So Easily Deceived.

I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things. Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge?  – 2 Corinthians 11:1-7 ESV

The debate that Paul was waging with his adversaries in Corinth was about far more than his authority and who was going to get credit for the spiritual state of the Corinthian church. This was about deception. Those who were standing against Paul and his ministry were actually leading the Corinthians astray. They were proclaiming another Jesus, promoting a different spirit, and preaching a different gospel. And the thing that bothered Paul the most was that the Corinthians “put up with it readily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:4b ESV). Maybe it was because these “super-apostles,” as he sarcastically refers to them, were skilled in speech and the Corinthians found themselves easily swayed by their rhetoric. With Paul physically out of the picture, it was easy for them to tear about his message and discredit his ministry. He was not here to defend himself. Which is what led him to write this letter. And Paul is forced to remind them of their long-standing relationship with him.

He begs them to bear with a “little foolishness” as he recounts his role in their “betrothal” to Christ. What makes it all so foolish is the fact that he is having to take time to remind them at all. Paul had been the one to introduce them to Christ. Like a father of a bride, he had given them in marriage to Jesus and his goal was to keep them pure until the day their marriage was consummated. It was not enough to Paul that they came to know Christ, he wanted them to remain pure until the day He returned for them or called them home. And yet, he found that they were easily deceived. He even compares them to Eve, who had been deceived and led astray from the truth of God by Satan in the garden. Her deception resulted in her banishment from presence of God. And Paul fears that the Corinthians, due to their willing reception of the false teaching of his critics, would be “led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3b ESV).

It is important to note that as Satan led Eve to question the veracity and reliability of God’s word, so these false teachers were causing the Corinthians to question the very heart and soul of the gospel that Paul had preached. They were offering a different gospel that promoted a different Jesus. While Paul does not elaborate on what their message was, it is clear that they were leading the Corinthians astray. The apostle John describes these kinds of people as having the spirit of the Antichrist.

But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here. – 1 John 4:3 NLT

I say this because many deceivers have gone out into the world. They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist. – 2 John 1:7 NLT

Whether these people were denying the incarnation of Jesus or questioning His death and resurrection, we do not know. But it is clear that their message was in direct opposition to the one that Paul had preached. And they had found the Corinthians to be a willing and receptive audience. This was particularly disturbing to Paul, because he had sacrificed so much to ensure that they heard the unadulterated gospel. He brought them the good news of Jesus, free of charge, with no strings attached. He had not come to them demanding that they idolize him or treat him like a god. He humbled himself so that they might be exalted to a right relationship with God through a knowledge of Jesus Christ. He took a backseat, playing the role of the humble mouthpiece for God. He had simply been the messenger, the bearer of good news. And now, to hear that they were so easily accepting another version of the gospel, was disturbing and disconcerting. But Paul was not one to sit back and let his work among the Corinthians go to waste. He loved them too much.

The gospel is always under attack, and most often from within. Satan is the great deceiver and he would much rather promote a slightly false version of the truth than an outright lie. He tends to blend truth with just enough falsehood to make it palatable, but just as deadly. He is more than willing to have people accept Jesus, as long as it is a slightly different Jesus. He loves the idea of a Jesus who was a good man and lived a life worth emulating. He likes to promote Jesus as the great teacher and moral prophet. He prefers a Jesus who was nothing more than a martyr to a cause. But the Jesus Satan promotes is never the Son of God and Savior of the world. He is never the selfless, spotless sacrifice that paid the penalty for man’s sins. He is never the source of man’s justification and the power behind his sanctification. He is never the resurrected and ascended King of kings and Lord of lords who sits at the right hand of God the Father and is one day going to return. That is the Jesus of the gospel. And any other Jesus is a false Jesus.

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An Audience of One.

But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. – 2 Corinthians 10:13-18 ESV

While Paul was willing to become all things to all people in order that he might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22), he was not willing to submit himself to the authority of men or to work for their approval. Fourteen years after his conversion, Paul traveled to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus to meet with the original apostles. He had already been doing ministry among the Gentiles for well over a decade. He had not traveled to Jerusalem to get their approval for his ministry. In fact, Paul quite boldly proclaimed:

…the leaders of the church had nothing to add to what I was preaching. (By the way, their reputation as great leaders made no difference to me, for God has no favorites.) Instead, they saw that God had given me the responsibility of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as he had given Peter the responsibility of preaching to the Jews. – Galatians 2:6-7 NLT

Paul would later tell Timothy, “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NLT). He also told him, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity” (1 Timothy 4:12 NLT). For Paul, the approval of God was paramount. He considered himself a servant of God and so his only concern was to do what his Master had commanded him to do. And yet, because he was human, Paul was sensitive to the constant criticism he faced. His ministry was always under siege, and the most vicious attacks seemed to be leveled at him personally.

It seems that, in the case of Corinth, Paul was being accused of having overstepped his bounds. Corinth was a long way from Jerusalem. Paul might argue that he was under the same commission Jesus had given to the original disciples, to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV), but his critics were saying he was out of bounds in Corinth. It was their territory. He needed to mind his own business and leave them alone. But Paul considered Corinth well within his God-assigned jurisdiction. He was the one who had brought the gospel there and had helped plant the first church. “For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:14b ESV).

When ministry becomes a competition or a quest for fame and glory, everyone loses. Those who minister in order to gain recognition or the approval of men will always find others who minister as adversaries, not allies. Paul was not out to build his reputation, but to build up the body of Christ. He was not motivated by man’s approval, but by God’s. Paul wanted to one day hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21 ESV). The whole idea of ministerial boundaries and serving God for personal glory or gain, was foreign to Paul. He simply went where God told him to go, and he was able to say, “from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:19b-20 ESV). Paul’s passion was for evangelism. He longed to take the gospel to those places where the name of Christ was unknown and the message of the good news had not yet been heard. But Paul also had a desire to see those who had come to faith in Christ grow up in their salvation (1 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Peter 2:2). So while he was anxious to continue his missionary efforts and to take the gospel to places such as Rome and Spain (Acts 19:21; Romans 15:28), he was not willing to watch newly converted Christians languish in spiritual infancy or find themselves prey to false teachers. So he continued to reach out to the Corinthians, longing to see them grow. And it was his desire that they would increase in spiritual health and maturity “so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence” (2 Corinthians 10:16 ESV). He wanted to move on, but was not willing to do so if it meant sacrificing the stability of the work in Corinth.

When all was said and done, Paul was only interested in one thing: the approval of God. He truly operated under the idea that he performed his duties before an audience of one: God. Yes, there would always be others watching. There would always be some who complimented his work and others who attacked it. But at the end of the day, he was looking for God’s approval. He wanted to be able to lay his head on the pillow and find rest in the fact that he had done what God had called him to do. Which is what led him to say, “‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:17-18 ESV). When we do the will of God, we will find ourselves with admirers and detractors as well. We may receive compliments and equal amounts of criticism. We will have our methods and motives questioned. We will watch others attempt to take credit for what we have done. But as long as we are doing what we do for the Lord, it will not matter. Like Paul, we need to constantly remind ourselves that we perform our duties for an audience of one. All that is truly important is what He thinks. The applause and approval of men carry no weight when compared to the commendation of God. So, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17 ESV), and “do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NLT).

Unimpressive, Yet Unashamed.

Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we. For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed. I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present. Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. – 2 Corinthians 10:7-12 ESV

Paul had his critics. They seemed to dog his steps and show up wherever he went. And Corinth was no exception. For whatever reason, Paul was always having to defend his apostleship. It seems that his critics used that particular topic as one of their favorites in their attempt to discredit Paul. And Paul was fully aware that his apostleship and commissioning by the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus, was far from conventional. He was not one of the original disciples. Unlike John, James, Peter and the others, he had not been hand-picked and called by Jesus. He had not spent three years serving as a disciple to the Messiah. He had not been present on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples. Paul realized that his calling had been radically different, but it was also no less real. He had seen the resurrected Lord. He had clearly received his call to be “a chosen instrument … to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15b ESV).

But while his apostleship and the authority that accompanied it was the primary point of objection for his critics, Paul also faced attack on a variety of other, more superficial levels. In the verses above, we see them accusing Paul of weakness. Essentially, they say that Paul hides behind his pen, writing scathing, authoritative letters full of demands and commands. But in person, he proves to be a disappointment – physically weak and verbally challenged. In other words, Paul was a less-than-dynamic physical force. His oratory skills were far from impressive. And the interesting thing is, that Paul fully disclosed the truth behind all of that. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul admitted, “When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan” (1 Corinthians 2:1 ESV). He went on to explain, “I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:3-5 ESV). Paul would go on to confess, “I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church” (1 Corinthians 15:9 NLT). Paul referred to himself as “the least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8) and the worst of all sinners (1 Timothy 1:16).

So Paul would have heartily agreed with his critics’ assessment of his weakness. In fact, just a few chapters later in this same letter, Paul will eagerly and proudly exclaim, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV). Weakness was not a negative to Paul. He saw it as a positive, because it forced him to rely on the power of God. But his weakness did not negate his authority. He refused to allow his critics to undermine his authority simply because they were unimpressed with his presence. He was a representative of God, a Christ-ordained spokesman with a commission to build up the body of Christ.

As is almost always the case in a dispute regarding authority, there was someone in Corinth who was also claiming to be speaking for Christ. That is what led Paul to say, “If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we” (2 Corinthians 10:7 ESV). This individual was the one who was painting Paul as a weakling. His bold, in-your-face letters were a cover-up for his far-from-impressive presence. The reason Paul spent so much time away, this individual suggested, was because Paul knew his letters were more effective than his physical presence. But Paul responds, “Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present” (2 Corinthians 10:11 ESV).

Paul was not going to get into a war of words or a defense of his ministry based on outward appearances or physical attributes. In fact, he told the Corinthians, “Oh, don’t worry; we wouldn’t dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are! But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant!” (2 Corinthians 10:12 NLT). For Paul, the message was all that really mattered. He saw himself as nothing more than an unworthy vessel through which God poured out the blessing of the gospel upon those who were undeserving and in need of His mercy. Paul has already told the Corinthians:

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. – 2 Corinthians 4:5-7 ESV

Jars of clay. Vessels of stone. Cheap household pottery. It wasn’t the receptacle that was to impress, but the contents contained within it. Paul never intended to overwhelm people with his power, presence, or eloquence. His simply wanted to be faithful to his calling and allow the power of God to flow through him.

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:2-5 ESV

Taking Every Thought Captive.

I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!—I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. – 2 Corinthians 10:1-6 ESV

They say distance makes the heart grow fonder. But Paul’s experience was just the opposite. His long-distance relationship with the Corinthians had created some significant leadership issues for him. While he had been away, a variety of different individuals had shown up who questioned his apostolic authority, accused him of heavy-handedness, painted him as a coward, and labeled him as weak. A good portion of this letter contains Paul’s defense of his actions and authority. He felt compelled to defend himself because, ultimately, an attack on him was an attack on the very gospel he preached. And he saw the battle as a spiritual one. This wasn’t just a case of one man’s opinion over another’s. This was about the integrity of the gospel.

Paul uses military terms to describe what is going on. And he indicates that the conflict is taking place behind the scenes, in the spiritual realm. So those who were attempting to raise doubts about Paul’s integrity and undermine his ministry were actually being used by Satan himself to damage the cause of Christ. And Paul makes it clear that the attacks against him called for something other than a “fleshly” response. He was human (of the flesh), but his actions were anything but fleshly (according to the human means). He says, “we are not waging war according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:3b ESV). Paul wasn’t going to resort to human means to fight a spiritual battle. Manipulation, deceit, slander, lying, self-promotion, power-grabbing, and hypocrisy had no place in a battle that was spiritual in nature. Paul’s enemies were waging war according to the flesh. They were using any means possible to tear down Paul and destroy his influence among the Corinthians. They spread rumors about him. They raised questions about his integrity. They insinuated his lack of trustworthiness. They flatly denied his apostleship. They accused him of timidity when he was present with them, but of an arrogant boldness when he was writing his letters from a safe distance.

But Paul has a different fighting technique. He says, “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). He knows the source behind the attacks of his enemies, and it is none other than Satan. What Paul was facing was more than a battle of words and whits. He describes the verbal attacks of his enemies as “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5a ESV). When these people attacked Paul and his ministry, they were really speaking against God Himself. And like Satan himself, these pawns of the enemy were really attempting to cause people to doubt the veracity and reality of God and His offer of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. The NET Bible translates verse five as, “we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.” Paul wasn’t going to let the false opinions and deceptive teachings of his enemies just slide by. He was going to attack them and make them his captive, forcing them to surrender to the sovereignty and Lordship of Christ.

Paul was ready to come and clean house. But he wanted to make sure that the Corinthians were obedient to the will and Word of God. His primary concern was their obedience. Once that was taken care of, he would do business with the rebels in their midst, punishing their disobedience once and for all. Paul was anything but politically correct or tolerant. He did not operate on the notion that everyone is free to have their own opinion. At least not when it came to the message of the gospel. And since the gospel, including man’s salvation, sanctification and ultimate glorification, was what Paul’s entire ministry was all about, he was anything but tolerant of those who claimed to teach a different version of the gospel. He was not going to put up with those who questioned the validity of his claim to have been commissioned by Christ Himself. There was too much at stake.

The phrase, “Taking every thought captive” has often been construed to mean that believers are to manage their thought lives. They are think right thoughts and to control the inner workings of their minds. And while this is true, it would seem that Paul’s point has nothing to do with our thoughts, but with those of the enemies of God. We are to do battle with these false teaching and vain philosophies, taking them captive, like prisoners at the end of a victorious battle. We are to force those thoughts to submit the Lordship of Christ, like captives kneeling before a conquering king. They have proven insufficient and inadequate to overthrow the King of kings and Lord of lords.

In order to stand for the truth, you must know it. If we are to do battle with the false teachings and the subtle lies of the enemy, it is essential that we know what the truth is. We can’t spot the counterfeit if we don’t know what the real thing looks like. Our familiarity with the truth is what gives us the ability to stand against falsehood. And our commitment to that truth is what motivates us to fight against the lies, no matter what form they may take. Exposing the lies of the enemy is one of our primary functions as believers. Paul was at war and he knew he was on the winning side. He was willing to go out swinging, never letting up or giving up, until the Lord called him home. Which is why he could write to Timothy and say, “As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8 NLT).

 

 

Giving Reaps Dividends.

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! – 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 ESV

There is a certain segment of Christendom today that operates by the “give-to-get” philosophy that says God is somehow obligated to “pour out a blessing” on all those who give. And they use this very passage to teach that the more you give, the more God is obligated to give in return. But is that what Paul is teaching. Is he portraying giving as some kind of divine financial investment strategy that guarantees a low-risk, high-yield return on your giving? There is little doubt that Paul is teaching that those who sow or give sparingly will reap in the same way. And those who sow or give bountifully will experience a bountiful return on their investment. But what is the nature of that return? Is it more money? Is Paul guaranteeing a high financial return on your giving? If he is, then the motivation behind the giving becomes based on greed and avarice.

Paul’s emphasis is on giving and doing so freely and liberally. But the motivation is to be based on submission to the will of God and a recognition of His grace and generosity to us. Anything we have to give has been given to us by Him. Our giving is to be out of gratitude, not greed. It is to be out of love for the saints, not a lust for more wealth. Paul emphasizes that our giving should be done cheerfully, not because we expect a financial return on our giving, but because we are doing the will of God and participating in the care of the saints and the cause of His Kingdom. The point behind our giving is to be a dependence upon God, not money. Paul says, “God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others” (2 Corinthians 9:8 NLT). When we give, we are releasing our hold and dependence upon the very resources the world says are our hope and means of self-reliance. But Paul says that when we give, we are showing our dependence upon God. We are submitting our care to His divine will and ability to meet our daily needs. When we give generously and cheerfully, God will not let us go hungry. It is His grace that He will pour out on us, and not necessarily in the form of money. God has a far greater concern for us than our financial stability. “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10 ESV). Notice what is being harvested: Your righteousness. The real benefit behind our giving is righteousness, not financial reward.

The other fruit produced from sowing generously is thanksgiving. And Paul extends the concept of giving beyond just the financial arena. “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11 ESV). When we willingly obey God’s prompting to give, whether it be of our money, our time, or our talents, we will find that God enriches us with even more of those same resources so that we might give more. The point is not that we are giving to get more of whatever it is we just gave away. It is that we might see the grace of God poured out on us and through us. That is what produces thanksgiving to Him. When we see God at work in our lives, using us and blessing us, we can’t help but be grateful to Him for His grace and goodness to us. And Paul goes on to say, “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Corinthians 9:12 ESV). In other words, our generous giving produces a crop of thanksgiving from those who are the beneficiaries of our giving. They will be grateful to us, but more importantly, they will show gratitude to God.  Not only that, “they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others” (2 Corinthians 9:13 ESV). Our giving results in their gratitude and God’s glory.  And it all starts with our submission to God that comes as a result of our salvation by God. Our generosity, in whatever form it takes, is a byproduct of our salvation. We love because He first loved us. We give because He has so graciously given to us.

Paul would have us remember that our giving is an expression of God’s “surpassing grace” upon us. And like Paul, we should be able to say, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15 ESV). We are the recipients of God’s grace, His unmerited favor. We are the beneficiaries of His benevolent, sacrificial gift of His own Son’s death as payment for our sins. Our debt was paid by His sacrifice. God gave the greatest thing He had to give so that we might have life. It is because of that inexpressible gift that we are to give to others. And the return on investment? Our righteousness, increased thankfulness, and the glory of God.

Ministry For The Saints.

Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. – 2 Corinthians 9:1-5 ESV

By now, it should be clear that the collection of funds for the saints in Judea was near and dear to Paul’s heart. It is a high priority for him, and not just because he is the one who came up with the idea. Paul truly believed in the reality of the body of Christ and the necessity of its corporate unity that extended beyond geographic and ethnic boundaries. Of all people, he had been privileged to experience the true nature of the family of God as he traveled around the world, witnessing the gospel transform the lives of people from every walk of life and every tribe, tongue and nation. He saw the wealthy and the wise come to faith in Christ, as well as the impoverished and uneducated. He had witnessed born-again slaves attending worship with their saved masters. He had seen the love of God displayed among those who at one time would have never associated with one another. The transformative power of the gospel was not speculative for Paul. He had seen it first-hand. And he longed to see every believer experience the full extent of its power by encouraging them to willingly submit to God’s will in every area of their lives. This included the area of giving.

So Paul continues to bring up the subject of the collection for the believers in Judea. Why? So he could brag to Peter and the other apostles in Jerusalem about how much money he was able to raise? No, so he could watch the Corinthians discover the joy of giving and the thrill of God’s blessing that comes through a life of obedience. Paul tells the Corinthians that he is sending Titus and his companions in order to ensure that they follow through with their commitment to give. It is not that he doubts them. He has already been bragging about them to the Madedonians. It is just that he knew human nature. And he was well aware that the enemy would be attacking them from within and without in an attempt to distract them from this God-given mission. It is one thing to say you will give. It is another thing to make it happen. They had committed, now Paul wanted to make sure they followed through on that commitment. To not do so would bring shame to them and do damage to the name of Christ.

For Paul, the motivation behind their giving was as important as the gift itself. He didn’t want them to give under compulsion or with any sense of regret. He also didn’t want them to give expecting something in return. That is what he means by “not as an exaction.” The Greek word he uses is pleonexia and it means “greedy to have more” (“G4124 – pleonexia – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 11 Oct, 2016). Just a few verses later, Paul states, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7 ESV). But the motivation for our giving should not be to get something back from God. We do not give to get. We give because God has so graciously given to us. Our motivation is to be out of love for others and gratitude to God. Even to give expecting the gratitude and praise of the recipient is an improper motivation. Jesus taught us, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4 ESV).

Giving is a privilege. But it is also a responsibility. God could meet the needs of others in a variety of ways, but He has chosen to use us as the means by which He distributes His resources among His people. He blesses one so that they might be a blessing to another. He provides one with abundance so that they might share with those in need. Paul refers to this as “the ministry for the saints.” In his eyes, it was a ministry. It was a God-ordained mission of displaying the His love in tangible, practical ways. It was His plan for the body of Christ to minister to itself through selfless acts of sacrificial giving and the use of their Spirit-empowered giftedness.

Doing Right The Right Way.

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men. – 2 Corinthians 8:16-24 ESV

Paul was unashamedly and boldly asking the Corinthians to participate in a fund-raising effort that would be used to alleviate the suffering of the Hebrew Christians living in Judea. Ongoing persecution and the lingering effects of a recent famine had left them in dire circumstances, and Paul was doing all that he could to raise support from all the churches in Macedonia, Achaia, Asia Minor and Galatia. And the church in Corinth was to be no exception. He wants them to know the joy of participating in the gracious support of their fellow believers, even those whom they had never met. Paul was not commanding the Corinthians to give, because he did not want them to do so out of compulsion or with any sense of regret. But he was unapologetically claiming that their giving would be in keeping with the example of Christ Himself.  Paul reminds them, “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9b NLT).

Paul knows that he is doing the right thing. But he has a strong desire to do it in the right way. He is fully aware that everything he does is analyzed and critiqued by his enemies. And while he wasn’t one prone to wasting time worrying about what men thought about him, he did worry about the potential damage his actions might do to the name and cause of Christ. That’s why he was taking special care to handle the collection of the funds in way that was above board and free from accusation by his enemies. He was sending Titus to collect whatever gift the Corinthians were able to provide. They knew Titus and had built a solid relationship with him. But Paul was also sending another individual, “the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel” (2 Corinthians 8:18 ESV). We do not know who this brother was, but evidently the Corinthians knew exactly who Paul was talking about. He was well-known and well-respected. He had a reputation for trustworthiness, and Paul indicates that he had “been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us” (2 Corinthians 8:19 ESV).

Paul wasn’t taking any changes. He knew that his efforts to raise funds for the Hebrew Christians provided a perfect opportunity for his enemies to accuse him of everything from extortion and greed to larceny and abuse of power. In the end, what Paul was most concerned about was the name of Christ. He did not want to do anything that might damage the reputation of His Savior or detract from the cause of the gospel. So he took extra precautions to ensure that his efforts were blameless and free from any hint of impropriety.

We are traveling together to guard against any criticism for the way we are handling this generous gift. We are careful to be honorable before the Lord, but we also want everyone else to see that we are honorable. – 2 Corinthians 8:20-21 NLT

It was Jesus who said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV). Peter echoed these words when he wrote, “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world” (1 Peter 2:12 NLT). As believers, we are to do what is right. But it is just as important that we do right in the right way. We must always consider the outcome of our actions. It is essential that we keep in mind that our conduct is always being analyzed by the lost around us. We are ambassadors for Christ and all that we do in this life is done on His behalf. We speak and act on His part. And even our right actions, if not done in the right way, can produce the wrong results and bring harm to the name of Christ. We cannot live with the attitude, “Who cares what they think?” Our conduct has consequences. Our actions speak volumes. Our every word and deed are potential testimonies that will reflect either positively or negatively on the cause of Christ. What we do matters, but how we do it does as well.

Paul was unashamed to ask the Corinthians for money, but he was unwilling to do it in a way that might damage his reputation, hinder his ministry, or bring shame to the name of Christ. “We don’t want anyone suspecting us of taking one penny of this money for ourselves. We’re being as careful in our reputation with the public as in our reputation with God” (2 Corinthians 8:20-21 MSG). That is how we are to live. That is the attitude we must maintain. Our mission matters. So does our methodology. We must always strive to do the right thing, the godly thing, in the right way – blamelessly and above reproach.

 

Blessed To Bless.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” – 2 Corinthians 8:9-15 ESV

Paul makes it clear that his call for the Corinthians to give to the needs of the Judean Christians was not a command. “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine” (2 Corinthians 8:8 ESV). He knew that if he commanded that they give, their doing so would be out of a sense of legalism, not love. Their giving would be grudgingly, not willingly. It would be accompanied by regret, not rejoicing. It was Paul’s sincere desire that their giving be based on their understanding of and appreciation for all that Jesus Christ had done for them.

You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. – 2 Corinthians 8:9 NLT

Jesus sacrificed all that He had in order to pay for the sins of mankind. He gave His own life in order to redeem lost men and women, trapped in the debt they owed due to sin, and condemned to eternal separation from God. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul elaborates on the remarkable grace of Jesus and how it should motivate the believer’s life.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
     he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
     that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
     and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:3-11 NLT

The same attitude that Christ had. That is what Paul is calling the Corinthians to have. Humble. Selfless. Sacrificial. Obedient. Loving. And willing to finish what He started, to complete what He had been called to do – out of obedience to His heavenly Father and love for those He came to save.

Paul calls on the Corinthians to follow Christ’s lead and to finish what they began. A year earlier they had begun the process of giving toward the needs of the saints in Judea, but had evidently failed to finish the job. So Paul gives them a little friendly advice or counsel.

Here is my advice: It would be good for you to finish what you started a year ago. Last year you were the first who wanted to give, and you were the first to begin doing it. Now you should finish what you started. Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now by your giving. Give in proportion to what you have. – 2 Corinthians 8:10-11 NLT

Paul was not asking them to “give until it hurts” or to give what they did not have. This was not about the redistribution of wealth or some form of socialistic economic equality. It was simply the love of Christ lived out in everyday life, as the body of Christ ministered to itself, one group sharing what it had with those who had nothing. The blessed being a blessing. As Paul had told the Philippian believers, the mutual care and concern of Christians for one another was to be nothing more than an extension of their relationship with Christ.

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. – Philippians 2:1-2 NLT

While reciprocity or payback should not motivate our giving, Paul points out that the day may come when the tables are turned. We may find ourselves on the receiving end of someone else’s generous and loving aid. When there are needs to be met, we are to give out of what we have – no more, no less. We are to give selflessly, even sacrificially, because we share a common bond in Christ. And in giving, we should be encouraged to know that, should we ever find ourselves in need, our brothers and sisters in Christ will be there for us as well. We are a family. We share the love of God. We have a common bond in Christ.

The principle at play here is the sovereign blessing of God on His people. Paul uses the Old Testament story of the Exodus as an illustration. When the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness, God had met their needs, including providing them with food to eat. In the evening, God provided them with quail. In the mornings, they found manna. And each day, the people would go out and gather the manna, provided to them by God. They were commanded by Moses:

Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.” And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. – Exodus 16:16-18 ESV

God had provided and no one had need. And there was no need for anyone to hoard. In fact, if they attempted to keep more than they needed for their own personal needs, it rotted. God did not want them depending on the manna for their needs. He wanted them to trust in Him. He gave them what they needed and no one had any need. No one went hungry. That same principle applied to the people of Corinth. God was meeting their needs. They had all they required to exist. There was no need to hoard or selfishly withhold the blessings of God for a rainy day. Whatever the Corinthians enjoyed by way of abundance had been made possible by God. And their excess was not intended for their own security, but for the needs of others. Just as our spiritual gifts are intended for the body and not for our own benefit, so our financial blessings are intended for the good of all. God blesses us so that we might be a blessing to others.

 

Generous Grace.

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.   2 Corinthians 8:1-8 ESV

Paul had been overwhelmed by the reception of his previous letter, even though it had ended up causing the Corinthians some serious sorrow. That sorrow had led to their repentance and they had responded in grace, love and gratitude. Now Paul takes the opportunity to appeal to that same grace in order to enlist their help with a pressing financial concern. For nearly five years, Paul had been actively soliciting funds from the churches he had helped establish throughout Macedonia, Galatia, Achaia, and Asia Minor. This money was being sent to help Hebrew Christians living in Judea, where they were suffering from the effects of a famine as well as the poverty that came as a result of their conversions to Christianity. Many had lost their jobs, been ostracized by their families or were having a difficult time trying to do business with their Jewish neighbors. Paul was constantly requesting that the churches over which he had influence, would participate in providing financial aid to their brothers and sisters in Judea. And Corinth would be no exception.

Paul began by informing the Corinthians of the generosity displayed by the churches in Macedonia, a neighboring region. In referring to the Philippians, Thessalonians, and Bereans, Paul was adroitly using comparison to make his appeal to the Corinthians. He points out that their neighbors to the north “have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2 Corinthians 8:2 ESV). And this was in spite of their own “extreme poverty.” Paul says, “they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will” (2 Corinthians 8:3 NLT). Not only that, they begged Paul for the opportunity to give. This was not the first time the Corinthians had heard about the need in Judea. Paul had raised this topic with them before in his first letter. He referred to it as the “collection for the saints” (1 Corinthians 16:1). But either the Corinthians had begun to give and then stopped, or they had never fully gotten behind the effort to begin with. Either way, Paul is now appealing to them to allow the grace of God to flow through them as it had done with the believers in Macedonia. Paul had a strong sense of community and unity when it came to the body of Christ. He wanted each congregation to understand and embrace their connection with and responsibility to the other fellowships located all around the world at that time. They were not to view themselves as independent entities, isolated and removed from the larger context of the family of God. They were to see themselves as brothers and sisters in Christ, sharing a common bond with believers all around the world. And Paul wants them to know that God desired to use them to extend His grace to the believers in Judea. Paul had even sent Titus to encourage their participation in this fund-raising effort. 

Paul reminds them that they are a gifted church. They excel “in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness” (2 Corinthians 8:7 ESV). Paul had told them in his first letter, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift” (1 Corinthians 1:4-7 ESV). Now he wants them to add to their resume of giftedness this “act of grace.”  Paul tells them, “I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving” (2 Corinthians 8:7b NLT). But he doesn’t want them to do it under coercion or as a form of compliance to a command. It must be done in love. Giving without love is ultimately self-motivated, in order to get attention. Or what is given is soiled with selfishness, regret and sense of reluctance. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus taught, “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get” (Matthew 6:1-2 NLT). If you give in order to get praise, that is the only reward you will receive. That is what led Paul to write in his first letter, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3 ESV).

The giving of the Corinthians was to be an extension of the grace of God, flowing from Him through them and to the believers in Judea. God’s grace is anything but selfish and self-centered. It is an expression of His love. So in giving to the believers in Judea, the Corinthians would be showing the love and favor of God through their willing generosity. Giving was to be seen, not as an obligation, but as an opportunity to love others as they had been loved by God – generously, undeservedly, and graciously. In his first letter, Paul had sternly reminded the Corinthians, “What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 NLT). They had become arrogant and prideful, seeing themselves as spiritual superior and blessed by God. Paul scolded them, “You think you already have everything you need. You think you are already rich” (1 Corinthians 4:8 NLT). But all that they enjoyed had come from God. It had all be a result of the grace of God. Their giftedness was God’s doing. Their salvation had been the result of Christ’s death, not their own merit. The reality of their indebtedness to God should have created in them a sense of gratitude that manifested itself in gracious generosity. Their giving was to be a reflection of the joy they felt for all that they had been given. We love because He first loved us. We give because He has given to us. We bless others because He has graciously blessed us.


Love, Not Tolerance.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted.

And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. For whatever boasts I made to him about you, I was not put to shame. But just as everything we said to you was true, so also our boasting before Titus has proved true. And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you. – 2 Corinthians 7:10-16 ESV

Something had happened within the church at Corinth. There was some situation that had taken place about which Paul was compelled to write a now-lost letter. In that letter he had be forced to confront the issue. He writes, “although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong” (2 Corinthians 7:12 ESV). Paul says the purpose in having written them his confrontational letter had been to reveal to them just how truly loyal they were to him and his leadership. Evidently the individual to whom Paul refers had been critical of his ministry and authority, and “the one who suffered the wrong” had been Paul himself. Paul always had critics. There was no shortage of those individuals who questioned his apostleship or argued against his authority. Whoever this individual was, he had been misleading the church and undermining all the work Paul had done there. So, in this letter, Paul is following up with the Corinthians, after having heard back from Titus, whom he had sent to check on the situation first-hand. The report from Titus was encouraging. “Therefore we are comforted,” Paul proudly states. They had remained committed to Paul’s teaching and committed to following his leadership. In fact, Paul states that any grief or sorrow his letter might have produced, had resulted in “a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10 ESV). That is why he can refer to it as godly sorrow, rather than worldly sorrow. The sorrow associated with this world can only produce death. Sorrow over sin that does not result in a willingness to repent of it can not produce life change. Sorrow over sin that does not drive us to the foot of the cross for cleansing by Christ’s blood can never produce life. Worldly sorrow can only produce despair, resentment, anger, and a growing callousness. We find ourselves becoming less and less sorrowful over our sin, finally reaching the point where we claim that we have not sinned at all.

But for believers, godly sorrow produces repentance, and repentance leads to forgiveness. Paul points out that the sorrow of the Corinthians had had a positive outcome.

Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right. – 2 Corinthians 7:11 NLT

It had revealed their desire to do what was right. They had been saddened at the thought that their actions had caused Paul pain. They were motivated to show him that they remained faithful to him. It alarmed them that their behavior had led Paul to question their loyalty. And they realized that they had been lax in dealing with the one who had been causing the trouble.  All Paul had done was point out their sin. The Holy Spirit had done the rest. He had used the words of Paul to convict the Corinthians and the outcome was their repentance and the restoration of their relationship with Paul.

Paul even comments that Titus had been encouraged by his visit to check on the Corinthians. Paul says, “his spirit has been refreshed by you all” (2 Corinthians 7:13b ESV). He returned joyful and telling Paul that all his boasts about the Corinthians had been true.

Paul ends this section of his letter with the word, “I have complete confidence in you” (2 Corinthians 7:16 ESV). It is the same he started it. “I have great confidence in you; I take great pride on your behalf. I am filled with encouragement; I am overflowing with joy in the midst of all our suffering” (2 Corinthians 7:4 NET). Paul was encouraged greatly by the news that the Corinthians had not wandered away from the faith or rejected his role as their spiritual father. He had a deep, deep longing to see them grow spiritually. He had a father’s heart that desired to protect his spiritual children from harm and to keep them from straying away from the truth. So the news that they remained faithful was enough to help Paul make it through the trials and troubles he faced as he continued to share the gospel throughout Macedonia and the surrounding regions. He could rest easy knowing that his flock in Corinth remained safe and secure. His loving confrontation had resulted in their sorrow. Their sorrow had led to their repentance. And their repentance had resulted in their salvation. They had been rescued or delivered from a potentially destructive path. Because of the love of Paul and with the help of the Holy Spirit, they had been able to make a course correction and return to the path God had intended for them to follow. But what if Paul had never written that now-missing letter? What if he had chosen to ignore their sin? What if he had refused to confront them because he didn’t want to offend them? Love is not the same as tolerance. Godly love is willing to say the hard thing. It compassionately confronts. It affectionately admonishes. Allowing a brother or sister in Christ to continue in sin because you don’t want to offend them isn’t love. That would be like allowing your child to play in the street because you don’t want to spoil all their fun, because you don’t want to come across as the “bad” parent. But that’s not love, it’s a subtle and dangerous form of child abuse. Godly love is willing to hurt. Godly love is willing to produce godly sorrow, because godly sorrow leads to repentance and life.

My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. – James 5:19-20 NLT