Sunday, September 23, 2018

Paul's Second Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 11, Living By Faith

Paul makes it very clear again in today's passage that when our bodies die our spirits go to be with the Lord. Though in his letters he often substitutes the word "sleep" in place of "death", it is only the body that sleeps. The spirit is with the One who created it.

"Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight." (2 Corinthians 5:6-7) Of course the spiritual presence of the Lord is with His saints on the earth, but we are not physically in the presence of our Savior while we live in the flesh. As Paul said yesterday, while we live in the flesh we are at home in our temporary abode: the Greek "skenoo" which means a hut or tent, a dwelling that can easily be carried away. This is why we are presently living by faith and not by sight. We aren't in the physical presence of our Lord. We aren't able to look Him in the eyes. What we have to do while we live in this world is live by His promises. They are trustworthy and true, and someday when we see Him face to face we will have all the proof we need that our faith was not in vain.

"We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord." (2 Corinthians 5:8) It is clear that Paul taught no other doctrine for believers other than that their souls go straight into the presence of the Lord at death. I want to be very careful and very sensitive about what I'm about to say. I know those of us who study here together belong to a number of different Christian denominations. Some of you are of other faiths and some of you are still questioning whether or not you believe there is a God. So I'm speaking with the utmost love and respect when I point out that neither the apostles nor the Lord Jesus ever made mention of a transitory state such as purgatory. On the contrary, they all taught that the sacrifice of Christ was enough once and for all to purge the sins of those who put their trust in Him. If our souls must stop by a waystation on the journey to heaven in order to pay the penalty for sins committed in the body, then what Christ did for us on the cross wasn't enough. And if what Christ did for us on the cross wasn't enough to pay for every sin we ever have committed or ever will commit, then the teachings in the New Testament which claim otherwise are false. The truth is that we can't add anything to what the sinless Son of God did on our behalf; therefore when we who have trusted in Him leave these mortal bodies behind, we are immediately ushered into the presence of the One who died for us.

As Paul says, we are walking in the faith that someday we will go to be with the Lord. It matters how we live our lives, for we will someday have to look our Lord in the eye and give an account for the way we lived. "So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." (2 Corinthians 5:9-10)

Paul uses the Greek word "bema", which is translated into "judgment seat" in English. In the ancient world the bema was a raised step upon which a person would stand when appearing before a king or judge. Many scholars believe the judgment Paul speaks of in today's passage regards only the judgment of believers for rewards, since he uses a different word than the Apostle John uses in Revelation 20:11 when John speaks of the judgment of unbelievers and the enemies of Christ. John sees a great white throne (the Greek "thronos") from which Christ passes a terrible and eternal judgment upon those who have despised Him. It is believed by many scholars that the judgment Paul speaks of in our chapter today is a judgment of rewards, and that this likely corresponds to 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. Paul may be saying something like, "When your spirit goes into the presence of the Lord you trusted in for salvation, you will give an accounting for how you lived your life following your conversion. Did you merely trust in Christ and then do no more? Or did you strive each day to honor Him? Did you work diligently to get the gospel out to the world? Did you minister to your brothers and sisters in Christ? How did you use the fresh start the Lord gave you? You will appear before Him and be rewarded (or not) based on what you did for Him, for His saints, and for His kingdom."

We can't earn salvation by works, but we can earn rewards by works that are performed from a sincere heart. If we truly love Christ we will truly love our fellow man. There is no greater way to honor Christ than to love and minister to those around us. He came to earth "not to be served but to serve others". (Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28) It's impossible to love Christ the way we ought to love Him and not care about the souls of other human beings. If we don't care that others are perishing without Christ, we need to reevaluate our relationship with Him. Someday we will pass from this life into the next, and we will stand before His bema seat, and He will ask us what we have done with the opportunities we were given to make a difference in the lives of others.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Paul's Second Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 10, Waiting For The New Body

Today Paul talks about how eagerly we await the new bodies we will have when Christ returns. He also reassures us as to the location of our souls while they are absent from the body: they are with the Lord.

"For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands." (2 Corinthians 5:1) The word that is translated "tent" (or sometimes "tabernacle") is the Greek "skenoo" which means "a hut, a temporary abode". We are very attached to our earthly bodies, but Paul wants us to remember that they are temporary abodes. The Lord is going to give us a permanent abode, which is a body like that of Christ's.

"Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked." (2 Corinthians 5:2-3) Our bodies are subject to wear and tear, to viruses, to infections, to diseases. We groan in these bodies. I woke up this morning with a headache and a sore back and had to take two ibuprofen with my coffee, but a day is coming when we will never again groan with pain.

We will be free of all the things that befall a mortal body when we die, but we don't want to be permanently without a body. The Lord created our souls to dwell within a body, so we look forward to the day when we will have immortal bodies. This is why Paul says we don't want to be "naked"; we don't want to remain souls without bodies. I don't know what it will be like living in spirit in heaven. I think it will be a wonderful experience. It is going to be a relief to shake off the burden of bodies that have limits and are prone to disease. But it will be an even more wonderful experience to inhabit perfect and eternal physical bodies.

"For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life." (2 Corinthians 5:4) Paul says, "We groan while we are in these bodies, but not because we want to die. We groan because we long for the day when we will inhabit bodies that won't have to deal with sickness or pain. We look forward to the time when death will no longer have dominion over our bodies."

The Lord who redeemed our souls is also going to redeem our bodies. The proof of this is that He has already put down a deposit on us. Like a man entering into a contract promising to purchase a piece of property, God has paid "earnest money". He has given us His Spirit while we still live on earth in our mortal bodies. This is the guarantee that God is going to finish what He has started with us. "Now the One who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." (2 Corinthians 5:5) Our future is glorious. This is why Paul was able to endure the things that made him groan in the body. He kept his thoughts fixed on what lay ahead of him.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Paul's Second Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 9, Don't Lose Heart

In Thursday's study Paul spoke about being down but not out. He and the other ministers of the gospel dealt with daily hardships and faced the constant threat of death, yet they refused to feel defeated. He encourages his readers not to allow anything to make them feel defeated. Our mortal bodies are subject to all the troubles of this world, just as the body of Jesus was. But the Lord Jesus triumphed over His enemies and over death itself. Our victory is in Him and we have a hope no one can ever take away. Paul reminds us to keep our minds on the big picture and not to allow ourselves to be beaten down by the trials and troubles of this world.

"We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that His life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you." (2 Corinthians 4:10-12) I think Paul's words have a double meaning. He and the other apostles suffered in body as they carried the gospel to the world, plus they knew that at any moment they might be arrested and even martyred for the faith. In that sense they were carrying around in their body the death of Jesus, for the same persecution that came against Him was now coming against them. In another sense I think Paul means they were dying to "self" as they submitted their lives to Christ in preaching the gospel. Our mortal bodies don't enjoy any type of suffering, yet these men willingly endured it for the sake of Christ and for the sake of those who had never heard of Him. So he says, "Death is at work in us. We suffer for the gospel. We risk death for the gospel. But look at the result of our suffering: you are saved by your faith in Christ! Life is at work in you, because once you were lost and now you are found."

"It is written: 'I believed; therefore have I spoken.' Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to Himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God." (2 Corinthians 4:13-15) Paul quotes Psalm 116, a psalm that gives thanks to God for deliverance from death. In David's case, he was primarily speaking of salvation from physical death. There were a number of times in David's life when it appeared death from an enemy was imminent, so he thanks the Lord for allowing him to remain in the land of the living. (Psalm 116:8-9) But Paul takes it a step further and uses the psalm to give thanks for salvation from spiritual death. David believed in the Lord, so he cried to Him for help, saying, "Lord, save me!" (Psalm 116:4) In the same way, when Paul believed on the Lord, he cried to Him for help, saying, "Lord, save me!" When we came to the realization that we were lost sinners in need of the Savior, and when we acknowledged that Christ has the power to help us, our hearts cried out, "Lord, save me!"

Paul knows he may lose his life for preaching the gospel. He also knows that because he believes in Christ he will be raised from the dead someday with a body just like Christ's. He reminds the believers at Corinth that they too will share in this resurrection. He reminds us today that we who believe in Christ will share in this resurrection. David had this same faith in the resurrection, though he lived centuries before the Messiah came, and he said, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful servants." (Psalm 116:15) David was thankful that the Lord had spared his life many times, but he knew that eventually death would have a temporary victory over his mortal body. At the same time he knew that the Lord would have the eternal victory and would raise his body from the dead, along with the bodies of all the saints from all eras. This is why the death of the Lord's saints is precious in His eyes. The death of the body is a temporary thing. The Lord doesn't have to weep over our graves; the Lord lovingly watches over our mortal bodies as they sleep, while at the same time He welcomes our souls into His presence. Someday Christ will call our bodies out of the dust and they will be reunited with our souls and we will enjoy the freedom of bodies that are not subject to disease and death. My husband and I are going to the funeral home tonight because his great aunt passed on this week. But we have the same faith as David and Paul and we know that her soul is with the Lord she served. We have faith that the Lord will call her body out of the grave someday to be reunited with her soul, and she will never die again.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) Nothing we suffer for the Lord or for His saints is ever wasted. Paul knows he has an eternal reward reserved in heaven for the work he has done in sharing the gospel. As he said in his letter to the Hebrews, "God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them." (Hebrews 6:10)

Sometimes we suffer unnecessarily because of sins we commit and mistakes we make, but nothing we endure for the sake of the gospel will go unrewarded. It would have been easy for Paul to say, "I've been arrested, beaten, and pelted with rocks for preaching the gospel. I've been shipwrecked. I've gone hungry and thirsty. I've spent many sleepless nights. I've been shunned and disrespected. This is a thankless job! I'm just going to quit and go home." But instead he says, "These sufferings are light and momentary. The reward for my sufferings will last forever. So I'm keeping my eye on the prize. I'm keeping the big picture in view. If I don't preach the gospel, there are souls that won't be saved. If I don't preach the gospel, I'm living in disobedience to the One who called me to be an apostle. I will, therefore, gladly endure whatever is necessary to fulfill my calling in Christ."

You and I will probably not have to give our lives for proclaiming the gospel of Christ, but if we serve Him and if we serve His saints we will have to give up something. We will have to die to "self", and this will mean making sacrifices. We may sacrifice time and energy, or money, or popularity. But nothing we sacrifice for Christ and His saints will ever be lost. The reward for our service is eternal. So don't lose heart! Keep your eyes on what is unseen, as Paul did.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Paul's Second Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 8, Down But Not Out

I hope everyone was able to catch up on the Day 7 post. I felt it was best to post it again yesterday since several people were getting the message "Page Not Found" on Tuesday. Now we will all be in the same place as we move forward.

This morning the Apostle Paul talks about being down but not out. I don't know what you may be going through during this season of life, but when my alarm went off at 6am I immediately burst into tears. I was feeling both down and out. Some big and exciting things my husband and I had been working toward all summer didn't work out as we'd hoped, my husband was laid off work three weeks ago, and I was at the emergency clinic until 3am this morning with our little dog because she was having a flare up of her chronic pancreatitis. So Paul's message is exactly what I need. It helps me to put things in perspective. We may feel down sometimes but with the Lord on our side we are never out.

"Therefore, since through God's glory we have this ministry, we do not lose heart." (2 Corinthians 4:1) I came so close to losing heart this morning! I know some of you have been there. I know some of you are probably there right now. The phrase that is translated "lose heart" is from the Greek word "ekkakew" which means "to be bad or weak, to be spiritless, to be weary, to be exhausted". The things that happen in this world can make us feel exhausted mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But Paul says we don't have to lose heart in this manner. In fact, ekkakew has a negative connotation, so he is telling us we are not being who we ought to be when we feel like giving up. Certainly if we rely on our own strength we may find ourselves in a state of collapse, but we are to rely on the strength of the Lord, as the prophet Isaiah said, "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:31) Isaiah uses a Hebrew word for "faint" which is similar to the Greek word Paul uses for "lose heart". I think both these men are telling us that there is no need for us to collapse under trial because we have an inexhaustible source of strength in the Lord.

Some of the enemies of the gospel have accused Paul and the other apostles and teachers of presenting a message that's deceptive or too difficult to understand. But the message of the gospel is easily understandable to anyone who wants to understand it. The power of the gospel is available to anyone who wants to receive it. "Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Corinthians 4:2-4) Paul is not saying that people can't help not understanding the gospel. He's not saying that Satan has taken them captive against their will. The original text indicates that the person is to blame for willfully allowing himself or herself to be blinded to the truth and to be hard-hearted and to be stubborn. I love it that he uses the phrase "see the light" because this is exactly how he came to the faith: he saw the light! No one was probably more hard-hearted than the Apostle Paul was as he marched angrily down the road to Damascus with letters that gave him permission to arrest Christians and drag them back to Jerusalem for trial. But when presented with the glory of Christ, all his defenses crumbled. His spiritual blindness was wiped away, even though he was physically blind for three days. He was transformed forever.

"For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ." (2 Corinthians 4:5-6) The light of Christ is so bright it illuminates even the darkest corners of our hearts. If we will allow Him, He will transform us from a vessel of dishonor to a vessel of honor. He will make us shine like a lamp for all the world to see.

Like an ancient lamp made of ordinary clay, the beauty and glory of the light doesn't come from our flesh but from Christ in us. "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Because the power within us comes from the Lord and not from our own strength, we need never count ourselves as "out". We may be tempted and tried in this world, but God is strong where we are weak. We don't have to try and stand up to the storms of this life on our own two feet; the Lord invites us to lean on Him. Paul learned this valuable lesson and he passes it on to us. "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." (2 Corinthians 4:8-9) Amen! An hour ago I felt like I couldn't take another step and now I am ready to face the day. The Lord is with me! The Lord invites me to lean on Him so He can renew my strength. I still have the same problems I woke up with but I feel refreshed in the Lord.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Blogger Website Has Been Having Issues/Reposting Yesterday's Link That Went Corrupt

I apologize to those who tried to read the blog yesterday and couldn't. Some of you were clicking on it and getting the message "Page Not Found". The blogger website seems to be experiencing some issues.

If you didn't get to view the latest post, here is a link to it that seems to be working now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Paul's Second Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 7, The Veil Of The Old Covenant Taken Away

In our passage this morning we find Paul using Moses as an example when he speaks of the glory of the old covenant. The giving of the commandments and the law was a glorious thing. No other nation had ever experienced such a relationship with the one true God. But Paul explains to us that the new covenant of grace is even more glorious than the old covenant of the law. We are no longer under the law and the condemnation that comes from breaking it. The law could not impute righteousness to anyone because no one was able to perfectly keep it. But the new covenant of grace through Christ---the one who was able to perfectly keep the law---is capable of imputing righteousness to all who believe.

"Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?" (2 Corinthians 3:7-8) In Exodus 34 we find that the face of Moses was radiant when he came down from Mount Sinai with the second set of stone tablets. The people were afraid to come near him, so he adopted the habit of wearing a veil over his face. At first he wore the veil to shield the people from the glory of God, then later he wore it so the people wouldn't realize that the glory was fading from his countenance.

So we find Paul saying, "Just being in the presence of the Lord and receiving the commandments written in stone caused the face of Moses to shine. But his face did not glow with this glory for the rest of his life. If the old covenant (which brings judgment on the one who breaks it) was glorious, how much more glorious is the new covenant of grace which gives life?"

"For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!" (2 Corinthians 3:10-11) The law was good. It taught men and women about the righteousness of God and about what He expects of human beings. But no one could perfectly obey it, so a sacrificial system was in place to provide atonement for sins. Now that Christ has come, the old covenant is done away with. He made the ultimate sacrifice, one which is capable of providing atonement for us once and for all. Under the old covenant the high priest had to enter the Most Holy Place once a year with the blood of an atoning sacrifice, but under the new covenant Christ has entered the Most Holy Place in heaven with His own blood to make an atoning sacrifice for us. The priests of the old covenant passed away one by one, but Christ our High Priest lives forever. Because He lives forever, the glory of His covenant lives forever. (see Hebrews 10)

"Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away." (2 Corinthians 3:12-14) Paul says that some cannot accept that the glory of the old covenant is fading away, so just as Moses covered his face to prevent anyone from noticing that the radiance of his face was fading, they have put a veil over their hearts so they will not have to face up to the fading glory. He feels they are blinding themselves to the truth that the old covenant cannot do for them what they need it to do, and they are blinding themselves to the truth that the new covenant is more glorious than the old. He can say such a thing without insulting or talking down to anyone because the same veil was once over his own heart. He hated Christians so much that he intended to eradicate them from the earth. If anyone has ever had a veil over his heart, it was the Apostle Paul. But now the veil is gone and he clearly sees that the glory of the covenant of grace is far more radiant than the glory of the covenant of law. The covenant of mercy, by its very nature, is more glorious than the covenant that brings judgment. The Lord Himself says, "I desire mercy." (Hosea 6:6a) The Lord Himself says that the knowledge of Him is more important than all burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6b) In this one verse we see the contrast between the law and grace. The law demands that we make sacrifices of atonement. Grace says atonement has already been made for us. To receive this atonement is to know the Son, who is "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being". (Hebrews 1:3)

"Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, it is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:15-18) In Exodus 34 we learn that Moses removed the veil whenever he went into the presence of the Lord. He met with God, metaphorically speaking, face to face. In Christ we have the freedom in Christ to meet with God with unveiled faces. When God looks upon us He sees us as His family, for we look like His Son. The righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us so that we come into the Lord's presence not as lawbreakers awaiting judgment but as dearly loved children.

We also do not veil our faces among the people, as Moses did. The glory of Christ, which makes our faces radiant, never fades away. This is why Paul says in verse 12, "We are very bold." We must look like Christ not only to God the Father but to our fellow man. Those around us need to see the love of Christ in us. If they don't find anything attractive about Christians, they will not find anything attractive about Christ. Let us strive to be more and more like Him.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Paul's Second Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 6, A Living Letter

In our passage today Paul speaks of letters of recommendation. Since he was the first person to preach the gospel at Corinth, it is likely the people there had never received any communication regarding him before his arrival. Paul is known to write letters of recommendation for other workers in the faith, but it could be that the people of Corinth had never even heard of him before he first entered their city to preach about Christ. Some of his detractors in the region may have been questioning his authority because no one had ever recommended him to them, or it could be that some criticized him for always reminding them of his credentials as an apostle. Today he addresses concerns such as these by pointing out that their faith is the proof of his apostleship. It was through his preaching of the gospel that the believers in Corinth first came to Christ.

"Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?" (2 Corinthians 3:1) He says, "The fact that there is a thriving church at Corinth is the proof that I and the other apostles who have ministered to you are called by God to do this work. Rather than listening to troublemakers who want to put us down, look around you and see how many lives have been transformed in Corinth since the gospel came to you."

"You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." (2 Corinthians 3:2-3) The Lord promised through the prophet Jeremiah that someday His laws would be written in people's hearts and not on tablets of stone. (Jeremiah 31:31-34) Paul saw this prophecy being fulfilled before his very eyes, and he was grateful that God allowed him to be involved in the work of getting the gospel message to the world.

"Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God." (2 Corinthians 3:4-5) The apostle is quick to assure his readers that he isn't making a big deal of himself, "My confidence is in the Lord, not in myself. I don't have the power to save anyone's soul. But the Lord anointed me to be a minister of the gospel and I am carrying out these duties to the best of my ability. If you need proof that I am called by the Lord to be an apostle, the proof is that a church began here in Corinth after I preached the gospel to you. The proof is that, while I was preaching to you, the Holy Spirit changed your hearts. In my own strength I can do nothing, but I am more than willing to allow the love of Christ to work through me. His is the glory and the honor."

Remember what a ragtag bunch the disciples were? They weren't the type of men most rabbis would have wanted as students, but Jesus saw into their hearts. He knew who they could be. The same can be said of Paul. He despised Christians and wanted them wiped from the face of the earth. He was the last person anyone would have expected to bow the knee to Christ, but his life was transformed on the Damascus road because Jesus saw who he could be. Paul and the other ministers of the gospel know who they used to be, and they will never forget that they were transformed because Christ saw who they could be. The people of Corinth are changed because of Christ too, so Paul says, "The proof that Christ is in my ministry is that you are not who you used to be! I didn't change you---Christ changed you---but it was through me, an apostle He chose, that you heard the life-giving message of the gospel. If the power of the Lord had not been present in my work, nothing would have been accomplished by anything I did at Corinth. But the Lord was with me because He loves you. He wanted to rescue you from the fruitless practices of idolatry and bring you into the family of the living God."