Tuesday, February 28, 2017

EmmDev 2017-02-28 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Boasting 5: Conclusion

Boasting 5: Conclusion

I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the "super-apostles," even though I am nothing. 12 The things that mark an apostle--signs, wonders and miracles--were done among you with great perseverance. 13 How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!      (2Corinthians12:11-13)
Paul has not enjoyed having to resort to the kind of boasting that he has indulged in over the last chapter. It has made him feel foolish and he has not enjoyed having to promote himself.

Here we see some of his hurt and sadness coming through because, at the end of the day, they should have commended him and not put him in this place where he had to commend himself.

Here's what they should have commended him for:

  • He is not in any way inferior to the "super-apostles" (in fact he was their founding pastor and stayed longer with them than anyone else)
  • Through his persevering ministry signs, wonders and miracles were done. (What one reads between the lines is that there were times where people were ministered to over a long period of time)
  • He treated them like he treated all other congregations (In fact he'd treated them better than others: He stayed with them for a long time, received no financial support from them and had written them more than one letter.)
  • He was never a burden to them

It is this last point that leaves a particularly bitter taste in Paul's mouth. He had been a self-supporting minister and had not burdened the congregation with his costs or asked them for a "preaching fee." Unfortunately people are often guilty of devaluing things that they receive for free. I remember spending hours and hours counselling a person, who then went to an expensive psychologist who told them exactly what I had, but because of the cost of the therapy sessions, the person then went and did what needed to be done - It's a very sad indictment on us as human beings that we value things based on their cost...

Paul is very sad and disappointed at their shallow perception that because the "super-apostles" were "expensive" their ministry was better. This comes across in his final sarcastic apology.

Throughout this section of "boasting" we have sensed Paul's acute discomfort at resorting to measures like this - but he is desperate for the church and does what is needed to bring them back. The contrast between Paul and the super-apostles is very clear: True greatness lies in service and sacrifice, not in boasting and making demands.

Friday, February 24, 2017

EmmDev 2017-02-24 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Boasting #4: Thorns, Weakness, Strength

Boasting #4: Thorns, Weakness, Strength

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.      (2Corinthians12:7-10)
Paul has been "boasting" about the things that make him seem weak.

In today's passage we get to the very heart of why he's doing this.

Paul knows that it's not about him!

He knows that there is more to life than his own achievements, his own glory and his own ego.

With incredible self-insight and self-awareness, Paul shares a story of weakness - a "thorn in the flesh".

We don't know exactly what this "thorn in the flesh" was - the best suggestion was that he had an ailment with his eyes - a debilitating disease that caused his eyes to fester and impeded his vision. It wasn't nice to look at and meant that Paul needed the help of scribes and made people feel very sorry for him.

He could have felt like a victim - like life was unfair - he was serving God wasn't he? So why should he have this "thorn?"

But Paul says it so well - God's grace shines through my weakness - his strength is shown in my weakness.

His weakness has caused him to trust in God's grace and He has realised that when he is weak - he is strong.

When it is all about us then it always needs to go well.
When we get beyond ourselves, then there is room for God to work in mysterious and mischievous ways - bringing strength out of weakness and grace out of pain.

May we discover that when we are weak - He is strong.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

EmmDev 2017-02-22 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Boasting #3: Visions

Boasting #3: Visions

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know--God knows. 3 And I know that this man--whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows-- 4 was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say.      (2Corinthians12:1-6)
The "super apostles" who were leading the Corinthians astray boasted that they were superior to Paul and that their qualifications, spiritual insight and experience were better than what Paul had offered them.

Paul has been boasting in the things that have made him "weak" in an effort to highlight the arrogance and pride of the false teachers. Now, in a third round of "boasting" Paul talks about a man who was "caught up in heaven" and "heard inexpressible things."

Scholars debate who this "man" might be... In all likelihood it is Paul himself and it relates to an incident we read about in Acts 14:19 "Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. 20 But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city."

Basically it looks like Paul was stoned and left for dead (or that he actually died) and that the disciples gathered around him (that they prayed) and Paul was restored to them.

This near-death or death-and-resurrection experience could have been a great story for Paul. It could have been his signature testimony. "Did I tell you about the time I endured being stoned and visited paradise?" But this is the only time Paul speaks of it and when he does so, he talks about it in the third person - "I know a man...."

You can almost hear him doing it through clenched teeth - not eager to draw attention to himself - not wanting to make himself look great, but needing to warn the Corinthians that they should be too quick to be impressed by "super apostles" who are quick to tell stories that make them look good.

Through all of this Paul is behaving impeccably - "I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses." So here is Paul - a guy with a "knock-out testimony" - who chooses to refrain and to boast only about his weaknesses so that his life would not detract from the glory of God.

Compared to the pride and arrogance of the "super-apostles", Paul's humility is very powerful! He gives us a lot to think about...

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

EmmDev 2017-02-21 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Boasting #2: Persecution

(A number of folk have just joined our EmmDev list - Welcome!
Just a quick background: We're working our way through 2 Corinthians where Paul is trying to protect the Corinthian Congregation from a group of false teachers who are selling an intellectualised philosophical version of Christianity and portraying themselves as "super apostles" and bad-mouthing Paul.

Paul, in an unusual move, counters their intellectual claims, by boasting not in his achievements, but in the things that he has suffered. This echoes a statement he had made earlier in ch.4: "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.")

Boasting #2: Persecution

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.      (2Corinthians11:30-33)
The "super apostles" who were trying to steal the hearts and minds of the Corinthians had accused Paul of being "forceful in his letters, but timid when face to face" while they portrayed themselves as strong and in charge.

Paul answers their accusation by talking about an event that took place very shortly after his conversion in Acts chapter 9. We know the story: Paul had his Damascus Road experience where he encountered Christ and was blinded by the glory of His presence and Ananias prayed for his eyes to be opened. Paul immediately started to preach about Jesus and his message was so convincing and articulate that he was identified as a threat and marked for death by the religious authorities.

What Acts 9 doesn't tell us is how high the threat had escalated - here Paul reveals that the threat had come from the governor of the city, a king named Aretas who was the father-in-law of Herod Antipas who had executed John the Baptist and who participated in Jesus' trial.

So what is Paul telling us?

  1. That from the very outset he has been outspoken about his faith. He's had to take a firm stand and he hasn't wavered and that God has protected him.
  2. He's also implying that his suffering and persecution put him in the same company as Jesus and John the Baptist - and therefore he must be doing something right.
  3. He's not boasting about his achievements, rather, he is indicating that the gospel has cost him something. The "super apostles" tried to present a "sophisticated intellectualism" whereas Paul presents a "rugged cross."

In the verses that follow, Paul will talk about how his weaknesses and setbacks will reveal God's strength. In effect he's saying: "I've been through a lot and, because God has been with me, I'm still standing!"

Life is not always easy - and sometimes we go through hardships for our faith - but God will keep us standing.

Friday, February 17, 2017

EmmDev 2017-02-16 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Boasting #1: Trouble

Boasting #1: Trouble

What anyone else dares to boast about--I am speaking as a fool--I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham's descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?      (2Corinthians11:21-29)
And so Paul starts his "boasting"...

He starts off talking about the racial and ethnic claims that his enemies were making. He argues that he also is a "true Jew" but then points out the purpose for which the Jews were called, which was to be the servants of God, taking His message into the world.

What is the "badge of honour" for a servant?
Surely it is service?
Paul goes on to list his service in the language of trouble.

A servant does not have the right of comfort or privilege - the servant often walks the road of trouble. Paul's list of hardships is intimidating: he has surely been faithful even when the going has been tough - he has earned his "badge of honour".

But there is a more subtle edge to Paul's boasting too. He is hinting that that the "super apostles" who demand payment for their services from a fledgling congregation have not walked the road of sacrifice or suffering.

He also implies that they don't actually care about the flock like he does. ("Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?")

What should we conclude from this?
Firstly, we should recognise that God's servants aren't immune to trouble. Trouble may come but Paul stays faithful and true to his calling.

Secondly, Paul's pastoral heart weighs on him as heavily as shipwrecks, beatings, hunger and danger. Paul is crystal clear - he really cares about the flock God has entrusted to his care.

Thirdly, Paul is hesitant to "boast" like this. He calls it "foolish" but he is desperate to protect the Corinthian church from those who would mislead the Corinthians with a "celebrity" leadership model.The Christian singer Steve Camp asked a key question: "Are we servants without scars?"

As Christians we are called to be servants and not celebrities. We may see hardship and we may end up with callouses and scars, but it will be because we have really and truly loved others.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

EmmDev 2017-02-15 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] The nature of religious manipulation

The nature of religious manipulation

I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17 In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18 Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19 You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20 In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!      (2Corinthians11:16-21)
Paul is still preparing the Corinthians for his "boasting" (This gives us some idea of how nervous he is about taking such a desperate step.) He specifically points out - that he is talking - not as the Lord would, but as a fool and that boasting is worldly. But desperate times call for desperate measures and so in an attempt to create extreme irony, Paul will lower himself to boasting but his "boasting" will be self-deprecating instead of self-exalting.

The latter part of our passage explores the very important reason why Paul is so desperate and why he is going to such lengths... Paul is desperate for the Corinthians because of the nature of religious manipulation.

You see, it is an unfortunate truth that throughout history, Christians have been susceptible to leaders who have larger than life domineering personalities who exploit their influence and dominate those they lead.

These leaders rely on charisma, the force of their personalities and people's blind trust to get what they want. We see it today still: Pastors feed their people snakes, spray them with Doom, or have them buying every book and CD they've ever made.

There's a surprising lack of common sense in many of these situations. People will blindly follow leaders who manipulate and abuse their congregations. The relationship is that of star and fan rather than shepherd and sheep. In v.20 Paul notes: "In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face."

Leadership is a high call and a high privilege. Unfortunately in religious circles, people are attracted to authoritarianism and powerful personalities. Leaders would do well to avoid this route and to remember how Jesus aligned His leadership style to a 500 year old Messianic prophecy:
Matt.12:18-21 "Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he leads justice to victory.
21 In his name the nations will put their hope."

Theo Groeneveld
Emmanuel Presby Church
theo@emmanuel.org.za Cell: 082-5510752

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

EmmDev 2017-02-14 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Boasting with good reason

Boasting with good reason

10 As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine. 11 Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! 12 And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about.
13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.      (2Corinthians11:10-15)
Paul's strategy in dealing with the false teachers is an interesting one: Where they have boasted of their superiority and their achievements, Paul is going to "boast" about the things that make him look weak... When we get to it, you will see that it appears to be a very self-indulgent telling of "war-stories". But before he even gets into it, Paul tells us why he is boasting like this...

He is doing it because the false teachers are misleading the people and by their boasting of their achievements and qualifications, trying to earn the trust of the congregation and then mislead them.

Paul argues that Satan does the same thing - pretending to be good, to have our interests at heart and to be on our side. In the Garden of Eden, the serpentine Satan portrays God as a restrictive bully, and the false teachers do the same with Paul when they argue that his "letters are forceful, but in person he is unimpressive."

Paul wants to protect the Corinthians and he chooses to do so by displaying the power of God at work in his own brokenness. While they boast of achievements, Paul boasts about brokenness and sacrifice.

His motive is deep love for the congregation - while his "boasting" may be considered self-serving and designed to evoke sympathy it has a deeper purpose: to demonstrate his sincerity and to shock the Corinthians out of their "star-struck" obsession with the bragging false teachers.

Paul loves the Corinthians and, because the false teaching they face is dangerous, Paul takes on the false teachers, but he doesn't fight fire with fire - they brag of their qualifications, but Paul brags of his disqualifications.

His conclusion to his boasting will say it all - when I am weak He is strong.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

EmmDev 2017-02-09 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Spin doctors

Spin doctors

But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those "super-apostles." 6 I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way.
7 Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so.      (2Corinthians11:5-9)
In our current political climate we have plenty of "spin doctors" who can put a different "spin" on everything. This is not new...

Paul had come to Corinth in simple sincerity: explaining simple truths in simple words and doing his best not to be a burden to the fledgling congregation.

The false teachers had been in Corinth

  • Bad-mouthing Paul
  • Using all the "tricks" of contemporary rhetoric. (Bear in mind that rhetoric - the art of swaying people with words - had become an art form in graeco-roman society.)
  • And charging the congregation for their "important" and "superior" message.
Paul scathingly calls them "super apostles" and the word for "super" is "hyperlian" ("exceeding") which is absolute hyperbole on Paul's part!

The false teachers (aka spin-doctors) turned common-sense upside down:

  • "If he uses simple words, he must be a simpleton!"
  • "If he doesn't charge for his message, it can't be worth much!"

Society justifies all sorts of excesses with false logic.
When we see someone living lavishly people say "Well, they earned it." Or when someone behaves badly we say "Well, they had a tough upbringing!" But surely someone who earns something will appreciate its value and not squander it and surely someone who had a tough upbringing would have learned lessons about how not to live badly.

But way too often we justify excess with shallow reasoning and half-truths.

Elsewhere Paul talks about the worker being worthy of their wages and so one can never use this passage to argue that all Christians must offer their services for free, but there is a clear sense that the not being a burden fledgling church was important to Paul. And the spin-doctors have made him determined to continue to offer a simple message in a humble way...
(We'll see more of Paul vs the spin-doctors tomorrow!)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

EmmDev 2017-02-08 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Soul Care

Soul Care

But I am afraid [...] your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.      (2Corinthians11:3)
For the month of January at Emmanuel and Grace we have been talking about Soul-Care.

This was inspired by John Ortberg's telling of a Dallas Willard story:
There was once an alpine village that was built around a stream that was fed by some springs that were upstream.

The town employed a man to be the "Keeper of the Stream". His job was to keep an eye on the springs, keeping them clear of twigs, clearing caved in river banks and ensuring the smooth flow of the stream. His work was unseen and unvalued.

Then one year the town decided that the money was better spent elsewhere and they terminated the post...

High in the mountains the springs were untended. They became tangled up in twigs and branches and worse. The banks collapsed and silt slowed the flow of the water. Farm waste turned these silted areas into noxious bogs.

For a time no-one noticed.
- Then the water turned brackish
- The swans went in search of other streams.
- The children no longer played in the stream.
- People began to get ill.

The life of the village depended on the stream.
The life of the stream depended on the Keeper.

The city council reconvened: the Keeper was rehired and after a while the stream became pure again.

The life of the village depended on the stream.
The life of the stream depended on the Keeper.

The stream is your soul and You are are the keeper.
How goes it with your soul?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

EmmDev 2017-02-07 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] High Stakes

Hi Everyone apologies for the gap in the devotions - last week was unusually busy!

High Stakes

I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that. 2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.      (2Corinthians11:1-4)
The stakes are very high...

The core trouble with the other teachers in Corinth was not that Paul's nose was out of joint because the Corinthians were clamouring after them, but his concern was that these teachers were false teachers.

We see Paul's heart in verse 2-3 - He is very serious about and committed to the Corinthians. This earnestness is expressed in the biblical analogy of the church as the bride of Christ. Throughout the Old Testament Israel is called to be faithful to God and in the New Testament the church is urged to prepare herself for the Groom. Paul sees himself as a "bridesmaid" preparing the Church for Christ who is the Groom who will come at the appointed time.

The bride has an enemy - Satan - who comes to steal, kill and destroy. He started his work in the Garden of Eden when he deceived Eve and continues to be a threat to the church using deception as his key weapon. He works subtly - He doesn't have to get us to deny a major doctrine, he only has to draw us away from sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

Let me say that again because this is very significant:He works subtly - He doesn't have to get us to deny a major doctrine, he only has to draw us away from sincere and pure devotion to Christ. When we are not in a healthy and vibrant relationship with Jesus, it becomes easier and easier for the Evil One to draw us from the main path down any one of a number of false rabbit trails.

And Paul is worried: It seems the Corinthians were so distracted by the "someones" who came that they would swallow whatever these people taught them.

There are two challenges for us today:

  • How is your sincere and pure devotion for Christ? i.e. How goes it with your soul?
  • When it comes to Christian teachers you guilty of being drawn to "someones" - the ones who are hip and cool and appeal to us? Or do we listen more carefully?

Serious questions indeed!