My First Job, Part 2

Title page with "Wilsons Name Tag"

My first months at the grocery store

Wilsons grocery bag

During my first few months as the grocery store, I worked only three days a week: Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On school nights, I’d arrive at 4 PM and work till 8 or 9 PM. As things begin to slow down in the evening, Bert would begin to send some of us home for the night. It was always nice to get out a little early on Thursday, especially if I had homework. On Saturday, I’d work from late morning till early evening. 

I don’t recall a lot about these early months working at Wilsons. Everyone I worked with, except for Tom, was older. During this time, I mostly worked up front, bagging groceries and carrying them out to the customer’s car. Such work doesn’t create a lot of memories. This was fine with me for you were often tipped for helping someone with their groceries.

Learning new tasks: bottle returns and bring trash

Occasionally, when it was slow, I’d be assigned another task like taking care of bottle returns. In the front of the store stood several large bins on wheels where we placed soft-drink bottles after customers redeemed for deposit. Whenever a bin would begin to fill, or when there was a lull in the action, Bert would assign one of us bag boys take the bins to the back of the store and separate the bottles into several large wooden bins, divided by brands. The distributors picked up the empties a couple times a week. Although this gave you a break from bagging, it was really a dirty job and the novelty of working in the back of the store soon wore off.

Another back-room job was running the incinerator. All paper trash, especially boxes, and some plastic wrappings that came from the meat market were burned. Late in the evening, as things slowed down, someone was sent back to handle the daily trash. I was neat to see the incinerator. A huge steel door opened with a switch. I would pack the cavity with debris. Once filled, you closed it and hit a button that shot out a gas flame. The metal, when you ran it for a long period, became red hot. It took only a few minutes of burning to consume everything. Then, machine was ready for another load. It seems odd today that we burned cardboard instead of recycling.   As for the burning of plastic, that also seems less than environmentally friendly. 

Learning new tasks: Marketing

Another job which I slowly began to dip my toe into was marketing. At the time, the custom was for grocery stores to run weekly sales from Thursday to Wednesday. When my hours expanded and I began to work on Wednesdays, Bert would often ask me to help him hang large signs (3 feet wide and 8 feet long). These were taped onto the front widows and generally hung late Wednesday, an hour or so before closing. The signs advertised our weekly specials such as a five-pound bag of sugar for 59 cents, some cut of steak for 1.99 a pound, bananas for 10 cents a pound, baby food a dime a jar, five pounds of potatoes for 39 cents.

Also, late Wednesday, as we approached closing time, the job of changing the marquee out front would fall to one of the bagboys This was always a fun job, except for when it was raining or windy. We’d used a 12-foot-long mechanical hand to take off the old letters and put on the new ones. 

No longer the new kid

As the weather warmed and school was done for the summer of 1973, there was a turn-over of personnel. Many of my colleagues graduated from high school and left for permanent jobs, college, or the military. As these guys and gals were replaced, I was no longer the new kid. Of these new employees, Tina was the most exciting. Tina was the first of the girls my age working at the store. Like Tom, she was a student from New Hangover High. I remember her with hard dark hair, olive colored skin and big dark eyes. For the next couple of years, we’d flirt back and forth. She was the only cashier younger than my mother who called me “honey.” But for some reason, I never got the nerve to ask her out and after a year or so I’d missed my opportunity as she was dating others.

Running a cash register

Late that summer, Bert trained me to run a cash register. It seemed a nice skill to have and it meant a small increase in my paycheck. I think I received a 20 cent and hour increase, but it was anactual decrease since cashiers never received tips. All the regular cashiers were women, just as all the bag boys were “boys.” But a few bag boys trained to take over a register if things got busy, or to allow those on the register to take a break and to fill in if there was an absence. Running a register on a rainy day was a blessing. On rainy days, being assigned to a cash register was a treat.

It’s hard to remember, but the store used mechanical cash registers back then. There were no scanners. These were heavy machines that had rows of numbers. A carton of cigarettes at the time cost $1.89 (this was North Carolina, after all!). Holding the item in one hand, I’d mash the 1 button on the third-to-the-left column. Then I hit the 8 button on the second and the 9 on the left-hand column. Soon, I could do this in one motion. I then rolled my hand to the right and with the side of my hand hit enter. The price would appear on the tape and show on the top of the machine. It became second nature. After a few weeks, I discovered that I was as fast as anyone except the older women who been there for years.

The mop crew

Another new job I found myself being assigned to was mopping. On weeknights, about 15 minutes before the doors locked, Bert would assign two of us the task. We’d go back and begin preparations. We had a large machine that put out a cleaning solution, scrubbed the floor and then vacuumed up the dirty solution. Behind the machine, the second person came behind with a mop to scrub the sides of the aisles and any missed areas. It’d take 30 or so minutes to cover the floor. .

Late in the summer of ’73, Bert asked if I’d be interested in working the Saturday night mop crew. For this, I had to get my parents’ permission since we worked well into Sunday morning. The store was closed on Sundays. My parents agreed and, for the rest of the time I was in high school, I didn’t have to worry about a Saturday night curfew and often came home at 4 or 5 on Sunday mornings. This was okay with my parents if I was up in time for church and provided me with more freedom that I should have had as a high school kid.

Saturday: mopping and waxing

On Saturday night, we’d not only mop the floor, but strip it of wax. As soon as the last of the customers were out, we’d take all the shopping carts out of the store and place them in the parking lot. Then the three of us (there were always three on Saturdays), would remove anything from the aisles and place them in the back room or up off the floor around the registers. With the floors cleared, except for the aisles themselves, we’d use chemicals in the machine and in the buckets to cut the wax off. Where the wax had built up, we’d scrap off the excess with metal scrapers attached to hoe handles. The floor had to be spotless and dry before waxing.

We’d had special mops and buckets for the wax, which came in 55-gallon oil drums. Using a mop, one of us would put a line of wax along the edge of each aisle, about two inches from the edge. Then the other two would come in and fill in the aisle with wax. The job required a steady swing of the mop to place the wax evenly on the floor. Then, after the wax had dried, we moved everything back out onto the floor and brought in the shopping carts and the store was ready to open on Monday morning. (If raining, we’d mop again the area where we brought the carts in, as it would be sloppy wet.)

There was lots of freedom with working on the mop crew. Bert and John, the assistant manager, rotated Saturday night duty. Whoever closed would lock us in the store after we’d taken the carts out. We were on our own till they came back, generally at 1 or 2 AM, after the clubs closed. They’d often have beer on their breath and on many occasions, Bert would often have a hot looking woman with him. Bert or John would then help us finish up and we’d leave for home an hour or so later.

Running the mop crew

A few weeks after starting to work on the mop crew, the other guys on the crew left and I found myself in charge. I even was able to pick my crew and asked Tom, and later Billy, to join me. I also quickly learned that it didn’t take six or seven hours to do the work. We’d normally complete our work by midnight. For a month or so, we spent an hour or two sleeping on the cash register belts as we wait for Bert or John to come back and open the doors so we could bring in the buggies before going home. Since we were still on the clock, those were some of the best hours I’d work.

I ran mop crew throughout my high school year, only missing the weeks I was away with the school’s debate team. . Bert, knowing that we were faster than others had been, would come back earlier and we started being out of the store between midnight and 1 AM. As I turned 18 during my senior year in high school, finishing out “early” allowed me to join Bert and others as we closed down night clubs.

Looking back 50 years

It doesn’t seem like it’s been fifty years since I started to work in the grocery for minimum wage ($1.60 an hour at the time). It’s been over 45 years since Tom’s death (I will write more about him at a later date). Bert died seven or eight years ago. I wasn’t able to make it to his funeral, but my younger brother who worked for him ten years after I did, was able to make it. I wonder what happened to John, Billy, and Tina.

Click here to read my previous post about being hired at Wilsons

Taking Care of Business

Sermon title page with a photo of a gravel road

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
September 24, 2023
2 Corinthians 8:16-9:5

Sermon recorded at Bluemont on Friday, September 22, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

“You are a light to the world,” Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. And if we are the light, we shouldn’t hide it. Instead, Jesus says, “let your lights shine so that others might see your good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.”[1]

What does it mean for us to be a light to the world? Certainly, when we do good or noble deeds, we are being a light. But we are also being a light when we avoid even appearing to do what is wrong. This requires a balancing act for we are also to take risk to reach others. Think of the Samaritan. He didn’t worry about appearance when he helped the wounded man lying by the road.[2] But, when possible, we also need to avoid things that might cause others to question our motives. We’ll explore this concept today. 

Before the reading of the scriptures

We’ve watched Paul tack back and forth between topics throughout our exploration of 2nd Corinthians. Last week, we began to explore the two chapters devoted to fund raising for the saints in Jerusalem. Today, in the middle of this section, we discover a lull in the action as Paul takes care of some details. While Paul often wrote about theological issues, he also had a practical mind. 

Things need to happen for any organization to run well. Here, Paul makes sure there is a way to receive the collection and get it to those in need. As Bachman Turner Overdrive sang when I was in high school, he’s “taking care of business.”[3]

Furthermore, Paul wants to be totally upfront as to the collection. He doesn’t want the Corinthians to have questions. Instead, he assures them their gifts will be handled properly and used for the purpose they’ve been collected. Finally, Paul wants to avoid embarrassment, to himself and to the Corinthians. 

Read 2 Corinthians 8:16-9:5

It’s an old joke that being a pastor requires just an hour of work on Sunday. Of course, if I got up here without any preparation and planning, you’d know. Being a pastor involves a lot more work than talking for 20 minutes or so on Sunday morning. 

It’s hard for one person to do all the administrative work required. In the Presbyterian system, the pastor who moderates the session (or the church board) is assisted by a clerk, to help with details. Furthermore, the entire session is called on to lead the congregation. When the system works, it makes the calling of a pastor a lot less stressful. 

Of course, if a church grows into more of a program-sized congregation, it takes even more help. It’s good to have a competent secretary to make sure all the details are covered. 


Marcia was such a person. She was hired first as a part-time church secretary. Over time became my administrative assistant during my pastorate in Cedar City, Utah. She wasn’t the best typist (I could type faster), but she was very capable of taking care of business and helping me during a busy period. While I was there, the church expanded and built a new campus. 

Marcia amazed me. She was always pleasant, even to those who could be difficult. She listened, kept me informed on what people were thinking and saying, and identified needs within the church. When it was time for me to move on, I knew I would miss Marica, and I did. But to her credit, she faithfully served another three pastors at Community Presbyterian Church. In all, for years, she was part of the glue that kept the congregation together. 

Marcia was at the church for 25 years, stepping down only when cancer got the best of her. But when she did step down, the church was in a better place for others to take over. 

Sadly, Marcia died six months after I moved up here on the mountain.[4] But during the many years between my leaving Utah and her death, we kept in touch. Often, when I visited, it was like I had never been gone. We would laugh and joke back and forth. It felt so good to see her again. 

Paul needed an administrative assistant

In this lull in the middle of Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians, I find myself wondering if Paul didn’t need a Marcia. Paul takes care of business and in so doing reminds us that even taking care of details are a part of godly work. In a way, by Paul taking care of business, he shows the importance of such work and reminds us we should be thankful for Clerks of Session, treasurers, bulletin preparers, those who clean and who prepare for fellowship opportunities, musicians and sound techs, as well as all others who take care of the little jobs needed for things to run smoothly. 

Taking care of business

Paul sends Titus, who had gained the confidence of the Corinthians, back to Corinth to collect their offering. With him is an unnamed brother who is obviously held in high esteem by all the churches. Many scholars have speculated as to who was the unnamed brother, but it doesn’t really matter for our purposes.[5]What matters is the care Paul takes, not just to meet this need, but to do it in a way that will avoid any suspicion that the offering might not go to where it’s intended.

Avoiding the appearance of impropriety 

Paul shows the importance not only of doing what is right, but also doing it in a manner that will not raise red flags or call into question one’s motive. The early church was constantly under scrutiny within the first few centuries. Jews questioned the church’s relationship within the gentile community. Pagans even went as far as to accuse Christians of being atheist and cannibals because of the words used in the Lord’s Supper. In such an environment, Paul wants to do everything he can to avoid giving his critics more ammo with which they can attack the fledging church. 

When you are under suspicion to start with (and anyone in leadership is and probably should be under suspicion), it’s important not to give others more reasons to criticize you. Others will find plenty of reasons to criticize on their own. You don’t need to help them.

A Judge’s standard

I remember approaching a respected judge who was a member of a church I pastored. We asked him to serve on the committee to raise money for building a new church campus. I am sure he would have done an incredible job, but he politely turned us down. In fact, the man refused to be involved in any fundraising activities, not just for the church but also the community. He didn’t want to be in a position where someone who gave through his request would later ask for a favor when in a court of law. I respected his decision and was grateful for his willingness to continue to teach Sunday School. 

I wish more of our politicians would take such a high road. As for the judge, I’m sad I wasn’t the pastor when he retired and resumed part-time practice as a lawyer. I would have gone back to him to help on the finance committee. 

Even good deeds can be misinterpreted

You know, even our good deeds can be misinterpreted. This is a risk we always take. But if there is a way we can keep from such misinterpretations, we should do so. Strive to take the high road and do what is noble in the eyes of others, always going beyond what is required not just to avoid impropriety, but also the appearance of such. Yet, as in the case of the collection for the saints, we also must take risk for the benefit of others.

The rule of love

John Calvin places our desire to avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing within “the rule of love.” We owe this to others, he writes, even strangers, so they might draw them into the faith.[6]In other words, by striving to always be above board, is one way we express our love to others. 

Back to the offering

As we move into the ninth chapter, Paul returns to the offering. He again restates what he said earlier, bringing up the Macedonian offering and how he has bragged about Corinth’s zeal.[7] This section could be taken two ways. Is Paul playing the Macedonian Church off against the Corinthian Church? Or is Paul really concerned about the humiliation the Corinthians (and he) will experience if they fail to live up to expectation of others?  

Perhaps Paul does a bit of both. After all, avoiding humiliation of others goes with Paul’s desires to remove obstacles from other people accepting the gospel. 

Completing the work

As a good administrator, a talent it appears Paul possessed, he wants to see the Corinthian Church complete the work they began. Although the proverb “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” doesn’t appear in Scripture, it might be applied here.[8] Paul has bragged about Corinth, now he wants them to live up to their praise. 


While this section of Paul’s writings might not be his most theologically significant, there are several things we can learn. First, when involved in church work, we need to take care of the details. And for those of us who may be more “big picture” types, we need to honor those who watch over and help us make sure things are taken care of. Second, we need to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Let’s not give anyone a reason to avoid associating with us. Paul does what he can to relate to everyone. And finally, when we make a commitment, we should do our best to complete the work. Amen. 

[1] Matthew 5:14, 16. 

[2] Luke 10:25-37. 


[4] For Marci Beck’s obituary:

[5] Acts 20:4 lists names of those from Macedonia who traveled with Paul. Origen, writing in the 2nd Century, suggests it’s Luke. See Paul Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 422-423. Another early church father suggests its Apollos (see 1 Corinthians 16:12). See Theodoret of Cyr, “Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians 332,” as quoted in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament VII, 1-2 Corinthians (Dowers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1999), 277.

[6] John Calvin, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, John W. Fraser, translator (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1960), 225. Calvin is reflecting on 1 Corinthians 10:32, “give no occasion for stumbling.” 

[7] In 9:2, Paul uses the term Achaia here. Corinth was the largest city and probably the largest church in the providence (but not the only church, see Romans 16:1.  C. K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (1973, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1987), 233. 

[8] I have always thought this quote came from Billy Sunday, but at least according to this internet source, it was around a century before him, going back to Samuel Johnson or even John Wesley.   See

gravel road in late afternoon after a rain

Reasons for Generosity

Title slide for sermon with photo of Brown Knapweed

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Churches
2 Corinthians 8:1-16
September 17, 2023

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, September 15, 2023

At the beginning of worship

Let me tell you a story… When I was a pastor out west and a leader in the Presbytery of Utah, I spent a lot of time traveling back and forth between Cedar City and Salt Lake City. On this particular evening, I was tired and ready to get home. I’d gotten up before dawn and caught the 6:45 AM flight to Salt Lake where I spent the day in meetings. 

Finally, heading home at 9 PM, relief came as the gate attendant called my flight. I, along with 20 or so others, headed out onto the tarmac to cram into a SkyWest Airline cigar. Even someone my size must duck to get inside. 

There are three seats to a row on these planes. I sat on the side with a single seat. Stashing my briefcase, I pulled out a book and began to read. The plane climbed into the night. 

When we reached our cruising altitude, the flight attendant handed out peanuts. I tore into my bag and shook them into my mouth, downing them in no-time as I continued to read. Then the attendant brought us drinks. I stopped reading to lower the tray and when I did, I noticed the young girl, maybe three years old, sitting across the aisle, looking over at me. 

She smiled. “Here,” she said, holding out a peanut. I smiled back. For a split-second I thought about shaking my head, “no.” After all, this peanut came from the hands of a toddler. But then I thought better of it. I took the peanut and said, “Thank you.” I thought I’d throw it away, but she watched me intently. Throwing all health advisories out the window, I popped the peanut in my mouth. She beamed, dug down into her bag, and offered me another.  

Scripture tells us, “A little child shall lead them.”[1] I’ve discovered that to be true in so many ways. I was glad I didn’t squelch her willingness to share. Today, as we continue through 2ndCorinthians, we’ll talk about generosity. I suggest it is not only good for us to be generous but to also be gracious. 

Before reading the scripture 

Today, Paul makes another drastic shift in his letter, covering a new topic. The eighth and ninth chapters of 2 Corinthians is essentially a fund-raising letter. Paul encourages the Corinthians to step up to the plate and participate in the global church. 

Paul, who’s known for his precise Greek wording and grammar, struggles here. One scholar refers to this section as “labored and tortured Greek.” He goes on to compare Paul’s obvious discomfort to his own dislike of asking others for money. Interesting, Paul does even use the word, money.” Instead, he talks about grace, service, the deed, and partnership.[2]

This is not the first time Paul has mentioned giving to the Corinthian Church. At the end of 1st Corinthians, he speaks of the collection for the saints, and that they set aside something each week. This way, when he visits, they will be ready to make their offering.[3] It sounds like they had agreed to this, but then reneged on their promise. 

Read 2 Corinthians 8:1-15.

An example of sacrificial giving

In the early part of the 21st Century, Mrs. Chang, a Chinese-American Christian from Los Angeles, attended a meeting of the Chinese Christian Council held in Nanjing. 

On Sunday, the delegation split up and attended churches around the region. Mrs. Chang visited a church in a poor farming area. She was asked about her church in America and told the congregation about the building project they’d embarked upon. At the end of the service, she was called to come up front. They surprised her with an envelope containing the equivalent of 140 American dollars, telling her to use it for her congregation’s new building. 

Of course, that much money wasn’t going far in LA, but it represented a true sacrifice by poor Christians. Their joy at being in fellowship with a Christian from another country “welled up in generosity, and they gave beyond their ability.” It also served as a reminder to the church in Los Angeles at what true sacrifice entails.[4]

Poor giving analogous to the Macedonians in our text

That poor church on the outskirts of Nanjing sending a gift to its well-to-do sister church in California is analogous to the Macedonians supporting the saints in Jerusalem. And while those comparatively rich Americans in Los Angeles may have felt reluctant to accept this gift, to do so would have destroyed the self-esteem of those who gave and perhaps discourage future acts of generosity.  

Jesus gave first

As Paul reminds those in Corinth, “our Lord Jesus Christ, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” The foundation of our faith is that Jesus has given to us, even when we are unworthy. Therefore, if we want to be more like him, if we want to grow into Christlikeness, we too should be gracious and generous.

Paul’s fundraising

In the early and mid-fifties (I know some of you remember the fifties, but I’m not talking those fifties, but the fifties of the first century), the Apostle Paul devoted a significant amount of time and energy to raise funds for the suffering saints in Jerusalem.[5]In Macedonia, to the north of Corinth, he found a receptive ear. Like many Christians of the era, the church in Macedonia was poor. 

Macedonian giving

Furthermore, the Macedonians had been through some kind of ordeal; perhaps they had faced strong persecution. But when they heard the need of their fellow believers, they gave generously, begging even for the privilege to give. Listen to this again—they begged for the privilege to give! That’s certainly not an attitude we see today and from Paul’s surprise, I don’t think it was common in the First Century either.  

An additional reason that this gift by the Macedonian Christians is so special is that its destination is Jewish Christians, many of whom still maintain their bias against Gentiles. These Jewish Christians aren’t overly excited about having Gentiles in the church. This is an example of someone truly giving from the heart and going against what might be their self-interest. In a way, they’re like the Good Samaritan.[6] They don’t have to help; after all they’re poor and of a different race of people.[7] No one expects them to pitch in, but they do! 

Paul didn’t have to run this campaign

Furthermore, Paul doesn’t have to help those in Jerusalem. After all, they have often tried to thwart his efforts to reach out to the Gentiles. In a way it’s almost as if they are helping their enemies. Of course, this is Christ-like living as Jesus demands we pray for our persecutors and love our enemies.[8] And what better example of love than gracious giving to your enemies during their time of need?   

But the Corinthians weren’t like the Macedonians. Yeah, they said they were going to give, but they’ve yet to do so. I’m sure they don’t want to hear from Paul about it. Whoever went out to the mailbox and found the letter with Paul’s return address probably mumbled, “Oh, it’s him again.” It appears, from what Paul writes later in the letter, some in Corinth have accused him of profiting from his ministry.[9]

Paul is offended by such accusations, While the Macedonians supported his ministry, Paul had been self-sufficient while in Corinth.[10] Yet, Paul feels the need to encourage the Corinthians to help those in need. Of course, their giving doesn’t just help those in Jerusalem, it helps the giver become more Christ-like.

Paul desires Corinth to give, but doesn’t demand it

Paul wants the church in Corinth to give, but he’s not going to demand it. In verse 8, he tells them he won’t command that they give, but he is going to test and see if their love is genuine. Here is a church that excels in most things—faith, speech, and knowledge—but do they also excel in love and in generosity? Love and generosity are the tell-tale signs of a Christian. 

Paul doesn’t try to make them feel guilty by saying that God has given it all to you so the least you can do is give back something. That’s true. However, we can never repay God; we can never out-give God. Paul knows he’s balancing on a tightrope here as he tries not to sound too judgmental, while encouraging the Corinthians to give. It’s hard. 

By throwing up the example of the Macedonians and by reminding them of the gift of Christ, it’s hard for those in Corinth not to feel some pressure. But, as Paul reminds them in verse 12, he wants them to be eager to give. Paul wants them to have a grateful heart. Too often we give for the wrong reasons. Instead of being grateful for the privilege, we grumble inside, feeling it’s an obligation.

Biblical principle behind Paul’s ask

Paul goes on to remind the Corinthians of a Biblical principle. We’re to give based on our abilities. Going back to the law given to Moses, the Hebrew people were reminded that giving should be proportional. That’s the foundation of the tithe.[11] Those who have more, give more; those who have less, give less. Everyone gives! When I ran building campaigns, we used the motto “not equal gifts, equal sacrifices.”  

Paul closes this section of the letter with a quote from the Book of Exodus. Drawing back to Israel’s experience in the wilderness, Paul reminds them that everyone was given what they needed in the form of manna. Those who did not have enough manna, after their morning collections, found they had enough and those who had more than they needed, found they only had what they needed.[12]

The Corinthians were rich, at least in comparison to other first century Christians. Paul wants them to step up to the plate and live out their faith. They were proud Greeks who were wealthy through trade. The Macedonian’s, while poor, had also been looked down upon as distant cousins to the true Greeks.[13] But like the Samaritan, they showed generosity.  


Although I know Paul didn’t want to shame the church in Corinth to give, I’m not sure he succeeded. It’s hard not to feel a bit guilty when you’re blessed, and others are not. But Paul isn’t trying to scold; he wants to remind us of God’s abundant love and generosity. He wants us to live in God’s abundance.   

Yes, it is true; we can’t out-give what God has given us in Jesus Christ. But we can joyfully participate with God, helping those who are in need and sharing the love that we’ve been given. And in doing so, we become more Christ-like.  Amen.  

[1] Isaiah 11:6

[2] N. T. Wright, Paul: A Biography (HarperOne, 2018), 308.

[3] 1 Corinthians 16:1-4. 

[4] Heiko A. Oberman, ‘Begging to Give” The Christian Century, (June 13, 2003.

[5] C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1973), 217.

[6] Luke 10:25-37

[7] For a discussion of the differences between Gentile and Jewish Christians and this collection, see F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 321-2

[8] Matthew 5:43-44.

[9] 2 Corinthians 12:14-17.  See also 1 Corinthians 9:3-15.

[10] Paul had stayed with Aquila and Priscilla during his first visit to Corinth and worked with them in the tentmaking business. See Wright, 212. 

[11] Leviticus 27:30-33; Deuteronomy 14:22-29; 26:12

[12] Verse 15 is a paraphrase of Exodus 16:18. As Paul has done elsewhere in this letter, instead of quoting from the Hebrew text, he quotes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew text. 

[13] Alexander the Great’s father, Philip, was able to be considered a Greek after he had conquered much of the Peloponnese cities to the south. See Anthony Everitt, Alexander the Great: His Life and His Mysterious Death (2019).

Brown Knapweed

Mini-Reviews of recent books I’ve listened to on Audible

picture of five books included in this review

This are some of the books I have listened to (while walking or driving) since July:

Ben McGrath, Riverman: An American Odyssey

book cover for Riverman

narrated by Adam Verner (2022), 8 hours and 36 minutes. 

McGrath, a writer for the New Yorker, met Dick Conant through his neighbor. Conant was paddling the Hudson River and had tied up his canoe along his neighbor’s seawall. Learning that the odd canoeist, who paddled an cheap over-stuffed boat, was heading to Florida perked McGrath’s interest. He wrote a short piece on him for the New Yorker. He thought that was it until a few months later when he received a phone call from a wildlife officer in North Carolina. 

Conant’s canoe had been found overturned in the Albemarle Sound. They never recovered his body. The officer discovered McGrath’s phone number in the mass of stuff in the boat and called for clues as to who had lost the boat. McGrath sets off scouring the country looking for clues as to Conant’s identity and what happened to him. 

Conant didn’t look like a canoer. He wore over-all’s. Conant brought cheap canoes (often Colemans) which he overloaded. After an adventure, would sell the boat. He didn’t carry river maps or guides, but a road atlas. He had an odd way of preserving meat (hot dogs in pickle juice).   

Those he met along the way, he would tell of the woman he loved and was to whom he was faithful, a woman he met (only once and briefly, it appears) in Montana. Conant would live in Bozeman, Montana between adventures. Conant covered quite a bit of territory, paddling the Yellowstone into the Missouri and then down the Mississippi. Another time he started out new his childhood home in New York State, paddling the Allegheny into the Ohio and down the Mississippi. Essentially, Conant eked out a homeless existence on American rivers. 

McGrath’s research is amazing. He reached out to the people Conant touched over the years to paint a better portrait of this lone canoer.

Robert Ruark, The Old Man and the Boy

book cover for The Old Man and the Boy

narrated by Norman Dietz (1957, audible 2017), 10 hours and 41 minutes. 

This collection of stories I first read as a student at Roland Grice Junior High in Wilmington,  NC. Most boys my age read this book at that time. And why not, as the author grew up in our hometown. Ruark would go on to become a well-known author writing about outdoor adventures in exotic places like Africa. But this collection of stories focuses on him and his grandparents, who lived across the river in Southport, NC in the years between the Great War and the Depression. Ruark spent a lot of time with his grandparents. From his grandfather, he learned not only outdoor skills, such as hunting and fishing, but about getting along with others and even wildlife conservation (never kill off an entire covey of quail, leave some birds for the future). 

There are a few things in the book that would be considered taboo today. Poaching turtle eggs is now a crime, but in the 1920s, no one knew better (and because there was little development on the coast, there were more turtles). Another is the Old Man’s patriarchal manner of relating to African Americans. But at least the old man insisted they be treated as humans and despised those with racist attitudes. Besides, this allowed him access to hunt quail on some of African American farms. However, most of these stories stand the test of time. This was my first time listening to the book, but I had already read it three time and may listen to it again, just for the delightful stories. The narrator does a wonderful job of bringing the book to life. 

Dominic Ziengler, Black Dragon River: A Journey Down the Amur River at the Borderlands of Empires

narrated by Steve West (2015), 14 hours and 6 minutes.

The Amur, the world’s ninth longest river, is also the most unknown rivers among the world’s great rivers. The river’s headwaters rise in Mongolia, not far from the birthplace of Genghis Khan, and flows to the Pacific, mostly along the border of Russia and China. So much is unknown about the river that for much of history, both Russia and China claimed the river’s origin. A joint Soviet and Chinese scientific expedition set out to settle the dispute. They discovered the river’s headwaters were in Mongolia. 

The author sets out to travel, as much as possible, the entire river. However, it’s not as easy as one might think. Heading out on foot, by train, boat, and car, he makes his way down the river, mostly sticking to the north (Russian) side. Because the river is an armed border, the opportunity to float it is limited. 

As he travels, we learn of the history of the region, from the Khans to Russian eastern migration. As with the mountain men in the American West, Russia eastward expansion was first based on fur trade. Later would come mineral exploration and prisons. Also, like the American West, it includes bloody campaigns to conquer. We learn about the this as well as the conflicts between Russia and China along the river, which has raged for hundreds of years. Such conflicts are ongoing. A month after I listened to this book, China published new official map claims total ownership of an island in the Amur over the two nations fought over as recently as the 60s. 

Ziengler also informs the readers about the natural history of the river. It’s a great breeding grown for swans and other birds. The river also teams with fish. Sadly, the Siberian tigers are disappearing due to the lost of forests. The environmental issues along the river’s watershed are also covered. 

While the travelogue part of this book is lacking (because of the author’s limited access to much of the river), the book contains great stories and is packed in the history of Europe’s eastward expansion. 

Sara Seager, The Smallest Lights in the Universe

book cover for Smallest Lights in the Universe

 narrated by Xe Sands (2020), 9 hours and 37 minutes. 

Seager, an astrophysicist at MIT, looks for exoplanets in distant galaxies. These are planets in the “goldilocks’ zone,” where it is not too hot and not too cold. Such places hold the possibility of life. Because they are so far away to be observed, astrophysicists have devised new techniques such as registering a small drop of light as the planet crosses in front of its sun. Her work is amazing, and she describes it in a manner that can make it more understandable. 

But this is not a science book, it’s a memoir. We also are taken into the author’s life, from her first interest in the sky as a child growing up in Canada, to the academic politics today (such as having one’s findings stolen by another scientist). We also learn about her personal life. In addition to being interested in the sky, we are taken along with her on canoe trips to remote parts of Canada with a man who would become her husband and the father of her children. Then, we are told about his illness and death from cancer. This part of the book is tragic, which came as her career as a scientist was ascending. Later, she meets a new man, at a talk given for amateur astrometry club, and they marry eventually marry. She also comes to understand her own life with Asperger’s. 

I enjoy this book, especially her insights into her scientific work. However, at times I felt the book was a too personal. I certainly enjoyed some of what she wrote about her personal life (especially, because I’m me, long canoe trips in northern Canada). But wondered if she had ended her personal struggles with her first husband’s death, leaving the reader wondering what’s next, might have made a stronger book. Instead, it seemed this was a “lived happily ever after” type of ending.  

Robert MacfarlaneUnderland: A Deep Time Journey

Book cover for Underland

Narrated by Matthew Waterson. (2019).  12 hours and 3 minutes.

After reading about deep space, I jumped into this book about the underworld. It’s interesting to think how we know more about space (as in the book above) than we do about what’s underground. In this book, Macfarlane sets out to explore the unknown, mostly by traveling through caves and mines and the underground network of tunnels in cities such as Paris.

Macfarlane also explores what’s just underneath our feet. Dig down and you’ll find a great world of bugs and worms along with roots and various types of soil. As he makes such pilgrimages, Macfarlane muses about our uses of the earth (burying the dead to that which is dangerous, like nuclear waste). He frequently draws on literature and mythology about the underworld. In Junior High, when I was into a Jules Verne kick, I read Journey to the Center of the Earth. However, I didn’t realize that in the 19th Century, there was a sub-genre of exploration into the earth.  

I found this book fascinating and look forward to reading and listening to more of Macfarlane’s work. Two years ago, I read Macfarlane’s The Old Ways. He’s a British author and explorer that draws on a vast knowledge as he shares his explorations.  As in all the books above, rivers also appear in this book, they’re just underground . 

Godly grief leads to repentance

Sermon title slide showing clouds of an approaching storm

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
September 10, 2023
2 Corinthians 7:5-16

At the Beginning of Worship

There’s a quote I remember from a book I read forty years ago. “It’s not stress that kills us, it’s the adaption to stress that allows us to live.”[1] I don’t remember all that much about the book, but that quote has struck with me for well over half of my lifetime. At times, we get worked up about the stress we experience. If we are under too much stress, physicians will tell us it may have a negative effect on our health. Stress causes issues with our hearts. 

But what would we be like if we had no stress? Stress is often what causes us to make positive changes, to grow and mature, and learn new things. Stress (along with worry and shame) can bring us to repentance, as we’ll see in today’s sermon. Paul calls this “godly grief.”

Before Reading of the Scriptures

Last week we completed a long section in Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, where he defends his ministry. Paul is now ready to begin preparing the church in Corinth for him to visit once again. 

There is an abrupt shift in chapter seven, verse five. Paul returns to the anxiety he expressed in chapter two; about a letter he wrote to the Corinthians. After he mailed it, it began to brother him. Ever do that? You mail a letter and then you wonder if you might have made matters worse? This letter, probably one that was lost to history, Paul harshly condemned the Corinthians. It then appears Paul sent Titus to Corinth to check things out and, if necessary, smooth things over. He had hoped Titus would have returned before now, but he didn’t find him in either Troas or Macedonia.[2]

Paul, bothered by what might have been the reaction of the Corinthians to us letter, went off on a tangent in Second Corinthians, defending his ministry. Now in the seventh chapter, he returns to his original discussion because Titus has shown up. 

It seems obvious that 2 Corinthians wasn’t written in one setting. Paul wrote a bit, then put it away, and now he continues writing. The situation has now changed. In today’s passage, he speaks of the joy the news Titus brought back caused Paul. 

Read 2 Corinthians 7:5-16

Do you remember the Beatles 1963 song on their second album, “Please, Mr. Postman”? It had already been a hit by the Marvelettes in 1961, and later would be recorded by The Carpenters. The lead singer in the song repeatedly asks “Mister Postman” to wait and to see if there is letter in his bag, as he hasn’t heard from his girl in a long, long time. 

The song harkens back to the age before instant email, to a day when long distant relationships were strained by the slowness of the postal service. And if it was bad in the 1960s, think about how much worse the wait was 1900 years earlier, with Paul wandering around in Macedonia, worrying, as he longed to hear from Corinth. Such wait creates anxiety. Paul experienced such as he hoped he had not burned his bridges with Corinth.  

Our section begins with Paul describing his situation (which he’s already mention several times so far in the letter). “Our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted in every way—disputes without and fears within.” His internal anxiety must have been causing arguments with others, which is something I’m sure we can identity. 

Often, at least with me, when I am torn up over on the something inside, I can unintendedly express it in hurtful ways to others…  I know I’m not the only one. When I discuss marriage with a couple planning a wedding, I’ll bring this up. Often couples have fights over things that have nothing to do with the other. You have a bad day at work, you take it out on your spouse. You feel bad, you take it out on your spouse. I wonder if this is what Paul means when he speaks of his disputes with others while having internal fears? After all, Paul is mortal and human. And, like us, he can make mistakes and sin.

But Paul found relief, to which he credits to God who consoles the downcast, for seeing to it that Titus has reappeared. Even better than reconnecting, Paul’s heart rejoices in the good news Titus brings. He feared the worst, that the Corinthians were upset with him, but learns otherwise. The church in Corinth longs to see Paul; they mourned and burn with zeal for him.

Again, isn’t that the way it often is? Have you ever been afraid of something, fearful of going forward, and then discover things are okay. Our fears of the unknown, if we let them, will cause us grief. They’ll haunt us. But as followers of Jesus, we are called to move forward in faith. No one knows what the future holds, but as Paul will later confess to the Corinthians, the Lord’s grace is sufficient.[3]

After expressing the joyful the news Titus brought, Paul admits how he has grieved because he felt he had damaged his relationship with the Corinthians. But his joy is even greater, for now he knows that the harsh words he had with the Corinthians led them to repent, which is the first step in salvation. Paul calls this godly grief and separates it from worldly grief. Godly grief leads us toward repentance. Worldly grief can only bring death, for there is no escape or way out. But with godly grief, we can experience forgiveness and salvation. 

Paul then begins to praise the members of the Corinthian Church, a church that has found consolation in Paul’s instruction. Solace is everywhere in the last half our of passage. Joy abounds. Paul is happy, the Corinthians are happy, Titus is happy.  

You know, sometimes we must hear some harsh words to get our lives back on track. Without them, we’d continue down the wrong path. Think about hiking. You think you’re on the right path, but someone comes along and suggests otherwise. If you don’t listen to them and at least check your map, you might find out the path you’re on comes to a dead end. But if you listen, you can have even more joy and be indebted to the one who came to your aid. 

Or think of navigation aids. When you enter a channel, especially a narrow one like you often have along the Carolina Coast, you pass the sea buoy. From there, out, you can assume there is deep water. Beyond the sea buoy, you can maneuver at will. But when you come inside that buoy, you must keep a close eye on path. Red, right, returning: a saying every sailor knows. As you enter the channel, the red buoys are on your right while the green ones are on your left. And you need to stay in the center. If you’re at the helm and start to stray, it’s best for someone to speak up and point out your error, otherwise you may run aground and wreck the boat. 

Paul is like the deckhand who speaks up and informs the skipper of the boat of their dangerous course. When the Corinthians repent and return to their main course, all are happy. No one is put to shame, they rejoice. 

This is why Paul can be so joyous at the end of our reading this morning. Titus brought good news and Paul is relieved and hopeful. 

What about you? Have you ever found yourself in need of being corrected? How open were you to listening to the criticism and changing your ways? We often go off on tangents. We need people like Paul to point us in the right direction, down the path Jesus trod. And when we experience such change, whether in ourselves or others, like Paul, we should rejoice. May we all experience such joy. Amen. 

[1] Melvin Konner, The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit (1982).

[2] 2 Corinthians 2:13.  See

[3] 2 Corinthians 12:9.

A Sunday afternoon drive to Gerlach

Title Slide for "A Sunday Drive to Gerlach, Nevada, showing the Southern Pacific tracks cutting through the Black Rock Desert

Gerlach and the Black Rock Desert have lost a lot of their appeal. Over the past couple of decades, tens of thousands of people head there every Labor Day. It’s the sight of the Burning Man Festival. This year, because of some rain, 70,000 people became struck in the mud outside of Gerlach. Here’s my adventure in the Black Rock Desert long before it became so famous.  The photos are copies from slides.

The Appeal of the Black Rock Desert

I’m not sure what drew me to this dot on a map. Gerlach is a hundred and some miles north of Reno. I knew few people, even in Western Nevada, who’d be there. The only person I knew who had been to the town was Norm and Missy. They’d lived and worked there before moving to Virginia City. Another attraction that drew me to this dot on the map were hot springs. I’ve taken road trips all over the Intermountain West in search of a good soak.

There was another reason I was interested in Gerlach. I’d watched their high school basketball team play that winter. The Virginia City Muckers creamed them. Our high school boys, used to playing in the thin air of 6200 feet, ran these lowlanders to death. Making it worse, the Gerlach team had only seven players. A couple of these guys were so uncoordinated that I felt sorry for them. I could have been a star on this team. By the end of the game, they only had five players left, and they were all on the court. Their best two players having fouled out. The Muckers second string, guys who normally sat on the bench, played, and had no problem running up the score. For some reason I wanted to see this team’s town.

A Sunday drive

In the late spring of 1989, after preaching on Sunday (the service was at 9 AM), I was on the road by 10:30 AM. I drove to Reno and picked up Carolyn, a woman I was dating at the time. The two ate a quick lunch and headed off. Taking I-80 east, out of Reno, we followed the Truckee River to Wadsworth, and then staying by the river, took Nevada 447 due north.

the Truckee River and Pyramid Lake
Pyramid Lake, Fall 1988

The road took us toward Nixon and the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation. We stopped along the south end of the lake. It’s a barren looking body of water, essentially a retention pond. The pristine waters start out as snow in the Sierras. The snow melts into Lake Tahoe, and flows out of the north end of the lake. From there, the waters cascade down the Sierras. The river flows through downtown Truckee and Reno, and then through the River District of Storey County. In the 80s was home of the infamous Mustang Ranch, where there were no cattle, but prostitution was legal. At Wadsworth, the river turns north, and flows toward Pyramid Lake.

Over time, the hot desert sun evaporates the water in the lake. The high mineral content of the water when it reaches the lake leaves behind tufa formations as the lake level falls depending on the water level. Because the water is now so saline, there is little life around the lake. 

Meeting Carolyn

I had met Carolyn the previous fall on another trip to this lake. A mutual friend invited us both out on an expedition in search of fall colors, which in the American West is mostly yellow. There would be pockets of cottonwoods in canyons, with bright yellow leaves flickering in the breeze, along with yellow rabbit brush mixed into the sage. The later, through beautiful, is the bane of allergy suffers. At one point, late in the day, when the light was soft and warm, Carolyn caught me taking her picture of her admiring the crescent moon hanging in the western sky. She smiled approvingly. We started seeing each other soon afterwards. Although nostalgic, our stop on the south shore of Pyramid Lake was brief, for we had another 80 miles to go to get to our destination, Gerlach.

Truly the Loneliness Road in America

In the 1950s, Life Magazine dubbed Highway 50 through Central Nevada as the “Loneliness Road in America.” It’s not. It’s not even the loneliness road in Nevada. Nevada 447, north of Nixon, is one of a dozen or so blacktopped roads in the state with a much lower traffic count. We saw only one car heading south as we drove north, and when we returned that evening, we saw no cars. There’s not a lot out here.

The west side of the road is the Piute Reservation; on the east side is Winnemucca Lake, which is dry. Along the way, we pass a couple of ranches and a few scattered cows. This harsh land takes 40 or more acres to support a cow. As the afternoon progresses, the wind begins blowing and at places it sounds like the car is being sandblasted. Five miles south of Gerlach is the only other town around, Empire. It’s a company owned town at the site of one of the nation’s largest gypsum mines and, besides the railroad, is a main source of employment in the region. A spur rail line hauls out cars of the powdery dust. Five or so miles north, along the Southern Pacific lines (the Feather River Route) is Gerlach. 

the Town of Gerlach

The town is small and sits on the edge of the Black Rock Desert which stretches northeast as far as one can see. We ask about the hot springs and learn they’re not currently open due to construction. A little disappointed, we walk around town and the rail yard and spent some time hiking beside the tracks out into the desert playa.  The ground is barren, white, and chalky. Having seen it, I can understand why it became a quagmire after only a half inch of rain during this year’s Burning Man festival. 

There’s one main establishment in Gerlach, Bruno’s Country Club. It’s a gas station, casino, restaurant, bar, and hotel. I laugh at it being called a Country Club, for there isn’t a blade of grass in sight and certainly no golf courses. If they decided to add a golf course, I assume it’d be like the one in Gabbs, Nevada, a nine-hole course played on clay. Although not a golfer, I image your ball would get nice long bounce on such a surface. 

Photo from the internet

After our walk, we head to Bruno’s and enter the dining room that’s across from the casino. The casino isn’t much, just a handful of slot machines, along with a bar and maybe a table for cards. The establishment isn’t fancy, but we enjoy a home-style meal. The staff and the locals having Sunday dinner at Bruno’s are friendly. As tourist, we stick out, and they seem glad to see us and are curious as to what brought us to town. After dinner, the light of the day begins to fade as the sun sets. We take another walk around town. The air cools and the fierce wind of the afternoon has died down. 

Heading home

After walking around, we get back in the car. There’s nothing more to do than to drive home through the night. The car’s headlights pierce the darkness of the black ribbon of highway. At a couple of places, I slow down as we drive through six-inch-high mounds of sand across the highway. These were deposited by the afternoon wind. The stars are bright. Overhead and to the Southwest, Orion sinks toward the western horizon, as does waxing new moon. I point it out to Carolyn. She reminds me of the crescent moon on the horizon on that first trip to Pyramid Lake. An hour later, the moon has set, and we’re left with the stars and a lonely strip of asphalt. It’s late when I drop Carolyn off at her home. It’s even later when I make it back up on the Comstock.

Other Nevada Adventures

Arriving in Virginia City

Doug and Elvira

Matt and Virginia City

Riding in the cab of a locomotive on the V&T

Christmas Eve

Paul’s Last Attempt to Reconcile

Title slide showing wildflowers

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
2 Corinthians 6:14-7:4
September 3, 2023

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Saturday, September 2, 2023

At the beginning of worship 

As Christians, should we separate ourselves from the world? 

There are some who think such separation is necessary. Going back to the 2nd Century, monks fled into the desert to live in intentional Christian communities. In 19th Century America, utopian Christian communities were popular in the American Northeast and Midwest. Most were short lived. 

Even in recent times, such communities have appeared. Outside of the Amish, they tend to have a limited lifespan. Most fall apart. A few self-destructed in a horrific manner. Think of Jonesville, which started out as a community who took care of the poor in the Bay Area. After moving to South America, it ended with poisoned Kool-Aid. Or Heaven’s Gate, whose members thought that by dying they’d somehow hop a ride on the Hale-Bopp comet. 

Fleeing the world is not necessarily a good idea. Even though our citizenship resides in heaven, we have been called to do tasks here on earth. As we’ve learned from 2nd Corinthians, we’re to be Jesus’ ambassadors.[1] While we shouldn’t try to flee the earth, there are things we should avoid. We’ll discuss that today. 

Before the reading of Scripture:

For the last several months, we have heard Paul repeatedly defend his ministry to the church in Corinth. I am sure some of you will be glad to know that today, we’re at the end of Paul’s defense. You can think of today’s passage as the defense’ summation to the jury. Next week, we’ll be onto new topics as Paul prepares the Corinthians for his visit. But there are still a few verses for us to cover before we get there. 

Our text is difficult. Some scholars question if Paul wrote it, thinking that a good part of today’s readings doesn’t really fit with Paul’s other themes in the letter. I disagree. Remember, I have pointed out several places in this letter where Paul diverts from his primary theme and then returns to it. He does that here. 

Was Qumran a source for Paul?

The other question scholars raise is that this section of the letter seems to draw of different sources, some think perhaps from the Qumran Community from which the Dead Sea Scrolls come.[2]But we can’t be sure. Since Paul returns to his topic of defending his ministry and reconciliation with those who are estranged from him in Corinth, I hold that this all belongs to Paul even if he borrowed some ideas from others. 

Read 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:4

Paul finally comes to the end of his defense, which he does by making a final plea for reconciliation with those estranged from him in Corinth. But before he makes his final plea, he has a few more ideas to convey. 

Do not be yoked with unbelievers

“Do not be mismatched (or yoked) with unbelievers,” Paul says at the beginning of this passage. This often has been used a passage to discourage marriage between believers and non-believers (and in certain churches, between their members and questionable believers of other churches). But is that what Paul speaks of here?[3] I don’t think so.

Paul has already covered the marriage with non-believers in his first letter. There, Paul encouraged those married to non-believers to remain faithful in their marriage if they spouse want to stay married. He even suggests this might be an opportunity for the believing spouse to lead their partner into the faith.[4]  Has Paul changed his mind? No.

Paul wanting his listeners to avoid Idolatry

Paul may be thinking about business arrangements which could involve a believer in the pagan world. Corinth (and most of the Roman world) was thoroughly saturated with paganism. Such beliefs penetrated business life and other areas of the city. “Flee from idolatry,” Paul told the Corinthians in his first letter.[5] That applies here, too.

Rhetorical questions

Instead of coming right out about the meaning of his advice with previously given information, Paul asks five rhetorical questions. These give us an idea of what he means. These questions build, crescendo-like, to the fifth, which indicates Paul’s concern with idolatry. Believers must draw a line between themselves and the pagan world. Let’s look at these questions briefly. 

1. Righteousness and lawlessness

“What do righteousness and lawlessness have in common?” Here Paul refers to God’s law. As believers we must show the world that we’re right (or trying to be right) with God.

2. Light and dark

“What partnership is there between light and darkness?” Jesus is the light of the world, we proclaim.[6] Paul wants the believers in Corinth to stand in the light, not in darkness, which here represents evil. He provides similar advice to the church in Ephesus, where he tells them to have no fellowship with darkness.[7]

3. Christ and Beliar

What agreement exists between Christ and Beliar? This is an interesting one as the term Beliar is not used in the rest of scripture. Obviously, he refers to Satan, but why didn’t Paul use the more common name for the evil one? Paul uses Satan elsewhere in his writing.[8] While Beliar is not found in scripture, it was a common term for Satan or those opposed to God in the intertestamental period (the time between the completion of the Old Testament and the New). It was also a term used in the Qumran community.[9] What can we take from this? Obviously, those opposed to God have no agreement with Christ. 

4. Believer and unbeliever

Next, Paul asks what a believer shares with an unbeliever. Clearly, there are things that all humans share together, but I expect Paul means more to where our hope lies. Elsewhere, Paul refers to those who are believers have been adopted into God’s family, which makes us different from others.[10]

5. God’s temple and Idolatry

Paul’s final question hits the nail on the head and reminds us of a problem facing Christians living in a world of idols. Previously, in 1st Corinthians, Paul made the case for our bodies serving as God’s temple.[11] Here, he reminds them of this truth. And as temples of the living God, we must avoid association with idolatry. 

Idolatry in the 1st Century

Living in the ancient world, where none of the pagan deities required exclusive worship, one could worship many gods.[12]Such practice was held in high esteem. Pagan temples were commonplace. This setting required Christians to walk carefully to avoid giving the impression they condone idols.

Fleeing idolatry in the 21st Century

While we may not have to deal with the same kind of idolatry in our world, we still deal with idols. We should be aware of implying that we put our faith in anything but God. For to do so, we fall into idolatry. For this reason, I avoid reading horoscopes and can’t imagine going to a fortune teller or carry a good luck charm. But it’s also important in other ways. 

I was reminded in a meme on Twitter this week of the Bible’s instruction on politics. It comes from the Psalms. “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.”[13] We might replace princes with politicians (of whatever stripe). While they have a high calling, they are still mortal and ultimately, will fail us. They can be helpful, but they are not our Savior. We already have a Savior, and it is to him we’re to worship. 

God’s promises and our call

After asking these rhetorical questions which, I suggest, emphasizes living in a manner that avoids idolatry, Paul quotes a variety of Old Testament scriptures to remind us of God’s promises and our calling to stand apart from the world. 

The first passage is from Leviticus, in which we’re reminded that God will be with us, and we are to be God’s people.[14] This is like the beautiful reminder we have in Revelation of the life to come, where God will wipe away our tears.[15] Because we’re God’s people, we’re to separate ourselves from that which is unclean, Paul insist, drawing on a passage from Ezekiel.[16]Then, quoting from Samuel, he returns to the promise of God as our Father and we as God’s children.[17]

Because of this promise from God, Paul issues a call to the Corinthians to cleanse themselves and, as he called on them last week, to make room in their hearts for Paul and his companions. 

Paul ends with praise of the Corinthians

As he closes this section, Paul uses the affectionate term, “Beloved” to express his feelings for the Corinthians. Paul then continues, reiterating what he’s said so many times in this letter, that he and his coworkers are innocence of the charges brought against them. They have wronged no one, corrupted no one, or taken advantage of no one. Paul wants to reconcile so that they might, in life and in death, be together.

Paul ends this section of the letter, appropriately, on a high note. He reminds the Corinthians of the pride he has in them. We could all use a bit of praise, right? Paul didn’t want the Corinthians to think he was just beating them up, for he did really cares for them and wanted to reconcile with those to whom were estranged. 

What we should take away

As we come to the end of this section of Paul’s letter, we should ask ourselves how far we would be willing to go to reconcile ourselves to other believers. You know it is hard to reach out when you’ve been hurt. But it’s a part of our calling. In addition to avoiding the appearance of idolatry, we should willingly take the risk and to reach out in love to reconcile ourselves to those estranged from us. Amen. 


[1] 2 Corinthians 5:20. See

[2] Paul uses ideas and language here that similar to those used in Qumran. See C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (1973, Hendrickson Publishers, 1987), 195-199.

[3] For a discussion of how we might misuse the passage, see Ernest Best, Second Corinthians: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, John Knox Press, 1987), 67-68.

[4] 1 Corinthians 7:12-16.

[5] 1 Corinthians 10:14. 

[6] John 8:12.

[7] Ephesians 5:11. Darkness is often used to represent evil. Jesus speaks of the outer darkness as a place away from God (example: Matthew 8:12, 25:30). Paul refers to the dark rulers of the world (Ephesians 6:12 and Colossians 1:13). 

[8] Paul uses the term Satan in ten times (Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5 and 7:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11, 11:14, & 12:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; and 1 Timothy 1:20).  Five of the ten usages of this term were in his writings to the Corinthians! 

[9] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle of the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 347-348.  See also C. K. Barrett, 198. 

[10] See Romans 8:15, 8:23, 9:4; Galatians 4:5; and Ephesians 1:5. 

[11] 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19-20. 

[12] Best, 65-66. 

[13] Psalm 146:3. 

[14] Leviticus 26:11-12 (Paul rough quote is from the Septuagint, or the Greek translation of the Old Testament). 

[15] Revelation 21:4. 

[16] Ezekiel 20:34 (again, the quote comes from the Septuagint). 

[17] 2 Samuel 7:14. 

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