Thursday, June 04, 2015

Reading Through 2nd Corinthians

indexI am continuing to read through the New Testament accompanied by the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John R. W. Stott. The eighth volume of the series is The Message of 2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness, authored by Paul Barnett. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I post quotes from these commentaries on my Facebook page and periodic summaries of the commentary here on my blog. I welcome discussion on these post on my Facebook page. As always, quotes from the author are in blue font.

In 2nd Corinthians, Paul, in the midst of a crisis in leadership there, is trying to show the Corinthian church what true godly leadership looks like.  We can recognize real Christian leaders by the way they live out the cross in a ministry willing to sacrifice and suffer for the truth and for the benefit of God's people. They understand that it is internal character change, brought about through the Spirit, which is important and not external ability. Such leaders should be obeyed, honored and supported. True Christian leadership is “cross-shaped,” it leads the way Jesus led.

It is striking that while the basis of Paul’s apostleship was Christ’s Damascus Road call, the evidence he gives in support relates to his lifestyle—a lifestyle characterized by the sacrifice of Christ expressed in apostolic ministry...While the source of Paul’s authority was Christ, his authority was attested not by marvels or mysteries but, as Barrett helpfully puts it, ‘in the pattern of death and resurrection stamped upon his own life and work’. Sacrifice and self-giving were for Paul, as they remain for us, indispensable evidence of genuineness as Christian believers. 24–25

Real Christian leaders are motivated by a sincere love for Christ and desire for His people to grow. The share their own experiences of suffering and deliverance from Christ to comfort others. They lead with open, truthful plans based on Christ's promises and love for God's people, without hidden agendas. They are reconcilers and restorers who lead by forgiving, reaffirming and comforting in public and private discipline. They handle well adversity suffering and rejection based on God’s calling and promise, with an eternal perspective. 1.1-2.17

Lively and open relationships provide the best context for the word of God to work out its purposes among us. This is why the local congregation is so highly regarded and referred to as ‘the church of God.’ 2 Corinthians 2.5-11, 47

2corchartReal leaders are recognized by the growth of their followers into the image of Christ. Real call to ministry is seen in changed lives, superior message, suffering and character. As someone has said, “Look behind you. If no one is following you are not a leader.” Real leaders are willing to participate with their people in the sufferings of Christ and see difficulty as grace and opportunity to see God working . They are motivated by eternity (not “hucksters” for money, power or fame) and focused on inner growth of themselves and their people. Thus, they suffer joyfully in view of the eternal body and the greater experience of a life of obedience. 3.1-5.10

Those who engage in ministry must speak only the ‘word of God’ and they must do so ‘before God’. The newcomers’ style of ministry warns us of the ever-present temptation for ministers to project and to commend themselves on the basis of ‘image’, or what Paul calls ‘face’. While the minister needs gifts appropriate to his calling, let him come not in the strength of those gifts but in the power of the word of God. 2 Corinthians 3, 58.

It is one thing to possess the appropriate ordination documents or the framed university degree proudly displayed; but are there ‘living’ letters? The confirmation of one’s ministry lies in the effects of that ministry in human lives. This will depend upon having ministered a pure, undiluted gospel and also upon having taken people into our hearts. To do the former alone could mean inflexibility, while to do the latter alone could mean sentimentality. The proper balance lies in faithfulness to the gospel and pastoral love of the people. 2 Corinthians 3.2, 61.

Troubles help us to understand that there is no future for us here in this tawdry, fading existence. Therefore we focus, increasingly, on the unseen, resurrected and glorified Christ (4:4–6, 14). Bodily needs are important, certainly; and so are the needs of others. Yet what we are to long for is not the pleasures and possessions put before us by the advertising agencies in the media, but the promises of the gospel in the Bible. 2 Corinthians 4.16-18, 94.

To our minds this present existence is solid and real, whereas our coming existence seems shadowy and insubstantial. Paul teaches us that the reverse is true. The life which is to come is strong, permanent and real; the present life is lived among the shadows. 2 Corinthians 5.1, 98

Real Christian leaders are focused on grace, not the externals. In their preaching and teaching they share a clear message of reconciliation with God. Their preaching is content oriented rather than fancy rhetoric. They have a persevering open, integrity in life and ministry and are separated from false doctrine and practice. That is their life matches their preaching and they what they ask others to do. Leaders are bold to confront in love. 5.11-7.16

The message that Christ was crucified for us, therefore, draws forth from us our dependence upon him. To withhold our faith and love from him would be perverse and ungrateful. Moreover, since our sins demanded so high a price for their forgiveness, we conclude that they must be deeply offensive to God. We are left with no honourable alternative but to ‘die’ to sin and to live for him who, as our representative and substitute, died and was raised. 2 Corinthians 5.21, 119.

This speaks both of our very considerable privilege in acting as colleagues of God and also of the resources of divine power by which be enables us to make his appeal to others. We are not helpless and alone as Christ’s representatives. God has made us partners, co-workers with himself in his great rescue mission to reconcile the world to himself. 2 Corinthians 6.1, 122.

These verses, let it be repeated, of themselves do not call either for total separation from the world or for withdrawal from Christians with whom doctrinal differences exist. They all relate to the specific exhortation not to engage in idolatrous meals or services, which apparently (some of) the Corinthians had continued to do...Paul’s words continued to have application wherever Christians are potentially entangled in idolatry, the occult or pagan religious practices. Christians may be joined to unbelievers socially or by an existing marriage; they are not at liberty to participate in their religious worship. 2 Corinthians 6.14-7.1, 130–131.

Our eyes need to be open and our hearts generous with compassionate care. Above all we must resist the temptation to run away from people’s needs because we do not think we can cope. The troubled do not usually expect us to solve their problems; but they do appreciate our concern and prayerful support. What matters most to people in distress is not ‘saying things’ but ‘being there’.  2 Corinthians 7.5-16, 138

In chapters 8 and 9 Paul talks about the gift that he was raising from the Gentile churches for the Jerusalem church as an example of the kind of thing leaders should be doing in their churches. The offering should be sacrificial and participated in by all. It is an excellent spiritual service done as God gives ability, with purity of motive. Administration should transparent and handled by people of proven integrity. Giving should be planned, committed and a generous expression of love. This would demonstrate faith in God and His care for His people and produce an increase in thankfulness, praise and prayers. 8.1-9.15

First, we need gladly to receive the Lord Jesus Christ in our hearts, thankful for his sacrificial saving work on our behalf. Secondly, in all matters related to giving and gifts we ought to imitate his generosity. Clearly the self-giving death of Jesus is a major motive for our generosity2 Corinthians 8.9, 144.

God’s grace towards us reproduces his graciousness within us. Since God’s grace towards us is infinite and not measured out, we who receive it are to show generosity without measurement or calculation. We are not under compulsion. Thus ours is to be a ready, not a reluctant, response. God loves a cheerful giver (verse 7) because he is himself a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9.6-15, 152

Good leaders do things God's Way, not in human ways, and in God's power. They use God's methods, packing high-powered, divine weapons, but “the meekness, kindness and gentleness of Christ” always govern their use. God’s leaders persuade rather than intimidate, reason and coax rather than beat up. They are motivated by God's approval not human approval as evidenced by a refusal to compare ministries. They do good without expecting something in return and would do the job without the title or the salary. 10.1-13.6

Let it be said that preaching, whether based on the New Testament or the Old Testament, whether exegetical or thematic, fails at its most critical point if it does not on every occasion bring the claims of the Lordship of Christ and his saving power into the clearest focus. Only this gospel can make that which sets itself up against the knowledge of God, namely rebellious unbelief, obedient to Christ. Paul’s very humility, which they despise, what he calls the meekness and gentleness of Christ (verse 1) indicates that he is himself a man whose every thought is captive to obey Christ. He is the living embodiment of what he proclaims. 2 Corinthians 10.1-7, 159.

Godly leadership focuses attention on God, not self. They keep the focus on Jesus. They sacrifice to build up the body and avoid the silliness of boasting about one's own accomplishments or abilities. In fact they are open and even “boast” about weaknesses and suffering because they point to God's power. 11.1-12.10

It is clear from this passage that the pure gospel alone joins us to, and keeps us in a right relationship with, Christ. A sincere devotion to Christ is possible only where the true and authentic gospel of Christ is taught and heard (verse 3). Christians need to think about what they are being taught rather than being impressed by who is teaching them, however winsome he or she may be. 2 Corinthians 11.1-4, 164.

It is a temptation to use one’s position or one’s gifts, or both, to create a circle of admirers. Such a person exercises his ministry in the name of Christ but is really involved in an ‘ego trip’. More subtly, the minister may encourage people to lean on him like a crutch, out of his own need to be needed. Alternatively, the minister is capable of being corrupted by the power given him in the church so that he becomes a bossy authoritarian who must always have his own way. It must always be remembered that the word ‘minister’ means ‘servant’. 2 Corinthians 11.16-33, 175.

The grace and power of God interlock with human lives at the point of mortal weakness. Schlatter wrote that ‘the self-centred conception of faith which understands faith as participation of God’s power by which one is brought higher life … a desire to be bound to the exalted Christ without appreciating God’s grace in the crucified one, a filling with the Spirit which blesses one with one’s own greatness … all this was in the deepest sense un-Pauline … and unapostolic’. 2 Corinthians 12.1-10, 179

•Godly leaders draw the church away from sin and its consequences. They Invest their lives in others and earn respect. Then their people will grow in Christ-like character and see Christ’s power in them to grow spiritually. Real leaders produce “cross shaped” churches that are full of joy and mended, restored people who are comforted, encouraged and held accountable. Such a church is unified and displays the peace of Christ, 12.11-13.14

Paul is reminding the Corinthians that their ‘mending’ does not lie within themselves but with the grace of Christ, the love of God and the Spirit’s fellowship. The grace of Christ removes aggressiveness, the love of God dispels jealousy, while the fellowship created by the Spirit destroys bitterness. As God answers that prayer, the problems so manifest in Corinth and in every troubled church will be overcome. 2 Corinthians 13.14, 188.

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