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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Christian Paradox: Strength in Weakness

SWH_Carroll_Manor_10012012By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Riverside Presbyterian Church, Sterling, VA, Sunday, August 10, 2014

Welcome

Good morning!  Welcome to Riverside Presbyterian Church.

This morning Maryam is here with me so I will be preaching in English with translation.

Invocation

Let’s pray.

Oh dear Lord, thank you for bringing us together this morning.  Quiet our hearts so that we can hear your voice.  In the power of Your Holy Spirit, inspire the words spoken and illuminate the words heard.  In the precious name of Jesus. Amen.

Text:  2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Opening

On November 24, Maryam, my wife, and I celebrate our 30th anniversary.  During these 30 years, we raised three kids and confronted many challenges together, including serious medical issues, professional ups and downs, and many stressful events.  Still, we were not an obvious couple to get married.

In some sense, Maryam and I come from opposite ends of the world.  I am from Washington; Maryam comes from Iran.  I am Christian; she is Muslim.  I am an avid reader; she is a dedicated television watcher.  When I entered seminary, many people asked:  how can you become a pastor—your wife is a Muslim and does not support you.

At first, I thought that I attended seminary in spite of my wife; later, I came to realize that I attended seminary because of my wife.  You see, my family was my first real ministry.  My new book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality, is dedicated to Maryam and our children.

Sometimes God has to push us to discover who we really are in Him[1] (2X).

Lesson

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 in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.  And I know that this man was caught up into paradise– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows–and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter (vv 2-4).

But then he comments on this ecstatic experience and says:  there is nothing to be gained by it (v 1).  Nothing!  (2X)

In fact, he goes on to say:  on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses (v 5).  Further, he says:  So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited (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:  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (v 10).  (2X)

Application

Has God given you a thorn in the flesh? (2X)

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.  In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes:

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:25-29 ESV)

What brings us 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. (2X)  Returning to the words of Paul:  For when I am weak, then I am strong (v 10).  Not in myself, but in Jesus Christ.

Closing Prayer

Please pray with me.

Almighty Father, thank you for your presence among us this morning.  Let us brag only of our own weakness so that your voice, not ours, will be the one heard.  Let us point to the light given us through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.  In all things, may Your name be praised.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Benediction

Receive the benediction:

Go into the world knowing that your weaknesses make room in your life for God and give thanks for that knowledge.  Know that God honors the space that we leave for Him in our lives.  And remember the words of the Apostol Paul:  when I am weak, then I am strong.

Go with God.  Amen.

 

[1] I have always identified with Francis Thompson’s poem: The Hound of Heaven (1893) which speaks of God’s relentless pursuit of his soul. Poem:  http://www.ewtn.com/library/HUMANITY/HNDHVN.HTM.  Reading by Richard Burton:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gToj6SLWz8Q.

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1 Corinthians 12: Spiritual Gifts Point to the Holy Spirit

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

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone (vv 4-6).

Are your talents a gift?

The Apostle Paul is not shy about discussing the role of the Holy Spirit.  In 1 Corinthians 12 he begins a 3-chapter discussion of spiritual gifts.  Hays (207)[1] sees this chapter divided into 4 parts:

  1. Introduction (vv 1-3);
  2. Manifestations of the Spirit (vv 4-11);
  3. Body analogy (vv 12-26); and
  4. Application to gifts and offices of the in the church (vv 27-31).

In his introduction, Paul grabs the bull by the horns and says:  Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed (v 1).  This direct approach is most interesting—these days we often read of churches torn up by controversies—often outright sin—that were allowed to grow in the shadows.  Paul does not let mold grow in the shade; he confronts controversy head on.  And he claims all things for Christ—no one can say Jesus is Lord, except through the Holy Spirit (v 3).

In discussing manifestation of the Spirit, Paul sees a Trinitarian (Spirit, Lord, and God) variety of gifts, services, and activities (vv 4-6).  In claiming all gifts, services, and activities for God, none is excluded and none is more important than the other.  Theologians get excited about Paul’s Trinitarian statement because it seems off the cuff rather than the focus of his comments.  In other words, Paul experiences God in three persons even though his does not articulate a formal theology of the Trinity (Hays 210).

Paul use of the body as an analogy for the church is interesting, in part, because he reframes the analogy from his peers.  Ancient authors often used the same analogy to argue for hierarchy in the social order; Paul uses it to illustrate diversity and interdependence (Hays 213).  In undertaking his discussion, he tailors his comments to the particular needs of the Corinthian church which becomes obvious in comparing the list of spiritual gifts with other lists that he provides, for example, in Ephesians 4:11-13 and Romans 12:6-8.  Neither alternative list, for example, cites speaking in tongues (v 10).  Clearly, Paul’s emphasis in listing gifts is not on the list, but on the legitimacy and use of each gift to build up the body of the church.

In wrapping up his comments, he exhorts the Corinthians to strive to work in building up the church and in attaining the “higher gifts” (vv 27 and 31).  One suspects in reading this section that Paul prioritizes spiritual gifts, in part, because Corinthian priorities were different.

One clue to this deficiency is Paul’s switch in words used in the Greek for gifts.  In verse one, a gift is πνευματικός, (BDAG 5999; mostly in the sense pertaining to wind or breath) already in verse 4 Paul switches to χάρισμα (BDAG 7896; that which is freely and graciously given, favor bestowed, gift).  In switching from an emphasis on the receiver of the gift to an emphasis on the giver, Paul highlights the role of the Holy Spirit.  A spiritual gift is a talent used to build up the body of Christ.

Are you musical?  Do you work well with kids?  How might your gift be used to build up the church?

Footnotes

[1] Richard B. Hays.  2011. Interpretations:  First Corinthians.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.

Questions

  1. How was your week? Did something in particular?
  2. What questions or thoughts do you have about 1 Corinthians 11?
  3. What is your definition of a spiritual gift? (v 1) What is Paul’s? (vv 7-11)
  4. Why does Paul ask the Corinthians about spiritual gifts? (vv 1-2)
  5. How does one speak in the spirit? (v 3)
  6. Read verses 4-6.What stands out?  Where do gifts, service, and activities arise?
  7. What spiritual gifts does Paul list? (vv 7-11) Why?
  8. Who gets what gift? (v 11)
  9. How does Paul’s example of the body relate to his discussion of spiritual gifts? (vv 11-27)
  10. What does Paul say about divisions in the body? (vv 24-26)
  11. What does Paul say about suffering? (v 26)
  12. What are the higher gifts? (vv 28-31)
  13. What is the higher way that Paul describes? (v 31)

1 Corinthians 12: Spiritual Gifts Point to the Holy Spirit

First Corinthians 13

First Corinthians 11

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