This is it, crew. Last chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church. While he closed out the last one with a few personal words mentioning several people by name, he finishes this one with more on the themes of power and weakness, and he advises the Corinthians to put themselves to the test. What does he mean by that? Let’s take a look.
Today’s chapter, though. There are a few better-known passages in here, between the secret vision of the man caught up into the third heaven (vv.1-6) and Paul’s thorn in the flesh (vv.7-10). That famous saying “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (9) used to trouble me in high school; the paradox frustrated me. How can power be perfected in weakness? That’s like saying light is perfected in darkness, or good is perfected in evil! But it’s God’s power that shows itself as perfect in our weakness. Simply put, he does the good that we can’t. He saves us when we can’t save ourselves, and he gives us the strength to endure suffering that would otherwise overwhelm us. And he looks good doing it.
The first half of this chapter concerns Paul’s concern for the Corinthian church. Specifically, he doesn’t want them to get suckered in by false teachings and the false teachers who teach them. It’s a problem mentioned obliquely and briefly in previous chapters, but here he brings it to the fore.
This morning, as I was preparing to photograph the chocolate, I glanced over at today’s chapter. The first verse reads: “Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ…” But my eyes, passing over the words, saw the phrase: “The Meeseeks of Christ.” So.
Well, this is embarrassing. In today’s chapter, Paul continues to talk about charity and financial support for the poor within the church, and on my first pass through the text, I didn’t even notice him quoting from the old testament. It’s in a different type setting and everything, Jackson! Come on! And on my second pass, I noticed it and wondered, “Where is that from? Maybe Isaiah?” Then I looked it up, and it’s from Psalm 112. I read Psalm 112 exactly three months and two days ago. And while I might not be expected to know which psalm Paul was quoting, I should at least have recognized it as a psalm. Truly, I am like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror, for once I have looked at myself and gone away, I have immediately forgotten what kind of person I was.
My preferred Bible translation is the NASB, but I have to admit it’s not without its drawbacks. It presents a more literal translation wherever possible and reflects the original languages more closely than the NIV. But as a result, I find some passages to be not immediately accessible, and it takes some time and effort just to figure out what’s going on. Like, oh say, this chapter.
One of my sophomore year college courses featured extensive reading and discussion from the Bible. I remember in one class, we were struggling to get our heads around some New Testament passage dealing with sin and death. Attempting to shed some light on the issue, one of the professors recalled the first few chapters of Genesis, commenting on when God lays down the penalty for disobedience on Adam and Eve: “It’s as if God’s saying, ‘Hey, you’re gonna have to suffer.'” Something about that clicked for me. We live in a fallen world. Of course we’re going to suffer.