DEVOTIONALS from Second Corinthians
Paul Confronts a Satanic Attack -- 2 Corinthians 10-13
An Introduction to the Final Section
Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute
An Overview of 2 Corinthians
Paul has arrived at a crucial moment in his second letter to Corinth. Paul had faced stern opposition during his initial eighteen-month stay in Corinth in 51, 52 AD. "The Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city'" (Acts. 18:9-10).
In 1 Corinthians he later responded to their questions which laid bare serious divisions and moral tensions. He concluded the first epistle with a hoped for promised visit with reference to the future projected collection for the saints in Jerusalem. His plans of returning outlined in 1 Corinthians 16:1-8 did not materialize as expected because of their own internal strife. Second Corinthians as an epistle, in part, explains and accounts for a variety of pressing pastoral concerns.
Scholars have conjectured about theories of unknown letters and even visits. Our understanding of the epistle is better served by maintaining the integrity of the text and seeking rather to grasp the heart of Paul who always sought to serve their deeper spiritual needs. A superficial reading of the epistle may fail to see the inherent continuity of his pastoral burden and love for his converts.
Scholars have had some difficulty reconciling the apparent disjointedness of the second epistle. But Paul is writing a very personal letter from his heart. As is so Pauline, his heart and mind are so agile that he may pass quickly from one theme to another. Witness his writing to the Galatians.
We can compare our own personal correspondence that does not lend itself to intellectual logical analysis. However, Paul had the overarching direction of the Holy Spirit in confronting the varieties of instruction, exhortation, reproof, self-defense, etc. found in the epistle; no doubt he was led by the Spirit to deal with an assortment of crucial issues.
A Review of Paul's Pastoral Heart 2 Corinthians 1, 2
Paul introduces the theme of the second epistle with a paean of praise to God for the divine mystic of suffering. In brief, Paul sets his compass to his North Star, the Message of the Cross. He had just been delivered from a trouble in Asia, "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 not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead" (1:8, 9)
With God's perspective on suffering as illustrated by our death with Christ in Romans 6:6, Paul will give us an insight into our constant triumph in ministry in Christ. He will weave around this truth the challenges he faces in responding to his beloved Corinthians.
He loses little time to explain his necessary change of plans in not following through on an earlier tentative plan (1:12-24). His adversaries, who must have been vocal and persistent, accused him of being vacillating, unstable and less that truthful. His response is to turn their accusations into proof positive that his word among them was not Yea and Nay (1:20-22), but rather Yea in Christ Jesus. They owe their very salvation to his faithfulness to Christ.
Paul shares his heart in the difficult letter he had to write in the discipline of an erring brother. In the midst of turmoil and recrimination, he will not give Satan any advantage to tempt and destroy his beloved converts (2: 1-11). Rather in such a context he exalts: "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. "This verse could be the theme verse of the epistle.
The Majestic Digression on the Message of the Cross 2 Corinthians 3-6
In Romans 1-8 Paul sets forth the theological basis of the Message of the Cross in a serene fashion. In Galatians Paul applies it vividly in a perilous church setting. But in this section Paul adds a personal perspective that resonates as in no other passage of Scripture. The greater glory of the ministry of life in the Holy Spirit as opposed to a ministration of death gives us a unique transforming metamorphosis. "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord" (3:18).
Through the availability of the Spirit's power a new dynamic is realized. "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed . . . Always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you" (4: 7, 8 10-12).These verses are the equivalent of the victory of Romans 8!
With this new upward look of faith eternity will burst on our horizon. We will be clothed in immortality to face the Judgment Seat of Christ with joy and not fear (5: 10).
Now come the quintessence of the message of the Cross: " For the love of Christ constrains us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, THEN ALL DIED; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again"" (5:14,15). Paul's compass has been reset to Romans 6:6: we died to sin and now we live to God, Christ lives in us (Galatians 2:20).
With this new dynamic of Christ living his life in us, we are ambassadors imploring men to be reconciled to God. Paul then describes how that risen life works itself out in ministry. "We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses . . . "
(6:3.4).But in the midst of multiple sufferings, there is a true rupture from all that is not of God as assured by his covenant promises to the Old Testament saints (6:16-18).
A Return to the Welcomed News of Titus' Report 2 Corinthians 7
During the masterful digression of 2 Corinthians 3-6 Paul was awaiting breathlessly word from Titus as to his reception by the Paul's beloved Corinthian believers. "Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you" - an echo of 2 Corinthians 1:2-6. Paul's faith is now fully restored in his brethren and his heart ready to greet his beloved converts.
The Current Matter of the Collection of the Saints in Jerusalem 2 Corinthians 8, 9
Paul returns to the third matter that now occupies his mind and his letter. First was the mystic of suffering as seen in the Message of the Cross (1:9.10) and incipient opposition1:12-24 and the resolution of church discipline (2: 1-11); second he deals magisterially with the dynamic of the Cross that leads the believer "always in triumph" (2:14-6:18).
His third concern is the timeliness of the collection. After a year's delay he must send Titus and two other proven brethren to prepare the way for the collection for the saints. He uses the occasion to share as always the spiritual truth of the deeper work of grace in their heart. Whether it be giving or serving or suffering, all things turn on the grace of God.
Giving becomes a grace, a ministry in itself. In a concise summation Paul states: "for the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God . . . and by their prayers for you, who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"
Paul's Present Challenge -- Spiritual Warfare to be Waged in the Meekness of Christ
Paul's fourth concern now must be to confront his virulent adversaries, the false teachers who are Satan's emissaries bidding for his beloved converts' soul. Self defense is never an easy task for a follower of Christ who "when he was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Peter 2:23). But Christ's response was, however, the godly response as our substitute and savior taking vicariously our shame. Occasionally, as in Paul's case, what is at stake is the purity of the gospel message and the integrity of believers who are the object of Satan's devices (2:11).
Paul will later identify the overt attack of the Devil directed against his spiritual children: "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works" (2 Corinthians 11: 13-15).
The battle lines are drawn and Paul must defend the truth and his legitimate apostleship. In his doing this, he will reveal the weapons of our warfare as not being carnal but spiritual, "mighty in God for pulling down of strongholds" (10:3, 4).
This last section of the epistle, then, will reveal principles of spiritual warfare without making such a warfare the central message of the gospel. Some expositors in their attempt to engage the enemy have been themselves ensnared in an out of balance message, as if evil is our primary enemy.
Paul will retain the biblical balance of recognizing that the combating of the devil is not our primary message but a tactic grounded in the positive message of the triumph of the Cross over sin, the flesh, the law and also the devil. Our message must be Christ centered proclaimed from the victory of the Cross already won and that victory held in the Name of the Victor himself.
The Opening Salvo in Warfare 2 Corinthians 10: 1, 2
In conclusion the expositor stands back in awe of the tapestry of the Holy Spirit in deal with such a range of tensions yet never losing the focus of Christ's victory at the Cross. As strange as it may seem Paul begins his attack and defense of the gospel with this apparent self-effacing attitude. However, behind it is a strength of character and will that will engage the enemy but in the gentleness of Jesus.
Our Lord himself said: "Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls, for My yoke I easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11: 29, 30). However, we must not lose sight of the fact the Jesus began his ministry with the cleansing the temple. "When he had made himself a whip of cords, he drove them out . . . and said to those who sold doves: 'Take these thing away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise'" (John 2: 15, 16).
Our Lord faced down the Pharisees in Matthew 23 with scathing denunciations. Jesus concluded his ministry with a final cleansing of the temple: "Then he went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold, saying to them, ‘It is written, My house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves'" (Luke 19: 45-48)
In Paul's first salvo he combines the virtues of gentleness and meekness, but it will not be weakness. He will wage warfare not on human terms of power but of divine strength as witnessed at the Cross. "Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ – who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you. But I beg you that when I am present I may not be bold with that confidence by which I intend to be bold against some, who think of us as if we walked according to the flesh" (10: 1-2).
Yours in the Message of the Cross,
Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute
Edinburg, TX 78539