Sometimes, the Bible is difficult to understand.
We find ourselves reasoning, “I’ll just go listen to the pastor since he understands it, and I don’t!” I understand that. It’s why I call an accountant to do my taxes. He’s the expert. I’m not.
But I’d like to share a pastor’s secret that will help you understand Scripture. Let’s take 2 Corinthians as a test case. It was difficult for me to understand. Here’s the secret: You’ve got to understand (1), the context, and (2), the organization.
2 Corinthians is the least-organized of Paul’s letters.
Typically, Paul writes focused, tightly-woven letters. In this one, he jumps around because he is deeply emotional. He started this congregation. Once he left them on a missionary journey, false teachers came in and turned the people against him.
Most of the congregation recently had seen the error of their ways. Paul receives this glad news and was emotionally charged! His thoughts gush out, and he lets them flow. He starts and stops his thoughts often, which makes it terribly difficult to follow at times.
Yet, the letter has a clear flow.
The first part of the letter praises the congregation for their beautiful repentance (chs 1-7).
In the midst of that, he “chases two rabbits.” First, he tells them, painfully, why he chose not to visit them (1:12-2:17), and secondly, he offers a personal defense of his message and character (3:1-6:10). The middle part encourages them to finish collecting money for poor saints in Jerusalem (chs 8-9). The last part stokes up the congregation to defend Paul against the fake apostles (chs 10-13).
These false teachers were ruthless. They slandered Paul and accused him of money laundering.
We wonder how a congregation he poured his life into could degenerate so quickly. It goes to show: Even congregations started by one as great as the apostle Paul can fall prey to worldliness.
God typically does one of two things in such cases. He either rises up a person to cleanse it, or He removes their candlestick and shuts them down.
Thankfully, the Corinthians rose up and began a cleansing process. How many congregations have started a cleansing and renewal process, only to allow an unrighteous remnant to remain, corrupt and destroy?
The same is true of individuals. How many have taken the painful steps to begin spiritual cleansing, only to leave a remnant of sin in their heart that corrupts and destroys?
Where does that leave us? The same place Paul left us: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless you indeed fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor 13:5).
You see, now 2 Corinthians makes perfect sense. The secret was (1), we needed to know the context of the letter and (2), the organization of the letter.
Now you know one of the pastor’s secrets. Maybe I’ll share more in the future!
Dr. Chipley McQueen Thornton is lead pastor at First Baptist Church of Springville.