Remember, Paul, in the larger context of this letter here, is speaking to believers. This is important, because he is discussing salvation in a way that is largely ignored in Christendom, and seems poorly understood by all except the faithful, and that is sanctification, the act of God imparting His holiness to us through His work and our cooperation.
We should contrast this with justification, the act of God declaring us righteous in the first place. This is why Christ died in our place according to the Gospel. He became human, he lived for between 33 and 34 years as a human, in perfect obedience to God under the Law of Moses, and then deliberately and knowingly gave up that life as a perfect substitutionary sacrifice for us vicariously on the cross. All those big words are chosen and precise in their definition, but the basically mean that Christ died for OUR sins as a substitute (vicariously), atoning for them (propitiation), with God then declaring us righteous in Christ (expiation), which pronounces us as faultless before God (justification). This is a sole work of our triune God, as opposed to sanctification, which God allows His new creations in Christ to learn to CHOOSE to do His will, and instead of simply imputing His righteousness (giving us the righteousness of another, Christ) monergistically (alone by Himself), He imparts His righteousness to our changed natures by teaching us to choose His will and live according to His Word. This is defined as sanctification, the process whereby He makes us holy, and it is said to by synergistic, that is we are allowed by God to participate in the act by our choices, that will move out into our works. However, it is still mostly His work – and none of what we do to become holy is worth two cents if we have not been born again, or saved, or converted, or justified, or redeemed, or regenerated – whatever term you want to choose for justification.
Paul is speaking of sanctification here to believers, and when justification does come up (as it does in 4:15, for example), it is mentioned as happening as a result of Christians that have said yes to sanctification and are choosing to live as God commands. If you read carefully, Paul is using this kind of sanctification as evidence of justification before God and all of His gifts to men, including His own Apostleship. Here is where my review of ground we have already covered begins.
Paul, you will recall, was put out to the extreme, I think to the point where it began to distract him in His service to Christ. After his second visit to Corinth, he was so saddened and deflated that he simply quietly returned to Ephesus. In Ephesus, he wrote the “angry” letter that he sent and then wished he hadn’t. He began to be distracted here, I think – you know, that gnawing thing in your mind and gut that just makes you crazy to know what happened? I wasn’t there, but Paul was one of us – human – and it seems reasonable that he would have human responses.
He was becoming so distracted, he left Ephesus and set out for Troas, where Titus was after his own trip to Corinth. It is entirely reasonable that Paul was after news of what happened with that letter that might have been like a hand grenade in the wrong setting. He didn’t find Titus, so he went looking for him in Macedonia, eventually finding him, and receiving a blessed report that at least a majority of the people there were with Paul and not the false teachers that were calling themselves “super apostles” and attacking Paul’s character.
So what is the first thing Paul chose to confront these “super apostles” with? The idea of suffering, and how that suffering perfects the believer. We talked about how the false teachers were essentially trying to use the gospel as a means of gain, and that’s never good. Paul, on the other hand, would not allow the Corinthians to support him while he was there. We talked about how Paul had gone through real life-threatening trials for the sake of the gospel. Were any of these false apostles ever stoned for preaching his message? Not ever. Paul was. Were any ever beaten with rods for speaking publicly about Christ? No, but Paul was, and he was even given 39 lashes on three different occasions. (One more stoke is a death sentence, if you didn’t know.) Had any of them ever been shipwrecked and lost at sea? Paul was, for a day and a night, for the sake of the work of Jesus on earth. No, beloved, suffering perfects us – if we will cooperate with God and let it.
What we saw was Paul talking about how the Lord had led him in real triumph – but it wasn’t Paul’s triumph, it was Christ’s. He speaks greatly here of his own motives in writing that angry letter, and what that meant to the work, his own state of mind, and the effect it had on the Corinthians. It is a sort of apology in our modern sense, but also an explanation of why he wrote it.
In Chapter 3, we studied the actual connection between the Old and New Testaments, or Covenants. Paul compared them directly. This is a particularly crucial area of study, because if you get the Covenants confused, or worse ignore the one that has gone before, you end up with some really whacked-out ideas on things like tithing, resisting sin, like that. We saw that we live in a new and spiritual reality (more of the now/coming, present/future kingdom stuff we’ve been talking about on and off since we studied Ephesians), and that it is a reality that needs to be intentionally chosen to live in by act of will on our parts. Walking in the Spirit requires that we chooses to set aside all those old acts of the flesh (sins) that will kill us, and instead choose life, being renewed in our minds, and transformed in our characters into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Chapter 4, we saw a need to let God do the work and for us to submit and either cooperate or get out of His way. In his contrasting of the righteous versus the unrighteous, we saw that we can fit into both categories, and in fact that those category differences, the contradictions in our character, not only perfectly describer humanity, but actually give glory to God as we allow Him to work in our lives. We talked about the cost of following God like this, and we saw that it was in fact everything we have and are. Christ exchanged His life for ours. We are no longer our own, and we must live like that matters, by focusing on the unseen, spiritual reality we now find ourselves in. We have not arrived, and we will not arrive until Jesus comes for us personally.
In Chapter 5, we got a look at what our behaviour as servants of God Most High should be, as we looked at the reasoning of Paul and how he was motivated to behave in his own walk and service of Christ the King. I know that this letter to Corinth was Paul’s justification of his ministry to Christ, but the best way I have found to read it is to make personal application, as if I were called to do what Paul was called to do in terms of the gospel. I know I’m not Paul, I’m not an apostle (Capital or Lowercase A), I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet, I’m MAYBE an evangelist, but we are all supposed to be that, and I’m barely a pastor and teacher. I understand that–but did not Paul say we are to be imitators of him as he was an imitator of Christ? He did, back in 1 Corinthians 11:1 (Also 4:6).
With that foundation, Chapter 6 shows us (starting in 5:21) the GOSPEL! Paul does make some contrasts and comparisons as to how the servant of God should conduct his life, but the main thrust I saw in this chapter is the gospel, and our specific response to it. Paul explains that WE are sons and daughters of the living God! As such, we should be responding to the gospel, whether we are already believers or not. After all, the answer to all questions and issues is the risen Lord Jesus Christ, and there really is no other. I’m not saying that to be arrogant so I can feel good about myself. Truthfully, it would make me miserable if any of you ended up in eternal suffering and it was my fault. The time, according to Paul, and according to the Holy Spirit in me, is NOW.
In Chapter 7, Paul is going to get what I used to call in high school [unintelligible] years ago, “Under the Hood.” What we saw was what drives the sanctification of God’s people, given that NOW is the time for salvation, be your need justification or sanctification, and everyone needs both if we are to one day see God. We see this best with Corinth because it was the one church from NT days that just had problems with the influence of the world around them leaking into the church. Remember when we studied 1 Corinthians? The world around them had turned the name of the city into a verb: to Corinthianize–to completely debase or debauch a person, place, or occasion. Scripture is clear that WE need to be Holy, just as our Father in Heaven is holy. Hebrews 12:14 tells us that this holiness is something to be pursued actively and why: “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” That holiness is the evidence to the world that Christ actually keeps His Word and that His sacrifice was sufficient for the sins of all those who will ever believe in Him. That holiness is only found via the Holy Spirit in Christ, and that is what drives the whole thing for the believer.
In Chapter 8, we see the gracious giving spirit that is to characterize all who wish to be in the work of God. In fact, Paul encourages all to abound in that work, specifically of sharing what you have within and even beyond your own ability. Because it is God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit living inside of the believer that is the engine for all of this, we should not be surprised that it is a spirit of generosity and liberality that is displayed by our gracious God through us no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. Ask James Coates and Tim Stephens what that means, the bit about “whatever circumstances.” James Coates has been imprisoned for being a godly pastor. Tim Stephens was imprisoned just because Alberta Health Services and their provincial government want to be able to tell everyone what to wear, where to stand, and what you can and cannot do. And Ontario isn’t much better with one church being fined over $10M! Yes, that’s $10M. You didn’t mishear. Yet, we are to respond to this with an attitude of graciousness and generosity, just like the Lord Jesus did.
In Chapter 9, we can see how that graciousness and generosity will pay dividends to the servants of God who will be willing and faithful to do it. This is NOT saying that if we give, that our “seed giving” will result in a “bigger harvest!” That’s what wolves will tell you to take your money under false pretenses. We will speak directly about that when we get to those verses. So hang in there, Ger has most definitely NOT gone prosperity gospel. Instead, we learn that you should do things because it is what you want, not because someone (including you) coerces you into it via threat or guilt. The lord loves a CHEERFUL giver.
KV18: Whose Commendation Matters to You?
For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends.
1-6: Save Your War Efforts For The Real Enemy
7-11: Don’t View Just The Fleshly – See the Spiritual
12-18: Self-commendation Is Worthless – Christ Must Commend
Nearly everyone I talk to, and everyone here certainly, is familiar with the phrase, Life is a battle. I think you may even have heard me say it, although not always in those words. The world has its phrasing also, when it says things like “how goes the battle” or “fight the good fight,” which actually a quote from the Apostle Paul, though few today seem to know that.
However, it seems lost on the world that the battle is actually real, and is fought not on earthly battlegrounds, but instead in the spiritual realm. Many today would deny that the supernatural exists because it cannot be seen or easily measured (there are some who try). However, the book of Job, which many of you studied with us on Sunday mornings recently where we go for worship, perhaps the earliest book of Scripture written (depends whose word you take, don’t build theology on that), tells us of an unseen reality that we cannot see and for the most part know nothing about, and yet it has profound influence on the world around us and us in particular.
Paul, in the defense of his own ministry as an Apostle, not only knew that, but in this passage is trying to explain that, and what is important for us to accomplish as those who are at least aware of that spiritual and supernatural realm. For those of us that want to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, we do this all to hear His commendation of ourselves. We who serve wish to serve well. For 35 years now, my ear has longed to hear one Man speak one phrase: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The Man is none other than God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This presents a problem for all those that would serve Him, though. All of us know that there is NO POSSIBLE WAY that we deserve that, and yet Paul points out that He is our sufficiency in 2 Corinthians 3:5-6: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.“
Beloved, when we look around in the world, it is highly and sadly ironic that people KNOW they are working for something, but the VAST majority don’t know what it is, and so they pursue careers, love, and family, and those are good things–but they do not provide that instant fulfilment that we all know about and we all seek. Because of that, people turn to other and more drastic and dangerous things to be fulfilled. Drugs, Alcohol, Sex, Possessions (stuff), Conquest (that leads to abusive controlling relationships by the way), all of that, and much more and sometimes, much worse–world domination through conquest–all to try to fill the longing to hear that single phrase from that single Man.
Most of you here know that there are some requirements, the very foundations of faith. The first of those requirements is that you MUST repent, the Greek word metanoia, which means to change your mind about your sin. That starts with admitting that it is sin! And friends, it is SINNERS who commit SIN. And it is that SIN that will condemn you to Hell forever–all when you don’t have to go there. You can TURN from your sins. Ask HIM to forgive you for those sins. Take to yourself the remedy that God Himself provided in the person of God the Son, who became the Man, Jesus Christ. Believe…I mean actually BELIEVE in your heart that God raised Him from the Dead! If you have done that, you have begun a journey that will end in heaven, in the presence of God, surrounded by joy for all eternity. You can’t earn it yourself, but you can believe He earned it and then gave it to you. Do that and be saved from your sin, it’s domination of your life, and its penalty in hell forever!
Or crawl away and die in whatever hole you choose. Because those are your only options, and I speak in truth with no equivocation or hesitation. Think very carefully about the question posed by this chapter this evening. Whose commendation matters to you? Is it your own? Your abusive father? Your employer? Or is it that of the Lord God Himself in the person of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God?
KV18: Whose Commendation Matters to You?
For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends.
Not all commendations carry the same authority and strength. Paul understood what I was trying to explain earlier. He knew that the only commendation that actually matters on that day will be that of Jesus Christ. He either chose you or He didn’t. You will know if He chose you because you RESPONDED to His call. How do we know? Read that Key verse with me. “For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends.”
Just as a side note, this verse in context is refuting the false teachers, those individuals calling themselves “super apostles” that were trying to hijack the Christian church in its infancy. It doesn’t actually say anything about Arminianism and we shouldn’t make it, though it is tempting, isn’t it? After all, we do not choose Him, He chooses us; we have no control over that. John 3 talks about how that new birth is like the wind. You can’t see where it came from, we can see the symptoms of its passing, like feeling the direction, and seeing the leaves move, but we don’t know where it is going, and we certainly cannot control any aspect of it really, though we might harness parts of it. Being born again is like that. And that isn’t a difficult concept, it’s just hard to accept.
However, I can draw on some past experience to help us figure out what this is talking about. For a little over a decade, I was a part of what could best be called a Brethren Assembly, although we weren’t affiliated with the Brethren per se. We knew a bunch of them, and the Open brethren liked us and sometimes came out to our meetings. The Closed brethren were a little more, well, closed. But that’s what happens when you go all in on JND and his error that all church leaders are now corrupt and they were the only true expression of the church on earth. They didn’t like us because WE didn’t go to THEIR meetings. I can explain that very easily though–we didn’t have TIME! We were always at this meeting or that, or at some outreach somewhere down in the market or on Parliament Hill. One of the advantages of living in the Capital, I guess.
No, we were affiliated with a church that was in Fullerton, California. Fullerton is located in Orange County, and is really a suburb of Los Angeles. When I visited there over New Year 1993, I flew in and out of LAX in Los Angeles. Sprained my ankle playing volleyball–severely–so I iced it to get the swelling down, and shoved it in my cowboy boot and went around like that for a week or so. I sprained it on the first day, too. I wasn’t letting anything ruin my vacation. It sucked when I got invited to go to the beach though. I mean, YOU hobble about in one boot. No thanks. I passed.
The man who was quite clearly in charge of that gathering was a man named George. You’ve heard me talk about him before. He wasn’t a heretic, he was an able expositor in his early ministry, and I had heard with a high degree of amazement, many of his early lectures courtesy of audio tapes. As he got older, he got less clear, and it turns out that he had allowed sin to enter into his own life, and was having a torrid affair with a missionary sister who was in Africa. I played tennis with her…she skunked me quite severely, and she was a very dear sister. I won’t name her, and I doubt any of you know her. Sin, you see, always clouds things, and makes things less clear.
But because George was in charge, many people wanted Him to bless their…stuff. They wanted him to approve their hare-brained schemes so that it has “God’s blessing” on them. Brothers gave “ministry” (if you could call it that) and suborned his approval. Everyone wanted George to bless them, their homes, their kids, like that. And when the news of his affair became public knowledge (it was the sister herself who finally found or was divinely given the backbone to stand up to him), the organization blew apart at the seams from all the years of pent-up pressure. All of the brothers that sought his approval were…disappointed. I don’t really have a word to give you the depth of that disappointment. All I can tell you is that they were seeking approval from the wrong source.
You see, God has made some things clear to me through His word, the Bible. I can give my approval on things, but it doesn’t mean squat if He hasn’t given His approval. Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain.” If the Lord isn’t in it, it isn’t worth a plugged nickel, as the saying goes. As we read through the chapter, keep that question in the back of your mind. Whose commendation matters to you? You see, I don’t work for you. Never have, and never will. My messages are designed for an audience of One, capital O. I want them to be pleasing to Him. To reflect His values. To speak to His people. To reach people with His love before they are unreachable because of His great wrath, which is coming, Beloved. Don’t let that wrath find you. Turn to His love and live in in first. Fight for Him. The other side in whatever one of its multitude of forms it comes in, IS NOT WORTH IT. And that’s where we will jump inot the first paragraph.
1-6: Save Your War Efforts For The Real Enemy
I said before that we are at war. What are we at war with? Well, the rest of the world really, which is under the control of the Adversary. And even for the Christian, he has his elements within US, the sin that dwells in us. That thing we fight when it comes up. Or that thing that you kick yourself for the morning after the night before. THAT, in a spiritual and supernatural sense is our real enemy.
Pastor Jordan Hall preached it to a conservative crowd gathered near his home in Eastern Montana–Conservatism will not save you. It is pretty easy to get onto liberals about their baby-killing behaviour, and other ridiculous things they do and believe that are completely contrary to the word of God, but have you thought about that? Conservatism won’t save you either. Why? Because it too is a work of the flesh. It is the SPIRITUAL reality that is important. Let’s look at the text.
1: Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent!
- Before we get into the verse, I should mention that starting here, I think Paul is making references to that angry letter that he wrote to the Corinthians and sent through Titus. We can ascertain from what is said some of the contents of that letter from the text beginning from that chapter, because Paul is addressing what he heard them say about him. So some of this is emphatic, and I believe that is how. I could be corrected here by other good biblical scholars like John MacArthur, or R. C. Sproul, or Steven Lawson, or Justin Peters, or men like them. But I think they all see what I do here, so I don’t think that’s likely. Still, if I am wrong, I would appreciate some corrective on this.
- The opening phrase Paul uses is that he is urging us. That word for “urge” in Greek is parakaleo, that word that means to come alongside to render aid. That is what Paul is doing here. He is advising us strongly, and he is telling us the truth about reality here. In that strong encouragement, he himself is urging by the “meekness” and “gentleness” of Christ. Those are English words that do not always carry the flavour of the original, so we will look at what he is saying. The Greek for “meekness” is prautes, that word for perfect control over power. Just as Jesus said that the “meek” or prautes would inherit the earth, it means those that have the power to act, but choose to moderate their actions through a standard of truth, in this case Christ.
- The word “gentleness” can be confusing here, because it is the original substitute of the NAS translators for the KJV word “meek.” The Greek here is epeikeia, and means kindness, fairness, or even clemency (mercy). Vine tells us that the Bible commentator Matthew Arnold used the term “sweet reasonableness” to translate the word. In fact, when the term appears with prautes, it is said to define clemency, mercy on the convicted criminal. So by THAT mercy on the convict is how we are being urged.
- The next phrase is something else I think Paul is addressing from that angry letter. These so-called “super-apostles” accused Paul of being weak in person but bold in print, as it were. I have seen that–heck, I have BEEN that. But Paul wasn’t. They were seizing on Paul’s observable characters and using them to try to bring this humble man to shame by trying to mock him for his humble character. Beloved, never mistake this–we are supposed to be humble–but it doesn’t mean we don’t have backbone to stand up in the face of abuse to speak for the Lord. My new friend Steve can tell you about that. He shared the gospel with a bunch of transvestites who didn’t appreciate hearing how Christ loved them too, so they put him in the hospital by beating him senseless. And that’s verse one. But Paul isn’t nearly done.
2: I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh.
- In fact, I think Paul is having a little fun at the expense of these guys here. “I ask that when I am present…” As if he had to ask to be the way he was, right? Here is the Servant of the Living God Himself, as humble as they come, being asked to put himself out there and defend his own ministry and his methods, and his behaviour. That’s a bit much, don’t you think? I know I think that.
- But what is he asking? He is asking Corinth to give him a little room. He is asking that he not be forced to use that confidence he has in Christ to oppose the believers in Corinth, because, and I get this from his phrasing here, he fully INTENDS to use that confidence against these false teachers.
- Paul even touches on what the error of these false teachers was, and it is the thing that will betray them every single time, and I suppose it must. They only look at things from the fleshly, or the worldly point of view, of the unregenerate nature. It makes sense, because it is the only perspective the unregenerate person has. You have to be born from above by an act of God to have a real spiritual perspective, and to see God’s truth. Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus, the head teacher in Israel, in John 3? “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”” (John 3:1-3)
- You cannot even SEE it. Sometimes we wonder how people can be so dumb in their approach to life, that’s the reason right there. You need to appreciate the reality of the situation, and it isn’t anywhere but in Christ.
3: For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh,
- Paul has made this point in pretty much every book we have studied. The writer of Hebrews made it like Paul would have, also. I think he best sums it up in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
- Beloved, when you finally become a real believer in Jesus, something changes in you. Except you are still you. Your priorities are pretty much upside down from where they were before, I can tell you that. That’s what happened to me. In 1985, I was an 18-year-old with a secret life. From my parents anyway, at the time. I think my dad figured it out, and I came clean with my mom years later. I was a “good kid” on the outside, but inside, I was into sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. I was what you would today call an incel, involuntarily celibate. But if I could have found a willing partner, that would have changed, boy. I was an alcoholic, though I didn’t know what that actually meant at the time. I was into metal–Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, White Snake, Motorhead, the Scorpions; I liked progressive stuff like Rush, I liked hard rock like AC/DC (before and after Bon Scott), you get the idea. The lowest things on my priority list was church, and prayer, and bible study, and worship, and fellowship with God’s people.
- Then, BOOM. June 18, 1985–my oldest sister’s birthday, and that’s how I remember both–at about 8:02 Central Time, and I can probably tell you to within about 10 square feet where I was sitting, I met Jesus Christ personally. As we got acquainted that evening, in a split second, the guilt and filth of the world rolled off of my shoulders. I was born again, and I was filled with real joy, like I had never had before. I don’t think I actually glowed, but it was what I imagine it must be like. Within 2 minutes, a VERY HOT cleaning girl and I had a meeting just outside the corporate washroom. She offered to have sex with me right then and there, UNPROMPTED. And literally 5 minutes earlier, my answer would have been VERY different than my refusal, which actually stunned her. Interesting point, I can’t remember ever seeing her after that.
- After that, my priorities were literally reversed. Church, Bible study, prayer, fellowship with God’s people, worship–all moved to the top of the list. Down at the bottom but not gone sadly, sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. I still like rock. I’m still challenged by alcohol use, though I haven’t had a drop in over 5 years now. The happy part of this is that I am very happily married and my wife is here usually.
- You see, I was taken out of the realm of the flesh, and put into the realm of Christ. And though we are still here and living on earth for the moment, we live by an entirely different set of spiritual, heavenly, godly rules, which Paul is about to explain.
4: for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.
- Paul begins with a phrase that explains that our weapons are not earth-based, if I could take up a line of thought that way. “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh.” What does he mean by that? They are not physical weapons. We don’t use guns and bombs and torture (ever) to gain ground for the kingdom of God. Instead our weapons are from heaven and powered by God Himself. They are therefore powerful to destroy fortresses, but not in the classic understanding at that time of the destruction of a fortress. Paul tells us what we are supposed to be assaulting with our new, powerful, spiritual weaponry.
5: We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
- We are supposed to be destroying speculations…did you get that? Vain thoughts and ideas that would oppose themselves against the truth of the Most High God Yahweh! Everything that raises itself up against the knowledge of God! And where is this battle ground? I would propose that battleground is within ourselves first and foremost. We are to take every thought captive. Now–can I take your thoughts captive? No, they are YOUR thoughts. YOU must take them captive–to the obedience of Christ. Wait–what? What does that mean? Simply pit, you obey Christ in your thoughts, which is a much tougher proposition than it sounds. Pursue that, Beloved, and you will FILL your time with goodness, and ultimately joy THROUGH the hard times that will come.
6: and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.
- Here Paul turns a corner with a kind of veiled threat. There will be a punishment coming to all those that would disobey the idea of taking their own thoughts captive for the truth. Incidentally, this can be seen as the war on false ideologies and religions that we have always faced. Think about what Paul is doing here–he is defending his ministry—and he is declaring that he doesn’t just play defense. However, he had the grace and wisdom to wait until each person in the gathering at Corinth declared their allegiance, either to God or these false teachers.
- Paul would have grace for all those that saw the truth and turned toward it and followed Christ, because those were the ones that Christ had chosen from the foundation of the world. However, those individuals that taught the falsehoods or held to their lies would find a face-to-face opponent that was not only capable of great boldness and courage in this battle, but a Holy Spirit Empowered Apostle of Jesus Christ, and ready to exercise the punishment of the Messiah upon all those that would oppose Him in reality. God forbid we should be in THAT number.
You see, the real enemy wasn’t the people that stood with these so-called super-apostles, or even these false teachers themselves. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 who they are, when he says in verse 12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” It isn’t the people, although they are caught in the trap of the enemy. It is the spiritual forces behind them. I personally believe this is why no violence, as satisfying as it may be, is acceptable. They WILL put us down. But that comes with the territory if you want to serve Christ. There is clearly more in play than just what we see, and that moves us into the next paragraph.
7-11: Don’t View Just The Fleshly – See the Spiritual
The book of Job, that we mentioned a bit earlier, gives us in the first chapter a look at a reality that none of us can see. Those that have seen into it (and I can think of a few, and you know their names, they appear in book titles in the Bible) are forever changed. Starting with what Job saw, and then Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, John, and ALL of the others, we see that their heavenly vision changed them. It steeled their soul against all the schemes of the devil. Now I’m NOT saying we need to seek that kind of experience, but instead, as we have been seeing in 1 John on Sundays, believe their EYEWITNESS accounts.
Beloved, there is more than we can naturally see with our eyes or perceive with our other senses. In many senses, this is what drives the earnest seeking I have experienced in the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements, which I lump into one thing and call Charismania. Their mistake is to seek after the kinds of experiences that were reserved for those whom God chose to give them. They clearly are not for everyone, or everyone would be having them. If I had the gift of healing directly from God today, the veery first place I would go is the CHEO oncology ward, Beloved! But that isn’t where they go, because the search is in error, and is done with wrong motives. They want the glory. “Hey, look what I can do…” No, Beloved, only God should get the glory for His works. We need to see behind what is happening in front of us and see what is actually happening in the spiritual reality that is somehow interconnected with our own reality. That will require help from the Holy Spirit–who God just happened to have sent to live inside of us! Not so we could have revelations, though God could choose I suppose to do that, but so that we could explain the ones that He gave the Apostles that they wrote down for us! Let’s see what I’m talking about.
7: You are looking at things as they are outwardly. If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we.
- Paul here is chiding the Corinthians for looking at only the outward reality in front of them. That is frankly easy to do. Ask my wife when she tells me something and I’m watching something on TV, either a show or videos from guys like Chris Rosebrough, Justin Peters, Phil Johnson, or others like that.
- How about YOU, beloved? What is that YOU are looking at? Are you seeing the cranky old man screaming at the Pastor in the parking lot after worship? Or are you able to see that something else is causing that level of expression? Beloved, that is a very difficult lesson to learn, because the pain you have can prevent you from seeing things. I know, I’ve gone through a lot of that. You have to take the time to face and process the pain you have been through before you can do this sometimes. And the enemy behind the person is going to make that extremely difficult for you.
- Paul has some advise for us here. If you know you are Christ’s, that you belong to Him, then you need to quietly reflect on this. Paul says to “let him consider this again within [your]self…”. I think it’s okay to make this change here. Put yourself in the shoes of the Corinthians as if Paul was writing this letter to you. Because although Paul was not, the Holy Spirit through Paul WAS writing it to us. What is God Himself asking us through Paul to consider?
- That just as they belong to Christ, so do Paul and all of his co-labourers. And that very same God that we all belong to is who sent Paul on this mission. He caused Paul to write that angry letter that caused the Corinthians to repent. He caused the Corinthians to repent. He caused Paul to write this letter. He is causing US to read it for this study. He is working in their life, to be sure, and He is also working in YOURS, wherever you may be. And God works through MEANS–that would be Paul to the Corinthians–and me in your case at this very moment. That is humbling for me, by the way. I mean, who am I? I’m not asking you to answer that. I already know the answer. My point is that it is God who is behind EVERYTHING that happens to you and in your life. And don’t ask me how, but He even uses our BAD choices to gain glory for Himself. Because it is not and never should be about us–it is and always has been about Him.
8: For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame,
- Paul has opened a statement here, and it concludes in the next verse. He is talking about the authority that he gained from God. And in a parenthetical comment, set out here by the commas used by the translators, He gives the REASON he was given this authority from God. It is to be used for building you up, and NOT for tearing you down. Paul was a church builder. Not a church-wrecker! If Paul is wrecking a “church” that you are a part of, it is because you are not part of a real church, Beloved!
- The actual statement without the parentheses reads, “For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, I will not be put to shame…” This is the statement he concludes in the next verse. Please notice, this verse ends with a comma. That means the statement is not finished.
9: for I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters.
- Paul is saying that he had no intention of terrifying them with the angry letter that he wrote. We do not have the actual contents of that letter, but I think we can discern some of its contents from what we have already read this evening. I made note of them privately, but I will now share what we know so far:
- Point 1: They accused Paul of not rendering practical aid. (v.1). Paul was too airy-fairy in the wrong ways to help the growth of the individuals within Corinth. After all, he was only an Apostle…we’re Super Apostles…like that.
- Point 2: They accused Paul of being timid and of low estate in person, and only bold in his letters. (v.1). I can hear these false teachers in my mind. “I mean, look at him…he’s clearly seen better days. He’s of such low estate, he cannot possibly have the ability to carry on intelligent discourse. Especially not with us, the super apostles…
- Point 3: They called Paul a coward. I’m pretty sure that didn’t sit well with Paul. I know it wouldn’t with me. (v.2). This kind of amazes me a bit. My choice for a man that calmly faced down a crowd that meant to imprison him or worse in Ephesus cannot possibly considered a coward. Nor facing 39 strokes of the lash on three separate occasions, being shipwrecked, spending a day and a night in the deep, AND THEN WENT BACK FOR MORE…No, Paul was NO coward.
- Point 4: If you aren’t in line with the gospel, that is the good news, then you aren’t a Christian. No ifs, no ands, no buts, no quids-pro-quo, no exceptions. It seems clear these false teachers were not Christians. (v.2). And that’s just what I noticed on the way through. It would make a great topic of private study, so there are some things to whet your appetite.
- Now, if you don’t think this is what Paul is talking about, then you go ahead and think whatever it is you think, but here is WHY I think that–the next verse.
10: For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.”
- Hear what they are saying about Paul. “Oh sure, he writes well, but look at him! He’s a bent up and broken old man that couldn’t stand up for himself in a spitting contest. He has a horrible accent! He’s uneducated! He has no experience in real logic and debate!” You can see that they didn’t have a very high opinion of Paul, and they engaged in speculation about his background from his trade (tent-making) and his appearance (somewhat the worse for wear because of the physical punishment of his journeys and ministry). And Paul knew it–and is about to address it.
11: Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present.
- Paul is basically saying something like, “Hey! You! Yeah, you with the face! Did you ever think that if I can write a letter like that. Then I might actually be able to speak like I write and defend myself and my ministry when it is necessary? Buddy, you just made it necessary.”
This is Paul actually looking at the Spiritual reality and contrasting it with the input these guys got from just their senses, and all of the vain imaginations that comes from all that. And what is Paul doing? He is pointing out that they are missing a HUGE amount of information because they have the wrong source of information. It is an argument from practicality, Beloved. Do what is going to line up with truth, not just looking at what you can see, because there is ALWAYS more to the picture–otherwise it will do what it did with these so-called “super apostles”–bite them in the seat of their pants. What they thought was irrelevant. And Paul is about to explain why.
12-18: Self-commendation Is Worthless – Christ Must Commend
When you sit back to admire yourself, and let’s face it we all do this, you are engaging in stupid and useless activity. This is something I know about from the business world, especially sales. The Salesman always has to build himself up. He has to appear at least to have confidence before his clients or customers so that they will believe he is competent and knowledgeable. Most sales guys don’t get this, and spend no time learning about the product they are selling, and of those who do, they only do it to describe the features and benefits of how the product will work for the customer. This is so they can “sell” the customer the product or service. There was a commercial that really hit this one on the head, and I speak from more than 30 years of experience in a number of different kinds of sales. It’s the commercial where a consumer is trying to tell a clearly cardboard cutout of a salesman with a prerecorded set of responses how he would like to try out the product, whatever it was. As the corporate consumer is explaining what he needs, the recording cuts him off and says, “Right! 500 it is!” And I have actually watched Christians do the same thing with the gospel! Beloved, it’s painful! And worse, I think I’ve done it.
All of that to say, the sales guy assumed the product commended itself. It clearly didn’t, and it makes my point here–commending ourselves is absolutely worthless. Let’s get into the text and see what’s what.
12: For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.
- One thing is for sure: Paul didn’t think very much of the assumption the sales guy took. Nor did he think much of the attitudes of the so-called super apostles or their “product.” These false teachers had done what they all do–they had built themselves up (yes, I could have said puffed themselves up, I’m trying to be kind and trying to make a point) to the job, at least verbally to the people in Corinth. They were likely persuasive. It is the same today. Do you think guys like Benny Hinn or Kenneth Copeland aren’t persuasive? Maybe less so these days, but what about Steven Furtick, and his “ilk?” He’s cut from the same cloth, and is the newer, faster, better model (apparently). In fact, Furtick has recently replaced Copeland on TBN, the TV home of all forms of Charismaniac heresy, and you all know I don’t use that H-word without thinking about it. So what was their methodology?
- They basically had a popularity contest among themselves, where they would visit each other’s “ministry times” and gatherings, and build themselves up while building the other ones up. They do it today, beloved! And boy, do they commend themselves. And Paul says that when they do this, and commend themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding. I mean, it’s kind of hard to do this in the shallow end of the pool, isn’t it? All those sharks in a kiddie pool…
13: But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you.
- Paul is essentially saying that he knows (as should we) his place. He isn’t going outside of where he knows he is okay to go, and that is the sphere that God Himself “apportioned” to us. The Greek has the sense of the portion that was divided and assigned to him by God [merizo]. That portion apparently reached to the Corinthians, and it even reached beyond Paul’s wildest imaginations because it reaches to us almost 2000 years after he wrote the letter.
14: For we are not overextending ourselves, as if we did not reach to you, for we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ;
- Paul here is recounting history for the Corinthians (and thankfully us so we know how it played out). Paul knew how history happened because he was THERE, and he somehow thought it useful to remind the Corinthians of just how they heard the gospel for the first time. Hint, it wasn’t through these so-called “super apostles.” No, Paul was the first one there, and he knew it.
15: not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you,
- This to me is a brilliant tactical move in the art of debating. Paul is subtly pointing out what these false teachers were doing by telling Corinth that he ISN’T doing it. It’s a well-known advertising technique, too. You know those negative political attack ads that we all hate? Those are a negative spin on what Paul is doing here.
- Paul is saying that he isn’t trying to take advantage of other men’s labours. He was the first one to bring the gospel, and he himself had planted the church in Corinth, and from the rest of the verse, and from what came before, he did this for the building up of the Corinthians, not their tearing down, spiritually or financially, or otherwise.
- Also, this is the beginning of a statement that ends the verse with a comma, so we need to move on to the next verse for context, and like all of Paul’s other statements (if you haven’t already noticed), they are ALWAYS in context of the work that God gave him to do while he was here.
16: so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another.
- Paul’s ultimate goal was to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God, that Jesus died so that people could enter it, and rose again to prove it, as far as he could, even to the ends of the earth. He isn’t interested in competing with other messages. He’s just there to spread the true message.
- I’m not sure what that says to those who want to debate atheists or other faiths. I suppose if one were using it to preach the gospel and win people, that would be okay, even if your actual opponent was trying to counter you…because as we all know from Romans 1:16, the gospel is the power of God that results in salvation for any who will believe, and no Atheist, or member of any other religious group, can stop the call of God to the hearts of His people when it is their time to come to Him. Notice I’m not saying that everyone will be saved. We already know that because not everyone has been saved through history. Or are Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, and Mao all in a gospel quartet singing in Heaven now? Somehow I doubt that, knowing the histories of all those men, how they lived, and how they died, and what it is they all stood for. It wasn’t Christ, I can safely say that.
- No, Paul was sent to preach the gospel to everyone. Those who God calls at those specific times will respond. Sometimes, it is even your opponent. We watched a good movie at our Sunday Watch party a couple of weeks ago like that. It was a Kevin Sorbo movie called “Let There Be Light.” Actually, his whole family is in it, but I don’t want to give anything away. Apparently that broadcast went horribly sideways, and I know why, it was a thing I did that I shouldn’t do while broadcasting on twitch. Like upload a video to YouTube. Oy. We’ll be watching that movie again this coming Sunday at 3 Eastern on Twitch if you’re interested. Kevin Sorbo’s character starts out as the bad guy. It’s an interesting thing that happens, too. Come Sunday, you’ll see.
- Paul wasn’t there to take advantage of what others had done. He was there to spread the gospel, which was brand new to most of the world at that point. I think it still is today because every generation still needs to be reached…all of it…and we, lik Paul, are its ambassadors. Moving on.
17: But HE WHO BOASTS IS TO BOAST IN THE LORD.
- And even for all of this great gospel work, Paul knew, and so should we (because he’s quoting the reason why from the Old Testament), we have nothing to brag about. We are doulos Iesou Christou, servants [really, slaves] of Jesus Christ. It is really Him doing the work through us.
- This is a quote from Jeremiah 9:24. There is something you MUST know here, or you might get lost in the details. Let’s read the verse and then I will explain. “but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD.” The immediate context of this verse in Jeremiah is about not boasting in your stuff or your own abilities.
- Now–Paul HAS used it in that context, but under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has distilled it down to its most basic applied meaning here. The principle that is being demonstrated here is that the New Testament writer can use the Old Testament Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to make his point. He doesn’t even have to quote it word-for-word when he does it, as long as he is using it in context. Paul is, if you understand English. Paul is saying, “I did all this myself, not these blowhards. But I’m still not taking the credit for it because I know that I may have been the vessel used to do these things, but it is really Him in me acting out His own will as I yield my will to His.” Or something like that…I don’t have enough skill to make the application of language that this needs, and that’s saying something…but the thought comes from Galatians 2:20, which says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” And that should be true for ALL believers right down to present day. If it isn’t true for you, you may well ask yourself, “Why not?” Paul nonetheless knew that it wasn’t his job to do anything but what the Lord had given him to do, and bragging about it was in fact useless. Why? Last verse.
18: For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends.
- Approval does not come from yourself. Isn’t that backwards to what the world teaches you? I know everything I’ve ever heard from every kind of sales training from every sales trainer there is, up to and including Zig Ziglar (who I think was an actual Christian), tell you that you have to have a high degree of self-confidence. You have to, in one sense of the word, approve yourself. I agree about the positive image of self, but not the way they pushed in onto me.
- You need to see yourself as God sees you in reality. If you are doing His work like He askes all of His sons and daughters, then God views you as His own dear child. If you aren’t, then He is viewing you as a sinner, and His wrath is waiting for you. It doesn’t have to be like that, though. You can turn in repentance and faith to Christ, who paid the price for your sins, and live for Him and not yourself.
- But that isn’t really Paul’s point here, He is simply saying that if you’re measuring yourself with yourself so that you can always feel like a winner, you’re not living in reality, Beloved. It isn’t your self-commendation that is important. It isn’t even the nauseating rewards of your peers, who love to offer the hypocritical awards they do so they can have you do the same for them in return. Leftists (the bad ones, not the legitimate liberal thinkers who actually have a real and important place on the real political spectrum) are really like that. Don’t be like that. Today’s leftists are more interested in world domination and thought control by the moving of the Overton Window to the left. If you know what I mean, great, if not, we can talk after the study.
- So if your own self-approval doesn’t work because it isn’t legitimate, then if follows that there must be a commendation that does matter. I know I’ve talked about this before, but I find myself in the same spot yet again. Let me put it like this, Beloved.
- As one of your pastors, especially as one called to speak for God from the Sacred Desk, the pulpit, you have to realize that I do not work for you. I work very hard on what I say because I am speaking the word of God by the will of God to the people that God wants to hear His words. If you don’t like what I say, you will have to take that up with Him. I have been told that my sermons are too intellectual on occasion. Beloved, that is because GOD is trying to engage your MIND. And I work very hard at saying what I say in an understandable fashion.
- Others have said that I refer to the Greek and Hebrew too often. You can tell I’m in an evangelical church–they claim Christ but don’t care anything about the languages their probably neglected Scriptures were written in. You know, I know a Lutheran pastor, and from him I learned that to even BE a pastor in his synod, you must have the ability to read and speak Hebrew and Greek. I don’t really have Greek, though my brain can sort it out with the help of a Lexicon. Hebrew though? You may as well be speaking gibberish to me. I’m just beginning to get to that, though my concentration at this point has been on the New Testament. Why? Because those are the primary languages in which our Bible was written! If we can’t see what was actually said by the actual writer in the language of the day, in the historical context of what was being said and to whom, then we have NO hope of truly comprehending the faith as it was once delivered to the saints.
- Others have said that sometimes, I offend them when I say certain things. We won’t go into those here because I don’t want to get kicked off Twitch, but from that statement, you can figure out what they were. All I can say to those who are offended by that is well, REPENT! God says that stuff is sin, no matter what you think of what He says, He still says it. And you just TRY to censor HIM. You will only manage that for so long, you will see. Which leads me to something I MUST say.
- Beloved, I do not work for you. Nothing I say is designed in itself to please you, though it is designed to feed your soul, and to build you up in the faith, whether that is to introduce it to you for the first time, or to chide you for not holding to what you should know as sound doctrine after decades of naming the name of Christ. You cannot buy me with praise, or favours, or money. You cannot threaten me, either, with the withdrawal of affection or friendship, or with the cancellation of what pittance I do get for teaching you as your pastor. Why? Because I. Do. Not. Work. For. You.
- I work for Him, my God, my Lord, my Saviour, my Commander-in-Chief. And any flattery you hope to use to buy my favour…I see it for what it is, and I will not invest in it. I won’t go so far as John the Baptist did and call you all sons of snakes, I like my head where it is, but if that is your aim, go ply your hypocrisy elsewhere. I am doulos Iesou Christou. I don’t work for you. I work for Him.
- All of my words are designed first and foremost to glorify HIM by the speaking of HIS TRUTH. And you should know that I am not paid money for this. I do this all to please Him. And it is HIS commendation that really matters to all those that are truly His servants. If you want a yes-man, look elsewhere. If you want to hear the truth, and be a good person according to God’s standard, and also serve the Creator of the Universe, then you are welcome here.
I’m sorry if it seems like I was unloading there, but I really wasn’t. I am just trying to tell you the truth, like I always am, because the lies are destructive and dangerous. It is the TRUTH that sets us all free. The reason that any true servant of Christ will tell you that he serves the Lord Christ for is one simple phrase that we all long to hear, directly from Him: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” It will mean that we accomplished what He gave us to do.
And that’s what I saw in the chapter.