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Devotions from Second Corinthians

OUR TRIUMPH IN UNION WITH CHRIST
2 CORINTHIANS 1-7

OUR TRIUMPH IN UNION WITH CHRIST   2 Corinthians 1-7  (20)

How the Christian Worker Should Live in Service

2 Corinthians 6:4-13 (NKJV)

Dr. Gordon E. Johnson

Rio Grande Bible Institute

Introduction

The message, the motivation, the manner of serving, all revolve around the Cross, the Message of the Cross. Paul never tires of returning to his lodestar, his compass for life and service. He was committed to not ever being an occasion for stumbling to anyone. His standards were set high, grounded in the virtues of the Cross Bearer.

Paul's His Apostolic Résumé

In the business world anyone seeking advancement has one's curriculum vitae, a list of  achievements, education, qualifications and accomplishments -- with incidentally no mention of failures!  Paul lists without pride or boasting what God by his grace accomplished through his suffering and integrity in a series of triplets. Let not the weak seek an apostolic ministry like Paul's!

" . . . in much patience" seems to set the tone for the following triplet (vv.4,5).[1] One readily admits that the following triplets are not within the scope of human endurance. Only a divine enablement can begin to undergird the believer to face such a varied range of difficulties. Paul begins with tribulations or afflictions, in needs or necessity, in distresses or insoluble straits with no seeming escape.  These seem in general to be an over view of what follows in greater detail. "For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; Yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Corinthians 9:16).The underlying motive is no self appointment to a position but a servant's commitment to be simply available during life's most dire demands.

". . . in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults". Paul now breaks down into specifics what the book of Acts introduces: Iconium, Lystra, Philippi, Thessalonica and Ephesus.  Philippi is the summit of suffering and joy in service. With their feet in stocks, at midnight they sang songs of deliverance (Acts 16:25). The recency of the Ephesus crisis was the launch pad for 2 Corinthians: "For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia; that we were burdened, beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should no trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead." (1:8, 9).

". . . in labors o fatigues, in sleeplessness, in fastings." Paul shares the absolute priority of the demands of the ministry upon his daily work schedule. Fastings are not a reference to a spiritual exercise but rather to the loss of time to sleep and eat in full service to the believer's urgent need. 

To the Ephesian elders Paul held up his hands and said:"Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me" (Acts. 20: 34). To the Corinthians among whom he labored making tents, he purposed to take nothing from them.

(1 Corinthians 9:15)."For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Corinthians 4:5).

". . . by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering" (vv.6-8). Paul now moves on to the spiritual graces that enabled him to triumph in the often harsh reality of ministry. By means of purity of motive he has served under duress. Personal purity is taken for granted. The hardest test of the servant of God is to serve with a pure motive, no self interest, no self defense, no hypocrisy.  God looks on the heart and is not impressed with eloquence or talent that he may have given in the first place. The Gnostics proclaimed a special elite knowledge, but Paul counters: "Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies I Corinthians 8:1). For Paul his knowledge is from the one ‘'in whom are hidden all the treasures and wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3).  Now comes the true test of the workers.

Longsuffering is presented in the context of bearing and forbearing with the foibles and the  human frailties of fellow Christians. To bear for Christ's sake the accusations of the unbeliever is to be expected. But longsuffering with patience from the unexpected source of fellow believers is something else. In Paul's very first practical appeal to the Ephesian believers he challenges them: "I, therefore,  . . .beseech you to have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1).

". . . by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love" This triplet underscores the value of the gentler and kinder virtues often so seldom seen among believers. It is highly significant that Paul has said nothing about prosperity, miracles, visions and special experiences. Such an emphasis often heard today is eloquently absent.  By placing the Holy Spirit in the midst of these triplets, Paul is assigning to the third person of the Trinity, the executor of the risen life of the Ultimate Cross Bearer, Christ himself who lives in the worker.

" . . . by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left". Along with the gentler virtues, Paul now adds the balance of the objective truth of the word of God and the power of God himself. Beyond that potential divine protection, the truth has been put on and become the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation. Truth is only effective in us and through us when we walk under its mandates and obey its commands. "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (Ephesians 6: 11).        

" . . . by honor and dishonor, y evil report and good report, as deceivers and yet true" The triplets now change their focus. Previously they were directed toward the believer's character and conduct. Now Paul recognizes the conflicting judgments that will be passed on the true apostolic worker. He and she must be prepared for this apparent contradiction.

But Jesus made is crystal clear: "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and the sister-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man's foes will be those of his own household" (Matthew 10: 34-36). We who have lived in once Christian lands have been coddled by our freedom, but the harsh reality for believers worldwide is such treatment, be they in Chiapas, Mexico. China, Russia and Islamic countries worldwide; they merit our prayers and support.    

" .. .as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live,; as chastened, and yet not

killed" (vv 8,9). The paragraph began with no offence to anyone by virtue of our life style and

ministry. But the very message we bring, of necessity brings a sword. After all, we follow, the

Crucified. There is an offence, an inherent stigma in the Cross; Paul embraced it wholeheartedly

and chose to live that apparently contradictory life. His closing words, written in large print by

own hand to his Galatian brethren tempted to follow "another gospel" were:"But God forbid that

I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been

crucified to me, and I to the world" (6: 14).But from God's standpoint and ultimate values, this

is the way of the Cross; the way of the Cross is grounded in the Message of the Cross. We must

embrace it in whatever form it may come to us.

". . . as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing and

yet possessing all things". Paul concludes with the blessedness of our contradictions. What we

may appear to be is anything but what we are in God's eyes.  The world with its offer of fame

and fortune cannot compare with God eternal riches.

I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold,/ I'd rather be His than have riches untold;

I'd rather have Jesus than houses or land, /I'd rather be led by his nail pierced hand.

Chorus

Than to be the king of a vast domain or held in sins' dread sway;

I'd rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today.

I'd rather have Jesus than men's applause,/I'd rather be faithful to His dear cause;

I'd rather have Jesus than worldwide fame./ I'd rather be true to His holy name

As often as we have heard George Beverly Shea (now 103) sing this song, our hearts have

echoed a firm and personal Amen, Lord . So let it be.

Yours in the Message of the Cross,

Gordon E. Johnson

Rio Grande Bible Institute

Edinburg, TX 78539

correspondence;   gejohnson1928@gmail.com  for my monthly studies;

for all my studies in both languages, click on my name or picture: www.kneillfoster.com



[1] PhilipE.Hughes. Commentary on  the Second Epistleto the Corinthians (Grand Rapids : Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,1962),  pp. 222-238. I am indebted to the author for some of his thoughts.