Paul continues to uphold his authority by describing those events which support it, specifically his meetings with the Jerusalem church leaders. His purpose is to counteract the smear campaign conducted against him by the false teachers. He proclaims that although he was not dependent on anyone but God for his commission and the message he preached, he preached the same gospel the other apostles did, with their knowledge and approval. This is also demonstrated by Peter’s reaction to the incident in which Paul chastised him for his duplicitous behavior when fellowshipping with Gentile believers at Antioch.
Paul’s main concern, however, was not self-justification and pride. He was concerned for the truth, the unity of the church, for the edification of believers and the salvation of the lost. He wanted to uphold the truth of the gospel which frees the Gentile believers (and all believers) from the requirements of the law. He also desired to see that all believers held equal status in the Church and before the Lord. This he does by proclaiming the central truths of the Christian faith: all believers are incapable of keeping the Law but all believers are in Christ so all receive the benefits of His atoning sacrifice. Essentially then, no amount of keeping of any laws by humans can bring them closer to God. Christ keeps the law for us and through us.
A legalist thinks and teaches otherwise. You may be such a person if you think Christianity is at heart a set of rules and moral laws that must be followed by everyone and if you try enforce those rules on others. You may be a legalist if you condemn those who do not agree with your lists of rules or who disagree with your pet theological doctrines. The gospel is about love and mercy not anger and hatred. We should feel sad for those who reject our message for they face eternal chaos and emptiness.
2 Corinthians 13
At the end of the letter, Paul reminds the saints that he has written all these things to prepare them for his upcoming 3rd visit. He is looking forward to this but with mixed feelings. He is joyful because he knows that the situation has changed, that the majority of those who had rebelled had come to repentance. At the same time he is sad and uneasy because there were still many saints in rebellion. On top of that, their rejection of his authority had apparently given them license to engage in immorality. Paul reminds his audience that rejection of his authority is rejection of God Himself for the power of his message was the word of God. Thus these final words are his last attempt to warn the rebellious of the judgment which he must administer when he comes.
He again emphasizes that he does not want them to provide him financial support. As we have seen his opponents had extorted such support as their right and criticized Paul for rejecting it. He exposed them as frauds who preached with selfishness, pride, greed and a lust for power. Everything he had done was done out of love and concern for the spiritual well-being of the saints not for personal gain. He is their spiritual parent, not a hired teacher. It was his responsibility to make sure that they were raised with proper values and correct doctrine. These he taught with words but by example. He showed unselfish love in his relations with them. Unselfish, sacrificial giving to others is basic to the Christian life as it follows the example of Christ who gave Himself for our sins. When the saints understand and apply this principle this they will grow up and be able to support and teach others.
2 Corinthians 12
Paul feels that boasting about personal revelations or visions is foolish: it does not support his authority or teaching. This is the reason he expresses his experience in a way that makes it seem that it applies to another person. He wants his authority to be based upon what he has preached, the word of the Lord, rather than on the grounds of personal reports of private mystical experiences. The experience was unimportant to the message of the gospel. This message is not based on private visions or experiences. The Lord has revealed Himself to the whole world in time and history through objective, concrete redemptive acts. The gospel is the truth about salvation by faith in the Word made flesh, Jesus, God incarnate. This is where there is true glory and real power, not on human accomplishments even those of Christians. The glory is in the word.
God’s glory is manifest in our weakness. Weakness clearly demonstrates that the success and glory produced by any ministry or any believer can only be attributed to the grace and power of the Lord, not to human ability or talent. This is why Paul gladly boasts in his weakness for when he is weak, then he is strong. This revelation of Christ’s power in his weakness and his joyful acceptance of this situation forms the high point, the summation of all that Paul has to say in the entire letter. And this statement about weakness is central to our faith. Without our acknowledgement of our total and utter weakness, we can never accept the gift that Christ gives of eternal life. No one can save face and get into heaven. Without admitting to failure, we can never see our need for a savior, we will still think we can make it by our own works. But you cannot get into heaven if you think you have any ability whatsoever! Only when we admit we are weak is the Lord then able to impart to us His Spirit, His power and His resources.
2 Corinthians 10
Paul presents a strong rebuke against those who deny the truth of the gospel. He does not use clever arguments, scathing reproof, or stinging invective, things which spring from the flesh. Rather he takes every though captive to Christ so he may act in imitation of the Lord, with meekness, gentleness, and humility in order to edify his brethren. The emphasis here, as throughout the Epistle, is on the weakness of the servant of the Lord as the key to the manifestation of God’s power.
We may have trouble with this idea of weakness as strength. Our American culture is all about getting the upper hand, becoming famous and successful by the proud display of one’s own abilities. Meekness and humility are despised. This is true even among contemporary churches where dynamic music, powerful and charismatic speakers, big bucks, and big crowds all point to success while weakness is denied, shunned or despised.
In this chapter we find some verses that are quite familiar to us. One of these, verse 5, is the central focus of the chapter but is often taken out of context and misapplied to our own personal struggles with the world, the flesh and the devil. Yet the issue here is not Paul’s or our own private thought life or struggle with sin and doubt. While it is important that we keep our thought life focused on the Lord so as to resist temptation, Paul is here concerned with a public dispute over the content of the gospel being preached by those who opposed him at Corinth. They criticized him for his lack of boldness and great rhetoric. He maintains that such ways are carnal, worldly. The gospel itself contains all the power and glory; it does not need an assist from human wisdom or ability. We must recall this as we strive to make the gospel more palatable or acceptable to unbelievers. A lot of resources and time are spent by churches in doing this but it is necessary.
2 Corinthians 9
Now Paul addresses the actual collection of the money. The believers needed to be assured that their contributions would be handled in a godly manner. Paul only promoted and encouraged the offering; he did not handle it. He would not know who gave or how much they gave. Instead, he sent a delegation of three disciples to manage and oversee the details of the whole operation, men known for godliness, truthfulness and integrity. Paul wanted them to handle the collection so that he would not be the target of any allegations of coercion or of misappropriation. Such allegations even though unfounded would hurt the cause of Christ. Everything had to be open and honest to avoid tarnishing the reputation of the Lord and His people.
The arrangement that Paul set in place demonstrates to us the need for financial accountability, integrity and care when it comes to handling the finances of the church. Church funds are, after all, God’s finances, His money. Sometimes we forget this when we think about giving. All that we have or own comes from God and is at His disposal, to be used for His purposes. Therefore, those who claim to belong to the church, to be Christians, but who do not give to the work of the kingdom of God, or do not give freely as an act of worship, with cheerfulness and joy, are not members of the kingdom of God. Their god is their self. I know this is quite a radical statement, that God is the source of everything we have and own, even the abilities and talents that enable us to make money in the first place. These are all His blessing and gift, not something we earn or deserve. God gives it all to us on a constant basis so we can continually give it out to others as well as obtain our daily bread. Money is a tool to be used to build God’s kingdom, not a goal we pursue or an idol we worship.
2 Corinthians 8
Paul now makes an appeal for a financial collection. This seems like an abrupt switch from the subject matter of the first 7 chapters in which he has been chastising the wrongdoers at Corinth and exhorting them to respect his apostolic authority. Now he suddenly launches into this appeal for money that was needed to assist the saints in Jerusalem who had been enduring difficult times for several years due to persecution by the Jews as well as famine caused by drought, agricultural failures or a natural disaster. But Paul uses the appeal as part of his way of helping his brethren. He is reminding these saints of their responsibility to demonstrate their renewed commitment to him and to the Lord with concrete, loving and positive actions.
The best example and motivation for such sacrificial giving is Jesus Himself. When Paul says Jesus was rich he means that before He became man Jesus existed in eternity and enjoyed all the splendor and glory of heaven in fellowship with His Father and the Holy Spirit. He became poor when he became man. He set aside all His glory to become like us. He took on all our human weaknesses and became subject to pain, suffering and human authority.
Jesus makes us rich not in a monetary sense. He gives us salvation and eternal life, priceless treasures no one can earn. We in Christ have access to all His promises. He has promised to meet all our needs. Therefore, we do not have to worry for, if we trust Christ, we know He will take care of us in His way and in His time. Because of this we can give freely to those in need knowing the Lord will take care of us.
2 Corinthians 7
As we have seen in both of Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians, he used rather strong words of rebuke and chastising. He now expresses some regret but maintains that it had to be done. He wanted the saints at Corinth, these people he loved, to understand the terrible danger they were in. Perhaps his doubts were responsible for the internal fears he felt. What if the saints failed to heed him? What if they failed to experience remorse and godly sorrow? What if he had really hurt them unnecessarily? When he finally heard from Titus that his previous letters had achieved the desired response, he felt great relief for this result vindicated the wisdom of his approach.
It hurts to say the tough things that rebuke and convict others of sin. Without such words there will be no change of heart as believers and non believers would remain content to live in sin and teach others to do the same. Our culture would strongly oppose any attempts that contradict the view of universal tolerance and respect. Our culture and a lot of churches tell us we ought not to say or teach anything that may bruise a person’s ego or stifle self-esteem or crush an independent spirit. Paul would be flabbergasted! Though he cared about people’s feelings, he cared more about the state of their souls. The purpose of warning sinners that their sin will lead them to eternal destruction is in to make them feel bad about themselves and what they have done, to show them that they are totally inept and evil; they need a savior. He used strong language to make people feel godly sorrow, to lead them to repentance, the first step into accepting God’s offer of reconciliation. You do not get into heaven without it.