Examine Yourself

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
November 19, 2023
2 Corinthians 13

Sermon recorded at Bluemont on Friday, November 17, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

When I was in school, I hated tests. I wasn’t alone, was I? But being tested allows us to see our progress and can help us do better. I prefer the tests we grade ourselves, for it showed where I need to work harder. But I also know, when taking such a test, that sooner or later, there’ll be a big test. That’s the one that counts toward the final grade.

While we, as Christians, are saved by God through Jesus Christ, we are also called to test ourselves to ensure that we’re becoming more Christ-like in our lives. And while such tests help us improve, the real goal is to be ready when we stand for the big test, the final judgment. 

We’re going to talk about testing ourselves today. And when the day arrives, hopefully we’ll all be ready. After all, we have Jesus on our side. 

Before reading the Scripture: 

Our text last week ended with Paul concerned about his upcoming visit to Corinth. He fretted over the prospect of having to confront the Corinthians on sins they tolerate. Some of these sins were social, involving the church at large, such as quarrelling, jealously and gossip. We tend to forget that such sins are dangerous, don’t we. But they destroy relationships, which is what the church is about. Other sins were more individualist such as sexual immortality. 

In today’s reading, as Paul comes to the end of this letter, he acknowledges his willingness to handle this situation. However, he would prefer the Corinthians to take care of the situation themselves and not involve him, an outsider. Paul then closes the letter with one of his most beautiful benedictions among those in his letters. 

Read 2 Corinthians 13

Our reading this morning begins with Paul on a serious note. It’s the equivalent of my mom saying, “You just wait till your dad gets home.” As I’ve said all along, this letter was to prepare for Paul’s visit to Corinth. This chapter begins with Paul repeating the idea of his third visit to Corinth.[1]

Paul quickly follows his travel information with a reminder of the Hebrew requirement for witnesses. To accuse someone was serious business. Capital punishment required at least two and perhaps three witnesses. And if the witnesses falsely brought charges, they stood under the same punishment as the accused.[2]

On a side note, I dislike the idea of the death penalty. However, those who call for capital punishment based on a Biblical precedent, I find it odd how they seem to forget the seriousness of perjury was in the Old Testament. If a witness (or a prosecutor or police officer) withheld or fabricated facts to obtain a conviction, according to the Bible, they’d stand under the same sentence as the accused. 

But Paul, here, isn’t dealing with capital sins. Those types of punishment aren’t even in question. After all, the church didn’t have such power to carry out such punishment. That power only belonged to Rome. Instead, Paul uses the idea of witnesses in a different manner. He’s given the Corinthians three warnings (from his previous letters and visits). If they haven’t cleaned up their act by the time he arrives, he’s not going to go easy on the church in Corinth. 

As he has done throughout this letter, Paul finds himself on defense. The Corinthians seem to desire proof that Christ speaks through him. Paul reminds them that while Christ works in weakness, as seen at the cross, Christ now lives in power. This is a power Christ has inferred on the church. Paul might appear weak, but he has the power of God.  

In verse 5, Paul switches from the Corinthians quest to see if Paul speaks for Christ, to them searching out themselves for Christ’s presence. “Examine yourself,” he commands, “to see if you are living in the faith.” Paul challenges the Corinthians to make sure they pass the test. Interestingly, in verse 7, Paul appears to take some responsibility if they fail. 

We’ve seen all along, Paul’s personally investment in the Corinthian church. He wants them to succeed and would personally accept some of the blame if they fail. By encouraging such an examination of their life in Christ, Paul sets them up to be restored in Christ. Paul hopes that before he visits, the Corinthians will be on track, and he won’t have to “be severe” in using the authority that the Lord has given him. Again, as we’ve heard earlier, Paul again repeats his desire is to build up and not tear down.[3]

Paul then brings his letter to a close. “Finally,” he says. We can almost sense Paul taking a deep breath and mumbling, “I’m done.” After all, 2nd Corinthians is his third longest work, behind Romans and 1st Corinthians. Paul continues. “Be restored, listen to my appeal; agree with one another; live in peace; and the God of peace will be with you.”

This part expresses Paul’s hope for the Corinthians and their life together.

He continues, encouraging them to greet one another with a “holy kiss.” Our culture tends to reserve kissing for romantic settings or between parents and babies. But in much of the world, including the Mediterranean region, kissing was a common way to greet one another. This would be a kiss on the cheek or the shoulder, not on the lips. Such a kiss indicated there was a bond between the two. It was a way to acknowledge kindship and familiarity. And Paul see’s it as fitting for the Corinthians to greet one another in this matter. It shows they, in Christ, are a part of the same family.

Finally, Paul ends with a trinitarian benediction. While the doctrine of the Trinity, as we know it, came later, Paul certainly understands the necessity for all the persons of the Trinity—God’s Son our Lord, God the Father and Creator, and the Holy Spirit—to be present in our Christian lives.

What happened during Paul’s third visit to the Corinthians? We don’t know. Luke tells us in Acts, that on Paul’s final visit to Greece, he spent three months there before moving on to Macedonia.[4] We can assume that at least some if not most of this time was spent in Corinth.  We also know the Corinthians participated in the offering for the Jerusalem saints, which Paul focused on in the 8th and 9th chapters.[5] So it appears this letter was at least partially successful. But that’s in the past. What impact does Paul’s 2nd Epistle to the Corinthians have on us? 

Over the past 20 sermons, we have observed Paul’s struggles along with the hope he has in Jesus Christ. We have seen Paul’s seriousness and (as with the “Fools Speech”) his playfulness. Paul actions reminds us that there are times for correction and times for grace. We have learned about gratitude and knowing who truly owns the world. And we have observed how he places his trust in Jesus Christ. I have enjoyed spending much time in the study of this letter, and I hope you have benefited from my work. 

Paul wraps up his letter with this last section. We should take seriously Paul’s command for the Corinthians to examine themselves. Examination is a part of being a Christian. Last Fall and Spring, those who participated in Stan Ott’s workshops learned a way for us to examine ourselves at the end of the day, as we pray. We look back over our day and recall places where we could have done better and confess our sin. We also are reminded of times God showed up or we had a new experience with the divine, along with other blessings. For these, we give thanks. 

Being a Christian, following Jesus, isn’t just a prayer and you’re done. It’s constantly striving to live more like Jesus in our lives. And even the best of the saints, like Paul, struggle. So, examine yourself and give thanks for God’s grace. Amen. 

Commentaries consulted:
Barnett, Paul, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 
Barrett, C. K., A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 1973, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, Publishing, 1987. 
Best, Ernest, Second Corinthians: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1984.

[1] Paul had just said this in 2 Corinthians 12:14. 

[2] Deuteronomy 19:15-19. 

[3] 2 Corinthians 10:8 and 12:9. 

[4] Acts 20:2-3. 

[5] See Romans 15:26, where Paul speaks of the gifts from Achaia, of which Corinth was the leading city. 

Sunset photo taken last week
The end of the day is the perfect time to examine oneself…

Planning for a reunion

Title slide showing a tree at sunset

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
November 11, 2023
2 Corinthians 12:14-21

At the beginning of the service:

In a blog post in this week’s Reformed Journal, James Schaap, a retired professor of English at Dordt College writes about his parents and World War 2.[1] His father was in the Coast Guard and spent much of the war on a tugboat in the South Pacific. He left for war with a young daughter. His second daughter was born while he was in basic training. In his father’s Bible, which he carried through the war, was a picture of his mother and his daughters on a beach along Lake Michigan. Knowing his father carried this photo and his Bible through the war brought good memories to the author, who wasn’t yet born. 

Schaap tells the story from his mother’s recollection. She was to meet her husband at the train station, with a hoard of other families greeting loved ones coming back from the war. Fretting over how to make the homecoming perfect, she worried if her husband would grab his oldest child, the one he remembered, or the younger child, And then she worried if she might be jealous if he hugged them before he hugged her. She pondered what to do. When the day came, she left the children with a sitter and went alone to the station. 

I hope those of you who are veterans had a wonderful day yesterday, and that your homecomings from your time in the military were perfect. In today’s sermon, we’ll explore this desire to make reunions and homecomings special, along with our fears they may not go the way we would like. I think Schaap’s mother understood such a challenge.

Before reading the scripture:

We’ll finish our tour through 2nd Corinthians next week. Last week, we looked at the end of Paul’s “fools’ speech.” That interlude provided a little humor. Today we’ll see Paul returning to a more serious dialogue as he prepares for his third visit to Corinth. For a change, I am going to read the passage from The Message translation. I invite you to read along in your own Bibles and have them ready to follow along in the sermon.

Read 2 Corinthians 12:14-21

An upcoming reunion can cause mixed feelings. We may have high expectations. If a high school or college reunion, we might be curious about a former girlfriend or boyfriend. Are they the same as we remembered? Or, to quote Barbara Streisand in her hit song in the movie, “The Way We Were,” “has time re-written every line?”[2] Or, will our old nemesis show up and harsh feelings we had long forgotten rise in our guts.

The same can be true of family gatherings. Will a crazy uncle go off about politics. Or will a cousin express weird conspiracies theories that throws a wet blanket on the gathering? Or will a sibling bring up dark secrets we’d like to keep buried?  

Probably one of the reasons reunions are hard is that memories of the past cannot live up to our expectations or desires. We remember the good times and, again to quote Barbara Streisand, “What’s too painful to remember, we simply to choose to forget.” 

We’re coming up on the season of family gatherings with Thanksgiving and Christmas. I pray your gatherings will be delightful, and later in the sermon I’ll offer some advice about getting through such times. 

But first, let’s look at Paul and his plans for a reunion with the Corinthians. 

If you remember back to the early chapters of this epistle, Paul has visited Corinth twice. The first time was a long visit of a year and a half where he gathered the church. Luke tells us about that visit in his story of the church, The Acts of the Apostles.[3]

Paul later came back on a second visit that didn’t go so well. We learned about this visit earlier in this letter.[4] It was a surprise visit. Paul had high hopes for it, thinking he could see the Corinthians twice, once on his way to visit the churches in Macedonia, and again on his return. But it didn’t work out that way. He stayed a short period of time and quickly left. Some didn’t like the fact that he came unannounced. Others felt he left too early and were hurt when Paul decided not to visit again on his return from Macedonia. Paul couldn’t win. In a way, 2ndCorinthians is preparation for Paul to visit his beloved church in Corinth one last time. 

In today’s passage, Paul returns to his plans for a visit… And he has three concerns on his mind, which he lays out. First, Paul doesn’t want to be a burden. He considers the Corinthians as his children, whom he must show care. He’s the type of guest who doesn’t mind sleeping on the floor. 

Paul reminds me of a missionary friend of mine, Cody, who called me a year or two ago. He’d been at a Mission Conference up north and was driving back to his home in Birmingham, Alabama. He wanted a place to crash for the night. I was in the middle of fixing up the basement. The bathroom was only partly finished and the study I’d built for myself, and to use as an extra guest room, didn’t have the flooring down. I was a little embarrassed, but when I offered it, Cody said, “this is great.” And he meant it. 

Of course, Cody spent several years working in Dhaka, Bangladesh and wouldn’t have had a problem sleeping on pallets in my barn. 

All along, with Paul’s work in Corinth, he tries to avoid being a burden. He provided for his expenses by working with other Christians in a tentmaking business, and by being supported by the churches in Macedonia.[5] Of course, as we have seen, Paul’s supporting himself has also caused a rift in Corinth.[6] The Corinthians must have brought into the argument that you get what you pay for, which is in contradiction to a gospel freely offered. 

In our reading today, we see Paul concern goes beyond not charging the Corinthians for his services. He infers in verses 16 through 18 that some in Corinth think he may be a clever grifter. This is Paul’s second concern. While not charging or accepting payment from the Corinthians, they assume he skims off what has been given to the Jerusalem mission and uses this for his own expenses. Such charges hurt Paul, for he has only wanted to build up the Corinthians. Through a series of rhetorical questions about his intent, along with the intention of others like Titus, Paul defends his reputation. “Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building up.”[7]

But beyond building up, Paul insists his judge is not the Corinthians, but God. That’s because ultimately, everything he does is for building God’s kingdom, just as everything he (and we) have belongs to God. 

Paul’s final concern has to do with what he’ll find once he arrives in Corinth. Ever go to a reunion wondering how it might go? Will it become a drunken bash? Will there be arguments and fights? Well, Paul had similar concerns.

Paul’s concerns are in two realms. Internal sins within the church which include quarreling and jealousy, anger and selfishness, slander and gossip, conceit and disorder. In other words, things inside the first century church are not much different than what goes on inside churches in the 21st century. If you dig into any church body today, you’ll find some if not all these sins. That doesn’t make it right. We need to continually confess how our lives—individually and corporately—fail to live up to the standards set by Jesus. And we need to strive, like Paul, to build up one another and not to tear down.

Paul’s second area of focus includes external sins. The formerly pagan Christians in Corinth wouldn’t have had much of a problem with such sins as Paul acknowledges in verse 21. Impurity, sexual immorality, and debauchery were things they may have formerly practiced. Such sins should be repented of and ended. We see this clearly in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. Some of the church’s members have brought these former practices into the church. Paul desires for those in the church to enter a new life centered in Christ, but he has his concerns…

At least some of Paul’s situation reflect our concerns when reunited with friends or family after an extended absence. What should we learn from Paul’s teachings? Going into such a reunion, we should, like Paul, focus on building up others. Instead of fretting over our own feelings, let’s make sure those around us are comfortable. By focusing on others, we help lower the tension and the unease and hopefully all will have a better time.  

I came across a poem titled “A Kinder World,” from a Canadian poet this week. In closing, let me share a few of her lines: 

Everyone I meet 
is fighting battles 
I know nothing about
and I am fighting 
battles they know
nothing about.
So I will be kind to 
those who cross my 
path and hope for 
the same kindness 
in return.
For life is full of battles 
that all of us face. 
So I will be careful with 
my words.
I will care about others.
I will speak words that 
help and I will speak 
words that heal,
because life is hard. 
Yet kindness makes it 
easier to get through.[8]  


[1] https://blog.reformedjournal.com/2023/11/10/things-we-carry/

[2] Barbara Streisand, “The Way We Were,” 1974. 

[3] Acts 18:1-17. 

[4] 2 Corinthians 1:12-2:4. See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/06/25/restoring-relationships/

[5] Acts 18:2-3 and 2 Corinthians 11:9.

[6] 2 Corinthians 11:7-11. See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/10/22/the-fools-speech-looks-can-be-deceiving/

[7] 2 Corinthians 12:19 NRSV

[8] Melanie Korach, “A Kinder World.” Posted on Twitter: https://twitter.com/melanie_korach/status/1722780387808588283

Commentaries consulted:
Barnett, Paul, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 
Barrett, C. K., A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 1973, Peabody, MA: Henrickson, Publishing, 1987. 
Best, Ernest, Second Corinthians: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and 
Preaching, Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1984.

Tree behind Nester's Cemetery
A favorite tree, that I’ve photographed many times at sunset over the past three years

The Fools Speech, Part 3

Title slide for sermon. Photo of angel statue during the fall from a cemetery

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
November 5, 2023
2 Corinthians 12:1-13

Before worship: 
In her 1995 alternative hit album, Jagged Little Pill, Anlanis Morissett had a hit titled “Ironic.” We hear of an old man who turns 98 and wins the lottery and dies the next day. And of the death row inmate whose pardon arrives two minutes too late. Rain falls one’s wedding day, while the ride’s free but you’ve already paid… “Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you,” the song goes, ‘When you think everything’s okay and everything’s going right… it blows up in your face.”

I wonder if this is what Paul experiences in our passage today… Today we’ll see him follows an “out-of-the world experience” with a struggle from pain and suffering… Life is made up of the good and bad. How do we respond to all of it? 

Before reading the scriptures:
Today we come to the end of Paul’s “Fool’s Speech” in 2ndCorinthians.[1] As I have said over the past two weeks, we title for this section from Paul repeatedly referring to himself as a fool. Of course, he’s also displaying the foolishness of both the Corinthians and the missionaries who followed him. These so-called missionaries are troubling for Paul. They speak eloquently and boast about their endeavors. Paul feels they must be challenged for they are not teaching the true gospel. Yet Paul doesn’t like to boast about his doing. So, he plays the fool. 

In a way, I’m afraid not everything comes across from translation and cultures. I think this section was probably considered quite humorous in Paul’s day. After all, he employs satire and parody to make his point. 

Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-13

I had a dream this past week. It started out at a rummage sale held by the women in the church I served in Utah. I was visiting and catching up with folks I had not seen in sometime. And while we were talking, something caught my eye. It was my brother’s Cub Scout badges. Don’t ask me how I knew these were his badges, but I did. I grabbed them and paid the asking price of 50 cents. 

At this point, I became creative. I designed some stationary mimicking Boy Scout letterhead. I looked up the name of the chief scout executive at the organization’s headquarters in Irving, Texas. I then, using this stationary, wrote a letter from the Chief Scout Executive to my brother. 

Dear Warren, the letter began. I am terribly sorry we as an organization lost your Cub Scout badges. I just hope that this mistake of ours didn’t haunt you, or cause you pain, over the years. Better late than never, here are your badges. We’re just 55 years behind, but want you to have them as you’ve earned them… 

Next, in the dream, I was in the kitchen of my childhood home. My brother was there, talking about this weird letter he received which included a bobcat, wolf, and bear Cub Scout badges. The odd thing, he said, he doesn’t remember not receiving them. My mother, who was alive in my dream, was flabbergasted that the chief scout executive took the time to write her son a personal note. 

I was leaning up against the refrigerator about to bust a gut. In my dream, they both looked up and stared at me. I confessed my involvement in the mysterious letter. My mother told me I should be ashamed of myself, but she was also smiling.

I have no idea what this dream was about. However, it was good to hear my mom’s voice. Maybe, in my subconsciousness, I recalled a shenanigan I pull off in the 8th or 9th grade. One Sunday afternoon, I saw an ad for old age insurance in Parade,the Sunday magazine that came in the newspaper. It was designed for those over 65 years old (which no longer seems old). But for those this age who wanted to give their families peace of mind and help with the funeral expenses could do so with a cheap insurance policy. I thought my brother, who’s a year younger than me, might benefit from such insurance. I filled out card on his behalf and dropped it in the mailbox. 

I then forgot about it. But one day, a few weeks later, I came home from school and my mother was upset at my brother. While we were in school, an insurance salesman stopped by asking for Warren. The man seemed perplexed when my mom told him that Warren was in school. She asked what he wanted and learned about the insurance. Of course, Warren had no idea what she was talking about, but I began to laugh, and mom then knew what was up. 

My mom laid it on thick. She described to me how the man drove a car that was hitting on about three cylinders, had bald tires, and was held together with bailing wire. Then she told me about how you could almost see through his threadbare suit. She was sure he really needed this lead to pan out so he could provide dinner for his family that night… My mother was a good Southern mom, she knew how to dish out guilt. I went from thinking I’ve pulled off a great prank to feeling guilty. 

Paul, in today’s passage, moves from a great height to a deep depth. He starts off discussing being drawn up into the third heaven. The Jewish belief at this time was that the heavens had multiple stages and the third heaven expressed being taken up into the very top of it—into paradise, we might say. 

Why does Paul bring this up? Especially since he leaves a lot of specifics out. He only recalls the experience with the briefest of details while acknowledging that as a mortal, he’s not allowed to speak about it. This whole section known as the “Fool’s Speech” is directed at the so-called “Super-Apostles” who followed Paul into Corinth. We might assume they had conveyed their own mystical experiences. This would not have been uncommon in the ancient world. Even Plato, in the Republic, speaks of such experiences.[2] Paul, wanting to protect his reputation and not to be seen as less mystical, shares his own experiences.

It’s interesting Paul doesn’t say that he experienced it, but only that he knew of the person who was drawn up into the heavens. But it seems clear Paul refers to himself. Even the ancient church leaders assumed that Paul was speaking about himself and not someone else.[3] For a man who didn’t like to boast, referring to an anonymous source protects Paul’s pride. 

But as soon as Paul tells of visiting Paradise, he returns to a more familiar theme, his humility. He has this thorn in the side thanks to a messenger of Satan. It torments him and he’s asked God to remove it three times, but his request had been denied. Don’t think that all our prayers are answered in the way we’d like. Paul realizes that this problem of his (and no one thinks it’s an actual thorn that could be pulled out, but probably some kind of ailment or handicap) keeps him humble.

While Paul doesn’t find relief from the pain, Christ assures him that his grace is sufficient. Again, that theme we find repeatedly in the gospels and in Paul’s letters returns. When we depend on and trust God, we discover strength in our weakness. The last can become first. The servant can become a master. And the weak can display strength.[4] This happens because we are not alone. God is with us so Paul can proclaim in verse 10 that in he is content even in his weakness despite the insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities he endures for Christ.  “Whenever I am weak,” Paul proclaims, then I am strong!” 

Our passage concludes with the end of his “fool’s speech.” As he’s insisted all along, he was forced into playing the fool. He contrasts himself to the so called “super-Apostles,” reminding them of how he has been faithful to the Corinthians. Again, he brings it up how he didn’t even burden them for contributions for his own support. We’ve seen this several times in this letter, so it must have bothered the Apostle. Paul then ends this part of his speech in sarcasm relating to his lack of asking for support. “Forgive me for this wrong.” 

For the sarcasm, think of someone giving you something that comes with a price. But they don’t charge you for the item. Imagine a shop keeper giving you a piece of candy and instead of charging you, he asks your forgiveness for not having the privilege of paying. The gospel is that way. Instead of purchasing it through our hard work, it’s offered freely. We’re to just acknowledge the gift. 

While Paul plays the fool, he demonstrates two truths. The first one, life should be fun. We shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, there is room in life for play and humor. The second is the truth of the Christian gospel. In our weakness we find strength in Christ. So, while there may be ups and downs in our lives, from the verge of Paradise to the pain of illness, we should remember that God is with us and will supply the strength needed.  

Commentaries consulted:
Barnett, Paul, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 
Barrett, C. K., A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 1973, Peabody, MA: Henrickson, Publishing, 1987. 
Best, Ernest, Second Corinthians: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and 
Preaching, Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1984.

[1] The “Fool’s Speech” starts in 2 Corinthians 11: 1 and goes through 12:13. See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/10/22/the-fools-speech-looks-can-be-deceiving/ and https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/10/29/pauls-fools-speech-part-2-responding-to-his-attackers/

[2] Plato, The Republic 10:614-21.

[3] See Ambrosiaster, “Commentary on Paul’s Epistle; Chrysostom, “Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians;” Pelagius, “Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians;” and Gregory Nazianzen, “Oration 28, on the Doctrine of God.” In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament VII, 1-2 Corinthians (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 302. 

[4] See Matthew 19:30, 20:8, 20:16; Mark 9:35, 10:31; Luke 13:30.

Angel statue in cemetery with fall colored leaves in background
Angel in Nester’s Cemetery (before the leaves fell)

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

title slide showing moon rising in the east at dusk

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

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, October 27, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

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

Before reading the scripture:

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

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

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

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

Read 2 Corinthians 11:16-33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[5] 1 Corinthians 1:20-25. 

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

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

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

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

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

[11] Barnett, 532. 

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

moonrise at dusk
Moonrise at dusk

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

sermon title page showing sunset through the trees

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

Sermon recorded at Bluemont on Friday, October 20, 2023

At the beginning of worship: 

What does Satan look like? 

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

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

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

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

Before the reading of the Scripture:

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

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

Read 2 Corinthians 11:1-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Matthew 28:16-20, Acts 1:8. 

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

[5] Revelation 21:2

[6] Acts 18:3. 

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

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

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

Paul Changes Tacks, 2 Corinthians 10

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

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

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, October 13, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

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

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

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

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

Before the reading of the passage:

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

Read 2 Corinthians 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May we always give God glory. Amen. 

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

[2] 2 Corinthians 12:7.

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

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

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

[6] 2 Corinthians 7:5-7.  Or see my sermon on this text: https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/09/10/godly-grief-leads-to-repentance/

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

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

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

[10] Matthew 5:39 and Luke 6:29.

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

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

[13] 1 Corinthians 3:6. 

Sailing on a windy day
A windy sail

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. 

[3] https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/btobachmanturneroverdrive/takincareofbusiness.html

[4] For Marci Beck’s obituary: https://www.metcalfmortuary.com/obituary/marcua-edwards-beck

[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 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_road_to_hell_is_paved_with_good_intentions

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 https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/07/02/willingness-to-forgive/

[3] 2 Corinthians 12:9.