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bible-wornThe 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 12:19-21

19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved. 20 For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. 21 I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.

————————————————————————————

Last week’s post concluded Paul’s self-defence against the accusations of the false teachers who had inveigled themselves with the Corinthians.

His letter then turns towards the spiritual state of the Corinthians.

He says that he has been doing much more than defending himself; in fact, he has been speaking in Christ in the sight of God for their edification (verse 19).

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us (emphases mine):

This was his great aim and design, to do good, to lay the foundation well, and then with care and diligence to build the superstructure.

John MacArthur has more on this verse, noting the sarcasm here, tempered by calling the Corinthians ‘beloved’:

Verse 19 – why then are you giving this all to us? – end of verse, “It is all for your” – what? What’s the word? – “upbuilding, beloved. At the same time that he was seeking to reverence God, at the same time that he knew who his judge was and that he was seeking to please God and God alone, he also sought the spiritual well-being of the Corinthian church. And here’s the point; if he w[ere] discredited, they wouldn’t listen to him. If they didn’t listen to him, they wouldn’t hear the Word of God. If they didn’t hear the Word of God, they wouldn’t grow, bottom line. Their sanctification was dependent on listening to him.

He wanted to convince them that he was the true spokesman of God not so they could sit in judgment on his life, but so they could listen to his teaching. “It was all for your upbuilding; it’s all for your edification. You’re not my judge, but you are my spiritual responsibility. You’re not going to sit in judgment on my life, but you are going to sit under my teaching. And only if you trust in me as the true apostle of Jesus Christ are you going to hear what I say and believe it and therefore grow. “

He calls them beloved tenderly here. He’s been sarcastic, and I think putting in the word “beloved” sort of balances it off a little. “You’re not my judge, but all that I’m teaching, all that I’m trying to accomplish here ultimately benefits you, because when you hear the truth, you’re built up in the truth.”

MacArthur explains the transition of subject matter from the false teachers to the Corinthians themselves:

So, in 12:19 and 13:10, he speaks of his commitment to building up the church. And in between those two verses is the final section on how that is done. This is a very, very instructive portion of Scripture. It is at the end of the epistle; that doesn’t lessen its importance. In fact, if anything, it heightens it. He has reached a kind of crescendo here, and he gives us a summary of what is involved in the building up of the saints which is the passion of his life.

He fears that when he finally sees them again they might not find him in a good mood if he finds them reverting to the sins he warned against in 1 Corinthians: quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder (verse 20).

Henry says that Paul did not want to be harsh on the congregation unless he found good reason for so doing:

He would not shrink from his duty for fear of displeasing them, though he was so careful to make himself easy to them.

Paul ends the chapter by saying that he fears God might humble — humiliate — him before the Corinthians for their stubborn sin and that he will grieve for the souls of the many who had not repented of their impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality (verse 21).

Henry offers these observations. ‘Professors’ here means those who profess their faith:

Note, (1.) The falls and miscarriages of professors cannot but be a humbling consideration to a good minister; and God sometimes takes this way to humble those who might be under temptation to be lifted up: I fear lest my God will humble me among you. (2.) We have reason to bewail those who sin and do not repent, to bewail many that have sinned, and have not repented, 2 Corinthians 12:21; 2 Corinthians 12:21. If these have not, as yet, grace to mourn and lament their own case, their case is the more lamentable; and those who love God, and love them, should mourn for them.

MacArthur looks at some of the words in the original Greek manuscript:

Now, look at Paul’s concern, verse 20, “For I am afraid.” He says the same thing at the beginning of verse 21, “I am afraid.” What is he saying here? He has some fears. The word is phobeō, from which we get the English word “phobia.” It’s not talking about a superficial thing; it’s talking about a deep-seated fear, a deep-seated anxiety

Such a fear, by the way, was reasonable because the last time he went he found that. It was reasonable because since that last time, false teachers had gained the ascendency, and many of the Corinthians had followed their lies, and you don’t follow error without attendant sin; iniquity follows error. Theological error is followed by behavioral iniquity.

So, he realizes that there is great potential for sin to be in that church, because they have false teachers there who are leading them astray. And he’s afraid that when he goes there, he’s going to find that is present – sin and no repentance, as he notes in verse 21 …

Strife, for example, he already spoke to them about in 1 Corinthians 1:11. It means rivalry, discord, debates – literally battles. And then the word “jealousy” – zēlos – envyings. He confronted that in 1 Corinthians 3:3. And then angry tempers – thumos. “Outbursts” is the word, fits, sudden explosions of anger, out of control hostility. He addressed that in 1 Corinthians 6:1 and following. And then disputes – eritheia – factious attitudes, divisiveness, partisanship. He addressed that in 1 Corinthians 1:11.

And then slanders, which is open, loud-mouthed criticism, public insults, public vilification. He spoke of that in 1 Corinthians 5:11 and 6:10. And by the way, that’s an onomatopoetic word katalaleō – la-da-la-da-la. “Gossip” is another word used here. That, too, he had to address in an indirect way in 1 Corinthians 11:18. Gossip is quiet whispers of criticism. That’s a word in the Greek that’s even hard to pronounce – psithurismos. It’s like, psss-shh-shh-shh-shh – another onomatopoetic word. Whispers of criticism. “Arrogance,” that’s another word that is sort of onomatopoetic. It starts out with a P-H-U (blowing sound), hot air, puffed up, overblown. He referred to that in 1 Corinthians 4 and 5 and 8. And then he closes with disturbances, disorder, tumults, anarchy. They may have been trying to exercise congregational rule, where everybody does what’s right in his own eyes.

And 1 Corinthians 11:20 and following, 1 Corinthians 14:26 and following deal with that. Every one of these sins had been dealt with in 1 Corinthians. They were a part of pagan culture; they got dragged into the church, and Paul’s afraid he’s going to come there and find they’ve all sort of come back again. Because if people are following error, they inevitably are going to follow sinful behavior. And these are the things he fears he’ll find.

Familiar sins. They were part of the habit patterns of these people before they came to Christ.

MacArthur explains Paul’s priorities as a minister in Christ. Sanctification of the flock was his — and should be any pastor’s — ultimate goal:

If you are concerned for the sanctification of the Church, which you must be, because that’s what you’re called to do, if you’ve been given for the upbuilding of the saints, and you’re committed to that, there are six things you must be consumed with. One is repentance, two is discipline, three is authority, four is authenticity, five is obedience, and six is perfection. And those are the six features that Paul works through down to verse 10 of chapter 13.

The pastor is concerned that his people become like Christ. Paul the apostle was concerned that his people became like Christ. And it was that concern that literally consumed his heart and his mind. It moved his emotions, and it moved his will.

His concern for them had very little to do with their physical well-being; it had very little to do with their health, very little to do with their wealth or prosperity, very little, if anything, to do with their success, very little to do with their comfort, very little to do with their personal satisfaction or the fulfillment of their desires and goals. That was not an issue for Paul.

The faithful pastor’s concern was for the sanctification of his people. He was concerned for their spiritual well-being. And I daresay it is fairly common that most churches and most Christians in them become preoccupied with the physical concerns of the church and much less preoccupied, if at all, with those which have to do with personal sanctification

Of course he’s concerned to be a part of times of suffering, and times of pain, and times of illness, and times of loss, and times of difficulty in the matters of physical life, but only insofar, really, as they touch the spiritual dimension, because that’s where the real concern lies.

2 Corinthians 13 closes the book. Next week’s verses are about the necessity of repentance in gaining eternal life in Christ.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 13:1-4

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