Chapter 4 of Revelation: The Times and The Seasons

CloudsAfter this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice,
which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will
show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold,
a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. (Rev 4:1-2)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I was in high school, the youth director at church, who knew that I was shy, appointed me photographer for the summer retreat. This was a brilliant move onher part because my new job required that I meet everyone and take their picture. Open doors and open windows became my favorite backdrop for these photos. In my mind, open doors and windows were a symbol of our new life in Christ: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Rom 12:2).

Doors and Windows in Time

There are also doors and windows in time. The Greek language distinguishes two types of time. When the disciples asked the risen Christ, he refers to both types of time: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority (Acts 1:6-7). The Greek word for times is: chronos (χρόνους (Acts 1:7 BNT)). The Greek word for seasons is: Kairos (καιροὺς (Acts 1:7 BGT)). Chronos time is watch or calendar time. Kairos time is a decision moment or crisis. In other words, Kairos is a door in time. Once you go through it, you enter a new phase in life. Entering the door into heaven is a Kairos moment.

A lot of the discussion over interpreting the book Revelations has to do with attitudes about time. Does Christ return to earth before reigning for a thousand years (pre-millennial) or after (post-millennial)? Are the biblical covenants exclusively and consecutively administrated? That is: Adamic/creation covenant (Gen 1-2)=>the Noahic/recreation covenant (Gen 9:1-17)=>the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 15)=>the Mosaic covenant (Exod 20-24)=>Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7:1-17)=>New Covenant (dispensational). Or, can more than one covenant be in effect at the same time? (Non-dispensational) Is there a rapture? If so, when does it occur in reference to all of the above? All of these interpretations of the end times can be confusing.

The Alpha and The Omega

Jesus said: I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty (Rev 1:8). The use of the phrase alpha to omega is a literary merism. A merism is a description of a continuum, defined by its end points, but which refers to the whole continuum. When Jesus says, I am the Alpha and the Omega, he really means: I am the alpha, beta, gamma, delta…omega. In other words the whole alphabet! The doublet that follows—who is and who was and who is to come—makes this clear. It also clearly refers to time—all of it. The implication is that Christ stands above and outside of time.

This is an important clue as to how to interpret Revelations. If one stands outside of time, the sequence within time is irrelevant. When we confront the living God, we are in Kairos time, not Chronos time. The image of a throne underscores this point because it is an image of judgment—also a Kairos image.

Amillennial Defined

For this reason, the conventional view of the end-times (eschatology) since the early church has been that to interpret biblical glimpses of the future as primarily focused on how we live today (amillennial), not hints as how to interpret end-time events or sequences. This is why Jesus said: It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority (Acts 1:7 ESV). Be ready and watch out for those doors…

Questions

Read Revelations 4. Then read: Isaiah 6:1-5, Ezekiel 1:4-28, and Daniel 7:9-14

1. How long was the journey up to heaven that John traveled? Why makes this journey special?
2. What does the door to heaven (v 1) mean to you? What does it mean to John?
3. How is heaven decorated? Is this more or less than you might expect? How does this compare to a typical king’s palace? How about the president’s office?
4. How does one get a crown normally in ancient times? What do you suppose the crowns indicate here?
5. What does the number 24 signify?
6. What do the creature eye symbolize (v 6) and mean? What is the job description of the creatures?

Chapter 4 of Revelation: The Times and The Seasons

Also see:

Chapter 5 of Revelation: Harp and Bowl

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

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Chapter 5 of Revelation: Harp and Bowl

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Do you get excited when you read the Bible?

In May 2013 I had the privilege of attending a prayer service in Charlotte, NC. Normally, I would drive to school on Friday morning, attend Friday evening and all day Saturday, and drive home late Saturday evening so attending a Sunday morning prayer service in Charlotte was a treat for me.

Harp and Bowl Prayer

This prayer service consisted of prayer mixed with music. Some prayer and music was prepared in advance; some was spontaneous. The point was to praise the Lord, to enjoy the His presence, and to linger. This style of worshipful music and prayer is referred to as a Harp and Bowl service (Rev 5:8; also: www.ihopkc.org). The idea apparently originated with King David (Psalm 141:1-2) which perhaps inspired the Apostle Paul’s admonition to pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:17).

The outbreak of worship is Revelations 5 arises immediately after the fifth verse:

And he [the Lamb] went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (Rev 5:7-8).

Worthy to Open Scroll

The excitement arises because of the scroll which: no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it (Rev 5:3 ESV). This scroll, which previously was treated as an idolatrous object of worship (Deut 5:8), was suddenly now being opened by someone worthy: the Lamb—ironically referred to as the Lion of Judah (Gen 49:9). This passage obviously refers to Jesus Christ.

The interpretation of this chapter accordingly hangs on one word: scroll—what scroll is it? The Greek word for scroll is βιβλίον normally translated as: Bible. So why do many translations read: scroll?

The First Book (Codex)

In the first century, the very first book (called a codex) ever assembled was the New Testament (NT). The church did not agree on the content of the NT until the fourth century. However, many of the books now contained in the NT were already assembled together in the first century, bounded together on leather pages printed front and back—an innovation.

Christian evangelists developed the book format for three important reasons—it was cheap, transportable, and was easily distinguished from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament—OT) which were traditionally written on multiple scrolls which were neither cheap nor transportable. Consequently, scholars disagree as to whether the Apostle John’s vision referred to the OT (scroll) or the NT (book). The Book of Revelations is one of the last books in NT to have been written so arguments go either way. Theologically, translating βιβλίον as scroll makes sense because John’s point then becomes that the OT is understandable only when viewed through the lens of Christ.

Getting Excited

So in verse 9 we see a party breaking out in heaven: And they sang a new song, saying, Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Rev 5:9 ESV).

So if you get excited reading your Bible, consider yourself an angel!

QUESTIONS

  1. Do you have questions from last week? Did any important events happen in your life this week? Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share?
  2. What sort of seals are we talking about here in v 5:1?
  3. What is the image of the Lion of Judah? (Genesis 49:9)
  4. What about the image of the lamb? (Exodus 12:21)
  5. What is the symbolism of the seven horns? What do horns signify? (Daniel 7:7-8)
  6. What is the image of a new song? (Isaiah 42:10; Psalm 40:3)
  7. What about the four living creatures? (Ezekiel 1:5)
  8. What does Amen (ἀμήν) actually mean?

405 ἀμήν
• ἀμήν (LXX occas. for אָמןֵ , usu. transl. by γένοιτο; taken over by Christians; in pap symbol. expressed
by the number 99 [α=1 + μ=40 + η=8 + ν=50; ESchaefer, PIand I 29], but also as ἀμήν [POxy 1058, 5].
Ins: ISyriaW 1918; MvOppenheim-HLucas, ByzZ 14, 1905, p. 34ff, nos. 36, 39, 46, 84)

1. strong affirmation of what is stated
a. as expression of faith let it be so, truly, amen liturgical formula at the end of the liturgy, spoken by the congregation 16:10 p. 137, 19 Ja.; Cyranides p. 124, 18 Ἀμήν· τέλος· ἀμήν· ἀμήν) ἀ. was almost always put at the end of books, but not in the older mss. (and hence v.l.) Mt 28:20; Mk 16:20

Chapter 5 of Revelation: Harp and Bowl

Also see:

Chapter 4 of Revelation: The Times and The Seasons 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

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Chapters 2-3 of Revelation: Tools in Interpretation

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

When you are lost, how do you find your way home? In my training as a boy scout, I learned to read a map and to work with a compass during the day and to follow the stars at night. Revelation is one of those books in the bible that tests your skills in biblical interpretation.

Role of Genre in Interpretation

One form of interpretation starts by asking a simple question: what kind of writing (genre) are we looking at? Possibilities include: narrative (simple stories or history), Gospel, poetry, song, wisdom literature, prophecy, parable, epistle (a letter), law, genealogies, or apocalyptic. We tend to look at each of these a bit differently and particular books of the Bible often have multiple genre. Revelations, for example, contains prophecy, history, narrative, song, poetry, and even law.

Role of Perspective in Interpretation

Another important aspect of interpretation is to ask which perspective on the text to take: the author’s, the scripture itself, and the reader’s.  When you see a commentary talking about the audience or the historical context, this is an attempt to understand the author’s intent in writing. Or when you hear a pastor citing Old Testament (OT) references that explain a New Testament (NT) passage, this is using scripture to interpret scripture. When you hear someone explain what a particular passage means to them, this is using the reader’s perspective. John Calvin used these three principles of interpretation, but added one more of interest to pastors–use of the texts in the original languages–which leads to word studies, issues of grammar, literary criticism, and other questions of syntax.

Role of Interpretation in Church Controversies

Biblical interpretation is a bit technical and boring, but it is important. Many of the controversies of our day in the church have at their root differences over issues of biblical interpretation. For example, when the Apostle John writes prophetically in Revelations is he writing primarily to the seven churches in Asia Minor or is he writing to us? If you answer the seven churches, then you are taking the author’s perspective. If you answer to us, then you are taking the reader’s perspective.

New Covenant in Christ

An obvious interpretative pallet for understanding Revelation is John’s Gospel. What is striking about John’s Gospel is that John seems to suggest that the New Covenant in Christ is not a written document or teachings, but rather the person of Jesus.[1] So when John gives us a vision of the son of man in Revelations 1:13, an allusion to Daniel 7:13, we find ourselves witnessing an image of judgment under the New Covenant. Christ has returned to take stock of those he left behind. What is perhaps shocking is that John sees this judgment[2] starting with the seven churches.

Why are the seven churches the first focus of this heavenly vision of judgment and not the gentiles, especially not the Romans, John’s jailors at Patmos, who were persecuting the church at his point?

Questions for Revelation 2

  1. Do you have questions from last week? Did any important events happen in your life this week? Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share?
  2. Which four churches does John address in this chapter? (vv. 1, 8, 12, 18)
  3. Why does John starts with Ephesus? (Acts 18:9-19:5) Or do we really know?
  4. What are the strong points of the Ephesus church? (vv. 2-3) What are the weak points? (v. 4)
  5. What blessings/curses are attached to the judgment of the Ephesus church? (vv. 5-7)
  6. Who is John addressing in verses 7, 11, 17, and 26-29?
  7. What is the morning star reference about? (v. 28; Matt 2:2, 2 Peter 1:19)
  8. What are the blessings and curses faced by the church at Smyrna? (vv. 8-10)
  9. Read Deuteronomy 4:30. What is prophesied?
  10. Read 1 Samuel 26:22-25 and Matthew 5:44. What is enemy love; what is tribulation?
  11. Who are victorious? What is the second death? (v. 11)
  12. What strong points does John mention in the church of Pergamum? (v. 13)
  13. What weak points afflict the Pergamum church? (vv. 14-16)
  14. What is the sword of the mouth? (v. 16; Rev 1:16, 19:21)
  15. What new name are they to receive? (v. 17)
  16. Who is known from the city of Thyatira? (Acts 16:14)
  17. What strong points are mentioned about the church of Thyatira? (v. 19)
  18. What sins afflict the church of Thyatira? (vv. 20-25)
  19. Read Psalm 2:9. What is the reward for the victorious? (vv. 26-27)
  20. Who is Jezebel and what are Satan’s dark secrets? (vv. 20, 24; 1 Kings 16:30-31)

Questions on Revelation 3

  1. What strong points does John mention about the church at Sardia? (vv. 4-5)
  2. What weak points does he mention? (vv. 1-2)
  3. What metaphor of judgment does John use? (v. 3)
  4. What does it look like to be victorious? (vv. 4-5) What is the metric?
  5. Is this judgment applicable only to the church at Sardia? (vv. 6, 13, 22)
  6. What complaint does John offer about the church of Philadelphia?
  7. What praise does he offer? (vv. 8-10)
  8. What encouragement does John offer Philadelphia? (vv. 8, 10-11)
  9. What open door is John referring to? (v. 8)
  10. How does John describe Christ in verses 14, 19-21.
  11. What complaint does John offer against the church at Laodicea? (vv. 15-18)
  12. How does John’s complaint compare to Paul’s observations in Colossians 2:1-3?
  13. Read Proverbs 10:13 and 13:24. How is Christ’s love expressed? (v. 19)

References

Osborne, Grant R.  2006. The Hermenutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretations. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Thompson, John L. 2004. “Calvin as Biblical Interpreter.” Pages 58-73 in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin. Edited by Donald A. McKim. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Vanhoozer, Kevin H. 1998. Is there Meaning in this Text? Grand Rapids: Zondervan. (Review)

Footnotes

[1] Unlike Matthew or the author of Hebrews, John never uses the word covenant, not even in reference to the last supper (John 13:1-14). And John uses the word commandment consistently to refer to the double-love commandment. For example, John writes: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (John 13:34).

[2] When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev 1:17-18).

Chapters 2-3 of Revelation: Tools in Interpretation

Also see:

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2wVZtbb

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Chapter 1 of Revelation: Alpha and Omega

Clouds

I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God,
who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty (Rev 1:8).

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Revelation is a mysterious book. The metaphorical language in Revelations makes it a difficult book to understand. The question arises whenever an artist paints a picture: what colors does he favor?

Prophecy

The Apostle John is unique when he says that he is speaking prophetically (Rev 1:3). We should not be surprised about this because the New Testament word for prophet is really apostle—the sent one. The confusion arises because we normally define a prophet in the narrow Greek sense of the word as someone who forecasts the future. Hebrew prophets also do this but a Hebrew prophet’s job description is defined covenantally. A prophet is someone who either introduces a covenant (like Moses) or reminds people of their obligations under a divine covenant and the consequences of covenantal disobedience (like Elijah).

The Covenants

Biblical covenants are modeled after ancient treaties. The full description of a covenant contains these parts: A title or preamble, historical prologue, stipulations, deposition and regular reading, witnesses, blessings and curses. If the stipulations (laws articulated in the covenant) are kept, then the covenant provides for blessings. If not (sin under the covenant), then the covenantal curses are evoked. The five major Old Testament covenants are: Adamic/creation covenant (Genesis 1-2), the Noahic/recreation covenant, (Gen 9:1-17), the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 15), the Mosaic covenant (Exod 20-24), and the Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7:1-17).

The Apostle John paints his picture of the future focusing on allusions to two covenants: the Adamic/creation covenant and the Davidic covenant. For example, John writes: To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (Rev 2:7). This is an obvious reference to Eden in Genesis 2:9. The Davidic covenant is likewise brought to mind every time John mentions words like reign or kingdom or takes images from the Prophet Daniel who likewise evokes many images of kingly power. Revelation evokes an image of an uncreation event as the end-times draw near and we find ourselves in a new relationship with animals and exotic creatures, like angels, and a new kingdom (Isaiah 65:25).

The New Covenant

What about the New Covenant that we have in Christ? Covenantal language is all over the New Testament, but is especially obvious in the book of Matthew. One outline is: preamble (Matt 1:1,21), prologue (Matt 1-3), stipulations (Matt 5:18-20,14:28-29, 17:9, 19:16-21, 22:36-40, and 28:18-20), reminder (Matt 26:26-28), witnesses (Matt 1:1-17, 1:18-2, 3, 3:17,17:5), blessings (Matt 5:3-11), curses (Matt 23:13-30, 26:24).

Can you identify the covenantal language in Revelations that Apostle John uses to outline his version of the new covenant in Christ?

Interesting Resource

Bauckham Writes Theology of Revelation 

Questions

1. Do you have questions from last week? Did any important events happen in your life this week? Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share?
2. What is the purpose of the Book of Revelation? What is the basic theme of chapter 1? (vv. 1, 19)
3. Who is it addressed to and by whom has it been delivered? (vv. 1, 4, 9)
4. How does John describe himself? (vv. 1, 9-11)
5. What is a prophet? What is the point of prophecy? (vv.2-3, 9-11, 19)
6. Who is Jesus Christ? (vv. 5-7, 12-16)
6. What genre(s) does John write in? (vv. 1, 4, 10)
7. Seven churches are named? Who are they? Where are they? (vv. 4, 11)
8. What is the significance of the number seven? (vv. 4, 12, 16, 20)
9. How do you interpret verses 4-6?
10. Read Daniel 7:13. Where else have we seen this verse cited? What is the significance of this reference? (Matt 26:64) (vv. 13-15)
11. Read Zechariah. 12:10. How do you interpret this verse?
12. What is significant about verse 8?
13. Who is writing this epistle? From where is he writing? When? (vv. 9-10)
14. What are the lampstands? What is their purpose? (vv. 12-13, 20)
15. What are the keys? (v. 18)

References

Niehaus, Jeffery. “Covenant and Narrative, God and Time” pages 535-59 of Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 53:3, 2010.

 

Also see:

Christian Spirituality 

 Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2wVZtbb

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2 Corinthians 13: Passing the Test

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?– unless indeed you fail to meet the test!  I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. (2 Corinthians 13:5-6 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I taught in the university, my final exam was never a surprise. The week before the final I would pass out ten questions as homework and announce that five of these questions would be on the final exam. Now these were not easy questions—my questions were designed to encourage my students to master the subject. My good students invariably typed up answers to all ten questions and simply turn all of them in on the day of the examination; my lazy students showed up empty handed and unprepared to answer the questions.

Which kind of Christian are you?  Are you prepared for your exam?

Paul’s does not hold himself up as the judge over the Corinthians.  Rather, he asks them to judge for themselves.  What is interesting about the question is that if the Corinthians believe that their faith is real, then the evangelist that brought them to faith must also be real!  And, the question of Paul’s apostolic authority would also be answered.  Clearly, Paul has this interpretation in mind when he writes:  I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test (v 6).  The use of the plural (we) implies the answer to the question reflects well or badly on Paul himself.

Paul’s use of the weak-strong motif is a reminder of what Paul sees the answer to be.  When we adopt a servant attitude with respect to others in the church, in other words are “weak”, then we are clearly strong in the faith.  A defensive or haughty attitude, in other words are “strong”, would be the opposite.  The example of Christ is crucial.  Paul writes:  For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God (v 4).  In giving his life for our sins on the cross, Christ led out of weakness and provided an example for us all.

Christ’s example also motivates Paul’s leadership style and purpose in writing.  He writes:  For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down (v 10).  According to Paul, the proper use of authority is to build up, not to tear down.

In closing, Paul admonishes the church:  rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you (v 11).  If the church is to be a foretaste of heaven, these admonitions must be practiced.

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2 Corinthians 12: The Problem of Spiritual Pride

First Car
First Car in 1974

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things– and the things that are not– to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:25-29 NIV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In our passage today, the Apostol Paul addresses the church in Corinth which has a problem with spiritual pride. We get a hint of this problem in the many references that Paul makes to boasting—about half (27/57) of the references to boasting in all of scripture arise in the two letters of Paul to the church in Corinth. In only these ten verses of our passage today, he uses the term, boast, 4 times.

So, what is spiritual pride? What is boasting? (2X) In our passage today, Paul uses the Greek word, καυχάομαι, which means: to take pride in something, boast, glory, pride in oneself, brag (BDAG, 4171.1). Spiritual pride consists of bragging about our relationship with God.

So what does Paul say? Paul says:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven.

Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know– God knows. And I know that this man– whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell (vv 2-4).

But then he comments on this ecstatic experience and says: Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. (v 1). Nothing! In fact, he goes on to say: I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses (v 5). Further, he says: Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me (v 7).  But Paul does not stop there. Paul prayers to God 3 times to relieve him of this thorn in the flesh. And God gives a surprising answer to Paul’s prayer:

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (v 9). In other words, God refuses to heal Paul of this thorn in the flesh, but instead offers Paul His presence—God’s grace. And Paul is content with this answer, saying:  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 (v 10).

Has God given you a thorn in the flesh?

Most of us struggle with spiritual pride in one form or another. Our pride tells us that we are special even when it is not true.  What brings together as a church is not our strengths, but our weaknesses. For not all of us are experts in the same things, but we are all in need of God’s forgiveness for our sins. So in my own case, my weakness in understanding and speaking Spanish allows me to find room in my life for God. Returning to the words of Paul: For when I am weak, then I am strong (v 10). Not in myself, but in Jesus Christ.

 

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2 Corinthians 11: Boast in the Lord

MrPersonalityFor if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. (2 Corinthians 11:4-5 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What does it mean to be an authentic Christian leader?

The Apostle Paul’s ministry came into question in Corinth for at least two reasons:  1. Paul focused on teaching rather than eloquent speaking (v 6) and 2. Paul was a volunteer evangelist (v 7).  Today, in some denominations Paul would be considered a lay pastor while others might call him a church planter.

Senior pastor of mega church—I don’t think so!  Paul was not a polished speaker and traveled with a scribe, not a worship team.  His manner of pastoral care would probably result in disciplinary action or dismissal in many mainline denominations.  The sarcastic tone displayed in this chapter might easily have been cited as a major reason—ever rob another church to support your volunteer work? (v 8).

Paul shames his adversaries in Corinth with his boasting.  A polished speaker today, as then, might be introduced citing academic credentials, the television programs hosted, important posts held, even titles earned, family background, and friends vacationed with—when the name dropping begins. And, of course, who could miss the Armani suit?

What does Paul brag about? Family heritage, number of arrests, beatings, whippings, stonings, shipwrecking, perils suffered, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, exposure to the elements, and anxieties for the church (vv 22-28).  Echoed in the words of Paul are Jesus’ own words:  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35 ESV)

So what was Paul’s motivation for “putting himself out there” for the Corinthian church?

Paul writes:  For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ (v 2).  In other words, Paul thinks of himself as the father of the bride who, oh by the way, introduced his daughter to her future husband.

For Paul, authenticity as a Christian leader means modeling Christ to the church through lifestyle ministry and teaching.

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2 Corinthians 10: Spiritual Warfare

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2 Corinthians 10:4-6 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

As a freshman in college, I took judo. Judo appealed to me for a lot of reasons, but one of the most important was the judo philosophy of using your opponent’s actions and weaknesses against them.  Instead of resisting an opponent lunging at you, you step aside, tug their collar, and trip them with a knee or ankle block.  Or, freak your opponent out with an uncommon technique—works even against a black belt!  But only for a while!  In my case, the black belt recovered his composure and I was quickly looking up from the mat on my back!

In the case of spiritual warfare, Satan is the ultimate black belt opponent—he knows all our weaknesses and has mastered all the moves.  In verse 17, Paul wisely cites the Prophet Jeremiah who writes

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

In the spiritual domain, the strongholds we face are false arguments and lofty opinions that arise, not from Christ, but promote disobedience (vv 4-6) and serve, not to build up, but to destroy (v 8).  Because our opponent is stronger and craftier than us, we boast only of God (v 17) and limit ourselves to the ministry with which God has entrusted us (v 13).  To speak about other matters is foolish (v 16) for it is the Lord who commends, not us (v 18).

Interestingly, Paul writes not about Satan and a fight with demons, but simply about his human opponents in the church at Corinth. Yet, we instinctively recognize that the physical realm and the spiritual realm share much in common.

The attack on Paul in Corinth starts with ridicule of his meekness and gentleness—attributes of Christ himself (v 1).  Yet, what do we hear today? … Don’t be a doormat like those Christians!  In Paul’s case, his critics say:  His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account (v 10).  Still, Paul’s defense is very plain—I simply practice what I preach (v 11).  He further points out that his critics simply work to make themselves look good by comparing themselves with others (v 12).

Do you think that Paul ever practiced judo?

A wise man scales the city of the mighty and brings down the stronghold in which they trust. (Proverbs 21:22)

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2 Corinthians 9: The Spiritual Gift of Generosity

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Prophet Isaiah draws a parallel between the generosity of God in watering the earth and the word of God powerfully accomplishing his purposes.  Because generosity is a tangible expression of love, is Isaiah, in fact, saying that love accomplishes God’s purposes?  Jesus thought so (Matthew 5:44-46).

In chapter 9, Paul continues his discussion of the drought relief fund for Jerusalem that he has been discussing.  Garland [1] noted these parallels between chapters 8 and 9 forming an inclusio (a literary frame around the discussion):

  Chapter

Text

8

9

The grace of God 8:1 9:14
Ministry/Service 8:1 9:12-13
Test 8:2 9:13
Generosity 8:2 9:11,13
Abound 8:2 9:12

This is inclusio is important because other commentaries have argued for a second letter being inserted in chapter 9 because they could not understand Paul’s apparent repetition.  Paul pauses in his letter to explain the relief fund, in part, because his Greek audience does not understand the Jewish concern for helping the poor.

For example, in verse 9 Paul paraphrases:  You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. (Deuteronomy 15:10)  Like the Romans, the Greeks saw only one reason for charity—to receive praise and honor from those receiving it.  Praise and honor from poor people was not interesting to them.  Praise and honor from God for offering charity to the poor, by contrast, was another matter.  In verses 7-12, Paul reminds them of God’s interest in generosity, especially to the poor, 4 times!

Paul drives his point home by reminding the Corinthians that the saints in Jerusalem will be praying for them (v 14) [2].

Generosity.  Do we count both the blessings and the cost when we donate money?  Paul reminds us:  God loves a cheerful giver (v 7)

[1] David E. Garland. 1999.  The New American Commentary:  2 Corinthians.  Nashville:  B&H. page 400.

[2] Later, in his letter to the Romans (15:30-31), Paul worries that the Corinthian gift will not be accepted.

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2 Corinthians 8: A Faithful and Generous Heart

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

But when they measured it [manna] with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. (Exodus 16:18 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When is enough, enough?

One of the great stories of God’s provision starts with manna:  bread from heaven.  Moses writes:  It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. (Exodus 16:31).  Moses instructed the people to take only what they could eat in a day and to share their excess supply with those who could not gather enough.  The people had to trust that God would provide a fresh supply the next morning.  When the Lord’s Prayer says—Give us this day our daily bread (Matthews 6:11)—the back story is one of manna in the desert.

We know that Moses’ instructions about manna came from God because 6 days a week leftover manna would rot, but the day before Sabbath leftover manna would not rot.  Because the Israelite people were forbidden to work on the Sabbath, God provided manna that would not rot on the sixth day so that they could save enough for the next day and keep the Sabbath (Exodus 16:23-24).  God’s provision meant that the Israelites did not have to fast in order to keep the Sabbath.

Paul (v 15) uses the story of manna in the desert to write to a rich church (Corinth), about the need to share resources (a drought relief fund) with the poor church (Jerusalem; Exodus 16:18).  Paul writes:  For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness (vv 13-14).  Here Paul speaks not out of obligation, but of fairness, applying a kind of insurance principle. This suggests that the relative disparity in wealth between the two churches is not so great that one would always be the more fortunate.  Tying this need of the Jerusalem church to the story of manna suggests also that God’s gracious provision can come in the form of the assistance that we provide to one another.

Paul makes this point implicitly when then turns to discuss Titus—his partner and fellow worker (v 23).  Titus, who is famous for his preaching (v 18), volunteers to assist in conveying the Corinthian gift to Jerusalem (v 17).  Why?  Because he cares for the Corinthian church much like Paul himself and was their appointed representative (vv 16, 19).  Titus therefore is not only a good man, but he embodies the spirit of grace and generosity which the gift itself embodies (v 19).

Why does Paul care so much about this fund for the Jerusalem church?

It is interesting that Paul writes theologically and apologetically about the importance of this financial aid.  Paul argues, for example, that financial assistance is an expression of the faith of the Corinthian church.  He writes:  But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also (v 7).  This is an argument grounded in Christian freedom, not obligation.  He makes no appeal to the Old Testament standard of a title, but rather argues that the Corinthians give out of proportion to what they have (v 12).

Garland sees Paul’s special concern in raising this drought relief as motivated by the need to promote unity in the church between Jewish and Gentile believers [1].  Rather than allowing ethnic cliques to develop within the church, Paul promoted unity.  To the Galatian church, he wrote:  There is neither Jew nor Greek [ethnic division], there is neither slave nor free [class division], there is no male and female [gender division], for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatian 3:28).  I am curious: what would a letter from Paul to the churches in Northern Virginia look like?

When is enough, enough?

[1] David E. Garland.  1999.  The New American Commentary:  2 Corinthians.  Nashville:  B&H Publishing Company.

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