The more I dive into our study of 2 Corinthians, the more excited I become to meet the Apostle Paul someday. My preconceived imagery of a strong, warrior-type leader is being transformed to see a softer side. Instead, I see a man who puts the interests of others before his own. A parent. A servant. One who meets real needs, in God’s way.
Read 2 Corinthians 10:1-2, 7-11. Paul kicks off his appeal to the Corinthians with meekness and gentleness, the complete opposite of how our flesh would respond. The Corinthians dissenters were looking for a strong, formidable, and somewhat intimidating leader that would waltz in and win crowds. Wealth. Power. Prestige. All the things the world says are important to have.
But instead, we see Paul speak in a tone of humility, full of grace, led by the Spirit, and kind. The Greek word for gentleness is prautes. It describes a condition of heart and mind – an internal attitude – that will endure injury with patience and peace of mind. Prautes, according to Aristotle, is the middle standing between two extremes: getting angry without reason and not getting angry at all. Therefore, prautes is getting angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reason. It is a condition of mind and heart that demonstrates gentleness, not in weakness, but in power. It is a balance born in the strength of character.
It is hard to grasp a Biblical perspective of gentleness since the English language has commonly associated it with weakness. However, to be gentle doesn’t mean to be spineless and cowardly. To be gentle doesn’t mean to be spiritless and timid. To be gentle doesn’t mean to be docile or apathetic! In fact, the Hebrew word for gentle means to be sculpted, like soft clay, in God’s hands. Submission of your life entails laying down your wants and your desires to be used in any way, shape or form that God desires.
To boil it all down, gentleness means a complete surrender to the will of God, with a spirit of humility. It means to stop fighting and rebelling towards God and surrender your all to Him. It is by God’s power that we receive and activate the fruit of gentleness, not on our own doing.
Gentleness is a spiritual quality of humility that reflects outwardly in our attitudes and dealings with people. Instead of being cruel, critical, and challenging, we choose to be considerate and caring. Instead of reacting when we’re annoyed or critiqued, we choose to be quiet. Gentleness takes time to stop, pause and focus on the cross in the forefront. Since it “loves others as yourself,” gentleness lives in complete submission to the will of God and humbly approaches others with the intent of redirecting their attention to Christ. I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of person I want to be. Those are the kind of people I enjoy hanging around.
The meek are those who go to the Lord rather than to self-determination. They recognize their need for a Savior and are completely yielded to Him. They depend on Him, they trust in Him; they commit their lives to Him, and as a result, they can rest in Him. It takes the pressure off of your back to have everything in life figured out. You can hand it over to the Lord and just rest in Him! You don’t have to have all the answers — just rest assured in the One that does! A meek and quiet spirit is so very precious to God that He says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” Matthew 5:5 (ESV).
According to British theologian J.I. Packer, “Nobody can produce new evidence of your depravity that will make God change his mind. For God justified you with (so to speak) His eyes open. He knew the worst about you at the time when he accepted you for Jesus’ sake; and the verdict which he passed then was, and is, final.” The work has already been done. The blood of Jesus Christ covers our sins committed yesterday…and the sins we commit today and tomorrow are covered as well. Therefore, the pressure is off of us and we can rest assured in our eternal inheritance. Liberty has been granted for us to react to others with gentleness in the toughest situations.
Gentleness is a challenge to think in a distinctive way from the world, to act in a different way than the world acts, and to turn the other cheek when the world counters. Gentleness dares us to lay our lives down. Gentleness confronts us not to grip, but to give. Gentleness is allowing the One who is meek and lowly to rule in our hearts and lives.
What does it look like to live out gentleness? Look around…who could use some right now?
I grew up attending Sunday School and so, the word “obedience” carries a heightened sense of weightiness. Immediately the 10 Commandments and an Old Testament God come to mind. For me, it brings a negative connotation. An angry God. Difficult rules to live by. And almost unknowingly, I feel my inward being start to buck inside.
However, the more I delve into Scripture, I realize that God is good (Rom. 8:28) and He is for me, not against me (Rom. 8:31). As I work through the strongholds of my thoughtlife, I realize that the boundaries God has established are for my benefit. He has my good in mind! And I come to the realization that I must retrain my thinking.
You see, in 2 Cor. 10:1-6 we have a bunch of believers who are much like you and I. They struggle with believing God and trusting Him. They want to connect with God but are unable to due to the barriers that have been built up in their mind. They have a mental blockade. There are doubts surrounding them on every side. There are some false teachers trying to get their foot in the door. Tearing down. Causing disruption. Much like the thoughts that invade our own mind. Thoughts like “God doesn’t love me. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t see. I don’t matter.”
Paul goes about addressing these problems head-on by starting to tear the walls down. The first battle he fought was occurring in the mind. He refers to it as a stronghold. This can be anything that doesn’t align with God’s Word, such as fear, anxiety, bitterness, anger, jealousy, and insecurity (to name a few). It can also be a worldview that contradicts Scripture, such as atheism or materialism.
And then Paul goes on to say “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” But how do we do that? How do we get our thoughts in line with the Word of God? I don’t know about you…but my mind tends to wander. I struggle to stay focused. I get stuck on the treadmill with debilitating thoughts. Like a gerbil wheel going around and around.
Guard Your Mind
We have to watch over what we allow into our minds. The things we mull over, chew on, and read between the lines. We live in a world that bombards us with things that conflict with a godly point of view. If we spend too much time here, we can wind up with a confused, restless, troubled, deluded, corrupt, or blinded mind. As a result of sin, we all have a broken mind. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” We must realize that our mind is able to play tricks on us. Lie to us. Deceive us.
We have been prewired with blind spots. We too easily believe everything we’re told. We fall for the fake news. However, we need to constantly be on our toes and challenge our thought life. And we do so 1) by living in constant conversation with Jesus and 2) by comparing what we think with the Word of God.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Phil. 4:7-8
- Develop an intentional prayer life. Talk to God about everything. Be in constant communion with Him. You can pray and carry on a conversation with someone at the same time. I’ve tried it. You can.
- Train your brain. When a debilitating thought comes into your mind, replace it with something excellent or praiseworthy. Focus your thoughts on the good. Don’t merely resist the bad thought, replace it. Fill the hole. Replace the dirt. And plant something that can bloom.
Set Your Mind
Be a continuous learner. Set your thoughts on what is above, not below. Don’t let up. Surround yourself with others that can pour into you and spur you on. Dig into God’s Word. Memorize it. Repeat it over and over again. The word “disciple” means learner. We are never too old, too young, too smart, too dumb to stop learning. God’s Word is new every morning and He has something new to teach you.
Imagine what God can do with your life and your situation. Dream about how He can redeem you right now. Cast your burden on Him and allow Him to use it, for the sake of others and the glory of God. We get stuck in our pits of despair because we fail to envision anything good coming about from it.
Ask God to help you dream. Ask Him to help you get out of the pit of despair. Ask Him to give you vision. Without it, people perish. With it, people hope.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think. Ephesians 3:20
I believe in a God that can do ANYTHING. Use ANYONE. At ANYTIME. Pray now for God to use you!
No one is exempt. Every single one of us has a calling from the Lord. We have a purpose for our time here on earth. We have an assignment from God.
In 2 Cor. 9:1-5, we see Paul’s continued dedication to the Corinthians. Paul had every excuse to walk away. He could have easily deserted them and moved on. A lot of times…that seems like the best option. But Paul doesn’t throw in the towel and call it quits. Oh, he soooo easily could have! The oxygen was waning thin. The deep, dark bags under his eyes were showing. However, he stayed in the game…not because he was receiving a pat on the back or high-fives in the air…but merely because God had called him.
Despite the false teachers, confused Corinthians, and unending hostile work environment–Paul presses on. He fights the good fight. He doesn’t let exhaustion win. Paul continues on because he is smack dab where God assigned him to be. He is living out the calling on his life. And whether you realize it or not, you have a calling too. God has called you to use the gifts He has apportioned to you.
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). John Piper defines our spiritual gifts as “varied grace incarnate in human personalities which we steward for the good of others.” Consider the extraordinary privilege of being useful to God. He has gifted you with spiritual gifts, appointed you as an ambassador, and invited you to be a part of the Great Commission.
Now, it is our responsibility to heed the call. Finish the task. And follow through. The Corinthians had shown readiness to respond to the call by generously giving to the church in Jerusalem. Paul wanted to make sure that they follow through on their good intentions. Urge them to do what they said they would do. It was a call to integrity and honor.
In one moment (like the Corinthians) we may be ready. We may be amped up. But then we hop in our car, turn on the radio, and start singing a different tune. Forgetting all about our calling. We lack grit and integrity to finish the task well.
Do you have any unfinished business? Have you lacked the resolve to carry it through? Is there anything God has called you to do that has been left undone? Paul sent overseers to the church in Corinth to help them stay on course and execute the plan. Maybe some of us need an accountability partner. Maybe some of us need to get back in the game. Maybe some of us need reminding that Jesus is coming back soon…and we need to be up and ready with the kettle pot on.
What is your biggest distraction? When Jesus comes back, will you be ready?
I was reminded of the testimony of my friend, Anne Marie Stern, today when reading 2 Cor. 8:10-15. A few years ago, she made a trip to Haiti to visit her niece who was working for the mission organization MyLIFEspeaks. Anne Marie knew her visit would be short. One suitcase was all she needed.
She enjoyed helping with community outreach in the village of Neply and had full intentions of returning to the states. Afterall, she had booked a round-trip flight. But then something happened. She saw a huge need. The need in the hands she held, the mouths she fed, and the eyes she looked into.
And the Holy Spirit moved and worked in her heart to the point that when it was time for her to depart…she couldn’t go. She couldn’t leave.
Now…she had every reason to go. She had plenty of excuses. “What about the job I have back home? What about my family and friends? Don’t I have a hair appointment next weekend?
What about the important meeting on my calendar? What about my favorite show on t.v.? I don’t know if I remembered to record it.
I could possibly miss eating out with friends and the sweet comfort of home. Oh yah, there is this thing called a/c and hot water. Besides, I don’t know how I will live without my next paycheck.
Oh, and most important of all, what about the fact that I only have one suitcase? One change of shoes. One tube of toothpaste. Not to mention, only 3 ounces of body wash, shampoo, and conditioner.”
You see…when it comes to giving…we readily put limits on God, rather than looking to His limitlessness. We often are reluctant because of what it will cost us. In our text, we see the poverty-stricken Macedonian church give to the Corinthians. They gave what they had, allowing God to make it abundant.
I get the privilege of observing Anne Marie on my frequent trips to Haiti and I can tell you something…this girl isn’t poor. She is lavishing abounding in joy and fruitfulness.
As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” 2 Cor. 8:10-15
Jesus can use whatever you have. Wherever you are. Whenever you’re ready. What is holding you back from being a generous giver?
Have you ever thought God has given up on you? Possibly thinking He has better things to do? More talented people to use? Perhaps you think you have nothing to offer…too old, too young, too tired, too poor. You feel your past is beyond any usability.
Anytime I start thinking God is stingy, distant, apathetic, far-away, or despondent…I have to remind myself to go to God’s Word. I have to rethink how I think about God.
If this is where you are today…you are going to love 2 Cor. 8:1-9. We find the churches of Macedonia (consisting of Phillipi, Thessalonica, and Berea) giving an abundantly generous gift to the church in Corinth. What is shocking about this act of kindness is who it came from: people living in a poverty-stricken area who were undergoing persecution. They were Gentiles who decided to give to the Jewish believers living in Jerusalem. In addition, they gave because they wanted to dig deep and give sacrificially. Look how Paul describes their generosity–“begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints (v.4).”
Let me reiterate:
They were poor.
They were being persecuted.
They weren’t always accepted by the Jews.
Yet, despite these odds, they were eager to give.
At first glance, this text may not make you feel any better. You may feel your heart palpitating as you wonder “How in the world can I give?” Many of us are tempted to end the conversation right there.
But deeper we must go.
It is because of grace that we give. The grace that God bestowed upon us. The grace that we could never in a thousand years afford. The kinda grace that cost Jesus everything. The grace that ran so deep and thick and wide and high–deity becoming man. Born in a manger. Laid bare in the hay. Birthed by a virgin. Poor as a carpenter’s son.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 2 Cor. 8:1-9
Grace is asking you to come know Him today.
Grace is enough.
Grace is abundant.
Grace is not done.
Grace believes in you.
Grace bought you for a price.
Grace gives freedom.
We give out of grace. We lay down our perception of what we ought to have and who we ought to be–and we generously give. We give what we have right now at this moment. Even if we feel empty and poor. We give…because grace always gives more.
Fill in the blank. Grace is _________________.
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. 2 Cor. 7:10-11
When we grieve over our sin…I mean, like seriously grieve to the point that we are sickened by it…we reach the point of remorse referred to as “godly grief.” It is the grief of regret over our sin. It differs from worldly grief which reacts to sin with guilt, shame, and damnation.
Worldly grief results in regret because you got caught…or had to pay a price…or were publicly humiliated. For example, when I get stopped by a police officer for speeding, I am upset that I got caught and have to pay a fine. But typically, I’m not remorseful for the actual act of speeding. I’m running late and need to get where I need to go and feel justified by my action. This type of grief is rooted in pride and possibly driven by fear. Worldly grief results in death. Its focus is on man. People pleasing. Approval idols. Selfish interests. Justified actions.
In contrast, godly grief is focused on God. We are wrecked with conviction upon the realization that we have disobeyed the Word of God and brought reproach on God’s name. The focus is on God. Our hearts are heavy and sorrowful. And Paul says that this type of grief (2 Cor. 7:9) is actually good for us. Not because it feels good…but because it brings good results.
My doctor hubby often says that “Fever is a good thing. It lets us know that something is wrong.” The same can be said of godly sorrow. It is a reminder that something is wrong and we need a cure. We should not run from the pain, but rather allow the disruption to bring transformation in our lives.
Godly grief brings repentance.
True godly sorrow results in change. Repentance is an abrupt, outright turn-about. It means you get out of your pit of despair. You don’t stay stuck there. Because godly grief results in repentance that turns to salvation.
If the feeling of regret and guilt holds you in its grip week in and week out long after the sin is past and you have turned from it, then it is not the grief of God but of the world. It is Satan’s attack. If he cannot keep you from regretting your sin, then he will do his best to keep you from enjoying your forgiveness.” John Piper
You see, the disruption is meant to open our eyes and help us get out. Godly sorrow not only exposes our sin but helps us change. True godly sorrow results in transformation. It helps us look more like Jesus…and isn’t that what we want? Authentic. Real. Change.
For the Corinthians (finish reading 2 Cor. 12-17), a restored, wonderful, even-better-than-before relationship with Paul was the result. How has repentance been good for you?
Like a parent, the words of Paul resonate with sticktoitiveness. It shows the kind of patient endurance that doesn’t throw in the towel. A rugged tenacity that gets up after the final punch. Just when you think Paul has good reason to give up on the Corinthians, his plea for restoration goes on and on. He shows unrelenting love. The kind of love that is undiminished in intensity, unyielding in affection, and uncompromising in purpose.
Read 2 Cor. 7:2-10. If you recall, the Corinthians were consumed with their outer shell. Things like notoriety, status, and wealth were their top pursuit in life. And somewhere along the line, someone came along swaying their thinking away from the truth by purporting that they should be looking for a different Savior. Not Jesus. Rather, someone who has a bunch of important credentials behind their name.
Thankfully, Paul continued to pursue the heart of the Corinthians. Reminding them to listen to the Holy Spirit and rely on Jesus–because our earthly vessels are frail. The shift of focus was being made.
Eternal, not temporal.
Spirit, not flesh.
Jesus, not self.
As we read this text, it is easy to gloss too fast. Let’s not forget, Paul’s words were not welcomed. They didn’t come as a breath of fresh air. There was a bit of resistance going on. And I can guarantee you when we speak the truth to someone, it is like playing Russian roulette. You never know how it’s going to go.
Here is where Paul offers us some keen advice: drown the truth in love. Put yourself in the shoes of the other person. Do you have their best interest in mind? Do they have a special place in your heart?
I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds. 2 Cor. 7:3-4
Paul is so proud of the Corinthians! You can speak “tough truth” to someone when they know you love them and want what is best for them. Paul doesn’t hesitate to tell them how he feels! He is encouraged by their spiritual growth. Meanwhile, Paul has a sincere desire for what is best for them…and shares the hard stuff too. His words of confrontation are well-balanced with encouragement. Man, too often we leave the good stuff out! They key is to keep perfect balance…a little sugar and a little spice.
Our children need to know that they are precious in the sunshine and in the rain. — Dr. Karyn Purvis
Maybe you are in a Corinthian condition right now. But God sees you through the eyes of Christ. He sees you in a finished state. He knows who you will become! That’s how Paul dealt with the Corinthians, setting his eyes on souls rather than sinners. Grabbing tightly on to hope. Wherever you are today–God can meet you there!
Take a moment to thank God for His unrelentless love today. And then, think about someone you can share it with. Write them a note. Send them a text. Do something to let them know.
They look at you. And you can tell by this piercing, distant, and downcast glance that they have rejected you. Words don’t need to be spoken. You can see it in their eyes.
And it hurts.
Because it’s real.
The look of rejection.
The silence stings as the pain settles deep into the marrow of your soul. Searching for an answer…but no reconcilable response. Was it something you said? Was it something you did? Empty for a slight riposte.
Opening up our hearts seems like a recipe for disaster. Intimacy seems far off. We pull back because we are afraid of being vulnerable. We much rather build a barricade wall around our hearts, making it completely impenetrable.
But this isn’t the path to the deep, intimate, & rich relationships for which we all desire. Authentic community requires opening up our hearts. True love comes at a cost. Read 2 Cor. 6:11-7:1. Of course, we desire acceptance from the other side…but ultimately we cannot control the outcome. Like Paul, we must be resolute in abundant affection and a wide-stretched heart, even in the eye of rejection.
How do we get there, you may ask? We seek help from the well within. God no longer dwells in temples made by human hands (Acts 17:24), but rather dwells within our hearts!
For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 2 Cor. 6:16
God has made his home within us. We are His dwelling place. He abides with you. Is staying put. Even when you don’t want Him to. He doesn’t give up on you. Not ever, ever, ever. He continues to walk along your side, pouring His love out on you.
From this well we must draw, taking up the living water.
I wrote my first bible study years ago when I lived in Houston and attended @SBCHouston (Second Baptist). My friend and mentor, Becky Henson, saw something in me. She saw a spiritual gifting that I did not even see. And to this day, I am incredibly grateful for her ability to speak life, not only in me but also in many, many others. As I read 2 Corinthians 6:1-10 today, I was reminded of the first bible study I ever penned, encouraged by my dear and precious Jesus-loving friend.
Paul went to great lengths to share the Gospel with the ones he loved. He commended himself to keep going…”by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” Man, it would’ve been so easy to give up and throw in the towel.
But he didn’t. For our benefit, he kept going. And look what the Holy Spirit accomplished as a result…”by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
We have spoken freely to you,Corinthians; our heart is wide open.”
Paul never stopped pouring out his life, lavishly spilling it out to those around him. He worked hard and patiently endured, giving up everything. He kept pressing on in the midst of hardship. He laid it all out on the field. He was transparent and vulnerable. Let’s be THAT kind of person. A person who spills out Jesus to everyone who is in our midst.
Guided by the Holy Spirit.
Abundant in genuine love.
Boldly speaking truthfully.
Proclaiming the Gospel in deed and word.
I want to encourage you today to reach out to someone who has spurred you on to keep going. To keep trucking. To keep your eyes fixed above. That special person who believed in you, possibly even when you gave up on yourself. I bet they don’t hear the simple words “thank you” often enough. Who is that person for you?
One of the greatest paradoxes for Christians is that we still sin. Unfortunately, we all can be labeled a “hypocrite”, even when we’re trying really hard not to. This battle with sin creates an inward tension for us as believers. We want to be holy and follow God, and yet, we sin. We say hurtful things. We become worried about worldly stuff. We think impure thoughts. We create idols out of our kids. We have an identity crisis. We get our priorities out of whack.
And we sin.
We have been born with a sinful nature.
Then at this troubling moment, we see Paul jump in to offer a word of encouragement. Please read 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. He is speaking to the Corinthian culture, which runs amok with power idols, control freaks, and jealous neighbors (sounds like my neck of the woods). Everyone is trying to keep up with the Joneses’. And if you couldn’t…you were looked down upon. It is at this moment, Paul offers hope by saying,
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.
Did you hear that? We don’t judge people based on their outward looks, haircuts, clothes, tattoos, or social status. It doesn’t matter how many credentials are listed behind their name. We don’t need to frown upon someone because of where they’re from or who they know. It doesn’t matter in God’s economy. Paul is reminding the Corinthians that we should never, ever be shocked by sin. If we’re real honest…sin is the one thing we all have in common.
I’m not suggesting that sin is our “get out of jail” free card. This doesn’t mean we should desire to keep sinning. As believers, the Holy Spirit resides within us and thank God, we are a work in progress. And on some days, I feel like I’m going backward rather than foward. I have to remind myself that I’m on a slooooow incline. But what this does mean is that that the deliverance we all long for from this bent toward sinning will one day be gone.
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
God promises He is making all things new. We will be spiritually and morally new. We will be physically and bodily new. Creation itself will be new. Our relationship with God will be new. Everything will be made perfect and pain-free. It is a day we all longingly await!
However, I also love that this verse is in the past tense. The work has already been done. The old order of sin binding us to the law has been broken. We are new creations in Christ. But does anyone besides myself find this somewhat troubling? Do I live like I believe that I have been made new? Do I truly believe Jesus can change me? And even more so, do I believe Jesus can change all the testy people around me?
You know…the homeless person who holds out a can every time you drive down the street and the drunk uncle everyone in family pokes fun at. The crazy person who made headlines on the news, and the old friend you still hold a grudge towards. And what about the rebellious teen who doesn’t obey your rules, or the spouse who rejected you. Do you think God can change them? Or have you walked away, given up, or stopped believing anything is possible?
The truth is– Jesus changes everything. He changes our view of others and ourselves, no longer using sin and achievement as bookends. It’s all possible because of God (v. 18). We don’t have to figure out how it will be accomplished. Only entrust Him to use us as His vessel. That’s why He calls you “His ambassador.”
Do you enjoy the adventure of sharing Jesus with others? Or, do you find it a bit of a struggle? What gets in your way? What are some common excuses?