Self Examination – 2 Corinthians 13:5

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? – 2 Corinthians 13:5 NIV

Self examination can be a challenging thing to do. I am biased, generally thinking of myself in a positive light. I want to think I am doing well, which makes it a little difficult to get a true self assessment; the good shines a bit brighter while the not so good tends toward getting glossed over. And there is likely nowhere this is more evident than in my spiritual life. Even if I wanted to, how does one do a self diagnostic on their spiritual health? How can I determine if I am really in the faith?

While there can be many suggestions for how to do this testing, I would like to offer up a couple of them. First of all, is your life different than it would be if you had not come to Christ? Romans 12:2 tells us not to conform to the world, but rather to be transformed. We should be different than the culture around us. Consider what your life would be like if you were not a Christian. What difference has it made, other than going to church and throwing money in the plate; things that you could do just as easily in a secular club. Has your life been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit?

The second test you might make is to look for evidence of the Holy Spirit’s working in your life. Romans 8:9 tells us that if we belong to Christ, then his Spirit dwells in us. And if the Spirit dwells within us, he will be at work. Galatians 5:22-26 identifies the fruit of the Spirit, the results of his work within us. Are you exhibiting these characteristics in increasing measure? Is the Spirit at work, producing his fruit?

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Strength in Weakness – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

How many people delight in their weaknesses or troubles? I suspect there are not many. And we might question the sanity of those who do. And yet that is what Paul is expressing here. If we read just the sentence where he expresses delight in his troubles, we might really wonder about his mental state. Until you read the rest of the passage and understand where he is coming from.

Paul was suffering from some kind of thorn in the flesh, a physical ailment of some type. And he had repeatedly prayed for God to remove it. At least until God made it clear to Paul that his power is most clearly revealed and expressed in human weakness. And that is true, not just for Paul, but for me as well. When I have the power to act, I will usually do so, in my own strength. But when I am incapable of acting, and have learned to depend on God, then he is most free to work. And his power, working through me, is much more effective that anything I can accomplish on my own.

When I am weak, when I am unable to trust in my own strengths or abilities, that is when I can be the strongest. If I will trust in God’s grace and power, then my weakness will be turned into strength. Learn to delight in weakness and see it as an opportunity for God to work through you. Strength in weakness: my weakness; God’s strength; an unbeatable combination.

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Masquerading as Servants of Righteousness – 2 Corinthians 11:13-15

For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. – 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 NIV

Con artists! They abound in the world today, like they always have. All too many of them have found their niche within the church, duping the unwary. These men, and sometimes women, are false apostles, deceitful workers, masqueraders, or servants of Satan. Overall, they have an outward appearance of righteousness and easily deceive the undiscerning.

There are a couple of ways to recognize these masqueraders. First, examine the gospel they proclaim. Is it solidly based on the Bible? Or do they only cherry pick from it, frequently expressing a new revelation that God has given to them (Gal. 1:6-9; 2 Cor. 11:4). You should run from these ‘preachers’.

A second way to recognize these servants of Satan is to examine their focus; who is at the center of their ‘ministry’. Are they focusing on the crucified and resurrected Christ? Or does the focus seem to center on them and their ‘ministry’ (2 Cor. 11:12)? You should be very cautious of those who talk about themselves and their work more than they do about Christ and his work.

In the letter to the Ephesian church in Revelation, Jesus commends the church for testing and rejecting these false apostles. “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false (Rev. 2:2).” Maybe we should follow their example.

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Weapons that Demolish Strongholds – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5a NIV

When the topic of spiritual warfare comes up it seems like it is usually because someone feels like they are under attack from Satan or his demons. But the conflict we are engaged in is much more than just a defensive struggle. The picture Paul paints here is the offensive side of the battle.

The world wages war with physical weaponry: planes, ships, tanks, guns, and bombs. But those have no value in the spiritual conflict we are a part of. Instead, we have spiritual weapons that have the power to demolish strongholds.

The only spiritual weapon mentioned in the Scripture (Eph. 6:17) is a sword; the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. How do we wield this weapon effectively? First of all, it requires training; how can I really use it if I don’t know what it contains. Practice with it daily, both reading it and applying it. And recognize that it is the Holy Spirit’s sword. Seek the owners advice in how and when to apply the sword. He knows best how to use it.

A stronghold is something that people depend on for safety, like forts of old. Spiritual strongholds are the arguments and pretensions that people use against the knowledge of God. Skillful use of the Spirit’s sword will demolish these strongholds, making them ineffective.

Learn to use the Spirit’s sword effectively and go on the offensive. But do it in love.

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God Loves a Cheerful Giver – 2 Corinthians 9:6-7

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. – 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 NIV

How much do you give: to your church; to other charitable organizations; or to those in need? Is your giving done out of obligation or in a legalistic fashion? Or do you give because you want to?

All too often, as Christians, our giving is somewhat legalistic; we give a tithe, or some other amount, to our church and feel like we have fulfilled our financial obligation. But I believe this passage teaches us that our giving should be different than that. This passage challenges us to give generously. But we are also to give willingly and cheerfully. Give what you are willing to give; not what you think you have to give.

And please do not be content with just giving to the operating expenses of your church. That is good. But even better is to give to those in need; to those who can do nothing for you in return. Give of your possessions. But also give of your time and talents. Be a generous and cheerful giver. And you will then also reap generously.

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A Wealth of Generosity – 2 Corinthians 8:2

During a severe trial brought about by affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. – 2 Corinthians 8:2 CSB

In this passage, Paul is referring to a financial gift for the suffering church in Jerusalem that he has been preparing. Apparently the church at Corinth had committed to being a part of it, but Paul seems to have his doubts about their commitment to it. And so he starts off by commending their neighbors to the north, the poor country bumpkins,

And what an example these folks were. It seems like they were going through some very difficult times, and had little in the way of material goods. And yet they were extremely generous. Paul goes on to say about them, that they begged to be a part of this ministry to the Jerusalem church. And somehow they gave beyond their ability to give. Their giving was not done grudgingly, but joyfully and in a wealth of generosity.

Paul seems not to be calling on the Corinthian church to give to the same extent. Instead he is using the Macedonians as an example to encourage them to be generous in their own giving. And I believe that holds for believers today as well. You may be led to copy the Macedonian example. But even if not, we should learn to be generous in providing for the needs of others. Not just out of our surplus, but learning to give sacrificially. And not just giving to the operating expenses of our church, which is important; but also to the real physical needs of people in our church, our community, and throughout the world.

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Perfecting Holiness – 2 Corinthians 7:1

So then, dear friends, since we have these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from every impurity of the flesh and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. – 2 Corinthians 7:1 NIV

What promise do we have? That God will be a Father to us. And that we will be his children (2 Cor. 6:18). We have an eternal future in relationship with our creator and redeemer. How wonderful is that?

Now, since we have that promise, how should it impact our lives? Paul instructs the Corinthian church that it should lead them to root out of their lives anything that would get in the way of personnel holiness. And it really should be the same for me. So if it does not belong in my life, I should get rid of it. Anything, whether physical or spiritual, that is a contaminate, should be removed. I need to work toward perfecting personal holiness. Whether I can achieve that in this life or not is uncertain. But it should be my goal.

And why do this? Paul’s answer is simple. Do it out of reverence for God. The purification of my life is an ongoing act of worship toward God, similar to the living sacrifice that Paul mentions in Romans 12:1. So then, if it is in my life, and it dishonors God, I should remove it.

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Unequally Yoked Together – 2 Corinthians 6:14

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? – 2 Corinthians 6:14 NIV

Oxen are yoked together to allow them to pull heavier loads together. But not just any two oxen can be hooked up together. If the animals are not well trained and compatible with each other, if they are unequally yoked, their union together will be less than productive.

And this is what Paul is alluding to here. He is not advocating that believers should not associate with unbelievers. It is important that we do so in order to be the salt and light of the world. Instead he is talking about close relationships such as marriage, business partnerships, and best friends. While these ‘mixed’ relationships may start well, and might be able to function over the long term, the differences in values will cause problems. The believer should be seeking to honor God in all they do. But that is not a concern to the unbeliever who will have different priorities. Inevitably, the believer will be tempted to compromise in order to maintain the relationship. How much better to be in relationships where both partners have the same values and goals and can work toward them together.

Paul clearly directs believers who find themselves married to unbelievers to maintain the relationship (1 Cor. 7:12-16). But if we find that other ‘unequally yoked’ partnerships are causing us to consider compromise, we should give thought to either ending the relationship, or at least reducing the involvement. And be careful about entering into partnerships with unbelievers. It is probably better to miss out on an opportunity than to be faced with the ongoing struggle to compromise your values or integrity.

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Looking Forward to Our Heavenly Home – 2 Corinthians 5:6-8

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. – 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 NIV

I enjoy camping and living out of a backpack and hammock. But it is not something I want to do permanently. I like running water, electricity and heat too much. The first part of this chapter makes this same comparison between two dwelling places. The first is the earthly tent that I currently live in. The second is an eternal house in heaven, built by God, and prepared for me. The tent may be comfortable and well known, but as long as I live in it, I am away from the much finer dwelling. But when this tent I live in is destroyed, then I will be able to move into the eternal house.

Which is better? Living in the tent with a picture of my wife? Or living in the house with my wife? This is similar to what Paul is saying here. As long as I am camping out, making my home in the tent, I am away from the Lord. But when I move from the tent into the permanent house, I will be at home with him. Which is better? Paul’s preference is to be living in the house with the Lord. Now he lives by faith, looking at the picture of his Lord. Then he will live by sight, in the very presence of God.

I have know some folks who eagerly looked forward to leaving the tent days behind and moving into the house. But most of us seem determined to live in the tent for as long as we possibly can. Lord, help me to faithfully serve you while here, but at the same time to eagerly look forward to what you have prepared for me.

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Light and Momentary Troubles – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

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. 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. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV

This is such an encouraging passage. Paul faced challenges and troubles in his life that are unimaginable to me (2 Cor. 11:22-29). Yet he calls them light and momentary. Why is he able to do that? Because he can see beyond life here. He has caught a glimpse of glory (2 Cor. 12:1-4), and knows that there is no real comparison between what happens here and what is to come. While I have not had a look at heaven, I am thankful for the encouragement Paul gives here. When I am discouraged, or feeling overwhelmed, I can look to the future and hold on to the hope I have in Christ. To a future that this life cannot compare with.

This is also a challenging passage, because it calls on me to fix my eyes, not on the here and now, but on eternity. That is hard for me to do. This life seems so real. And while I have my hope placed in the eternal, it is not something I can grab hold of and see. What I can see and hold onto is only temporary; it will not last. But the unseen is eternal. The challenge to me here is, even while living in this world, to have my eyes and heart fixed on the eternal. To hold lightly to my earthly possessions and activities. And to hold firmly to that which will last; my eternal inheritance as a child of God. In everything I do, and in my light and momentary troubles, I should fix my eyes on the eternal.

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