37 episodes

Read the Bible features devotional commentaries from D.A. Carson’s book For the Love of God (vol. 1) that follow the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan. This podcast is designed to be used alongside TGC's Read The Bible initiative (TGC.org/readthebible).

Read The Bible The Gospel Coalition

    • Religion & Spirituality
    • 5.0 • 1 Rating

Read the Bible features devotional commentaries from D.A. Carson’s book For the Love of God (vol. 1) that follow the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan. This podcast is designed to be used alongside TGC's Read The Bible initiative (TGC.org/readthebible).

    2 Samuel 20; 2 Corinthians 13; Ezekiel 27; Psalms 75–76

    2 Samuel 20; 2 Corinthians 13; Ezekiel 27; Psalms 75–76

    In many churches around the world, though comparatively less frequently in North America, the minister at the end of the service will quietly utter the two words, “The grace.” Those gathered know that this is a signal for the entire congregation to pray together, reciting the verse from which these two words are drawn: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14).

    The text is short and simple, and we are in danger of flying by without reflecting on it.

    (1) The triune God is the source of these blessings. That in itself is noteworthy: there was no long delay before Christians like Paul saw the implications of who Jesus is, and the implications of the gift of the Spirit, for their understanding of God himself. The entire Godhead is engaged in this vastly generous salvage operation that takes God’s fallen image-bearers and restores them to fellowship with their Maker.

    (2) In the first two parts, the “grace” is undoubtedly the grace that the Lord Jesus Christ gives or provides, and the “love” is the love that God himself pours out. That makes it overwhelmingly likely that the third clause, “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” does not refer to our fellowship with the Spirit, but to the fellowship that the Holy Spirit bestows, enables, or gives. The Holy Spirit is finally the author of Christian fellowship. We enjoy Christian fellowship with one another because of the Spirit’s work in each of us individually and in all of us corporately, turning our hearts and minds from self-focus and sin to adoration of God and a love of holiness and a delight in Jesus and his Gospel and teachings. Without such transformation, our “fellowship,” our partnership in the Gospel, would be impossible.

    (3) Not for a moment should we imagine that grace comes exclusively from Jesus, love exclusively from God the Father, and fellowship exclusively from the Spirit—as if Jesus could not love or generate fellowship, the Father could not display grace, and so forth. There is a sense in which grace, love, and fellowship come from the triune God. Yet one may usefully connect grace with the Lord Jesus, because his sacrificial, substitutionary death on the cross was offered up out of sheer grace; we may usefully connect love with God, because the entire plan of redemption springs from the wise and loving heart of God, of whom it is said, “God is love” (see 1 John 4:8 and the October 11 meditation); we may usefully connect fellowship with the Holy Spirit, since his is the work of transformation that unites us together in the partnership of the Gospel.

    Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

    2 Samuel 19; 2 Corinthians 12; Ezekiel 26; Psalm 74

    2 Samuel 19; 2 Corinthians 12; Ezekiel 26; Psalm 74

    “I must go on boasting,” Paul writes (2 Cor. 12:1), though of course he has been doing so only in the most ironic way (see yesterday’s meditation and the one for September 21). But now he faces a new dilemma. Apparently his opponents have been boasting about their spiritual experiences. They may even have been saying something like, “Well, of course, Paul had that Damascus Road experience, but that was a long time ago. What has he known of God since then? Yesterday’s grace grows stale.” In this case, of course, Paul cannot simply deploy irony and boast about the opposite of all that his opponents judge important, as he did in chapter 11. For the opposite of having various spiritual experiences is not having them—and in Paul’s case, to deny that he has enjoyed such experiences would not be true. So reluctantly he goes on “to visions and revelations from the Lord” (2 Cor. 12:1). But he cannot bear to talk about himself in this regard, so he retreats to a literary device: he speaks about himself in the third person: “I know a man in Christ,” he writes (2 Cor. 12:2), though clearly he is talking about himself (2 Cor. 12:5–6).

    Even in this case, Paul offers three emphases to turn the focus away from himself and strip any virtue from the habit of boasting.

    First, in his case, he says, the spectacular experiences of heaven he enjoyed fourteen years earlier he was “not permitted to tell” (2 Cor. 12:4). The “third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2) is the abode of God; “paradise” is where God dwells. Some of what he saw was “inexpressible”: people who have not enjoyed such visions do not have the categories to grasp them. More importantly, these visions were meant to strengthen Paul; he was not permitted to talk about them. Hence his silence.

    Second, Paul is afraid people will think too much of him (the opposite of our fears), so as a matter of principle he dislikes talking about inaccessible matters. If he must be judged, he wants to be judged by what he does and says (2 Cor. 12:6), not by claims of visions and revelations that are inaccessible to public scrutiny.

    Third, Paul recognizes that along with the great advantages he has received, God has imposed, through the agency of Satan, a “thorn in [the] flesh” that is not going to be removed, despite his most fervent intercessory prayer (2 Cor. 12:7–10). It was given to keep him from becoming conceited, to keep him “weak,” so that he would learn that God’s strength is perfected in our weakness, and he would therefore never rely on or be puffed up by the extraordinary grace he had received. In this fallen world, it is a mercy that great grace is accompanied by great weakness, as well as the other way around.

    2 Samuel 18; 2 Corinthians 11; Ezekiel 25; Psalm 73

    2 Samuel 18; 2 Corinthians 11; Ezekiel 25; Psalm 73

    In the continuing pressure he felt to respond to those who were undermining his authority in Corinth, Paul finds he must “boast” while not “boasting” (see yesterday’s meditation). In 2 Corinthians 10 Paul climaxes his argument by insisting that the Christian’s only proper boasting is in Christ Jesus: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (2 Cor. 10:17). In 2 Corinthians 11:16–33, he adopts a slightly different slant to get at the same truth.

    What Paul does is take a kind of “time out”: he says he will boast, not as Paul the apostle, not even as Paul the Christian, but rather as Paul the “fool” (2 Cor. 11:16–21). He is frightfully embarrassed to do even this (2 Cor. 11:21b, 23), but he cannot see another way forward. True, he says, he was steeped in Hebrew culture and language from his youth, and he is a “servant of Christ” no less than others—but to talk like this is so painful that he explodes parenthetically, “I am out of my mind to talk like this” (2 Cor. 11:23). And then he inverts all the categories. He “worked much harder”: he means he worked physically, with his hands—something no first-class, self-respecting Hellenistic teacher would do. Further, he says, he has a longer prison record than they do. He has been flogged more often. Five times he has endured the synagogue sanction, the thirty-nine lashes. He has been shipwrecked three times in his voyages for the Gospel (2 Cor. 11:25)—and this was written before the one recorded in Acts 27. Constant danger has bedeviled him in his travels, and he has often been forced to go without food. Worse, he has been betrayed by “false brothers” (2 Cor. 11:26) while facing the perpetual stress of his concern for all the churches (2 Cor. 11:27–28).

    We must not read this with Western Christian eyes as an exciting saga of endurance under pressure. We read Paul’s sufferings and admire his faithfulness and steadfastness, his conformity to the Christ who went to the cross. But his opponents would see all these “boasts” as signs of weakness and even stupidity: he does not even have enough sense to keep himself out of trouble. But Paul is determined to invert human boasting; he will boast about the things that display his weakness (2 Cor. 11:30). Even his last shot runs along these lines (2 Cor. 11:31–33). We tend to see Paul’s escape from Damascus through Luke’s eyes (Acts 9). Paul himself saw his flight as an embarrassing defeat. At a time when the highest Roman military honor went to the soldier of centurion rank or higher who was first over the wall at the end of a siege, Paul avers he was the first down.

    In what ways do you boast of your weaknesses?

    2 Samuel 17; 2 Corinthians 10; Ezekiel 24; Psalm 72

    2 Samuel 17; 2 Corinthians 10; Ezekiel 24; Psalm 72

    There is a great deal of boasting in Western evangelicalism. Some of it is so flagrant that it is repulsive to all serious-minded people. Much of it, however, is subtle and potentially subversive. Probably most of us are guilty of it sometimes.

    On first reading, it sounds as if Paul in 2 Corinthians 10 is also caught up in boasting, a word that recurs in the final four chapters of this book. In fact, the issues raised by this chapter are extraordinarily complex. I can here mention only a few of them.

    (1) The tone of 2 Corinthians 10–13 sets this section off from the rest of the book. It may be that more information about the situation in Corinth has reached Paul. Whatever the case, critics in Corinth are demeaning the apostle on several grounds. They say he is weak and timid in person, while putting on airs of power and authority when he is absent and wielding his pen (2 Cor. 10:1, 10). In an age when “persona” and rhetoric meant a great deal, they say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing” (2 Cor. 10:10). They spend time patting each other on the back in a system of mutual approbation and letters of reference (2 Cor. 10:12). The next chapters reflect even more elements of this barrage of criticism that Paul must endure.

    (2) At the heart of it is a stance toward boasting that is antithetical to all that Paul holds dear. A certain style of self-promotion, of confidence in one’s knowledge and rhetoric, of belonging to the “in” group, conspires to construct a clique of egos. Doubtless some of them were threatened by Paul, but whatever their motives, they made a habit of running him down. This put him in an impossible position. If he said nothing, he was in danger of losing the confidence of the entire church; but if he set forth his credentials as a way of responding to these attacks, he would be falling into exactly the same moral failure that beset his opponents.

    (3) In the initial response to this dilemma, Paul does three things. (a) He carefully distinguishes his standards from “the standards of the world,” his weapons from “the weapons of the world” (2 Cor. 10:2, 4), and warns that on his next trip to Corinth, despite their caricature of his presence, he will be prepared to administer punishment (2 Cor. 10:6). (b) He insists that his exercise of authority has been for their good, not for his own gain or advancement (2 Cor. 10:7–11). (c) He subtly reminds the Corinthians that they are believers because of his ministry (2 Cor. 10:12–16), while insisting that proper Christian boasting is boasting in the Lord (2 Cor. 10:17–18).

    2 Samuel 16; 2 Corinthians 9; Ezekiel 23; Psalms 70–71

    2 Samuel 16; 2 Corinthians 9; Ezekiel 23; Psalms 70–71

    Second Corinthians 9 is the second of two consecutive chapters that Paul devotes to the subject of giving.

    (1) He resumes with a lovely delicacy (2 Cor. 9:1–5). On the one hand, he assures the Corinthians that they do not really need reminders; on the other, he gently reminds them, so that neither he nor they will be embarrassed. After all, just as he used the Macedonians’ example of giving even in the midst of severe trial as an example to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 8:1–3), so he has been using the Corinthians’ generosity and enthusiasm as an example to the Macedonians! He does not want them to be caught short.

    (2) A principle that every farmer knows has a bearing on this matter of giving: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Cor. 9:6). Some argue that this promises a tit-for-tat reciprocity between financial giving and material prosperity. You give three hundred dollars to my ministry, and God will give you at least five hundred (or a thousand, or whatever). Of course, the preachers who say this sort of thing either do not believe it, or do not believe it applies to them, for otherwise they would be rapidly giving away all of their money. But the focus in Paul’s presentation turns on two other points:

    (a) The amount we give is measured less in absolute terms of currency than in the cheerfulness and heart-generosity with which we give (2 Cor. 9:7).

    (b) The return is more comprehensive than mere material prosperity, and far more beneficial: God is able to make us abound in every good work (2 Cor. 9:8), and he will supply and increase our store of seed (continuing the agricultural metaphor) and will enlarge “the harvest of [our] righteousness” (2 Cor. 9:10). God will make us “rich in every way” so that we can be all the more “generous on every occasion” (2 Cor. 9:11). One should reflect on the fact that the “you” to whom such promises are given are the people of God collectively. It does not necessarily follow that each individual in the church is thereby promised to become “rich in every way” and not, say, die early of cancer.

    (3) Paul’s focus, finally, is not on the givers at all. Paul sees in the gifts not only a service that supplies the needs of God’s people but one that overflows “in many expressions of thanks to God” (2 Cor. 9:12), as believers praise him for the obedience of the Corinthians and intercede for them because they recognize in them the “surpassing grace” of God (2 Cor. 9:13–14). For in the final analysis, we are all debtors to God’s “indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).

    2 Samuel 15; 2 Corinthians 8; Ezekiel 22; Psalm 69

    2 Samuel 15; 2 Corinthians 8; Ezekiel 22; Psalm 69

    The longest sustained encouragement in the New Testament to give money is found in 2 Corinthians 8–9. Today I shall reflect on some of the emphases in 2 Corinthians 8.

    (1) Paul encourages the Corinthians to give by referring to the generosity of the Macedonians, who lived in the province to the north and were often viewed by those in Achaia, including the Corinthians, as a slightly inferior breed. Relaying evidence of the grace of God in the lives of some brothers and sisters in Christ can become an incentive to others to conform more closely to Christ.

    (2) Paul stresses that the Macedonians were not only generous in the context of their own “severe trial” (2 Cor. 8:1–3), but that their financial giving was a function of the fact that “they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will” (2 Cor. 8:5). The apostle does not think nearly so much of the kind of gift that is a substitute for giving oneself in principle to the Lord Jesus, and, derivatively, to his servant-leaders.

    (3) There is considerable stress on perseverance and consistency in this matter of giving. Apparently the Corinthians had pledged the year before to give a certain amount. Now Paul sends Titus to encourage them to bring to completion what they began so well. So today: planned, regular, generous giving is better than the big binge that is wrung out of you by one emotional appeal, in part because the former is a better index of a heart consistently devoted to Christ and his work.

    (4) Paul judges that Christian generosity is one of the things in which Christians as a whole should excel—along with such virtues as pure speech, knowledge, complete earnestness, and love for godly leaders (2 Cor. 8:7).

    (5) Paul does not want Christian generosity to be the result of a new legal demand: “I am not commanding you,” he writes (2 Cor. 8:8). The highest possible incentive to be generous, in a self-denying way, is found in the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). For Paul, it is unthinkable that anyone who really delights in knowing this Christ could be stingy.

    (6) Paul wants the Corinthians to know that although this money is going to help other believers (2 Cor. 8:13–14—presumably the poor believers in Judea), this is not to make them rich as Croesus, but to relieve their poverty.

    (7) Paul takes extraordinary pains, even by his choice of the emissaries he sends to transport the money, not only to do what is right in financial matters, but to be seen to be doing what is right (2 Cor. 8:16–24).

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
1 Rating

1 Rating

Top Podcasts In Religion & Spirituality

Joel Osteen
Tim Keller
Ascension
BibleProject
Our Daily Bread Ministries
PastorRick.com

You Might Also Like

The Gospel Coalition
The Gospel Coalition, Collin Hansen
The Gospel Coalition, Nancy Guthrie
Crossway
Paul David Tripp
Desiring God