Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Reflections on Galatians 3

    Galatians 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. You stupid Galatians! I told you exactly how Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross. Has someone now put an evil spell on you?
  2. I want to know only one thing. How were you given God's Spirit? Was it by obeying the Law of Moses or by hearing about Christ and having faith in him?
  3. How can you be so stupid? Do you think that by yourself you can complete what God's Spirit started in you?
  4. Have you gone through all of this for nothing? Is it all really for nothing?
  5. God gives you his Spirit and works miracles in you. But does he do this because you obey the Law of Moses or because you have heard about Christ and have faith in him?
  6. The Scriptures say that God accepted Abraham because Abraham had faith.
  7. And so, you should understand that everyone who has faith is a child of Abraham.
  8. Long ago the Scriptures said that God would accept the Gentiles because of their faith. That's why God told Abraham the good news that all nations would be blessed because of him.
  9. This means that everyone who has faith will share in the blessings that were given to Abraham because of his faith.
  10. Anyone who tries to please God by obeying the Law is under a curse. The Scriptures say, "Everyone who doesn't obey everything in the Law is under a curse."
  11. No one can please God by obeying the Law. The Scriptures also say, "The people God accepts because of their faith will live."
  12. The Law isn't based on faith. It promises life only to people who obey its commands.
  13. But Christ rescued us from the Law's curse, when he became a curse in our place. This is because the Scriptures say that anyone who is nailed to a tree is under a curse.
  14. And because of what Jesus Christ has done, the blessing that was promised to Abraham was taken to the Gentiles. This happened so that by faith we would be given the promised Holy Spirit.
  15. My friends, I will use an everyday example to explain what I mean. Once someone agrees to something, no one else can change or cancel the agreement.
  16. That is how it is with the promises God made to Abraham and his descendant. The promises were not made to many descendants, but only to one, and that one is Christ.
  17. What I am saying is that the Law cannot change or cancel God's promise that was made 430 years before the Law was given.
  18. If we have to obey the Law in order to receive God's blessings, those blessings don't really come to us because of God's promise. But God was kind to Abraham and made him a promise.
  19. What is the use of the Law? It was given later to show that we sin. But it was only supposed to last until the coming of that descendant who was given the promise. In fact, angels gave the Law to Moses, and he gave it to the people.
  20. There is only one God, and the Law did not come directly from him.
  21. Does the Law disagree with God's promises? No, it doesn't! If any law could give life to us, we could become acceptable to God by obeying that law.
  22. But the Scriptures say that sin controls everyone, so that God's promises will be for anyone who has faith in Jesus Christ.
  23. The Law controlled us and kept us under its power until the time came when we would have faith.
  24. In fact, the Law was our teacher. It was supposed to teach us until we had faith and were acceptable to God.
  25. But once a person has learned to have faith, there is no more need to have the Law as a teacher.
  26. All of you are God's children because of your faith in Christ Jesus.
  27. And when you were baptized, it was as though you had put on Christ in the same way you put on new clothes.
  28. Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman.
  29. So if you belong to Christ, you are now part of Abraham's family, and you will be given what God has promised.

    When Paul first preached to the Galatians, bringing them to faith in Christ, he "vividly portrayed" Christ as crucified. They had a clear understanding of salvation through faith in Christ's death. For them to now be turning away from this understanding they must have been hypnotized. Otherwise it makes no sense. Surely they were not foolish enough to think that having begun with the Spirit they will now be "made complete by the flesh." (3:3) The defining question that Paul asked them was: "does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law or by hearing with faith?" (3:5) The presence of God's Holy Spirit in us is evidence of our salvation. So the question Paul asks of the Galatians is whether they received the Holy Spirit by the works of the law. There was no doubt concerning the answer to this question. They had not received the Spirit until they had by faith received Christ. So why would they even consider returning to the law to benefit them in any way?

    Again, this was the defining question, but Paul anticipated further arguments the Judaizers would pose to refute this point. For instance, they might argue from the basis of heritage regarding their forefathers and the law, but Paul pointed out that even Abraham was credited righteousness on the basis of his faith. Furthermore, salvation through faith in Christ was not only for the Jews but included the Gentiles. Abraham understood this from God's promise that "All the nations will be blessed in you." Therefore, everyone who has faith is blessed with Abraham who also had faith.

    Another argument Paul anticipated from the Judaizers was that God's covenant with Abraham, which was based on faith, was set aside by the law which came 430 years later. But Paul pointed out that not even human covenants are set aside or changed. If this is true with human covenants it is more so with God's covenants. So why was the law given, he asks? Again, he anticipates arguments from the Judaizers. It was not to replace the promise of faith but was given "because of transgressions." Furthermore, it was temporary, given only until "the Seed to whom the promise was made would come." The Seed being Christ. The law was to serve as a tutor or guardian to make man aware of sin and his inability to break the power of sin by his own efforts. But now that Christ has come and has suffered the penalty for our sins, "we are no longer under a guardian" - the law no longer serves a purpose.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Reflections on Galatians 2

    Galatians 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Fourteen years later I went to Jerusalem with Barnabas. I also took along Titus.
  2. But I went there because God had told me to go, and I explained the good news that I had been preaching to the Gentiles. Then I met privately with the ones who seemed to be the most important leaders. I wanted to make sure that my work in the past and my future work would not be for nothing.
  3. Titus went to Jerusalem with me. He was a Greek, but still he wasn't forced to be circumcised.
  4. We went there because of those who pretended to be followers and had sneaked in among us as spies. They had come to take away the freedom that Christ Jesus had given us, and they were trying to make us their slaves.
  5. But we wanted you to have the true message. That's why we didn't give in to them, not even for a second.
  6. Some of them were supposed to be important leaders, but I didn't care who they were. God doesn't have any favorites! None of these so-called special leaders added anything to my message.
  7. They realized that God had sent me with the good news for Gentiles, and that he had sent Peter with the same message for Jews.
  8. God, who had sent Peter on a mission to the Jews, was now using me to preach to the Gentiles.
  9. James, Peter, and John realized that God had given me the message about his undeserved kindness. And these men are supposed to be the backbone of the church. They even gave Barnabas and me a friendly handshake. This was to show that we would work with Gentiles and that they would work with Jews.
  10. They only asked us to remember the poor, and that was something I had always been eager to do.
  11. When Peter came to Antioch, I told him face to face that he was wrong.
  12. He used to eat with Gentile followers of the Lord, until James sent some Jewish followers. Peter was afraid of the Jews and soon stopped eating with Gentiles.
  13. He and the other Jews hid their true feelings so well that even Barnabas was fooled.
  14. But when I saw that they were not really obeying the truth that is in the good news, I corrected Peter in front of everyone and said: Peter, you are a Jew, but you live like a Gentile. So how can you force Gentiles to live like Jews?
  15. We are Jews by birth and are not sinners like Gentiles.
  16. But we know that God accepts only those who have faith in Jesus Christ. No one can please God by simply obeying the Law. So we put our faith in Christ Jesus, and God accepted us because of our faith.
  17. When we Jews started looking for a way to please God, we discovered that we are sinners too. Does this mean that Christ is the one who makes us sinners? No, it doesn't!
  18. But if I tear down something and then build it again, I prove that I was wrong at first.
  19. It was the Law itself that killed me and freed me from its power, so that I could live for God. I have been nailed to the cross with Christ.
  20. I have died, but Christ lives in me. And I now live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me.
  21. I don't turn my back on God's undeserved kindness. If we can be acceptable to God by obeying the Law, it was useless for Christ to die.

    In this chapter Paul knocked the underpinnings out from under the false teachers (Judaizers) among the Galatian churches. First, he established that the apostalic leaders in Jerusalem accepted and affirmed him, his ministry, and his gospel message that salvation is by faith in Christ Jesus apart from the law. Second, he showed the fallacy of the Judaizer's teaching that circumcision and the law must be added to faith in Christ Jesus for salvation.

    Concerning the first point, Paul told of a trip he made to Jerusalem to see "those recognized as important." (2:6) This would be the apostolic leaders of the Jerusalem church to whom the Judaizers pointed for validation of their own teaching. Paul took with him on this visit both Barnabas and Titus. Titus was the person of interest on this visit for he was an uncircumcised Gentile believer who was being compelled by "false brothers" to be circumcised. Paul took him before "those recognized as important," to see what they would do about him, but they did not compel him to be circumcised, taking away any authority upon which the Judaizers in Galatia might try to base their teaching. Having eroded the authority on which the Judaizers based their teaching, Paul turned to the error behind the teaching.

    This issue was more than just a matter of interpretation or of preference. This being the case, Paul had challenged Peter when he attempted to appease Jewish Christians from Jerusalem by discontinuing fellowship with Gentile believers. What Paul challenged, and Peter did not consider, was that to allow any thinking that circumcision should be added to faith in Christ for salvation "then Christ died for nothing." Salvation is by Christ alone, not Christ plus something else. This is foundational to the gospel and to allow the teaching of the Judaizers to stand out of a desire not to offend would be to allow the gospel to be eroded and to become ineffective. And of greatest consequence, it would leave all those in their sins who trusted in the law rather than Christ alone for their salvation. There could be no compromise on this point. For Paul, the validity of his ministry was also at stake over this issue. If the teaching of the Judaizers was to take over in the Galatian churches, thus making the gospel ineffective, Paul's ministry among them would have been in vain. (2:2)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Reflections on Galatians 1

    Galatians 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. From the apostle Paul and from all the Lord's followers with me. I was chosen to be an apostle by Jesus Christ and by God the Father, who raised him from death. No mere human chose or appointed me to this work. To the churches in Galatia.
  2. (SEE 1:1)
  3. I pray that God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ will be kind to you and will bless you with peace!
  4. Christ obeyed God our Father and gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins to rescue us from this evil world.
  5. God will be given glory forever and ever. Amen.
  6. I am shocked that you have so quickly turned from God, who chose you because of his wonderful kindness. You have believed another message,
  7. when there is really only one true message. But some people are causing you trouble and want to make you turn away from the good news about Christ.
  8. I pray that God will punish anyone who preaches anything different from our message to you! It doesn't matter if that person is one of us or an angel from heaven.
  9. I have said it before, and I will say it again. I hope God will punish anyone who preaches anything different from what you have already believed.
  10. I am not trying to please people. I want to please God. Do you think I am trying to please people? If I were doing that, I would not be a servant of Christ.
  11. My friends, I want you to know that no one made up the message I preach.
  12. It wasn't given or taught to me by some mere human. My message came directly from Jesus Christ when he appeared to me.
  13. You know how I used to live as a Jew. I was cruel to God's church and even tried to destroy it.
  14. I was a much better Jew than anyone else my own age, and I obeyed every law that our ancestors had given us.
  15. But even before I was born, God had chosen me. He was kind and had decided
  16. to show me his Son, so that I would announce his message to the Gentiles. I didn't talk this over with anyone.
  17. I didn't say a word, not even to the men in Jerusalem who were apostles before I was. Instead, I went at once to Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.
  18. Three years later I went to visit Peter in Jerusalem and stayed with him for fifteen days.
  19. The only other apostle I saw was James, the Lord's brother.
  20. And in the presence of God I swear I am telling the truth.
  21. Later, I went to the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
  22. But no one who belonged to Christ's churches in Judea had ever seen me in person.
  23. They had only heard that the one who had been cruel to them was now preaching the message that he had once tried to destroy.
  24. And because of me, they praised God.

    This letter from the apostle Paul is addressed to the churches of Galatia. Thus, it is a circular letter that was to be passed from church to church among the churches located in the region of Galatia. As with the church in Corinth, the churches of Galatia were infected with false teachers. While those among the church at Corinth took aim at Paul personally, questioning his authority as an apostle, the attacks of those in Galatia were aimed primarily at the gospel he preached. Though this, too, eroded Paul's authority, it is more indirect.

    Paul immediately addressed the issues among the Galatian churches starting with his status as an apostle whose claim as such came not from men, but from Jesus Christ Himself. Therefore, the message he preached came not from men but from Jesus Christ. And the core of that message he stated in verse 4 concerning Jesus, "who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father." Paul did not arrive at this gospel message through any human source, and certainly not through his own reasoning or study. For his own study and practice was in Judaism which was the very teaching influencing the false teachers and pulling the Galatian believers away from the gospel of Christ.

    The gospel Paul preached could not be attributed to any human point of view. All human-based religious perspectives attribute salvation to man's own efforts, but the gospel of Christ teaches only one way of salvation, and that is through faith in Christ "who gave Himself for our sins." (1:4) This is point one. The gospel Paul preached didn't come from any human source because it follows no human reasoning. Point two is that it follows no human reasoning, Paul's in particular, because it does not resemble any influence upon Paul's life either prior to or immediately following his conversion experience. Prior to this experience he persecuted those who taught and believed this gospel. Following his conversion he went into isolation in Arabia for three years. When he returned from Arabia, by way of Damascus, he became known for preaching the gospel that was being challenged by the false teachers among the churches of Galatia. No, there is only one source for the gospel Paul preached, and that is God Himself.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reflections on 2 Corinthians 13

    2 Corinthians 13 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I am on my way to visit you for the third time. And as the Scriptures say, "Any charges must be proved true by at least two or three witnesses."
  2. During my second visit I warned you that I would punish you and anyone else who doesn't stop sinning. I am far away from you now, but I give you the same warning.
  3. This should prove to you that I am speaking for Christ. When he corrects you, he won't be weak. He will be powerful!
  4. Although he was weak when he was nailed to the cross, he now lives by the power of God. We are weak, just as Christ was. But you will see that we will live by the power of God, just as Christ does.
  5. Test yourselves and find out if you really are true to your faith. If you pass the test, you will discover that Christ is living in you. But if Christ isn't living in you, you have failed.
  6. I hope you will discover that we have not failed.
  7. We pray that you will stop doing evil things. We don't pray like this to make ourselves look good, but to get you to do right, even if we are failures.
  8. All we can do is to follow the truth and not fight against it.
  9. Even though we are weak, we are glad that you are strong, and we pray that you will do even better.
  10. I am writing these things to you before I arrive. This way I won't have to be hard on you when I use the authority that the Lord has given me. I was given this authority, so that I could help you and not destroy you.
  11. Good-by, my friends. Do better and pay attention to what I have said. Try to get along and live peacefully with each other. Now I pray that God, who gives love and peace, will be with you.
  12. Give each other a warm greeting. All of God's people send their greetings.
  13. I pray that the Lord Jesus Christ will bless you and be kind to you! May God bless you with his love, and may the Holy Spirit join all your hearts together.
  14. (SEE 13:13)

    Enough of Paul's defense of his integrity and apostalic legitimacy. He planned to make another trip to Corinth and in that visit he would handle these issues directly. And in so doing, "On the testimony of two or three witnesses every word will be confirmed." (13:1) He now gives warning that when he comes he will not be lenient with those he finds who are still seeking "proof of Christ speaking in me." (13:2) In anticipation of his visit to them, he suggests they "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith." (13:5) In this manner they will also know if Paul passes the test.

    Herein lies the purpose of Paul's letter to them. He wants them to be prepared for his coming by clearing up these issues ahead of time. Then "when I am there I will not use severity, in keeping with the authority the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down." (13:10) With this, he closes out the letter with blessings and salutations: "Be restored, be encouraged, be of the same mind, be at peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you." (13:14)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reflections on 2 Corinthians 12

    2 Corinthians 12 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I have to brag. There is nothing to be gained by it, but I must brag about the visions and other things that the Lord has shown me.
  2. I know about one of Christ's followers who was taken up into the third heaven fourteen years ago. I don't know if the man was still in his body when it happened, but God certainly knows.
  3. As I said, only God really knows if this man was in his body at the time.
  4. But he was taken up into paradise, where he heard things that are too wonderful to tell.
  5. I will brag about that man, but not about myself, except to say how weak I am.
  6. Yet even if I did brag, I would not be foolish. I would simply be speaking the truth. But I will try not to say too much. That way, none of you will think more highly of me than you should because of what you have seen me do and say.
  7. Of course, I am now referring to the wonderful things I saw. One of Satan's angels was sent to make me suffer terribly, so that I would not feel too proud.
  8. Three times I begged the Lord to make this suffering go away.
  9. But he replied, "My kindness is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak." So if Christ keeps giving me his power, I will gladly brag about how weak I am.
  10. Yes, I am glad to be weak or insulted or mistreated or to have troubles and sufferings, if it is for Christ. Because when I am weak, I am strong.
  11. I have been making a fool of myself. But you forced me to do it, when you should have been speaking up for me. I may be nothing at all, but I am as good as those super apostles.
  12. When I was with you, I was patient and worked all the powerful miracles and signs and wonders of a true apostle.
  13. You missed out on only one blessing that the other churches received. That is, you didn't have to support me. Forgive me for doing you wrong.
  14. I am planning to visit you for the third time. But I still won't make a burden of myself. What I really want is you, and not what you have. Children are not supposed to save up for their parents, but parents are supposed to take care of their children.
  15. So I will gladly give all that I have and all that I am. Will you love me less for loving you too much?
  16. You agree that I wasn't a burden to you. Maybe that's because I was trying to catch you off guard and trick you.
  17. Were you cheated by any of those I sent to you?
  18. I urged Titus to visit you, and I sent another follower with him. But Titus didn't cheat you, and we felt and behaved the same way he did.
  19. Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? Actually, we have been speaking to God as followers of Christ. But, my friends, we did it all for your good.
  20. I am afraid that when I come, we won't be pleased with each other. I fear that some of you may be arguing or jealous or angry or selfish or gossiping or insulting each other. I even fear that you may be proud and acting like a mob.
  21. I am afraid God will make me ashamed when I visit you again. I will feel like crying because many of you have never given up your old sins. You are still doing things that are immoral, indecent, and shameful.

    Paul's defense of himself in chapter 12 brings to light further charges that had been leveled against him: a lack of visions and revelations and of signs, wonders, and miracles. If he were a true apostle, his accusers evidently charged, when did his relate visions and revelations, or where were his signs, wonders, or miracles? And so, as foolish as Paul thought this whole thing to be, he addressed these charges in chapter 12.

    Some 14 years earlier, Paul had been "caught up into the third heaven," though he didn't know whether he was caught up in the body or out of the body. (12:2) In this experience he heard inexpressible words which men are not allowed to speak. Since his revelation was inexpressible, he would not have spoken of it to them before. Besides, he thought it more beneficial to boast, not of this experience, but of his weaknesses through which Christ is glorified rather than himself. Therefore, he tells of the "thorn in the flesh" he was given following his vision to keep him from exalting himself. Pain and suffering help us keep perspective. If, through a "mountain-top" experience such as his vision we are tempted to think we are more special to God than other people, a little pain or suffering can help put ourselves in perspective. Just as blessings tempt us to think too highly of ourselves, pain tempts us to think lowly of ourselves. Few, if any, of us are capable of appropriately handling only the blessings without the need to balance our perspective through pain or suffering. It doesn't have to be physical pain. The pain of rejection by others or anything else that causes pain will suffice.

    As for the signs, wonders, and miracles, these "signs of an apostle were performed among you in all endurance" when Paul was with them. (12:12) How could the Corinthians have forgotten? It is one of the dangers, though, when we allow ourselves to be caught up in criticism against another. We get tunnel vision and can only see the failures. Once the Corinthians opened their minds to the charges against Paul made by the false apostles, they very likely began to question everything he did, failing to see the good for what it was. As a result, the charges had become petty to the point of questioning Paul's motives for not taking monetary support from them. The main reason he didn't accept support from them was so no one would question his motives in receiving their money. But he couldn't win. They were, instead, questioning his motives for not receiving their money. So now he asks for evidence of how he took advantage of them? And how was it he treated them worse than the other churches?

    Though the Corinthians had earlier repented of previous sins, Paul was now concerned that should he return to Corinth he will find them yet again in need of repentance. He was concerned he might find: "quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorder." Or, that "many who sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, sexual immorality, and promiscuity they practiced." (12:20, 21)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Reflections on 2 Corinthians 11

    2 Corinthians 11 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Please put up with a little of my foolishness.
  2. I am as concerned about you as God is. You were like a virgin bride I had chosen only for Christ.
  3. But now I fear that you will be tricked, just as Eve was tricked by that lying snake. I am afraid that you might stop thinking about Christ in an honest and sincere way.
  4. We told you about Jesus, and you received the Holy Spirit and accepted our message. But you let some people tell you about another Jesus. Now you are ready to receive another spirit and accept a different message.
  5. I think I am as good as any of those super apostles.
  6. I may not speak as well as they do, but I know as much. And this has already been made perfectly clear to you.
  7. Was it wrong for me to lower myself and honor you by preaching God's message free of charge?
  8. I robbed other churches by taking money from them to serve you.
  9. Even when I was in need, I still didn't bother you. In fact, some of the Lord's followers from Macedonia brought me what I needed. I have not been a burden to you in the past, and I will never be a burden.
  10. As surely as I speak the truth about Christ, no one in Achaia can stop me from bragging about this.
  11. And it isn't because I don't love you. God himself knows how much I do love you.
  12. I plan to go on doing just what I have always done. Then those people won't be able to brag about doing the same things we are doing.
  13. Anyway, they are no more than false apostles and dishonest workers. They only pretend to be apostles of Christ.
  14. And it is no wonder. Even Satan tries to make himself look like an angel of light.
  15. So why does it seem strange for Satan's servants to pretend to do what is right? Someday they will get exactly what they deserve.
  16. I don't want any of you to think that I am a fool. But if you do, then let me be a fool and brag a little.
  17. When I do all this bragging, I do it as a fool and not for the Lord.
  18. Yet if others want to brag about what they have done, so will I.
  19. And since you are so smart, you will gladly put up with a fool.
  20. In fact, you let people make slaves of you and cheat you and steal from you. Why, you even let them strut around and slap you in the face.
  21. I am ashamed to say that we are too weak to behave in such a way. If they can brag, so can I, but it is a foolish thing to do.
  22. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Jews? So am I. Are they from the family of Abraham? Well, so am I.
  23. Are they servants of Christ? I am a fool to talk this way, but I serve him better than they do. I have worked harder and have been put in jail more times. I have been beaten with whips more and have been in danger of death more often.
  24. Five times the Jews gave me thirty-nine lashes with a whip.
  25. Three times the Romans beat me with a big stick, and once my enemies stoned me. I have been shipwrecked three times, and I even had to spend a night and a day in the sea.
  26. During my many travels, I have been in danger from rivers, robbers, my own people, and foreigners. My life has been in danger in cities, in deserts, at sea, and with people who only pretended to be the Lord's followers.
  27. I have worked and struggled and spent many sleepless nights. I have gone hungry and thirsty and often had nothing to eat. I have been cold from not having enough clothes to keep me warm.
  28. Besides everything else, each day I am burdened down, worrying about all the churches.
  29. When others are weak, I am weak too. When others are tricked into sin, I get angry.
  30. If I have to brag, I will brag about how weak I am.
  31. God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, knows I am not lying. And God is to be praised forever!
  32. The governor of Damascus at the time of King Aretas had the city gates guarded, so that he could capture me.
  33. But I escaped by being let down in a basket through a window in the city wall.

    Paul continues with his concerns over the Corinthian's openness to the false apostles. The false apostles had come to them and preached another Jesus and another gospel and the Corinthians "put up with it splendidly!" (11:4) They had opened themselves to having their minds corrupted. This is the danger of tolerance. Paul was not an enemy of tolerance when it came to relating to unbelievers. As he stated in his first letter to them, "I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some." (1 Cor 9:22) But tolerance to false teaching in the church is another matter, and he warned the Corinthians they were in danger of being deceived as Eve had been deceived.

    Paul went on to uphold himself in comparison to the false apostles. It is unclear if the designation "super-apostles" was the false apostles self-designation or their designation of the twelve. Given the context of this passage I lean toward it as the false apostle's self-designation. If this were the case, Paul was comparing himself to the false prophets and not the twelve in saying he was "in no way inferior" to them. (11:5) Though he was not an eloquent speaker he was not untrained in knowledge nor did he accept financial support from them for his ministry as did the false apostles. Was it a sin for him not to charge them for preaching the gospel to them, he asks? If so, his failure to do so was not because he didn't love them, but it was to "cut off the opportunity of those who want an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in what they are boasting about." (11:12)

    Neither was Paul inferior to these false apostles in terms of his heritage: "Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I." (11:22) Possibly Paul's most compelling argument, though, was his service for Christ. In verses 23 and following he launched into a listing of his suffering for Christ. The false apostles stood on their letters of recommendation, but Paul stood on his suffering for Christ. It was a no-brainer. No one who was faking it would endure such suffering.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Reflections on 2 Corinthians 10

    2 Corinthians 10 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Do you think I am a coward when I am with you and brave when I am far away? Well, I ask you to listen, because Christ himself was humble and gentle.
  2. Some people have said that we act like the people of this world. So when I arrive, I expect I will have to be firm and forceful in what I say to them. Please don't make me treat you that way.
  3. We live in this world, but we don't act like its people
  4. or fight our battles with the weapons of this world. Instead, we use God's power that can destroy fortresses. We destroy arguments
  5. and every bit of pride that keeps anyone from knowing God. We capture people's thoughts and make them obey Christ.
  6. And when you completely obey him, we will punish anyone who refuses to obey.
  7. You judge by appearances. If any of you think you are the only ones who belong to Christ, then think again. We belong to Christ as much as you do.
  8. Maybe I brag a little too much about the authority that the Lord gave me to help you and not to hurt you. Yet I am not embarrassed to brag.
  9. And I am not trying to scare you with my letters.
  10. Some of you are saying, "Paul's letters are harsh and powerful. But in person, he is a weakling and has nothing worth saying."
  11. Those people had better understand that when I am with you, I will do exactly what I say in my letters.
  12. We won't dare compare ourselves with those who think so much of themselves. But they are foolish to compare themselves with themselves.
  13. We won't brag about something we don't have a right to brag about. We will only brag about the work that God has sent us to do, and you are part of that work.
  14. We are not bragging more than we should. After all, we did bring the message about Christ to you.
  15. We don't brag about what others have done, as if we had done those things ourselves. But I hope that as you become stronger in your faith, we will be able to reach many more of the people around you. That has always been our goal.
  16. Then we will be able to preach the good news in other lands where we cannot take credit for work someone else has already done.
  17. The Scriptures say, "If you want to brag, then brag about the Lord."
  18. You may brag about yourself, but the only approval that counts is the Lord's approval.

    Paul turns attention now to the offending individuals, the false apostles, in the Corinthian church, placing them on notice that he was prepared to do battle with them. He hoped this would not be necessary for it was not something he wanted to do. As he told them, "I beg you that when I am present I will not need to be bold with the confidence by which I plan to challenge certain people who think we are walking in a fleshly way." (10:2) But he warned them that if it were necessary for him to do battle with them, it would not be waged in a fleshly way "since the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds." (10:4)

    The Corinthians, as of yet, were superficial and shallow spiritually, judging primarily by outward appearances. This made them fair game for the opportunistic false apostles. Thus, Paul used this letter to bring certain thoughts to mind for them. They should consider, for instance, the basis of commendation by which these false prophets commended themselves. These individuals commended themselves by "measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves to themselves." (10:12) In so doing, "they lack understanding," Paul said. He was not going to attempt to classify or compare himself to them. They were not the standard by which one should be measured. Paul's standard was Christ who had given him his ministry, but Paul would not boast "beyond measure, but according to the measure of the area of ministry that God has assigned to us." (10:14) And that area reached even to the Corinthians. Therefore, his bragging rights included his ministry with the Corinthians and it was given to him by the Lord. Therefore, "the one who boasts must boast in the Lord. For it is not the one commending himself who is approved, but the one the Lord commends." (10:17-18)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Reflections on 2 Corinthians 9

    2 Corinthians 09 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I don't need to write you about the money you plan to give for God's people.
  2. I know how eager you are to give. And I have proudly told the Lord's followers in Macedonia that you people in Achaia have been ready for a whole year. Now your desire to give has made them want to give.
  3. That's why I am sending Titus and the two others to you. I want you to be ready, just as I promised. This will prove that we were not wrong to brag about you.
  4. Some followers from Macedonia may come with me, and I want them to find that you have the money ready. If you don't, I would be embarrassed for trusting you to do this. But you would be embarrassed even more.
  5. So I have decided to ask Titus and the others to spend some time with you before I arrive. This way they can arrange to collect the money you have promised. Then you will have the chance to give because you want to, and not because you feel forced to.
  6. Remember this saying, "A few seeds make a small harvest, but a lot of seeds make a big harvest."
  7. Each of you must make up your own mind about how much to give. But don't feel sorry that you must give and don't feel that you are forced to give. God loves people who love to give.
  8. God can bless you with everything you need, and you will always have more than enough to do all kinds of good things for others.
  9. The Scriptures say, "God freely gives his gifts to the poor, and always does right."
  10. God gives seed to farmers and provides everyone with food. He will increase what you have, so that you can give even more to those in need.
  11. You will be blessed in every way, and you will be able to keep on being generous. Then many people will thank God when we deliver your gift.
  12. What you are doing is much more than a service that supplies God's people with what they need. It is something that will make many others thank God.
  13. The way in which you have proved yourselves by this service will bring honor and praise to God. You believed the message about Christ, and you obeyed it by sharing generously with God's people and with everyone else.
  14. Now they are praying for you and want to see you, because God used you to bless them so very much.
  15. Thank God for his gift that is too wonderful for words!

    Paul continues the topic of contributing to an offering to aid the Christians in Jerusalem. Although the Jerusalem Christians are in need and a collection from the church in Corinth will help ease their need, Paul's concern in this letter is more for the Corinthians. It was the Corinthians who had initiated the idea of a collection for the Jerusalem church a year earlier, and was enthusiastic about the idea. Their enthusiasm had sparked an interest among the churches in Macedonia and they, too, wanted to participate in the collection. But now, a year later, the Macedonian churches had acted on the idea and their collections were ready to be taken to Jerusalem while the Corinthian church had stalled in gathering its collection. This, undoubtedly, was due to the Corinthian church being sidetracked by the false teachers in their midst. These teachers had raised questions concerning the authenticity of both Paul's ministry and his gospel message. Though the Corinthian church had not yet abdicated, it was uncertain about which direction to go and was in turmoil.

    As mentioned in the reflections of chapter 8, this collection for the Jerusalem church served as a practical means of pulling the Corinthians back to their Christian roots. By contributing to this collection they would demonstrate their love for Christ and would strengthen their bond and identity with other Christians plus serving as a positive response to Paul's ministry among them. Contributing to this offering would be a practical step that would pull them off the fence they were riding. But Paul pointed also to other benefits for them.  Whatever spiritual benefit they reaped would be in direct proportion to the generosity with which they sowed. Sow sparingly and they will reap sparingly. Sow generously and they will also reap generously. It was a not only a principle of nature but also a spiritual principle.

    Therefore, through generous giving they will find that "the One who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness." (9:10) But it doesn't end there. As they were enriched in every way because of their generosity, it would produce in them thanksgiving to God. It goes full circle. But the cycle is not complete even with the Corinthians giving thanks to God because they were enriched due to their generosity. The saints in Jerusalem will see their "obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ" and their generosity in sharing with them, and they, too, will glorify God and will pray on behalf of the Corinthians out of "deep affection" for them. (9:13, 14) What a cycle of blessing is begun by a seemingly insignificant offering! If we recognize that all we have comes from God and out of a thankful heart give from the surplus God has given us to help others, we cannot fathom the outcome it will engender.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reflections on 2 Corinthians 8

    2 Corinthians 08 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. My friends, we want you to know that the churches in Macedonia have shown others how kind God is.
  2. Although they were going through hard times and were very poor, they were glad to give generously.
  3. They gave as much as they could afford and even more, simply because they wanted to.
  4. They even asked and begged us to let them have the joy of giving their money for God's people.
  5. And they did more than we had hoped. They gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us, just as God wanted them to do.
  6. Titus was the one who got you started doing this good thing, so we begged him to have you finish what you had begun.
  7. You do everything better than anyone else. You have stronger faith. You speak better and know more. You are eager to give, and you love us better. Now you must give more generously than anyone else.
  8. I am not ordering you to do this. I am simply testing how real your love is by comparing it with the concern that others have shown.
  9. You know that our Lord Jesus Christ was kind enough to give up all his riches and become poor, so that you could become rich.
  10. A year ago you were the first ones to give, and you gave because you wanted to. So listen to my advice.
  11. I think you should finish what you started. If you give according to what you have, you will prove that you are as eager to give as you were to think about giving.
  12. It doesn't matter how much you have. What matters is how much you are willing to give from what you have.
  13. I am not trying to make life easier for others by making life harder for you. But it is only fair
  14. for you to share with them when you have so much, and they have so little. Later, when they have more than enough, and you are in need, they can share with you. Then everyone will have a fair share,
  15. just as the Scriptures say, "Those who gathered too much had nothing left. Those who gathered only a little had all they needed."
  16. I am grateful that God made Titus care as much about you as we do.
  17. When we begged Titus to visit you, he said he would. He wanted to because he cared so much for you.
  18. With Titus we are also sending one of the Lord's followers who is well known in every church for spreading the good news.
  19. The churches chose this follower to travel with us while we carry this gift that will bring praise to the Lord and show how much we hope to help.
  20. We don't want anyone to find fault with the way we handle your generous gift.
  21. But we want to do what pleases the Lord and what people think is right.
  22. We are also sending someone else with Titus and the other follower. We approve of this man. In fact, he has already shown us many times that he wants to help. And now he wants to help even more than ever, because he trusts you so much.
  23. Titus is my partner, who works with me to serve you. The other two followers are sent by the churches, and they bring honor to Christ.
  24. Treat them in such a way that the churches will see your love and will know why we bragged about you.

    As Paul seeks the spiritual welfare of the Corinthian Christians in areas of faith and knowledge and love, he now includes the grace of giving. It is, as he tells them, a test of their love. Giving financially to help the Christians in Jerusalem was a practical expression of their love, not toward Paul, but toward the Lord who, "although He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich." (8:9)

    The Corinthians had begun a collection for the Jerusalem Christians a year earlier, but had not carried through to completion with their intent to help those in Jerusalem. Paul considered it profitable for them to finish this task. He was not expecting that they should provide for the need of others while making a hardship for themselves. But rather to give out of their surplus, reminding them that there may be a future time in which circumstances would be reversed and those in Jerusalem might give out of their surplus to help the Corinthians.

    Paul encouraged their giving to this cause with an example of the churches in Macedonia. Even though these churches were experiencing severe affliction, they gave generously to this cause. Their giving went beyond their ability, as they begged for the "privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints." (8:4) It was the enthusiastic giving of the Macedonian churches that spurred Paul to urge Titus to return to Corinth and "complete this grace to you." (8:6) Paul explained in verse 18 and following the procedure for delivering the collection from the various churches to the church in Jerusalem. A team of three men, including Titus, a brother from the Macedonian churches, and another unamed person who was highly respected by all the churches, were to take the offering to Jerusalem. This provision was to avoid any charge of mishandling of the offering.

    Collection of money in the church is often criticized by those who say the church is only interested in their money. But Paul's concern here was as much for the benefit of the Corinthian church as for the Jerusalem church. In the midst of being pulled away from their Christian roots by false teachers, this offering provided them a practical means of reconnecting with those Christian roots. First, it was an expression of their love for Christ of whom doubts had been raised by the false teachers. It was also a positive response to Paul and his ministry with them. Plus, it was a material bond between them and other churches that would strengthen their identity with other Christians. Taking steps to contribute to this cause offered them a practical way to get off the fence they were riding between commitment to Christ and commitment to the teachings of the false apostles and teachers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Reflections on 2 Corinthians 7

    2 Corinthians 07 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. My friends, God has made us these promises. So we should stay away from everything that keeps our bodies and spirits from being clean. We should honor God and try to be completely like him.
  2. Make a place for us in your hearts! We haven't mistreated or hurt anyone. We haven't cheated anyone.
  3. I am not saying this to be hard on you. But, as I have said before, you will always be in our thoughts, whether we live or die.
  4. I trust you completely. I am always proud of you, and I am greatly encouraged. In all my trouble I am still very happy.
  5. After we came to Macedonia, we didn't have any chance to rest. We were faced with all kinds of problems. We were troubled by enemies and troubled by fears.
  6. But God cheers up people in need, and that is what he did when he sent Titus to us.
  7. Of course, we were glad to see Titus, but what really made us glad is the way you cheered him up. He told how sorry you were and how concerned you were about me. And this made me even happier.
  8. I don't feel bad anymore, even though my letter hurt your feelings. I did feel bad at first, but I don't now. I know that the letter hurt you for a while.
  9. Now I am happy, but not because I hurt your feelings. It is because God used your hurt feelings to make you turn back to him, and none of you were harmed by us.
  10. When God makes you feel sorry enough to turn to him and be saved, you don't have anything to feel bad about. But when this world makes you feel sorry, it can cause your death.
  11. Just look what God has done by making you feel sorry! You sincerely want to prove that you are innocent. You are angry. You are shocked. You are eager to see that justice is done. You have proved that you were completely right in this matter.
  12. When I wrote you, it wasn't to accuse the one who was wrong or to take up for the one who was hurt. I wrote, so that God would show you how much you do care for us.
  13. And we were greatly encouraged. Although we were encouraged, we felt even better when we saw how happy Titus was, because you had shown that he had nothing to worry about.
  14. We had told him how much we thought of you, and you did not disappoint us. Just as we have always told you the truth, so everything we told him about you has also proved to be true.
  15. Titus loves all of you very much, especially when he remembers how you obeyed him and how you trembled with fear when you welcomed him.
  16. It makes me really glad to know that I can depend on you.

    Paul, in chapter 7, appeals to the Corinthians to "Take us into your hearts." (7:2) Though Paul has to this point defended the gospel he had preached to them and cautioned them, as he did in chapter 6, against being "mismatched with unbelievers" (6:14) or bringing idols into their relationship with Christ, they were not actually doing these things but were being tempted with it by the false teachers in their midst. The real issue was that these false teachers were denouncing Paul and his message as a means of convincing them to accept them and their message. Paul's response to this in chapter 7 is to appeal to their personal affection for him. "Take us into your hearts." he says, "We have wronged no one, corrupted no one, defrauded no one." (7:2) And in turn, he assures them of his affection toward them: "for I have already said that you are in our hearts. . . I have great confidence in you; I have great pride in you." (7:3, 4) If they will keep Paul in their hearts they will also keep his message in their hearts and turn away the false teachers.

    We see in verse 5 and following that an earlier letter from Paul to the Corinthians, now lost, strongly addressed their issues of Christian conduct, grieving both the Corinthians and Paul. But now Paul rejoiced because of his report from Titus that this strong letter had brought repentance among the Corinthians. Though Paul had been grieved because of the letter, he did not regret it because of the repentance it had brought. We may conclude, then, that the present letter is not so much about their conduct, concerning which they had already repented, but about the threat that they will be drawn away from the gospel Paul had preached to them. This was a very real threat, for it seems the charges against Paul by the false teachers had planted seeds of doubt in the minds of the Corinthians. "Paul is not really an apostle, now is he?" We can hear them saying. "After all, where are his letters of recommendation?" Without Paul there to defend himself the Corinthians didn't know what to think. And no doubt these false teachers had with them their own letters giving some sort of recommendation. Should the Corinthians reject Paul's authenticity as an apostle, the new covenant he preached would be rejected along with him.

    But Paul expresses his confidence, later in the chapter, that this will not happen: "I rejoice that I have complete confidence in you." (7:16) He has turned from a logical appeal to a personal appeal which, in the end, will carry more weight than logic.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Reflections on 2 Corinthians 6

    2 Corinthians 06 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. We work together with God, and we beg you to make good use of God's kindness to you.
  2. In the Scriptures God says, "When the time came, I listened to you, and when you needed help, I came to save you." That time has come. This is the day for you to be saved.
  3. We don't want anyone to find fault with our work, and so we try hard not to cause problems.
  4. But in everything and in every way we show that we truly are God's servants. We have always been patient, though we have had a lot of trouble, suffering, and hard times.
  5. We have been beaten, put in jail, and hurt in riots. We have worked hard and have gone without sleep or food.
  6. But we have kept ourselves pure and have been understanding, patient, and kind. The Holy Spirit has been with us, and our love has been real.
  7. We have spoken the truth, and God's power has worked in us. In all our struggles we have said and done only what is right.
  8. Whether we were honored or dishonored or praised or cursed, we always told the truth about ourselves. But some people said we did not.
  9. We are unknown to others, but well known to you. We seem to be dying, and yet we are still alive. We have been punished, but never killed,
  10. and we are always happy, even in times of suffering. Although we are poor, we have made many people rich. And though we own nothing, everything is ours.
  11. Friends in Corinth, we are telling the truth when we say that there is room in our hearts for you.
  12. We are not holding back on our love for you, but you are holding back on your love for us.
  13. I speak to you as I would speak to my own children. Please make room in your hearts for us.
  14. Stay away from people who are not followers of the Lord! Can someone who is good get along with someone who is evil? Are light and darkness the same?
  15. Is Christ a friend of Satan? Can people who follow the Lord have anything in common with those who don't?
  16. Do idols belong in the temple of God? We are the temple of the living God, as God himself says, "I will live with these people and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people."
  17. The Lord also says, "Leave them and stay away! Don't touch anything that isn't clean. Then I will welcome you
  18. and be your Father. You will be my sons and my daughters, as surely as I am God, the All-Powerful."

    In the last verse of chapter 5 Paul told the Corinthians that Christ, the One who did not know sin, was made sin for us that we might "become the righteousness of God in Him." (5:21) Now in 6:1 he tells them not to "receive God's grace in vain." In other words, don't make His grace empty by diluting it with other ideas and practices. This they were doing, or at least on the verge of doing, by embracing false teachers and continuing to dabble with the pagans practices out of which some had come.

    Through their association with these false teachers they were also being influenced to reject Paul's apostalic ministry among them. If they reject him they will also reject his message concerning the new covenant. This, more than personal rejection, was Paul's concern and so he returns to a defense of his ministry and the topic of letters of recommendation. The false teachers were charging that Paul had no letters from anyone of authority to validate his ministry. Earlier Paul pointed out that such letters could easily be faked. What could not be faked was a ministry of suffering for Christ on their behalf. It is this subject to which Paul returns saying, "But in everything, as God's ministers, we commend ourselves." (6:4) Then he lists some of his hardships: "by great endurance, by afflictions, by hardship, by pressures, by beatings, by imprisonments, by riots, by labors, by sleepless nights, by times of hunger." (6:4-5) Next he lists some of his internal qualities: "by purity, by knowledge, by patience, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love." (6:6-7) Then he lists responses he has encountered to his ministry: "through glory and dishonor, through slander and good report; as deceivers yet true." (6:8) Finally, he mentions his personal state on behalf of the gospel: "as unknown yet recognized; as dying and look--we live; as being chastened yet not killed; as grieving yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing yet possessing everything." (6:9-10) All of this is more valid commendation of his ministry than any letter. Nor could any of this be commended in those false teachers who came with their letters of recommendation.

    The Paul turns to the real issue: "You are not limited by us, but you are limited by your own affections." (6:12)  It is neither Paul nor his ministry but their own affections that limit them. They continued to have affections for pagan teachings and practices, and Paul told them that as believers they could not be matched or yoked with unbelievers. "What fellowship does light have with darkness? What agreement does Christ have with Belial?" he asks. (6:14, 15) And then quotes portions of  portion of Isaiah 52:11 and Ezekiel 20:41 saying, "Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord." (6:17) If they were to avoid receiving God's grace in vain, they could no longer unite themselves with these practices.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Reflections on 2 Corinthians 5

    2 Corinthians 05 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Our bodies are like tents that we live in here on earth. But when these tents are destroyed, we know that God will give each of us a place to live. These homes will not be buildings that someone has made, but they are in heaven and will last forever.
  2. While we are here on earth, we sigh because we want to live in that heavenly home.
  3. We want to put it on like clothes and not be naked.
  4. These tents we now live in are like a heavy burden, and we groan. But we don't do this just because we want to leave these bodies that will die. It is because we want to change them for bodies that will never die.
  5. God is the one who makes all of this possible. He has given us his Spirit to make us certain that he will do it.
  6. So always be cheerful! As long as we are in these bodies, we are away from the Lord.
  7. But we live by faith, not by what we see.
  8. We should be cheerful, because we would rather leave these bodies and be at home with the Lord.
  9. But whether we are at home with the Lord or away from him, we still try our best to please him.
  10. After all, Christ will judge each of us for the good or the bad that we do while living in these bodies.
  11. We know what it means to respect the Lord, and we encourage everyone to turn to him. God himself knows what we are like, and I hope you also know what kind of people we are.
  12. We are not trying once more to brag about ourselves. But we want you to be proud of us, when you are with those who are not sincere and brag about what others think of them.
  13. If we seem out of our minds, it is between God and us. But if we are in our right minds, it is for your good.
  14. We are ruled by Christ's love for us. We are certain that if one person died for everyone else, then all of us have died.
  15. And Christ did die for all of us. He died so we would no longer live for ourselves, but for the one who died and was raised to life for us.
  16. We are careful not to judge people by what they seem to be, though we once judged Christ in that way.
  17. Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new.
  18. God has done it all! He sent Christ to make peace between himself and us, and he has given us the work of making peace between himself and others.
  19. What we mean is that God was in Christ, offering peace and forgiveness to the people of this world. And he has given us the work of sharing his message about peace.
  20. We were sent to speak for Christ, and God is begging you to listen to our message. We speak for Christ and sincerely ask you to make peace with God.
  21. Christ never sinned! But God treated him as a sinner, so that Christ could make us acceptable to God.

    In verses 1-10 of chapter 5 Paul continued a topic he began in 4:16, focusing on the eternal rather than the temporary. The outer person, the body, is temporary. If we live for pleasing only the outer person we live only for things that are temporary and all of it will perish with the body. But the inner person is eternal. If we place our focus on the inner person we will find that we are "renewed day by day." (4:16) This earthly body is our present dwelling place and is like a tent compared to our heavenly dwelling place which is a building or a house. Paul's perspective, which he wished for the Corinthians, was of groaning or desiring to shed the mortality of this body so "mortality may be swallowed up by life." (5:4) This life is not the real thing. Meanwhile, as long as he was in this mortal body, Paul wanted to be pleasing to the Lord, just as he would want to be if he were out of this body and present with the Lord. For it is the Lord who prepared us for the real life that is eternal. As long as we are in this body, though, there is present with us God's Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who serves as "a down payment" of that life in heaven. (5:5) There we will be fully present with Him, but now we have His Spirit with us.

    All of this is more than a mental shift, attempting to think differently. For the believer in Christ it is a grasping of his new reality. Not only do we have a mental shift, a new knowledge of God, but we are new creations. Our old life has passed away - it has died with Christ. We are now raised to a new life with Him. Those who have this new life with Christ "should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised." (5:15) The One who "reconciled us to Himself through Christ" has now given us "the ministry of reconciliation." (5:18) We are now to be "ambassadors for Christ" and therefore "we plead with others on Christ's behalf, 'Be reconciled to God.'" (5:20)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Reflections on 2 Corinthians 4

    2 Corinthians 04 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. God has been kind enough to trust us with this work. That's why we never give up.
  2. We don't do shameful things that must be kept secret. And we don't try to fool anyone or twist God's message around. God is our witness that we speak only the truth, so others will be sure that we can be trusted.
  3. If there is anything hidden about our message, it is hidden only to someone who is lost.
  4. The god who rules this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers. They cannot see the light, which is the good news about our glorious Christ, who shows what God is like.
  5. We are not preaching about ourselves. Our message is that Jesus Christ is Lord. He also sent us to be your servants.
  6. The Scriptures say, "God commanded light to shine in the dark." Now God is shining in our hearts to let you know that his glory is seen in Jesus Christ.
  7. We are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. The real power comes from God and not from us.
  8. We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don't know what to do, we never give up.
  9. In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again.
  10. We face death every day because of Jesus. Our bodies show what his death was like, so that his life can also be seen in us.
  11. (SEE 4:10)
  12. This means that death is working in us, but life is working in you.
  13. In the Scriptures it says, "I spoke because I had faith." We have that same kind of faith. So we speak
  14. because we know that God raised the Lord Jesus to life. And just as God raised Jesus, he will also raise us to life. Then he will bring us into his presence together with you.
  15. All of this has been done for you, so that more and more people will know how kind God is and will praise and honor him.
  16. We never give up. Our bodies are gradually dying, but we ourselves are being made stronger each day.
  17. These little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing.
  18. Things that are seen don't last forever, but things that are not seen are eternal. That's why we keep our minds on the things that cannot be seen.

    Following a brief defense in chapter 3 of the new covenant that he preached, Paul turned back to defending himself against accusations made by false apostles in the church at Corinth. Another accusation was that the gospel Paul preached was "veiled." A claim that Paul was dealing in "secret things" as if he had a special knowledge no one else had. (4:2, 3) But Paul turned the accusation back on the accusers. It was not his gospel that was veiled, but their minds that were blinded. Satan, "the god of this age," had a hold on them and had "blinded the minds of the unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (4:4)

    Paul was not trying to commend himself through a message of secrets as if he had a special message from God. No, it was not himself he was proclaiming "but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves because of Jesus." (4:5) Since it was Christ as Lord he was proclaiming he didn't want it hidden in some veiled message but understood clearly. Neither was he trying to commend himself to the Corinthians but trying to be "your slaves because of Jesus." (4:5) False apostles sought to elevate themselves, which they did in part by attempting to dishonor Paul who was a true apostle. Paul, on the other hand, did not try to elevate himself but determined to be a slave of the Corinthian Christians. If the Corinthians were truly enlightened, this was a ploy they should be able to see through.

    No, the false apostles were not into serving, but into lording themselves over the congregation. Nor were they willing to suffer on their behalf. But suffering on behalf of the gospel, and those to whom he took it, was a plight that Paul had chosen. He was pressured in every way, persecuted, and carried the death of Jesus in his body. He had, in fact, given himself over to death because of Jesus. But he did it so the Corinthians, and others, might have life. The outcome was that "death works in us, but life in you." (4:12) Is this something he would do if he were a false apostle?

    One day God will raise all believers with Jesus. Not only will Paul be raised at that time but also the Corinthian Christians. This was the goal he sought for them. It was also why he was willing to endure suffering: "For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen; for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (4:17-18)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reflections on 2 Corinthians 3

    2 Corinthians 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Are we once again bragging about ourselves? Do we need letters to you or from you to tell others about us? Some people do need letters that tell about them.
  2. But you are our letter, and you are in our hearts for everyone to read and understand.
  3. You are like a letter written by Christ and delivered by us. But you are not written with pen and ink or on tablets made of stone. You are written in our hearts by the Spirit of the living God.
  4. We are sure about all this. Christ makes us sure in the very presence of God.
  5. We don't have the right to claim that we have done anything on our own. God gives us what it takes to do all that we do.
  6. He makes us worthy to be the servants of his new agreement that comes from the Holy Spirit and not from a written Law. After all, the Law brings death, but the Spirit brings life.
  7. The Law of Moses brought only the promise of death, even though it was carved on stones and given in a wonderful way. Still the Law made Moses' face shine so brightly that the people of Israel could not look at it, even though it was a fading glory.
  8. So won't the agreement that the Spirit brings to us be even more wonderful?
  9. If something that brings the death sentence is glorious, won't something that makes us acceptable to God be even more glorious?
  10. In fact, the new agreement is so wonderful that the Law is no longer glorious at all.
  11. The Law was given with a glory that faded away. But the glory of the new agreement is much greater, because it will never fade away.
  12. This wonderful hope makes us feel like speaking freely.
  13. We are not like Moses. His face was shining, but he covered it to keep the people of Israel from seeing the brightness fade away.
  14. The people were stubborn, and something still keeps them from seeing the truth when the Law is read. Only Christ can take away the covering that keeps them from seeing.
  15. When the Law of Moses is read, they have their minds covered over
  16. with a covering that is removed only for those who turn to the Lord.
  17. The Lord and the Spirit are one and the same, and the Lord's Spirit sets us free.
  18. So our faces are not covered. They show the bright glory of the Lord, as the Lord's Spirit makes us more and more like our glorious Lord.

    Paul, in this chapter, moves from defending himself to a defense of the gospel. We assume the charges against Paul by the defense he gives of himself, and from 3:1 we gather that he was accused of commending himself rather than being commended by letters of recommendation. It was common practice to carry letters of recommendation that would commend a person to a group of people, thus affirming their character, etc. But letters could be false as were the teachers who were accusing Paul. However, Paul's letter of recommendation was the Corinthians themselves. That the Corinthians were Christians was apparent, and since it was Paul's preaching that led them to Christ, they were the evidence of his ministry. As Paul stated it, "you are Christ's letter, produced by us, not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God." (3:3)

    The remainder of the chapter is directed toward the gospel that Paul preached. Again, drawing from Paul's defense, we assume what he was countering. Paul was defending the new covenant he preached which suggests that his accusers were teaching the old covenant, which also suggests they were likely Judaisers. The new covenant, he says, is of the Spirit while the old covenant if of the letter. Furthermore, he says the letter kills while the Spirit produces life. If the Corinthians thought the differences between the old and new covenants were only in nuance, that is, in subtle distinctions, Paul made it plain that the differences were huge, as huge as life and death.

    Another distinction Paul made between the old and new covenants was that the old was a ministry of condemnation while the new was a ministry of righteousness. Paul used the glory of Moses' face as an illustration of the distinctions between the two covenants. When Moses delivered the law, his face shown with the glory of God from being in His presence. As the glory of Moses' face faded, so did the glory of the old covenant. It was never intended to be permanent. The Judaisers were trying to hold onto something that was temporary while the gospel of Jesus Christ offered something that was permanent, the glory of which far surpasses that of the temporary old covenant.

    Paul took this illustration a step further. Whereas Moses "put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel could not look at the end of what was fading away," even to Paul's day (and today) "at the reading of the old covenant, the same veil remains; it is not lifted, because it is set aside only in Christ." (3:13-14) Those who hold to the old covenant have a veil over their eyes that hides their view of the glory of God as seen through Christ Jesus, who is the only way.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Reflections on 2 Corinthians 2

    2 Corinthians 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I have decided not to make my next visit with you so painful.
  2. If I make you feel bad, who would be left to cheer me up, except the people I had made to feel bad?
  3. The reason I want to be happy is to make you happy. I wrote as I did because I didn't want to visit you and be made to feel bad, when you should make me feel happy.
  4. At the time I wrote, I was suffering terribly. My eyes were full of tears, and my heart was broken. But I didn't want to make you feel bad. I only wanted to let you know how much I cared for you.
  5. I don't want to be hard on you. But if one of you has made someone feel bad, I am not really the one who has been made to feel bad. Some of you are the ones.
  6. Most of you have already pointed out the wrong that person did, and that is punishment enough for what was done.
  7. When people sin, you should forgive and comfort them, so they won't give up in despair.
  8. You should make them sure of your love for them.
  9. I also wrote because I wanted to test you and find out if you would follow my instructions.
  10. I will forgive anyone you forgive. Yes, for your sake and with Christ as my witness, I have forgiven whatever needed to be forgiven.
  11. I have done this to keep Satan from getting the better of us. We all know what goes on in his mind.
  12. When I went to Troas to preach the good news about Christ, I found that the Lord had already prepared the way.
  13. But I was worried when I didn't find my friend Titus there. So I left the other followers and went on to Macedonia.
  14. I am grateful that God always makes it possible for Christ to lead us to victory. God also helps us spread the knowledge about Christ everywhere, and this knowledge is like the smell of perfume.
  15. In fact, God thinks of us as a perfume that brings Christ to everyone. For people who are being saved, this perfume has a sweet smell and leads them to a better life. But for people who are lost, it has a bad smell and leads them to a horrible death. No one really has what it takes to do this work.
  16. (SEE 2:15)
  17. A lot of people try to get rich from preaching God's message. But we are God's sincere messengers, and by the power of Christ we speak our message with God as our witness.

    Paul continued to explain why his plans to visit the Corinthians changed from what he originally told them. As he stated in chapter 1, it was not because he was unreliable or could not be believed in what he said. It was because the issues he would have to address in a visit would cause pain for both the Corinthians and for Paul. To avoid this painful experience he decided to write them instead. Then when he did visit them he "wouldn't have pain from those who ought to give me joy." (2:3)

    From that explanation he turned to what was evidently the issue in question: an offending brother. We do not know what his offense was, but it was serious enough to have brought pain to the Corinthian congregation. As a result, the church had handed down some type of punishment. It would appear that the offending brother had also been repentent for Paul was now counseling them to "forgive and comfort him," so that he would not "be overwhelmed by excessive grief." (2:7)

    There is also another reason Paul counseled them to forgive the offending brother: "so that we may not be taken advantage of by Satan." (2:11) Satan will gleefully take advantage of an environment of unforgiveness among Christians. As with any sin, the sin of unforgiveness is enslaving. Anything else that might enslave us tears us away from being a willing "slave of Christ Jesus." It is not a question of enslavement or non-enslavement, but a question of to whom or what we will be enslaved. As Jesus said, "No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money." (Matthew 6:24) Money, in this statement can be replaced with anything that attempts to enslave us.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Reflections on 2 Corinthians 1

    2 Corinthians 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. From Paul, chosen by God to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, and from Timothy, who is also a follower. To God's church in Corinth and to all of God's people in Achaia.
  2. I pray that God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ will be kind to you and will bless you with peace!
  3. Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! The Father is a merciful God, who always gives us comfort.
  4. He comforts us when we are in trouble, so that we can share that same comfort with others in trouble.
  5. We share in the terrible sufferings of Christ, but also in the wonderful comfort he gives.
  6. We suffer in the hope that you will be comforted and saved. And because we are comforted, you will also be comforted, as you patiently endure suffering like ours.
  7. You never disappoint us. You suffered as much as we did, and we know that you will be comforted as we were.
  8. My friends, I want you to know what a hard time we had in Asia. Our sufferings were so horrible and so unbearable that death seemed certain.
  9. In fact, we felt sure that we were going to die. But this made us stop trusting in ourselves and start trusting God, who raises the dead to life.
  10. God saved us from the threat of death, and we are sure that he will do it again and again.
  11. Please help us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks for the blessings we receive in answer to all these prayers.
  12. We can be proud of our clear conscience. We have always lived honestly and sincerely, especially when we were with you. And we were guided by God's wonderful kindness instead of by the wisdom of this world.
  13. I am not writing anything you cannot read and understand. I hope you will understand it completely,
  14. just as you already partly understand us. Then when our Lord Jesus returns, you can be as proud of us as we are of you.
  15. I was so sure of your pride in us that I had planned to visit you first of all. In this way you would have the blessing of two visits from me.
  16. Once on my way to Macedonia and again on my return from there. Then you could send me on to Judea.
  17. Do you think I couldn't make up my mind about what to do? Or do I seem like someone who says "Yes" or "No" simply to please others?
  18. God can be trusted, and so can I, when I say that our answer to you has always been "Yes" and never "No."
  19. This is because Jesus Christ the Son of God is always "Yes" and never "No." And he is the one that Silas, Timothy, and I told you about.
  20. Christ says "Yes" to all of God's promises. That's why we have Christ to say "Amen" for us to the glory of God.
  21. And so God makes it possible for you and us to stand firmly together with Christ. God is also the one who chose us
  22. and put his Spirit in our hearts to show that we belong only to him.
  23. God is my witness that I stayed away from Corinth, just to keep from being hard on you.
  24. We are not bosses who tell you what to believe. We are working with you to make you glad, because your faith is strong.

    In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians he is especially concerned with defending his apostleship against challenges by persons in the church at Corinth. This defense becomes apparent in the latter verses of chapter 1 (15-24).  With awareness of Paul's defense of himself, one can also recognize it behind his greetings in the first part of the chapter. In these verses Paul speaks of his affliction for the cause of Christ and of the resulting comfort he received from Christ, both experiences which were "for your comfort and salvation." (1:6) He might also have asked if those accusing him had suffered for the cause of Christ and on their behalf, but he instead allowed that question to come to them naturally.

    Paul addresses the issue more directly in verse 15 and following. In his first letter to the Corinthians he told of his plans to come to them on his way to Macedonia and spend the winter with them. But those plans had changed and now his accusers charged him with being unreliable. So Paul asks, "when I planned this, was I irresponsible?" (1:17) Furthermore, he asked, "do I plan in a purely human way so that I say 'Yes, yes' and 'No, no' simultaneously? " (1:17) In other words, did he speak out of both sides of his mouth saying one thing at one minute and another the next, contradicting himself? The inferred answer was 'no.' Then he gives the reason for his change of plans: "it was to spare you that I did not come to Corinth." (1:23) If he had gone to Corinth as planned, it would have been to exercise discipline, thus he spared them by delaying his plans. This truth he stated emphatically, invoking God as his witness. But even if he were to discipline them, he had no control of their faith. His relationship with them was not that of an overlord who exercised control over them, but instead that of a coworker who sought their joy.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Reflections on 1 Corinthians 16

    1 Corinthians 16 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. When you collect money for God's people, I want you to do exactly what I told the churches in Galatia to do.
  2. That is, each Sunday each of you must put aside part of what you have earned. If you do this, you won't have to take up a collection when I come.
  3. Choose some followers to take the money to Jerusalem. I will send them on with the money and with letters which show that you approve of them.
  4. If you think I should go along, they can go with me.
  5. After I have gone through Macedonia, I hope to see you
  6. and visit with you for a while. I may even stay all winter, so that you can help me on my way to wherever I will be going next.
  7. If the Lord lets me, I would rather come later for a longer visit than to stop off now for only a short visit.
  8. I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost,
  9. because there is a wonderful opportunity for me to do some work here. But there are also many people who are against me.
  10. When Timothy arrives, give him a friendly welcome. He is doing the Lord's work, just as I am.
  11. Don't let anyone mistreat him. I am looking for him to return to me together with the other followers. So when he leaves, send him off with your blessings.
  12. I have tried hard to get our friend Apollos to visit you with the other followers. He doesn't want to come just now, but he will come when he can.
  13. Keep alert. Be firm in your faith. Stay brave and strong.
  14. Show love in everything you do.
  15. You know that Stephanas and his family were the first in Achaia to have faith in the Lord. They have done all they can for God's people. My friends, I ask you
  16. to obey leaders like them and to do the same for all others who work hard with you.
  17. I was glad to see Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus. Having them here was like having you.
  18. They made me feel much better, just as they made you feel better. You should appreciate people like them.
  19. Greetings from the churches in Asia. Aquila and Priscilla, together with the church that meets in their house, send greetings in the name of the Lord.
  20. All of the Lord's followers send their greetings. Give each other a warm greeting.
  21. I am signing this letter myself: PAUL.
  22. I pray that God will put a curse on everyone who doesn't love the Lord. And may the Lord come soon.
  23. I pray that the Lord Jesus will be kind to you.
  24. I love everyone who belongs to Christ Jesus.

    In this closing portion of Paul's letter, he leaves matters of doctrine to take care of an item of business, encourage the Corinthians to submit to their leaders, exhort them to do all things out of a motivation of love, and to charge them to be on guard against false teaching, standing firm in the faith.

    Paul's comments to the Corinthians about their collection for the saints in Jerusalem in this passage along with similar passages to other churches, portray Paul's concept of Christian giving. First, it was proportionate, giving "to the extent that he prospers." (16:2) And second, it was regular, "On the first day of the week." (16:2) The first day of the week was when the church gathered to worship. Paul's recommendation to give on the first day of the week suggests that the contribution of offerings was considered a part of the worship practice.

    Though Paul's exhortation to always act with love (16:14) is brief and appears to be only a passing comment, it should be considered a very central recap of this letter to the Corinthians. Actions motived with love would effectively address the issues Paul found necessary to address with them. Namely, self-indulgence leading to immoral activity and conflict among themselves.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reflections on 1 Corinthians 15

    1 Corinthians 15 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. My friends, I want you to remember the message that I preached and that you believed and trusted.
  2. You will be saved by this message, if you hold firmly to it. But if you don't, your faith was all for nothing.
  3. I told you the most important part of the message exactly as it was told to me. That part is: Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures say.
  4. He was buried, and three days later he was raised to life, as the Scriptures say.
  5. Christ appeared to Peter, then to the twelve.
  6. After this, he appeared to more than five hundred other followers. Most of them are still alive, but some have died.
  7. He also appeared to James, and then to all of the apostles.
  8. Finally, he appeared to me, even though I am like someone who was born at the wrong time.
  9. I am the least important of all the apostles. In fact, I caused so much trouble for God's church that I don't even deserve to be called an apostle.
  10. But God was kind! He made me what I am, and his wonderful kindness wasn't wasted. I worked much harder than any of the other apostles, although it was really God's kindness at work and not me.
  11. But it doesn't matter if I preached or if they preached. All of you believed the message just the same.
  12. If we preach that Christ was raised from death, how can some of you say that the dead will not be raised to life?
  13. If they won't be raised to life, Christ himself wasn't raised to life.
  14. And if Christ wasn't raised to life, our message is worthless, and so is your faith.
  15. If the dead won't be raised to life, we have told lies about God by saying that he raised Christ to life, when he really did not.
  16. So if the dead won't be raised to life, Christ wasn't raised to life.
  17. Unless Christ was raised to life, your faith is useless, and you are still living in your sins.
  18. And those people who died after putting their faith in him are completely lost.
  19. If our hope in Christ is good only for this life, we are worse off than anyone else.
  20. But Christ has been raised to life! And he makes us certain that others will also be raised to life.
  21. Just as we will die because of Adam, we will be raised to life because of Christ.
  22. Adam brought death to all of us, and Christ will bring life to all of us.
  23. But we must each wait our turn. Christ was the first to be raised to life, and his people will be raised to life when he returns.
  24. Then after Christ has destroyed all powers and forces, the end will come, and he will give the kingdom to God the Father.
  25. Christ will rule until he puts all his enemies under his power,
  26. and the last enemy he destroys will be death.
  27. When the Scriptures say that he will put everything under his power, they don't include God. It was God who put everything under the power of Christ.
  28. After everything is under the power of God's Son, he will put himself under the power of God, who put everything under his Son's power. Then God will mean everything to everyone.
  29. If the dead are not going to be raised to life, what will people do who are being baptized for them? Why are they being baptized for those dead people?
  30. And why do we always risk our lives
  31. and face death every day? The pride that I have in you because of Christ Jesus our Lord is what makes me say this.
  32. What do you think I gained by fighting wild animals in Ephesus? If the dead are not raised to life, "Let's eat and drink. Tomorrow we die."
  33. Don't fool yourselves. Bad friends will destroy you.
  34. Be sensible and stop sinning. You should be embarrassed that some people still don't know about God.
  35. Some of you have asked, "How will the dead be raised to life? What kind of bodies will they have?"
  36. Don't be foolish. A seed must die before it can sprout from the ground.
  37. Wheat seeds and all other seeds look different from the sprouts that come up.
  38. This is because God gives everything the kind of body he wants it to have.
  39. People, animals, birds, and fish are each made of flesh, but none of them are alike.
  40. Everything in the heavens has a body, and so does everything on earth. But each one is very different from all the others.
  41. The sun isn't like the moon, the moon isn't like the stars, and each star is different.
  42. That's how it will be when our bodies are raised to life. These bodies will die, but the bodies that are raised will live forever.
  43. These ugly and weak bodies will become beautiful and strong.
  44. As surely as there are physical bodies, there are spiritual bodies. And our physical bodies will be changed into spiritual bodies.
  45. The first man was named Adam, and the Scriptures tell us that he was a living person. But Jesus, who may be called the last Adam, is a life-giving spirit.
  46. We see that the one with a spiritual body did not come first. He came after the one who had a physical body.
  47. The first man was made from the dust of the earth, but the second man came from heaven.
  48. Everyone on earth has a body like the body of the one who was made from the dust of the earth. And everyone in heaven has a body like the body of the one who came from heaven.
  49. Just as we are like the one who was made out of earth, we will be like the one who came from heaven.
  50. My friends, I want you to know that our bodies of flesh and blood will decay. This means that they cannot share in God's kingdom, which lasts forever.
  51. I will explain a mystery to you. Not every one of us will die, but we will all be changed.
  52. It will happen suddenly, quicker than the blink of an eye. At the sound of the last trumpet the dead will be raised. We will all be changed, so that we will never die again.
  53. Our dead and decaying bodies will be changed into bodies that won't die or decay.
  54. The bodies we now have are weak and can die. But they will be changed into bodies that are eternal. Then the Scriptures will come true, "Death has lost the battle!
  55. Where is its victory? Where is its sting?"
  56. Sin is what gives death its sting, and the Law is the power behind sin.
  57. But thank God for letting our Lord Jesus Christ give us the victory!
  58. My dear friends, stand firm and don't be shaken. Always keep busy working for the Lord. You know that everything you do for him is worthwhile.

    Paul comes to the central message of the gospel - Christ's death and resurrection. Unless one stands firmly on both doctrines, the preaching of the gospel is "without foundation, and so is your faith." (15:14) The Corinthian Christians still held to some of their pagan teachings, and one of these was the denial of a bodily resurrection. In their ignorance, their continued acceptance of this teaching destroyed the foundation of their new-found faith. If Christ could not and was not raised bodily from the dead, there was no victory over death and no power to save.

    Paul verified Christ's death and resurrection by simply stating that He was buried and then appeared to over 500 believers. He would not have been buried had He not died, and would not have appeared to all those believers had He not been bodily resurrected. Many of those to whom He had appeared following His resurrection were still alive at Paul's writing and could confirm the resurrection.

    Therefore, bodily resurrection of the dead was a reality despite the beliefs of some. Furthermore, the Corinthians (and everyone) need to realize that if Christ "perished," and "If we have placed our hope in Christ," then our hope is "for this life only," and "we should be pitied more than anyone." (15:18-19) One cannot accept this core Christian doctrine in parts without destroying the foundation of the Christian faith. It was not a system of concepts designed by man and therefore could be accepted in pieces as one may wish. It was designed by God with each part dependent on the other as they combat and destroy death itself. In so doing, "He has put everything under His feet." (15:27) But only if Christ was bodily raised from the dead and not still in the grave.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Reflections on 1 Corinthians 14

    1 Corinthians 14 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Love should be your guide. Be eager to have the gifts that come from the Holy Spirit, especially the gift of prophecy.
  2. If you speak languages that others don't know, God will understand what you are saying, though no one else will know what you mean. You will be talking about mysteries that only the Spirit understands.
  3. But when you prophesy, you will be understood, and others will be helped. They will be encouraged and made to feel better.
  4. By speaking languages that others don't know, you help only yourself. But by prophesying you help everyone in the church.
  5. I am glad for you to speak unknown languages, although I had rather for you to prophesy. In fact, prophesying does much more good than speaking unknown languages, unless someone can help the church by explaining what you mean.
  6. My friends, what good would it do, if I came and spoke unknown languages to you and didn't explain what I meant? How would I help you, unless I told you what God had shown me or gave you some knowledge or prophecy or teaching?
  7. If all musical instruments sounded alike, how would you know the difference between a flute and a harp?
  8. If a bugle call isn't clear, how would you know to get ready for battle?
  9. That's how it is when you speak unknown languages. If no one can understand what you are talking about, you will only be talking to the wind.
  10. There are many different languages in this world, and all of them make sense.
  11. But if I don't understand the language that someone is using, we will be like foreigners to each other.
  12. If you really want spiritual gifts, choose the ones that will be most helpful to the church.
  13. When we speak languages that others don't know, we should pray for the power to explain what we mean.
  14. For example, if I use an unknown language in my prayers, my spirit prays but my mind is useless.
  15. Then what should I do? There are times when I should pray with my spirit, and times when I should pray with my mind. Sometimes I should sing with my spirit, and at other times I should sing with my mind.
  16. Suppose some strangers are in your worship service, when you are praising God with your spirit. If they don't understand you, how will they know to say, "Amen"?
  17. You may be worshiping God in a wonderful way, but no one else will be helped.
  18. I thank God that I speak unknown languages more than any of you.
  19. But words that make sense can help the church. That's why in church I had rather speak five words that make sense than to speak ten thousand words in a language that others don't know.
  20. My friends, stop thinking like children. Think like mature people and be as innocent as tiny babies.
  21. In the Scriptures the Lord says, "I will use strangers who speak unknown languages to talk to my people. They will speak to them in foreign languages, but still my people won't listen to me."
  22. Languages that others don't know may mean something to unbelievers, but not to the Lord's followers. Prophecy, on the other hand, is for followers, not for unbelievers.
  23. Suppose everyone in your worship service started speaking unknown languages, and some outsiders or some unbelievers come in. Won't they think you are crazy?
  24. But suppose all of you are prophesying when those unbelievers and outsiders come in. They will realize that they are sinners, and they will want to change their ways because of what you are saying.
  25. They will tell what is hidden in their hearts. Then they will kneel down and say to God, "We are certain that you are with these people."
  26. My friends, when you meet to worship, you must do everything for the good of everyone there. That's how it should be when someone sings or teaches or tells what God has said or speaks an unknown language or explains what the language means.
  27. No more than two or three of you should speak unknown languages during the meeting. You must take turns, and someone should always be there to explain what you mean.
  28. If no one can explain, you must keep silent in church and speak only to yourself and to God.
  29. Two or three persons may prophesy, and everyone else must listen carefully.
  30. If someone sitting there receives a message from God, the speaker must stop and let the other person speak.
  31. Let only one person speak at a time, then all of you will learn something and be encouraged.
  32. A prophet should be willing to stop and let someone else speak.
  33. God wants everything to be done peacefully and in order. When God's people meet in church,
  34. the women must not be allowed to speak. They must keep quiet and listen, as the Law of Moses teaches.
  35. If there is something they want to know, they can ask their husbands when they get home. It is disgraceful for women to speak in church.
  36. God's message did not start with you people, and you are not the only ones it has reached.
  37. If you think of yourself as a prophet or a spiritual person, you will know that I am writing only what the Lord has commanded.
  38. So don't pay attention to anyone who ignores what I am writing.
  39. My friends, be eager to prophesy and don't stop anyone from speaking languages that others don't know.
  40. But do everything properly and in order.

    Paul's discussion of spiritual gifts continues in chapter 14. Apparently the self-indulgent attitudes of the Corinthian Christians led to rather chaotic worship services. It seems they were more concerned about flaunting their verbal gifts for personal attention than of building up each other. Meanwhile, unbelievers who came to those services were turned off and turned away by the chaos and lack of understanding.

    To bring order out of the chaos, Paul addressed three issues. He gave instructions regarding the first two issues for orderly conduct but no prohibition. Concerning the third issues, however, he gave a prohibition. The first issue was the exercise of the spiritual gift of other languages in worship. This gift was intended "as a sign, not to believers but to unbelievers." (14:22) Therefore, its primary purpose is not for use in the worship service. Paul allowed, even encouraged, its use in worship, but only if used in moderation -  only 2 or 3 speakers - and only if there is someone present who has the gift of interpretation. If there is no interpreter, "that person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God." (14:28)

    The second issue Paul addressed was the exercise of the spiritual gift of prophecy in worship. He upheld prophecy as a gift to be desired. It is a gift that "speaks to people for edification, encouragement, and consolation." (14:3) Whereas the person who has the gift of other languages "builds himself up," the one who prophesies "builds up the church." (14:4) Although prophesy is preferred in worship to other languages, it also should be used in an orderly fashion. Again, there should be only 2 or 3 speakers and then it should be evaluated by the congregation. If one is prophesying and another receives a prophesy while he is speaking, the first speaker should yield to the second. Though orderliness is a goal, love is a motivating factor.

    A third issue Paul spoke to was women speaking publicly in the church. To this issue Paul gave a prohibition - don't speak. Remain silent. Paul's full meaning is controversial. Interpretations of his meaning are often approached with an agenda which is not the best approach for gaining understanding. Paul relates his statement on silence for women to submission and the law, though it is uncertain to which law he refers. Of primary concern in the context, however, is self-control aimed at orderliness in worship. This was the overarching concern Paul was addressing, and the women were evidently contributing to the problem. It is possible they were the primary ones misusing the gifts of other languages and prophesy in worship. Or were they raising questions to the point of disrupting the speakers? We can't know the problem exactly, but Paul told the women to take their questions to their husbands at home. Thus he was evidently primarily addressing married women. Does this infer that the men knew more about spiritual matters than their wives? I wouldn't jump to that conclusion, but I would say that it places a responsibility on a conscientious husband to seek proper answers with and for their wives, thus pushing him to grow.

    In conclusion to this matter, Paul asks, "Did the word of God originate from you, or did it come to you only?" (14:36) This is an attitude that can be seen with many Christians in their approach to spiritual matters, somewhat implying they have the inside track with God. To such an attitude Paul speaks strongly, "recognize that what I write to you is the Lord's command. But if anyone ignores this, he will be ignored." (14:37-38)