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.
In chapter 10, we saw that it isn’t our own opinion or commendation of ourselves that matters. In fact, our own opinion of ourselves is often (most often, VERY most often) skewed because we cannot make spiritual evaluation of ourselves unless we have been made by Christ to be born again to that new and living hope. It is only His opinion, and His commendation that is worth anything at all. In fact, I remember closing with a message that I do not work for YOU. I work for Him, in the hope that someday, I will be able to hear those wonderful words, “well done” directly from His lips. I haven’t been a good servant to this point, but I am certainly going to attempt to make up for lost time.
Last time, in the first half of chapter 11, Paul entertained the idea of being led astray from what he called the “simplicity” of Christ. We considered that there were more than one narrative of reality that one could give ear to, and why not all narratives are good to believe and follow, because some come from the enemy, that is, an evil that is so polluted and whose only goal is to see our destruction, that would be counter to any benefit we would receive. We even briefly considered how this has been going on in the church through this “ecumenical” movement that tries to tell us that all belief is the same. The belief may be the same, but in what source of faith? I cited some personal examples of this, also.
That brought us to the second half of 2 Corinthians 11, from verses 16 through 33. Paul establishes once and for all the goalposts that the false teachers are forever trying to move as they redefine the words of the gospel, attack Paul’s character and abilities, and claim to score victory over the truth. Well, Paul actually condescends to play their game for a moment, but only in a limited sense. He has to tell us he’s doing it for his own clarity, in fact. The techniques I used in debating during high school are well employed by Paul here, and he makes the case that these guys are simply blowing smoke through their own horn, and their bragging has nothing to do with God, or Faith, or Salvation in Christ alone.
That brings us to the first part of chapter 12, from verses 1 to 13. I broke the text down like so:
KV11: Have a Proper View of Yourself
1-6: Do Not Look for More than Reality Provides
7-10: Rest in God’s Grace in the Face of the Enemy
11-13: Do Not Manufacture Harms from God’s Servants
In this day and age, it is all about marketing yourself. The pressure upon an individual to talk themselves up and make a mountain out or a molehill of a man is beyond any other time in history. One of the reasons that I remain relatively unsuccessful in this job market is that I refuse to play that game. “What is your greatest strength,” the job interviewer will ask. “I am not a fool, and I am more than competent for this employment,” is my reply. The follow-up question is inevitably and foolishly, “What is your greatest weakness?” My tailor-made answer to that, whether they get the irony or not (and most do) is: “I do not suffer fools gladly.” Most of them get that I just honestly called them a fool for asking such a stupid and non-qualifying question. That’s like asking a man when his last bowel movement was. Other than being disgustingly too much information, it bears no relevance to the situation. And frankly, I wouldn’t want to work in a place with such morons for interviewers, as if they were the only ones doing the interviewing. You can see I don’t get a lot of call-backs, but that is because I have already decided I don’t want to work there.
I actually discovered this principle when two sales managers were interviewing me for a tele-sales job. The fellow that I ended up working for knew talent, and he was a cagey interviewer. They played classic good-cop/bad-cop tactics. I knew they were doing it. After about two minutes, I think they knew I knew. And then the fellow asking the good-cop questions said, “Where do you want to be in five years?” The other fellow leaned in to observe my reaction to the question, but he didn’t have to wait long. I simply said, “I want YOUR job.” I didn’t even skip a beat. At that point, they both applauded, and I was made an offer a couple days later. That was the second of 4 interviews, by the way. The head of HR interviewed me, as did the VP of Sales. It was the VP who made the offer after a simple nod from HR. And there wasn’t a dud employee in the entire sales department.
Why? Because they had a realistic view of people. A lot of people can tell you they are the best in their given field, but very few of them actually are. You have to use what amounts to a level of discernment to sort out what is accurate and true from all the chicanery that is out there. That is a basic natural example of how we need to discern what is true and spiritual from what is, well, not. And we should be doing this…you guessed it…with respect to ourselves. There is nothing sadder than a guy that pushes all kinds of crazy about himself and then starts to believe his own propaganda. We have plenty of examples of that, so we’ll leave that to your imagination.
Beloved, we have to have a proper view of ourselves in reality, and not the inflated view the world expects from us, because that’s just a bunch of nonsense.
KV11: Have a Proper View of Yourself
I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody.
Paul here is chiding the Corinthians for not believing in him, but in doing so, he is displaying a proper and truthful view of himself before God, and that is what we are talking about here. If this view is out of yourself is out of line with reality, then you have bigger issues than just occasionally insulting the intelligence of your friends. You will always place a higher valuation on yourself than is warranted if you ignore the spiritual reality to which God has given us access.
Beloved, this means that it is CRITICAL to know the truth and let it set us free in Christ. Any other avenue will end in disaster for you, and in fairly dramatic fashion, and not always just for you. Let’s see what Paul means.
1-6: Do Not Look for More than Reality Provides
I started this study with a personal account of a sales job that I held from 2004 to 2010, and I used it as a personal example of what I mean when we talk about respecting reality. At risk of making this a shaggy dog story, there was no embellishment to that story, and I left out a lot of detail, some of it really entertaining, some of it illustrative, but none of it relevant to the subject matter. I used what I had to in order to make my point, and Paul is about to engage in the same process.
However, Paul’s point is far deeper than mine ever could be, and it too was based in reality without embellishment, which we are all fond of doing, whether we realize it or not. In any given presentation of data, we will always give the one most beneficial to us, especially if the news is bad, so to speak. This is a tendency of the natural man, and so must be mortified like any other sin. We call this one vainglory in old language, or we could call it bragging or boasting, which is what Paul called it in Greek with the word kauchaomai. The boast itself isn’t the sin, Paul engages in some, but it IS a sin to believe your own press and disassociate from reality. Paul isn’t fond, from his language here, of making commercials advertising how righteous he was. There was no virtue-signaling here. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Let’s look at the text and see what Paul is saying.
1: Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.
- Here, we need to remind ourselves that context is important. Paul has just finished talking about how he wasn’t lying about his escape from Damascus immediately after his conversion to Christianity. Paul as much as says here that boasting isn’t by itself a sin, but it really has no point or value for the most part. Those commercials that we hear from a member of the congregation about the work they have done “for Christ?” Virtue-signaling nonsense that is divorced from reality.
- Nevertheless, Paul is going to do so. Why would such a man as Paul brag? As we have seen over and over, he does it to make a point, and that point is never how much of a servant of Christ he is. No real servant of God does this, and it probably explains why real servants of God dislike the practice and try to avoid those who do this. Paul say here he is going to go on to “visions,” which is a reference to the miraculous things like John saw and described in his letter to the churches about the Revelation of Jesus Christ. What Paul calls “revelations” is what I believe is reference to things that the Lord Jesus directly spoke to Paul or gave him miraculous wisdom and understanding of in the world to do his job as the Apostle to the Gentiles.
2: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven.
- Paul here starts speaking in the third person, but not because he knew the man…but because he WAS the man. You can read some of this in Acts 9, but again, Luke left out some details, like we all do. We didn’t need to know. It’s possible that LUKE didn’t need to know, and so Paul didn’t say. And from the text, it looks like Paul himself wasn’t entirely sure.
- Paul couldn’t say for sure whether he was translated physically or not, but he did know where he was caught away to. “The Third Heaven.” I’ll try to explain the concept as the ancients explained it. The first heaven is where the birds of the air fly. That’s the atmosphere in modern terms. The second heaven is where the stars are, so outer space today. The third heaven is where God is, and the angels serve. It is a spiritual place, not just physical like the others. Dimensional travel may have been involved. But we don’t know that for sure. Neither did Paul, and he made sure not to embellish.
3: And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—
- Paul is very carful to say that although HE doesn’t know, that GOD knows. That’s kind of the important part of this verse. Beloved, we don’t always know. Pick your subject matter. We don’t always get to know. But no matter how much or how little WE know, GOD ALWAYS knows. In fact, there has never been a day where He didn’t know everything about everything. That’s the meaning of omniscient – “all-knowing.”
4: was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.
- Paul is telling us that that man (himself) was caught up to “Paradise.” Paradise comes from an old Persian word, as it turns out, and referred to the well-watered game preserves of the kings of the era, and the word passed into Greek from there. It was used by the translators of the Septuagint to translate the Garden of Eden, and here Paul is using it to refer to the third heaven, which we already know is outside out natural realm of creation.
- We know NOTHING about that place from Paul, other than the word “Paradise,” except that he heard words that he was for some reason not able to express. Whether you believe that this was a heavenly language (unlikely, for reasons we covered when we looked at 1 Corinthians, especially chapters 12 through 14), or whether it was forbidden intelligence so as not to give the enemy information (maybe, but God is also all-powerful, so I doubt that), or some other reason, Paul tells us that he was not permitted to speak about it, and by the language use here, neither would any other man be permitted.
- Whatever you believe about the words that were spoken, no one but Paul knew what they were, and if you want to make stuff up, you are adding words to Scripture, and that’s a very bad thing to do, according to Revelation 22:18. “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book…”
5: On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses.
- Paul here, in my opinion, but I don’t think it’s just mine, is relying in the reader or listener to realize he is talking about himself. That strongly held opinion (Gk. Pistis) I have leads me to think Paul is saying, look, I’ve had some really noteworthy things happen to me, and if I could tell it all to you, I would, but not because I am boasting. I will only boast in my weaknesses, because that is where God shows His strength in me.
6: For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me.
- What Paul is saying here when I read the English is that If Paul isn’t wanting to be a braggart, he is not being foolish, but if he does engage in what seems like bragging, he is simply speaking the truth from the realm of his own personal experiences with Christ. However, because of keeping peoples’ views of him realistic, he refrains from speaking about these experiences.
- Fortunately, we have a modern-day example of the kind of nonsense that Paul is speaking about in the current Charismatic movement, our own modern-day Montanists. Listen quietly to their conversations, or worse and more dangerously, listen to their leaders go on and on. They all talk about how they healed so and so or they cast out a demon from someone else. First, if they healed like Benny Hinn heals, they didn’t heal anyone. Second, Jude calls that “reviling angelic majesties,” and calls people who do that “unreasoning beasts” in Greek. Let’s not be those kinds of people. I know before Christ found me and saved me (and for some time after) I was one of those. I still am at times, regardless of what you may see.
The idea here, especially if you are presenting yourself as a Christian, is to present yourself authentically. Too many of us put on airs and try to make ourselves to be more important than we are. We have to remember that it is CHRIST that redeemed us, not we that found and submitted to Him. We were enemies of God, and we didn’t even know how to START looking. The statement, “When I came to Christ,” makes you sound self-important and vain. Stop that. He found you, not the other way around. The Father drew you, not you went out on some holy crusade and found Him. We love God BECAUSE. God loves because it is who He is. Stop making ads about how good you are and fear Him. He is the One that did all the work, after all. It is only by His grace to us that we have any standing at all. And we are to rest in that, which brings us to our next thought unit.
7-10: Rest in God’s Grace in the Face of the Enemy
That resting in God’s grace is for a reason, and I know this isn’t how I normally bring it up, but this is how Paul brought it up. Paul says that grace in which we stand has a reason–so that we can stand in the face of an enemy that hates us and wants to see us utterly destroyed.
Okay, I hear the morons in the middle row on the left asking what enemy. That same serpent from the garden, who is in other places called a dragon, and a roaring lion wandering around to find prey to eat. Don’t let that be you. That enemy. I suspect that most of you know that I am speaking of the Satan, the accuser of the Brethren. He is THE Satan because that isn’t his name, it is his title, and I’m just pointing that out if you didn’t know. His actual name is Lucifer, or if you like, “The Light Bringer.” I understand from the Scriptures that he is a creature of surpassing beauty, and that when he was told that Men were going to replace him in his duties and rule over him, he rebelled against God, making as his governing statements the so-called five “I Wills” of Isaiah 14.
THAT Enemy. Beloved, He hates us. He has hated us from the beginning, and that hatred is one that would see every living soul destroyed or suffering for eternity failing that. And the ONLY way we can stand in the face of that rage is by the grace of God that He gives us as a result of His Son’s death on a Roman cross. Let’s get into the text.
7: Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!
- You know, this verse caused no end of debate when I was a younger Christian. The discussion was always what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was. Some posited that he was sickly, but that doesn’t really fit the narrative of Acts, so it was always quickly discarded. Some posited (like myself) that he had poor eyesight as a result of his Damascus road conversion and subsequent experiences. But as I eventually realized, Ananias healed him right there in Damascus of his blindness. Others theorized in the same vein that it was all the beatings that he took, and that actually does make a certain logical sense–but it is really none of that. The text tells us what it was.
- The key to understanding this is that the word for “messenger” is the Greek word aggelos, the same word used for ANGEL. This is literally a servant of Satan sent to irritate Paul so that He would have to rely upon the Lord!
- That has some implications, my friends! If they would bother Paul like this, then we must expect the same. Paul is arguably the greatest New Testament Apostle of Christ, and he did not escape the same kind of sifting that this Satan demanded of Peter. How shall we escape? The bottom line is that we will not. He will sift each one of us. But this is allowed, according to Paul, that we will not rely on or glorify ourselves. We know that the commercials that we make about ourselves are untrue, so we don’t make them. Do you at least begin to get that?
8: Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.
- Now, this brings up a bit of an argument I have had for some time with our modern Montanists, the Charismatics that run around telling everyone that we need to claim our identity in Christ and speak that into existence with prayer and commanding the enemy to depart. You already know what I think of reviling angelic majesties, that it’s a wrong-headed and bad idea, and you know I’m getting that from Jude.
- Here, Paul tells us that HE prayed about it too. He didn’t denounce it, or “take authority” or other such nonsense. He prayed! He IMPLORED! The Greek word for that you ask? Parakaleo. He asked the Lord to come alongside him for aid! And that is ALWAYS okay. Just be prepared for the Lord to answer you like He answered Paul.
9: And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
- Our Lord Jesus Christ told Paul that His grace that He provided was sufficient for the task of dealing with this Satanic messenger. Why did the Lord say that? Because the Lord has ordained that we should be perfected by HIS strength in our own weaknesses. Beloved, I see this every day in my own life, and praise God, I sometimes even get to see it in yours! So you know what? I’m going to boast like Paul for a moment. I am no pastor or teacher. And yet, God makes me to stand. I serve Him by caring for you, and He is the motivation and power and authority behind all of it. In the natural, I have no affinity with you, and the natural affinity I do have has limits based on my own ability (lack, really) to tolerate you. And in Christ, I love you all, and have your best interests at heart especially when you don’t. That’s how I absolutely know that Christ is absolutely living in me and doing the work…because I cannot, no matter how hard I try. And that goes double for bible study preparation.
10: Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
- Because of that, barring a physical lack of ability to prepare, which I, not to say YOU, am (are) all too familiar with, I have something to share at the Bible study. I have the ability to sit (most of the time) through the Monday prayer time. We have a Friday book study. We have a Sunday Movie Party. Like that. But more than that, like Paul, I have those physical issues I have to deal with, and the Lord Jesus gives me His grace to live with it. Some of you are aware that I have had some of my oldest friends call me out because of my commitment to Christ, and insult me, not to say the Spirit of Grace, with their nonsense, which is a sad, and for me, frightening thing. I can remember a night about 36 years ago when we were all gathered around my kitchen table in my boyhood home and I tried to share Christ with all of them. I was new, I didn’t do very well. But it hurts to know that some of these men are in danger of eternal suffering in hell. I grew up with these guys. That’s distress enough, I could say a ton about my own family situation, people that are false friends, false brethren, people who deliberately (or not) place obstacles in the way on me. I could tell you all about that for a few hours, and that’s just current events. But I won’t, because Christ has made His grace available to me, and made me content with that–because like Paul, when I am at my weakest, Christ takes over and I can stand strong, because He makes me to stand.
And let me be absolutely crystal clear–this is NOT ME DOING IT. It is ALL Him. Any other explanation just doesn’t cut it, no matter how you value me, or even what I think of myself. It is Christ who is sufficient, and He communicates that sufficiency to His servants when they need it…which I suppose is all the time if we will avail ourselves of it.
But that interjects a bit of an issue. Not everyone sees this or is willing to walk in this reality. They will still attempt to keep up with the Joneses so to speak, or do everything themselves and never experience the grace of God for themselves. We’ll talk about that as we can in the next paragraph.
11-13: Do Not Manufacture Harms from God’s Servants
This last paragraph was a little tougher to place and put into a coherent outline for me until I thought about it in relation to the chapter as a whole, so you may get some tidbits from this we will speak about next week, we’ll see. What I began to understand was that there must have been a small but vocal group in Corinth that were sold out and all in with these false teachers called the “super apostles.” This group of misfit malcontents must have started to make things up about how Paul was this way, or that way, or did this horrible thing, or was no good at that or as the other thing, all as a play for power into the imagined authority of these false teachers. We call these people false brethren, and it is sadly all they know how to do, so we shouldn’t be surprised by it, even if it does hurt us from time to time.
This paragraph is about how wrong that is and how we should not do it.
11: I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody.
- Read this verse again. YOU MADE ME DO THIS, says Paul. I’ve done all the bragging I did like a fool because your behaviour dictated it. That’s what Paul is saying here. And then he goes on to say that “You should have commended me as an Apostle.” Beloved, there is a distinct issue I have seen all of my Christian life, and I have even sadly engaged in it at times. We all like to jump on a dogpile on the current leadership whoever they are or whatever the issue is. I KNOW I’ve done it, and it has been done to me. But why?
- Paul here says “I am not in the least inferior to the foremost Apostles!” And Paul hasn’t got a swelled head about it. Notice the phrase, “…even though I am a nobody.” Paul isn’t putting himself down, he has a realistic view of himself. And this is what we NEED to have, or we’re up the proverbial creek without a proverbial BOAT, never mind the paddle.
12: The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.
- Now, you have to understand here that it was actually PAUL that did the things he just listed off. These are the signs of a true Apostle. First, they are performed with all patience. Why does Paul say that? I don’t understand entirely, but I would bet that once it became known that Paul could do these things, a lot of people would have been lining up to have it happen to them. And Paul’s job was to preach Christ, not heal everyone or raise cousin Jim from the dead. He had to be discerning, and that required OODLES of patience.
- Then it was “signs and wonders and miracles.” Like speaking in one language and others hearing him in their own but Paul not actually speaking that language. Or healing the sick. Or ACTUALLY raising the dead. Real acts that demonstrate the poser of God, as opposed to touching your empty hand to someone’s empty head and then faking a healing or something. Or leg-lengthening…which *I* can do, never mind Todd White, who actually practices this deceptive practice, which he calls a “miracle” but is the farthest thing from it.
- We have never seen the signs of a true apostle in our lifetimes if you ask me. Otherwise, I’m sure he would be down at the cancer ward of the local children’s hospital. THESE were what were performed.
13: For in what respect were you treated as inferior to the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not become a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!
- Paul here is closing this thought unit with a question: In what way were you ever treated as inferior to any of the other churches? Are you talking about the fact that I didn’t let you PAY me? Wow, I didn’t take your money, you have to forgive me for not being a burden to you.
- Again, we can hear the dripping sarcasm of the Apostle Paul. But this is the only difference that Paul could even mention–that other churches supported him, and that he supported himself in Corinth. Golly, what a hardship Paul put them all through, not taking their money like that…
You can see that Paul was on a bit of a tear here, and we will have to pick this up next time, because we are out of time for this evening, and out of text as well.
The “harm” that the Corinthians were essentially making up was that Paul treated them differently than other churches, which was only true in that he didn’t take money from them. Gee, big harm, right? I was recently told that my preaching offended some people, specifically a Sunday sermon I was privileged to give. Apart from being a bit long (the crowd was used to 20-30 min sermons, and this one was 43:15 including the reading of the text from the YouTube timestamp), I was told that I engaged in “conspiracy theories” and spoke about “people that felt the need to break the Law,” by which I can only conclude she meant James Coates and Tim Stephens, both God-fearing pastors that would not stop doing what God called them to do. Much like John Bunyan in England, they became prisoners of conscience. Beloved, I will reiterate: I do not work for you. I work for His Majesty the King, who is My Lord Christ. If you do not like what He has given me to say, you may take it up with Him. Tell me–what harm did I do you, other than make you sit on those awful and uncomfortable wooden pews (which I am given to understand YOU CHOSE over softer chairs)? I have done you no harm, my friends. I think I hear the bleating of goats…moving on.
We imagine that we are being harmed in some way when we are treated differently…or when we are treated the same…or are ignored…or singled out for attention…but we really aren’t. We are being treated by the Lord’s servants how He has instructed them to treat us, and we need to remember that, and we need to respond in the Spirit, and not in the flesh as some of the Corinthians did.
And that’s what I saw in this chapter.