When writers make plays on words, they often emphasize great truths. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian congregation in defense of his apostleship. He made clear he was only interested in the spiritual welfare: “I seek not yours, but you” 2 Corinthians 12.14. By that he meant he did not want their money or possessions. Many translations use these terms. None, however, expand on Paul’s compressed phrase, “I want you.” One commentator expressed it well: “Paul wants his readers to know that it is the gift of their lives to Christ, not of their money to himself, that he covets” (Furnish 564).
How can we today make clear this sentiment of Paul’s? We don’t want people’s money, but we want people themselves, that is, we want to win people for Christ. We have no ulterior motives. We seek the good of others, offering them eternal life, just as it was offered to us.
In 2 Corinthians 11-13, Paul defends his apostleship. Some were casting doubt on his qualifications and his motivations. It was not the entire congregation, but enough numbers that Paul considered it a threat to the welfare of the disciples.
Paul reminds the congregation of his example in 2 Corinthians 12.11-19. Let us see how, in this text, he showed this interest in people and not in their possessions. His example suggests four paths for us as well.
I. Giving up rights
For how were you treated worse than the other churches, except that I myself was not a burden to you? Forgive me this injustice! 2 Corinthians 12.13.
Paul had a right to receive help from the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 9. He gave up this right in order not to be misunderstood. He uses sarcasm above to show the absurdity of some allegations against him.
Do we insist on our rights, or are we willing to give them up to bless others? Our world is all about demanding rights, real or imagined. Can we show we are different by being willing to forgo them?
II. Physical presence
Look, for the third time I am ready to come to you, 2 Corinthians 12.14.
Besides writing several letters (maybe four in all), he made several visits to settle matters. He scheduled his visits to avoid unnecessary conflict and to allow time for repentance. Paul knew that, as helpful as the letters might be, nothing could replace a personal visit. John ended his second and third letters with similar sentiments about the desire to be physically present.
Today’s government restrictions do not mean that we do not need to be with one another. Virtual worship cannot substitute physical presence. Edification and correction still require personal presence. How many people are dying spiritually without it?
(I recall when people were highly regarded for going into a leper’s colony. But we can’t risk a flu bug, can we?)
III. Willingness to be spent
Now I will most gladly spend and be spent for your lives! 2 Corinthians 12.15.
Paul affirms his willingness to devote himself to the brethren for their good. He had demonstrated this among the Corinthians. These were not mere words. Read Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders about his way of living so that he could preach the gospel, Acts 20.17-35. “[N]or do I consider my life of any value to myself” v. 24.
Our heritage today is not to gather treasures, but to invest in the Kingdom of God. We might even be willing to spend a bit, as long as it doesn’t dent the billfold, but to be spent for others? How many are willing to go so far? (See Philippians 2.4, 20-21.)
IV. Clear Motivations
We are speaking in Christ before God, and everything we do, dear friends, is to build you up. 2 Corinthians 12.19.
Paul sometimes wrote ironically and sarcastically when defending his apostleship. His defense was not motivated by self-interest or pride. The attempt by the “super-apostles” to bring him down as an apostle had everything to do with the message he preached. In every way, he made clear that he worked and taught in order to build up the converts spiritually.
To what extent are we willing to be disliked and criticized in order to promote the Good News of Christ and the faith of the brethren? Or does desire for approval determine what we do? We want approval from the religous world. We desire respectability. That will get us bigger and better buildings and multiple ministers, but less and weaker building up of the saints.
For the most part, the religious world is after money. Leaders and adherents seek material advantages. Let’s show the difference of Christ. Our interest is the spiritual welfare and eternal destiny of people, not their possessions.
If you are not part of this spiritual kingdom, reject the race for money and obey the Lord’s commandments.
If you are, let it be clear by your actions and words that you serve the Kingdom of God and not Mammon.
FURNISH, Victor Paul 1984 II Corinthians. Anchor Bible. Doubleday.
The editor shows his concern for souls in several ways, among them, with books by Forthright Press.