Wednesday, November 29, 2017

PREACHING: Style or Substance?

Sophistry was popular in Paul's day, and, in Corinth, it had infiltrated the church. Preachers focused on manipulating people through style without substance, superficiality, and self-promotion. Persuasion was the purpose of rhetoric, and these oratorically skilled preachers were highly successful persuaders. They ridiculed Paul because he did not employ the techniques and styles that were successful in the world. Paul, too, sought to persuade people (2 Corinthians 5:11) but he did not place emphasis on the showy skills of the sophists. He tried to persuade people in the fear of the Lord. Paul used rhetoric carefully and ethically.

We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, so that you will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart (2 Corinthians 5:12).

The sophists of Paul's day practiced four kinds of rhetoric. Epideictic rhetoric honored rulers with flowery words. Deliberative rhetoric used arguments to persuade people in a public assembly. Forensic rhetoric defended people in court settings. Declamation or ornamental rhetoric emphasized form over substance, eloquence over content (Witherington, Conflict & Community, p.392). Paul used mostly deliberative rhetoric - the language of the assembly. He rejected the showiness of sophistic rhetoric commonly used by the preachers traveling through Corinth.

Paul says we are not commending ourselves to you even though he is obviously commending himself to them. He is rejecting the kind of commendation that the sophists used. The word "commending" (συνιστάνομεν) means to present or recommend someone to someone (BAGD, p.790). There is some evidence to suggest that when Paul wants to disapprove of self-commendation, he places the pronoun before the verb as in this case (ἑαυτοὺς συνιστάνομεν cf. 2 Corinthians 10:12). When Paul wants to approve of self-commendation, he places the pronoun after the verb (συνίσταντες ἑαυτοὺς, cf. 2 Corinthians 6:4). Paul seems to make a distinction between good and bad self-commendation in this way (Witherington, Conflict & Community, p.393, fn.5).

Paul's goal in good self-commendation is to give the Christians an "occasion" (ἀφορμὴν) or opportunity for "boasting" (καυχήματος) about him. He would use rhetoric so that others could speak positively about his ministry because such "boasting" was boasting in the Lord, not in Paul. He qualifies the boasting as a way to answer those who boast in appearance, not in heart. The sophistic preachers put their faith in the latest methods and approaches to attracting people, but Paul was more interested in using rhetoric to get to the heart - the content - of the truth.

We don't want to embarrass Christians by how we look, talk and act so we preach in culturally appropriate styles. Whether we preach in jeans and a t-shirt or a three-piece suit is a matter of style, not substance. We use the style that fits the cultural context to give people a reason to be positive about our message. However, these are all matters of appearance (προσώπῳ), literally the "face" of the matter (BAGD, p.720). Styles are external. By themselves, they are all show but no substance. Styles and methods are not "heart" (καρδίᾳ) issues. Matters of the heart are matters of substance. We must not compromise content to achieve persuasion. Such persuasion is manipulative and deceitful. Emphasizing style over substance to reach people may be popular but leads to a superficial faith.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


Fear is highly persuasive as long as we can see an effective solution. Fear boomerangs when fright outweighs the credibility of the solution. Healthy fear sees God as the holy solution. The "fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," the psalmist wrote (Psalm 111:10, cf. Prov. 1:7). Paul, too, knew the fear that moves our minds to know God and our wills to serve Him. "Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are revealed to God" (2 Corinthians 5:11).

"Therefore" (οὖν) points us back to verse 10 where Paul spoke of standing before the Judgment Seat of Christ to give an account of his life. We will stand exposed, stripped naked, before the eyes of Jesus on that day. Our thoughts, actions, and motives will be revealed to us by the one who loves us more than anyone. We will know and be known. The fear of His piercing vision drives us to serve Him. The fear (τὸν φόβον) is not the terror of damnation but the reverence of love (BAGD, p.864). We will not go to hell because of His grace, but we will face His judgment because of His holiness. We fear the Lord (τοῦ κυρίου). This is an objective genitive (Robertson, Grammar, p.500). The person of Christ is the focus of our fear.

"Knowing" (Εἰδότες) the fear of facing Jesus we persuade men. The perfect participle is used of completed action that results in a state of existence contemporaneous with the time of the main verb (Burton, Moods and Tenses, p.71). The main verb, to persuade (πείθομεν), is in the present tense, so the state of our knowing is now. We know the fear of the Lord because we have been made known to God. The perfect passive verb (πεφανερώμεθα) means to be revealed or made visible (BAGD, p.852). Already exposed before God, we know the fear of final exposure which drives us to persuade others.

The verb translated "persuade" means to convince or appeal to others (BAGD, p.639). It is a conative present. The persuasion is incomplete. A conative present emphasizes the attempt while leaving the result unknown (MHT, Grammar, 3:63). Living with the knowledge that God will judge us for how we invest our lives, we try to persuade men. We make every attempt to appeal to people. We constantly seek to convince people.

What do we try to persuade others about? What is the objective of our persuasion? Paul leaves the objective unspoken. There are at least a half-dozen options that interpreters have proposed over the years (Meyer, 2 Corinthians, p.523).  Perhaps the most popular interpretation is evangelistic. We are trying to persuade others to become followers of Christ - to become Christians. However, the context is not evangelistic making an evangelistic emphasis suspect. The better understanding is to see the persuasion in terms of Paul's own motivation expressed in verse 9 (Meyer, 2 Corinthians, p.524). Our ambition is to please God, a form of fear, so we seek to persuade others to fear God, and so to please Him.

Motivated by the fear of the Lord we persuade others to fear the Lord.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


Christ's courtroom can be a scary place for Christians. We are safe by the blood of Christ but culpable for our personal actions. Our lives are an open book before His eyes. We will be judged for what we do with what He gives. Paul wrote: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).

We will stand before the dais of justice some day. The word translated "judgment seat" (βήματος) referred to a raised platform where civil authorities sat to hear legal cases (NIDNTT, 2:369). The purpose (ἵνα) of Christ's tribunal for Christians is not to determine entry into heaven but to evaluate our lives on earth. Each one of us individually (ἕκαστος) will be recompensed (κομίσηται) for what we have done. The verb in the middle voice means to "get back" or "recover." In Jesus' parable of the talents, the master wanted to get back what was his with interest (Mt. 25:27). Abraham received his son back after offering him to God (Heb. 11:19). We will get back from Christ what we spend in life (BAGD, p.443).

We will get back the things (τὰ) according to what (πρὸς ἃ) we did. The preposition "according to" (πρὸς) is used in a comparative sense meaning in proportion to our deeds (Moule, Idiom Book, p.53). The word translated "deeds" (ἔπραξεν) is a verb, not a noun. It means to accomplish or do something. The word is never used of divine action in the New Testament and primarily emphasizes negative or neutral human activity (NIDNTT, 3:1157). Paul uses it with a neutral sense in this context since he goes on to say "whether good or bad."

Paul is very clear that he is talking about the things we do "in the body." The prepositional clause is bracketed by the article τὰ and the relative pronoun "what" (ἃ) indicating that our reward is for our bodily actions. The prepositional clause (διὰ τοῦ σώματος) expresses the means or the instrument by which something is done. The preposition (διὰ) identifies the agent that comes between the actor and the result of the action (Robertson, Grammar, p.582). What we do we do by means of the body. We are judged by what we accomplish through our bodies as the instruments of our intentions.

The Christian life is all about investment. We use our bodies to make eternal investments. Some investments are good, but some are bad. We will present to Jesus our investment portfolio when we stand before His dais of justice. Our portfolio will contain good investments and wasted opportunities, and Jesus will evaluate it all on that day. The return we receive is proportional to the amount we invested that has eternal value.

We get back in heaven what we put in on earth!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


We are quick to blame and quick to take credit. We are at the same time critical of others and defensive before our critics. We forget that there is coming a day when God will expose everything done or thought by Christians. All will be laid bare, the blame and the credit. Even our inner motives will be revealed on that day. Paul wrote, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:10).

"We must" translates the verb "it is necessary" (δεῖ). The verb denotes compulsion of any kind but particularly emphasizes a sense of divine destiny (BAGD, p.172). We are destined to appear before the judgment seat of Christ. There are no exceptions. It is necessary for all of us (τοὺς πάντας ἡμᾶς) to face Christ's evaluation. The grammatical construction treats individuals as part of the whole (Blass/Debrunner, Grammar, p.144). Each Christian faces judgment as part of the whole church being judged.

The verb translated "appear" (φανερωθῆναι) is a passive infinitive related to the word for shining light (φαίνω) which can be translated "to appear" in the passive voice (TDNTT, 3:320, BAGD, p.851). John calls us to abide in Christ so that "when He appears" (φανερωθῇ) we will have the confidence to face Him (1 John 2:28). However, φανερόω, as opposed to φαίνω, means to reveal or show someone or something more than simply appear (BAGD, p. 852-853). A few verses earlier, John used the word to describe unbelievers who had been part of the church but who left the church. John says that by leaving the church "it would be shown (revealed) that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19). Unbelievers show their true colors when they leave the church.

Paul uses the passive voice in 2 Corinthians 5:10. We are destined to be revealed by God before the judgment seat of Christ (R&R, p.467). Paul uses φανερόω 9 times in 2 Corinthians and 3 times in 2 Corinthians 5:10-11. He uses the passive voice all 3 times teaching us that God does the revealing before the judgment seat of Christ. Paul later expresses that his intention in writing to the Corinthians so harshly was to seek for God to reveal to them their own zeal for Paul (2 Cor. 7:12). Sometimes God reveals us to ourselves. We don't merely appear before the judgment seat, but God shows us to be who we are at the judgment seat (TDNTT, 3:322).

We will be stripped naked before Christ at His judgment. All our hidden sins, our hypocrisies of thought and action that we conceal so well from others will be laid bare before us as we stand before the Lord. His eyes will penetrate to our deepest secrets and rip away the respectable masks we so carefully construct for ourselves in this life. We will see ourselves for who we really are both the good and the bad. God will expose both the "hypocritical and the hypercritical" on that day of His refining fire (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.180).

"Therefore, do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light (φωτίσει) the things hidden in the darkness and disclose (φανερώσει) the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God" (1 Corinthians 4:5).

Don't be quick to blame or take credit. Wait for the great reveal!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


I saw a cartoon recently that pictured three fish bowls in a line, each one bigger than the previous one. The first bowl contained numerous gold fish. One gold fish jumped from the first bowl into the bigger second and then into the third and largest bowl. The caption read, "When your ambition is big then your efforts should be even bigger." If you form a word cluster around the word "ambition," you will see words like drive, determination, aspiration, zeal, desire, goal, purpose, dream, and success. Ambition drives success in our world. We thrive on ambition.

Why then does ambition get a bad reputation among Christians? Why do we think it unspiritual to have ambitions? One reason, of course, is that worldly ambition is selfish. We cannot thrive spiritually if we are driven by selfish ambition. Godly ambition, however, is necessary for personal success as a Christian. Without ambition, we accomplish nothing for Christ. Spiritual ambition drives our desires and guides our determination in life. Paul writes; Therefore, we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him (2 Cor. 5:9, NASB).

Paul begins with the connective "therefore" (διὸ). He is summarizing a logical conclusion which can be translated "and so" (Moule, Idiom Book, p.164). And so we aspire (φιλοτιμούμεθα) to please Him. The verb is a compound word meaning to love (φίλος) honor (τιμάω) which is close to how we use ambitious today. It can mean to devote ourselves zealously to a cause (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.178, fn. 54). It is a progressive present tense deponent verb indicating that we do the action continuously.

Our aspiration is true whether we are "at home" (ἐνδημοῦντες) or "absent" (ἐκδημοῦντες). We have seen these two words before in this passage (vs.6, 8). What does it mean to be at home or to be absent? Some understand it to mean whether we are at home in the body (alive on earth) or we absent from the body (naked in the intermediate state) we are to aspire to please Jesus (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, 178-179). Does this mean that we must strive in our bodiless, intermediate state after death to please Christ? Obviously, this cannot be true as Hughes quickly explains. The next verse (v.10) states that we are judged only for what we do "in the body" (σώματος).

It is better to read the phrases contextually. Whether we are at home with the Lord (v.8) or absent from the Lord (v.6) our one ambition is to please Him. If we are home with the Lord, we cannot do otherwise. We will please Him because there is no way to displease Him when we are at home with Him (Martin, 2 Corinthians, p.113). For now, we are absent from the Lord (v.6), so our one desire is to please Him now as we await His return.

The purpose of our ambition is to be pleasing to Him. The verb "to be" (εἶναι) is a purpose infinitive (Burton, Moods and Tenses, p.146). The verb means to exist or to live (BAGD, p.223). "Pleasing" (εὐάρεστοι) means to be acceptable particularly to God (Romans 12:2). Paul uses it in Titus 2:9 of slaves giving satisfaction to their masters (BAGD, p.318). Our personal ambition both now and for eternity is to bring satisfaction to Christ. We live to please Him.

An ambition to please Christ means:

  • a zeal to accomplish His mission in this world
  • a drive to use our gifts for His church
  • a passion to invest our energy for His purpose
  • a determination to be successful in His ministry
How ambitious are you? How ambitious am I?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Living in our physical bodies is like living in a foreign country far from home. We think we are at home in these bodies, but we long for our eternal, heavenly bodies whenever we suffer demoralizing pain and sickness. We instinctively know as Christians we were made for heaven and expect that God will transport us there one day, reconfiguring our bodies into forms fit for the new world. Being always confident (2 Cor. 5:6), we are confident (2 Cor. 5:8) that one day we will be at home with Jesus. The participle "being confident" (θαρροῦντες) introduces a break in the sentence, and the thought is picked up again in verse 8 with the main verb "we are confident" (θαρροῦμεν).

The intervening thought is introduced by "and knowing that" (καὶ εἰδότες ὅτι). The conjunction (καὶ) should not be understood as causal - because we know a truth. Paul introduces an additional thought as a parenthesis.  The additional thought is not the cause of our confidence. It explains our current status in life more fully. Our confidence is not based on our current status in life. We are always (πάντοτε) confident no matter our circumstances. The additional thought explains our circumstances.

"While we are home in the body we are absent from the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:6). The play on words is clearer and more vivid in the Greek text. We "are at home" translates ἐνδημοῦντες and "are absent" translates ἐκδημοῦμεν. The second word means to leave one's country or to be away from home in a foreign land (BAGD, p.238). The temporal participle, "while we are at home in the body," explains our current circumstances. We live in these bodies but living in our bodies means that we are far away from home with the Lord. We are immigrants in this life. Our true home is with Jesus.

Paul goes on to explain how we can have communion with Jesus even though we are immigrants in a foreign land. We are far away from Jesus in one sense, but we still know His presence in another because (γὰρ) "by faith we are walking, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7). We are walking (περιπατοῦμεν) is a present tense verb indicating the current, ongoing life we live. "By faith (δὶα πίστεως) and "by sight" (δὶα είδους) are on opposite ends of the sentence for contrasting emphasis. The preposition (δὶα) with the genitive indicates "by means of" (Moule, Idiom Book, p.56). Faith and sight are opposite ways of living as immigrants in a strange land.

The noun translated "sight" has both an active and a passive meaning. The passive meaning refers to form or outward appearance. The active meaning is seeing or sight (BAGD, p.221). Some understand the verse using a passive meaning. We are not walking by what is seen (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.176) in this life but by faith in Him. Living by the way things appear to be is not living by faith. Others argue for an active sense of the word. We are not walking by what we can see because we cannot see Jesus. We are living in a foreign land, and He is invisible to us.  We walk by faith that He is with us even though we cannot see Him now (Martin, 2 Corinthians, p.111). The active sense is probably better because it forms a more vivid contrast to walking by faith.

We live in our bodies like an immigrant who has left his loved one in a foreign country. The immigrant cannot see the one he loves, but he works hard to see her again one day. We cannot see Jesus, but we work hard for the day when we shall see Him again. Believing not seeing is the only way to live in our declining and decaying bodies.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Christians do not look forward to death. We look forward to life. Death is plan "B" for the Christian, not plan "A." Plan "A" is to be alive when Christ returns so we can be transformed directly into our resurrection bodies without the stripping that we experience in death. Death strips the body from the soul leaving us naked until the coming of Christ when we receive our resurrection bodies. Paul writes, while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life (2 Cor. 5:4).

We are groaning in these earthly bodies as people who are weighed down (βαρούμενοι) by a depressing thought (R&R, Linguistic Key, p.466). We know that death is coming for all of us unless Jesus comes back first. What we will experience in death is the cause of our mental burden. The next clause begins with a causal connection (ἐφ᾿ ᾡ) explaining the reason for the depressing weight we carry in life (Turner, Grammar, 3:272). We want to be clothed (ἐπενδύσασθαι) with a new body not stripped (ἐκδύσασθαι) of the old body and left naked until the resurrection (2 Cor. 5:3). We don't want to die and live in a bodiless state. God never designed the soul to be separate from the body as Greek philosophy, and later Gnosticism promoted. God created the soul and body as one whole being in perfect unity. Sin brought the curse of death which is the separation of the soul from the body.

We want to be clothed so that the mortal will be swallowed up by the life. Mortal (θνητὸν) means that which is subject to death (BAGD, p.362). Our bodies, not our souls, are subject to physical death. Paul uses the euphemism of a "tent" (σκήνει) to describe our bodies because a tent is a temporary form of housing. Our bodies will be swallowed up by life at the resurrection. The verb translated "swallowed up" (καταποθῇ) is a picturesque term. The compound verb comes from the preposition κατά meaning "down" and the verb πίνω meaning "to drink." The compound verb means to "drink down" or "swallow" (BAGD, p.416).

The word was also used of waves of water overwhelming someone. The Septuagint uses the word to describe how God drowned the Egyptians in the Red Sea (Exodus 15:4). Life drinks down that which is subject to death. Our mortal bodies are absorbed into life when Christ comes back (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.170). The same verb is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:54 when he writes that "death is drowned (swallowed up) in victory."

Our mortal bodies are swallowed by the life. The preposition (ὑπὸ) with a genitive object and a passive verb as in this case denotes the agent that does the swallowing, not the instrument by which we are swallowed (Blass/Debrunner, Grammar, p.122). The swallower of death is the life (τῆς ζωῆς). Normally the definite article is not used with abstract nouns like "life" (Blass/Debrunner, p.134) so the question is why is the article used in this case? The definite article is used with nouns designating persons (Blass/Debrunner, p.133) so "the life" is a substitute for a person, not an abstract noun. Jesus is "the life" (John 14:6) so Jesus, as the life, swallows up our mortal bodies when He returns for us (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.170, fn35).

We want to be alive when Christ comes back so we can be drowned by life in Him. When Christ comes back, He immerses us in the tsunami of His life. Jesus, who is life itself, swallows us, who are subject to death, alive, so we never taste the curse of death.