We must be careful my friends as we read through scripture to identify and challenge preconceptions we might have about the books, the authors or the occasion for writing. For instance, 2 Corinthians does not follow immediately on the heels of 1 Corinthians in terms of time-line. There may have been a much as 2 years between the arrival of the two letters. Nor are we to assume that these were Paul’s only two letters to the church in Corinth. There is some evidence that points to a third letter written by Paul between the ones we know as 1 & 2 Corinthians in which he instructs them to discipline a sinner. It also appears that this letter follows a second visit by Paul to Corinth, a visit that perhaps did not go very well.
There was a large famine going on in the region of Israel at the time. There were of number of false apostles working in Corinth to try to pull the church way from their faith and Paul’s teachings.
This letter to Corinth is described by Richard Pratt in his commentary as an occasional letter, written in response to reports about the Corinthian church as well as in response to situations at large in the world; so understanding some of that background information is important when reading through this letter. For instance, Paul takes time in chapters 10 to reiterate the authoritative nature of his apostolic ministry, a clear challenge to those who were questioning his teachings and, possibly, even his calling. Understanding this background info makes sense of Paul’s comments about the importance of reconciliation in the church. It also helps us understand Paul’s comments about the collection for the church in Jerusalem and good motivations for giving in chapters 8 & 9.
One comment specifically about today’s reading. Paul makes comment on a number of occasions through is letters about having a clear conscience before people and God. In chapter 4 verse 2 Paul writes: “Instead, we have renounced shameful secret things, not walking in deceit or distorting God’s message, but in God’s sight we commend ourselves to every person’s conscience by an open display of the truth.”
It may not seem like much, but every time I read those kinds of words from Paul, I find myself challenged quite deeply. Can I say that same thing? Do I conduct myself in such a way that I can openly commend myself to other people’s consciences? I take that to mean that Paul is willing to put judgement about his teachings, his behaviour and his very truthfulness in the hands of others, so convinced is he that he has conducted himself in as god-honouring a way as he knows how.
Not only is this a challenge for me as a pastor, it is a challenge for all who follow Christ. Do we conduct ourselves in such an honourable way in the eyes of other brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we conduct ourselves in that way in the eyes of the world around us? I find these questions deeply challenging.
- What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
- What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
- Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
- How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
- What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?
Tomorrow’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 5-9