2 Corinthians 12
Paul pours out his life for Jesus. Paul suffers for Jesus. Paul counts his esteemed worldly knowledge as garbage. Paul is insecure. Paul is afraid. Paul loves so deeply. Paul is willing to look the fool to bring others to Jesus. He doesn’t care how he looks outside of the audience knowing Jesus sent him and believing the Gospel. Despite his intelligence and impeccable upbringing under the most respected teachers, he wants to be small so God can be even that much bigger. That’s who Paul is.
What does it take to get us there? What does it take for us to forgo all the worldly things we covet and build up and just be stripped down to Jesus in us? Certainly, Paul spent time with Jesus. He is so certain this is the prize; the life worth living for at all costs. He received unspeakable revelations. But for Paul, among other things, he tells us there was this “thorn in his flesh.” One he didn’t want. One he prayed to be taken away.
Do you have a thorn? Have you been begging God to take it from you?
2 Corinthians 12 is one of my favorite chapters because of Paul’s honesty here about his thorn and its purpose. “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
Sometimes we just flat out need it. God has gifted us wildly and that comes with temptation to think we are all that and forget it is all Him. Sometimes we need hard things to steer us on our God-ordained paths; to keep us humble; to keep us desperate for Jesus.
As counter-cultural as it is, our weakness is what makes us strong. When we are in a place where it can ONLY be God, everyone wins.
We all have them. These thorns and burdens. Some are meant to be healed or taken. Some not. But all are meant to be used by God, so what do we do with that? We fight and pray over those circumstances, illnesses, thorns, insecurities, fears with a passion. God tells us to keep coming to Him in persistent prayer. Sometimes healing is the plan. But if God says, “nope...this one stays. I’m using it.” We say, “your will be done.” And then we watch God do His thing!
2 Corinthians 11
God planted a garden in Eden and out of the ground He made to spring up EVERY tree that is PLEASANT to sight and GOOD for food. God places man, his prized creation, in the Garden to work it and keep it. All around him are beautiful to look at and delicious to eat foods. God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of EVERY tree in the garden, BUT of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in that day you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen 2:8-17).
Free will with only the smallest of temptation. Because only free will leads to a free decision to love and obey. Surrounded by so much beauty and good food, surely man would be satisfied with the ABUNDANCE available, even if one was to be avoided.
And as Eve is in the garden one day enjoying the abundance available to her, the devil slithers in with, “Did God really say?” assertions that perhaps she misunderstood, mixed with lies eagerly absorbed by Eve as new revelation, enlightenment, the real story that God is holding out on them.
The devil has a way of shifting our eyes from our purpose, from the abundance all around us, from the beautiful things available to us and laser-focusing them on that one thing we don’t have. He has a way of shifting our perspective and even our worldview. And it affects our desires, what we think joy and contentment look like, what we seek, who we follow.
THIS. This Paul is reminding the Corinthians is how Satan works. Deception wrapped in half-truths and enticing lures. Planting doubt. Conjuring up ideas of missing out; God keeping good things from us.
THIS. This Paul is telling them is what we are falling for when we lean into those “preaching another Jesus” (2 Cor 11:4). Preaching a little truth – or even a lot of truth – with destructive lies woven in. Lies that get us off track. Lies that ultimately turn our face from the Gospel and from God.
The devil didn’t stop working in the garden or in Corinth. His lies weave their way into every culture and every time period. False teachers and false worldviews will come. The problem is the Corinthians – and us – “put up with them readily” (2 Cor 11:4).
Honestly, this is an area that constantly has me on my toes and on my knees. What makes us think we are any stronger or more discerning or more righteous than any of those who came before us from Adam to today? God inspired so many warnings to be preserved in His Word. The devil is good at what he does. He is crafty and experienced and ruthless. He knows it only takes a slight shift to get us eventually completely off track before we even know it. So. Many. Warnings. And here again from Paul, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” (2 Cor:13-15)
This is how the devil works. He doesn’t come in a black cape and evil mask. He comes disguised as an angel of light. He comes in a form appealing to the senses. He’s no rookie. Be aware and alert and always in prayer for discernment.
There is but one Gospel. One Truth. One Lord. One God. One Savior. One Messiah. One Christ. God, daily give us wisdom and discernment and courage to seek, know, and follow Your Truth. Let no untruth or false teaching take hold of us. Get behind me, Satan.
2 Corinthians 10
Our mind is our greatest asset and it can also be our greatest downfall. There is a battle for our mind. An ongoing, intense war. And we need to be alert and take a defensive posture instead of sitting back and hoping for the best. But how?
Paul says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Cor 10:3-4)
Though we walk in the flesh we don’t have to fight these battles in our fleshly mess. Because flesh-waged war looks like manipulation, power grabs, deceit, backstabbing, cheating, gossip, abuse of power…to name a few.
Indeed, there is a mighty battle raging all around us and in us, but we can wage war differently than the world. We can pick up weapons that are not of this world.
Paul continues, “…we take every thought captive to obey Christ...” (2 Cor 10:5b)
The battle starts in our mind. And the strongholds are the lies we believe to be truth. Worldviews that say there is no God, we aren’t accountable to anyone, everything is permitted, this life is all there is so live it up, new enlightenment is where it’s at, we should be able to do what we want when we want with whoever we want. Or attitudes that entangle us like worry, approval seeking, fear, shame, bitterness, insecurity. These strongholds are born and grow in our mind and IT IS WAR! But WE CHOOSE what we think. We have divine power to DESTROY these strongholds.
Because when strongholds are defeated in our mind – when we destroy lies and our thoughts are captive to things of Christ – our response is different. It is one of knowing who and whose we are; knowing that we are loved and forgiven and valuable. And as a result, we forgive, love, build up instead of tear down, care for the needs of others even more than our own, serve joyfully. We live in freedom, we take risks, we trust God. Everything changes when our minds are taken captive by the things of Christ; when our minds know and believe truth.
What we think matters. What we focus on matters. What we fill our mind with matters. It is critically important that we protect our mind…that we are selective and super picky about what we let in…what we read, watch, listen to. And that we focus our mind on things of God and truth. Always. Consistently.
Kenneth Copeland says, “The battleground of the mind is where life’s most precious victories are won or lost.”
Lysa TerKeurst says, “The more we read God’s truths and let truth fill our minds, the less time we’ll spend contemplating untruths.”
Praying today that we make habits of being very aware and proactive about what fills our mind. Let us strive to take every thought captive to obey Christ.
2 Corinthians 9
“The point is this,” Paul says. “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”
Here Paul mentions it in the context of giving. In Galatians he relates it to how we treat others. Jesus speaks of reaping & sowing with regard to hearing and believing the Word. It is a life principle built into creation.
We will reap what we sow. We can’t harvest what we don’t plant.
If we want to accomplish new things, we have to do the planting. If we want to get healthier, we have to do the planting. If we want to make life changes, we have to do the planting.
And it is HARD to do the planting. To bury that seed. To watch something seemingly die we are clinging to in that seed. To water and watch and wait. And wait. Because the harvest takes time. Planting ushers in seasons of sweat equity with very little to show for it on the surface.
Some of our sowing will fall on the path, immediately trampled or taken away by birds. Our efforts will flat out fail from the get-go sometimes. Maybe we gave it a half effort; weren’t all in; weren’t committed.
Some of our sowing will fall on the rocks. It will show promise for a while, but as it grows, it withers away. It doesn’t take root. Things get in the way of its growth and development. We make small progress that slowly deteriorates because we didn’t do the important foundational work. We sow sparingly and reap sparingly.
Some of our sowing will fall among thorns that grow up and choke it. Things begin going well and then we get distracted. All. The. Shiny. Things. We get confident or complacent and stop the pruning. Or things just plain get hard, or boring, or take too long. Or we start to believe the other voices that it won’t work; we can’t do; we aren’t good enough. And we quit.
But sometimes our sowing falls on good soil. It grows and yields an impressive magnificent harvest. We do the work. We stick with it. We put in the time. And things begin to happen. Our bountiful sowing produces a bountiful harvest.
God can take our obedient action, commitment, hard work, diligent waiting and make something beautiful out of it. The sweat equity has purpose. We are humbled, we become more committed, we are more grateful, we learn so much along the way, we are equipped to help others in their sowing seasons...we are more ready for the harvest.
What three things are you going to plant today? Things that not even a seedling of a harvest can be seen yet...running a marathon, starting a business, leaving a job to become a stay at home mom, saving up for that home, losing those extra pounds, founding a non-profit...
We reap what we sow. We harvest only what we plant and care for. Let’s do this!
2 Corinthians 8
Paul is speaking to the Corinthians about giving to the church in Jerusalem, reminding them of their initial eagerness to willingly give. But so much of what he says in this regard struck a chord with me as it relates to giving of our gifts…our passions…our dreams…our part in the great story God has placed us in here and now.
“…you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it.” (2 Cor 8:10). You! You who have this passion and these dreams stirring in you. You might think of them often, or it may have been a while since you’ve dared to think of them. Because life happens. Time passes, circumstances change, things get busy. Things get hard! So very hard. So we put it aside, or put it in a vault, or toss it out altogether. We think we missed the window, or misunderstood the call, or missed out on the qualifications we need. The devil isn’t afraid of our dreams, intents, or well-documented plans…He is afraid of our taking action on these things; of us actually doing them.
“So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.” (2 Cor 8:11) What if we reached back into the vault and remembered our passion and fire for those things? What if we matched our readiness at that moment with a desire to just do it? What if we press on and push through the fears, doubts, constraints our simple eyes see? We will likely never have it all figured out or feel ready. But look back at the end of the verse: we complete it out of WHAT WE HAVE. Because truthfully, we have all that we need to do what God has given us a passion and desire to do.
“For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” (2 Cor 8:12) Read it again and again: if the readiness is there, it is acceptable. God has all the power. God sees the potential. God is looking for ready...
I think today God is looking at us and saying, “[insert name], you ready?”
What do you say? Because once He hears your, “YES!”, He says, “I’ve got this… it is beautiful and acceptable not according to what you do not have, but according to what I have. Let’s do this!”
2 Corinthians 7
Two girls post a hurtful picture and comment on social media, betraying the trust of someone who considered them a friend. Both thought it was anonymous, but it was quickly discovered they were the ones who posted it. Not only is their friend devastated, but there is backlash they didn’t expect. Both are full of grief over the situation. However, the reaction of each is different.
One girl immediately starts texting her friends, telling lie after lie to cover up her offense and gather allies in her corner. She tells herself the girl deserved it and convinces herself that she is the victim. Her grief is self-centered and self-preserving. It becomes a cycle of further destruction.
The other girl’s reaction is quite different. She sees the hurt that she caused and is deeply grieved. She realizes she has offended not only her friend, but worse, God. She quietly drops to her knees in the middle of her room and prays. She hates what she has done and cries out to God. She decides to step away from social media for a season. She picks up the phone to call her friend and ask forgiveness. Her heart is changed. She never wants to do anything like that again.
Paul tells us, “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death”. 2 Corinthians 7:10
Both girls committed an offense, but only one had Godly grief over it. Where worldly grief is self-focused, full of shame over getting caught and worry about self-image and people’s reactions, Godly grief results in repentance and heart change. Worldly grief leads to further covering up, pride, fear, and often more regrettable actions. Godly grief leads to salvation and restoration.
The unfortunate reality is we will all have regrets inflicted by our own sinful actions. The good news is that God works all things for good, including our sorrow and regrets if we allow Him to. May we always have Godly grief when we mess up and choose the path of repentance.
(Taken from my post in the TAE app for tween/teen girls. Check out their page for creative resources for girls and women…amazing Bible studies, all sprinkled with fabulous art projects.)
2 Corinthians 6
“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” (2 Cor 6:14).
A yoke is something put over two animals to enable them to pull together on a load when working in pairs. A vehicle to work side by side pulling the same plow to accomplish the same goal more effectively. But where goals, purpose, objectives vary, things don’t go so well.
The concept of not being unequally yoked is often cited in the context of marriage, a place where being on the same page with common goals is certainly a contributor to success. But I think we can also look broader into other things that can become a part of us. Things that help us go in the right direction more successfully, or things that stall the process. The people we engage with, the things we do, see, read, watch, spend our time and money on…do they complement our Christian faith or pull it in an opposing direction? Are we a light of positive influence where we are and who we are with, or are we stepping into places, people’s lives, situations we aren’t prepared to and as a result allowing our light fade into the darker worldly things?
Certainly, we are called to go out into the world and make disciples. This is our high calling for sure. So how do we assess the yoking? How do we know when we are not simply in the world but also of the world? One question to ask is around influence. Who is the one being influenced and what is the influence? Jesus could often be seen with those of us steeped in sin. But Jesus was always the influencer with a God-glorifying influence. His presence poured out Godliness, rather than soaking in worldliness.
David Guzik says, “We all like to believe that we can be around ungodly things as much as we want and that we are strong enough to ward off the influence. But we must take seriously the words of Scripture: ‘Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits.’ (1 Corinthians 15:33) It needs to come back to the simple question from Romans 12:2: Are we being conformed to this world, or are we being transformed by the renewing of your mind?”
The gray areas will be different for each of us, based on our weaknesses and temptations. What one can easily walk into, another would become unequally yoked with the worldly things taking over. We can’t serve two masters and God alone is the Lord over our lives. If another causes a wedge of competition for our love, adoration, submission we become unequally yoked.
I’m praying about things in my life that may be pulling me in a direction I don’t want to go. Those things that are conforming me more to the world instead of transforming me into who God created me to be.
2 Corinthians 4
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed.
We are jars of clay. Fragile, broken, dirty, cracked. But in this jar that on the outside appears utterly unworthy to hold anything of significant value – in us – is the surpassing power of God.
We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.
What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord. We have the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
We are persecuted, but not forsaken.
He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us into the glorious presence of God.
We are struck down, but not destroyed.
We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is a jar of clay wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
Affliction is real and affliction is hard. But it brings with it preparation. And on the other side of it is an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
So, we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. The things that are beautiful and glorious and eternal.
A new home awaits. A home lit by the glory of God. A feast and celebration like none other. No pain. No tears. No suffering. No sin. No death. Love abounds. Joy overflowing. Peace.
Future hope motivates present faithfulness. So though we endure hardship for a time, we are hopeful and steadfast, gripping to truth with every fiber in us.
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.
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