2 Corinthians 2:12-13

2 Corinthians 2:12-13

Rest in Search of Brotherhood  

Today we’re looking at just two verses, which seem inconsequential. Paul speaks more about his change of travel plans. No biggie, right? Two things from the outset can be said. First, remember that Paul’s change of plans was for the Corinthians a sign of disloyalty, a sign of some apostolic breach of contract. His change of plans was not looked upon favorably by the Corinthians. When Paul speaks about his change of plans, therefore, he’s also offering a brief defense of his own word and hence apostleship. Second, in Paul’s defense of his change of itinerary we see his heart for the Corinthians, though not in a way we’d expect, nor in the way the Corinthians had desired.

What surprises the reader in these verses is that Paul, the quintessential evangelist, the man who lets no barrier get in his way from preaching the good news about Christ, leaves what seems to be a great opportunity, a divine appointment even, to do the very thing God had called him to do: evangelize the Gentiles. What’s up with that? And why do those in Troas appear to get shortchanged and left high-and-dry, with no gospel-preacher to be found? Don’t they need the gospel as well? His words become especially ironic given verse 14, where he says that God uses him to spread the good news “everywhere.” Does “everywhere” include Troas, the place he left, to meet up with Titus in Macedonia? Paul heads to Macedonia because he had no rest. But what’s even more ironic is that in Macedonia, he had no rest! He says later in this letter, “For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn” (7:5). What gives, Paul? How do we sort things out? A few things need to be said.

First, we can’t say that Paul went to Troas on a whim, for selfish purposes, or even contrary to the Lord’s direction. Preaching the gospel was his call, his aim, and his desire. And that’s a beautiful thing. Nothing wrong with it. Everything right with it. Paul even says that a door was opened up for him “in the Lord.” Paul would have been right to evangelize further in Troas (and in fact God does re-open that door: cf. Acts 20:5-12).

Second, Paul doesn’t say that he never gave the gospel while in Troas. He only means that he didn’t stay long. The presence of the opened door is evidence that he did give the gospel. How else should we understand his words? If the Lord opened up a way to preach the gospel, he preached the gospel. Paul speaks elsewhere about opened doors as opportunities to preach, which opportunities were taken (cf. 1 Cor. 16:8-9; Acts 14:27). Therefore, we have no reason to believe that Paul did not preach in Troas. We actually have evidence that he did, and that his preaching was successful, albeit short. Of whom but the evangelized-now-converted did Paul take leave (v. 13)? We just don’t know for how long he stayed, and from a human perspective, his departure seemed too soon. Calvin speculates, though not without an appeal to Paul’s character and custom, that Paul did not leave himself without a witness of the gospel to take the reins: “It is not, however, at all likely that he left Troas, till he had first introduced some one in his place to improve the opening that had occurred” (Calvin’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 2:13).

Third, the issue of concern or grief for Paul was the absence of Titus. It was his dear brother’s absence that was the cause of a restive spirit. The desire for Paul was not rest per se, nor was it even rest from physical burdens. By God’s grace, Paul braved all those afflictions (2 Cor. 11:16-12:10). Paul’s desire was for his absent brother, Titus, and through him, the Corinthians. Paul’s restless spirit is not the same thing as some may want it to be: an inner feeling from God by which to make a decision. In Christian circles, you often hear things like, “I just don’t have a peace about…,” which means that the person doesn’t feel quite right about making a particular decision. That’s not what Paul was getting at, nor would he advocate such a method for decision-making.

Titus was evidence of God’s work through Paul’s ministry. He was a Gentile convert, a son in the faith (Titus 1:4), and a missionary companion of Paul (2 Cor. 8:23; Gal. 2:1). He was a huge comfort to both Paul and the Corinthians. Indeed, his name features most prominently in 2 Corinthians (here; 7:6, 13; 8:6, 16, 23; 12:18). It’s not a surprise, then, that Paul was grieved when he, expecting Titus in Troas, didn’t see him. Why was Paul awaiting Titus so expectantly? Because Titus had been sent by Paul to Corinth, and he was to return with a report concerning the Corinthians. Paul’s anxiety for Titus was his anxiety for the Corinthians (cf. 2 Cor. 11:28). Calvin aptly summarizes Paul’s heart and love for the Corinthians: “Here is an evidence of a singular degree of attachment to the Corinthians, that he was so anxious respecting them, that he had no rest anywhere, even when a large prospect of usefulness presented itself, until he had learned the state of their affairs…. Paul loved the Corinthians so much, that he accommodated all his journeyings and long circuits to their welfare, and that he had accordingly come to them later than he had promised—not from having, in forgetfulness of his promise, rashly changed his plan, or from having been carried away by some degree of fickleness (2 Cor. 1:17), but because delay was more profitable for them.” Refreshingly, when Titus came, Paul was comforted, and so were the Corinthians (2 Cor. 7:6-7). All this was in God’s good timing.

Do you view your brothers and sisters in Christ with similar love and affection? Remember, these Corinthians aren’t the most lovable people in all the land. Nevertheless, Paul’s love for them was contagious, as seen in Titus’ love for them as well. I hope there’s a kind of anxiety or restless spirit in you as you await the presence of your Christian siblings. You’ll be living with them forever soon enough!

2 Corinthians 2:12-13

Rest in Search of Brotherhood  

Today we’re looking at just two verses, which seem inconsequential. Paul speaks more about his change of travel plans. No biggie, right? Two things from the outset can be said. First, remember that Paul’s change of plans was for the Corinthians a sign of disloyalty, a sign of some apostolic breach of contract. His change of plans was not looked upon favorably by the Corinthians. When Paul speaks about his change of plans, therefore, he’s also offering a brief defense of his own word and hence apostleship. Second, in Paul’s defense of his change of itinerary we see his heart for the Corinthians, though not in a way we’d expect, nor in the way the Corinthians had desired.

What surprises the reader in these verses is that Paul, the quintessential evangelist, the man who lets no barrier get in his way from preaching the good news about Christ, leaves what seems to be a great opportunity, a divine appointment even, to do the very thing God had called him to do: evangelize the Gentiles. What’s up with that? And why do those in Troas appear to get shortchanged and left high-and-dry, with no gospel-preacher to be found? Don’t they need the gospel as well? His words become especially ironic given verse 14, where he says that God uses him to spread the good news “everywhere.” Does “everywhere” include Troas, the place he left, to meet up with Titus in Macedonia? Paul heads to Macedonia because he had no rest. But what’s even more ironic is that in Macedonia, he had no rest! He says later in this letter, “For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn” (7:5). What gives, Paul? How do we sort things out? A few things need to be said.

First, we can’t say that Paul went to Troas on a whim, for selfish purposes, or even contrary to the Lord’s direction. Preaching the gospel was his call, his aim, and his desire. And that’s a beautiful thing. Nothing wrong with it. Everything right with it. Paul even says that a door was opened up for him “in the Lord.” Paul would have been right to evangelize further in Troas (and in fact God does re-open that door: cf. Acts 20:5-12).

Second, Paul doesn’t say that he never gave the gospel while in Troas. He only means that he didn’t stay long. The presence of the opened door is evidence that he did give the gospel. How else should we understand his words? If the Lord opened up a way to preach the gospel, he preached the gospel. Paul speaks elsewhere about opened doors as opportunities to preach, which opportunities were taken (cf. 1 Cor. 16:8-9; Acts 14:27). Therefore, we have no reason to believe that Paul did not preach in Troas. We actually have evidence that he did, and that his preaching was successful, albeit short. Of whom but the evangelized-now-converted did Paul take leave (v. 13)? We just don’t know for how long he stayed, and from a human perspective, his departure seemed too soon. Calvin speculates, though not without an appeal to Paul’s character and custom, that Paul did not leave himself without a witness of the gospel to take the reins: “It is not, however, at all likely that he left Troas, till he had first introduced some one in his place to improve the opening that had occurred” (Calvin’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 2:13).

Third, the issue of concern or grief for Paul was the absence of Titus. It was his dear brother’s absence that was the cause of a restive spirit. The desire for Paul was not rest per se, nor was it even rest from physical burdens. By God’s grace, Paul braved all those afflictions (2 Cor. 11:16-12:10). Paul’s desire was for his absent brother, Titus, and through him, the Corinthians. Paul’s restless spirit is not the same thing as some may want it to be: an inner feeling from God by which to make a decision. In Christian circles, you often hear things like, “I just don’t have a peace about…,” which means that the person doesn’t feel quite right about making a particular decision. That’s not what Paul was getting at, nor would he advocate such a method for decision-making.

Titus was evidence of God’s work through Paul’s ministry. He was a Gentile convert, a son in the faith (Titus 1:4), and a missionary companion of Paul (2 Cor. 8:23; Gal. 2:1). He was a huge comfort to both Paul and the Corinthians. Indeed, his name features most prominently in 2 Corinthians (here; 7:6, 13; 8:6, 16, 23; 12:18). It’s not a surprise, then, that Paul was grieved when he, expecting Titus in Troas, didn’t see him. Why was Paul awaiting Titus so expectantly? Because Titus had been sent by Paul to Corinth, and he was to return with a report concerning the Corinthians. Paul’s anxiety for Titus was his anxiety for the Corinthians (cf. 2 Cor. 11:28). Calvin aptly summarizes Paul’s heart and love for the Corinthians: “Here is an evidence of a singular degree of attachment to the Corinthians, that he was so anxious respecting them, that he had no rest anywhere, even when a large prospect of usefulness presented itself, until he had learned the state of their affairs…. Paul loved the Corinthians so much, that he accommodated all his journeyings and long circuits to their welfare, and that he had accordingly come to them later than he had promised—not from having, in forgetfulness of his promise, rashly changed his plan, or from having been carried away by some degree of fickleness (2 Cor. 1:17), but because delay was more profitable for them.” Refreshingly, when Titus came, Paul was comforted, and so were the Corinthians (2 Cor. 7:6-7). All this was in God’s good timing.

Do you view your brothers and sisters in Christ with similar love and affection? Remember, these Corinthians aren’t the most lovable people in all the land. Nevertheless, Paul’s love for them was contagious, as seen in Titus’ love for them as well. I hope there’s a kind of anxiety or restless spirit in you as you await the presence of your Christian siblings. You’ll be living with them forever soon enough!

2 Corinthians 2:5-11

2 Corinthians 2:5-11

Comfort the Repentant Sinner

Who’s your cheerleader: Paul or Satan? I suppose you’d profess the former. But did you know that if you don’t forgive your repentant brother, you’re on Satan’s team? That’s a bit terrifying, isn’t it? It ought to be rather sobering and convicting for the Christian. It’s not only Satanic to withhold forgiveness from a repentant sinner, but it’s also a cause for much grief. Paul continues his theme of grief/pain in this next section of chapter two. There’s grief all around: grief for Paul, grief for the Corinthians, and grief for the repentant sinner. The only person who isn’t aggrieved in this passage would be Satan, who’d be everlastingly elated at the Corinthians’ denial of forgiveness from the brother who sinned against Paul and them.

Who is this brother? Not sure. I (contrary to the modern commentator) tend to think that Paul is referring to the incestuous man who had his father’s wife in 1 Corinthians 5. (That is a serious problem in 1 Corinthians, and it’s the only estranged man in Corinth in need of reconciliation of whom we’d be canonically aware. It would also be a wonderful testimony of the reconciling power of the gospel. But I won’t be dogmatic at this point.) He may have been involved in some sexual deviations (2 Cor. 12:21-3:1) or continued temple worship (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1). We’re not really sure, but he did sin against Paul. For that reason, Paul says that he has forgiven the man (2:10). Whoever he was, he did a number on the people in Corinth. Whatever he had done, it was difficult for the Corinthians to let the matter go. They had punished him for his sin, and the man was in danger of excessive sorrow. It was hard for the Corinthians to release the man of his sin-debt, and that’s why Paul had to put them to the test: “To forgive or not to forgive?” was the question.

You might be wondering why I’ve called this man a “repentant sinner,” especially since the word “repentant” is nowhere in this passage. For one, I don’t think Paul would command forgiveness when there’s not been confession of sin and repentance. That’s the biblical pattern. Granting forgiveness is a debt-cancellation, and this cancellation requires acknowledgement of the debt and a desire to be released from that debt. But what I’m hinging my point on is found at the end of verse 7: “or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” I’m focusing on the words “excessive sorrow.” Paul doesn’t want this man to be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Paul is perfectly content with people experiencing sorrow, as long as the sorrow is accompanied by repentance. Indeed, that’s the only kind of sorrow over our sin we should have (2 Cor. 7:8-10). But excessive sorrow…well, that’s too much. It doesn’t fit the sin. That’s why Paul is calling for forgiveness. He’s saying, “Look, Corinthians, the man was repentant. You could see the evidence through his sorrow over his sin and how he grieved you and me. Now stop holding a grudge. Quit it with all this withholding of forgiveness and love. Reaffirm your love for him. Forgive him. I’ve forgiven him.” Something like that.

Notice a few other things. A lot is going on in verse 7. The word “excessive” is the same word used in verse 4 translated “abundant,” in reference to Paul’s excessive, overflowing love that he has for the Corinthians. It’s that overflow of emotion that Paul fears this man will experience, but for him it will be sorrow, unless the Corinthians forgive and comfort him. In fact, this emotional excess works well with the word “overwhelmed.” The word in Greek usually has a negative connotation. In Hebrews 11:29, for instance, it’s used to speak of the Egyptians being drowned. Peter uses it to speak of the devouring Devil (1 Pet. 5:8), and John uses it to speak of the earth swallowing up the dangerous river poured out by the dragon (Rev. 12:16). It can also be used positively, as in the mortal being swallowed up in life (2 Cor. 5:4), and death being swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:54). The word directs us to the powerful and complete consumption of an object. Paul fears that this repentant man will be overtaken, swallowed, consumed, devoured, never to be restored again, if the Corinthians fail to do their God-given duty and privilege: reaffirm their love for him, comfort him by forgiving him.

Notice also that the comfort given the man will be in the form of forgiveness. I take the phrase “forgive and comfort him” as “forgive and thus comfort him.” That’s the only way he will be comforted: if he finds forgiveness from his Corinthian brothers. Otherwise, it’s excessive sorrow. No comfort. Just unending and overflowing grief.

It is with this urgent need to comfort the man that we are reminded of the cycle of comfort back in chapter one. Recall that in chapter one, the pattern was laid out thus: we are afflicted/aggrieved, then God comforts us, then we comfort others who are similarly afflicted/aggrieved. And so it is in chapter two but in the context of sin, not undeserved suffering. The Corinthians have sinned. God forgives and so comforts them, then they are to forgive and so comfort others who are similarly sorrowful over their sin. The words of Paul in Ephesians 4:24 come to mind (especially since the words “kind,” “forgiving,” and “forgave” share the same word in vv. 7, 10 (forgive, charizomai): “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” As the Corinthians have been comforted and forgiven, so they must comfort and forgive.

And now we’re back to the beginning: whose team are you on? Paul’s (God’s team, really!) or Satan’s? Forgiveness is absolutely necessary in order to ward off Satan and not give him a foothold in your relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ. We mustn’t be ignorant of the craftiness of the snake of old, that ancient serpent the Devil. Paul reminds us that it’s Satan’s pleasure to outwit us. The word “outwit” (pleonekteō), I think, is better translated “taken advantage of,” “cheated,” or “robbed” (cf. 2 Cor. 12:17-18). Satan seeks to defraud us. He seeks to rob us and cheat us. Paul warns about the devilish design of Satan to involve himself in the relationships of God’s children. Back to Ephesians 4, Paul says that by allowing the sun to go down on your anger, you’re allowing the Devil to have an opportunity to sow seeds of discord and division (vv. 26-27). That’s the problem here with the Corinthians. By giving in to the temptation to hold back forgiveness, they are falling into the trap laid for them by the Devil. He’s the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning. He deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden. And now he wants to deprive the Corinthians of the all-important unity and comfort found in the freedom of forgiveness and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Corinthians, and we (if you’ve not made the necessary application by now), then combat the enemy by forgiving our repentant brothers and sisters.

I’m sure you can think of a situation when you were truly sorry for some sin, and this sin grieved you greatly (one, because it was against the holy Triune God, and two, because it hurt your Christian sibling). And I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the offended party denied you forgiveness for a time, even when you were repentant. Sure, you didn’t deserve forgiveness (no one does), but the withholding of such grace grieved you, didn’t it? Our gracious and forgiving God has given us these verses in part to remind us to be free in our forgiveness with our Christian brothers and sisters. No, they don’t deserve it. But neither do you.

2 Corinthians 2:1-4

2 Corinthians 2:1-4

Paul’s Painful Visit

Have you ever been so hurt by someone that the relationship is on the rocks, and it’s painful to carry on a relationship with that person? That’s Paul in 2 Corinthians. Paul’s affections, both of joy and sorrow, come through his pen most clearly and passionately in this letter. And as he begins chapter 2, Paul is resolved not to make another painful visit to them.

You may not be aware, but there’s a lot of chronological controversy centered around v. 1. Trying to chart Paul’s visits and letters to Corinth will quickly involve the student in some thick brambles (perhaps a modern-day thorn in the side). Questions emerge: how many letters did Paul write? Is 2 Corinthians one letter or more? (Some say that 2 Cor. 10-13 is a separate letter.) When was this painful visit that he mentions in v. 1? Were Paul’s travel plans in 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians followed? Which route did he take? It’s a lot for the mind to wrestle with and tease out with any certainty. And I won’t be solving all mysteries in this or future posts, but here’s the layout of Paul’s visits and letters to the Corinthians that I am operating under. These visits and letters took place over the course of 7 years (AD 50-57): [1]

  1. Paul’s first visit (50-52; cf. Acts 18:18)
  2. Paul’s first letter (52): now lost (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9)
  3. The Corinthians write a letter to Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 7:1)
  4. Paul’s second letter (Spring, 54): First Corinthians, which Paul writes from Ephesus (cf. 1 Cor. 16:8)
  5. Paul’s second visit (Summer or Fall, 54): Painful visit (2 Cor. 2:1)
  6. Paul’s third letter (Spring, 55): tearful letter now lost (cf. 2 Cor. 2:3-4)
  7. Paul’s fourth letter (Fall, 56): 2 Corinthians, which Paul writes from Macedonia (cf. 2 Cor. 7:5-7)
  8. Paul’s third visit (Winter, 56-57): a three-month stay

That’s a lot to take in, I know. And there are other questions (which we won’t answer here) that ought to be asked as well, such as, “If Paul wrote four letters to the Corinthians, and we have only two, do we have all of God’s word?” Ask your pastor. For now, I want to look at Paul’s pain and rightful expectation of joy.

Assuming the aforementioned layout, Paul must’ve made a visit to Corinth, which so affected him that he wrote a letter full of tears and grief and which gave him pause to make another visit so soon. What grieved Paul can be seen from a few passages. Some Corinthian seriously sinned (7:12), which caused much pain (2:5), and this grievous sin may have involved “quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder” (12:20). Another thing that contributed to Paul’s pain was the Corinthians’ dereliction of duty. They didn’t discipline the sinner. In fact, they didn’t act at all. They winked at sin, overlooked it even. It’s no wonder that Paul didn’t want to subject himself to all that in-fighting and animosity toward him, especially from his own brothers and sisters. Would you be on the earliest flight to a city that would “welcome” you thus? Doubtful. Paul, rather, believed that a letter was a better approach with the Corinthians at that time. Thankfully, by the time Paul wrote 2 Corinthians (and after the Corinthians had enough time to ponder the tearful letter), the majority of the Corinthians punished the sinner (2:6), and perhaps went a little overboard (more on that next post).

The major motive for not physically visiting the Corinthians, according to Paul, was that if he had visited them, no joy would’ve come from that visit. Only pain. So he says, “who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained?” (v. 2). They were supposed to gladden his heart, and he, theirs. Don’t they know the abundant love that Paul has for them? He is basically saying, “Brothers, my love overflows for you. You are my joy. We need to work things out. You need to work things out.” And by saying what he does in vv. 3-4, he’s connecting his words back to the final verse of chapter 1: “we work for your joy” (v. 24). The cycle ought to be this: Paul works for their joy; they give him joy; he comforts them; they comfort him. That’s one-anothering 101.

It is with this love that Paul models for the Corinthians that we are reminded of Christ’s love for us. Paul really had every right to commission his apostolic authority to serve himself and lay into the Corinthians. We are reminded (well, maybe just I’m reminded!) of the famous line in Grease, when Sandy sings to Danny Zuko, “You better shape up, ‘cause I need a man. And my heart is set on you.” Paul could’ve said, “Look, I’m God’s chosen apostle. Shape up now!” Instead, he approaches them by reminding them of his love that runneth over, and of the fact that they all need to be about each other’s joy and comfort. Paul humbles himself and loves God’s people. Through his life, then, he points us to Christ, who did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but who humbled himself and gave his life for his people (Phil. 2:4-8). Paul reminds us of the overwhelming appeal that the love of Christ has for his people, how Christ draws his people to himself and to each other by love. We can thank God for giving us his servant, the much-afflicted-yet-still-loving Paul, who used his life to set our eyes on the Suffering yet Joyful Servant, Jesus Christ, whose name is Love.

[1] This summary is slightly modified from the summary found in The New Testament in Antiquity: A Survey of the New Testament within Its Cultural Contexts (Burge, Cohick, and Green, p. 313).

2 Corinthians 1:24

2 Corinthians 1:24

Working for the Joy of Others

This post marks the final post for chapter 1 (10 in toto). In it we see a theme that Paul introduces from the start. He emphasizes their (Paul’s and the Corinthians’) mutual connection in Christ, and the kind of relationship they should have: a joyful union. But first, Paul says, “Not that we lord it over your faith.” Clearly, that’s the complaint he’s hearing from the Corinthians. They mistakenly believe Paul to be a taskmaster, ordering them around, calling the shots, and demanding obedience. Paul denies the charge. True faith’s master is God and his word, not a mere human, even if he’s an apostle or prophet from God. Not even God’s chosen leaders are permitted to be domineering shepherds (see also 1 Peter 5:3). Calvin says, “For faith ought to be altogether exempt, and to the utmost extent free, from the yoke of men.” Paul even goes out of his way to avoid being seen as their lord. He tells them that he didn’t want to make another painful visit (2:1), so he’ll wait to visit them when they wise up. Paul’s no tyrant.

And if the Corinthians can’t accept that he’s not being tyrannical, then their relationship will not flourish as it ought. God put Paul in their lives for their joy, and he made Paul not their lord but their fellow-worker. The ESV has it, “we work with you for your joy,” but literally Paul says, “we are fellow-workers for your joy.” I think the literal rendering highlights the contrast he’s making. He’s saying, “we’re not your lords; we’re your co-workers.” The truth of the matter is that they have one Lord, Jesus Christ. And the sooner the Corinthians recognize this, the sooner they will receive the joy that their Lord intends for them to have through his apostle, Paul.

Paul’s desire in ministering to the Corinthians is not for them to work for him as lord, but for him to work for their joy. The Corinthians got it all backwards. He wasn’t in their life to be served but to serve. Paul, therefore, connects these verses with vv. 3-4, 6. He was sent by God to comfort them; and they were sent by God to comfort him with the comfort with which the God of all comfort has comforted them. Paul models for the Corinthians how they need to be towards each other: workers for joy. As Paul was not against but for the Corinthians, so must they be for each other.

Of course, this way of living is not only for the Corinthians but for the whole church. It’s for you and me. It’s for all those who call Christ their Lord. You’re not each other’s lords; you’re co-workers, fellow-servants under the lordship of Jesus Christ. You’re not of Apollos, of Cephas, or of Paul. You’re of Christ. We’re on the same team. We don’t have to compete against each other. If you’re going to beat your brother, beat him in love. Out-love your brother.

We have the privilege of working for the joy of one another. Christians are in the business of reminding each other that the joy of the Lord is our strength. As Paul reminds us in the final part of the verse, we stand by faith. When our faith is weak, our standing is unstable. Our faith is strengthened when it is reminded of the object of our faith: the triune God. In fact, it is this God who sustains us when we’re weak. We weak ones have been blessed beyond measure with the gospel, so we have the honor of encouraging and comforting staggering souls and troubled hearts with the only truth that can give joy to the joyless or joy-losing: the good news about who Christ is and what he has done for sinners in need of a savior. Can you think of someone in need of joy? How can you work for their joy even today?

2 Corinthians 1:23

2 Corinthians 1:23

Paul’s Oath

You’re familiar with the oath that a witness makes in a court of law: “Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” (Do they still do that in courts?) The witness is supposed to say, “I do” with the understanding that God is in the courtroom hearing every word he is about to testify. Now, as Paul nears the end of this first chapter, he makes an oath: “I call God to witness against me.” Literally, he says, “I myself am calling upon God as witness upon my soul.” I like the way the KJV renders it: “Moreover, I call God for a record upon my soul.” Paul thought that he was being gentle and gracious towards the Corinthians by not visiting them in Corinth when they expected him (remember their accusation of his being a wishy-washy hypocrite unworthy of the title “apostle”). We’ll think more about that decision of Paul’s in the next chapter, though we’ve already addressed it in part earlier (see the post on 2 Cor. 1:15-20). But for now, let’s zero-in on his oath.

Did Paul not get the memo from Jesus against all oath-making? Jesus’ brief words in Matthew 5:34, 37, summarized by his half-brother James in James 5:12, must be understood in the light of all of Scripture. Paul was an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he was not going rogue when he wrote 2 Corinthians. There are a few times in this letter when he calls upon God to witness his words and acts. There are clear references to Paul’s own awareness that what he writes to the Corinthians is being written before God (12:19). In 11:10, 31, Paul tells the Corinthians that the Godhead knows that he is not lying. The truth of Christ is in him, and God the Father knows he’s not lying. God can’t know false things (but he can know that things are false). So, if God knows that Paul is not lying, then Paul’s not lying! In other letters, Paul writes similarly. For instance, in Romans 1:9, Paul calls God his own witness. Then in Romans 9:1, he says that his conscience bears him witness in the Holy Spirit, and his conscience lies with Christ who indwells him. When Paul wanted the Philippians to know with certainty the great Christocentric affection that he had for them, he invoked God as his witness (Phil. 1:8). When Paul addressed the Thessalonians, he assured them that he came to them with the gospel in all purity (not by greed or flattery), and he made that assurance by putting God on the witness stand (1 Thess. 2:5, 10). Again, in Galatians 1:20, Paul promises the Galatians that he’s not lying, and he invokes this promise before God. There is, therefore, a healthy sampling of Pauline invocations of God as witness, as corroborator of what Paul is saying.

The Westminster Confession of Faith aptly summarizes a religious oath: “A lawful oath is a part of religious worship, wherein, upon just occasion, the person swearing solemnly calls God to witness what he asserts or promises; and to judge him according to the truth or falsehood of what he swears” (WCF 22:1). That sounds exactly like what Paul was doing.

Even though Paul was not afraid of using that language, he did use it sparingly. In other words, he didn’t preface every verse with, “I’m not lying—this is God’s word. God is my witness. Now accept what I say here.” (‘Twould make for some long letters!) Invoking God’s name as your witness is a matter of great moment. The Confession goes on to say, “to swear vainly or rashly by that glorious and dreadful name, or to swear at all by any other thing, is sinful, and to be abhorred. Yet as, in matters of weight and moment, an oath is warranted by the word of God…” (WCF 22:2). One of the prooftexts that the Westminster divines reference to buttress this point of theirs is our very text: 2 Cor. 1:23 (along with Isa. 65:16 and Heb. 6:16). Thus, there’s simply too much OT and NT evidence to do away with any and all oath-making. The warning for us, of course, is that oaths should be rare, before God, concerning weighty matters, and about that of which we’re certain, lest we enter into an oath sinfully and without faith. That’s what Jesus and James were cautioning us against.

Why, then, is Paul making this oath in his letter? This is part of his personal defense against those Corinthians who have called into question his apostolicity based in part on his change of plans. What better way to corroborate yourself as an apostle than by invoking the name of God as your witness and as the reason your plans change? Of course, to do so was a serious matter, not something to be flippantly entertained or engaged in. But Paul has been called by God, so there’s no doubt or worrying needed in this regard. Paul knows where he was headed in his life when God the Son converted, called, and commissioned him to be an apostle. The Corinthians needed that divine reminder.

Don’t we also? Some people are still tempted to do away with Paul’s words; his words aren’t red, you know. Paul says some things that can be offensive, so it would be nicer to muzzle that ox as he treads out the grain, wouldn’t it? Getting along with the world would be a whole lot easier if we could silence or defenestrate Paul’s words, right? Others who say that Paul’s words are still divine words may be tempted not to give his words equal status as other words in the Bible, or they may be tempted to say that Paul got it wrong at times: “Paul was just nearsighted there;” “Paul overstated his case here;” “Paul really showed his chauvinistic weakness in this letter;” etc. Sadly, that’s how people, yes even Christians, think sometimes. However, Paul reminds the Corinthians (and us) that he is merely a messenger, and whatever he says, he says in the presence of God as his witness. Paul’s letters, therefore, are God’s letters. This truth really is basic Christianity (answering the question, “How can we know God?”), but it bears the occasional repeat. Perhaps we will learn the lesson that the Corinthians were struggling to accept.

2 Corinthians 1:21-22

2 Corinthians 1:21-22

Established in the Spirit

In Paul’s continued self-defense against the Corinthians—a defense, mind you, that he shouldn’t have to give in the first place, as the Corinthians should readily accept his apostleship by now—he further evidences his apostleship. The faithful God and the Amen who is Christ called Paul to be an apostle (vv. 18-19). Paul repeats this point by highlighting four actions that God took upon Paul and his cohorts (Timothy and Silvanus) to be messengers to the Corinthians. In vv. 21-22, Paul says that God established, anointed, sealed, and gave the Spirit to Paul et al. Let’s look at each of those in brief.

Established

God is the one who has established Paul et al. with the Corinthians, and he has done this in Christ. This word “established” has the sense of “confirmed,” and is used that way in most of its appearances in the NT. And it’s usually meant in the sense of confirming a message or messenger with signs, prophecies, or gospel truth. What’s ironic is that Paul uses this word in a similar sense in his first letter to the Corinthians. In 1:6, he tells them that the testimony he is giving them about Christ has already been confirmed among them. Sounds like the Corinthians didn’t get the message the first time, so he had to repeat it at the start of his next letter to them. He’s saying, “OK, Corinthian brothers, let’s try this again. Before I go any further, let’s go back to the basics: God gave me a message for you. This message was confirmed by God among you. Got it?” Now in 2 Corinthians, he’s saying, “Look, guys, God established us with you in Christ. We’re not your enemies. We’re brothers. We’re in Christ together!” And this is no wishful thinking. This word connotes a confident setting a matter in stone, and with God as the doer of the verb, it’s clear: What God has established, no man can eradicate. Again, in his first letter to them, in 1:8 (just 2 verses after his reminder to them that the testimony has been confirmed), he says that Christ will “sustain” them “to the end.” That word “sustain” is our word “established” in 1:6, and in 2 Cor. 1:21. Paul assures them of God’s certain and faithful work of joining them in the fellowship of the Son (1 Cor. 1:8-9). Back in our text, Paul is reminding them of this wonderful truth: God’s children are forever joined to God and to each other, because they share the fellowship of Christ!

Anointed

Paul moves into the second action word that speaks of God’s work. God has anointed Paul et al. By Paul’s use here, he alludes to the OT practice of consecrating a person for service, pouring olive oil on a prophet, priest, or king. And this word is used 4 other times in the NT, and in every instance except for here, the word refers to God’s anointing (chrisas) Christ, the Anointed One (Christos) to proclaim the gospel (Luke 4:18), to be God’s predestined servant through-and-through (Acts 4:27), confirming that anointing with miracles (Acts 10:38), and the one whom the Father anointed with the oil of gladness beyond any measure any other had received (Heb. 1:9). Paul’s saying, then, that he and his cohorts have been set apart for the service of proclaiming God’s gospel. As Christ was anointed to preach the good news, now Paul has been so anointed. The Corinthians, likewise, can take part in this anointed service of their Christ together, if they will but yield to God’s confirmation of Paul as apostle.

Sealed

Paul continues to speak of God’s divine activity in his life, and the third word he chooses is that of sealing. Although this word can be used literally (e.g., in the sealing of the resurrection tomb in Matthew 27:66, or in the sealing of Paul’s letter to the Romans in Romans 15:28), Paul typically uses it metaphorically. He does so in Ephesians, when he speaks of the Ephesians being sealed with/by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). How he uses it there is how he uses it here. Paul et al. have been sealed by/with the Holy Spirit. When God puts his seal on someone, he’s saying, “You are mine. You belong to me. No one else has any legal right to you.” Paul is reminding the Corinthians of the fact that they are mutually owned by God, the one who has the legal rights to them, because he has legally redeemed them by the blood of the Son.

Spirit-guarantee (Downpayment)

Finally, Paul uses one more word to speak of God’s action towards Paul et al. God has implanted in their hearts the Holy Spirit as the guarantee. This word “guarantee” is better translated “downpayment,” or “deposit.” The word refers to the pledge to fulfill a promise made (cf. Gen. 38:17, 18, 20). It has to do with the first installment of a payment, which installment ensures the continuation of subsequent installments until the promise is fulfilled. For instance, if you were to buy a car but could not pay the price of the car all at once, you’d make a downpayment. That would function as your promise to the bank or dealership that you’re good for it, that you will make the rest of the payments in due time. Meanwhile, you get to drive the car without yet paying it off entirely. This word when it appears in the NT is used only by Paul (here, and in 2 Cor. 5:5; Eph. 1:14). In every instance, Paul uses it as a reference to the Holy Spirit, who functions as the certain ground on which God’s promise of our salvation and inherited blessings rest. You can’t get any greater proof or certainty that God will be faithful than God himself in the Holy Spirit! Indeed, without this sure proof, we’d have no guarantee at all. Calvin, for instance, says, “It is on good grounds that he [the Holy Spirit] is called an earnest, because it is owing to him, that the covenant of God is ratified on both sides, which would, but for this, hang in suspense” (Commentary). Were it not for the Holy Spirit as our downpayment, we’d have no hope or confidence that God would be faithful to us. But, of course, God will be faithful, because God said so! The proof is in the Godhead. What an assuring truth!

When boiled down, these four actions of God refer to the same thing: God’s assurance that he is with his people and has equipped them with what he has called them to. As the early 19th-century hymn rhetorically asks, “What more can he say than to you he hath said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?” What a sure, firm foundation, establishment, anointing, sealing, and Spirit-guarantee that we all in Christ receive, by the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.

2 Corinthians 1:20

2 Corinthians 1:20

Yes and Amen in Christ

We’ve all been there. Someone agreed to meet us at a place at a specific time. We arrive first at the appointed time, and we wait. And wait. And wait. Turns out they’re a no-show. Although they said they’d be there (perhaps even promising their presence), they were not faithful to their word. It doesn’t feel good to be stood up like that. You begin to even question their word and their trustworthiness. Perhaps you’ve been that someone. We all fail to keep our word. We promise one thing, and do its opposite, or fail to keep the promise. Even though for none of us can it be said that our promises are always “yes and amen,” Paul assures us that there is one in whom all of God’s promises are “yes and amen”: in Christ. Paul says this in his effort of defending his own word to the Corinthians. John Calvin aptly summarizes Paul’s application of the general truth to his own circumstance. Paul in effect says, “If the promises of God are sure and well-founded, my preaching also must of necessity be sure, inasmuch as it contains nothing but Christ, in whom they are all established” (Calvin’s Commentary on 2 Cor. 1:20).  Since we addressed Paul’s defense last time, I’d like to focus on Paul’s more general statement than his specific application. Let’s ask three questions: (1) What promises of God are yes and amen in Christ? (2) How are God’s promises “yes and amen” in Christ? (3) Why are God’s promises “yes and amen” in Christ?

The What

All. Paul is clear: every, single promise from God is confirmed and established in Christ. Paul has in mind all the promises of the Old Testament, and all those promises from the coming of Christ which God has given to His people in Christ. If you’ve read the Bible, there’s a lot of promise-making from God. He promises from beginning to end. We can look at any point in redemptive history and identify promises of God. Examine the covenants in Scripture, and you will see the manifold promises of God. Here are some highlights:

  1. Genesis 2:17: God promises his image-bearers eternal life upon obedience.
  2. Genesis 3:15: God promises Eve’s offspring freedom from sin and the serpent, and victory in the seed of the woman.
  3. Genesis 8:21: God promises Noah never to curse the earth again, but to sustain it while the earth remains.
  4. Genesis 12, 15, 17: God promises Abraham, the father of faith, that His people will cover the face of the earth.
  5. Exodus 6, 19: God promises Moses that His people will be delivered from oppression and slavery, and they will be set free to live rightly before His face.
  6. Psalm 89: God promises David the crushing of the enemy, the everlasting throne, and an established offspring forever.
  7. Jeremiah 31: God promises a full knowledge of Him with all the spiritual blessings of redemption realized for God’s people (cf. Eph. 1).

Those are the covenants. All but the first one (i.e., the Covenant of Works/Life), Paul refers to as the covenants of promise (Eph. 2:12). When God covenants with His people, He makes essential promises. Look also at all the sacrifices, feasts, and holy days in the Old Testament. In the sacrifices, God promises satisfaction for their sins through the substitutionary atonement of an animal. He promises His goodness, provision, presence, and rule over their lives. In the feasts, God promises communion with His people, a sharing of life with His children. In the holy days, God promises sacred times of worship, communion, and rest. Finally, look at the prophets in the Old Testament. In the prophets, God promises His Word: the infallible, perfect, authoritative, and pure revelatory self-disclosure of God Himself. Much more can be said (and has been said!) about the many great and precious promises of our God, but above is a mere appetizer of His faithfulness throughout the Old Testament. In essence, God promises knowledge, life, salvation, communion, and rest, that they might worship Him truly.

The How

What about the New Testament? Where’s Christ in all this? Jesus himself tells us that the whole Old Testament was about him. In Luke 24:27, Jesus speaks to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interprets for the disciples all the things that the Scriptures had to say about him. Don’t we see all the promises above fulfilled by Christ? In Christ is life eternal (John 14:6). Christ is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Christ fulfills the Old Testament sacrifices, being the once-for-all-time atonement (Heb. 9-10). With Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Christ fulfills the promise of entrance into God’s presence, and sustained communion with God (1 Cor. 10:1-5, 16-17). Christ fulfills the promise of the full revelation of God’s Word (John 1:1). Christ fulfills the promise of rest (Matt. 11:28). To know Christ is to know the Father (John 14:7). In Christ all the promises of God are Yes and Amen!

The Why

But why Christ? Why not anyone else? Can’t all the promises of God be “yes and amen” in Paul? As much as some Corinthians would like to accuse Paul of that attitude, no. It’s at this point that we are reminded of the truth of Solus Christus: Christ alone. John Calvin says that the reason all these promises of God are “yes and amen” in Christ “is obvious. Every promise which God makes is evidence of his good will” (Institutes 3.2.32). How can God make good on all these promises? Is there anything in man that would ingratiate us to God and compel him to evidence his good will towards us? Nope. Does God depend on man to do his part to fulfill the covenants? If so, we’re of all men most to be pitied, because God would then be waiting forever for dead men to enliven themselves to His word and grace. But thanks be to God that the answer lies not in man but in the God-man, the only mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). Jesus is God’s answer to all the promises He has made to His people. Calvin reminds us that it is in Christ alone that the Father is propitious towards us. Trust in anything or anyone else must be answered with No and Nay.  But if we are joined to Christ, then all the promises of God are always and forever “yes and amen” for us. Amen?

2 Corinthians 1:15-20

2 Corinthians 1:15-20

Entrusting Travels (and all things!) to God’s Faithful Sovereignty

We pick up the text remembering Paul’s confidence that he and the Corinthians will one day boast of each other because of what God has been doing in and through their lives. Paul can confidently affirm this (v. 15), but sadly the Corinthians are skeptical (v. 17). Their trust in God’s apostle has been tested. And the Corinthians would say that it was Paul’s fault: it’s because of Paul that their trust in him has been questioned. So, what’s the problem? The problem is found in Paul’s earlier statements in 1 Corinthians. In that letter, he tells them that he intends on visiting them, to deal with some of their problems (4:19), and to continue to minister to them. In fact, he was desirous of perhaps even spending the winter there. He did not want to just visit them in passing (16:5-7). Back in our text, we come to find out that Paul was not able to visit them as planned. He had wanted to visit them. He willed to see them not just once but twice more: on his way to Macedonia, then back from Macedonia on his way to Judea (2 Cor. 1:16). He had already spent 18 months in Corinth (Acts 18:11), but he loved them, cared for them, and knew that they needed his spiritual oversight. He wanted to give them a second experience of grace (2 Cor. 1:15).

When Paul was a no-show, his motives were impugned. His character was attacked. His apostleship was doubted. You can hear their accusatory rebuke in Paul’s words: “Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say ‘Yes, yes’ and ‘No, no’ at the same time?” (v. 17). There it is: Paul can’t be trusted. His word is not his bond. His word is useless. He says one thing but does the opposite. He promises to visit us, but his promise is worthless. Paul is accused of disobeying Jesus’ word in Matthew 5:37: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” That’s a serious charge against the apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. If the apostle can’t be trusted, then can the God whose message he proclaims be trusted?

Paul’s personal defense of his own word, therefore, becomes a defense of his God of faithfulness. He bases his defense on the God who is surely faithful (v. 18) and on the Son of God, Jesus Christ, in whom is “Yes.” Again, there’s more at stake here than Paul’s own word. It’s the word of God that is being subtly and craftily placed under attack. It’s no wonder, then, that Paul flatly denies their charge: “We didn’t vacillate. We didn’t say ‘yes’ then turn around and say ‘no.’ Our word has been either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’” And if the Corinthians were careful readers of Paul’s first letter to them, they would have seen that Paul qualifies his desire and plan to visit. In the passages already mentioned (1 Cor. 4:19; 16:7), Paul says, “If the Lord wills/permits.”

He’ll later say why he ended up not visiting them (1:22-2:4), but here we are brought back to the faithfulness of our sovereign God. We are reminded that even our travel plans fall under the purview of the God of all creation. Our travel plans need to be entrusted to the Lord who wills (cf. James 4:13-17). After all, even as Paul says, it is the Lord who determines the when and where of his creatures (Acts 17:26). We can make plans and we can desire to go places (and we should), but we ought to do so in a spirit of contentment, with an attitude of trust in our faithful and sovereign God, who knows what we need better than we do. God knew what Paul needed better than he did, and that meant traveling elsewhere. God knew what the Corinthians needed better than they did, and that meant no visit from Paul but a painful letter instead.

When your plans change (as they do daily, don’t they?), what’s your response? Frustration, discontentment, anger, doubt about God’s control or goodness? When someone’s plan that involves you changes, what’s your response? Like the Corinthians, are you eager to impugn the motives of the person, or quick to call into question the faithfulness of God? Let’s put off that attitude, and instead put on the attitude of trust: trust in our trustworthy God.

2 Corinthians 1:12-14

2 Corinthians 1:12-14

Grace-influenced Boasting

Is boasting ever morally permitted? Yes? No? Maybe so? There’s a bunch of boasting happening all over the place, isn’t there? And it’s coming not only from the world but also the church. Anyone who’s spent much time on a plane with an evangelist or preacher just might discover how many souls that preacher has saved! Watch any sporting event. You won’t have to look far and wide for boasting. It’s right there in your face during the whole game. Good boasting or bad boasting? Is every boasting good, is it bad, or just indifferent?

In these few verses, there’s a bookend of boasting, and it’s coming from Paul’s pen. Verse 12 begins with a boast, and verse 14 ends with a boast. A bad boast or a beautiful boast? To answer that question, let’s see what Paul’s doing in these few verses. He’s about to move into a lengthy defense of his own apostolicity against the complaints and charges of the Corinthians (1:12-2:13; then in 2:14-4:6; then again in 10:1-12:13). They’re saying that Paul is not acting with straightforwardness or pure motives. He denies both accusations. He says that he has behaved “with simplicity and godly sincerity” (v. 12). Paul wasn’t out to deceive the Corinthians. He was honest with them about what he taught and why. They also accused him of tapping into the world for wisdom, something with which Paul himself charges the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1-2). Now they’re throwing the charge back at Paul. He denies this accusation as well. Paul assured the Corinthians that they themselves read and even understand (to a degree) what Paul wrote to them. They read it. They understand it. No mixed motives here, Paul’s saying. No tricks, just truth.

How can Paul deny their charges? The answer lies in his boast. It’s in Paul’s boast (or, more accurately, in its truth) that their accusations hold no water. Paul says that his boast is the testimony of his conscience (v. 12). He explains what he means by saying that his conduct toward the Corinthians has been simple and sincere. He’s behaved towards them in a manner that glorifies God. Paul, therefore, allows for a certain kind of God-glorifying boast. One commentator, Paul Barnett, helps us by distinguishing between confidence (or justifiable pride) and self-glorification. Paul examines his own heart (1:12), he looks at the consciences of others (4:2), and he reminds himself of the Lord’s presence (4:2) and God’s confirmation of Paul as an apostle (1:1 with 12:12; 10:18). Moreover, Paul looks at the work he’s done in the lives of the Corinthians, and he recognizes that his conduct towards them has been singular and sincere. Because of these truths, Paul’s confident that his conduct has not been unbecoming of an apostle to the Corinthians.

Does this understanding of boasting go against his later comment in 10:17, speaking about boasting only in the Lord? Certainly not. This boast is a grace-influenced boast. This boasting is not an instance of self-exaltation. Paul’s not looking at his life and work and saying to himself, “Look at you go, Paul! You is smart, you is kind, you is important” (for all you lovers of the movie, The Help). Paul’s boast is not in himself. Paul’s good conduct and his wisdom come from God. It’s all by the grace of God alone (v. 12).

Surprisingly, Paul turns his boast on them. In v. 14, he assures the Corinthians that he will boast of them. But the surprise is what he says earlier: they, the Corinthians, will boast of him also. That might be hard for them to swallow, especially since many of them are accusing him of insincerity and underhandedness. But they really owe everything they are and have to Paul, as far as human debtors go. After all, it was Paul who gave them the gospel (1:19). It was through Paul that God reconciled them to himself (5:18ff). It was Paul who raised them as a father does his children (6:13). It is Paul who will present them as pure virgins to their bridegroom, Christ (11:2). God used Paul in many significant ways for the Corinthians. They should be thankful to God for his work in them through Paul. All this is God’s grace. Paul’s boast of them, and their (hopefully!) boast of him will be based on what they see in each other because of God’s grace. And on the last day, they will mutually boast of each other.

Might we boast then? Of course, in a sense. We should boast in what God has done in us. And we should boast in what God has done in others. All that work is a work for our good and comfort, and a work for the good and comfort of others. By boasting in that work, we’re really just boasting in our God. He’s worth boasting about, wouldn’t you say? Are there people in your life about whom you can boast? Are there evidences of God’s grace in your own life of which you can boast to others? If God’s at work in your life, there will be. Thank God for his grace.

2 Corinthians 1:8-11

2 Corinthians 1:8-11

Deadly Affliction

You’ve heard people say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” right? Well, someone needs to tell that to Paul, because he certainly thought otherwise. After telling the Corinthians that God comforts his people in order to comfort others, Paul cites as a personal illustration his own perilous affliction in Asia. What was this affliction in Asia? Remarkably, Paul gives us very little information, so I hesitate to speculate. Suffice it to say, Paul views this affliction to be so burdensome and overwhelming that he had no more strength, he was in despair, and he thought he was going to die. He believed that he was at death’s doorstep.

Whatever the affliction, it was beyond Paul’s ability to handle. There were no resources outside Paul, nor any within him, that he could tap into, muster up, or of which to avail himself, in order to extricate himself from so perilous an affliction. Paul’s not the only one in biblical history who was so affected by such peril that he was unable to get himself out. The stories of Job, Joseph, and Daniel immediately come to mind. And what about Heman the Ezrahite? In the psalm he wrote, he mentions that his “life draws near to Sheol” (Ps. 88:3). Of course, examples could be multiplied. So much for the truthfulness of that message we hear all too often from the world: “Look within yourself. Find your inner strength. You have the power in you to handle what life throws your way. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do what you need to do.”

But Why?

Even though we are left without answers about the nature of the affliction, we are not so confused as to why God would do this. Paul is clear about God’s purpose and motive in rendering him powerless to handle the affliction. Unlike the world’s message, the Bible’s message is never to encourage God’s people to look within, but to look upward to their God, who is mighty to save. Isn’t that what Paul is saying here? The death sentence he felt he had received “was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (v. 10). God is doing to Paul what he does with all his children: he brings them to a point of utter dependence on him who saves. That’s the reality whether we recognize it or not. And our trials remind us of our insufficiency. When we’re weak, then we’re strong. And we’re strong, because we’re resting in the strong arm of God (2 Cor. 12:9-10). It was this strong arm of the Lord that raised Christ from the dead. It was this strong arm that raised Paul from the dead. It’s this strong arm of the Lord that reaches down into the depths of Sheol, to the grave itself, and raises us from death to newness of life. If we are delivered from the domain of darkness by the omnipotent arm of the Lord, we can, with Paul, set our hope on God to deliver us in our trials, however hard and life-threatening they may be (v. 10). Be encouraged, beloved, that God, who raised you from spiritual death unto spiritual life, can be trusted with your day-to-day difficulties and your earth-shattering sorrows. Our God raises the dead!

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