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What does the church in Minneapolis most need to know about God today? It’s been two days since the collapse of the I-35W bridge (August 1, 2007) and countless people are suffering both physically and emotionally in the aftermath of this devastating event. Some lost family members in this tragedy. Others’ lives were spared but they are hospitalized with a variety of injuries. Those not directly involved, but perhaps friends with those who were, are struggling...Read More

One thing that I’ve never heard said is that people profit the most from those who suffer the least. The most profound and lasting encouragement typically emanates from people who’ve experienced the deepest trials and greatest loss. When I’m hurting or wallowing in self-pity, I don’t instinctively turn to those who’ve been insulated from pain or who’ve never tasted the bitter dregs of disappointment and heartache. People who’ve w...Read More

Let me provide a brief sketch of Paul’s experience so that we might have a framework for understanding the profound spiritual lessons that follow. Sometime between the writing of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians, most likely no earlier than the spring of 55 a.d. and no later than the summer or fall of 56 a.d., Paul had what he considered a singular and altogether unique brush with death that transformed his perspective on life and ministry and, above all, his relat...Read More

If you’ve ever had doubts about the importance and power of prayer, and yes, all of us have, this passage is for you. Paul has just confidently declared that the God who already delivered him from a life-threatening affliction would do so yet again (v. 10). God’s purpose in Paul’s suffering had worked: he no longer looked to himself but now trusted wholly in the “God who raises the dead” (v. 9). I can just hear some conclude from this: &ld...Read More

No one enjoys being misunderstood or having their motives called into question. We can get fairly feisty when others question our integrity in this way, especially if we know in the depths of our heart that we intended only good. We are all by nature defensive, but there are different ways of going about vindicating our reputation or explaining our aim. All too often we react, rather than respond, and do so in anger and bitterness at those who’ve dared to express ...Read More

“For our boast is this: the testimony of our conscience that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you” (2 Cor. 1.12). This passage is one more example of those many biblical texts that are typically ignored but carry a powerful word of both rebuke and encouragement to the church. I hardly need remind you of the crisis that exists in pastoral ministry today. Rarely...Read More

There are times when I think the citizens of Corinth have been given a bad rap. I know I’ve been guilty of it. When in need of an example of sin run amok, or immaturity, or theological ignorance, I’ve often pointed at Corinth. Poor chaps. Yet, the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that they probably weren’t much different from the rest of us. Yes, I know, there was division in the church there, not to mention immorality, ambition, and spiri...Read More

Theologian Alister McGrath once identified the Holy Spirit as “the Cinderella of the Trinity. The other two sisters,” he said, “may have gone to the theological ball; the Holy Spirit got left behind every time” (Christian Theology, 240). My, my, how times have changed! Contemporary interest in the person and ministry of the Spirit is unparalleled in the history of the church. As a result, passages such as 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 are being given rene...Read More

Do you fight for joy? Do you think of joy as something to be sought as the object of diligent striving and focused labor? Or do you think of it more as an after-effect, a by-product of other and more important pursuits? Or am I splitting hairs, leaving you to wonder, “Sam, what difference does it make?” I think we should let Paul answer that question. As we’ve already noted on several occasions, Paul goes to extraordinary lengths to explain why he chan...Read More

I know this may be a stretch for many of you, but I’d like to ask that you meditate with me today on the subject of church discipline. That’s right, church discipline. The fact that your immediate and instinctive response is probably somewhat (or considerably) negative reflects how far removed we are today from the spirit of the New Testament. As we’ll see, a commitment to discipline in the local church is indicative not only of one’s love for hol...Read More

life and unity of the body of Christ, Satan is anything but a passive, innocent bystander. Although he may be invisible to the eye and undetected by physical means, you may rest assured that he is present, employing every imaginable device (and some unimaginable) to undermine the integrity of God’s people and to sow seeds of discord and confusion. Paul was himself extremely careful and deliberate in how he sought to resolve the problem in Corinth, lest they all &ld...Read More

One of the more not-so-subtle delusions that exists in many corners of the professing Christian church is what I refer to as Triumphalism. I use that word rather than a more technical theological phrase (“Over-realized Eschatology”) lest I lose you up front.   The bottom line in triumphalism is the belief that the overt and consummate victories that we will experience only in the age to come are available to us now. I’m not saying that we as Chri...Read More

How do you measure success? By what standard do you assess how well you’ve done? When you take stock of your life or evaluate the effectiveness of whatever ministry God has given you, how do you determine the outcome? Do you count heads? Or money? Do you apply the criteria typically used in a Gallup poll or Barna survey? Do you size up your efforts as over against those of high-achieving folk in the market place or perhaps line up your congregation, side by side, w...Read More

As noted in an earlier meditation, the dangers of triumphalism are very real and imposing. We must resist the temptation to think that faith either insulates us from the trials and struggles and groan of life or elevates us above them altogether. Our “triumph” is precisely in our grace-empowered endurance in the midst of suffering as we faithfully proclaim the gospel, regardless of whether or how many either believe or repudiate the message. But we must also...Read More

Salvation and our relationship to the Lord are described in any number of ways in the New Testament, using a variety of images, metaphors, and analogies. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we are the sheep. God is the giver of life and we are born again. He is the compassionate Father and we are adopted. God is the righteous judge and we are justified. The Spirit is an indwelling presence and we are his temple, and the list could go on without end. But one of the more intri...Read More

Nothing is more frustrating than knowing what one ought to do and lacking the power to perform it. To see and read and be confronted with the will of God all the while one is bereft of the resolve and spiritual energy to respond in a positive fashion is my definition of despair! That is why I thank God daily that I do not live in an age when the law of God was merely written on stone and called for my obedience without the promise of the provision of power. That is why ...Read More

There are times when I worry if I’m making progress in the Christian life. Honestly, there are times when I’m quite sure I’m not. I’m not talking about overt backsliding or moral regression, but a feeling of spiritual inertia that causes me to wonder if I’m moving forward toward greater conformity to Christ.   Of course, if I weren’t making progress I probably wouldn’t be worried about whether I am or not! In other words, ...Read More

How do you fight discouragement? Or do you? Are you among those who simply yield to its relentless onslaught and give up? People who fall into the latter category typically deal with disappointment in one of two ways. Some continue to work and “minister” (if that word is even appropriate to describe what they do) but do so with murmuring and impatience, bitterness toward God, self-pity within, and anger at anything that moves. Others respond to the pain of ...Read More

Earlier in 2 Corinthians 3:17, the apostle Paul spoke of those who were “peddlers of God’s word”. In our meditation on that passage, I explained that he had in mind someone who dilutes the full strength of the gospel, perhaps eliminating (or at least minimizing) its offensive elements, or altering certain theological points, so that the finished "product" will be more appealing to the audience. The aim was obviously to gain as large a following as possi...Read More

If you want to maintain a reputation in secular society for being culturally sophisticated, educated and enlightened, don’t ever mention the fact that you believe in a literal devil. Few things will more quickly and thoroughly sabotage your reputation and standing than letting it be known that you believe demonic spirits are real and active and to an extent are responsible for why those who are mocking you are, in fact, mocking you. On the other hand, if you are m...Read More

If Satan is actively blinding the minds of unbelievers to compound and perpetuate their bondage in spiritual darkness (2 Cor. 4:3-4), what possible hope is there? We seem left only to despair of unsaved loved ones. What, if anything, can bring the unregenerate into life? What, if anything, can dispel the darkness of unbelief and awaken the heart to the beauty of Christ? What, if anything, can we do in the face of such Satanic opposition? The answer, said Paul, is to pro...Read More

All of us, at one time or another and some more than others, fear that our weakness is a barrier to God’s purposes. We feel so very keenly the promptings of our flesh, the lack of emotional energy, our ignorance of basic truths, not to mention physical exhaustion or sickness, anxiety, and self-doubt. Then, of course, there is the absence of political and social influence, the ridicule incurred for following Christ and, for some, oppression and more severe forms of ...Read More

Last night I spoke briefly with a long time friend who is facing yet another round of intense treatments for a recurring brain tumor. The dosage level of pain medication which he requires simply to survive each day is almost incomprehensible. When I got off the phone, visibly shaken, Ann asked me how he was doing. It seemed only fitting to answer: “He’s afflicted in every way, but not crushed; quite obviously he and his family are perplexed, but not driven to...Read More

Fear can be a paralyzing force in the life of the Christian. Whether from fear of being rejected or persecuted or perhaps not wanting to be seen as lacking cogent answers to controversial questions, many remain silent.   I doubt if there has ever been a believer who hasn’t at some time kept his or her mouth shut when they should have spoken. With hindsight, we look back on the occasion and feel the sting of guilt, even shame, for having let cowardice rather ...Read More

I can’t remember who said it or wrote it, but I agree with it: the power to persevere comes from gazing intently at what you can’t see. Needless to say, that calls for explanation. But the explanation itself requires a context.   The context is Paul’s discussion of how we as Christians daily carry about in our bodies the dying of Jesus, and do so without succumbing to despair or bitterness. His comments that concern us today, in 2 Corinthians 4:1...Read More

I’m dying. I don’t say that because I’ve just returned from the doctor with a fatal diagnosis, whether of cancer or heart disease, but I’m dying. So, too, are you. With each passing moment, no matter how vigorously we exercise and how nutritiously we eat, we are deteriorating physically. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:16, “our outer nature is wasting away.” Nevertheless, and for this we praise God, “our inner nature is being ren...Read More

“Let us consider this settled,” said John Calvin, “that no one has made progress in the school of Christ who does not joyfully await the day of death and final resurrection” (Institutes, 3.9.5). All non-Christians and, sadly, some professing believers, would regard that as a statement of unparalleled lunacy. For them, the “day of death” is something to dread, the prospect of which evokes fear and the avoidance of which justifies any sa...Read More

To this point in our study of what happens when a Christian dies, most everyone is pleased with what Paul has written. So why spoil everything by talking about judgment? I can anticipate what people will say: “I was thrilled when you described the reality of the intermediate state and the assurance of bodily resurrection. I was ecstatic upon hearing that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. But judgment? Couldn’t you have conveniently sk...Read More

The inescapable reality of the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10) is a sobering thing. It takes hold of the heart and forces us to think about what we cherish and how we speak and what we do and the many and varied ways that we use our time and money and energy and gifts.   But what effect, if any, does it have on your responsibility toward others? It’s easy to become self-absorbed when thinking about judgment and recompense for deeds done in this life. B...Read More

There’s hardly anything more painful and disheartening than being misunderstood. I can’t begin to imagine what Jesus must have felt each time the religious leaders twisted his words into something he never intended or misinterpreted his motives or impugned his character, attributing to him ideas or aims foreign to his heart.   The apostle Paul was another who often experienced this kind of misunderstanding. His actions often ran counter to the cultural...Read More

What gets you going in the morning? Aside from an alarm clock and the prospect of being fired from your job should you choose to remain in bed, what energizes you to face each day? How do you account for your decision to press on in life when there seem to be so many reasons to quit? Do you find yourself coerced by an external force, perhaps a threat, a promise, or the hope of winning the lottery (that’s not an endorsement to purchase a ticket)? Is your life defi...Read More

“Houston, we have a problem,” words made famous by Jim Lovell of Apollo 13 fame, may well apply to our efforts to understand something Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5. Careful students of Scripture will have noted that Paul is describing in chapter five, among other things, his motivation for how he conducted himself among the Corinthians and in the world at large. Yet, he appears to affirm what many would consider mutually incompatible, contradictory ways of ...Read More

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the death and resurrection of Christ? I suspect that most would point to such truths as the forgiveness of sins, or the fact that in his death the wrath of God was satisfied, or that we are redeemed and Satan is defeated and heaven is secured. Surely, all these and countless other truths are the consequence of what Christ accomplished on our behalf. But what are the implications of his atoning work for how ...Read More

Few things are more frustrating than the gradual erosion of meaning in Christian language. For example, I often wonder if the people who applaud the hymn Amazing Grace have any idea of what they are singing. Do they know what it means, biblically speaking, to be a “lost” “wretch” in need of “salvation”? Sadly, the notion of divine “grace” that redeems from sin and delivers from eternal wrath, apart from human works, has bee...Read More

If asked for a concise, biblical definition of the gospel, indeed, a definition of Christianity itself, one could hardly be faulted for pointing to the following paragraph in 2 Corinthians 5. "All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, w...Read More

I “know” sin. I say this not because I can define sin, although I can. I say this not because I can identify sin when I see it, although I can also do that. I say it because I am a sinner. I “know” sin because I commit it, sadly, on a daily basis. My acquaintance with sin, therefore, does not come from associating with others who transgress or from reading a book on Hamartiology (the technical, theological term for the study of Sin). I “know...Read More

I struggle to think of a more glowing endorsement than that which Paul gave the church in Thessalonica. He applauds them for the fact that when the gospel was preached they “received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:6). Again, “when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Th...Read More

Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, recently made news by announcing his intention to investigate several prominent Christian ministries to determine whether or not they have exploited their tax-exempt status as churches to provide themselves with opulent and lavish lifestyles. Those who’ve been asked by the Senator to submit financial records include Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Edd...Read More

In case you skipped it, let me repeat the question in the title: “When People see You, does God look Good?” Not many of us phrase it in precisely that way or even think in those terms. It’s far more natural for us to ask, “When people see me, do I look good?” Do I impress them with my charisma? Are they captivated by my wit? Are they attracted by how I dress? Did they take note of my intelligence? Do they still think of me an hour or two lat...Read More

This past weekend (January 18-20, 2008) Ann and I had the privilege of attending the World Mandate conference in Waco, Texas, sponsored by Antioch Community Church and Antioch Ministries International. This was our second time to make the trip south for what has proven on both occasions to be a marvelously instructive and encouraging experience.   World Mandate has one preeminent goal, regardless of the year or the speakers or the date when it is held. That goal i...Read More

There is hardly a time when I’m more keenly aware of my sinful and selfish orientation than when my personal comfort and convenience are threatened or interrupted. When I miss a meal, I’m grumpy. When the air conditioner breaks, I’m irritable. When I’m in pain, I complain. It grieves me to see how often I act as if I deserved physical security and emotional peace and a full stomach. I’m stunned by how much time, energy, and money I devote to...Read More

What’s a Christian to do? In a world of increasing contempt for the gospel and, more often than not, overt and unapologetic opposition, how is a follower of Jesus to respond? In the face of legislation that undermines our moral convictions, a secular atheism that marginalizes our presence, and a radical Islamic fundamentalism that seeks our utter eradication, is the Christian a helpless pawn in the chess game of global maneuvering? Do we fight back, and if so, how?...Read More

On June 22, 1750, Jonathan Edwards was fired. After twenty-four years of ministry at the church in Northampton, Massachusetts, twenty-one of which as senior pastor, America’s greatest pastor-theologian was dismissed by an overwhelming vote of the male membership (women were not allowed to vote).   Edwards’ response? After enduring years of theological wrangling, bitter opposition, rancorous slander, and malicious gossip, one might have expected him eit...Read More

The dictionary entry on the word “Schizophrenia” defines it as “a situation or condition that results from the coexistence of disparate or antagonistic qualities, identities, or activities” (http://www.dictionary.com/). Another entry reads: “a state characterized by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements.”   Given these definitions, there is a sense in which Christianity gives every appearance of being schizop...Read More

I recently received an e-mail from a reader who was lamenting the tragic absence of love in the body of Christ. He was grieved by the failure of many to take seriously the words of John, who insisted that “whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21b).   The failure of the Church to love its own is an ugly blemish on the public face of Christianity. All of us have seen it, and many have felt its pain. There are countless reasons why this...Read More

What does it mean to be in the world but not of it? How is a Christian supposed to relate to those who despise and ridicule the name of Christ? To what extent are we to engage with the surrounding culture? Should a Christian shop at a store owned by a cult? Is the boycott an essential and effective expression of the church's protest against immorality in our society? These are tough questions for which quick and overly-confident answers are unwise, and usually wrong. Al...Read More

On the one hand, I don't want to be guilty of unwarranted exaggeration. On the other, I'm hard-pressed to think of a more theologically important, spiritually encouraging, and eschatologically controversial statement than that of Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:16b. "For we are the temple of the living God"! The starting point for understanding this crucial concept is the Old Testament narrative in which we find the visible manifestation of the splendor of God among his people,...Read More

When a known liar makes a promise, few take notice. We're even skeptical when a trusted friend assures us of something that seems too good to be true. But when the God who cannot lie (cf. Heb. 6:18) puts his word on the line and stakes his reputation on the fulfillment of his declared purpose, take it to the bank. 2 Corinthians 7:1 is a call to holiness based on the rock-solid, infallible, blood-bought promises of God. "Since we have these promises," says Paul, "let us ...Read More

Books, seminars, and conferences on principles of leadership are in abundant supply today. Equally popular are those which focus more specifically on pastoral ministry. Sadly, many of these are governed by assumptions and values more suitable to the Wall Street board room or to the office of a typical CEO than to the local church. When I'm asked to recommend resources on the training up of pastors or for wisdom in shaping the future leaders of this or the next generatio...Read More

Every so often we need to be reminded of the historical nature of the Bible. Contrary to how many have conceived it, this glorious book did not fall gently like manna from heaven. Its many narratives, prophecies, and letters were forged in the grit of real life struggles and the multitude of human relational dynamics not unlike what we encounter today. Nowhere is this better seen than in 2 Corinthians. In fact, the lengthy paragraph before us (2 Cor. 7:5-16) is unintell...Read More

James Dobson may have coined the phrase Tough Love, but he didn’t invent the concept. Paul did. Well, it may have existed before Paul, but he certainly perfected its use.   Often we excuse our failure to speak truth into a person’s life because of the pain and emotional discomfort it may cause them. We live under the assumption that genuine love will do whatever it can either to prevent or alleviate the immediate distress in the object of our affection...Read More

I’ve always been intrigued by the dynamic interplay that exists within the body of Christ when it is functioning as God desires. The very imagery of the church as a “body” in which the various members contribute to the well-being of the whole is quite remarkable.   Sadly, though, we don’t experience this as often as we should. Western individualism is frequently at odds with the interdependence and mutuality that ought to exist among the ma...Read More

As we begin our study in 2 Corinthians 8-9 and dig deeply into Paul’s perspective on the subject of money and stewardship, it may prove helpful to briefly address a most controversial question.   The issue is not whether Christians are responsible to be generous with their wealth in giving back a portion of it to support the work of the ministry. 2 Corinthians 8-9, as well as other texts, make it quite clear that we are. The question, rather, is whether New ...Read More

It almost seems that people in ministry today either rarely talk about money or rarely talk about anything else! The former are afraid of sounding greedy and manipulative while the latter consider wealth a spiritual birthright of all Christians. For the one, money is an enemy, for the other, an entitlement.   The apostle Paul would take issue with both groups. He is unashamed to issue what amounts to a passionate and persistent appeal to the Corinthians that they ...Read More

I want you to think with me today on how the Bible functions in our lives. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (emphasis mine). All this so that you and I “may be competent, equipped for every good work.”   So let me come straight to the point. I’m thoroughly reproved by 2 Corinthians 8:1-2! Other translatio...Read More

I’ve already devoted two meditations to the opening verses of 2 Corinthians 8, but there is yet more to mine from this deep well of spiritual riches. Let’s look again at Paul’s words as he seeks to stir the Corinthians to a generosity equal to that of the Macedonians: “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extr...Read More

"Greed is good," declared Michael Douglas in the movie Wall Street. "Greed works." It was a shock when I first heard those chilling words spoken with such forthright and unashamed simplicity. To this day it's hard to shake free of them. Hollywood is well known for its determination to mock, deny, or otherwise undermine Christian values, and these stunning words by Gordon Gecko, the character played by Douglas, are a vivid case in point. As Christians we face countless e...Read More

When was the last time you heard or read of a financial scandal in some local church or para-church ministry? Sadly, probably not too long ago. Whether due to the exorbitant and opulent lifestyle of some leader, or mismanagement and the lack of foresight, or perhaps even outright theft, the church stands in constant threat from this problem. The churches in ancient Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth, just to mention a few, were no different. Human nature was the same t...Read More

Consider with me the far-reaching, all-pervasive, ever-mysterious sovereignty of our great and glorious God! He rules the heavens above, having set the stars in place. He calls them each by name and upholds them to the praise of his power. (Isa. 40:25-26; Ps. 147:4). He creates the clouds and directs their paths and forms each drop of rain (Ps. 135:7; 147:8). Snow and hail and wind and waves are subject to his command (Job 37:6; Ps. 147:16-18). Lightnings flash at his ...Read More

Much has been written in recent years both to defend and to criticize the so-called Prosperity Gospel. The best and most balanced response to this movement, in my opinion, is the book, Faith, Health and Prosperity, commissioned by the Evangelical Alliance Commission on Unity and Truth among Evangelicals and edited by Andrew Perriman (for a review of the book, see www.samstorms.org). The book was initially undertaken in response to concerns raised by the ministry in the ...Read More

What thoughts fill your mind as you sign a check made payable to your local congregation? When an offering is collected for support of a church planting effort in Thailand, do you give grudgingly (“I’m getting tired of them asking me for money; they must think I’m a millionaire”), from guilt (“The last time I said no, and used the money on a new car”), or gladly (“Praise God for this glorious expansion of the gospel where it has ...Read More

But Sam, what will become of me if I sow bountifully? Will there be enough for my needs? Will I be able to provide for my family? What about the next offering? Will there be anything left to contribute to what may prove to be an even greater cause than the former one? Worse still, what’s to prevent my generosity from creating a financial crisis of my own? After all, an unexpected downturn in the market could put me in the position of being the next person who&rsquo...Read More

Why is it that we are so quick and easily inclined to take credit for what God has done? Of course, I know the answer. Sins such as pride, arrogance, selfish ambition, combined with an ignorance of the antecedence of divine grace, all converge to make it feel natural. If we are to avoid falling into this horrific trap, we must remind ourselves often that God is always antecedent; his gracious work in us always precedes and makes possible whatever work we in turn do for o...Read More

It takes great strength and maturity not to respond in kind when one is slandered and maliciously maligned. If ever there were a knee-jerk reaction that feels justified, it comes in our response to those who without ground or reason spread lies about us and question our integrity behind the scenes. It seems well within our rights to give vent to the anger in our souls and to "let ‘em have it"! No one knew this better than the apostle Paul, the victim of repeated m...Read More

We live in an age of angry atheism; not simply a casual and indifferent disregard for the existence of God but a militant opposition to all things religious. Most are by now aware (and sick of hearing about) such folk as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. What should be our response, if any? Do we simply ignore them, confident that in time they will fade away as have other skeptics in centuries past? Fade away they will, but I belie...Read More

It had to have stung more than a little bit when Paul received word that people were accusing him of reliance on mere human tactics and a this-worldly power, while largely abandoning the resources of the Holy Spirit. Let's not forget that Jesus was the object of an even more scurrilous charge. The religious leaders of his day insisted that the power in his life that accounted for healing of the sick and casting out of demons was not that of the Spirit but of Satan himsel...Read More

 The Christian world is all abuzz about leadership these days. Take a look at any list of best-selling books and you'll find at least three or four of the top ten that are concerned with some aspect of leadership, whether in identifying the essence of the good and successful sort or in warning of the bad. It's the latter that I'd like to briefly address in this meditation. I'm sickened, as I'm sure you are, by the almost daily barrage of news concerning either the ...Read More

As I've said many times, 2 Corinthians is a manual for Christian leadership. Paul would probably not have expressed it in precisely those terms, but much of his effort in this letter is designed to identify for the Corinthians the true nature of spiritual, God-given authority as over against the self-aggrandizing agenda of those who passed themselves off as "apostles" of Christ. The Corinthians had been duped. They had been deceived by a band of intruders whose ultimate...Read More

Some people live for the opportunity to flaunt their skills and to speak of their multiple accomplishments. They seize every opportunity to redirect conversation from what they believe are less important people and trivial matters to a focus on themselves, be it their success or fame or status in the community. They are not in the least hesitant to speak of their credentials and are quick to cite the educational degrees they've earned and the gold plaques for distinguish...Read More

The familiar saying, "It ain't boasting if you can do it," is not only grammatically wrong; it is profoundly dumb. Boasting is proudly drawing attention to oneself by claiming credit for some accomplishment. It is the self-centered attempt to elicit from others praise of oneself for having attained some goal or having measured up to an acknowledged standard. It does not cease to be boasting simply because it's true. If you can't do it and you boast, you lie. If you can d...Read More

Few people can maintain a godly balance between sarcasm and sincerity. The latter is all too often swallowed up and eclipsed by the former. The apostle Paul was a notable exception to that general rule. The sarcasm of the apostle is quite evident in the opening words of 2 Corinthians 11. There he writes, "I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me!" (2 Cor. 11:1). Paul was probably accused by his opponents of being a "fool" whom the Corinthia...Read More

I'd like to conduct an experiment. I want you to think about your local church, regardless of its denominational affiliation or lack thereof. Do you have it in mind? Are you ready? O.K. Now, what's the first word that comes to mind? Take a moment. Don't be in a rush. I wish it were possible to compile a list of the many answers to my question. I'm sure it would be quite instructive and enlightening, perhaps even alarming. Words such as healthy, sick, vibrant, languishin...Read More

I want to be a person known for one thing. Although I'm an author, it matters little if people buy my books. Although I'm a speaker, it matters little if they hear what I say. What ultimately matters, what is of preeminent importance, is that I be a person known for "a sincere and pure devotion to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3). I can't begin to describe the effect these simple words have had on me of late. Perhaps it comes from getting older. The more one sees and experi...Read More

I fear the corruption of my sincere and pure devotion to Christ. So should you. To think that you are immune from the deceptive tactics of the enemy is both arrogant and dangerous. Paul feared that some of the Corinthians had been duped, or were on the verge of it. That is why he speaks so energetically of his jealous concern for them and the state of their souls. There's nothing inconsistent with standing firm in my faith in Christ and rejoicing in the assurance of my ...Read More

Our pluralistic, consumer driven society is all about choices, options, and diversity. If you don't like what you see, be patient; another version, an updated edition, a new and improved alternative will soon appear. This is often the case in certain expressions of contemporary "Christianity" (so-called). Don't like the Jesus of evangelical, orthodox biblical faith? No problem. There are plenty of other Jesus's to choose from. There's the liberal Jesus, the liberation J...Read More

When one first reads 2 Corinthians 11:7-12, it sounds outlandish, virtually incomprehensible. Paul preached the gospel of God in Corinth for free. He refused to accept payment for his ministry in that city. He labored tirelessly with his hands to support himself so that he need never take up an offering after proclaiming the truth. And they accused him of committing a sin in doing so! As I said, outlandish and incomprehensible! But before we delve into this remarkable s...Read More

One of the things I learned about my wife on our first date (October, 1970) was that she didn't believe in a personal Devil. Having been raised in a liberal, mainline denominational church, she rarely if ever heard the gospel proclaimed while numerous biblical truths were routinely mocked and denied, Satan's existence being one. Whether or not one believes that a literal, personal spiritual being called Satan actually exists is dependent on one's view of the inspiration ...Read More

Before departing from Ephesus, the apostle Paul gathered to himself the Elders of the church and spoke words of encouragement, exhortation, and stern warning. The latter proved to be prophetic. "I know that after my departure," said Paul, "fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30). It's simply stunning to think that from within...Read More

Some have struggled to reconcile Proverbs 29:4 ("Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself") with Proverbs 29:5 ("Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes"). But there's no contradiction here. On most occasions, when a fool speaks, keep your mouth shut. There are times, though, albeit rare, when an answer is essential. Evidently Paul was faced with just such a situation in his relationship with the Corinthians. H...Read More

Reading 2 Corinthians 11:21-33 leaves me breathless. Even more important, it leaves me embarrassed and ashamed. It reminds me of those many occasions when people have asked me to share my spiritual journey or perhaps themselves proceeded to recite what they consider my accomplishments in life and my achievements in ministry. Awards I've won. Pulpits I've filled. Books I've written. Places I've traveled. People I've known. Money I've raised. Sermons I've preached. Endorse...Read More

The first time I can remember being struck repeatedly by an instrument was in the fifth grade at Fannin Elementary School in Midland, Texas (yes, my father spanked me, but always with his open hand). Mr. Holmes, my teacher, was a short, but powerful man, who seemed at times to relish the opportunity to discipline rowdy young boys like me. And yes, we certainly deserved it (or at least I did). Mr. Hensley, my seventh-grade shop instructor and coach in all sports, had his...Read More

In the aftermath of 9/11 and with the ever-increasing price of gasoline, traveling has become something of a hassle. Increased air fares, long security lines that often move at a snail's pace, overcrowded flights, delayed flights, canceled flights, well, you get the picture. I must confess that on a couple of occasions I've lost my patience at such inconveniences, although I've tried not to direct my displeasure toward ticket agents and flight attendants who have no cont...Read More

Caricatures are hard to shake. Once people have an image of someone indelibly printed in their minds, not even the facts can dislodge it. As a student of Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) I've seen this first hand. Ask the man on the street (or even the person in the pew) about Edwards and they'll immediately mention his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" and how stern, negative, and condemning a personality he must have been. Of course, anyone who has spent time rea...Read More

We are all pretty adept at avoiding embarrassing topics. Most people have learned the art of maneuvering a conversation away from anything that might show them in a bad light or disclose their incompetence. And should it happen that some shameful item is noted, we're also pretty good at explaining it away or justifying it to protect our public image. Anything to save face! So what are we to make of Paul's statement in 2 Corinthians 11:30 where he declares, "If I must bo...Read More

In the late spring of 2008, news erupted and spread like wildfire that a "heaven-sent healing revival" had broken out in Lakeland, Florida, through the ministry of a young, fully-tattooed evangelist named Todd Bentley. As I write this meditation, the meetings have continued unabated for four months. During this time I've received hundreds of e-mails and telephone calls asking for my opinion of the "revival" and my assessment of Bentley. Since I have neither personally m...Read More

As I read the Bible I've often tried to envision myself in the position of certain characters, especially those who experienced profound supernatural encounters with the Lord. How would I have reacted? Would I have been puffed up with an inflated sense of my own importance? Or would I have felt crushed by the immediate disclosure of my own comparative insignificance? Or would I, preferably, have been so captivated by the brilliance of God's glory that thinking of myself ...Read More

What are we to make of people who speak so casually (if not flippantly) about multiple heavenly visitations that involve conversations with angels, apostles, and even Jesus? Let me be clear about one thing. I have no biblical or theological grounds for concluding that Paul's translation into the third heaven was a singular event in the history of the church, as if to suggest that no one else in any other era has ever experienced a similar encounter. But I'm more than a l...Read More

Most people spend their lives worried sick that others will not think highly enough of them. So they disguise their weaknesses. They magnify their strengths. They labor not to give offense. Much of their personality and relational style is far from natural, but has been carefully crafted to elicit the approval and praise of those whose respect they covet. The apostle Paul, to say the least, was a bird of a different feather. One of his greatest fears was that people wou...Read More

It seems reasonable, does it not, that an experience of the magnitude Paul describes in vv. 1-4 would serve to subdue and perhaps even eradicate sinful impulses from his soul? How could sin possibly continue to exert its influence in the heart of a person who saw and heard the things Paul did? Surely anyone who has been blessed with such a stunning privilege as was Paul would forever cease to sin. Surely anyone who heard such transcendently glorious things as fell on the...Read More

As noted in the previous meditation, there are four broad categories in which most of the interpretations of Paul's thorn have fallen. We now turn our attention to the two most popular (and likely) views. Many take the view of Chrysostom, a famous preacher of the fourth century. He was the first to suggest that the thorn is simply a reference to all the enemies of the gospel who opposed and persecuted Paul during his evangelistic and theological labors. Alexander the co...Read More

Feeling weak today? Good. Yes, that's right, good! I'm not talking about your weakness for chocolate or alcohol or your weakness for sexual lust or any such thing. The weakness I have in mind is not sin. It has nothing to do with your refusal to obey God or your propensity for jealous rage or greed or your disinclination to forgive someone who betrayed you. The apostle Paul would never boast in wickedness or gladly acquiesce to evil in any form (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9-10). Wea...Read More

God loved the apostle Paul. Yet God sovereignly orchestrated his painful thorn in the flesh and then declined to remove it, notwithstanding Paul's passionate prayer that he be healed. We are not apostles. Yet, as his children, no less so than Paul, God loves us too. We don't know the nature of Paul's thorn, but each of us has undoubtedly suffered in a similar way, and some considerably worse. We, like Paul, have prayed incessantly to be healed. Or perhaps knowing of a l...Read More

Some time ago I met with a former student of mine who was considering leaving his church. One of the leaders had openly slandered him and called his character, as well as his theology, into question. He asked for my advice. Knowing so little of the situation, and not being able to hear the other side of the story, I was reduced to directing his attention to Paul's counsel in Romans 12:18 - "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." We explored ...Read More

I have to admit that at times I find myself losing patience with the Corinthians. In more honest moments, I'm flat out sick of them. Although centuries removed and without ever having met them, I still find them more than a little intolerable. How Paul was able to endure their ingratitude and arrogance, not to mention their suspicion of his integrity and intentions, is beyond me. Here again, in vv. 14-18, we encounter yet another inexcusable and groundless charge agains...Read More

2 Corinthians is a vivid, often painful portrayal of the courage, honesty, and vulnerability of the apostle Paul. More so than in any of his other letters, in 2 Corinthians we hear his heart beat, we feel his passions, we are put in touch with his deepest fears and longings and loves. If one is looking for a paradigm of pastoral sensitivity and strength, of unyielding commitment to truth and purity together with compassion and profound concern for his converts, this is t...Read More

We've had several opportunities in our study of 2 Corinthians to witness the destructive presence in that ancient city of what has been called triumphalism. For the sake of those who may have forgotten what the term means, it has in view, among other things, an over-realized eschatology in which the blessings of the age to come are presumptuously claimed as a spiritual entitlement in the present day. Along with this are an aversion to suffering as something beneath the d...Read More

One of the greatest problems we face in the church today is the number of truly born again believers who struggle with the assurance of their salvation. They are burdened with fears that they may have committed the unpardonable sin or that their daily failures indicate the absence of saving grace. Their consciences are tormented by the lingering memory of a tainted past. Anxiety eats away at their hearts like a corrosive acid. They are desperate for some word that will b...Read More

There are several ways to measure Christian maturity, but perhaps none so revealing as how we respond to the demands of God when we're down. All too often we use our pain to justify sin. We appeal to how badly we've been treated or victimized or point to what we regard as injustice in order to ignore or evade our ethical responsibility. I don't know whether the Corinthians fell prey to this temptation or took the moral high ground, but Paul wasn't about to let them off ...Read More

We have come to the final verse of this remarkable New Testament epistle, and I am faced with a monumental, two-fold, task. On the one hand, I cannot (and do not want to) avoid saying something about the triune portrayal of God that Paul provides. The doctrine of God simply cannot be dismissed as theoretical or irrelevant. We are talking about God, are we not? On the other hand, there is profound practical encouragement to be gained from what Paul says that our great tr...Read More

The day after I wrote the 99th meditation in this series of studies on 2 Corinthians, I was driving north on I-35 from Oklahoma City to Kansas City, a five hour journey. To help pass the time, I decided to listen to the reading of the English Standard Version of the New Testament on CD. It seemed only appropriate that I start with 2 Corinthians. I can't recall how long it took to get through the letter, but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of forty-five minutes. As I...Read More