Archives For 2 Corinthians

Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.
– 2 Corinthians 5:9 –

AmbitionThe relationship between this verse and the previous is instructive. The “therefore” signals that this is a consequence of the preceding truth. What is the necessary consequence of having the settled preference to depart from this life and be with Christ? What is the necessary consequence of longing for unhindered, sin-free, face-to-face communion with Jesus? If the open enjoyment of Christ’s glory is the great hope of your life in the future, then that means your supreme ambition will be to be pleasing to Him in the present.

Ambition

This phrase, “We also have as our ambition,” speaks to the intensity of Paul’s desire to please Christ above all else. It is the all-consuming, driving force behind all he does. Usually, the concept of ambition has a negative connotation, speaking of someone who is wholly preoccupied with self-promotion and self-glory. A young man enters the corporate world with designs of running the company one day, determined to climb the corporate ladder no matter who he has to step on to get to the top. A politician strategizes and schemes and conspires as to how he can put himself forward, undermine his opponents, and portray himself in the best light, so that he can win the favor of the electorate. A young man has the ambition of playing professional sports, and he shapes his entire childhood around receiving the proper training and coaching, putting in the necessary workouts, watching his diet, getting good grades to go to a Division 1 university—he eats, sleeps, and breathes his game, all so he can wear that uniform and play in front of thousands of fans.

With that same all-consuming passion (albeit expressed positively rather than negatively), the Apostle Paul says: My supreme ambition is to always be pleasing to Christ. Charles Hodge comments, “As ambitious men desire and strive after fame, so Christians long and labor to be acceptable to Christ. Love to him, the desire to please him, and to be pleasing to him, animates their hearts and governs their lives, and makes them do and suffer what heroes do for glory” (500).

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“Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”
– 2 Corinthians 5:6–8 –

“Therefore” points us back to Paul’s thoughts, where he celebrated the truth that even if his earthly tent was torn down—even the constant opposition, conflict, and persecution that results from his ministry results in losing his life—he was absolutely certain that God would one day raise him from the dead in a glorified body (2 Cor 5:1–5). And he could be that certain because God Himself had given him a pledge—an earnest—the down payment of the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit in his heart, guaranteeing that God will one day deliver all the fullness of Paul’s heavenly inheritance (2 Cor 5:5).

The Pledge of the Spirit

The consequence of that Spirit-guaranteed assurance of a resurrection body is “good courage.” Verse 6: “Therefore, being always of good courage.” And then again in verse 8: “We are of good courage, I say.” The word means to be boldly and confidently courageous. Whether the beatings and stonings and imprisonments that would come as a result of preaching the Gospel to the lost, or the distrust and the false accusations and the heartache of broken relationships that would come as a result of ministering to the church—he could face any circumstance with courage and confidence.

And as we lay our lives down in the service of Christ and His church, so can we. There is so much strength and courage to be drawn from the reality that the Holy Spirit of God Himself is dwelling in us, fighting sin in us, warring against the flesh in us, and will one day raise our mortal body from the dead into conformity with the body of Christ’s glory. As long as that Spirit dwells in you, and guides you and leads you into holiness, and empowers you for ministry, you need never despair in the midst of your labors. You can be always of good courage. One commentator said, “The good courage that animates the [believers] is as permanent and serene as the Spirit dwelling within” (Hughes, 175). The Father’s pledge of the Spirit in our hearts is cause for fearless sacrificial ministry.

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“You are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
– 2 Corinthians 3:3 –

2 Cor 3;3As false apostles in Corinth are challenging Paul’s credibility, they object to his authority and promote their own on the basis of letters of commendation. They’ve got doctored letters from some church in Jerusalem, and they’re calling Paul out because he has none. Paul responds by saying that Christ Himself has written him a letter of commendation. And it wasn’t written with mere ink or on stone, but by the Spirit on human hearts. The salvation of the Corinthians themselves was all the commendation Paul needed.

If we follow Paul’s imagery carefully, we wouldn’t have expected him to set up a contrast between human hearts and tablets of stone. He’s just spoken of natural letters written in ink, and you don’t use ink on stone. We would have expected Paul to say something like, “Not on papyrus, or parchments, which fade away along with the ink written on them.” But he doesn’t say that. He contrasts “tablets of human hearts”—literally, “tablets that are hearts of flesh”—with “tablets of stone.”

Why? Well, the false apostles (i.e., those whom Paul was defending himself against in 2 Corinthians) were Judaizers. They were teaching that circumcision and keeping the ceremonial law of Moses was necessary for salvation. And so by changing the contrast from “written on paper” to “written on tablets of stone,” Paul is contrasting the impotence of the law in under the Mosaic Covenant with the almighty sanctifying power of the Spirit under the New Covenant, which has now dawned with Christ.

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“For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears;
not so that you would be made sorrowful,
but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.”
– 2 Corinthians 2:4 –

SharpeningWhen Paul wrote this verse, false teachers claiming to be apostles had infiltrated the church of Corinth and aimed to discredit Paul’s legitimacy as an apostle. The controversy led Paul to change his travel plans and visit the Corinthians ahead of schedule, as he hoped he could put the matter to rest by being there personally. But when Paul arrived in Corinth, one of the men in the church openly flouted Paul’s authority and insulted him before the whole church. To make matters worse, rather than coming to Paul’s defense and defending the Gospel that he preached, the Corinthians were taken in by this false teaching, and allowed this man’s sin to go unchecked.

After this “sorrowful visit,” Paul returned immediately to Ephesus and wrote them a severe letter, sternly rebuking them for failing to deal with sin in the church properly, and for straying from his apostolic teaching and message. In the verse quoted above, Paul explains the circumstances in which and the motivation for why he wrote the Corinthians his severe letter. And there is a pastoral lesson for all of us in the church who give and receive correction to our brothers and sisters.

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“Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm. 1But I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again. 2For if I cause you sorrow, who then makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful? 3This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all that my joy would be the joy of you all.”
– 2 Corinthians 1:24–2:3 –

For Your Joy

Paul is elaborating on what he said in 2 Corinthians 1:23—that it was to spare the Corinthians that he postponed his second visit to them, because he didn’t want a repeat of a his painful visit. He didn’t want to come before they had time to repent, and then have to come with the rod and punish unrepentant sin. That, he says, would not have tended to their joy (cf. 2 Cor 1:24).

But in the first three verses of chapter 2, we learn that, though Paul’s change in travel plans was out of consideration for the Corinthians first of all, they weren’t the only ones he was trying to spare from sorrow. Notice the repeated emphasis in these three verses again: “But I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again. For if I cause you sorrow, who then makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful? This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice.”

Is Paul being selfish? He’s just repeating over and over again that his concern is that he would not be made sorrowful, and that he would not lose his means of gladness. Unless Paul has gone absolutely crazy, and has entirely forgotten what he’s trying to accomplish as he’s writing—namely, to convince the Corinthians of his love for them—and is now finally letting down his guard and showing his true colors that he’s just a self-seeking manipulator—unless that’s what’s happening here (and it’s not), what we learn from this passage is that there is a way to pursue your own joy and, at the same time, love people. And that is when you pursue your joy in their joy—when you seek the happiness of others as your happiness. True, biblical love consists in the sharing of mutual joy—of seeking one another’s joy as one’s own.

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“Not that we lord it over your faith . . .”
– 2 Corinthians 1:24 –

Heavy HandednessSecond Corinthians is a book about ministry. Many commentators call it the fourth pastoral epistle, adding it to First and Second Timothy and Titus, because it focuses so much on the true character of Christian ministry. And it teaches us the lessons that it does by looking at the life of the Apostle Paul, the archetype of the minister of the Gospel.

In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul explains why he had delayed coming to them after promising another visit. The false apostles were using his change of plans as fodder for slandering him (2 Cor 1:15–17). But he affirms to the Corinthians that it was out of consideration for them; he postponed his visit in order to spare them the pain of judgment (2 Cor 1:23). But he knows that his opponents will seize on that confession of love and consideration, and twist it to suit their own ends. “It was to spare you that he didn’t come?” they would ask incredulously. “That’s nothing more than a veiled threat! He might as well say, ‘Don’t make me come and destroy you!’ Don’t you see what a tyrant this Paul is?!”

So to make sure that he’s not misunderstood, he adds this qualification: “Not that we lord it over your faith.”

In this phrase is a lesson for all those in ministry: the faithful minister of the Gospel is a servant. There is a wholesale repudiation of a domineering spirit. The truly loving shepherd of Christ’s sheep renounces all forms of despotism, domineering, and dictatorial power. Paul has absolutely no interest in lording his apostolic authority over the Corinthians. He has no desire to micromanage and domineer and control people’s thinking and behavior.

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integrity or ethics conceptIn 2 Corinthians 1, Paul is defending himself against the accusations of the false apostles, who were taking every possible opportunity to bring reproach upon Paul and his ministry in the eyes of the Corinthians. In what was actually a desire to be loving and considerate toward the Corinthians (cf. 2 Cor 1:23–2:4), Paul made a change in his travel plans in regards to his visits to Corinth. And like unscrupulous politicians running a smear campaign against their opponent, the false apostles seized upon this change of plans and blew it entirely out of proportion.

“The man talks out of both sides of his mouth! He’s undependable! Untrustworthy! He’s a fleshly man who goes back on his word because he’s guided by no higher principle than his own fallen nature! He doesn’t depend on the Spirit’s guidance, otherwise how do you explain the fickleness? And if you can’t trust him to get travel plans right, how are you going to trust his apostleship? How are you going to trust his gospel?”

Paul responds to these charges in 2 Corinthians 1:15–22. But as you read that passage, it doesn’t quite sound like a conventional defense of changing itinerary. Before he defends his conduct, Paul defends his integrity. And he does so by appealing to his theology. The reality of who God is, and what He has accomplished in Christ and in the Gospel, is the basis for all of his behavior. Paul’s conduct is rooted in his message. And for those of us who would claim to be ministers of that same Gospel (which is all of us!), the same must be true of us. I hope we’ll be instructed as we look into three of those arguments that appear in 2 Corinthians 1:18–20.

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November 14, 2014

A Profile of Integrity

by Mike Riccardi

For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in God-given simplicity and sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you. For we write nothing else to you than what you read and understand.
– 2 Corinthians 1:12-13 –

IntegrityAt the time he wrote 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul was facing false accusations against his character and ministry. False teachers, claiming to be Apostles of Christ, infiltrated the church of Corinth and, in order to weaken Paul’s influence for the sake of growing their own, launched a full-scale assault on Paul’s legitimacy as an Apostle. Much of 2 Corinthians is a defense of Paul’s integrity as a minister of the Gospel. And he begins that defense by declaring that his conscience is clear from the accusations being brought against him.

But he knows that it would have been too easy for hypocrites who have been seared in conscience to simply appeal to their conscience in order to get everyone off their backs. In 2 Corinthians 1:12–13, Paul explains that the testimony of his clear conscience is something more than a retreat to a private and inner sense of the state of his heart that no one can see or verify. His clear conscience is founded upon a real life of integrity. And that life of integrity is marked by a number of things.

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