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Bible read me 1The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Corinthians 11:7-11

Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. 11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s grief on God’s behalf that the Corinthians had given their pulpit over to false teachers.

He thinks that it was because he was not charging them money to hear him preach, which is what the false teachers were doing (verse 7).

Because Paul did not ask for money from the Corinthians, the false teachers said this was because his preaching was worthless.

John MacArthur notes the sarcasm in that verse (emphases mine):

there’s irony there and there’s sarcasm there. He’s saying, “Have I committed some sin by breaking the Greek cultural pattern? Have I committed some iniquity by not following the norm that a teacher’s worth is determined by his fee? You know why I didn’t take any money.” He had worked, by the way, the whole time he was there – nearly two years – he had worked as a tent maker, or literally, a leather worker, tents being made out of hide.

According to Acts 18:3, while he was there he worked as a tent maker, he worked as a leather worker, and he worked to pay his own way while he ministered. He did the same with the Ephesians, in Acts 20:34: “You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me.” He was so skilled at his trade, he was so good at it, he could not only make a living for himself, but everybody who traveled with him, and he did it. And there, he established a pattern of work, and there, he relieved a burden, being he didn’t want to be a burden on the people, and he distinguished himself from the popular sophists, and philosophers, and false teachers.

Note that Paul says he humbled himself in order that the Corinthians could be exalted. That means he lived on tent making and gifts from the established churches so that he could lift the converts of Corinth out of sin and show them the light of Christ.

MacArthur elaborates:

“Did I commit a sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted?” They had been exalted; what does he mean by that, exalted? Lifted up.

Lifted up out of the darkness to the light; lifted up out of sin to righteousness; lifted out of hell to heaven; lifted from Satan to God; lifted from death to life. He said, “Did I commit some sin in humbling myself to lift you up?” “Was that a sin? This free preaching elevated you from damnation to glory; had I committed a sin in doing that?” Well, he makes it such a sarcastic statement because it’s so foolish. They know better than that. Paul had lived in a measure of material poverty; that’s right. He had lived in a measure of material poverty, so his hearers could become rich.

By humbling himself for his converts’ exaltation, Paul was imitating Christ:

He had followed the pattern of Jesus, in 8:9 of this same letter, chapter 8, verse 9 – Jesus, who was “rich, but for your sakes became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” Paul could have been very wealthy. He was an astute man. He was a brilliant mind. He was a highly-trained man. He was, obviously, a very skilled craftsman. He could have done very well for himself. But he put that all aside, and operated, really, from hand to mouth, working to earn his daily food. Not only his, but everybody who traveled with him. He became poor, that he might make others rich; and in that he was like his Lord.

He goes on to say that he ‘robbed’ other churches to help support him in order that he could serve the then-new church in Corinth (verse 8).

MacArthur explains the use of the word:

he says, “I robbed” – that’s interesting that he uses that word, ’cause it’s a strong word, and it’s a word used in a military context, to plunder or to pillage. It’s used in classical Greek of – of stripping the armor off a dead soldier. It’s a word for plundering.

Now, you say, “What is – what is Paul saying that for? Why would he choose a word like that? Why would he say ‘I plundered and pillaged other churches?’” Well, not because he actually robbed them, not because he pillaged them, but – but because in his mind – he was such a humble man. In his mind, he looked at these churches which were already poor, and they sent him gifts to support him, which even made them poorer. It was like a plundering, in his mind. These churches were very poor, and they gave to him generously, and thus furthered impoverished themselves, as if they had been plundered by some invader.

Specifically, he has in mind here the churches in Macedonia. You know, Greek – Greece is divided into two parts – the northern part, Macedonia, the southern part, Achaia – with a little isthmus in the middle. He is now in the southern part, Achaia, on the western shore where Corinth is, but he’s been up in Macedonia, where Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea are the cities the churches have been established in. And you remember, in chapter 8 – go back to chapter 8 – that the churches of Macedonia are mentioned in verse 1; that would be Philippi, Berea, Thessalonica.

The churches of Macedonia – verse 2 – were in a great ordeal of affliction, and were characterized by deep poverty. Macedonia was very, very poor, and the churches were very, very poor. But in the middle of their affliction, in the middle of their deep poverty, verse 2 says, “they overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.” And verse 3 says, they gave “beyond their ability.” We know that the church at Philippi sent him gifts, because he refers to them in Philippians, chapter 4, verses 10 to 18. In fact, they sent him a gift that was so significant that he can say, “I have received everything in full and have an abundance” – Philippians 4:18.

Paul’s pattern of ministry involved donations from churches he established to go towards his planting a new church. He did not ask for money from the new churches.

MacArthur says it is a pattern which remains today in good churches:

It is still, I think, wise in new ministries to follow that pattern. When workers go out, and men go out to found a church, plant a church, among unbelievers, winning unbelievers to Christ, and building a church, I think it’s wise for them to be supported by already-established churches, so that the folks they’re trying to reach don’t have to pay their support. When people go to the mission field, or places where Christ is not named, to establish churches in other cultures, they are usually supported by their home churches, aren’t they?

Even when national pastors go out to found and plant churches in places where there are no churches, they will be supported by a home church. That’s – that’s a pretty solid pattern throughout the history of Christian mission and church-planting, and I think it’s a wise one. It was in the course of Paul’s second missionary journey that he visited Corinth, and founded the church there, around 52 A.D. And there he lived, and worked with his friend Aquila in the craft of leather work, so that he would be free to preach the gospel and never have to take any money for it

People in the established churches were so grateful to and so fond of Paul that they used to gather collections to send to him to further his ministry in a new area:

Wherever he went to start a church, he did the work, and he charged them nothing. And later on, when he left, out of love, they would send gifts, which he would receive.

Paul says that even when he was truly in need in Corinth, the Macedonian churches helped him. He never asked the Corinthians for material support at that time and would ‘burden’ them by doing so in future (verse 9).

It would appear he had not previously told the Corinthians about the time he was in dire straits in their city.

MacArthur has more on that time of need, possibly driven by having spent more time teaching them than working or because there was a lack of available work:

in verse 9, for the first time he tells them something about his exigency, something about his need. “And when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone.” Wow, this is the first they’ve heard of that. “When I was present with you, when I was there, I was in need.” And what does he mean? “I didn’t have food. I didn’t have the necessities of life.”

He had been working at his trade – from Acts 18, I told you, we know that. But his – his ministry was getting more and more intensive, and maybe the demands of that ministry were curtailing the time that he had for work, and maybe work had run out and his resources were depleted. Whatever it was, he was in a dire situation. He says, “Even when I was in need, I was not a burden to anyone.” That word burden means dead weight. It literally means to cause numbing by pressing against. “I was not dead weight to you, even when I” – they didn’t even know about his need; he didn’t even tell them about it.

Then, verse 9: “for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so.” Some brethren came down from Philippi, and, most likely, down from Thessalonica, and they brought some money, they brought some gifts. They arrived at exactly the time of Paul’s need. They arrived when the situation was acute. And even in that extremity, he said, “I didn’t ask anything out of you.” He wanted to give no occasion to anyone to accuse him of greed. And by the way, the occasion of that coming of those brethren is indicated, in Acts 18:5, as the occasion when Timothy and Silas came, “and they fully supplied my need.”

Paul said that he would not take anything from the Corinthians in future because he did not want to feed into the slander from the false teachers:

I think there were probably some of the Corinthians who thought, “I wish he’d take something, we love him so much.” But he wouldn’t give those false teachers any opportunity or any satisfaction, and he didn’t want them to have any opportunity to accuse him of greed.

He was so determined to keep preaching because the truth of Christ was in him and nothing or no one was going to stop his righteous boasting in Achaia, the region where Corinth was located (verse 10).

MacArthur says that there were other believers or other churches in that region:

… in the southern region of Achaia, he indicates here in the regions of Achaia, which would lead us to believe that there was more than the church at Corinth established in Achaia. And we do know from Romans 16:1 that there was also a church at Cenchrea, and Phoebe you remember was a servant of that church. So there were other churches there; we don’t know how many, at least that one. But back in 2 Corinthians 1:1 … it says, “To all the saints who are throughout Achaia.” Now this indicates to us that there were Christians all around Achaia, all through that area. The Gospel had gone, people had been converted, and church, at least those two churches, were planted and there were believers in a lot of other areas. It also indicates to us that the influence of the false apostles was probably stretching all around Achaia also, and he didn’t want them to find anything in his life that they could use against him. And mercenary motives would’ve been something they would’ve used. And so he is very careful to say, “I’m not changing this policy anywhere throughout the regions of Achaia,” indicating that their influence had spread through Achaia, that at least one other church existed in Cenchrea and perhaps more than that. Paul was true to his convictions.

MacArthur says that the ‘boasting’ involved Paul’s resolve not to change his policy of financial help:

the true apostle of Christ, the true preacher is marked by truth, not just humility but truth. Verse 10, and here again, this is by way of implication: “As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine,” – what he means by this boasting is this affirmation that I will not receive any money from you. “This boasting of mine will not be stopped in the regions of Achaia.” Paul says, “I’m not changing anything. I don’t care what you say, I’m not changing anything with regard to my policy.” But he starts it out with this statement, “As the truth of Christ is in me.” My what a statement, my what a statement. I suppose there are a lot of preachers who could say, “The truth of Christ is in my mouth.” There were a lot of preachers who could say, “The truth of Christ is in my head.” What Paul means to say when he says, “The truth of Christ is in me,” is that he operates from the inside out with absolute integrity. Literally the Greek says, “by virtue of the truth Christ has placed in me.” It wasn’t just that he proclaimed truth, he lived it. It was his driving motive. He was devoted to the truth not just in his voice, not just in his mind, but in his heart. That’s what integrity is, folks. And a lot of people know the truth in their head, talk the truth in their mouth and don’t have the truth in their heart and it shows up. Paul was a man who had the truth on the inside and it started on the inside and it came from the inside out. It was his mission in life to proclaim the truth of Christ, but it was his life to live it.

Verse 11 is sad and plaintive. Paul asks two questions: why he will not change his policy of ministry and is it not because he loves the new Christians in Corinth. He then affirms his love, ‘God knows I do!’

MacArthur expands on what Paul was saying:

He has only one court of appeal in verse 11. Because I don’t love you – he’s left with nothing but this: “God knows. I have nowhere to turn. God knows.” I mean you ultimately rest in that when you’re falsely accused. When the false teachers come against you as they would against Paul or any other true teacher and say, “Well he doesn’t really love you. He’s unloving. He’s not a loving person,” which is a common criticism you get today of true teachers. Because they’re definite, because they’re clear, because they’re doctrinal, because they sort out truth from error, they’re deemed as unloving. How do you answer that question? Paul had nowhere else to go. He just said, “God knows. God knows” … There’s something kind of sad about that, isn’t there? I mean it’s like you don’t have enough information, all I can say is, “God knows.” And that’s the highest court, God knows. What more can I say? God knows my heart.

MacArthur says that, so often, when a good church is established, false teachers come in to ruin it with error, if not heresy. It happened to churches in the New Testament, e.g. Ephesus, and it happens today:

Now basically what you have here in this sort of synopsis of life in the church, this sort of sampler on teaching regarding the church, is very simple pastoral role laid out. You learn sound doctrine. You become astute in sound doctrine. You cover the plan of God from front to back, and then you take that into the church and you guard your own life against the subtleties of Satan and against sin and all of that that’s gonna corrupt you. And then you guard the flock because as soon as you begin your ministry, you can be certain that from the outside and from the inside the lies will begin. They’ll come in every way imaginable. People will come into the church to seduce people and draw away disciples after themselves. They’ll do it through books and in our day they’ll do it through tapes and radio and television; in every possible conceivable means they will do it.

It is up to each of us to stay doctrinally true — and part of that involves resisting sin, because sin weakens our spiritual state:

The only hope for protection is that God will fulfill his promise to care for his church and that his church would grow strong in the Word. The Word is able to build you up. It’s able to bring you all the way to the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Now there you have simply a summation of ministry. Ministry is teaching a foundation of doctrine so that people know the truth so that they can withstand the error and the lie. That’s the way it is in the Christian experience. We have to live in this world and we have to be impervious as it were to the subtleties and the nuances and the deceptions of Satan in order that we can preserve and proclaim the truth. That’s what ministry is. And the pastor is a proclaimer and teacher of truth and a guardian, and part of the role of teaching and leading is of course disseminating truth so we understand the whole counsel of God. And the other part is teaching people discernment so that they can be protected so that the truth can be guarded, so their lives can be guarded in order that they might be effective in the evangelistic enterprise, which is the reason we’re here.

the absence of discernment is simply a result of an ignorance about Scripture, ignorance about doctrine. If you don’t understand the Bible, you can’t have discernment, because discernment is simply the application of biblical knowledge. And if you don’t have discernment, what you’ll have is immaturity. And where you have immaturity, you have gullibility … And the only way we can be discerning is to understand Scripture. If we’re discerning, then that means we’re applying Scripture to the seductions of the enemy and we’re understanding what they really are. But where you don’t have discernment you have immaturity. Where you have immaturity, you have gullibility. Where you have gullibility, you have effective seduction and you have tragedy in the lives of people. Such was the case in Corinth, and you know that.

That’s exactly what Satan was doing in Corinth. He sent in false teachers. They brought a bunch of lies. They started to seduce the Corinthian believers. Some of them bought into the seduction and they started down a path demonstrating gullibility even after they had been taught for three years by Paul, or for two years by Paul; in Corinth, it was nearly two years. Even after all of that exposure to the counsel of God, they were still a church that had children, spiritual children in it. Some had come to Christ later on and hadn’t really gotten that foundation solidly laid down, and they were no doubt the immature ones who were a part of that affection. It’s also true that someone could be around the church for a long time but if they’re sinful in their life they never really do take in the Word of God even though they hear it with their ears, and they too remain immature and gullible.

Paul’s discourse continues with a mention of Satan. More on that next week.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 11:12-15

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