The love of Christ controls me 1) To treat people with dignity and respect, 2) To be a living sacrifice by humbling myself, and 3) To overcome the ambition of selfish desires. … [L]earn how the love of Christ controls the life of the Christian to act in a respectful, humble, and selfless way.
Paul’s ‘Second’ Letter to the Corinthians, by Rick Kelley
Having already corresponded with the Corinthian brethren repeatedly, this second inspired letter is yet another turbulent one. Paul is thankful that some of his instructions (particularly those concerning the man engaged in an incestuous lifestyle) have been received with repentance (2 Cor. 2:5-11; 7:8-10). But trouble is still afoot in the ancient City of Vice.
Paul’s wisdom and authority as an apostle are still under fire by those who remain convinced he is nothing but a blowhard: “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account” (2 Cor. 10:10).
Paul’s longsuffering kindness was seen as weakness. He invites them to compare his character and ministry with those who spite him. Have any of them worked harder, suffered more, or experienced greater privilege from the Lord (2 Cor. 11:16-12:13)? Rhetorical questions, of course.
Meanwhile, more pressing matters, like a vowed lump of financial support for a struggling Jerusalem church, remained unfulfilled, and needed collected (2 Cor. 8:8-11).
Paul still intends to pay the worldly saints of Corinth a visit, but fears what he will find upon arrival. He hopes they will at last respond in full to his inspired correspondence (12:20-21). Either way, he’ll do as he must when he arrives (13:10).
Stubborn and worldly as they were, the spirit of some of the Corinthian saints is undoubtedly still alive in congregations today.
The reading of the New Testament, done humbly and with an open heart, transforms the soul and changes the thinking. Some people like to read only the gooey parts, all love and joy and happiness, and when they come across the warnings, commands, and condemnations, they soft-soap them or restrict their meaning. Others, it must be said, seem to be stuck on Jude 3.
Balance is needed. The spirit must always be humble, while courage must be ready to stand and proclaim the truth.
We make every effort to season our conversation with salt, to make it palatable to the reader and hearer, while putting forth the gospel. It’s the truth-in-love combination of Eph. 4:15. However trite we’ve made that verse by overuse (and perhaps, just perhaps, as a cloak for harshness), that great principle still shines splenderifously.
So in that context one can read passages like this week’s text, 2 Corinthians 10-13 (Monday through Thursday, actually), and verses like these:
For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will correspond to their actions.
2 Cor. 11:13-15 NET
If such passages were rare in the New Testament, it would be easy to read them lightly and hurry to the next, more positive pericope. But they are not rare. Such texts are ubiquitous, about like McDonald’s in the U.S., or your local padaria in Brazil. On every corner, nearly.
But we still tend to squirm and move on. For they bring a responsibility, a burden, a charge, to know, to identify, to remove. We know what cost is necessary, what messiness is ahead, what trouble awaits those who are willing to confront with hopes to restore, but with sad results that sometimes happen when there’s resistance to correction.
Just as there are more passages that deal with false prophets, apostles, and teachers than is often acknowledged, there are more of the wolves in our midst than we’d like to admit. We keep trekking to church on Sundays and Wednesdays and hope they’ll get tired and move on. Down the road, we discover we’re the ones who have to move on after the congregation has been lost to progressives and the debaucherous.
We wonder what happened, where and when things went wrong, and often enough the fault lies with ourselves. Afraid of falling into the class of heretic detectors, we turn away when a “different spirit” appears (2 Cor. 11:4), like the wife who refuses to see the signs of infidelity.
Two more days of this section of 2 Corinthians, then into the gospel of John, where the conflict ceases entirely and no untruths appear, right?
How can somebody suddenly change his tone? ask many a theologian and commentator of 2 Corinthians. Paul strikes a different sound starting in chapter 10, an almost strident voice as he deals with false teachers.
From their high ivory tower, and full of theories to please publishers and employers, the academics imagine the work of a redactor who has spliced two letters into one. (If someone thinks this portrait overly harsh, consider that some scholars see as many as six letters or fragments stitched into one.)
But watching any young mother deal with small children in the middle of a conversation with an adult ought to solve the mystery quickly. People can change their tone at once, depending on any number of factors, such as audience and circumstances.
Today’s New Testament reading is 2 Cor. 10. Paul ended the previous section with thanksgiving, with confidence in the Corinthians, with high principles of sowing seed come from God and of righteous fruits. Then, suddenly, talk filled with irony and sarcasm, of war, boasting, and comparisons.
Maybe that strong language influenced the FMag editorial today, “God 2.0 Tweaks Grace, Deletes Hell, Updates Heaven.” The Missus said it differed in tone from the usual articles. But if Paul can do it in the same letter, can’t an editor do it from one week to the next?
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