2 Corinthians 13 B

It has become clear, over the course of these two letters, that the Corinthians talk a lot of trash. Yes, Paul addresses issues of sexual immorality, drunkenness and selfishness, but the main problem we find in this letter is that a lot of people have slandered since Paul left. He spends a lot of time reminding them of the facts. What really went down? Do you remember?

In this final chapter, I see Paul pleading for a better way, moving forward.

“Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (1)

“Finally, brothers, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (11)

I am reminded of the ninth commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16) This usually gets boiled down to “Don’t Lie” (for time’s sake?), but I believe it’s best understood unedited.

As the LORD set up His society of people, He was also setting up a judicial system. Now, not everything in life ends up in court, but imagine with me, the daily courtroom of our social lives. We hear a juicy bit of information and pass it on. Perhaps this isn’t malicious. Other times, we get mad and exaggerate a person’s wrong-doing. Still other times, straight up slander happens. In court, this wouldn’t fly. You need witnesses, you need statements sworn under oath. Hearsay gets you no where.

The rumors buzzing around the Corinthian church caused a lot of strife among them and with Paul. The last chapters of this book are drenched in sarcasm, because things have gotten ridiculous. Paul is pleading, “PLEASE get your facts straight! Don’t listen to something with no evidence! Don’t pass on a tale without evidence.”

America is swimming in “fake news” (other countries too, don’t worry?). What can we do to move towards unity? We can believe the best in each other. Don’t blindly believe someone you know to be extremely biased. Don’t pass on information that is void of credible witnesses. We can rejoice together over the good things. Don’t let negativity steal all your attention!

In my heart, I feel the LORD leaning in when He gave Moses the ninth commandment to say, “Life is broken enough as it is. You’re going to hurt one another. Please don’t make it worse by spreading stories that your neighbor is worse than he is.”

Tomorrow we start the minor prophets!

-Bethany

2 Corinthians 11-12 B

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 12:9a

God’s response to our suffering is to provide everything we need. (Obviously it rarely seems like this.)

“That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” 12:10

Paul’s response here is intimidating and not very relatable. When I was first studying the Bible, I read this and felt overwhelmed and wanted to flip back into the psalms where I was allowed to lament and shake an angry fist.

But notice, Paul admits to begging God repeatedly to ease him of his relentless hardship. Eventually, he gains perspective that this is a severe mercy on his life that has led to humility and deepened his reliance on the Lord. (I think we can all agree at this point that Paul has a monumental struggle with pride as seen in Acts 9.)

Most people speculate that Paul had chronic health problems, maybe even a physical disability. The way he describes his problem as a tormenting messenger from Satan has me wondering if it’s an addiction. To what? I don’t know. If you’ve ever been around a recovered addict, you will hear them say similar things. They just want freedom, they beg God for change and they learn to live with the thorn in their side.

Whatever it is, health problems, a bad temper, an addiction, crippling laziness etc, God has what you need for your reoccurring hardship.

Something I regularly practice is to take note of God’s grace when something goes wrong. Start with the smaller things throughout your day and then this muscle will be strengthened to notice the bigger things.

His grace is enough for you and you can put that to the test.

Take time to today to notice when God’s grace shows up.

-Carly

2 Corinthians 9-10 B

“For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame.” (10:8)

We have varied gifts and talents, authorities and insights, for the purpose of edification, not intimidation. Whenever someone starts using their strength to dominate someone else, it is NOT in the Spirit of Christ. All gifts and blessings are made to be able to be passed forward. This also harkens back to chapter nine’s section on generosity.

“Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (9:7)

Whenever generosity is a bummer, an impulse, or a burden, it’s missed the point. That’s not the kind of giving the LORD is looking for in His people. This isn’t to put anyone to shame. It should be liberating. No one is asking you to do something truly detrimental. Give out of a generous heart, knowing the Giver of all things continues to supply all our needs.

Sometimes we read this verse like the sermon on the mount. The command to not commit adultery is underlined by the existence of lust and we double down, attempting to pressure cook ourselves into righteousness. It’s painful! Having that in mind, we then lug ourselves over to the letter and see now, not only do we have to be generous, but we’ve got to be happy about it. NO! The point has been missed entirely in those cases!

If the New Testament is read like an elite marching order toward righteousness, we’re only going to kill ourselves. Jesus pointed out the existence of lust to declare the need for the LORD’s power in righteousness; His miraculous ability to change hearts and breathe life.

Generosity from a happy heart is evidence of a life revolutionized by the power of the gospel, by the experience of the Goodness of the LORD. Thankfulness, dependence and brotherly affection. These things are not mustered by ones own strength, they have a different source.

If these chapters evoke a groan or a level of shame, bring that understanding to LORD and ask Him to renovate it by His power. If you’re nervous about testing this generosity strategy, start small. Find a way to be generous with someone, today, with something you have! We all have something! We’re not asked to be generous with something we lack. Our different resources are to fill up each other’s deficits. Give and see if the LORD does not replenish. I assure you, He will.

-Bethany

2 Corinthians 7-8 B

What’s the difference between shame and guilt?

In chapter 7, Paul is expressing his joy in the ‘godly sorrow’ that his letter produced in the church of Corinth:

“Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.” 7:9-10

Guilt is the feeling that comes when you’re convicted of your sin. You know the feeling. It’s the way your heart sinks when you hear yourself blatantly lying. Distractions and escapism can help a little, but it’s the weighted feeling that keeps you up at night or haunts your relationships. It’s what washes over you when you indulge in your addictions or purposely hurt someone. It’s acknowledging “what I did was bad”.

Shame is also the result of sin, but lingers around after repentance and reconciliation. It’s a lie that says “you are bad, and nothing can help you”. And like Paul said, it results in spiritual death. It isolates you. It strangles your communication with God. It pulls you out of community. Shame is a liar.

Jesus relentlessly went after people bogged down by shame. The woman at the well (John 4). The hemorrhaging woman, desperately grabbing at his cloak, yet too afraid to face him (Mark 5). The children, scolded by the disciples as obnoxious (Matthew 19).

The very first time mankind experiences shame, God combats it by pulling a devastated Adam and Eve out of the bushes and clothing them (Genesis 3).

The lie of shame is “there’s no answer for your sin” and the Voice of Truth tells us “I am the answer to your sin”. 

Is there sin in your life you need to repent of?

Is there sin that you have repented of, but still have some lingering shame because of it? Listen to the Voice of Truth!

 

-Carly

2 Corinthians 5-6 B

“For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” (5:14-15‬)

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (5:20‬)

A beautiful thing has happened: life has been extended to mankind on a new level. The curse of death has lost a sting, and we can all now live as reconciled to God. Our Creator has sent His Messiah. The depths and implications of this are what we are all seeking to uncover more and more every day of our lives. It is profoundly good and marvelously constructed.

How do you need to be reconciled to God, today? Is there something you’re putting between yourself and Him? Is there something you’re not wanting to surrender? How could your connection with the LORD be also live giving to others?

Take the extra time to re-read and meditate on chapter five. I had to read it a few times and I will continue to think about it throughout the day.

What does it look like to be His ambassador and to demonstrate to others what’s its like to be reconciled?

-Bethany

2 Corinthians 3-4 B

All of Paul’s talk about being unveiled had me thinking back to Moses’ illuminated face. It’s how I feel coming back from summer camp or a church retreat, or after closing a theology-rich Timothy Keller book; I feel like my face is glowing. But eventually, just like Moses’ brightened face, it dulls.

During a spiritual high, I can adjust my behavior and correct my mistakes quickly. It feels like I’m changed! But eventually, I stop correcting myself and lose interest in a regular discipline of being on my best behavior. Whatever influenced this change was only skin-deep.

It’s normal to have ups and downs in your spiritual life, and I’ve been learning to give myself more, grace more often. Are we ever really changed?

Paul reminds us today that there is freedom and ultimate change in Christ. And what’s different between Moses’ experience with God and ours is that we are possessed by God’s Spirit. He doesn’t just change our problems, his Helper heals them. The gospel is inviting us to free ourselves from sin, not just address the symptoms.

 “For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. “ 3:17-18

Spiritual growth is not temporary behavior modification. It’s becoming more like Jesus, an experience that never fades away!

Do you find yourself becoming more and more like Jesus? If so, how? If not, take a minute and reflect on what is preventing it.

 

-Carly

 

2 Corinthians 1-2 B

I went back and watched the Bible Project Overview for this letter (we don’t always include those links anymore, because we assume y’all know about it as a resource by now). It was helpful to frame the context of this letter and understand the dynamic which had formed between Paul and this church. They are not buddy o’ pals.

The Corinthian church culture is all too relate-able. The tendency to be attracted to successful looking leaders (you know, the ones with book deals and cool podcasts and maybe even a helicopter), to view wealth as a sign of God’s blessing, and to be choosy about which aspects of Jesus’ example to follow or ignore… are things we can often find in ourselves and those around us.

When becoming more like Jesus equals unbridled self-sacrifice, it’s not going to be attractive to someone who hasn’t been touched by His Spirit.

“For we are not like many, peddling the word of God.” (2:17)

Expense communicates value, in many cultures around the world. If something is free it is usually synonymous with cheap. So when smooth talkers, selling spiritual insight, roll into town with their fancy clothes, they look like they might carry a more valuable message. That is, until you understand what Christ-likeness resembles.

Paul could easily say, per my last mail: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6)

This letter is all about making the connection between a Christian’s life and generosity. Who around you today can be the lucky recipient of your generous love?

-Bethany