NOTES II Corinthians
12:11-21 (click here for
Paul is summarizing his concerns for the Corinthians and is beginning the conclusion of this letter. He has just discussed his rapture to paradise and has revealed that he carries a "thorn in [his] flesh", designed to keep him trusting God and protected from conceit because of the things he had seen and heard. He refers to his boasting when he says, "I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it." In this statement he is reminding the Corinthians that they, under the influence of the false teachers in their church, had been questioning his sincerity and his apostleship. Because they had been so vulnerable to the false apostles' self-serving boasting and criticism of Paul, Paul had finally decided to "speak their language" and plainly remind them of his own qualifications to be their apostle.
Among other things, Paul reminds the Corinthians that his work was marked by signs, wonders, and miracle. The unspoken implication of his statement was that the false apostles' "ministries" were not set apart by miracles as was his. The "signs gifts" from the Holy Spirit which included healing and other miracles were gifts from God that confirmed the gospel to those hearing it for the first time.
Early in his ministry, when a Roman official had asked him to heal his son, Jesus had observed, "Unless you people see miraculous sign and wonders, you will never believe." (John 4:48) Immediately after his ascension, "The disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it." (Mark 16:20)
The author of Hebrews underscores the fact God himself confirmed the gospel preached by the apostles, including Paul, which proclaimed the death and resurrection of Jesus. "This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will." (Hebrews 2:3b-4)
During the time of the early church, the apostles were establishing the gospel in the world. There were many detractors, many of them Judaizers who insisted believers first become Jews, and also gnostics who downplayed the importance of the body and of obedience to Jesus. They sounded spiritual, and they could play with scripture to twist it to support their agendas. They also relied on popular philosophy, whether the philosophy of the Jews or the philosophy of the Greeks, to buttress their arguments. The gospel, many times, seemed just one more spiritual theory among many. God provided the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including miraculous gifts such as healings, languages, and miracles to confirm his good news. The power of the Holy Spirit evident in the apostles' ministries was a sign from God that they were preaching the truth. Theirs was the REAL gospel. The fact that Paul's ministry was marked by signs and evidence of the Holy Spirit at work through and in him should have convinced the Corinthians that the false teachers' accusations against him were false.
Spending Himself In Love
Paul again summarizes his self-sacrifice on the Corinthians' behalf. With some sarcasm he reminds them that he was never a burden to them. He reminds them that other churches, particularly those in Macedonia, had provided financial support for him during the time he lived and preached among them. The false apostles have been trying to discredit Paul with two different financial accusations. First, they have been saying his message could not be of much value because (unlike themselves) he has not been charging money when he preached. Second, they are accusing him of arranging for the collection of their offerings so he could secretly keep some of the money for himself.
Paul counters these accusations in two ways. First, he reminds them that he has never been a burden to them. In fact, the Macedonians who supported him are impoverished themselves. In both chapters 8 and 11 Paul had reminded the Corinthians that the Macedonians had begged to be included in the collection for the poor in Jerusalem even though they were so poverty-stricken they could hardly manage on their own. It was these same impoverished Macedonian churches who had supported him while he brought the good new of salvation to the Corinthians. Even when he could have justifiably received financial support from them, Paul had never accepted money from the Corinthians for himself. His message was from God, and he did not want ever to be seen as charging money for the gospel.
Second, Paul again appeals to his relationship to the Corinthians as their spiritual father. As children know their fathers' characters and private behaviors, so the Corinthians know Paul. They KNOW Paul is not dishonest and does not minister for the sake of personal gain.
Paul further explains his commitment to expend himself in other epistles. To the Philippians he wrote that even though he was "being poured out like a drink offering", he would rejoice. (Philippians 2:17) He was, in effect, holding back nothing of himself. His life and energy were solely for the purpose of ministry for those he loved in the Lord. In his first letter to the
Thessalonians Paul also reminded them of his sacrificial giving. He reminds them that he had never been a burden to any of them, working day and night while he also preached so they would not have to support him. He reminded them that he had cared for them with the gentleness of a mother, and that he had shared not only the gospel but himself, because they were dear to him. He also dealt with them as a father deals with his children, encouraging, comforting, and urging them to live lives worthy of the God who had saved them. He had been holy, righteous, and blameless among them. (1 Thessalonians 2:6-12)
Paul had never withheld himself or stinted his energy or service when he ministered to people. He embodied Johns' description of love: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." (1 John 3:16-17)
After reminding the Corinthians how much he loved and served them, he asks an enigmatic question, "If I love you more, will you love me less?" This query spotlights a perverse characteristic of human nature. Many times people resent those who are loyal and consistent and deeply caring because those people are not easily manipulated or deceived. Many people thrive on exciting, changeable interactions because they are not "boring" or predictable. Paul alludes to this phenomenon when he asks this church if they love him less the more he loves them. Consistent, loving relationships demand accountability from the loved ones. The Corinthians had not been accountable to Paul-quite the opposite, in fact. They had turned on him. He is now calling them to accountability, and he is bringing their failure into clear focus before them.
Paul directly addresses the character slurs the false prophets have brought against him. Their accusations that he has been quietly siphoning money from the collections is ridiculous, but it tips their hand. They would never have thought to accuse Paul of such theft if they themselves had not been manipulating money from the Corinthians.
Not For Himself
Interestingly, Paul insists that his defense is not for his own sake but for the Corinthians' strengthening. His purpose is to reestablish the the Corinthians in the gospel and in their their ability to exercise spiritual discernment. Although they are born again, they have become deceived by men who pretended to be God's servants. Paul is reminding the Corinthians why his own experience testifies to his apostolic authority. He's also reminding them why they need to trust him and to listen to him.
By telling them the truth, he is hoping to restore internal peace and "mutual edification" to the Corinthian church. (Romans 14:19) He is wanting to restore to them the spirit of unity and mutual encouragement. He wants them to live for each other instead of for themselves and to "glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" as if "with one heart and mouth." (Romans 15:2-6)
By pointing out their deception and explaining his own experience, Paul is bringing the Corinthians back into the light. He is speaking "for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort." (1 Corinthians 14:3, 26) Paul is defending his own ministry because he taught the Corinthians the truth, and the false apostles are perverting it. He wants them to become strong and mature, not swayed by every attractive doctrine that crosses their paths. He wants them to be discerning and to be able to resist the craftiness and "deceitful scheming" of false brothers. (Ephesians 4:14-15)
Paul also wants the Corinthians to return to purity in their thoughts and practices. The false teachers have beguiled them into believing Paul is dishonest and manipulative. He wants them to keep their minds focussed on truth, to think things that are pure, holy, and admirable, and he wants them to be content, not restlessly searching for new stimulation and distractions. (see Philippians 4:8-9, 11)
In short, Paul's self-defense was not to protect himself. He understood that he could not escape the attacks of evil designed to destroy him. Rather, he wanted the Corinthians to become strong in the Lord, listening to the Holy Spirit instead of to mere men who knew how to manipulate their vulnerability as new believers.
Further, Paul also knew that his own defense would mean nothing in the big picture. A person is not approved in God's (or man's) eyes because of his own self-commendation. It is only God's commendation that makes a man approved. (2 Corinthians 10:18) He believed deeply that man's judgment, including his own judgment of himself, did not matter; only God's judgment of him (or of anyone)counts. (1 Corinthians 4:3-4)
Jesus forewarned us that we would be persecuted, insulted, and falsely accused because of Him. We are to rejoice when these things happen, because we can know that God's servants have always received such treatment, and we can also know that our reward in heaven will be great. (Matthew 5:11-12)
Fears for the Corinthians
Paul ends this section of his letter by stating his fears regarding his impending visit. He dreads the possibility that he may find them infighting, slandering and gossiping about each other, and arrogantly trying to one-up each other. These fears are realistic because these things had been tearing this church apart before. His first letter to them addressed these and other disorderly and sinful conditions in the church. They had not, apparently, cleaned up their act since Paul's first admonition to them. Undoubtedly the divisive influence of the false apostles among them kept them "stirred up" and conflicted.
He tells this church that he's afraid they may not find him as they want him. He may have to visit them prepared to exercise discipline. Instead of being the loving, supportive father he wants to be to them, he may have to be heavy-handed and courageously proactive in dealing with the sin among them. He has urged them in his letters to them to get rid of their sinful behavior and to return to reality and truth. The thrall of the false apostles, however, holds them firmly, and Paul suspects that his visit will be more disciplinary than mutually encouraging.
Paul is not encouraging the Corinthians to clean up their behavior in order to be saved. Rather, he is reminding them that as born again Christ-followers, they have the power available and the obligation to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.
Good behavior is not the cause or even a contributing factor to salvation. It is, on the other hand, the result of living by the prompting of the Holy Spirit who indwells us when we accept Jesus. We allow the power of God in us to awaken new desires in us, and we allow Him to reveal to us the areas in our lives that need changing and cleaning. We no longer indulge our natural tendencies to serve ourselves and indulge our passions at a whim. We allow the Holy Spirit to bring God's power and light and life into us, and we allow Him to begin to transform us into people who reflect love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:16-26)
As born-again Christ-followers, our bodies, which are "dead because of sin", will be empowered by spirits which are now "alive because of righteousness." The resurrection power of Jesus will bring life to our mortal bodies through the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (Romans 8:10-15) We will not seek to assert ourselves in order to have power over others, but we will serve others, humbly considering "others better than [ourselves]". (Philippians 2:1-4) We will rejoice always and be gentle to everyone. We will give our anxieties into God's care, requesting what we need of him and allowing his peace to guard our hearts and minds in Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-9) As Christ-followers we will choose to renounce evil and sin in our lives including the tempting sins of gossip, rage, malice, and bad language. We will "clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." (Colossians 3:12) We will allow the Holy Spirit's prompting in our hearts to empower us to forgive each other, to be patient with each other, and to love each other for God.
As Christ-followers, we can expect to be misunderstood, slandered, and undercut. We can also expect to experience confusion when we encounter people who speak like believers but seem to function differently. We cannot always know the true condition of another's heart. We can, however, know that the promise of having the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) means God will equip us with discernment to be able to know what we can accept and what we must resist.
First, God calls us to defend him, not ourselves. When we are falsely accused or slandered, we must remember that our battle is not with humans but with spiritual powers that want to stop or discredit the gospel. Our first response must be to trust Jesus with the situation and allow him to be our protector and defender. When we acknowledge that we need Jesus to resolve or protect us against sometimes vicious attacks, He takes responsibility for our situations. He brings peace to our hearts, wisdom to our minds, understandings to our spirits, and he will ultimately vindicate himself and us. God protects us from evil. We are to trust him and speak well of him; he will protect and defend us.
Second, God calls us to be discerning. We are to make judgments about what we see and experience. When a person says all the right words but creates chaos and divisions and doubt among God's people, we are to know that what we see is a form of deception. Just as Paul exposed the duplicity and hidden motives of the false teachers with the insight he had from the Holy Spirit, so we are to acknowledge when we are dealing with deception.
Our ability to perceive and to deal with deception around us is affected by our own willingness to know the truth about our own lives. If we are unexamined, unrepentant, or unsurrendered in certain places of our lives, our ability to perceive evil or confusion will be compromised, and we will be likely to engage in further compromise because of our lack of discernment.
We cannot always "fix:" the problems of evil and duplicity around us. We cannot always resolve problems of compromised leaders who have power over us but who lead without integrity. We are, however, called to speak the truth in love. We are never to stop proclaiming and defending the gospel. We are never to stop praying for God's intervention and direction. It is always appropriate to pray that the truth will become known and that God will protect his people and defeat evil.
As Christ-followers, we are to stand for truth. We are to fully surrender ourselves to God, asking him to reveal to us the areas of our lives in which he wants us to grow and heal. We are to accept his rebuke and discipline in our lives and embrace the challenges he presents us in which we are to speak the truth in love as Paul did in this letter.
God is asking you to yield your feelings and attitudes and fears to him. He is asking you to surrender the protective armor you wear around your opinions, your memories, and your status quo. He is also asking you to yield your resentment and feelings of entrapment that you may have toward an untrustworthy colleague or superior. God desires to give you his peace and the assurance that he will accomplish his will in your situation.
Ask God to glorify himself through the confusion and deception of your circumstances. Ask him to deal with those involved according to his mercy and judgment, and ask him to replace your frustration and impatience with his peace and with spiritual insight. Ask God to make you willing to know the truth about yourself that he wants you to face, and ask him to heal the places of disillusionment you may discover.
Ask God to give you his wisdom to know how to respond to those who treat you dishonestly. Ask him to be your defense and to protect you from evil while teaching you to trust him. Ask him to teach you to rest in him as you surrender the greed and rebellion you may have in your heart.
Praise God that he gives us his wisdom and discernment so we need not
walk in deception. Praise Jesus that he broke the claim of sin on our lives
and restored us to intimacy with the Father who protects and defends us.
Praise the Holy Spirit for making us alive and awake to truth and to the
recognition of evil. Praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit for giving us a
new life and for giving us God's power to live in victory while surrounded
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