2 CORINTHIANS 2
The people you love most bring out the strongest emotions in you. In this next chapter, we read some thoughts about Paul’s love for his disciples and the grief they are causing him. He had already visited Corinth the first time, to establish the church, and then he wrote the First Letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus. After that he probably received a report about some false apostles arriving in Corinth and so he made a quick second trip there, which was not wholly successful, resulting in the need for a somewhat harsh follow-up letter of rebuke (now missing) to the church leadership for being taken in so easily. Scholars regard chapters 10 to 13 of 2 Corinthians as being in the same style – although it is probable that the original ‘harsh’ letter was completely lost.
Paul later received a visit from Corinth by his disciple Titus, who brought him the good news that things were ‘back on track’ – after which, Paul wrote this Second Letter to the Corinthians, in a much gentler spirit. When one is concerned about one’s children – spiritual or otherwise – it often comes out as anger; Paul himself admits that there was much distress in his heart as he wrote that (missing) letter, and he later apologised for causing them grief too. Anger, of itself, is simply an emotion – morally neutral; it is what you do with that anger that has moral consequences. Ephesians 4:26-27,31.
The passage in 2 Corinthians vv 5 to 11, about the need to forgive the unnamed ‘offender’, might refer to the same man who was brazenly continuing in sexual sin, mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5. Paul had commanded that this man be excommunicated – i.e. put out of fellowship and shunned by the church – to encourage him to repent. It appears that repentance had indeed happened, by the grace of God, and so Paul now commands the church to act upon those signs of repentance and receive him back into fellowship.
This is an example of what Jesus called ‘binding and loosing’ – the church acting on behalf of heaven itself. And forgiveness is essential under such circumstance. Anyone who refuses to forgive a repentant sinner is potentially doomed! It certainly gives the Devil a foothold in their lives and in their church. Paul says that he will never permit Satan to outwit him – nor to get a foothold in Paul’s life – so he makes a point of forgiving everything that he might ever be tempted to hold against anyone. We have a heavenly enemy, so we must not be ignorant of that enemy’s methods; he really is out to get us! Have we similarly forgiven everyone everything we need to?
An open door is not necessarily an invitation to walk through it! In 2:12-13, Paul even says that “The Lord had opened a door for me”, but he still didn’t go through it. Why? “I had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there”. For Paul, guidance was not just a set of favourable circumstances alone – ‘God-incidences’ as we like to say – but required the support of inner peace and the leading of the Holy Spirit, combined with perhaps other favourable circumstances too. And, of course, it all had to square with the scriptures too. Only when Paul had all his evidence lined up in a row, did he venture forth to open a new mission field.
2 CHRONICLES 32 and 33
Today’s reading is where the bible comments on the bible and then adds some extra! 2 Chronicles 32 and 33 go back over the reigns of Hezekiah and Manasseh, but from a perspective of a teacher who lived after Israel returned from exile.
Hezekiah was not only a godly man, but a resourceful and intelligent one also. He consulted his military advisors and created some siege works and a secure water supply for the city. He equipped his army with the latest weapons and did everything humanly possible to give Judah the best chance against the Assyrian might. But importantly, he spoke the word of God to the people: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles”. (2 Chronicles 32:8).
When later threatened by the king of Assyria, he cried out to the Lord and God chose that point to finally act, destroying the entire Assyrian army with a kind of angelic plague. Later, God made sure that the Assyrian king was also killed.
What 2 Kings did not mention was that Hezekiah – after his recovery from illness – became proud and ignored God’s kindness in giving him a further 15 years of life. The passage does not elaborate on what form this pride took, nor of exactly the kind of judgment that God meted out to Hezekiah for this. It is interesting that verse 31 tells us that “God left him, to test him and to know everything that was in his heart”. He later proudly showed the Babylonian envoys around his palace and storerooms, so perhaps that was something to do with it. Whatever the reason, our greatest point of vulnerability is not when we are down, but when we are up – just after a major success. Pride is the Devil’s weapon against us since it was his own downfall. We should beware of how we deal with the ‘threat’ that success brings!
Over the page, and into the life of Manasseh, his son. As I said before, Manasseh was perhaps the worst king of Judah, bar none! He made the Caesars, Stalin, and Hitler look mature and balanced! Yet a strange thing happened in Manasseh’s life: God judged him by having him captured by the King of Assyria and taken into custody in Babylon. At that point, Manasseh repented, humbled himself and sought the help of the Lord again; God was so ‘moved’ by his repentance that he had Manasseh released and reinstated as king over his kingdom. (See 2 Chronicles 7:14.)
How does that sit with you? Do you feel that Manasseh ‘got off’ too easily? After half a lifetime of murder, idolatry, rejection of God, child sacrifice and desecration of the temple, God forgave him and restored him after just one prayer of repentance? This is rather like the story of the Prodigal Son that Jesus told; actually, a better title would be ‘The Unforgiving Elder Brother’, since that is the real target of Jesus’ parable. Do we really believe that God is rather too ‘free’ with his forgiveness, towards people who clearly don’t deserve it? That’s the problem with ‘grace’, it is too generous, too forgiving, it deals with too much sin, and it ignores cheapened motives that we think ought to be taken into account. We would perhaps rather that God turned down the ‘grace dial’ somewhat, keeping it at a level that just about included us in his kingdom, but excluded some of the really underserving individuals who would make church really messy! Well, it just doesn’t work that way; no-one deserves grace – or else it would not be grace.
And grace is powerful to change the subjects of its favour: Manasseh changed and reshaped his kingdom into true worshippers of the Lord again. Grace works – but it does not appear to operate on the normal principles of cause and effect; it is more timeless and supernatural than that .
The chapter signs off by mentioning that Manasseh’s successor, Amon, was as bad as Manasseh had been, but that: “Unlike his father, he did not humble himself before the Lord; Amon increased his guilt”. (2 Chronicles 33:23). The sins themselves make you guilty, and failure to repent makes you guiltier still. Yet repentance wipes away both aspects of guilt at a stroke!