2 Corinthians 7: Godly Grief

My Grandparents' Tombstone
My Grandparents’ Tombstone

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The rapid pace of cultural change in our society can sometimes leave us speechless and unable to process some things that we observe.  For me, one of those moments occurred last week when I walked into my living room and saw my wife watching an episode of Dr. Phil.  On the show, a 16-year woman shamelessly recounted how she had been sexually intimate with several young men, one after the other, at a party.  Yet, she was upset on the show primarily because the whole incident was video-taped by others present [1].  By contrast, her mother’s response was more like mine—she was speechless and horrified.

A cultural anthropologist might describe this incident as an example of a response in a guilt-innocence culture where things not illegal trigger no internal feeling of shame—the individual feels no accountability to social norms (even on national television).  In an honor-shame culture, by contrast, the expected response would be to feel shame and attempt to hide the behavior to avoid sanctioning by the community [2].  My distress in observing this show suggests that one dimension of cultural change today is the shift from an honor-shame culture of most adults to a guilt-innocence culture among some youth today.

In chapter 5 of Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth clearly addresses the culture in Corinth as an honor-shame culture.  The idea of holiness expressed in verse 1, for example, talks about holiness as spiritual cleansing motivated by fear of God.  Holiness is a virtue or character trait focusing on separating oneself from evil practices—defilement (spiritual dirtiness) [3]—or to preserve the sacred nature of something.  Holiness is a character trait valued primarily in an honor-shame culture, not a guilt-innocence culture.

Paul observes in the Corinthian church experiencing Godly grief after they mistreated him.  Paul writes:

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death (vv 9-10).

In other words, Godly grief brings shame which leads to repentance and a turning to God, hence—salvation.  The young woman on Dr. Phil, by contrast, only grieved that she had been video-taped—she expressed no repentance.  The discipline which Paul practiced in Corinth and led to their salvation would have been pointless in the case of this young woman.

How does someone experience Godly grief in a guilt-innocence culture?  I fear that one can only outgrow a youth culture stuck in guilt-innocence mode [4], but I pray for God’s intervention.

 

[1] Dr. Phil, August 6, 2014, Not-So-Sweet 16: “My Daughter’s Dangerous Sex Life” (http://www.drphil.com/shows/show/2220).

[2] http://www.knowledgeworkx.com/blogs/knowledgeworkx/item/141-three-colors-of-worldview.

[3] μολυσμός (BDAG 4973) noun version of verb, μολύνω (BDAG  4972.1), meaning to “cause something to become dirty or soiled, stain”, soil  in a “in sacred and moral context”. 

[4] One could perhaps say that Rosaria Butterfield went through this process marrying at age 39.  No longer able to have children of her own, she and her husband adopted and raised orphans.   (The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  Pittsburgh:  Crown and Covenant Publications, 2012, page 108).

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2 Corinthians 6: Accredited in Christ

Celtic Cross
Celtic Cross

We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry… (2 Corinthians 6:3 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Having a bit of Irish in me, seminary introduced me for the first time to the story of Saint Patrick.  Up to that point, I associated Saint Patrick primarily with green beer.  In fact, Saint Patrick is credited by some with saving the Christian faith.  However, Saint Patrick did not start out as a saint.  Born into an aristocratic British family in the late fourth century AD, at the age of 16 he was kidnapped by Celtic pirates and sold into slavery.  For six years he worked herding cattle living as a slave in the Irish wilderness.  There he learned humility being forced to depend on God; learned to speak the Celtic language; and learned to love the Celtic people.  Patrick began to pray for the Irish to reconcile with God.  In response to a dream, he escaped his master and returned to England where he studied to become a priest.  He was later commissioned as bishop and returned to Ireland as an evangelist.  Patrick and his colleagues were so successful in starting churches in Ireland that they later turned their attention to the continent of Europe and began the process of revitalizing the church there [1].  Patrick’s walk with the Lord, like that of Joseph, began in adversity and a life of hardship [2].

The Apostle begins his discourse in chapter 6 with Biblical citation from the Prophet Isaiah:

Thus says the LORD: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages, saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’ (Isaiah 49:8-9 ESV)

The phrase “time of favor” translates the Greek word, kairos (καιρός), which means decision time or time of crisis [3].  In order to bring the unsaved to the point of the day of salvation, Paul is willing to undergo all manners of hardships—great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger—and personal disciplines—by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love (vv 4-6) to accredit himself with the unsaved.

Why? Paul’s appeal is to the Christians of the Corinthian church.

Keeping Paul’s audience in mind, he then goes on to admonish these Christians to separate themselves from the idolaters who remain among them.  Paul is not asking them to separate themselves from all unbelievers (that would make evangelism rather difficult), but rather:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 ESV) [4]

Idolatry was a particular problem for the Corinth church because the religions of the day practiced temple prostitution and embraced syncretism—recognizing and practicing multiple religions.  This placed them in direct violation of the Second Commandment—do not practice idolatry (Exodus 20:4).  Paul asks:  What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (v 16).  Idolatry and syncretism are important problems today, in part, because modern and postmodern religious movements masquerade as lifestyles, entertainment, political movements, and fads whose religious elements are subtle—they function as religions kind of like an SUV functions as a car even though its legal (or regulatory) treatment is different.

Paul is therefore placing his lifestyle of obedience and hardship in contrast with the lifestyle of opulence and sin practiced by his opponents in the Corinthian church.  Consequently, when I wear a Celtic cross, I am reminded not only of the Presbyterian Church but also the humility of Saint Patrick that helped bring it into being.

[1] George G. Hunter III. 2000. The Celtic Way of Evangelism:  How Christianity can Reach the West…Again. Nashville:  Abingdon Press.  Pages13-25.  Also see:  Philip Freeman.  2004.  Saint Patrict of Ireland:  A Biography.  New York:  Simon & Schuster (PhilipFreemanBooks.com).

[2] Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 39).

[3] καιρός (BDAG, 3857) a point of time or period of time, time, period, frequently with implication of being especially fit for something and without emphasis on precise chronology.

[4] David E. Garland. 1999.  The New American Commentary:  2 Corinthians.  Nashville:  B&H Publishing. Pages 330-340.

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2 Corinthians 5: Be Reconciled with God and with One Another

Maryam_with_flowers_07292014Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 ESV)[1]

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Do you long more for heaven or for something else?

When I was a foreign exchange student in Germany, I never missed home more than during Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a uniquely North American holiday when families converge and spend time together.  The foreign student office arranged a dinner party for the Americans on campus, but goose is not a perfect substitute for turkey. So between my incomplete comprehension of German at that point and my absence from the family, my homesickness reached a peak.

As Christians, we experience sin as a similar kind of homesickness.  We groan feeling the particular pain of knowing our sinfulness and separation from God (v 4).  It is much like the point in a fight with your spouse when you know that you screwed up but still have not reconciled.  Or, like Adam and Eve as they are being sent out of the garden (Genesis 3:23).  Or, like the prodigal son as he woke up finding himself slopping pigs in a foreign country (Luke 15:15-17).  And even as we groan, all of creation groans with us (Romans 8:18-23).

But as Christians we are not without hope.  We know the source of our problem.  Our holy fear of God’s judgment marshals us to admit our guilt and reconcile with God.  And not only that.  As the Apostle Paul writes:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.  Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others (vv 10-11).

Absent our knowledge of God, our groaning might lead us deeper into sin. The alcoholic, for example, does not have simply a bodily ailment.  The problem of addiction is inherently a spiritual problem—it is groaning without knowledge of God and of the need for reconciliation.  The bottle is not substitute for knowing the ultimate object of our groaning.  We are homesick for Eden and intimacy with God; yet as addicts, we are unaware.

Paul lived this reality.  He wrote:  For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you (v 13).  We evangelize, not just to save others; we evangelize to save ourselves.  Our holy fear of God means that we feel God’s heart for the fallen and pine for the other objects of God’s holy love—our neighbors.

So in Christ, God gives us new clothes and a new job description—the ministry of reconciliation (v 18). Not only are we marked as God’s chosen as with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21), but also commissioned into His service.

[1] Also: 2 Corinthians 5:10-11.

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2 Corinthians 4: Jars of Clay

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

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Hudson Taylor, the founder of China Inland Mission, wrote in his autobiography of a Buddhist who came to Christ in 1857 in Ningpo.  A few nights after his conversion, he asked how long the British had known about Jesus Christ.  Being told that they had known for hundreds of years, he exclaimed:  My father sought after the truth for more than 20 years, and died without finding it. Oh, why did you not come sooner? [1] The Psalmist writes:

For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living. (Psalm 116:8-9 ESV)

The priceless treasure that comes to us in jars of clay, unfortunately, does not come to everyone.

As a student of marketing, I bear witness to the importance of packaging—especially for perishable products.  Walking through a typical supermarket today, we can see thousands of delicious and beautiful food products which 100 years ago were unknown to most of humanity.  Why?  Because the cost of packaging, transportation, and refrigeration was simply too high.  Today, high quality packaging and refrigeration are taken for granted.  We do not even think about such things.  Instead, we just buy whatever looks good and assume that it will always be available for a modest cost.

When it comes to spiritual matters, however, looks can be deceiving.  The Apostle Paul writes:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (vv 3-4).

The Gospel is veiled in the story of Jesus Christ who was executed on a cross for sedition and whose story is best told by followers who understand the meaning of suffering.  Of the suffering, Paul writes:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (vv 8-10)

You see, the packaging is a bit worn and is not at all attractive—clay pots that hide the value of what is found inside.  Again, Paul writes:  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (v 4).

Looks can be deceiving…

[1] J. Hudson Taylor.  1987.  Hudson Taylor (Autobiography).  Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers. Pages 126-127. @bethany_house, www.BethanyHouse.com

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2 Corinthians 3: Lifting the Veil

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

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Did you know that you are Christ’s letter of recommendation?

As I worked to publish my book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality, this year, one of the hardest things for me to do is ask for friends and colleagues to review my book and for well-known authors to read the book and write blurbs. I am too proud; I want to believe that I am independent and self-sufficient.  Asking for recommendations requires that I swallow my pride and admit that I need someone else’s help.  This is usually something painful for me to do.

The Apostle Paul walks this path in chapter 2 of his second letter to the church at Corinth.  Paul poses a rhetorical question, writing:  Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? (v 1)  His response is surprising: You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. (v 2)  In giving the law to Moses, God wrote on tablets of stone; in presenting the Gospel through Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, God writes on our hearts (v 3).  We are Christ’s letter of recommendation to the world.

Paul then uses a word that sounds strange to us:  glory.  Glory is a translation from the Greek word, doxa (δόξῃ, BDAG 2077), which means: the condition of being bright or shining, brightness, splendor, radiance. Paul is making reference to experience of Moses when he brought the Ten Commandments down from my Sinai to the people of Israel—

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God…And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. (Exodus 34:29 and 33 ESV)

The glory of God was so profound that Moses himself began to glow!

Paul then begins a comparison between the Law of Moses and the grace of Jesus Christ.  He writes:  For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. (v 9)  The law kills (the ministry of condemnation) while grace gives life (the ministry of righteousness; v 6).  In other words, Paul is saying that if you think that Moses glowed, you will glow even more in the grace of Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.  However, Moses’ veil not only covered his face, it veiled the hearts of the people hearing the law (v 15) and prevented them from experiencing God’s grace.  In Jesus Christ, this veil was lifted (v 16).

This is the process of becoming a letter of recommendation.

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2 Corinthians 2: The Path from Discipline to Reconciliation

Artwork by Narsis Hiemstra
Artwork by Narsis Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The notes of the true Kirk [church], therefore, we believe, confess, and avow to be: first, the true preaching of the Word of God … secondly, the right administration of the sacraments of Christ Jesus … and lastly, ecclesiastical discipline uprightly ministered, as God’s Word prescribes, whereby vice is repressed and virtue nourished (Scots Confession, 3.18) [1].

Did you know that the church is not a club, it has its own court system?

In principle, members and church officers of the Presbyterian Church (USA) can be brought up on charges and tried by a church for disobeying church law, as articulated in the Book of Order [2].  In practice, charges are seldom brought.

Two kinds of justice exist in the legal system in the United States:  punitive and restorative justice.  Punitive justice serves to punish the lawbreaker; restorative justice serves to restore the lawbreaker to full community.  The adult justice system focuses on punitive justice while the juvenile justice system focuses on restorative justice.  The Book of Order makes it clear that the purpose of justice within the Presbyterian system is restoration, not punishment.  This is also the lesson that the Apostle Paul gives in chapter 2 of his second letter to the church at Corinth.

Chapter 2 focuses on Paul’s instructions to the church in dealing with a particular person who has caused a problem in the church.   We are not told who the person is or what the problem was—scholars still debate both issues (v 5).  Instead, Paul focuses on how to move forward in restoring this person to full fellowship.

Interestingly, Paul seems to be giving the church in Corinth a “timeout”, giving the church time to work things out themselves.  Paul writes:  For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you (v 1).  Basically, he says that the punishment leveled against the offender is enough (v 6). The offense was against the church and the church dealt with it through, among other things, public shaming (v 7).  Paul refuses to take personal offense (v 5).  Therefore, the punishment was sufficient for the offense and no more punishment is needed.  Instead, Paul writes:  so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. (vv 7-8)  This is a biblical example of forgiveness and restoration.

Harris (2005, 234) sees a 6 step process involved here: offense, punishment, pain and sorrow, repentance, forgiveness, and affirmation [3].

Clearly, this is not the typical scenario in the church today.  What is typical is to hush up controversies and treat them as embarrassments.  Then, after some point the pot boils over and people split the church and leave.

Paul, by affirming the offense and the offender, allows punishment, forgiveness, and restoration.  The offender does not get off free; those offended are required to forgive.  In the end, the community is stronger.

 

[1]Office of the General Assembly.  The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA):  Part I:  Book of Confessions, Louisville, 1999.

[2]Office of the General Assembly.  The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA):  Part II:  Book of Order 2011/2013, Louisville, 2011.

[3] Harris, Murray J. 2005. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians:  A Commentary on the Greek Text.  NIGTC. Grand Rapids:  Eerdman.

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2 Corinthians 1: Sealed, Guaranteed, and Comforted

Rainbow over Fairfax, VA
Rainbow over Fairfax, VA

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22 ESV)

Paul begins his second letter to the church at Corinth with a statement of his apostleship:  Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (1:1).  An apostle in the New Testament has roughly the same job description as a prophet in the Old Testament.  Prophets do not volunteer; prophets are called (e.g. Jeremiah 1:4-9).

Paul follows the normal form of a letter—from, to, and greetings—but he adds his own twists.  Most of his letters then offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the recipient.  Here, Paul follows the greeting with a lengthy (1.3-7) blessing of comfort suggesting the purpose of his letter.

In my experience, God is mostly obviously present in times of trial and can be recognized by the comfort He brings.  The psalmist writes:  Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. (Psalm 33:18-19 ESV)  Noah recognized God’s comfort and covenant through the sign of a rainbow (Genesis 9:13).  The apostle Paul writes:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (1:3-4)

Interestingly, Paul talks about God’s seal—a sign of ownership and protection—and guarantee—the Holy Spirit given as a down-payment on eternal life.  The Apostle John uses the word, Paraclete (παράκλητος; John 14:26 BNT), which is often translated as helper or comforter.

Garland [1] identifies 4 motifs in this chapter:

  1. Affliction and suffering;
  2. Comfort;
  3. Life and death; and
  4. The interconnectedness between Paul and the Corinthians.

Affliction and Suffering (1.4, 6, 8).  As we have discussed previously, affliction and suffering help us to abandon our idols—particularly the idol of control—and focus on God.  Paul writes:  But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (1:9).

Comfort (1.3, 4, 5, 6, 7).  As mentioned above, the Holy Spirit specializes in offering comfort.  Holy dreams and visions, for example, often not designed to inform us but simply to offer comfort.  To let us know that we need not be afraid.  Paul writes:  Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (1:7)

Life and death (1.8, 9, 10).  Paul is not a complainer, yet, he sketches out a recent near death experience to reinforce the point that God is not only our comforter, but also our deliverer.  Likewise, the Jewish people remember the Exodus from Egypt not as a spiritual salvation, but a deliverance from physical destruction (Exodus 14:26-28).

Paul’s Relationship with the Corinthians (1.6, 7).  The Corinthians are the beneficiaries of Paul’s afflictions.  Paul writes:  If we [Paul and his friends] are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. (1:6) Elsewhere, Paul makes it clear that Jesus is the template for our life, death, and resurrection (Philippians 3:10-11).  When we minister to others, we then perform a similar sacrificial function on their behalf, like Christ for Paul and Paul for the Corinthian church (and us).

Comfort is God’s trademark.  Paul looks to God in his own afflictions.  So should we.

[1]David E. Garland, 1999. 2 Corinthians: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture.  New American Commentary.  Nashville:  Holman Publishing. Pages 56-58.

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2 Corinthians: Lifting the Veil

The Crucifixion
The Crucifixion

…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 ESV)

How can one be strong in weakness?

At the core of the Apostle Paul’s Second Letter to the Church at Corinth is a paradox. Christ was crucified in weakness, but in his weakness displayed the power of God (13:4).  This same paradox was displayed in Paul’s private pain (12:7-9) and his very public humiliation as he writes:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (4:8-10)

This paradox manifests itself in that when we find ourselves at the end of our rope, we abandon our private idolatries and turn to the living God who is our only real hope.  Paul writes: to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over [our] hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. (3:15-17) Herein lies the paradox, that our own strength (for the Israelites, the law) veils the presence of God in our lives.

Second Corinthians is a very personal and complex letter. For example, Paul provides two separate lists (6:4-10 and 11:23-29) of own afflictions—who brags about being beaten and thrown in prison?  He is writing from Macedonia (9:2) around 56 AD just before his final journey to Jerusalem.  Theological topics addressed include:  the character of God, salvation, the Gospel, the church, the nature of apostleship, Christian ministry, the Christian life, suffering, stewardship, Satan, and eschatology (Harris 2005, 105, 114-125).

The importance of Second Corinthians in the life of the church is underscored by the attention given to even small portions of this letter.  For example, The Confession of 1967 [1] adopted by the Presbyterian Church (USA) emphasizes these verses:

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (5:18-20)

Paul’s emphasis is on reconciling the world to Christ; the Confession expands on this idea to speak about reconciling the church to divergent groups in society.

References

Garland, David E. 1999. 2 Corinthians: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. New American Commentary.  Nashville:  Holman Publishing.

Hafemann, Scott J.  2000. The NIV Application Commentary:  2 Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Harris, Murray J. 2005. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians:  A Commentary on the Greek Text.  NIGTC. Grand Rapids:  Eerdman.

[1] www.pcusa.org/resource/book-of-confessions

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1 Corinthians 16: Unity and Diversity in Christ

Winter Trees by Sharron Beg
Winter Trees by Sharron Beg

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love…If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! (1 Corinthians 16:13-14,22 ESV)

Many study groups fast forward through the final chapters in the Apostle Paul’s letters thinking that the names listed are difficult to pronounce and the overt lesson is over.  This is a mistake.

In Chapter 16 Paul deals with at least 3 very controversial issues in the church:

  • Mission giving and financial integrity;
  • Support and acceptance of church leaders; and
  • Boundaries on the Christian community.

Missions and Financial Integrity.  The Jerusalem council imposed 4 requirements on Gentile converts: …abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality (Acts15:29 ESV) [1].  Paul mentions only one requirement:  remember the poor (Galatians 2:10). By that, he particularly meant the poor saints in Jerusalem.  He reasoned: For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings (Romans 15:27 ESV).

It is interesting that Paul, who took no support from the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 9), was especially careful to request that they appoint their own trustees for the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem (v 3).

Church Leaders.  In the middle of church divisions, Paul sends in a turnaround team and highlights the work of theologically sound, local leaders.  In commending the household of Stephanas, he highlights their spirituality (first converts) and conduct:  they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer (vv 15-16)

Boundaries on the Church.  While the church is open to everyone, the church does not consist of everyone.  Paul states:  If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! (v 22) [2]  The mark of a Christian is love for the Lord, not affiliation or family ties.  Given this presupposition, Paul advises:  Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like adults, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love (vv 13-14).

The mention of the household of Stephanas (v 15) as well as Aquila and Prisca (v 19) [3] underscores the importance of family ministries, especially husband-wife teams, in the early church.

 

[1] This list contains 3 food requirements and behavioral requirement.  Each requirement focuses on sins of the body.

[2] “Our Lord come” is written in Aramic (μαράνα θά; Marantha) suggesting again that the earliest confessions included statements of Christ’s divinity and expectations of the second coming.

[3] Also:  Acts 18:2,18, 26;  Romans 16:3, and 2 Timothy 4:19.

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1 Corinthians 15: Resurrection Changes Everything

RPC_tomb_03092014bBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:3-6 ESV)

The Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth reaches its climax in chapter 15.  The first two verses of the chapter build up to a short confession recounting the story of Jesus (vv 3-6).  Scholars believe that this is one of the earliest confessions of the church. Several points are striking about this confession, including:

  • The confession refers to Jesus of Nazareth as Christ.  Modern critics often assert that titles such as Messiah or Son of God are confessions of the latter church.  Here it is immediately confessed by the early church within a couple years of the crucifixion.
  • The use of Cephas to refer to Peter hints at the ancient nature of this confession.  Cephas is Aramaic; Peter is a Greek translation.  Because the entire New Testament (NT) is written in Greek, Aramaic shows up in the NT mostly in quotations where authenticity is important.  Paul uses Cephas 8 times; the Apostle John is the only other NT author to use Cephas. John wrote:  John brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). (John 1:42 ESV)  By contrast, Peter is used 100 times in the NT.
  • Paul uses the word, scripture(s), 14 times in his letters.  The NT uses it 51 times.  This confession is the only place in his letter to the Corinthians where he uses the word, scripture(s).  Apparently, the early church felt that it was important to tie the Jesus story to Old Testament scripture.
  • This confession links the cross to forgiveness of sin.  This is called the doctrine of the atonement.  Some theologians have recently questioned the doctrine of the atonement because the existence of sin implies an absolute moral standard.  Yet, the confession makes it clear—Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (v 3).
  • The confession makes it clear that Jesus’ resurrection was witnessed by large numbers of people, not just the disciples. While a small group might have made up a resurrection story (or have been delusional), a large public crowd could not (v 6).  Paul’s account accordingly throws cold water on many modern theories disputing the resurrection.

Because Paul’s letter was widely circulated and there were many eye-witnesses to what he wrote about, clearly this confession was a keystone of the early church.

The resurrection was also the key doctrine that Paul taught.  He writes: …if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished (vv 17-18).  In other words, without the resurrection there is no salvation from sin, no victory over death, and no eternal life.  There have been many martyred saints, but only one resurrection.  We remember Jesus.

The resurrection speaks of the power of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ. Because Christ is divine, then scripture as understood by the traditional teaching of church provides a reliable rule for life.

Resurrection changes everything.  This is why it is called the Good News.

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