God’s Comfort in Trials
2 Corinthians 1:3-14
I learned a difficult lesson early in ministry. Despite my desire to serve the Lord, at times, the response of God’s people to my ministry was less than enthusiastic. During this time, I received comfort in the fact that Paul himself experienced challenges to his integrity and ministry. The major theme of 2 Corinthians is Paul’s defense of his ministry against charges of a lack of integrity, vacillation, allowing others to intimidate him.
Paul’s relationship with the church at Corinth is difficult to reconstruct. After our present 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote a harsh letter, made a painful visit, and sent Titus and Timothy to deal with the situation. Paul did not give up on his relationship with this troubled church. The apostle continually went the extra-mile in the hopes of restored fellowship.
What principles may we derive from Paul’s life during a difficult time in his ministry to believers?
First, every believer should praise God as the source of his or her comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). Rather than his normal prayer, Paul blessed God. “Blessed” translates the Greek word eulogy – to speak well. We limit a eulogy to good words spoken about the dead; Paul spoke well of the living God. Paul praised God as the source of mercies and comfort. Comfort, the same root as paraclete in Jesus’s reference to the Holy Spirit in the Fourth Gospel, refers to God’s encouragement and strength through divine intervention in the midst of every trial we encounter.
Second, God calls every believer receives a ministry of comfort/encouragement to others (2 Cor. 1:4). Through His ministry of comfort, God purposes to equip a believer for a ministry of comfort to others. God intends that every blessing He grants to you become a resource through which you can help other people. Ask yourself the following question, “Under what difficult circumstances did God dramatically intervene in your life?” Based on your testimony, God may call you to reach out to others experiencing grief, financial challenges, or problem marriages. David Garland reminds us, “God does not comfort us to make us comfortable but to make us comforters.”
Third, every believer should derive comfort from the truth that our Lord suffered (2 Cor. 1:5). Some so-called preachers today proclaim a “health and wealth” gospel that claims that God wants every believer to be wealthy and healthy – a life without problems. This errant theology confuses the gospel of Christ with the American dream. Christian commitment, indeed, may increase our affliction. I know Christians passed over for promotion because of a refusal to participate in drunken office parties. Christians face persecution in many parts of the world. Remember believer that our suffering pales in comparison to the suffering of Christ.
Treasurers in Jars of Clay
2 Corinthians 4.1-18
During twenty years of serving as an interim pastor, I discovered that congregations need to understand biblical teachings about the role of the pastor. In the context of Paul’s problematic relationship with the church at Corinth, Paul detailed the role of a spiritual leader. While not every reader of this lesson will not be a pastor, every believer needs to understand the unique responsibility of the spiritual leader. Therefore, while the principles of this passage apply to all believers, I will focus on Paul’s direct teaching regarding the biblical nature of ministry. I am convinced that a large percentage of church conflict arises from a misunderstanding of the biblical roles of the minister and congregation.
What did Paul teach about the role of the minister?
First, Paul lifted up the sole motive for ministry (2 Cor. 4.1). No one enters the ministry with a sense of personal adequacy. “Who is adequate for these things?” (2 Cor. 2.16 CSB). “It is not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God (2 Cor. 3.5). The motive for ministry is the undeserved mercy of God (2 Cor. 4.1). Ministry derives from a calling of God. Every minister (and layperson) is saved by grace, gifted by grace, and serves by grace. There is nothing more pathetic than a preacher of the gospel that has given up (CBS) or loses heart (ESV). The merciful call of God in the life of the man of God provides preserving grace.
Second, Paul set forth the method of ministry (2 Cor. 4.2-5). While ministers by calling and necessity are involved in various types of ministry service such as counseling or leadership, the primary method of ministry is the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord (2 Cor. 4.5). The Lordship of Christ in the life of the proclaimer requires integrity of life and faithfulness in communicating the Word of God. Ministry flows out of integrity; therefore, a minister renounces behaviors contrary to the proclamation of Jesus as Lord. Moreover, a minister can preach the Word employing deceit or distortion of the message. A minister can distort the Word of God by adding to God’s Word (Judaizers) or distorting God’s Word (easy believe-ism).
Third, Paul described the proper role of ministry (2 Cor. 4.5). A ministerial leader is neither a CEO or a hireling passively driven by others. A minister is a bondservant or slave on behalf of the Lord Jesus for the sake of others. A bondservant serves at someone else’s house; serves at someone else’s convenience, and serves without an expectation of thanks.
Fourth, Paul highlighted two aspects of the preaching of a minister (2 Cor. 4.5-7). First, the minister must not seek to preach, build up, or exalt himself. The doctrine of a biblical minister centers on the preaching of Jesus Christ as Lord. The glory of the ministry is seen in the nature of the minister as a jar of clay. The treasure is the light of the gospel. The container for the gospel is a jar of clay. Most likely a “jar of clay” has reference to common, cheap, easily broken, earthenware vessels. Judges 7 may illustrate Paul’s message. The lesson shared by Paul in 2 Corinthians and Gideon is the inadequacy of humans in kingdom work. Gideon surrounded the much larger Midianite army with 300 men equipped with trumpets and jars containing small lights. The Israelite soldiers broke the jars, revealing the lights within the jars, and blinding the enemy. Ministers are common, cheap, expendable servants. When broken, the light of the light of the gospel shines out brightly into the darkness of sin and lostness. Remember God alone has the role of breaking the servant of God for the gospel to shine brightly.
How to Live for Jesus
2 Corinthians 5.16-21; 6.1-2
In 2 Corinthians 5.15 Paul affirmed that by the death of Christ, believers should then live “for the one who died for them and was raised” (CSB). What does it mean for a believer to live for Christ? Paul describes living for Christ utilizing the adjective “new.” The emphasis is upon a life that is “new” in kind – a new kind of life.
How did Paul describe the “new kind” of life that a believer is to live for Christ?
First, living for Jesus means possessing a new outlook regarding evaluating people (2 Cor. 5.16). The broader context of 2 Corinthians 5 is helpful in understanding Paul’s meaning. Outsiders have infiltrated the church of Corinth. These self-proclaimed Christian leaders have bragged on their ministry and attempted to downgrade Paul’s ministry. These interlopers made two accusations against Paul. First, they examined his outward appearance – a literal translation for appearance is “face” (v. 12) rather than looking on his heart (v. 13). Second, they accused Paul of being “out of his mind (v. 13).
In response, Paul provided a theological rationale rather than a physical or behavioral basis for evaluating people. Paul ministered to all because Christ loved all and died for all (2 Cor. 5.14-15). Because of Christ’s love for all and death for all, Paul refused to evaluate people from a “worldly perspective.” As a Jewish rabbi living in Jerusalem, it is historically probable that Paul observed Jesus in the flesh during one of Jesus’ trips to Jerusalem. Paul evaluated Jesus as a failed, deceptive Messianic claimant from a worldly perspective. Because of Jesus, Paul can never see people the same way. He has a new outlook regarding how he understood people.
Second, living for Jesus means an individual is a new creation (2 Cor. 5.17). Paul proclaimed, “The New has come”! (2 Cor. 5.17). Paul has described aspects of this “newness” in the preceding verses. Because of Christ, Paul has a New view of self (v. 15), a New view of other people (v. 16), and a New view of Christ (v. 16). In Christ, a New day has arrived. The New Covenant has been instituted. Every believer is a New Creation. Christ created a New Community of people united in Christ. The New age promised by God in the Old Testament has arrived. The Greek term translated “new” has the connotation of “freshness.” “Freshness” characterized each day for a believer.
Third, living for Jesus means the responsibility of all Christians to proclaim a new message (2 Cor. 5.18-21). Because of the new creation, God has given every believer a ministry of reconciliation (v. 18) and a message of reconciliation (v. 19). The concept of “reconciliation” derives from the realm of personal relationships. Everything is from God – the new outlook on people, new view of self, new view of Christ, new age of salvation, new covenant, new creation, and the new community of faith. The Newness has come because God has reconciled sinful humans unto Himself.
Paul’s vibrant theology of reconciliation can be summarized as follows.
First, the necessity of reconciliation lies in the reality of human sin and rebellion against God. Human sin results in a rupture or enmity in the relationship between an individual and God. (Rom. 5:10). A state of reconciliation between God and humanity involves God “not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). As a result, believers are delivered from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:9).
Second, God is the initiator of reconciliation rather than humans. In Paul’s usage of the verb, God is the subject – the one doing the action. Reconciliation flows from the love of God (Rom. 5:8). Humans, therefore, cannot create peace with God. Paul used a past tense form of verbs (called an aorist) to describe the reality of reconciliation.
Third, Christ is the agent of reconciliation. Paul stated that reconciliation between God and humans is through Christ (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18). 2 Corinthians 5:21 explain the how of reconciliation: “He [God] made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that [purpose] we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The phrase made “to be sin for us” is interpreted in two major ways. First, since the Greek term “sin” in the Greek Old Testament can describe “sin offering” (Lev. 4:24; 5:12), some understand the phrase regarding Isaiah 53:10 – You make Him a sin offering. Second, the statement likely means Christ bore the consequences of sin, an idea expressed in Gal. 3:13. The major point is that Christ identified with humanity and died as our substitute (for us). The purpose of His substitutionary death was that we might receive God’s righteousness by union with Him.
Fourth, believers are ambassadors of the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20. Although Christ accomplished reconciliation through His death on the cross, believers must serve as ambassadors beseeching sinner on half of God “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). Christ died in our place to reconcile humans with God; believers proclaim the message of reconciliation in Christ’s place.
Graceful, Hilarious Kingdom Giving
2 Corinthians 9.1-15
Hilarity and grace characterize Christian kingdom giving. “For God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9.7 CSB). The Greek term translated “cheerful” is “hilaros” or hilarious giver. Furthermore, in his discussion of a benevolent offering in 1 Corinthians 8-9, Paul used the term “grace” six times (1 Cor. 8.1, 6, 7, 9; 9.8, 14). Paul challenged the Corinthians to be graceful, hilarious givers.
In 1 Corinthians 8-9, Paul invited the Corinthians to join with other gentile churches in an offering for the poor saints in Jerusalem. The economy of the Jerusalem suffered from famine. Because Christians Jews were no longer supported by the Jewish relief system, they no longer had a support system. In Paul’s mind, the offering served as more than mere benevolence. For Paul, the offering of the Gentiles to the Jerusalem saints visibly demonstrated the unity of Jews and Gentiles into the one people of God. The offering expressed profound theological truths. New Testament scholar David Garland brought together a helpful list of theological terms Paul used in discussing the offering in chapters 8-9: grace /privilege (8:4,6,7,19; 9.8,14), fellowship/partnership (8:4), ministry (8:4; 9:1,12,13), love (8:7, 8,24), liberality, (8:20) blessing (9:5), harvest of righteousness (9:10), and priestly service (9:12).
What principles and life lessons may the twenty-first century Christians learn about graceful, hilarious giving?
First, Paul described three principal attitudes of eager enthusiasm, contagiousness, and integrity required for graceful, hilarious giving (1 Cor. 9.1-5). Other than one occasion in the New Testament, the Greek term translated “eagerness” only occurs in Paul’s discussion of giving in 2 Corinthians 8-9 (2 Cor. 8.11, 12, 19; 9.2). Paul highlighted the contagiousness nature of mutual encouragement in kingdom giving. In 1 Corinthians 8.1-5, Paul used the example of the financially poor Macedonians to encourage the believers at Corinth to participate in the kingdom offering. Further, Paul boasted of the Corinthians eagerness to participate in the offering. As a result of the Corinthians giving, the Macedonians became more zealous in supporting the offering (2 Cor. 9.2). Furthermore, Paul challenged believers to handle kingdom finances with absolute integrity. Paul created a system of accountability to ensure integrity. First, Paul entrusted Titus (2 Cor. 8.6, 16,23), one of his most trustworthy ministry associates, as well as other brothers (2 Cor. 9.3) to watch over the collection. When Paul traveled to Jerusalem to deliver the offering, he was accompanied on his journey to Jerusalem by representatives from the churches that participated in the offering (Acts 20.4). While the church at Corinth did not have a representative, Titus probably represented the church at Corinth. In his discussion of the offering, Paul describes Titus as “As for Titus, he is my partner and coworker for you (2 Cor. 8.23).
Second, Paul provided four guidelines for kingdom giving. First, kingdom giving is a matter of the heart rather than compulsion (2 Cor. 8.7). As a heart issue, kingdom giving requires a resolve to give and a plan to give. A believer demonstrates resolve by the doing – “each person should do” (2 Cor. 9.7). Paul detailed the plan in 1 Corinthians 16 as one of regular, systematic kingdom giving. “On the first day of the week, each of you is to set something aside and save in keeping with how he is prospering…” (1 Cor. 16.2). Third, Christians should give generously (2 Cor. 9.5-6). Fourth, God gives grace to enable Christians to give; thus, kingdom giving is grace giving. Paul utilized an analogy from farming of sowing and reaping. The point of the analogy is God’s grace to provide for the needs of a believer faithful in giving. God is the provider that gives us our resources, but He is also able to meet the needs of believers that practice faithful kingdom giving (2 Cor. 9.8).
Third, Paul emphasized four types of blessing resulting from kingdom giving (2 Cor. 9.8-14). First, God blesses the faithful kingdom giver as God enriches the believer – so that in every way, always having everything you need (2 Cor. 9.8). Second, the recipients of kingdom ministry are blessed as God supplies their needs are (2 Cor. 9.12). Third, God is blessed as faithful giving results in thanksgiving and glory being given to God (2 Cor. 9.11-13). Fourth, the church is blessed through kingdom giving. Faithful giving produces faithful prayer, deep affection, and unity within the church.
2 Corinthians 12.7b-10; 13.2-8
We hear a great deal about church conflict in churches today and surmise that this is a new phenomenon. The first-century church experienced numerous disputes from false teachers, personality conflicts. A dramatic transition occurs in 2 Corinthians 10 as Paul shifted from a message of conflict to address the infiltration of “so-called apostles” into the Corinthian church that opposed Paul. The apostle inferred that these infiltrators followed “another” Jesus, received a “different” spirit, and preached a “different” gospel (2 Cor. 11.4).
These leaders regarded themselves as “super-apostles” (2 Cor. 11.5,11) charged Paul with “behaving according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 10.2), claimed Paul was “weighty in his letters” but unimpressive in his physical appearance and speech (2 Cor. 10.10), and boasters. In response, Paul boasted of his weakness and gave a long catalog of humiliating, painful experiences from his apostolic career (2 Cor. 11.22-33).
How did Paul find strength in light of personal attacks and a church attracted to false leaders?
First, Paul boasted in his weaknesses rather than his strengths (2 Cor. 12.1-10). “If boasting is necessary, I will boast about my weaknesses” (2 Cor. 11.30). Evidently, Paul’s opponents must have boasted of visionary experiences. In response, Paul described a vision he received probably during the time he returned to his home province of Cilicia before he engaged in his first mission trip as suggested by the time reference “fourteen years ago.” Since Paul would only boast of his weaknesses, he described his personal experience regarding “I know a man.” Paul was snatched up either bodily or through a vision into the “third heaven” or “paradise (2 Cor.12.2-3). Both “third heaven” and “paradise” describe the abode of God.
As a result of his vision or transportation to heaven, God gave Paul a “thorn in the flesh” to keep Paul humble. We do not know the exact nature of this “thorn,” although the description seems so point to a physical ailment. Two verses in Galatians seem to imply that Paul suffered from an eye ailment (Gal. 4.14; 6.11). Satan attempted to use Paul’s ailment for negative purposes; Paul understood his “thorn” as serving the positive purpose of humbling him. Paul prayed three times (reminiscent of Jesus’ prayer in the garden) for the removal of the thorn. God did not remove the thorn; God gave Paul grace to endure the thorn.
Second, Paul warned that he had the strength of Christ to discipline the trouble-makers (2 Cor. 13.1-4). In 2 Corinthians 12.20-21, Paul highlighted two types of sins that tarnished the reputation of the church and the reputation of Jesus, namely, relational sins (2 Cor. 12.20) and sensual sins (2 Cor. 12.21). Paul cited the principle from Deuteronomy 19.15 of the necessity of two or three witnesses to an accusation to rule out of the legal preceding any personal grudges. It appears that the three witnesses comprise Paul’s personal observations on three trips to Corinth. Paul warned the Corinthians not to think that Paul was too weak to deal with the situation. Paul is united with Christ (“in him”) in the weakness of Christ, but the apostle lives in the strength of the resurrection. Paul, therefore, will deal with the Corinthians in the strength Christ provided.
Third, Paul challenged the Corinthians to examine their relationship with the Lord (2 Cor. 13.5-8). Paul commanded the Corinthians to examine and test themselves. The verbs describe continual process; that is, continually examine and continually test. “Test” means to seek the determine the validity of something. Is this real? Paul did not provide a spiritual test or checklist for the Corinthians. Throughout his letters to the Corinthians, he uplifted the importance of right doctrine, right behavior, and right relationships within the church. Right doctrine, right behavior, and right relationships, therefore, comprise the core means by which the Corinthians may examine and test themselves. Paul wants his readers to pass the examination and test (2 Cor. 13.8). Paul reminded his readers that he prayed for their “full maturity” (2 Cor. 13.9).