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Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 2:12-17

Triumph in Christ

12 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13 my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.

14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

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In last week’s verses, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to forgive and allow a man whom they had excluded from fellowship to rejoin their congregation because he had gone through enough and repented.

In this week’s reading, we have Paul’s account of moving from despair to hope.

Paul had an intense love for the Corinthians, even though they were mired in sin.

He wrote them three letters, two of which are in the New Testament, and one which is not. John MacArthur calls the one excluded from the canon the ‘severe’ letter.

Yet, just as Paul despaired over their spiritual state, he knew that God had greater things in store for him.

Today’s passage addresses the same emotions of despair and hope.

Paul tells the Corinthians that he was awaiting the arrival of Titus in Troas and when he did not arrive as expected, Paul stopped preaching to the people of that city and went instead to Macedonia (verses 12, 13).

Titus was supposed to give him an update on the state of the congregation in Corinth, which troubled Paul greatly. While waiting, Paul preached to the people of Troas but was too dejected to continue. He really wanted to hear from Titus about the Corinthians.

MacArthur describes what was going on in Paul’s mind and heart at that time (emphases mine):

What a church, certainly a church to bring grief to a pastor’s heart.

It is that very grief that we feel in the text before us. Would he ever be welcome at Corinth again? Could he ever go back? He already planned a trip and then changed his mind in chapter 2 because he really didn’t want to have another sad visit. He wasn’t up to it. He couldn’t take any more pain. The last brief visit that he had there was very short and very painful.

On top of all of this, as we find the apostle Paul, he has been in Ephesus; and in Ephesus things weren’t going very well either. Some think he may have had a serious, even potentially, fatal illness, because he said, “We carry about in our body the dying of Jesus Christ.” Others think it was just the relentless persecution. It all culminated when a riot started that could have taken his life in Ephesus, so things weren’t going well where he was, and they were certainly going terribly where his heart was.

It’s not then hard to understand that there is some pathos  in this letter, there’s some grief in this letter. There’s some ache in his heart as he writes.

Paul’s visit to Troas here was not the same one in Acts 16, where he first met Luke. This was a second trip. MacArthur tells us more:

Now Paul had been to Troas before. Acts 16 records his first visit there in verses 8 to 11, and apparently on that occasion he did not found a church. It is also true that in Acts 20, and verses 6 to 12, we read that there is a church in Troas. There was not church there the first time he went. There was a church there in Acts 20. We assume then that the church was planted on this visit. It says – go back to verse 12: “I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ,” to evangelize the city which was the way you started a church. He had come with a purpose of evangelization, not just to meet Titus.

Now he may have come early because of the pressure from Ephesus. Titus may have missed his boat. And so while he is there waiting for Titus, he purposely evangelizes. And then he adds in verse 12, notice the last phrase, “and when a door was opened for me in the Lord,” – stop at that point for a moment before we finish that sentence.

He had commented about an opened door in Ephesus in 1 Corinthians 16:8 and 9. He loved opened doors. He said to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 16:8 and 9, “I have to stay at Ephesus because there is an open door. And even though there are many adversaries, I have to stay because the door is open.”

Well, it’s the same thing; here’s an open door in Troas. It wasn’t opened by human ingenuity – would you notice verse 12? – “It was opened for me in the Lord, by the Lord, in the power and strength of the Lord.” The Lord had given him a tremendous opportunity there.

Now in order to know that, he must have already preached. He must have preached with great blessing and success. And many people must have come to hear; and some believed, and more interested. How else would he know the door was open unless he had tested it? So we can assume when he arrived, he started to preach, and people believed.

Despite his success in Troas, his heart was still with the Corinthians. Note verse 13:

my spirit was not at rest

MacArthur says:

he really was preaching with a broken heart. He was a very distracted preacher. He was having a ministry in a place he didn’t want to be. His heart was so overwrought and burdened by the Corinthian situation that he had a very difficult time pouring himself into a ministry that was wide open to him. It was the discontent of his own heart that cut him off from that opportunity.

MacArthur continues:

All the churning of all of that in his own heart created the anxiety that debilitated him. He didn’t know the answer to the aching questions, and he had no freedom to minister. So he said, “I have no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus, my brother.” Without some kind of word from Titus, he was really useless, he was so troubled. And I’m sure he imagined the worst. So here we find this marvelous man in the pits.

So Paul left Troas for Macedonia.

Imagine the disappointment of the people of Troas:

he turned away from the open door, verse 13. Isn’t it amazing? “But taking my leave of them,” – them? Who is them? The church that he had planted there, the baby infant church, the believers and those who were eager yet to hear. “I turned my back on them, and went on to Macedonia.”

This was so unlike Paul, the epitome of apostolic resilience.

Paul normally prayed for — and received — divine guidance. However, in this instance, he says nothing of that. MacArthur asks:

You notice the absence of any prompting of the Holy Spirit here?

There is another question to be asked, which is, how did he know where Titus would be?

MacArthur explains:

You see, he knew the route that Titus would take. It was a five-day boat trip across the northeast corner of the Aegean Sea. He could leave Troas and be where he needed to be, and then get on the trail. And in ancient times when people traveled they made sure that everyone knew their travel plans, and they could be tracked, and they sent word ahead and left word behind about their movements. Paul set out then on a gloomy journey trying to intersect Titus; he couldn’t wait any longer. He had to know. He had to know.

Then Paul changes the tone.

The next three verses are some of the most marvellous in the New Testament. Note the change in language and the hope. Why did Paul use such poetic words?

The answer is in the title of this passage: ‘Triumph in Christ’, specifically ‘triumph’, which was an elaborate Roman procession to celebrate a general who had won a major victory.

A triumph involved fragrance from flowers and incense. The procession ended when those in it arrived at the emperor’s throne.

MacArthur gives us a splendid description:

The Romans had what was called a “Triumph;” that’s what they called it. A Triumph was when the Roman government and all of its people honored a great general.

The honor could be bestowed on a victorious Roman general only under certain conditions. Before he could win it, he must have been the actual commander-in-chief of all the troops in the field. The campaign must have been completely finished, the region completely pacified, and the victorious troops brought home. At least 5,000 of the enemy must have fallen in one engagement. A positive extension of the territory of the kingdom must have been gained and not just a disaster retrieved or some attack repelled. A victory must have been won over a foreign foe and it could not be in a civil war. And now and then, maybe once in a life time, a general might have that kind of Triumph given to him as his honor. In the actual Triumph, there would be a procession through the streets of Rome to the capital where an offering would be made to the gods.

First there would come the state officials, and there would come the senate in this great Triumph. Then there would come the trumpeters. Then there would come those carrying the spoils from the conquering, all the wealth and the treasures. Then there would come the white bull which was to be offered in a blood sacrifice to Jupiter. Then there would come the captives, the prisoners in chains who would be headed to prison and to death.

Then there would come the priests. The priests would be swinging censers full of incense that was smoldering and smoking, and the fragrance of the incense would fill the air all along the way. And in addition, women would line the street and throw garlands of flowers to be crushed under the hooves of the men on the horses, and thus the fragrance would mount. In the homes of the people, they might light incense lamps, so that the fragrance would fill the entire city.

Then there would come the general himself, and he would be riding a chariot pulled by four horses; and he would have a purple toga marked out with golden stars, and over it he would have another purple robe; it would be embroidered with golden palm leaves. In his hand he would have an ivory scepter crowned with an eagle. And all the people would shout, “Triumph, triumph, triumph, triumph” …

The great emperor seated on the high throne at the capital at the end of the parade would smell the wafting fragrance. It was not only sweet to the victorious troops who had been the means by which the smell of victory had come to pass, but it was very sweet to the emperor himself.

Paul uses the triumph as a metaphor for evangelising for Christ, our leader in the procession. Paul gives thanks to God for Christ, who, through us, spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Himself everywhere (verse 14).

MacArthur captures the eternal hope of that verse:

Don’t look at the circumstances. Don’t look at the difficulties. If you want to turn your discouragement into joy, look at your privileges. And you have the privilege of being led by the sovereign God who is involved in every detail of your life and ministry. Just the contemplation of the privilege of being led by the greatest Commander-in-Chief and being associated with the Lord Jesus Christ and being in the ranks of others who have served Him through the years also under His sovereign leadership should be enough to bring back the joy.

And then Paul gave thanks for a second thing: gave thanks for the privilege of promised victory in Christ. Not only the privilege of being associated with Jesus Christ under the sovereign leadership of God, but the privilege of promised victory with Jesus Christ. Look at it, verse 14: “God who always leads us in His triumph in Christ.” He’s not only always leading us, but He’s always leading us triumphantly. We’re always marching in the great parade. We can never lose. We follow the conquering Hero in the victory parade through life, not as captives, not as prisoners headed to judgment, but as co-conquerors in the great triumph over sin and death and hell.

It’s just wonderful to be a part of the triumphant parade, even if I just shot one guy over the corner and he was only barely wounded. It’s just wonderful to be associated with the victory, isn’t it? Jesus Christ is a conqueror, and in Him we are more than conquerors. And He came into the world, and He conquered sin and death and hell, and triumphantly He will march the redeemed troops into eternal glory, and you and I will be behind Him in His train as those who were with Him in the battle. And the issue is not how many we got, the issue is the triumph; and we’re swept up in the victory parade, we’re swept up in the glory moment.

Paul says that we are the aroma from Christ to God in equal measure to those who are alive in Him and to those who are condemned (verse 15).

For some, it is a fragrance of eternal death, and, for others, it is fragrance that gives eternal life; but who among us is able to convey the message alone (verse 16)?

Matthew Henry explains the effects of the Gospel on those who hear it:

The different success of the gospel, and its different effects upon several sorts of persons to whom it is preached. The success is different; for some are saved by it, while others perish under it. Nor is this to be wondered at, considering the different effects the gospel has. For, (1.) Unto some it is a savour of death unto death. Those who are willingly ignorant, and wilfully obstinate, disrelish the gospel, as men dislike an ill savour, and therefore they are blinded and hardened by it: it stirs up their corruptions, and exasperates their spirits. They reject the gospel, to their ruin, even to spiritual and eternal death. (2.) Unto others the gospel is a savour of life unto life. To humble and gracious souls the preaching of the word is most delightful and profitable. As it is sweeter than honey to the taste, so it is more grateful than the most precious odours to the senses, and much more profitable; for as it quickened them at first, when they were dead in trespasses and sins, so it makes them more lively, and will end in eternal life.

Henry also explores the sufficiency of the preacher of the Gospel. No one can do it alone. We require God’s help and grace to work through us:

Tis hikanos–who is worthy to be employed in such weighty work, a work of such vast importance, because of so great consequence? Who is able to perform such a difficult work, that requires so much skill and industry? The work is great and our strength is small; yea, of ourselves we have no strength at all; all our sufficiency is of God. Note, If men did seriously consider what great things depend upon the preaching of the gospel, and how difficult the work of the ministry is, they would be very cautious how they enter upon it, and very careful to perform it well.

Paul returns to the false teachers in the Corinthian church, calling them ‘peddlers’ of the market stall type: hawkers. He contrasts such men with himself and Titus, who preach with earnestness and sincerity, commissioned by God, always aware that they speak of Christ under the watchful eye of the Father (verse 17).

Henry says:

Though many did corrupt the word of God, yet the apostle’s conscience witnessed to his fidelity. He did not mix his own notions with the doctrines and institutions of Christ; he durst not add to, nor diminish from, the word of God; he was faithful in dispensing the gospel, as he received it from the Lord, and had no secular turn to serve; his aim was to approve himself to God, remembering that his eye was always upon him; he therefore spoke and acted always as in the sight of God, and therefore in sincerity. Note, What we do in religion is not of God, does not come from God, will not reach to God, unless it be done in sincerity, as in the sight of God.

What a wonderful passage, taking us from sharing Paul’s despair to his triumph in Christ.

Thus ends 2 Corinthians 2.

Much of 2 Corinthians 3 is in the Lectionary, but a short passage discusses ministry further. It has the same theme of eternal glory in Christ Jesus.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 3:7-11

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe 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 2:5-11

Forgive the Sinner

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s further reasons for not returning to Corinth yet; he wanted a joyful reunion, one where he did not have to censure them again.

Today’s verses are about a man whom the Corinthians excluded from their congregation for serious sin.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this person was the subject of 1 Corinthians 5, about which I wrote in 2010:

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 – incest, porneia, church discipline, indifference, sin

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 – church purity

However, John MacArthur disagrees (emphases mine below):

Look at 1 Corinthians chapter 5. Some would say this is the same man. I think not. I think this is a completely different issue here. But there was a man who was engaged in sexual sin. He was engaged in a sexual relationship with his father’s wife which perhaps is the way to indicate it’s his stepmother. It was an incestuous relationship. The church was not dealing with it. The church was arrogant, was not mourning over this. And so he tells them they’ve got to deal with it, they’ve got to bring it to the church.

MacArthur thinks that this man made false accusations about Paul:

The apostle Paul, you remember, had been falsely assaulted. His character, his virtue, his spiritual office and calling, his teaching, all of it had been assaulted by some false apostles who came to Corinth. They found willing ears among the Corinthians and they were able to raise a mutiny and a rebellion against Paul. In fact, when Paul made a visit to Corinth, most likely one member of the Corinthian church who is the object of this particular text, confronted him to the face and publicly and openly and shamelessly assaulted him, publicly discrediting this beloved apostle, this authority, this one who spoke for Christ.

Well, the man had to be dealt with because the – the authority of Paul was so crucial in the early church. You can understand why, because there was not yet the canon of the New Testament. And if people lost confidence in the apostles who spoke the Word of God by revelation, there would be no source for truth. The integrity, the credibility of Paul was crucial. It would be tantamount to the integrity and credibility of Scripture today. Undermining Paul’s life and ministry, undermining what he taught, in effect, would be to totally distort divine truth. And so when someone in the congregation stood up and attacked the integrity of Paul, it was no small issue. Not like today when someone could attack the integrity of an individual, like myself or some other minister, but still have to deal with Scripture.

In any event, Paul wants the congregation to forgive a man they excluded and accept him back into the fold.

Paul says that the man caused him no pain, although he did afflict the congregation (verse 5).

Paul says that the man’s exclusion has gone on long enough (verse 6).

Henry says that the man no doubt repented:

The desired effect was obtained, for the man was humbled, and they had shown the proof of their obedience to his [Paul’s] directions.

As such, Paul urges the Corinthians to forgive and comfort him, lest he be overwhelmed by deep sorrow (verse 7). In fact, he begs them to reaffirm their love for the man (verse 8).

If he were to be left alone to grieve endlessly over his sin without any succour or fellowship, he might lose his faith.

Henry explains:

He beseeches them to forgive him, that is, to release him from church-censures, for they could not remit the guilt or offence against God; and also to comfort him, for in many cases the comfort of penitents depends upon their reconciliation not only with God, but with men also, whom they have scandalized or injured. They must also confirm their love to him; that is, they should show that their reproofs and censures proceeded from love to his person, as well as hatred to his sin, and that their design was to reform, not to ruin him. Or thus: If his fall had weakened their love to him, that they could not take such satisfaction in him as formerly; yet, now that he was recovered by repentance, they must renew and confirm their love to him.

MacArthur says:

The law of Christ is the law of love, the law of love says you go to the brother who’s in the trespass and when he comes to repentance, you restore him in a spirit of gentleness, realizing you too could be in the same situation. You’re not harsh, you’re not unloving, you don’t browbeat him, you don’t put him under seven years of penance, or a lifetime of penance, you don’t make him do something to himself to flagellate himself to somehow expiate his sin, you accept his repentance. That’s enough, it’s the end of the issue.

He looks at the word ‘reaffirm’ in verse 8, indicating that the church in Corinth should publicly announce that the man be restored to the congregation:

“Reaffirm” is a very interesting word. The language that Paul chooses is very important. It is the word kyrōsai. It’s basically a technical term. It is a term to legally ratify something. It means to make formal conclusion, a matter of certainty. And it would probably involve, in this case, a public announcement. In other words, we – we saw from verse 6 that there was a public punishment inflicted by the majority. That is it reached the many, it reached the church. And the church did formal discipline. Now he is asking for the same kind of formality in concluding the matter by a formal reaffirmation of love. Frankly, unforgiveness is simply a lack of love, isn’t it?

Paul tells the Corinthians that he wants to test their obedience in everything (verse 9), meaning that they obeyed him in censuring the man, now they must forgive him.

MacArthur tells us what Paul meant:

I wanted to test you to find out whether you’re obedient in the difficult things. It’s difficult work to do it and it’s difficult unless your heart is right before God to forgive someone who has seriously offended you, isn’t it? That’s a spiritual ability. That’s not natural. That’s not endemic to the fallen human race to forgive.

Paul goes on to say that if the Corinthians forgive the man, then he will, too, and he does so for their sake, in the presence of Christ (verse 10).

Henry explains:

this he would do for their sakes, for love to them and for their advantage; and for Christ’s sake, or in his name, as his apostle, and in conformity to his doctrine and example, which are so full of kindness and tender mercy towards all those who truly repent.

Paul ends by saying that a lack of forgiveness is the Devil’s work; Paul and the Corinthians know about Satan’s designs (verse 11).

In other words, driving a repentant person to despair harms not only that person but the people doing it, allowing weakened faith for the man and a bad look for the Church, one of severity that could frighten potential converts.

Henry expands on that verse:

Not only was there danger lest Satan should get an advantage against the penitent, by driving him to despair; but against the churches also, and the apostles or ministers of Christ, by representing them as too rigid and severe, and so frightening people from coming among them. In this, as in other things, wisdom is profitable to direct, so to manage according as the case may be that the ministry may not be blamed, for indulging sin on the one hand, or for too great severity towards sinners on the other hand. Note, Satan is a subtle enemy, and uses many stratagems to deceive us; and we should not be ignorant of his devices: he is also a watchful adversary, ready to take all advantages against us, and we should be very cautious lest we give him any occasion so to do.

MacArthur says that forgiveness is at the heart of mercy:

you can work with the sinner, you can discipline the sin, but if you don’t ever come to the point of forgiveness, that too will tear the church to shreds. Forgiveness is what brings back the joy, the love, the mercy, the humility. What a treasure. That’s how a church should be known, should be known for its forgiveness. “By this shall all men know that you’re My disciples if you have love one for another.”

MacArthur says that he waited for decades to preach about 2 Corinthians because of its complexity:

when I first started I was asked why have you waited so long to teach 2 Corinthians. And I don’t know what the answer is. At that particular point, in my mind I wasn’t sure.

But the longer I teach this the more I think the answer might be that God never wanted me to teach it until now because you almost need twenty-five or thirty years of experience in the ministry to feel this book. There’s so much depth here that is revealed from the heart of the apostle Paul as he unfolds his attitude toward life and ministry.

It’s not a book for the shallow minded. It’s not a book for the novice. It’s a book, really, to be fully grasped only by someone who has spent a number of years in ministry so that he can identify more closely with what it is that’s really going on in the heart of this great apostle. This book runs very deep and I find it probing extremely deeply into my own heart. And I thank God for every moment I’ve been able to spend, and there’s so much more yet to go as we move through all thirteen chapters.

Next week’s verses are positively poetic. I am really looking forward to writing about them.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 2:12-17

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe 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 2:1-4

For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.

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In last week’s verses, Paul explained his reasons for delaying his return visit to Corinth.

Today’s verses are a prelude to next week’s, which concern a member of the Corinthian congregation who has been excluded for serious sin. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this person was the subject of 1 Corinthians 5, about which I wrote in 2010:

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 – incest, porneia, church discipline, indifference, sin

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 – church purity

Paul says that he did not want to make another painful trip to Corinth (verse 1).

John MacArthur interprets this for us (emphases mine):

I just didn’t want another sad meeting. I – I just didn’t want that. I wasn’t going to come and go through all that pain all over again. I didn’t want you to have to do it, I didn’t want it. What I want is joy. What I want is rejoicing. I don’t like confrontation and pain. I don’t want to have sorrow anymore. I’m tired of having to confront. I’m tired of these letters I write. I’m tired of these meetings. I’m not an autocrat. I’m a helper. And I don’t want sorrow anymore so I didn’t come. That’s fair enough, isn’t it?

Paul says that if he causes the Corinthians pain, who else is there to make him happy except those same people he has pained (verse 2).

Henry says:

If he had made them sorry, that would have been a sorrow to himself, for there would have been none to have made him glad. But his desire was to have a cheerful meeting with them, and not to have it embittered by any unhappy occasion of disagreeing.

MacArthur says that what would make Paul happy is repentance, therefore, he would prefer to visit as and when that takes place:

… if I have to come and cause you sorrow, who makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful. If I come and make you sorrowful, the only thing that’s going to change that, the only thing that’s going to make me glad is repentance. That’s what he’s saying. If I cause sorrow by confronting sin, the only thing that will make me glad is repentance. So I might as well wait till repentance takes place.

Paul reinforces the idea of repentance by saying that he did not want to visit at a time when he should be pained by their behaviour, particularly of the excluded person, when he was looking forward to a happy reunion and taking joy in them all (verse 3).

MacArthur interprets that verse as follows:

the whole point in writing to you was so that when I come we’d have rejoicing. Deal with your sin. Purity was still an issue. He wasn’t so sensitive and so kind that he overlooked iniquity. Not at all …

I – I just want to wait and trust you that you’re going to get to the place where we’re just going to have joy.

Paul ends by saying that he was afflicted and anguished to the point of tears out of abundant love for them when he wrote his first letter — 1 Corinthians (verse 4).

Henry explains:

(1.) That he might not have sorrow from those of whom he ought to rejoice; and that he had written to them in confidence of their doing what was requisite, in order to their benefit and his comfort. The particular thing referred to, as appears by the 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, was the case of the incestuous person about whom he had written in the first epistle, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. Nor was the apostle disappointed in his expectation. (2.) He assures them that he did not design to grieve them, but to testify his love to them, and that he wrote to them with much anguish and affliction in his own heart, and with great affection to them. He had written with tears, that they might know his abundant love to them. Note, [1.] Even in reproofs, admonitions, and acts of discipline, faithful ministers show their love. [2.] Needful censures, and the exercise of church-discipline towards offenders, are a grief to tender-spirited ministers, and are administered with regret.

Recall that, in last week’s reading, Paul was also aggrieved by slanderous accusations from false teachers in the Corinthian church. Yet, he was an Apostle in every sense of the word.

MacArthur reminds us of other betrayals that Paul endured:

We – we understand what he meant when he said, “Be ye followers of me as I am of Christ.” What character. And so maligned and so falsely accused, so misrepresented, relentlessly attacked, and such a man of character.

And our hearts just grieve when we hear him say at the end of his life, “All who are in Asia have forsaken me.” When we hear him say, “At my first defense, no one stood by me.” When we hear him say, “I have no one like-minded whom I can send to you except for Timothy, for everybody’s concerned with his own things.” The greatest of servants and yet one who suffered most.

Yet, MacArthur says that this is the unfortunate aspect of ministry:

And ministry can be like that. It’s so hard to understand. His heart must have been broken as he tried to deal with the integrity of his own life and the accusations on the outside. Just did what the Savior did and committed himself to the faithful keeping of His Creator and God who knew his heart.

Next week, he discusses what should happen to the excluded member of the Corinthian congregation.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 2:5-11

Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 1:15-17, 23-24

15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time?

23 But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.

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In last week’s verses, Paul defended himself against false accusations by saying that he and Timothy had acted in holiness and with godly sincerity.

In today’s verses, he explains his travel plans, as he wanted to return to Corinth.

However, the false teachers at the church in Corinth told the congregation that Paul was vacillating in his decision to visit them.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

He was being attacked on the issue of his integrity. That is to say that you couldn’t trust him, he wasn’t truthful. That was the attack. And, of course, that – that is a very, very important thing if you’re going to discredit him. If you can get people to believe he lies, doesn’t tell the truth and isn’t trustworthy, has no integrity, then you can discredit him entirely.

Recapping last week’s verses, MacArthur says:

in verses 12 to 14 he had already given a general defense of his life on the basis of a clear conscience. He said his proud confidence was the fact that his conscience affirmed that he was living in holiness and godly sincerity. So he went to the highest human court which is conscience. Conscience from the human level knows more about us than anybody else, and his conscience was clear. So he gave a general defense of his life from conscience side.

He also hoped that he and Timothy could boast in a godly way of the Corinthians and they of him.

Because he was sure of that, he wanted to visit the Corinthians first so that they could experience divine grace a second time (verse 15). Some translations use ‘blessing’ instead of ‘grace’, which makes the meaning clearer. That blessing would come through his preaching and teaching.

MacArthur tells us what Paul meant by that wording with regard to his intended visit:

the purpose of it, according to verse 15, was that they might receive a charis, a grace, a favor, a benefit, a benediction, a spiritual blessing. And he frankly says my intention was to come to you and give you double blessing in this confidence – at the beginning of the verse. What confidence? The confidence expressed in verse 14, that – that you are as proud of us as we are of you. In other words, that we have a real relationship. It was on the assumption that we really have a relationship, that there really is trust and there really is love, and there really is care and that there’s something that we mutually hold with respect and pride toward one another, a godly pride. And it was based on that assumption, that I’m as important to you as you are to me, that I made my plans. It was born out of loyalty, not selfishness.

Paul says that his intention was to visit Corinth on his way to Macedonia and on the way back, after which he would be going to Judea (verse 16). He was going to Judea with a donation for the poor church in Jerusalem, to which he hoped the Corinthians would contribute as had the other churches in Asia Minor and Macedonia.

However, the first visit did not take place. Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus. And that circumstance was ammunition for his accusers.

He asks whether he has been vacillating (verse 17). He says that he has not been vacillating:

18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.[d]

He said that to indicate that he had good reason for altering his travel plans.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He was not to be accused of levity and inconstancy, nor a contradiction between his words and intentions. Note, Good men should be careful to preserve the reputation of sincerity and constancy; they should not resolve but upon mature deliberation, and they will not change their resolves but for weighty reasons.

Paul then uses an oath to express his sincere reason for not going to Corinth as originally intended; it was to spare the Corinthians of his righteous anger with them (verse 23). Instead, he chose to absent himself and show kindness to them in that way.

Henry says:

He knew there were things amiss among them, and such as deserved censure, but was desirous to show tenderness. He assures them that this is the true reason, after this very solemn manner: I call God for a record upon my soul–a way of speaking not justifiable where used in trivial matters; but this was very justifiable in the apostle, for his necessary vindication, and for the credit and usefulness of his ministry, which was struck at by his opposers.

Paul emphasises that he, Timothy and Silvanus (Silas, Acts 15:22) have no intention of lording themselves over the faith of the Corinthians but want to work with them in their joy as they stand firm in their faith (verse 24).

Paul continues on that train of thought in the first verses of 2 Corinthians 2.

As for what happened with Paul’s visit to Corinth, MacArthur says:

By the way, the two visits that he intended to make eventually became one long visit. First Corinthians 16:7, he hoped that he would come and see them not just in passing but to remain for some time. He really wanted to spend time with them and he would spend time with them, it was just this little triviality of whether he made two visits.

Paul was a man of his word.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 2:1-4

Bible oldThe 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 1:12-14

Paul’s Change of Plans

12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity[a] and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. 13 For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand— 14 just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.

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Last week’s verses were about the severity of Paul and his companions’ persecution in or around Ephesus.

Today’s are about Paul’s preoccupation with the false teachers in Corinth who were denigrating him with no basis in fact. Paul’s change of plans will be the subject of next week’s verses.

John MacArthur describes their slander (emphases mine):

Paul is writing this epistle to defend himself against the assault of some false apostles. These false apostles had come to Corinth, his beloved Corinth. They were tearing his church up. These lying false apostles were trying to turn the church against Paul. They really wanted to teach satanic doctrine and so they had to undermine Paul who was the paragon of truth. They had to destroy the Corinthians’ trust in Paul, so they began to attack his virtuous character, his integrity, his credibility, tried to undermine his authority, then take his place and replace the truth of God with their satanic error.

The whole epistle – actually, the last of four letters that he wrote to Corinth, two of them in the Scripture, two of them are not. But the whole letter is really written to give a defense of his integrity against this outrageous attackthey were accusing him of embezzling money, doing what he did for sexual favors from women, lying about his statistics and his ministry effectiveness, teaching error, you name it. And throughout this letter of 2 Corinthians he will deal with the various elements of their attack, their assault.

Referring to himself and probably Timothy, Paul begins with an honest ‘boast’ of the testimony of their consciences that they have acted in simplicity — holiness — and godly sincerity, and very much so towards the Corinthians, not through their own abilities but through the grace of God (verse 12).

In 2 Corinthians 1:11, he asked the Corinthians to pray for him and his companions who had been persecuted.

MacArthur says that verse 12 is another way of saying:

we’re really worthy of your prayers, not your criticism. We’re worthy of your intercession, not your abuse. Why? Because our conscience is clear.

MacArthur offers this analysis of the verse and use of ‘boast’:

What do you mean our proud confidence? That sounds a little much, doesn’t it? Kauchēsis in the Greek, a very much used word by Paul. It’s used about 60 times, a little less than 60 times, maybe 55 or so times in the New Testament. Twenty-nine of those here in 2 Corinthians. And it means boasting. It means proud confidence. It means glorying. But it can be negative or positive.

If it’s used negatively, it refers to an unwarranted boast, an unwarranted confidence, a boast in one’s own achievements and merits. If, on the other hand, it is used positively, it refers to a legitimate confidence in what God has done through one’s life. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there? There’s nothing wrong with a proud confidence not in what I’ve done but what in He’s done – in what He’s done

He and Timothy could boast of what God had done through them. It wasn’t bragging, but the legitimate testimony of the Lord’s power in their life and they had a clear conscience. The testimony of our conscience. The word “testimony” means witness. It means evidence. The basis, the ground, the witness, the reason, the evidence for my confidence is my conscience.

Matthew Henry points out the importance of God’s grace:

Concerning the principle they acted from in all their conversation, both in the world and towards these Corinthians; and that was not fleshly wisdom, nor carnal politics and worldly views, but it was the grace of God, a vital gracious principle in their hearts, that cometh from God, and tendeth to God. Then will our conversation be well ordered when we live and act under the influence and command of such a gracious principle in the heart.

MacArthur explains ‘simplicity’ and ‘sincerity’ in the original Greek:

… here his conscience says that he is conducting himself in holiness and godly sincerity. Holiness, a unique word that means sanctity. There is a lesser attested reading – and some Bibles pick it up – called “simplicity.” Sometimes you see the word “simplicity” here. It may even be in your edition. That’s not as good a choice as the original word, hagiotēs, which basically means sanctity, or holiness. The idea is moral purity in contrast to the immorality and the corruption of which he was being accused by the false apostles who lived like that.

And then he mentions godly sincerity. The word “sincerity” is a marvelous word. In the English, sincere comes from two Latin terms, sine cera, which means “without wax.” And that connects up with the idea of the Greek word eilikrinēs, and that word means “to be tested by the sun.” heilē is sun, krinō is to judge, or to examine. To say that someone was tested by the sun simply meant they were held up to the light for inspection.

if you were to purchase a pot, you would take it and hold it up to the sun because unscrupulous potters would – would have a crack in their pot after it was fired, and they’d want to sell it anyway. So they’d fill it with wax and, of course, as soon as you heated it the wax would melt and everything would run out of the pot. It was useless. And so you held the pot up to the sun and moved it around to see the sun shine through, and it would reveal the wax. You wanted to make sure it was eilikrinēs, tested by the sun and proven to be of high quality, that it was without wax.

And Paul is saying that about his life. There aren’t any flaws being covered up. There’s nothing that’s covered. You can take me out and hold me up to the sun and you’re not going to find any wax. A godly, personal sincerity or integrity went along with purity of life. He was not immoral. He was moral. He was a pure, godly man. He was a man who could be taken out in the – in the sunlight and tested. There were no skeletons in his closet.

Paul says that he and Timothy are not writing to the Corinthians anything they do not already know and understand (verse 13).

MacArthur says:

both the word “read” and “understand” are forms of ginōskō, with prepositions on the front of them which have to do with knowledge. You could read it this way: We write nothing else to you than what you know and I hope you will know deeply or understand deeply until the end just as you also partially did understand us.

What’s the point here? This is a sweeping testimony of answering the second category of accusation against him for his supposed relationships. Did Paul use people? Did he have foul personal selfish motives? Did he fake loving them in order to take advantage of them? Was he a deceiving manipulator? This is exactly what they were saying. Over in chapter 7 verse 2, he says, “Make room for us in your hearts, we wronged no one.” We corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one. That was what they were saying. And so, he answers that several places.

Paul says that he hopes that on the day of judgement, the Corinthians will boast of him and Timothy the way the two evangelists boast of them (verse 14).

The word ‘partially’ is used in that verse, which MacArthur explains:

In other words, there’s continuing information. When I taught you, when I wrote you, you read, you understood what I said. It was partial, that is there was more to reveal. And as I’ve written more and said more, it’s unfolded and you’ve continued to understand, and I hope you’ll understand perfectly. I want you to have the deep knowledge of what the Lord says to you and I want you to know that’s all there is, folks. That’s all there is. There isn’t anything else. And my relationship to you is that honest. I just want you to understand the things I write and the things I say. That’s all.

As for the boasting, Paul wants the Corinthians to know that he has a deep spiritual affection for them, which he hopes is reciprocated.

MacArthur tells us:

They should be so proud that they can’t wait till the day when they’re both together in the presence of Jesus Christ and they can embrace each other in eternal and perfect friendship. It should be for them an honor to be associated with Paul, as it was for him to be in a – to be in association with them. He loved them. He rejoiced in them. He wanted them to feel the same toward him, particularly at that moment when the Lord Jesus came. I want to be as proud of what God has done – I want you to be as proud of what God has done through me for you as I am of what God has done through you for me, particularly in the day of the Lord Jesus.

That’s the day when we face Christ. That’s the judgment seat of Christ. That’s the day when God will bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts and then each man’s praise will come to him from God, 1 Corinthians 4:5. The day when the Lord takes His own and gives them their eternal reward, the day when everything becomes clear. And he’s saying I just want you to feel about me the way I’ll feel about you. The point that I want to make is that he was looking forward to the coming of Christ. A man doesn’t do that if his relationships aren’t right.

Paul was anticipating the coming of Christ because he knew it would be joy for him and he wanted it to be joy for them. And he knew his attitude was right and his heart was right and the joy would be his, and he wanted theirs to be right so that the full joy would be theirs. His conscience was clear with the Lord. His conscience was clear with them. His conscience was clear with himself. He had no fear of any earthly accusation and he had no fear even of the return of Jesus Christ. That’s how clear his conscience was.

MacArthur has a long sermon on the conscience, something which the Church has been downplaying in favour of psychology.

He begins with the story of a jet that crashed into a mountain in Spain in 1984. When investigators played back the recording in the black box, they heard the plane’s automatic warning system work as expected, but the pilot ignored it, just as people sometimes do with their conscience:

… several minutes before the fatal impact, a shrill computerized synthesized voice from the plane’s automatic warning system told the crew repeatedly in English, “Pull up, pull up, pull up.” The pilot inexplicably snapped back, “Shut up, Gringo,” and switched the system off. Minutes later, the plane smashed into the side of a mountain and everyone died. That’s a perfect parable of the way modern people treat the warning messages of their conscience. The conscience is there by God’s designed, built into the fabric of every human being as a warning system.

Everyone has a conscience and even a secularist can obey his in the correct way. It is God-given:

God designed the conscience into the very framework of the human soul. The conscience is the ability to sense in your own heart if there is sin there, if there is something wrong there, if there is guilt and shame. That is a great gift from God. Like the gift of pain which – which warns you that you are hurting your body so you don’t kill yourself, the gift of conscience warns you that you are killing your soul. The conscience is the soul reflecting on itself. Both the Greek term, suneidēsis and the English one “conscience,” have the idea of knowing yourself, having an internal sense about the reality of your spiritual condition.

In Romans chapter 2, let me show you two verses, verses 14 and 15, “For when the Gentiles who do not have the law” – that is the written law of God, the pagans without the written law of God – “do instinctively the things of the law, these not having the law are a law to themselves.” The point is, they may not have the written law but they have innately built into them a sense of right and wrong and a sense of morality. And, instinctively, there is a soul-warning system that produces guilt when there is sin and iniquity. In fact, verse 15 says, “Their conscience bears witness and it either accuses them or defends them.” Conscience either affirms that you’re doing right, or it accuses and warns that you’re doing wrong.

However, many churches today adopt popular psychology which tells us to ignore the conscience and, should something go wrong for us, that our shortcomings are not our fault:

We live in a culture today that is systematically endeavoring to silence conscience, to eliminate guilt, to eliminate shame, and to tell you your problem isn’t sin, and your problem isn’t guilt, and your problem isn’t shame. Your problem is somebody did something to you for which you’re not responsible. You’re really not to blame at all. Or, you just have a lack of self-esteem

This tragic sad legacy that we have today in contemporary Christian counseling that is trying to silence conscience is deadly. The apostle Paul spoke so very often of conscience. Looking intently at the Council in Acts – Acts 23:1, he said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” Wow. He was very sensitive to his conscience, to that voice within him. In Acts 24:16 he says, “In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience, both before God and before men.” Writing to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:5, Paul said, “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith”

And I’ll tell you there is a damaging, destructive, deadly force in the church today in this self-esteem stuff that is endeavoring to silence conscience and eliminate guilt and eliminate shame. And people are going to continue to crash and burn from the highest points to the lowest, from the pulpit to the pew. No believer has a right to violate the conscience. Then Paul – remember this? 1 Corinthians 8 and 9 and Romans 14 says not only do you have no right to violate your own conscience but you don’t have a right to violate what? Somebody else’s conscience. Be sensitive to those things which would offend others.

To get the best out of our conscience, we would do well to study the Bible and pray frequently, developing our relationship with our Lord:

… if you want to get the most out of your conscience, you have to inform your conscience at the highest level, and that means you submit yourself to the Word of God. And as you fill your life with the Word of God, the standard keeps going up and up and up. Whatever moral law you know innately by virtue of your humanity is only a start.

As you take in the Word of God and you learn more about the Scripture and more about the Word of God, your knowledge begins to give a higher standard and a higher standard and a higher standard and your conscience will hold you to that high standard. To reject the voice of conscience is to court spiritual disaster. You cannot reject the voice of conscience with impunity. It’s a sad and tragic thing when a whole society of people endeavor to do that

When you violate that, conscience will warn you. When you violate the standard, it will condemn you. It will trigger feelings of shame, anguish, regret, consternation, anxiety, and even disgrace. Sometimes it will make you weep, make you fall on your face and plead with God for forgiveness. And that’s as it should be. That’s a fully functioning conscience reacting to the full knowledge of God’s truth. On the other hand, when we know God’s truth and we obey it, conscience will commend us, conscience will bring us joy, it will affirm us. It will grant us peace and gladness and contentment.

Ignoring our conscience repeatedly can turn it off but leave us in danger:

after constant violation of a conscience, the conscience finally falls silent. You throw the switch and you’re left flying blind; you’ll crash and burn. The annoying warning signals may be gone, but the danger is – is certainly not gone.

He says that the conscience is like a skylight:

To give you an illustration, the conscience functions like a skylight, not a lamp. It doesn’t produce its own light. It just lets light in. Its in – its – its effectiveness is determined by the amount of pure light we expose to it and how clean we keep it. You keep yourself under the pure light, keep the conscience clean, the pure light shines through. That’s why the apostle Paul speaks in 1 Timothy 3:9 about a clear conscience, the skylight through which the light of truth can pass. And he warned in 1 Corinthians 8:7, again in Titus 1:15, that you should never allow anything to defile or muddy your conscience.

It functions in the same way as a physical stimulus does in the body:

To look at it another way, the conscience is like the nerves on the end of your – your fingertips. Its sensitivity to external stimuli can be damaged by the buildup of callouses and so wounded for so long that it’s virtually impervious to any feeling. Paul wrote of the dangers of that in 1 Corinthians 8:10, the calloused conscience. He wrote about the wounded conscience. And then in writing to Timothy, 1 Timothy 4:2, the seared conscience, covered over with scar tissue and without any feeling. Learning the Word, meditating on the Word day and night is the beginning. And then listen to your conscience. You can trust it. It’s there as a gift from God. And if it’s properly informed as to truth, it will give you the right information. Don’t yell at it and switch it off or you’ll crash.

The believer experiences an additional benefit, the assurance of forgiveness:

Your conscience when you’re saved becomes sanctified. Faith tells the conscience he’s forgiven, she’s forgiven – it doesn’t matter. To borrow the words of God Himself, “I’ve removed your sins as far as the east is from the west, buried them in the depths of the sea, and remember them no more.” The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses the conscience so that it no longer accuses, but it tells us we’re pardoned, we’re forgiven. That’s a marvelous gift.

He also has a bit about hell:

Jesus came to save us from sin. And that’s got to be our message. And if people don’t listen to conscience – listen to this – don’t listen to conscience in time, they will listen to it in eternity. No one’s conscience will be silent in hell. In fact, I – I would go so far as to say the single greatest torment in hell will be from conscience. In hell the sinner’s conscience will turn on him with fury and remind him that he alone is responsible for the agonies that he is suffering eternally

As John Flavel wrote in the seventeenth century, “Conscience which should have been the sinner’s curb here on earth becomes the whip that must lash his soul in hell. Neither is there any faculty or power belonging to the soul of man so fit and able to do it as his own conscience. That which was the seat and center of all guilt now becomes the seat and center of all torment.”

Conscience will make the sinner acutely aware that he deliberately, freely and gladly chose the life style that led him to hell, that he is there because of his willfulness and obstinacy …

In other words, conscience accuses him rightly and justly. As if this were not horrifying enough, the castigation of conscience will be uninterrupted. The sinner will have, according to Revelation 14, no rest day or night. As never before he will discover the truth of God’s Word, “There is no peace for the wicked.” How frightening. Non-Christian and Christian alike, listen to your conscience.

That has to be one of the best descriptions of hell I’ve ever read.

Choose the Lord’s ways and pray for His grace as well as His forgiveness.

Next week, Paul explains his change in travel plans.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 1:15-17, 23-24

Bible GenevaThe 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 1:8-11

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers,[a] of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

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In last week’s reading, the introductory verses to 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote about comfort, which comes only from God.

John MacArthur summarises those verses as follows (emphases mine):

First of all, we saw the promise of comfort in verse 4, how that the God of all comfort comforts us in all our affliction. And then we saw the purpose of comfort, also in verse 4, in order that we might be able to comfort others. And then we saw the parameters of comfort in verse 5. The comfort of God extends as far as we are suffering for Christ’s sake. That’s the boundary. Then we saw the partnership of comfort in verses 6 and 7, how that there is mutual comfort going back and forth between Paul and other believers in Corinth, a wonderful sharing as he uses the word several times in verse 7.

Paul wanted to make the Corinthians aware of how severe the persecution was that he and others experienced in Asia Minor, ordeals so terrible that they despaired of life itself (verse 8).

Matthew Henry looked into history of the time. His commentary posits a few possibilities of what might have happened, probably in Ephesus:

It is not certain what particular troubles in Asia are here referred to; whether the tumult raised by Demetrius at Ephesus, mentioned Acts 19:24-41, or the fight with beasts at Ephesus, mentioned in the former epistle (1 Corinthians 15:32; 1 Corinthians 15:32), or some other trouble; for the apostle was in deaths often. This however is evident, that they were great tribulations. They were pushed out of measure, to a very extraordinary degree, above the common strength of men, or of ordinary Christians, to bear up under them, insomuch that they despaired even of life (2 Corinthians 1:8), and thought they should have been killed, or have fainted away and expired.

MacArthur says that the Corinthians would have heard that Paul had been in great trouble but had not realised the severity of it:

The Corinthians must have known because he doesn’t give them any details. And surely whatever was going on in his life by way of persecution was passed along the “grace vine” to these people.

The Corinthians were not ignorant of the nature of this affliction. They were ignorant of the extremity of it. They were ignorant of how severe it was, the intensity of it. And they were ignorant of what was – what God was doing in it. But they – they must have known about what it was. Maybe it was stoning. Maybe it was a combination of being whipped and maybe it was a combination of being beaten with rods and put in stocks and deprived of food and water, imprisoned, wild beasts. Who knows? Who knows what was threatening his life? It happened after the writing of 1 Corinthians or he would have told them. So it’s rather recent.

It occurs, he says in verse 8, in Asia Minor, prior to his coming to Philippi in Macedonia to meet Titus. So it was in and around the area of Asia Minor where the primary city was Ephesus. In chapter 16 of 1 Corinthians, back one chapter in verse 9, he makes the statement that there is a wide door for effective service in Ephesus where he is and he’s going to stay there, but also there are many adversaries. It is conceivable that one of these adversaries or one or more of these adversaries has come near to taking his life.

In Romans chapter 16 verse 3 it says, “Greet Prisca, or Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus” – verse 4 – “who for my life risked their own necks.” This would have been written soon after 2 Corinthians. Maybe he is there referring to some involvement that those two people had in this life-threatening event. We just don’t know what it was. He doesn’t tell them the details of it. They were not ignorant that it was happening, they were ignorant of its severity.

The persecution was so severe that Paul and his companions passed a death sentence on themselves with the result that they learned to rely on God, who raises the dead (verse 9).

Henry explains:

God’s raising the dead is a proof of his almighty power. He that can do this can do any thing, can do all things, and is worthy to be trusted in at all times. Abraham’s faith fastened upon this instance of the divine power: He believed God who quickeneth the dead, Romans 4:17. If we should be brought so low as to despair even of life, yet we may then trust in God, who can bring back not only from the gates, but from the jaws, of death.

MacArthur has more, saying that Paul feared he would die before his work for the Lord was done and contrasts this with what he later wrote to Timothy:

He experienced some very dire circumstances that express a similar attitude. Second Timothy 4:6, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come,” but that time it led to his death. But here he is and he’s at the end. Verse 9 he adds this, this is amazing, “Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves.” In other words, what he is saying is in our own minds – and there’s a plural pronoun here which means somebody else was in this with him, perhaps. He could be using the plural in – in just a humble and meek way. But perhaps there was someone else in this. But in his own mind he says he passed the death sentence on himself. He was to be killed for the gospel’s sake. This was it. It was done. It was over.

And that was frightening to him at the time. And it was despairing at the time whereas in 2 Timothy it wasn’t. The reason is because here the work was not done and he knew it. He knew it. In 2 Timothy when he reached the point where he was being poured out like a drink offering and the time of his departure was … at hand and he knew he was facing the axe that would chop his head off, there was no sense of despair because he said, “I have finished the course.” Remember that? I’m done. But here, he knew he wasn’t finished.

MacArthur explains the words in Greek for passing a death sentence on oneself:

By the way, “we had the sentence of death in ourselves,” is a fascinating Greek word, apokrima. It’s used only here. It means – basically, it’s a technical word for passing an official resolution. And he uses a legal term for passing the official death sentence. He says, “I pass the official death sentence on myself.” Confident, absolutely assured that it was over. He got to that point.

As for the second half of that verse, acknowledging the need to rely on God who raises the dead, MacArthur tells us that Paul recognised that He wanted Paul and his companions in a state of brokenness for a purpose:

God was taking us to the place where we had no escape. We had no human resource intellectually, physically, emotionally. We couldn’t call on anything, nothing.

That’s just exactly where God wanted them. Just in the perfect place because, as Paul will tell us later in 2 Corinthians 12, in his weakness God’s power is perfected, right? God had this as the very purpose. And I’m telling you, folks, that’s one of His great purposes in our trials is to take us to the limit and beyond the limit where we have no power to fix it. We can’t do anything. All we can do – and I love this – is trust not in ourselves, verse 9, but in God who what? Raises the dead. I mean it was to that degree. The only way out was going to be in the hands of God because He’s the only one who could raise the dead. It was that far gone.

By the way, that is a title for God, “God who raises the dead” is used in the eighteen synagogue benedictions that we commented on in our study back in verse 3. “God who raises the dead” was a Jewish term, descriptive term for God. They say if you’re ever called upon to rescue someone who is drowning – some of you may have had this experience – that if you’re really thoughtful about it, you won’t try to rescue them until they go down for the last time.

Because if you try to intervene at any point prior to that when they still have the strength to kick and fight, they’re liable to drown you. But when they come to the very end of their strength and there’s no confidence left in their own deliverance, and they are weakened and still, it is then that they can picked up and brought to safety. And that’s exactly where the Lord wants to take us, to the place where we’ve given it our last shot and we’re sinking for the last time and there’s nothing in us that can save us and there’s no human resource.

Paul acknowledged divine deliverance and had every confidence that God would deliver them again (verse 10).

Henry says that such experiences, as dire as they are, build faith:

Note, Past experiences are great encouragements to faith and hope, and they lay great obligations to trust in God for time to come. We reproach our experiences if we distrust God in future straits, who hath delivered as in former troubles.

Paul exhorted the Corinthians to pray for him and his companions so that God will receive many thanks for the many blessings granted as a result of persecution (verse 10).

MacArthur outlines the importance of intercessory prayer:

Intercessory prayer is critical to the expression of God’s great power and God’s sovereign purpose. In prayer, human impotence casts itself at the feet of divine omnipotence. Thus the duty of prayer is not to modify God’s power but to glorify it. We’re not trying to change God’s plan, we’re just trying to get in line with it. Why? So that we can give thanks. That’s what he says. You join in helping us through your prayers so that thanks can be given by many people, that is all those who prayed. And that redounds to the glory of God. When everyone is united in intercessory prayer on behalf of God’s servant, then when God delivers him everybody is going to be united in thanksgiving. And that is going to be to the praise of God.

Many prayers bring many thanks. And God works through those prayers. Paul always has this marvelous balance. He never questions the sovereign purpose of God and he never questions the participation of believers in that sovereign work. And so the partnership or the participation is a participation of prayer as we pray for one another in all our trials. That’s what Paul meant when he talked about bearing one another’s burdens and so fulfilling the law of Christ. We pray for each other faithfully.

MacArthur explains why bad things happen to good people:

that’s exactly where God’s power intervenes. Physical illness, whatever it is, emotional distress, financial disaster, death, being forsaken and left alone, whatever shatters your confidence in your own abilities, your own strength becomes your extremity and that is God’s opportunity. A progressive weakening of your instinctive self-confidence that leads you all the way to self-despair is exactly where God wants you. Because at that point the only thing that’s going to hold you together is a radical confidence in God. And that’s where Paul was. And then, in verse 10 he says it. God came riding to the rescue, “who delivered us from so great a peril of death.”

Afterwards, we can use those experiences to strengthen our faith and help others in their suffering:

Can anything be more wonderful than to realize that God is a God of tender mercy and a God of all comfort who comforts us in all our afflictions? Who comforts us so that we can comfort others? God, who will comfort us to the extremity, whatever it might be, of our sufferings on behalf of Christ? God, who will bring alongside us mutual sufferers who can share the same comfort and the same strength no matter how severe the trial might be. Even if we despair of life, the God who raises the dead can step in and He will until the day He takes us to glory. And then that last great truth. He does it through the prayers of His people.

This is a difficult concept for us to fully grasp, particularly in a Corinthian society such as ours. However, it is yet another reason why Paul was such a great Apostle.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 1:12-14

Bible oldThe 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 1:1-7

Greeting

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia:

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

God of All Comfort

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.[a] 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

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Last week’s post concluded 1 Corinthians with Paul’s blessing to the congregation.

We now progress to 2 Corinthians.

John MacArthur has two good introductions to the book.

The Corinthians’ problems continue but, having received a visit from some of the prominent members of the congregation, Paul is more hopeful. Titus also visited Corinth and gave the Apostle a positive report.

MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

With the Corinthian church – as with some others, but particularly with the Corinthian church – he had to face rebellion, disloyalty, dishonesty, immorality, unfaithfulness, inadequate help, ineptness, ignorance, pride, at all levels. His own narrow escape from death was one kind of external trouble, but it came and it went. The Corinthian trouble came and stayed, and he writes this epistle in the vortex of trouble. Just narrowly escaping from death, that burden having been for the moment relieved, he is now left with the pressure, the concern, for this church that he loves.

If you take the first eleven verses as kind of an introduction – which they really are – you find in them five different words to describe trouble. From verse 3 on, there are five words describing trouble. But there is one word that is used ten times, and that is the word comfort. He describes his trouble five different ways, and then ten times refers to the comfort that he finds in God. So, while it must be admitted that when he writes the letter he realizes there’s trouble, at the same time, he also is experiencing tremendous comfort.

The reason he feels the trouble is because he knows the problems. The reason he feels the comfort is because he knows that there are some people who have gotten into line with God’s way and God’s Word. In fact, in chapter 7, verse 6, he refers to “God, who comforts the depressed, comforting us” – that is, he and Timothy – “by the coming of Titus; not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more.”

He has just gotten good word from Titus, who made a visit to Corinth, and Titus has told him, “The majority are responding to your first letter. They’re falling in line with God’s Word. They’re doing what they were supposed to be doing. Things are turning around. It’s a good day there.” And so, he was experiencing comfort. At the same time, he knew the battle wasn’t over. The problems were still there. The immorality was still there. The corrupt culture was still there. The demonic assaults were still there.

The false apostles – who tried to undermine the whole church, who tried to deny Paul’s apostolic authority – were still there. The people who had been enamored and deluded by the false apostles were still there. And all of the potential for disloyalty, and rebellion, and the smoldering smoke of the mutiny to sort of ignite itself again, was still there. And so, as he writes, he is very aware of his trouble, but he is, at the same time, very aware that God provides comfort.

In another introduction, MacArthur provides us with more information.

He tells us when and where it was likely to have been written:

Several considerations establish a feasible date for the writing of this letter. Extrabiblical sources indicate that July, A.D. 51 is the most likely date for the beginning of Gallio’s proconsulship (cf. Acts 18:12). Paul’s trial before him at Corinth (Acts 18:12–17) probably took place shortly after Gallio assumed office. Leaving Corinth (probably in A.D. 52), Paul sailed for Palestine (Acts 18:18), thus concluding his second missionary journey. Returning to Ephesus on his third missionary journey (probably in A.D. 52), Paul ministered there for about 2 1/2 years (Acts 19:8, 10). The apostle wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus toward the close of that period (1 Cor. 16:8), most likely in A.D. 55. Since Paul planned to stay in Ephesus until the following spring (cf. the reference to Pentecost in 1 Cor. 16:8), and 2 Corinthians was written after he left Ephesus (see Background and Setting), the most likely date for 2 Corinthians is late A.D. 55 or very early A.D. 56.

These are the themes of 2 Corinthians:

Second Corinthians complements the historical record of Paul’s dealings with the Corinthian church recorded in Acts and 1 Corinthians. It also contains important biographical data on Paul throughout.

Although an intensely personal letter, written by the apostle in the heat of battle against those attacking his credibility, 2 Corinthians contains several important theological themes. It portrays God the Father as a merciful comforter (1:3; 7:6), the Creator (4:6), the One who raised Jesus from the dead (4:14; cf. 13:4), and who will raise believers as well (1:9). Jesus Christ is the One who suffered (1:5), who fulfilled God’s promises (1:20), who was the proclaimed Lord (4:5), who manifested God’s glory (4:6), and the One who in His incarnation became poor for believers (8:9; cf. Phil. 2:5–8). The letter portrays the Holy Spirit as God (3:17, 18) and the guarantee of believers’ salvation (1:22; 5:5). Satan is identified as the “god of this age” (4:4; cf. 1 John 5:19), a deceiver (11:14), and the leader of human and angelic deceivers (11:15). The end times include both the believer’s glorification (4:16–5:8) and his judgment (5:10). The glorious truth of God’s sovereignty in salvation is the theme of 5:14–21, while 7:9, 10 sets forth man’s response to God’s offer of salvation-genuine repentance. Second Corinthians also presents the clearest, most concise summary of the substitutionary atonement of Christ to be found anywhere in Scripture (5:21; cf. Is. 53) and defines the mission of the church to proclaim reconciliation (5:18–20). Finally, the nature of the New Covenant receives its fullest exposition outside the book of Hebrews (3:6–16).

As always, Paul begins with a warm, spiritual greeting.

He announces himself as an Apostle through the will of God and includes young Timothy in his greeting to the church in Achaia, the wider region around Corinth (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Paul included Timothy as a second witness to what he was writing:

The apostleship itself was ordained by Jesus Christ, according to the will of God; and Paul was called to it by Jesus Christ, according to the will of God. He joins Timotheus with himself in writing this epistle; not because he needed his assistance, but that out of the mouth of two witnesses the word might be established; and this dignifying Timothy with the title of brother (either in the common faith, or in the work of the ministry) shows the humility of this great apostle, and his desire to recommend Timothy (though he was then a young man) to the esteem of the Corinthians, and give him a reputation among the churches. 2. The persons to whom this epistle was sent, namely, the church of God at Corinth: and not only to them, but also to all the saints in all Achaia, that is, to all the Christians who lived in the region round about. Note, In Christ Jesus no distinction is made between the inhabitants of city and country; all Achaia stands upon a level in his account.

Paul prays that the believers have grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (verse 2).

Henry points out:

These two benefits are fitly joined together, because there is no good and lasting peace without true grace; and both of them come from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the procurer and dispenser of those benefits to fallen man, and is prayed to as God.

Paul blesses God, identifying Him as the Father of Christ Jesus, the father of all mercies and God of all comfort (verse 3). This is Paul’s first mention of comfort in this chapter.

MacArthur elaborates on this verse:

Over and over again this phrase that “God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” is reiterated. The apostle Paul uses it in Ephesians 1:3. John uses it in 2 John 3. And not only in those places, it is repeated other times as well, that God revealed Himself in Christ; and that God is the God who is the Father, one in essence, with His Son, Jesus Christ. That is the heart of the Christian faith. If you don’t believe that, no matter what else you believe you cannot be a Christian.

But there’s more. Look back at that phrase in verse 3. Not just the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but would you notice, God is seen as the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. How can He be one with God and have God as His God?

Well, that’s a fair question. Back in John 20, verse 17, Jesus said, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, My God and your God.” On the cross He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Mark 15:34.

Listen carefully: in His deity, He is equal to God; in His humanity, He is submissive to God, right? In the incarnation, He is God, and He is also 100 percent man. As man, He must submit Himself fully to God. And God is not just His Father in deity, that is one in essence, He is His God in humanity. Jesus in His condescension, Jesus in His submission comes down, takes on the form of a servant, and obeys God, and identifies God as His God. That’s a marvelous reality.

In that incarnation He even restricted His divine knowledge, didn’t He? He said, “No man knows the day nor the hour, not even the Son of Man.” In His incarnation He submitted Himself to not knowing something voluntarily. He submitted Himself to not using His attributes voluntarily, taking upon Himself the form of a servant. God becomes His God, that is to say the one over Him, to whom He submits as well as His equal. And so you have in this marvelous blessing both the humanity and the deity of Christ brought magnificently together in one statement: “Blessed is the God,” – what God? – “the God who is the God of and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The word ‘comfort’ appears four times in verse 4, with God as the author of it.

Henry explains that our comfort is all the greater when we realise that God is its source:

Note, (1.) Then are we qualified to receive the comfort of God’s mercies when we set ourselves to give him the glory of them. (2.) Then we speak best of God and his goodness when we speak from our own experience, and, in telling others, tell God also what he has done for our souls.

Paul goes on to say that, although we suffer, as Christ did, yet we also share in the comfort that He experienced (verse 5). He says that being afflicted and being patient during that affliction brings about later comfort as well as salvation (verse 6).

MacArthur says:

to the degree that you suffer for Christ you will be comforted. To the degree that you suffer to Christ and are comforted, you will be rewarded in eternity. Your eternal reward is connected to the degree of your suffering, as is your comfort.

Paul encourages the Corinthians by saying that he and Timothy are hopeful for them. By sharing in the suffering affecting him and Timothy — a reference to persecution — they will share in the comfort from God that comes later (verse 7).

MacArthur explains:

It’s a partnership we’re in. And you never can look at your own suffering independent of the whole body of Christ. You can’t bet a “poor me” mentality. a self-preservation attitude that says I’m not about to take a stand for Christ, I might suffer. You better take a stand for Christ, suffer, be comforted so God can use you to comfort others. There are some in the Corinthian church who are suffering for the Kingdom, for righteousness, for the gospel, the same reason Paul is suffering. Ordinary faithful Christians, and he says we can mutually share in each other’s lives the comfort we have received from the Lord. And this, he says, is effective because it allows you to patiently endure through these sufferings.

How does it do that? Because you see someone else doing it. He strengthens you. Because the lessons that you’ve – that he’s — learned come to you and you learn them. It helps you endure. We call that encouraging people. That’s really what comfort is. Because we’ve been there, we know there’s light at the end of the darkness. And then in verse 7, “And our hope for you is firmly grounded.” He doesn’t really doubt that God will be faithful and bring them through the difficulties. “Our hope for you is firmly grounded.” Why? What’s it grounded on? “Because we know that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.” I – I know you’re going to be all right because there is a group in that church that are suffering for the cause of Christ and God will comfort you and strengthen you. And through that strength your hope will stand.

The partnership of comfort then goes like this. The multiplication of suffering in Paul’s life multiplies divine comfort to him and that makes him capable of comforting other Christians who are suffering the same kind of affliction. And this comfort aids their endurance. So Paul says whether I was afflicted or whether I was comforted, in my affliction it was for you. It was to make me strong, make me courageous, make me bold so that I could come to you and give you confidence. In spite of all the pain they had inflicted on Paul – and they had inflicted a lot of it, some of them in the church – he saw them not as the enemy but as partners to be helped.

There will be more on persecution and hope from Paul next week.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 1:8-11

Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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.

1 Corinthians 16:19-24

Greetings

19 The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. 20 All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

21 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. 22 If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come![a] 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Last week’s post was about Paul’s commendation of Apollos, Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus in their work for the church.

Paul concludes 1 Corinthians with greetings from the churches of Asia Minor, including those from Aquila and his wife Prisca (Priscilla) from Ephesus, where the church was in their house (verse 19). Paul was in Ephesus when he wrote 1 Corinthians.

John MacArthur tells us how Paul met the couple in the Corinthian synagogue, where people were seated by occupation. They then moved to Ephesus (emphases mine):

Aquila was a man from the south coast of the Black Sea, Pontus, who eventually came to Rome and married Priscilla and they lived in Rome until Claudius the Emperor band all Jews from the city of Rome and they scooted off to Corinth. And they were working in Corinth in their trade, and they were going to the synagogue there. One day a man named Paul arrived there and he sat with them, and the reason he sat with them is because they did the same thing he did. They were leather workers. The Greek word means more than tentmaker, it means leather workers. Paul worked with leather and so did Aquila and Priscilla, and they used to sit in the synagogue according to their trade. Men on one side, women on the other side, but the people were all seated according to trade. Here were all the leather workers, then the carpenters, then the masons, then everybody else. So you knew right [away] where everybody was. There was a comradeship there and so he sat down with Aquila and Priscilla, they became good friends. He stayed with them. He may have stayed with them 18 months while he was there.

Paul adds that all the brothers send their greetings and encourages the Corinthians to greet each other with a holy kiss (verse 20).

Henry explains that those two statements are linked. If strangers who are brothers in Christ send the Corinthians their best wishes, then the Corinthians, amongst themselves, should greet each other even more warmly:

When the churches of Asia, and the Christian brethren so remote, did so heartily salute them in the Lord, and own and love them as brethren, and expressed so much good-will to them, it would be a shame for them not to own and love one another as brethren. Note, The love of the brethren should be a powerful incentive to mutual love. When the other churches of Christ love us all, we are very culpable if we do not love one another.

MacArthur tells us what a holy kiss involves:

early in the Christian church, the kiss on the cheek or even just placing cheek to cheek was basic to a sign of affection.

Paul says that he wrote the greeting with his own hand (verse 22). Paul is said to have had eye problems, therefore, he would have dictated the letter for someone else to write down. However, he wanted it to be known that he wrote the greeting himself.

Henry says Paul wrote that to prove its authenticity:

… at the close it was fit that himself should sign it, that they might know it to be genuine; and therefore it is added (2 Thessalonians 3:17), Which is my token in every epistle, the mark of its being genuine; so he wrote in every epistle which he did not wholly pen, as he did that to the Galatians, Galatians 6:11. Note, Those churches to whom apostolical letters were sent were duly certified of their being authentic and divine. Nor would Paul be behind the rest of the brethren in respect to the Corinthians; and therefore, after he has given their salutations, he adds his own.

Paul’s next statement is a warning to the Corinthians (verse 23). So perverse they were in their practice that Paul says anyone who has no love should be accursed, or anathema. He adds ‘Maranatha’ as a call for the Lord’s judgement upon such people.

MacArthur points out that, in Greek, Paul used ‘philo’ instead of ‘agape’. The distinction is important:

He uses for the word love, not the word agapaō, which is the strong word of love, the divine love. He uses for the only time in the entire New Testament the word phileō to speak of love for Christ. It’s the only time Paul’s ever used it. Phileō, which simply means a strong affection for. It’s second class love

And Paul is saying here, listen, “Not only not agapaō, but if you don’t even have a strong affection for Jesus, you’re cursed.” You can’t even get into the love fellowship. He’ll accept you even at that level of love, even second class. But if you don’t even have that, you’re anathema. The word means devoted to destruction, damned, doomed, cursed. And then he says, “Marantha.” I believe that’s an imperative. It’s three words in the Aramaic, marana tha. “Our Lord come.” And what he’s saying is come in judgment. He’s saying, “Look, there are tears in the church. That’s part of the problem.” And he’s saying, “Look, I want the church to be full of love, but if you don’t even have a strong affection for Jesus Christ, you are cursed. God come and remove them.” That’s what he’s saying. Get them out.

Henry has more on Paul’s warning:

It stands here as a warning to the Corinthians and a rebuke of their criminal behaviour. It is an admonition to them not to be led away from the simplicity of the gospel, or those principles of it which were the great motives to purity of life, by pretenders to science, by the wisdom of the world, which would call their religion folly, and its most important doctrines absurd and ridiculous. Those men had a spite at Christ; and, if the Corinthians give ear to their seducing speeches, they were in danger of apostatizing from him. Against this he gives them here a very solemn caution. “Do not give into such conduct, if you would escape the severest vengeance.” Note, Professed Christians will, by contempt of Christ, and revolt from him, bring upon themselves the most dreadful destruction.

Paul prays that the grace of the Lord Jesus be with the Corinthians (verse 23). He has just issued a rebuke but, in Christian love, sends them the best spiritual wishes.

Henry explains:

As much as if he had said, “Though I warn you against falling under his displeasure, I heartily wish you an interest in his dearest love and his eternal favour.” The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ comprehends in it all that is good, for time or eternity. To wish our friends may have this grace with them is wishing them the utmost good. And this we should wish all our friends and brethren in Christ. We can wish them nothing more, and we should wish them nothing less. We should heartily pray that they may value, and seek, and obtain, and secure, the grace and good-will of their Lord and Judge.

In closing, Paul expresses his heartfelt desire that their love be in Christ Jesus as much as his is (verse 24).

Henry interprets Paul’s sentiment:

His heart would be with them, and he would bear them dear affection as long as their hearts were with Christ, and they bore true affection to his cause and interest. Note, We should be cordial lovers of all who are in Christ, and who love him in sincerity. Not but we should love all men, and wish them well, and do them what good is in our power; but those must have our dearest affection who are dear to Christ, and lovers of him.

Next week’s post begins an exploration of 2 Corinthians.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 1:1-7

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.

1 Corinthians 16:12-18

Final Instructions

12 Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will[a] to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.

13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.

15 Now I urge you, brothers[b]—you know that the household[c] of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— 16 be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. 17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.

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Last week’s post was about Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians about the good treatment of Timothy, who was going to minister to them, young though he was.

Paul mentions Apollos, whom he urged to visit Corinth, then says that he did not wish to go at that time (verse 12).

Apollos is mentioned in Acts 18:24-28:

24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit,[a] he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.

My post on Acts 18:24-28 has much more about this Jewish convert who went to the southern part of Greece — Achaia — and ended up at the church in Corinth for a time. He was a highly eloquent speaker and some members of the congregation put more weight on his teachings than they did Paul’s.

In 1 Corinthians 4:6, Paul exhorted the Corinthians to view all good preachers in unity. One should not be favoured over the other:

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers,[a] that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.

Matthew Henry explains that Paul really wanted Apollos to return to the Corinthians (emphases mine):

Paul did not hinder Apollos from going to Corinth in his own absence, nay, he pressed him to go thither. He had no suspicions of Apollos, as if he would lessen Paul’s interest and respect among them, to the advancement of his own. Note, Faithful ministers are not apt to entertain jealousies of each other, nor suspect of such selfish designs. True charity and brotherly love think no evil. And where should these reign, if not in the breasts of the ministers of Christ? 2. Apollos could not be prevailed on for the present to come, but would at a more convenient season. Perhaps their feuds and factions might render the present season improper. He would not go to be set at the head of a party and countenance the dividing and contentious humour. When this had subsided, through Paul’s epistle to them and Timothy’s ministry among them, he might conclude a visit would be more proper. Apostles did not vie with each other, but consulted each other’s comfort and usefulness. Paul intimates his great regard to the church of Corinth, when they had used him ill, by entreating Apollos to go to them; and Apollos shows his respect to Paul, and his concern to keep up his character and authority, by declining the journey till the Corinthians were in better temper. Note, It is very becoming the ministers of the gospel to have and manifest a concern for each other’s reputation and usefulness.

In the end, Apollos did return to Corinth and became an elder in their church. Some Bible scholars believe that Apollos wrote the Book of Hebrews. He is recognised as a saint in the Orthodox churches, the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Paul then gives the Corinthians two instructions. The first is to stand firm in the faith with maturity (verse 13). The second is to do everything in love (verse 14).

John MacArthur has a whole sermon on these two verses.

Henry has a more succinct analysis:

The Corinthians were in manifest danger upon many accounts: their feuds ran high, the irregularities among them were very great, there were deceivers got among them, who endeavoured to corrupt their faith in the most important articles, those without which the practice of virtue and piety could never subsist. And surely in such dangerous circumstances it was their concern to watch. Note, If a Christian would be secure, he must be on his guard; and the more his danger the greater vigilance is needful for his security. 2. He advises them to stand fast in the faith, to keep their ground, adhere to the revelation of God, and not give it up for the wisdom of the world, nor suffer it to be corrupted by it–stand for the faith of the gospel, and maintain it even to death; and stand in it, so as to abide in the profession of it, and feel and yield to its influence. Note, A Christian should be fixed in the faith of the gospel, and never desert nor renounce it. It is by this faith alone that he will be able to keep his ground in an hour of temptation; it is by faith that we stand (2 Corinthians 1:24); it is by this that we must overcome the world (1 John 5:4), both when it fawns and when it frowns, when it tempts and when it terrifies. We must stand therefore in the faith of the gospel, if we would maintain our integrity. 3. He advises them to act like men, and be strong: “Act the manly, firm, and resolved part: behave strenuously, in opposition to the bad men who would divide and corrupt you, those who would split you into factions or seduce you from the faith: be not terrified nor inveigled by them; but show yourselves men in Christ, by your steadiness, by your sound judgment and firm resolution.” Note, Christians should be manly and firm in all their contests with their enemies, in defending their faith, and maintaining their integrity. They should, in an especial manner, be so in those points of faith that lie at the foundation of sound and practical religion, such as were attacked among the Corinthians: these must be maintained with solid judgment and strong resolution.

That said, we should act in love and charity:

We may defend our faith, but we must, at the same time, maintain our innocence, and not devour and destroy, and think with ourselves that the wrath of man will work the righteousness of God, James 1:24. Note, Christians should be careful that charity not only reign in their hearts, but shine out in their lives, nay, in their most manly defences of the faith of the gospel. There is a great difference between constancy and cruelty, between Christian firmness and feverish wrath and transport. Christianity never appears to so much advantage as when the charity of Christians is most conspicuous when they can bear with their mistaken brethren, and oppose the open enemies of their holy faith in love, when every thing is done in charity, when they behave towards one another, and towards all men, with a spirit of meekness and good will.

Paul then mentions Stephanas and his household, the first converts in Achaia (verse 15), the part of Greece in which Corinth was located, and tells the Corinthians to be subject to them as well as every other fellow worker and labourer in the church (verse 16).

MacArthur gives us some background on the earliest years of Paul’s ministry in Achaia:

The south part is the ancient Achaia – he preached Christ. In fact in the seventeenth chapter of Acts it tells us that he preached at Athens and some believed including Dionysius the Areopagite and another person as well believed, and then he went from there on – and probably some others in addition to those two – then he went on into Corinth and there he preached and there were many who believed. There was Crispus who was the leader of the synagogue. There was Gaius who probably, according to Romans 16:23, was Paul’s host while he was there in Corinth. And there was this household of Stephanas, and there was the household of one named Chloe, and there were many others who believed. Now watch. What he’s really saying here is that God was going to grow a church in Achaia. That was His plan. And as a guarantee that God was going to grow a church, God gave some first fruits

Further, there may have been other individuals saved before him and perhaps he was the first household and that’s why he’s designated as first fruits. But either he’s included in the first fruits or he’s the first household saved in Corinth. The point simply being that he was the guarantee. By the Spirit of God giving this family and this household, God was in effect saying there’s going to be a full harvest in the city of Corinth. And there was, there was a great church built there, a wonderful church to which Paul ministered for one and a half years teaching the Word of God. And this group was the beginning of that church.

Henry says that Stephanas would have been a man of high social rank, yet, once converted, he and his household devoted themselves to serving the church in Corinth:

They have disposed and devoted themselvesetaxan heautous, to serve the saints, to do service to the saints. It is not meant of the ministry of the word properly, but of serving them in other respects, supplying their wants, helping and assisting them upon all occasions, both in their temporal and spiritual concerns. The family of Stephanas seems to have been a family of rank and importance in those parts, and yet they willingly offered themselves to this service. Note, It is an honour to persons of the highest rank to devote themselves to the service of the saints. I do not mean to change ranks, and become proper servants to the inferiors, but freely and voluntarily to help them, and do good to them in all their concerns.

Both commentators use the word ‘addicted’ in describing the service of Stephanas and his household, because that is what the word ‘devoted’ means in Greek.

Henry says:

they had moreover addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints, to serve the saints.

MacArthur explains:

Now let me go back to the word devoted. It’s the word tassō. Moffett and Morris, in his commentary, say that the root meaning of this word is addicted. Did you get that? Addicted. What a great thought? They have addicted themselves to the service of the saints. Isn’t that great? They have addicted themselves to it. Now you say well, what is the service of the saints? Well, the word service or ministry, and your Bible may say ministry, is diakonia, from which we get deacon. Now diakonia originally meant a table waiter, and it came to mean anybody who serves somebody else in the church out of love. Any loving service is diakonia.

Now the New Testament describes all kinds of diakonia. For example, it talks about the diakonia of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:5. It says, “there are many services,” and then it goes on to describe the spiritual gifts. So spiritual gifts is one kind of diakonia. If we’re addicted to serving the saints, it means we’re addicted to using our spiritual gifts. Another one, in Acts 11:29 and 2 Corinthians 8:4, it speaks of the diakonia of giving. So that when we give our money that is serving the saints. Not as many of us are addicted to giving as perhaps we ought to be. So being addicted to the serving of the saints means we serve the saints through our spiritual gifts. We serve the saints through giving.

Stephanas, along with Fortunatus and Achaicus, went to stay with Paul in Ephesus; Paul says they have made up for the absence of the rest of the Corinthians (verse 17), which is a wonderful thing to say to such a wayward congregation. Paul loves them all, the good and the not so good.

Paul says that the three men’s presence has refreshed his spirit as well as the Corinthians’, therefore, the congregation should give them recognition, or respect, for that (verse 18).

Henry’s commentary says that the men gave Paul more details about what was going on in the Corinthian church, possibly allaying his worst fears:

They gave him a more perfect account of the state of the church by word of mouth than he could acquire by their letter, and by that means much quieted his mind, and upon their return from him would quiet the minds of the Corinthians. Report had made their cause much worse than it was in fact, and their letters had not explained it sufficiently to give the apostle satisfaction; but he had been made more easy by converse with them. It was a very good office they did, by truly stating facts, and removing the ill opinion Paul had received by common fame. They came to him with a truly Christian intention, to set the apostle right, and give him as favourable sentiments of the church as they could, as peace-makers. Note, It is a great refreshment to the spirit of a faithful minister to hear better of a people by wise and good men of their own body than by common report, to find himself misinformed concerning them, that matters are not so bad as they had been represented. It is a grief to him to hear ill of those he loves; it gladdens his heart to hear the report thereof is false. And the greater value he has for those who give him this information, and the more he can depend upon their veracity, the greater is his joy.

In closing, MacArthur gives us this insight on 1 and 2 Corinthians:

No other church is so rebuked as this.

On the other hand that is an evidence of love, because love is something that admonishes and rebukes when sin is visible. In fact I just would call your attention to the fact that if you take the 16 chapters of 1 Corinthians and you take the 13 chapters of 2 Corinthians that totals 29 chapters written to straighten out one church. Now in terms of chapters that makes it the longest book in the New Testament. There’s no other book that has 29 chapters. The closest is Matthew and Acts but this one had 29 chapters, because there was so much to say, because there was such a mess in Corinth. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have 29 chapters written about me to try to straighten me out, but that’s what happened in Corinth. The book is loaded with rebuke but it is also loaded with love, because you see, it’s love that calls to righteousness. Isn’t it? It is love that rebukes always. It’s love that says, “Here is the way; walk ye in it.”

My next post on 1 Corinthians 16 concludes the book. After that, it is on to 2 Corinthians.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 16:19-24

Bible read me 2The 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.

1 Corinthians 16:10-11

10 When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. 11 So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.

———————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry was about Paul’s travel plans: staying in Ephesus until Pentecost, then going to Macedonia and, if the Lord willed it, a considerable stay in Corinth afterwards.

Paul was sending Timothy to Corinth to do the Lord’s work; Paul instructed the congregation to put Timothy at ease (verse 10).

Timothy was young and fresh faced. Paul wanted him to be his emissary, giving hard truths to the Corinthians, who were likely to be a tough audience as they were already divided by various teachers, some of whom were false.

Matthew Henry’s commentary lays out what Timothy faced (emphases mine):

Timothy was sent by the apostle to correct the abuses which had crept in among them; and not only to direct, but to blame, and censure, and reprove, those who were culpable. They were all in factions, and no doubt the mutual strife and hatred ran very high among them. There were some very rich, as it is probable; and many very proud, upon account both of their outward wealth and spiritual gifts. Proud spirits cannot easily bear reproof. It was reasonable therefore to think young Timothy might be roughly used; hence the apostle warns them against using him ill. Not but that he was prepared for the worst; but, whatever his firmness and prudence might be, it was their duty to behave themselves well towards him, and not discourage and dishearten him in his Lord’s work. They should not fly out into resentment at his reproof. Note, Christians should bear faithful reproofs from their ministers, and not terrify and discourage them from doing their duty.

Paul entreats the Corinthians not to despise Timothy but to ‘help him on his way in peace’, because Paul is expecting his return as were others (verse 11).

Henry says that Paul wants to point out that, even though Timothy is junior in rank to him, he was invested with the same authority to do the same work of the Lord:

He did not come on Paul’s errand among them, nor to do his work, but the work of the Lord. Though he was not an apostle, he was assistant to one, and was sent upon this very business by a divine commission. And therefore to vex his spirit would be to grieve the Holy Spirit; to despise him would be to despise him that sent him, not Paul, but Paul’s Lord and theirs. Note, Those who work the work of the Lord should be neither terrified nor despised, but treated with all tenderness and respect. Such are all the faithful ministers of the word, though not all in the same rank and degree. Pastors and teachers, as well as apostles and evangelists, while they are doing their duty, are to be treated with honour and respect.

Henry says that Paul was expecting a full account of the Corinthians from Timothy upon his return:

Conduct him forth in peace, that he may come to me, for I look for him with the brethren (1 Corinthians 16:11; 1 Corinthians 16:11); or I with the brethren look for him (the original will bear either), ekdechomai gar auton meta ton adelphon“I am expecting his return, and his report concerning you; and shall judge by your conduct towards him what your regard and respect for me will be. Look to it that you send him back with no evil report.” Paul might expect from the Corinthians, that a messenger from him, upon such an errand, should be regarded, and well treated. His services and success among them, his authority with them as an apostle, would challenge this at their hands. They would hardly dare to send back Timothy with a report that would grieve or provoke the apostle. “I and the brethren expect his return, wait for the report he is to make; and therefore do not use him ill, but respect him, regard his message, and let him return in peace.”

John MacArthur’s sermon has another British missionary story from the 19th century. It is about a Scot, John Gibson Paton (1824-1907), a devout Reformed Presbyterian (Covenanter) who ministered to the cannibals of the New Hebrides:

Paton was a Bible student – a Bible college student in London. God called him to go to the New Hebrides Islands where there were man-eating cannibals. You know, that would be a hard thing for a young Bible college student to say yes to, wouldn’t it? I know what I’d have said. I would have said, “Lord, you’ve got the wrong guy. Are you sure my gifts are fit for that?” Or I would have said, “Look, I graduated Lord. I can make it in the ministry. No sense in me being somebody’s lunch. All this effort?” I would have said, “Look, Lord, I’ve got a great idea. I know a Bible college dropout who’ll never make it in the ministry. Send him there; they’ll eat him, and who will know.” The guy will be a hero. Right? Leave me alone will you? I can cut it.

But John Paton didn’t argue with God. The Lord said go, so he went. Took his little wife, a ship let them off, they paddled to shore in a little rowboat. They were there on an island inhabited by man-eating cannibals whose language they did not speak. And they had no way to contact them. They set up a little hut at the beach and the Lord marvelously preserved them. Later on when the chief of the tribe in that area was converted to Christ, he asked John who that army was that surrounded his hut every night. God’s holy angels protected him. After a matter of weeks there, his wife gave birth to a baby, and the baby and the wife both died. He was all alone and he says in his biography that he slept on the graves to keep the natives from digging up the bodies and eating them. And he decided he’d stay.

The challenge was great, the adversaries were many and that was where God wanted him, so he stayed. How do you do that by yourself? You do that by being totally depending on God. Accept the challenge, because it’s in the challenge where your resources run out and you depend on God and it’s where you depend on God that His power flows to victories that you never dreamed possible. It’s to the one who really labors for the Lord and does the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way, has a vision for the future, a sense of flexibility, a thoroughness, not superficial, has a commitment to present service, and accepts opposition as an opportunity or a challenge.

Paton’s Wikipedia entry has more.

The inhabitants of Tanna, where the Patons had settled in 1858, were fierce. Yet, Paton survived many attacks on his life. There was one time when he was in a near-death situation, but, providentially, a ship arrived at the island just in time to rescue him and, from the other side of Tanna, two other missionaries, Mr and Mrs Mathieson. The ship took them to another island in the New Hebrides, Aneityum.

From Aneityum, Paton went to Australia then returned to Scotland to recruit new missionaries and to raise funds for evangelising in the New Hebrides. Some of the money went towards building a ship. Later on, he was able to have a steamship built for the missionaries.

In 1864, while he was in Scotland, he remarried. Margaret (Maggie) Whitecross accompanied her husband to the New Hebrides. They settled on Aniwa, the island closest to Tanna. Paton wrote that the inhabitants were just as cruel as those on Tanna.

Incredibly, Maggie bore ten children, four of whom died at very young ages. One of their sons became a missionary in the New Hebrides.

John Paton learned the language of Aniwa and put it into writing, enabling him to translate the New Testament for the islanders. It was printed in 1899. By then, he had enabled the establishment of missionaries on 25 of the 30 islands in the New Hebrides.

Maggie taught the women and girls to weave hats and sew. She also taught them the tenets of Christianity.

As Paton had some medical training, he and his wife were able to minister to the sick, dispensing medicines daily.

Paton held a service every Sunday. He also taught the men how to use modern tools.

By the end of his ministry on Aniwa, he and his wife had trained local teachers to preach the Gospel. By the time they left for Australia, the whole island professed the Christian faith.

The Patons retired in Victoria State, where Melbourne is located. Maggie died in Kew in 1905 at the age of 64. John died in Canterbury in 1907. He was 82, which is an amazing age, considering he had ministered to cannibals and had to contend with all sorts of tropical diseases.

The Patons’ ministry was a Pauline one involving a deep, guiding faith as well as perseverance against all adversity. It is an amazing story.

Returning to today’s reading, next week’s post details Paul’s final instructions to the Corinthians. As ever in his closing chapters, the Apostle names several people doing the Lord’s work and his satisfaction with them.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 16:12-18

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