Corinthians 2


2 Corinthians 11-13 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He provides loving shepherds to protect us from wolves in sheep’s clothing 

@2 Corinthians 11
It’s difficult to read about Paul’s humbling experience defending his ministry.  We know of his exploits of faith to establish churches around his world at that time, but apparently the Corinthians were not aware of them or chose to ignore them.  “Such boasting is not from the Lord, but I am acting like a fool…I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more!…You have made me act like a fool—boasting like this.” (17,23;12:11)  Naturally Paul was embarrassed to defend his ministry.  After all, he was the one who had founded the church in Corinth, but now the circus had come to town!

Like well-trained carnival people, a group of false teachers had come to the Corinthian church with a pitch that sucked the congregation in under its influence. Like the famous circus showman P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” and they were being duped.  Just like a father will do anything to protect his young child, Paul, who had fathered this young church, was willing to sound like a madman in order to shake the church free from this deception.  Had these false teachers endured beating, stoning, imprisonment and other dangers in order to preach the message of Christ?  Were they afflicted with a thorn in the flesh to insure humility?  Paul felt confident that they had not.

Unfortunately, these charlatans still exist today and their message extends past the local church right into our homes through all forms of media.  How do we keep from falling prey to false teachers who want to deceive us?  Paul gave us insight into their pitch:

  • Do they preach a “different Jesus than the one we preach…a different kind of Spirit than the one you received…a different kind of gospel than the one you believed?” (4)
  • Do they mesmerize their listeners through their smooth talking? (5-6) The Greeks were known for theatrical prowess, but content should never be second to performance.
  • Do they deceive about their credentials and require huge payment for their ministry?  (7-9)
  • Do they disguise themselves as servants of righteousness but their lifestyle does not confirm it (13-15)
  • Do they boast about human achievement? (18;10:18) Paul did so in his defense, but with disdain and embarrassment.
  • Do they attempt to tear down other proven ministries? (22-23) It’s obvious the false teachers had done their best to tear down Paul’s ministry or he would not have felt the need to defend it.

Paul ended his letter to the Corinthians just as any loving father would follow up a discipline, “Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words:  Be joyful.  Grow to maturity.  Encourage each other.  Live in harmony and peace.  Then the God of love and peace will be with you…May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (13:11-14)  Paul obviously loved this congregation that he had fathered in spite of their failings.

Many ministries we view on television and the internet are valuable to the kingdom of God and serve a valuable role in the church.  They may reach people that the local church cannot reach, and I am thankful for their faithfulness to the call. Sometimes the credentials of media and itinerant ministries are difficult to evaluate, and sadly, sometimes we are fooled by impostors.

There really is not a substitute for the compassion and guidance of the local shepherd who is concerned about the growth and health of each of his sheep.  He is the pastor who is with us in the difficult times of life to help and strengthen, the one who tells us not what we want to hear but want we need to hear.  The pastor knows that he will face us each week and understands that his message must be consistent and honest.  There’s nothing like the shepherd who sticks with the sheep. 

Moving Forward:  I am thankful for my pastor today and pray God’s abundant blessings on him and on his family.  I will protect my eyes, ears and heart from those who seek to deceive me with a flamboyant but empty message.

Tomorrow @ Exodus 29-32

2 Corinthians 9-10 

Discover His heart:  He rewards and remembers our generous hearts

I’ve visited a few churches over the years where the congregations had a rather unique response at the announcement that it was offering time.  They would break out in applause and praises to the Lord.  No apologies were made for receiving the offering, and there was no hesitancy in giving.  All I can assume is that these congregations had learned the key to giving and looked forward to the opportunity to do so as found in Paul’s teaching in Chapter 9.  Blessed congregations! 

2 Corinthians 9
“Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.  You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” (6-7)

If we’ve ever received a gift that was given to us with reluctance or displeasure, a great deal of the joy that the gift could have brought to us was never realized.  In fact, we can look at the gift in the future and still feel sadness about the reluctance that came with it. No wonder Paul reminds us to give cheerfully to others.  God loves us when we give with a joyful heart, and He makes sure that there will be more to give in the future.  We are cheerful, the receiver is cheerful and God loves us – it makes me cheerful just to think about it!  But that’s not all…

“Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God… And they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you.” (11-12,14)

Our cheerful giving will not only be rewarded by God’s love for us, which in itself is more than enough, but we also will be enriched > enhanced > supplemented> deepened in every way!  And yet another bonus is that the recipients of our gifts will thank God and pray for us with deep affection.  I, for one, take all the prayers on my behalf I can get.

When we think about eternity in Heaven, we want our deeds to follow us there.  Paul offered a promise for those with generous hearts, one that will stand the test of time, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.” (9)  So, there are actually two things that we will take with us into eternity – those we have won to the Lord and the memory of good deeds.

So, when we are tempted to hoard or close our hand in financially challenging times, we would do well to remember those less fortunate than us because we are God’s instruments to touch their lives.  Give, not haphazardly or unwisely, but give with generosity and with smiles on our faces.  When we do this, according to Paul, we really have a lot to smile about. 

Moving Forward:  Over and over again I’m reminded that I can’t outgive God.  He always wins! But I will give to others with a cheerful, generous heart and prove that His Word is true. 

Tomorrow @ Exodus 25-28

2 Corinthians 6-8 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

It’s the time of year we give honor and attention to the one person on this earth we know loves us unconditionally – Mom!  The list of great qualities our mothers’ possess is endless, but most will agree that generosity is right near the top.  Only a mother would stay up half the night sewing costumes or baking cupcakes for her children.  She will give and give until it hurts and then give even more, sometimes to a fault. A mom’s generous spirit reflects the love of God within her. Her thrifty manner with coupons and sales stretches each dollar and provides for the family. Unfortunately, in our reading today the Apostle Paul had to deal with a situation where individuals were less than generous and nothing like our mothers. They hadn’t learned the secret to financial freedom 

@2 Corinthians 7
Paul had a turbulent history with the church at Corinth.  The Corinthians had been plagued with insurrection within the church, misuse of spiritual gifts and flagrant sin, just to name a few of their problems.  Paul addressed their issues with a difficult visit as well as at least one previous letter.  Many believe the letter mentioned in verse 8, called the severe or harsh letter, was lost and not recorded in the Bible; others believe it to be I Corinthians.  In any case, their response to Paul had been cold at one time.

This letter, probably needed more today than in his day, was a rough one, “I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while.  Now I am glad I sent it not because it hurt you but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways.” (8-9)  At the time of this writing, Paul was in Macedonia facing many conflicts and admitted to discouragement (6), but Titus arrived from Corinth with the good news that the Corinthian church had responded well to the severe letter and Paul was encouraged. 

@ 2 Corinthians 8
Paul was encouraged, things were better and Paul took the big leap and decided to address the “M” word…money.  Paul was a brave man.  Citing the example of the very poor Macedonian church and their generous giving to the struggling church in Jerusalem, Paul encouraged the Corinthian church to do the same.  “I am not commanding you to do this. But I am testing how genuine your love is by comparing it with the eagerness of the other churches.” (8)

As the saying goes, we know when someone is really a Christian when their commitment reaches all the way to their pocketbook.  Paul, always the disciple-maker, was willing to risk his new peace with this congregation in order to teach them about giving gifts.  “Give in proportion to what you have.  Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly.  And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have.” (11-12)

Paul’s instruction on giving was reasonable.  Jesus was blessed more by the extravagant giving of a widow’s all than He was by the large gifts of the wealthy in Mark 12:41-44.  I want to bless Jesus in that way.  In my heart, I want it all to belong to Him so that when a need arises, I’m not counting the cost, counting the percentages or counting the dollar signs. When there is a need somewhere, I want to give with joy, and like the widow, not miss an opportunity to bless Him.  To me, this is financial freedom. 

Moving Forward:  May I approach this day with a generous heart, blessing Him with my response to those in need of help. 

Tomorrow @ Exodus 21-24

2 Corinthians 4-5 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  “And God has given us the task of reconciling people to Him.”

When election time rolls around, we have an opportunity to choose by ballot individuals who are elected to represent us in the federal and state governments.  Compared to many forms of governing around the world, this system of representative government is desirable over dictatorships and communism. However, we run into problems when the representatives choose not to represent their constituents and succumb to pure politics. Any time representatives or ambassadors fail to perform their duties, there is a breakdown in communication and the system fails.  May we never be guilty of failing to serve faithfully in our roles as ambassadors. 

@2 Corinthians 5
“And God has given us this task of reconciling people to Him…So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us.  We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (18-20)

Just like Paul, as believers in Jesus, we are His ambassadors.  Just what we need – another task!  We are already spinning so many, many plates – providing income, meals, clean clothes, clean homes, raising children. Where would we find the time to be an ambassador?  An ambassador is an official representative of a country or organization.  The definition alone is daunting, yet our message is so simple:  “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.  The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ.”  (17-18)

I guess I would feel pretty silly, being His representative and all, to stand before Him one day and explain that I was just too busy washing those dishes, frying that bacon or working on the job to tell someone the simple truth of His gift of love, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (21) 

@ 2 Corinthians 4
“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed.  We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God…Yes we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus.” (8-11)  I can’t help but think of missionaries when I read this – heroes willing to leave their homes, families and friends and venture out to parts unknown around the world as His ambassadors.  They can’t help it.  It’s all they know to do with the task of sharing the wonderful message of reconciliation to those who do not know about it.  Like Paul, many of them face difficult situations and even death, but they would say with Paul, “But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, ‘I believed in God, so I spoke’” (13)

Will I speak today to that troubled co-worker or neighbor?  Will I share God’s love with the unhappy sales clerk or waitress who so desperately needs Him?  Will I speak, “Come back to God!  Come back to God!” 

Moving Forward:  Today I pray that I won’t be able to keep from sharing His wonderful message of reconciliation with those who don’t know Him.  When I stand before God one day, a clean house or my job performance really won’t matter.  He’ll be looking for those I brought along with me. 

Tomorrow @ Exodus 17-20

2 Corinthians 1-3 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He comforts us so we are able to comfort others and transforms us into His Christ-like fragrance

I love this time of the year when we celebrate Easter, a glorious day!  For Jesus, the week before His crucifixion and resurrection was filled with travel, teaching, great moments in prayer and also with fragrance.  Yes, fragrance.  “While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head…‘She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial.’” (Matthew 26:7,12)

As He prepared Himself for the greatest challenge of His life, the cross, His fragrance permeated His surroundings.  No doubt this fragrance blessed and comforted those who loved Him but disgusted those who were seeking to kill Him.  Because He was victorious on the cross and defeated death through His resurrection, we, too, can be victorious in our challenges and fill our world with His fragrance. 

@ 2 Corinthians 1
Sometimes we wonder why we go through the challenges we face.  Ultimately, God is concerned not so much about why, but with what we do with our challenges.  How do we respond to them?  “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.  When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (4-5)  In light of this, I have to admit that my flesh doesn’t really desire to be all that helpful to others in this way – I’ll pass on the trouble, but thank you for offering.

On the other hand, I also know the unbelievable joy that comes from comforting someone who is passing through a difficult place where I have been.  Solving the troubles of others may or may not be our task, but encouraging them with the hope of moving past their problems through our testimony is invaluable to them.  Acknowledging the presence of the Lord through all of our own troubles offers comfort and strength found nowhere else.  While I’m hesitant to say to the Lord regarding trouble, “Bring it on,” I’m confident of the abiding comfort He will give me when I need it most. In the process, I truly desire to share the fragrance of His comfort with others.

@ 2 Corinthians 2
“Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.” (15) In the United States, we are excessively concerned about our personal fragrance, our smell.  I’ve visited several countries around the world where I dare say a more conscientious approach to personal hygiene would be welcomed, but Americans are extreme in this.  By the time I have finished grooming each morning, I am wearing no less than eight different scents, which more than likely contribute to my allergy problems.  However, Paul was speaking of a different kind of fragrance.

“But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.  To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom.  But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume.  And who is adequate for such a task as this?” (15-16). Only those who are washed by the blood of Jesus, cleansed from the stench of sin’s decay, are adequate to represent Him by wearing His fragrance. To fellow believers, we are a life-giving perfume, but to the lost we are a constant reminder of their need for cleansing.  Oh, that they would tire of the dreadful smell of doom and instead run to the cross, allowing His fragrant perfume to fill their lives.  I’m forever challenged to smell just like Him. 

Moving Forward: Through the eyes of the Spirit, I will look for those in need of comfort, sharing His comfort with them, wearing His Christ-like fragrance. 

Tomorrow @ Exodus 13-16