Day 314 – Thru the Bible
Today we complete Second Corinthians. Great job!
2 Corinthians 11 – Believers understand themselves as betrothed to one husband, awaiting the consummate marriage celebration at the bridegroom’s return (Revelation ). There is perhaps no greater illustration of Gospel intimacy. God’s deep and affectionate love for us moves us to worship, but it also reveals the darkness of our idolatry. Sin is adultery, as the Old Testament prophets made clear time and again. Though Paul wants to present the church as a pure virgin to Jesus, its people are deceived and defiled by false apostles. When God’s redeemed people embrace other spirits, different gospels, and even a different Jesus, they are committing adultery.
We ourselves commit spiritual adultery, and it’s far more subtle than we think. When we fail to believe the Gospel we not only suspect the truth and goodness of God; we place our faith in a different “good news.” We ask something (or someone) to do what only the Gospel is capable of doing.
What other “good news” do you sometimes believe? What other “husbands” captivate you? What other counterfeit hope captures your love?
The key to Gospel fidelity is to know that Jesus’ sincere and pure devotion to you is far stronger than yours to Him. When we were unacceptable and at our worst, He bound Himself to us with His covenantal love. Jesus’ marital fidelity to His bride is on full display at the cross, and it moves His bride to an increasingly sincere and pure devotion.
Paul lives out the Gospel, humbling himself so that others might be exalted, even as Jesus did for him. He follows Jesus’ lead in loving the rebellious church, and is grieved by their disloyalty to Him. Paul works on different terms than the false apostles. While they are deceitful and disguised, he is honest and open in his ministry.
The question is, if the Corinthians had a compelling Gospel witness in the life and ministry of Paul, how were they deceived by the false apostles? The answer is, just as the cunning serpent who deceived Eve disguises himself as an angel of light, so the false apostles have disguised themselves as servants of righteousness. Temptations and false teachings dress in appealing clothing—they retell the prevailing cultural story. In a world where success was defined by rhetoric and pedigree, the false apostles tried to show that Paul was lacking both.
In our world—where success is defined by self-achieved wealth, power, and social capital—false gospels also tell us what we want to hear. To guard and proclaim the Gospel, we must show that our culture’s definition of success (i.e., money, control, and fame) lacks transformative power. The Gospel claims that through the ministry of Jesus in and for us poverty is wealth, weakness is power, and the interest of others is more important than my own self-interest. Jesus’ self-giving love leads us to live this kind of paradoxical life (Philippians 2:5–11).
In verses 7–15, the false apostles dress up as angels of light to deceive the church. Here, Paul mockingly dresses up in the false apostles’ rhetorical style to show how the church has been deceived. He is speaking as a fool to uncover the foolishness of triumphalistic boasting. Counterintuitively, Paul commends himself by cataloging his sufferings for Jesus. He uses an ironic, upside-down paradigm to communicate the inverted, upside-down reality of the Gospel of which he is a minister. As such, he is far more interested in the things that show his weakness than in his audience’s definition of strength. For his weakness puts the power of Jesus on display.
In the economy of the Gospel, godly foolishness trumps worldly wisdom, and at the heart of Christian folly is the crucified Messiah (1 Corinthians 1:20–23). Paul’s catalog of sufferings is the greatest argument for his apostolic authority because it demonstrates his solidarity with God. Jesus suffered; Paul, Jesus’ apostle, suffers. As we understand our own trials and sufferings in this light, we discover that, far from disqualifying us from experiencing and proclaiming the Gospel, they actually qualify us for it. God uses the hardest and most shameful experiences of our lives to soften us and bring us to fuller understanding of His surpassing benefits. In our isolation from the world’s provision, we learn that we are fully satisfied when He is our portion (Psalm 73:26). He uses our sufferings to demonstrate His sufficiency. And He uses our afflictions as the occasion for dispersing comfort and the deepest realities of His abiding care (2 Corinthians 1:3–11).
How will you allow God to use your weaknesses and failures to show off the power of Jesus in your life?
2 Corinthians 12 – Heavenly revelations and thorns in the flesh are the two extreme realities of Paul’s apostolic experience. Both have the potential to knock him off balance, but the Gospel stabilizes him and provides proper perspective. While he might have become arrogant over receiving unutterable visions and revelations, he refrains from divulging details because he doesn’t want anyone to think more of him than is accurate. Nothing, not even mysterious spiritual experiences, will muddy the waters of Paul’s Gospel witness.
Paul’s thorn in the flesh was so painful that it could have crushed his spirit. However, he has a Gospel paradigm that assures him that when he is weak, then he is strong. Nothing, not even mysterious painful experiences, will bring Paul to doubt his identity and calling in the Gospel. His painful circumstances brought him to cherish the all-sufficient grace of God—indeed, to boast in his weaknesses. Is this how you handle your own weaknesses? The gospel gives us a radical shift in thinking, one that is deeply liberating. For if weakness is something in which we can boast, nothing can ultimately overwhelm us.
We must also guard our hearts against both spiritual arrogance and situational sulking. Because we are defined by Jesus and not by what we know or do, there should be no boasting about our theological experience or knowledge. Similarly, because Jesus has already proven His unchanging love for us, our circumstances should never cause us to suspect His goodness. The Gospel allows us to receive God’s grace as an unmerited gift, and to understand our circumstances as opportunities for Him to be proven all-sufficient and all-powerful. When we are weak, we are strong.
The apostle seems nearly at the end of himself in trying to win over the Corinthians. But it is precisely at the point where Paul seems on the verge of lashing out at them that we find him overflowing in love. He makes himself a fool for the sake of those who have so quickly abandoned him. By default, he must carry the burden that he chooses not to place on them. Rather than ask them to cover his expenses, he is glad to spend and be spent for their souls. He does not want to take advantage of those who have taken advantage of him. He desires the upbuilding of the very people who have torn him down. This is nothing short of the sacrificial love of Jesus working itself out in Paul’s life. He is passing on to the Corinthians exactly what he has received from Jesus.
Like Paul, we are better able to see the paradoxes of the Gospel when we have nothing to which we can cling. We are comforted in affliction, made strong through weakness, and become more concerned with the actual than with the apparent. When the Gospel is at work in our hearts, we can respond to conflict with a sacrificial heart that seeks to carry the burdens of the burdened and build up those who have sought to demolish us.
How does the Gospel stabilize you when you are hurting?
2 Corinthians 13 – The apostle lovingly and sternly addresses the Corinthians’ sin as he concludes his epistle. Because he is weak, a weakness into which the crucified Jesus entered, he is confident to address sin with the power of the resurrected Jesus. Gospel-love never overlooks sin, but lovingly confronts it for the restoration of the erring brother. Furthermore, Gospel-love does not address sin for the sake of keeping up appearances but in order to be in accord with the truth.
Because we are prone to sin, it is our responsibility regularly to examine ourselves for evidence that the Gospel is working itself out in our lives.
Am I experiencing and sharing the comfort of Jesus in affliction (1:3–11)?
Is the forgiveness I have experienced leading me to forgive others (2:1–11)?
Are the permanent promises of God more important to me than momentary afflictions (4:7–18)?
Are my affections for other Believers restricted by my sin (6:1–13)?
Am I eager to give sacrificially in response to Jesus becoming poor for my sake (8:1–15)?
Does the “one husband”who gave His life for me hold preeminence over all other suitors (11:1–6)?
To the extent that we see the fruit of the Gospel in our lives, we ought to rejoice. When we spot sin in our hearts, it is to a self-sacrificing God of love and peace that we can freely run. For Jesus was crucified for us. This is the heart of the Gospel, and the note on which Paul concludes his letter.
What other thoughts or questions does today’s reading bring up?
Some of these notes are from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible study notes. We highly recommend this study Bible.
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