Acts 12:1-17 "Praying in Troubled Times"

Pastor Jim Harrison, RCA Missionary



2 Corinthians 11 – Eloquent Fool

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If ever there was a place where sarcasm was used in the Bible, this chapter would be it.  As he continues to address the issue of the church in Corinth following some “other voices” that seem to be leading them astray, questions their wisdom through a rather sarcastic tone, making him look “foolish.”  Certainly, he is the foolish one in relationship to the “super” apostles because of his lack of eloquence in speaking… or the fact that he told them the truth, even if it was difficult to hear.

The reality of this situation is not something unique to the Corinthian church, though.  In fact, many churches continue to struggle with these things today.  While the truth of the Gospel message is simple, its implications are broad reaching and often challenge the way that we live.

Far too often, eloquent speakers come in and offer a feel-good message that we are “good” and “don’t have to change.”  We are told that nothing is actually wrong with us and that “God loves us just the way we are.”  There is some truth in these messages, but it isn’t the whole truth.  God meets us where we are, but doesn’t want us to stay there, He wants us to go deeper, to be transformed through His Spirit.  Sometimes this growth hurts… sometimes it is difficult…

Whenever people come to us offering a “better way” that we can know for the “low low price of…” we should be wary.  Scripture tells us that God’s Word is near us, in our mouths and on our hearts; the Holy Spirit will speak through it and transform us.  We need not pay an “expert” for a “special way” to our salvation…

Sadly, the Corinthians listened to those who boasted in human wisdom and ability, touting a better way than the Gospel Message.  I think of “prosperity gospel” preachers here… those who require payment for their blessing, who fly on private jets to “advance the ‘gospel…'”  Would they ever be willing to face beatings or imprisonment for the message they are preaching?  Would they stand with those who are facing that now?  Paul would… Paul did… Paul faced death for the sake of winning souls for Christ, not his own glory or wealth.



2 Corinthians 10 – Defend Yourself

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The tone of Paul’s letter takes a decidedly negative turn in chapter 10.  It seems that he has heard that some in the church in Corinth have challenged His authority as an Apostle.  What’s worse is that these accusations seem to have been taking place while Paul was away, citing the experience of while he was there, but not giving him the ability to defend himself.    Paul faced criticism because of his ability to speak “boldly” in letters but not in person.

It is likely that this is, on some level, a continue of what Paul addresses in the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians.  Those in the church were judging Paul by earthly standards, looking for charisma and eloquent speech rather than the Word of God for the people of God.

When people boast in their own abilities, they set themselves up to be measured by them.  It doesn’t matter how many gold medals any athlete will ever win, the moment that they fail will be the moment shock and disbelief where many will question “how this could happen.”  Eventually, they too will retire, and someone else will take their place, beat their records, and they will fade into memory.  In fact, they often become the commentators that were so quick to question them.

However, when Paul boasts in the Lord and the ministry that God has given him, the metric for judgment changes.  Ministries and churches shouldn’t be judged by numbers or the charisma of their leaders but by the fruit that is being produced through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Certainly, God uses human gifts and abilities to further ministry, but those things are not the metric by which they are judged.

When we judge ministries and their leaders by human abilities rather than the work of God through them, we are actually placing our trust in those things rather than in God’s work.



2 Corinthians 9 – Cheerful Giving

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In a number of ways, 1 Corinthians 9 almost feels like a rehashing of the previous chapter.  Many of the same themes are present as Paul continues to talk about the same collection that is being taken for the church in Jerusalem.  Yet, where Paul was talking about the amount of giving in chapter 8, his focus shifts specifically to the attitude and heart of the giver here in chapter 9.

Paul points out in chapter 8 that the eagerness of the church in Corinth to give to this cause is a test of the sincerity of their love.  He then encourages them to give as they are able and even to go beyond that in some cases.

Here Paul points out once again that this is not a Law, and no one should give reluctantly, but rather, it should be done with a cheerful heart.  He draws on some themes from the book of Psalms here as well.  God does not desire sacrifice, the Psalmist writes in Psalm 51.  Rather, God desires a contrite heart, something that He would never turn down.

More important that the amount that is given is the attitude in which it is given.  In a world driven by money and material wealth, that is not always an easy thing for us to do.  We feel as though we have earned this money through our hard work, but what we fail to recognize is the blessing of God to bring us here in the first place.  God “supplies seed to the sower…”; He is always the primary mover in these things.  Everything that we have comes from Him and so, in an expression of thanksgiving to Him we give, joyfully thanking God for the blessings He has given us and trusting that He will continue to provide for our every need.



2 Corinthians 8 – Giving Ability

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This is the first of two chapters in which Paul addresses the practice of giving with the church in Corinth.  At this time, a collection was being taken for the church in Jerusalem who had come under a good deal of persecution from the Jews.  While they had remained faithful to the Gospel, it seems they had lost everything else and were quite poor.  And so, picking up on the themes of his parting words in 1 Corinthians 16, he urges them to prepare for a collection when Titus comes.

The Old Testament paradigm of giving was set forth in the law of Moses, giving a tenth of what you made and also giving the first fruits of what you had.  Whereas this sounds pretty stringent and binding, it is, like so much else in the Law, a description of what it means to live out our love for God by putting Him first in all things including material wealth.

But what Paul doesn’t do here is rehash the Old Testament Law about giving 10% of everything.  Instead, he commends the churches of Macedonia who gave as much as they were able and in some cases beyond their means as well.  Notice that there is not an amount associated with it, some number that they had to reach, but rather a recognition of the love that they have shown through their giving.

There are a number of religious denominations that claim to be Christian out there today who claim that there are number values associated with return blessings.  Only once you reach them will God bless you.  These are false teachings, heresies that distort the message of Scripture and God’s heart when it comes to giving.  God does not want your money; He doesn’t need it.  God wants our hearts, to place Him first in all things.  This is why Paul calls this giving a “test of the sincerity of your love.”  It is not the amount that matters, but the “earnestness, the joy, and the heart which matters as we give what we are able… and beyond.



2 Corinthians 7 – Condemnation or Conviction?

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Far too often in the Church, the words ‘condemnation’ and ‘conviction’ are used interchangeably.  As Paul continues in his thoughts to the church in Corinth, he is making sure that they understand the difference.  The letter he wrote to them was, by his own admittance, truthful but also harsh, a difficult letter that may have caused some sorrow.  He is not, however, regretful of that because the intended goal of the letter, namely repentance, was accomplished.

Christian discipline is never condemning.  Condemnation says to a person or group of people that you are “too far gone,” you are “terrible,” that not even God can save you.  This is flat out wrong; a lie straight from the mouth of the enemy.  No one is every too far gone for the grace of God.

That is not to say that we cannot call out sin when we see it, particularly within the body of the church.  Paul talks at great length, in these two letters to the church in Corinth, about removing sin from within the faith community.  Rarely does he ever say anything about the surrounding culture apart from the need to be set apart.

When we are addressing sin, whether it be in our own lives or the lives of others in our faith community, Paul’s words here are an important lesson for us.  Yes, he spoke harshly, but he would not take it back.  His words were truthful but loving, convicting but not condemning.  When the Holy Spirit convicts us it is for the purpose of repentance, reconciliation, and further sanctification of ourselves before God.

Romans 8 says that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  John writes that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, that those who believe in Him would have eternal life.  There are no qualifiers here, only the offer of grace.  NO ONE is too far gone on this earth.

 



Matthew 22:34-40; 28:18-20 "God is at Work"

Al Gemmen, InnerCHANGE Miami



2 Corinthians 6 – Play through the Pain

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Paul’s ministry, and indeed the ministry of all of the apostles and the Church, in general, endured great hardship.  Paul was whipped, beaten, imprisoned, and rioted against, all because of the message of Christ.  He also experienced a great deal of joy in his ministry, seeing churches grow and the message of the Gospel advance in ways that were likely beyond his imagination.

Through it all, however, Paul makes it very clear that the circumstances that he has encountered have not stopped him from preaching the Gospel or opening his heart to them.  In no way has he put a stumbling block before them or in any way tried to hinder their growth.  He has been truly authentic with them, and he asked them to do the same.

This can be a hard passage to read.  Paul lays all of this out before the Corinthians, saying that he’s pushed through so much and it hasn’t stopped him from continuing his work.  Essentially, it sounds like he is saying that he is playing through the pain and telling others to do so as well.  Does that mean that our pain, our struggles, and our insecurities don’t matter?

Certainly not.  Paul would never, and is not here, minimizing the trials of his readers.  In fact, he is acknowledging here the vast array of things that he has encountered in his ministry.  In spite of it all, however, he encourages them to remain focused on Jesus Christ and the hope that God offers through Him.

While the many struggles, hurts, pains, and wounds of this life are a lot, Paul encourages us to not allow the enemy to make a stumbling block out of them.  Instead, we are honest in our sufferings, fixing our eyes on Jesus who walks through it all with us and guides us through the Holy Spirit towards deeper healing and reconciliation.



2 Corinthians 5 – Ambassadors for Christ

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In bringing the message of Christ, Paul did not ever rely on his abilities as a philosopher, a great speaker, or any sort of great physical presence to be the driving force behind his message.  Instead, he allowed God to speak through him so that Paul’s message was actually God’s message.  He trusted that the Holy Spirit would work in the hearts of the hearers and that the Word of God would not return empty, as Isaiah 55 says.

He takes this posture of humility because he knows where the true power of the Gospel lies, and it isn’t in human achievement.  Our Bodies are mortal; from the moment we are born we are already beginning to die.  If eternity were a timeline stretched before us, our time on earth in this life would be unrecognizable, smaller than the point of a needle.

That seeming insignificance, though, is not Paul’s point.  In fact, his point is just the opposite; our lives have eternal repercussions both for ourselves and possibly for others too.  Without Jesus, we are hopeless.  But when our hope is in Jesus Christ, our lives take on new meaning and new power through the working of the Holy Spirit in and through us.

Indeed, Paul calls us “Christ’s ambassadors,” and reminds us that we are given the same ministry that Christ had on this earth: the ministry of reconciliation.  We are heralds of the Kingdom, proclaimers of grace, witnesses to the love of God that we experience daily.  It is, as Paul says as if God were making His plea to the world, to those who do not know His love, through us.  And while the message of the Gospel does not depend on human abilities for its power or substance, God calls us to live and speak in such a way that all the world may know His great love for everyone.



2 Corinthians 4 – Clay Jars

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It is pretty easy to look at those who are rich and popular by human standards and think that they have their lives all together.  In the same manner, it is also easy to look at the poor, diseased, and broken people of the world and think that they need help and hope.  Paul, by our definition, would have fallen into the category of someone who looked poor and possibly even somewhat crippled due to the many beatings he took for the sake of the Gospel.  But, as he continues talking about Christ’s reconciliation and the hope contained therein, he reminds the church in Corinth that the strength of the message of the Gospel does not come in great looks, eloquent speech, or anything else that the world would deem as strength.

But, as he continues talking about Christ’s reconciliation and the hope contained therein, he reminds the church in Corinth that the strength of the message of the Gospel does not come in great looks, eloquent speech, or anything else that the world would deem as strength.  Rather, Paul says, the treasure is kept in clay jars; it is what is inside that counts.

The true glory of Christians is not found in worldly things but in the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.  This hope can stand up against any persecution, any hardship, and any trial.  Though our outward appearance may be wasting away, the glory of God is revealed from our hearts which are ever-renewed by the world of the Spirit in us.

“So fix your eyes not on what is seen but what is unseen,” Paul says.  Far too often we focus on what is not important, longing for “the rich” to come to our churches so we can pay the bills while ignoring those to whom God has called us to the most: the marginalized and the “least of these.”



2 Corinthians 3 – The Lifted Veil

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As Paul continues to address the need for forgiveness in the offense that has occurred, he grounds that subject in the life and work of Jesus Christ ushering in the New Covenant of reconciliation.  Any punishment or discipline that is necessary in this case, then, is not meant to exclude but to correct and to bring reconciliation; to be in line with the will of God who is continuing to build us up into the image of His Son.

In that transformation, God’s glory will be revealed in greater and greater ways.  Paul likens this to the ‘glory’ that shown on Moses’ face after he went into the tent of meeting.  In the Old Testament, no one was able to see God and when Moses’ face had the glow of God’s glory, the people were scared.  Seeing God meant that they would die.

However, Christ has ushered in the New Covenant, and with the New Covenant He has brought reconciliation and grace that we may once again be in relationship with God.  He wants to show us His face, He wants us to see His glory.  No veil is needed for those who have been washed clean in the blood of Jesus.  Indeed, at the moment of His death, the curtain in the temple separating the Holy of Holies, the place of God’s dwelling on earth, from the world was torn in two!  For the first time since the Fall in Genesis 3, the veil was lifted and we come before God.

The hope that this reconciliation brings emboldens Paul, and should embolden us as well.  We don’t need to veil our salvation or the grace that God shows us.  In fact, as God lifts this veil from our hearts through the hearing of His Word, we find the freedom that is granted us to shine forth the light and glory of God into all the world.



2 Corinthians 2 – Pleasing Aroma

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In Hebrew culture, hundreds of years before this was written, there was a prevailing understanding that our actions, as well as our prayers, rose up before God in the same way the smoke rose from the fires of a sacrifice.  When we love God and love our neighbors, our actions are a pleasing aroma to Him.  However,  in the case of Israel, when the turned away from God, even the smell of the Temple sacrifices was repulsive before Him.

Paul draws on this theme as he addresses the church in Corinth, knowing full well that the divisions there, between each other and even what has happened between them and Paul are anything but a pleasing aroma.  What’s worse, this so-called aroma is one that everyone else around them can “smell” as well.  Rather than being the pleasing aroma of Christ, Paul warns them such actions (as well as many others) could be an aroma of death.

Reconciliation is what Paul is seeking here; living into the call of the Gospel for unity in the Holy Spirit.  Paul longs to be reconciled to them and them to each other, that their actions of forgiveness and love would be the “aroma” that those around them smell.

People can almost smell fakeness on others.  I think this is something that the church today struggles with a lot.  We all want everyone else to believe that we have it all together; that somehow our faith has made everything in life perfect for us (because obviously, it is for everyone else).  The reality, though, is that we’re not perfect… we’re all messed up.  Pretending to be perfect, or that the hurts of the past don’t matter, doesn’t actually help and those outside of our faith communities can see right through it.

We are called to be reconciled to each other.  In fact, we are given the ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation as those who are in Christ and it has to start with us.  As much as it may be easier to call others to it while ignoring ourselves, reconciliation is the “plank in our own eye” that we may need to get out first.



2 Corinthians 1 – Comfort and Joy

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As Paul begins this letter to the church in Corinth, he praises God for an abundance of comfort and joy in the midst of a number of trials and struggles that he has faced.  Given the context of this letter he could be referring to a difficult visit that he had with the church in Corinth or some other physical threat that Paul faced, and there were many.

What he faced, however, is not as important as how God has once again shown His faithfulness to Paul in bringing him through it.  In fact, Paul says, the trials he faced were there so that Paul would learn to trust more in God and less on himself.  This deliverance and provision is ongoing and Paul encourages the believers in Corinth to join him in this through prayer.

After saying this, Paul abruptly changes subjects for a moment, to talk about the change of plans that he has made.  Apparently, this has caused a bit of a stir in the community even so much as to cause them to question Paul’s truthfulness.

Yet Paul brings this all back together, speaking of God’s plans for him and for all believers and how they are much more important.  While we should certainly aim to be truthful and honest about how we speak, not committing to things and then dumping them when better offers come along, something that seems to happen in our culture today, we do need to always have a listening ear for the Spirit’s voice and direction.

God is certainly not out to do us harm but is always working to shape and mold us into the image of His Son.  For in Him, as Paul says, the answer is always “yes,” though not always in the way that we might think.  Paul’s change of plans, while sudden and abrupt, was God’s working for the benefit of both Paul and the church in Corinth.  We too much have this listening ear, allowing God to guide and grow us into mature faith.



Introduction to 2 Corinthians

Second Corinthians is Paul’s second of what was likely four correspondences that he wrote to the church in Corinth and the Christians throughout that region.  It is also likely that this was the last of those four letters.

  1. Paul refers to a letter in 1 Corinthians 5:9
  2. The letter that we know as the book of 1 Corinthians
  3. A “severe letter” that Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 2:3-4
  4. The letter that we know as the book of 2 Corinthians.

Paul clearly has a special place in his heart for the church in Corinth and is both saddened and frustrated by the continuing conflict and challenges that were going on there.  As part of Paul’s journey, he may have actually returned to Corinth to address these things head on, something that didn’t go well and turned out to be quite painful for Paul.

The words that Paul uses here are words of both reconciliation and rebuke, correcting some of the errors and challenging some of the false teachings that were present in the community.

While we don’t have the full story, having lost the two other correspondences that took place, we get a pretty good idea that not all was well in Corinth.

It is possible, some have suggested, that 2 Corinthians is actually two letters in one.  While the book itself contains a coherent whole, Paul’s tone changes from chapter 9 to chapter 10 in a very dramatic fashion.  There are a number of possible  explanations for this including a possible addendum to the original letter, he wrote it and then got a report which caused him to write more, or the desire to prepare the church for his upcoming visit.  Perhaps it is one of the two lost letters that somehow was attached to this one.

Whatever the case, as the early church councils and synods worked, led by the Holy Spirit, to affirm the full canon of Scripture as we have it now, 2 Corinthians in its present form was affirmed.  Therefore, whatever the case, Second Corinthians is part of God’s Holy Word and therefore both authoritative and divinely inspired by God.



1 Corinthians 16 – Final Instructions

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Today’s reading seems to be a great deal more context specific than the rest of the book.  As we talked about at the end of the book of Romans, however, even these parting words are a part of Scripture and are therefore useful and instructive to us.

Especially at the beginning of this chapter, Paul lays down some of the groundwork that has become the foundation for Christian giving practices throughout the last 2,000 years.  For him, giving was not always arbitrary or spontaneous, but rather a part of the Christian life as a response to the grace of God that is in Jesus Christ.

Spontaneous giving is not bad; certainly, Paul is not suggesting that.  However, when Paul picks up this topic again, we will see that giving is grounded in the Christian life and therefore is something we are intentional about, especially when it comes to giving back to God.

Now, this may seem oddly self-serving coming from a pastor.  It is important for us, and especially for me, to be truthful and honest when it comes to what Scripture says about this.  Paul, actually, did not receive money from the church.  In fact, he was a “tent maker,” holding a job for some time in order to fund his own work.  So when he speaks about this, he is not talking about it from some self-interested point of view but rather as a continuing application to what it means for us to live in our freedom in Christ.

No longer do we have to live, concerned for what we need, God will take care of us.  We have been freed from those concerns.  No longer do we need to hoard our possessions to take care of ourselves.  We are freed from those concerns.  God has shown time and again, His faithfulness and provision in all things and so, as we turn to Him in faith we also trust Him with our lives knowing that He who has created all things is more than able to care for and provide for all that we need.