Saturday, July 11, 2020
Third Presbyterian Sunday Morning Bible Study - July 12, 2020
Below is the Bible Study written by Jim Rudiger for his Sunday School Class which meets at Third Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia. It's based on 2 Corinthians 2:4-17.
What was your parent’s favorite punishment for you when you were a child? What did you have to do to cause your parents to punish you? (1) Sass, (2) not minding, (3) destroy property, (4) lie, hanging my brother, Jack (but that’s a complex story), etc. My Grand momma’s favorite form of child correction was a switch pruned from a weeping willow tree. She was an expert at picking out just the right branch. One that had flexibility and yet a firmness at the base. She would grab hold of the base of the branch and with one downward thrust of her hand clamped around the branch, she totally defoliated the branch. Then came the period of testing. She would wave it about in the air, snapping it like it was a whip. I was never sure if this was for affirming the choice of this particular branch or to let me start to wonder how that branch will feel on my legs. After she was completely satisfied with her selection, she would administer the punishment. Since in my heart I knew that I didn’t deserve the punishment (I was a perfect little boy, you see), I felt that I was being unfairly condemned. After you were punished, what were your feelings toward the administrator of the punishment? How long did it take to forgive them?
Why would Grand momma ever want to punish a perfect little boy like me? My Grand momma followed the “spare the rod and spoil the child” method for raising, Jack, and me. Of course, for my Grand momma, it was “spare the switch and spoil the child”. Since in my heart I knew that I didn’t deserve the punishment (I was a perfect little boy, you see and Jack was always the guilty party), I felt that I was being unfairly condemned. My wife, Jackie, used to say that Grand momma must have spared a lot of switches to have me end up as spoiled as I am.
Did you know that Martin Luther had a father who didn’t spare the rod? As a result, Luther always had a problem with the Lord’s prayer. His father had been such a severe disciplinarian with frequent uses of the rod for punishment, that Luther always hesitated when he spoke the words, “Our Father in heaven”. His picture of a father was a man who beat you for even the smallest thing. Luther used to say, “Spare the rod and spoil the child - yes; but, beside the rod keep an apple, to give to the child when he has done well.” And that’s the secret to fair punishment. Punishment when necessary, but, along with that, reward when merited.
Finally, Paul gets around to returning to Corinth. Now Paul doesn’t think that the fact that he didn’t come back as soon as he had promised would be any big deal. How wrong he was. The visit turned out to be a disaster. Things weren’t going smoothly in the church and some were putting the blame at Paul’s doorstep. Perhaps they felt that if Paul had of come when he promised, he could have nipped the problems in the bud before they got blown way out of shape. The problem wasn’t a new one. He addressed it in his first letter. What was the problem? Divisions in the church. Paul wasn’t there, so it was all his fault. It had gotten to the point that Paul’s very authority was being questioned as well as if he were a real Apostle. These are heavy accusations. For the people to get stirred up like this, there has to be a ring leader, someone who is capable of marshaling the discontent and focusing it on Paul. That’s the way it was with Jack and my Grand momma.
What was Paul to do? What would you have done if you were Paul? Paul confronted the man and defended his ministry. They had been saying that there was more in Paul’s conduct than met the eye. He acted pious but underneath he was as bad as the rest of them. Paul argued that he lived with the holiness and purity that Jesus made possible. But, there were those who saw hidden motives in what Paul did. There were no hidden agendas in Paul’s life that glorified himself and not God. Paul argued that his whole life and conduct was dominated by the grace of God and not by a calculated plan to make himself more important. That’s not what motivated Paul.
Finally, there were accusations that Paul didn’t mean what he said. When they said that, what were they calling Paul? A hypocrite. Paul’s defense was that he said what God put on his heart, whether they liked it or not. There were no politically correct words coming from Paul. There were no hidden meanings in Paul’s words. In summation, in Paul’s life and sermons, there were no hidden actions and no hidden agendas. What you see is what you get. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if all church leaders could make that claim?
In order not to go through another painful reunion with the church, Paul decides to write them a letter rather than go there in person. This tells us something about Paul. This confrontation hurt him even though in the end the church supported him. In deciding not to go back in person, do you think Paul was thinking solely about himself or was he wanting to spare the church from another possible public display of disunity?
In his letter, Paul tries to explain his actions so that they will understand his feeling before and after that bad visit. He tells them he had big plans when he started out to visit with them. He was going to stay with them in route to Macedonia where God was opening up a new ministry for proclaiming the gospel. He had hoped to stop in Corinth and be encouraged by their support and really be sent off ready to bring to others what the church at Corinth now cherished. Instead, Paul had been met with dissension and questions about his fitness to even represent the Lord. Instead of leaving Corinth lifted up and supported, Paul went to this new field shaken by their attitude and lack of support. You see, one of the big blows to Paul’s ministry in Corinth was the lack of trust that they had in him. And this lack of trust is the root of Paul’s concern. How can we trust the message if we don’t trust the messenger?
Preaching is always truth as demonstrated through the preacher’s personal life. If we can’t trust the preacher, if he doesn’t live the way he preaches, then we won’t trust his message. I had a preacher in a church I went to who gave a Christmas sermon suggesting that if you put up a Christmas tree, you were not celebrating the birth of Christ the way you should. You were worshiping the decorations and not Jesus. Everybody left church that morning and went back home and stood before their Christmas tree decorated with beautiful ornaments and sparkling lights and felt like the biggest sinners in the world. I was an Elder in the church and the preacher invited the Session to his house for a Christmas get together. What did I find when I entered his living room? A beautifully decorated Christmas tree. This small event profoundly influenced how I accepted his truth in future sermons.
The Jews had a requirement that said that a teacher must never promise something that he cannot or will not do. It is easier to follow a general into war if we know that he is there sharing in the danger. Napoleon rode at the front of his lines encouraging his soldiers. He would talk to them as the bullets whizzed past him letting them know that he was willing to share in their fate. For that reason, his men were willing to go anywhere he commanded and give their life for him if necessary. There is a warning here that a promise should never be given lightly. If promises are lightly given, then the expectation that they will be carried out is doubtful. A promise lightly given is likely to be lightly broken.
Paul then covers the confrontation he had with the ring leader. Paul was forced to righteously challenge the man and the church, to their credit, saw believed Paul’s argument and supported Paul. But after Paul left, the church took further action. Ever have to hand out punishment to your child and you come to a reasonable punishment and then you get madder and increase the punishment and the more you think about it, the harsher the punishment? That’s is what the Corinthian church was doing to the guy who has tore into Paul.
In this letter, Paul didn’t pull any punches. He let them know that he had been profoundly disappointed in how he had been treated. Lets just say that Paul got a lot of stuff off his chest. And, this brings us up to today’s study.
2 Corinthians 2:4 For I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.
How does Paul feel after thinking about the letter he wrote telling the Corinthian church how badly he felt when he returned from his last visit? Paul realizes that his letter might have had what effect on them? Caused them pain. Sometimes when you say things that hurt someone, they might get the idea that you don’t love them any more. Paul didn’t mean it that way at all. In fact how does Paul feel about them? He loves them abundantly.
There is something in this scripture that I just learned. I was talking to my son last Sunday night about scripture and he said that Paul uses the word “for” in the Greek sense a lot. When he does, he is pointing back to something that was said or actions taken and is saying this is the reason for those actions or what was said. In the first four verses of Chapter 2, Paul uses “for” this way four times. If I’m not getting this right, I am sure my son will set me straight next Sunday night and I’ll pass on to you the correct meaning.
Corinthians 2:5 But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent - not to exaggerate it - to all of you. 6 This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; 7 so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 I wrote for this reason; to test you and to know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, , has been for your sake in the presence of Christ. 11 And we do thia so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.
Paul had come to Corinth happy and ready for the challenges of a new field and his visit had been poisoned by one man. The man had personally insulted Paul in front of the congregation. Paul had insisted that the church discipline this man. Most of the people in the church realized that the man not only hurt Paul, but, had injured the reputation and honor of the Corinthian church. So, they did what Paul had directed and imposed a reasonable discipline. Paul considered the punishment fair and enough had been done. The actions first taken had demonstrated that the church was obedient and able to discipline when needed and the man appears to really be sorry for what he did. The time had come to accept it and move on. After all, Paul had been the one slandered and he has forgiven the man. Now they should do the same.
Paul had been upset about what the man had said, but he had not taken these accusations personally. It wasn’t the injury done to his reputation that worried Paul. It was the discipline and peace of the church that was important. You know, there are some people who take everything personally. They are geared up to go on the defensive. Any comment, no matter how well intentioned or even given in love, will be construed as an attack on them personally. Generally, these people are the ones who cause the most problems in a church - quick to see themselves as the victim of an insult and slow to let it go. Paul wasn’t like that. He knew his motives and who he was, so, he wasn’t intimidated by false accusations. He may have been disappointed and he was so hurt that he cried, but he saw the big picture. Paul’s major problem with this man wasn’t that Paul was being put down, it was that the church was letting a strong negative personality call the shots.
Paul’s whole motive was to discipline the man, not take vengeance. What’s the difference between discipline and vengeance? Discipline is action based on loving the person. Vengeance is action based on hating a person. Paul doesn’t want him beat down to the ground and then demand that the man crawl on his stomach like a snake. Paul wants to lift him up. The idea behind discipline is to improve the character of the person not destroy it. As a Christian, we shouldn’t want to pound the sinner into submission but to make him a saint by inspiring him to the goodness he sees in us.
Paul’s idea of discipline is that it never should be based on despair or taking the heart out of the person. The wrong kind of punishment will drive the person into the arms of Satan because he has no other place to go if we Christians turn our backs on him. Any punishment should have as it’s goal to encourage, not discourage; produce goodness, not abandon goodness; inspire a better life, not confirm that life is hopeless.
2 Corinthians 2:12 When I came to Troas to proclaim the good news of Christ, a door was opened for me in the Lord; 13 but my mind could not rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said farewell to them and went on to Macedonia.
What does Paul mean when he says “a door was opened for me in the Lord?” There was a new missionary field ready for planting. When Paul got to Troas, how did his missionary work go? Troas was a missionary success. But, still, Paul tells them that his concern for them had made him lose sleep. He was anxious to find out how things were going in Corinth. Who was he looking for? Titus. Why? Paul had left Titus in Corinth with instructions to come to Paul as soon as possible to let him know what was happening in Corinth. When he couldn’t stand waiting any longer for Titus, Paul left Troas and started out toward Macedonia hoping to meet Titus half way.
2 Corinthians 2:14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life, Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.
Paul tries then to encourage them. He says that in Christ, they are led in what? A triumphal procession. Any idea what this triumphal procession is? Remember, most of the Corinthian church were Romans. Paul is going to use the most spectacular Roman event which every Roman knows about to describe his Christian ministry. In Paul’s mind, this whole ministry is like a Roman Triumph with Jesus as the conqueror of the world.
In the Triumphal procession, the parade winds through the streets of Rome until it reaches the Capitol. Heading the parade were the state officials and the senate. Then came the trumpeters followed by the spoils taken from the conquered land. Displays followed to let the people know something about the conquered land. There would be paintings of the land and models of the buildings and ships, something like floats in our parades. After the displays would be a white bull which would be sacrificed to honor the general. Then there were the captured soldiers and their officers and princes - marching all in chains. They would be put to death not long after reaching the Capital. Musicians playing lyres followed these poor guys. And then came the priests swinging their censers with the sweet smelling incense burning in them. Then came the general himself riding in a chariot pulled by four horses. He would be dressed in a purple tunic decorated with golden palm leaves and over it was a purple toga embroidered with golden stars. In his hand he held an ivory scepter topped with the roman eagle and behind him stood a slave holding the crown of Jupiter over his head.
Behind him was his family and finally, the conquering Roman army. It would be a long parade. The streets would be streaming with red and gold banners. About a million people lived in Rome and most of them would be lining the streets applauding and screaming their support of the their new hero. It was a terrific day. One that may happen only once in a life time.
This is the picture Paul uses to describe Christ in this world - a magnificent Triumph. Paul is certain that nothing will stop this triumph from taking place. To Paul, he and all of us Christians are part of that victorious army following our general, Christ. Those who reject Christ will be the enemy in chains marching ahead of the priests carrying the censers of burning incense. The same perfume that surrounds us, the winning army, also covers the losing army. The difference is that we are marching to victory and eternal life and they are marching to their eternal death. It would be a study in it’s self to see how other parts of this description of a Triumph Paul applied to his ministry. If you get some time, go through the Roman Triumph and think of the applications to Christian ministry.
Paul knows that his message is from God and he is willing to stand the very judgement of Christ. He never feared about what men might say about him, because his conscience was clear. It affirmed that he had the approval of God and knew that Christ’s words to him would be, “Well done!”
What is our worst punishment? When we forsake the true word of Christ and seek the approval of the world, then we move from the victorious army following Christ’s chariot to the defeated army of the world. There, my friends, will be the final eternal punishment.
Prayer: Lead us, Lord, on the path of forgiving and being forgiven, so that we will know the joy of a new life. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.