Friday, September 3
Colossians 4:2-18: From within the Christian home, the believer relates to “those outside” (tous exso—4:5). These relationships chiefly require the Christian governance of the tongue (4:6).
As usual at the end of his epistles (and many of the letters that we ourselves send even today), Paul finishes with a series of greetings.
We now learn that this epistle is borne to Colossae by Tychicus, an Asian Christian who had accompanied Paul to Jerusalem to carry thither the offering taken up for the relief of the poor in that city (Acts 20:4). Tychicus has apparently been in Paul’s entourage ever since and is now dispatched back to Asia to bear this epistle (verses 7-8), a second to the congregation at Laodicaea (Ephesians 6:21), and evidently a third to Philemon, a Colossian Christian.
This last epistle concerns the runaway Colossian slave, Onesimus, who will accompany Tychicus back to Asia (verse 9). These two will bring to Colossae the latest news concerning Paul.
Other companions, who will remain at Caesarea with Paul, also send greetings to the congregation at Colossae. These include Aristarchus (verse 10), a Macedonian Christian from Thessaloniki (Acts 19:29), who had also accompanied Paul in his final trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4), was with him still at Caesarea (Philemon 24), and would soon travel with him to Rome (Acts 27:2).
Mark sends greetings as well. Since he had been directly involved in a sharp altercation between Paul and Barnabas some twelve years earlier (Acts 13:13; 15:36-40), Paul mentions Mark especially, making sure that the Colossians are aware that there is no longer bad blood between them (verse 10). We know that Mark is with Paul at Caesarea (cf. Philemon 24), but we lose track of him briefly after this. Shortly before Paul’s death, however, the Apostle instructed Timothy to bring Mark to Rome (2 Timothy 4:11), where we find him as an associate of Simon Peter (1 Peter 5:13). It was in Rome that Mark wrote his Gospel (Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses 3.1.2; Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2; 3.39.15), before going on to found the Christian church at Alexandria in Egypt (Eusebius, ibid. 2.16.1).
Greetings are also sent from Epaphras, himself an Asian (verse 12), to whose zeal for his countrymen Paul here bears witness (verse 13). One is disposed to think that it was Epaphras who brought to Paul’s attention the concerns that prompted the writing of this epistle.
Greetings are likewise sent from Luke (verse 14), who has been with Paul since the two joined company at Philippi for the final trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:6) He will be with Paul till the end (Acts 27:2; 2 Timothy 4:11), though Demas, also mentioned here (cf. Philemon 24), will not (2 Timothy 4:10).
It is worth remarking that this presence of Mark and Luke at Caesarea at the same time seems to be the only recorded instance of two Gospel writers being together in one place simultaneously. It is not difficult to imagine what they may have talked about!
Archippus—in verse 17—is known to us from Philemon 2. The cryptic message in this verse was doubtless clearer to the Colossians than it is to us.
The Colossians are to exchange epistles with the congregation at Laodicea, which is also receiving an epistle in this mailing (verse 16). This latter work is most likely to be identified with the epistle handed down to us as Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians.
Saturday, September 4
2 Corinthians 1:1-14: This epistle is addressed not only to Corinth, but also to the Christians of the whole Roman province of Achaia, of which Corinth was the capital (cf. 9:2). In this detail we see already the beginnings of the ecclesiastical structure later known as “diocesan,” in which Christians in rural areas, smaller towns, and villages were associated with and brought under the pastoral supervision of a larger, usually more centralized church in a given region.
Paul calls himself an apostle, but it is noteworthy that he does not extend this title to Timothy. Paul normally, as here, restricts the title to those men who had been directly and immediately called by Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:8). However, the application of the title “apostle” is not uniform throughout the writings of the New Testament.
Timothy, already well known to the Corinthians (verse 19; 1 Corinthians 4:17), is named as co-author. This identification of Timothy with himself in the authorship of this epistle corresponds quite closely to our own custom of naming others as co-authors of our own letters. Thus, for instance, Lois may write, “Love from Lois and Frank,” or even “Frank and Lois,” at the end of a letter that Frank himself may not even know about. It was Paul’s way of saying, “Timothy is here with me,” but it also enhances the dignity and authority of Timothy in the eyes of the Corinthians.
Right away Paul introduces the theme of the divine strengthening that accompanies the trials of the saints. This subject, sustained and thematic throughout the epistle, appears ten times in verses 3-7.
The afflictions that Paul suffered in Asia (verse 8) seem to be connected to the riot of the Ephesians, recorded in Acts 19:23-34 (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:9-10). It was during that difficult period that Paul learned the strength of Christ which is stronger than death (verses 9-10; Romans 4:17).
The lesson learned from his experience in Asia heightened Paul’s sense of the difference between divine grace and worldly wisdom (verse 12), a difference about which he had earlier written to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:20; 2:5). By means of the present epistle Paul’s readers will be taught this lesson also (verses 13-14). It is important that they be so taught, because they endure the same trials as Paul (verse 7). The sufferings endured are, in fact, “the sufferings of Christ” (verse 5).
Sunday, September 5
2 Corinthians 1:15-24: Paul begins to correct a misunderstanding. He had disappointed some of the Corinthians by failing to visit them at a time when he was expected. Indeed, he had announced plans for such a visit (1 Corinthians 16:5). In fact, he changed his plans more than once. Recently he had planned to stop for visits twice at Corinth, once going to Macedonia and once coming back (verses 15-16). Even these plans had been changed, to the chagrin of some of the folks at Corinth, who thought the Apostle a bit fickle and irresolute (verse 17).
St. Paul defends himself, insisting that these changes of travel plans did not indicate a deeper spiritual problem. In his proclamation of the Gospel to the Corinthians he was not fickle or irresolute (verse 18). His readers, therefore, should not interpret his recent behavior as a sign of irresolution.
Paul uses this occasion to teach a lesson. Steadfastness of purpose, he says, is what characterizes the word that God speaks to us in Christ. It is an enduring affirmation, indicated by the perfect tense of the verb (gegonen–verse 19). That word is the same as when Paul and his companions had first preached it among the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:11), because God’s promises are not subject to changes of plans (verse 20). They are always “Amen,” the same word that Christians speak back to God at the close of their prayers in Jesus’ name.
In fact, God has already sealed these promises in the hearts of the Corinthians at the time of their baptism (verses 21-22). This sealing is already a down payment or “earnest money” (arrabon) of their eternal inheritance (cf. 5:5; Romans 8:23).
Paul then returns to his disputed travel plans, saying that it was for the good of the Corinthians themselves that he had failed to show up when they expected him (verse 23; compare 13:2). Things were not yet right at Corinth.
Monday, September 6
2 Corinthians 2:1-17: Paul saw no value in returning yet again to Corinth while feeling distressed at the situation there. Such a visit, he felt, would only have made things worse (verses 1-2). He sent them a letter instead, the “letter of tears” which seems not to have survived (verse 3). Paul’s decision not to go to Corinth had at least not added further grief to those with whom he ought to share a common joy, and his letter had manifested his love and concern for the Corinthians (verse 4).
These references to their shared distress point to some troublemaker whom Paul had encountered in Corinth on a previous visit (verse 5). The Apostle here presumes his readers’ familiarity with the case, the particulars of which are, of course, unknown to us. Paul is confident that the Corinthians have adequately dealt with the problem (verse 6), inspired by his “letter of tears” and a recent visit by Titus (cf. 7:6-7).
Indeed, Paul has now become concerned for the offender, with whom the congregation had dealt somewhat severely (verses 7-8). In any case, the Corinthians have properly met the trial posed by the troublemaker (verse 9), and now it is time to move on (verses 10-1).
Paul proceeds to tell of his recent missionary trip to Troas (on the western coast of Asia, the region of ancient Troy), thus taking up the narrative broken off at the beginning of this chapter. He had hoped to meet Titus at Troas, to learn from Titus what had transpired in Corinth. Paul’s disappointment at failing to find Titus at Troas caused him, reluctantly, to abandon his ministry there and to sail over to Macedonia (verses 12-13). We readers find Paul’s distress understandable. Until he should meet Titus and learn what had transpired at Corinth, Paul would be distracted, uncertain how the congregation reacted to his “letter of tears.”
But why did Paul go over to Macedonia? This is not difficult to discover. If we think of him languishing at Troas for some days, perhaps even weeks, it would have been natural for him to sail over to Macedonia, from which, after all, Titus was expected. We should bear in mind that the currents and wind patterns between Troas and Macedonia made an eastward voyage longer and more difficult than a westward voyage. Because the Black Sea is normally colder than the Mediterranean Basin (on the average of ten degrees), the faster evaporation in the latter causes a strong southwest current to run through the Dardanelles, seriously influencing the speed of travel between Asia and Macedonia. A trip from Troas required only two days (Acts 16:11), whereas the reverse might take more than twice that long (20:6).
Paul proceeds to bless God for this fortunate outcome (verse 14), typical of the divine solicitude for man’s salvation. That is to say, in the recent difficulties at Corinth, the Lord had displayed the power of the Gospel itself (verses 15-17). For both Paul and the Corinthians the Gospel had become a matter of empirical evidence and concrete experience. God had “triumphed over” them (thriambevonti hemas–verse 14). This note touches the epistle’s major theme: God’s power made perfect in man’s weakness. Paul will speak incessantly of this “manifestation” (phaneroein–verse 14; 3:3; 4:10,11; 5:10,11 (bis); 7:12; 11:6).
Tuesday, September 7
2 Corinthians 3:1-11: The chapter begins with two rhetorical questions, the anticipated answer to both being “no.” Paul speaks of commendatory letters, to which there are other references in the New Testament (Romans 16:1-2; 1 Corinthians 16:10-11; Philemon passim; Acts 15:22-31; 18:27). Paul asserts here that his relationship to the Corinthians renders such letters superfluous (verses 1-3).
Paul has “confidence before God” (pepoithesis pros ton Theon–verse 4, an expression that has no linguistic equivalent elsewhere in the Bible). He has this confidence “through Christ,” not from any self-sufficiency (verse 5). The infinitive logisasthai is better translated “to claim” than “to speak”: “We are not sufficient to claim anything” (compare 2:17). Paul’s competence comes from the God who commissioned his ministry (verse 6).
The Apostle introduces here his contrast of letter and Spirit (cf. Romans 2:27-29), which he will elaborate throughout the rest of this chapter.
What is perhaps most surprising in the first six verses of this chapter is Paul’s confidence in the Corinthian church, where he sees the activity of the Holy Spirit as the fulfillment of the prophetic promises in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The Corinthians themselves are a testimony to the power and fruitfulness of his own ministry.
Paul them proceeds to contrast the Gospel ministry—the ministry of the Spirit—with the ministry of the Mosaic Law, a theme that runs through the rest of this chapter. Because “the letter kills” (verse 6), he calls the Mosaic ministry “a ministry of death” (verse 7). For someone that spent all his previous life in the study of the Torah, this is a very strong assertion.
The Apostle also introduces now the expression “glory,” which as a noun or a verb (“glorify”) appears thirteen times in the remainder of this chapter. Even the ministry of the Law, he says, was possessed of glory. How much more the ministry of the Spirit? (verses 8-9; compare the same form of argument in Romans 8:32).
Wednesday, September 8
2 Corinthians 3:12—4:6: Paul felt the “boldness” (parresia) displayed in what he had just written with respect to the Mosaic Law (verse 12). After all, he had just referred to the dispensation of the Torah–the ministry of Moses himself–as “the ministry of death” (verse 7) and “the ministry of condemnation” (verse 9). This was certainly bold speech for a rabbi who had spent his whole life in the study of the Torah!
Nor do these words of Paul convey the entire truth. Indeed, Paul was still working his way through this subject when he wrote 2 Corinthians. A year or so later he would give a more developed, nuanced treatment of this matter in his dialectical argument in Romans 9—11.
This boldness in speech Paul contrasts with Moses, who veiled his face so that the Israelites could not behold the fading glory of his countenance (verse 13; Exodus 34:30-35). In this context, in which the word “veil” (kálymma) appears four times (verses 13-16), the “unveiled face” serves as a metaphor for boldness.
The expression eis to telos (verse 13) should not be understood as expressing purpose (“in order that”) but as expressing effect (“with the result that”). Otherwise Paul would be accusing Moses of deceiving the people.
The fault, however, was not of Moses but of the Israelites (verse 14). Here Paul has in mind less the Israelites of Moses’ time than the Israelites of his own day, those from whose synagogues, all over the Mediterranean basin, he and his companions had been expelled. These were the Israelites to whom the true face of Moses remained veiled. Satan, “the god of this world” (4:4), continued to harden their thoughts (noemata–verse 14). This veil has become, in Paul’s argument, an internal covering of the mind, which prevents the correct understanding of “the Old Testament.” This is the only place in the Bible, we may note, that uses this last expression.
The “abolishing” (katargeitai) of which Paul speaks here refers to the veil, not the Old Testament. This is clear in verse 16, where Paul refers to the removal of the veil from the heart (verse 15). No part of God’s Word is ever abolished or “out of date” (Matthew 5:17; Romans 3:31).
The Septuagint text of Exodus 34:34 throws light on this removal of the veil. It speaks of Moses taking the veil from his face when he “went in before the Lord to speak to Him.” It was in turning to the Lord that Moses’ veil was removed. Thus, says St. Paul, as soon as a man turns to the Lord, the veil is removed (verse 16). This interpretation is important as it indicates Paul understood Jesus to be “the Lord” to whom Moses went in to speak. The Lordship of Jesus is, in fact, at the base of all Paul’s reflections here (cf. 4:5).
To speak of Christ, however, is concretely to speak of the Holy Spirit. We do not get the One without the Other (verse 17). They are necessarily, or at least practically, concomitant. It is as though a foreign diplomat were to say, “Washington is the United States,” or as if an epicure should remark, “Baltimore is crab cakes,” meaning that the one implies the other. With Christ comes the Holy Spirit; when a man turns to Christ, he receives the Holy Spirit. (Indeed, even this affirmation is oversimplified, because a man cannot even turn to Christ except through the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit.)
Contrasted with the veiled Israelites are the unveiled Christians, beholding and being transformed by the glory of the Lord (verse 18). Like Moses in God’s presence, their faces are uncovered, because there is freedom in the new covenant (verse 17). To Christians, then, it is given to share in the doxological transformation accorded to Moses, as they are transformed progressively into the image of Christ.
Paul’s comments are partly biographical, of course; he is implicitly remembering his own experience of conversion to Christ and the glory on the road to Damascus, the experience that led to his radical reassessment of the Torah. This is why he shifts to the “apostolic we” in the next verse (4:1). It is this “we” that proclaims the Lordship of Jesus (4:5). The apostolic preaching is the means by which others contemplate the revelation of God’s glory on the face of Christ (4:6).
Thursday, September 9
Job 18: Bildad, Job’s second “comforter,” is described as coming from the ancient and well-known city of Shuah, situated on the right bank of the Euphrates, between the mouths of the Balikh and Khabur rivers, south of Carchemish. This is well to the east of the Promised Land. If it is the case that the name of this city is related to one of Abraham’s sons by Keturah (cf. Genesis 25:2; 1 Chronicles 1:32), the Israelites would certainly have regarded the city as very eastern, indeed, “eastward . . . to the country of the east” (Genesis 25:6).
Bildad (whose arguments are found in Job 8, 18, and 25) thus represents the wisdom of ancient Mesopotamia, the very culture that gave the human race the art of writing. Indeed, starting with the Sumerians, near the end of the fourth millennium before Christ, Mesopotamia is the absolute font of all literary culture.
The literary culture of ancient Mesopotamia itself was engaged in many philosophical and moral concerns, such as the origins of the world and the Great Flood. Thus, it is from this region that we have inherited the famous Sumerian and Akkadian mythologies recorded on cuneiform tablets that narrate the stories of Gilgamesh, Adapa, Nergal, and Ereshkigal. As one can see from Bildad’s own words transcribed in the biblical account, this was also a culture that meditated deeply on the shortness and vanity of human life. It does not surprise us, then, that the people of Mesopotamia reflected likewise on the afterlife and the netherworld. Indeed, several accounts of this concern have also been preserved on ancient clay tablets from this region.
Along with his persuasion that life is short and the future uncertain, Bildad was also fairly sure that people finally get what they deserve.
Job’s children, for example. One recalls that Job himself had been rather preoccupied with concern about his children, especially their moral
state. His sons and daughters, born into a wealthy household, are portrayed in the Bible as uncommonly frivolous, definitely of the “partying” type. In fact, they threw a whoop-de-do every day, moving the reveling site from house to house. Job was so anxious about this incessant fun and frivolity that he commenced rising up early each morning to offer an individual sacrifice for each of his children (Job 1:5).
And what happened to them? Well, sure enough, all of the revelers were wiped out simultaneously, perishing in the midst of one of their daily entertainments (2:18–19).
But this is exactly what we should have expected, Bildad reflected. People do die young, very much like papyrus reeds: “While it is yet green and not cut down, / It withers before any other plant” (8:11–12).
Moreover, even as Job had suspected might be the case, Bildad speculated that those young people perhaps brought God’s wrath down on their own heads: “If your sons have sinned against Him, He has cast them away for their transgression” (8:4). This is a pretty rough thing to say to a grieving father.
On the other hand, Bildad contended, the same divine justice that punished Job’s children can also serve to sustain Job himself in the years to come: “If you would earnestly seek God / And make your supplication to the Almighty, / If you were pure and upright, / Surely now He would awake for you, / And prosper your rightful dwelling place. / Though your beginning was small, / Yet your latter end would increase abundantly. . . . He will yet fill your mouth with laughing, / And your lips with rejoicing” (8:5–7,21). It is a point of no little irony that, whatever the shortcomings of Bildad’s moral reasoning, the end of the book does portray Job as larger and more joyous, in fact, than he was at the beginning.
Bildad’s moral reasoning, which is certainly on trial in the Book of Job, was the derived traditional experience, possessed of simple, straight-forward answers learned from those who went before (8:8). His moral reasoning was very traditional, quite identical to that of the Book of Proverbs.
According to this moral reasoning, at least one thing was certain—things go very badly for bad people (cf. Job 18:5–21). When pushed further, nonetheless, Bildad was obliged to concede that there is no such thing as a completely just man. This was the burden of his final and shortest speech (25:1–6), best summarized, perhaps, by the thesis that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Like Job himself, Bildad struggles with a true moral problem. Accustomed to viewing all evil as associated with moral failing, his mind is deeply perplexed by the sight of a good man in suffering.
Friday, September 10
2 Corinthians 5:1-11: At the beginning of this chapter Paul outlines a theme he will treat in more detail in Romans 8—the longing that the Holy Spirit prompts in the hearts of Christians with respect to the final glorification of their bodies (verse 5). Indeed, he speaks of this longing as a “groaning” (verses 2,4; Romans 8:23). It is death, not the body itself, which will be swallowed up in life. This longing is appropriate, because we are, even as we are weighed down by our mortality, the temples of the Holy Spirit, the guarantee and down payment of our final salvation.
Even our present union with Christ, moreover, does not eliminate the fact that in our mortal condition we are still separated from the Lord (verse 6). This is simply the difference between faith and sight (verse 7; 1 Corinthians 13:12).
This is a bold way to live. Twice Paul uses the verb “dare” (tharreo–verses 6,8), which takes up the “boldness” of the previous chapter. It is a courage given by the Holy Spirit, because few men would willingly part with their bodies to attain a better goal (Philippians 1:21-24). What is more important than either state, however, is to be pleasing to the Lord (verse 9), whether living or dying. This is what will count at the tribunal at which the value of our lives will be assessed (verse 10; Romans 2:16-26).
Meanwhile believers live by the first-fruits of immortality that abide in their mortal flesh—namely, the Holy Spirit, by whose indwelling power their bodies will in the end be covered over in glory.
Standing even under the divine judgment, Paul endeavors to convince others of this truth (verse 11).
As in 3:1, Paul again fears lest his comments be understood as a self-promotion, which would be most unseemly (verse 12). He wants the Corinthians to know his heart, nonetheless, and not emulate those who judge by appearances. The Apostle is implicitly admitting here that he has not always “looked good.” Some of his experiences have been ecstatic (verse 13; 12:1-7), a point on which, it would appear, certain opponents have been critical of him. No matter, says Paul, such experiences have been God-ward. When, however, he speaks rationally, it is man-ward. Paul made the same distinction the previous year (1 Corinthians 14:2,28). It is not clear in the present text whether has Paul has been criticized for his ecstatic experiences or for his apparent lack of them. Either sense will fit the context.
Verse 14 means, “the love of God grabs us” (or “grips” us—synechei). This is the love manifest in his dying for us (Galatians 2:20). “All have died” in the sense that those who are gripped by the love of Christ will no longer live for themselves but for Him who purchased them with His blood (verse 15; Romans 5:10).
What we have in Christ is a new existence, no longer “according to the flesh.” Before his conversion Paul had known Christ “according to the flesh”—that is, not according to faith. All that, however, is now gone. Paul will not know anyone except in the faith of Christ (verse 16). The love of Christ gives the believer a new way of knowing people. Being “in Christ” is a new mode of existence (verse 17; Galatians 6:16). Paul’s vocabulary here seems borrowed from the second part of the Book of Isaiah (for example, 43:18-19; 48:5; 65:17; 66:22), which he will cite presently in 6:2 (Isaiah 49:8).
The Christian ministry is essentially a ministry of reconciliation, in which the reconciliation effected on the Cross is applied and brought to bear on the lives and hearts of human beings (verses 18-19; Galatians 1:12-16). Paul makes such an application now (verse 20).
The expression that Christ was made “sin [hamartia] for us” is open to more than one meaning (verse 21). It may mean that Christ, though not a sinner, assumed the condition of a sinner in order to represent all sinners. It may also mean that Christ became a “sin offering” (which is the meaning of hamartia as it appears in the Greek text of Leviticus 4). In either case the meaning is soteriological. By Christ’s becoming “sin,” we become “the righteousness of God.”