2 Corinthians 3
“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but OUR SUFFICIENCY IS FROM GOD…” (2 Cor 3:5).
Charles Spurgeon says, “Our sufficiency is of God; let us practically enjoy this truth. We are poor, leaking vessels, and the only way for us to keep full is to put our pitcher under the perpetual flow of boundless grace. Then, despite its leakage, the cup will always be full to the brim.”
I often feel very much like a poor, leaking vessel. I fill a little here but then some spills over there, not to mention the steady leaks. When filling with my own sufficiency + worldly things and desires, my cup is never full despite the long, hard work. But when we fill with things of God and even allow God to do the filling, the jar looks different; full. It has a new purpose. We can do things we never thought possible; things we are utterly insufficient to do on our own. And though it is fuller, it is also surprisingly lighter. Because our own sufficiency is so very heavy.
Paul talks in this chapter about the old and new covenant. He says that if glory – though veiled and fading – came from the old covenant, how much more glory – permanent glory even – comes from the new covenant. The old covenant was a vessel filled with our own sufficiency and condemnation over a law we couldn’t keep. The old covenant kept us restricted and separated from God. Glory was concealed. Leak. Leak. Leak.
But the new covenant is a vessel filled with mercy, grace, forgiveness, righteousness. There is no condemnation. The cracks and holes and crevasses are sealed by the blood of Jesus; by the sufficiency of a righteous savior.
When we peer into the vessel filled with God by God, we don’t see our own reflection anymore, but instead, we see Jesus. It is an image not of what we are or what we have done or what we can do or what was done to us, but of who Jesus is; what we will become. Because as we behold His glory -- as we fill up on Him -- we are being transformed into His image; the image in which we were created. And it is good. It is very good.
2 Corinthians 2
The devil loves nothing more than to see the church in turmoil. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he rebukes the church he planted for not only being flippant about blatant and unrepentant sin but also their posture of boasting in it; boasting in their self-assessed spiritual superiority and open-mindedness. One of the ways the devil attacks us is to keep us from addressing sin at all. He gives us many reasons to rationalize it…to each their own, I’m not my brother’s keeper, judge not, be more inclusive, avoid confrontation, avoid conflict and potential side taking, don’t rock the boat, don’t risk rejection. But sin is never isolated to an individual. Its tentacles reach deep into the community, sometimes in obvious ways, but always in subtle ways as well. And the devil sits back satisfied as believers become numb to sin and spiritual maturity comes to a screeching halt, all while a broken and weary world smugly looks on.
But in this case, the Corinthians took Paul’s advice. The specific scenario we aren’t told – it could have been the individual from 1 Corinthians 5 or another – but we know that the church took action, that discipline was exercised on an unrepentant member. But rest assured, the devil has a strategy for this scenario as well. His plan this time to breed hard hearts, unforgiveness, permanently air-tight locked doors…even as the individual grieves, repents, longs to be reunited.
Paul essentially says, “Enough is enough! He’s been punished enough. He’s repented and forgiveness is in order.” But it’s hard, right? We are full of feelings and emotions. We are hurt by the ramifications of the sin; hurt by the sting of shame, betrayal, and destruction it caused. We aren’t ready to let go. And our unwillingness to move from the confrontation to the restoration is rooted in our distorted view of the purpose of addressing sin. It isn’t to be our aim to judge or condemn…that rests solely in the hands of God. Our aim is to be restoration, also God’s wheelhouse. Love seeks repentance, renewal, and restoration. Never condemnation and eternal banishment.
The story of the prodigal son is a beautiful illustration told by Jesus. The younger son takes his inheritance, runs far away, and squanders it all on sinful living. But then he realizes how wrong he was. He is deeply sorrowful and repentant. His only hope is to return home as a lower-class servant for minimal provisions to get out of the pit he has plummeted himself in. He rehearses his plea as he makes the long trek home. But from a great distance, his father is waiting. Watching and waiting for this day. He runs to the boy and embraces him. He wraps him in a robe, puts shoes on his feet, a ring on his finger, and throws the party of all parties to celebrate. His forgiveness leads to restoration. But the older brother is bitter, refusing to join in at the party, sulking in his self-righteous, that’s-not-fair, entitlement mentality. He is all about the condemnation and nowhere near a heart hoping for restoration. The church unwilling to offer forgiveness, comfort, and reaffirmation of love is the older son. And in this scenario, no one wins. Again the devil props up his feet, delighted with the outcome.
Paul says to the Corinthians, “let us not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” Sin is no joke. It requires acknowledgment and repentance. And as a result, it calls out for forgiveness…because God forgives us, even though we too mess up big time and don’t deserve it. God, thank you that the goal is always restoration. Help us to love, forgive, comfort, and seek restoration as you do for us even when we are woefully unworthy.
2 Corinthians 1
God’s first promise is found in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sin slithered its way into our new reality. At that moment God promised to send someone to save us from it. He promised that through sin and Satan would have a time of destruction, a time would come when he would be crushed; sin would be defeated and all would be made right and pure and perfect again.
God’s last promise is in Revelation 22:20 – the second to last verse in the Bible – Jesus says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Tucked between these promises are thousands of additional promises from God to us. Promises of plans, protection, provision, peace, power, purpose, future perfection, and so much more. Our job? To believe in Him; in the One He sent in whom all the promises were made and fulfilled.
2 Corinthians 1:20 says, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”
All of God’s promises from the first to the last are based upon and satisfied in Jesus. They all find their YES in Him. Our response is YES through Jesus back to God.
Do we believe God? Do we believe all His promises? Are we living in all of the YESes of God’s promises? Do we say YES to all that God has said YES to? Anything less – any 'no', or 'maybe', or 'not yet' – is a no back to God's yes. It is simply unbelief in His promises.
I think we don’t fully embrace God’s promises because promises are a tough thing for us. We have been the recipient of many broken promises made to us. We have broken promises to others, and even more to ourselves. We begin to question the power of a promise.
But God is faithful and powerful and able to keep ALL of His promises. We can count on them. How differently would our lives look if we REALLY BELIEVED all of His promises? I think we wouldn’t be afraid to say YES & AMEN. We wouldn’t fear the unknown. We wouldn’t live for worldly things. We wouldn’t be satisfied with so many not knowing Him. We would do differently and buy differently and give differently and worship differently and speak differently and spend our time differently.
What if we believed God’s promises – God’s YES in Jesus – and replied back, “YES & AMEN!” Yes, Lord, I surrender. Yes, I want all of the fullness of your love, joy, holiness, hope, peace, power. Yes, I will go there and do that thing and say those words and trust You. Because I believe You. I believe Your promises.
Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. I want to believe. I want to say YES & AMEN to all your Yes’s. I want to live in the fullness of Your promises.
1 Corinthians 16
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians comes to a close. This church, planted and so loved by Paul, is a spiritual mess. They receive quite a rebuke from Paul with many words of “do not”, “stop”, “quit.” In his final instructions, Paul offers up military-like commands to turn the spiritual battle back around.
WAKE UP! The first instruction is to be watchful. To be aware and alert and on guard. We can’t sleep through this life and hope for the best. We must be alert to the devil. He prowls around seeking to devour those of us caught off guard; those of us half asleep. He’s crafty and subtle and manipulative. He whispers just enough truth sprinkled with lies. If we are distracted or lazy, we fall for it without even realizing it. We must be watchful of temptations we are faced with. Fully awake and aware to see them for what they are. We need to be awake and aware of false teachers. Aware of losing our passion; of apathy and indifference. The Corinthians in their spiritual stupor had become victims to all of these things.
STAND FIRM in the faith. Know what we believe. Stand up for what we believe. Bold and upright, full of confidence. Hold on to the Word of God; the Gospel; the truth. It is sacred and far superior to human knowledge and “spirituality”. Do not be distracted or deceived.
ACT LIKE MEN. In other words, GROW UP! Don’t remain a spiritual infant. Continue to mature in faith and grow in courage.
Be STRENGTHENED. We need the strength that comes from the Lord; from the mighty Holy Spirit within us. This is a race…a spiritual war. This battle isn’t for wimps. We need to be strong.
In all, LOVE. Binding it all together must be love above all. Love in all things. Love in action, not merely feeling. It’s the secret sauce.
1 Corinthians 15
The Gospel is preached.
We receive it.
We stand on it.
Not believing in vain, we are saved by it.
Christ died for our sins in accordance with Scriptures.
He was buried.
He was raised on the third day in accordance with Scriptures.
He appeared to Cephas (Peter).
Then to the Twelve.
Then to more than 500 brothers.
Then to James.
Then to all the apostles.
Lastly, He appeared to Paul.
And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Christ the firstfruits.
Then at his coming, those who belong to Christ.
Then comes the end.
After destroying every rule and every authority and power.
God the Son delivers the kingdom to God the Father.
For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
The first man was from the earth, a man of dust.
The second man is from heaven.
And we shall bear the image of the man of heaven.
We shall not fall asleep.
But we shall be changed.
In a moment.
In the twinkling of an eye.
At the last trumpet.
The trumpet will sound.
The dead will be raised imperishable.
And we shall be changed.
This perishable body must put on the imperishable.
This mortal body must put on immorality.
Death is swallowed up in victory!
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
Victory is through our Lord Jesus Christ.
So now…be steadfast, immovable.
Always abounding in the work of the Lord.
Knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
THIS. Praise be to God. Thank you, Jesus.
1 Corinthians 14
“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Oh, Paul. As a woman, what are we to do with this? As a lover of God and the church and truth, what are we to do with this? What do we do when we read things that make us uncomfortable?
I read many commentaries, blog posts, and sermon transcripts on this passage. Some with interpretations suppressing all women involvement in teaching. On the other end, some cite context, cultural, and translation nuances to dismiss its current relevance entirely. And many fall in between.
Context matters for sure. Words and truth matter too. I do believe this is God’s inspired Word and He knew all of the cultures and times it would be read in. I want to always be careful not to dismiss or alter the meaning of something just because it makes me uncomfortable. If I desire truth, I want all of it, not just the easy parts. The Bible is full of warnings about false teaching, submitting to the whims of cultural pressures, and teaching what our itching ears want to hear...all at the expense of truth.
I’m no theologian, but here’s where I am with this... Without a doubt I believe that God will give each of us wisdom and discernment when we need it and ask for it. This particular cause isn’t one I currently struggle with. I don’t have a desire or calling to speak, lead, or teach in church. I’m blessed to sit under great Biblical teaching. At the same time, I love and admire many Godly, spirit-filled women teachers who have greatly impacted my faith journey and flamed an intense desire to know more about God. And I also know Jesus deeply valued women during His ministry, as did Paul. And in God’s eyes we are ALL - men and women alike - so loved and valued; ALL created in His image on purpose for purpose.
I believe God’s wisdom and ways and plans are so much greater than my own, and I am okay with not fully understanding all things when I don’t need to yet (it took me a long time to get there). It’s not my current bridge to cross. At the same time I respect the platform of others to fight for issues God may have given them a passion to fight for. After all, this part of Paul’s letter follows his teaching that we are all members of one body with different functions that all work together for the whole. I never want to assume I know more that what the Holy Spirit has led someone to. The Jewish leaders knew an awful lot and they missed Jesus by digging in their heels and staying in their comfort zones.
It may seem non-committal, but it’s all I’ve got now...on this and a few other things. God knows my heart and desire. I pray for wisdom, discernment, and revelation of truth ALL the time. And I trust the Spirit will give me what I need to know and say and do when I need it. So, how do you wrestle with things you don’t quite fully understand?
1 Corinthians 13
In one of the most quoted passages at weddings, Paul’s poetic words paint a beautiful picture of love. After much theology and advice, he brings us to the linchpin of it all…love. All of the gifts, all of the knowledge, all of the faith, all of the humility and service -- no matter how impressive -- mean nothing if they are not rooted in love. Christianity is built on relationship, not religion, ritual or rules. And relationships are meaningless without love. It is the essence of who God is.
1 John 4:7-8 tells us God is love. And in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches that it isn’t just about following rules, it is about the condition of our heart. And Jesus tells us that the way people will know we belong to Him is by our love. And He tells us the greatest commandments – the ones all the other laws and commandments hang off of – is to LOVE God and LOVE one another. And the greatest gift – the blood of Jesus to pay in full our sin debt and make us righteous – was based on love; for God so LOVED the world.
Paul wants to make sure we know what love is, and equally important, what love is NOT. I’m reposting this picture from February based on this chapter when I started working on a Bible for my daughter to give to her when she graduates in two years. This was the first thing I put in it. To me, it is a beautiful picture of the character of a big God that is hard to wrap our head around. And when I think about her heading off to college, I want her to remember these truths about love…love in her Savior, love in friendships, and even love in that cute guy that she starts dating.
The “love is” side is a gage for real love….patient, kind, rejoicing in TRUTH, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. It is a check on how we are being treated and how we are treating others. The “love is not” side -- envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable, resentful, insistent on own ways, rejoicing in wrongdoing -- these are red flags both in our own hearts, as well as in assessing a potentially toxic friendship or relationship. One that may feel good in the manipulative moment, but it isn’t true, lasting, satisfying, fulfilling, mutually beneficial, edifying love.
Let us love real and love big and love one another well. Thank you, God, for being love and modeling love to your creation.
1 Corinthians 12
The devil is the father of lies, and some of his big ones are exposed in the truth Paul is trying to instill in the Corinthian church.
The first lie is we aren’t good enough. We don’t have anything of value. We have no unique gifts worthy to share. And as we look around, we feel all alone and useless. It seems like everyone else has these amazing gifts and talents and platforms. But we just don’t matter. This is a LIE.
But on the other end of the spectrum, the devil is working just as hard. Making us believe that we are all that. That we are so valuable and independent. We can do it all on our own. We are better alone. We don’t need anyone else. This too is a LIE.
The devil works hard to get our eyes looking to the front, back, left, and right…anywhere but up. Comparing and condemning… ourselves or others, or often both at the same time. He plants lies in our head that if people are different than us…in their look, behavior, mannerisms, giftings, priorities, passions, platforms, ministries, ways of worship…then they are wrong or they are better…both LIES.
Paul is basically saying, “JUST STOP!” We are different because we have different purposes and callings, but they all come from the same source and we are all stronger together. There are things that we can accomplish in unity that the sum of all the parts could never accomplish in isolation. In a symphony, if even one of the instruments is off key, the entire sound is off. We are all instruments to make a joyful noise at the hands of the great Conductor. We are all parts of one body. Though we are different, we all share the same DNA at our core…we are all created in the image and likeness of God, the creator of all things. No part of the body is more important than the other. No part of the body is insignificant. We all need each other. Paul is essentially saying, “Let’s start acting like it.”
The crazy thing is there is so much joy and freedom and peace in doing our thing…the thing we are good at and called to do…in beautiful community with other people doing their thing for the Kingdom of God. So why in the world do we let the devil talk us into going down the road of doubt, comparison, criticism and trying to go at it alone? Why????? Oh, he’s good at doing his thing, but we have more power in us that he has in him. We don’t have to buy into it or go along with it. God, help us discover, deepen, and pour out our unique gifts, and let us simultaneously celebrate and join hands with others who are doing the same.
1 Corinthians 11
Authority has become a four-letter word. Wait, scratch that… four-letter words are more accepted and often even revered than the idea of authority. We brisk at the concept, puff our chests and assert our authority over ourselves. No one is the boss of me, we declare.
It is such a stumbling block to our faith and our ability to genuinely accept God as the authority over our lives. Do we understand this? It is essential to get this!
God is a God of order and authority. Authority exists in the Trinity itself – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit -- though all are fully and equally God. Jesus, God in the flesh, willingly submitted to the authority of God the Father.
The cycle of life from dependent infants to toddlers to figuring it out teens to students to employees to spouses all include places where we learn to submit to authority. Not only as a means for order and proper development, but to train our hearts and minds toward a posture of authority SO THAT we can willingly and lovingly submit to the ultimate authority of Jesus. The more we buck authority in our training times the more difficult it is to submit to the authority of Jesus. The more we clench our fists around our authority over ourselves, the less our hearts are open to the authority of our Creator and Savior.
Paul has spent much ink ensuring we as believers understand this incredible freedom we have. Freedom paid for by the blood of Jesus. It is good, he says. Why would we go back to a posture of slavery when we are free people? So when he speaks of authority, he isn’t taking something away from us or belittling us or squashing us under the thumb of another. Authority does not equal inferiority. Authority is not about submitting to the whims of the will of another. Jesus was no less God when He was submitting to the authority of the good and perfect will of the Father. Spiritual authority is always in the context of a loving a mutually beneficial relationship. Authority ultimately belongs to God. We are free, but we aren’t our own. And it is a good thing, not a bad thing. We need a renewal of the mind in this space.
I know this is a hard chapter for many to read. But give this consideration…when we bristle at the idea of submitting to anyone’s authority – and I’ll admit, when I first read passages like this, I bristle -- view it is a gut check to examine how we view authority, particularly the authority of God in our lives. Am I wanting to be the boss? Am I wanting to call the shots? Am I wanting to be in control? These wants are planted straight from the devil’s playbook and pit us head-to-head with God’s authority.
Paul uses headcoverings as an example (likely from another question that was asked of him by the Corinthians along with the others he previously addressed). The wearing or not wearing of headcoverings was an outward display of an inward bucking of authority. I’m challenged today to think of all the ways I outwardly rebel against the authority of Jesus as more Lord. The more I truly submit to the authority of Jesus, the less concerned I am about wielding my own authority. I want to fully submit to Jesus, my Lord, and I’m willing to put in the training. What about you?
1 Corinthians 10
If we are honest, we often look for the line. Some rebellious ones love nothing more than to cross the line just to show they can, or don’t care what people think, or to be their own boss. But I’m guessing most of us search out and tiptoe toward the place we can go just up to and still technically be “okay.” We live life close to the line basking in our freedom. It’s all about us and the most we can get out of life. We look around at others to see where they interpret the line to be, or how crafty they are at getting as close as possible to it.
But our thinking here is all whack. It is self-centered, and it does little to add true joy to our lives or glorify God. In so many different ways God teaches us how to live radically differently. To be the one to pick up the towel and water basin and wash feet at the table. To put the comfort and success of others ahead of our own. To love others more than ourselves. To use our time and talents and resources to build others up; to build the kingdom here on earth. But often we look at our time, talent and resources and spin our wheels trying to get the most out of them for ourselves. We put ourselves first. We make sure we are comfortable before turning our eyes to others. We seek to glorify ourselves. All the while trying to maintain “good Christians” status and not cross the line. And quite honestly it is exhausting and unfulfilling.
We have beautiful freedom bestowed on us because of the blood of Jesus. A great many things are permissible to us…but, not all are helpful. Not all are beneficial. Not all are constructive. Just because we CAN do something doesn’t mean we SHOULD do something. Just because something is on the okay side of the metaphorical line doesn’t mean we have to slither up to it as close as possible. People are watching and even suffering a great distance from the line, and we are missing them. And as a result, they are missing God. Nobody wins.
I don’t want (want to want) to l my live my life with my eyes on the permissible line, only seeking what I can get or get away with; I want (want to want) my eyes on the people and tasks God has set before me. I want (want to want) more than the acceptable; I want (want to want) what is beneficial, edifying, glorifying, transforming. God, change my want to.
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