Sunday, August 14, 2011

Examine yourself

8/12/11 Friday
The bible study we started out our day with was finishing up the 2nd book of Corinthians. Cherie and I try to start every day in the word of God and with prayer, though there have been a couple of mornings we got busy quick and that didn’t happen. In 2nd Corinthians we discover the issues Paul had with those who wanted to be seen as somebody in the church. How familiar this all was. We have seen and heard of these kinds of things our whole life, discord, pride, egos, division, and the power of the tongue to corrupt many.

It’s hard to imagine what Paul wrote about. Paul had been the one to first tell of the gift of eternal life Jesus made available through His death in Corinth so had founded the church there. Corinth was a sinful place to be sure, the Greeks had a saying, one of those common things heard in that day where everyone understood what it meant, a word that meant “to act like a Corinthian” that meant the person was fornicating. We know today how hard it is not to be influenced by all around us, but it could well have been much harder in Paul’s day.

Despite, or perhaps because, of the great sin in that city the message of the Love of God resulted in a growing and thriving group of believers. But, predictably, the lifestyles these people were coming out of often infected that group. This Paul addressed in his first letter to the Corinthians with no equivocation about it. By the time the second letter was written another problem rose up, in addition to the constant battle with immorality.

What was this problem? It was those who wanted to be put on pedestals, to be in charge and looked up to, who wanted to control this growing church. How did they go about this? First by tearing down Paul, the spiritual father of that church. In studying Paul’s response to this I have learned many things. His grace and humility are amazing to me as I read him striving to communicate the truth of who he is in Christ and to help them understand the errors they have become a part of. But in this letter are many clues to what was going on. In chapter two he mentions those who “peddle” the word of God. In chapter four those who “Walk in craftiness, adulterating the word of God”. In chapter six Paul says “We wronged no one, we corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one” indicating some of the gossip and accusations being thrown around regarding him. Chapter ten reveals that some were saying Paul was walking “According to the flesh”, accusing him of not being really spiritual. Wow! This is amazing, that such a thing could be spread regarding Paul, who in founding the church did so with many signs and wonders. But this too I was accused of in the church that not so politely escorted me out and said “Don’t come back”.

Chapter ten is where Paul begins to directly address the problems of those who sought to build themselves up by tearing him down. Verse ten of that chapter says “For they say ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible”. And thus the gossip goes, that tool the devil most effectively uses to tear down and not build up.

All of this put Paul into a most awkward position, especially for a man who possessed true humility. Now he has to talk about himself, to counteract the gossip designed to make everyone think less of him, to show who he truly is with the Lord, that he indeed is an apostle chosen by God. How we can see Paul wrestle with this in his letter, and in his honesty. In it we hear of those who purport to be “Super Apostles”, evidently big on blowing their own horn.

I had started writing this Friday. Now it is Sunday morning and I am just getting back to it. Saturday I spent in Lamesa training for the Kairos prison ministry at the Smith prison unit. Friday afternoon we went to the HeBrew ministry, to say goodbye to the volunteers who have worked there for something like 7 years. It was a shock to hear they were closing it down. I am working to drum up support and keep the ministry alive. Have several pastors that have expressed interest but also seem to be running into some brick walls. I know the devil definitely wants that ministry to die, as it is a light shining in the darkness and is a powerful voice for the Lord to the high school students across the street.

So back to the short bible study. Paul now goes into detail to remind the Corinthians of who he is. He tells of the hardships he endured to tell of the Love of Christ, and then reveals how he was taken into heaven. What a glimpse into his life this gives us. It is no accident that Paul wrote a large portion of our new testament. He was truly a prophet, as were John and many others, though many don’t view him that way. But here we find Paul having to counteract the poison of the lips that had spread and infected many. In chapter 12 verse 11 he says “I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the “super apostles” even though I am nobody. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.

What an amazing thing, that Paul would even have to remind them of these things. Evidently the poison of words had created great doubt and controversy in that church, so much that even the signs, wonders, and miracles the Lord performed through him were discounted. In verse 16 we read what appears to be tinged with some sarcasm where he says “I did not burden you myself; nevertheless, crafty fellow that I am, I took you in by deceit.” And spoke of Titus and the other brother he had sent to the Corinthians saying “He did not take advantage of you, did he?” so that leads me to believe these gossipers were anxious to tear down anyone related to Paul as well.

Now we come to the concluding remarks, and in it we see Paul’s heart. Verse 19 “Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening.” Those that work against the things of God tear down, not build up. They create division instead of unity. They are the ones who refuse to talk with another, preferring instead to deign themselves as better than the others and thus separate from them. And they do it in the name of the Lord, purporting to be wise they become fools,(Romans 1:22) false shepherds leading many astray.(Isaiah 9:16)

For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. 21 I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged”.

Hear Paul again expresses his concern, concern that exists because of his great love for these people. He expresses his fear that some will not repent and explains how that will break his heart, that he will mourn for them if they have not. But then he also warns them of his authority in Christ. There is great grace in the things of the Lord, but great severity also.

On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, 3 since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. 4 For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God's power we will live with him to serve you. 5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you--unless, of course, you fail the test?

I must end this as we are heading out to church. “Examine yourself” it says, “Whether you are in the faith”. What a good instruction this is for us today. We should all examine ourselves and see if there is any unclean or improper way in us, so that we can bring them to the Lord and be cleansed of it. This I do daily, as my desire is to be found pleasing to the Lord in all my ways and thoughts.

Be blessed.

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