The mind of Christ, 1 Corinthians 2:16

This video is of Craig’s lecture at Evangel University and the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, where he talks about the meaning of the mind of Christ in the context of 1 Corinthians and also its implications for bringing together sound scholarship and deep spirituality. You should allow perhaps a minute for the video to load after clicking its link. If you want to save time by advancing along the time bar at the bottom of the screen, there is an extended introduction to the lecture series (honoring one of Craig’s former professors), with Craig beginning at about 7:43 and his actual message beginning between 10 and 11 minutes.

The link is:

Toward the end Craig also addresses 2 Corinthians 3:18. This lecture was given February 3, 2015.

Who are Christ’s ambassadors?—2 Corinthians 5:20

Who are Christ’s ambassadors in 2 Cor 5:20? When Paul says “we are ambassadors for Christ,” does he refer to all believers, or only to himself?

In every or almost every instance of “we” in the preceding chapters, Paul refers to himself and his ministry colleagues. Probably in 5:20, then, Paul also refers not to all Christians as ambassadors, but only to those who are bringing God’s message of reconciliation. After all, those he is entreating to be reconciled to God are the Christians in Corinth, who are not ambassadors but those who are in need ambassadors to them. That is why he urges them to be reconciled to God (5:20; 6:1-2, 17-18)!

Perhaps ideally all Christians should be bringing God’s message of reconciliation, but in practice most of the Christians in Corinth weren’t. The Corinthian Christians were acting like non-Christians, so Paul and his colleagues act as representatives for Christ’s righteousness to them, just as Christ represented our sin for us on the cross (5:21). Paul may be using hyperbole, a figure of speech in which one rhetorically overstates something to graphically emphasize a point. The Corinthians may not be unconverted, but they are acting that way, so Paul urges them to be converted.

The Corinthians should recognize that they themselves attest Paul’s ministry (3:1-3), a ministry of God’s new covenant in Christ by the Spirit (3:4-18). Paul and his colleagues have suffered to bring others the gospel (4:7-12, 16), including for the sake of the believers in Corinth (4:12, 15; 5:12-13). The division between “us” and “you” has been sustained through most of the preceding context.

This section of 2 Corinthians is primarily a defense of Paul’s apostolic ministry; Paul summons the Corinthians to recognize his role and to reject his critics.

Nevertheless, Paul and his colleagues do offer us an example. Those who are reconciled to God may in some way carry the message of reconciliation (5:18), as Paul did. Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation (5:17), and thus has the Spirit that guarantees our future with Christ (5:4-5), the trust on the basis of which Paul is ready to suffer and die for the gospel. Not only Paul, but all of us for whom Christ died should no longer live for ourselves but for Christ (5:15). Like Paul, we who fear the Lord must seek to persuade others (5:11). Paul elsewhere presented himself as a model for the Corinthians (1 Cor 4:16; 11:1). We may not all be apostles like Paul, but all of us can live and speak like ambassadors, representing Christ’s name to others.

The down payment—2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14

Did you know that we have already begun to taste the future world? We are visitors in this age; our true home is in the age to come. That does not mean that we should be irrelevant to this age; rather, it means that we should be all the more relevant, but the substance of our relevance is not following the fads, fashions and whims of our culture. Rather, we shed the light of God’s kingdom, with its transforming vision of justice, peace and righteousness, in a world that has forgotten the only true and transcendent source of hope.

Hebrews 6:5 says that those who believe in Christ “have tasted of the powers of the age to come.” Likewise, Paul declares that Christ delivered us from (literally) “this present evil age” (Gal 1:4). He also warns us not to be “conformed to this age, but be transformed by your mind being made new” (Rom 12:2). These writers were simply following what Jesus had already revealed. “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God,” Jesus announced, “then God’s kingdom has come upon you” (Matt 12:28).

Jesus’s contemporaries were expecting the messianic king and future kingdom to come soon; they were expecting the dead to be raised and that God would pour out his Spirit. But the king, Jesus, who is yet to come, has already come the first time. Although we still await the resurrection of our bodies, Jesus has already been raised from the dead in history. And since the day of Pentecost God has been pouring out the Spirit. In the language of many scholars, the kingdom is “already/not yet”: the consummation remains future, but we are already living with some of the benefits of that future kingdom.

This future reality invades our lives by the Spirit. The Spirit is promised for the future age, but through him we can taste God’s presence and power in our lives in the present. That is why Paul speaks of the Spirit as the “down payment” of our future inheritance (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:13-14). The Greek word sometimes rendered “down payment” here was used in ancient business documents for the first installment: no mere verbal guarantee, it is the beginning experience of what is promised. By experiencing the Spirit, we are experiencing a foretaste of the glories of the coming world in God’s presence.

That is why Paul wrote, “The things that eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor have occurred to the human heart—(so it is with) the things that God has prepared for those who love him. But God has revealed them to us by the Spirit” (1 Cor 2:9-10). Because the Spirit is intimate with God the Father’s heart, Paul explains, we can know God’s heart for us (2:10-16). Through the Spirit, we have a foretaste of the beautiful intimacy that we will share with God through all the ages of eternity.

We belong to a future age; let us not forget that crucial feature of our identity. The world around ought to be able to look at the church and see a foretaste of what heaven will be like. If they cannot, it is because we are living short of our birthright in Christ. May we dare to believe what God declares about our identity in Christ, as partakers of a new creation that began when Jesus rose from the dead.

Craig is professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary; he is author of The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament.

Global sharing, 2 Corinthians 8—9

Any reader of the Gospels knows that Jesus taught radical sharing of our possessions with people who need our help. Luke’s Gospel is particularly emphatic about this principle. God’s prophet invites the truly repentant person to share anything they have beyond what they need to live on, even if they have just a second pair of clothes and someone else has none (Luke 3:8-11). Whoever wants to be Jesus’ disciple will surrender all his or her possessions (Luke 14:33; cf. 12:33).

Whether literally or as a principle expressed perhaps hyperbolically, these passages are surely demanding. Some Christians in history, such as St. Anthony and many monastic movements, followed this literally for themselves. Others, such as Charles Finney, suggested that this teaching applied to all prospective disciples: we do not lose all our possessions at the moment of conversion, but we do lose our ownership of them.

We see this principle lived out by the early Christians in times of revival in Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32-35. The church eventually developed mechanisms for strategic sharing with local Christians, and handled fairly complaints of minority groups within the church (6:1-5). Eventually, however, the church outgrew a single locale, and Christians who had more than what they needed to live on in one location needed to help Christians who had less than what they needed to live on in another location. Paul and his coworker Barnabas were agents of the Antioch church’s gifts to the Jerusalem church (Acts 11:28-30), and this may have provided the model for one of Paul’s most ambitious projects: a collection for the poor in Jerusalem (cf. 24:17).

One of Paul’s driving concerns involved Jerusalem’s status as the mother church. Because Jewish Christians contributed to the Gentiles spiritually, Gentile Christians owed them material aid in their time of need (Rom 15:27). Paul probably uses this collection to establish reconciliation between the culturally distant churches of Jerusalem and the rest of the Roman world.

Another aspect of his concern is particularly relevant to us, however. Many of Paul’s “mission churches” were in cities with stronger economies than Jerusalem, and many of the members in his churches had more than what they needed to live on. This may have been true in Galatia (1 Cor 16:1), but believers in Macedonia (Rom 15:26) gave even from relative poverty (2 Cor 8:1-5). Corinth, however, was one of the wealthiest cities in the Roman world—and its Christians there unfortunately had to be prodded into giving!

Paul lays out the principle plainly for them: “equality” (2 Cor 8:13-15). If God supplied Christians in some parts of the world more than what they needed to live on, it was so they could help Christians in other parts if the world who had less than what they needed. God supplied the total church with sufficient resources to make sure that everyone was taken care of, but gave some individual churches more than others. Why? So those with resources could share God’s ministry of giving. God is the provider for all of us, so when we share with others the praise goes to God (9:8-15). The church in each part of the world must, of course, be self-supporting, except in times of emergency such as famines; but we can still coordinate our various resources as strategically as possible. Someday the roles of the needy may be reversed (8:14), but the principle remains unchanged.

Paul shows that sharing is not just with needy individuals (as one might guess from reading the Gospels), but also with needy churches. Some have spiritual resources to contribute; some have material resources; each individual and each church must contribute what we can for the greater good of Christ’s body.

Given the exchange rates, a dollar can do many times more in most African countries, and many other parts of the world, than it can do in the United States. In one country, I was told that my background commentary would cost a pastor two months’ salary. Twenty year ago, after I discovered that, I re-prioritized my giving. At the time, 25¢ could provide a meal for a person in a famine-stricken country. I was single at that time, and chose to live in an efficiency apartment that doubled as my office, eating as simply as I could so as to make available every cent possible for wider needs. Having a family has since adjusted how I must budget my resources, but the principle of caring for others remains important. In a world where millions of children die annually from hunger, malnutrition and preventable diseases; in a world where some countries have over a million AIDS orphans; in a world where millions of people live in cardboard boxes in dumps and lack clean drinking water, the sacrificial generosity of Christians can make a life-and-death difference.