September 29, 2014

Scripture and Commentary, September 29- October 4

Monday

Morning - Ps. 75, 2 Sam. 19:24-39, 2 Cor. 10
Evening - Ps. 71, Mt. 7:1-12

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 10

Paul now returns to the problems caused by the false apostles who troubled the Corinthian Church.  These men had done much damage, and, though the church had taken vigorous steps to drive them and their followers out, some of their influence remained.  Consequently, some of the Corinthians still derided Paul and his teaching.  Paul begins the chapter beseeching the church by the meekness and gentleness of Christ (10:1) and by addressing a charge that he writes bold letters but is weak in person (10:1, 10).  He says his weapons are not after the flesh (10:2-6).  Paul means it is not by personal power, the force of his personality, or his skill as an orator that the issue will be decided (10:10).  It is the power of God that is mighty to pull down strongholds, cast down imaginations (delusions of grandeur), and bring the thoughts of human beings under the obedience of Christ. Therefore, the Corinthians should not look on the outward appearance of Paul, for he belongs to Christ, who has given him authority to build up the Corinthians (10:8). 

Paul makes two important points in the remainder of the chapter.  First, he will not compare himself to the false apostles who measure themselves by themselves rather than by Christ (10:12-13).  Second, unlike the false apostles, he does not boast "of things without our measure" (10:15).  This means he does not try to take over a church founded by another Apostle.  The false apostles are doing just that in Corinth.  They are not brave enough to go into unevangelised areas and found churches.  They prefer to take over another man's work.  But Paul, a true Apostle, brought the Gospel to Corinth, and intends to take it further northward and westward where other evangelists have not been.  He will glory in the Lord, not another man's labours.  He closes with the telling remark that an apostle who commends himself is not "approved" (accepted by God).  It is the man God commends who is accepted.  The idea of this verse is that the Corinthians, and all Christians, should approve and accept those as teachers and spiritual leaders whom God commends, not those who commend themselves.

Tuesday

Morning - Ps. 76, 2 Sam. 23:8-17, 2 Cor. 11:1-15
Evening - Ps. 72, Mt. 7:13

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 11:1-15

Some at Corinth said Paul is a fool (2 Cor. 5:13).  If so, he says in 11:1, "bear with me a little in my folly" for his desire is to present them "as a chaste virgin to Christ."  In other words, what has been called "folly" is really concern for their spiritual well being.  He has laboured for them with patience, unfaltering love, and tireless devotion.  If that is foolishness, then let them bear with him a while longer.  He is concerned that they will be the real fools and allow their minds to be corrupted from the simplicity of Christ (11:3).  The false apostles taught a complex system of doctrines and deities that combined Christianity with Greek mystery religions.  Paul taught the simple Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is the very simplicity of the Gospel that often trips people.  "It can't be that simple," they think, but it is.

The apparent simplicity of the Gospel is one reason why the Corinthians followed the false apostles in the first place, and Paul still worries that they will follow another teacher, trust in another Jesus, receive another spirit, and believe another gospel (11:4).  How easily people are led astray and how easily we are enticed by things that are unimportant.  How cheaply we sell our souls for trifles; an engaging personality, a more attractive setting, an easier gospel, a style of music.  How easily we are fooled into valuing the wrapping over the Gift.

If Paul was not the polished speaker the false apostles were, he was in no way inferior to the true Apostles, and his knowledge was far superior to that of the false apostles (11:5-6).  He taught the true Gospel of Christ, they taught a false gospel.  His purpose was to gather souls for Heaven, their purpose was to gather mammon for themselves.

Paul's purpose was obviously not to make money.  He reminds the Corinthians that he was "chargeable to no man" (11:9), meaning he did not accept money from them for preaching the Gospel.  He supported himself, or received support from the Macedonian churches rather than accept money from the Corinthians.  Having given so much to them, at no cost to themselves, Paul worries that he has harmed them.  Having received the Gospel at no expense to themselves, do they now think of the Gospel and the Apostle of Christ as having no value?  The false apostles sold their gospels at high prices.  Did the Corinthians think they and their gospel were therefore of great value, while Paul and his were of little worth?  It is not because the Gospel of Christ is cheap, nor because Paul has no right to receive payment for his services that he preached the Gospel freely.  It is because he did not wish to burden the Corinthians, and that they may never be able to accuse him of selling Christ the way the false apostles sell their faith, that Paul accepted no money from the Corinthians (11:12).

Verse 13-15 show the deceitfulness of the false teachers.  They transform themselves into an angel of light.  They do not actually become angels of light; they take on the appearance of angels of light.  They appear to be bearers of the Good News, but their gospel is false, and they are deceived and deceivers.  Satan tries to appear to us as the minister of truth and freedom, though his words are the words of death.  So we should not be surprised when his "ministers" appear to be helpful and their teachings seem so appealing (11:15).

Wednesday

Morning - Ps.77, 2 Sam. 24:1-25, 2 Cor. 11:16-33
Evening - Ps. 73,  Mt. 8:1-13

Commentary, 2 Corinthians11:16-33

According to Paul there are two groups of fools in Corinth.  First is the group of false apostles.  They are the ones who glory after the flesh, meaning to boast and put confidence in their own abilities to sway a crowd and motivate people, rather than in the Gospel and the Spirit of God (11:18).  Second is the group that follows the false prophets. They are the people who are swayed by emotions and psychological tricks rather than the word of God.  Thus Paul says of them, "ye suffer (allow yourselves to be influenced by) fools gladly (11:19).  "You gladly allow fools to lead and abuse you," we might say in paraphrase.  When, in verse 19, he calls the Corinthians wise he is making a point by stating the opposite, much as a politician might speak of his "worthy" opponent when he really thinks (and wants his hearers to think) the person is terribly unworthy. Since the Corinthians are so "wise" and Paul is so "foolish," Paul says, they should hear him out (11:16-18).  They have let the real fools abuse them (11:20), they should at least hear the words of one who really cares about them and has suffered for their benefit. 

Thus, Paul begins to tell of his service to Christ and the personal cost to him of bringing the Gospel to Corinth.  Verses 22-29 tell of the cost to Paul.  He equals the false apostles in their Hebrew origins (11:22).  Verse 23 does not mean the false apostles are truly ministers of Christ, but even if they were their labours cannot begin to match those of Paul.  Who among the false teachers has been beaten, imprisoned, stoned, shipwrecked, or lived in exhaustion, hunger, thirst, cold and inadequate clothing for the sake of the Gospel and the Corinthians?  Have they not rather demanded ease and luxury for the service of leading the Church astray?

False apostles and their followers have called Paul foolish and weak, but Paul replies that he will not glory in his strength and wisdom; he will glory in his infirmities, his weaknesses.  It is because he is weak that he knows the Corinthians have not been moved to believe in Christ by his eloquence, his magnetic personality, or the attractiveness of a false gospel.  They have been moved by the word and Spirit of God.  That is the meaning Paul is trying to get across to us.

I fear this truth has been largely lost in the pop religion of today.  Many churches are simply personality cults, and much of the preaching has little or nothing to do with the real Gospel.  False teachers abound, and people prefer them and their tricks to the simple preaching of Christ.  God have mercy upon us.
                          
Thursday

Morning - Ps. 81, 1 Kings 2:1-12, 2 Cor. 12:1-13
Evening - Ps.80, Mt.8:14-27

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 12:1-13

In the early days of the Church, God continued to reveal Himself through visions, dreams, and miracles.  False apostles focused on these things, turned them into emotional/psychological experiences, and made them the heart of being a Christian.  They encouraged people to work themselves into a high emotional state using stirring music, often repeating the same words many times, to lead them into a semi-hypnotic state.  During and after experiencing this euphoric condition the endorphins flowed freely, and the false apostles and their followers thought they were experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit.
                                           
Real visions and experiences were very rare in the early Church, even among the Apostles.  John records one in the book of Revelation and Acts records three for Peter, excluding two times he witnessed people speaking in tongues but did not himself participate.  Even Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, records relatively few such experiences, and never suggests they are a normal part of the Christian life or to be sought by Christians.  His words, "caught up" (2 Cor. 12:4) show that he did not seek such experiences; rather, he was caught up in them by God when he was not expecting them.

The false apostles pointed to the excitement they brought to the church, and the experiences people had as the result of their "ministry."  This, they said, was proof that the Spirit of God was working through them, not through poor Paul who neither had these experiences nor enabled the Church to have them. Paul responds to this in today's reading.

He tells the Corinthians about an experience he had fourteen years earlier.  He speaks of himself in the third person as "a man in Christ... caught up to the third heaven, into paradise..., and heard unspeakable words... not lawful for a man to utter."  Due to the timing of this event, many believe Paul writes here about his experience in the Temple recorded in Acts 22:17-21.  Whether Paul refers to that experience or another, we always see that his experiences were not sought or worked up by himself, and that they always gave Paul specific direction for the work he was called to do.  They were never experiences for the sake of experiences.  This proves the experiences of the false apostles are not from God.

Paul describes his experience in intentionally vague terms.  He does not know if he saw these things by literally being transported into Heaven or not.  He only knows that he was allowed to see paradise, and that it was so wonderful he could not describe it even if he were allowed to (12:2-4).

But it is not in such experiences that Paul glories.  He glories in his weaknesses (12:5) so that no one will think he is more than what he is (12:6).  In other words, Paul does not want to call attention to himself, or even to the unusual experience he had, for that might make people seek him, or the experience, instead of Christ.  Furthermore, though he, as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the Word of God came to the Gentiles as from the prophets of ancient Israel, had this experience, he was given a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble (12:7).

Much discussion has been devoted to this thorn in the flesh.  Was it a physical illness?  Was it a spiritual weakness?  Was it the persecutions of the unbelievers and false apostles?  When you get to Heaven, you can ask him.  For now let us simply know what the Bible tells us, that in the weakness of that thorn, God's perfect strength was revealed.  Paul thought the thorn would work against his ability to be effective in the work of the Gospel.  To Paul, it seemed to be something that would cause people to reject his message.  Yet God used Paul mightily because of his weakness.  Thus, the thorn, which made effective preaching and evangelism seem impossible, was the very thing God used to make Paul's work effective.  The false apostles seemed to have everything, and the people thronged after them.  But those who followed Paul heard the true Gospel. It was they who believed unto salvation.

Therefore, Paul took pleasure in his infirmities and reproaches (12:10).  It is very likely that the things mentioned in verse 10 are all part of Paul's "thorn in the flesh."  But when Paul is weak, then Christ is strong in him.  His grace is sufficient (12:9).  His grace is sufficient to make the Gospel appeal to His people.  His grace is sufficient to make Paul an effective ambassador for Christ.  His grace is sufficient to build His Church and edify His people. His grace is sufficient to enable Paul to persevere in his work until God calls him Home.  Paul, like all ministers, is insufficient in himself.  No matter how knowledgeable, no matter how gifted he may be in public speaking, no matter how attractive he may be, or how magnetic his personality, he is insufficient and these traits may actually be hindrances rather than helps.  Only the grace of God is sufficient for these things, and His grace makes our weaknesses strengths.

These words may well be heeded by those in small but faithful congregations and denominations today.  The experience based churches always draw the crowds and get the money.  Those who meet in rented buildings and homes and public halls may think they are disadvantaged by these weaknesses.  But it may be that true Christian faith flourishes in such conditions far more than it does in the mega churches and cathedrals.  It may be that the things we consider thorns are the very things God uses to exalt Himself in us.  Thus Paul says to the Corinthians that without the false apostles and their appealing doctrines and ecstatic experiences, they were not inferior to any other church.  They had it all because they had Christ. Paul's one regret about his ministry among them is that he did not allow them to share the expenses of preaching the Gospel in Corinth (12:13).

Friday

Morning - Ps.85, 1 Kings, 3:4-15, 2 Cor. 12:14-21
Evening - Ps.89, Mt. 8:28-9:8

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 12:14-21

There is a saying, "No good deed goes unpunished."  That describes Paul's feelings about his treatment from the Corinthians.  Throughout this epistle he has professed his love for them.  He has recounted the sacrifices he made to bring the Gospel to them (11:23-29).  He has reminded them that others contributed money so he could minister in Corinth without cost to them (11:8), and that he suffered need rather than accept money from them (11:9).  In today's reading he plans to make another trip to Corinth, to spend yet more time and effort, at great personal cost to him and at the expense of people outside of Corinth.  He reaffirms his willingness to spend and be spent in their service (12:15).  Yet, he says, "the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved."

The Corinthians have preferred the flashy, self-promoting false apostles, with their false gospels and emotional experiences, to the self giving love of Paul, who preaches the truth simply and honestly.  The false apostles used the Corinthians to build a financial empire for themselves, and the Corinthians loved them.  Paul spent himself to build Biblical faith and hope in them, and they rejected him.  He fears, for their sake, that many of them remain in their sin (12:20).  He fears he will still find them in debates (arguing for false teachings) envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings (murmuring and complaining in attempts to divide the Church) swellings (conceit), and tumults (12:20).  In other words, he fears he will find a divided church fighting over unimportant things while meekly accepting lies and false teaching.

How often we find the same things happening today.  Churches will fight and split over the tiniest, most insignificant things, yet allow themselves and their loved ones to be indoctrinated with the most hellish heresies imaginable.  People who share the Biblical faith, and are otherwise united in culture, values, and life-views, will divide and allow themselves to be divided over trivialities that don't matter at all.  There is only one word for this, SIN.  Notice that Paul addresses this sin before the other sins of fornication and lasciviousness (lewd behavior).  He does so because, contrary to popular belief, these sins are "worse" than the others.  He does not say the others aren't sin.  He was certainly willing to excommunicate people for them, which is the same as saying they are no longer part of Christ's Church, and are not saved Christians.  He is saying the other sins are worse.  People committing them often think that if they are not committing adultery and lewdness, they are in good shape, spiritually.  Paul strongly disagrees.

False doctrine does not have to be extreme to be false.  False teachers can appear very orthodox about Christ, yet change the focus of His work from saving souls to having religious experiences or social action.  Both of these views are prevalent in contemporary churches.   Most of the mega churches teach religious experience as the primary focus of following Christ.  Causing such experiences dominates their worship and ministries.  They do not usually deny the orthodox doctrines of the faith, they simply place them in the background.  But placing them in the background changes the focus, and changing the focus essentially changes the message. The gospel of social action has taken over most of the so called, "main line denominations."  This "social gospel" sometimes teaches fairly orthodox things about the being of Christ, but it goes astray in the application of these doctrines to the Church and the Christian life.  Such churches usually assume that Christ's death and resurrection secured salvation for all people of all time.   Since all people are going to Heaven, regardless of their religion or lack of it, the Church's task is not to tell them that Jesus died for their sins and get them to become Christians.  It is to clean up the mess of social injustice, poverty, sickness, and war.  Both of these lines of thought place the emphasis in the wrong place, and, thus, distort the Message.

Saturday

Morning - Ps. 92, 1 Kings 3:16-28, 1 Cor. 13
Evening - Ps.46, 96, Mt. 9:9-17

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 13

This chapter is a wonderful combination of warning, encouragement, and promise.  The warning is that Paul, in the name of and acting for Christ, will deal with those who remain in the sins he wrote of in chapter 12.  He will not spare them (13:2).  There is a time for patience, and a time for action.  The Corinthians have been stumbling through apostasy and sin due to the influence of false teachers for several years.  Now it is time for action.  They must rid themselves of the false apostles and their followers, or Paul will cast them out when he comes.  Christ in Paul will accomplish this (12:3-4).  They must also repent of the sins that are dividing the church and dishonouring Christ (11:20-21).  If they will not, Paul will cast them out of the Church.  This means they will be considered and treated as non-Christians.  By their actions and doctrines they seem to show that they are not of Christ, therefore, Paul will remove from them the privilege of participation in the Church and in Holy Communion.   This may not sound very serious to the modern reader, but it is actually very serious.  To be a Christian is to participate in Christ.  It is to live in Christ, hope in Christ, and feed on Christ as a branch feeds on the tree.  To be excommunicated is to have the Church say that a person's life and views are antithetical to Christ, and seem to show that he is not participating, hoping, or feeding on Him as a Christian.  Therefore the sign and seal of his participation in Him is removed.  Such a person is being turned over to Satan in the hope that he will see his spiritual danger and seek Christ fully.

The encouragement is found throughout the chapter, but is especially abundant in verse 5.  Paul encourages the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they are truly in the faith, and to prove themselves by true doctrine and faithful living.  Paul is encouraging them to examine themselves by Scripture, not the teachings of the false apostles, and not by the feelings and excitements they experience in the services led by the false teachers.  This is a difficult thing to do, and few Christians ever really attempt it.  But it is the only way to know whether we are truly in Christ or reprobates.

The promise is that turning from sin to Godliness brings all of the fullness and grace of God into our lives (13:11).  The holy kiss (13:12) is not an invitation to turn the worship of God into a hugfest.  It means that those who truly belong to Christ have ceased the debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults, and sensual sins which have characterised and divided the Corinthian Church for so long (12:20-21).  Having turned from those sins, they now live in peace with one another.  Those, formerly considered "enemies," against whom the sins of 12:20 were committed, have now become fellow partakers in Christ, and live in Christian peace and love.  This does not mean they no longer have disagreements, or that they live in a state of sinless euphoria.  It means they practice forbearance, humbleness, and forgiveness, trying not to give offense to others, and refusing to take offense at the actions and words of others.  Such people, instead of greeting one another with wrath and strife, greet one another in peace and harmony.  Rather than fighting, they "kiss." 

The saints of verse 13 are the Christians in Macedonia, from which Paul wrote 2 Corinthians.


The letter closes with words of peace and grace; the benediction with which we close the services of Morning and Evening Prayer, and which, according Evan Daniel's history of the Prayer Book, was universal in the ancient liturgies.  John Chrysostom, who wrote the prayer which precedes it in the Prayer Book, also wrote of this benediction, "After having united [the Corinthians] to one another by the salutations and the kisses, he again closes his speech with prayer... uniting them unto God also."  Matthew Henry wrote that in this verse, we are promised "the grace of Christ as Redeemer, the love of God who sent the Redeemer, and all the communications of this grace and love, which come to us by the Holy Ghost." "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion (fellowship) of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.  Amen."