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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Our Identification

John 15:13 "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

            What does this verse mean? So often teachers and preachers speak of the action of laying down one’s life and they speak of what it means. They use the example of Christ and use it as the motivation for us to do the same for Him. I want to look at the actors in this verse. There are three: Jesus, His disciples, and others.
            We each go through life as the child of our parents, the partner of our spouse, and the employee of someone else. Jesus came to give us life abundantly. That gift has given us a new relationship title. We become the children of God who serve the High King like the Levites served God in the temple. This allows us the title of co-heir with Christ. As we grow, we become disciples of Christ. Farther in this relationship, we become friends: to Jesus and to others.
In the first phase, we become as the Israelites were when God first chose them to be His people. He wanted a relationship with the people He created. He wanted to be their God. He required their reverence and worship. As His children, they also had to remember they were subservient to Him. They, as His worshippers, had to realize who they were in relation to Him – small and humble compared to His majesty and power. There was such awe that they feared being in God’s presence. Our relationship with God, when we are first re-born is like this. We see how small and insignificant we are in relation to how infinite and mighty He is. We come before Him in humility and adoration knowing who we are and what He has made us to be by His love. We feel as if we should serve our heavenly King through our subservience since we can never be as great and mighty as He is. The humility we feel is correct. God is mighty, powerful, and majestic. He should be worshipped for who He is and for what He has done: Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Lord. We must go beyond this point though if we are to be in a growing relationship with God, though. We must never lose our awe and reverence for Him nor our perspective of Him and His might and majesty.
            In the second phase, when we grow beyond our initial gratefulness, subservience, and awe, we become aware that Jesus saved us for more than this. He left us with eyewitnesses who wrote His teachings down. We begin to see who the disciples are and become disciples ourselves. We walk with them through their three years with Jesus. We learn about the Son of God as foretold in the prophets of the Old Testament and as fulfilled by the coming of Jesus, God incarnate. We learn He has power over demons, illness, life, and death. We learn Jesus will be our judge on the last day. We also learn how to be His followers and what that means. Jesus is our Rabbi now, our teacher. We sit at His feet. We eat at His table. We walk in His footprints down the road with Him. In living with Him and learning to do these things, we learn to be like Jesus. As Jesus said, “He is able to do only what He sees the Father doing.” (John 5:19 [AMP]) As Jesus learned from His Father, so we learn from Jesus our Lord. We are His disciples. This growth phase includes the first phase of awe and subservience, but it includes discipleship now. It includes a commitment of our lives.
            The third phase of our growth in relation to God Jesus states in John 15:15, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” [NASB] It is this phase of growth where our joy is made complete. This phase is when the Son and the Father are pleased with us and count us worthy to be called friend. What does this new status in regard to Jesus mean? He states it Himself like this: a friend lays down his life for his friend. (vs.13) Just as Jesus could not act without having seen the Father, we cannot act unless we see our teacher, Jesus, do it. So many of us read verse 13 as God telling us how great love regards one’s self - as nothing in compared to the value of another friend’s life. What I am saying is this verse tells us how to act and gives us value because of who we are - friends of Jesus. According to Jesus, His friends abide in Him; they live in Him just as He abides in the Father. Jesus states that we know we are abiding in Him if we keep His commandments. He says twice in the chapter what a friend is: friends have love for one another (the brethren) just as Jesus loves us. He states this in verses 12 and 17.
            This is the point we are growing toward – to be like Jesus, to love as Jesus loves. When we see beyond ourselves and how an act will affect us, we are no longer just disciples, but are identified with Christ. Prior to this we counted the cost when we were young converts and learning at the feet of Jesus. We are now walking in the shadow of Jesus and becoming the cost without thinking and without hesitation because we are so identified with Christ. This phase does not mean we have stopped growing in Christ, but is a phase where the growth is unconscious because the life of Christ through His Holy Spirit within us guides us in the way of Christ so we are unconsciously doing as He did, being as He is, and speaking as He spoke. When we reach the phase of our growth when we are unconscious of our own selves and no longer desire anything for ourselves is when Jesus is most consciously visible to others in our words and actions. That is when Jesus calls us friends.
            Jesus calls us His children, His disciples, and His friends. There is nothing we can do to earn any of these privileged titles. The gift of faith, which God gives us, enables us to believe Jesus is the Son of God. The gift of salvation enables us to have eternal life with Him. The gift of the Holy Spirit enables us to follow Jesus and grow more like Him. The only thing Jesus says we can do is this, "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:10 [NASB]) Our part of all this is to keep Jesus’ commandments, His teachings. In doing this, we grow out of ourselves and into more unconscious Christlikeness. We do nothing to earn Jesus’ friendship other than lay down our lives for His. Be filled with His Spirit. Become a believer in Jesus as the Son of God. Become children of the Most High God. Be identified with the Messiah.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How Can You Learn to Believe?

          John chapter 5 ends with Jesus main question of the resistant unbelievers, the Pharisees. The main question.
How is it possible for you to believe [how can you learn to believe], you who are content to seek and receive praise and honor and glory from one another, and yet do not seek the praise and honor and glory which come from Him Who alone is God?” (John 5:44, AMP).
This chapter begins with Jesus going to Jerusalem for a Jewish festival. While in the city, He noticed a man at the pool of Bethesda, which means “mercy,” who was lying on a pallet waiting for the angel of God to stir the curative waters. In this way, we hear from Jesus regarding who He is and what His purpose is. In this chapter, Jesus moved from one witness/testimony to another and ended with a searching question to the religious leaders.
            Jesus’ encounter with the sick man began with Him noticing the man and asking him, “Do you want to become well?” (vs.6, AMP). We notice that the man did not answer that question but answered with a reason why he had not become well. He replied with a statement of disbelief in his ability to get to the curative waters because no one helped him. Jesus did not ask why he was not well. He knew why the man was sick and what kept him from being well. Jesus asked if he wanted to become well. After the man’s response, Jesus commanded strongly, “Get up! Pick up your bed (mat) and walk!” (vs.8). Jesus left him with no excuse but unbelief. The man chose to believe, get up, and walk. Jesus walked off after that and the man did not know Jesus performed the miracle. The previously ill man encountered Jesus again in the temple a while later (vs. 14). The man identified Jesus. Jesus told the man, “See, you are well! Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Jesus knew this man, though the man did not recognize Jesus as the Son of God. After the second encounter, the man may have begun wondering more about Jesus. What is more important is that, with Jesus’ second comment to the man, we see the possibility that the man was ill because of God’s disciplining him for some sin in the past. Jesus, by making the man well, showed that He has the power to judge, give mercy, and offer pardon. Jesus also stated a warning to the man.
            The Pharisees entered the scene after the man was healed by Jesus. Notice they did not ask who made him well. Instead they confronted the man about his working on the Sabbath by carrying his mat. They chose not to confront the man about his healing, a miracle, but about his working, a man-made rule. The man then passed the blame for his “working” on the Sabbath back to the unknown man. The man did not declare the miracle of his health either. It was only after he learned of Jesus’ name that he told the Pharisees who made him well. The man was no longer thinking in terms of blaming someone since Jesus approached him about his sin. This man now admitted that Jesus healed him.
            After this healing and admission that Jesus was the One who did it, the Pharisees were more determined to persecute and kill Jesus because He was “working” (healing) on the Sabbath (vs. 16). This feels a bit of an extreme reaction for just healing someone. These Pharisees were brewing over something far bigger than this issue. The next encounters with the Pharisees show us their hearts and minds. In verse 18, John tells us that they were willing to kill Jesus. He was working on the Sabbath and He was making Himself out to be equal with God, to be God’s Son. Verses 19 and 20 state that Jesus can only do what the Father does, as He learns from the Father. Jesus even went so far as to say He would do even great work so they (the people) would marvel. He was able to do this because He and the Father are one and love each other. The next statement by Jesus irritated the Pharisees more. Jesus said that just as the Father gives life to the dead, so the Son gives life to whomever He wills. Jesus was claiming power over life and death. (The Pharisees only heard the literal side of this.). Jesus next stated that the Father does not judge, but Jesus has the sole responsibility to judge. There are three things Jesus has already said to the Pharisees: 1) Jesus is equal to the Father because Jesus is the Son; 2) Jesus has power over life and death; and 3) Jesus has the sole responsibility of judging people.
            Why are these three facets of Jesus’ so difficult for the Pharisees? Let us start with the first one. Jesus equating Himself with the Father, that He is the Son and has the same power and authority, was difficult for them because that meant the Pharisees  would have to honor and praise Jesus, this man from Galilee. Remember, it was said that no good thing came from Galilee . (John 1:46). They looked down on people from Galilee. In actual fact, they looked down on anyone who was not a Pharisee and they built themselves up. They did not want someone to usurp their power and authority. If they recognized Jesus as being special, then they would have to honor and praise Him, which meant they would get less praise and would not be the leader of the Jewish people. That just could not be.
            Second, Jesus statement that He has power over life and death was significant because it definitely showed His authority is from God. Who, in their knowledge, could bring someone back from the dead except God? This was testified in Ezekiel with the valley of dry bones returning to life. It also occurred when God created Adam and Eve; He formed them out of nothing, ex nihilo, and blew His breath, His Spirit, into them. Here Christ goes farther than the Pharisees were willing to understand. Jesus said that He will give them Life, eternal life. For this to occur, that meant Jesus has to be the Messiah, the Savior, because the Pharisees knew that no one would have eternal life until the Messiah came. This they did not want to acknowledge for the same reason as number one above. Also, they did not want to recognize it because it meant they had to acknowledge that Jesus is what He stated next, the judge of mankind.
            For people to have eternal life through Jesus, they must pass through judgment by Jesus. Jesus stated in verse 27 that God gave Him the sole task of judgment. If the person believed Jesus is the Son of God, then he or she would have forgiveness for their sins and eternal life in heaven. If, however, they did not believe Jesus is God’s Son, then they would also have eternity, but one of unforgiveness, one of eternal punishment. Jesus is the judge. He has provided the forgiveness for sins to those who believe He is the Son of God. For those who do not believe, there is no forgiveness of sin and they cannot be in the presence of God for eternity. They must go to eternal hell.
            These three things Jesus brought immediately to the attention of the Pharisees. Jesus did not dance around the topic. He was pointed with them. The question though is why does He do it this way. Well, the reason is Jesus knows the urgency of people needing to believe He is God’s Son. He stated it Himself in verse 34, “I simply mention all these things in order that you may be saved.” (AMP). In just 15 verses, Jesus made it plain so they could not say they did not know. What is difficult comes next; they chose not to believe. In verse 31, Jesus stated, “If I alone testify in My behalf, My testimony is not valid and cannot be worth anything.
            From this statement by Jesus, He set forth how they can know He is who He says He is. Also from this statement, He put holes into their faith in themselves and humanity. Jesus gave four ways people could know He is the Son of God: through John the Baptist’s testimony, through Jesus’ works, through the Father, and through Scriptures. Jesus went from least important to most important. Basically, Jesus told them to put less weight on the testimony of man and the works/signs of which they hear and put more weight on what the Father and Scripture say. This will be a common theme throughout John’s writing.
            First, John states in verses 33-35 that John the Baptist was the voice in the wilderness. Jesus called John the Baptist a lamp in the wilderness in whose shine they delighted (AMP). Jesus stated that their faith should not rest on the testimony of a mere man.
            Secondly, Jesus said that the works to which the Father called Him are witness to who He is. He said that this witness was greater than that of a man, even John the Baptist (vs. 36). The testimony of man is good and Jesus encouraged us to go and preach the Gospel in Matthew 28. Even better is witnessing the signs that Jesus performs. These signs point to something, as all signs point to something. That something is Someone, Jesus Christ.
            Third, the testimony of the Father is even greater than the signs, because the Son can only do what He has seen the Father do (vs.19). Jesus said,
And the Father Who sent Me has Himself testified concerning Me. Not one of you has ever given ear to His voice or seen His form. And you have not His word  living in your hearts, because you do not believe and adhere to and trust in and rely on Him Whom He has sent. (vv.37-38, AMP)
Jesus basically stated that the Father told mankind about Jesus, His Son, but because they did not hear the Father and they did not have His Word living in their hearts, they did not believe in whom He has sent, Jesus. I am sure this came as a slap to their faces. Jesus was saying they, the Jewish religious leaders (Pharisees) did not know Yahweh or His Word. They did not have His Word in their hearts. When we jump to verse 42, Jesus told them they do not have the love of God in them. This most likely was an affront to their sense of esteem as religious leaders and as men who are supposed to be part of the chosen children of God. No wonder they wanted to kill Jesus. He was attacking their faith, their personal integrity, and worth.
            The fourth testimony comes through Scripture. Jesus said they pore over Scripture as if it will give them eternal life, when it is those Scriptures that testify about Him. The Scriptures speak of the Messiah as being the One who brings eternal life. The Scriptures cannot give eternal life. Isaiah, Moses, and David, as well as others of Old Testament times, prophesied of the Messiah’s coming to earth and in what manner. They also spoke of what He would do and how the people would know it was Him. The Pharisees chose not to acknowledge these or that they pointed to Jesus. Instead, they would rather  have been seen poring over the Scriptures.
            From this point in John 5, Jesus pointedly showed that Jesus did not come in His own name, but in the Father, nor did He do miracles in His own power, but the Father’s. The Pharisees and other people chose not to believe He is the Son. Yet, if another man arrived talking about himself and touting his abilities, the Pharisees and people believed him and flocked to hear and see him. Jesus told them that their seeing him showed they accepted and approved him, but they would not approve Jesus who is witnessed of and testified to in these four ways, not by Himself. Jesus said then, “How is it possible for you to believe; you who receive praise and honor and glory from one another, and yet do not seek the praise and honor and glory which come from Him who alone is God?” (vs.44, AMP). How will you be able to believe if you do not trust the testimony of these four witnesses, but will trust the testimony of a person for himself? What will it take for you to believe that I am God’s Son? If they would not believe in the Son, then they knew from the Scripture that Moses would judge them. Moses believed that Jesus would come. Why could they not? It would be Moses who judges their unbelief because they did not believe his testimony either. (See Genesis 3:5, 12:3, Deuteronomy 18:15.) By their not believing Jesus is the Messiah, they were not believing Moses whom they hold up as their standard. It will be Moses who will accuse them. If they cannot believe the man who testified to them, who led them out of Egypt, who spoke with God for them, and who brought the Ten Commandments to them, how would they believe Jesus with all those witnesses?
            It all comes back to that one verse. Verse 34 brings it all back to the main point. Jesus says, “I simply mention all these things in order that you may be saved.” Jesus, like the Father, does not want anyone to be lost to eternal hell. He made each of us so we could be in relationship with Him. He desires to have a relationship with us. Yahweh provided a way for us to return to Him through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. Through the witness of these four, Jesus tells us three things about Himself: 1) Jesus is equal to the Father because Jesus is the Son; 2) Jesus has power over life and death; and 3) Jesus has the sole responsibility of judging people. The question comes to each of us in Jesus’ own words in verse 44, “How is it possible for you to believe?” (AMP). What will it take for you to believe?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Who are You?

John 1-3

In studying John’s gospel, we find that John begins with statements about John the Baptizer and who the Christ is. In this gospel, John uses several metaphors to describe Jesus, such as He is the Light of the world and He is the Bread and the Life. John spends time showing us the people who encounter Jesus.
At the start of the gospel, John spends the first three chapters stating who Jesus is. In chapter 1, he states that the Word (Jesus the Son of God) was in existence before the beginning of the world. He also states that the Word was with God and the Word was God. John makes all this known in 1:1. He continues in subsequent verses by saying all things came into being because of Him and that He is the Light that shines in the darkness. These are very important for John’s gospel. We will find in chapter 2 that John makes the point that Jesus knows what is in the mind and heart of all men. This is because He made them and because God searches the heart of man. Jeremiah 17:10 states it this way, “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds.” (NASB) As to the second, that He is the Light, we all know that light dispels darkness. In the image John intends, he means that not only did Jesus create light out of darkness when He created the world, but He is Light, which dispels the darkness (evil) from our lives. He shines brightly so that the darkness of Satan and his evil is evident so we can follow the better way, God’s way. John uses only five verses to explain the grandeur, majesty, and power of God the Father and His Son, Jesus the Christ.
John spends the entirety of his gospel writing to tell who Jesus is and who man is. He shows in the first three chapters of his gospel several different kinds of people, followers of Jesus and unbelievers. First, John shows John the Baptist, a man who proclaims the coming of the Christ , that Jesus is He, and that He has a higher status than John the Baptist. In 1:7-8, John says that John the Baptist proclaims that he is not the Light but he is a witness who testifies of the Light. He states this to the Jews who came to him in verses 19-24. The Jews come from the Jewish leaders asking questions related to the prophecies about the coming Messiah. John the Baptist denies he is the Christ, Elijah, or the prophet who was to come. He said that he is the voice crying in the wilderness. In verses 29-34, John the Baptist sees Jesus walking by and declares that He is the Son of God, the Lamb of God, the one of whose sandals he is not fit to tie. John the Baptist becomes the type of follower of Jesus we should be, one who knows in his head, believes in his heart, and proclaims with his mouth that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah for whom the Jews awaited. John the Baptist’s devotion to the Messiah encompassed his life though it ended early because of his standing strong on his belief. John the Baptist was a resolved believer.
John the apostle continues to give examples of followers of Christ. The latter half of chapter 1 shows us people who follow Jesus. The first followers are two of John’s disciples. They heard John say that Jesus is the Lamb of God and they followed Jesus (vv. 35-37). One of these two disciples of John was Andrew the fisherman. Andrew told his brother Peter about Jesus and he followed. Jesus renamed him Cephas/Peter, meaning rock which shows He knows the inner strength of conviction and dedication every person has. The next day Philip and Nathanael began following Jesus. Jesus once again shows He knows the heart of people when He states that Nathanael was a man of no deceit (vs.47). Nathanael is amazed at the depths which Jesus knows. Nathanael declares him the “Son of God” and the “King of Israel” (vs. 49). These are followers of strong dedication to Jesus. These are resolved and growing believers.
Chapter 2 begins John’s discourse on other types of believers. This chapter begins with the wedding in Cana where Jesus turns water into wine. Mary, Jesus’ brothers, Jesus, and His disciples were all invited to the wedding. When the wine was finished, Mary showed her faith that her son was blessed by God. She told the wedding captain to do as Jesus said. After Jesus turned the water to wine, the captain of the wedding said the bridegroom saved the good wine until later in the wedding (2:10). The bridegroom we are later told is Christ and His wine was poured out for the people who would be His church. Because His love never ends, His best wine is always available for us. We do not need another because Christ is the best and only offering needed. This was Jesus’ first miracle. His disciples believed in Him (2:11). Mary and Jesus’ brothers continued to follow Him. These are resolved believers.
Later in chapter 2 when Jesus went into Jerusalem to the temple, He used a whip to send the sellers out of the temple because they had made it into a market place. The disciples remembered from their religious training that it was said of the Messiah that He would have zeal for the Father’s house (Psalm 69:9, John 2:17). The Jews confronted Jesus about His authority to send the sellers out of the temple. Jesus spoke to them in a manner they should have understood since they had studied the Talmud, Laws, Judges, and prophets writings. Jesus told them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (2:19, NASB). He was speaking of His body, which they would kill. They chose to understand Him on the literal level as speaking of the actual building of the temple, which took forty-six years. They heard Jesus speak to them, but chose not to understand and believe. These are the resistant non-believers. For the disciples, they remembered this when Jesus rose from the dead and believed the Scripture and the word Jesus spoke to them (vs. 22). These are the growing believers. To these, other followers were added who believed because of the signs Jesus performed (vs. 23). Jesus did not trust them with Himself because He knows the heart of man (vv.24-25). Many of these followers would fall away when Jesus began to teach hard things or when Jesus was being persecuted. These are the revolving believers, the ones who turn away from Jesus when persecution arises or things become difficult.
As we read chapter 3, we find a Jewish leader/chief comes to Jesus. His name is Nicodemus. Nicodemus addresses Him just as the people in Jerusalem do, as Rabbi (Teacher). Nicodemus confesses he knows Jesus had come from God as a teacher because no one could do the signs Jesus does unless He is sent from God (3:2). Jesus immediately confronts Nicodemus with the truth of His arrival on earth. He confronts him at the weakness Nicodemus has as a Jew, His eternal salvation. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (3:3, NASB). Nicodemus, like the other Jewish leaders in the temple rebutts with a physical understanding of what Jesus says. How can one be born again? Jesus uses “born” in the Jewish sense meaning to bring someone over to your way of life or converting him or her. Jesus is not speaking of a physical birth, but Nicodemus misunderstands Him. Jesus is talking about being born into a new way of life. Further, He talks about this way of life as being born of the Spirit as well as water (3:5). Ezekiel also speaks of this birth in Ezekiel 36:25-27. Jesus tells Nicodemus unless one is born of both water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. I am sure Nicodemus was surprised at this since he learned all his life that the way to heaven was to follow the Laws. Here Jesus tells him he must convert to His way of Life, to accept Jesus is the Life. Nicodemus is caught between his tradition, beliefs, and what Jesus is telling him is the way to Life in the kingdom of God. Nicodemus is confounded and questions Jesus as to how these things can be. Jesus replies and says, “We, the triune Godhead, speak of what We know and what We have seen.” (3:11, NASB). Jesus asks Nicodemus, since he cannot believe when He tells him earthly things, how will he believe when He tells him heavenly things? Jesus confronts Nicodemus with the fact that knowing the Laws, Talmud, history, and prophecies is not enough. A person must be born again by the Spirit. Jesus tells him how this occurs in verses 14-18. By the time of Jesus’ death, Nicodemus is born again. Nicodemus sees the Light who has come into the world and is drawn to Him. Nicodemus is a seeker; he was an evolving believer from Judaism.
John tells of each of these kinds of people in his gospel: the resolved, growing, evolving, and revolving believers and the resistant non-believers. He brings them to the forefront each time he tells of Jesus so we can see, as if with a magnifying glass, who we are and make a decision to accept the Life, the Light of the World, the Truth and the Way, the Bread of Life, the Son of God. John shows us Jesus over and over so we are faced with His deity repeatedly and faced with a salvation choice continually until we make the decision to follow Jesus, too. He shows us who are the revolving believers and the resistant non-believers to show us who we could be if we do not accept Jesus as the Son of God. He shows us the growing, resolved, and evolving followers to show us who we can be, what that means, and how that is lived. Not all of us, when confronted by Jesus, will immediately believe in our hearts and heads that He is the Son of God, but we will eventually come to a point of decision. However, Jesus accepts all of us, wants us to come to know and accept Him with our hearts and minds. All He  requires is that we believe in Him and follow His commandments (His teaching and precepts). By doing this, we show we are His disciples. Let us open the door to hear and see Jesus the Messiah and then follow Him and grow more like Him each day. Let us not harden our hearts and resist the Light but be those who turn to the Light. John stated it this way,
He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. (John 3:18-21, NASB)
John’s purpose for writing this gospel is so the whole world will know the Light has come into the world (1:1-5). John ends his gospel with Jesus’ resounding words, “Follow Me.” (21:19). It is a mind and spirit choice. What is your choice?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Hearing and Heeding

Continuing with the study of 2 Corinthians, what happened after Paul wrote to the Corinthians appealing to them to give to the poor in Jerusalem as God had prompted them? Why, just 4 chapters later, is Paul saying 2 Corinthians 13:10 (NASB), “For this reason I am writing these things while absent, so that when present I need not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down?”
Consider chapter 10. Paul began the chapter by describing himself so that by the time he arrived at verse 10, he made us aware that the false apostles said Paul had little integrity. 2 Corinthians 10:10 states, “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible’." Before we think that Paul delayed weightier matters for the end of the letter, let us look again at chapter 1 verses 23-24. Paul stated, “But I call God as witness to my soul, that to spare you I did not come again to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm.” What Paul wrote in chapters 10-13 is not something new and disturbed him much. Paul went back to how he began his second letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthians allowed false apostles to sway their belief away from the Gospel Paul and his colleagues preached.
These false apostles preached with much persuasion and power. They accepted offerings of payment from the Corinthians. The false apostles used these two things to wedge doubt about Paul and the other apostles into the Corinthians’ minds. Paul states in 2 Corinthians. 11:10-16 (NASB), 
But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds. Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, so that I also may boast a little.
Paul directly approached the slander to his authority as an apostle at the very beginning of this letter. In chapter 1, we read he attacked this slander against him with his credentials of whom he was and by whose authority he preached the Gospel. In 1:21-22, he stated how he and the Corinthians discerned with certainty that he proclaimed the true Gospel. Paul wrote, “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, 22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22, NASB). Paul attested without a doubt that Christ had called him to preach the Good News since his own conversion on the road to Damascus. (See Acts 9.) In 2 Corinthians 11:10-16, Paul spoke specifically against these men; he called them false apostles. Paul countered their claim of his foolishness by stating that even if others believed these men and thought Paul foolish, he accepted that so long as they did not fall away from God to follow these “servants of Satan.” Paul was willing to “become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22b, NASB).
            Paul, though, did not consider himself great enough in speech, strength, or authority to persuade humankind to follow Christ. He often spoke of his weakness. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul spoke of his weakness as a thorn in the flesh, similar to a nagging splinter, that did not let him forget his weakness. He stated in 2 Corinthians 12:7, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me-to keep me from exalting myself!” This thorn kept him humble and reliant upon God. God's power and strength in Paul spread the Gospel. Paul asked God three times to remove this thorn but God told him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9, NASB). Paul responded, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10, NASB). Paul did not allow his thorn to stop him from spreading the Gospel; he allowed his liability to keep him focused on the power and strength of God to use him. He was aware of his weaknesses and of God’s might. Where these false apostles tried to create a wedge by speaking of Paul as a weak and small man, Paul turned around to say that because of his own weakness God’s power and strength showed more poignantly.
            Paul’s statement should give us pause to stop and think. First, are there personal weaknesses we have that we hold up to God as an excuse that He cannot use us for His service? Moses did that when God told him to speak with Pharaoh. That incident did not deter God from His purpose; He called Aaron, Moses’ brother, to speak for Him instead. What did Paul teach us in this lesson? God uses broken people, people with personal limitations, to show His power and strength. If God used a strong person, what that person does could confuse the recipient into thinking the strength of the person and not God is how the action occurred. God would not be given the glory and would not be followed. God chooses those who recognize they are weak.
            Paul’s statement to the Corinthians in chapter 13 verse 5 told the Corinthians to “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you-unless indeed you fail the test? (NASB). Paul wanted them to understand with surety their faith is in Jesus. He told them to test themselves. After this verse in the letter, we do not read in what way Paul told them to test themselves. However, if we go back to chapter 1 verses 21-22, we find out how to be sure Christ lived in them. These verses tell us, “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.” (NASB). They could be sure of their faith in Christ by the means in which Paul and the other apostles were sure, if they experienced the Holy Spirit residing in them. If they witnessed they were bearing fruits of the Spirit, then they would know Christ resided in and God anointed them.
Paul does not end his chapter here with a final teaching. His final lesson, maybe it should be called his warning, is this: “For this reason I am writing these things while absent, so that when present I need not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down.” (1 Corinthians 13:10, NASB). Paul gave his major purpose for writing this letter to the Corinthians. He is not being weak in this statement nor too gentle, as he was in chapters 8 and 9. In this verse, he wrote with great urgency that they heed him while he is absent from them because if they did not, his severity, as the severity from God, would be heard and felt. Like our loving Father in heaven, Paul dealt with the Corinthians in this letter with tact and gentleness, sometimes with sarcasm, to remind them of what he taught them before and to re-teach them in some cases. Paul may appear weak, but through him, the voice of God was known. God can be gentle, but we have read and heard of God’s patience being tried too far, and then we can experience His severity through judgment and discipline. Paul warned them several times in this letter. His final statement before his farewell told the Corinthians in no uncertain terms that either they test to find out whom they follow and return to God or be judged and rebuked by God. This is Paul’s final word to them.
What does this mean for us today? First, when confronted with a person who appears to have great authority and strength and who states he speaks for God, test to discern if what he is saying is what you know is from the Bible. Are the words this person speaks against the Word God gave in the Bible? We must remember the power and authority of a person does not mean God is using the person. God uses the weak to confound the strong with His strength. Remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians in his first letter, “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:25, NASB). God does not necessarily use the strong, wise, or well spoken.
Second, ensure that who and what you are allowing to guide you is God and not a manmade thing, religion, or even a charismatic person. Paul told the Corinthians to do this, too, remember. He said, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Corinthians 13:5, NASB). To ensure this, check to identify whether the Holy Spirit resides in you (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). If you are a Christ follower, His Spirit will live in you and will result in the fruit of the Spirit being evident, which comes from a daily relationship with God. (See Galatians 5:22-23).
Finally, make sure that you are responding in obedience to the promptings to your heart by God through the Holy Spirit. Paul urgently spoke to the Corinthians concerning their procrastinating in fulfilling their pledge to send support to the poor in Jerusalem. He spoke gently to them in chapters 8 and 9, but by the end of the letter, in chapter 13, Paul wrote with severity and warned them of his reaction if he arrived in Corinth and found the Corinthians had not collected for the poor and sent it to Jerusalem. Paul was the voice of God to the Corinthian believers. He tactfully and gently prodded them to their commitment first. After much urging, he took a stronger stand with them and told them he would judge and chastise them if they had not fulfilled their commitment. God, our loving Father, relates to us in this same way. He hopes that we will act upon the Spirit’s prompting of our hearts. If that fails to bear fruit, He gently urges and encourages us. When these fail, God becomes stern and warns us to do what He told us or be judged and disciplined by Him. Finally, if we do not heed God’s stern warning, He will discipline us. This is how He has acted with humankind throughout history. Consider the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for forty years as a discipline to not believing and following God into the Promised Land. Consider the people of Noah’s time who did not heed God and died in the great flood. Consider, too, when the Israelites had been warned repeatedly by God through the prophets to return to God and not worship other gods and idols. God gave them as captives to other nations for decades and centuries.
We each must decide if we will recognize God’s voice and heed it. We each must decide to be obedient to the call God has put into our hearts. We each must decide to be in a love relationship with God through the redemption paid by His Son, Jesus. We must decide for ourselves who we will follow, our own selves or God, and whether we will be faithful to God. Will we be people who must be warned, chastised, and disciplined or will we follow God faithfully? Seeing Paul’s ire build in 2 Corinthians, and he but a small man, I do not want to be subject to God’s disappointment and judgment. I choose the way of God. I pray for my obedience to follow-through with my commitments to Him promptly. What is the Holy Spirit saying to your heart today?