Gordon E. Johnson

DEVOTIONALS from Second Corinthians


Divine Sufficiency in the Work of the Holy Spirit

2 Corinthians 2:16 - 3:6 (NKJV)

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute


Paul left Troas bound in his spirit on his third missionary destined for Corinth; he was hoping to meet Titus in Philippi who in deed brought him good news of the state of the Corinthian church. In all probability he writes this epistle from Philippi. From within this context of deep spiritual struggle he writes this paean of praise: "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place" (2 Corinthians 2: 14). As always the Victor of the Cross had triumphed once again. Paul sees himself and his handful of associates as witnessing that triumphal entry. God, always, in every place. What a perspective on ministry and ministry in the midst of stress and strife!

That "sentence of death" that we should not trust in ourselves--the Ephesian reminder-2 Cor. 1:9- triumphs once again. Triumph in ministry is not the absence of stress and strife but rather in the very presence of the same. "Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us" (Romans 8:37). Another variant translation could be «through» all these things. We are more than conquerors, not only in but in effect through standing under that sentence of death to self, we are made more than conquerors. No self pity, no anger, no pride of accomplishment but praise to share in his triumph always in every place.

Paul Returns to his Present Circumstances 2 Corinthians 2:16b

Faced with the realistic odds of ministry and the fresh reminder of Ephesus and a few Corinthian uncertainties, his question of "And who is sufficient for these things" (2 Cor.2:16b) is well taken. Being participants in His triumph, a fragrance of life to life in those being saved and of death to death in those who are perishing, the eternal stakes are high indeed. This is warfare beyond the scope of his limited resources. He asks the pertinent question; the rhetorical question needs no answer. Far from his own sufficiency, Paul recognizes the dynamic of his message, the Message of the Cross, the ultimate triumph of Christ at the Cross over sin, self and the world. Paul is under no allusions as to his superiority of training, past blessing or experience.

After Paul has faces the opposition in the next paragraph (2:17- 3:3), he will turn to answer that there is an abundant sufficiency for the believer, but it is not in self but in death to self and being empowered by a Message of the greater glory by the work of the Holy Spirit. That message will resonate clearly in 2 Corinthians 3.

Paul Faces the Corinthian False "Apostles" that «Peddle» their Message 2 Corinthians 2: 17

"For we are not, as so many peddling the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ" (2: 17). Every phrase of the declaration deserves close examination. Paul marks himself off once again from those false teachers who were seeking to infiltrate the Corinthian church, questioning his message, integrity and undermining the faith of his dear children. His words are forthright and assertive. We are not merchandisers of the word of God, selling it cheaply for our own personal ill gotten gain. The verb translated «peddle» refers to those hucksters or street hawkers, circus sharks who sell for inflated gain worthless stuff without regard for the buyer's need. They are the "spiritual" charlatans, fraudulent sellers.

Today in some American mega churches and also in Latin America and Africa there are «name» purveyors of the Prosperity Gospel teaching. They build a kingdom for themselves merchandising the gospel of the Crucified. They take the simple biblical truth that God provides for his own children and exaggerate the material level of that provision to such extreme limits that justify their own lifestyle and turn the gospel into a buyer's market. They prey on the poor in promising the vain hope that the poor will double and triple their return on their offerings given to them in order to justify their own lifestyle.

How does Paul answer this heresy? In great wisdom Paul labored with his own hands and from the same Corinthian church took no financial remuneration. Paul has dealt with this heresy in 1 Corinthians 9. Here are extracts of his sincerity, integrity accountability and transparency: "But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void. For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid on upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! . . . What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel" (1Cor. 9:15, 16, 18).

Paul's Response to another Error of his Enemies 2 Corinthians 3:1-5

Implicit in Paul's mind is the false teachers' demand that Paul himself produce letters of recommendation to establish the authenticity of his ministry among his own converts. Paul responds by the simple argument that he needs no recommendation from any one. His ministry in Corinth stands on the evidence of his own converts and their changed life style. After listing the prevalent sins of Corinth, he adds: "And such were some of you, But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:11).

In ordinary circumstances Paul does not negate the value of proper recommendations that speak to the faithfulness and personal integrity of visitors. But in his case the Holy Spirit has written in large print on the "fleshy tables of the heart" the reality of "Christ in them the hope of glory" (Col. 1; 27). Paul is leading up to the sufficiency that Christ has wrought in the life of his beloved friends. Earlier in the face of the challenges of ministry far beyond human resources he asked the question: "And who is sufficient for these things?" (2: 16b) The ministry of the Holy Spirit in the believer is the source of sufficiency.

Paul has spoken of tablets of stone a clear reference to the Ten Commandments written by the finger of God (Exodus 31:18). It was an expression of God's righteousness, but there has been a major advance. The New covenant is written by none less that the Holy Spirit himself and that "on fleshly tablets of the heart". Sufficiency in Christ is now spiritual, internal and leads to willing obedience and inner grace.

His confidence in his converts is expressed without equivocation: "And you are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; you are manifestly an epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God . . . and we have such trust through Christ toward God" (3:2,3,4). We see at once Paul's love and spiritual involvement with his Corinthian brethren in spite of the carnality that he has had to rebuke. God is at work in their lives. What an expression to the Christian worker to know that God has not completed his work of grace! Sufficiency is not of us but only of him

To the Thessalonian brethren recently converted Paul writes in his farewell: "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful who also will do it" (1Thess. 5:23, 24).

Yours in the Message of the Cross,

Gordon E. Johnson

Rio Grande Bible Institute

Edinburg, TX 78539