2 Corinthians



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Devotions from Second Corinthians



Paul's Pastoral Heart Shines More Brightly than Ever

2 Corinthians 12, 13

Dr. Gordon E. Johnson

Rio Grande Bible Institute

A Brief Survey of 2 Corinthians

The greatest value of 2 Corinthians to today's Christian worker is that Paul opens his pastoral heart and shares the realities of his calling as Apostle to the Gentiles.  In the midst of trial many   he shows the  victory of the Cross.

We must always remember that 2 Corinthians is a very personal letter directed to his spiritual children and enemies unveiling his heart and challenging their commitment to Christ. The epistle has not in any way painted an artificial portrait of the triumphs of the Cross; it includes the heart aches, the joys and the sorrows of serving a Risen Christ. Instead of any hint of complaint or self pity, he has transmuted the difficulties and false accusations into the gold of the Message of the Cross.  

Paul began his epistle with a note of praise for the ministry of encouragement in spite of the affliction that had recently befallen them in Asia. He, however, coupled it with the theme of the whole epistle. We had a sentence of death in ourselves that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead - Paul's indefatigable faith in the Cross (2 Corinthians 1:1-10).

In quick succession he responds to false accusations regarding his change of travel plans. Then in turn he breaks out in a triumphant discourse on the Spirit's ministry and his leading them in the train of Christ's triumph (2:14-6:18). These chapters bar none reveal the heart of the Message of the Cross for the true servant of the Lord.

Paul takes up the theme of the grace of giving in view of his soon visit to Corinth en route to help the poor of Jerusalem (chapters 8, 9). Then Paul fconfronts head on his enemies, the "super apostles" who attacked his person and credentials as an apostle. In his defense he charts his sufferings and counters their lies; He does it against his "better judgment" but they had left him no other option. But his warfare was "not after the flesh but after the Spirit" (chapters 10-12).

Paul pauses to reveal his visions and revelations as a part of his valid credentials. But he opens his heart and reveals God's deepest dealing in relation to being "exalted above measure" a tendency toward pride common to us all. To prevent that God must humble him further. He asked three times for the removal of the "messenger of Satan", but God's response was: "In all I send you, my grace is sufficient." Paul embraces the way of the Cross – a further triumph of grace in a godly servant.  

Paul's Apostolic Credentials    2 Corinthians 12: 11-13

After Paul's digression on God's deeper dealings, he returns to his dialogue with his detractors.  The difference between Paul and his adversaries is most evident. He begins by admitting that in his defense he has been "forced" to descend to their level against his better judgment. "I have become a fool in boasting; you have compelled me" (v.11). Earlier Paul had stated clearly: "What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as it were, foolishly . . ." (11:17).

Paul establishes the evident reality that he was himself the spiritual father of the church; historically the Corinthians were his children. How strange that a father has to establish his paternity! In addition, he adds further proof."Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders with mighty deeds" (v.12).  Luke records those days in Acts 19: 10-12. "And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks. Now God worked unusual miracles by the hand of Paul so that even  handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick and diseases left them and the evil spirit went out to them."

Paul with a sense of mild irony asks for their "forgiveness" for not having charged them. This had been one of their earlier accusations against Paul's being a genuine teacher, but it was also Paul's boast of a disinterested service in their behalf in the name of Jesus.

Paul's Peerless Statement of Calvary Love   2 Corinthians 12:14-15

If the adversaries were questioning his apostolic credentials and asking him to prove his spiritual paternity, his response is matchless. We can look into Paul's pastoral heart and feel the actual pulse and heart beat of Christ himself. 

Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) was the Irish single missionary who served the Lord in India for 55 years without taking a furlough and who loved supremely thousands of defenseless Indian girls and boys and saved them from ritual prostitution in Indian temples.  She would often use the expression This is Calvary love. She referred to that so totally selfless love of Christ toward us at the Cross.

One is reluctant even to comment on the measure of peerless love that Paul shows toward the Corinthians church and even makes no distinctions about his adversaries. Drawing on earlier reference to himself as the father of the church (2 Corinthians 10:13), he speaks of the duties and joys of parents toward their children.

Paul makes this masterful statement: "And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children." Now comes the climax: "And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved." (vv.14, 15). Indeed for one geometrically to love more than one is loved, that can only be Calvary love that flows from the Cross. Of Jesus John writes: "having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them unto the end" (John 13:1).

Paul's Closing Fears of Unresolved Tensions    2 Corinthians 12:16-21

After he makes this matchless statement of Calvary love, he follows up with: "But be that as it may, I did not burden you" as much as to say, I will walk before the Lord in spite of whatever you may do or say in judgment of me.

What follows has some hidden innuendo, not self evident at first reading. Known only to the readers and lost to us today, Paul infers their charge: "He took no money from us now, but he will get his money after all, but out of the offering to the poor." Paul answers with sharp irony: "Nevertheless (they say, I) being crafty, I caught you by guile! Now he answers their unspoken charge. Titus and the other brother of impeachable honesty will handle the money, not I.

Within this context Paul's selfless affirmations reveals the value of a soul to him – let him be member or an adversary -  that is in truth what motivates his pastoral heart.  Only a person who has died to himself and to his interests can truly say that in the presence of God. Paul later says: "Again, do you think that we excuse ourselves to you?  We speak before God in Christ. But we do all things, beloved, for your edification" (v.19).

In the ministry the worker may face all types of accusation and innuendo. Paul concludes the chapter with a realistic and rather negative outlook on his possible reception in Corinth. "For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish;  lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults (v.20). He fears he will have to use apostolic authority in discipline, his last resort.

A Warning to His Readers   There Will Be a Reckoning for Conduct   2 Corinthians 13: 1-4

Paul is about to conclude his personal letter in which he has shared his pastoral heart, encountered their accusations and now commits himself to a follow up visit with anticipated action.  He has made it clear that he prefers that they examine themselves, judge themselves

(1 Corinthians 11:28-32). If, however, they will not do it, he will assert his apostolic authority in Christ to hold them accountable.

His reference to two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6) is proof that there will be open investigations where Biblical authority will govern the outcome. He is coming and will not be weak as they had earlier said: "His bodily presence is weak" (10:1) but rather he will assert his right to judge by God's standards.

It is interesting how Paul responds: "For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you (v.4).  Paul had laid hold on the Message of the Cross. Humility and meekness are not weakness. Rather God‘s virtues and power are always under control in every circumstance, even in the presence of sin.  Our apparent weakness is his strength at his disposal for his glory whether in blessing or discipline.

Paul's Concluding Counsels    2 Corinthians 13: 5-10

In the few remaining verses one senses a measure of spiritual concern, of  pastoral love and  confidence framed in the overtones of  the First Epistle to the Corinthians. "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves. Do you not know yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified" (v.5).

With Paul's rebuke over their misconduct at the Lord's Supper, he had said virtually the same thing: "But let a man examine himself . . . for if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged (1 Corinthians 11:28, 31). Concerning himself Paul had said:"But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified

(9: 27). There is sternness and faithfulness to truth whether they apply it to themselves or it is applied to him.

One senses Paul's uncertainty of the spiritual status of some of his hearers. His pastoral concern sternly counsels them but also lovingly supports them in what God desires. "Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified" (v.7). He walks the fine line of seeking their spiritual wellbeing before God and not his person. He is God's servant, but every believer must conform to God's standards; his truth stands as our judge and jury.

One can readily see that Paul is deeply concerned about his upcoming visit. It is not the money  for the poor in Jerusalem, much less his own reputation that deeply moves him but rather the souls of every believer. The real criterion that moves Paul is the edification of the believer, never the destruction of anyone (v.10).

His Until Then Farewell   (Hasta Entonces)    2 Corinthians 13: 11-14

Suffice it to record his heartfelt love and affection for all. The role of the pastor is one of shepherding, feeding, reproving and ultimately standing with God for their edification at whatever personal cost there may be.

"Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with the holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

Paul under the inspiration of the Spirit blesses us with the premier benediction that dismisses us so frequently in the care of the Triune God: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.