Have you ever heard of the Viceroy butterfly? These winged insects look almost exactly like the beautiful Monarch butterfly. To the untrained eye it would be very difficult to tell the two apart. To tell the two specimens apart, one would have to examine them closely.
In this section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he urges them to examine themselves. He wants them to consider where they are placing their faith and if they are truly living for Christ.
The monarch is poisonous to some predators. By masquerading as the Monarch, the Viceroy can allude and fool its predators. However, underneath the façade, it is not a true Monarch. In fact, it is not potent at all. Within its heart, the Viceroy is nothing like the Monarch
If we listened to Paul and took a step back to examine ourselves, what would we find? Are we masquerading as a follower of Christ or are we the real deal? Are we the Viceroy butterfly or are we the Monarch?
As we examine ourselves and aim for a life where our actions and our heart profess our faith, remember the words in verse 4. “For indeed he was crucified because of his weakness, yet he lives because the power of God. For we also are weak in him, yet we will live with him because of the power of God directed toward you.”
How can you tell if one’s faith is real or phony? What characteristics does real faith have? What characteristics does phony faith have?
What do you see when you examine yourself?
Are there areas where you want your faith to grow deeper and more genuine? What steps will help you grow in that direction? Are you willing to do them?
(Tomorrow we will begin a 3 week look at some of the highlights of the Old Testament books of Poetry: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. After that, mid-July to August, we will read Mark, one chapter a day, and then return to Paul’s letters. Lots of good stuff ahead! Keep Seeking God and His Will in His Word! SeekGrowLove)
In this section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he shares with them about the thorn in his flesh. If you notice, we are not told exactly what this thorn is. He even mentions that three times he asked for it to be taken. But the LORD’s response was not that of immediate healing. Rather God left that thorn there, so that through this weakness Paul and others could see the power of God perfected. Paul began to view this thorn as something to keep him humble.
Let’s think about this in a bit of a different perspective. Have you ever been out walking in the summer? Picture the trees and the birds singing, the warm air on your face and the peace of the moment. Everything is great, that is until you take that next step. Yep, there it is… Something is in your shoe.
Imagine if it was out of your power to remove that nuisance in your shoe. You are stuck with it and now you have a limp. You cannot walk upright unless you lean on the sturdy walking stick you had brought with you but had been neglecting.
This stone in your shoe has caused you to rely on something other than your own two feet. Paul’s thorn in his flesh gave him even more of a reason to remain humble and to rely on his God.
We each have things in our lives that we struggle with. It may be a temptation we face, an insecurity we have, a sickness we carry or the pain of watching a loved one in agony. So often we think that God can only care for us if he is helping us fix these problems and removing these thorns. But scripture tells us that the LORD is near to the broken hearted.
In Paul’s case, we know the LORD was with Paul. So even if your thorn is still there, it does not mean the LORD is not with you. In fact, that thorn may be the very thing that shows you that He is there. When that thorn gets uncomfortable, lean into the LORD as you would on that walking stick. And look with hope to the day when the LORD will wipe away every tear.
How can you be strong while you are weak? Is there a time you have felt this in your own life? When have you observed it in others?
Why is God’s first priority not to give you everything you want to make yourself comfortable? What does He want instead?
How does pride affect your relationship with others? How does pride affect your relationship with God? Where and how can you weed out some pride and replace it with humility?
Have you seen anything advertised lately that you really wanted to try? Keep this in mind. We will revisit it at the end…
Paul in this section of the letter to the Corinthians is defending his apostleship- not by means of hearsay, but through the proof of his testimony to Christ. Through the actions of his ministry, he has demonstrated his devotion to his faith. In the latter part of the section, Paul lists out the persecutions he has suffered. He does this not for the sake of attention or for puffing up his chest. He does it to demonstrate what the life of a true follower of Christ can look like. He does so to prove through his actions, and not the empty clanging of his voice, that he is an apostle of Christ.
Paul does make a point to call attention to the “false advertising”, if you will, of others. He even makes the statement in verse 14, “…for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”
Both before and after this powerful statement of warning, Paul also mentions the servants of Satan and the deceitful workers disguising themselves as apostles of Christ and servants of righteousness. Their beautifully spun words are to create an illusion that they are something that they are not. They are to deceive and steal away those who would come to Christ.
Going back to that product you saw advertised, what about the product appealed to you? Was it the products testability that spoke for its reliability? Or was it the colorful design and exaggerated wording? We are in a world that is saturated in advertising and overrun with so many products trying to steal our attention from the others.
It is the same with who we put our trust in. Sometimes the advertisements of Satan are much more appealing. It can be difficult to choose the beautifully created bowl of fruit over the decadent devil’s food cake. But in the end, one nourishes and sustains us and the other satisfies us for only a moment.
In what ways do you see Satan working to convince the world and Christians that what God said is good is actually bad, and what God said is bad is actually good? How does evil try to look good – masquerading as an angel of light?
What lies of Satan have you believed?
How can we protect ourself from being deceived by Satan as Eve was?
What role does knowing and loving the truth play in fighting temptation? What truths do you find in Scripture that can help you be strong and wise against temptation?
I remember back in high school I showed a horse in 4-H at the county fair. The show I was in was all about the looks of the horse and convincing the judge that my horse was the very best in the arena. The goal was to gain the approval of the judge.
So, I got my horse, who had little show experience, all cleaned up. I shined up my dusty saddle. I donned my very best western shirt. I was ready to boast my horse in front of the judge. Even if my horse wasn’t the most experienced or the most expensive, I had to get the judge to believe that he was. I had to get the judge to believe my horse was something that he wasn’t.
However, my horse decided that day that he wasn’t quite willing to cooperate. He was not having it and we very nearly cleared the fence. It is safe to say I did not convince the judge and all my “boasting” was in vain.
I feel like life is often like this. We find ourselves in circumstances where we try to prove our worth based on what we think others want. Like I was trying to convince the judge that my horse was the best show horse, we try to convince others that we are something that we are not.
In this section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he tells them that what he is in the letters is also who he is in person (v.11). He is not trying to shine up the saddle to convince someone of who he is- his actions speak for who he is in his letters and in person.
He also tells the Corinthians that when we commend ourselves, we are not approved. When I tried to commend myself and the horse I was riding in front of the judge, it did not go so well.
When our goal becomes the approval of humans rather than the approval of God our focus becomes warped, and we lose sight of what truly matters. However, when our goal becomes the approval of God, we become commendable by God. And then rather than boasting in our own power, which always falls short, we can boast in the LORD and His everlasting power.
Can you think of a time when you tried to convince others you were someone you were not? Did it work? What were the consequences?
In what ways (or what areas of your life) do you seek the approval of men rather than the approval of God? What are the dangers of continuing in this pattern? How can you remember to be most concerned with how God is judging you, not what people think of you?
How will you practice boasting in the LORD and His everlasting power, today?
Have you ever planted a tomato seed? What was going through your head when you buried it in the dirt? Were you wondering how this small speck of matter could ever turn into an ingredient for the perfect BLT?
What was your attitude when planting this seed? Where you already drooling over the image you had in your head of that BLT? Were you skeptical it would even grow? Or maybe it wasn’t your idea to plant it and you held a grudge that the task fell to you.
While Paul wasn’t writing to the Corinthians about tomatoes or BLTs in this chapter, he did parallel the similarity between tithing and sowing seeds. He wanted the Corinthians to give with a cheerful heart and not out of compulsion or with a heart that was holding a grudge because of giving.
Whether time or financially I feel like this can be a difficulty. There is always something else we could be doing with our time or something else we could be buying with our money. But the importance of giving our time or finances to the LORD is the attitude that we have when doing so.
If we plant that tomato seed with a heart of anger, we may not appreciate the process of watching God grow the seed we planted into a bountiful and beautiful tomato plant. Sure, we can plant it with anger and still enjoy the outcome of the BLT and maybe even that outcome is what will change our perspective next planting season. But the joy of watching God take what has been sown and multiply it into something that we could never even have imagined may be missed with a heart that is misplaced.
When planting a seed, whether time or money, with a cheerful heart we not only receive the opportunity to minister to others, we also are able to enjoy the process of the LORD multiplying it. In the end, when we harbor a cheerful heart for the LORD, the BLT will taste a whole lot better.
What difference does the attitude make in either cheerful generosity or grudgingly given?
Which attitude do you most often have when giving of your time? Or your finances? If there is a specific area in which you struggle to give cheerfully, how can you work towards improving that attitude?
What do you gain when you give, especially with a good attitude, according to 2 Corinthians verses 6-15?
Tithes. It’s an uncomfortable topic. People get uncomfortable when you talk about money in general, and when you say they should give away their money, sometimes they can get downright feisty. If you are under 18, the idea of tithing is just that moment in church where they play an instrumental song and some people reach in their purse or wallet to discreetly turn in a folded bill. You may even participate with some money that your parents have given you. After 18 though – when you’re in charge of paying bills and then taking care of other living beings (whether that’s a dog, a child, or a plant), that’s when tithing can get overlooked. I know it does in my case.
2 Corinthians 8, today’s reading, is all about giving which is just another word for tithing. Tithing was a word that originated in England in the Middle Ages to describe the custom of giving 10% of income to the church to support it during that time. Paul talks about this, but he doesn’t focus on the legalistic requirement of giving 10% to ‘do your duty.’ Instead, Paul frames this giving to support the ministry of the apostles, the ministry of spreading the gospel, as an opportunity, a privilege. He says, “For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people” (2 Cor. 8:3-4). To participate in the ministry of the gospel whether through actually traveling from place-to-place or supporting via funds was a good thing. It wasn’t a duty that they should begrudgingly do. Later in the letter to Corinthians, Paul goes on to say, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Tithing is very much about our attitude. Are we cheerfully giving this offering to support the ministry of God? Or are we doing it only for the appearance of ‘doing the right Christian things’?
When you think about giving of your time or money, how much should you give? Paul says this: “And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.” In this, Paul again is pointing to the importance of attitude when considering how much time or money to give. He wanted the Corinthians to continue with the same desire, regardless of how much they actually gave. He also pointed out that if the desire to give is there, God doesn’t look at how big the gift is. He looks at how much is given in comparison to how much that person has. You can read more about this in the parable of the widow and the two coins in Mark 12:41-44.
Ultimately, our tithes and offerings are a display of our trust in God. They harken back to the sabbath rest of the ancient Israelites in the desert. By giving God a portion of our time or our money, we trust that God will do great things with it in the world, and we trust that God will make sure that we are taken care of with what we have left. Now, ‘taken care of’ does not mean that we will get rich off of tithing. (That’s the false prosperity gospel.) Taken care of means that we will have clothes on our backs and food in our bellies (Matt. 6:25-34). Our tithes and offerings can also fix our relationship with money. Instead of holding it tightly and greedily, by giving our money away – we are reinforcing that it is not an idol in our lives. Our attitude towards money changes.
What can you give back to God today?
~ Cayce Fletcher
Questions for Application:
Do you normally tithe? How does giving look for you?
Can tithing be more than just money? (For example, time serving at a church camp or participating in the worship band.)
What is your relationship with money? How do you think that relationship affects your relationship with God?
I recently attended a great Young Adult Getaway hosted by the Church of God General Conference. Around 60 (somewhat) young adults got together and had a great time fellowshipping with one another, learning about God, and worshipping God together. The theme for the weekend was “Find Your People” based on a book by Jennie Allen. Especially after living through the social changes brought about by social media and the pandemic, we probably can all relate to feeling both more socially connected and socially isolated than ever before. I can spend hours scrolling to see the engagement and pregnancy announcements from people I went to high school with (that I haven’t seen or spoken to in years), but I don’t feel like I have time to deeply connect with my present-day family and friends. The getaway focused on how we can connect with people – which is an essential yet often overlooked part of the Christian faith.
While we were there, I spoke about one uncomfortable aspect of connecting with others in a Christian context: holding others accountable. When we first become a Christian, we may think that our fellowship with others is all based on the love we show each other… which is actually true. But, early on in our walk with Christ, our idea of love is based on what we see in movies and TV shows. Love supports each other no matter what. It speaks encouragement (only) and never criticism. It does not judge. Love never makes the other person feel bad. So, we think, based on this understanding of love, that our Christian relationships should follow the same blueprint, but this is not the case.
Our understanding of what love is changes when we become a Christian. Jesus did say, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). But, at the same time our idea of love has changed. John later says in 1 John 4: 10-12, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” Love becomes much more about self sacrifice than mindless tolerance, much more about spurring each other on than accepting where we are currently at.
Paul recognizes this. As I’ve read through his letters, a common Pauline trait has stood out to me; he is a master at accountability. In his letters, he is constantly calling his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to higher standards and encouraging them to hold fast to the standard set before them in Christ. This is especially true in his letters to the Corinthians. In today’s reading, we see Paul continue to do this. He tells them, “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (v. 1). But, he doesn’t say this because he dislikes the Corinthians in any way. Instead he tells them later on, “I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you.” (v. 3-4a). Paul deeply cares about the Corinthian church, which is why it is so important to him that they live right in the eyes of God.
We also are called to live right and hold others accountable. How are you spurring others on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24) today?
~ Cayce Fletcher
Questions for Application:
Do you feel more connected or more isolated when you think about your everyday life? Who are ‘your people’ that you live close by that can spur you on in the faith?
Have you ever experienced accountability (whether it was you holding someone accountable or someone else holding you accountable)? What was that experience like?
How does accountability strengthen our Christian walk?
One of the major themes of the Bible is God making a broken people holy. Holiness is a characteristic of God; in fact, God is repeatedly called the “Holy One of Israel” throughout scripture. But, what is holiness? “The Hebrew word for “holiness” is qōdes, a word that highlights the realm of the sacred in contrast to everything common and profane.” (See here for more info.) Holiness describes what is sacred or set apart. God is the ultimate holy one, and he sets the bar for what is holy or sacred. We can determine if something is holy by comparing it to the standard that God has set for us.
Unfortunately, after the fall, we were not a holy people anymore. We would die if we were in the presence of God because of this fact. God’s ministry of reconciliation which we read about yesterday is all about God bringing us back into relationship with him. God cannot lessen his holiness, but he can redeem us and make us more holy. This is what the whole Bible is about. God making his chosen people holy. In the Old Testament, God made his people holy through sacrifices and the law. The law could not completely redeem us though. So, in the New Testament, the new covenant was establish in which God was making us holy – reconciling us to himself – through Christ. We are saved through this reconciliation (2 Cor. 6:2).
At the end of the chapter we read today, we see some important warnings that Paul gave to the Corinthians encouraging them to remain holy. In verses 16-18, it says,
“As God has said:
“I will live with them
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.”
“Come out from them
and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”
We are called to be set apart, called to be holy. Our lifestyles should reflect that. This requires discipline and an awareness of our habits. Are we living in a way that shows we are set apart? Or are we living just like the world? When we live a holy life, we have the promise of a deep and personal relationship with God. He will walk among us. He will be a Father to us. That promise is worth all the sacrifices that we make.
~ Cayce Fletcher
Questions for Application:
When you read the word ‘holiness’, what kind of feelings does it stir in you? Do you think that become holy is a worthwhile pursuit?
What does a holy lifestyle look like?
One characteristic of being holy described in this chapter is in verse 14: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” What do you think this verse means? Why is this important in our pursuit of holiness?
Most of our lives are spent trying to make sure that we are doing all we can to live bigger and better. We spend years in school so that we can get a good job and make good money. Then, we can buy a nice house/car (which we may sell later on to get a bigger and better house/car). We accumulate lots of stuff that we can eventually pass on to our kids – which may not actually want any of it. It seems kind of pointless when you describe it this way, but this is truly what we talk about when we say we are pursuing the American Dream. It’s a materialistic pursuit of wealth and things… that ultimately prove meaningless when held against the gospel of Christ.
Though the concerns of the Romans and Jews were different than what we worry about today, we still see the distractions that can come from the pursuit of things other than God. These idols could be wealth (and Rome had its own version of the American Dream), but it could also be power, status, or a legalistic self-righteousness. All of these idols are forms of the old self that should have been put to death with Christ.
In 2 Cor. 5:14-15, Paul says, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” This is such a counter-cultural statement. We are not living for ourselves anymore. We are not trying to pursue lives that are bigger and better according to the world’s standards. We have “died” to that pursuit and are raised again. We no longer live for ourselves but instead we live for Christ.
This is what it means to be a new creation. In verse 17, it says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” When we are raised with Christ, our concerns change to the concerns of Christ. What is the concern of Christ? Verses 18-19 say, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” We are being reconciled to God so that we can become the righteousness of God. Praise God! We have been made new!
~ Cayce Fletcher
Questions for Application:
What are some of the things that you spend time pursuing? What are things that distract you from God?
Do you believe that these distractions are idols?
If you are a believer, you are a new creation in Christ. Do you live in a way that shows that you are a new creation? How?
Growing up, I loved to run in races. I never had the fastest time, but I loved the sense of community that came from everyone pursuing the same goal: finish the run. Even though I don’t run as much as I used to, I still see the power of pursuing a unified goal in my family, my job, my church, and my community. We encourage one another to set our eyes on the more important things even when we may not feel like doing so on our own.
In today’s reading, Paul continues to give a defense of his ministry. He tells the Corinthian church, “Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2). Paul speaks plainly about the gospel and does not try to manipulate or somehow warp the message of the cross to be more pleasing to others. Even so, this message is so winsome that it wins people over anyway.
This being said, just because the message itself is convincing and life-changing, it doesn’t mean that Paul became rich and famous, living a life of ease. His life was difficult and the only thing that kept him going was the reminder of his purpose and his commitment to reaching his goals. During Paul’s ministry which started with him being blind for three days, he was almost stoned to death, bitten by a snake, shipwrecked, and kept under house arrest. He left for Rome towards the end of his life knowing that he was going to be killed there. A martyr, he was beheaded by the Roman emperor Nero. Despite the difficulties of his life, he recognized that the message that he was speaking was too important to keep hidden. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-17, he says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” The troubles that he faced did not destroy him. Instead, they renewed him day by day because Paul recognized that through his troubles the gospel was being spread even more effectively!
So, how can we grow to have the same mentality as Paul? In verse 18, he says, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Just like a runner in the race, we have to keep our eyes set on the finish line. We need to keep our mind set on the eternal. If we do that, the distractions of the present day start to fade away. What are your eyes fixed on? Live life in light of eternity.
~ Cayce Fletcher
Questions for Application:
What do you say the goal, mission, or purpose of your life is?
Are you facing difficulties that keep you from reaching this goal?
How might these difficulties be renewing you day by day? What could be some of the lessons or benefits from these difficulties?