Daily Bible Studies
|Series Theme: 2 Corinthians Studies|
Chs.12 & 13
Chapters 12 & 13
Chapter: 2 Cor 12
Passage: 2 Cor 12:1-6
A. Find Out:
1. What does Paul go on to speak about? v.1
2. What happened to this man he refers to? v.2
3. What alternative designation does Paul give? v.4a
4. What had that man heard? v.4b
5. Who will he and won't he boast about? v.5
6. Why would his boasting not make him a fool? v.6
As Paul continues to appeal to these Corinthians, to challenge their allegiance to these other men who had been leading them astray, he now moves on to the topic of visions. If these other men claimed divine revelation, so could he, yet the way he does it is quite enigmatic.
He refers to a man he knows who had been caught up to heaven in a vision. Third heaven means heaven where God dwells, as against heaven meaning the earth's atmosphere and heaven meaning beyond into outer space and the stars. Whether Paul was referring to himself or another is unclear. It seems unlikely that he is referring to someone else as there seems little point in that beyond boasting about the sort of people he knew. If he refers to himself, it is typical of his humility that he does it in such an unclear way.
What he is in fact saying, assuming it is himself, is “I could boast about that experience because I did nothing to bring it about, so it brings no glory to me”. What he is still willing to boast about is his own human weakness for, as we'll see tomorrow, that simply points to the wonderful grace of God. If Paul is to be compared with others, he wants it done in such a way that it will point his listeners back to God and His wonderful provision.
A. Find Out:
1. What was Paul given by God? v.7b
2. Why was he given it? v.7a
3. What was his response to this? v.8
4. What did the Lord tell him? v.9a
5. So what was Paul's attitude towards weakness etc.? v.10a,b
6. Why? v.10c, 9b
Having just written about heavenly revelations, Paul gives us an indication that that revelation had been to him. He had received “surpassingly great revelations”. The only problem with such revelations is that they require much maturity to avoid becoming proud over how much we have received. God has a way of dealing with this!
The Lord sent Paul a “thorn in the flesh”. There has been much speculation as to what exactly this was, but Paul doesn't tell us. It may have been physical affliction, it may have been natural difficulties, it may have been something else, we just don't know. Whatever it was it wasn't pleasant and it was something Paul didn't want. Three times he pleaded (note the urgency in that) with God to take it away but to no avail. Whatever “it” was, it left Paul feeling weak.
It was then that the Lord spoke those famous words: My grace is sufficient for you. Whatever the circumstances God's grace, God's divine provision for our lives, is sufficient to enable us to cope with it. How does that work? Well, when we feel weak, inadequate or insufficient for the task we cry to the Lord, we come close to God and He imparts His powerful presence into us more fully, His strength becomes ours. He becomes greater, we become less.
A. Find Out:
1. What does Paul feel about what he's said? v.11a
2. Why shouldn't he have had to do it? v.11b
3. What signs mark a man an apostle? v.12a
4. What does Paul say about them? v.12b
5. How does Paul say his time with them had been different? v.13
In passages like these we may be tempted to write them off as of little significance, which compared with some of the truths of say John's Gospel they are. Yet ALL Scripture is inspired and useful for teaching (2 Tim 3:16 ,17). So what do these verses teach?
First note the quality of this man, Paul. By his own testimony the Corinthians should have commended him for his ministry. He was an apostle and he had regularly performed signs, wonders and miracles among them, a sure sign of an apostle. He was easily equal to these others who had come in after him with their pretensions and in fact, while he was with them, he had not relied on them for resources, he had not been a burden to them (see Acts 18:3).
Second note, how the Corinthians had responded to him: they had not acknowledged his ministry and had obviously given their hearts over to these others who had subsequently come in. When Paul has to bring corrective teaching to them, he has to plead with them to heed him and much of this letter is to that purpose.
The lesson that comes over so strongly, therefore, is do we honour true godly leadership or do we get carried away with personalities? Paul was not being honoured by this silly church and so had to go to great lengths to get them to listen. May we not be the same.
A. Find Out:
1. What was Paul getting ready to do? v.14a
2. What didn't he want to be and why? v.14b
3. So what did he say he would do? v.15
4. What hadn't he been, but what did they say of him? v.16
5. What does he ask, to clear himself? v.17
6. What was his and their testimony? v.18
The accusation has apparently been made against Paul that in some way, presumably financial, he has tricked the Corinthians. Perhaps over the matter of taking a collection for the saints in Jerusalem .
First of all Paul defends himself by reminding them of the way he came to them originally. He had not been a burden financially to them (v. 16), as we saw yesterday. Things haven't changed, he says. When I come on my next trip I still don't intend to be a financial burden to you (v.14). I'm not concerned with money, just with you. Look he says, parents don't take from their children but give to them, and that's how it is with me. You're my children so it's my desire to give not to take from you.
Second he defends himself by an appeal to what has already happened in respect of the collection. Titus and another had already come and their behaviour towards the Corinthians had been faultless. Similarly, Paul himself had acted in the same way.
Again and again here, Paul is having to refute the lies of the enemy that these believers in Corinth had taken on board. How tragic that this man who had done so much for them, who had given his very life for them, should have to defend himself in such a way. It makes you realise the foolishness of mankind - even Christians!
A. Find Out:
1. What might his readers have been thinking? v.19a
2. How, does he say, he's been speaking and why? v.19b
3. Of what was he afraid? v.20a
4. What did he fear he might find? v.20b
5. What did he fear God would do? v.21a
6. Why did he fear he would be grieved? v.21b
As he has a sense of drawing near to the end of this letter, Paul puts himself in their shoes, as he so often does, and asks do they think he is being defensive - because it could be read like that. No, he says, that's not my heart. I'm aware that I'm speaking before God and in my role in the body of Christ, and so everything I say is intended to be for your good.
He then speaks of various fears that he has. First, that if he comes now he won't find them as he wants them to be and he won't therefore be able to be the “Mr. Nice Guy” they would like him to be. Second, he fears that when he comes he'll still find a whole range of things they have not yet put right. Third, he fears that because of this it will be as if God will humble him, showing that his ministry has been a failure, with the fruit of his ministry still being in a state of unrighteousness. Fourth, he fears that if he comes now he will only grieve because he is afraid that some of them are still living immoral lives.
In all of this we have an amazing mixture of humility and correction. In the way he presents this, Paul is clearly emphasising yet again his desire for the Christians at Corinth to put their lives right before God, yet in the way he says it, is comes with a great gentleness.
Chapter: 2 Cor 13
Passage: 2 Cor 13:1-4
A. Find Out:
1. How many times has Paul visited Corinth ? v.1
2. What had he done on his previous visit? v.2a
3. What was it that he now repeats? v.2b
4. Why will he do it? v.3a
5. How did Christ deal with them? v.3b
6. How does that apply in Christ and in them? v.4
There are important truths in these verses. In the law of Moses truth had to be confirmed through two or three witnesses. So, Paul says, I'm coming on a third visit to confirm what I've seen and said before. I warned the sinners among you on my last visit and so I warn you again now that when I come again, if they are still sinning I will deal with them. If you want proof of my authority, you'll see it then! You'll realise that it is Christ speaking through me. Look, he goes on to explain, when Christ deals with sin he isn't weak or soft about it, but strong and clear.
When Christ was crucified it was an act of weakness to submit to the unjustness of it all, but the resurrection was an act of God's power, Thus in a similar way we have no strength in ourselves and have died to our old selves and put no trust in our own abilities, BUT in Christ, with the power of the Spirit within us and responding to His calling, as we work out our ministries we will be strong to deal with sin as we serve you, and part of that serving is protecting you from waywardness (implied).
This passage raises the whole question of accountability. Because of their relationship with Paul, he holds them accountable for their behaviour and will not let them get away with behaviour that is either ungodly or unrighteous. He warns and warns again and if they take no notice he will come and confront them face to face. Serious stuff!
A. Find Out:
1. What did Paul call them to do? v.5
2. What was he praying for? v.7a
3. What may the situation appear to be? v.7b
4. What were they praying for? v.9b
5. Why was he writing these things? v.10a
6. Why had God given them authority? v.10b
Having just warned them to ensure there won't be anything for him to rebuke when he comes, he now challenges them to check themselves out, to see whether they are “in the faith”. As Christians they are supposed to have the Spirit of Christ living in them, producing the fruit of holiness from within them, affecting every aspect of their lives.
Check it out, is what he is saying, check to make sure that you can see that holiness in every area of your lives. If that's not true, question yourselves about your place in Christ. Look, he goes on, it doesn't matter whether we've failed as your mentors, what matters is you are simply seen as doing right. We have a good conscience, we know that we can only move in truth and it doesn't matter whether we appear strong or weak, we know the truth behind it all. What matters is what is happening to you. We prayed you won't do wrong and we pray that you will be perfect in your attitudes and actions. Look, I'm writing this strongly while I'm away from you so that you will have time to put things right before I come so I won't have to chide you when I get there. We have the authority to do it if necessary but God's goal through us is that you are built up and not pulled down, so we'd much prefer to see you getting free from these wrong attitudes and actions and being built up in your holy faith.
A. Find Out:
1. What four things does Paul ask them to do? v.11a
2. What will happen when they do those things? v.11b
3. What three things does he want for them? v.14
As he comes to the end of this letter in his final greetings Paul gives both targets for human activity and the blessing of God to be received.
First the target for them. He asks them to do four things:
First to aim for perfection. That is always to be our goal (Mt 5:48 ), this is what sanctification is all about, changing us into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor 3:18 ). Our lives are to be ever changing.
Second, he asks them to listen to his appeal. He's there spiritual father so they ought to take notice of him.
Third, be of one mind - ensure there is unity.
Fourth, live in peace - ensure there is harmony. This was a church that has known immorality and division, so Paul calls for purity and unity. These are things that they the individual Christians in Corinth could work for.
Next comes the blessing of God which they can know if they are working on these things. We can't expect God's blessing if we are wilfully going the opposite way to Him, but if our hearts and minds are set on Him and His will, then we can expect His blessing. What is that blessing? He says it first in verse 11. To know God's love and God's peace.
He then spells it out in verse 14.
First it is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, i.e. the divine enabling that Jesus knew to enable him to live a sinless life in a human form, that provides daily power and wisdom for us.
Second it is the love of God, the heart of God that is completely and utterly for us, that provides security for us.
Finally it is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, that sense of his loving presence with us every day. Wow!
In this final group of 7 studies we have seen Paul:
So we come to the end of this amazing letter. In chapter 12 we have seen Paul continuing to seek to gain credibility in the eyes of these foolish Corinthians. He's talked about his sufferings in the previous chapter, so now he talks about his glory, the visions he's seen from God. Even in the way he does this there is humility for you don't go through the things Paul went through without God working humility into you.
In chapters 12 and 13 he speaks about his impending third visit to them. He first of all says he doesn't want to be a burden to them, but he also warns about what he will do when he comes if he finds ongoing sin there. These chapters are the classic iron hand in the velvet glove. On the outside he is gentle and seeks to win them over by every means possible, but underneath that is the stern warning that if he comes and finds this ongoing sin in their midst, they are in for trouble!
1. The greater the revelation from God, the greater the responsibility.
2. The more revelation, the more deals with our potential pride.
3. Yet God's grace will always be there and is sufficient.
4. We are to check ourselves out against potential lurking sin.
5. Thec grace of God is there for us on a daily basis.
Thank the Lord for the wonder of His love to you, the grace He provides for you daily and His presence with your continually.
This has not been an easy book to read. It is not narrative, it is not poetry, it is not logical direct systematic teaching. Instead it has been the outpouring of Paul's heart, a heart to heart with the Corinthian Christians, and it is often not easy to follow the train of Paul's thought. If as you come to the end of this series of studies you have found it difficult to grasp a sense of the overall picture of this letter, may we suggest you take time out, go into a quiet place and read the letter out loud, seeking to make sense of it as you read. Perhaps in that way you will catch a better view of what this remarkable man was saying.
A View of History
No letter in the New Testament stands on it's own; it needs seeing in the context of history. Paul had gone to Corinth, had helped establish this church and therefore had a father's heart for them. After he had left them, a variety of things had gone wrong. Paul's letter to the Corinthians give us a unique insight into the life of the church in those days. We see these travelling apostles who travelled hundreds of miles on foot to minister to God's people. We find out that he has been to them twice already and is considering a third trip. We see the anguish in Paul's heart as he considers the things going on in Corinth. We see the unity of the church scattered over that part of the world, the care by the new churches for the mother church in need back in Jerusalem, that care being expressed in very practical and tangible means. A challenge to the church today.
Sin and Grace
This is what this letter is all about. In Corinth , as we've noted already, things had gone wrong. In 12:20 ,21 we find a catalogue of things that were there in the church, sinful things, wrong things! We might almost be surprised that God allows the church to continue, yet He does, and through the writings here of the apostle we find the heart of God expressed toward them in grace. Note there is an APPEAL to them to listen and to respond. Yes there is also a WARNING to respond, but this letter is as long as it is because the apostle appeals again and again through a variety of means, to this church to listen and heed what he is saying. His approach screams of the grace of God, and as such challenges us in the way we deal with those who are not yet perfect.