Friday, September 17

2 Corinthians 9:1-15: Paul continues, with a repetition suggesting uneasiness, to discuss the collection for the saints and the Corinthians’ participation in it. He has held up the Corinthians for emulation by the Macedonians (verse 2), just as he is currently holding up the Macedonians for the emulation of the Corinthians (8:1-5). The two cases are not equal, however. The Macedonians, with their longer track record of generosity, have actually contributed to the collection, whereas the most Paul can say about the Corinthians is that they have been “ready since last year” (cf. also 8:11 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-4). Still, this is not a point on which Paul is entirely confident (verses 3-5). Hence he is sending Titus and two others to give further encouragement in the matter.

Even as Paul continues to write on the subject, he says it is “superfluous” (perisson) to do so. This is an expression of rhetorical irony, of course. Paul knows very well that it is far from superfluous! We are glad that he continues on the subject, because the present chapter richly develops the theme of generous giving.

First, he calls this giving a “service” (diakonia–verses 1,12,13), which places the collection in the larger context of what all believers owe to one another, the obligation to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), poverty being one of those burdens.

Second, the underlying spirit of the gift is to be generosity, a true “blessing” (evlogia–twice each in verses 5,6), and not stinginess (pleonechsia). That is to say, the collection serves more than an economic purpose; it is designed also to enrich the spirit. Ironically the collection may be called self-serving, in the sense that one sows in order to reap (verse 6). The Lord, who is never outdone in generosity, invites believers to test Him on the point (verses 7-8). The collection involves the “heart” (kardia).

Third, none of this enterprise is of purely human inspiration. It is all “grace” (charis–verses 8,14), which is why he continues to speak of “abounding” (perissevo–verses 8,9,12; 8:2,7,14 [twice]). All generosity begins with God (verse 10), who is the source of all “righteousness” (dikaiosyne–verses 9,10).

Fourth, everything leads to thanksgiving (evcharistia–verses 11,12). God’s purpose in all things is to bring forth in human beings a thankful heart.

Saturday, September 18

2 Corinthians 10:1-18: We come now to the lengthy self-defense for which, it is arguable, this epistle is best remembered. If Paul had inappropriate partisans at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:12-13), so he had his critics, and now he will proceed to answer them.

He begins with irony, perhaps even sarcasm, apparently referring to those who think him humble only in his personal presence but overly bold as a writer (verses 1,10). His critics regard him as sinful (“walk according to the flesh”) in this respect (verse 2).

Paul admits to fleshly limitations (verse 3), an admission earlier conceded in his image of the clay vessels (4:7) and later described as a thorn in the flesh (12:7). Being “in the flesh,” however, is no worse than being “in the world” (1:12). It is simply the human condition of frailty.

Paul shifts his metaphor from walking to warring (verse 3) (or from the Odyssey to the Iliad, as it were—from life as journey to life as struggle). Combat is the more appropriate metaphor for what Paul has to say (verses 4-6). If no evil forces were arrayed against us, walking might be an adequate metaphor for life, but this is not the case.

The real enemy is intellectual arrogance, a trait that Paul addressed at depth in First Corinthians. This intellectual arrogance is what renders impossible the true “knowledge of God” (verse 5; 2:14; 5:6). Hence, a person’s first obedience to Christ is an obedience of the mind. The context of this point is Paul’s authority as an apostle, an authority on which he is prepared to elaborate at some length in the rest of the epistle (verses 7-8). To prepare for this elaboration, Paul devotes the second half of this chapter to a consideration of true and false boasting (verses 12-18). This section sets up the remaining chapters of this book.

Paul starts with obvious irony (verse 12) that one scholar translates as “Well, I really cannot muster the courage to pair myself [enkrinai] or compare myself [synkrinai] with certain persons who are distinguished by much self-commendation [synistano--3:1; 4:2; 5:12; 10:12,18; 12:11].” Unlike these persons, nonetheless, Paul has special claims on the Corinthians as the founder of their congregation (verse 14; 1 Corinthians 3:6,10).

Sunday, September 19

2 Corinthians 11:1-15: Paul here begins his self-defense against the criticisms of certain roaming preachers who have stirred up controversy at Corinth since his last visit to the place. From Acts and 1 Corinthians we know that Apollos and Cephas had done some evangelization in the city, but it is clear that Paul does not have these men in mind. It is impossible to determine who his critics were.

Was Paul accused of jealousy with respect to those critics? Evidently so, but he explains the motive, nature, and justice of this jealous (verse 2). This jealousy is for Christ, not himself; it is an expression of loving pastoral concern, for he fears the spiritual seduction of the Corinthians (verse 3). After all, the latter have shown themselves disposed to receive and accept new versions of the Good News (verse 4), preached by these itinerant evangelists whom he mockingly calls “hyper-apostles” (verse 5; 12:11) and, more seriously, “false apostles” (verse 13).

It appears that Paul’s humble demeanor at Corinth, where he was supported by his own labor (Acts 18:3; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 9:18) and the financial support received from Macedonia (verse 9; Philippians 2:25; 4:10-20), made him the object of derision among his critics (verse 7). This suggests that Paul’s critics at Corinth may have enjoyed a higher social status, even as they accepted the support of the Corinthians. Since Paul did, in fact, accept support from other churches, it would seem that he had early sized up the spirit of the Corinthians and concluded that to accept their support would not be prudent in this case. Sometimes, after all, financial support comes with certain undisclosed obligations that will eventually render the recipient a debtor.

Paul’s language concerning his critics contains some of the harshest expressions to come from his pen.

Monday, September 20

2 Corinthians 11:16-33: Paul commences his autobiographical apologetic, recounting at length the various sufferings and trials attendant on his ministry. He is aware that his readers may regard his comments only as an exercise in foolishness (verse 16).

With sarcasm Paul comments that the Corinthians are already accustomed to tolerate foolishness, themselves being so wise (verse 19; 1 Corinthians 4:10). Their tolerance is so great that they have already been outrageously treated by the false itinerant teachers (verse 20). Their enslavement (katadouloi) at the hands of these teachers puts us in mind of the earlier situation in Galatia, where “false brothers” brought free Christians back under the slavery of the Law (katadoulousin–Galatians 2:4). The Corinthians have been similarly mistreated.

It becomes clear that Paul’s opponents are Jews, but so is he (verse 22; Philippians 3:5). They claim to be servants of Christ, but Paul’s credentials are stronger and more credible, and he proceeds to list them. Not only has he been beaten and imprisoned (Acts 16:22-23); he has also often been in danger of death (verse 23. Paul’s list here contains some details not found in the Acts of the Apostles. From the latter work we would not have suspected, for instance, that Paul had already suffered shipwreck three times (verse 25) prior to the occasion described in Acts 27.

Eight times Paul speaks of “dangers” (verse 26) to describe the circumstances of his many travels. The culminating danger is that of betrayal by “false brothers” (cf. Galatians 2:4), a term that may include the critics he is answering.

All of these things have been endured in the context of Paul’s tireless ministry to the churches, a source of constant inner solicitude (verse 28). Inwardly identified with the plight of these churches, Paul suffers all that they suffer (verse 29; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

This mention of weakness (verse 29) brings the Apostle more directly to his theme—namely, power made perfect in weakness (verse 30). He recalls the humiliation and indignities endured throughout his ministry, beginning with his narrow escape while being lowered over a city wall in a basket (verses 31-33; Acts 9:23-25). Hardly any man is weaker or more dependent (with apologies for the pun) than a man being lowered in a basket.

Tuesday, September 21

2 Corinthians 12:1-21: The variant readings in the manuscripts for verse 1 testify to the difficulties felt by many copyists, over the centuries, when they came to the beginning of this verse. Those difficulties admitted, the correct sense seems to be: “Though it serves no good purpose, further boasting is necessary.”

Paul mentions the spiritual revelations of which he has been the recipient, even in mystical rapture (verse 2). These experiences surely included the direct revelation that he received from the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8; Galatians 1:16), also recorded by St. Luke (Acts 9:4-6; 22:6-8; 26:13-18). Speaking of an especially lofty experience fourteen years earlier, Paul’s sense of reserve prompts him to shift to the grammatical third person, as though he were speaking of someone else.

These spiritual revelations strengthened Paul in the apostolic ministry (Acts 18:9-10), and he would soon receive another one (22:17-22).

The mysterious character of such revelations is conveyed by Paul’s ironic expression “unspeakable sayings” (arreta remata–verse 4). The sheer ineffability of these experiences is mirrored in the irony with which Paul speaks of them. Thus, he is unable to say whether or not he was still in his body during the occurrence. Indeed, it is almost as though they had happened to someone else, a person distinct from powerless, frail Paul (verse 5).

The Apostle breaks off speaking of himself in this regard, lest his readers entertain too high a view of him. Such experiences, after all, had to do with his relationship to Christ, not his relationship to the Corinthians, as he had reminded them earlier (5:13).

Moreover, the Lord had taken care to humble Paul, so that he would not take personal satisfaction in those lofty flights of the soul (verse 7). His human weakness—“in the flesh”—was afflicted by a skolops, a torturing thorn, which he further describes as a satanic messenger that pounded the Apostle with closed fist (kolaphize). A comparison with Job, bodily afflicted by Satan with God’s permission, comes naturally to the mind of the student of the Bible, and perhaps Paul had something like this in mind.

Paul’s description indicates a bodily ailment of some severity—perhaps epilepsy, a diagnosis suggested by comparing this text to the description of the little boy in Mark 9:20. Whatever it was, nonetheless, this repeated or sustained experience was so humbling to Paul that he prayed for its removal (verse 8). Indeed, like our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemani (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42), Paul prays three times that it will be removed.

Like Jesus’ prayer in the Garden, furthermore, Paul’s prayer, when God heard it, was rewarded with more than it sought (cf. Hebrews 5:7-10). Through this painful experience, and the prayer prompted by this experience, Paul discerned the working of divine grace in his life; he learned that his weakness was the locus and occasion in which the power of the risen Christ—“the Lord” (verse 8)—was revealed. He was instructed by this experience; it taught him, in his very flesh, that divine power is rendered perfect in infirmity (verse 9).

This experience, transformed in prayer, provided Paul with a sustained and renewing paradigm for all his life in Christ, an interpretive key capable of opening many doors otherwise closed. He found that it had sustained him in every sort of suffering and misfortune (verse 10). Through this insight “the power of Christ” (he dynamis tou Christou) was active in his life and ministry. In his weakness he was strong.

In the second half of this chapter (verses 11-21) Paul finishes his self-defense and expresses his ongoing concern for the spiritual state of the Corinthians. He seems hesitant and perhaps embarrassed by the lengthy glimpse into his soul that he has just shared with his readers.

Nonetheless, he calls on the Corinthians to remember that his presence among them demonstrated the marks of authentic apostleship (verse 12). These marks included miracles. Indeed, theologians have recognized in this verse the essential features of an authentic miracle. First, it testifies to God’s omnipotence (dynamis). Second, it is a “wonder,” an act beyond ordinary expectation (teras). Third, it serves as a revelatory “sign” (semeion. Only here and in Romans 15:18-19 does Paul ever speak of miracles associated with his ministry, though Luke describes some of them in the Acts of the Apostles. We should observe that Paul did not include these miracles in his “boasting.”

Again employing sarcasm, Paul asks the Corinthians to pardon him for not being burdensome to them. Unlike the other churches in his ministry, they had not been obliged to support him (verse 13; 11:7-12).

Perhaps the most notable feature of verse 14 is Paul’s parental attitude toward his converts at Corinth. This parental aspect of the Christian ministry is what has prompted most Christians, over the centuries, to address their pastors as “Father” (1 Corinthians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:11).

Even in his self-defense Paul has not been self-seeking. All has been done, even his “boasting,” for the sake of the flock at Corinth (verse 19). Still, the Apostle fears that his coming third visit to Corinth may not go well (verse 20). It seems clear that, in Paul’s mind, not everyone at Corinth has repented of the sexual sins that caused all the trouble in the first place (verse 21; 1 Corinthians 5:1-11; 6:12-20).

Wednesday, September 22

Job 31: The trial of Job has a clear parallel in Zechariah 3:2–6, where Satan brings accusation against the High Priest Joshua. We observe there, as here, that God is on the side of the one accused. In that passage the Lord rebukes Satan and, as a sign of Joshua’s acquittal, commands that the High Priest be clothed with clean garments. Moreover, in Zechariah 6:11–14 “crowns” (yes, plural, ‘ataroth) are prepared for Joshua, to indicate his innocence. Curiously, in the present chapter Job also speaks of “crowns” (again plural, ‘ataroth) with which he will be adorned (verse 36).

Job does not seem to know, at first, that he is being tried in accordance with God’s own will. We even sense that Job’s mind would be greatly relieved if he knew that he was being tested. Indeed, how reassured Job would be if he were aware of God’s own positive assessment of him to Satan!

The notion of a trial has been imposed on Job’s mind, not by the misfortunes that he has suffered, but by the steady flow of accusations brought against him by these three friends of his. They had originally arrived to be his “comforters,” but they very quickly became his accusers. Over and over, without a shred of empirical evidence against Job, they have accused him of dreadful crimes.

If Job feels himself to be on trial, therefore, it is hard to blame him for it. Now that his three witnesses have already borne their testimony against him (more as “character witnesses” than as “eyewitnesses,” to be sure), it appears now that “the prosecution rests its case” in Job’s regard.

But this is all absurd, thinks Job. Even before the trial started, he had already been sentenced. In fact, the sentence is even now being executed! Everything is proceeding backwards. This is chaos! (For a strikingly similar sensation of a legal trial as an outright nightmare, an outlandish exercise in anarchy, one may profitably read Franz Kafka’s Der Prozess or The Trial.)

No matter, says Job, his defense will be made, no matter what. So he “swears himself in” and proceeds with a detailed testimony to his own innocence. Job runs through a fairly high code of ethics (not unlike that of Ezekiel 18:5–9) and rings the changes on his “not guilty” plea, giving specific rebuttal to the slanderous testimony of his accusers (notably Eliphaz in chapter 22).

In this defense Job repeatedly employs the normal Hebrew formula for a legal oath or imprecation: “If I have done such-and-such, may the Lord do this-and-that to me.” Often, in this formula, only the antecedent, not the consequent, is actually spoken, implying that the person swears that the accusation against him is untrue. Job employs both the complete and the truncated form of this oath rather frequently in this chapter (verses 5, 7, 9, 13, 16, 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 26, 29, 31, 33, 38, 39). Thus, this entire chapter is just a series of imprecations, at the end of which “the words of Job are ended” (verse 40).

Is Job correct and proper in all these affirmations and denials? Does his defense actually prove Job to be innocent? In the sight of men arguably so, but not in the eyes of God. Man cannot litigate against God. In this chapter, then, Job has clearly gone too far in his claims, and the book’s next speaker, Elihu the Buzite, is going to call him on it.

2 Corinthians 13:1-14: Throughout this letter Paul had played the theme of power made perfect in infirmity, a truth manifest in the condition and circumstances of his own life. The grasping of this truth is what prompted the Apostle, as he reflected on his ministry, to assume the extraordinary autobiographical style characteristic of this epistle.

Through this sustained experience of power made perfect in infirmity Paul learned, on his own pulses, the mystery of the Cross, and in the present reading he proclaims this mystery explicitly. The weakness in question is the weakness of Christ’s sufferings and death: “He was crucified in weakness.” The power in question is the power of Christ’s Resurrection: “He certainly lives by the power of God.” To live in Christ, therefore, is to test and live out the experience of that truth: “For although we are weak in Him, we shall certainly live with Him, with respect to you [eis hymas], by the power of God” (verse 4). When Paul will appear again before the Corinthians, he may seem weak to them, but they will experience in him the power of Christ (verse 3).

However, rather than simply wait for this godly disclosure, the Corinthians should meanwhile put themselves to the test. They should examine the evidence in their own lives to discern whether they are really believers, whether Christ is truly among them (verse 5). Paul is not anxious what other think of him; he is concerned, rather, with the spiritual health of his readers at Corinth (verse 7).

In verse 11 all the imperative verbs are in the present tense, the tense that in Greek signifies repeated or continuous action. That is to say, this is an exhortation to sustained effort with respect to moral renewal and the cultivation of the common Christian life. This is the only verse in Holy Scripture that contains the expression “the God of love.”

Thursday, September 23

Job 32: By the end of chapter 31 of the book named for him, Job has answered all the objections and arguments made to him by his three friends, thus reducing them to silence. One might even think that this would be a good place for the book to end.

But then, as though out of nowhere, a completely new person appears on the scene, “Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram,” who wants to add his own remarks. Hitherto keeping silence, he tells us, in order to show deference to the four older men (Job 32:4), young Elihu has been listening to the give-and-take of their lengthy discussion, a debate that has lasted through twenty-nine chapters of the book.

Outwardly patient while enduring their discussions, Elihu has nonetheless been inwardly seething with indignation at both Job and his three alleged comforters (32:2, 3). Hardly can he contain himself any longer, disagreeing with nearly everything said so far. Now, therefore, with a considerable show of indignation he begins his discourse (which will run on for the next seven chapters—easily the longest single speech in the book).

Elihu informs the four older men just how patient he has remained during their pointless meanderings. But even as he boasts about his heroic longsuffering, we note the irony that Elihu mentions his own anger four times in five consecutive verses!

The failure of the three friends to answer Job’s arguments adequately has confirmed Elihu’s suspicion that wisdom is not an inevitable quality of old age. “Great men are not always wise, / Nor do the aged always understand justice” (32:9), he affirms. Indeed, Elihu addresses the company with some sarcasm on the point: “Age should speak, / And multitude of years should teach wisdom. . . . Indeed I waited for your words, / I listened to your reasonings, while you searched out what to say” (32:7, 11).

Job’s three comforters, having exhausted their arguments, seem content now to leave the suffering Job to God, they themselves having nothing more to say. Not so Elihu. He will release in a torrent the pressure that has been building up within him: “For I am full of words; / The spirit within me compels me. / Indeed my belly is like wine that has no vent; / It is ready to burst like new wineskins. / I will speak, that I may find relief; / I must open my lips and answer” (32:18–20).

Even as he answers his elders, however, Elihu demonstrates the self-consciousness of youth and inexperience. He must justify himself by explaining that he is a plain-spoken man, a fellow both candid and proud of it: “Let me not, I pray, show partiality to anyone; / Nor let me flatter any man. / For I do not know how to flatter” (32:21, 22). Well, the reader of the Book of Job will concede this point to him, surely, for what Elihu has to say will be singularly innocent of flattery.

Somewhat pompous and verbose as he is in the beginning, we nonetheless observe that the young man does have some important things to say, and his truly is a fresh voice in the discussion. More than Job’s three older friends, Elihu appreciates the basic soundness of Job’s case. Although unwilling to admit that Job is completely undeserving of his afflictions, Elihu appears not to be bound by any theory that would render Job simply a sinner being punished for his sins. In the first part of his speech (Job 33), Elihu contends that, in dealing with Job’s sufferings, inadequate attention has been given to the mysterious ways of
God. Job’s sufferings, he argues, do not show God to be Job’s enemy.

This observation represents a genuine advance over the various theses argued by Job’s three other friends. Even as he rebukes Job, Elihu spends most of chapter 34 talking about the just and merciful attributes of God, who is all-powerful and all-wise. No one can really demand an explanation from God, he goes on to argue in chapter 35. God is not someone against whom a man may lay just claims. Knowing this, Elihu contends in chapter 36, man must consider that God may see in human suffering something a great deal more than a means of punishing evil. Elihu closes his discourse in chapter 37 by exhorting Job to dwell more on what he knows of God and to assess his own suffering in the light of that knowledge. In this way Elihu’s long discourse prepares the way for God’s revelation to Job in the book’s closing chapters.

Friday, September 24

Titus 2:1-15: In the previous chapter Paul had spoken about being “sound in the faith” (hygiainosin en tei pistei-—1:13). Such “soundness” is the mark that he further inculcates in the present chapter, exhorting Titus to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (hygiainousei didaskalioi-—verse 1), so that mature men may be “sound in faith” (hygiainantes tei pistei-—verse 2) and of “sound speech” (logon hygie-—verse 8). This “soundness” (in the Greek root of which, hygi, we recognize our English words “hygiene” and “hygienic”) is a noted theme also in the letters to Timothy (cf. 1 Timothy 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; 4:3). Christian teaching, that is to say, should carry the marks of intellectual, moral, and emotional health. It will not recommend itself if it encourages thoughts, sentiments, and behavior that are manifestly unhealthy.

In verse 2 we observe the triad of faith, love, and patience. This conjunction, common to the letters to Timothy (cf. 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 3:10), is also found earlier in Paul (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4).

In verse 5, as elsewhere in Paul (1 Corinthians 14:35; Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; 1 Timothy 2:11-14), wives are exhorted to subordinate themselves (hypotassomenas, from the verb tasso, “to set in order,” “to arrange”) to their husbands. With respect to this exhortation, the Baptist exegete E. Glenn Hinson observes: “The initiative is to be with the wife. . . . Paul did not tell husbands to subdue their wives.” Even with this sage caveat, nonetheless, it is obvious that Paul’s exhortation runs directly counter to the contemporary egalitarian impulse.

Like Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12), Titus is to set a good example (verse 7). We recall that Paul rather often referred to his own good example. Pastors and missionaries surely teach more by example than they do in any other way.

The “great God” in verse 13 is identical with the “Savior Jesus Christ,” because in the Greek text a single article covers both words—God and Savior—and the rest of the sentence speaks only of Christ. It is He whose appearance we await (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Timothy 6:14-15; 2 Timothy 4:1).

Christ’s self-giving (verse 14) is a typical Pauline reference to the Lord’s Passion and blood atonement (Galatians 1:4; 2:20; Ephesians 5:2,25; 1 Timothy 2:6).