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John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur often laments the state of the Church today.

In May 1998, he gave a sermon on 2 Corinthians 13:1-2, which I cited in my post yesterday.

The sermon is called ‘The Pattern of Sanctification, Part 1: Church Discipline’.

Whilst discussing the first two verses of 2 Corinthians 13, he also gave an excellent exposition of everything that is wrong in the Church today. Excerpts follow, emphases mine below.

Since 1998, the following has exploded in churches around the Western world. Around the end of the 20th century, church growth rose to prominence. Moving on to the 21st century, the last decade saw a rise in home churches. Online church services surfaced during the pandemic and became normalised. The Church of England hierarchy wants more online services and fewer church buildings, retaining them only in community ‘hubs’. I do despair.

MacArthur points out the folly of it all:

Now, before we look at the text itself, I want to kind of get us into the importance of the subject and the importance of the attitude of the apostle Paul here by sharing with you perspective that I think exists in the Church today. Many people are concerned about the state of the Church. The condition of churches today have caused a myriad of seminars and conferences and books to be written. There are constant calls for renewal in the Church, for better understanding of the culture, for changing the style of the Church to fit the style of the ‘90s, replacing preaching of the Scripture with more interesting methodologies and technologies.

All across our country – in fact, all around the world there are these efforts being made to reinvent the Church. The fear is that the Church is not speaking to the time, people are not listening. The Church has somehow become irrelevant; it has become obsolete. Self-styled experts are saying that the future of the Church is in the balance, and the Church may not survive in the West if it doesn’t become culturally relevant, if it doesn’t learn how to package its message better, if it doesn’t target felt needs, if it doesn’t employ more popular and efficient communication devices that it currently uses.

All of this comes into focus in a new book that’s just been out a couple of weeks. It’s one of those books that you could pick up and read rather rapidly. I read it fairly rapidly; I couldn’t put it down. It just kept compelling me to read. It was sort of like enjoying the pain, actually. It was like there’s something redeeming in this self-flagellation that I’m going through, and I’m going to carry it all away to the end. The book pained me deeply, and every page added more to my pain, but I couldn’t put it down because I was so startled by what the book was saying.

It is a book that calls for the Church to do what I just said: reinvent itself. And it says, on the cover of the book, “Today’s Church is incapable of responding to the present moral crisis. It must reinvent itself or face virtual oblivion by mid twenty-first century.” End quote.

So, the book says that if the Church doesn’t reinvent itself, and put itself in better cultural relevance, it’s going to go out of existence in 50 years. That statement alone was overwhelming for me. Do you mean to tell me that the eternal God who determined in the counsels of the Trinity, before the foundation of the world, before time began, who He would redeem and how He would gather His own to Himself and bring them to eternal glory is somehow going to find His whole plan coming unglued in the next 50 years? Do you mean to tell me that the Church which Jesus Christ purchased with His own blood is somehow going to escape His purposes for redemption and atonement? Do you mean to tell me that the Church which Jesus said He would build, and the gates of Hades could not prevail against it is somehow going to become victimized by its own inept[itude]? That is a brash and irresponsible statement, to say that if the Church doesn’t reinvent itself, it’ll face oblivion by the mid twenty-first century.

The only thing that could possibly obliterate the Church on earth by then would be the end of the age and the return of Jesus Christ and the glorification of the Church. That’s a very irresponsible thing to say. And the author of the book fearing – and I think he probably genuinely fears that the Church might go out of existence – suggests that there are some ways to save the Church, and these are the suggestions. “Develop cyber churches, virtual churches on the Internet.

Secondly, develop house churches which appeal to people because they have low control, low authority, and operate without historical tradition, I might add, or theology.” “Eliminate congregational churches” – like this – “for more congenial, less confrontational, and more dispassionately interactive forums. Preachers must be replaced by presenters who have no notes and don’t hide behind pulpits, and who generate a more positive response for their listeners.

“We must get rid of sermons, because one-sided communication is ineffective, and eliminate series and Bible exposition, because everybody’s attendance is sporadic, and people really get irritated coming in and out of series that they can’t consistently hear. So, we need to play to their sporadic attendance. And every sermon should be a unit in itself because most of the folks will miss the next two weeks before they decide to come back.”

You say, “Well, where did he get those ideas?”

They were the result of a survey. If you ask unbelievers outside the Church what they want, you can get answers like that. If you ask unbelievers inside the Church what they want, you can get answers like that. If you ask believers in the Church, ignorant of Scripture, what they want, you can get answers like that. But if you were to survey biblically literate believers, you wouldn’t get answers like that.

So, who is it that determines the character of the Church? You go to the lowest possible source. Unbelievers outside the Church, unbelievers inside the Church, or ignorant believers in the Church. What is the hope of the Church? Is this really it, if we can just disband congregational churches and develop a virtual church on the Internet, will that solve our problem? Will that dramatically affect the Church’s ability to confront the moral crisis of our day, as if that were somehow our reason for existence? And it’s not. Ours is not a moral agenda. Ours is a spiritual one.

Would it be better if we had presenters instead of preachers, and we got rid of pulpits, and got rid of sermon notes, and sat on stools, would that be the difference? And just sort of told stories?

Would it be better if instead of somebody preparing to preach a sermon and giving forth an exposition of Scripture we had a pooling of everyone’s ideas? Would it be better if we never had any continuity in or sermons but had little units week in and week out? Would that really save the Church from virtual oblivion?

And by the way, are we the ones responsib[le for] sav[ing] the Church from going out of existence? Is that our job? That’s all the result of a survey. You see, that’s what people want. And what they want is what they should get. That’s the basic thesis behind all of that.

Now, if you ask me what the Church needs, I don’t need a survey. I just ask the Lord of the Church, and He’s revealed it in His Word. And what the Church really needs is more consistent, faithful, clear theological exposition of the mind of God through the pages of Scripture. What it needs is better preaching, better sermons – and I may get in trouble for saying this – fewer small churches with ungifted, untrained, and unskilled preachers.

The Word must dominate the Church and bear its God-intended power and authority over all who hear. You see, the only way that the Church will ever effectively counter the crisis of our time – moral crisis, spiritual crisis – is when the Word of God is working powerfully in the Church – listen to what I say – to produce not information, but “holiness.” There’s the operative word, folks. Write that down somewhere; that’s the theme of the message this morning.

You see, the hope of the Church and the impact of the Church is all connected to the purity of the Church. Holiness is the issue. When Jesus first addressed the Church in Matthew 18, the first time he ever said anything related to the Church, in that great sermon in Matthew 18:7, the first thing he said about it is this, “If somebody’s in sin, go to him. If he doesn’t listen, take two or three witnesses. If he doesn’t listen, tell the church. And after the church has pursued him, if he still doesn’t repent, throw him out; treat him like an outcast.

The first instruction our Lord ever gave to the CHURCH had to do with sin. In that very first sermon, Jesus said, “If you ever lead another believer into sin, you’d be better off if a millstone were put around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea.” The Lord of the Church is concerned about the purity of the Church. He’s concerned about the holiness of the Church. Sin is the issue to the Lord of the Church, and it should be the issue for us. But I daresay you can go from conference to conference to conference, and book to book to book, and this is not the concern today. You won’t hear talk about the holiness of the Church, the purity of the Church.

When I was at Moody this week, I spoke, and I basically said to them, “You know, I’m going to preach the sermon I’ve prepared for my own church on Sunday.” I kind of tweaked it here and there a little bit. But I said to them what I’m going to say to you, because everybody’s talking about church growth and how to grow your church and have a successful church in a flourishing ministry and more folks and church growth is a begin thing. And I said to them, “It may surprise you to hear this, but I really believe the single greatest contributor to the impact of our church, to the growth of our church, to the ministries of our church, to the effect of our church – the single greatest factor that exists – has existed through the years of Grace Community Church – the single greatest contributor to the influence, and the strength, and the growth of our church has been” – and I paused, and it got real quiet, and I said – “church discipline.” And there was a pall over the meeting.

Church discipline. That is not normally considered a principle of church growth. Most people would assume, “If you want to kill a place, do that. Just start poking around in everybody’s life and they’ll split.” Not the people who love righteousness. Not the people who hate sin. Not the people who want to honor God. Not the people who care about obedience. And that’s the Church, isn’t it? That’s the true and redeemed Church.

It may surprise you to hear this. I believe that ignoring church discipline is the most visible and disastrous failure of the Church in our time. Because what it conveys is we aren’t really concerned about – what? – sin. The Lord of the Church is concerned about sin. The apostle Paul was concerned about sin. It left him with a constant, unrelenting ache in his heart.

The problem with the Church is not that it’s got bad methodology or bad technology. The problem with the Church is it’s lost its interest in holiness. It’s lost its interest in maintaining purity. Churches have become content to be fellowships of independent members with minimal accountability to God, and even less to each other

The absence of church discipline – and I mean it’s absolutely a foreign thing in churches – the absence of church discipline is a symptom of the moral decline, the theological indifference of the Church. It’s a symptom, I believe, of a shallow commitment to Scripture. It’s not as if the Bible is unclear on the subject. It couldn’t be more clear. It is a lack of reverence for the Lord of the Church. It is saying, “Well, I know you’re concerned about the holiness of the Church, but we’re really not. We have other things to be concerned about.” Church discipline is not an elective; it is not an option; it is a necessary an integral mark of true Christianity and life in the church.

And I say it again; the absence of church discipline is the most glaring evidence of the worldliness of the Church. And the worldliness of the Church is the reason for its impotence. And you can have all of the entertainment, and all the hoopla, and all the big crowds that you want and not impact the world. It’s the purity of the Church; it’s the holiness of the Church that is the cause of its power. The problem is the Church is unholy.

Even the idea of confession of sin is outdated in an age of moral relativism and moral ambiguity. The answer is not let’s break up the congregation and produce less accountability; let’s get down to house churches where we have less authority, less confrontation, more autonomy, more independence. The answer is not let’s have more compassion; let’s have a kinder, gentler church.

Albert Mohler, who’s the president of Southern Seminary, writes – and I quote – “Individuals now claim an enormous zone of personal privacy and moral autonomy. The congregation, redefined as a mere voluntary association, has no right to intrude into this space. Many congregations have forfeited any responsibility to confront even the most public sins of their members.” He says congregations are consumed with pragmatic methods of church growth and what he calls congregational engineering. And most churches just ignore the issues of sin.

Let us contrast that approach with that of St Paul:

Well, the apostle Paul wasn’t that way. We’re learning, at the end of the book here, about the faithful pastor’s concerns. What is it that concerns a faithful pastor? What is it that concerns Paul? Well, he’s giving us a summary of that, starting in chapter 12, verse 19, running all the way to chapter 13, verse 10. That whole section is a summation of what concerns Paul.

And we could sum it up in a word. He’s concerned with the spiritual well-being of his flock. That’s what he’s concerned about. Corinth was a challenge. The city was gross in terms of its wickedness. People who came to Christ in that city were coming out of very immoral backgrounds. They brought some of that garbage into the church. He had to write to them 1 Corinthians to confront a long litany of iniquities that they were still engaging in, even though they were in the church and calling themselves believers.

Having sorted out those problems in the writing of 1 Corinthians, it wasn’t long until false teachers had come, and along with false teachers came pride, and along with pride came more sin. And Paul could see the subsequent impotence of that unholy situation and the loss of testimony, the loss of evangelistic impact that would follow.

Paul knew that the problem in Corinth was not going to be whether they were culturally relevant or not. The false teachers criticized Paul for not having a relevant message, not taking into account the expectations of the Corinthians for what oratory ought to be because of what they were used to. They had criticized Paul because his person, his persona was unimpressive, and his speech was contemptible; he was a lousy communicator; he didn’t speak in the venue that people were used to hearing. He didn’t have all of the personal charm to woo the audience.

He had already addressed the issues that he didn’t speak with men’s wisdom, and he didn’t come in the wisdom of the world to achieve divine purposes. He already had laid it down that he was going to come and speak the Word of God, and he believed the Word of God, and he believed the Word of God was the power. And behind that came this conviction and commitment to the fact that the church had to be holy. And what Paul feared in his church was error and sin. Either one of those destroys the church. Theological error, theological ignorance or inequity devastates the church.

I can think of very few pastors who would pursue Paul’s route. Yet, it is the correct one for the Church.

There is the world, the slave to sin. And there is the Church, which teaches that the way to eternal life is through the repentance of sin, a turning around of ourselves and our worldly ways towards … holiness.

Do we notice how the more modern and relevant the Church becomes, the more people avoid it?

There is another problem and that is the use of churches as tools for evangelising. Evangelising is a necessary activity but, done properly, it takes place outside of the church service, not during it.

The church service is designed for worship of our Lord and the exposition of Scripture, not winning converts off the street.

How bad do things have to get before our clergy realise the error of their ways? Sadly, I fear this will drag on and on for decades.

As I have been writing about his epistles, it is worth noting that, in the Catholic and Anglican churches, January 25 is the feast day commemorating the Conversion of St Paul the Apostle.

My posts on this dramatic, divinely-guided event follow:

Part 1 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion

Part 2 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion (includes interesting info from John MacArthur on his own conversion)

Acts 9:10-19 — when scales fell from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus (final part of St Paul’s conversion story)

He ended up suffering much physical persecution and much emotional trauma as he focused so much on the spiritual well being of his thousands of converts. He wept often for them and he prayed constantly for our Lord’s continuing guidance.

St Paul truly was the greatest Apostle.

Bible treehuggercomThe 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 13:1-4

13 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them— since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

——————————————————————————————–

In last week’s post, we saw how much Paul grieved over the state of the Corinthian church under the influence of the false teachers and the unrepentant souls in the congregation.

It is no wonder that Paul never married. He had a deep agape for all the churches he planted and he wanted them to be pure, a true Bride of Christ. He suffered a broken heart for the Corinthians but still wanted them to straighten themselves out for the Lord.

As we enter the last chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul says that he will be making his third visit. He says that he will be exercising church discipline by asking two or three witnesses to be present before each charge of serious sin before a member of the congregation (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

… the apostle had told these Corinthians before, in his former epistle, and now he tells them, or writes to those who heretofore had sinned, and to all others, giving warning unto all before he came in person the third time, to exercise severity against scandalous offenders. Others think that the apostle had designed and prepared for his journey to Corinth twice already, but was providentially hindered, and now informs them of his intentions a third time to come to them. However this be, it is observable that he kept an account how often he endeavoured, and what pains he took with these Corinthians for their good: and we may be sure that an account is kept in heaven, and we must be reckoned with another day for the helps we have had for our souls, and how we have improved them.

John MacArthur says that it was an imperative for Paul to deal with ongoing sin in the church in Corinth. He had similar experiences elsewhere, too, Galatia being another example:

When it came to sin, for the sake of the sinning believer, Paul wanted to confront that sin … He sees the effect of what’s going on in the church crippling believers and cutting them off from God’s blessing. And he also sees its devastating impact in the community, because an unholy church has no power, no witness. You cannot convince a community of the transforming power of God if the church is characterized by sin and wickedness.

Paul was very confront[ational] with his churches. In Galatians chapter 1, you remember he writes the Galatians. In verse 6 he said, “I am amazed that you’re so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ for a different gospel.” He confronts the fact that they had wandered off after Judaizing false teachers who were teaching them legalism. “I can’t believe you’ve done it; it’s not really another gospel at all. People are coming, distorting the gospel. I’m telling you” – in verse 8 “though we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed!”

The call for witnesses is in Deuteronomy as well as Numbers, and Christ spoke of it in Matthew 18. MacArthur expands on our Lord’s desire for a holy and pure Church:

You see, the hope of the Church and the impact of the Church is all connected to the purity of the Church. Holiness is the issue. When Jesus first addressed the Church in Matthew 18, the first time he ever said anything related to the Church, in that great sermon in Matthew 18:7, the first thing he said about it is this, If somebody’s in sin, go to him. If he doesn’t listen, take two or three witnesses. If he doesn’t listen, tell the church. And after the church has pursued him, if he still doesn’t repent, throw him out; treat him like an outcast.

The first instruction our Lord ever gave to the CHURCH had to do with sin. In that very first sermon, Jesus said, “If you ever lead another believer into sin, you’d be better off if a millstone were put around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea.” The Lord of the Church is concerned about the purity of the Church. He’s concerned about the holiness of the Church. Sin is the issue to the Lord of the Church, and it should be the issue for us. But I daresay you can go from conference to conference to conference, and book to book to book, and this is not the concern today. You won’t hear talk about the holiness of the Church, the purity of the Church.

He warns again that when he returns he will be harsh with the unrepentant, sparing no one (verse 2).

Henry says that, after a long period of patience, stronger measures are sometimes necessary, as God is our judge. Better to repent now than to experience His wrath later:

Note, Though it is God’s gracious method to bear long with sinners, yet he will not bear always; at length he will come, and will not spare those who remain obstinate and impenitent, notwithstanding all his methods to reclaim and reform them.

MacArthur explains the verb ‘to spare’ in Greek:

The verb here is pheisomai. It’s a very strong word. It’s used to describe a battle situation, and it means to spare the life of a captured enemy. You have every right to take his life, because he’s the enemy. To spare means not to kill him when you have the opportunity to do so and the right to do so. The idea is to have mercy on an enemy who deserves death.

Well, Paul says, “When I get there, I’m not going to have any mercy. When I get there, I’m not going to spare anybody; you’re going to get exactly what your sin calls for.” This is no idle threat. Paul’s going to do this; he’s going to deal with sin. And he wants the Corinthians to know that this is his concern.

Paul returns to the troubling reality that the Corinthians need further proof that Christ speaks through him, saying that our Lord is not weak in dealing with them but is, in fact, powerful among them — via sanctification (verse 3).

MacArthur interprets this verse and notes the thematic transitions from the end of 2 Corinthians 12:21 through 2 Corinthians 13:4:

So, verse 3 says, “Since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me” – that’s the issue. They were saying, “We want some proof that it’s really Christ speaking in you; how do we know it’s not just your opinion? You’re just telling us what you want to tell us. You’re just saying what is your own view, and your own idea. How do we know? Give us some proof of the Christ who speaks in you.” That was the issue here. Now, remember, Paul had already indicated that his concern for his people was repentance, chapter 12, verses 20 and 21.

That was our first point in this little outline. And secondly, he was concerned for the discipline of his people, verses 1 and 2. And now, in verses 3 and 4, he’s concerned for the authority of his people. Any faithful pastor is concerned with these issues. He’s concerned about sin and repentance. He’s concerned about discipline, which is the purging and purifying of the church. And he’s concerned about making sure the people come under the authority of the truth. Those are the faithful pastor’s concerns.

And we come to this third one, this matter of authority, and Paul wants to address it. So, he says in verse 3, “You’re seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me, huh? You haven’t had enough proof already?” Go back to verse 12, of chapter 12. “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” Well, they had a lot of proof; miracles that Paul had done there. That was proof enough. And there was even more proof. How about this?

“You’re saved. You’ve been justified. You’ve been regenerated. You’ve been converted. You’ve been transformed. You’ve been changed. You’ve been born again. You’ve been redeemed. Isn’t that indicative of the fact that the truth came through me, the saving truth? Not only that, you’re in the process of being sanctified, you’re in the process of growing, and maturing, and being nurtured, and becoming more like Christ. Isn’t that evidence?” They had evidence from signs. They had evidence from salvation. They had evidence from sanctification.

But they were so fickle they allowed themselves to get sucked into this false teacher’s effort, and to question things that they really had no reason to question. So, he says, “Okay, you want more proof of the Christ who speaks in me?” – go back to verse 2 – “If I come again I’ll not spare anyone.” That’s what he’s talking about. “I’ll not spare you, and that will give you more proof.” What does he mean? He means, “When I come, I’m going to take out the sword, if need be, of discipline, and I’m going to act in behalf of Christ in dealing with your sin.”

As for Paul’s statement that Christ is speaking in him, MacArthur says:

What a great statement: “The Christ who speaks in me.” And how does Christ speak in us? Not in an audible voice; He speaks in us when we proclaim His Word. Christ isn’t indicated to have given special words to Paul on every occasion. Once the Word of God was revealed, Paul preached it, and re-preached it, and re-preached it, and gave it to us. When you speak the Word of Christ, Christ speaks in you. So, you – that was the question. And that should be the question. That should always be the question

“And you’re going to see more when I come and don’t spare anybody, and apply Matthew 18 to all of you. And then you’ll see the Christ who speaks in me” – verse 3 – “and who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you.” And he’s saying, “You already have seen that. He – He is not weak toward you. You know that, because you’re saved, and you’re being sanctified. He is mighty in you, and you know that. You’re experiencing it. Your lives have been changed and transformed. You know that, and you’ve seen the signs and wonders.

“You want more proof of how mighty Christ is? You want more proof of how powerful He is? Then I’ll give it to you, when I come against that unrepentant person, with the very same authority of the Word of Christ.” Beloved, always, there is power, when believers act in line with the truth of God’s Word. Christ is the Lord of the church, and He expresses authority in His church through His Word, proclaimed by gifted, and called, and faithful preachers and teachers.

Paul concludes this section by saying that Christ appeared weak on the Cross but He lives forevermore because of the power of God; similarly, Paul was weak so as to allow the Lord to work through him, and this would also be true in his exercising of church discipline (verse 4).

Compared to the false teachers, Paul lacked their charm, persona and physical attributes. He was a humble man but he took care to preach and teach the truth.

He wanted to be humble and weak, an empty vessel, so that Christ could work through him in everything he did.

MacArthur explains the power of humility which Paul employed to great effect, making way for the power of God. The ‘we’ refers to Paul, who could not abide saying ‘I’:

Well, he gives a tremendous analogy, brilliant analogy. Listen to this – verse 4, middle of the verse, start with the word for – “For we also are weak in Him.” “We admit it. I admit it. I’m weak. I’m weak, and I’m in Christ. I’m in Him. That is, I’m in Christ; saved, redeemed, belong to Him, but I’m weak. I admit it.” “Yet we shall live with Him.” What does that mean? What does it mean, “we shall live with Him?” Well, what it means is that he’s found spiritual life, and it’s eternal. He has found spiritual life, and it’s eternal spiritual life.

And he found it because of the power of God. God, in power, came into his weakness, and made him alive with spiritual life forever. And then it says, in verse 4, “God directed that same power through him toward you.” Wow. What’s he saying? He’s saying, “Well, my weakness didn’t stop the power of God, it facilitated it. Because there’s no other explanation for my life than that it was the power of God, because there’s no human explanation. I’m too week, too frail, too inept, too unimpressive, to have pulled it off myself.

“Whatever has happened has been the power of God, surging through my weakness.” Back to verse 9, of chapter 12, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” God says, “Power is perfected in weakness.” Wow. “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” That’s – that’s the principle. God said, “I’ll perfect My power through your weakness.” Paul said, “I’m happy to be weak, because in my weakness, God’s power came.”

It was in Paul’s weakness and brokenness that he was redeemed. It was when he was going to Damascus, a proud, confident, arrogant Jew, persecuting Christians, and he was crushed in the dirt, and shattered, and broken, and dismantled, and made blind, and halting, and stumbling, he fell before God. And in the midst of that weakness he was crushed into nothing, and through that weakness God saved him, and began to sanctify him, and he became the great, great preacher; the greatest preacher ever, next to the Lord Jesus Himself.

Brokenness can serve a great purpose in that it gives way to God’s power working in us. Jesus set the example.

MacArthur notes, with regret, that this notion of humility is no longer a message that most churches convey. However, it is essential, because Christ was broken on the Cross, yet He lives through the power of God:

And again, I say, the church doesn’t need less of this; it needs so much more of it. So, he says, “We’re weak in Him.” It’s true. “Yet we have received spiritual life which is eternal, because of the power of God that has come to us, and through us, is directed toward you.” “You’ve experienced it. You saw the miracles. You were saved. You’re sanctified. And you’re about to see some of it, too, if I find some sin there; you’ll see more of the power of God coming through.”

And then he gives this really wonderful, wonderful analogy, in the beginning of verse 4: “For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God.” Well, I mean, that is the end of the discussion, right there. Who’s He? Jesus. “You’re saying I’m too weak to be powerful? Let me give you an analogy. I am weak; that’s why I’m powerful, and so was Jesus.” This is great. “Indeed He was crucified because of weakness” – or literally, it could be in the Greek, “He was crucified in weakness.”

The bottom line is that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is an unmistakable evidence of His weakness. I mean, He came into the world in the form of a servant, Philippians 2 says; He humbled Himself, came in the fashion of a man, became a servant. He lived a very humble life. But when He got to the cross, you really began to see His weakness. Through His life, you could see human weakness. He was weary. He was sad. He sorrowed. He was disappointed. He wept. But then He was betrayed, and then He was taken before a court of Jews in a mock trial, and blasphemed.

And then He was blasphemed by the Idumeans, and then He was blasphemed by the Romans, in a mock of a trial before Pilate. And then He was treated with disdain and abuse, and spit on, and punched, and poked, and laughed at. And then He was crucified, and then He died. And that is weakness. The supreme evidence of His weakness is His death. And Paul says, “Indeed, that’s true” – indeed meaning truly, that’s true – “He was crucified because of weakness, yet He is alive because of the power of God.”

What’s that refer to? Resurrection, right? The resurrection. God raised Him from the dead. Romans 1:4 tells us God raised Him from the dead. The Lord Jesus was weak. He was so weak that His enemies defeated and executed Him in the most debasing, humiliating, and shameful manner possible. His human nature was so weak that it was fully susceptible to death. Yet He lives. Once weak in death, He was made alive in power, and He came out of that grave on the third day, His resurrection being the most monumental evidence and revelation of His power.

So, Jesus is the pattern. He was weak, weak all the way to death, and yet He is alive because of the power of God, which raised Him from the dead. So Paul. He’s weak. He’s in fear and trembling. He suffers a lot. He lives with sorrow, pain, and disappointment. He’s been beaten, and battered, and rejected. Humanly, he’s not welcome. He’s not ranked among the great preachers or speakers and orators of his day. He says, “We’re weak in Him, yet we shall live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you.”

Like Christ, it was Paul’s weakness that God used to make him strong. The power of God came into his life, transformed him, and surged through his life to transform the Corinthians.

Next week’s post concludes 2 Corinthians, part of which is in the Lectionary.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 13:5-10, 14

bible-wornThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

2 Corinthians 12:19-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next time — 2 Corinthians 13:1-4

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 12:14-18

14 Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? 16 But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit. 17 Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s further justification of his conduct in ministry, contrasting himself with the false teachers — ‘super-apostles’ — who were attacking his character.

He says that he plans to visit the Corinthians for a third time and says that, as a parent would, he does not seek their money but them for their own sakes, out of love (verse 14).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

He spared their purses, and did not covet their money: I seek not yours but you. He sought not to enrich himself, but to save their souls: he did not desire to make a property of them to himself, but to gain them over to Christ, whose servant he was.

Paul says that he will give whatever he has of himself to save their souls; as such, he asks whether he should be loved any less for his efforts (verse 15). To be sure, the Corinthians were not loving or appreciating Paul nearly as much as they should have done. In fact, the super-apostles were turning them against the true Apostle.

Henry interprets this verse as follows:

2. He would gladly spend and be spent for them (2 Corinthians 12:15; 2 Corinthians 12:15); that is, he was willing to take pains and to suffer loss for their good. He would spend his time, his parts, his strength, his interest, his all, to do them service; nay, so spend as to be spent, and be like a candle, which consumes itself to give light to others. 3. He did not abate in his love to them, notwithstanding their unkindness and ingratitude to him; and therefore was contented and glad to take pains with them, though the more abundantly he loved them the less he was loved, 2 Corinthians 12:15; 2 Corinthians 12:15. This is applicable to other relations: if others be wanting in their duty to us it does not follow therefore that we may neglect our duty to them.

Paul then says that he never took money from them to build up their church — something the false teachers were doing — yet, somehow the Corinthians believed the accusations that Paul was crafty and deceiving them (verse 16).

Paul asks if he or anyone he sent in his place took advantage of the Corinthians (verse 17).

Henry says:

If it should be objected by any that though he did not himself burden them, yet, being crafty, he caught them with guile, that is, he sent those among them who pillaged them, and afterwards he shared with them in the profit: “This was not so,” says the apostle; “I did not make a gain of you myself, nor by any of those whom I sent; nor did Titus, nor any others–We walked by the same spirit and in the same steps.” They all agreed in this matter to do them all the good they could, without being burdensome to them, to promote the gospel among them and make it as easy to them as possible.

Paul says that he urged Titus to go to the Corinthians and sent another godly man to accompany him; Paul asks the congregation if Titus took advantage of them or if he and his companion did not act in the same spirit as Paul (verse 18).

John MacArthur tells us:

Paul looked for some outside person, outside his own little group of friends, who was appointed by the churches so there would be no question about collusion here

Paul says, “I’ve covered those bases. You know the facts. You know I never took anything from you; you know Titus never defrauded you, and you know he came with a brother widely known and famous among the entire church for his preaching. And you now there was another brother sent as appointed by the churches as well. And you know we did all this so no suspicion could be grounded in any reality whatsoever.”

Titus went to teach the Corinthians but also to begin collecting for the poor church in Jerusalem:

Titus went, beginning the collection. A year later, 1 Corinthians was written, encouraging them to keep the collection going. Titus went back after 1 Corinthians, brought the severe letter, encouraged them to keep it going. He goes back with this letter, and he’s there again for the third time. They knew Titus, and they knew the men that were with him. And they were all trustworthy. More lies by the false teachers, more deception, more untruth, more assault.

Paul says in verse 18, “Did we not conduct ourselves in the same spirit and walk I the same steps?” Was there any difference in any of us? Weren’t we all the same? Didn’t we all treat you exactly the same? We were beyond legitimate accusation. We were beyond any justified suspicion. You know there was no deceit in our ministry. There was no cunning craftiness; there was only honesty; there was only integrity. Beloved, this is characteristic of a true man of God.

Poor Paul. He must have been exhausted having to defend himself to such an extent when he was so careful to be above reproach in everything he did. Everything he did, he did for Christ.

Paul’s self-defence continues next week.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 12:19-21

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 12:1, 11-13

Paul’s Visions and His Thorn

12 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.

Concern for the Corinthian Church

11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. 12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. 13 For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s preference for boasting of his weakness in order to demonstrate that God was working through him to preach the Good News; Paul gave a concrete example of persecution in Damascus.

From 2 Corinthians 10 to 2 Corinthians 13, Paul defends himself against the vile accusations, of which there were many, that the false teachers in that church were making against him.

He begins in this chapter by saying that he will go on boasting, though it serves little purpose, this time about the visions and revelations of the Lord (verse 1).

John MacArthur explains that Paul says they are unhelpful to the Corinthians because they could lead to self-aggrandising and because they cannot be verified. What Paul wants his converts to do is to focus on the Word of God (emphases mine below):

He just hates to do this, “Boasting is necessary” – he says again – “I have to do this, though it’s not helpful; it’s not helpful, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.”

Now, let me stop you right there; let me tell you something. Paul said, “I’ve had visions, and I’ve had revelations, and I know these false apostles haven’t. But you know something, folks? I’m only talking about these things because you’ve made it necessary for me to do this, but it’s not helpful.”

Boy, I’ll tell you, somebody ought to get a grip on that verse. “Visions and revelations of the Lord, which really happened to me, are not helpful for me to talk about.” That’s what that “not profitable” means. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” – 2 Timothy 3:16 – “and is profitable.”

“But talking about visions and revelations is not profitable. It’s not profitable to me to talk about them. I have had them. It is not profitable for me to talk about them because they tend to build my pride. They become temptations to pride.” It’s not profitable for me to talk about them to you, because they can’t help you, because they were personal visions and revelations given to me. They can’t help the Church either.

That’s why, when Paul left Ephesus in Acts 20, he commended them not to visions and revelations, but to the word of his grace which is able to build you up. Right? This is what builds you up.

He says, “Look, you have forced me to talk about visions and revelations. It is not helpful. It is not helpful.” In fact, the word means useless. “It is useless.” It’s useless. Why? It just messes with my pride. It was personal for me; it was personal for me; it has no bearing on you. It was personal for me; it has no bearing on you. What has a bearing on you is the Word of God.

Paul then describes ‘a man in Christ’ who sees the ‘third heaven’, i.e. paradise. That man was Paul himself.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us this about the third heaven:

It was certainly a very extraordinary honour done him: in some sense he was caught up into the third heaven, the heaven of the blessed, above the aërial heaven, in which the fowls fly, above the starry heaven, which is adorned with those glorious orbs: it was into the third heaven, where God most eminently manifests his glory. We are not capable of knowing all, nor is it fit we should know very much, of the particulars of that glorious place and state; it is our duty and interest to give diligence to make sure to ourselves a mansion there; and, if that be cleared up to us, then we should long to be removed thither, to abide there for ever. This third heaven is called paradise (2 Corinthians 12:4; 2 Corinthians 12:4), in allusion to the earthly paradise out of which Adam was driven for his transgression; it is called the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7), signifying to us that by Christ we are restored to all the joys and honours we lost by sin, yea, to much better.

These verses are in the Lectionary. As such, they will not be discussed in detail in this post, however, note that Paul humbly speaks of himself in the third person. After this revelation, Satan then torments Paul, whether physically or spiritually with ‘a thorn’. Our Lord responds by saying that His grace is sufficient, His power made perfect in Paul’s weakness:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,[a] a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

MacArthur says that Paul never spoke or wrote of this experience until now, having been compelled to do so:

Such extrabiblical experience is not helpful to him or anybody else at this point. At the time it happened, God meant it for him. It’s unnecessary to supplement the teaching of the Word. By the way, the only revelation we need, in addition to Scripture, is the revelation of Jesus Christ at His second coming. That’s the only revelation we need.

And nonetheless, for the sake of his argument here, this is what he says, “I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.” Now, all visions that he actually had would include a revelation, but not all revelations would be in the form of a vision. So, he had visions and revelations. And I don’t want to go through all of them, but you can read Acts 9; Acts 13, 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 27, and it refers to visions and revelations. And he had numerous ones

But he says, “Let me give you the – let me give you the supreme of all the visions. And he had seen the Lord on the Damascus Road, and he had seen the Lord come to him when he was in jail. And some incredible things, when he was in Jerusalem – and some incredible things were going to happen to that man – visions and revelations.

But here’s the one he chooses, verse 2. By the way, he received his gospel by revelation, not in a vision form, but by revelation. So, God had directly spoken to him. God had given him visions and given him direct revelations. But he says, in verse 2, “Let me pick the best one. I know a man” – and there again is his humility. Most people would say, “I went to heaven, folks. I went to heaven.” He speaks in the third person, though. He says, “I know a man in Christ” – that’s a Christian who is in Christ – “I know a Christian who fourteen years ago” – what? Do you want to know something? He’s just breaking 14 years of silence. Since he went to heaven, he had never mentioned it for 14 years. It’s not helpful. It’s useless. What good is it for me to say to you, “I went to heaven?” That doesn’t help me; that just feeds my pride. That doesn’t help you; it just makes you feel like you got left out. Well, it doesn’t help anybody.

Paul says that the Corinthians have forced him to become a fool by revealing this episode, adding that they should have been defending him to the false teachers; he refers to them sarcastically as ‘super-apostles’ when they are nothing of the sort, and says he is ‘nothing’ (verse 11).

Paul means that he lacks their verve and panache which have seduced the Corinthians. Yet, Paul was the true Apostle who planted their church and instilled pure teaching among them.

MacArthur analyses this verse as follows:

This whole idea of having to defend himself is a kind of folly to him. Only fools brag. Bragging is characteristic of fools. And he’s been forced to have to speak about his superiority, and he really doesn’t like it. He would rather speak about his failures and his weaknesses and his suffering and all of that; he’s comfortable doing that. He’s comfortable talking about himself as a nothing and a nobody and a cracked pot, an earthen vessel, nothing more than that. He is a former blasphemer, a persecutor and injurious, a killer of Christians. He is a chief of sinners, and he’s content to talk about that, because then he can put the power of God on display. But he really does not like to talk about his superiority as an apostle.

And so, there’s a kind of foolishness in having to do it, but he’s been forced to it. Verse 11, “I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me.” In chapter 11, verse 1, verse 16, verse 17, verse 21; chapter 12, verse 6 – and here again, for about the fifth or sixth time, he – it’s the sixth time, I guess – he says, “It’s foolish to do this, but you have forced me to do it. I really don’t have a choice; for the sake of preserving the gospel and the truth, and honoring Christ, and keeping you away from destructive error, you have forced me into this. You’ve compelled me to do it.”

The seriousness of what was at stake is indicated in chapter 11, verse 3, “I am afraid lest, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” – I’m afraid Satan’s going to deceive you like he did Eve and lead you away from Christ into error, and that is what is at stake, and that is why, of necessity, I’ve had to do this foolish boasting.

And then he indicts them a little, in the middle of the verse, “I should” – “Actually” – he says – “in truth I should have been commended by you” – you ought to be the one rising to my defense. It didn’t happen.

Paul reminds the Corinthians that he is the true Apostle, the one who performed signs, wonders and mighty works with utmost patience (verse 12).

He mentions these because they witnessed them. More importantly, they showed the power of God at work through Paul, the self-described ‘nobody’.

MacArthur tells us why we should ignore evangelists who claim to be doing the same things today. It is not possible:

Now we’re talking about what was visible, what was repeatable, what did occur and was very clearly the power of God at work. They saw miracles. They saw things that caused them to be astonished and were signs pointing to Paul as a true apostle. Now, this is a very important verse. There are people going all across the country, all across the world, claiming to do signs, wonders, and miracles, are there not? They’ve been around for years and years. They set up tents in cities, and they do their basic gimmick there. They have churches; they get today – the big tent today is television. They set up their programs on television; they fill statements, bring in cameras, and ply their craft and their art there. They claim to be the workers of signs and wonders and miracles. This is everywhere today. And this is confusing to many people, not only Christian people but non-Christian people are equally confused by it. And while it may draw huge crowds because it plays on people’s desperation, and it plays on doubt, looking for proof, and it plays on people’s fascination with the supernatural and with the miraculous, and the excitement, and all that’s there, and the emotional highs.

Christ gave His Apostles — Paul included — the power to heal and to work miracles to the glory of God.

MacArthur explains the marks of a true Apostle:

How do you – how do you identify an apostle? Well, an apostle had to have seen the risen Christ. Is that not true? Acts chapter 1 makes it very clear that someone who’s going to be chosen to fill the position of Judas, who of course was a suicide – had committed suicide after his terrible betrayal of Christ, somebody was going to be permitted to take his place in the Twelve, and it turned out to be Matthiashad to have been an eyewitness of the resurrection, had to have been an eyewitness of the resurrection, had to have had a direct call from the Lord Jesus Christ, be appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, which was done by a miraculous, superintending of the casting of lots by which Matthias was selected by the Lord Himself. The apostle Paul saw the Lord on the Damascus Road and several other times and was personally called out of darkness into light and called to be an apostle by Christ Himself.

So, we could say one of the signs of an apostle was that he had seen the risen Christ and been directly and personally called by Christ to this office. There are a number of other remarkable characteristics and elements of apostleship. The apostles were also marked out – they had the benchmark of a plenary knowledgeplenary means a comprehensive or whole knowledge – complete knowledge – they had a plenary knowledge of the gospel derived by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.

The 12 apostles didn’t read the gospel from anybody that had written it down. They got it directly from Jesus Christ. He explained to them why He came. He explained to them that He had to die. He explained to them that He would rise again. He explained to the that He would go to heaven. He explained to them that He would return and establish His kingdom on the earth. Jesus explained it all to them with His own lips during His time on earth, including His post-resurrection 40 days, when He filled in all the remaining teaching about the kingdom.

And so it was with the apostle Paul, that he tells the Galatians He received His gospel from no man, but from the Lord Jesus directly. Remember after his conversion he was taken out in the desert? And he was given the message of Jesus Christ and the clarity of the gospel directly in a three-year period at that time from the Lord. It was characteristic of an apostle to have had a plenary, complete knowledge of the gospel derived by immediate revelation from Jesus Christ. And that was true of the apostle Paul.

It was also characteristic of apostles that they were inspired to write down revelation. They were inspired by God to write down revelation. And that inspiration was the Holy Spirit rendering that apostle infallible in the communication of that revelation.

When John wrote his Gospel, and when he wrote his epistles, and when he wrote Revelation, he wrote it infallibly. When Peter wrote his epistles, he wrote them infallibly. And even the associates of the apostles – like Mark, who wrote the Gospel of Mark – wrote it infallibly. When Matthew wrote Matthew, it was infallible. When Luke, the associate of Paul, wrote his Gospel, it was infallibly superintended. So, the writers were either apostles or those very intimately linked to the apostles, and they were superintended by God as to infallibility when they received this revelation.

It is also true that there were external protections placed upon the life of the apostle during ministry. And Paul certainly could give testimony to that as the Lord protected him and looked over him and delivered him from many, many things that could have taken his life.

Another sign of an apostle was utter and absolute fidelity to the truth of God and conformity to the authenticated standard of truth. The “apostles’ doctrine” would be the term used in the book of Acts for it. The apostles were true to that doctrine delivered to them.

Another mark of an apostle benchmark authenticating insignia of an apostle was success in preaching the gospel. They were empowered to successfully preach the gospel. So, we could say that when you look at the life of Paul, you would see all of that: someone who had seen the risen Christ; someone who had been directly called into this apostleship by Christ; one who had directly received his revelation of the knowledge of the gospel from Jesus Himself; one who had been protected to become supernaturally infallible, as it were, when he was the instrument of writing Scripture; one who had been protected from death and delivered from all kinds of difficulty in the ongoing care of his ministry; one who was faithful to the truth as it was laid down, the standard of faith through the apostles; and one who was successful in his preaching ministry; and certainly, in Paul’s case, to the founding of many, many churches. That’s the big picture.

But what Paul really wants us to focus on is narrowing that down. Back to verse 12, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance. I went – I persevered in all of my ministry, but particularly by signs and wonders and miracles” – what he really wants you to look at is the signs and wonders and powers, the word being dunamis again – “as credentials.” He’s referring specifically to the supernatural deeds done through him. How could they question this? Because he says, “They were performed” – in verse 12 – “among you. You were there; you saw them.”

Now, what was this miracle power that the apostles had? Well, all you have to do is go back to chapter 10 of Matthew, and it tells you right there. When Jesus called the apostles, the Twelve, and then later Paul, He gave them authority over unclean spirits to cast them out. He gave them miracle powers, supernatural power over Satan’s kingdom of demons. And they could cast demons out. They had power over the kingdom of darkness. Secondly, to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Bottom line, healing power with no limitations. None. They could heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. And their healing was always the same: immediate, complete, instantaneous healing. So, they had power over the kingdom of darkness, and they could cast demons out. They could cast them out of anybody. In fact, ever demon casting that occurred in the New Testament record of the gospels by the apostles, demons were cast out of non-believers. Non-believers. There wasn’t some Christian formula going on or some Christian exorcism. They were just commanded to come out of unbelievers because the apostles had power over demons. And, of course, they had power over sickness as well.

Now, the apostle Paul also had this same power, and he demonstrated it in Corinth. If you go back to Acts 18, where it tells about the founding of the Corinthian church, none of the miracles are recorded there. It doesn’t tell us about any of the miracles because the main emphasis, of course, of the text was to discuss the founding of the church and the preaching of the truth, to which the miracles pointed, but the miracles are not discussed there.

Paul, still rankling at the fact that the Corinthians were not defending his reputation, asks how they were less favoured than the other congregations he had put together except that he did not demand any money off them; he sarcastically asks them to forgive him that wrong (verse 13).

The false teachers criticised Paul for not asking for money, something they were doing.

One would think that the Corinthians would have been only too happy not to have been asked for money. Personally, I would have been delighted. That would have signified that Paul was the real deal, teaching, preaching and healing because he loved the Lord so much that he wanted people to come to faith at no obligation.

MacArthur says:

In other words, he says, “Look, you saw the miracles, the signs, the wonders, the mighty miracles that were done there. So how is it that you can buy into the lie that you had an inferior ministry from a sub-apostle? You weren’t cheated. All the churches that Paul founded were founded with God’s truth and God’s power.”

Then he turns the corner. He says, “The only thing that you didn’t get was a bill,” – verse 13 – “except that I myself didn’t become a burden to you. I just didn’t charge you; that’s the only thing you didn’t get. You got all the power; you got the signs, the wonders, the miracles; you got the truth. I came and I preached the true gospel to you. The only thing you didn’t get was a bill.” Paul had determined from the start not to burden the Corinthians with paying his support and the support of those who traveled with him.

Perhaps it was a poor church to start with. Perhaps he wanted – and I think this is more primary – he wanted to avoid the stigma that was attached to false teachers who were all in it for the money, and got as much money out of everybody as they could. And Paul knew he could be easily lumped with all the rest of the false teachers if he operated the way they operated. And even though he, according to 1 Corinthians 9:13 to 15, had told the Corinthians in his first letter that he had a right to be supported if he preached the gospel, and that every soldier fights because he’s paid, and every farmer expects to take in the crop, and so should every preacher expect support – he made that clear – even though he had a right to that, he had disdained that right, because he didn’t want to make the gospel chargeable, he did not want to be subject to any unjust criticism, and he didn’t want to get lumped in with the false teachers.

I hope that John MacArthur’s signs of a true Apostle make it clear that, despite what televangelists and even seminary professors say, there is no miraculous healing going on today.

It is probably a good idea not to frequent the average Christian bookshop for that very reason. It is likely to have a number of best-sellers about miraculous healing and reasons why it should continue. Stay away from these snake-oil salesmen. Focus on the Bible instead.

In the next instalment, Paul discusses his plan to return to Corinth.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 12:14-18

The Second Sunday after Christmas Day is January 2, 2021.

Readings for Year C follow. Emphases mine below.

First reading

Through the word of the Lord, Jeremiah assures the captives that God will restore them to their own land and in due course send them the Messiah, the fulfilment of all His promises to Israel.

Jeremiah 31:7-14

31:7 For thus says the LORD: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O LORD, your people, the remnant of Israel.”

31:8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.

31:9 With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.

31:10 Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.”

31:11 For the LORD has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.

31:12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.

31:13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.

31:14 I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the LORD.

First reading – Catholic

This reading from the Book of Sirach contains the same message and themes as that from Jeremiah.

Sirach 24:1-12

24:1 Wisdom praises herself, and tells of her glory in the midst of her people.

24:2 In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth, and in the presence of his hosts she tells of her glory:

24:3 “I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist.

24:4 I dwelt in the highest heavens, and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.

24:5 Alone I compassed the vault of heaven and traversed the depths of the abyss.

24:6 Over waves of the sea, over all the earth, and over every people and nation I have held sway.”

24:7 Among all these I sought a resting place; in whose territory should I abide?

24:8 “Then the Creator of all things gave me a command, and my Creator chose the place for my tent. He said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance.’

24:9 Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me, and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.

24:10 In the holy tent I ministered before him, and so I was established in Zion.

24:11 Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting place, and in Jerusalem was my domain.

24:12 I took root in an honored people, in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.

Psalm

This is one of the Psalms of praise, the last ten in the Book of Psalms. It exhorts us to give glory to God for His omnipotence and His fidelity towards His people.

Psalm 147:12-20

147:12 Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!

147:13 For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you.

147:14 He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat.

147:15 He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.

147:16 He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes.

147:17 He hurls down hail like crumbs– who can stand before his cold?

147:18 He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.

147:19 He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel.

147:20 He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. Praise the LORD!

Psalm alternative — Catholic

This reading from the Wisdom of Solomon has the same themes of omnipotence and fidelity as the Psalm.

Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21

10:15 A holy people and blameless race wisdom delivered from a nation of oppressors,

10:16 She entered the soul of a servant of the Lord, and withstood dread kings with wonders and signs.

10:17 She gave to holy people the reward of their labors; she guided them along a marvelous way, and became a shelter to them by day, and a starry flame through the night.

10:18 She brought them over the Red Sea, and led them through deep waters;

10:19 but she drowned their enemies, and cast them up from the depth of the sea.

10:20 Therefore the righteous plundered the ungodly; they sang hymns, O Lord, to your holy name, and praised with one accord your defending hand;

20:21 for wisdom opened the mouths of those who were mute, and made the tongues of infants speak clearly.

Epistle

In his greeting to the Ephesians, Paul praises God for sending us Jesus Christ, who enables our inheritance as adopted children of the Father.

Ephesians 1:3-14

1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

1:4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.

1:5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,

1:6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace

1:8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight

1:9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ,

1:10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

1:11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,

1:12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

1:13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;

1:14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Gospel

We have a reprise of the opening verses of John’s Gospel from Christmas Day with the final verses from his prologue (verses 15-18), which also mention God’s infinite grace as does Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

John 1:(1-9), 10-18

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

1:2 He was in the beginning with God.

1:3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being

1:4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

1:7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.

1:8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

1:10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.

1:11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

1:12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,

1:13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

1:14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

1:15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”)

1:16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

1:17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

1:18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Tomorrow’s post will examine the Gospel reading in depth.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

2 Corinthians 11:30-33

30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, 33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.

—————————————————————————————

My last post discussed Paul’s description of his brutal persecution in his ministry for Christ. He concluded by saying that he was also consumed with anxiety for the well being of the churches he had planted and the congregants.

Paul is boasting, something he finds distasteful. However, he has to do it in order to contrast his godliness and authenticity with the venal, devilish false teachers who had inveigled themselves with the Corinthian congregation.

He says that, if he has to boast, he will do so by talking of his weaknesses (verse 30).

He says that God the Father knows that he is not lying (verse 31), something the false teachers said he had done.

Paul describes God more fully.

John MacArthur explains why (emphases mine):

… what he is saying is, “I’m going to call on God, the true and living God who is identified repeatedly in the New Testament as the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus.”

In other words, worshipping God is not enough. You are not worshipping the true God. You don’t know the true God unless you have identified Him as the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus.

Of this verse, Matthew Henry says:

It is a great comfort to a good man that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is an omniscient God, knows the truth of all he says, and knows all he does and all he suffers for his sake.

Paul mentions another episode of persecution, one that took place early in his ministry in Damascus.

He says that the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city in order to seize him (verse 32), but someone lowered him in a basket through a window in the wall, enabling his escape (verse 33).

The story is in Acts 9. Paul — still Saul at that point — had only regained his eyesight and his strength after his conversion when he began preaching. This episode in Damascus did not occur straightaway but some time after his conversion:

Saul Proclaims Jesus in Synagogues

For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

Saul Escapes from Damascus

23 When many days had passed, the Jews[a] plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall,[b] lowering him in a basket.

The man who had been responsible for persecuting Christians in Jerusalem — including the death of St Stephen, the first martyr — experienced his own persecution shortly after his conversion. Persecution would be part of Paul’s life up to his own martyrdom in Rome.

MacArthur has more on this Damascene episode, which Paul recounts in more detail in Galatians 1:

The Lord, after he converted him, took him and sent him into Arabia – Nabatean, Arabia it used to be called. He sent him into Nabatean, Arabia, south of Damascus, somewhere between the Red Sea and the Euphrates River – in the modern era world, that area. He sent him into Nabatean, Arabia for three years. He didn’t have an seminary education, didn’t have any formal training, didn’t have anybody with him. God sent him down there, and the Lord Himself gave him his message. You remember he says that to the Galatians, “I didn’t get my gospel from any man. No man gave me this gospel. The Lord set me apart, took me down, and for three years he’s down in Arabia, and he’s preaching the gospel all over Arabia.

After three years, he comes back to Damascus. And when he gets back to Damascus, according to the ninth chapter of Acts, he starts to preach Christ. And the Jews, who have a synagogue in Damascus, are furious, because he’s preaching Christ as the Messiah, as the Savior, as the King of Israel. And so, they’re plotting his death.

Now, in Damascus there’s a colony of Arabs, who’ve migrated up from Nabatean, Arabia, and they live in Damascus. Damascus would be the main city in that part of the world. And I’ve been in Damascus; it’s an incredible place with an incredible history. It was the further eastern most extension of the Roman Empire as well, and it was a very formidable place.

So, Nabatean Arabians had migrated up. In fact, there were so many of them there that the colony was large enough to have a governor. And it says in verse 32, “In Damascus the ethnarch” – that’s the governor, and he would have been the guy assigned to govern this Arab colony in Damascus, he was under Aretas the king. Aretas is … a title rather than a name; Aretas is like Pharaoh or Caesar. It’s the title of the king of Nabatean, Arabia.

So, the king of Nabatean, Arabia, a man called Aretas, appointed some governor to kind of lead the colony of Arabs up there and rule over them. Well, what happened was Paul’s ministry down in Arabia had irritated the Arabians and the normal hostility and persecution that arises against the gospel arose there, and it migrated up into Damascus. And so, the Arabians somehow joined with the Jews. On the one hand, in Acts 9, you got the Jews plotting to kill him, and now you’ve got the Arabians involved.

Aretas had assigned this ethnarch, and is job – the Jews had given him the job – “to guard the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me.”

The word was out, “Paul’s in town; we’re going to get him.” The Jews wanted him dead, and the Arabs wanted to cooperate in the process. The Arabs were given the responsibility to guard the gates so that if he tried to get out of the city, they would seize him, and he would be executed.

Now, he had just gotten launched into the ministry, and already he’s got the Jewish and Gentile world after him. This was just the beginning of how it would be throughout his life, until one day he laid his head on the block in Rome, and a Roman executioner chopped it off, and he entered the presence of the Lord. From the beginning of his ministry to the end, this is all he ever knew.

This is how Paul was able to escape:

The wall of Damascus was very wide – wide enough to drive a chariot on. And homes were built up on the top of the wall, and some of them hung over the edge and had some windows, which would just be an opening, where some wooden doors could be opened or closed. And they figured out a scheme. They would get Paul up into one of those homes on the wall, and they would put him in a basket.

The word for basket here – sarganē – is a rope basket, not just a reed basket or straw basket, but a rope basket. You’d take rope and just wrap it into a basket form and somehow tie it all together. They’d have to be pretty strong to hold a full-size man.

Today, Paul would have been considered too confrontational:

And anybody in their right mind today, who sat him down, in our contemporary Christian environment, would have said, “You know, Paul, you really need to change your method; you’re just infuriating the whole world. I mean there’s got to be a soft sell here that you could develop. There’s got to be some subtleties, Paul. Everything can’t be blatant.” I mean he wouldn’t have known even what you were talking about

Pastors used to be much more Pauline, although that was so last century. I only ever heard one fire and brimstone sermon in my life. I was 12 or 13 at the time. An elderly Irish priest gave it. He was a retired pastor, stepping in for ours one weekend. He wore the traditional pre-Vatican II alb which had about six inches of lace at the bottom and at the ends of the sleeves. I will remember him for the rest of my life.

Perhaps we need more Pauline preaching today. My dad really enjoyed the Irish priest’s sermon and said he could have listened to him for hours. It reminded him of his childhood.

Build it and they will come. We’d stop calling new churchgoers ‘seekers’, because so many would come to church that a full house, so to speak, would become the norm once again. We would no longer have to think of those people as being in a special category.

We can but pray for such a happy eventuality.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 12:1, 11-13

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

2 Corinthians 11:22-29

22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food,[a] in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

—————————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s humble boasting, which he needed to do in order to defend his godly character against the accusations of the false teachers in Corinth. Paul also took issue with the fact that the Corinthians fell into a spiritual and psychological enslavement from their teaching.

He now compares and contrasts himself with the false teachers.

Evidently, they were Jews, because he asks if they were Hebrews and Israelites, answering that he was also a Hebrew and an Israelite (verse 22).

John MacArthur explains the distinction between those two terms (emphases mine):

he starts with his equality. Verse 22 then puts him on an equal footing with them in terms of heritage. Look at it: “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.”

It may well have been, by the way, that the false apostles were questioning this. It may well have been that they had spread some lies about Paul not having the right racial credentials. In fact, they may have said that since he was born in Tarsus he really didn’t fit. All the original twelve apostles were Jews, therefore they were all Israelites, they were descendants from Jacob. They were all children of Abraham, because, of course, Jacob came from Abraham. So they were all descendants of Abraham, they were all Israelites. And they were all Hebrews. That is to say they were of the nationality of the Hebrews, and they spoke the language which is called Hebrew.

So they would be classified then as Jews and Palestinian Jews, as opposed to Greek Jews that spoke Greek or something else. They were all true Jews, Palestinian Jews. And with the exception of Judas, by the way, they were all Galileans. They all came from the northern part of Palestine known as Galilee, which was the more rural part, being north of the great metropolis of Jerusalem.

So all the apostles were Jews, all of them were Palestinian Jews; and with the exception of Judas who was certainly disqualified as an apostle, all of them were Galilean Jews. Any one then claiming to be an apostle would have to show that he was a Jew, and that he was a true Jew, a Palestinian Jew. The false apostles may have been accusing Paul of not fitting the qualifications of being an apostle because he was born in Tarsus, which is a Gentile city, and therefore indicating he did not belong. Tarsus, by the way, was in Cilicia, which is along the northern part of the Mediterranean where modern Turkey exists today. It’s outside Palestine, and therefore they may have been accusing him of being an intruder into the apostolic realm since he didn’t have a birthright credential.

Well, Paul wants to answer that. It is right, true apostles are ethnically pure, Aramaic and Hebrew-speaking Jews of Palestine rather than Greek-speaking Jews of the dispersion. But Paul is going to answer that question, and here’s how he does it. “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.” It’s really three ways of saying the same thing, although we could break it up a little bit.

Hebrews sort of refers to the Jewish people ethnically and linguistically. They are the Hebrew people who basically are associated with the Hebrew language. The root of that is probably from Eber. In the genealogy of Genesis 11, verses 15 to 17, as you go through the genealogy of the Jewish people, there is a person there by the name of Eber of whom Abraham is a descendant. Eber probably is the one who contributed Hebrew, which was the name given first to Abraham in Genesis 14:13. So it probably goes back to the fact that he was a descendant from Eber.

Foreigners used it of the Jews; they called them Hebrews, descendants of Eber. And the Jews also used it of themselves; you’ll find that in Genesis 40, and Genesis 43. Both the Jews used it, and others used it of them as well. They accepted it as a moniker which stuck.

Paul, born in Tarsus, however, was still a Hebrew in every sense. In Philippians 3:5 he calls himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews,” which means when it came to nationality and it came to ethnicity and it came to linguistics, he was every bit a Hebrew. He knew Aramaic, he lived his whole [formative] life in Palestine, and he followed all the Hebrew traditions to the very letter, fastidious to the max, even being a Pharisee. This apparently was an issue in his life, because he mentions it in Acts 22 and verse 3, “I am a Jew.” He was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect it says. “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city,” – meaning Jerusalem – “educated under Gamaliel,” – who was the premier teacher of the Jewish law of his day – “strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you are all today.” So he says, “Look,: – he has been teaching in Hebrew – “I am a Jew. I was born outside of Palestine, but I’ve been brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, educated strictly as a Pharisee according to the law, zealous for God,” et cetera …

So, obviously, he was born in Cilicia. But very early, very early as a very young child came to Jerusalem

And then he says, “Are they Israelites?” That refers, perhaps, to their descent from Jacob, which speaks of their social life, their religious life; and he followed that as well. He was in every sense an Israelite. He was faithful to the society, to the religion of the Jews.

And then he says, “Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.” He was here referring to his covenant identification. Socially, religiously, covenantally, linguistically, nationally, ethnically; every way you cut it, he was equal to them. He was within the Jewish culture, following all the Israelite habits of society and religion. He was a part of the theocratic kingdom, he took his identity with God’s chosen people in the promised land that God had pledged to Abraham, and he was enjoying the covenant privileges and the covenant promises and blessings of God promised to Abraham in Genesis chapter 12. So in every area – ethnicity, language, religion, society, theology, covenant promise – he says, “I am equal. I am equal.” That’s his whole point here in that verse where he says, “I the same,” or, “So am I,” in the English.

In the next five verses, Paul explains why he is superior to the false teachers.

He asks whether they are servants of Christ and says he is a better one, having laboured harder and endured brutal forms of physical persecution (verse 23).

MacArthur reminds us that this is what Jesus prophesied to the Twelve:

Jesus made it very clear to the apostles that there was going to be a life of suffering. They were going to be before courts and judges and trials and kings, incarcerations and beatings. They were going to suffer immensely; they were going to be hated, and resisted, and resented. And that is the nature of the issue of ministry, because what you’re doing in ministry is you’re taking the truth into the midst of lies, you’re taking the message of God into the kingdom of darkness run by Satan, and that creates a hostile reaction.

Paul says he speaks as if he were insane.

MacArthur explains:

No false apostle is a true servant of Christ, this is just for the sake of argument. There’s a bit of sarcasm in it. And he can’t just leave it at that, he has to add, “I speak as if insane.” What an insanity to even suggest this for the sake of argument. “But are they servants of Christ? I far more. It’s insane to even think of it.”

By the way, the word “insane” is a stronger word than the word “fool.” The word “fool” used in verse 17 and used again in verse 21, fool or foolishness, aphrōn, aphrosunē comes from phroneō which means “to think.” The word for “insane” is paraphroneō, which literally means “to be beside yourself,” para meaning “to be beside” or “alongside,” “to be beside your mind.” The word phroneō, “to think” or “referring to the mind,” “To be out of your mind,” that’s where it comes from, or “to be beside yourself,” which is another way of saying, “You’re insane.” Paul says, “I’m a madman to even suggest that they’re servants of Christ; but for the sake of argument I have to say it. And I more so.”

He then discusses his persecutions.

He says he was flogged five times by the Jews, with 39 lashes each time (verse 24).

Those floggings took place in synagogues.

MacArthur describes how the master of the synagogue carried it out according to the Mishnah:

The victim would put his two hands wide, and they would be attached to pillars or posts on either side, so they’d be stretched like this. The chest and back would be bared to the waist. Behind the man would be a large stone on the ground, elevating the master of the synagogue who would inflict the blows, so that he had leverage and could reach clear across the shoulders so that he could whip the chest as well, and he would be able to keep his footing on that stone. An instrument of a thick strap of cowhide split into three six-inch strands and then thickened somehow was used in this whipping. One-third of the blows had to be delivered on the chest, and two-thirds of the blows on the back and the shoulders. And it was required by the Mishnah that the master use one hand – and this was his trade, so he was good at it – use one hand and hit every one of the hits with all his might.

And the Mishnah provided that if the victim died, the scourger bore no guilt. Forty was the limit of blows to create these welts and sometimes cuts on the body. But the traditional way of the Jews was to stop at thirty-nine in case they might have muffed up on the count. They didn’t want to break the law in their fastidiousness, so they stopped at thirty-nine. Fastidious about the law, they were busy beating the prophets this way, according to Matthew chapter 23, verse 34, Jesus said, “You beat the prophets like this.”

They beat all the wrong people; and here they are beating the apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul himself. All those permanent welts and scars all over his body that he got from those – what would it be? – a hundred and ninety-five lashes, leaving scars all over his body, were what he was meaning in Galatians 6:17 when he said, “I bear in my body the marks of Jesus Christ.” They would all be trophies of his devotion to Jesus Christ. If anybody asked him if he was sold out to Christ, he’d just take off his tunic; that would be enough.

Paul goes on to describe his other ordeals: beatings with rods, a stoning, three shipwrecks and 24 hours of floating adrift at sea (verse 25).

MacArthur gives us more information:

In verse 25, he says, “I was beaten with rods three times.” This is what the Romans did; they got these flexible sticks, rough sticks, flexible sticks, and they just bound them all together and they used it as a whip – like a whip, but it would inflict a blow for each stick that touched the skin. That’s what happened to him in Acts 16 at the Philippian jail. Verse 22 says he was beaten with rods. That’s what they did to him there. That was one of the three times. And you’re talking about five times he had been lashed, three times he had been beaten with rods, and this is before he wrote 2 Corinthians; and he still has more ministry after that. This is just up to this point.

And he adds also in verse 25, “Once I was stoned.” That was at Lystra – you can read about it in Acts 14:19 – he was stoned. They were so made at him for preaching the gospel; and this wasn’t a Jewish anger, this was a Gentile environment. They took him out of the city and they stoned him. What they would do in stoning a person was drop him off of an edge like this, down below, and then they would just get on top and just smash down large boulders to crush him.

And it says in Acts 14:19, that they supposed he was dead, they surmised he was dead. He probably was not dead, because the verb “supposing” usually in the New Testament means “to surmise something that is not true.” And if he was dead, then he would have had to be raised from the dead, because he got up and went on preaching, as you know. And resurrection wouldn’t be minimized. No resurrection in the book of Acts is presented ambiguously …

So all we can say was, he was stoned, but didn’t die; and he was left for dead. They literally tried to crush his life out. Came within, perhaps, a few breaths of dying under the bloody crushing, but he survived.

Then he says, “Three times I was shipwrecked.” Now the best we can add them up – take my word for it – probably took about twenty voyages, about nine of them before he wrote 2 Corinthians, and nine or ten of them afterwards. We know the ones that he took before 2 Corinthians; they’re recorded in the book of Acts chapter 9, 11, 13; chapter 14, 16, 17, and 18. You see he’s going here and there in these ships. And out of those nine voyages, and maybe some others that he took, he had three shipwrecks. Shipwrecks were very common in those days. And he had those shipwrecks.

By the way, that does not include the shipwreck in Acts 27 which was much later in his life, and a number of other, probably at least nine or ten more journeys by ship that he took after he wrote 2 Corinthians which would add up to the twenty. Just in the first half of that he had had three shipwrecks. So, you know, there’s about a thirty-three-and-a-third percent you get on a ship you’re going to have a shipwreck. I mean, that’s pretty bad odds.

But the man had to go where he had to go, because he was under mandate from God. And one of those shipwrecks, he says, “I spent a night and a day in the deep.” What does he mean? He means that for twenty-four hours he was hanging on to a piece of wreckage in the middle of the sea before he was rescued. Acts doesn’t tell us about that. In fact, it doesn’t tell us about a lot of things; this is just a summation. It’s just a brief summation of what the man went through.

Paul then discusses the continual dangers he had encountered, dangers from people as well as the natural environment (verse 26).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that, wherever he was, danger was present:

… he was exposed to perils of all sorts. If he journeyed by land, or voyaged by sea, he was in perils of robbers, or enemies of some sort; the Jews, his own countrymen, sought to kill him, or do him a mischief; the heathen, to whom he was sent, were not more kind to him, for among them he was in peril. If he was in the city, or in the wilderness, still he was in peril. He was in peril not only among avowed enemies, but among those also who called themselves brethren, but were false brethren, 2 Corinthians 11:26; 2 Corinthians 11:26.

Paul then writes about his lack of basic necessities: sleep, food, drink and clothing (verse 27).

MacArthur says:

The reason he stayed up all night is because he had to work. All-day ministry, all-day preaching, and then he had to work all night in order to support himself. He had to work all night to earn his living and the living of all who traveled with him. They were sleepless nights because they were nights of labor. In fact, sometimes he even preached all night

He also found it difficult even working all night, preaching, traveling, staying out of danger. He found it difficult to make enough to sustain himself. So he says in verse 27, “In spite of all of his work, in spite of many sleepless nights of labor, he had experienced hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. There were times when he didn’t have enough to eat, he didn’t have enough to drink, he didn’t have enough to keep him warm, and he didn’t even have a place to stay. Inadequate food. That even happened when he was at Corinth. He mentions it chapter 11, verse 9, “When I was present with you and in need, I didn’t even tell you about it.”

When he says “often without food,” he’s not talking about spiritual fasting … So, this is not some kind of spiritual fast; this is a man who just doesn’t have enough money or a place to purchase food.

And he’s cold. The end of his life in 2 Timothy 4:13, he tells Timothy to go find Crispus and get his coat and bring it to him. How did Crispus get it? Well, he probably needed it, and so he left it with him. But he needs his coat. It’s not like he has a wardrobe. He’s here, and his coat’s there; and it’s the only coat he has. “Please, could you bring it? I’m cold.” It was eking out a bare existence. Frankly, this is enough to embarrass us today who suffer so little for the ministry and the gospel. We might hide our faces in shame. But note this: when you’re looking at the purest and truest apostle, he’s going to be measured by his power against the kingdom of darkness, and that’s going to be demonstrated by the level of persecution and suffering a man endures.

Then Paul says that, apart from all the other things — hardships that he won’t even go into, probably because there were so many — he was anxious about all the churches he had planted (verse 28).

Henry says that such anxiety consumed him, which was why he mentioned it last:

He mentions this last, as if this lay the heaviest upon him, and as if he could better bear all the persecutions of his enemies than the scandals that were to be found in the churches he had the oversight of.

Continuing on that thought, Paul says that he suffers along with members of his congregations, sharing in their weakness and suffering (verse 29).

Henry says:

There was not a weak Christian with whom he did not sympathize, nor any one scandalized, but he was affected therewith.

Of Paul, Henry concludes:

See what little reason we have to be in love with the pomp and plenty of this world, when this blessed apostle, one of the best of men that ever lived, excepting Jesus Christ, felt so much hardship in it. Nor was he ashamed of all this, but, on the contrary, it was what he accounted his honour; and therefore, much against the grain as it was with him to glory Note, Sufferings for righteousness’ sake will, the most of any thing, redound to our honour.

Of persecution, MacArthur says:

This man got exactly what he should have expected to get from the world around him, just exactly what His Savior got, His Lord got, right? And that was the mark of his true apostleship. You say you’re a servant of Jesus Christ; show me your scars, show me the hostility, show me the rejection, show me the alienation, show me what it’s meant in your family. You took a stand for a spiritual scriptural principle even in the Christian family and your family didn’t like it; that’s a scar. You proclaimed Jesus Christ in an unbelieving environment and you suffered for it. Maybe you didn’t get a promotion. Maybe you got alienated. Maybe you didn’t get the grade you should have gotten in a class because you wrote a paper that advocated what the Bible teaches about a certain issue, not what the professor things. That’s a scar.

These are more civil times, I suppose, in some way; although they’re fast becoming rather uncivilized, it appears. We may all be finding that out in the next quarter of a century, or less. But Paul says, “I’m an apostle, far more than you, and here are my scars to prove it.” You cannot live a life uncompromisingly confronting the kingdom of darkness and not have some scars to show. And those are your badge of authenticity.

There is much to digest in this reading. Persecution is still with us, alive and well.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 11:30-33

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

2 Corinthians 11:16-21

Paul’s Sufferings as an Apostle

16 I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. 17 What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would[a] but as a fool. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. 19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that.

————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s no-holds-barred words about the false teachers inveigling themselves with the congregation in Corinth.

Paul called them servants of Satan disguising themselves as servants of righteousness.

In this week’s passage, we do not find out about Paul’s sufferings as an Apostle. Those will follow next week.

Before he goes into his sufferings, he feels forced to boast that he never took spiritual or monetary advantage of the Corinthians.

As students of the Bible know, it is not good to boast. It is not something taught in Scripture. In fact, Scripture condemns boastfulness and pride, counselling us to practice humility instead.

This is why Paul says that no one should consider him to be foolish in that regard but says that, if people do consider him a fool, then they should allow him to boast a little (verse 16).

John MacArthur explains that Paul must boast of himself to the Corinthians to protect his reputation (emphases mine):

Paul has been forced to boast. By that I mean he’s been forced to defend his apostleship. He has been forced not to overstate the case, but to speak the truth. He has been forced to identify himself as a true apostle and to give his credentials. He’s been forced to do that, because false apostles have come to Corinth and told the people that he was a fraud, a liar, and a charlatan. And the people have, in some measure, believed the false apostles.

False teachers, liars, false prophets, false apostles all attempt to destroy the truth; and in order to destroy the truth, you have to discredit the truth teachers. And so they came into Corinth and then attempted to destroy Paul’s credibility. As a result, he has to defend himself. In fact, he has to defend himself against their specific accusations. He has to take them on.

He really regrets having to boast because it is not something that the Lord would do; only a carnal man would do so (verse 17).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He would not have them think that boasting of ourselves, or glorying in what we have, is a thing commanded by the Lord in general unto Christians, nor yet that this is always necessary in our own vindication; though it may be lawfully used, because not contrary to the Lord, when, strictly speaking, it is not after the Lord. It is the duty and practice of Christians, in obedience to the command and example of the Lord, rather to humble and abase themselves; yet prudence must direct in what circumstances it is needful to do that which we may do lawfully, even speak of what God has wrought for us, and in us, and by us too.

MacArthur tells us:

He wanted to be like Christ, that was the passion of his life. And he had no model of Christ ever doing this. There is no example of Christ ever boasting. It was Christ who said He was meek and lowly. He had referred, as I noted earlier, back in chapter 10 verse 1 to the meekness of Christ. Even when He was being ridiculed, persecuted, executed, there was never any self-defensive boast.

This bothers Paul. He doesn’t like boasting in the first place, because it is foolish. He doesn’t like it in the second place, because he has no model from Christ to follow. All Christ ever did when He was falsely accused was take it in silence. And it bothers him that he has to do this. It’s not the example of Christ that he’s following. This is what crushed him; it’s the example of his enemies. They have dictated what he has to do, not Christ, and that is hard for him.

Paul says that, since many — e.g. the false teachers — boast according to the flesh, so will he (verse 18).

MacArthur explains that Paul means the false teachers are boasting of their achievements:

The many were the false teachers, were hucksters and conmen. Here he says, “The many are forcing me to this folly. It’s not something that Christ gave me a pattern for, I’m having to follow their lead.”

His reluctance is understandable. Their boast was according to the flesh. What does that mean? Just according to their human achievements. They weren’t boasting about what God had done for them. They were not boasting about what God had done in them. They were not boasting about what God had done through them. Why? Because He hadn’t done anything.

They weren’t believers. They had a different Jesus – back to verse 4 – they had a different spirit than the Holy Spirit, and they had a different gospel. They didn’t even know God; God wasn’t even operating in their lives. All they had were fleshly boasts. They could only boast about their personal achievements and their personal privileges, motivated by their corrupt desires and by Satan who was their father. Paul hates the fact that such have forced him into this necessity.

Paul then has a go at the Corinthians, once more employing sarcasm by saying that they put up with fools — the false teachers — because they are so wise (verse 19).

Henry says:

these words, You suffer fools gladly, seeing you yourselves are wise (2 Corinthians 11:19; 2 Corinthians 11:19), may be ironical

This is MacArthur’s take:

this is directed right at the Corinthians in the most strong terms possible: sarcasm. Sarcasm is the strongest force that language can bear. It’s the strongest force of ridicule. It’s, “Well, aren’t you something?” and when you mean by that the very opposite. Sarcasm is saying the opposite of what is true for effect. That is a cutting use of language, sarcasm: irony, biting. And that’s what Paul uses in verse 19. It’s a very good form of language if you want to get across a point.

It’s not new to Paul. Back in 1 Corinthians, he was questioning their wisdom, he really was. First Corinthians chapter 3, verse 18, “If any man among you thinks that he is wise,” – and there were some in there, and they thought they were real smart – “then let him become foolish, that he might really become wise.” The Corinthians really thought – they were sort of spiritual smart alecks. They thought they were real smart, and Paul had to confront that. Chapter 6: “You’re so wise” – he says – “you’re going to sue each other. Isn’t there one among you wise enough to decide these things, since you’re so wise?”

Paul goes further, saying that they will put up with people — false teachers — who enslave them, who devour them monetarily, who take advantage of them, who put on airs or actually strike them in the face (verse 20).

Henry adds the following only to make the verse clearer for us:

“… upbraiding you while they reproach me, as if you had been very weak in showing regard to me

MacArthur elaborates on that verse and discusses physical assault, which was common in the ancient world:

it’s typical of all false teachers, all cultic leaders, that they wind up exercising a control over people that turns people into slaves. They manipulate them to serve their ends and their motives. “You’ve let those false apostles enslave you, that’s how smart you are; and then you’ve let them exploit you. He means that when he says, “if he devours you.” It’s used in Luke 20:47, “For the Pharisees devouring widows houses,” which means they went to the widows and took their money.

Not only do they manipulate you and get you completely under their control, but they take away your money and your possessions. They’re like parasites. False apostles, false preachers, cult leaders, whatever they are, they’re like leeches who suck the life out of their victims. Have you noticed all the prosperity preachers get rich? All the cult leaders become rich at the expense of their followers.

Thirdly, “You’ve been entrapped.” That’s what “if he takes advantage of you” means. “Now you’re caught like a suckerfish who buys the bait and is caught, like an animal who comes to the trap and sticks his nose in there to get the bait and is caught. You’ve been baited by what appears to look good only to be caught in their trap, and now you’re just meat for them. You’ve been dominated.”

It says, “If he exalts himself, you bear it.” What does that mean? Well, that simply speaks of the domination aspect of false teachers. They are controlling. They exercise abusive authority. They lord it over people, as it’s mentioned in 1 Peter 5:3. Matthew 20, verse 25, a good verse to look up: “The Gentiles dominate you.” Gentile leadership is a leadership of domination. “You’re so smart you’ve allowed these false teachers to come in, enslave you, exploit you, and trap you, and dominate you, and then lastly, humiliate you. If he hits you in the face, you take it.”

You know, in the ancient world, this was common, probably more common than it is today when we have the kind a of little more cultured society in some respects, or at least a fear of litigation. But in ancient times people punched people. In 1 Kings 22, you have an illustration of it, you can look it up some time. Zedekiah was a false prophet, he was the spokesman for false prophets. And Zedekiah came face-to-face with Micaiah, who was the true prophet of God, and in response to Micaiah’s message, Zedekiah hauled off and it him in the mouth, struck him in the face for his perceived insolence in claiming to speak for God. He was struck in the face by a false prophet.

False prophets can get very, very angry. I had one say on television about me, that if he had his way, he’d get his Holy Ghost machine gun and blow my brains out.

Paul employs sarcasm in the first part of verse 21, saying he was too weak to do that to the Corinthians, meaning he was too strong in character and godliness. He adds that, in his foolishness, he will boast of that weakness.

MacArthur says:

Here’s the last verse in his disclaimer, more biting sarcasm: “To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison.” This is so sarcastic; he means the opposite. Paul could have told the Corinthians, “You ought to be ashamed, folks. You really ought to be ashamed. You ought to be ashamed for disgracing yourselves. You ought to be ashamed for your stupidity in gladly receiving those lying false apostles. You ought to take another look and realize how stupid you are for getting yourself enslaved, exploited and trapped, dominated and humiliated.”

But instead, he makes the point stronger by sarcasm, and says, “I ought to be ashamed for being so weak. I am just so weak, as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t do that. I’m so weak, I didn’t come in and I didn’t enslave you. I didn’t entrap you. I didn’t manipulate you. I didn’t intimidate you. I didn’t abuse you. I didn’t take advantage of you. I didn’t exploit you. I didn’t humiliate you. I didn’t do any of that. I’m just so weak.

“Boy, I should have known. I should have known true apostles are strong, they abuse people. I guess I should have known how true apostles act: they exploit, they enslave, they entrap, they dominate, they humiliate. I guess I just didn’t know how an apostle should really act. I guess I’m just ashamed that I’m so weak by comparison. If greed, abuse, tyranny, exploitation, manipulation, and humiliation are the marks of a true apostle, then I’m a failure, I’m a fake.” I think they probably got the message.

MacArthur summarises the meaning of these verses for us:

In conclusion, just a comment or two. The key to understanding this lesson today is to understand how much Paul hated pride, how much he hated to boast even when it was about the truth. He didn’t even want to say what was true about him, for fear it that it might somehow bring honor to him rather than his Lord. He is frightened even to say what God has done, for fear that it somehow might intrude on his commitment to humility. And he teaches us so powerfully that never is a person more humble than when they are forced to boast and can do it humbly. That’s exactly what he will do.

And for those who are humble, the promises of Scripture again: you will be heard by God when you pray, delivered by God when in trouble, have the privilege of enjoying the presence of God, be honored by God, live a long and prosperous life, be the object of God’s special attention and personal care, be lifted up and exalted by God, be the greatest in His kingdom, receive the grace of God, inherit the earth and eternal glory; and you will be like Christ.

What a wonderful thought on which to end, especially during Advent, a time of repentance.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 11:22-29

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