The Net Pastor’s Journal, Eng. Ed, Issue 46, Winter 2023
A ministry of…
Author: Dr. Roger Pascoe, President,
Email: [email protected]
I. Strengthening Expository Preaching: Preaching The Epistles, Pt. 1
A. The Literary Characteristics of the Epistles.
The epistles generally have fairly similar characteristics...
1. The Structure of Epistles. The epistles are fairly standard in their form and features. The literary structure of the epistles follows the letter form, which was common in the ancient world, as follows:
a) The opening (greeting, identification of the author and the recipients, thanksgiving).
b) The body (dealing with specific issues, exhortations, pleas, complaints etc.).
c) The close (greetings etc.).
2. Common Features of the Epistles. Like all letters, New Testament epistles have certain common features.
a) They are direct. While they are not as direct as oral communication, they are the next best thing.
b) They are personal. They draw on a personal relationship (“I / we” and “you”) but one that is slightly removed by virtue of the physical separation between the writer and the recipient. Nonetheless, unlike the coldness and sterility of a legal brief, they evoke a personal warmth and relationship. They exude the personality, emotion, mood, attitude, perspective, and opinion of the writer.
3. The Function and Form of Epistles. The function of New Testament letters is not simply to relay information, but, like a sermon, to relate truth to life. And, since the writers address many sensitive, real-life issues, the letter form provides them with a way of communicating ideas that are sometimes easier written than said.
Because of the nature of their structure, their topical content, and the logical flow of their arguments, we often read them like an encyclopedia when we want to know something about a specific topic (“what does Paul say about this or that?”). But, as Moises Silva points out, “we should read the New Testament letters as wholes” (An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, 120). Only then can we understand properly what the author’s motivation for writing is and the response he makes to a specific situation.
While a New Testament letter is a rhetorical form in itself (i.e. it appeals to the readers’ emotions, logic, and character), it may also contain other literary forms within it (such as dialogue, poetry, even narrative [e.g. Gal. 4]) each of which requires its own rules of interpretation.
4. The Historical Context of the Epistles. Unlike other types of biblical literature, the epistles were written to respond to the specific needs, situations, problems, and questions of specific churches and localities (e.g. Romans, Corinthians, Galatians) and individuals (e.g. Titus, Timothy, Philemon). Nonetheless, the N.T. epistles are not restricted to ancient history. Tom Long comments: “The Letters of the New Testament are like almost all other letters: connected to a specific set of circumstances but inherently capable of speaking beyond those immediate conditions” (Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible, 110.)
The historical context of the epistles is very important for our understanding of their meaning and application. We need to try to deduce what is the issue being addressed or the question being answered before we can adequately explain and apply it to our contemporary audience. In doing so, we need to be careful to make an appropriate transition from the “then” of the text to the “now” of our hearers, seeking to be faithful both to the text in its ancient context and its application in our contemporary context. This can be a tricky transition since the epistles address issues that were specific to that day, which may be difficult to see how they apply to us today (e.g. eating meats offered to idols). Nonetheless, I think those issues can and do have relevance for us. We just need to be careful to not necessarily make direct transfers from “then” to “now” nor to make invalid presumptions about how to apply them today.
Despite the challenge of bridging the gap from “then” to “now,” the great benefit of preaching the epistles is that they give us concrete instruction for specific situations, both in the function and responsibilities of the church and our individual lives. Our task as theologians, exegetes, and preachers is to determine what that instruction is for us today.
So, if these are the main literary characteristics of the epistles, how do we understand and preach them? What process should we follow?
B. Guidelines For Understanding And Preaching The Epistles.
Following are some guidelines to help you in preparing to preach from the epistles…
1. Analyze The Literary Structure. I have dealt with this topic before in previous editions of The Net Pastors Journal (e.g. editions 18-23) but let me briefly emphasize here a few essential components in the process of analyzing the literary structure of a passage.
Given the specific nature of the epistles (specific problems, questions etc.), it might be tempting to try to figure out the historical and cultural context before understanding the text. However, it is important that we not bring to the text a preconceived notion of its meaning based on our reconstruction of the historical-cultural context which gave rise to the text. So, before engaging in this reconstruction, start with the exegetical analysis of the text within its literary context in order to answer the following questions:
a) What is the author saying?
b) What does he mean?
c) What is his flow of thought or argument?
Then, determine the structure of the text and its assertions. That’s what the epistles are - structured arguments around propositional assertions. So, you need to identify the structure in the text and the argument of the text, which then determine the structure of your sermon. This is simply being sensitive to the text as it is written and its genre.
Epistles have a logical flow to them as the author unfolds his argument in well thought-out steps, points, topics, and assertions. The key to understanding the epistles is to figure out the flow of thought (the argument) in each section of the epistle and the epistle as a whole and preach the epistle accordingly.
Therefore, when analyzing the literary structure of the passage, I suggest the following methodology:
a) Determine the literary structure of the entire epistle – i.e. the main sections of the epistle.
b) Identify the dominating theme (the subject) of the specific section (passage) you are studying (i.e. a paragraph or series of paragraphs). Ask yourself: What is the author’s overriding point in this section?
c) List the integrating thoughts (individual assertions or “points”) that the author is making to support the dominating theme of the section.
d) State the motivating thrust of the passage (i.e. what is its purpose?).
This completes your basic syntactical analysis. By following this procedure, you will study the passage in its context in the epistle and how it relates to the passage before and after it (i.e. flow of thought). Only at this point are you ready to do detailed grammatical research and word studies.
Be sure that you can state the dominating theme of the passage in one sentence. This keeps unity and focus to your sermon (i.e. stops you wandering all over the place). It also enables you to structure your sermon around the flow of thought of the passage itself (i.e. the supporting assertions that the author makes about his dominating theme).
Identifying the dominating theme (subject) of the passage and the integrating thoughts (assertions) about that theme is difficult for many preachers. Perhaps that’s why so many preachers talk so much in generalities. But you must be specific just as the author is specific. If the subject of the passage is “God’s love,” you need to first determine what aspect of God’s love the author is addressing. Be specific – “love” on its own is too general. Is it the love of God for the world? Is it the scope of God’s love? Is it the faithfulness of God’s love? Once you have defined the specific subject of the passage, then what you are going to preach is what the author says about the subject.
Your audience should be able to put their finger on the text and see where you are getting your points, principles, and applications from. By structuring your sermons this way you will “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2), and when you preach the Word you can count on the Holy Spirit to use what you say in powerful ways in the lives of your hearers.
Typically, you will preach one section of Scripture (i.e. a passage that is unified by one subject). If a passage is too long for one sermon (e.g. Eph. 1:3-14), then break the passage up into suitable segments (i.e. certain assertions / points about the subject), but make sure that each sermon relates to the overall theme (subject) of the paragraph.
When dealing with epistles, it really helps to know biblical Greek, since diagramming the Greek text is the best way to determine the structure of the passage as a whole and the various assertions (points) the author makes about the overall theme of the passage. If you are not able to work with biblical Greek, then use a translation that preserves as much as possible the structure and meaning of the original language (English translations of this sort include ESV, NASB, NKJV, CSB).
2. Research The Historical Context. After analyzing the literary structure of the passage you are preaching, then research the historical and cultural context to further develop your understanding of the passage - who it was written to, why it was written, any cultural or traditional aspects etc.
The historical context is important in interpreting and applying any Scripture, but it is particularly so in the case of the epistles. When preparing a sermon from a passage in an epistle, we need to be very aware of the specific issue which the author is addressing and what gave rise to it in order to answer the following questions:
a) Why did the author say this?
b) Why did he respond in this way?
c) Was the author responding to a question? If so, what was the question?
d) What were the cultural conditions that surrounded this passage? What elements of the passage are culturally influenced (e.g. head coverings, perhaps)?
e) What were the historical circumstances (the problem, need, situation) that gave rise to the epistle or passage in the epistle?
I am not suggesting that you preach all the historical data that you uncover in your research. You need only to preach what is pertinent to your explanation of the theological truths, implications, and applications of the passage. As Scott Hafemann points out: “Preaching is the proclamation of the theological truth of the text and its constituent implications, not a lesson in the circumstances and politics of the New Testament era, its language, or social problems and customs” (Preaching in the Epistles in “Handbook of Contemporary Preaching,” 365).
Discovering the occasion that gave rise to the epistle (and / or the question to which the epistle is responding) is not always easy, since often it can only be arrived at by inference. For example, Paul does not explicitly state in 1 Corinthians what the questions were from the Corinthian assembly to which he is replying. Therefore, sometimes we have to read between the lines in order to reconstruct the historical context. Since this exercise is somewhat subjective or, at least, inferential, Moises Silva suggests that we test any theories we (or other scholars) make by ensuring that the text itself is “ultimately determinative” not the inferences we may make (An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, 126-128).
II. Strengthening Biblical Leadership
2 Corinthians: “Strength in Weakness”
In the last edition, we completed our study of 2 Corinthians 2:14-7:16, Paul’s wonderful digression on pastoral leadership. Throughout our study of this passage we have learned much about pastoral ministry on the following topics:
1. Confidence in ministry (2 Cor. 2:14-3:6).
2. The nature of authentic ministry, Parts 1 and 2 (2 Cor. 4:1-16).
3. The motivation for ministry, Parts 1, 2, and 3 (2 Cor. 4:16-5:17).
4. The pastoral ministry of reconciliation, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (2 Cor. 5:18-7:16).
Before we leave this study in 2 Corinthians 2:14-7:16, I thought it might be helpful for you if I write out my literary analysis and structure of 2 Corinthians so that you can see the kind of research I do for this type of exegetical study in preparation for teaching it to others. You will not have time to do this kind of research every week in your sermon preparation, but you can find help with this from commentaries.
A. The Occasion.
In 1 Corinthians, among other matters, Paul deals with the case of an individual who was involved in incest. The news that the church at Corinth had taken disciplinary action against this individual produced in Paul the relief and joy which are expressed in 2 Corinthians 1-7. In these same chapters, however, there is a growing sense that the opposition Paul is now facing at Corinth is wider spread. This second wave of opposition becomes very clear in chapters 10-13, where Paul responds vigorously to the attacks of those whom he calls “false apostles.” This phase of opposition only seems to have become evident after Paul had succeeded in securing disciplinary action against the original individual offender in 1 Corinthians. Whether there is a connection between the disciplinary action taken against the individual and the spawning of an unruly group opposed to Paul is not explicit.
In any event, certain false teachers who claimed to be apostles had infiltrated the Corinthian church. In so doing they were attempting to discredit Paul, who wrote this letter largely to refute their accusations and to expose them as impostors. Paul is defending his character and apostleship in order to protect the Corinthian church from being deceived by false doctrines and false teachers.
At the same time, Paul needed to explain to the Corinthians the reason for the change in his travel plans (1:15ff.; cf. 1 Cor. 16:5ff.), and to urge them to prepare for his third visit (13:1ff.) by completing their collection for the poor Christians in Jerusalem, a collection that they had begun but not completed (see chapters 8 and 9).
Having sent Titus from Ephesus to Corinth to deliver a previous letter (1 Corinthians), Paul had arranged to meet Titus on his return at Troas. On arriving at Troas, however, Paul did not find Titus there and decided to journey on to Macedonia, where he ultimately met him, probably in Philippi or Neapolis (2:12f., 7:5ff.).
Titus brought Paul both good news and bad. The good news was that the Corinthians had responded properly to Paul’s letter and had taken steps to correct the problems he had addressed. This caused Paul to rejoice (7:5ff.). However, the bad news was that there was still an unruly group in the Corinthian church, incited no doubt by the false apostles. Here are some of their accusations against Paul:
a) They alleged that Paul’s word could not be trusted (because he wrote one thing about his travel plans but did another). In reply, Paul writes that his change of plans was not because he was fickle or unreliable but because he did not want to come to the Corinthians again in severity (2:1).
b) They charged Paul with being proud, unimpressive in appearance and speech, dishonest, and unqualified as an apostle of Jesus Christ.
c) They threw suspicion on Paul’s genuineness as an apostle because he had come to Corinth without letters of commendation (3:1). Concerning these and other charges against his apostleship, Paul reminded them of all that he had endured as a minister of the gospel (chapters 4 to 6).
d) They insinuated that Paul had possibly been responsible for slowing down the collection for the poor in Jerusalem (see chapter 8 and 9).
e) They asserted that Paul was brave from a distance through his impressive letters, but in person he was weak (10:10; 11:6).
f) They argued that since Paul did not charge for his preaching services, he was not worth listening to (11:7ff.). They even insinuated that because he would not take money from them that perhaps he did not love them (11:11; 12:15).
These divisive, false apostles had to be exposed for who they truly were - intruders. They were not true apostles at all. Thus, Paul’s reply to all of this revolved primarily around the contrast of his apostleship to that of these pretenders, showing that his apostleship was one of continuous suffering and self-abnegation. His own weakness left no room for self-glorification but rather magnified the power and grace of God (11:21-12:12). Advising them of his impending third visit, he warns them that if necessary he will come and exercise his full apostolic authority (13:1ff.), but his hope is that they will be fully restored to him.
B. The Literary Structure And Unity.
The literary structure of 2 Corinthians seems to revolve around Paul’s itinerary. His original intention for his next journey to Greece had been to pay the Corinthians a sort of double visit by crossing over by sea from Ephesus and staying for a short time with them before travelling north to Macedonia, and then, on his return from Macedonia, spending another period with them before journeying on to Jerusalem with the collection for the poor believers there. However, his plans had now changed – he would now travel north from Ephesus to Macedonia, and from there go down to Corinth (1 Cor. 16:5ff.; 2 Cor. 1:16), after which he would travel on to Jerusalem. In this way he would pay them one longer visit instead of two short visits.
This “itinerary” framework thus forms the unity of the epistle. It can be traced through the epistle as follows:
1. The Past: the Change of Plans (chapters 1-7). Paul explains his integrity (1:12ff.) and explains the reason for the change in his itinerary (1:15-2:4). He describes how he had journeyed from Ephesus to Troas, expecting to meet Titus there, and how, when he did not meet Titus there, he traveled on to Macedonia (2:12f.). At this point there is an extended parenthesis (2:14-7:4), as far as this framework is concerned but not as far as the purpose of the epistle is concerned. The account resumes at 7:5, where Paul recounts his meeting with Titus at Macedonia, and the joyful news that Titus brought to him there concerning the Corinthians’ positive response to his letter (i.e. 1 Corinthians).
2. The Present: Sending Titus to Complete the Collection (chapters 8-9). Chapters 8 and 9 deal with the matter of the collection for the Jerusalem relief fund. This is not a digression but fits the overall scheme of the letter – Paul’s itinerary may have changed but his purpose in visiting them has not. It is Paul’s wish that the collection for the poor believers in Jerusalem be carried out before he gets there. To this end, he is sending Titus and two other brothers ahead of him (bringing with them the present letter, 2 Corinthians) to supervise this matter.
3. The Future: The Certainty and Imminence of Paul’s Third Visit (chapters 10-13). Chapters 10 to 13 are an exposure and repudiation of the “impostor-apostles” who have entered the Corinthian church, attempting to undermine Paul’s credibility and authority. Paul warns them that he will deal with any who continue to trouble the church when he arrives there for his third visit.
This framework, then, provides the literary structure and unity for the epistle, whose sections display diversities in subject matter and mood. As Zahn states, “In spirit the reader follows Paul from Ephesus through Troas to Macedonia (chaps. 1-7); then he lingers with him for a moment in the churches of Macedonia (chaps. 8-9); finally he is led to the consideration of conditions in the church at Corinth from the point of view of Paul’s coming visit there” (T. Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, Vol. 1, 312, cited in Philip E. Hughes, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, xxii).
4. The Connection with 1 Corinthians (“the painful letter”). It is not hard to conceive that 1 Corinthians is being referred to when Paul says that he wrote “out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears” (2 Cor. 2:4). It is our contention, therefore, that the “painful letter” is 1 Corinthians and that 2 Corinthians should be explained out of 1 Corinthians as far as possible. Those that assert that 1 Corinthians was not the “painful letter” ignore the anguish and distress that writing such a letter to the church, which he had founded, would have caused the apostle. This is particularly noticeable in his sharp rebuke of their party spirit and schism; their carnality and lack of spirituality; his admonition to judge the sin amongst them; his reproof of their lawsuits against one another; his condemnation of their defilement of the Lord’s supper through drunkenness; his rebuke of their disorderliness in public worship through the inappropriate use of spiritual gifts; his correction of the doctrinal error concerning the resurrection of the dead.
How could such a letter have been written otherwise than out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears?
5. Unity of Theme: “Strength in Weakness.” It is on this theme that the apostle builds his whole argument for the genuineness of his apostolic authority, which had been maligned by his opponents at Corinth. It is in his human weakness that God uses and empowers him. Thus, the power for his ministry is evidently from God. For this reason, this epistle is full of references to Paul’s sufferings, perils, and hardships which he endured in carrying out his ministry, and this in contrast to God’s mighty power which was also manifested in his ministry. Paradoxically, human weakness and divine strength go hand in hand. The assaults upon his apostolic credentials focused on his human weakness without giving credit to the power of his ministry as it had been demonstrated in Corinth.
This unity of theme weaves its way throughout the epistle (e.g. 1:5f., 1:8f., 2:12f., 3:5f., 4:7f., 4:16-18, 5:1f., 6:4f., 7:5f., 11:23f., 12:5-10, 13:4).
6. The Integrity of the Last Four Chapters. The change of the apostle’s tone in the last four chapters has given rise to much debate as to whether they belong to a different letter. But I think it is more imaginary than real since they easily fit into the overall unity and framework of the epistle. Furthermore, they harmonize with the overall theme of the epistle, namely, the theme of strength in and through weakness.
Apart from the integration of the last four chapters by way of unity of theme, other points of affinity between the letter’s earlier and later parts are evident. Compare, for example, the following: 1:13 cf. 10:11; 1:17 cf. 10:2; 2:1 cf. 12:14, 21 and 13:1f.; 2:17 cf. 12:19; 3:2 cf. 12:11; 6:13 cf. 11:2 and 12:14; 8:6, 18, and 22 cf. 12:17f.).
C. The Flow Of Thought Of The Epistle.
Section 1: Introduction (1:1-14). Following the salutation (1:1-2), Paul engages in a lengthy thanksgiving (1:3-11). The many sufferings and hardships that Paul had endured were, for him, sharing in “Christ’s sufferings” (1:5) in the midst of which he had experienced Christ’s “comfort” (1:5). These experiences though unsolicited and painful have taught him to rely on the “Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (1:3). The value of such experiences is that he now can “comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (1:4). Ministry is rooted in suffering (viz. the sufferings of Christ and the sufferings from Christians) and borne along by God’s comfort. To partake in suffering is to also partake in comfort.
This thanksgiving section seems to lay the foundation on which he will build his case that both his afflictions and his comfort are the result of his work as an apostle on their behalf (1:6), which gives rise to his hope for them that “as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort” (1:7). Even the prospect of dying only served to teach him to “not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (1:8-10). Not only did he attribute his rescue from death to the deliverance of God but also to the prayers of the Corinthians, the result of which is that many give thanks to God for “the blessing granted us” (1:11).
Section 2: Paul’s Defence (1:12-7:16). From this, Paul transitions into a defence of his travel plans, denying that he has acted in a worldly or fickle manner (1:12-14). To Paul’s critics, his change of travel plans indicated a lack of trustworthiness. After reviewing what happened (1:15-22), he explains that the reason he changed his plans was actually because he loved them and did not want to cause them as much grief as he had on his earlier visit, when he sternly rebuked them concerning the incestuous man (1:23-2:4). This leads to an exhortation that they forgive and show love to the one in the congregation whom they had disciplined (2:5-11; cf. 1 Cor. 5) and about whom he had written to them before “out of much affliction and anguish of heart” (2:4).
This, in turn, leads to a recital of the events that led to his writing the present letter - i.e. his meeting with Titus (2:12-13 and 7:5-16) - a recital that is interrupted by a long excursus on the nature and purpose of his ministry (2:14-5:15) and a plea for reconciliation (5:16-7:4).
a) The nature and purpose of ministry (2:14-5:15). This is Paul’s first defence of his ministry against his critics, as he explains to them his adequacy and credentials for ministry.
First, his success in ministry is from God (2:14-16a). The triumphal leading of God in his life dispenses an “fragrance” to all with whom he comes in contact – to those who are perishing “a fragrance from death to death,” and to those who are being saved an “a fragrance from life to life” (2:16).
Second, his sufficiency for ministry also is from God (2:16b-3:6). His competence for such a task does not come from himself, in which case he would be like the false apostles, “peddlers of God’s word” for personal gain; rather, his competence comes from God in whose sight he speaks (2:17). Thus, he does not need to prove himself (3:1-3) for his confidence is not in himself but in God, “who has made us sufficient to be a minister of a new covenant (3:4-6).
Paul then develops a comparison and contrast between ministry under the old covenant and under the new (3:7-18). The ministry of the new covenant gave him courage to “renounce disgraceful, underhanded ways… (to) refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word,” but to proclaim openly to all men in the “sight of God” the truth of “the gospel of the glory of Christ” (4:2, 4). He preaches Christ Jesus the Lord (4:5) through the power of God, who commanded “light to shine out of darkness” and who has now, by that same power, “shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (4:6). Since the treasure of the gospel (i.e. Christ) is contained inside a merely earthen vessel (i.e. Paul and all his human weakness, 4:8-11), the evident power does belong to him but to God (4:7).
However, this weak, human vessel will not always be subject to decay and death (4:10-12). Human weakness is associated with the temporal and visible, but this will one day be replaced with the eternal and invisible (4:16-18), which will take place when “our earthly home is destroyed” and replaced by “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal int eh heavens” (5:1-4).
Of this transformation God has given us his Spirit as the guarantee (5:5) and, as a result, we have confidence to “walk by faith and not by sight” (5:6-8). Living in the light of such an eternal prospect, Paul’s aim is to please God (5:9) by persuading others concerning the “judgement seat of Christ” and “the fear of the Lord” (5:10-11). Though his motivation in ministry is not to please those to whom he ministers through letters of recommendation and the like (5:12; cf. 3:1-3), yet he is not by any means indifferent; indeed, he is compelled by the love of Christ (5:14).
b) A plea for reconciliation (5:16-7:4). It is, therefore, as Christ’s ambassador, that he preaches a message of reconciliation on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice for sins (5:16-21). He pleads with them “not to receive the grace of God in vain” (6:1) and to respond to his self-sacrificial ministry (6:1-10). He urges them to have an open heart to God and to him as God’s minister (6:11-13), recognizing that a proper relationship with God is exclusive in nature (6:14-7:1). In closing this appeal, Paul reminds them of the confidence that he has in them (7:2-4).
Paul now resumes (from 2:13) the account of how he ultimately met Titus in Macedonia, the comfort he received from seeing Titus again, and the joy from hearing his report about the Corinthian church’s positive response to Paul’s earlier letter (7:5-16). Paul is delighted and relieved that the Corinthians had responded with repentance and godly sorrow (7:10) to his earlier rebukes.
Section 3: The Collection for the Poor Jerusalem Saints (8:1-9:15). Having expressed his relief and joy at the Corinthians’ repentance and “zeal for me” (7:7), Paul now introduces another outstanding matter that needs to be dealt with by them, namely, the collection for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. Fittingly, the churches of Macedonia, where he met Titus, were a prime example of the sacrificial giving required (8:1-6). Paul urges the Corinthians to follow their lead and in so doing to demonstrate Christ’s supreme example of self-sacrificial giving (8:7-9). Indeed, it is to their advantage to finish this collection, which they had begun a year earlier, and to complete the entire project (8:10-11). This would be an opportunity for them to supply out of their “abundance” what the Jerusalem church lacked at this time; at another time the situation may be reversed (8:12-15). To administer this collection in advance of Paul’s arrival, Paul sends Titus and two other brothers to Corinth (8:16-24) urging the Corinthians to cooperate with them (8:24) and to be ready when Paul himself came so that he would not be embarrassed (9:1-5). Finally, he teaches them the principle of Christian giving (9:6-15), namely, to give generously and cheerfully (9:6-7) for “God is able to make all grace abound to you” (9:8) and “to multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (9:10). As a result of their liberality, therefore, not only will they be enriched but God will be thanked and glorified (9:11-15).
Section 4: Paul’s Response to Ongoing Criticism (10:1-13:4). Possibly referring back to those mentioned in 2:17 and 4:2, Paul now deals directly with criticism being leveled against him (10:1-18). He does not deny that he is “in the flesh” but he denies vigorously that he acts “according to the flesh” (10:2-3). Rather, the weapons of his warfare “have divine power to destroy strongholds” (10:4).
He also denies the false accusation that he made up for his lack of personal authority by being bold in his letters. No one had more authority than he did and he would demonstrate that when he visited them next time (10:7-11). Unlike those who unwisely boast about their authority, he would not boast “beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us,” which sphere included the Corinthian church (10:13-15). The basis of his argument with respect to authority is this, “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” (10:17-18).
Launching now into an attack rather than a defense, Paul exposes the false apostles who have usurped authority in the church (11:1-15). He fears that the Corinthians will be deceived by those who come preaching “another Jesus…a different spirit…a different gospel” (11:1-4). He is not at all inferior to “these super-apostles” (11:5), nor was he acting independently just because he did not accept financial support from them (11:7-9). His best defense is an offense, which he will engage in by cutting off the false apostles who oppose him (11:12-15).
Then, answering fools according to their folly, Paul engages in a little boasting of his own (11:16-21). If others could be bold, so could he (11:21). He boasts of his Jewish lineage (11:22), his trials and sufferings as a minister of Christ (11:23-28), and he boasts in things that others would consider weaknesses (11:29-12:10), such as his escape from the city of Damascus (11:32-33), and his thorn in the flesh to keep him humble (12:1-9a). It is this paradox of strength in weakness that is the basis of Paul’s boasting “that the power of Christ may rest upon me…for when I am weak, then I am strong” (12:9b-10). He apologizes for having boasted - they ought to have stood by him, not forced him into this boasting (12:11), since they had seen the signs of an apostle that he did amongst them (12:12). If they considered themselves inferior to other churches, it could only be on one account, namely, that he was not dependent upon them for financial support, and for this he asks their forgiveness (12:13).
Section 5: His Third Visit (12:14-13:6). When he comes for a third visit he will, again, not be dependent upon them or in any way take advantage of them (12:14-18). He wants them to be built up (12:19), but his fear is that he will not find them as he wished, nor will they find him as they wished (12:20-21). Hence, he warns them that this time he will take strong action, since they seem to want evidence that “Christ is speaking in me” (13:1-4).
Section 6: Closing Remarks (13:5-14). In a final attempt to arouse them to spiritual awareness, he charges them to examine themselves as to whether they are really Christians (13:5-6). His plea is that they do no wrong and, thus, vindicate themselves (13:7), much preferring that they be strong and he weak (13:9). His purpose in writing this letter is that they would respond to it positively and become strong, so that when he arrives for his third visit he would not have to use sharpness (13:10).
E. A Structural Outline.
I. Introduction (1:1-14)
A. Greetings (1:1-2)
B. Thanksgiving (1:3-11)
II. Paul’s Defense (1:12-7:16)
A. His changed travel plans (1:12-2:13)
B. His apostolic ministry (2:14-5:15)
1. His sufficiency for ministry (2:14-3:6a)
2. His ministry of the gospel cf. Moses’ ministry of the Law (3:6b-18)
3. His message cf. the message of his opponents (4:1-12)
4. His motivation (4:13-5:15)
C. A plea for reconciliation (5:16-7:4)
D. The long-awaited response to his earlier letter (7:5-16)
III. The collection for the poor Jerusalem saints (8:1-9:15)
IV. Paul’s polemic against his opponents (10:1-13:14)
A. His response to criticisms (10:1-11)
B. The false “apostles” exposed (11:1-15)
C. Paul’s “fools” speech (11:16-12:13)
V. Paul’s third visit (12:14-13:5)
VI. Closing remarks (13:5-14)
This is a brief structural outline. For my own purposes I add many more subdivisions of the text, but this is sufficient to show you the process.
III. Sermon Outlines
Title: Learning from Jesus – Confessing Jesus’ Identity (Matt. 16:13-23)
Subject: Who Is Jesus?
Theme: When we know Jesus, we must be prepared to confess who he is and what he has done.
Point I. Jesus asks a question about his identity (16:13-20)
1. “Who do people say that I am?” (13-14)
2. “Who do you say that I am?” (15-20)
a) Peter’s great confession about Christ (16)
b) Jesus’ great revelation about the church (17-20)
Point II. Jesus prophesies about his sufferings (16:21-23)
1. Peter’s rebuke of Jesus (22)
2. Jesus’ rebuke of Peter (23)
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