Theme: Thoughts From the New Testament Epistles – II Corinthians
In This Issue:
- “The Hope of the Unveiled Heart” (2nd Cor.3:1-18) by Sean Cavender
- “Paul’s Appeal to the Repentant Church in Corinth Regarding the Collection (2nd Cor. 8:1–9:15)” by David Deuster
- “Paul’s Appeal to the Rebellious Minority in Corinth (2nd Cor. 10:1–13:10)” by Hannah & Sarah Crawford
The Hope of the Unveiled Heart
By Sean P. Cavender
Throughout the second epistle to the church at Corinth, Paul was defending his apostleship and authority as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Paul was constantly answering the objections made by the Judaizing teachers, who demanded the Gentiles keep matters of the Law of Moses to be saved, attacks were made towards Paul. Time and again we find when false teachers are unable to answer the objections that are brought forth, they will begin to attack the man who is making the objection. Thus, they turned against the apostle Paul. Their attempts were so that they might thoroughly discredit the apostle, so that no one would listen to him. If the man was discredited, then his message could easily be discredited.
It is within the context of the epistle that Paul explains of the constant threats he was forced to deal with. His life was constantly in danger. He was imprisoned, beaten, and shipwrecked. All of these things were connected to the problem with the Judaizing teachers.
Therefore, much of Paul’s teachings were attempts to thwart the influence of the Judaizing teachers. He was a man of boldness. Paul was not going to back down from his defense of the gospel of Christ. In Second Corinthians chapter three, Paul reveals the weakness of the old covenant, the glory contained in the gospel of Christ, and the superiority of the new covenant.
The Confidence in Christ
The ministry of the apostles of Jesus was not looking for the approval of men, and certainly neither was Paul. The teaching and preaching of the apostles, including Paul, was done with the motives of sincerity, and devotion towards God. They were a sweet smelling aroma towards the Father in heaven (2 Corinthians 2:15-17). You can almost feel the tension, weariness, and exasperation as Paul writes, “Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters from you?” (2 Corinthians 3:1)
Paul states that the brethren at Corinth ought to stand as his letter of approval, and certificate of authenticity (2 Corinthians 3:2). These brethren had seen the works of Paul, they had heard him powerfully refute the Jews, and they had been taught by the apostle for at least a year and a half. There was no sense in Paul having to write back to these brethren defending his apostleship and ministry. They ought to know whether he was sincere or not by simply looking at the fruit of his labor.
However, Paul managed to put these things aside because he was not looking for the approval of any man. The apostle was longing to please the Lord in his apostleship. “And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward” (2 Corinthians 3:4). Paul knew that the message he taught was made by God, while Paul was simply proclaiming it (2 Corinthians 3:5, 12). Paul recognized he had a message that was new, or better, and one that was able to give life (2 Corinthians 3:6).
The picture that Paul paints, contrasting the old and new covenant, is startling. The old covenant is described as merely ink (2 Corinthians 3:3), only carved in tablets of stone (2 Corinthians 3:3), as a letter (2 Corinthians 3:6), and as the instrument of death (2 Corinthians 3:6). The new covenant was not written with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God (2 Corinthians 3:3), which penetrated the heart (2 Corinthians 3:3). It was “of the spirit,” and offered life (2 Corinthians 3:6).
The Glory of the New Covenant
The old covenant brought forth death, or spiritual separation from God (2 Corinthians 3:7; Romans 7:7-12). However, the old covenant came with a certain amount of glory (2 Corinthians 3:7, 9). The old law was holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12). While the Law was intended for what was right, it was weak because it could not forgive sins. The old law brought condemnation, and bondage due to a knowledge of sin (Hebrews 10:3).
The glory of Moses was intended to be done away (2 Corinthians 3:7). Moses’ face was shining when he came down from Sinai with the law and commandments (cf. Exodus 34:29-35). The question that ought to come to mind is: if the old covenant came with that amount of glory, then how much glorious is the new covenant? This is exactly the question that Paul asks, and is answering (2 Corinthians 3:8). The new covenant produces righteousness (2 Corinthians 3:9), and it forgives sins (Hebrews 10:4). This new covenant is built upon a better priesthood, a better ministry, and better promises (Hebrews 8:6, 7).
Paul’s argument did not consist of how useless the law of Moses was. The thrust of his argument was in how much better the new covenant is, compared to the old covenant. And if the new is that much better, then why constantly struggle with the temptation to go back to a weaker system. The old law had been passed away because it was fulfilled in Christ. The new covenant would remain forever (2 Corinthians 3:11).
The Veil-Covered Heart
Paul was unashamed of the gospel of the new covenant. It is why he preached so boldly (2 Corinthians 3:12). The confidence that a believer has is in the assurance that the gospel will remain steadfast. Fading away was not in the plan for the gospel of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:13).
Judaizing teachers who were demanding the Gentile converts keep circumcision and the law of Moses were blinded and hardened to the gospel. They were willing to put a veil over their hearts, preventing them from seeing the true blessings in the gospel (2 Corinthians 3:14). They were ultimately rejecting the gospel of Christ. Even while the reading and practice of the old testament remained, along with keeping the works of the law, and living according to the flesh, the veil continued to remain. The veil that Moses wore was hiding the true glory that he had witnessed. This is why Paul is using this illustration to make his point. The Judaizing teachers had willfully placed a veil over their hearts to hide the true glory of the gospel of Christ.
The Unveiled Face of Glory
However, when a heart of unbelief is turned to the Lord, the veil is taken away (2 Corinthians 3:16). But they must come to the Lord, as He is identified in verse 16. “The Lord is that Spirit” can be a difficult phrase in Scripture (2 Corinthians 3:17). The passage is not about the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit. The passage is not teaching that Jesus is the same as the spirit of God. The term “spirit” has been used to describe the new covenant in contrast to the old covenant throughout the chapter (2 Corinthians 3:6-9).
In the previous verse, Paul writes about the person that takes away the veil from his heart, accepting the Lord Jesus Christ. “That Spirit” is the belief in Jesus as the Son of God, and faithful obedience to the gospel. It is this spirit, the gospel, which sets us at liberty. It is the spirit of life that sets you free (Romans 8:2). The Judaizing teachers were setting brethren as captives. There was no freedom in their system of doctrine.
When one finally accepts the gospel, there is a transformation we each undergo. We are changed into the glory of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18). We become a new creature, delivered from the evil one. We are a new creature in Christ to bear the same image, united with Christ, to live in newness of life (Romans 6:4-6; 7:6).
We must refuse to cover our hearts and minds from the gospel. If there is any veil that may prevent us from witnessing and participating in the true glory of Jesus Christ and His glorious gospel, then we must remove that from our life. The greatest blessing of the gospel is the true power that lies within it. The gospel is able to transform our lives. Certainty, assurance and hope are all a result of the life that comes with the gospel. It was this assurance that moved Paul to continue to preach the gospel (2 Corinthians 3:12). This must be the same assurance that we live with every day of our lives. Assurances ought to motivate us to continue in service to the Lord, no matter who may attempt to destroy us.
Paul’s Appeal to the Repentant Church in Corinth Regarding the Collection
By David Deuster
One of the unique events of the New Testament is that of the special collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. Scripture reveals that on at least two occasions the church in Jerusalem received relief from other congregations in order to provide for its needy. The first of these is found in Acts 11:29-30. Agabus, a prophet, foretold of the coming of a great famine. “Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea: which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” (Acts 11:27-30) Thus a record of the Antioch church sending “relief unto the brethren in Judea. This “relief” was not sent to nor through some man-made benevolent society. The “relief” was sent to the elders in Judea.
Nearly thirteen years later the Jerusalem church was in “want.” In writing to the churches of Galatia, Paul mentions in chapter 2 and verse 10 that he would “remember the poor.” This was not to be a general relief of the needy but rather was the work of reliving the needy saints in Jerusalem (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:3; Romans 15:26). Paul urged the churches in Macedonia, Galatia ,and Corinth to send to relieve the “want” of these saints. (1 Corinthians 16:1-3; 2 Corinthians 8-9) This “collection for the saints” had been urged and promised a year before it was finally gathered up for delivery. The brethren at Rome, Galatia, Achaia, Macedonia, Corinth and perhaps Asia all participated in this effort to help relieve “the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.”
The eighth and ninth chapters of 2 Corinthians provide a great deal of information concerning this relief. From the context we will notice the attitude which led brethren to participate, the methods used for the collection, the selection of the messengers, the sending of the relief and finally the distribution of the relief.
The apostle begins his admonition for the Corinthians to complete their “fellowship” by appealing to the example of the churches in Macedonia: Thessalonica and Philippi. Both were sound Churches noted for their work in the Lord (1 Thess 1:7-8; Phil 1:3-5). Yet the also suffered from “deep poverty” (2 Corinthians 8:2) due to their stand for Christ (1 Thess. 1:14, Phil 1:27-29). Paul not only commends these brethren as giving “beyond their power” but also identifies the motivation and attitude behind their liberality. “They were willing of themselves” and “first gave their own selves to the Lord.” In this act of grace they completely sacrificed themselves, holding back nothing.
The apostle continues his appeal by directing the Corinthians attention to the voluntary self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Through his sacrifice, the brethren at Corinth had received immeasurable grace and joy as a result of reconciliation. The loving self-sacrifice of Christ provided a pattern for their loving response tot he needs of others. If the Gentiles were made partakers of their spiritual things, it was their duty to minister to them in carnal things (Romans 15:27). Having laid the foundation for the proper attitude and motivation towards their liberality, Paul now directs his attention towards the method concerning the collection that he himself had given though his previous letter.
Jerusalem was in need. Corinth was a congregation where there existed an abundance. The apostles desire was “that there may be equality” among the churches (2 Corinthians 9:14). Other churches, including Corinth, were able to help the Jerusalem church in this time of need. From their “abundance” they were to, “supply” the “want”—make up the deficiency of the Jerusalem church so she (Jerusalem) could meet her exclusive obligation of caring for her own.
There is only one divine arrangement for how a church is to authorized to collect the funds necessary to carry out the Lord’s work. That pattern is Christians laying by in store on the first day of the week as God has prospered them. This precept is found in 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 where Paul lays down a principle for giving, which is systematic and orderly, benevolent in its purpose, and divine in its authority.
The collection was built up by divine arrangement as a collective action of the assembly. Each individual was to examine themselves and to give as they had prospered. Paul reminds the Corinthians again that their collection must “be of a willing mind” (2 Corinthians 8:12). Likewise, the apostle exhorts them in their giving to liberality rather than covetousness. “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
The mention of “the first day of every week” along with the purpose “that when I come no collections will have to be made” suggests that the setting aside of money would not be just the setting apart within one’s own possessions but the setting aside of the money by presenting it to the leaders of the church (cf. Acts 4:34-5:2). The “collection” in question was an ongoing, every week occurrence, on the day when the church gathered together, for something Paul was taking as a pooled, singular gift from the entire church there (v3), that he didn’t want them to be trying to get-together in a hurry when he arrived.
The passage in 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 is a command, a command for each Christian to give into the common treasury on each first day of the week. The text sets forth the only scriptural means the local church has for raising its money. Whatever funds the church needs to accomplish the work it is authorized to do are to be gathered by saints laying by in store on the first day of the week. Concerning the great collection for Jerusalem, once the relief was laid at the feet of the leadership, the congregations chose entrusted messengers from among themselves who were appointed by the elders to deliver the relief to the needy
Each congregation that participated in this collection was to safeguard its own funds, which were delivered to the Jerusalem brethren by its own representative chosen by the local church to accompany Paul (1 Corinthians 16:3; 2 Corinthians 8:19; cf. Acts 20:1-4). Serious charges had been leveled against Paul as to his integrity in handling funds given by local churches (2 Corinthians 11:8; 12:16-18). However, the apostle leaves no doubt in the minds of the Corinthians as to the trustworthiness that both he and the ones whom the appoint to deliver the relief posses.
The messengers were trusted men of good reputation (cf Acts 6:3), entrusted by their own brethren with conveying the relief all the way to Jerusalem. Each of the churches placed their approval upon those messengers. The other messengers who will accompany Paul to Corinth on his way to Jerusalem will also be able to serve as witnesses as to the integrity of these men. Therefore, there is no critique or valid concern that could be expressed towards Paul concerning how he handled the relief sent to the church in Jerusalem. As Paul states, these men were “an honor to Christ” (2 Corinthians 8:24) and their lives reflect the glory of Christ.
While the record of Luke in the book of Acts does not reveal whether or not the gift achieved its end results, we are not left without precept as to what happened to the funds once they made their way to Jerusalem.
Once the relief arrived in Jerusalem, the same pattern established in the book of Acts would have been followed. The relief would have been placed under the charge of the overseers of the needy church (cf. Acts 4:34, 35). Again we need to be reminded this collection was not for a general benevolent relief, but was collected for the purpose of relieving the needy saints in Jerusalem. Those who received this relief would have been the elders who oversaw the churches where the need existed. At this time in the churches history, we know of at least three in Jerusalem that are identified by name in Scripture: Jerusalem, Joppa and Lydda. Furthermore, we know there were elders in these congregations to both receive and to oversee the distribution of the relief (cf Acts 11:29; 15:2). Once the collection was brought by the messengers and placed under the charge of the needy churches overseers (Acts 4:34-35) distribution made to each according to his need (Acts 6:1; 4:35).
The need among the saints in Jerusalem was genuine (2 Corinthians 9:12; Romans 15:26). How did the church relieve its needy? Again, scripture provides us the answer for how the local church is to meet its needs. That pattern is set forth in Acts chapter 6.
Not first, that the Apostles did not commission a separate institution, a benevolent society, to do this work of relieving it’s needy. The Holy Spirit gave this work to the church, regarding it sufficient as it was established, to do this work. The duty was imposed upon the local church and this is the only organization which was authorized to engage in this work of benevolence. Also notice that “the Twelve,” having been given the oversight of the Jerusalem church, charged the members of the church not only with their duty, but also with their role in the manner in which it was to be accomplished saying: “Look ye out among you seven men…whom we may appoint over this business” (v. 3). The oversight of the local church directed it’s members to choose its servants from certain specially qualified men within the local church. Once chosen by the local church, these servants were given the responsibility of making “distribution…unto every man as he had need” (Acts 4:35).
The oversight of the local church alone must determine the need, provide the means to meet the need, maintain a diligent oversight respecting the relief of the need and choose the personnel qualified by the Word of God to be entrusted with the care of those in need (Acts 6:1-3).
Though other congregations had sent relief to the brethren at Jerusalem, they did not oversee the work of relief in Jerusalem. No congregation has the right to oversee the flock at any other place nor are they given authority to oversee the work at another place. The local churches who received the funds oversaw their own work (cf Acts 20:28). Likewise, the local churches in Jerusalem controlled the resources they received from the collection. The congregation had charge of those resources and made distribution as was its scriptural right to do. The relief was not turned over to some other congregation to make distribution at its discretion, but remained under the oversight of the local eldership where the need existed. Providing for the needy among its own embers to the extent of its ability is the right of every congregation. For the churches in Jerusalem to surrender their right to manage their affairs would have resulted in a loss of their autonomy. It has lost its autonomy on that portion of its resources, used to discharge its own responsibility and placed it in the hands and under the oversight of the elders of another congregation. The result is denominationalism and is unscriptural.
The relief of the saints in Jerusalem was more than an act of benevolence, for it expressed the effect of Christ’s reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles through the grace of giving and receiving. If the Gentiles were made partakers of their spiritual things, it was their duty to minister to them in carnal things (Romans 15:27). Such offerings would alleviate suffering in Jurusalem, but they would also demonstrate genuine concern on the part of Gentile Christians for Jewish Christians. This in turn would help promote unity and love among believers and help prevent the kinds of misunderstandings which were undermining the Galatian churches. When the church of Christ executed this pattern there was a definite blessing that came upon it, namely, spiritual peace and prosperity.
The same is true today. When God’s people meed the needs that arise according the divine pattern the results will be evident. It will be a wonderful blessing to the church, an inestimable benefit to the needy and a powerful influence upon the lost of our nation (Acts 6:5).
Paul’s Appeal to the Rebellious Minority in Corinth
By Hannah & Sarah Crawford
Something that many Christians face today is the worldly attitude that we can believe whatever we want so it doesn’t matter what religion we belong to. 2 Corinthians 10 clears up this argument by making the statement in verse 5, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God”. For us to truly be confident and speak boldly to others about God’s word we must first know what His word says and make sure we are following it so as to be examples for others to look to. Our beliefs should be based solely on God’s word and not on man made ideals and things that tickle our ears. Our teaching comes from God and just as His son showed love for the world by dying for it, we are to show that same love when spreading His word and correcting others. No where in the scriptures are we commanded to be hateful towards sinners, for if we hate sinners then we end up hating everyone, including ourselves for we too are sinners. This doesn’t mean we accept the willful sinning of others. It is our job to proclaim God’s glory by condemning sin as Christ did. Many people will say that Jesus loved everyone so it’s alright for them to sin, but in John 8, when the adulterous woman was brought before Jesus, instead of condemning her Jesus gave her the commandment to “Go. From now on sin no more”. We are to give that same commandment to others that they will turn away from their wickedness and seek to please the Lord.
2 Corinthians 10:3 says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses”. We have been commanded to gird ourselves with the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:10-17) which includes truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and lastly the word of God. As Christians, we are engaged in a spiritual warfare in which God is “pulling down strongholds” and “casting down arguments” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). We are also called to set ourselves apart from the world (Rom. 12:2) and to boast not in our own power but in that of the Lord’s (Gal. 6:14). God takes care of us and all we have comes from Him (Matt. 6:31-34, Rom. 8:28). Verse 17 of 2 Corinthians 10 says that “he who glories, let him glory in the Lord” and we should also remember that we find strength in Christ (Phil. 4:13).
We as Christians are not the only ones spreading religious beliefs as chapter 11 addresses the false doctrines being taught under the guise of righteous persons. Another concept that is popular today is that if you are truly sincere in your intentions then what you’re doing is okay. This is another false doctrine that sounds right, but goes against God’s word. For example, suicide bombers are very sincere in the beliefs so much that they are willing to die for them, but we understand that their actions are sinful. There will also be times when people twist God’s word and use it out of context to fit their argument. This is one reason we must be vigilant always seeking to grow in our understanding of God’s word that we will be ready to reproof His word and commandments (Matt. 24:11; 2 Cor. 11:13-15). Many worldly arguments and beliefs will sound good and may even seem logical, but we are to remember that Satan is a roaring lion always creeping up on us without our having any knowledge (1 Peter 5:8-9). We are told to be “firm in our faith” and we can’t do this unless we are grounded in the scriptures, meditating on His word day and night (Psalm 1: 1-3). As Paul says in verse 6, even if we are unskillful in our speech, we must have the knowledge of God’s word, which we can then show through our actions and livelihoods. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). Paul has given us examples of all the suffering he went through to proclaim the glory of God and there are many others examples of the sufferings Christians had to face for being steadfast (vs. 22-33). We are so blest to be able to speak and worship God without fear of persecution, but are we really as fervent and zealous as the New Testament Christians were. We are reminded by this how Christ never said it was going to be easy, but that we would be saved if we endure (Matt. 10:22, Jn. 20-21, Heb. 12:1-2).
When we speak boldly and boast of our salvation it is not because of our strength, but the strength and power of God. For if it was our own strength then we would have nothing to boast in since we were the ones who chose to dwell in sin. Yet through Christ’s sacrifice and His strength to suffer for us we are able to be reconciled to God by following His word (Gal.6:14). We have not done anything on our own but through the strength God has given us (Phil. 4:13; 2 Cor. 12:9-10). Paul did not take advantage of the Corinthians or burden them, but sought to edify them in the knowledge of God’s word (vs. 19). Our main goal is to edify others through reproving the scriptures, rebuking those who are sinning, and then exhorting them with patience and instruction (2 Tim. 3:16 – 4:2). Lastly, chapter 13 commands us to examine ourselves. It means nothing to other people if we tell them to follow God’s word, but we ourselves are conducting our lives in sin. We are to be lights in the world and in order to do so we must also be seeking God’s glory by praising His name and living our lives in accordance with His word (2 Cor. 13:5).