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In this book of 2 Corinthians we come nearest to the inner feelings of Paul than in any other of his writings. As one writer said, here Paul reveals his “joy and depression, anxiety and hope, trust and resentment, anger and love.”. We see his human qualities. Some writers have suggested that one of the best words to describe 2 Corinthians is that it is a defense. What would Paul have to defend? We’ll find out in this week’s podcast.
You can also find it on any of these platforms by searching for Meridian Magazine-Come Follow Me.
Maurine and Scot Proctor have spent extensive time in the Holy Land, researching the life of Christ. They have taught the New Testament in the Institute program for many years and have written books and numerous articles on the life of the Savior.
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Some writers have suggested that one of the best words to describe 2 Corinthians is that it is a defense. What would Paul have to defend? We’ll find out today.
Hello, and we’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and welcome to Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast. Today’s lesson is “God Loveth a Cheerful Giver” and covers 2 Corinthians 8-13.” We are often asked where you can find the transcript to the podcast, with references and it is at latterdaysaintmag (short for magazine), lattersaintmag.com/podcast. Again that is latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast and if you aren’t familiar with Meridian Magazine, you have a treat in store. Updated every weekday, Meridian has scores of the best Latter-day Saint writers talking about everything from scriptures to movies to dealing with life’s hardest issues. Come and subscribe.
In this book of 2 Corinthians we come nearest to the inner feelings of Paul than in any other of his writings. As one writer said, here Paul reveals his “joy and depression, anxiety and hope, trust and resentment, anger and love.” (see http://www.gospelink.com/library/document/28999). We see his human qualities.
Titus had found Paul in Macedonia in late summer when he returned from Corinth with good news. After Paul wrote them, the schisms and discord that had been dividing the Saints in Corinth were now mostly gone and they were in harmony with Paul again. The cliques around competing ideas had dissolved and they wanted again to regain his confidence and favor.
Dr. Sidney Sperry notes, “Paul determined to write the Corinthians again, for four main reasons: The first was to prepare their hearts for another of his visits, not an immediate one, but one in the not-too-distant future. The second was to express his approbation and appreciation for their penitent conduct and to give them additional counsel. The third was to stir them to action in collecting aid for the Jerusalem saints. And the fourth was his grief and concern with the continued opposition of a stubborn minority who accused him (1) of fickleness and vacillation (2 Cor. 1:15-17), (2) of commending himself when no one else would (2 Cor. 3:1-2), (3) of obscure and veiled meanings in his preaching (2 Cor. 4:2-3), (4) of groveling humility when present, but being full of pride and arrogance when absent (2 Cor. 10:1-2), (5) of a weak and insignificant appearance (2 Cor. 10:10), (6) of acting like a fool, with little sense (2 Cor. 11:1, 16), (7) of being crafty and a deceiver full of guile (2 Cor. 12:16-18), and (8) of being conscious that he was a self-appointed, untimely Apostle (1 Cor. 15:8-9; 2 Cor. 10:12-13).”
On these criticisms leveled at him in 2 Corinthians 10-13, Paul defends himself and his authority. Isn’t it true that one of the most effective tools to discount a message is to smear the messenger? It was true then and it is true now. So that even though things had gotten better in Corinth, in his next letter to them, Paul felt moved to defend himself, his authority and his ministry.
He asks his enemies to spare him the necessity of doing that, and warns them that when he comes, he will be prepared to act with boldness. This is important because his enemies have underestimated his power. His boasting is not like his critics who boast in themselves. Paul glories in the Lord. In fact he shares with them his most personal and sacred vision, but does so as if he is talking about someone else.
2 Corinthians 12
3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
5 Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not aglory, but in mine infirmities.
When he is talking about the third heaven, most Christians won’t understand to what he refers, but with the knowledge of the restored gospel, we know he is talking about a vision of the Celestial Kingdom.”
Then, Paul enumerates his credentials as an Apostle and contrasts himself with false teachers. He comes to them and preaches freely, even at enormous sacrifice to himself.
If you wonder why Paul is talking about himself so much in these chapters, this is why. He has to make clear the difference between false and true teachers.
When the Adversary wants to attack the gospel, he chooses what to him looks like an easy target—the messenger. It is for this reason that Joseph Smith is attacked, or today’s apostles and prophets are criticized. You may hear some people say, for instance, that the apostles are out of touch or have old ideas. The Adversary delights in this talk. It is his way of discrediting the gospel.
Elder Neil L. Andersen said on this topic:
“On his first visit to the Prophet Joseph Smith at age 17, an angel called Joseph by name and told him that he, Moroni, was a messenger sent from the presence of God and that God had a work for him to do. Imagine what Joseph must have thought when the angel then told him that his name would ‘be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues.’ Perhaps the shock in Joseph’s eyes caused Moroni to repeat again that both good and evil would be spoken of him among all people.2
“The good spoken of Joseph Smith came slowly; the evil speaking began immediately. Joseph wrote, ‘How very strange it was that an obscure boy … should be thought … of sufficient importance to attract … the most bitter persecution.’
“While love for Joseph grew, so also did hostility. At the age of 38, he was murdered by a mob of 150 men with painted faces.4 While the Prophet’s life abruptly ended, the good and evil spoken of Joseph was just beginning.
“Should we be surprised with the evil spoken against him? The Apostle Paul was called mad and deranged.5 Our Beloved Savior, the Son of God, was labeled gluttonous, a winebibber, and possessed of a devil.
“The Lord told Joseph of his destiny:
“’The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name, and fools shall have thee in derision, and hell shall rage against thee;
“’While the pure in heart, … the wise, … and the virtuous, shall seek … blessings constantly from under thy hand.’” Elder Neil L. Andersen, “Joseph Smith” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/general-conference/2014/10/joseph-smith?lang=eng
Today evil continues to be spoken of Joseph Smith, just as it was of Paul. When I hear that someone has left the Church because of something they don’t like about Joseph Smith, I often think, you don’t know. You are leaving in ignorance. You don’t know the spiritual power and level of sacrifice and virtue and courage and love that Joseph exhibited in restoring the gospel. But as Paul learned in Corinth, attacking the messenger to attempt to destroy the message has been the constant of history.
Thorn in his side
In these chapters, Paul tells us about a thorn in his side, and though he often besought the Lord to take it from him, the Lord didn’t. He acknowledges his weaknesses as opposed to those false teachers who gloried in themselves.
2 Corinthians 12
7 And lest I should be aexalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a bthorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
People have speculated for centuries about what that thorn might be, since Paul doesn’t tell us directly. Those ideas suggest 1) that it could be a physical malady such as poor eyesight, fevers, or head aches or epilepsy, or that it could be a 2) spiritual anxiety or weakness that plagued him or 3) the enemies of Israel who constantly bite at him. One writer suggested, “It is striking that, after mentioning the ‘thorn,’ Paul then writes of a ‘messenger” or “angel of Satan” who continually “beats’ and buffets him. This echoes his statement in 2 Cor 11:14-15 in which he describes the intruding missionaries as Satan’s ministers.]
We just don’t know. It is true, though, that we have certain thorns in our sides, whether physical or emotional or situational or otherwise, that the Lord does not lift from us. That can be a very great test, especially when we plead and plead for relief. We may even wonder why others may sometimes get relief, but not us. Think of a thorn. It is small, but in your side, it is a constant bother, may even get enflamed and it is hard to think beyond it. The whole world is viewed through the pain of that thorn. We may wonder if God loves us or notices us or cares at all.
Just recently I visited a dear friend of mine who I have known since she was a very little child, Kymmie Eyre Jasperson. She was such a bouncy, curly-haired, red-headed girl who lived directly across the street from me and I deeply loved her and every member of her family. I hadn’t seen her for some decades, and I went to see her because she had just returned from two weeks in the hospital, but for much of her lifetime she has been plagued by three auto-immune diseases, which, have in the last two years ravaged her body and left her bedridden. She no longer has the sight, nor muscle tone to walk much. She has lost many of her teeth and she has become blind in one eye, and can only see splotchy bits of light in the other. This darling child who grew up across the street from me has traveled far from those days of bouncing gladness. As we entered her room, shrouded with black curtains so that no light could enter and pain her eyes, there was something way beyond her bouncing gladness of yesteryear I felt. I felt as if I were entering a temple. Her light and radiance of spirit simply moved me beyond expression. Walking into her room was like entering a holy place of tangible love. While her body has deteriorated as she has been ravaged by disease, her spirit has gone places that I can’t begin to describe.
Tears rolled down all of our faces while we are together, but not tears of sorrow or regret. Tears because we felt the pure illumination of God’s love cascade through our souls as sat together in a darkened room to protect her eyes.
She said, “I feel so blessed. People often ask me why I am not mad at God. It is the most common question that people say to me, and I think, you just don’t know. It is amazing that when you are at your hardest times, that you become receptive to the Spirit. When you are sick you have to really dig down and you have to think of where your testimony lies.
Kymmie said, “My husband has said several times how blessed we are to go through this, because you really come to know God is there and he gives you an eternal perspective. It doesn’t matter that you struggle financially or that your back hurts, it makes you dig deeper to understand. When people ask me why I am not angry at God, it blows my mind. It would never come to my mind to be angry with Him. He’s the only reason I am still here and able to be what I am. I don’t know if you can teach that to somebody and help them understand how close God is. How lucky we are to go through trials because it really does force you to look deeper and feel His love. He is there every single step of the way through everything. If you can see it that way, life is amazing. From my bed, for the last almost two years, there has been so much joy.”
My friend Chris who was visiting Kymmie with me said, “Your voice, your mind and your spirit are so beyond strong and powerful that I can’t even explain it. This talk with you today is beyond any conversation I have had in a long time. Your body is struggling, but your mind and your spirit are on a different level.”
I thought as we talked, “There is this power in trusting God no matter what—even when He doesn’t remove the thorns in our side. All that we wanted to do when we came here was learn to love God and one another and grow to be like Him. We go through these life’s experiences and they shape us and they knock us and they hurt us and we fall, but what we really want is that level of spiritual power and love that simply drenched the room we sat in together.” I thought, “I would trade almost anything to have this feeling that I am feeling right now.”
You find that God is really there because you go to a place where you can’t figure out any answers for yourself. If you were to rely on what you have in your emotional well, it gets dry really fast, and if you are only to rely on what’s in your mind to come up with solutions, you find that your mind finally becomes barren and nothing works. Then you are filled with this golden light and the Spirit says, “Trust me.”
People ask you why aren’t you mad at God? It is because He hasn’t said
“no” to your prayers to have the thorn removed. He’s given you the greater Yes, which is what we really wanted before we came here.
After Paul describes that the thorn in his side was not taken away, he tells us how the Lord answers, again in 2 Corinthians 12:
9 And he said unto me, My agrace is sufficient for thee: for my bstrength is made perfect in cweakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may drest upon me.
Why are we strong when we are weak? Because it is only then that we recognize our complete dependence on the Savior’s atonement. Through His saving grace, we have not just our own strength to rely on which falters, but His. I remember lying in bed one night, worried about something I needed to do the next day and wondering if I would be sufficient for the job, and then with relief a thought flooded my head. I don’t have to do this job tomorrow in my strength. I can do it in His. It is as if you go to lift a weighty object, and you are trembling under the load, and suddenly someone on the other end lifts all the weight away. “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”
We limit ourselves when we limit ourselves to our own strength.
In the scriptures, we often see how the Lord strengthens people so that they are way more than their own strength.
There was a fiercely wicked people that needed to be called to repentance and Enoch was given what appeared to be an impossible job when he heard a voice from heaven, saying:
27 Enoch, my son, cprophesy unto this people, and say unto them—Repent, for thus saith the Lord: I am dangry with this people, and my fierce anger is kindled against them; for their hearts have waxed ehard, and their fears are dull of hearing, and their eyes gcannot see afar off;
No wonder Enoch responded as he did:
31 When Enoch had heard these words, he abowed himself to the earth, before the Lord, and spake before the Lord, saying:bWhy is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people chate me; for I am dslow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?
This “lad”, of course, was 65 years old, but his feelings of inadequacy were real. Yet, the Lord knows what He can do with us, and so this lad, trembling before the task, became the author of the City of Enoch, which was so righteous, it could not be contained upon the earth.
The Lord took him from his weakness to a formidable strength, so much so that we see in Moses 7
13 And so great was the afaith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he bspake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the cmountains fled, even according to his command; and the drivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so epowerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him.
When Enoch turned to the Lord’s strength in his weakness, look what the Lord made of him.
You really can do all things when the Lord strengthens you.
We see that same journey from weakness to astonishing strength and power in Moses.
When Jehovah called Moses to free the Children of Israel from bondage in Egypt, the obstacles seemed as tall as Everest and Moses, himself felt woefully inadequate for the job. How would you feel asked to take on such a job?
Probably about like Moses:
He is often protesting of his weakness and smallness before the mighty Eygyptians.
Look what God makes of Moses, someone strong enough to command the waters.
22 And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
What a nice touch in that miracle that the Children of Israel went into the midst of the sea”on dry ground.” But the greatest miracle here is not that the water was parted, but that Moses was transformed from a quivering, uncertain man to a mighty instrument in the Lord’s hand.
If the weaknesses the Lord gives us, leads us to His strength, then there may be no greater favor.
Paul Collects for the poor.
One of the great aspects of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles was to collect for the poor in Jerusalem and he mentions it several times, but particularly in 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9. We don’t know exactly why the poor in Jerusalem should be specifically picked out as needing help, though there had been a famine in the area.
What is noteworthy here is that it is not only the gifts for the poor that Paul is thinking about, but the attitude of the giver.
2 Corinthians 9
Providing for the poor is central to being a follower of Jesus Christ. It is part of our taking Christ’s name upon ourselves and doing as he did.
Since one of the ways that the Lord clothes and feeds his sons and daughters on this earth is through us, how do we do it? It seems clear that we need to add this specifically to our prayers. How can I respond to the poor? What are the opportunities before my eyes?
There are certainly ways to give to the poor that have the unfortunate consequence of creating dependency, so fulfilling this commandment takes some inspiration, but here are some things we can do. We can give prayer energy to know what our calling is right now to the poor.
We can increase our fast offerings. Instead of just giving the cost of two meals, we can think generously. This money goes, first, directly to the people in your own ward or branch who need help, administered through the trusted hands of the bishop or stake president.
We can contribute to the Church’s Humanitarian Fund that worked on 155 projects in 50 countries during 2018 alone. It is clear that the Church puts a big emphasis on the poor. And just as Paul was gathering from the Gentile Saints to help the Jewish poor in Jerusalem, so the Church reaches across national boundaries and ethnicities with only one goal in mind—to give Christlike service.
Once I was the poor, who needed help, and I want to share that experience. I was in my late twenties, a young mother with three small children, barely surviving financially, living from paycheck to paycheck, pretty much hand to mouth. We moved into a house with a vacant house across the street, whose looks, I didn’t really like. Too bad that house is across the street, I thought. Little did I know how much the Lord was about to bless me, because in a couple of weeks my angels moved in there. Coleen Eyre was such a nurturing friend to this awkward young mother, trying so hard to figure things out in life. We were in and out of each other’s houses all day with hardly a knock. Often, she’d arrive at my house and say, “You know my hand slipped and I just happened to make twice the amount of soup for dinner. “Could you help me out by taking some?” How often she provided dinner for us. My daughter practiced piano at her house.
During this time, I contributed a major part of our family’s income by being a free-lance writer on an ongoing project. Then one day, I got notice that the project had been canceled, and as an independent contractor, I was finished that day, without warning. Suddenly, we were living on pennies, and didn’t even have money for groceries. Do you know how quickly a young married’s pantry shelves can empty when you can’t afford to go grocery shopping? I’d look to see what we have and it was a can of olives. You can’t make dinner on that. We began to run out of the basics. Soap. We were even getting to the bottom of the remaining toilet paper rolls. There was just no money. I can’t even begin to describe my sense of fear and desperation.
Now you’d think I could have appealed to my parents or to my bishop for help, but I was young and proud, and therefore embarrassed about our situation. Then one day I had been out looking for a job, and came home, opened my front door, and smelled something impossible. A roast beef was cooking in my oven, and that rich brown aroma smelled like home. I walked in and opened the pantry cupboard and it was full. The refrigerator’s barren shelves were now loaded with food, and at the kitchen sink there was soap. Someone had so carefully blessed my life and seen to every need.
Who could have done this, I asked myself. Oh no, they saw how messy my house is, my proud self answered. And then I realized that the only person in the world who knew my plight was my friend Coleen. She had done this for me. I cried and I still cry now when I think of the love and care that went into soothing my troubled and frightened heart. I feel the spirit of that love to this day.
Years later, Coleen died, too young for all of us who loved her. I was able to speak at her funeral about this great act of service. One of her family members talked after me and mentioned that through those busy years of mothering five daughters, Coleen had not kept a very regular journal, but one day she recorded in pages and pages. It was the day she gave this gift to me. She spoke of how they put up my garage door and put their car in to hide it so that no neighbors would see their act of charity, nor would it embarrass me. She spoke of her love and joy and happiness in doing this for me and our family. It fed her as it fed me. It was a big thing for both of us.
Now it may not surprise you that Kymmie whom we spoke of earlier in this podcast is Coleen’s daughter, so this legacy of love and strength and profound spiritual understanding was passed on.
Let us share one more story with you of helping the poor. This one is a big one, but shows the power of what one person’s vision can accomplish. When Becky Douglas’s daughter, Amber, took her life, as a result of a bipolar disorder, as they gathered things from her dorm room, she discovered that Amber had been donating money to an orphanage in India. “I think she had a tender spot for the under dog,” said Becky. For the funeral, many people donated to the orphanage, and they asked Becky to be on the board of directors. She decided she should go to India to check it out.
It was in the taxi to and from the orphanage that her heart was melted, because dozens of people came to the window asking for money, but these were not your ordinary beggars. They were the leprosy-affected.
“Beggars, with rotting hands and feet and no eyes and open gaping wounds,” said Becky. “At one stoplight a man put his hand in the window with maggots crawling through his hand. Their suffering was just almost palpable.”
When she came home, she could not get those faces off of her mind, and so she formed the Rising Star Outreach Foundation. If there is any group in this whole world who qualifies as the “least of these,” it would be the leprosy-affected—not because they are least important, but because their circumstances are probably the most miserable of any on earth.
Most of us don’t know that people in this modern world still have leprosy, let alone that India has 65% of them. This is a devastating disease that ravages people in at least four ways, all of which hit at their very identity and sense of self. First, their bodies are destroyed. They lose vision, limbs, and noses. Second, because their families know they will be shunned if others learn they have a family member with leprosy, they cast out their leprosy-affected family members and are told, “Don’t come back.” They are left in the corner of trash heaps to fend for themselves. In India they are considered lower than the untouchables. Third, no one will give them work, so they starve; and fourth, they are told that his is a punishment from God so they believe they are hated by their Father in Heaven. Can you imagine?
When Becky started Rising Star Outreach, she asked a couple of friends over, and together they sat around the kitchen table to form a foundation. When her husband came home that night and heard about her dream, he said, “Becky, what do you know about foundations? Nothing. What do you know about leprosy? Nothing. What do you know about India? Nothing.
That was many, many years go, and just because of her heart, she has created an award-winning school in Tamil Nadu, India for the children of the leprosy-affected, sent portable hospital units to the leprosy colonies for care, instigated entrepreneurial education and loans for the leprosy-affected. She has changed the plight of those with leprosy in major ways.
Then one day a couple of years ago, she got a call that left her head spinning. She tells the story: “The state of Bihar in India, is arguably the poorest, most forgotten place in India, and is also the most densely-populated leprosy-affected area in the world.” Becky said, Sadly and unbelievably, the people of Bihar decided to run the leprosy-affected people out of their homes and drive them into Nepal.
“The problem was, that Nepal, of course, didn’t want them, and they were not allowed to enter, so a serious problem developed, with tens of thousands of leprosy-affected families stranded in no-man’s land, between the border of India and Nepal. There was no housing, no shelter, no food, no jobs, and no medical care available to them. The situation was dire. Many began to die.
“Mother Teresa, hearing of this catastrophe, sent Father Chrisdas to this area, the man who had been in charge of all of her leprosy treatment programs in Calcutta. He began to construct homes and create jobs.
“Father Baba, as he was affectionately called, also started the Little Flower hospital, which now has given more than 200,000 medical treatments, yet unbelievably they have never had a doctor! Needless to say, medical treatments there are quite primitive.
The children were just languishing without education, so he started the Little Flower School. The school has one qualified teacher, the rest are mostly members of the colony. He did the best he could. Then six years ago he died.”
A Hindu nun came to run the organization and that’s when Becky got the call. Could she create a top-of-the-line school for the children of the leprosy-affected there in the north of India as she had in the south? This would be the school for 22 leprosy colonies. With Rising Star Outreach already doing such important work, her workload was already huge. She would have said, “No,” but the Spirit urged her to take it on.
So, last year, Becky invited Scot and me to Bihar, and, though we have spent a great deal of time amongst the poor, we’ve never seen anything to compare with the suffering of these leprosy-affected people. The Little Flower organization had donated land along a tree-lined river for the new school and as we walked the land, we could almost envision a beautiful school, like the one Becky had already created in the south where children with radiant faces flourish. These children will have an education, some day get good jobs, and escape the pain and stigma of leprosy. This will be a school of the finest teachers, computer-training, dorms for safety, training in the sciences, humanities and arts—the best kind of school.
It was then we felt to ask, “Can we help?” Could we have the privilege of raising the funds for this school? Between our readers on Meridian and now the listeners on the podcast, there are enough of us, working together to help build this school. We want to because we all want to be like Christ, and he was always such a blessing to those with leprosy.
Even the verse that we love in Isaiah that reads “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows, yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4) has a reference to leprosy in it. When it says we did esteem him stricken, stricken in this usage refers to being stricken with leprosy. When the scripture says, “smitten of God” it means that leprosy is God’s punishment. Isaiah is saying that Christ was viewed as low and as hated as those with leprosy were regarded in his world.
We’re Scot and Maurine Proctor. Thanks for being with us and thanks to Paul Cardall who has supplied the beautiful music that begins and ends this podcast. Next week we’ll study the book of “Galatians” in a lesson titled “Walk in the Spirit.” See you then.