was Paul’s life story. He was ‘Danger Man!’ His life was constantly under threat. How different he was to the mouthy imposters. They had flashy words; Paul had outstanding character. His life was lived under constant threat, and he endured so much privation for the sake of Christ. Never lose sight of the fact that it is always dangerous to be a Christian, although some believers are forced to face this reality more than others. But it’s always true.

Another key word in the passage is ”more”(23). There was so much more to Paul than there was to the false apostles, and that more came from God ultimately. But genuine people, have you noticed, are prepared to give so much more of themselves, and do more, and put up with more for the cause of Jesus?

It is possible to read this bit of the Bible and feel guilty that you don’t suffer anything like Paul did. But would you want to? No, neither do I? I don’t think God intends us to feel such shame. We can’t make ourselves suffer, nor should we try. But the question to face is this: ‘Are you prepared to live faithfully, openly and honestly for Jesus in the culture in which God has placed you? And, the Lord helping you, are you prepared to take whatever hostility may come your way for standing up as a Christian and living the Jesus way?’ In ‘In search of deep faith’ , Jim Belcher tells how he and his wife and young family of two girls and two boys, took a year out and travelled across Europe on a ‘pilgrimage’, visiting sites connected to great heroes of the faith like Corrie Ten Boom, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and C.S.Lewis. They started out in Oxford and visited the place where Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer were martyred. Belcher used this trip to teach his children important truths about the life of discipleship whilst ‘on the go’ ”I asked them if they would be willing to be burned at the stake for their beliefs. They didn’t answer. ”Or would you recant,” I asked them, ”and say you don’t really believe in order to save your life?” They laughed nervously. I pushed a little harder, with a little more enthusiasm…You may never have to face that dilemma, I told them, but what if someday someone asks you if you are a Christian? Will you deny it? How strong are your convictions, your roots?…will you just keep quiet about what you believe and go with the flow of those around you?” (p.27).

Allow yourself to feel the force of these questions. They are important for us all.

Prayer: Lord, I never want to deny you or let you down. Let me never be ashamed of you.

 

Daily Bible thoughts 664: Monday 21st July 2014:

2 Corinthians 11:7-15

We saw recently that the church faces the perennial danger of deception (3, 4), therefore we need to walk around with our spiritual ‘antennae’ activated, so as to be able to detect it. (At the same time, it is also good to be alert to the possibility of becoming obsessed with error, and of seeing heresy everywhere because you are always looking for it! There is an appropriate balance to maintain.) The church at Corinth was being influenced by some men Paul referred to as ”super-apostles” (maybe that is what they called themselves. It is how they saw themselves.) Paul has no hesitation in calling them out. He says that they are false leaders(13) preaching a false gospel (4) and he knew it came from a false place.

There is a personal devil and he is a master of disguise and deception (14, 15). If the devil can transform himself into ”an angel of light’’ just think what he can do with the people whose strings he manipulates. There are modern day preachers whose message is a Jesus of their own imagining and whose gospel is one of their own invention. But ultimately all the bad stuff they are rabbiting comes from Hell (even though they probably don’t realise it.) As someone said, it is possible to be sincere, yet sincerely wrong. Paul gives a dire warning about the ”end” of such ministers (15b). We should not be surprised (although we will always be saddened) by clergy who do not preach ”the truth of Christ” (10). Let the Bible always be the plumb-line by which we test everything. If their messages do not line up with Scripture then we must smell the danger and avoid it.

One mark of a false teacher is that he (or she) fleeces the flock. They are in it to make as much money for themselves as possible, and they do it off the backs of their ‘fan base’ that idolise them, flocking to their meetings and conferences, and buying their books and C.D.’s etc. Paul believed in the right of the minister of the gospel to live off the gospel. However it was a right he regularly did not insist on if he thought it might become a hindrance to his ministry. In Corinth, other churches supported him so that he could freely serve the Corinthians. However, some of them were being won over by the false teachers whose ministry was costing them ‘an arm and a leg.’ ”And I’m not changing my position on this. I’d die before taking your money. I’m giving nobody grounds for lumping me in with those money-grubbing ”preachers,” vaunting themselves as something special.” (12) The Message.

They should have been able to tell the difference between the true and the false, but they couldn’t. So let us take warning from this and stay on guard.

Prayer: Lord God, I want to know your Word so well that I can detect when something is false and avoid it.

 

Daily Bible thoughts 663: Friday 18th July 2014:

2 Corinthians 11:1- 6

”…this is the passion of God burning inside me!” (2) The Message.

Christian leaders should have a burning passion:

  • For the church’s faithful devotion to Christ (2): It should matter to us greatly that people we shepherd might love Jesus with ”sincere and pure devotion” (3b). We don’t want to see the church distracted by other ‘lovers’, or going off ‘arm in arm’ with other gods. We want to watch, in the church, a growing love for the Lord; a blossoming, fruitful and happy marriage. Paul always had a sense of the last day, and his accountability to God for the church/ministry entrusted to him. Something of that is seen here, I think. A proper understanding of our responsibility will give us this kind of intensity: ”I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy.” (2a).
  •  For the church’s doctrinal purity (3, 4; see also Gal.1:6-9): See, in verse 3, the close connection between mind and heart. You might think Paul would express concern for their hearts being led astray. But no, it is their ‘‘minds’’ he focuses on. There is such a big emphasis in the writings of Paul on the place of the Christian mind. Churches must be well taught because there are still people who preach another Jesus and another gospel, and it comes from another spirit than the Holy Spirit. (Here is one reason why we need the discerning of spirits). There are purportedly Christian people who are preaching stuff that is all out of plumb with the Word of God. Leaders have got to care deeply about this reality, and do what they can to protect the church from deception. The possibility of being ”deceived by the serpent’s cunning” has hung in the air since the Garden of Eden. The devil sells his lies very persuasively (”exactly as the Snake seduced Eve with his smooth patter…” The Message.) The problem in Corinth was that they were being influenced by the ”super-apostles” who set themselves up as superior to Paul (5, 6). Paul recognised that he didn’t have ”that smooth eloquence that impresses you so much” (6). There is the perennial problem in the church of good people being won over by style and not checking out the substance. If the packaging is exciting, some believers won’t worry too much about the content of the parcel. It may turn out to be the old serpent from the Garden inside that oh so pretty box!

As a leader, you may not be funny; you may not be able to reel off a string of engaging anecdotes; you may not have the most winsome communication skills. None of this really matters too much. But what is of great and eternal importance is that you should stick like superglue to ”the truth of Christ” (10).

Prayer: Help me Lord to love your church and do all I can to protect ‘her’ from error and infidelity.

 

Daily Bible thoughts 655: Tuesday 8th July 2014:

2 Corinthians 10:1-6

In this passage Paul may have had in mind Joshua’s victory at Jericho (Josh.6). It was an unusual battle fought with unusual weapons, but Joshua and the Israelites were mightily successful through God.

It is an occupational hazard for a church leader to be criticised and misrepresented (1b, 10). At times you will have bad things, and even wrong things, said about you. So you have to develop a thick skin without becoming hard hearted. In dealing with all people, and especially those who give us a difficult time, we must seek to act in a Christ-like way (1a). By God’s grace, show Jesus to all people. Make this your aim. But being Christ-like is not incompatible with grasping nettles in the ‘field’ of the church (2). Some tables need to be tipped over; there will be that which requires removal from the temple. There will be rebuking words to speak. Jesus’ loving gentleness did not accept all behaviour uncritically. Church leaders, likewise, have to exercise discipline in certain circumstances (6).

Sorting problems out in the church is part of our spiritual warfare (3). The local congregation is not immune from the devil’s influence. In fact, Satan loves to ‘go to church’, but in disguise, so that he is not spotted until it is too late. By then he is, no doubt, wreaking all kinds of havoc. If God were to pull back the curtain and show us all that goes on in the unseen world to try to cripple the local church, we would probably all turn the colour of whitewash. This war is real and more savage than any worldly war. But we don’t wage war with tanks and guns and bombs and lies/deception etc. We have spiritual ”weapons” filled with ”divine power” (4). You might like to take a moment to write a list of as many of these as you can think of. But it’s not knowing that you have them in the cupboard that counts. It’s actually reaching in there and making use of them. When we do we find they have a devastating impact on the enemy’s kingdom. They really do work, but again, you do have to use them. They must not be like weapons put on display in an armouries museum. As you look at them in their display cases, you can easily see what they have been capable of, but it’s not happening now. I knew a man once, and he had a fascination with weapons. They were hanging on the walls all over his house. They were on display, but thankfully not in use! There are Christians who simply hang their weapons on the walls of their lives, but they never take them down and fight the devil with them. Or rarely do they do so. If they were to really take the Christian fight seriously, and stop playing toy soldiers, they would be open-mouthed at what God would do through them.

Fundamentally, the battles are for men’s minds (5). This is true both inside and outside the church. The devil sets up strongholds that are formed with ”arguments” (against God and His truth), and ‘pretentions’ and unruly thoughts that don’t want to obey Jesus. Our battle is to see Christ’s Lordship established over every mind and heart and life. There will be an end to trouble in any church where Jesus is truly allowed to reign as Lord. I read a question today in ‘Search the Scriptures’. You might like to consider it: ”Have you known in your own experience: (a) of lawless elements in your own thought-life brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and (b) of winning such victories for Christ in the thought-life of others?” We need to ensure that our thoughts are not like mutinous soldiers. May they all come under the command of our Lord Jesus Christ.

”…every thought of the soul, which is hostile to the authority of the divine Truth, must become a prisoner of war in the camp of Christ.” F.B.Meyer: Great verses through the Bible, p.429.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am aware of a great war that rages in me, and often spills over to affect the life of the church. But I give myself afresh to you today, and my desire is that every thought will march in line behind you.

 

Daily Bible thoughts 642: Thursday 19th June 2014:

 2 Corinthians 9:1-5

God wants His people to have generous attitudes. He doesn’t want them to be ”pressed men’ in the realm of giving. He ”loves a cheerful giver” (7). He desires that our giving should be the overflow of something good happening in our hearts (see 8:16).

”For the Macedonian Christians, giving was not a chore but a challenge, not a burden but a blessing. Giving was not something to be avoided but a privilege to be desired.” George Sweeting.

Paul’s handling of the Corinthians on this subject of the offering is a fine example of pastoral tact and sensitivity:

  • He reminds them of what they had promised. Paul knew they’d said it, and they knew they’d said it. Paul didn’t threaten, but he knew how to apply the right amount of pressure by letting them know he hadn’t forgotten their words, and that he had every confidence in them as people of their word!
  • He tells them he has told others about their commitment to give (and paints well a picture of what it will feel like if they don’t do so. They must have felt their cheeks beginning to redden even as they heard Paul’s apostolic words. They could indeed imagine how embarrassing it would be, especially if their failure to deliver came out in front of the Macedonians, who were famous for their giving: 8:1-5)
  • His words and actions demonstrated an expectation that they would make good on their promise, and not grudgingly so. They would know that they had effectively tied themselves by their earlier promise, and they would not be allowed to undo this particular ‘knot’.
  • He was sending the ‘finance team’ to them to help them prepare their contributions, so that when he arrived everything would be in order.
  • But he was coming to them! They would have to face him.

It is not unreasonable for church leaders to have high expectations of those they lead, and to make those expectations clear.

Prayer: May my own heart increasingly reflect the generous heart of God, as you change me by your Spirit.

 

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