Monday: Read 2 Cor 5:11-6:2
2nd Cor 5:11-7:4 marks a new section in the book. Today’s reading of 5:11-21 might well be the key to the whole book!
The section begins with Paul defending himself against outsiders. In particular, those who take pride in their appearance. Paul argues for the legitimacy of his ministry in terms of its character. His central point is that because Christ died for us we too have learned to die for Christ. As a result, Paul says, “those who live would live no longer for themselves, but for the one who died for them and was raised” (15).
Because we have died to ourselves we no longer live according to the world’s standards. That is, what the world deems as wise, as the right way to do things, or as the way things should be done, we no longer follow. We should not follow such things because they are “passing away” (5:18). It is the new creation that lasts forever!
For Paul, to be “in Christ” is to be a new creation (17). The result of all this is: “so that we ourselves would become the justice [or “righteousness”] of God in him” (21).
Questions to ponder/discuss:
- If we understand this passage, then so much of the New Testament and the Gospel message of what true discipleship means will come alive. To deny ourselves and follow Jesus is what the New Creation is about. The Kingdom of God (New Creation) is about love and denying oneself for Christ and others. The world, by way of contrast, is about honor, power, and wealth and comfort. The differences between the two kingdoms are great. Most notably, the New Creation brings justice for all (equity, no more hunger, no more suffering). And the other brings prosperity, power, and comfort for some; and this is usually at the expense of the majority. Finally, the two kingdoms are distinguished by the fact that one lasts forever and the other passes away!
- The statement that “those who live would live no longer for themselves, but for the one who died for them and was raised” (15) is surely the heart of Christian discipleship. It is also very easy to say and quite difficult to do. The more we have, the more comforts we enjoy, and the harder it is to deny ourselves.
- The fact that Christ died for us, the fact that He denied himself for us, means that we too shall live as Jesus lived. To live like this is life! After all, the old (our pride, our comforts, our lust for power) has passed away (or is passing away).
Tuesday: Read 2 Cor 6:3-7:4
Paul’s ministry was one of reconciliation. He had been careful in his ministry to do things the right way. Of course, this meant suffering. Paul’s sufferings provided the basis for his appeal for them to be reconciled to God (3-10).
Paul lists 9 examples of suffering. The first 3 arise out of the difficulty of preaching in a culture hostile to God (4: afflictions, hardships, in distresses: NAS). The next 3 give specific examples of suffering (5: beatings, imprisonments, in tumults—riots). The final 3 speak of voluntary sufferings (5: labors, sleeplessness, hunger).
This is followed by a list of 8 qualities (in 2 groups of 4) that correspond to endurance (6-7).
Paul follows this with a list of 7 antitheses: that is, how things look in the eyes of the world versus how they are in reality: (8b-10): for example, “regarded as deceivers and yet true” (8b).
The section (5:11-7:1) concludes with one of Paul’s most significant affirmations. In 6:14-7:1, Paul argues strongly that we must be separate from pagan ways. Why? Paul explains that it is because we are a new creation: which means that we are the temple of God (16). Paul opens with 5 statements in which the items cannot be combined (14-16). The reason why these things cannot be combined is because (“for”; 16), “we are the temple of the living God.”
Paul then cites several OT passages to affirm this view (most notably Lev 26:11-12; Ezek 37:23-27).
Paul concludes, “therefore” (7:1), we must “cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
Questions to ponder/discuss:
- It is still my conviction that we must wrestle with the lack of suffering in our western churches. For Paul, suffering served to verify that his ministry was indeed from Christ. Note, however, not just what Paul says here about his suffering, but also what he says with regard to how he responds to suffering. What are some things that you notice with regard to how Paul has responded to suffering?
- What do you think it means to be separate from pagan ways? (my thoughts are that pagan ways are associated with the world’s wisdom. That is, with how we should do politics, economics, or any other sphere of life. The key is that every system makes sense and may be the best the world has to offer. But only the wisdom that comes from Christ is true and beneficial for all).
Wednesday: Read 2 Cor 7:5-16
In 7:5-9:15, Paul addresses the coming of Titus to him. Paul apparently had a number of exchanges with the church in Corinth. These include 1st Corinthians and other letters that he wrote to them (which we do not have). Paul also made several trips to Corinth to deal with the problems there.
It appears that during one of those visits Paul was wronged by someone (2:5; 7:12). This person gained the support of some in Corinth against Paul (2:6). Paul was disappointed because the rest of the church did not take action against the man. So, Paul sent Titus to Corinth with a “harsh letter.” This harsh letter advocated disciplinary action against the person (2:9; 7:12).
This letter raised two issues. First, Paul wrote to them instead of visiting—which he had earlier agreed that he would do (1:12-24; 10:9-11). Second, the letter was hurtful to them (8-12).
This meant that the relationship between Paul and Corinth was at stake. As a result, he was anxious to hear how the church received his letter from Titus. Paul even acknowledges that he had regret over writing the letter (8).
Titus arrives with good news. They have repented. Paul realizes that his ”harsh letter” was good for them and that his regret over sending the letter was unfounded (8).
Questions to ponder/discuss:
- We’ve all had regrets for our actions. What are some things we can do when we have regret for our actions?
- Paul may have been “harsh” in his letter. This is not necessarily a sin. The key is that we are always motivated by love! Sometimes, love necessitates harshness. But such harshness must be the fruit of love.
Thursday: Read 2 Cor 8:1-24
The next two readings are perhaps the most significant teaching we have in the NT on giving. Paul has spent the last year or so taking an offering from the churches in the Aegean Sea area in order to present them as a gift for the poor in Jerusalem and Judea (see 1 Cor 16:1-3; Rom 15:23-33). Paul had asked them to save a little each week (1 Cor 16:1-3).
Titus’ report on the collection was not good. The Corinthians, however, have not been saving; which Paul says is a sign that they have not been transformed by the Gospel. Paul writes to encourage them to complete the collection.
The key theme of these 2 Cor 8-9 is that giving is an act of divine grace! Note that “grace” occurs a total of 10x in chapters 8-9 (8:1, 4, 6, 7, 9, 16, 19; 9:8, 14, 15)
Of course, our model for giving is Jesus. Paul says, “that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (9).
Paul says that his writing is advice and not a command (8:8). Their response should be readiness (8:8-11; 9:6-15). He is not asking them to give more than they have (8:11-12). His request is that equality would be had between the Jerusalemites and themselves (8:13-15).
Questions to ponder/discuss:
- The Gospel is a gospel of generosity. Jesus was wealthy and powerful and yet He gave Himself up so that others might be saved. Michael Gorman summarizes this text well when he says, “If Christ’s ‘wealth’ consists of his generosity, then the purpose of this momentum is to make ‘you’ rich . . . not in the sense of what you acquire as possessions, but in the sense of becoming rich in generosity. . . . The purpose of ‘enrichment’ or ‘abundance’ is not that believers may possess more, but give more.”
- 2 Cor 8:9 may be viewed as the Gospel as stated in financial metaphors! We must not think of the Gospel as only pertaining to our salvation. The Gospel speaks to a total life transformation. This means that we must learn to deny ourselves for the sake of the other. If then, we have means and others do not, then we should share. After all, we only have because of God’s grace!
- What do you think of Paul’s statement that there should be equality among all Christians (8:13-15)?
Friday: Read 2 Cor 9:1-15
If the primary source of Paul’s troubles with the church in Corinth has been wealthy, elite men, then we can only imagine the tension that Paul felt as he continued to ask them for support for the poor in Jerusalem. After all, those who would be expected to give and perhaps to give substantively would be these very men. These men, then, not only have to agree with Paul on the issues that are raised throughout these two letters, but they must also be willing to listen to Paul and give freely.
Paul makes three points about giving. First, he notes that we will reap what we sow! (generously vs. sparingly): “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (6). Paul is using an agricultural metaphor here that is obviously true. If we sow a few seeds, we will only reap a few crops.
Second, we should only give what we have decided in our hearts to give: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (7).
Finally, Paul says that God will bless the giver abundantly, “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (8).
Paul then follows this with four effects of giving. First, he says, God will supply and increase our “store of seed and enlarge the harvest of your righteousness” (10). Second, by giving God will give us more so we can give more (11). Third, Paul says that people will praise God because of our obedience in giving (13). Finally, Paul says that because of our giving people will pray to God for us (14-15).
The result is that the giver will always have what they need.
Questions to ponder/discuss:
- To reiterate: if you struggle to pay your basic bills or to provide food for your family, then perhaps you should not give at all (of course, you might be able to give of your time or talents). At the same time, if you have more than enough, then you might be called to give well beyond 10%.
- Did you know that the giving rate today is lower than it was during the Great Depression?
- When Paul says that we should give not reluctantly nor under compulsion, some respond by saying that they can’t give because it would be reluctantly. To this, I would reply: learn how to give cheerfully.
- Remember Jesus’ words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
- Paul indicates that by giving God will provide even more. The result is that we can then give even more! (those who say we give in order to get more both fail to recognize that the getting of more is so that we can give more away, and that giving is an act of self-denying love. If we give only so we can get, then we have not loved.
 Gorman, Michael J. Participating in Christ (p. 230). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.