“Weak, Foolish, And Afraid” 

“Weak, Foolish, And Afraid” 

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

pollard

Neal Pollard

It’s hard to miss the unique tone of 2 Corinthians, a letter full of self-disclosure  and self-defense and written in such an intimate way. Paul’s apostleship has been questioned and his extensive work with the Corinthians undermined. But, he was willing to “spend and be spent” for them (12:15). A man who has given so much for the cause of Christ chooses not to boast, but to humble himself in an effort to persuade and encourage these brethren in their spiritual progress.

WEAKNESS (12:7-10)

Due to the “surpassing greatness of the revelations” (7) Paul had received (1-6), he was given a “thorn in the flesh.” It’s useless to speculate about what this specific “thorn” was–poor eyesight, physical pain from being stoned at Lystra, some unspecified temptation, etc. Perhaps it is better for us, not knowing exactly what it was, since many of us as Christians may have to wrestle a thorn in our own flesh. It’s interesting to note how Paul describes it: “humbling” (to keep me from exalting myself), “Satanic” (a messenger of Satan), “tormenting,” “persistent” (8), “perfecting” (9), and “empowering” (10). Is there some physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual struggle in your life that you might describe in some or all of these ways? Perhaps we’re quick to identify the negative aspects, but what about the potential positives that can come out of it? It can perfect and empower us to live a better Christian life and make us content with reverses suffered “for Christ’s sake” and say, with Paul, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (10). 

FOLLY (12:11-19)

Paul returns to a theme he has touched on several times throughout the letter (5:13; 11:16-19; 12:6). He resorted to defending his motives, position, decisions, and authority against the aforementioned charges. But, Paul points out that this was more for their “upbuilding” than for his own defense (19). He’s not some insecure preacher or missionary whose feelings have been hurt by some perceived slight; he’s fighting for the hearts and souls of relatively new Christians influenced by the culture and false teachers. He wants them to understand that neither he or his co-workers, like Titus, have taken advantage of them. They have loved and served the Corinthians, willing to bear insults, condescension, and rejection in order to help them be saved. As preaching is called “foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:21), those who preach and teach it must be willing to be thought fools for Christ. 

FEAR (12:20-21)

It’s hard to find a man more courageous than Paul. What did he fear? First, he feared failure. The time and the teaching he had done would be wasted, if they were given over to “strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances” (20). Read through the two letters Paul wrote to them and notice how he addresses all these matters. Second, he feared emotional trauma (21). His mourning over their past sins would be compounded if they had not repented. Neither of these fears was irrational. Have you ever invested a lot of time, energy, and emotion into someone only to see them teetering on the ledge of apostasy and unfaithfulness? 

God wants and needs faithful Christians who care about the church. He needs us to fully invest ourselves, to “spend and be spent” for others. The great news (and Paul not only understood this; He wrote about it) is that God gives strength for our weakness, wisdom for our folly, and courage for our fear. He will help pull us out of such figurative valleys as we hold onto His capable hands. Let us do our part and devote ourselves to one another. 

The Veiled Heart

The Veiled Heart

Friday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

Carl Emily wedding

Carl Pollard

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17).

Without the proper understanding of the context, this verse can be taken to mean many different things. With a little bit of digging we can know what Paul is saying. In reference to the Jews who read the Old Law, Paul says that they had a veil over their hearts (15). What veil is he referring to? The Jews failed to see the Messiah in the Old Law. They had preconceived ideas about what He would look like, talk like, and His mission. They dreamed up a Messiah that was completely different from the One prophesied about.

These Jews read the Old Law with a veil over their eyes. They failed to see the Messiah. Their heart and mind was made up about Christ. It was so much so that they failed to see the true Messiah. Paul says all of this to make a point, “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (2 Corinthians‬ ‭3:16‬).

Those who turn to the Lord are able to see the Messiah for who He is. In Christ and being in the spirit of the Lord, we now have freedom from this veil. Rather than failing to see Christ, we can read and understand His Word for what it is, the Words of LIFE.

What happens when you wear glasses inside on a hot humid day? You can see just fine, but the second you step out of the AC and into the heat and humidity, the glasses fog up almost instantly. This is how the Jews read the Old Testament. With a pair of fogged over glasses. But those who are in Christ can see the story of the Bible. We can see the prophecies and their fulfillment. We can clearly see God’s plan for mankind, All of this is a direct result of the freedom God has given each one of us in His Son.

While we don’t have the same circumstances surrounding us today, we can still fall into a similar problem. Sometimes when we go to the Word we only search for the things we should or shouldn’t do. Instead of studying to learn more about our Savior, we get caught up in the rules and regulations of Christianity. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if we only see the Bible as a rule book we will never have a deeper relationship with God. Studying like this effectively places a veil over our hearts and keeps us from finding that true, meaningful and love-filled relationship that God longs for us to have.

The Jews had a veil over their hearts that kept them from seeing Christ and the New Covenant. And we can sometimes do the same thing by treating God’s Word as a rule book rather than a Book that gives us a connection with God the Father.

These rules and guidelines are important, but there’s a lot more to Christianity than this.

Coping With Thorns

Coping With Thorns

Neal Pollard

Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10). He is the author of audacity, and he showed it first in Eden. He is at work today through temptation and suffering to try and dismantle our faith. He is a presence in our personal lives (1 Pet. 5:8). If there’s hurt, he’s happy. If there’s sin, he’s satisfied. He can’t force anyone to sin (Js. 1:13-15). He can’t make us fall away (John 10:28-29). But, he’s at work. Paul writes about something that has long mystified the Bible student, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. In that passage, we have:

  • The reality of the thorn (7)
  • The reproach of the thorn (7)
  • The reason for the thorn (7)
  • The result of the thorn (7)
  • The response to the thorn (8-10).

Paul reveals Satan’s involvement in that thorn. This troubles me. I have never asked for a thorn in the flesh and I have no reason to think Paul asked for his, but he got one anyway. What do you do when you have a thorn in the flesh? Consider at least three things Paul teaches us in this powerful passage.

No one is immune from thorns. Who’s talking in this text? The great apostle Paul, a man God gave revelations, who’s preaching across the world, converting so many, and achieving name recognition for the best of reasons. If you ever thought anybody would be sheltered for doing right, it would be him. But Paul says there was given to him a thorn in the flesh. That makes me uncomfortable. I need spiritual lessons about God and myself, as Paul and even Job, who Satan was allowed to buffet, did. If a great Old Testament patriarch and great New Testament preacher had thorns to deal with, I know I am not immune.

Sometimes, God lets the thorn stay. We may have to accept that our given affliction may never come to an end as long as we’re on this earth. A recurring or chronic illness, constant adversary, or irreversible limitation may not be removed. I wish I knew why God told Paul “no” and why he sometimes tells us “no” when we ask for our thorns to be removed. But, even if we keep the thorn, God’s grace is sufficient and He can use that very thing to accomplish good through us for the Kingdom. God uses thorns to supply us with humility and grace. If our thorn comes and stays rather than comes and goes, God will use it for our good and to accomplish good if we will properly view it.

Thorns are growth opportunities. If we remain faithful to God through our thorns, we will spiritually grow. Satan is rebuffed and defeated, as he was with Paul and Job. But, for every Paul and Job, how many have let affliction and adversity destroy their faith? We know God’s power eclipses Satan’s. But don’t underestimate this enemy (2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7). One of Paul’s final points in the letter is about God’s great power (13:4). Paul was weakened by affliction, but he could endure because of faith. God is more powerful than Satan and Paul’s thorn is but one proof of it. Lyte wrote,

As woods, when shaken by the breeze, take deeper, firmer root,
As winter’s frosts but make the trees abound in summer fruit;
So every Heaven-sent pang and throe that Christian firmness tries,
But nerves us for our work below, and forms us for the skies.

Is it a trial or a blessing in disguise? Doesn’t it depend on how we view it and what we do with it? Satan wants to use afflictions to destroy us, but God is greater. He can transform our tragedies into triumphs. Trust Him through the thorns. The roses will appear!

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