Tag Archive for '2 Corinthians'

Paul Denying Himself

2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians 10:1-2
I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ–I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!– 2 I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh.

In verse 1b Paul is repeating what the super-apostles charge against him.

2 Corinthians 13:5-7 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?–unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 6 I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. 7 But we pray to God that you may not do wrong–not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed.

If the Corinthians fail the test and are unrepentant, Paul will need to come and “not be lenient” (2 Corinthians 13:2). If this should happen, he would be vindicated as far as the charge of the super-apostles but “God may humble me before you” (2 Corinthians 12:21) as a father to the Corinthian church.

Paul is not concerned that “we [the apostles] may appear to have met the test”, but that the Corinthians will have done what is right and that “we may seem to have failed”.

What an example of denying one’s self, pleasing God above men and loving others! Here we have the super-apostles showing off their apparent strength and deceiving many of the Corinthians into thinking Paul isn’t legitimate. But his desire is for the Corinthians to repent even if this still makes him look just as “weak” as ever. The super-apostles can then say, “See, he’s still as timid as ever in your presence.”

Then they may become “perfect” (2 Corinthians 13:9). This is the only instance in the New Testament when this Greek word is used and according to Garland means restoration from sin; to mend.

Paul Speaking as a Fool

2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians 11:16-21
I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. 17 What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not with the Lord’s authority but as a fool. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. 19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of–I am speaking as a fool–I also dare to boast of that.

2 Corinthians 12:11
I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing.

I have never really grasped exactly what Paul is meaning in these verses.

“Fool” here is for the most part referring to the super-apostles. He is being sarcastic to make a point.

In 11:21 he is again referring to his strength in weakness. Again, using sarcasm he is saying that he was too weak to lord his authority over them.

Garland in his commentary on 2 Corinthians clears this up very well.

Paul admits to being a fool by adopting the boastful tactics of his competitors, but by doing so he tars his opponents with the same brush. They are fools as well (see 11:19-20), but, unlike Paul, they are not playing the part of a fool. They take their boasting seriously. The Corinthians are also made out to be fools for allowing themselves to be captivated and led astray by foolish boasting. They have dishonored themselves by betraying their apostle and failing to defend him.

Paul uses this failure as his final justification for his fool’s speech (see 2 Corinthians 11:1-6). Since they have not defended him against his competitors, he must defend himself. The truth had to be told, more to save the Corinthians from such fools than to save Paul’s reputation.

Referring to the last part of 12:11 Paul realizes he is nothing compared to God (Daniel 4:35 a) and whatever he is comes from God (1 Corinthians 15:9-10;  2 Corinthians 3:5; Philippians 3:12-16). The super-apostles really are nothing but make themselves out to be “super”.

2 Corinthians 11:30-33 – Lowered in a basket

2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians 11:30-32
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, 33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.

What do verses 32-33 have to do with 30-31? The translators didn’t put a paragraph break there. Is this an example of Paul’s supposedly helter-skelter writing? For some it may be obvious or you’ve already come to understand it one way or another but for me and others I’d like to write about it.

I’d like to gather some points by Garland from his commentary on 2 Corinthians and a thought or two of my own.

Garland mentions that 11:30-12:10 are the demonstrations of his weakness.

It may seem abrupt to us because he switches from comparisons with the “super apostles” and his catalog of hardships and switches to this subject.

11:32-33 is a narrative event in contrast to the listing of his sufferings. But it’s not just a narrative of a historical event in his ministry. It’s an example of weakness. Garland says, “Hiding in a basket is not something that someone with power would do, and the incident occurs at the very beginning of his ministry. It serves a a paradigm, as it were, for what was to come.” Imagine how you would feel hiding in a basket in fear of your life. (Acts 9:25)

In contrast, according to Aulus Gellius, “the special distinction of a mural crown belonged to the man who had been first to climb the wall.” (Attic Nights 5.6.16) Garland says, “The ‘wall crown’ (corona muralis), one of the highest Roman military honors, was presented to the first soldier to go up and over the wall of an enemy city.” This would not have been lost on the Corinthians. Yet again Paul is emphasizing suffering and weakness to get the message of the cross through to the Corinthians.

This reminds me of the indoor artificial climbing walls. If you climb to the top you’ve succeeded. You made it up with your own skill and under your own strength. Yay! If you slip or lose your strength then the dreaded rope catches you and you are lowered back down in defeat. It’s all in fun if not taken too seriously but it may serve as an example of the contrast.

Garland says, “We should not overlook, however, that Paul’s escape parallels similar escapes in the Bible. The Israelite spies were hidden by Rahab the prostitute and let down by a rope through a window in the wall (Joshua 2:15), and David escaped Saul’s soldiers with the help of Michal, who let him down through the window (1 Samuel 19:12). The biblical parallels show a pattern in which an ignoble escape on one day led to victory on another (Joshua 6:1-25; 1 Samuel 23:1-14).”

These aren’t “woe is me” types of statements, they are a testament to God’s power and strength in weakness and humiliation. If it wasn’t for God’s power, Paul certainly would never have made it through the litany of near-death experiences to bring the gospel so powerfully and genuinely to the Corinthians. That’s partly why he says in 2 Corinthians 4:12, “So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

Suffering 4

2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

In his commentary on 2 Corinthians Garland says, “He understands that through his suffering he shared Christ’s death and received new life (Philippians 3:10-11). Savage* captures Paul’s thought:

It is precisely because his outer man is decaying that his inner man is being revewed day by day (v. 16). His outer afflictions serve to multiply the glory of his inner man (v. 17). His critics fail to see this increasing weight of glory because it is accumulating in his heart (v. 6), a place hidden to their externally minded outlook.

Most cannot see this transformation because they only look at the outer surface of humans. From this vantage point, it looks like Paul is falling apart instead of being gloriously renewed. Caird** explains this process well and why God designed it so:

But it is a secret process, invisible both to the outsider and to the believer himself, known only to faith. To protect that faith from the encroachments of pride, which would turn spiritual renewal into a human achievement instead of accepting it as a gift of grace, God has provided that the process be concealed within an ‘earthenware vessel,’ a perishable body subject to pain and decay (2 Corinthians 4:7; cp. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9). Those whose eyes are not on the seen and transient, but on the unseen and eternal, can detect beneath the decay of the outer nature an inner life which is being daily renewed.

*Savage, Power through Weakness, 183.
**G.B. Caird, Paul’s Letters from Prison, New Clarendon Bible (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976)

Two things strike me.

One is how similar the Church is in the U.S. compared to the Corinthians and how we look at the “outer man” to determine how well they are doing spiritually. This can refer to outward appearance or outward actions. We judge people by how healthy they appear. If someone is afflicted we ask why this is. Do they lack faith? Are they doing something wrong? Why isn’t God blessing them? And yet the Bible speaks out against this time and again. (John 9:2-3)

The other is how He uses uses earthen vessels who can be hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down so that we cannot rely on ourselves and be able to say that we are being renewed because of our own efforts.

Although our afflictions can seem unbearable, the “weight of glory” will be so great in heaven that it is incomparable to our earthly suffering. Since we cannot imagine this now, we must believe this by faith. (see also Romans 8:18)

Contrasts Between Present Affliction and Eternal Glory

2 Corinthians

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In his commentary on 2 Corinthians Garland points out “a series of contrasts between the present affliction and the eternal glory that follows” in 4:16-5:9.

outward man / inner man
wasting away / being renewed
slight / beyond measure
momentary / eternal
affliction / glory
what can be seen / what cannot be seen
tentlike house / building from God
earthly / heavenly
destroyed / eternal
stripped naked / clothed
mortality / life
preparation, the guarantee of the Holy Spirit / not yet
sight / faith
at home in the body / away from the Lord

I would like to try to highlight these things within the passage. The specific colors have no meaning. They are just alternated to show the pairs hopefully without too much confusion.

2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10 (NIV)
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

5:1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Suffering 3

2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians 1:9
Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

Our human nature wants us to place our confidence on our own strength and intellect rather than on God.

Calvin says, “We are not brought to real submission until we have been laid low by the crushing hand of God.”

Garland says, “When things are at their worst and all human resources are exhausted, then one is most receptive to learning about the power of God.” And, “God’s power is made perfect in the weakness of the cross of his Son, and that divine pattern of working in the world continues in the cruciform ministry of his apostle.”

Dr. Roger Spradlin says, “Most Christians, want the product of Paul’s life (his maturity), but not the process of his life (the suffering).”

We need to also allow God to work in our loved ones lives in this way. We should certainly pray for healing and deliverance. But we should also pray for (true) comfort, patience, perseverance, and that they would seek God in their suffering and allow Him to glorify Himself in whatever way He sees fit.

Suffering 2

2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 is very familiar to me and was mentioned a couple of posts ago. But verse 5 is one that has slipped by me that really stuck out this time.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

In Garland’s commentary on 2 Corinthians he says, “In describing his sufferings in Christ, Paul pictures a balance sheet of two columns: sufferings of Christ versus comfort through Christ. Ministering in this evil age brings him a surplus of suffering that becomes almost unbearable. But the consolation column also shows a surplus, and it more than balances the suffering.” (ultimately Romans 8:18)

What are sufferings in Christ? Garland says it is in part our being baptized into His death (Romans 6:3), share in His sufferings to also share in His glory (Romans 8:17) and being like Him in His death (Philippians 3:10-11).

If we are to be Christ-like, we will also, like Him deny ourselves, take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23), be poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3) and receive God’s strength through weakness which is a thoroughly counter-cultural view.

Garland quotes Hanson:

…because Christians do not merely imitate, follow or feel inspired by Christ, but actually live in him, are part of him, dwell supernaturally in a new world where the air they breathe is his Spirit, then for them henceforward suffering accepted in Christ must bring comfort, death accepted in Christ must bring life, weakness accepted in Christ must bring strength, foolishness accepted in Christ must bring wisdom.

Suffering 1

2 Corinthians

Hanson* cites S. Weil that Christianity did not profess to cure suffering but did profess to use it.

Christianity faces it [suffering] by making suffering the means by which healing and rescue were brought to the world, and the very stock-in-trade and accustomed diet of Christians, yet to Christians suffering is not a deliberately contrived instrument for atonement as it is to the Indian fanatic who tortures himself in order to gain the peace of detachment, but and evil force in the world which yet by Christ’s atonement can be used for redemption and healing, even in the individual’s personal life.

Garland says, “This conviction helps explain why Paul never tried to explain the problem of suffering as many try to do today, he did not welcome it, but he never asked why bad things happen to good people… he embraces it.”

Many in Corinth doubted Paul’s ability to minister because of his own weaknesses and suffering. Why would God use someone so weak in speech and physical features? Why would God bless him with the ministry of the Gospel and also cause him so many tribulations on his travels? In 2 Corinthians Paul spends much of the letter explaining how God makes His power more obvious through these weaknesses, which is completely contrary to the Corinthian’s perspective, especially when compared to the super-apostles. (2 Corinthians 11:5)

*Hanson, II Corinthians, 34.

Grace and Peace To You

2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians 1:2
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In his commentary on 2 Corinthians Garland says, “The greetings are not ordinary good wishes but blessings that have become a spiritual reality through the death and resurrection of Christ.”

Later on he says, “‘Grace’ is the foundation of their Christian existence and most clearly expresses Paul’s understanding of Christ’s work of salvation which presents us with the undeserved forgiveness of our sins and our unearned acceptance by God (Rom 3:23-24). ‘Peace’ is the effect of God’s action in Christ. It is not simply the absence of hostility under the Pax Romana* but peace that God won through Christ’s death, defeating the supernatural enemies and bringing about reconciliation (Rom 5:1; Eph 2:17; Col 1:20). It covers a person’s physical and spiritual well-being and wholeness, which can only be given by God (see Isa 48:18; Psalm 85:10).”

In the same way when Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” it wasn’t just a way of saying hello or a traditional Jewish greeting.

John 20:19
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

He is truly the bringer of peace.

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 16:33
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

*Pax Romana, Latin for “the Roman peace” (sometimes Pax Augusta), was the long period of relative peace and minimal expansion by military force experienced by the Roman Empire between 27 BC and 180 AD.