Tag Archives: New Testament

Bible Overview Series: 2 Corinthians

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2 Corinthians by Joseph Novak

2 Corinthians: O how I love you, you darling scalawags, you dear sweet blockheaded scoundrels, you infuriating puppies!

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of 2 Corinthians

When Paul wrote his first epistle to the church in the city of Corinth, they had been going through all kinds of divisive problems. Paul had urged them to put God’s glory first and love one another, but he wasn’t the only one telling them what to do. When Paul came for a visit, a member of the church opposed him strongly. Paul left, and sent his associate Titus to Corinth with yet another strong letter admonishing them.

Titus delivered that letter, and the church (including the member who had opposed Paul) repented. Now Paul has heard Titus’ report, and writes to Corinth once again to address lingering concerns.

This letter is a comforting one. It’s a letter that affirms Paul’s loving relationship with the church he planted years ago. It’s a letter that praises the young church for their obedience, generosity, and love. It’s a letter that reassures them of Paul’s legitimacy as an apostle.

We know this letter as Second Corinthians.

Theme verse of 2 Corinthians

“I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you.” (2 Co 7:16 ESV)

2 Corinthians’ role in the Bible

Second Corinthians is the third of Paul’s letters. Of the 27 New Testament books, Paul wrote 13. Nine of these book are letters to local churches (like the one in Corinth).

In the wake of all that happened since writing First Corinthians, Paul writes to the church to resolve a few lingering concerns and issues:

  • Where the Corinthians stand with Paul. When the church last heard from Paul, he was writing to correct them. Now they have repented, and Paul assures them that they are loved by and reconciled to him (2 Co 7:4).
  • Why Paul hasn’t visited Corinth since they repented. Paul had originally planned to visit them twice, but he did not want to put the church through another sorrowful event like his last visit. Paul assures the church that he had avoided a second visit with pure motives, not because of hypocrisy or fickleness (2 Co 1:17, 24). Paul plans another visit to Corinth (2 Co 12:14; 13:10).
  • How to complete the contribution for the Christians at Jerusalem. The church had eagerly begun to take up an offering to pass along to the church in Jerusalem (1 Co 16:1–2; 2 Co 8:10), but somehow the contribution effort had stalled. Paul encourages the church to generously complete the offering (2 Co 8)
  • Paul’s authority as an apostle. Paul’s character and legitimacy had apparently come under attack in Corinth. At least one man had criticized Paul for using strong letters and meek speech in person (2 Co 10:10), and Paul was concerned that the church would be lured away from the truth (2 Co 11:1–5). Paul defends his apostleship, and explains his humble approach to ministry (2 Co 10–13).

Quick outline of 2 Corinthians

  1. Affirmation that Paul and the Corinthians are reconciled (2 Co 1–2)
  2. Paul’s ministry as an apostle (2 Co 3–6)
  3. Paul’s confidence and joy in them (2 Co 7)
  4. The contribution for Jerusalem (2 Co 8–9)
  5. Paul’s legitimacy and authority (2 Co 10–13)

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An Inevitable, Unstoppable Kingdom

Mark 4:30–32
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”

This short parable of Jesus is packed with significance for us. In attempting to explain the nature of God’s Kingdom (ie. God’s “rule and reign”), Jesus used the picture of a mustard seed.

mustard seeds
Photo courtesy of Anja Herbert Noordam

The mustard seed indigenous to the land of Israel is extremely small.  To the naked eye a single mustard seed seems trivial.

What possible significance could come from something so small?

Indeed, it’s difficult to image that from just one mustard seed a tree like this could emerge:

 

mustard seed tree
Photo courtesy of Anja Herbert Noordam

Many sermons have emphasized the point of Jesus’ parable to be that God’s kingdom begins small–almost imperceptively so–but grows large.  That is an important (and encouraging!) dimension to this teaching.  But there’s another aspect to this parable that sometimes goes unnoticed.

In the first-century laws were in place that placed strict parameters on where mustard seeds could be planted.  Why?  Because the aggressive, fast-growing nature of the mustard plant caused some to view it as a “malignant weed” with “dangerous takeover properties” (Michael F. Bird, Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission, Continuum, 2006, pp. 73–77).

From the Wikipedia Entry on the parable:

Pliny the Elder (Roman Naturalist and philosopher) , in his Natural History (published around AD 78) writes that “mustard… is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.”

The significance of this fact is incredibly important for us to understand.  Jesus wants his disciples to understand that although the kingdom starts small, it’s growth is inevitable and unstoppable.  Regardless of where it’s planted, God’s kingdom is a offensive, encroaching, non-domesticated force that quickly overwhelms the ecosystem around it with God’s power, joy, love, grace, and truth.

Last Sunday about 60 people gathered at our church to worship, share communion together, pray, and learn more about following Jesus.  By Sunday afternoon I found myself reflecting on the the future of our church within the broader Nelson community. To the naked eye our church seems trivial.  

What possible significance could come from something so small?

And I realized in light of this teaching that I was asking the wrong question.

If we are sincerely following Jesus and allowing God to establish his kingdom within our lives, growth and impact will materialize.  The question I should have been mulling over was, “What possible significance will come from something so small?”

Because the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.  It has takeover properties.  Despite its meager beginnings, life-giving impact to the surrounding ecosystem is inevitable and unstoppable.

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