WHY A GREETING OF GRACE?

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”[2 Corinthians 1:2]

In the Old Testament the priest spoke peace to the people. He said, “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace” [Numbers 6:26]. Jesus told us that when we come to a person’s home we should speak a greeting of peace into that home [Luke 10:5-6]. We can understand why Paul would give a greeting of peace, but why grace, and especially when they are already saved by grace? Does grace mean more than simply salvation?

John Bevere’s organisation conducted a survey questioning thousands of born again, Bible believing, church-attending Christians about grace. The survey asked people to “give three or more definitions of the grace of God. He writes, “An overwhelming majority of the responders defined God’s grace as [1] salvation; [2] an unmerited gift; and [3] forgiveness of sins.” [“Relentless” by John Bevere, published 2011, page 26]. He goes on to say how sad it is that only 1.9% of those surveyed believed that “grace is God’s empowerment!

A few days ago my wife and I visited an old man of 95 years of age in hospital. He was very frail and struggling to speak, but managed to say to me a line from a poem by Annie Johnson Flint, “He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater.” He had grasped the truth that grace is for far more than salvation or forgiveness of sins.

In this epistle Paul writes words spoken by Jesus, “My grace is all you need, for My power is greatest when you are weak” [2 Corinthians 12:9 TEV]. Here God’s grace and empowerment is one and the same thing. Zondervan’s Encyclopedia of Bible Words states: “This grace is a dynamic force that does more than affect our standing with God by crediting us with righteousness. Grace affects our experience as well. Grace is marked always by God’s enabling work within us to overcome our helplessness.” Bevere defines grace as: “God’s free empowerment that gives us the ability to go beyond our natural ability” [“Relentless” page 29].

In Hebrews we are told to draw near to God’s throne in order to find grace to help in time of need [Hebrews 4:16]. We need grace to serve God acceptably [Hebrews 12:28]! Following a prayer meeting in the early church we read “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all” [Acts 4:33]. It is therefore not surprising that Paul would begin his greeting with the word grace, because God’s grace enables us to face and overcome in every circumstance and situation! Whatever your need today God’s enabling and empowering grace is available to you.

Questions:

If you have never really understood that God’s grace is available to help you in your weakness will you allow this message to change the way you think?

Read Hebrews 4:16. What does this verse mean and how does it apply to you? Give thanks to God for His grace that provides everything that you need!

TIMOTHY OUR BROTHER

It is a lovely thing to see the character of Timothy and his relationship with the apostle Paul. Paul was the one who led Timothy to Christ and then continued to disciple him. At different times Paul had called Timothy his son, or his true son in the faith [1 Timothy 1:2]. Now he calls him “Timothy our brother”, and implies that Timothy has written this epistle with him.

Timothy had shown exceptional character. We know little about his father except that he was Greek [Acts 16:1], but we do know that both his mother and grandmother were believers [2 Tim.1:5]. Timothy had allowed Paul to circumcise him so that the Jews would accept him [Acts 16:3]. He travelled

with Paul as part of an apostolic team [Acts 16:3-5 see also 20:4]. He was with Paul and Silas in a difficult time at Berea [Acts 17:13-15], and Paul had sent him to minister to Macedonia [Acts 19:22], and entrusted the Church in Ephesus to him. Timothy was also imprisoned for his faith [Hebrews 13:23].

Paul spoke of Timothy in glowing terms, and totally trusted him. Paul wrote of Timothy to the church in Corinth, “So I urge you to imitate me. That’s why I have sent Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord. He will remind you of how I follow Christ Jesus, just as I teach in all the churches wherever I go” [1 Corinthians 4:17].

Perhaps Paul’s greatest praise of Timothy were the words he wrote about him to the church in Philipi. He wrote, “But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel. Therefore I hope to send him at once, as soon as I see how it goes with me” [Philippians 2:19-22].

Paul had no one who was like Timothy. Timothy was young, single, had many struggles and was often sick, but he was unselfish, and sought the things of Jesus Christ. He was an encourager, sincerely cared for people, had a heart to serve and was of proven character. This can all be summed up by the word faithful, and a person like this is rare to find and more valuable than gold. Solomon said, “Most men proclaim each their own goodness, But who can find a man who is faithful?” [Proverbs 20:6].

Questions:

Why do you think that God puts such a high premium on faithfulness?

Why is faithfulness such an important key to friendship? How would you describe faithfulness?

Could the spiritual leaders in your local church trust you personally as faithful, in the same way that Paul could trust Timothy?

Which aspects of the character of Timothy described by Paul in Philippians 2:19-22 would you say you are strong in? Which ones do you need to work on in your own life?

BY THE WILL OF GOD

Bible Reading: Galatians 1:11-24

“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God”  [2 Corinthians 1:1]

There were some people in Corinth who opposed Paul, and rejected him as an apostle, saying that he was self-appointed. By beginning his letter with the words “by the will of God”, Paul was making a clear statement to these people!

From the day of his conversion it was Saul’s desire to do the will of God. From the beginning Saul knew that God must have a plan and a purpose for his life! On the Damascus Road when Jesus met with him, Saul asked two questions, “Who are You, Lord?” and “What do you want me to do?” [Acts 9:5,6]. Within three days of Saul’s conversion Ananias came to him and gave him a prophetic word “…he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” [Acts 9:15-16]. This word must have been the first illumination of God’s plan and purpose for Saul’s life.

Saul began immediately, in Damascus, to preach the Christ with great effectiveness, to the point that the Jews plotted to kill him, and he barely escaped with his life [Acts 9:20-25]. Saul then went to Arabia before returning to Damascus [Galatians 1:17]. Interestingly, Paul speaks of not conferring with flesh and blood for a period of three years [see Galatians 1:16-17]. What was going on in Him at this time? I would suggest that he was spending time learning from the Lord and receiving revelation from Him [Galatians 1:11-12].

After three years Saul went up to Jerusalem and spent fifteen days with Peter [Galatians 1:17-18]. From there he went to Syria and Cilicia [Galatians 1:21], and some time later Barnabas went to Tarsus to seek for Saul and bring him to the minister in Antioch, and they taught a great many people for a whole year in Antioch [Acts 11:25-26]. Further responsibility was given to Saul as he and Barnabas travelled to Jerusalem to bring financial relief to the Christians in Judea [Acts 11:27-30].

The next step in Paul’s ministry was to travel alongside Barnabas. It was “Barnabas and Saul” who were commissioned by the Church in Antioch, but it wasn’t long before the order changed and it was Paul taking the lead role. He was moving in his gifting and God’s will for him was being fulfilled. Take note of the way God’s will unfolded for him… desire… a prophetic word… early preaching… a time of revelation and training… obscurity for a period… a door opened to him in Antioch alongside Barnabas and others… increasing responsibility… submission to other leaders… and then moving into all God had for him, including great blessing and much suffering.

Questions:

In what way does Paul’s journey into knowing and doing God’s will mirror the way God still reveals His will and purpose today?

Why is it important that we go through the process of growth in order to move into the will of God?

APPOINTED BY GOD TO BE AN APOSTLE

“Appointed by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus…” [2 Corinthians 1:1]

The Amplified Bible says, “Paul, an apostle [special messenger, personally chosen representative] of Christ Jesus [the Messiah] by the will of God”

What does it mean to be an apostle? The word apostle comes from the Greek ‘apostolos’ meaning, “one sent on a mission with the full power of attorney to act in the place of another”. The disciples chosen by Jesus, and Matthias, chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, were apostles in a unique sense. Paul referred to them as “the most eminent apostles” [2 Corinthians 12:11].

However apostles were not limited to the twelve as some people suppose. Paul is a special case, but there were others specifically referred to as apostles. These included Barnabas [Acts 14:14], Andronicus and Junia [Romans 16:7]. The same Greek word “apostolos” translated as messenger in English is used of Epaphroditus [Philippians 2:25] and Titus [2 Cor. 8:23].

Paul writes about apostles being appointed in the church [1 Corinthians 12:28]. Apostles are included in the ministry gifts of Christ to the church [Ephesians 4:11]. It would be inconsistent to say that there were still prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, but then say that there were now no apostles!

From the definition of the word, the closest thing today to an apostle, in the general sense, is a missionary. A missionary is a follower of Christ who is sent out with the same specific mission of proclaiming the gospel. However, not all those sent out are apostles, and so we need a clear understanding of what an apostle is today. The New Testament gives clear guidelines in defining the nature and character of a modern day apostle. These include:

They establish local churches [1 Corinthians 9:2]

They set elders in place in the local church [Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5]

They operate in supernatural power, signs, wonders, healings and miracles [2 Corinthians 12:12]

They have a spirit of humility [1 Corinthians 4:9]

They are recognised as an apostle by other apostles [Galatians 2:9]

They bring correction to the churches. Much of Paul’s ministry was spent in correcting false teaching.

Not all people who call themselves apostles were really apostles. Paul often spoke about false apostles, and the Church in Ephesus tested those who called themselves apostles but were not [Revelation 2:1-7].

Questions:

Do we see apostles functioning in the church today, and if not, then why not?

Why do you think that one of the most important character issues of an apostle is humility? What does this mean in the context of 1 Corinthians 4:9?

Why is it clear from Ephesians 4:11 that apostles should still be recognised in the church today?

WHY WAS SAUL’S NAME CHANGED TO PAUL?

Today we begin to look at the text of Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians. From the very first verse there is plenty to meditate upon: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother” [2 Corinthians 1:1].

It is an epistle of Paul, who as Saul of Tarsus was converted to Christ on the Damascus Road [Acts 9:4-6]. Some years later the Holy Spirit and the church in Antioch sent out Barnabas and Saul on their first missionary journey [Acts 13:1-5]. It was during that journey when he and Barnabas were ministering in Cyprus that Saul’s name was changed to Paul. “Then Saul, who also is called Paul…. “ [Acts 13:9]. From that point on he was always known as Paul.

There are several instances in the Old Testament of God changing people’s names. Abram’s name, meaning “Exalted Father” was changed to Abraham, which means “Father of a Multitude” [Genesis 15:5]. Sarai’s name was changed to Sarah meaning “Princess” [Genesis 15:15-16]. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning “Prince with God” [Genesis 32:28]. Perhaps most famously, Jesus changed Simon’s name [meaning “he has heard] to Cephas [Peter] meaning rock or stone [John 1:42].

There is no indication that God changed Saul’s name as He did Abram, Sarai, Jacob and Simon [Peter]. There are two possible reasons why Saul changed his name to Paul:

Firstly, to identify himself with the people he worked among. He was called to minister to Gentiles. Paul is a Roman name. We know that he counted his Jewish background as loss for the sake of Christ [Philippians 3:1ff]. Paul wrote, “To them that are without law I became as without law … that I might gain them that are without law … I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

Secondly, he changed his name to make a statement of belief. “Paul” means “little”; “Saul” means, “desired”. He abandons the name that prophesied of favour and honour, to adopt a name that bears upon its very front a profession of humility. His very name is the condensation into a word of his abiding conviction: “I am less than the least of all saints.” There is an ever-increasing sense in Paul’s letters of humility. He moves from, “I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle” [1 Corinthians 15:9], to later calling himself “less than all the saints” [Ephesians 3:8], and near the end of his life writing to Timothy, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” [1 Timothy 1:15]. It is not even “I was chief” but “I am chief”. John Bevere says that the fear of the Lord and humility are the “power twins” [“Drawing Near” by John Bevere page 132, 2004]

Questions:

Why do you think God changed people’s names?

What do you think is the meaning of humility? Why did this become increasingly important to Paul?

If you could change your name what would you change it to and why?

PAUL’S BURDEN FOR THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH

Before we move on to take a close look at the text of 2 Corinthians it will be helpful to have a brief look at Paul’s relationship with the Church in Corinth. It may throw up one or two surprises!

Yesterday we read how the apostle Paul planted the church in Corinth. When you consider that most of the converts in Corinth were Gentiles, coming from a totally pagan background, it is not surprising that there were serious doctrinal and practical problems in the church. Factions, moral problems, selfishness, and lack of understanding of truth abounded in this fledgeling church.

However, the 1 Corinthians in our Bible was not Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. Paul wrote an earlier letter to the Corinthians that is not found in our Bible but referred to in 1 Corinthians. He writes, “I wrote to you in my first epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people” [1 Corinthians 5:9]. This earlier epistle is sometimes referred to as the “warning letter”.

Paul then wrote another letter between our 1 and 2 Corinthians, known as the “Severe Letter”. It is mentioned in 2 Corinthians: “And I wrote this very thing to you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow over those from whom I ought to have joy, having confidence in you all that my joy is the joy of you all. For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you” [2 Cor. 2:3-4] and, “For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while” [2 Cor. 7:8].

Although we only have two letters from Paul to the Corinthians in our Bible, it would appear that there were four letters, a warning letter, a teaching letter, a severe letter and a pastoral letter [2 Corinthians] in which Paul also defended his apostleship.

Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian Church was one of love, deep longing, and an intense desire that they would grow in their relationship with God, holiness and righteous living. This meant being totally honest with them, and yet at the same time deep sorrow over the way he had to speak so strongly to them. His goal was to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. This was his passion. Elsewhere Paul wrote, “Christ… Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” [Colossians 1:27-28].

Questions:

In what way is Paul’s relationship with the believers in Corinth an example to us of how we should treat fellow, and especially struggling, believers?

What do you think is the meaning of presenting “every man perfect in Christ Jesus”?

In what way does today’s message apply to all believers and not just to the leaders of churches?

AN INTRODUCTION TO 2 CORINTHIANS

Bible Reading: Acts 18:1-18

Paul wrote his second letter to the church in Corinth, but also addressed it to all the saints in Achaia [2 Corinthians 1:1]. Paul had first visited Corinth in about 50 AD, on his second missionary journey [Acts 18:1-18].

Corinth was a large city in the Roman province of Achaia in Southern Greece. It was a leading seaport and commercial centre. The population at the time of Paul’s visit has been estimated to be close to 500,000 people.

Corinth was well known for its corruption, sin and gross sexual immorality. The chief deity of the city was Aphrodite [Venus], the goddess of licentious love, and thousands of professional prostitutes served in the temple dedicated to her worship. It would have been tough ministering in Corinth, and made even tougher when the Jewish community rejected Paul’s message that Jesus is the Christ, leading him to reject them and go to the Gentiles [Acts 18:7]. Church planting is never easy, but in a place like Corinth it must have been doubly difficult, and yet God gave Paul great encouragement.

God clearly confirmed His call to Paul. “Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.’” [Acts 18:9-10]. Just consider the three wonderful promises that the Lord gave to Paul in these two verses. God encouraged Paul through His Word, and by the fruit he saw. In the midst of the darkness of Corinth, Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with his entire household, and many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptised.

When Esther and I first went to Madura, Indonesia, it was such a fanatical Muslim island. Our lives were in constant danger and we were often attacked,

but God brought us through. He gave us wonderful promises of what He would do in Madura. A few days ago we received this message, “Michael and Esther, dear friends. You will be glad to hear that more and more Madurese are hearing the good news, so that the limiting factor is not the number of people with a desire to hear, but rather our capacity to get the message to them. We have a request from our Madurese colleagues asking for 1000 MegaVoice solar powered players and 300 speakers [for community listening] for immediate distribution to meet current needs. Can you help access fund for something like this…. You have done the hard work now others are entering into your labour. Thank you for your early ploughing work.”

The greatest reward of all is that one day we will hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” It will be worth it all when we see Jesus!

Questions:

Why is it so important that we have a Word from God confirming that what we are doing is right in His sight?

What were the three promises that God gave to Paul as he ministered in the city of Corinth? In what way are those promises applicable to you?