2 Corinthians 1; 2 Corinthians 2; 2 Corinthians 3; 2 Corinthians 4; 2 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 6; 2 Corinthians 7; 2 Corinthians 8; 2 Corinthians 9; 2 Corinthians 10; 2 Corinthians 11; 2 Corinthians 12; 2 Corinthians 13

1 I, Paul, have been sent on a special mission by the Messiah, Jesus, planned by God himself. I write this to God's congregation in Corinth, and to believers all over Achaia province. 2 May all the gifts and benefits that come from God our Father and the Master, Jesus Christ, be yours! Timothy, someone you know and trust, joins me in this greeting. 3 All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! 4 He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. 5 We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort - we get a full measure of that, too. 6 When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation. If we are treated well, given a helping hand and encouraging word, that also works to your benefit, spurring you on, face forward, unflinching. Your hard times are also our hard times. 7 When we see that you're just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you're going to make it, no doubt about it. 8 We don't want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn't think we were going to make it. 9 We felt like we'd been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally - not a bad idea since he's the God who raises the dead! 10 And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he'll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing. 11 You and your prayers are part of the rescue operation - I don't want you in the dark about that either. I can see your faces even now, lifted in praise for God's deliverance of us, a rescue in which your prayers played such a crucial part. 12 Now that the worst is over, we're pleased we can report that we've come out of this with conscience and faith intact, and can face the world - and even more importantly, face you with our heads held high. But it wasn't by any fancy footwork on our part. It was God who kept us focused on him, uncompromised. 13 Don't try to read between the lines or look for hidden meanings in this letter. We're writing plain, unembellished truth, hoping that 14 you'll now see the whole picture as well as you've seen some of the details. We want you to be as proud of us as we are of you when we stand together before our Master Jesus. 15 Confident of your welcome, I had originally planned two great visits with you - 16 coming by on my way to Macedonia province, and then again on my return trip. Then we could have had a bon-voyage party as you sent me off to Judea. That was the plan. 17 Are you now going to accuse me of being flip with my promises because it didn't work out? Do you think I talk out of both sides of my mouth - a glib yes one moment, a glib no the next? 18 Well, you're wrong. I try to be as true to my word as God is to his. Our word to you wasn't a careless yes canceled by an indifferent no. How could it be? 19 When Silas and Timothy and I proclaimed the Son of God among you, did you pick up on any yes-and-no, on-again, off-again waffling? Wasn't it a clean, strong Yes? 20 Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God's Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. 21 God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. 22 By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge - a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete. 23 Now, are you ready for the real reason I didn't visit you in Corinth? As God is my witness, the only reason I didn't come was to spare you pain. I was being considerate of you, not indifferent, not manipulative. 24 We're not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. We're partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours.
1 That's why I decided not to make another visit that could only be painful to both of us. 2 If by merely showing up I would put you in an embarrassingly painful position, how would you then be free to cheer and refresh me? 3 That was my reason for writing a letter instead of coming - so I wouldn't have to spend a miserable time disappointing the very friends I had looked forward to cheering me up. I was convinced at the time I wrote it that what was best for me was also best for you. 4 As it turned out, there was pain enough just in writing that letter, more tears than ink on the parchment. But I didn't write it to cause pain; I wrote it so you would know how much I care - oh, more than care - love you! 5 Now, regarding the one who started all this - the person in question who caused all this pain - I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don't want to come down too hard. 6 What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. 7 Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. 8 My counsel now is to pour on the love. 9 The focus of my letter wasn't on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church. 10 So if you forgive him, I forgive him. Don't think I'm carrying around a list of personal grudges. The fact is that I'm joining in with your forgiveness, as Christ is with us, guiding us. 11 After all, we don't want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief - we're not oblivious to his sly ways! 12 When I arrived in Troas to proclaim the Message of the Messiah, I found the place wide open: God had opened the door; all I had to do was walk through it. 13 But when I didn't find Titus waiting for me with news of your condition, I couldn't relax. Worried about you, I left and came on to Macedonia province looking for Titus and a reassuring word on you. 14 And I got it, thank God! 15 Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation - an aroma redolent with life. 16 But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse. 17 No - but at least we don't take God's Word, water it down, and then take it to the streets to sell it cheap. We stand in Christ's presence when we speak; God looks us in the face. We get what we say straight from God and say it as honestly as we can.
1 Does it sound like we're patting ourselves on the back, insisting on our credentials, asserting our authority? Well, we're not. Neither do we need letters of endorsement, either to you or from you. 2 You yourselves are all the endorsement we need. Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. 3 Christ himself wrote it - not with ink, but with God's living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives - and we publish it. 4 We couldn't be more sure of ourselves in this - that you, written by Christ himself for God, are our letter of recommendation. 5 We wouldn't think of writing this kind of letter about ourselves. Only God can write such a letter. 6 His letter authorizes us to help carry out this new plan of action. The plan wasn't written out with ink on paper, with pages and pages of legal footnotes, killing your spirit. It's written with Spirit on spirit, his life on our lives! 7 The Government of Death, its constitution chiseled on stone tablets, had a dazzling inaugural. Moses' face as he delivered the tablets was so bright that day (even though it would fade soon enough) that the people of Israel could no more look right at him than stare into the sun. 8 How much more dazzling, then, the Government of Living Spirit? 9 If the Government of Condemnation was impressive, how about this Government of Affirmation? 10 Bright as that old government was, it would look downright dull alongside this new one. 11 If that makeshift arrangement impressed us, how much more this brightly shining government installed for eternity? 12 With that kind of hope to excite us, nothing holds us back. 13 Unlike Moses, we have nothing to hide. Everything is out in the open with us. He wore a veil so the children of Israel wouldn't notice that the glory was fading away - 14 and they didn't notice. They didn't notice it then and they don't notice it now, don't notice that there's nothing left behind that veil. 15 Even today when the proclamations of that old, bankrupt government are read out, they can't see through it. Only Christ can get rid of the veil so they can see for themselves that there's nothing there. 16 Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are - face to face! 17 They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We're free of it! 18 All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.
1 Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we're not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times. 2 We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don't maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don't twist God's Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God. 3 If our Message is obscure to anyone, it's not because we're holding back in any way. No, it's because these other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention. 4 All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won't have to bother believing a Truth they can't see. They're stone-blind to the dayspring brightness of the Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we'll ever get. 5 Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we're proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. 6 It started when God said, "Light up the darkness!" and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful. 7 If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusing God's incomparable power with us. 8 As it is, there's not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we're not much to look at. We've been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we're not demoralized; we're not sure what to do, 9 but we know that God knows what to do; we've been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn't left our side; we've been thrown down, but we haven't broken. 10 What they did to Jesus, they do to us - trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us - he lives! 11 Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus' sake, which makes Jesus' life all the more evident in us. 12 While we're going through the worst, you're getting in on the best! 13 We're not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, "I believed it, so I said it," we say what we believe. 14 And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. 15 Every detail works to your advantage and to God's glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise! 16 So we're not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. 17 These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. 18 There's far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can't see now will last forever.
1 For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven - God-made, not handmade 2 - and we'll never have to relocate our "tents" again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move - and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what's coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we're tired of it! We've been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! 3 4 5 The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what's ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we'll never settle for less. 6 That's why we live with such good cheer. You won't see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don't get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. 7 It's what we trust in but don't yet see that keeps us going. 8 Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we'll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming. 9 But neither exile nor homecoming is the main thing. Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that's what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions. 10 Sooner or later we'll all have to face God, regardless of our conditions. We will appear before Christ and take what's coming to us as a result of our actions, either good or bad. 11 That keeps us vigilant, you can be sure. It's no light thing to know that we'll all one day stand in that place of Judgment. That's why we work urgently with everyone we meet to get them ready to face God. God alone knows how well we do this, but I hope you realize how much and deeply we care. 12 We're not saying this to make ourselves look good to you. We just thought it would make you feel good, proud even, that we're on your side and not just nice to your face as so many people are. 13 If I acted crazy, I did it for God; if I acted overly serious, I did it for you. 14 Christ's love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first and last word in everything we do. 15 He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own. 16 Because of this decision we don't evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don't look at him that way anymore. 17 Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! 18 All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. 19 God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. 20 We're Christ's representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God's work of making things right between them. We're speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he's already a friend with you. 21 How? you say. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.
1 Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don't squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us. 2 God reminds us, I heard your call in the nick of time; The day you needed me, I was there to help. 3 Don't put it off; don't frustrate God's work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we're doing. 4 Our work as God's servants gets validated - or not - in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; 5 when we're beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; 6 with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; 7 when we're telling the truth, and when God's showing his power; when we're doing our best setting things right; 8 when we're praised, and when we're blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; 9 ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; 10 immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all. 11 Dear, dear Corinthians, I can't tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. 12 We didn't fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren't small, but you're living them in a small way. 13 I'm speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively! 14 Don't become partners with those who reject God. How can you make a partnership out of right and wrong? That's not partnership; that's war. Is light best friends with dark? 15 Does Christ go strolling with the Devil? Do trust and mistrust hold hands? 16 Who would think of setting up pagan idols in God's holy Temple? But that is exactly what we are, each of us a temple in whom God lives. God himself put it this way: "I'll live in them, move into them; I'll be their God and they'll be my people. 17 So leave the corruption and compromise; leave it for good," says God. "Don't link up with those who will pollute you. I want you all for myself. 18 I'll be a Father to you; you'll be sons and daughters to me."
1 With promises like this to pull us on, dear friends, let's make a clean break with everything that defiles or distracts us, both within and without. Let's make our entire lives fit and holy temples for the worship of God. More Passionate, More Responsible 2 Trust us. We've never hurt a soul, never exploited or taken advantage of anyone. 3 Don't think I'm finding fault with you. I told you earlier that I'm with you all the way, no matter what. 4 I have, in fact, the greatest confidence in you. If only you knew how proud I am of you! I am overwhelmed with joy despite all our troubles. 5 When we arrived in Macedonia province, we couldn't settle down. The fights in the church and the fears in our hearts kept us on pins and needles. We couldn't relax because we didn't know how it would turn out. 6 Then the God who lifts up the downcast lifted our heads and our hearts with the arrival of Titus. 7 We were glad just to see him, but the true reassurance came in what he told us about you: how much you cared, how much you grieved, how concerned you were for me. I went from worry to tranquility in no time! 8 I know I distressed you greatly with my letter. Although I felt awful at the time, I don't feel at all bad now that I see how it turned out. The letter upset you, but only for a while. 9 Now I'm glad - not that you were upset, but that you were jarred into turning things around. You let the distress bring you to God, not drive you from him. The result was all gain, no loss. 10 Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets. 11 And now, isn't it wonderful all the ways in which this distress has goaded you closer to God? You're more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible. Looked at from any angle, you've come out of this with purity of heart. 12 And that is what I was hoping for in the first place when I wrote the letter. My primary concern was not for the one who did the wrong or even the one wronged, but for you - that you would realize and act upon the deep, deep ties between us before God. 13 That's what happened - and we felt just great. 14 If I went out on a limb in telling Titus how great I thought you were, you didn't cut off that limb. As it turned out, I hadn't exaggerated one bit. Titus saw for himself that everything I had said about you was true. 15 He can't quit talking about it, going over again and again the story of your prompt obedience, and the dignity and sensitivity of your hospitality. He was quite overwhelmed by it all! 16 And I couldn't be more pleased - I'm so confident and proud of you.
1 Now, friends, I want to report on the surprising and generous ways in which God is working in the churches in Macedonia province. 2 Fierce troubles came down on the people of those churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colors: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor. The pressure triggered something totally unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts. 3 I was there and saw it for myself. They gave offerings of whatever they could - far more than they could afford! - 4 pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians. 5 This was totally spontaneous, entirely their own idea, and caught us completely off guard. What explains it was that they had first given themselves unreservedly to God and to us. The other giving simply flowed out of the purposes of God working in their lives. 6 That's what prompted us to ask Titus to bring the relief offering to your attention, so that what was so well begun could be finished up. 7 You do so well in so many things - you trust God, you're articulate, you're insightful, you're passionate, you love us - now, do your best in this, too. 8 I'm not trying to order you around against your will. But by bringing in the Macedonians' enthusiasm as a stimulus to your love, I am hoping to bring the best out of you. 9 You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us - in one stroke he became poor and we became rich. 10 So here's what I think: The best thing you can do right now is to finish what you started last year and not let those good intentions grow stale. 11 Your heart's been in the right place all along. You've got what it takes to finish it up, so go to it. 12 Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can't. The heart regulates the hands. 13 This isn't so others can take it easy while you sweat it out. No, you're shoulder to shoulder with them all the way, 14 your surplus matching their deficit, their surplus matching your deficit. In the end you come out even. 15 As it is written, Nothing left over to the one with the most, Nothing lacking to the one with the least. 16 I thank God for giving Titus the same devoted concern for you that I have. 17 He was most considerate of how we felt, but his eagerness to go to you and help out with this relief offering is his own idea. 18 We're sending a companion along with him, someone very popular in the churches for his preaching of the Message. 19 But there's far more to him than popularity. He's rock-solid trustworthy. The churches handpicked him to go with us as we travel about doing this work of sharing God's gifts to honor God as well as we can, 20 taking every precaution against scandal. 21 We're being as careful in our reputation with the public as in our reputation with God. 22 That's why we're sending another trusted friend along. He's proved his dependability many times over, and carries on as energetically as the day he started. He's heard much about you, and liked what he's heard - so much so that he can't wait to get there. 23 I don't need to say anything further about Titus. We've been close associates in this work of serving you for a long time. The brothers who travel with him are delegates from churches, a real credit to Christ. 24 Show them what you're made of, the love I've been talking up in the churches. Let them see it for themselves!
1 If I wrote any more on this relief offering for the poor Christians, I'd be repeating myself. 2 I know you're on board and ready to go. I've been bragging about you all through Macedonia province, telling them, "Achaia province has been ready to go on this since last year." Your enthusiasm by now has spread to most of them. 3 Now I'm sending the brothers to make sure you're ready, as I said you would be, so my bragging won't turn out to be just so much hot air. 4 If some Macedonians and I happened to drop in on you and found you weren't prepared, we'd all be pretty red-faced - you and us - for acting so sure of ourselves. 5 So to make sure there will be no slipup, I've recruited these brothers as an advance team to get you and your promised offering all ready before I get there. I want you to have all the time you need to make this offering in your own way. I don't want anything forced or hurried at the last minute. 6 Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. 7 I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving. 8 God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you're ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. 9 As one psalmist puts it, He throws caution to the winds, giving to the needy in reckless abandon. His right-living, right-giving ways never run out, never wear out. 10 This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, 11 wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God. 12 Carrying out this social relief work involves far more than helping meet the bare needs of poor Christians. It also produces abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God. 13 This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best, showing your gratitude to God by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the Message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offerings to your needy brothers and sisters, and really toward everyone. 14 Meanwhile, moved by the extravagance of God in your lives, they'll respond by praying for you in passionate intercession for whatever you need. 15 Thank God for this gift, his gift. No language can praise it enough!
1 And now a personal but most urgent matter; I write in the gentle but firm spirit of Christ. I hear that I'm being painted as cringing and wishy-washy when I'm with you, but harsh and demanding when at a safe distance writing letters. 2 Please don't force me to take a hard line when I'm present with you. Don't think that I'll hesitate a single minute to stand up to those who say I'm an unprincipled opportunist. Then they'll have to eat their words. 3 The world is unprincipled. It's dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn't fight fair. But we don't live or fight our battles that way - never have and never will. 4 The tools of our trade aren't for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. 5 We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. 6 Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity. 7 You stare and stare at the obvious, but you can't see the forest for the trees. If you're looking for a clear example of someone on Christ's side, why do you so quickly cut me out? Believe me, I am quite sure of my standing with Christ. 8 You may think I overstate the authority he gave me, but I'm not backing off. Every bit of my commitment is for the purpose of building you up, after all, not tearing you down. 9 And what's this talk about me bullying you with my letters? 10 "His letters are brawny and potent, but in person he's a weakling and mumbles when he talks." 11 Such talk won't survive scrutiny. What we write when away, we do when present. We're the exact same people, absent or present, in letter or in person. 12 We're not, understand, putting ourselves in a league with those who boast that they're our superiors. We wouldn't dare do that. But in all this comparing and grading and competing, they quite miss the point. 13 We aren't making outrageous claims here. We're sticking to the limits of what God has set for us. But there can be no question that those limits reach to and include you. 14 We're not moving into someone else's "territory." We were already there with you, weren't we? We were the first ones to get there with the Message of Christ, right? So how can there be any question of overstepping our bounds by writing or visiting you? 15 We're not barging in on the rightful work of others, interfering with their ministries, demanding a place in the sun with them. What we're hoping for is that as your lives grow in faith, you'll play a part within our expanding work. 16 And we'll all still be within the limits God sets as we proclaim the Message in countries beyond Corinth. But we have no intention of moving in on what others have done and taking credit for it. 17 "If you want to claim credit, claim it for God." 18 What you say about yourself means nothing in God's work. It's what God says about you that makes the difference.
1 Will you put up with a little foolish aside from me? Please, just for a moment. 2 The thing that has me so upset is that I care about you so much - this is the passion of God burning inside me! I promised your hand in marriage to Christ, presented you as a pure virgin to her husband. 3 And now I'm afraid that exactly as the Snake seduced Eve with his smooth patter, you are being lured away from the simple purity of your love for Christ. 4 It seems that if someone shows up preaching quite another Jesus than we preached - different spirit, different message - you put up with him quite nicely. 5 But if you put up with these big-shot "apostles," why can't you put up with simple me? I'm as good as they are. 6 It's true that I don't have their voice, haven't mastered that smooth eloquence that impresses you so much. But when I do open my mouth, I at least know what I'm talking about. We haven't kept anything back. We let you in on everything. 7 I wonder, did I make a bad mistake in proclaiming God's Message to you without asking for something in return, serving you free of charge so that you wouldn't be inconvenienced by me? 8 It turns out that the other churches paid my way so that you could have a free ride. 9 Not once during the time I lived among you did anyone have to lift a finger to help me out. My needs were always supplied by the Christians from Macedonia province. I was careful never to be a burden to you, and I never will be, you can count on it. 10 With Christ as my witness, it's a point of honor with me, and I'm not going to keep it quiet just to protect you from what the neighbors will think. 11 It's not that I don't love you; God knows I do. 12 I'm just trying to keep things open and honest between us. 13 They're a sorry bunch - pseudo-apostles, lying preachers, crooked workers - posing as Christ's agents but sham to the core. 14 And no wonder! Satan does it all the time, dressing up as a beautiful angel of light. 15 So it shouldn't surprise us when his servants masquerade as servants of God. But they're not getting by with anything. They'll pay for it in the end. Many a Long and Lonely Night 16 Let me come back to where I started - and don't hold it against me if I continue to sound a little foolish. Or if you'd rather, just accept that I am a fool and let me rant on a little. 17 I didn't learn this kind of talk from Christ. 18 Oh, no, it's a bad habit I picked up from the three-ring preachers that are so popular these days. 19 Since you sit there in the judgment seat observing all these shenanigans, you can afford to humor an occasional fool who happens along. 20 You have such admirable tolerance for impostors who rob your freedom, rip you off, steal you blind, put you down - even slap your face! 21 I shouldn't admit it to you, but our stomachs aren't strong enough to tolerate that kind of stuff. 22 Do they brag of being Hebrews, Israelites, the pure race of Abraham? I'm their match. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I can go them one better. (I can't believe I'm saying these things. It's crazy to talk this way! But I started, and I'm going to finish.) 24 I've been flogged five times with the Jews' thirty-nine lashes, 25 beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I've been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. 26 In hard traveling year in and year out, I've had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I've been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. 27 I've known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather. 28 And that's not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. 29 When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut. 30 If I have to "brag" about myself, I'll brag about the humiliations that make me like Jesus. 31 The eternal and blessed God and Father of our Master Jesus knows I'm not lying. 32 Remember the time I was in Damascus and the governor of King Aretas posted guards at the city gates to arrest me? 33 I crawled through a window in the wall, was let down in a basket, and had to run for my life.
1 You've forced me to talk this way, and I do it against my better judgment. But now that we're at it, I may as well bring up the matter of visions and revelations that God gave me. 2 For instance, I know a man who, fourteen years ago, was seized by Christ and swept in ecstasy to the heights of heaven. I really don't know if this took place in the body or out of it; only God knows. 3 I also know that this man was hijacked into paradise - again, whether in or out of the body, I don't know; God knows. There he heard the unspeakable spoken, but was forbidden to tell what he heard. 4 5 This is the man I want to talk about. But about myself, I'm not saying another word apart from the humiliations. 6 If I had a mind to brag a little, I could probably do it without looking ridiculous, and I'd still be speaking plain truth all the way. But I'll spare you. I don't want anyone imagining me as anything other than the fool you'd encounter if you saw me on the street or heard me talk. 7 Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn't get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan's angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! 8 At first I didn't think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, 9 and then he told me, My grace is enough; it's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness. 10 Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size - abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. 11 Well, now I've done it! I've made a complete fool of myself by going on like this. But it's not all my fault; you put me up to it. You should have been doing this for me, sticking up for me and commending me instead of making me do it for myself. You know from personal experience that even if I'm a nobody, a nothing, I wasn't second-rate compared to those big-shot apostles you're so taken with. 12 All the signs that mark a true apostle were in evidence while I was with you through both good times and bad: signs of portent, signs of wonder, signs of power. 13 Did you get less of me or of God than any of the other churches? The only thing you got less of was less responsibility for my upkeep. Well, I'm sorry. Forgive me for depriving you. 14 Everything is in readiness now for this, my third visit to you. But don't worry about it; you won't have to put yourselves out. I'll be no more of a bother to you this time than on the other visits. I have no interest in what you have - only in you. Children shouldn't have to look out for their parents; parents look out for the children. 15 I'd be most happy to empty my pockets, even mortgage my life, for your good. So how does it happen that the more I love you, the less I'm loved? 16 And why is it that I keep coming across these whiffs of gossip about how my self-support was a front behind which I worked an elaborate scam? Where's the evidence? 17 Did I cheat or trick you through anyone I sent? 18 I asked Titus to visit, and sent some brothers along. Did they swindle you out of anything? And haven't we always been just as aboveboard, just as honest? 19 I hope you don't think that all along we've been making our defense before you, the jury. You're not the jury; God is the jury - God revealed in Christ - and we make our case before him. And we've gone to all the trouble of supporting ourselves so that we won't be in the way or get in the way of your growing up. 20 I do admit that I have fears that when I come you'll disappoint me and I'll disappoint you, and in frustration with each other everything will fall to pieces - quarrels, jealousy, flaring tempers, taking sides, angry words, vicious rumors, swelled heads, and general bedlam. 21 I don't look forward to a second humiliation by God among you, compounded by hot tears over that crowd that keeps sinning over and over in the same old ways, who refuse to turn away from the pigsty of evil, sexual disorder, and indecency in which they wallow.
1 Well, this is my third visit coming up. Remember the Scripture that says, "A matter becomes clear after two or three witnesses give evidence"? 2 On my second visit I warned that bunch that keeps sinning over and over in the same old ways that when I came back I wouldn't go easy on them. Now, preparing for the third, I'm saying it again from a distance. If you haven't changed your ways by the time I get there, look out. 3 You who have been demanding proof that Christ speaks through me will get more than you bargained for. You'll get the full force of Christ, don't think you won't. 4 He was sheer weakness and humiliation when he was killed on the Cross, but oh, he's alive now - in the mighty power of God! We weren't much to look at, either, when we were humiliated among you, but when we deal with you this next time, we'll be alive in Christ, strengthened by God. 5 Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don't drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it. 6 I hope the test won't show that we have failed. 7 But if it comes to that, we'd rather the test showed our failure than yours. 8 We're rooting for the truth to win out in you. 9 We couldn't possibly do otherwise. We don't just put up with our limitations; we celebrate them, and then go on to celebrate every strength, every triumph of the truth in you. We pray hard that it will all come together in your lives. 10 I'm writing this to you now so that when I come I won't have to say another word on the subject. The authority the Master gave me is for putting people together, not taking them apart. I want to get on with it, and not have to spend time on reprimands. 11 And that's about it, friends. Be cheerful. Keep things in good repair. Keep your spirits up. Think in harmony. Be agreeable. Do all that, and the God of love and peace will be with you for sure. 12 Greet one another with a holy embrace. 13 All the brothers and sisters here say hello. 14 The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.
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