2 Corinthians 11

Chapter eleven continues Paul’s defense of himself to the Corinthian believers. Many of them had been on the verge of rejecting him, but his previous letter brought them back a little. Now he wanted to stop their retreat once-and-for-all. This chapter contains some of the harshest words we have recorded from Paul’s hand toward believers or unbelievers (other examples include 1 Corinthians 3:1-3; 5:1-5; 11:17-18; Galatians 3:1-5; 5:12; Philippians 3:2; 1 Timothy 1:20). Reminiscent of a courtroom, at this point in his self-defense he presented four accusations against his prosecutors.

First, he accused the Corinthian believers of embracing anyone and anything except Paul and his message (2 Corinthians 11:1-4), including those who would abuse them (2 Corinthians 11:16-21). Second, he accused them of scorning him because of his gentle demeanor and graciousness (2 Corinthians 11:5-6). Third, he accused both the Corinthians and the false teachers of dismissing his service for Christ, including taking support from other churches instead of Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:7-9) and experiencing great suffering for his ministry (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). Fourth, he accused his critics of being agents of Satan who were working undercover, only pretending to be apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).

Although this was harsh and even full of sarcasm and contempt for those against him, Paul made sure to show his love and concern for the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:1-3, 9-11). This was not as much an attack on them as it was their sinful actions and those who led them astray. However, even at this Paul still had the court’s attention, and he was not done yet.

Acts 15

Chapter fifteen introduces the first major theological issue the early Church faced. About A.D. 50 (17 years after Acts 2), as the church at Antioch continued to grow with no sign of slowing down, some of the Jewish believers felt it necessary to “correct” an issue about which they had some concern. Specifically, the Gentiles were not being circumcised “ACCORDING TO THE CUSTOM OF MOSES” (Acts 15:1). In Exodus 12:48, circumcision was required of Gentiles for them to participate in Passover; spiritually, circumcision made them just like a natural-born Jew.

As Gentiles were being saved, many Jewish believers thought that they were essentially joining their Jewish Church, which required becoming a Jew (Acts 15:1-5). 1 To sort this out, Antioch sent “PAUL AND BARNABAS AND SOME OTHERS” to Jerusalem to meet with “BOTH THE APOSTLES AND THE ELDERS…TO DELIBERATE ABOUT THIS MATTER” (Acts 15:6). 2 During the discussion, Peter recounted what had happened to Cornelius (Acts 15:7-11), while Paul and Barnabas shared their ministry among the Gentiles (Acts 15:12). Finally, James spoke, the brother of Jesus and Chief Elder or Lead Pastor of the Jerusalem Church. After reminding the crowd that Gentiles were always part of God’s calling, he concluded that “WE SHOULD NOT CAUSE EXTRA DIFFICULTY FOR THOSE AMONG THE GENTILES WHO ARE TURNING TO GOD” (Acts 15:19). He suggested only that they refrain from a few things that were either blatant sin or that could cause Jews to stumble. So the church sent an official letter back to Antioch via Paul’s team, encouraging the believers and giving the results of their conference (Acts 15:22-35).

The chapter concludes with Paul making preparations for a second missionary tour (Acts 15:36-41). Barnabas wanted to include his nephew John Mark again, but Paul was vehemently against him because the young man had quit on the previous tour. The argument ended with the two apostles splitting ways. Barnabas took John to Cyprus, while Paul invited Silas to join him.

Notes:

  1. This group was probably the source of the Jewish opponents that Paul faced throughout his career, as they followed him around, adding the requirement of circumcision to his message of faith alone.
  2. The mention of elders here, distinct from the apostles, shows that the Seven from Acts 6 were not the only ones the apostles had placed into leadership in the Church. It is significant that they appointed “elders” to lead, not additional or new “apostles.” Thus, even this early, we see the two-fold distinction of elders and deacons that Paul taught further in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and mentioned in Philippians 1:1.

1 Thessalonians 4

Chapters four and five each divide into two sections. As Paul began to wrap up his letter, he shifted from reminiscing and loving to instruction and commands. He addressed four areas in these final two chapters: practical Christian living, the Rapture of the Church, the Day of the Lord, and congregational living.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, Paul focused on some very practical, in-your-face teaching about how to live a Christian life. He said he had told them that certain things were necessary to live in a way pleasing to God, urging them to follow through with what he had taught them even more than they were already doing. The first area was their sanctification 1, especially in reference to sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). He gave them both a negative and positive command to help them live properly: stay away from it and get control of their bodies. The second area was their brotherly love (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10). He had already praised them for how well they were doing it, so he simply praised them again followed by an encouragement to keep it up and do even more.

The third area had to do with their relation to the unbelieving world around them, and it had three parts to it (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). First, they were “to aspire to lead a quiet life.” Christians should not be the ones causing trouble, starting arguments, or making a public spectacle (Romans 12:18). Second, Paul told them to “attend to your own business.” The opposite of this would be a busybody. While leading a quiet life, we are to keep busy in Christian service. Third, Paul commanded them to “work with your hands.” Second Thessalonians 3:10-12 explains this further. Apparently, some had quit their jobs and were relying on personal charity and the congregation to support them, as they waited for Jesus’ soon return. Paul said, “Get a job and stop mooching!” Paul’s reason for these specific commands was that unbelievers are watching. Immoral, busybodies, moochers, and troublemakers hurt our cause. Unbelievers do not like them any more than other Christians do, and they especially do not like it when they are doing these things while talking about Jesus.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul addressed a serious concern from his friends. He had apparently taught them that Jesus would return before the day of the Lord (see 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2). However, some of the congregation had died in the intervening months, and the survivors were genuinely concerned their loved ones would miss Jesus’ coming. Since the details about the Rapture were new to them, it is conceivable that they were the first ones to ever hear this revelation (1 Thessalonians 4:15). 2

Paul told them that they had no reason to grieve as if there were no hope, because Jesus’ return is the substance of our confident hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3; cf. Titus 2:13). In fact, rather than missing out on the event, Paul insisted that “those who are asleep through Jesus” (literally) will come back with him. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, death itself has changed (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

The Rapture event actually includes five parts, only one of which is the actual “rapture.” 3 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 reveal that there will be an announcement, Jesus’ arrival into the clouds, the resurrection of dead saints, the rapture of living saints, and the eternal presence of the Savior. The last part was Paul’s emphasis. Rather than just “going to heaven,” whenever he thought of eternity, he could think of only one thing: being with Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-23). This is why he commanded his readers to “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). 4

Notes:

  1. The key word of verses 3-8 is “holy.” It appears in some form four times in these six verses. In Paul’s letters, “sanctification” means “to set apart as holy.”
  2. Paul continued to receive new revelation from God throughout the course of his ministry. Some of this was probably for specific ministry but much of it was recorded in the Scriptures for our instruction and benefit as well as the original readers’.
  3. The word “rapture” means “to catch or seize” and comes from the Latin word behind “will be caught up” in verse seventeen. (The Greek word that Paul used, ἁρπάζω, harpazo, means the same as the Latin word.)
  4. The Rapture of the Church is such an important truth that some believe it should form the foundation for all Christian counseling.