Letters from Paul

2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians 5:6-17
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
2 Corinthians 8:6-15
2 Corinthians 8:7-15

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2 Corinthians 5:6-17 (6/12/09)

The reason we don't understand God's kingdom is that we don't understand the mind and methods of God.  Recently in Sunday School, we were wondering why it is necessary that we have faith.  Although we didn't put it this way, our real question was, "Why can't God just show himself to us?  That way we wouldn't have any doubts – clearly our doubt is God's own fault."  (Showing us himself in Jesus Christ is apparently not good enough, since no one in the class – including yours truly – thought to mention that little detail.)  I assume that God has a good reason for not dispelling our doubts in that way, and that I can't figure out the reason because I insist on looking at the problem from a human point of view.  Paul says we need to become a new creation in Christ – do you suppose that would give us a more Christlike point of view?

2 Corinthians 6:1-13 (6/18/09)

You have to give Paul credit:  he put a lot of effort into God's work.  In spite of being beaten, jailed, shipwrecked, or run out of town, he kept at it.  He nearly always held down a job in order to spare his infant congregations the cost of his salary.  His only concern was that, no matter how hard he worked, his converts might not stay faithful to the Lord.  At some point the Corinthian church became alienated from Paul, and he wrote them a tearful letter.  Many scholars believe that fragments of this letter are contained in the book of 2 Corinthians.  Paul was concerned not just for his relationship with them, but for their relationship with Christ.  He did not want to have done God's work in vain, but he especially did not want the Corinthians to disregard God's work in them.

2 Corinthians 8:6-15

In our passage from 2 Corinthians, Paul exhorts his congregation not to be outdone in giving.  To be honest, he appeals more to their vanity than to their conscience.  I got us some statistics on Christian giving from Generous Giving; they seem to have taken them down now (2/19/24), but each of the statistics on that website had a reference.  There were some mind-boggling numbers; for example, worldwide in 2000 – one year – church members gave $27.1 billion to secular causes and $270.5 billion to Christian causes; $107.9 billion went to churches and denominations and $162.6 billion to parachurch agencies.  These statistics should appeal to our vanity.  (The next time somebody brings up the Crusades, you can point out that Christians have paid quite a lot in reparations.) 
Unfortunately, there are also some statistics that should appeal to our conscience.  The American middle class (that's us, I think), gives a smaller percentage of income than the rich.  Well, they're rich; they can spare it.  The American middle class (that's still us) also gives a smaller percentage of income than the poor.  Uh oh.  Furthermore, American Christian giving has fallen as we have become more affluent.  Per-member giving was 3.3%  in 1933, during the Great Depression, and only 2.6% in 2000.  Only about 3% of American Christian households tithed in 2002.  Jesus had one final thing to say about this topic:  "Freely you received; freely give."

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 (6/26/09)

I am a terrific starter.  Some of the current starts around here are a den remodel (2+ years and counting), a toilet replacement (11 days and counting, but should be finished tomorrow), a wall repair/repaint in the kitchen, several software projects, a crocheted tablecloth, and smaller projects too numerous to mention.  By now you may have deduced that I'm not so great as a finisher.
The Corinthians apparently suffered from the same problem – good starters, not so great on the follow-through.  The church in Macedonia was having a bad patch; John Wesley says they were being persecuted and plundered.  The Corinthians had begun in the previous year to take up a collection for them, but as of the time Paul wrote this letter, they hadn't gotten around to actually sending anything that would help the Macedonians.  Paul uses several approaches to get the Corinthians backs on track.  First he appeals to their pride – they excel in everything else; it would be a shame if they didn't excel in this.  Then he appeals to their consciences:  "Look to Jesus as your model!  He had everything, and he gave it all for your benefit!"  Finally he makes a financial plea, assuring them that it's okay not to give what you don't have, but if you have more than you need right now, it might be a good investment to spread the surplus around.  Mission Committee:  take notes.

More Letters from Paul
Overview of Paul's Letters
1 Corinthians
Galatians, Ephesians, Philemon
Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, and 1 Timothy

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