Encountering Jesus at Table: The Emmaus Road Narrative (Luke 24:13-35)

July 21, 2022

Why do we eat at the Lord’s table like it is still Friday when it is Sunday, resurrection day?

A Podcast Discussion: New Heavens and a New Earth

July 13, 2022

Obadiah, the Day of the Lord, and Juneteenth

June 18, 2022

[A Version of What was Delivered at Woodmont Hills Church of Christ, Nashville, TN, on June 19, 2020.]

Continuing a series on the “Day of the Lord” in the Hebrew prophets, the text selected for this morning is Obadiah, and today is June 19, historically regarded as Jubilee Day or Emancipation Day in African American communities for over a century. To my mind, there is a connection. But first, we turn to Obadiah.

It is only a single chapter, twenty-one verses. It is the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible. It is often forgotten, and it doesn’t even appear in the lectionary cycle of the liturgical churches. It is, to say the least, a neglected book.

However, it is not only its brevity that accounts for this. It is also its topic. It has been received as a word of judgment against the nation of Edom, the nation who descended from Esau. As a word of judgment against a specific nation that had a specific history with the nation of Israel, it might seem a bit irrelevant to us. What does contemporary life have to do with the destruction of Edom over 2500 years ago?

This is where the theme of the Day of the Lord becomes important because that theme establishes contemporary relevance. The Day of the Lord does not only come to Edom, but the prophet Obadiah also tells us it comes for “all nations.” What happened to Edom—and the reasons it happened to Edom—lies in store for “all nations” (v. 15).

So, what happened to Edom? What happened to Edom is what happened to Judah at the hands of Edom. The rivalry between the nations of Israel and Edom go back to their ancestors Jacob and Esau. Though those two reconciled, the rivalry deepened and turned to hostility. When Israel wanted to pass through the land of Edom on the way to the promised land, Edom refused. Even when Israel promised to pay for any water or food they used along the way, Edom refused. At times, the nations warred with each other. Israel subjugated Edom during the reign of David, and Edom invaded Judah at other times. Sometimes they were allies but never friends. Finally, when the Babylonian empire invaded Judah three times over a period of 20 years and laid siege to Jerusalem three times, finally destroying the city in 586 BCE, Edom joined forces with Babylon to humiliate Judah.

Edom cooperated with Babylon, assisted them, and took advantage of Judah’s subjugation. As a consequence, on “that day”—the day of the Lord—the wise in Edom were destroyed, her warriors shattered, and everyone was cut off from Mount Esau (vv. 8-9). The day of the Lord came to Edom as judgment, destruction, and exclusion from God’s future story.

Why did it happen to Edom? Fundamentally, Edom mistreated his brother (vv. 10-14).

  • Edom stood aside and watched Jerusalem robbed and subjugated without helping or showing pity.
  • Edom gloated over the misfortune of Judah and rejoiced over their ruin.
  • Edom boasted about their own security and power on the day of Judah’s distress.
  • Edom participated in the calamity of Judah by entering its cities, including Jerusalem, and violently subduing the city and its land.
  • Edom prevented the escape of refugees and handed over survivors to the ruling power, the Babylonians.

In other words, Edom used their secure position in relation to Babylonian power to pillage, seize, and abuse their brothers in Judah. Rather than using it to show mercy, assist, and welcome their brothers, they used it to inflict power for their own benefit. Fundamentally, they failed to love their neighbors and honor the common brotherhood of Jacob and Esau as children of Abraham and Isaac.

They used their power—the privilege afforded to them as Babylonian allies—to enrich themselves, secure their own position in relation to that power, and take revenge against Judah for past offenses. And what drove this was a “proud heart” (v. 3). Their arrogance—their seeming invincibility (“who will bring me down to the ground?” in v. 4)—emboldened them, and they stole from and murdered their own brothers as a tool of Babylonian power.

For this reason, the Day of the Lord came upon Edom, and it meany their destruction. God judges the nations for their violence, arrogance, and cruelty. God sent out a messenger among the nations, the prophet Obadiah, to announce that the Lord will do battle against Edom for his sins. The Day of the Lod comes as judgment against Edom.

But not just Edom, and this is how Obadiah’s message about Edom is also relevant for us. Obadiah 15 says, “For the day of the Lord is near against all nations.” The standard of measurement for all nations is their own actions. Just as they have done, it will be done to them, and their “deeds shall return on” their “own head” (v. 15). What nations do to other nations, the Day of the Lord will bring to those nations.

This is a message not only about Edom, but it is a warning and a promise to all nations. When nations do what Edom did, when they gloat over the ruin of others, boast of their own power and standing in the world, mistreat others through violence and enslavement, punish refugees rather than help them, and participate in the calamity of other peoples, then the Day of the Lord will come for them as it did for Edom.

Obadiah’s message, though specifically targeting Edom, also speaks to all nations throughout all history. It speaks to our own nation. Juneteenth reminds us one of our nation’s original sins, the enslavement of people for the enrichment of plantations and the nation. Juneteenth celebrates the moment on June 19, 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger posted and publicly read throughout Galveston, Texas, General Order No. 3 which freed the remaining enslaved people and granted them the rights of a free people.

But before Juneteenth was a version of the Day of the Lord. The Civil War cost this nation over 625,000 lives, one out of every 50 people alive in 1860 died in that war. Abraham Lincoln recognized a divine judgment in his Second Inaugural Address.  It was a nineteenth century “Day of the Lord” for the United States.

“The Almighty has His own purposes. ‘Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.’ If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, H now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether’.”

American slavery did to Africans what Edom did to Judah. When the Day of the Lord comes, it liberates the oppressed and judges the evil that oppressed them.

The Day of the Lord is a recurring event throughout history. It is not simply one day, but many days where the righteous judgment of God moves in history to deliver the oppressed, judge the wicked, and renew the hope of the righteous. Those days are part of history, both biblical and subsequent to the Biblical history. We don’t often see them clearly as we are so bound up in the wickedness and the wounds of this world that we are blinded by our own power and privilege.

I am no prophet, and I cannot discern the movement of God in the world to identify this is that, and that is this. However, we are all called to pay attention to the righteousness, justice, and mercy (e.g., Micah 6:8; Matthew 23:23). We are called to seek the kingdom of God first and God’s righteousness (Matthew 6:33). We pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We judge the nations in the light of the kingdom of God, a kingdom where power humbles itself and privilege serves the other; a kingdom that advocates mercy over sacrifice, love of neighbor over ambition, and empowerment of the power over the enrichment of the wealthy. We seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness–is is our allegiance as disciples of Jesus.

And that day—the day when the kingdom of God comes—is coming and is already here though it has not fully arrived. A day is coming when Mount Edom will belong to the Lord, and all the kingdoms of the earth will become the kingdom of our Lord (v 21).

The Day of the Lord has two edges to it. It will judge the nations for their violence, exploitation, and self-enrichment, and that day will also fill the earth with the righteousness, justice, mercy, and peace. On that day, the eschatological Day of the Lord, the earth will belong the Lord, the meek will inherit the earth, and the glory of God will fill and renew all things as an inheritance for God’s people. Until that day comes when God will set everything right, we continue to pray “Your kingdom come,” and we give ourselves to God as disciples of Jesus who pursue God’s kingdom and become instruments of that kingdom life in the present.

Until that day, perhaps that call of Lincoln in his second inaugural still rings true: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,” let us pursue righteousness, justice, mercy, and compassion as we bind up the wounds, care for the poor, and seek the kingdom of God above all else.

2  Corinthians 13:11-14 – A Final Exhortation and Blessing

May 14, 2022

“Finally,” Paul writes. He has come to the end of the letter. In this letter, he has attempted to (1) help the Corinthians understand both the importance and nature of the ministry of reconciliation inaugurated by a crucified but risen Messiah, (2) encourage the Corinthians to renew their commitment to sharing their wealth with the poor saints in Jerusalem as they had promised they would, and (3) confront the claims of the super-apostles and warn the Corinthians that Paul’s third visit will test their commitment to the Lordship of Jesus the Messiah.

Paul’s letter ends with optimism, loving intent, and blessing. That seems rather strange in the light of what immediately preceded these final words, but it signals Paul’s authentic intentions. He does not want to beat up the Corinthians. Rather, the final exhortations reach back into the letter and invite the Corinthians to respond positively to Paul’s message, the gospel of Jesus the Messiah.

Final Exhortations

These final exhortations—including six imperatives (commands) and two indicatives (declarative statements)—summarize how Paul hopes the Corinthians will respond to his lengthy letter. These statements are not throw-away, meaningless formulaic endings to a letter but an invitation to embrace the message Paul has attempted to communicate.

It is rather typical for Paul to conclude his letters with a series of admonitions (e.g., 1 Cor. 16:13-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22), but they seem to relate, in some way, to the content of the letter—almost like a summary of sorts.

Six Imperatives.

Rejoice! Though some translations render this word “farewell,” Paul has just used this same word in 2 Corinthians 13:9, and it appears in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 at the head of a list of brief imperatives with the meaning “rejoice.” Though Paul’s ministry is filled with suffering, it is his joy that the Corinthians are strong though he is weak. The ministry itself is a source or joy rather than gloom and despair. The ministry of reconciliation is an occasion for joy. Paul works for their joy (2 Corinthians 1:24; cf. 2:3; 7:4, 13; 8:2). Joy, deep-seated peace and calm, arises from the reconciling ministry of God at work in Christ.

Put Things in Order! Just like “rejoice,” this word also occurs in 2 Corinthians 13:9 where Paul prays for their sufficiency, competency, or even restoration. Some render it, “mend your ways,” or “be restored” to God (as in “Be reconciled to God” in 2 Corinthians 5:20). It seems to refer to a sense of wholeness or completeness. Paul wants the Corinthians to embrace God’s restorative and transformative work in their lives, which is effected through faith and repentance but dependent upon God’s reconciling work.

Listen to My Appeal! Either Paul is asking the Corinthians to listen attentively to his letter, or perhaps he is asking to them to find encouragement from what he has said. Perhaps the language is sufficiently ambiguous to include both so that Paul has a fuller meaning here:  listen and be encouraged! Paul’s letter is filled with the language of exhortation or encouragement. He uses this verb in 2 Corinthians 1:4, 6, 2:7; 5:20; 6:1; 7:6, 13; 8:6; 9:5; 10:1; 12:8, 18. Paul does not intend to destroy but to edify and encourage. He calls the Corinthians into relationship, repentance, and renewal. His continuous call to encouragement throughout the letter receives its final mark here at the end of the latter.

Have the Same Mind! This is the only time Paul uses this verb in 2 Corinthians, though he did use it in 1 Corinthians 13:11 where he describes how Christian growth entails moving beyond a childish mind toward a mature one. This is a key point in Philippians: believers are called to have the same mind as Jesus and unite in thinking the same way about discipleship and life in the kingdom of God (Philippians 1:7; 2:2, 5; 3:15, 19; 4:2, 10). This does not mean there is absolute conformity in terms of opinions and varied understandings, but it is a shared approach to life in Christ, particularly where we have the same mind Jesus had (that is, the one who was rich became poor so that we who are poor might become rich). It is a life of service and care for others; it is living worthy of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, who emptied himself in order to become a servant.

Live in Peace! Paul uses this verb in three places: here, Romans 12:18, and 1 Thessalonians 5:13. Peace is something the Corinthian church lacks, it appears. Perhaps it is improving as Titus’s report to Paul in Macedonia indicates. But the church is still disturbed. Peace is an essential quality for the living church of God but one it often lacks due to internal strife, disagreements, and varied practices. Yet, peace is not found in conformity but in being conformed to the life of the Messiah.

Greet One Another with a Holy Kiss! This is also a common imperative in Paul’s benedictions or endings to his letters. It appears in three other letters: 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Corinthians 16:20; and Romans 16:16 (see also 1 Peter 5:14). The kiss is a holy (non-erotic) greeting—a sign of peace and welcome between family members. It is a sign of fellowship and communion.

Two Declarations.

The God of love and peace will be with you! Paul uses “God of peace” often (1 Thessalonians 5:23; Romans 15:33; 16:20; Philippians 4:9), and this is the only occurrence of the phrase “God of love” in Scripture. This is not a wish prayer but a promise. God responds with love and peace to communities that embrace the way of the gospel and pursue the ministry of reconciliation  with joy, peace, and restorative practices. Paul assures the Corinthians that God has not abandoned them but is still at work among them as they seek reconciliation and peace.

All the saints greet you! The Corinthian congregation is part of a larger community. They are not alone in the world, and it is important to remember that we are joined together in mutual welcome, love, and peace through mutual greeting.

Blessing, or Benediction

In English, we supply the verb to 2 Corinthians 13:14 (in some translations, the final verse is 13). There is no verb in the Greek sentence. It is legitimate to supply the verb “to be” as in “to be with” or to be present with, even to be overwhelmed by. It is about our existence in the life of the Triune God who is active and engaging. The Triune God is pouring out love, grace, and communion (fellowship). God’s activity is constant and dynamic. This sustains our relationship with the Triune God. We enjoy, experience, and are empowered as well as enriched by the life of the Triune God as that God pours into us grace, love, and communion.

In other words, by supplying the  verb “to be” we see the empowering and enriching presence of God’s mighty acts among us, the God who loves, the Christ who graces, and the Spirit who communes. This divine presence is “with us all”—a constant and abiding presence that secures our hope, empowers our ministry, and enriches our lives. This is Paul’s blessing, even benediction, for the Corinthians and all believers in Christ.

In Paul’s benediction, grace is associated with the Lord Jesus the Messiah, love is associated with God the Creator, and fellowship (koinōnia) with the Holy Spirit. This language, of course, is not unique to each because we can also speak of the “love of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:14; Ephesians 3:19; Romans 8:35), or the “grace of God” (2 Corinthians 1:12; 6:1; 8:1; 9:14), or the “love of the Spirit” (Romans 15:30).

Nevertheless, though this language is not exclusive, perhaps Paul reminds us of the economic (the way the Triune God manages the world) work of the Triune persons in the world for the sake of the world. The love of God is the source of all redemptive work, the grace of Jesus is the means by which God accomplishes this work, and the fellowship of the Spirit is how we experience this redemption in both community and in our own lives.  This is the activity of the Triune God, the tri-personality of God (for the Threeness of God, see Galatians 4:4-6, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; Ephesians 2:18; 4:4-6).

The divine work is sourced from God the Creator, given through the Messiah, and poured out into our lives by the Spirit who unites us with God and the Messiah. Perhaps one way of saying this, without any attempt to be exhaustive, is the following hymn-like expression of the work of the Triune God.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ

  • Forgiveness for our transgressions
  • Mercy in our brokenness
  • Compassion for the poor and sick
  • Liberation for the oppressed
  • Peaceful reconciliation between enemies

The love of God

  • The source of creation and redemption
  • God’s delight in our belovedness
  • The unspeakable gift of Jesus for the life of the world
  • An unrelentingly pursuit to include us in God’s own loving community
  • Passion to form us into God’s own loving image

The communion of the Spirit

  • God’s love poured into our hearts
  • God experienced in the communion of community
  • The mercy and forgiveness we extend to each other by the power of the Spirit
  • A rich shared life together in the Spirit
  • The Spirit who groans with us and plants hope in our hearts

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Paul began this letter with a reminder that the God who raises the dead is the God of all comfort and ends the letter with a benediction that blesses the Corinthians with the love, grace, and communion of the Triune God. This is the community into which believers are called and where they experience authentic joy, peace, and restoration.

Glory to Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning and ever shall be worlds without end. Amen!

We Don’t Give Up Because We Know . . . (2 Corinthians 4:18-5:10)

May 11, 2022

A Keynote Address for Harbor, Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA, on May 6, 2022

Influenced by both their Greco-Roman culture and egged on by the intruders Paul called the “super-apostles,” the Corinthians apparently thought the ministry of a celebrity pastor like Paul should be characterized by thrilling and brilliant rhetoric about his visionary experiences, triumphant successes, and generous rewards from grateful patrons.

But Paul’s ministry of reconciliation played out in weakness rather than power, in suffering rather than prosperity, in anxious care for the churches rather than victorious pride, and with manual labor rather than a paycheck from a generous patron.

Though called by God and empowered by God’s grace, Paul endured hardships, beatings, shipwrecks, hostility, afflictions, perplexity, and accusations. Today his ministry would not easily recruit apprentices or interns nor impress elders who held the purse-strings. This is not the resume one would expect from an apostle of God’s Messiah, or at least so the Corinthians thought.

But, for Paul, it was exactly what one should expect. Though rich, Christ become poor so that we who are poor might become rich. Moreover, Christ was crucified in weakness. As followers of Jesus, the ministry of reconciliation boasts in weakness rather than revelations, success, or prosperity. The ministry of reconciliation invites its ministers to follow Jesus to the cross and to give themselves over to suffering and death so that others might have life. Ministers of the crucified Messiah give their lives for the life of the world and the life of the church, even a church like Corinth. Ministers yield themselves to the gospel of reconciliation by imitating a crucified Jesus.

Why do we do this?

I suppose Paul could have answered that question in many ways. What he offers in 2 Corinthians 4-5 is not the only possible answer, but it is the one that, in this conversation with Corinth, grounds him in the gospel and moves him to continue his participation in the ministry of the gospel. Paul will not give up; he will not lose heart.

One reason is the present power of the gospel in his life. It renews his inner life.

Paul draws an important contrast in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, though it is often misunderstood. Paul is not applying some kind of Platonic distinction between the soul and the body. On the contrary, he is comparing present suffering with an already/not eschatological vision. That is a mouth full, but it is important to grasp in order to see what Paul is doing here and what it means.

The outer body is the dying body; it is the body of Adam, an Adamic body. It belongs to this age, the age of decay and the enslavement of creation to death. It suffers affliction; it is what we see day by day. We see it in our bodies. We see it in the world around us filled with injustice, violence, and abuse. It belongs to this old world.

At the same time, the inner person is renewed—not by the old age, but by the new age. It is renewed by the power of God, and more specifically by the resurrection power of the living Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit. Our inner transformation by the power of the Spirit belongs to the new age as new creatures in Christ.

More specifically, Paul compares what is temporary and what is eternal, what is now seen and what is unseen. We walk by sight in this old world, but the power of the new age—which has already begun—enables us to walk by faith in what is unseen. We walk by faith in our confession of the presence of the Spirit of God who guarantees our hope in the resurrection.

It is in the light of this hope, that we perceive the wisdom of Paul’s comparison, though the comparison stings a bit at first look. For those who are in the midst of struggle and suffering, who are presently, enduring their affliction, that pain seems neither light nor temporary. It is crippling and long-lasting. It seems like, at times, it will never end, and in some sense perhaps it doesn’t. Suffering is a burden; it is real, unavoidable, and consuming. It is why we just might give up!

We might even be a bit miffed at Paul for diminishing our suffering as well as his own. We want to honor the weight of suffering in the lives of people rather than dismiss it. We don’t want to use Paul’s words to suppress lament, shame lamenters, and silence protests. We must give suffering its due weight, but not, however, more weight than it is due. Suffering is real, painful, and frustrating, and, at the same time, the journey is worth it. It doesn’t often feel that way, but our feelings can deceive us even as those feelings are genuine and authentic. We feel what we feel, but we also believe what we believe as Christ-followers.

As we hear Paul’s words, let us remember three significant markers in Paul’s life. First, Paul knows suffering. When Paul was compelled to boast in 2 Corinthians 11, he boasted in his suffering, his endurance. His suffering for the ministry of reconciliation is long, intense, and painful. Paul knows the trauma of hostility, natural disasters, and losses. Paul does not diminish suffering but compares it with something greater. Paul does not dismiss suffering but knows it gives birth to something better. Therefore, he does not give up.

Second, Paul knows glory. He has been to the third heaven, to Paradise. He has experienced the glory of God in ways he is not even permitted to describe or discuss. The glory experienced—whether mystical or visionary or whatever it was (even Paul is not too sure himself)—shapes Paul’s sense of divine presence and redemptive work. He has seen the glory, and, therefore, he does not give up.

And, lastly, Paul knows resurrection. He has seen the risen Lord, and the God he serves is, as he said in the first chapter, the God who raises the dead. This is his fundamental confession, and it is the nature of his ministry. He ministers bearing the marks of the death of Christ, but lives by the Spirit’s power of resurrection demonstrated in Jesu. He participates in the ministry of crucified Jesus even to suffering his own cross but knows a resurrection life awaits him. Therefore, he does not give up.

The resurrection is an eternal weight of glory that far surpasses the temporary light affliction we presently experience. We don’t give up because we know an eternal building fashioned by God awaits us, which is our resurrected body.

As Paul points it, we focus on the unseen and the eternal because we know resurrection is coming! Our present Adamic body is a temporary, earthly tent that will be clothed over with an eternal dwelling. We are dying; we are all dying. This earthly tabernacle is a burden because it is the mode of our suffering. Our bodies, like the creation itself, are enslaved to decay and death.

But we don’t want to be body-less; we don’t want to be naked as if without a body. Rather, we desire a resurrection body, one that comes from God so that our mortality is swallowed up in life. The resurrection body, in fact, is the very thing that God is at work to accomplish; it is the redemption God intends for the good creation. The resurrection of the body is also the resurrection of creation itself. The transformation or transfiguration of this body in conformity to the resurrection body of Jesus himself is the transformation or transfiguration of the creation itself.

This is why we groan. We groan for transformation; we groan for an eternal life; we groan for new birth. To groan is to utter deep signs of distress and pain. We long for resurrection! The temporary and light affliction generates these groans and a deep desire for something more, something better. Don’t get me wrong, even though this life is filled with evil and suffering, it is still God’s good creation, and life is good. But resurrection is better.

It is not uncommon to hear this sort of hope described as escapist. But I am no escapist. I am not an escapist; I’m a liberationist. I don’t want to escape God’s creation but participate in its liberation. I want to liberate God’s good creation through the eradication of evil. I want to liberate God’s good creation from injustice and greed through conformation to the image of Christ. I want to liberate the creation from its bondage to decay and decay through renewal and recreation in a new heaven and new earth.

I don’t want to escape this body. I want it to be clothed from heaven, to be given a body that will not die and live with God eternally as a redeemed and glorified human being. I don’t want to escape this body, but I want it liberated. I want it set free along with all of God’s good creation so that life might flourish and abound, where everyone will sit under their own fig tree, and the wolves and the lambs will lie down together.

This good creation is my home, but it is filled with evil, with violence and injustice. Our hope is that even now, by the work of the Spirit and the ministry of reconciliation, the darkness is passing way and a fuller day is dawning. We don’t want to escape this process but participate in it. If we want to follow Jesus into resurrection, then we must follow him to the cross first.

Therefore, Paul says, we are always confident. We are determined; we are courageous. We have a confident and firm purpose despite the danger and the risks that lie before us. We know when we carry a cross that suffering lurks at the door.

This confidence or courage is quite breathtaking in the light of Paul’s own suffering. Paul looks life in the eye and knows the suffering, anxiety, and afflictions associated with the ministry of reconciliation that will arise just as they have in the past. But he is courageous, and he is confident because he knows the work of God that is preparing an eternal body for dwelling with God forever, and the presence of the Spirit in his life, including the renewal in his inner person, is the guarantee of that future.

We are confident, Paul says, because we know a future resurrection awaits us. We are confident because we know the meaning of life and death. Life in this Adamic body is absence from the Lord, though it is present with the Spirit. Death is absence from this Adamic body but it is presence with the Lord.

We walk by faith, not by sight. What we see is this Adamic body of death are the struggles that come with the ministry of reconciliation. That is cause for discouragement, even despair. However, the gospel in which Paul trusts answers that despair with hope. We walk by faith because our future hope is the defeat of death. We trust in the God who raises the dead. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, we are confident that God will raise us from the dead as well.

Moreover, we are confident that even in death we will find ourselves in the presence (“at home with”) of the Lord. Literally, the word “at home” is “to be in a dwelling” which is a metaphor for bodily existence or life. Living in the Adamic body, we are away from the Lord whose embodied existence is in the heavens. But when we are absent from the Adamic body, we are “at home” or living in a dwelling with the Lord. In other words, though we no longer have an Adamic body, we do have a dwelling the Lord, an eternal building not made with hands. Perhaps Paul means that we have a resurrection body (eternal building in contrast to this earthly tent). If so, then Paul may envision the reception of the resurrection body upon death, or perhaps we sleep in death and awaken with a resurrection body, or perhaps the presence Paul envisions is a naked state where we are present with the Lord without a resurrection body that awaits the future.

Whatever the point, the pastoral point is the most significant point here.  Whatever the present condition of those who have died in the Lord is (whether sleeping awaiting their awakening in the resurrection, consciously living in God’s presence as naked souls, or living in the presence of God with resurrected bodies), we live with courage and boldness because we believe that those who are absent from the body are “at home with the Lord.”

The righteous dead are with Christ. Whatever that means, it is an assuring comfort. God does not abandon the dead but receives them and welcomes them into the presence of the living Christ. They are “at home” with the Lord. And it because we walk by faith and not by sight that we rest in that confidence. 

Every Easter morning, before dawn, I visit Joshua’s grave, my son who died at the age of sixteen in 2001. I visit to lament, mourn, protest, and wonder about might have been. The grave is traumatic for me, but I visit it to remember, lament, and give suffering its due weight. I rub my hand across his name plate as if reading braille, and I confess, “you are home with the Lord.”

However, I arise from the graveside to join the assembly of God’s people to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, which is also our resurrection and the resurrection of creation itself. I join the assembly that is not only gathered in that church building, or a park, or a home, but to join the angelic choir gathered around the throne of God. The whole church, scattered across the globe, is there as well as the church militant confesses its faith, encourages each other, and encounters the living God. And the church militant joins the church triumphant as all the saints who have borne witness to the power of faith surround the throne. In that moment, heaven and earth are one as the host in heaven and the faithful on earth sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” In that Easter assembly, as in every assembly whether under a tree or in a building, Joshua and I sing together!

We entrust those who have passed to the Lord and confess, “They are at home with the Lord.” And we entrust our living—whether at home in the body and away from the Lord or away from the body and at home with the Lord—to the Lord. Because we entrust it to Christ, we are not distracted from our main goal: to please the Lord, which is to participate in Christ’s reconciling ministry. We seek to conform our lives to the image of Christ through daily renewal by the power of the Spirit. We want to become like Christ in every way and live worthy of the gospel of reconciliation, and participate in the ministry of reconciliation. Our identity in Christ moves us to seek this goal and the presence of the Spirit empowers our transformation.

We don’t live by what we see but by faith in what is unseen, which is ultimately the hope of the resurrection. The God we serve is the “God who raises the dead” (1:9).

Therefore, we don’t lose heart. We are the ministers of eternal glory, both now and in the future. We are ministers of God’s eschatological reality, God’s glory. Consequently, we don’t give up!

We don’t give up because we walk by faith in God’s reconciling work that is making all things new rather by the sight of the world’s enslavement to the powers. We see and lament the graves, the traumas, and the wounds, and, at the same time and more gloriously, we believe that new creation has already begun in Christ and God will make all things new as evidenced in the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Therefore, we confidently and boldly continue to participate in God’s reconciling mission.

2 Corinthians 13:1-10 – Test Yourselves!

April 30, 2022

Though Paul has already anticipated what his third visit to Corinth might bring—whether joy or grief, he reiterates the fact that he is coming a third time.

Twice he emphasizes that his next visit is his third one (once in 12:14, and again in 13:1). Since this is his third, that means—obviously—he has had two previous visits. Perhaps this is why he quotes Deuteronomy 19:15-21. The evidence of two or three witnesses sustains a charge or verifies a case. Paul has already been to Corinth twice, and now he is coming a third time, and thus his visits—his personal presence—function as witnesses to the reality on the ground in Corinth. With three visits, the evidence is authentically heard, and now Paul will act accordingly.

He has previously warned those who have not repented of their sin in person (when present on his second visit), and he is now warning them again with this letter (absence), and his third visit will function like a third witness. The case has become clear, and now Paul must act. While his previous warnings served their purpose, this warning is the last one. As a result, he will not be lenient toward or tolerate of impenitence when he arrives for this third visit. In fact, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:23, he changed his travel plans so that he would not he would not have another “painful visit.” Consequently, he initially spared them (pheidomenos) by not coming, but now this time Paul is coming and he will not spare (pheisomai) them.

The reason for his intolerance for their impenitence is that the Corinthians seek proof (dokimēn) that Christ speaks (present tense) in Paul. They have tested Paul; they probed whether Christ was actually speaking through Paul. The Corinthian rationale is, apparently, the weakness they saw in Paul’s ministry, perhaps even his suffering as well as his inferiority (as they perceived it) in relation to the “super-apostles.”

This probing or testing, however, will reveal that Christ is powerful in the Corinthians rather than weak. It seems to me that Paul means that Christ will respond to the Corinthians in power rather than weakness. Christ, who speaks in Paul, will reveal his glory to the Corinthians. Paul will not appear weak when he visits a third time but will arrive in the power of Christ.

Paul remembers that Jesus was crucified in weakness, and the ministry of reconciliation is pursued through the cross, which participates in the weakness of the human condition. Weakness is how Jesus came, and it is how Paul came to the Corinthians. But now Christ lives by the power of God, resurrection power.  That same power is revealed in Paul, just as he shared in the weakness of the cross itself. The power of God provides the life by which Paul participates in the resurrection life of Christ. When Paul comes this third time, he will deal with the Corinthians in power rather than weakness, in resurrection life rather than death.

By the power of Christ, Paul unleashes a series of imperatives that turn the tables on the Corinthians themselves. While they had tested Paul and doubted Christ’s presence in Paul, the apostle commands them to examine and test themselves.

Testing or proof is a dominant theme in 2 Corinthians 13:5-9. Paul uses through the following three cognates fives times in a single paragraph. He had earlier used dokimēn (proof) in 13:3. Thus, in the space of five verses, he uses this root work six times.

  • Proof (dokimēn) used in 13:3.
  • Test (dokimazete) used in 13:5.
  • Fail the test (adokimoi) used 3x in 13:5, 6, 7.
  • Meet the test (dokimoi) used in 13:7.

We might imagine that while this is directed to the whole church, it is particularly aimed at those who were testing Paul since Paul uses a verb (dokimazete) that is from the same root as the previous noun (dokimēn). In other words, they ought to test themselves rather than test Paul, and they should be concerned about whether they will fail the test (adokimoi) rather than Paul failing it (adokimoi).

Paul’s hope is that they will not fail the test but discover that “Jesus Christ is in” them (13:5), just as Paul was confident that Christ is “powerful in” them (13:3). But there is a danger or risk that they might fail the test, particularly those who oppose Paul in their impenitence. The impenitent fail the test, and they will discover—and if they don’t, Paul will confront them with the reality—that they are not “in the faith.”

“In the faith” probably refers to living the life of faith through the power of Christ who lives in believers. It is not so much about what one believes but how one lives. Do we live a life of trust, loyalty, and commitment under the Lordship of Jesus and in the power of the Spirit? The impenitent do not, but the penitent do. At the same time, the resources of faith are present in us as Christ dwells in us by the Spirit. God is actively seeking us, and this occasions Paul’s prayer for the Corinthians in this risky moment of faith.

1 Corinthians 13:7-10 is Paul’s prayer for the Corinthians, and it intends to prepare them for his third visit. The prayer assumes that God will act; it is not merely a wish-prayer for the sake of human psychology and/or exhortation. Rather, Paul prays for the Corinthians that God might do something for the sake of the Corinthians to prepare them for Paul’s visit.

What is the prayer?

  • That you might not do anything wrong.
  • That you might do what is right.
  • That you might become perfect.

Three elements contextualize this prayer: Paul’s third visit, the Corinthian probing of Paul’s credentials as a minister of the gospel, and the scandal of Paul’s apparent weakness as a minister of reconciliation. The three-fold request hopes that the Corinthians will not fail the test (dokimoi) even though it looks like–at least according to some Corinthians–Paul himself failed the test (adokimoi). To Paul, his apparent weakness, his apparent failure, is less important than the sanctification of the Corinthians. Paul’s owns his weakness for the sake of the cross, though he does not believe he failed any test—he only acts according to the truth of the gospel. Rather, he would rather the Corinthians pass the test even if they think he failed.

Paul prefers their strength even if he must come in weakness. If his weakness means that the Corinthians are strong, Paul is overjoyed. He rejoices in his weakness and their strength because their strength is for what Paul prays, particularly their perfection (katartisin).

Katartisin does not refer to some kind of unblemished life such as moral perfection. Rather, it refers to their sufficiency. Paul prays that God will move among them so that they are fully qualified. Paul prays that the Corinthians will do what is right, avoid what is evil, and God will fully equip them to participate in the ministry of reconciliation with Paul. This is parallel to the sort of equipping (katartismos) Paul envisions in Ephesians 4:12 or what Scripture supplies to the people of God so that they are fully equipped (exērtismenos) for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).

Test yourselves! Discover if you see Christ in you! Through this process of discernment, according to Paul’s prayer, the Corinthians will avoid evil, do what is right, and become fully equipped for the ministry of reconciliation because Christ is truly in them.

Otherwise, if the Corinthians do not practice their own discernment and self-discovery, Paul may have to use the authority given to him for building them up to severely confront them with their sin. Paul writes to warn them that when he comes this third time, he will come with authority to deal with the impenitent, but he hopes for reconciliation. He hopes he will exercise his authority for edification rather than confrontation.

2 Corinthians 12:11-21 — I’m Coming to You for a Third Time

April 23, 2022

In this section, Paul concludes his boasting (2 Corinthians 12:11-13) and anticipates his third visit (2 Corinthians 14-21).

Paul has played the fool. He has engaged in, what he regards as, foolish boasting. He was compelled to do so because the Corinthians had accepted the credentials of the “super-apostles” above his own. Whatever the “super-apostles” offered in their boasting, Paul has “more” (2 Corinthians 11:23) and is not the least inferior to the intruders (2 Corinthians 11:5; 12:11).

According to Paul, this was a foolish procedure for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, boasting in one’s credentials is arrogant and prideful. It is not becoming of a minister of the Messiah, and it does not participate in the humble ministry of Jesus. It does not serve the ministry of reconciliation but is antagonistic to it. On the other hand, it is foolish because it should have been totally unnecessary. Paul has planted and watered the church at Corinth; he is their father. They know him, and they know his ministry (though they have misunderstood it at times). In other words, they know his credentials as an apostle and minister of the Messiah.

Paul is uncomfortable with this boasting because he knows he is actually “nothing.” I don’t think this is false humility. Rather, it reminds us of 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 where Paul acknowledges God alone makes one sufficient for ministry, and it is by the power of God that Paul ministers. It is because he is “nothing”—a humble servant of the Messiah—that Paul boasts in his weaknesses rather than in his commendations and revelations.

That contrast should have been obvious to the Corinthians, but they were blinded by the presence and credentials of the intruders even though Paul does not lag behind them one bit. If they are seeking signs (and some did, cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25), Paul—whatever the claims and actions of the “super-apostles”—performed the “signs of an apostle” among the Corinthians. This include “signs and wonders, and mighty works,” which includes not only what we might call “miracles” or “supernatural” acts but also the wondrous work of the transformative power of the gospel among them.

Moreover, Paul performed these signs with “with utmost patience” or “all endurance.” It seems Paul hints that ministry in Corinth was difficult and had its own hardships. Indeed, Acts 18:12-17 tells us that Paul encountered external hostility and legal trouble while he was in Corinth the first time. Paul stood up under the pressure, ministered to them for their sake, and fathered the church in Corinth. Moreover, Paul’s care for the Corinthian church involved its own hardship, struggles, accusations, and wounds.  Nevertheless, he did this without burdening them financially, to which some took offense and for which sarcastically Paul asks for forgiveness.

Consequently, Paul concludes his boasting with a humble reminder that he is an authentic apostle of Jesus the Messiah and is not the least inferior to the “super-apostles.” His only fault, Paul teasingly and sarcastically admits, was that he did not become their client where they assumed the role of a patron. He did not charge them anything but preached the gospel to Corinth “free of charge” (1 Corinthians 9:18)!

Next, Paul anticipates seeing them again, and this will be the “third time.” The first was when he planted the church in Acts 18, and the second was the “painful visit” (2 Corinthians 2:1) between the letter we now call 1 Corinthians and this present letter, 2 Corinthians. Paul is hopeful that his third visit will be filled with joy, hospitality, and mutual encouragement. However, he is concerned that some problems still fester in the Corinthian community.

First, there is still the gnawing problem of the patron-client relationship which Paul refused while he labored in Corinth. This is such a significant problem that Paul addressed it at length in 1 Corinthians 9 and has commented on it repeatedly in 2 Corinthians, especially in chapters 10-13. This problem, apparently, is not going away, which reveals how deeply embedded the patron-client system is in Greco-Roman culture. It was an expectation with which Paul did not comply, and this made the Corinthians suspicious as if Paul was deceiving them.

Apparently, some thought Paul was taking advantage of them in some way because he did not follow the cultural norms of patron-client reciprocity. Perhaps the intruders acerbated this by conforming to that norm and raised questions about Paul’s lack of reciprocity.

But Paul turns the tables on them. In effect, Paul denies that his relationship with Corinth is about patronage. Instead, it is about family. Instead of living in a patron-client relationship with Corinth, Paul frames their relationship as one analogous to a parent-child relationship grounded in mutual love. Parents, Paul argues, do not burden their children but freely give to them out their love, and the response of the children is to love their parents. Parents give themselves fully to their children, and this is not a deceitful act but a loving one.

Moreover, Titus is a prime example of the sort of relationship Paul wants with Corinth. They had received Titus well and the other unnamed brother (2 Corinthians 7:6-7, 11, 13; 8:16-24). Just as Titus did not take advantage of the Corinthians, neither had Paul. Since the Corinthians joyfully received Titus, Paul hopes for the same, and all the more so since Titus and Paul practice the same ministry in the “same spirit” using the “same steps.”

However, a second problem confronts Paul. He fears that his third visit will not be all joy and happiness. He fears that the Corinthian church had not fully and finally dealt with some of its serious problems. And these are the same problems Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians as well as, we may assume, on his second “painful” visit to Corinth.

On the one hand, some in the community still engage in “quarreling, jealous, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.” This sort of divisiveness consumed much of a prior letter (1 Corinthians 1-4). Apparently, Paul is aware that such disturbances had not settled down but continued among some, and it still disrupted the community. This sort of internal strife reflects an instability and hostility among members that is unbecoming to the body of Christ. Paul expects an increasing in love and holiness (what we might call communal sanctification), and he fears that there has not been much progress on that score.

On the other hand, some in the community still engage in “impurity, sexual immorality, and licentiousness.” In other words, sexual sins are still practiced in the community, and some have not repented of them. This is a persistent topic in Paul’s conversations with Corinth. It was addressed in his first letter, the one previous to what we call 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5:9), and it was thoroughly addressed in his second letter (1 Corinthians 5-6), and now it is addressed his fourth letter (2 Corinthians 12:21)—and we might assume was part of his “painful letter” (his third letter).

Paul’s response to Corinth has been neither defensive nor destructive, neither proud nor shrill. On the contrary, everything Paul does for the Corinthians is for their edification, to build up their body. He does not want to tear it down; the Corinthians are beloved to him. It is the reason he played the fool in boasting. It was not a defensive posture on his part but a loving one for the sake of the Corinthians. He speaks the truth in Christ before God for their sake, not his own.

Moreover, Paul mourns over those who have not repented of their sexual sin, and his fear is that God may call him to confront them when he visits again. This is not something he wants to do, or at least he does not want to have to do this. Nevertheless, he will speak the truth in Christ before God, and he will humble himself to confront sin when necessary.

Paul fears that it might be necessary since these two problems still persist, though the Corinthians have made tremendous progress in other ways (as Titus’s visit confirmed to Paul).

The third visit, Paul anticipates, might be a difficult one where both joy and confrontation are part of his reunion with the Corinthians. As he said earlier, the care of the churches is upon him daily, and his anxiety about his third visit is at the top of his concern as he is about to send this letter to Corinth with Titus and the unnamed brothers.

2 Corinthians 11:30-12:10 — Boasting in Weakness

April 16, 2022

Paul began his “foolish” boasting by identifying how, as a minister of Christ, he endured hardships, dangers, threats, and loss for the sake of the ministry of reconciliation. In effect, he boasted in his endurance, and through this endurance he suffered “more” (hyper) than the “super (hyper) apostles.” Instead of listing his credentials, he preferred to list his sufferings for the gospel of the crucified Messiah.

But Paul is not finished. He finds it necessary to boast even further.

  • “If I must (dei) boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:30)
  • “It is necessary (dei) to boast; nothing to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 12:1).

It is rather curious that in one breath Paul is determined to boast about his weaknesses but then finds it necessary to boast about his visions and revelations. The latter does not seem, at first glance, to be a weakness. We may suppose that the “super-apostles” boasted in their visions and revelations as a sign of strength, as a credential.

Paul, however, thinks of his boasts about visions and revelations as a way of boasting in his weakness. This will become apparent in 2 Corinthians 12:9 because, in some way, Paul believes his boast about his vision is actually a boast about his weakness.

  • “I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

His weakness is ultimately a “thorn in the flesh” that both torments and humbles him (2 Corinthians 12:7).

Paul’s first boast in weakness is found in 2 Corinthians 11:30-33. Paul reminds his readers that his preference is to boast in his weakness—and he assures them this is true by invoking the presence and knowledge of God. This functions like a doxological oath. He calls upon God to bear witness to his truth-telling.

In some way, Paul’s description of the Damascus incident is a form of boasting in weakness. Perhaps the “super-apostles” used this as example of Paul’s inferiority. Paul had to escape from a political threat in a humiliating manner. Does that sound like a minister of the Messiah? But Paul boasts in it, and his boast is one in weakness. The weakness is the humiliation of a secret escape over the wall in a basket. That would stand in contrast to a triumphant exit from the city due to his success and good standing with the authorities. Apparently, Paul’s preaching in Damascus created a significant enough disturbance that it caught the attention of the authorities there which led to his humiliating exit (cf. Acts 9:23-25). His escape was, in the eyes of some, humiliating and thus a weakness. But Paul boasts in such weaknesses as a servant of the crucified Messiah who labors in the ministry of reconciliation.

At the same time, perhaps there is a subtle comparison with other heroes who escape over walls, like the spies Rahab helped (Joshua 2:15), or David whom Michal helped (1 Samuel 19:12). Perhaps Paul is reminding us that basket escapes are signs of God’s power even if they are mocked as human weakness. God triumphs through human weakness.

Secondly, Paul feels the necessity to boast about his visions and revelations. On the surface, that appears more arrogant than humbling, more of a strength than a weakness. While some might glory in their visions, Paul approaches such boasting with deep hesitation, even to the point that he thinks it practically fruitless to actually boast about this sort of thing.

Paul’s hesitation is revealed in his use of third-person language. While some believe Paul is describing someone else because he uses the third-person (“I know a person in Christ . . .”), I think it much more likely that Paul uses this approach to take the potential egotistical edge off the boast. Talking about himself in the third-person is his way of toning down the boast, which he is hesitant to do in the first place. After all, it does not appear to be much of a boast to say, “I know this other person who had a vision” as if knowing the other person gives Paul some reason to boast or gives him status in the eyes of the “super-apostles.”

What was this event? Paul’s description in many respects is vague and ambiguous except that he can date it to fourteen years ago (sometime around 41-42 A.D., which may locate him in Arabia or even Damascus itself). Though the dating identifies it as a meaningful specific moment in his life, he is not sure if he was in his body or out of his body, and he cannot repeat what he heard. There is not much value in this revelation for the body of Christ if Paul cannot tell what he heard, and the emphasis is on what Paul “heard” rather than on what Paul may have seen. Apparently, what he heard was for his own benefit rather than for the edification of the body of Christ. This was a private, individual experience rather than one intended for the edification of any community of believers. In this way, it was an experience that assured Paul that his service to the ministry of reconciliation was known to God and honored by God because God gave Paul access to a special place.

The repetition found in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 functions as a Hebraic parallelism, a function of Hebrew poetry.

  • “was caught up to the third heaven
  • “was caught up into Paradise

Second Temple Jewish literature is filled with thorough descriptions of ascents into the different levels of heaven. Some had seven heavens; others had three heavens. These ascents are often quite specific and long in their accounts—who they talked with, what they saw, and what they heard among other things.

Paul, however, is quite different. There are no details. In fact, he is uncertain about many things, but he does know that he ascended into the third heaven which is, by virtue of the parallelism, Paradise. This is a heavenly encounter with God in the presence of the angels and, presumably, the righteous dead. But Paul does not specify. He does not share details, and he does not promote his vision because it would not benefit or edify the church. His ascent into the third heaven is more a personal, mystical experience than one designed to edify the church since Paul cannot even repeat what he heard.

In fact, Paul does not linger but moves quickly to the point that he wants to make. He doesn’t want to boast about his Paradise experience. Rather, he tells us that story so he can boast in his weakness. Paul has other revelations about which he could boast, especially their “exceptional character” (hyperbolē). There was room for Paul to trump the super (hyper)-apostles because his own revelations were hyper or exceptional.

We might imagine that the “super-apostles” focused on their revelations and visions. They used them as self-authentification and the promotion of their own ministry. It is part of there self-commendation. Indeed, this happens today as some promote their visions as their authentification and for the promotion of their own ministries and congregations. Visions, in this way, become an ego-trip rather than serving the body of Christ.

Instead of dwelling on the details of his vision, Paul raises up his weakness, his “thorn in the flesh,” with which we may assume the Corinthians were quite familiar. Perhaps they were so familiar that they used it against Paul, or it created an obstacle between Corinthian expectations and Paul’s claims because this thorn did not fit what one would think should characterize a “minister of Christ.”

What do we know about this thorn (or stake!) in the flesh?

  1. It is not a mere irritant but has a debilitating quality. It is not a “thorn” like in the Lion’s paw but a stake in the flesh. It is substantive rather than simply annoying.
  2. It was “given”—it seems by God as this may be what many call a “theological passive” where God is the assumed subject of the verb.
  3. The disability, whatever it is, torments Paul like a “messenger of Satan.” In other words, it has a negative impact on Paul’s ministry; it is a way for Satan to hinder his ministry.
  4. God is sovereign over this stake in the flesh. God can remove it or not; it lies within the will of God. God decides.
  5. Paul prays to Jesus (reading “Lord” as the Messiah) for its removal “three times.” Ultimately, the divine answer to Paul’s prayer for its removal is “No.” Probably, “three times” is not a specific number but a number that reflects a repetitive and frequent request.
  6. Paul identifies at least one specific revelation from Christ:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” The revelation in which Paul boasts (if we can call it that) is not some fantastic wonder or miracle but the willingness to experience weakness for the sake of the ministry of Jesus.

We don’t know what this “thorn in the flesh” was. We are not certain if it is physical (“flesh”), psychological (perhaps a mental illness of some sort), or external (persecutors and opponents). Most tend toward the physical, but it must be something so apparent and unattractive that it hinders Paul’s ministry in some way. In fact, perhaps his detractors used it as evidence of his inferiority. Would not God remove this disability if he were an authentic “minister of Christ”? This has led some to suggest that perhaps it was some sort of speech impediment like stuttering or something analogous. That may be true, but no one really knows, though it seems we may assume the Corinthians knew.

But, again, Paul’s interest is not in the details but in the weakness. This is his boast. He boasts in the weakness of this thorn in the flesh by which the grace of God humbles him and perfects him. His ministry is effective by the power of Christ rather than by the rhetorical blasts of a cultured and admirable tongue (if that is the nature of the thorn).

Consequently, Paul is “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever” he is “weak,” then is he “strong.”

His weaknesses are his strengths because they display the power of Christ. His ministry, conducted through a weak, earthen vessel, is effective because of what God is doing rather than because of his own strengths, skills, talents, and power. To boast in weakness is to boast in God’s work, and that is the only boasting that truly honors God.

Love, Hope, and Trust on Good Friday in the Gospel of Luke

April 14, 2022

Surrounded by people who falsely accused him, mocked him, beat him, divided his last possessions among themselves, and nailed him to a cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”

When one of the criminals crucified with Jesus confessed his guilt, recognized the innocence of Jesus, and asked to be remembered when Jesus came into his kingdom, Jesus responded, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

When darkness covered the whole land and nearing his dying breaths, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (quoting Psalm 31).

If we had been standing before the cross some two thousand years ago, there was nothing about that scene that announced the forgiveness of sins, victory over evil, and trust in God’s good work. We probably would have wondered, as we often do today, where is God in this? Why did God abandon the Messiah to death?

Whatever our reasonings, the Messiah himself sought forgiveness for his persecutors, hoped in the victory his death entailed, and died with a profound trust in the God of Israel. What gives birth to such merciful love, expectant hope, and trusting faith?

I imagine Jesus might say something like, “the God of Israel is my father.” And that was sufficient grace for him during those horrible hours on Good Friday.

Based on a scene in Eighty Days Around the Bible: The Story of God from Creation to New Creation.

2 Corinthians 11:21b-29: Enduring Hardship for the Sake of the Gospel

April 9, 2022

Finally, after preparing his readers for twenty-one verses, Paul begins his foolish boasting.

Paul’s boasting matches, in some way, the “super-apostles” (hyperlian apostolōn; 2 Corinthians 11:8; 12:11). Whatever boasts they may have boldly announced, Paul can match them and more. Just as the “super-apostles” are apparently Hebrews, Israelites, descendants of Abraham, and ministers of Christ, Paul is as well but a “better” (hyper) minister. The “hyper-apostles” are not superior to Paul; moreover, Paul is a “better” (hyper) minister than the “hyper-apostles.” They share the same pedigree, but Paul excels them in the last particular.

  • “Hebrew” may probably means his ethnic purity or perhaps, according to some, his capacity to read/speak Hebrew and his study of the Hebrew Scriptures.
  • “Israelite” identifies Paul with the covenant people of God whom God adopted from among the nations, which speaks to a privileged status in the history of redemption.
  • “Descendent of Abraham” highlights that the promises to Abraham belong to him as much as they do to anyone else.

These first three are saying essentially the same thing with different words. It has the rhetorical effect to say, “I am as much of a Hebrew, Israelite, and descendant of Abraham as anyone, especially these ‘super-apostles’.” The fourth one, however, is where Paul claims “more” than the “super-apostles.”

  • “Minister of Christ” does not refer to all believers in this instance, but presumably to people commissioned as servants of the Messiah in some way as co-workers in the ministry of reconciliation like Epaphras (Colossians 1:7) or Apollos (1 Corinthians 3:5).

The “super-apostles” and Paul share a similar identity—they share a heritage, training, and status. But the difference emerges when the nature of their Christian ministry (“ministers of Christ”) is considered. Paul is “better” or “more” (hyper) than the hyper-apostles. But in what way is Paul “more” (hyper)?

Paul’s boasting about his hyper ministry leans into his suffering rather than his success, prosperity, or rhetoric skills. Rather than promoting his authority, success, or gifts, Paul lays out more specifically why he is a “better” minister than the “super-apostles” by noting how his suffering for the ministry of reconciliation is “more” than the “super-apostles.”

This boasting about “more” suffering falls into four nice categories as several commentators have noticed.

  • “More” labors, imprisonments, floggings, and near death experiences.
  • Suffering enumerated in ministry: five lashings, three beatings, one stoning, three shipwrecks, and one day and night in the sea.
  • Risks or dangers in ministry: rivers, bandits, his own people (Jews), Gentiles, cities, wilderness, sea, false brothers and sisters (Christian).
  • Struggles in ministry: in toil and hardship, sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, and without food, warmth, and clothing.

If the Corinthians are looking for recommendations, commendations, and credentials, Paul lays out how he is “better” (hyper) than the hyper-apostles. Essentially, he suffers more. He humbles himself to work with his own hands (“toil”) and endures paucity that comes with the way he pursues ministry. His travels put him in constant danger, and his ministry endangers him by the responses he might receive from his own Christian family as well as Jews and Gentiles outside his Christian family. Some of those responses included lashings (a Jewish practice) and beatings (a Roman practice), even a stoning (Acts 14:19-23), as well as the normal hazards of sea-travel (three shipwrecks already and at least one more to come in Acts 27). Paul endures this suffering for the sake of the ministry of reconciliation. The list stresses Paul’s endurance, not his failings.

But most importantly—beyond these moments of suffering as significant as they are—it is his care for the churches that burdens him the most and identifies him as a hyper minister of Christ.

To my mind, this is the most distressful aspect of Paul’s ministry. It is the climax of his boasting about “more.” Indeed, Paul is the one who has the care of the churches at the top of his list in the way he conducts the ministry of reconciliation. In three sentences, he articulates the depth of his commitment, and the Corinthians ought to recognize this when they consider how Paul has lived and served among them.

  • “I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.”
  • “Who is weak, and I am not weak?”
  • “Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?”

Paul’s ministry burdens him—a burden he gladly accepts—with an intense concern for “all the churches.” This anxiety or care (merimna), the only time Paul uses this word, is a legitimate one as there is real danger. The bride of Christ is under attack, and Paul—especially for the Corinthians—feels the burden of a father for his virgin daughter. It is stressful, even distressful. It arises out of his love for the body of Christ, and he willingly carries this weight because he understands how important it is to care for the church.

The second line reminds us that Paul’s ministerial method means that he becomes all things to all people: “to the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak” (1 Corinthians 9:22). In relation to weaknesses within the family of God, Paul does not have to run them over and cater only to the strong. Paul, in other words, does not throw the weak under the bus or insist they get off the bus. He ministers to them, loves them, and becomes one of them as he practices the ministry of reconciliation in conformity to the image of Christ who became weak for our sakes (2 Corinthians 13:4).

The third line reveals Paul’s commitment to the weak. When someone is scandalized, Paul becomes angry (or, literally, he burns). When people are scandalized, Paul becomes upset and distressed. Whether it is about eating food offered to idols (as in 1 Corinthians 8:13) or something else, Paul prioritizes the scandalized (the weak). In the context of 2 Corinthians, this may refer to how some have been treated by the “super-apostles” or by other Corinthians who considered themselves strong or thought they knew more or better than others. Scandalization refers to destroy another’s faith such that they are no longer committed believers; it is not about petty feelings or offences (see Romans 14:15).

Paul is working with the theology that shaped the way he encouraged the Corinthians to share generously in 2 Corinthians 8-9. He humbles himself through working with his own hands rather than being a burden to them, becomes weak for the sake of the weak, and he becomes a fool through boasting for the hope of reconciliation. In other words, Paul’s ministry is cruciform; it follows the path of Jesus to the cross. And it lives in the hope of the reconciliation and resurrection.

The style of ministry in the American church, and in other moments in history, is often more shaped by prosperity, success, celebrity pastors, megachurches, popularity, and positions of strength rather than weakness. That is not Paul’s style, nor is it the way Jesus ministered.

When the weak are excluded, ignored, or thrown under the bus, we are called to indignation because we love the church, boast in the cross of Christ, and embrace the goal of reconciliation. When power abuses the weak in our churches, the appropriate responses are tears of grief and indignant confrontation. When arrogant and empowered people abuse the weak, they conform more to the American values of success and public reputation than to the witness of the cross of Christ.

Authentic leaders, conformed to the gospel of Jesus, must bear the burden of care for the church as a parent for their children, become weak for the sake of the weak, and burn with indignation when the weak are abused by the system.

May God give the church such leaders in abundance!