Paul’s Fool’s Speech, Part 2, responding to his attackers

title slide showing moon rising in the east at dusk

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
October 28, 2023
2 Corinthians 11:16-33

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, October 27, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

Ad hominem is a Latin term that translates as “to the person.” It refers to a common fallacy in which, instead of attacking someone’s idea, the attacker makes a personal attack. Sadly, we see it all the time in politics. It’s often used as a red herring, another form of a fallacy, where instead of challenging another’s proposals, you dangle something else out such as their education, character, religion, morals, or background. These often have nothing to do with the idea in question. In today’s scripture, we’ll see Paul has been the subject of ad hominem attack and how he responds. 

Before reading the scripture:

We’re continuing our work through Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Last week we began looking at Paul’s “Fool’s Speech.” We’re continuing through this “speech,” this week. This section of the letter, which takes up chapters 11 and 12, received such a title because Paul continually refers to himself as a fool.

Paul uses variations of the word fool almost twice as many times in his letter to the Corinthians than he does in the rest of his letters.[1]

Paul plays the fool to show the foolishness of the Corinthians and of those who followed him into the city and preached a different gospel. Paul utilizes parody to combat those who would change the gospel.[2]

Paul goes on offense against those who have made disparaging remarks about him. Paul knows boasting, outside of boasting of Christ, is unbecoming of a Christian. But because of the attacks on his character, he reluctantly responds.[3] Also, as we have seen over the past couple of weeks, we gain more insight into Paul, the person. From today’s reading. I think Paul might have enjoyed Gary Larson’s “Far Side” comic strips. 

Read 2 Corinthians 11:16-33

Most ministers, I’m including myself, experience someone who follows you in a church with an idea with which you don’t fully agree. In our system of church government, where you’re not supposed to be involved in church politics once you leave a call, you must (or at least you should) bite your lip and let go.

(But I can tell you, can’t I? Hopefully none from my former church are listening in today…)  

The church in Cedar City, Utah will always have a special place in my heart. I served there for a decade. The church grew and I helped relocate and build the first new church building in my ministry.[4] The new church sanctuary, which ain’t so new anymore as they celebrated 25 years in the new church a year ago, had clear glass windows. From one side, you could look up at unique rock formation of Fiddler’s Canyon. The other side looked out across the valley toward Lund. Both sights were beautiful. The church itself was stucco, which fit in the desert southwest. 

When I was a pastor, a few people expressed the desire the church might become wealthy enough to purchase stained glass windows. I disagreed. I was rather vocal that such windows only belong in stone or brick churches. Besides, I suggested, why would you want to cover up the beauty of God’s creation. 

Probably ten years after I left, someone came along and wrote a check for the purchase of stained-glass windows. I bit a hole in my cheek when visiting as they showed off the windows and bragged on their beauty. The damage had already been done. There wasn’t anything I could do about it. “That’s nice,” I mumbled. 

That said, I’m sure when I’m retired and gone, y’all do something I won’t like and I’ll have to smile, shake my head, and say something non-committal such as, “that’s nice.” Of course, we’d all do well to remember that church isn’t about us. It’s about Christ. 

But Paul didn’t have to abide by Presbyterian polity. There were no Committee on Ministries in the first century to slap his hands and say he was out of bounds. But then, he felt responsible for the church in Corinth and tried to help it navigate the temptations of the day. Last week, I suggested that these new missionaries may be teaching about Jesus’ life, but avoiding the key to Christian faith, his death and resurrection. 

My reason for suggesting that these were Jewish “lite-Christians” comes from this section. We learn they have a Jewish background. Jesus’ teachings were not out-of-line for the rabbis of the day. The scandalous part of the early Christian beliefs were the manner of Jesus’ death and his resurrection. But for Paul and us, that’s the crux of the gospel.

Paul begins our reading this morning by returning to where he was in verse 1 of this chapter. He reverts to being foolish and asking the Corinthians to bear with him. Interestingly, he says this isn’t the Lord’s teachings, but he’s lowering himself to the level of those boasting missionaries who have followed him in Corinth. And he sarcastically snipes at the Corinthians for gladly putting up with fools. 

These “fools,” Paul says in the 20th verse, makes them slaves. With this, Paul refers to the slavery of the law as opposed to the freedom of the gospel. He also suggests the “fools” prey upon them, refer to their demand for payment, as we saw last week

Paul concludes the first paragraph with the suggestion that “we” (him and the Corinthians) are too weak for that. If you remember, Paul began his first letter to the Corinthians speaking of how God uses human weakness to bring shame on human wisdom. So, both Paul and the Corinthians, need to play dumb and depend on God and not their own wit.[5]

In our second paragraph, beginning with the second half of verse 21, Paul goes all out with his “fools’ speech.” [6]  He examines the boasting of those who are challenging his authority. Paul either meets or tops their challenge. 

They say they are a Hebrew, so is he. They say they are Israelites, so is he. Likewise, he’s also a son of Abraham. These three challenges all have to do with his Jewish identity. To us, they sound similar, but by saying he’s Hebrew, Paul probably refers to the fact he can read Hebrew. As an Israelite, he follows of God.[7]As a child of Abraham, he is not a proselyte to the faith, but a birth member of the tribe. 

Next, Paul goes into the Christian faith. These outsiders say they are ministers of Christ, but Paul insists he’s a better one. Now Paul begins to brag on what he’s endured for Christ. Paul’s life hasn’t been easy. It’s one of hardship as he’s had more imprisonments than these impostors. The he refers to the floggings he’s received, which came from the Jewish authorities. The forty lashes minus one are a punishment outlined in the Old Testament. Paul has also received beatings with rods, which were a Roman-styled punishment.[8] He’s been stoned. 

If Paul had not believed in the truth of Christ, why would he put up with this abuse?

Paul then goes into the more natural challenges he’s faced. He’s been shipwrecked. He drifted for a day waiting to be rescued, which implies him holding on to a piece of the ship that floated. He’s faced dangers from rivers and bandits and dangerous people. He’s spent sleepless and cold nights, been hungry and thirsty. Finally, he worries insentiently about the churches he established.[9]

Jesus suffered in his life, as did Paul. In his bragging, he shows himself to be superior to these missionaries who speak of a limited gospel while living off the offerings upon whom they prey. Essentially, Paul is asking the Corinthians if they think these so-called missionaries could endure what he has endured. 

Paul concludes this section of his speech proclaiming that his boasting shows his weakness. Paul could only endure what he experienced with God’s help. He insists, before God, that he has not lied. Then, almost as he forgotten, he adds that incident early in his Christian life, where he was let down the wall to escape Damascus.[10]

While it is natural for us to place ourselves in the role of Paul to see what we might learn from this passage, I want us to try something else. How about seeing ourselves as the Corinthians who read this letter. Paul, in this passage, by playing the fool, isn’t really attacking those who talked trash about him. Paul flips from the wayward missionaries being fools, and points to the foolishness of the Corinthians.[11] They have listened and are accepting this false gospel. 

We are constantly lured away by what’s shiny and new. That’s the purpose of advertising, to sell us the “new and improved.” But when it comes to our faith, we’re best to stick to the “tried and true.” As the Heidelberg Catechism begins, “Our only comfort in life and death is that I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.[12] Amen. 

[1] Paul uses variations of fool 11 times in 1st Corinthians and 7 times in 2 Corinthians. He uses it 5 times in Romans, twice in Galatians and only once in Ephesians, 1 Timothy, and Titus. 

[2] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 528,

[3]  Ernest Best, Second Corinthians: Interpretation, a Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Louisville, KY: JKP, 1987). 109. See also 2 Corinthians 10:17f.

[4] I served Community Presbyterian Church of Cedar City from October 1993 to January 2004. We moved into the new church building in December 1997. 

[5] 1 Corinthians 1:20-25. 

[6] Barnet see’s the “fools’ speech proper beginning with verse 21b. Barnett, 534.

[7] The world “Israel” means the one who struggles with God. See Genesis 32:28. 

[8] See Deuteronomy 25:2-4. See also C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (1973, Hendrickson Publishing, 1987), 296-297.

[9] Acts only tells us of one shipwreck (Acts 27:13-44). However, this shipwreck doesn’t fit the timeline for 2 Corinthians. While we hear of Paul suffering beatings and stoning (Acts 16:23-24, 21:31-32, 22:23-36, 23:9-10), most of these events are not mentioned in the New Testament. See Barrett, 267-300. 

[10] Acts 9:23-25.  There is a slight difference from this story and the one told in Acts. Here, Paul makes it sound as if those watching the city were the authorities under the king, while in Acts we’re told it is the Jews. 

[11] Barnett, 532. 

[12] Presbyterian Church USA, Book of Confessions, “The Heidelberg Catechism” 4.001. 

moonrise at dusk
Moonrise at dusk

The Need to Be Whole

photo of Wendell Berry and book cover for "The Need to Be Whole"

Wendell Berry, The Need to Be Whole:: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice 

"The Need to Be Whole" book cover

(Shoemaker & Company, 2022), 513 pages including index and bibliography.

I came across Wendell Berry as a 21-year-old college student. I had read a review of his recent book, The Unsettling of America, and checked it out of the library. Since then, I have purchased and read 16 of his works in three genres (non-fiction, fiction, and poetry). In Barry’s latest work, he returns to themes he first laid out in The Unsettling of America (1977) and The Hidden Wound (1969). Nearly 45 years later, I have entered the latter half of my sixth decade as Berry fast approaches his ninth. 

In The Need to be Whole Berry reflects on thoughts over his lifetime that involve how we get along with one another and with the land in which we’re to steward. The result is a book that, at times, wanders. It’s also a book that will anger many: conservatives and liberals. But Berry has never been one to fit into a comfortable niche of what’s popular now. He is beholden to no one. He thinks for himself. The reader can either accept or reject his thoughts. 

While Berry’s subtitle suggests this is a book about Patriotism and a history of prejudice, it’s much more than that. Berry calls on his readers to love, each other and the land. While he writes about prejudice and racism, he understands the roots of both grounded in the lack of respect for work and the land. He criticizes the work philosophy of John Calhoun, who saw menial labor as beneath white gentleman in his defense of slavery. Berry criticized Calhoun for alienating the white population of the South from the land, which was just as destructive to yeoman white farmers as it was to slaves.

Interestingly, however, Berry doesn’t allow us to discard someone just because he or she made politically incorrect statements. He even concedes that not everything Calhoun did or stood for was bad, although he didn’t outline what was good about him. He does, however, delve into the good of another discredit Southerner, Robert E. Lee. Berry defends Lee as he understands Lee’s desire to defend his state. One of the places Berry wanders is the recent movement to remove statues of slaveholders. While agreeing that nothing about slavery can be justified, Berry is also against removing such statues. He’s also against just about any movement, as if he wants to be saved from such do-gooders.  Nor does he have time for what passes as political correctness.

Berry’s home state of Kentucky never succeeded from the Union, yet it was a slave state and the Civil War era brought hardship and violence to it. Berry wanders around his state’s Civil War history as he attempts to make a point. If I understand Berry, while he thinks slavery is horrible, yet he finds the South’s connect to the land to be more noble than the industrial north. However, at the time of the Civil War, both north and south were mostly agrarian.

This brings to Berry’s understanding of patriotism. He understands the patriot to be linked to the land and in opposition to the “nationalism.” Drawing on the writings of George Bernanos and John Lukacs, nationalism is aggressive and based more on a myth of the people. Patriotism is more defensive and rooted not in the people but in the land. Nationalism seeks to make enemies among fellow citizens. 

Another thread which Berry follows in his book is theological. He certainly understands the stewardship concept (the earth is the Lord’s, and we’re just stewards of it). His chapter on sin is an insightful commentary on the Ten Commandments. He is also critical of both conservative and liberal or progressive views on sin. Sin much more encompassing, involving our hubris, than the popular (media) sins argued in the political arena (conservatives: abortion along with regulation and taxes; liberals: racial slurs and sexual harassment). The popular sins effectively divide the innocent from the guilty, where sin divides us from God and neighbor (156). 

The chapter on sin is followed by a longer chapter on forgiveness (where he discusses the current debate over statues to slave holders). He understands that freedom requires forgiveness. Otherwise, we’ll continue the battles repeatedly. Toward the end of the book, in his last chapter which is titled “Words,” he calls us to love. He acknowledges that legislating equality won’t change our hearts. Only love can do this. And for Berry, love involves both the land and its people. 

There is a lot in this book, and I’ve just scratched the surface. I invite you to read the book. I’d love to discuss it with some people. 

The “Fool’s Speech”: Looks Can Be Deceiving

sermon title page showing sunset through the trees

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
October 22, 2023
2 Corinthians 11:1-15

Sermon recorded at Bluemont on Friday, October 20, 2023

At the beginning of worship: 

What does Satan look like? 

I don’t recommend dressing like Satan at a Halloween party. There’s no reason to give him any more publicity. But if you do, how would you dress? You would probably have horns, dark red clothes, a long-pointed tail, while holding a pitchfork? That seems to be the general depiction of the evil one since probably the Middle Ages. I suggest it’s a dangerous portrayal. 

Somewhere in C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letter, there is a piece about how, if we think of Satan and his minions in a grotesque manner, the demons’ job of deceiving us is easy. If evil appeared gross, it would be easy to recognize; there would be little temptation to follow it. Instead, we’d be repulsed. 

Perhaps Hollywood gets it right in horror flicks. Think about when a character seems perfectly normal and civilized. You trust the character. You may sympathize with his or her struggles. But then, they peel off a face and turn into a horrible monster. You know, the type of scene where you nearly jump out of your seat? After all, you have trusted the character and were deceived. 

Evil is seldom scary as we’ll see today in my sermon. And the grotesque, whom we strive to avoid, may be good yet unfortunate in their looks. Looks can deceive us.  

Before the reading of the Scripture:

Last week, I talked about how it appears Paul received some new information before sitting back down and resuming his letter to the Corinthians. As we move into the 11th Chapter of 2ndCorinthians, we learn what is bothering Paul. Last Sunday, I spoke about some of the things we learned about Paul in the 10thChapter. He wasn’t exactly an example of bodily strength and had issues with speaking. In this chapter, we discover Paul has a sense of humor and can be quite sarcastic. He’s my kind of guy!

Chapter 11 and 12 consist of what some have labeled, Paul’s “fool speech.”[1] He makes fun of himself, playfully calling himself a fool many times in these two chapters. Lovers sometimes can be foolish, and Paul loves the Corinthians. But Paul isn’t playing around. He deals with some serious issues facing the Corinthian Church. Listen

Read 2 Corinthians 11:1-15

In Paul’s absence, it appears another set of missionaries have come to Corinth and deceived the faithful. They teach another Jesus, another Spirit, and another gospel. We don’t know just what they taught, but perhaps they focused on Jesus’ life and teaching while avoiding the cross and the resurrection. By doing so, they could still hold strong to their Jewish heritage. After all, Jesus was a Jew. 

Repeatedly, in his ministry, Jesus insisted that his ministry was first focused on the Jews.[2] It’s only after his resurrection, that he sends the disciples out to the end of the world.[3] Hearing of these false teachers, Paul with wit and humor, goes on the attack. 

Paul loves the Corinthians. In the first section of this reading, he envisions himself as a matchmaker. At this time, the fathers often arranged the marriage for their daughters. Paul sees himself in this manner. He wants to be there on the final day of history when Christ returns as the bridegroom. Think of a father proud of his daughter, presenting her in marriage. That’s Paul’s hope, to present the Corinthians to Christ.

We might think it strange to consider a church as a virgin bride, but such sexualized metaphors appear throughout scripture. In the Old Testament, Israel is the bride to God.[4] And in the New Testament, this world ends with a wedding as the church is the bride of Christ.[5]

Paul recalls Eve in the Garden of Eden to show how the Corinthians have been deceived by these “super-apostles” (as he calls them). Again, as we did last week, we see that Paul has some security issues. He knows he’s not an eloquent orator. But he also knows what’s important about Jesus and that’s what he’s proclaimed to Corinth. So, if these super smooth talkers sell a different Jesus, Paul wants the Corinthians not to be lured away by the glitter and shine. They should stick to the tried and true. 

But let’s go back to the image of Paul as a father of a bride. What if his daughter ran off with another man. In the ancient world, the father would be hurt. This is Paul’s fear. Have the Corinthians run off with another “Jesus”? 

And how about us? Is there another Jesus we look for? Do we create our own Jesus in our likeness instead of the accepting and following the Jesus revealed to us in Scripture, the Jesus who died for our sins and was resurrected on the third day? 

Paul’s second attack involves payment for his teaching. We can assume from the second half of this passage, verses 7 to 11, that those “super apostles” who speak so eloquently, were paid. You know, what we pay for we often value more. But it’s a lesson that’s hard to learn. 

When I was a pastor in Utah, we were doing mid-week dinners and Bible Study in the evening. People complained about potlucks because they didn’t have time after work to prepare something. So, we tried it with the church providing a simple meal. We still didn’t get as many as we thought. There was a professor of economics in the church, who suggested we charge a simple fee for the meal because when something is free, it isn’t valued. We started charging a buck a burger, or a buck for slice of pizza, or whatever it was we were serving. Amazingly, we more than doubled our attendance. Paying for something implies value.

For some reason, however, Paul didn’t accept any payment from the Corinthians. We learn in this passage that he was being supported by those in Macedonia. We also know that he worked in a tentmaking business with Aquila and Priscilla while in Corinth.[6]  We don’t really know why, for not only did Paul receive support from Macedonia, in other places he is clear that workers need to be paid.[7]

Big Jim Folsom was a governor of Alabama in the 1940s and 50s. Wherever he held rallies he would pass the hat. One day, an aide asked him why he kept raising money as he had more campaign contributions than he could possibly spend. He told his aide, that if someone threw in a dime or quarter for his campaign, he had the vote, and that when the next guy came into town, they wouldn’t listen since they already committed to him.[8]

It appears the Corinthians, who paid to hear these “so called super apostles,” valued them more because of the cost! Paul suggests that he hasn’t charged the Corinthians because of his love for them. Ministry, first and foremost, is about love. 

In the third section of our reading, which begins with verse 12, Paul pulls out the big guns. These “so-called super apostles” want to be recognized as Paul’s equals. Paul will have nothing to do with validating their ministry. Had they been accepted as equals, with their fancy words, they could lure the Corinthian Church away from Christ. Paul now hits them with charges of being a false apostle, a deceitful worker, disguising themselves as an apostle of the true Christ. Paul then reminds the Corinthians how Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light. 

Following Christ isn’t always easy. Paul reminds us that there are those who teach things not in Scripture. Such things may not even be wrong. This is especially true if those false apostles in Corinth were teaching the message of Jesus’ life, while ignoring the resurrection. We need to know about Jesus’ life and teachings, but Paul insists that our hope, our salvation, is not in Jesus’ life on earth. If it was, we would have to work for our salvation. Our hope, our salvation, is in Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

While the teachings of Jesus are good, we find our hope in the exalted Jesus. “Jesus died for us, Jesus rose from the grave for us, Jesus ascended into heaven for us, and Jesus will come again” we proclaim. Paul’s message is that we should only place our trust in the one who will rule for all eternity. Amen. 

[1] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 494-496.

[2] See Matthew 15:24-28, Mark 7:27-28, and John 4:19-26. 

[3] Matthew 28:16-20, Acts 1:8. 

[4] See Hosea 1-3, Ezekiel 16 and 23, Isaiah 50:1 and 54:1-6, Psalm 45, and Song of Solomon. Ernest Best, Second Corinthians: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: JKP, 1987), 101. 

[5] Revelation 21:2

[6] Acts 18:3. 

[7] 1 Corinthians 9:3-7, 2 Thessalonians 3:8-9. 

[8] This story was told by Ron Carroll when he was the Scout Executive for the Cape Fear Council. 

photo of the sun setting through the trees
Sunset one evening this past week.

The Amur River

Photo of Amur River and book cover

Colin Thubron, The Amur River: Between Russia and China (New York: HarpersCollins, 2021), 291 pages with an index and a map.

This is the second book I’ve recently consumed on the Amur River. I’m not sure of my renewed interest in Eastern Russia, but having once visited Siberia on the Trans-Mongolian Train from Beijing to Moscow, I had wanted to go back and take the train on to Vladivostok, and perhaps take a round trip, utilizing the BAM (Baikal-Amur Railroad). With the conditions of the world and Russia’s horrific war, such a trip may not be available during my lifetime. But maybe, if I can be as active as Thubron, who was nearly 80 when he made this trip, the world will settle down and I can make such a trip. 

In July, I listened to the unabridged audible version of “Black Dragon River” which is the Chinese name for the river that runs between it and Russia. This is the 9th longest river in the world and the one few people have heard about, probably because much of it is off limits because of the fortified border. This is my third book by Colin Thubron. While traveling across Siberia in 2011, I read his book, In SiberiaI’ve also read Shadow of the Silk Road, which he describes a western trip along the old Silk Road, from China to the Mediterranean. Sadly, I didn’t review that book. 

Thubron is a wonderful travel writer. In this book he describes his experiences as he attempted to follow the Amur and its tributaries from its source in Mongolia to the Pacific Ocean. Like Dominic Ziengler, in Black Dragon River, much of Thubron’s travels are mostly on land. But he says close to the river. He begins with an expedition in Mongolia, to find the headwaters of the Onon River, which requires special permission as they are entering a “strictly protected area”. While on this trip, he falls off his horse and breaks an ankle (but only thought it sprained) and cracks some ribs. But he continues to hobble along own despite his injury. 

As he and his guides make their way through the northeast of Mongolia in a we learn about the Buryats of Russia, many who moved to Mongolia to escape Stalin, only to find themselves dealing with Khorloogiin Choibalsan, the leader of Mongolia after it became communist. Choibalsan was as cruel as Stalin, he just had fewer subjects to torment. It is estimated that between 1937 and 1938, when the purges in Mongolia were the worst, ½ of the nation’s intelligentsia and 17,000 monks were killed. 

Tubron leaves Mongolia and picks up a Russian guide, following the Onon River. After the confluence with the Ingoda River, the Onon becomes the Shilka River. He stops in towns along the way which appear to have seen their better days. He’s asked about his purpose. When he says he’s following the Amur to the sea, he’s informed he’s on the wrong river, that the Amur is far away. It’s as if people don’t realize that the Shikla is the main tributary to the Amur. He also has run in with Russian security, who are suspicious of his travels. But after a few days, it works itself out. Part of the problem may have been he accidentally saw the maneuvers along the Amur with Russian and Chinese troops. 

After the confluence of Argun and Shilka Rivers, which form the Amur, the river becomes the boundary between Russia and China. While it is a fortified, there is some trade across the river. But there is also much prejudice, with the Russians looking down on the more prosperous Chinese, who many see is only interested in making money. At the city of Blagoveshchensk, Thubron crosses the river into the much larger Chinese city of Heihe. From here, he begins to travel along the river’s southside, before crossing back into Russia where the Ussuri River meets the Amur. In the border city of Khabarovsk, he learns of archeologists who have discovered ancient Chinese artifacts being punished as the Russians doesn’t want the Chinese to have any claim to their territory. Russia claim on its eastern land is weak. It was only after the building of the trans-Siberian railway that the country was united, and much of its land in the east was squeezed by treaties from a weaken China. 

While the border seems to be somewhat stabilized along the Amur, many Russians have xenophobic views about the Chinese. Eastern Siberia is a long way from Moscow. In some ways, both sides of the border are frontiers. But most of the Russians Thobron meets on his travels are Europeans and they feel China is destroying their forest and lands for their own development. By the time Thorbon reaches Khabarovsk, it’s October. He’s been traveling since August. The river is beginning to freeze, so he heads back to the United Kingdom for the winter. 

The next June, Thubon returns to Siberia. After Khabarovsk, the river turns north. From here, the Ussuri River, which flows from the south, becomes the border with China. Thubon travels along both sides, stopping in remote places, traveling with a Russian outdoorsman who takes him fishing and discusses survival in the deep cold of winter. He gains a vision of another side of Siberia. Most of this area is remote, except for Komsomolsk-na-Amure, which is where the BAM (Baikal-Amur Railway) crosses the river. This was a site of Soviet weapon factories which has produced aircraft. Along the river, nuclear submarines were built. But Thubon is not able to secure a permit to visit these sites and continues to make his way by car and boat to the river’s mouth into the Pacific. made this trip, most of the capacity is limited. 

I enjoyed reading this book. It reads like a travelogue, with the author providing just enough detail to give you a feel for the land and its history. While I also enjoyed Black Dragon River, it felt less like a travelogue as Ziengler goes much deeper into the history, not only of the Amur, but of the Mongolian and Chinese influence in the larger world. Both books are worth reading. My one complaint is that Thorbon tends to use obscure words, especially adjectives. But he writes some beautiful sentences. An example: “Perhaps it is the intimacy of the town, cradled in its hills and wrapped by the river, that sheds a gentle euphoria.” 

Ger Camp in Mongolia
Thubron had a number of colorful descriptions of these such as “mushroom caps”

Paul Changes Tacks, 2 Corinthians 10

Title slide with photo of the bow of a sailboat crashing through waves

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
October 8, 2023
2 Corinthians 10

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, October 13, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

When you’re sailing upwind, on a beat, the goal is to make smooth tacks. You can’t sail directly into the wind, that’s the “no go” zone. You must come at the wind at an angle and make upwind progress by zigzagging, or tacking, back in forth. 

The one at the helm starts the process by alerting the crew of a change in direction. Then, on signal, he or she slowly but steadily moves the tiller from one direction to the other. As you do this, the crew releases the sheets (or ropes) holding the bottom of the sails to one side of the boat and reattaches them on the opposite side. If done correctly, you won’t spill any of the drink you’re enjoying. 

But there are times when things happen, and a quick tack is in order. Perhaps you didn’t see a boat and you don’t have the right-of-way. Or maybe you have the right-of-way, but the other boat doesn’t see you. Or, maybe, you’re approaching a shoal. Whatever the reason, the one at the helm must act quickly. The tiller is pushed hard in the opposite direction as you yell for everyone to watch out. Soon, the boom flies across the deck. If everyone isn’t careful, someone could be hurt or knocked out of the boat. It’s also not good on the equipment, which takes a beating. Things can break. But in an emergency, sometimes it’s necessary. 

Today, as we move into the last four chapters of 2nd Corinthians, we witness Paul making an abrupt tack. We have seen Paul tack back and forth between various topics throughout this letter. In the previous chapter, as we saw two weeks ago, he discussed the offering for the saints in Jerusalem. He ended that section of the epistle with a beautiful passage, thanking God for his indiscernible gift. 

Before the reading of the passage:

In the 10th chapter, Paul takes a different direction. Much of the first seven chapters of the epistle focused on Paul defending his ministry. Then comes the appeal to help those in Jerusalem.  In the 10th chapter, Paul goes on offense. 

Read 2 Corinthians 10

As I have said repeatedly as we work through 2nd Corinthians, we only hear one side of the conversation. This forces us to make conjectures as to what Paul addresses, as I’ll have to do this morning. While this is a handicap for modern readers, this letter, as I have also repeatedly said, gives us a personal look into Paul. 

So, what do we learn about Paul in this chapter? Verse 10 summarizes a lot. Paul writes eloquent and bold letters, but in person, he was meek and not much to look at. Some thought him weak. We don’t know if Paul had always been this way, but certainly after his beatings, we can assume that physically, he wasn’t in the best of shape.[1] They also complain of Paul contemptible speech. Did Paul stutter? Did he have an accent that made him hard to understand? 

Many of you can probably recall Paul’s complaint of the “thorn in his side,” which comes later in this letter.[2] If we take references in the letters and in Acts together, we can assume that Paul wasn’t an example of strength and health. But he is an example, as he wrote in his first epistle to the Corinthians, of God choosing the weak to shame the strong.[3]

While we strive to follow Christ, we should also see Paul as an example. The greatest missionary in the history of the Church faced multiple obstacles. Paul’s struggles should inspire us to remain faithful and to continue doing the Lord’s work, even when we are overwhelmed. Interestingly, Paul who was physically weak, challenges us to run our race with our eyes on the goal.[4]Often, those who struggle most in life, become cheerleaders for everyone else. Paul cheers on those following Christ. We need to cheer on one another. Even if you can’t do anything else, think about what you can do. Perhaps dropping a note to someone hurting? Or picking up the phone and make a call of encouragement?

But there is more to this passage than our insight into Paul. As I have mentioned earlier, Paul makes a drastic shift between the 9th and 10th chapters. Last week, we saw him being positive as he encourages the Corinthians to participate in the larger church. His tone changes as he begins the 10th chapter. Some scholars think this part of the letter belonged to another letter Paul wrote.[5] While we will never know for sure, it appears Paul laid down his pen after writing the last chapter. When he picks the pen back up, something had changed. Perhaps he received additional news from Corinth. 

As we’ve seen, Paul had been so excited to receive news from Titus, in which he heard things were going well in Corinth and that people loved Paul.[6] Did someone else show up and give a contradictory report? Was Paul informed that folks laughed at his speech and personal appearance, while wondering how such a person could write so eloquently? We are not sure exactly what happened, but Paul has changed tacks. 

Paul goes on the offense in a strange way. He lifts the meekness and gentleness of Christ. But that doesn’t sound like an offense, does it? 

These days, there are many people who push for a more masculine Jesus. You may have heard of book that came out a few years ago titled Jesus and John Wayne. It’s by Kristin Du Mez, a professor at Calvin University. The author explores how many Christians have tried to make Jesus into a tough, no-nonsense type of man.[7] Think of a Rambo Jesus. 

Those seeking a macho-Jesus generally refer to his overturning the tables of the money changers.[8] There, we see Jesus’ anger, but it’s anger at making a mockery of God’s house. Elsewhere, Jesus is meek. He tells Peter to put away his sword.[9] He teaches things like “turn the other cheek,”[10] which I admit to having a hard time obeying. I thank God daily for grace. 

While we live as mortal humans, Paul says Christ-followers are not to wage war according to human standards. Instead of brute strength, we depend on divine power. Paul isn’t making a case for being a tough fighter. Instead, he shows his strength doesn’t come from having a bulky body, persuasive speech, or swords. Instead, he depends on God. Again, I find I’m quick to counterattack when I am wronged, but it’s not something of which I’m proud. The problem with such actions is that we’re living by the world’s standards and not by God’s standard. 

Sebastian Junger, a journalist, was embedded with the 173rdAirborne Brigade in the Kooringal Valley of Afghanistan in 2007-2008. He wrote about his experiences in a book titled War. In that book, Junger writes about a conversation he had about God with these soldiers who endured daily firefights. Some of them spoke about their prayers, but one of the soldiers proclaimed: “We don’t need God when we can call in the Apaches.”[11] He referred to the helicopter gunship that could bring murderous fire on enemy positions. Again, that’s the macho view of life, not the meekness called for by Paul and Jesus. 

Even though he is meek and not a very good talker, Paul proposes that by relying on divine powers, he can destroy strongholds. But such power is often hidden. It’s like when Jesus spoke of destroying the temple and rebuilding it in 3 days. Everyone thought he was nuts, as Herod’s temple had been under construction for decades. Of course, Jesus referred to his body as the temple, a body resurrected on the third day.[12]

Paul continues, reminding them they all belong to Christ. Everyone should be on the same team. He addresses boasting, wanting to use it only for building up others. When we boast, is that what we do? Or do we boast to one-up someone else. Sadly, I confess to often doing the latter, which is something I struggle with and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. Again, thank God for grace!

It then appears Paul addresses other evangelists who have come to Corinth. Did some of them think Paul was “overstepping his limits” by continuing to engage with the Corinthians? We get a hint of this battle within Corinth in 1st Corinthians, where Paul speaks of others who have come to Corinth preaching. Paul insists they’re on the same team. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”[13] Paul wants to ensure the Corinthians that if other preachers are following the Lord Jesus, they’re not in competition. However, if they are spreading a false gospel, Paul will challenge them. 

But Paul, who has boasted about the church in Corinth, will continue to do so for his goal is to spread the gospel all around. And then, it’s almost as if he rethinks what he has written, when he suggests that if those who boast should only boast in the Lord. After all, everyone involved is working for God, not for themselves. 

What do we learn from this passage? We don’t have to be pretty, handsome, or speak eloquently to be an effective disciple for Jesus. God can use us as we are. Second, our strength comes from God, not from human standards. Trust God, whose power is revealed in our weakness. 

May we always give God glory. Amen. 

[1] On Paul’s beatings see Acts 16:21-23, 21:31-32; 1 Corinthians 4:11-12; and 2 Corinthians 6:4-5 and 11:24-26. 

[2] 2 Corinthians 12:7.

[3] 1 Corinthians 1:27. See also 2:3 and 4:10. 

[4] 1 Corinthians 9:24; 2 Timothy 4:7. 

[5] See Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans, ), 450-453. Barnett gives five reasons that scholars believe this section is from another letter, while he maintains the letter was a unity before it was adopted into the canon of Scriptures. 

[6] 2 Corinthians 7:5-7.  Or see my sermon on this text:

[7] Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation ( Liveright: 2020). 

[8] Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 16:15, John 2. In the John passage, we get the clearest view of Jesus’ anger.

[9] John 18:10-11. The other gospels mention the disciples having swords when Jesus was arrested, but only John identifies Peter. See Matthew 26:51-52, Mark 14:47, Luke 22:38, and John 18:10-11. 

[10] Matthew 5:39 and Luke 6:29.

[11] Sebastian Junger, War (Norton, 2010). I no longer have the book and this quote is from memory. 

[12] See Matthew 26:61 and 27:4; Mark 14:58 and 15:29, and John 2:19. 

[13] 1 Corinthians 3:6. 

Sailing on a windy day
A windy sail

Remembering Jack

Photo of Jack Stewart and his dock out into Lime Lake

We met at an afternoon gathering of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan, held in the old meeting house styled sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church of Richland. I don’t remember the date. It must have been around 2009. I sat in the balcony, having come prepared with a book. Not seeing anything too important on the agenda, I planned to pass the hours reading. I knew the usual suspects would speak on every issue. Feeling my voice wasn’t really needed to add to the debate, I began reading. I don’t even remember the book, but it had something to do with 19th Century church history. 

Jack sat in the same pew, but there was a gap between us. Catching the book title, he slid over and quietly asked about it. Soon, we were whispering back and forth, discussing Charles Hodge, the great 19th theologian at Princeton Theological Seminary. Jack had written his dissertation on Hodge. That was a beginning of our friendship. 

Jack had just retired from Princeton Theological Seminary, where he’d spent the previous fifteen years teaching. Before that, he taught few years at Yale Divinity School and before that at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. He’d also served as pastor of several churches in the Pittsburgh area and Westminster Presbyterian in Grand Rapids. We met several times for breakfast. In 2010, I hired Jack to lead a session retreat for the church I served in Hastings, Michigan. In 2011, I hired him again to help run our stewardship program. 

This smallmouth bass grew into an 8 pounder by happy hour!

At some point, it may have been at that Presbytery meeting, Jack and I began to discuss his favorite topic, fishing. Over the next few years, Jack and I made several trips to the northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan where he had a cabin which he and his sons had built back in the 60s. When I asked what I needed to bring on the trip, he told me to bring my rod. “In my family,” Jack informed me, “we would no more ask to borrow someone’s rod as we would their toothbrush.” I packed both. 

Jack’s cabin was a simple A frame, set a hundred or so feet from the shore of Lime Lake, which is not far from Sleeping Bear National Seashore. I also went on a fishing trip with him to the Pere Marquette River, but by then his health declined. He could no longer get into the water to fish with a flying rod. While I waded out a bit to fish, I ended up spending most of my time fishing from the bank, where Jack sat in a chair and made an occasional cast. We didn’t catch anything. On the trips to Lime Lake, we caught a lot of smallmouths using rubber worms and a spinning rod. 

Jack swore he caught the largest fish on this day

Jack had his traditions. On these trips up north, we’d stop and grab coffee in Cadillac. The next stop was a country store in Maple City that had a little bit of everything, including a meat market which made sausage. We’d pick up a few pounds for our breakfasts. Each trip always included a stop at the Carlson Fish Market off the docks in Leland for some smoked white fish and pate. 

Days at the cabin were relaxed. Breakfast was generally eggs, sausage, and toast. Before we ate, he’d pull out his old leather-bound copy of John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer. Baillie, a Scottish pastor from early in the 20th Century, had two prayers, a morning and evening prayer, for each day of the month. At breakfast, one of us would read the morning prayer. After eating, we’d fish in his aluminum boat. It was always catch-and-release.  We’d come in off the water for lunch and maybe take a short nap before heading back out on the water. 

We generally stopped fishing around 4:30. When we got back to the cabin, we’d have some crackers and pate or smoked whitefish, with a wee dram of scotch. One of us would read Baillie’s evening prayer for the day. Baillie and Scotch were appropriate for Jack,. He proclaimed his last name was how Stewart was supposed to be spelled. The other Stuarts were highfalutin Francophile Scots. After this Scottish ritual, we’d head out to one of the many restaurants and pubs in the area for dinner.  

As we fished, as well we drove around the region, or sat around after dark, nursing one more drink, we’d talk. Topics were numerous:  theology, travel, world affairs, politics, what we’ve been reading, and some more theology. One particular concern for Jack was ecclesiology, which Jack felt was the weak link in the Reformed Tradition. But our talks weren’t always serious. We always told jokes. Jack could find a way to intersperse a joke into any conversation. 

Jack was raised south of Pittsburgh, near Uniontown, Pennsylvania. I think his father was a coal miner and his family was of modest means. Jack earned a scholarship to Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA.  While in college, he became friends with Bruce Thielemann, who later became a very popular preacher at 1stPresbyterian Church in Pittsburgh (click here for some of Thielemann’s sermons). Sharing my remembrance of hearing Thielemann preach in the seminary chapel when I was a student tickled Jack. Thielemann died in 1994 and Jack spoke at his funeral. 

After college, Jack and Bruce attended seminary in Pittsburgh. His class was one of the first for Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, which was formed with the merger of Xenia and Western Theological Seminary (Xenia was the seminary for the United Presbyterian Church of North America and Western was a Seminary for the Presbyterian Church, USA The two denominations united in 1959).

While at seminary, he became a friend of Robert Kelly and Jack Rogers. Twenty-seven years later, Kelly was one of my New Testament professors when I was in seminary. Rogers spoke at my seminary graduation and was the moderator of the 2001 General Assembly of which I was a commissioner. The four were mentored by John Gerstner. Jack appreciated Gerstner’s guidance, but could not abide by his rigid conservatism. Jack told me about him meeting Gerstner years after seminary in which his old professor told him how he and his friends were a disappointment because none of them had joined in his battles. 

After I left Michigan, Jack and I would occasionally exchange emails or talk by phone. Often, when I was in the area, I would stay with him and his wife, Maureen. On at least two occasions, I was there on a Sunday and would worship with them at the Church of the Servant, which is located near the campus of Calvin University. At home, before meals, he’d offer grace using the opening words of Psalm 103.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name.

I last saw Jack in October 2022. I was at at Calvin for a Foundation for Reformed Theology seminar. On a free evening, I drove over to his home for dinner. I knewJack wasn’t doing well. Still, it was a shocked a few weeks ago when Marueen emailed me that Jack had been in the hospital and was coming home under hospice care. Thankfully, I was able to talk to Jack two weeks ago. On Sunday, I received an email informing me of his death.  

I will miss his jokes and stories. Both the true stories, along with the tales about a fish which must have grown by pounds between catching it and telling about it.

Mar sin leat, my friend. 

For Jack’s Obituary, click here.

On Lime Lake

Two book reviews and a personal essay on Dispensationalism

Book covers and a title page

Daniel G. Hummel, The Rise and Fall of Dispensationalism: How the Evangelical Battle Over the End Times Shaped a Nation 

(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2023), 382 pages including a glossary, biographic essay, and index. The text includes a handful of charts and prints. 

A broad definition: Dispensationalism is a belief that God works differently at different periods of time (dispensations) to reach humanity in different ages (dispensations). The doctrine rose from the teachings of John Nelson Darby in the 1830s, an Irish pastor who founded the Plymouth Brethren sect. However, the term Dispensationalism wasn’t coined until the 1930s. Dispensationalists believe we are nearing the final age and that before the end comes, the church will be raptured out of the world. When this happens, the world will enter a period of tribulation. The theology became more popular through the writings of Hal Lindsay and the “Left Behind” series. 

My experience with dispensationalism

I read Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth in high school. While Lindsay didn’t provide a date for the world’s demise, he certainly hinted it would be in the 1980s (I graduated from high school in 1975). I felt we were living in the last days. But we’re still here! Things weren’t moving toward the end, just yet. I slowly understood that the future is not ours to know. Jesus makes this clear when he said no one knows the date or the hour of his return. 

The concept of the rapture, which is behind such theology, seems far-fetched. The idea that God is going to yank the church out of the world before things go to hell in a handbasket (pretribulation premillennialism), saving the church from the horrors to come. This idea, which is rather recent in the history of the church, became even more problematic as I became more aware of suffering of Christians in the world. Such beliefs seemed just too comfortable for Christians in the Western World. But what does it say to Christians in the Sudan or Pakistan or North Korea or any of the other countries with persecution.  The purpose of the rapture, according to most dispensationalists, is for God to give Israel one more chance at salvation.

Dispensational theology wasn’t a class I took in seminary. I have only one memory of a professor addressing it, Doug Hare, a New Testament scholar. Essentially, he said that if we don’t do proper exegesis on the text, and understand it from the culture it arose, it would be easy to create such fantasy interpretations of scripture. 

In my own journey, dispensationalism was something that I felt I needed to study after I graduated from seminary. Part of this came from study of American religious history and reading George Marsden’s books on the history of fundamentalism and evangelism. Then I read Charles Ryrie’s Dispensationalism Today and John H. Gerstner’s Wrongly Dividing the Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism. 

By the time of the publications of the Left Behind series, I was convinced of the danger of such teachings and spoke about it. This caused me to lose a potential new member when I was in Utah. A man took offense at what I said about dispensationalism. I later learned he was a friend of Tim Lahaye, one of the authors of the Left Behind series. During this time, I started to write my own “dispensational parody novel.” My title, “Left Behind at Denny’s” seemed to capture the worse place I could think of being left at. . I only wrote a few pages before I decided it wasn’t worth my effort.

While I don’t accept dispensationalism and have often pointed to the Southern Presbyterian Church call of the movement as a heresy, I must give them credit for reminding us that Christ will return. Eschatology is important.

My review of Hummel’s book 

While I had a broad concept as to what dispensationalism was about, Hummel’s work opened my eyes. It’s not a mono-cultural movement, but one with many diverse threads. While the movement’s beginning is related to John Nelson Darby, the Irish theologian in the 1830s, there are aspects (especially in America) that goes back further to a premillennialist view (Christ will return before the millennial) and to the Millerites (followers of William Miller, a Baptist pastor in the United States, who predicted Christ’s return in the 1840s).  Blending into these threads are how the theology became adopted by different groups from mainline denominations, evangelicals, and Pentecostals. Hummel does an amazing job describing these various understandings of dispensationalism.

In the 19th Century, Darby made many trips to the United States. He found a receptive ear in the Great Lake region and with the evangelist Dwight Moody. This led to the first institution dedicated to the teaching, Moody Bible Institute. From the beginning, American dispensationalism differed from its British counterpart. Darby’s Brethren were separatists from the main Protestant bodies. In America, dispensationalists were at home in many denominations including Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists, and to a lesser extent in Lutheran and Methodist traditions. 

Dispensationalism had a regional component. At first, it was strongest in the northern and border states. Then, a separate group developed on the West Coast, with the organization of Biola (Bible Institute of Los Angeles). The movement was slow to take hold in the South, especially in the early years, but eventually did with the establishment of Dallas Theological Seminary, which became the hub of academic dispensationalism. Interestingly, dispensationalism was primarily a “white” Protestant phenomenon and failed to take deep roots within the African American churches. 

The movement gained considerable support after the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible by Cyrus Scofield, a Congregational pastor from Texas. Scofield linked together passages in the Bible that supported dispensational teachings. His Bible was published by Oxford University Press. The popularity of his Bible allowed dispensationalism to influence those outside of their own circle. 

While dispensationalist beliefs grew in the early decades of the 20th Century, there were critics. This was especially true among more conservative and even fundamentalist Protestants, especially those within the Reformed tradition. While these critics challenged dispensational hermeneutics, they were often on the same side with many of the social battles such as fighting against the teachings of Darwin or Communism. 

Among all the many divisions within dispensationalism, Hummel divides dispensationalism into two broad eras. The dispensationalism of the first half of the 20th Century he labels Scholastic. Then, in the 60s and early 70s, with the publication of books like Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth, a more popular version of the movement rose. This popular version later gave rise to the Left Behind novels, which earned their authors a fortune and helped spread dispensational views. However, as dispensationalism became unmoored to its scholastic roots, it also began to decline as a movement, especially under the attack of groups such as the “new Calvinists.” Even Dallas Theological Seminary began to scale back its requirements for professors and students to affirm dispensationalism. 

Dispensationalism had to change over time (when Christ had not yet returned to rapture the church). While most tended to hold to the teaching that the tribulation would be after the rapture, some suggested we are going through a “humanistic tribulation” that will precede the rapture. This allows them to explain the liberal shift in culture and why the church has not yet been raptured. 

While Hummel does an excellent job tracing all these various threads of dispensationalism in America, he only briefly covers the role the theology had in “shaping a nation.” 

Dispensationalists were involved in many of the social movements of the past half century, but often with others who were conservative in their theology. However, their biggest impact was toward our country’s support of Israel. Dispensationalists sees the state of Israel as the defining moment in history pointing to the end. Many believed there are two ways of salvation, through the free grace offered by Jesus through the church and through the Jewish faith who are still God’s people. On the positive side, such thought makes dispensationalism a ready critic of antisemitism. However, it also allows one to justify total support of Israel without questioning the nation’s policies. When you believe you are on God’s side, who can argue with you about the morality of your actions? 

Another area where dispensationalism had an impact was the fear of the accumulation of power and one world government. To a dispensationalist, this was evidence of the approaching end, but it also allowed for many conspiracy theories to rise and find a home in churches teaching such doctrines.

The role of end-time beliefs in our government is dangerous. Not only is it no way to run a foreign policy (as with Israel), but it can also create other policy disasters. If you are sure the world is ending, why be concerned about the environment. After all, why not max out your credit cards? I hope Hummel’s research will continue to explore such issues. 

Daniel Hummel grew up within the dispensational tradition. He currently works at Upper House, a Christian center located on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His first book (which I haven’t read and may go deeper into the role the movement had on our foreign policy) is Covenant Brothers: Evangelicals, Jews, and U.S.-Israel Relations). I would recommend The Rise and Fall of Dispensationalism to those deeply interested in the history of American religion or who would like to understand dispensationalism more.

Patrick Wyman, The Verge: Reformation, Renaissance, and Forty Years that Shook the World

 (Audible, 2021), read by the author, 11 hours and 33 minutes. 

Wyman makes the case that the four decades from 1490 to 1530 set Europe (and the Americas) on the course to become the world’s center. Prior to these decades, no one would have bet on Europe. The Ottomans to the east, China, areas in India, and even some unknown kingdoms such as the Incas and Aztecs in the yet to be discovered Americas, all seemed to have superior cultures.

But that began to change in the 1490s. The not-yet united Spain repelled the last of the Muslim invaders who had occupied parts of the peninsula for centuries. Not only did Columbus sail to the Americas, but other explorers also sailed down the coast of Africa and on to India. This was soon followed by the Reformation, the defeat of the Ottoman armies at the gates of Vienna in Austria, and the establishment of larger European nation states. Several things gave rise to European power including credit, printing, and the advancement in the art of war. This was also a violent era and Wyman ends his story with the Holy Roman Empire under Charles V sacking Rome (which was one way to settle the debt owed to the soldiers). 

I have read many books focusing on this period of history, but I can’t recall any of the books beginning with a detailed discussion of currency in use at the time. Most of my books focused foremost on the Reformation and perhaps the printing press. Wyman, however, spends much more time discussing finance and trade before he ever gets to Martin Luther. Credit becomes the means to expand the power of the state as well as to explore and to share ideas. Credit involves a trust that one will be repaid and can make a profit, which often led to the abuses of the era. When it came to being repaid, no one was overly concerned as to how the profit was made, whether from slave trade or plunder. 

While Wyman concentrates on a few key leaders of the era (Christopher Columbus, Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottomans, Charles V of Spain, and Martin Luther), he often tells his story through more common people such as a trader in England and a printer in Venice. Each chapter begins with what might be called “Creative Non-fiction” as he places the reader in the setting described, allowing us to experience first-hand what life was like in this era. 

Having listened to this book, I am glad that the author was also the reader. As an experience podcaster, he made an excellent reader. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in this era of history and how the modern Western world came about. 

Blessed and being a blessing

Title slide for sermon with photo showing butterfly on a milkweed plant

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
October 1, 2023

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

At the beginning of Worship

There’s an old legend. I think comes from a Native American tradition which speaks of a fist. We make a fist for fighting, but if you look at it, it’s plain to see that a fist is unable to receive gifts. To receive, we must open our hands and be thankful.

But not only do we need to be thankful for what we’ve been given, we should also be generous so that others are blessed. A generous heart is one that graciously receives the gifts we’re given in this life while sharing with others. We’ll talk more about this later this morning. 

Before reading the scriptures

Stoicism was a philosophy in the ancient world. Its purpose was to produce individuals who were content with what they had and where they were in life, while also helping them to be self-sufficient. There are people like that today. On the one hand, it is good for us to be self-sufficient. But there is a danger in this philosophy, which Paul challenges. We’ll see this in our reading today from 2nd Corinthians. Paul wants the Christian to acknowledge his or her dependance upon God.[1]

As you know, we’ve been working our way through this letter of Paul’s. The Apostle spends the 8th and 9th chapters focusing on a gift for those suffering in Jerusalem. This was perhaps the first foreign mission collection made in the history of the church. 

Setting for today’s reading

The Corinthian Church has promised a gift, but it hasn’t been forthcoming. Paul doesn’t want to humiliate the Corinthians into giving. However, as we saw last week, he does suggest that if their gift doesn’t materialize, he and the Corinthians are going to have a hard time living it down. After all, their poorer neighbors to the north, the Macedonians, have already made a generous gift.[2] But giving to maintain honor is not a good reason. Paul doesn’t want them to feel compelled to give. He wants them to give cheerfully because they are sharing in God’s work.  

Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

It had been a long hard winter.  The snow piled deeper and deeper as the mercury plunged and rivers froze. People suffered in the mountains and the Red Cross responded. They lined up helicopters and as soon as the weather cleared, they flew in supplies. 

One crew after working all day spotted a little cabin buried in the snow, with a wisp of smoke coming from a chimney. The team assumed they could use some help, but there was no way they could get the ‘copter down near the cabin. They sat down about a mile away and one of the rescuers volunteered to ski in with some essentials. It was exhausting work, pushing through snow drifts as he broke trail. 

Finally, he reached the cabin and knocked on the door, exhausting and panting. A startled mountain woman opened the door and the man gasped, “I’m from the Red Cross.” “I’m sorry, Sonny,” she said closing the door. “It’s been a long and hard winter, and we don’t have anything left to give.”[3]   

gIving and receiving

Friends, as God’s chosen, we need to practice how to give and receive. Paul gives us some clues about how to do this in our passage today.  We’ve been blessed so that we might be a blessing.

Paul makes it clear in this passage that God supplies the gift and blesses the giver. God provides the gift because God wants us to be able to participate with him, doing his work in the world. Verse eight reads in The Message translation, “God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready for what needs to be done.”[4]

Giving without being aware of the real need

Notice it doesn’t say anything about an amount of a particular type of gift. Nor does it even say anything about the need of the recipient. 

Paul doesn’t shame the Corinthians into giving by pointing out how those in Jerusalem are starving and malnourished. He doesn’t show any photos of kids with skinny arms and legs and extended stomachs, suggesting that for just a dollar a day, this child can have a better life. Now, there are a lot of groups who do good work using such techniques, but that wasn’t Paul’s way. Shaming is a technique that may works well, but it’s not Biblically grounded. 

Instead, Paul points out the need for them (and for us) to give. By giving, we fulfill God’s intention for our lives and allow God to bless us even more. By giving thankfully, we grow into a Christ-like life. 

Like the Corinthians, we need to give. Some of us can make large gifts while others of us are only able to make a modest gift, or what may seem to be only a small gift. But all are valuable. As it has been pointed out in many sermons, the largest and the smallest gift in scripture is the same one. The widow who gave her two small coins gave all she had. By percentage, it’s the largest cash gift recorded in scripture. But because the two coins were so insignificant, it’s also the smallest. [5]

We give, not because we can make a difference. We give because God gave to us first and because we want to be a part of the work God is doing in the world.  

Giving involves more than money

By the way, although Paul talks about a financial commitment with the Corinthians, our giving is more than just putting money or checks into the offering plate, or the gifting of stock or real estate. God has given us so much more. The financial part is critical to our spiritual development. You’ve probably heard before that Jesus talked more about money and the proper use of treasures than of any other topic except prayer.

Beyond money, it is also important for us to give of our time and talents, to show of empathy, and the willingness to be with others during times of trial. As God’s elect, we are to be doing God’s work in the world. Through the church, God partners with us so that we might show the world a better way of living.

Partnering with God

Isn’t it exciting God wants us partner with him? But more than that, God also provides us the means to contribute. It has often been said that the church will never have enough, but it always has enough for its mission. God sees to it that we have what we need to carry forth our work in the world. From a business standpoint, this might not make sense. Our analytical minds want us to have all the resources lined up in advance, but God doesn’t work that way. He wants us to go forth while trusting and being dependent on him. When everything is assured, there is no room for faith.

Spiritual impact to the receiver (The JERUSALEM Community)

Paul doesn’t end this discussion with the benefits that giving has for the giver, but he goes on to discuss the spiritual impact upon the recipient of the gift. He suggests those in Jerusalem, who receive the gift, will give thanks to God for the Corinthians and their faithfulness. 

The believers in Jerusalem are Jewish Christians and they’ve not been overly thankful for Gentile Christians. But Paul suggests that because of their gift, those in Jerusalem will have a change in heart. Instead of looking down their noses at the Gentiles, they’ll give thanks to God and will pray for them. The Jewish Christians are being prompted for a second conversion, one that will welcome all those who Christ calls to himself.[6]

God’s generosity should melt our hearts. Generosity has the power to even melt the hearts of our enemies. Our generosity is anchored in God’s generosity. As we give, God graciously provides.[7] When we train our hearts to be generous, God can bless us even more. When we are generous and gracious to all, including our enemies, we are living as God intends.[8]

Annie Dillard as a Child

Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, her first book which also won the Pulitzer Prize, tells of a game she played when she was a child of six or seven. She’d take a penny and hide it where someone could find it. It was great joy to her, as a young girl, to be a blessing to the one who found and pocketed her penny. She would hide the penny along the sidewalk near her home, cradling it within the roots of a sycamore or in a chipped off piece of concrete. 

But it wasn’t enough to just hide the penny, as she wanted to experience the excitement of it being found. She would take chalk and draw arrows toward the penny. She’d write, “SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY. The thought of a lucky by-passer, who without merit found the penny as a “free gift from the universe,” excited her.[9]

Excitement of Giving

Think of the excitement of Annie Dillard as a child or, as the young girl I told you about two weeks ago, who fed peanuts on an airplane. We can have just as much excitement as adults, partnering with God and giving to programs that help build God’s kingdom. Generosity is counter cultural. It is an antidote to a self-centered, narcissistic, me-first society. Cultivate a generous heart. And as you give, trust that God will continue to give to you so that you will be able to be even more generous.  Amen.

[1] C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians  (1973, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1987), 237.

[2] 2 Corinthians 8:1-6.  The idea of a gift is introduced in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4.

[3] James Hewett, ed. Illustration’s Unlimited as used by John Salmon in a sermon.  

[4] 2 Corinthians 9:8, The Message Translation.

[5] Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4.

[6] When I am speaking of a “second conversion, I am thinking of it in terms of Peter.  Even after accepting that Jesus was the Messiah, Peter had to another conversation in order to be open to the Gentiles.  See Acts 10.  Often times, our Christian walk isn’t about just one conversion but a series of conversions as we make small steps toward becoming the people God calls us to be.

[7] Jeff Manion, Satisfied: Discovering Contentment in a World of Consumption (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 148.

[8] See Exodus 23:1-9.

[9] Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (NY: Harper and Row, 1974), 15. 

Pollinators take and give to a plant