In today’s Bible reading, Paul tells Timothy to guard against people looking down on him because of his youth. We don’t know how old Timothy is. There may have been some concern that this young pastor may not have enough experience or maturity to fulfill his ministry.
There’s a lot to be said about someone with experience in ministry. Years ago as we began our family, we heard someone teach about raising godly children. He had drawn some practical applications from Scripture. But as we pondered what he said, it dawned on us that this man doesn’t have any children. This man isn’t married either. We decided to take what he said with a proverbial grain of salt. Yes, there are truths which any Believer can mine out of God’s Word. Yes, single men can teach a lot from the Bible about raising godly children. But given the choice of a single man with no children and a man with grown, godly children, I’d take the advice of the older man. Most of us probably would.
Obviously, Timothy wasn’t the most experienced pastor, so Paul told him to show himself to be an example of Christian maturity. “Set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12 CSB) Timothy can’t do anything about his age. But he can be an example of how a Believer talks, acts, loves, believes, and remains pure.
There is an application for all of us here. Yes, Timothy was a church “elder”. But don’t think that there’s a different moral calling for the “ordained” than for the “ordinary”.
All of us are called to live a life of integrity and obedience to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. There will always be people younger in the faith than you. Ordained or not, you can show yourself as an example of how a believer talks, acts, loves, believes, and remains pure.
I’m not talking about putting on a “holier than thou” front. I’m talking about living a genuine life of growing obedience and dependence on the Holy Spirit. I’m talking about being a true disciple of Jesus Christ. And everyone is called to that.
If you’ve been around church for a while, you may have heard of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”. Today’s Bible reading includes Paul’s brief discussion of his thorn.
Paul never tells us specifically what his thorn was. Obviously, he was using the word as a metaphor of something else. Some have speculated it was poor eyesight. Some have speculated it was malaria. The truth is, we don’t know what it was. And if we knew, I’m sure someone would find a similar thorn, claim it was Paul’s and proceed to venerate “Paul’s thorn”.
What we do know about Paul’s thorn is that God gave it to him to keep him humble. (2 Corinthians 12:7) Further, Paul’s thorn was a “messenger of Satan”. Paul asked God to remove his thorn, but each time, God told him “no”. God wanted to use Paul’s thorn to show His strength, made perfect in Paul’s weakness.
There are a few things to notice from Paul’s discussion. God doesn’t always do what we ask Him to do, even apostles. God can use all things to work out for our good of becoming more like Jesus, even our weaknesses. God’s grace is sufficient.
Finally, Paul’s thorn was a “messenger of Satan”. The word translated “messenger” is also translated as “angel”. This means that Paul’s thorn was a Satanic angel. Paul — the Apostle, the “spiritual heavyweight” — was demonized. Am I trying to say that Paul was demon possessed? No, because that’s not the language the Bible uses. The Bible doesn’t differentiate between demon possession and demon oppression. The Bible just says “demonized”. And to be demonized is to have a demon.
This may not fit well with what you’ve always heard in church. But that’s what Paul says. So what do you do when you come across something in the Bible that doesn’t fit your preconceived beliefs? It’s important that we stick with what God says in the Bible and adjust our beliefs accordingly.
If Paul could be demonized, then it’s possible for other Believers to be demonized. Even us. Even today. And if a Believer is demonized, he/she should do the same thing Paul did: Ask God to remove the demon and its influence. But if God says, “no”, then we should accept what He has given/allowed and live in closer dependence on the empowering Holy Spirit to live day-to-day until our final deliverance to the other side of eternity. God’s strength can be made perfect in our weaknesses, too.
Paul continues to address the Corinthians regarding the financial support of God’s work in today’s Bible reading. He summarizes his appeal, “The point is this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.” 2 Corinthians 9:6 (CSB)
Note that Paul doesn’t use manipulation. He doesn’t twist Scripture to promise health and wealth if the Corinthians would just plant a seed of faith. No, Paul just puts it out there, saying that God will reward generosity with generosity.
Although Corinth was a thriving metropolis when Paul wrote this letter, the citizens must have had a concept of sowing and reaping. If you want a harvest, you have to sow seeds. If you want a bountiful harvest, you have to sow a lot of seeds. Paul tapped into the people’s understanding of agriculture and presented this principle of sowing and reaping.
It’s easy to look at your paycheck and panic when you see how much of the “gross” is taken before you ever see the “net”. Between taxes, Social Security, insurance premiums, it can seem like there’s not enough left over. As the month goes on, sometimes it can seem like the month goes longer than the paycheck.
So where does God fit in the discussion of money? Well, if you’re a growing Christ-follower, God should fit right in the middle of your budgeting. Don’t just give God leftovers. Give Him your best! Give regularly. Give generously. Give sacrificially. And give wisely.
Give, and it will be given to you;
a good measure—pressed down, shaken together,
and running over—will be poured into your lap.
For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.
Luke 6:38 (CSB)
Paul brings out a very important and highly applicable point in today’s Bible reading. I’ve already pointed out that the Corinthian church had many problems, including pride and narcissism.
They thought it was all about them. This worldview is man-centered or anthropocentric. If their ideas were correct, then what could they think when they go through hard times? If the universe revolves around me, what am I supposed to think when things don’t go my way? If it’s all about me, then what am I to think when other people disappoint me? What am I to think when I don’t get what I want?
If everything revolves around me then if things don’t go well, I will be angry. All the time. I will blame other people. I will even blame God. I mean, after all, isn’t He there to serve me?
Life doesn’t make sense to pride-ridden narcissists thinking anthropocentrically. But God has a better way. If everything is understood Theocentrically (God-centered), then everything makes sense. Even the things that don’t seem to!
If… God is all good. If… God is all-loving. If… God is all knowing. If… God is all-powerful, then everything has a purpose. Nothing happens by chance. God will work out everything to make His Name great. For any other being in the universe, this would be the height of egotism. But if God were not supremely interested in Himself, He must be supremely interested in something else, making Himself worship something other than Himself, making Himself an idolater. Go back and re-read that again if you need to.
Why did God create the universe? For Him. Why did God create mankind? For Him. Why did God plan the atonement before He created the world, and therefore before our first parents sinned? It wasn’t for us! It was for Him. Why did Jesus die on a cross. For Him. Why? Because God relentlessly pursues His people through a covenant relationship. He did all of these things because we couldn’t. And because if we could, we wouldn’t. We are fallen creatures. We are broken creatures. We, in our natural state, are enemies of God. So God pursued. Not because He needed us. God had an eternity past to enjoy Himself by Himself and the other Persons of the Trinity.
Why did I spend over 350 words talking about man-centered vs. God-centered. Because our worldview matters. A lot! Look at the end of 2 Corinthians 4.
Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 (CSB)
Paul reminds us that we should focus on what is not seen, not what is seen. As we focus on the unseen realm, all of life will begin to make sense. And the things that don’t make sense, make sense, if God is completely in control.
If this life is all there is,
then there is nothing better.
But Paul says that what we see
can’t hold a candle to the light of the
incomparable eternal weight of glory
(what we can’t see).
I mentioned yesterday the importance of noting repeated words and phrases in a limited number of Bible verses. In today’s Bible reading, “pain” and its derivatives occur seven times in 2 Corinthians 2:1-7. Evidently not all was well between the Apostle and the church at Corinth. Where the first paragraph in 2 Corinthians 1 was about comfort, the first paragraph of 2 Corinthians 2 is about pain between Paul and the Corinthians.
Paul may have been referring to 1 Corinthians, or he may be referring to another letter that wasn’t preserved for us. If this is the case, it’s no cause for worry; if God wanted us to have that letter, we would have that letter.
Paul gives us a glimpse into the feelings of a church leader when things aren’t right in the church. Of course, Paul was an apostle, so he wasn’t involved in the normal day-to-day operations of the church at Corinth. But he had planted the church and wanted everything to go smoothly. But oftentimes, things don’t go smoothly in a local church.
Maybe you’ve never seen church conflict that results in long-lasting hurt feelings in yourself or someone else. But sometimes the hurts are caused by the malicious actions of others, wolves in sheep clothing or “well-intentioned dragons“. Regardless of how, the wounds are real. But God can bring healing where there has been hurt.
Dealing with church conflict requires integrity. And it requires humility. If you’ve been hurt, take the high road and extend an olive branch of forgiveness. If you’ve done the hurting, take the high road and ask for forgiveness. Pride and malice can wound very deeply. So can harboring a root of bitterness, distrust, and unforgiveness. Jesus had some pretty strong words for those who would seek to give to God’s work when things aren’t right between them and another believer. Basically He said, if things aren’t right between you and another believer, don’t bother coming to worship the Father. Make it right and then come to give to His work. (Matthew 5:23–24)
Note: If your church is dealing with conflict, please seek the help of others, perhaps professional mediation. In my tribe, that would be an association Director of Missions. For United Methodists, it would be a District Superintendent. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of other denominational organizations, but I’m sure each one has resources.
I also recommend a book written by my friend, Eric Willis, Sacred Conflict: Resolution Skills for the Follower of Christ.