Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com. In this week’s Sunday School Lesson we see the Apostle Paul exhort the Corinthians to self-examination through his own faith that is tested. Paul has had about enough. This isn’t the first time he’s written to the Corinthians, it isn’t the second time he’s written and these Corinthians are seriously trying his patience. At this point, Paul is likely frustrated. He has had to deal with false accusations, he has had to deal with false theology, and he’s had to deal with personal attacks against him. He’s had to deal with people questioning whether he’s really an apostle. And he’s had to deal with sexual immorality with this church in Corinth. Paul begins this letter to the Corinthians with a harsh warning and if they don’t get it together, he will be forced to show them what his authority as an apostle can really do. Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms:
The second letter of Paul to the Corinthians may not be his second letter after all. It could be his third or even more depending on whether 2 Corinthians is really a combination of other letters. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that “Paul alludes in 1 Corinthians 5:9 to another letter he has already written to Corinth, so the “First Letter to the Corinthians” is not really the first”. That’s significant because we generally understand the First Letter to the Corinthians in a different context than what we call the Second Letter to the Corinthians. The NISB notes “what we call 2 Corinthians mentions another lost letter (2 Cor. 2:3; 7:8-12) and perhaps fragments of (at Least) two other letters or more.” So the point is, not only did Paul organize the Church at Corinth, he has also been in regular contact with the church to guide them in the ways of God. As Paul writes the letter we call 2 Corinthians, he has already had some significant history and conversations with them. This isn’t the first time he has written, it isn’t the second time he’s written and it is likely at least the fourth. So at this point, Paul is likely frustrated. He has had to deal with false accusations, he has had to deal with false theology, and he’s had to deal with personal attacks against him. He’s had to deal with people questioned whether he’s really an apostle. And he’s had to deal with sexual immorality with this church in Corinth. The NISB notes that this is Paul’s third-longest letter and while the First letter deals with pastoral issues, here the honeymoon is definitely over and all the problems of a long-term relationship are evident.” The Corinthians complain that “his letters are strong, but his appearance is unimpressive and his speech is definitely a loser (10:10).” In this letter Paul deals with his theology of weakness as he explains that Jesus Christ was weak in crucifixion but raised in strength by the power of God. 2 Corinthians 12:9 reminds us “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Also significant in this letter is Paul’s defense of his credentials as an Apostle of Jesus Christ and the defense of his ministry. The NISB notes that “Paul’s credibility at Corinth was at an all-time low. In response he writes a letter of “tough love”, which Titus carried to them”. There was conflict and dissention in the church at Corinth. Dr. Guy Nave writes in True To Our Native Land An African American New Testament Commentary that “many Christians have a tendency to romanticize the world of the New Testament as though it represented a community of complete harmony with no bickering, or disagreeing over issues of race, gender, class, or sexual orientation”. He goes on to explain that no such harmony ever existed. In fact, many of the issues people notice and complain about in today’s church existed in the first century church. Dr. Guy Nave writes “Members of the congregation not only disagreed with Paul but also questioned his authority and credibility”. In Paul’s first letter he addressed a report of divisions among the Corinthians, a report of fornication and how it should be handled, and then varying thoughts on marriage, worship of idols, and the collection for Jerusalem. Paul writes this second letter to the Corinthians (although Nelson’s explains this as his fourth letter to them) “in order to recount his former anxiety and to express his joy over the reform in Corinth” (Nelson’s).
In this thirteenth chapter we see an Apostle Paul who is harsh. He plainly warns the Corinthians in hopes of using his authority to build up the Corinthians when he arrives and not to tear them down. Dr. Nave writes “A true indicator of strength is one’s ability and willingness to labor, struggle, and even suffer not merely for one’s own personal well-being but also for the well-being of those in need”. Across the years Paul had suffered for the cause of Christ and it was Paul who organized this church. At this point, it is Paul’s hope that the Corinthians will recognize that the Christ Paul introduced to them, is the Christ who lives in Paul and among them. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to self-examination all while demonstrating faith that is tested. Some important words to consider from this text include:
Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week
Last week’s lesson was taken from the seventh chapter of Luke. The lesson opened at verse thirty-seven describing a woman in the city who was a sinner. Verse thirty-seven specified that it wasn’t until she knew that Jesus was eating in the Pharisee’s house that she then brought an alabaster jar of ointment. I highlighted that Jesus was eating with a Pharisee and Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms define Pharisee as a “Jewish party during Jesus’ time that obeyed the written law of Moses and its unwritten interpretations, known as the tradition of the elders (Mark 7:3). They focused on holiness (Lev 19:2). Some were hostile (John 7:32), others were helpful to Jesus (Luke 13:31). I also highlighted that I often hear people use the term Pharisee as a pejorative. In other words they look down on Pharisees in a negative way based on the Pharisee’s interactions with Jesus leading up to his crucifixion on the cross and several other places in scripture. I noted that I wanted to caution us about using the word Pharisee in a negative way. We shouldn’t say things like “that person is a Pharisee” in a negative way because there are a number of Jewish and Christian scholars who identify Jesus as a Pharisee. Even though Pharisee’s are portrayed in a negative way in several scriptures we should be careful about using the term in a negative way. In other words if Jesus was a Pharisee, maybe we shouldn’t call people a Pharisee or look down on Pharisee’s in a completely negative way. Secondly, I highlighted that the jar of perfume was expensive. This woman who was identified as a sinner entered the Pharisee’s house without an invitation and brought an expensive jar of perfume because she was intent on blessing Jesus. She wasn’t invited, but she was going in anyway.
I noted in verse thirty-eight how the unnamed woman wept at Jesus’ feet. She wept enough to wash his feet with her tears. And then she dried his feet with her hair. And then she kissed his feet with her lips. And then she anointed his feet with her expensive perfume. She cried enough to wash his feet, and I added that she just cried her heart out. She was broken hearted. But more importantly, I noted that she cried because she knew who Jesus was. She knew Jesus was the Messiah. She knew Jesus could heal her broken heart. And I believe she cried because Jesus knew who she was. Jesus knew her heart. Jesus knew that she was a sinner. But you didn’t see Jesus condemning her. I reminded us of Psalm 51:17 that “the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” That’s how this woman came to Jesus. She came with a broken and contrite heart.
Verse thirty-nine gave us an example of why Pharisee’s have a bad reputation. Simon the Pharisee questioned whether Jesus was a prophet based on the fact that Jesus let this weeping, broken hearted, contrite, woman touch him. Notice also that Simon “said to himself”. He didn’t confront Jesus directly with his doubts. Instead, he thinks these thoughts but Jesus knew what he was thinking. Jesus didn’t judge the woman, but clearly Simon the Pharisee did.
In verse forty, Jesus knowing the Pharisee’s thoughts said “Simon, I have something to say to you”. Simon called Jesus “Teacher” and told him to say on. I noted that at this point you knew the “Teacher” was about to take the Pharisee to school.
In verses forty-one and forty-two Jesus began a parable explaining how a creditor had two debtors, one owing 500 denarii and the other owing 50. When neither could repay the debt the creditor forgave them both. Jesus then asked Simon the Pharisee “which of them will love the creditor the most”.
In verse forty three Simon the judgmental Pharisee said I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt. Jesus responded with you have judged rightly. I noted that if Simon hadn’t gotten the point before, at this point it should be crystal clear by now. This woman was a known sinner. She knew her sins. She knew what she had done and she knew what she had not done. She owned it. She didn’t place the blame on anybody else. It was hers and she was sorry for her sins.
I noted that in verses forty-four, forty-five, and forty-six class was in full session. Jesus, this Rabbi, this Teacher was driving the point home. He turned to the woman and told Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came to YOUR house and you didn’t give me water to wash my feet but she bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. I came to YOUR house but you didn’t give me a kiss and yet here she is kissing my feet since I’ve been here. I came to YOUR house and you didn’t anoint my head with oil but she has anointed my feet with ointment. If Simon wasn’t embarrassed, he should have been. Hospitality was important to the Jewish people and a Pharisee should have and would have known that. This sinner woman showed more hospitality in the Pharisee’s house than the Pharisee did in his own house.
In verses forty-seven and forty-eight Jesus tells Simon that even though her sins are many she has been forgiven because she has shown great love. He then turns to the woman and plainly tells her “your sins are forgiven”. I noted that I could only imagine the great joy this broken hearted and contrite woman must have felt to hear the words of Jesus’ forgiveness. After all she had been through, after all she had done and failed to do, Jesus sees her and forgives her. What does not get mentioned in the text is whether the Pharisee sought his own forgiveness.
Last week a woman who was a sinner found the healing and forgiveness she needed in Jesus Christ. Her demonstrated love is profound in ways that are hard for me to comprehend. This week the Apostle Paul responds to the Corinthians with a harsh warning in hopes they will understand his position of authority even in his weakness. Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson “Self-Examination”. Standard Commentary titles this week’s lesson “Faith That is Tested”. The scripture text comes from 2 Corinthians 13:1-11.
What Takes Place in This Passage
The lesson opens at verse one with Paul noting this as the third time he is coming to the Corinthians. He then quotes the law concerning witnesses, found in Deuteronomy 19:15 which says “A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained.” So perhaps Paul is telling them this is the third time he is coming and this will be the third witness to establish guilt if necessary. Just a few verses earlier in chapter twelve Paul said “he feared that perhaps there may be quarrelling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder there”. Paul is concerned. That’s a pretty long list of things to be concerned about and it seems that the church in Corinth has some of all of it.
In verse two Paul gets to the point. He has previously warned those who sinned and all the others and now he was warning them again. This isn’t the first time he has warned them. In fact, this isn’t the second time he has warned them. So this time he is clear – “If I come again, I will not be lenient. My wife and I have five daughters. There have been many times we’ve said “don’t make me come in there!” Verse two is the equivalent of Paul saying the same thing. Paul is telling them, if he has to come again it won’t be nice.
Paul continues in verse three seemingly in the same breath to say “since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me. Paul’s warning here reminds me that I recently heard someone tell a young person “you don’t believe cow horns will hook”. Paul has had about enough. He has been disrespected, he has been criticized and he has been insulted. Someone is demanding proof that Christ is speaking in him. Keep in mind that it was Paul who organized this church in the first place and now someone wants PROOF that Christ is speaking in him. His warning is so that “cow horns won’t have to hook” when he get there. Verse three also deals again with Paul’s theology of weakness. Just as Jesus Christ was crucified in weakness Jesus was raised in power and strength.
In verse four he continues with explaining his theology of weakness. Just as Jesus was crucified but lives in power, so too, Paul is weak but in dealing with the Corinthians will be strong by the power of God.
In verse five Paul exhorts the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith. In verse two, someone wanted proof from Paul that he was in the faith. In verse five Paul turns the question back on them and tells them to examine themselves! He continues – “Do you not realize that Christ is in you unless you fail to meet the test!” Paul isn’t questioning their salvation. He is pointing out the obvious – that Christ is in them and it should likewise be obvious that Paul is speaking for Christ. Note also that the King James Version used the word reprobate. Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms define reprobate as “Those who are passed over in their sinfulness by God and do not receive salvation. In medieval theology they are those of whom it is foreknown that they will not accept divine grace and will therefore die in a state of sin.” Paul is telling them they need to be concerned about their own salvation rather than trying to examine his worthiness.
In verse six Paul tells the Corinthians that he hopes they will find out that we have not failed. In Paul’s mind, if they have failed he has failed. Paul is their apostle and as such he is responsible for them. Conversely, if they are found in good standing so is Paul.
In verse seven Paul continues with his hopes that they will not do anything wrong. He doesn’t want them to do something wrong just so he can prove his power in God. He wants them to do right so he doesn’t have to use his power in God.
In verse eight Paul acknowledges that he (and they) can’t do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. Paul wants them to know that the truth is Jesus Christ appeared to be weak but arose in strength and power. And just as Jesus arose in power, Paul has the authority to use the power given to him by God as their Apostle.
In verse nine he declares “we rejoice when we are weak and you are strong.” In other words, he rejoices that he may be seen as weak as long as they are strong in the faith. In fact, he says this is what we pray for, so that you may become perfect. It is Paul’s hope that they will become fully restored. Where there has been dissension, confusion, and rejection Paul prays for a full and complete restoration to the fullness and wholeness of one another in Christ.
In verse ten Paul reminds them that he writes these harsh words now so that when he arrives in person he will not have to use his authority for tearing them down but to build them up.
Verse eleven closes this lesson with Paul’s farewell. He reminds them to put things in order, to listen to what he’s told them, to agree with one another, and to live in peace. These final verses of this chapter and letter end in a much different way than how this chapter began. It began harsh. It closes in a different tone.
Don’t confuse meekness with weakness. The meek shall inherit the earth. The difference between the two is that meek people can do something but choose not to whereas weak people are not capable of doing a thing. In this lesson Paul demonstrates meekness in a faith that is tested. In this lesson Paul’s faith is tested in a people that had abused his niceness. The Corinthians faith is tested as they are exhorted to self-examination. As it turns out Paul’s meekness is not at all weakness and Paul hopes and prays for the sake of the Corinthians that he does not have to show his strength.
Key Characters in the text
Paul – Formerly a leading persecutor of Christians from Tarsus who became the Christian Apostle to the Gentiles (Townsend).
Apostle – One sent to act on the authority of another. Refers to the earliest, closest followers of Jesus (Matthew 10:2-4)
Reprobate – Those who are passed over in their sinfulness by God and do not receive salvation. In medieval theology they are those of whom it is foreknown that they will not accept divine grace and will therefore die in a state of sin.
Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas
1. Meekness is not weakness.
2. Cow horns still hook.
1. In this warning to the Corinthians Paul hopes that he will not have to be harsh when he arrives in person. Do church leaders have this authority today?
2. An Apostle is defined as one who is sent to act on the authority of another and generally refers to the earliest closest followers of Jesus. What apostolic authority exists today?
We’ve all had failures and mistakes in life. But this lesson is about leadership and followership. Regardless of whether the Corinthians thought they were right, there is a right way and a wrong way to handle every problem. Paul demonstrated patience wrapped in love toward these Corinthians. But he was prepared to use his authority if necessary. A good leader knows how to properly use authority and good followers know how to properly confront poor leadership.
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson
Next week’s lesson comes from 1 Thessalonians first chapter. Just as the Corinthians in this week’s lesson the church at Thessalonica faced challenges. Unlike the Corinthian’s the Thessalonian’s handled their challenges in a much different way. Next week’s lesson is titled “Be Examples of Faith”.
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