I find 2 Cor. 13:5-10 such an intriguing passage. In our current day culture, we typically view the concept of “testing” in a negative light. As a trial. A difficult season. Something we don’t like. However, in Scripture, Paul uses the application of “testing” to see how far you have come in the deepening of your faith. It is the idea of reflecting in the rear-view mirror in order to catch a glimpse of your spiritual growth.
Of course, we all have ups and downs in our journey, but what we should discover is an overall upward trend.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to take an introspective look at their lives to determine if Jesus was at work. The goal was to build up, not tear down. It is easy to misinterpret the tone of this passage. Paul was all about encouraging them to examine themselves in order to gain assurance of their salvation. He desired their complete restoration. He wanted to see them take a step of faith, leaving their sinful lifestyles behind.
In our seasons of stuckness…it is good to remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness time and time again. It is incredibly encouraging to look back, reflect, and build up our faith.
Am I really a true Christian? Or am I a counterfeit?
There’s more to being a Christian than attending church, singing worship songs, and memorizing a few scripture verses now and then. A true Christian has the Holy Spirit residing within. And the Holy Spirit confirms to our inner being that we belong to Christ. (Additional Resource: What is the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit?“)
“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” Eph. 1:13-14
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,” Rom. 8:16
A true Christian desires after God.
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—” 1 Peter 2:2
A true Christian bears fruit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Gal. 5:22-23
A true Christian experiences heart change.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Cor. 5:17
As a believer, little by little, you should see yourself becoming more like Christ. Your attitudes and actions begin to be transformed. Selfishness erodes away. Sin becomes displeasing. And although you may not see yourself changing on a day-to-day basis…pause…reflect…some things take time to appreciate and recognize.
How do you see yourself being changed over time?
Paul is painfully patient with the Corinthians, steadfastly waiting for them to come around. He has written letters, made visits, sent messengers, performed signs and wonders, defended his cause, and poured out his heart. But still, the Corinthians hadn’t turned from their S.I.N. The most destructive three-letter word around. Read 2 Cor. 13:1-4.
When we are in the clutches of sin, sometimes we dig in our heels. We don’t want to change. We defend ourselves. We put up a fight. Sin can become a comfortable companion…and we may not know how we will manage without it by our side. If materialism wants to go shopping, will we be able to say no? If gossip is the talk of the town, will we be excluded from Girl’s Night Out? If anxiety invades our thoughts, will we let her run wild? If jealousy wants to have lunch, will we turn her down?
The longer we allow sin to have a hey day in our lives, the more difficult it becomes to walk away. However, we have been given great power in our weakness. When we surrender our lives to God, we allow access to the divine power of God to assist us in conquering sin. (Additional Resource: How Can I Overcome Sin?)
Our perfect Savior, Jesus Christ was “crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God” (v. 3). The resurrection of Jesus is proof that God is real. The church at Corinth continued to look for flashy signs to prove Paul’s apostleship. They wanted more proof. More proof than a man being raised from the dead!
I wonder how many of us are guilty of this same thing? We want more proof that God is real. We’re looking for proof in blessings and materialism. Proof in large ministries and twitter followers. Proof in a life of comfort and ease. What does proof look like today?
Is the proof of Jesus’ hand on our lives found only in big money, big deals, flashes of fame, and our biggest dreams coming true? Or is the proof of His power also found in us when we are given grace to love the unlovely, adopt a child when we’re scared to death, forgive when it flies in the face of our gut reaction, and hear His Holy Spirit whisper tender words of affirmation to our broken hearts? — Kelly Minter, All Things New (p. 199)
But once again, God’s ways are so different than man’s. God says “when you are weak, I am strong.” Paul is advocating for us to trust God in the midst of our greatest weakness. For us to believe that indeed…God can. He can use messy, broken, wayward stories to give glory to Himself. Others can see God working in us when our world is falling apart. And that’s not to say God doesn’t give good things like prosperity, wealth, and success…most certainly, He does. But that’s not what it is all about! That’s not our sole purpose! The proof of our Christianity is shouting Him on the rooftops in the midst of the ups and the downs. The proof is in the relationship that lasts through the storms and sunsets.
Some of the people who had the deepest impact in my life were the ones who weathered a severe storm and remained steadfast in their faith through it all. God can speak from the mountaintop. But let’s not forget, He speaks in the valley too.
How do you perceive God’s blessing?
Man, this letter has made me fall in love with the Apostle Paul. You see his vulnerability, passion, heartbeat, and love for the people come pouring through his words. He is a man with a shepherding heart. In the past, I think I’ve glanced too quickly at the book of 2 Corinthians. It has been refreshing to let it simmer for awhile and I hope you have been reading along with me! And if so, we are almost reaching the end. Read 2 Cor. 12:19-21.
It is gut-wrenching sometimes to pull others out of the gutter and help them stand firm on the Word of God.
It takes time.
It takes tears.
And most importantly, it takes prayer.
This is not an easy task for Paul as he journeys alongside his beloved friends. Although we cannot be the Holy Spirit, we can stand firm by someone’s side. Too often in our fast-paced, hyperactive, overly complicated lives…we give up on people and move on. However, Paul continues to pour into this wayward congregation, seeing them through the lens of Christ.
It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved. 2 Cor. 12:19
Certainly, this book is directed towards the false ministers of the day who had selfish, ulterior motives, as well as, the wandering Corinthians. But I want you to dig deep and apply it to your lives as well. Regardless of who you are or the leadership roles you hold, there is an application for all of us to be found here. As a parent, friend, family member, co-worker, neighbor…this applies to everyone.
“Sadly, too many leaders consciously or unconsciously link their own careers and reputations with the gospel they proclaim and the people they serve. Slowly, unnoticed by all but the most discerning, defense of the truth slips into self-defense, and the best interest of the congregation becomes identified with the best interest of the leaders. Personal triumphalism strikes again, sometimes with vicious intensity. It is found in the evangelical academic who invests all his opinions with the authority of Scripture, in the pastor whose every word is above contradiction, in the leader transparently more interested in self-promotion and the esteem of the crowd than in the benefit and progress of the Christians allegedly being served. It issues in political maneuvering, temper tantrums, a secular set of values (though never acknowledged as such), a smug and self-serving shepherd and hungry sheep” (164-65). — D.A. Carson
The crux of the problem for the Corinthian church is their contentment to settle. Be immature. Stop growing in their faith. Dust off a church pew. And due to their apathetic attitude, a slew of sin comes creeping in the door. Quarreling. Jealousy. Anger. Hostility. Slander. Gossip. Conceit. Disorder. Sexual Sin. Oh, my! The church had become indifferent to sin and closed a blind eye.
When we no longer are upset by the depravity of sin (in the lives of others as well as our own)…it is time to go back to the drawing board, the Word of God, and cultivate a godly perspective. Apathy leads to complacent, boring, and dead Christianity. No wonder Paul wasn’t in a good mood. He was afraid he would find his fellow so-journers wrapped up in sin, which would put him in a jam. As their spiritual dad, he could not let sin slide. If the Corinthians were sinning, Paul knew he would have to speak up and hold them accountable for their immorality.
But there’s more…
Paul also put himself in their shoes and clothed himself with humility. He felt the pain of their sinfulness. He felt an obligation for stick-to-it-ive-ness. He viewed the Corinthians as his very own children and he wanted nothing more than to see them succeed. And not “success” as the world sees it, but rather “success” in being a disciple who disciples others to love God and love others well. If the Corinthians failed, Paul saw himself as a failure too.
This is where I just lost it today and Scripture ate my lunch (in a good way). We see Paul personally identify with the sinner and humbly recognize that their failure is indicitive of his own. Have we lost this in the church today? A sense of deep community where we are invested in the lives of others over the long-haul. Have we lost this in our community? A desire to know others so that they can know God. Have we lost this in our own families? A passion to see others pursue God with all of their heart, strength, and soul.
What if we pursued hearts rather than merely behaviors?
I think too easily we walk away. Throw in the towel. Give up. Isolate. Criticize. Run the other way. Rather than recognize that we are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another (Rom. 12:5).
Who do you need to pursue? What does that look like to you?
Your friend on the journey,
Have you ever loved someone so much that you feel spent? Empty? You pour out. You give. You love them to your utter core. And yet, there is barely a heartbeat in response.
You can feel the pain of Paul today in our text, 2 Cor. 12:11-18. Paul has tirelessly given of his time and energy to woo the heart of the Corinthians back to Jesus. He has prayed for them. Visited them. Sent Titus to minister to them. But the Corinthians had abandoned his leadership for the trendy, false ministry of the “Super Apostles”. You know how much that must’ve hurt?
But Paul doesn’t give up.
Or throw in the towel.
Because true love doesn’t stop.
I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. 2 Cor. 12:15
As believers, we are known by our love (Jn. 13:34-35). Love is what sets us apart. It is proof of our faith. It shows Jesus to this lost world. Others notice when you show a never-ever giving up, sacrificial, selfless love to someone who doesn’t deserve it.
The Corinthians questioned Paul’s intentions. They erected a wall. They tried to push Paul away. But here’s our takeaway–you cannot avoid the relentless love of Jesus. His love always prevails! It chases you down.
Are you running from God today? Afraid to let Him love you?
Are you willing to love others like Paul? Sacrificial and selfless?
Be still for a moment and let God love you. Take a moment to ponder these words from Cory Asbury’s song, “Relentless Love.”
O, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
O, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
O, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, yeah
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor. 12:7-10
Weakness is the inability to fight. A lack of confidence. A sickness of illness that limits you from accomplishing what you want to do. The end result of prolonged suffering, calamity, or frailty.
Weakness is in opposition to our flesh.
We don’t like the way it feels.
But in the case of Paul, as well as in our own lil’ worlds, we can’t always change our unfortunate circumstances or pesky people. There are some things in life that are outside of our control, and yet, difficult to bear on our own. Things like sickness, insults, rejection, hardship, and persecution come to mind. The thorns in our lives are constant reminders of the tension we live in as a result of a broken world.
What is Paul’s thorn?
We never get an answer to what is the cause of Paul’s thorn. We know he asked for it to be removed three times (v. 8). We know Satan delivered the calamity (v. 7). And we know God, the giver, permitted the thorn to exist (v. 7, 9). But why?
You see, Satan intended evil. His desire was to see Paul fall…curse God, doubt, and turn-away. But God gave the thorn to Paul to perfect his holiness, and to aid in preventing the welling up of pride. It would have been so easy for Paul to boast in the incredible, supernatural revelations that he experienced in the preceding verses. He could have easily seen himself as “better than thou.” So God permitted the thorn to foster humility in man.
Satan desires to wreak havoc; wheras God desires good. God permits Satan to afflict his faithful servant in order to work all things together for good. God is always in control. Satan cannot touch a hair on our head unless it has been sifted through the hands of God. For this reason, when we walk through suffering…we can trust that God is at work. Rather than focus our attention on the thorn, we can focus our attention on the purpose.
How do we suffer well?
Following the example of Paul, it is okay to PRAY for the thorn to be removed. Pain is not a good thing in and of itself. God does not delight in your pain. He simply uses it to get our attention.
“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C.S. Lewis
Secondly, BECOME more like Jesus. No other man endured suffering like Jesus. Our thorn pales in comparison. Work to reset your mind on Jesus and the work performed on the cross. As your perspective shifts, you will be able to see your reliance on God’s grace. Clearly our humility is more important to God than our comfort. God’s perspective is much different than ours. He is molding and shaping us to look more like Him and in doing so, proves that “His grace is sufficient for us.”
Finally, give God the GLORY. If God does not remove the weakness but rather, allows it to persist…then He must have greater purpose. Trust God that He knows what is best. When we finally yield to the will of God, we see the beauty of His power and peace prevail. When we move past the pain and suffering, we enter into the promise and blessings that only God can provide.
“Power is made perfect in weakness. When we are weak, He is strong.”
How has God’s grace been sufficient for you? How is His power made perfect in weakness?
It was one of those horrible, terrible, rotten kind of days. My kids were screaming and yelling while I taxied them around town after school, one extra-curricular activity to another. I felt like pulling my hair out since my husband was out-of-town. Honestly, I was at my wit’s end.
I kept telling myself “You just have to get home. Get home. Make it till 8 pm and then put them all put to bed.” It’s one of those pep talks that happens inside your head. But just when you think you can finally pull through from the belly of the whale, and come back up for some fresh air…my day worsened. My tire blew. During rush hour. And of course, it felt like it was 110º.
I pulled over to the side of the road to check the damage and knew that all the mechanics in town would be closed. I wished I had paid more attention when my dad tried to teach me the basics of using a car jack and putting on a spare. But it was too late… I knew I didn’t have a clue.
I called a tow truck to come to the rescue and thankfully, out of the blue, my neighbor pulled up and offered to drive my kids home (she had no idea what she was getting herself into). I waited and waited and waited and waited for hours and hours on end. One tow truck arrived, but with discouraging news, “Sorry ma’am, I don’t have the right kind of truck to pull your over-sized, gas-guzzling giant machine” and so I waited some more.
The man arrived with snarly long hair and tattoos up and down his arms. You could tell that he also was having a bad day by the length of cuss words protruding from his mouth. He struggled to get my car jimmy-rigged to his and instantly I could tell this wasn’t going well. And so, I asked him a simple question, “Tell me your story…how did you wind up here?”
I had no idea that on that miserable day Jesus would do a miracle on the side of the road. I was able to share Jesus with that man and he asked Jesus to come and change his life!
I will never forget that day! God used it to change me too! Sharing our stories about our messy lives…in our marriages, children, friendships, churches, illnesses, and broken-down cars…is what it is all about. It is the consistent, everyday, practical pattern of faithfulness that yields fruitfulness. If we boast, may we boast in the Lord.
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 2 Cor. 11:30
Our text today comes from 2 Cor. 11:30-33, 12:1-6. Paul shares how he was let down in a basket to escape the King. Despite his prestigious lineage and heritage, Paul became a man on the run. A fugitive. An outcast. And then in this weak moment, God stepped in and spared his life.
Paul goes on to share another story about a supernatural experience that he encountered with God. Take special notice that he cannot explain whether or not it was an “in the body or out of the body” experience (v. 3). He goes on to say…it doesn’t matter how the supernatural mystery occurred. “God knows.” We don’t have to know everything.
God knows. Isn’t that enough?
Sometimes we go to such depths and lengths and heights and widths trying to understand and explain the mysteries of God. We cannot always make sense of things that happen in this world. We spend wakeless nights trying to figure out what we did wrong or how we can fix it to make it all better again. We try to explain the supernatural. We try to come up with an answer when sometimes all we can say is “God knows.”
Sometimes God gives us an answer…like He did with me and the tow truck man. Sometimes God has something in store for us in the midst of the storm.
And sometimes…we may not have an answer. Sometimes, we just have to trust the One who does. Knowing He will work all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28).
Whether you are in a season of waiting to see God work in your life or celebrating where you are right now…may we all be reminded that we were put here in this world to live humble, sacrificial, servant-like lives that point upward to Jesus. The day-to-day faithfulness counts!
May we be a people who don’t put limits on God…but rather a people who faithfully point upward.
Are you only seeking the supernatural highs in your pursuit of Christ? Or are you being faithful in the daily mundane, even when nothing is turning out right?
Anyone who says the Christian life is unadventurous hasn’t hung out much with the Apostle Paul. You can feel the tension rising as he goes to bat for the things Jesus has done in his life. You can hear him momentarily go off-roading in order to defend the message of the Gospel and pursue those whom he loves. Let’s not forget–Christianity is not meant to be a bunch of “do’s and don’t’s”–it’s meant to be relational!
The false teachers of this day were masquerading as image bearers of Jesus. They were Christian-fakers. They could talk the talk. They were “spiritual”…but not Christlike. They had head knowledge…but not heart. Take a closer look at how Paul describes them: “You have such admirable tolerance for impostors who rob your freedom, rip you off, steal you blind, put you down—even slap your face! I shouldn’t admit it to you, but our stomachs aren’t strong enough to tolerate that kind of stuff (v.20–MSG).”
From a distance, it appears obvious that these leaders did not have the best interest of others in mind. They were selfish and wrongly motivated. However, it is so easy to get entangled with others (even in the church) who persuasively influence you or impact your thinking. When you are looking for a place to belong and a people to accept you…it is surprising what you will put up with. It may take some personal introspection to examine your friendships and relationships in order to determine whether or not they are Christ-centered.
What are the characteristics of a godly leader, mentor, or friend? Ask yourself…
- What word best describes the other person: arrogance or humility?
- Do they tear you down, or build you up?
- Do they talk over you, putting you in your place? Or do you consider them a place of refuge and comfort?
- Do they brag about their self-accomplishments? Or, their weakness that was made strong in Jesus?
- Do they want to hurry you on out the door? Or are they patient with you, filled with grace?
- Do they make every problem “your” problem? Or, do you find them relatable and human, willing to put themselves in your shoes?
- Do they point you to Jesus above everything else?
Paul was a committed leader who was willing to endure incredible hardship and suffering in order to pursue the heart of the ones he loved. He leveraged his talents, abilities, knowledge, lineage, education, and career to steer the believers back to Jesus. We need more people like this today! People who are willing to take risks for others. People who will humbly take a stand, regardless of the fallout. People who are fearless faith-walkers to defend the truth.
Why is it necessary to stand up for the truth? Why do we find it so difficult to do so?
This is the question that Stanford asks every year as part of their MBA admissions process. In a 750-word essay, the applicant is required to declare their primary objective in life and then demonstrate why their goal is imperative. Flippantly, one may answer a good cup of jo, raising respectful kids, watching the next episode of your favorite show on Netflix, or reaching the pinnacle of retirement.
Think about it for a moment. What would you say?
The answer to this question begins to reveal a lot about you. How you spend your time. What you value. The impact you desire to have in the world. The calling to which you aspire.
You see, it becomes a question that cuts to the core of your heart matter. Not only must you answer what you deem important…but why? Why does this one thing matter more than anything else in the world? It is a question that requires honest self-evaluation, a touch of humility, and peeling back the layers of pride.
Read 2 Corinthians 11:5-15. Much like our current culture, the Corinthians were looking for a leader who was powerful, strong, charismatic, funny, or famous. They were looking for someone to follow and emulate. So when tent-making, mediocre speaker Apostle Paul came around…they weren’t impressed. They wanted the bling and the bang. Glitz and glamour. Paparazzi and more. Sound familiar to anyone?
We desperately need to be people who are following JESUS more than anything or anyone else. The wisdom and power of God are waaaay more impressive than what we can garner from the New-York top-selling book list.
We live in a world where people are looking for answers and desperate to find hope. They are hinging on the edge of their seat looking for satisfaction and joy. Many don’t know why they are here, who they are living for, and what is the meaning of life. They don’t have a clue. They are pleasure-seeking in the moment. Living for the here and now.
What if we lived sharing the HOPE that we have?
Each one of you has been afforded a great opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life. We have the answer that this world desperately needs. His name is JESUS. What about sharing him with the friend next door? People are longing to see real people who live out their life story with hope, dedication, authenticity, humility, and faith.
This world needs you.
It needs your story.
And your story needs Jesus more than anything else.
Why is it difficult to tell your story? What holds you back? Are you afraid to tell your narrative?
Paul is begging the Corinthian church to get back on track and to resist the alluring tide of false teaching that so easily sweeps one away. The Corinthians are being derailed by intellectualism and performance-based Christianity. They were stuck in a comparison trap of “Who’s Who and Who’s Not.” We see Paul’s undeterred affection for their spiritual welfare reach a new height today. Read 2 Cor. 11:1-6.
But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 2 Cor. 11:3
We can be so startled and taken back by the physical presence of a snake and yet, when the Enemy strikes in serpent-like form, why are we so hesitant to run? Why do we struggle to recognize him? Did you notice how Paul describes the faith of his friends?
Scary, isn’t it? Paul’s description here is not the non-religious or atheist, the infrequent “Christmas and Easter only” church attendee or even the superficial, carnal Christian. Did you catch his very descriptive adjectives? The person who can be seduced by the enemy is one who is wholeheartedly and sincerely pursuing devotion to Christ. I believe that none is safe or off limits from the seduction of the Enemy. There are other scriptures that support this phenomenon.
- Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Prov. 16:18
- Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 1 Cor. 10:12
- Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Gal. 6:1
Do not be fooled into thinking that just because you are passionately pursuing Christ that you have received immunity from temptation. Even the godliest people have a propensity to sin. In my lifetime, I’ve seen some godly people fall. They had become so busy doing the work of God that they no longer had intimacy with God. This is a slippery slope. We can have a headful of knowledge about the Word of God and yet have a heart that is miles away. After all, isn’t this exactly the example of the Pharisees and Sadducees in scripture? Their heads were full but their hearts were empty.
Satan, as the Father of Lies, comes to deceive us into a faulty line of thinking. He knows that we are prone to trust our feelings over our mind. We often are swayed in our thinking by how we feel. This is exactly the trap that Eve fell for. She believed the apple would give her knowledge that she did not currently possess. A sense of entitlement crept in. If we are going to win against the wiles of the Enemy, then we will have to learn how to behave out of what we know as truth rather than how we feel.
Paul was afraid the Corinthian church would be deceived with a worldly view. He tried to guard their hearts against deception. Just like Eve was deceived by the serpent, we too can be tricked or misled. It happens subtly. It can be a slow decline.
In order to guard our hearts and minds against the wiles of the Enemy, we must saturate ourselves in the Word of God. Have controversial issues replaced your “sincere and pure devotion”? Has head knowledge superseded your relationship with Jesus? How do you see the serpent sneaking into our current culture?