September 13, 2014

Scripture and Comment, September 15-20

Monday

Morning - Ps. 7, 2 Sam. 12:1-15, 2 Cor. 1
Evening - Ps. 4, 8, Mt. 1:18

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 1
                  
Written from Philippi around 57 A.D. by the Apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians is a follow up to first Corinthians.  The Corinthians Church had seriously compromised the Christian faith.  Attempting to combine it with pagan ideas and practices, they had made personal experience the goal of being a Christian.  Though the power to heal and tell the future were prized experiences, and, consequently, usually faked, the most sought after experience was speaking in tongues.  Tongues, the Corinthians believed, was THE SIGN that a person was filled with the Holy Spirit.  They believed the gift of tongues needed to be sought through prayer and fasting, and, perhaps a little help from drugs and alcohol.  Obviously, speaking in tongues is the easiest gift to fake.  The practice was prevalent in the local pagan religions, and was brought into the Church by new converts.  The church leadership was unable to stop their influx, and soon the major concern of the majority of the Corinthians was having as many ecstatic, tongues experiences as they could work themselves into. In their view, the more tongues experiences one had, the closer one was to God.  Paul spent most of 1 Corinthians dealing with this problem, and we there we learn that Corinth was not the model church many believe it to have been.  It was a church in deep theological and practical error and most of what we learn from it is what not to do and what not to believe.

In spite of their errors the Corinthians seem to have been willing to suffer the wrath of their neighbors for becoming Christians. Paul says they endure the same sufferings he endures (2 Cor. 1:6-7).  He refers to the suffering mentioned in verses 4-6 and 8-10 which Paul endured for the sake of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles.  He points out that God has comforted him in his troubles, and that his afflictions have made him better able to comfort others who suffer.

Verses 15-16 tell of Paul's intent to re-visit Corinth, which, had not happened yet because other considerations prevented him from accomplishing his plans ((17-19) This was due to the providence of God which worked for the benefit of the Corinthians (20-24).

Tuesday
                          
Morning - Ps. 16, 2 Sam. 12:15-23, 2 Cor. 2
Evening - Ps. 13, 14, Mt. 2:1-12

Commentary, 2 Cor. 2

The name, "Second Corinthians" implies that there is also a "First Corinthians."  It also implies a link between the two.  Certainly 2 Corinthians is a follow up to the first epistle, in which Paul chastised the church for theological, practical, and moral errors.  Their primary error made an ecstatic experience the center of Christian faith and worship.  Doctrine and morality became meaningless in this setting.  All that mattered was that one had the experience and had it often.  The more one had it, the more "spiritual" one was considered.  So the experience became the "be all, end all" of Christianity, and they spared no effort working themselves into such an emotional frenzy they lost control of their mouths and babbled meaningless noises.  Drugs and alcohol were often used to induce this altered mental state, which may partly explain why they were getting drunk at the Lord's Table.

First Corinthians was a stern rebuke of their errors. Having received the first letter from Paul, the church did some house cleaning and made a valiant effort to return to the Apostolic faith and order.  In this morning's reading Paul urges the church to make equally thorough efforts to bring the erring ones back into the full fellowship of the Church.  This can only be done if they confess and repent of their sin and false religion, but those who will are to be received back into full membership (3-11)

Verses 12-17 refer to Paul's concern for the Corinthians as he continued his duties in Macedonia during his third missionary journey. Paul had previously spent two years in Corinth, founding the church there around the year 52 A.D.  Having invested that much of his life into it, he was naturally concerned to see it prosper in the true faith.  These verses tell of his concern, saying he found no rest in his spirit because he had no word from Corinth through Titus.  After receiving word of the Corinthian house cleaning, he wrote 2 Corinthians, and it is in that context that he penned the words in verses 14-17 thanking God for the victory in Corinth.

Wednesday

Morning - Ps. 17, 2 Sam. 15:1-12, 2 Cor.. 3
Evening - Ps. 18, Mt. 2:13

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 3

Letters of recommendation have long been used to introduce someone to a person or group, and it seems people had come to Corinth with such letters and attempted to lead and teach the church.  But Paul says he needs no such letter.  The Corinthians themselves are his letter, and all who wish to know about his ministry may read it in them (1-3).

But they are much more than simply a letter of Paul. The Corinthians are an epistle of Christ (3:3).  It is He who has made them what they are.  Paul writes what every true minister of Christ knows, that "we are not sufficient of ourselves."  It is not we who move the Church by the force of our personalities or the power of our logic and speech.  It is God who moves people, using us as tools.  In His hand we become sufficient only because He uses us to lead people to the means of grace.  A minister is very much like a waiter in a restaurant. He brings the food to the people, but it is the food that nourishes and sustains them.  In 1 Corinthians Paul compares ministers to farm labourers.  One plants, another waters, but it is God who causes the Gospel to take root in your hearts and bear the fruit of faith (1 Cor. 3:5-7).  Even a minister's ability to lead people to the means of grace is a gift from God.  He is our sufficiency (3:5) and He "hath made us able ministers of the new testament" (3:6).

Verses 6-13 make two points contrasting the Old Testament law and the New Testament Gospel.  First, the ministry of the law was given with great glory (3:7).  We all know of the events at Sinai, and Paul reminds us that Moses covered his face with a veil because the people could not look upon him who had seen God's glory.  Yet the law was unable to give life (3:6).  It revealed sin, but it also showed the inability of an animal sacrifice to cover sins.  Second, the ministry of the New Testament is more glorious for it is the ministry of the Spirit and of life.  Yet Paul wears no veil to cover its glory.  He does not attempt to hide it from anyone.  Rather, he calls attention to it.  He proclaims it with "great plainness of speech" (3:12).

14-16 refer to the common Jewish belief that Christ is not the Messiah.  It is as though they are wearing a veil, a blindfold, which prevents their "seeing" Christ.  Though the blindfold will be removed, it remains, "even unto this day" (15). 

If the letter of the law revealed people's sin and our inability to atone for it, the Spirit reveals that God Himself can and has atoned for it.  The Old Testament law anticipates with faith, that God will somehow accept those who trust in Him.  On the basis of His own actions, He will do for them what the blood of bulls and goats can never accomplish.  He will atone for their sins and receive them fully into His Kingdom.  We know He accomplished this through Christ, for He is the Spirit who removes the blindfold from those who believe.  In Him there is liberty from the dead letter of the law, and in Him we behold the glory of the Lord.  We behold Him now as in a glass, not perceiving Him fully and clearly.  But we are being changed into His image, the same image we see dimly now, but will one day see face to face (3:17-18).

Thursday

Morning - Ps. 25, 2 Sam. 15:13-29, 2 Cor. 4
Evening - Ps. 27, Mt. 3

Commentary, 2 Cor. 4

"Therefore" (4:1) links the following verses to those in chapter 3.  They are a conclusion drawn from the primary truth stated in that chapter, namely, that Paul is called into the ministry of the New Testament.  Almost incredibly, Paul claims his is a greater and higher ministry than that of Moses, for the proclamation of Christ, the Spirit of the law, is greater than the proclamation of the letter of the law.  All ministers reading this should pause and reflect on the awesome responsibility and privilege to which you have been called.  Paul rightly says he received this ministry by mercy, not by worthiness, but having received that mercy, and, encouraged by the greatness of the privilege of serving Christ, he faints not.  Certainly Paul had enough trials to cause many to faint, to give up, to consider the preaching of the Gospel either too costly or a lost cause.  But he continues as one assured of victory and filled with hope.  He preaches the word of life, and, though he may face many trials, he is assured that the word of life will bring many souls into the Kingdom of God.

Paul's preaching is free from manipulation of either the message or its hearers (4:2-3).  He does not change the message to entice people to convert, nor does he use gimmicks and tricks to lure people into the Church.  By making this statement, Paul implies that others have distorted the Gospel and manipulated the people to gain a following.  The Corinthians have followed such people, which is why they fell into such sin, and why they had to endure the pain and problems of getting the church back into the Apostolic faith and practice.

Verses 3 and 4 make it plain that the problem with those who will not receive the Gospel message is with them, not Paul and not the Gospel.  The Gospel is clear and simple.  He has proclaimed it openly and honestly.  Many of the Greek religions claimed to have secret knowledge given only to a few select people, but Paul proclaims the whole Gospel to all who will listen.  Thus, those who refuse it bear the responsibility themselves.  They have allowed Satan, the "god of this world" to blind their minds.

"For we preach not ourselves" (4:6) implies that others do preach themselves.  A true minister does not promote himself, does not attempt to win a following for himself, and does not attempt to call attention to himself.  He proclaims Christ.  That means he preaches the Bible, faithfully calling people to become followers of Christ and teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded (Mt 28:19).  One who errs from this is no minister of Christ.  A faithful minister views himself as a servant of the Church, not as master of it.  He serves the people and the Lord by preaching the Bible and leading the people to the means of grace.  The minister does have responsibility to protect the people from error and deal with sin and heresy.  But even this power is a service to the Church and undertaken only as a servant of Christ.

"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels" (4:7).  The treasure is the Gospel of Christ.  It is the story of redemption from the beginning of time to the end of time, when God brings all things together in Christ. The earthen vessels are our decaying bodies and the mental and spiritual limitations of our fallen minds and beings.  Paul's point is not to belabour the earthen vessels but to show that it is not the minister who causes the success of the Gospel, it is God.  The Gospel has been placed in fragile containers of clay, yet God causes it to advance and bring souls into His Kingdom.  Thus the true power and message of the Gospel is no human invention, and its success does not depend on our creativity, wisdom, or preaching ability; it comes from God alone, "that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us."

It is God's power that keeps the earthen vessels alive and in the faith (4:8-14).  Verses 10 and 12 capture the essence of this passage.  The end result of the suffering and trials of Paul is eternal life in the people who receive the Gospel.  He gladly endures the troubles and cares of the ministry so people may hear the Gospel and be saved. The glory of God is the goal and the purpose for which he works.

It is not only the people of God who receive the benefit of a faithful ministry, the minister himself also receives eternal glory and rest (4:16).  Therefore, let him look to the things unseen, the home in Heaven, the end of sin and temptation, the face-to-face relationship with Christ in that land where there is no more sorrow, pain, or death. In that hope, he will faint not.

This fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians has much to say to ministers because Paul is writing about his own ministry to remind the Corinthians what God has done for them and how He accomplished it.  Yet, it has much to say to the Christian layman also.  Certainly, you also have the treasure of the Gospel in earthen vessels. You share the same temptations, limitations, and fallen inclinations ministers have.  And you have the same hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, on the basis of His grace, not your merit.  Your first calling is also the glory of God, and no "light affliction, which is but for a moment" should be allowed to crowd this purpose out of your life.  You also will be helped immeasurably by keeping your hope fixed on the things of Heaven, which are not seen with the physical eye, but only with the eyes of faith.  Finally, this should help you to judge who is, and who is not, a faithful minister, or church, of Christ.  Faint not.

Friday

Morning - Ps. 32, 2 Sam. 15:30-16:4, 2 Cor. 5:1-10
Evening - Ps. 22, Mt. 4:1-11

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Today's reading continues the thought begun in 4:16, which says that our outward man, meaning, our physical body, is perishing.  But, even as that happens, our inward man, our spirit, is being renewed day by day.  Our spirits are becoming stronger and our faith in Christ is growing.  Our desire for Godliness is increasing, and we are experiencing progress in holiness of life and fellowship with God.  Therefore, we look not at the outward things seen by the physical eye.  We concentrate on the inward person and the renewing work God is doing in us.  Nor do we allow ourselves to become fixated on the world with its troubles and treasures.  They are passing trifles.  We look to that world which is more real than this one.  We look to that world which is permanent, in which the treasures of this world are as poverty, and the trials of this life are as light affliction by comparison.

Our physical bodies, and with them all the passing things of earth, are being destroyed.  The image used in 5:1 is that of a house and tent.  It is as though Paul first calls the physical body a house, a temporary structure subject to decay and rot which will collapse one day.  Then he says our bodies are not even as solid as a house.  They are mere tents.  They are mere folds of cloth flapping in the wind and in need of constant care and repair, and which, in spite of our very best efforts, will one day rot away exposing their contents and leaving us naked (5:3).  But the end of our tent (tabernacle) is not the end of us.  We will be clothed in a new house of mansions that will not decay (sickness), will never fall into destruction (death) and will always abide in the presence of God Himself (everlasting life).  It is in this eternal house that we long to dwell (5:2) and for which we groan while suffering the burdens of our present tabernacle (5:4).

It is for this purpose that God is working in us now.  He is preparing us for the day when we will lay down this tent, and step into a new and wondrous house.  He has given us the Spirit as the earnest, or, pledge, or down payment, of His promise.  This means that, what the Holy Spirit is doing in us now, will be completed on the day we enter into our new home.  And what is the Spirit doing in us now?  He is recreating us.  He is repairing our inclination towards sin.  He is remaking us so that we are becoming more and more inclined toward Him and His will.  He is enabling us to love Him more, and desire the things He promises.  This is why Paul says later in this chapter that "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" (5:17).

The destruction of our earthly tent (death) frees our souls to enter the direct presence of the Lord.  While we are in our physical bodies we experience a distance from God. Even in our best and most spiritual moments we have a sense that God dwells beyond us in a dimension we cannot enter.  We see Him, but with the eyes of faith, not with physical eyes.  We are aware of His presence, and yet, also aware that we do not know His presence fully, that there is a sense in which He is here, yet not here at the same time.  But in Heaven this sense will be a thing of the past.  There we will see Him and dwell in His full presence.  It is only as we become absent from our bodies that we enter fully into the presence of God (5:8).

Therefore we   labour to be accepted of Him (5:9-10).  These verses do not mean we make ourselves acceptable to God by our own efforts.  They mean we attempt to do the will of God while we live in this world.  We seek Him, and attempt to live quiet and holy lives.  For we will all stand before Christ one day to be judged for our works.

It is notable that this passage continues to talk about the nature of the ministry, yet is written to the laity of the Church.  It is obvious that Paul is teaching the Corinthians, and us, about the nature and work of the ministry to enable them to discern between those who have preached heresy and attempted to lead the Church astray, and faithful ministers who preach the Gospel and lead the Church into the faith and practice of the Bible.  Ministers reading this passage should take heed to its teachings and warnings. But the passage has a much more direct application to the laity than just distinguishing true ministers from false ministers. For you also dwell in an earthly tent that is decaying and will one day perish.  In what house will you dwell on that day? You, too, walk by faith, and you, too, will stand before God to give an account for your lives in this world. You, also, therefore, must look to the things unseen by the physical eye, and conduct yourself as though you are preparing to go to them some day soon.

Saturday

Morning - Ps. 31, 2 Sam. 16:5-19, 2 Cor. 5:11
Evening - Ps. 29, 30, Mt. 4:12

Commentary, 2 Cor. 5:11-21

"Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord" (5:11) refers to the Day of Judgment and the account Paul will have to give of his work as an Apostle of Christ. Some would moderate "terror" to mean reverence or respect, but terror seems to work well here, both as a translation of the Greek, "phobos" and as a description of the soul standing before the Almighty and Holy God.  On that Day, many who thought of Him as a gentle giant or a good buddy in the sky will find that He is a Terror, and His power can make eternity misery beyond imagination.  It is with this in mind that Paul ministers the Word.  It is also with this in mind that he persuades people to repent of sin and trust in Christ.  For all will stand before God, and those not dressed in the righteousness of Christ will be cast away forever.

Being "made manifest unto God" means Paul's life and ministry are open and known to God "unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid."  But Paul also desires to be as open and known to the people as possible within the limitations of common humanity.  He desires to hide nothing of his own self and purpose.  His motives are to serve God and His people.  He is not about personal gain in any way, and he wants that known because others, claiming to be Apostles and teachers of the Corinthian Church, are about personal gain, using deceit and false doctrine to entice the Corinthians away from the truth and to convince them to give allegiance, and money, to them.  Again, let the ministers reading these comments look to themselves and their motives.  Let it be known to the Church that our motives are to serve God and His Church, not to build empires for ourselves, or to enrich our purses.

Thus Paul says he is not commending himself to the people (5:12).  He is giving them an answer to the false teachers and false apostles who troubled the Corinthians as well as a way to discern the true from the false.  "Glory in appearance, and not in heart," refers to those who count success by material, rather than spiritual, measures.  Large crowds and great cathedrals are not proof of pure faith and practice in our time, nor were they in Paul's  Remember, God spoke in the still, small voice, not the quake  or the storm.

Verse 13 shows that the false teachers in Corinth said Paul's words were just babbling, like someone speaking in tongues.  The Greek word translated "beside ourselves" is a form of the word from which we get the English word, "ecstatic" and refers to the emotional excesses into which the Corinthians worked themselves as "proof" that they were possessed by the Holy Spirit.  Paul is not defeated by this attack.  Rather, he says his words are from God whether they have come from an ecstatic experience or not.  It is as though some criticise him saying, "You're just babbling like someone speaking in tongues." Paul replies, "I am not, but even if I were, what I say is still true and for your good."  

Verse 11 gives the Day of Judgment as a motivation to speak the truth and do righteousness.  Verses 14 and 15 give another motivation, the love of Christ who gave Himself for us.  We serve Him because we love Him.  We live for Him because He died for us.  In His death He gave the most precious gift He could ever give to us.  In our lives we give the most precious thing we could ever give to Him.

Verse 17 takes us back to the purpose of God's continuing work in us.  He is re-creating us.  He is making us into new creatures who will be ready to enjoy Him in Heaven.  He is turning us into Heavenly creatures in which all things are new and of God.  Paul refers to himself here, as he does also in verse 20.  But his words apply to all who believe.  The same God who called Paul into faith and fitted him to be an Apostle, calls us into faith and fits us for our work in His Kingdom.  The same continuing work of the Holy Spirit, which formed Paul into a new and Heavenly kind of creature, also continues to work in us.  The same God who called Paul to the ministry of reconciliation as an ambassador for Christ calls us to that same work today.


Verses 19 and 21 give two beloved statements of the Gospel.  Verse 19 tells what God is doing; verse 21 tells how.