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

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

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.

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. 

Wildflowers (July 2023)

This is the day to live for God

Title slide for sermon: "This is the day to live for God!"

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
2 Corinthians 6:1-11
August 27, 2024

Sermon recorded at Bluemont on Friday, August 25, 2023

At the beginning of worship: 

Without looking in your Bibles which I hope you have with you, can any of you recite Psalm 118:24? Anyone want to try? I bet if I started the verse, many of you could finish it. 

The verse begins, “This is the day the Lord has made.” I often use it at the beginning of worship. And how does the verse end? “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

I occasionally like to use this Psalm at the opening of worship on a less than picture perfect day. Of course, if the day is nice (clear skies, with a Goldilocks’ temperature-not too hot, not too cold, just right), Psalm 118:24 makes sense. But what about when the skies open and everything is wet? Or when a cold wind blows? Or it’s steamy hot? Can we, with the same vigor, recite, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” 

I hope you can, for everyday is another day for us to praise and worship our God. We should find something to praise every day and every moment that we have a breath. 

Before reading of the Scripture:

Last week, as we looked at the end of the 5th chapter of 2 Corinthians, we heard Paul calling his hearers to be a part of God’s team working for reconciliation within the world. Today, we’ll see examples of how he strived for reconciliation among his distractors in Corinth. This is all part of Paul’s effort to defend his ministry to the believers in Corinth. His defense is an important context for us to understand what he means in this passage, as I’ll show later. It is always important to take a passage of scripture in context to remain truthful to the Scriptures. 

Read 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

I remember a sign on Carolina Beach Road, south of Monkey Junction, back in the late 1960s. It was old by then, I bet it was put up in the 40s, sticking up in that white sugar-like sand dotted with wire grass, longleaf pines and blackjack oaks.. The sign featured a simple design. A white background with bold black letters spelling out, “Get Right with God.” As a kid, it seemed to serve as a wake-up call. It might soon be too late, I’d worry, as I said a prayer. 

While the advice is good, I’m not sure of its intention nor effectiveness. Yes, we need to “get right with God,” but it’s not a one-time prayer or something to be done out of fear. Instead, those of us who follow Jesus are called to journey. Before the word church came into regular use, those who followed Jesus were known as people of “the Way.”[1] Paul himself speaks of us working out our salvation. But if we sense the goodness of God, we work it out without fear. We’re on “the way,” every day, enjoying the benefits God bestows on us. 

Paul is still defending his ministry

While Paul has been defending his ministry throughout much of what we have explored in 2nd Corinthians, he now changes how he addresses the Corinthians. He’s been talking to them (including himself) using the pronoun “we.” Our first verse begins like this, too. “As we work together with him (or God). But beginning in the second half of the first verses of the sixth chapter, Paul shifts. He addresses the Corinthians personally and directly. “You” he says, should not “accept the grace of God in vain.”[2]

An Acceptable Time

Then, quoting from Isaiah,[3] he reminds them of God saying that he has heard us at an acceptable time, and on the day of salvation has helped us. Next, Paul immediately reminds his listeners that now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. 

One could easily mistake the meaning of this text if taken out of context. It could be effectively used as an altar call with the preacher saying, “now is the time, you better get up here and repent.”[4] It’s kind of like that old sign on Carolina Beach Road, before it rotted and fell or succumbed to construction. But that’s not Paul’s meaning here. First, Paul writes to believers in Corinth. Second, he is defending his ministry against some of their complaints. So, this passage isn’t about getting right with God today, although that is never a bad idea. Instead, he wants the Corinthians to return to their original love and beliefs in Jesus Christ and to follow him. 

Paul sees salvation as a process. It’s not just us intellectually confessing that Jesus as Lord. That’s just the beginning. Instead, by admitting Jesus is our Lord, the one in whom we find life and meaning, means we live for him and not for ourselves. Paul makes this point clear throughout this letter. 

So, what is the acceptable time? What is the day of salvation of which Paul speaks? He’s quoting from Isaiah, who speaks of the day when God releases Israel from exile. But Paul, whose understanding of what God is now doing, expands this concept. It’s not just about the temporal salvation of the Israelites. All of God’s creation are included. Even gentiles, like us. This day, the day Paul refers to, is the time between the Christ’s ministry and his return. We’re living in this day and need to make the best of the time we have on hand as we join with God in the work of reconciliation.

No obstacles

In verse three, Paul speaks of how he and his fellow disciples have not placed any obstacles in front of the Corinthians (or others, to whom he has preached). Think of Paul’s ministry. He stood up for the rights of the gentiles.[5] He didn’t see the need for them to become Jews first: to be circumcised, or to observe dietary laws.[6] God’s grace is freely given, they could just accept it and out of gratitude follow Jesus. Wanting to reconcile the gentile world to God, Paul will do what he can not to create barricades. 

Nine sufferings

Next, Paul moves on to further defend his ministry with a series of what he and his fellow missionaries have done on behalf of those with whom they’ve ministered. He lists nine sufferings they’ve endured: 

  • afflictions, 
  • hardships, 
  • calamities, 
  • beatings, 
  • imprisonments, 
  • riots, 
  • labor, 
  • sleepless nights, 
  • and hunger. 
Despite suffering, showing inward traits

Following Jesus wasn’t the easy option for Paul. Then he lists seven “inward” traits they’ve shown:[7]

  • purity, 
  • knowledge, 
  • patience, 
  • kindness, 
  • holiness of spirit, 
  • genuine love, 
  • truthful speech, 
  • and the power of God. 

If we’re following Jesus, we must strive to live in a way that our lives show such traits even when enduring difficulties. People need to experience our patience, kindness, and love. We need to be known for telling the truth, even when it may be easier to color the truth a bit. Since we’re to live for Christ and not ourselves, like Paul, we can’t take the easy way out. 

Peacefully armed

Paul then includes a military analogy. He’s armed with the weapons of righteousness, one in both hands. Following this right after mentioning the power of God, I think Paul refers to such weapons metaphorically, as he does when he speaks of the armor of God in Ephesians.[8]

Certainly, Paul doesn’t equate such weapons as offensive, after having just listed traits which would go against such an idea. Yes, he has weapons, but they are from God, and they are not used to bring vengeance on those who have mistreated him. Instead, he’s given power to continue despite such misfortune as he’s already endured. 


Paul then shifts into providing several antitheses that demonstrate his status as a missionary. 

  • He’s treated as an imposter but he’s true. 
  • He’s seen as unknown, but is known (especially to God, as he pointed out in the last chapter[9]). 
  • He’s seen as dying, yet he’s very much alive. 
  • He’s viewed as punished, but has not been killed, sorrowful yet rejoicing, 
  • poor yet making others rich, 
  • having nothing yet owning it all.   
Speaking as to children

This section concludes with Paul reminding the Corinthians of his frankness in speech and how his heart has been open to them. While there is no restriction from his position, he finds some in Corinth, with those who challenged his ministry. He encourages them to open their hearts. Paul speaks simply as to how we might speak to children. This might sound strange at the end of such a plea, but as Jesus says, for us to enter the kingdom of God, we must do so as a child.[10]

While many in Corinth have questioned Paul’s intentions, the Apostle doesn’t write them off. Instead, he strives to reconcile himself to them, with a vision of them together working for God’s kingdom. As for how we apply this text to our lives, let me suggest a couple of ways. 


First, if we feel we’re done with church, we should know God doesn’t write us off. God loves us. And hopefully, within the church, there are folks those like Paul who strive to reconcile with us and bring us back into the fold. 

Perhaps some of us are being called to be Paul and to work for reconciliation with those who are estranged within our community. As Paul shows, such work can be difficult, but it’s godly labor.

Paul as an example

Finally, we should use Paul as a model, as an example of faithfulness. Paul endured a lot, yet he maintains his Christ-like traits. And we should do the same. Just because we’re attacked or abused by others, doesn’t mean we need to go low and resort to their tactics. We’re not to seek revenge. Instead, as followers of Jesus, those who are on the Way, we’re to take the high path. We show the virtues of our Savior, who willingly gave his life so that we might have life everlasting.  Amen. 

[1] Acts 9:2. Followers weren’t known as Christians until later in Antioch, see Acts 11:26. Jesus declares himself to be “The Way” in John 14:6.

[2] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 315-316.

[3] Isaiah 49:8.

[4] Barnett, 319.

[5] See Galatians 2:11-14. Paul rebukes Peter for how he treated gentiles.

[6] Paul spends much of his letter to Galatians insisting they didn’t first need to become a Jew. He also has proclaimed in his first letter to the Corinthians that they ’don’t need to be circumcised or observe the dietary laws. 

[7] Ernest Best, Second Corinthians: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1987), 61.

[8] Ephesians 6:10-20. 

[9] 2 Corinthians 5:11. 

[10] Mark 10:13-15 and Luke 18:16-17. 

Because of Jesus, we look at the world differently

Title slide showing mountain sunrise with fog in valley

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Presbyterian Church 
August 20, 2023
2 Corinthians 5:11-21

At the beginning of worship:   

A dozen years ago, John Ortberg published a book titled the me I want to be: becoming God’s best version of you”[1] The title turned me off. It sounded as if went against my theology of focusing more on God and not ourselves. But I read the book. While a catchy title, the book goes deeper than I had expected and has some good insights. 

God created a diverse world. We’re all different. Looks, shapes, the hue of our skin and hair, our abilities. We’re all unique. The goal of the church shouldn’t be to create a cookie-cutter version of a Christian. If that was even possible, we would create a boring organization. And we wouldn’t be effective! God calls us for a purpose. If we all looked, talked, and acted the same, if we all liked the same things, we would alienate ourselves from the rest of the world. 

But that’s not what God’s wants. God created us as irreplaceable individuals. Consider Jesus’ original disciples. They were all unique: you had fishermen and tax collectors, a physician and a revolutionary, devoted followers and skeptics. We’re all unique and beautiful. We’ve been created by the Master Artist who designed us with a purpose and a vision for the future. 

Before reading the scripture

Last week, we saw how Paul ended the section with a reminder that all of us, including himself, will face judgment for what we’ve done in our bodies. As we continue with 2nd Corinthians, in today’s reading, Paul moves to an appeal for the reason he shares the gospel and focuses on God and not himself. 

Read 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

Because of our focus as believers of Christ, Paul teaches four truths here. 

  • We can have life in Christ.
  • We should look at other people through Jesus’ eyes.
  • We work as companions with Christ in God’s mission of reconciling himself to the world.
  • And, in Christ, we can become more righteous. 

I recently listened to the book, Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging 70sThe 70s brought great change to baseball. Players began to look like the rest of America with long hair. AstroTurf took over ballparks. The designated hitter became a reality. But it was also a good decade for baseball if you were a Pirate’s fan. They were almost always in contention and won the World Series in ‘71 and ‘79.  

The ‘79 series featured Willie Stargell, a great ball player. A few years later, when I would sit in the cheap seats in the upper deck of Three River Stadium, there would be stars marking where he smacked home runs. Stargell was the spark for that team, but he always insisted on giving credit to the rest of the players. Yet, his teammates always gave the credit back to him. 

“He taught us how to take what comes and then come back,” Dave Parker, another player on the team said. “He taught us how to strike out and walk away calmly, lay the bat down gently, then get up the next time and hit a home run. From him we learned not to get too high on the good days or too low on the bad days, because there are plenty of both in this game…” 

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Paul would have been a fan of the ’79 Pirates. At least he’d like their attitude. Don’t boost about yourself, Paul insists. Others can boost about you. And the only ones that really matters is God, who knows all, as well as our own conscience. We should ask ourselves, “Are we doing our best?” 

For Paul, the focus is always on Christ, the one who died for us, so that we might have life in him. And for Paul, this life is not just in the world to come, but in the present. Because Christ gave his life, we are to live not for ourselves, but for him. 

Because we live for Christ, we are to look at the world differently. We don’t look at one another from a strictly human point of view. We must see others as Christ sees us, overlooking their flaws and seeing their God-given potential. This means we don’t look at others with envy or disdain, but with compassion and love.

“Comparison kills spirituality, John Ortberg wrote in the book I mentioned earlier.[2] If we compare ourselves to one another, whether we look up to or down on them, we’re doomed. For God didn’t create me to be you or you to be me. God creates us unique and the only comparison that we’re to make is to compare ourselves to our Savior, a mirror in which we will all see our shortcomings. 

But thankfully, we will also all experience the accepting and loving smile of a forgiving Savior. Yes, he wants us to improve our lives, but doesn’t want us to be burdened with guilt or to make us into something we’re not.  

So, Paul suggests we not evaluate people from a human point of view or, as translated in The Message “by what they have or how they look.” But you know, that’s not an easy lesson to learn.

One of the wonders of Facebook is that it has allows us to renew old friendships of people we’ve not seen or talked to in decades. For me, some of these people became good friends even though we weren’t close when we were younger. We knew each other but didn’t hang out a lot. Yet, now we’re all older, we find things we have in common. 

Joseph was one such guy I got to know better, who sadly died four years ago. When visiting my parents, we’d often together for coffee or over a beer and talk. I confessed to him once that when we were in Junior High, I was envious of him and his friends in the band. He couldn’t believe it and went on to say, to my shock, how he was envious of me and me and those I ran around with. Truth be known, we’d both been better off if we hadn’t worried about others and just been ourselves. But that’s a hard lesson when you’re a teenager. But as we mature as disciples, it is a lesson we must learn. For we must see people as Jesus sees them.

Paul’s second point also needs to be considered. Not only are we not to judge others by human standards, but we’re also to realize that we’re not who we should be.  That’s the purpose of comparing ourselves with Christ; for in Christ, we see our shortcomings and our need for both mercy and change. Looking at Christ, we see the need for conversion, to change into something new. 

There must be a new creation, something we can’t do ourselves. Only God has such power to wash us clean and to change us. It’s important we see the tie Paul makes here between Christ and a new creation for we can’t recreate ourselves. I can change clothes or find a hair piece, but that’s not what Paul means. We must be recreated in Christ!  

We can’t recreate ourselves; we need God’s help if we’re going to find new life in Christ. In Christ, we’re made new because we are reconciled with God. Our sins are not held against us because Christ takes them on himself. 

In coming to Christ, we are made right with God, but it doesn’t end there.  Remember, there is a purpose in all this… We’re made right with God, not just to get into heaven. Surely, that’s important, but it’s not the primary purpose. We’re made right with God first, then we’re to go out and reconcile others to ourselves. We become an extension in God’s work of reconciliation; it starts with Jesus and then flows through us into the world. God wants us to join in his work. That’s our call as Christians.

In verse twenty, we learn we’re Christ’s ambassadors. An ambassador is a good description, for an ambassador doesn’t represent his or her own interest; but the interest of his or her country. When the President appoints an ambassador to another country, they are not told to go and do what they think is best. They’re to represent our interest and our values to a foreign country. Likewise, as followers of Jesus, we represent not ourselves, but his kingdom! We are to show a foreign world the values of the heavenly kingdom to which we belong. 

This means that our work as Christ’s disciples isn’t limited to what we do here, on Sunday morning. Our work is to be about showing godly values—in our families, our places of work, at the marketplace, or with our neighbors. Wherever we find ourselves, we are to be a living example of what it means to be a new creation in Christ.

And finally, in our last verse, Paul suggests all of this—our new lives in Christ, our seeing others in Christ’s eyes, our work of reconciliation—is a part a greater plan of us becoming more righteous. As we focus on Christ, we become more like him. That’s what the gospel is about. 

“To Jesus Christ, who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood and made us to be a kingdom, priest of his God and Father, to him be the glory and dominion forever and ever.[“3] Amen.  

[1] John Ortberg, the me I want to be: becoming God’s best version of you (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).

[2]Ortberg, 25.

[3] Revelation 1:5-6.

Finding Confidence

title slide, background showing a hickory tree with clouds at sunset

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10
August 13, 2023

Sermon recorded at Bluemont on Friday, August 11, 2023

At the beginning of worship

Where do we find confidence? Where do we get the strength to continue with life? Some may think they can dig deep inside themselves and find strength, but what happens when that fails? The confidence we need is best described in the opening of the Heidelberg Catechism. 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.”[1]

Jesus gives us confidence to live each day to the fulness of our abilities. As we’ll see today, Paul offers similar thoughts to the Corinthians. We do what we can in this life to bring God glory, knowing that in the life to come God will clothe us in eternity. 

Before reading the Scriptures: 

Last week in our scripture and sermon, we were reminded of the troubles Paul faced.[2] In 2 Corinthians 5:8-9, he recites a litany of troubles: afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. Paul is counter cultural. These are not the kind of things one would generally advertise if you hoped to gain converts to the Christian faith. But through them all, Paul prevails. Paul’s hope, his confidence, is in God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Even when facing death, Paul doesn’t worry. He knows that in his Savior has something greater in store for him, which gives him the confidence he needs to continue in his ministry despite suffering for his beliefs.  

Our passage today is one that is frequently read during funerals. I hear echoes within these verses of Paul’s words to the Romans: “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”[3]

Read 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10

What is this passage about?  Faith? Hope? Confidence? Judgment? Death? The life to come? Discipleship? The glory of God?  You could make the case that each of these themes are present in these dozen verses of scripture, which is perhaps why one commentator refers to this passage as “notoriously difficulty.”[4] But let’s explore these verses and see what we might learn.

Paul begins this section with a refrain he used at the beginning of the fourth chapter, “We do not lose heart.”[5] When he first wrote this refrain, he discussed the trials he endured as a missionary. Now, he does what he often does in this epistle, he goes off on a tangent that touches on death and resurrection, hope, and judgment. Paul, in his previous epistle to the Corinthians, dedicated a long chapter to the resurrection, the most detailed account of this doctrine found in Scripture.[6] Now Paul gives another detailed account. 

Of course, Paul doesn’t describe or anywhere, in detail the life to come. Instead, he speaks of the hope and the confidence we have in a future with God. 

Inner and outer nature

Paul begins this section discussing our outer and inner nature. While our outer nature wastes away, our inner nature is being renewed. Here, Paul perhaps is trying to make his point understood by Greeks, especially non-Christians, who were more familiar with such philosophical concepts advanced by Plato and his disciples.[7]

While Paul isn’t saying the outer body is bad and we need to escape from it to some idealistic plane, he places our confidence in God working through our inner nature. While we live our lives in faith in this body, our ultimate hope is in the eternal future God has planned for us. 

We will see clearly in the life to come

As he wrote in 1st Corinthians, where Paul spoke of us looking through a mirror dimly,[8] he now reminds his readers that we can’t see our hope. We live by faith in that which cannot be seen. This life, in which we live in faith, is temporary. The life to come, when we see God face to face, is permanent. 

Three metaphors: Tent, House, Clothes

Paul then continues this thread as he uses three different metaphors: a tent, a house, and clothes. The tent would have reminded the Jewish readers of the tabernacle, that tent which reminded them of God’s presence during the Exodus, when their ancestors traveled through the wilderness.[9] But later, once settled in the promised land, they built a temple, a house for God, that was more permanent.[10]

Likewise, we are now on a journey, so we live in metaphorical tents. But in the life to come, God will provide us a permanent home. In the present, we groan, knowing there is something better. Here again, we hear echoes of Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he reminds us that all creation is groaning with us in labor pains as we await redemption.[11]

Next, Paul speaks of us being fully clothed. Again, the Jewish Christians who listened to Paul’s letter would have immediately realized he was speaking of a reversal of the fall and the curse. For when the man and woman in Eden broken God’s commandment, they realized they were naked. They tried to hide their nakedness, but God despite cursing them also took pity on them and provided clothes.[12]

Instead of envisioning going back to Eden, Paul looks forward to a future in which God clothes us in a manner that does more than hide our nakedness. Instead, we are totally remade with a new outfit. Furthermore, this life isn’t bad. After all, we’ve been given a “down payment” on the new life through God’s Spirit indwelling within us. 

God’s Spirit provides confidence

God’s Spirit provides confidence even while we are still in these frail mortal bodies. Paul returns to the topic he began, where we must walk by faith and not sight. In this body in which God has given us in this life, we are to have confidence in God’s future, knowing God is with us now and will be with us in the future. Again, as Paul has reminded his readers in this letter, he repeats that our aim in this life is to please God. But this time he adds a twist. In the end, we will all appear before the judgment throne. 


We don’t like to think about judgment, do we? Some may think that because we are saved in Jesus Christ, we avoid judgment. But Paul contradicts such an idea here.[13] All of us, Paul says, will appear before the judgment throne and will be judged based on what we’ve done with our life in this body, whether good or evil. Paul includes himself in this universal judgment. Paul isn’t worried about his eternal state. He has confidence in his Savior. But Paul expresses concerned that there may be things he’s done on earth that wasn’t as pleasing to God as he’d like.[14] His concern and ours, as Christians, should be if we live up to our calling? 


So, what is this passage about?  Faith? Hope? Confidence? Judgment? Death? The life to come? Discipleship? The glory of God?  It’s all here, and it’s all important. We must not lose hope. We must continue to be confident in our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, Paul reminds us that we’ll stand before his throne of judgment. But don’t lose heart, for as he tells the Romans, not only does Jesus condemn us, but he also intercedes for us and that there is nothing that can separate us from his love.[15] Live in such grace. Amen. 

[1] “The Heidelberg Catechism Question 1,” Presbyterian Church USA, Book of Confessions


[3] Romans 14:8. 

[4] C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (1973, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987), 150.

[5] 2 Corinthians 4:1. See

[6] 1 Corinthians 15. In 2019, I preached a series of sermons on this text. See and go back from there to read these sermons. 

[7] Barrett, 146.

[8] 1 Corinthians 13:12. 

[9] See Exodus 25-27. 

[10] For an understanding of the temple, see 2 Chronicles 2-7. 

[11] Romans 8:18-25, especially verse 22. 

[12] Genesis 3, especially verses 10, 21)

[13] See also 1 Corinthians 3:13-15, Romans 14:10-12. 

[14] Ernest Best, Second Corinthians: Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: JKP, 1984), 48-49. 

[15] Romans 8:34-35. 

looking east at sunset with hickory tree I foreground and painted clouds at sunset following a storm
Photo taken late July, looking east toward my hickory tree at sunset (after a storm)

Our Value is from God

Title slide showing full moon rising over a cemetery

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Presbyterian Churches
2 Corinthians 4:5-16
August 6, 2023

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, August 4, 2023

At the beginning of worship

Are we valuable? Somewhere I remember hearing that each of us contain about two and a half bucks of valuable minerals. It might be a bit more if you have silver or gold fillings or a titanium joint. Two and a half bucks isn’t bad. After all, the Bible tells says we’re dust.[1]

The body’s real value

Doesn’t sound like our bodies are very valuable, does it? If you think about the body in an economic way, you might decide it’s best to escape the body so that the soul might ascend to heaven.[2] Yet, the Creed reminds us of the resurrection of the body. So, the body is importance, not only in this life but in the life to come. 

The Bible also says that God created us as a body, from the dust of the ground and blew life into our nostrils.[3] The Divine getting down on his knees and taking the time to shape us into a body made in his image provides us value.[4] Think of yourself as artwork, created by the Master Artist. Furthermore, it is in these bodies God came among us in Jesus Christ. In the body, we also experience God. Thanks to the work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, we are transformed into a valuable member of God’s family. When you are down and out, don’t think you’re not valuable. For all who trust and believe in Jesus are a member of the King’s family. 

Before reading the Scripture

Today, we’re continuing our work through Second Corinthians. It’s an overwhelming task, but we’ll finish before Advent. Of the letters we have in the New Testament, Paul wrote more to the Corinthians than to any other church. He also spent a year and a half in Corinth, ministering to the people there. 

Paul’s problem

Paul has been held in high esteem over the centuries. He’s responsible for much of the New Testament. But if you read his letters, you get the sense that not everyone appreciated him during his lifetime. We joke about Paul putting people asleep during his sermons, but then I’m sure most of you would be asleep if I tried to preach through the night and into the early morning hours.[5] There were others who questioned Paul’s authority. While he was called by Jesus on the Damascus Road,[6]Paul did not meet Jesus personally during our Savior’s ministry on earth. But he did meet him later. Of course, there were also tension between Jewish believers and Paul,[7] who was called to the Gentiles, as well as tensions between Paul and other missionaries.[8]   

We’ve seen evidence of the unknown conflicts which Paul faced over the past few sermons. These conflicts must have been painful to Paul and to some within the church.[9] But Paul’s main concern, as we saw in last week’s passage, is the glory of God. For Paul, we don’t take slights and attacks personally, for in doing so could diminish God’s glory. Everything is to be done with God in mind. This is why Paul makes such a strong case for depending on God’s strength. As humans, we’re limited. We are frail. We fail. 

None of us are perfect, including Paul

Like Paul realized in his own situation, there are times you say the wrong things. I’m sure I have said and done the wrong things to some of you… If so, I’m sorry. I say that not as an excuse, but as a realization it’s a part of who we are as creatures. We’re not perfect, which is why we are not to be boastful about what we’ve done, only about what God has done and is doing through us. Humility must be in the forefront of a Christian’s life. 

Now Paul continues, talking about his and our role in helping others experience the gospel.

Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-15

Clay jars are for storage

In the seventh verse, Paul speaks of treasure in clay jars. In Paul’s day, clay jars or pots along with baskets were the main thing people had to store stuff in. Today, we have cardboard boxes—I’m not sure how many cardboard boxes are in my basement nearly three years after moving. Like the clay vessels of Paul’s day, cardboard boxes are not valuable. They’re cheap and expendable (but let’s recycle them). Cardboard boxes protect that which is inside, which may be valuable: keepsakes, books, and the china.

A metaphor for the flesh

Paul uses clay jars (and we could use cardboard boxes) as a metaphor for the flesh. Boxes and pots, like our bodies, can be easily broken and destroyed. And by themselves, they’re not valuable—two and a half bucks or a little more… This doesn’t mean our bodies are not important or that Paul wants to escape his body and be united with Christ.[10]

God created our bodies in his own image. Second, it is in the body that we can experience God’s grace and glory. Just as it was in the flesh that Jesus came to us. As frail as we may be, and as flawed as we may be, God sees something of value within us and works through us. The treasure that Paul speaks of is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God that we’ve encountered through Jesus Christ.[11] This isn’t something that comes with the body, but through the indwelling of God’s Spirit. 

Value and ability from the Creator

Anything worthwhile we do, isn’t because of our own power and strength, knowledge, and wisdom. It’s because our Creator bestows us with such abilities. Paul’s point is that anyone looking at him would not think he was capable of being the world’s greatest missionary, and they’re right. He was not capable, but with God working through him Paul was able to do incredible things.[12]

Challenges overcome

After speaking of clay jars, Paul moves into a powerful set of contradictions in verses 8 and 9: 

  • afflicted, but not crushed, 
  • perplexed but not driven to despair, 
  • persecuted but not forsaken, 
  • struck down, but not destroyed.

Paul leaves no doubt that any success he’s enjoyed did not come from him, but from God! Paul may have said this because other teachers have come along and claimed to be superior or to have better gifts than Paul. But Paul isn’t having any of that. He can do what he can do, because of God working through him.[13]

The Christian life isn’t easy

Furthermore, from this list of comparison, Paul wants us to know that the Christian life isn’t a cakewalk. Pressures do not get Paul down because God’s power enables him to endure.[14] It’s a hard life, but because of God working through us, it’s a worthwhile life. 

Long section in the letter where Paul defends himself

This long section of the letter, which began back in chapter 2 with Paul saying he forgave whoever it was that had abused him, now comes back to the idea of God and God’s mission of which Paul, like us, is just a vessel. My purpose here, as it has been at every congregation I’ve served as a pastor, is not to proclaim my greatness. As a pastor, I’m humble myself before you and God and point to God as revealed in Jesus Christ as our only hope in life and death.[15] And you’re to do the same in your life. We are to strive to glorify Christ. 

But Paul speaks for everyone

In verse 16, Paul moves from his defense of himself, to include everyone when he says, “So we do not lose heart.” Paul’s not just writing about himself here, he’s writing about us all. And he reminds us that our hope isn’t in this life, which is temporary, but in the life to come, a life with God who is redeeming heaven and earth. Paul would never say that our work here is not important. It is because we are working with God to redeem a fallen world. And it’s not our abilities that makes our work important, but our Creator, the one who has redeemed us and who works through us to spread this message. 


Keep your eyes focused on Jesus. Be a light and a beacon for him. May your actions be worthy of him, and your words be uplifting and loving. Yes, we live in a mixed-up world with lots of trouble, but that’s no excuse for bad behavior, for while we live in this world, we live for the world to come. Love everyone, extend grace to all, be quick to forgive, and humble yourselves before the God who has created you, who redeems you, and who sustains you. Amen.

[1] Genesis 3:19.

[2] This is the gnostic heresy, and also an idea from Platonic thought, where the ideal is beyond the body (and this life). 

[3] Genesis 2:7.

[4] Created in God’s image comes from the first creation account. Genesis 1:27.

[5] Acts 20:7-12.

[6] Acts 9:1-18.

[7] See Acts 15. 

[8] For an example, see 1 Corinthians 1:10-17.

[9] See 2 Corinthians 2:5-8.

[10] Ernest Best, Second Corinthians: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1987), 42.

[11] Paul Barnett, NICNT: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 229. 

[12] Charles Barrett, HNTC: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (1973: Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1983), 138. 

[13] Barnet, 231. 

[14] Best41. 

[15] See the Presbyterian Church, Book of Confessions, Heidelberg Catechism, question 1. 

moonrise behind Nester's Cemetery in Laurel Fork, VA
August 1, 2023. Moonrise behind Nester’s Cemetery in Laurel Fork

God Opens the Door through a New Covenant

Title slide showing a picture of a chicory in bloom

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
July 9, 2023
2 Corinthians 3 

Sermon recorded at Bluemont on Thursday, July 6, 2023

At the beginning of worship: 

We don’t like to talk about election, do we? When I say thist, many of you agree. We’re tired of our nation’s election cycles. Right? They seem to go on continually, no breaks. But as important as our elections are, I’m talking about the other kind of election. This is the only one that matters for eternity. God voting for us!

I’ve been rereading Lesslie Newbigin’s book, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. It’s been in preparation for a presentation next week in Pittsburgh at a Foundation for Reformed Theology seminar group of which I’m a partAfter spending forty years as a missionary in India, Newbegin came back to the United Kingdom where he critiqued the western church. Near the middle of book, steeped in theology and philosophy, he writes about election. Let me quote a short piece: 

The doctrine of election is central to any true exposition of the Bible. From the very beginning God chooses, calls, and sends particular people. God is always the initiator. The words of Jesus to his disciples, “You did not choose me; I chose you,” are in line with everything in the Bible from beginning to end.[1]

We can’t forget that God is in charge. And because of God’s love for the world, we should rejoice, be at peace, and do what we can to aid God’s mission in the world. 

Before the reading of Scripture:

I chose our Old Testament readings this morning because Paul essentially uses both in his reflections from the third chapter of Second Corinthians.[2] Paul uses the Jeremiah prophecy of God writing his law in our hearts in the first half of this chapter. Then Paul reflects on Moses coming off the mountain, establishing the Old Covenant. Paul may have used one of his old synagogue sermons in this part of the letter, some suggests. [3] Of course, Paul flips its meaning to emphasize the New Covenant.  

Here, as in other places, Paul is clear about the two covenants, the covenant of the law which leads to death (because we can’t keep the law), and the covenant of grace, the new covenant, established in the ministry of Jesus Christ, which offers us life. 

Paul continues along the same personal theme as we heard last week.[4] Some in Corinth appear unhappy with Paul. They question Paul’s credentials. Paul defends himself, but mostly deflects such attacks by pointing out that he’s doing God’s work. God, through Christ, has instituted a new covenant of grace. 

Read 2 Corinthians 3

A 22-year-old in Japan

When I was a senior in college, my parents along with my younger brother moved to Japan. Unable to attend my graduation, they gave me a trip to Japan. This was my first time out of the country. I spent nearly 3 weeks in the land of the rising sun. While most of the time I stayed with my parents, I took a trip without them to the historic and beautiful city of Kyoto. A neighbor of my parents, Mr. Nakamora, who owned several travel agencies, arranged the trip.  

I was excited. It was a chance to ride the Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train, which covered the 300 miles in less than 3 hours and that included a few stops. I also got to see one of the few cities not destroyed during the war. Kyoto is an ancient capital city, so there were lots of interesting temples and palaces to explore. 

I packed light and when I arrived, made my way from the station to the Hotel Kyoto, where I checked in for the night. I was surprised to find a letter waiting for me at the desk. Who knew I was even going to be in Kyoto. I opened the letter. It was from the hotel manager, welcoming me to his city and expressing disappointment that he was away on business, but hoped we could meet when he returned. That’s nice, I thought and didn’t think anything more about it. I assumed all guests received such a note. 

A letter of recommendation

The next day, I left the hotel early and came back after dinner. There’s a lot to see. When I stepped into the lobby, one of the receptionists ran over and handed me another note. It, too, was from the manager, inviting me to dinner. Of course, it was well after dinner. I now realized this wasn’t normal, I was being singled out.

The attendant called the manager. We arranged to meet the next morning at breakfast. This was something that never happened to me in the States. We had a pleasant breakfast. He was very curious as to what I thought of the hotel, which was probably the nicest hotel I’d stayed in up to this point in my life. And afterwards he insisted on hiring a cab for me. My plan was to see the Kyoto Castle, before taking the train back to my parents, and it was only a mile walk. But at his insistence, I rode in a cab.

Was this the treatment every 22-year-old American received in Kyoto? Not hardly. The reason the manager of this large hotel reached out to me was because my parent’s neighbor. Mr. Nakamara, who was in the travel business, had sent him a note introducing me and encouraging him to reach out.  

Opening doors

A letter of recommendation can open doors (or in my case, buy a breakfast and cab ride). Paul knows the importance of recommendations. Obviously, there were some in Corinth who wondered about Paul. He was not above claiming his credentials,[5] but not to the Corinthians. After all, they know him. They have seen his work and its fruit. He shouldn’t need a recommendation.

You know, a letter of recommendation will open doors. But that’s it. It’s kind of like a diploma. It might get you a job, but then you must prove yourself. In Paul’s case, he doesn’t need to be introduced to the Corinthian congregation. They know him. They have seen his work. He introduced them to Jesus. They are qualified enough that they could write Paul a letter of recommendation. In Paul’s eyes, such paper isn’t important. What’s important, is what’s in our hearts and the fruits of our labor. 

A one-sided conversatio

As I’ve mentioned throughout my sermons on this epistle, we only hear one side of a conversation. This letter is one of several Paul sent to the Corinthians. These letters were often in response to the news Paul received about what was going on in the city. Perhaps Paul’s detractors in Corinth had recommendations which caused Paul to bring this up. So, Paul appeals to the work he’s already done with the Corinthians. 

Whose work is it?

Notice, it’s not really Paul’s work, but the work God has done through him. In fact, Paul’s credentials ultimately come from God who freely reached out and chose him for his mission. It wasn’t Paul’s idea to become a missionary. He’d had a much easier life if he had settled down and sewed tents for herders and awnings for storefronts. But God has other ideas for his life. 

God’s letter written on our hearts

In this opening part of the chapter, Paul draws on the Prophet Jeremiah, who speaks of the day when instead of God writing laws on a tablet, God will write his word in our hearts. Essentially, Paul says this prophecy has been fulfilled. A new covenant has been established by God that continues beyond the covenant with the Jews. This covenant is with the entire human race. Paul is one of the main missionaries, spreading the good news to the gentiles. 

The two covenants

The second half of our reading contrasts the new covenant with the old. The covenant God established with Moses on Sinai, is one of death. We, as a race of people, are unable to keep the terms of the covenant. As Paul explains, our hearts are hardened. While Paul is proud of his Jewish heritage, he also understands the limitations of the law. “All have sinned,” Paul tells the Romans.[6] The old covenant required a veil to hide the glory that quickly faded, but that veil was removed by Jesus who allows us to see the face of God.[7] And we, as Paul says in verse 18, are to be transformed by the Spirit into that glory.

The work of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

In this chapter, Paul gives us an understanding into God’s work which began in Jesus and continues with the work of the Spirit in us. Paul, as an ambassador for Jesus to the gentiles, has nothing of which to be ashamed. He’s doing the work for which he’s been called.

While it is nice to have a letter of recommendation, Paul knows what’s important isn’t what others think of us, but God knowing us. If God knows you, that’s all that matters. And in this new covenant, God is reaching out to the world in open arms, inviting us into his presence. It’s up to us to accept the invitation and to step forward, allowing God to sanctify your life. It may not make our lives any easier here on earth, but you’ll be on the right side of history.  And eternally, that’s all that matters.  Amen. 

[1] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 80.

[2] Exodus 34:29-34 and Jeremiah 31:31-35.

[3] C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1973), 110.


[5] See Paul’s defense speech in Acts 22 (especially verse 3). 

[6] Romans 3:23. 

[7] Jesus removing the veil is seen at his crucifixion when the temple curtain ripped in half, Matthew 27:51. Also see John 14:9

Blue flowers of Chicory
Chicory growing at the edge of a field