A Test Worth Taking

Read This Week: 2 Corinthians 13

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.
– 2 Corinthians 13:5-6 NIV

The ancient philosopher, Plato, once said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Perhaps he was right. Anything worth having is worth examining. Something that we base our entire lives on is worthy of consideration and reflection. It is deserving of real investigation and a consistent journey toward truth and evidence of its authenticity in our lives.

Paul was driving this same point in 2 Corinthians 13 as he concluded his letter to the church of Corinth. After instructing them on how to confront someone properly, he asks a question and issues a challenge. He speaks to the people and to those who had been attacking him and says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” Paul turns the table on them and asks for proof of their faith. He was essentially saying, “You have been criticizing and examining me, but why don’t you take the time to look carefully at yourselves?”

The real question for the church and his detractors was not whether Paul was a called apostle or if his ministry was valid. The most important question to him was their relationship with Christ. He was more interested in their spiritual condition than he was in defending himself any longer from their attacks. He wants them to examine their hearts to see if they were born again and members of God’s family. To Paul, if Jesus was not in them, then they fail the only test that matters.

He had thoroughly examined his own heart and knew of his standing before God. He writes in verse 6, “I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.” His confidence in his relationship with Jesus also informed his concern for others. Paul’s attitude in this passage is a tremendous example for us. Before we are quick to examine, criticize or judge someone’s faith, we should test our hearts to make sure we’re right with the Lord then allow that knowledge to fuel our passion for the salvation of other people.

We should consistently remind ourselves of the time we responded in faith to the gospel. We should regularly affirm the witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We should routinely ask ourselves these questions:

  • Do I love God and other people?
  • Do I practice righteousness?
  • Am I living in habitual, unconfessed sin?
  • Is there evidence of spiritual fruit in my life?

These are just a few ways that we can check ourselves and apply to our lives so we can know that we are followers of Jesus. It is the ultimate test worth taking every time.

Vision of Humility

Read This Week: 2 Corinthians 12

Therefore, to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
– 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV

Human beings, across the board, face many common realities. Things that we all deal with regardless of our family, socio-economic status, or culture. One of these is pride, an emotion that selfishly evaluates and increases our stature. Pride fuels and seeks to satisfy our egos with an overblown and unrealistic view of ourselves. This sin plagues all people.

Pride of a spiritual nature can be even more hazardous to our lives. It can facilitate disproportionate emotions, ambitious thoughts, and impure motives. Spiritual pride can lead to a loss of awareness of who we are and what our calling from God truly means. It can also twist and misinterpret things spoken over us and turn them into arrogant expectations.

2 Corinthians 12 concludes Paul’s defense of his ministry and genuine love for the people of Corinth against the superstar apostles. He understood the pitfalls of sinful arrogance and spiritual pride and is hesitant to write about his experiences. But he doesn’t see another way to defend himself and show the people that God had indeed called him to be an apostle. Paul decides to share a vision that the Lord gave him, however, he does it with humility, and in the third person so the attention will be on God, not on him.

In the telling of his vision, Paul only speaks of himself regarding his weaknesses. His weakness highlights God’s strength and he brags on the power of God at work in his life instead of his own spiritual experiences. In doing so, he provides a great example of spiritual humility and the importance of making much of Jesus through our spiritual resume. The Lord calls us to preach Christ, not ourselves, or our visions.

The beneficial thing is that God knows how to bring balance to our lives. And because of His great love, humbles us amid our blessings and accomplishments. Paul writes in verse 7, “Therefore, to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh.” Paul’s experience in heaven could have corrupted his ministry on earth; so God, in His goodness, allowed him to be uncomfortable to keep him from being destroyed by sinful pride.

God is such a good Father like that. He uses our weaknesses and suffering to build character, deliver us from harmful pride, and make us more effective in our ministries. By depending on God and His grace alone, we avoid dependence on self, ego, and human accomplishment. As Paul says, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” May we depend on and brag about God alone so we can feel His strength and channel His power in our lives to change the world.

Celebrity or Servant?

Read This Week: 2 Corinthians 11

But I don’t consider myself inferior in any way to these “super-apostles” who teach such things. I may be unskilled as a speaker, but I’m not lacking in knowledge. We have made this clear to you in every possible way. If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am. God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, who is worthy of eternal praise, knows I am not lying. – 2 Corinthians 11:5-6, 30-31 NIV

Celebrity status is a pervasive thing in our culture and has been since the beginning of time. From athletes to actors to Instagram influencers, people seem to love and worship celebrities. Unfortunately, this also exists in the Christian community. Ministers paid and volunteer can be excessively honored, praised at an embarrassing level, and even worshipped above Jesus for their skills, talents, and knowledge.

The infatuation with celebrities makes sense. By human standards, it is much more stimulating to have and be a hero minister than a mere helper. Settling for the role of a servant seems boring when we can be a superstar. Yet, servants of Jesus are exactly what God calls us to be. His desire for those who serve Him is a pure and willing heart, not an oversized ego and harmful ambition.

Paul was addressing this same issue in 2 Corinthians 11. The people had become enamored with the celebrity apostles in Corinth. They loved their charisma, speaking ability, and supposed wisdom, but at the same time, were misled by their false teachings about Christ. The outcome of this led to criticizing and comparing Paul to these super-apostles and accusing him of being an unskilled speaker and lacking knowledge.

Broken over their celebrity infatuation and listening to false claims about Jesus, Paul does not retaliate by comparing notes to the super-apostles or trying to convince them of his status. He identifies himself as a real servant of Jesus by listing evidence, not of his victories and awesomeness, but his hardships suffered. He, and not the celebrities, showed the marks of a servant of Christ in his sufferings.

By pointing to his stories of hardships for the gospel, Paul teaches them that our status as followers of Jesus lies in our service to Him no matter what it brings. Our celebrity status only exists in knowing God and having the privilege of being used for His glory, even if that means we suffer. Paul wrote this in verses 30-31 about his notoriety and accomplishments:

“If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am. God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, is worthy of eternal praise.”

Paul wanted to tell of his weakness because that is where the strength of God touches the needs of people. Showing them how weak he was, demonstrated how strong and big God is. As a servant of Christ, he was intent on showing God to people through his life instead of showing off.

May we not get caught up in Christian celebrity and miss Jesus. May we not forget that God called us to be servants, people whom God has gifted in unique ways, and with his help in the application of our gifts, we can have an eternal impact in the world and be part of some pretty amazing things for His glory.

One Voice

Read This Week: 2 Corinthians 10

You are judging by appearances. If anyone is confident that they belong to Christ, they should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as they do. So even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it.
– 2 Corinthians 10:7-8 NIV

Critics are everywhere. They often judge by appearance, arouse fear, and command an audience that is not deserved or earned. It has been said that people seek to control others through criticism, and we have all been manipulated by critics. We’ve all felt intimidated, negatively influenced, and left uneasy by words of criticism.

All of this does not suggest that we should be ignorant of the critic’s existence. We can learn something from a dissenting voice, but we shouldn’t regard the critic more than God. In 2 Corinthians 10, the Apostle Paul addresses some of his critics, false teachers in Corinth that were saying he was a coward; that he was bold in his letters but humble and meek in person. This claim caused many to doubt his sincerity, the spiritual nature of his message, and his heart. These were serious charges.

But Paul demonstrates how we should respond to criticism and appeal to the One who matters most. He is humble, compassionate, and deliberate in his words but doesn’t compromise his integrity or confidence in the truth. He evokes the gentleness and humility of Christ while asserting the moral authority to speak on behalf of God in the Spirit’s power. He writes in verses 3-4, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. On the contrary, the weapons we fight with have divine power to demolish strongholds.”

Paul does not stoop to the level of returning fire or criticism. He considers the accusations and tests them against the truth to measure their validity and act accordingly. He continues in verses 5-6: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Paul knew the truth of his heart and ministry. His only concern was his obedience to Christ and making sure his actions were right with God. He challenged them to look at the facts as they knew them and as God had confirmed, not what others said. His approach is a great lesson when it comes to our handling of criticism and responding to those who talk badly about or accuse us of things that aren’t true.

Lastly, Paul had no fear because he knew his life and work aligned with God, the only One who counts. He wasn’t worried that what he wrote wouldn’t match up with his own life. His conduct in person would be in sync with his letters. He asserted, “If anyone is confident that they belong to Christ, they should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as they do.” In other words, he was confident in the face of criticism because he was comfortable that his teachings honored Jesus, therefore, making them good for others.

May we follow the example outlined in this chapter when it comes to unfair and unjust criticism. May we not react in anger or a fleshly desire for vindication. But may our lives match up with God’s truth and the life of Jesus so succinctly that the voices of the critics ring hollow. Then we can live with confidence and go about the work God has called us to with no fear or anxiety of what others may think or say about it.

There is only One voice that truly counts, so let’s make sure we listen to what He has to say above all the rest. Remember, it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

He Gives, We Give

Read This Week: 2 Corinthians 9

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you, their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
– 2 Corinthians 9:12-15 NIV

It has been said that people with good intentions make promises, but people with good character keep them. The Apostle Paul knew the Corinthians were willing to give. He didn’t find it necessary to guilt or force them into it. But he did see the need to remind and encourage them beyond their intent. The church at Corinth was not unlike so many of us today when it comes to giving. We need all the exhortation, teaching, and help that we can get to move from the seat of good intentions to the feet of action.

Paul understood this about human nature regarding generosity, and he outlines the proper motivation and result of giving in 2 Corinthians 9. He teaches that it comes from a biblical understanding of God. God is the ultimate giver and provider. Everything we have comes from the Lord, and He will continue to supply all of our needs. God doesn’t give one time and disappear; He is constant in the action of His giving. As Christians, we can both trust Him and follow His example. He gives, we give. He keeps on giving; we do likewise.

This passage beautifully describes the balance of grace and flow of giving that should be present in the Christian life. It begins and ends with God. He supplies our needs. We give back by giving to others out of what God has given us. We, in turn, are strengthened by giving, other people are helped by our generosity, and God is praised. Thankfulness and blessings flow to both God and man. Paul writes in verses 12-13:

“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.”

This incredible cycle of grace and generosity is for the glory of God, the good of other people, and our joy. We can never separate the Giver and the giving when it is motivated by God’s gift of grace. Our salvation came because God believed in giving. Therefore, it should not merely be our intent to give, but our grace-filled action. He gives, we give.

It’s Better to Give

Read This Week: 2 Corinthians 8

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake, he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. – 2 Corinthians 8:2-3, 9 NIV

How often do we hear the saying, “It is better to give than to receive”? The quote can come from Christians and unbelievers alike, even though it originates in the Scriptures themselves (Acts 20:35). It is a principle and truth that communicates the fulfillment found in a life of generosity, not acquisition. But for as much as we love the phrase, do we truly believe and practice it?

In 2 Corinthians chapter 8, Paul takes the opportunity to write about generosity. The Corinthians were not doing their part in giving to a relief offering that the churches were taking up for the poor in Judea. Like those in modern times, they had good intentions to give and had even made promises to do so, but they failed to keep them. A whole year had gone by without any significant contributions from the Corinthian church, and Paul found that to be unacceptable.

It is important to note, however, that Paul did not want the Corinthians to think he was forcing them to give. His writing intended to teach and inspire them by reinforcing spiritual principles through the examples of Jesus and others who were motivated by love in their giving. Paul wanted them to know that love and grace are at the heart of real stewardship and generosity, and he shows the evidence of that type of giving. He asserts that if we are driven by the love of Christ and God’s grace:

  • We give despite our circumstances (8:1-2)
  • We give with enthusiasm (8:3-4)
  • We give willingly (8:10-12)
  • We give by faith (8:13-24)
  • We give out of a desire to serve others (8:16-17)
  • We give as Jesus gave (8:5-9)

The best evidence for us to follow is that of Jesus Christ. He is always our standard of giving in service and sacrifice. Verse 9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake, he became poor so that you through his poverty might become rich.” 

Like Jesus, if we give ourselves to God and his mission, we will have little problem being generous. If we give ourselves to God and his mission, we won’t have an issue giving our stuff away or utilizing our resources to help others. If we love God and understand his grace, it will be better to give than receive and virtually impossible not to offer ourselves to His service or ignore the needs of our neighbors. 

Hurts So Good

Read This Week: 2 Corinthians 7

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.
– 2 Corinthians 7:8-9 NIV

What should we learn from confrontation? What should be the proper response and outcome for a Christian when confronted by someone who is sincerely pointing out something that needs to change? In 2 Corinthians 7, we see both the proper response to correction and the result that God intends for His people.

After writing his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul was concerned that he had been too hard on them in his correction of their behavior. He was worried he had crushed their spirits and was feeling sorry for writing it in the first place. Then Titus arrived and brought him the news that the Corinthians wanted restoration. They were sorry about the problems that occurred and the way they acted. They were eager to make things right. Paul was happy with the news, and his previous worry turned into rejoicing. 

Here we see the Biblical reply to correction and confrontation as well as the result God intends after a Christ-centered rebuke. Godly sorrow that leads to repentance is the response, and reconciliation is the result. Paul wrote, “Now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.” And true repentance always restores and sets things right with God first, then with other people.

Paul goes on to say that Godly sorrow and a repentant heart produces character and qualities in us that the Lord desires. He asserts that it increases our spiritual devotion, makes us serious about doing what is right, and causes us to seek justice. It also results in a restoration of relationships and a deeper connection. Verse 12-13 concludes: “I wrote to you so that before God, you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. By all this we are encouraged.” This process, if done God’s way, has an outcome of encouragement and joy.

We can always learn something valuable from healthy confrontation or a time in which we are held accountable. This does not include being verbally assaulted or accused of something patently false. Baseless accusations just hurt without cause. But when the truth is conveyed sincerely, it can draw our attention to a blind spot or area that needs repentance, improvement, and change. These moments can be valuable teaching times that pay life-long dividends.

God uses these moments to bring us closer to Him and people. If it is done in a manner worthy of Christ, the time after a confrontation can be some of the richest with the Lord. He ministers to us in our weakness and brokenness. He assures us of our worth in Jesus and value to others. He also corrects us and turns our minds and hearts toward refinement, growth, and restored relationships. His loving discipline hurts so good.

Clear a Path

Read This Week: 2 Corinthians 6

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses.
– 2 Corinthians 6:3-4 NIV

Being in an unfamiliar place can be unsettling. When we find ourselves in a city for the first time, taking a road trip or hiking through the woods, we need good directions to make it to our landing-place. We rely on the instruments or people guiding us to clear the right path so we can successfully make it to the destination. A path that is cleared of roadblocks calms our fears, gives us confidence, and fills us with hope for every step.

Paul regards the eternal message of Jesus Christ and its salvation as the most important destination for everyone’s journey. In this writing of 2 Corinthians 6, he acknowledges both the work of the Holy Spirit and the Christian’s witness in a person coming to faith. In regards to the believer’s responsibility, he writes, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path.” Paul was confident that he and his associates were not doing anything to hinder others from receiving The Gospel. He wanted the church at Corinth and us to know that our experiences, behavior, and actions should work together to point people toward God, not away from Him.

In verses 6-10, this passage lays out the characteristics that should be present in a Christian’s life that will help clear a path for family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and anyone in our circles of influence to hear and receive the saving message of Jesus. Paul says that no matter our circumstances, we should live:

In purity, understanding, patience, and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and sincere love; in truthful speech and the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

The qualities of a true believer outlined here are so vital to positively impacting people for Christ. We can satisfy them with intellectual answers or point them to experiences that will make an emotional connection, but they still need to know that God has made a difference in our lives. People look deeper to see if we’ve been changed by the same thing we’re telling them. The message is often seen before it is heard.

May the Holy Spirit empower us to show grace, patience, kindness, and sincere love to a watching world. May we use truthful speech and our lives be a good report so there are no barriers to people seeing a clear picture of Jesus. Let’s clear a path for them to see, hear, and experience the joy of a life with God.

A New Point of View

Read This Week: 2 Corinthians 5

So from now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. – 2 Corinthians 5:16-19 NIV

We are human beings, therefore we have a human point of view. We are also finite, and that makes our point of view limited and bound to the restrictions of our fallibility. Because we judge, critique, and see things from a human standard, we value ourselves and people based on outward appearances and superficial criteria. Our point of view is rooted in our humanity and inherently flawed.

In 2 Corinthians 5, after telling the people of Corinth that Christians should live by faith in God and not by human sight, Paul also says that they need a new point of view. He encourages them to allow the Holy Spirit to work in their lives, to shift their view of Christ, themselves, and their evaluation of other people. He draws a definitive line in the sand and writes, “So from now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view.”

From this point on, we see Jesus as the Savior who brought grace by his death and life by his resurrection. We see ourselves as new creations in Christ with new life. And we regard others as those whom God loves and seeks to reconcile to himself while not counting their sins against them.

Our relationship with God changes our thoughts. We become His representatives that don’t see things from a worldly point of view anymore. We are new people with new eyes. The way we lead our family, conduct business, treat our friends and co-workers and see the world comes from God’s perspective. Our decisions, activities, words, and life positioning, all have His agenda in mind. The human mindset and angle take a back seat to what the Lord wants to do.

Verse 21 says, “God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” People who have become the righteousness of God in Christ, don’t live like they used to and don’t have the point of view of their old self. They seek reconciliation, not hostility. They express love, not hate or indifference. They fight for unity and don’t contribute to divisiveness. They pursue holiness, not just the bare minimum of human goodness.

God makes his appeal through us to the world, therefore, we should align our thinking and lives with Him. An impactful life for God requires a new point of view, His.

Jars of Clay

Read This Week: 2 Corinthians 4

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. – 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 NIV

If you have been a follower of Jesus in America for any considerable period, you may have taken one look at the title of this entry and thought it was about the contemporary Christian band most popular in the early 2000s. While that would be a good guess, it is not our subject here. We’re talking about the powerful jars of clay metaphor that Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 4:7.

At this point in his letter, Paul wants to make a distinction between his experience and the people of Corinth. He had a unique conversion and suffered intense persecution, including being in prison and having to endure a public stoning. Even as he wrote to them, he had just been near death again. The Corinthians had not faced these circumstances or opposition in their walk with Christ. So, it is was easy for some to idolize Paul as a hero and for others to look down on him as a poor, battered soul.

But starting with verse 7 to the end of the chapter, Paul points out the one, enduring similarity that they all had. He writes, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” His assertion here is that they were all the same; common individuals revealing an uncommon Savior to the world. They had different experiences but were all just normal people carrying around something priceless.

Paul wants them and us to know that Christians are not special because of who we are, or because of our spiritual resume. We are special only because of what we carry. Just as an expensive item doesn’t get its worth from the box it comes in, the Gospel does not get its power from who holds it nor its value from the clay jar. We have this treasure in jars of clay is a beautiful word picture of God entrusting His extraordinary message to ordinary men and women. Imperfect, temporary vessels who have been given the responsibility to transport something eternal and flawless.

In the ancient world, many things were stored in clay jars including valuable treasures. In our modern world, this is true of the Christian life. The timeless message of the Gospel is stored in sinners saved by grace who are refined by fire and susceptible to being broken just like ancient pottery. Yet, God, in His good pleasure, chooses to deliver His most remarkable thing in such unremarkable containers.

This is why we shouldn’t lose hope in our calling or life with God. This is why we don’t have to despair when we go through hard times. It’s not about us. It’s not about what we can do or bring to the table. It’s about the privilege of carrying the Good News of Jesus to the world so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.