An advantage

Spiritual warfare is an ongoing battle that Christians have to engage in if they want to grow spiritually. Although Paul didn’t address the topic of spiritual warfare directly in his second letter to the Corinthians, he referred to it when he said, “To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:10-11). Paul indicated forgiveness was a mechanism to defeat Satan in spiritual warfare. Paul’s statement, “what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ” (ESV) meant that he had made a conscious effort to forgive someone that was hindering his ministry in Corinth. Paul could have approached the situation aggressively, insisting that he was right and the other person was wrong, but instead he acknowledged there was a problem without showing any animosity or anger towards the other person.

Forgiveness is an act that results from the divine influence upon the heart (G5485). Jesus told his disciples:

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either…And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-29, 34-36)

Mercy and forgiveness go hand in hand and are qualities that distinguish mature Christians from those that have not developed their spiritual gifts. Paul was pointing out that it takes spiritual strength to let go of a grievance and forgive the offender.

Paul’s statement “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11) was meant to explain why it is important for us to forgive our enemies. The Greek word translated get an advantage, pleonekteo (pleh-on-ek-teh’-o) always signifies an unfair advantage; it is never used positively. This word means literally, “to seek to get more” (G4122). In other words, Satan already has an advantage over us, but he always tries to increase that advantage by keeping us from exercising our spiritual gifts.

The word Paul used that is translated devices in 2 Corinthians 2:11, noema (no’-ay-mah) is derived from the word noieo (noy-eh’-o) which means to exercise the mind (G3539). Paul expounded on this in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 when he said, “But if our gospel is hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” Satan’s primary device in gaining an advantage with believers is to blind their minds or obscure the truth of God’s word so that they won’t act on what they believe. Paul’s example of forgiving the offense against his ministry was his way of showing the Corinthians that the truth of God’s word (Luke 6:27-36) must be replicated in our everyday lives.

The body of Christ

Paul talked about spiritual gifts in the context of supernatural regeneration or what Jesus referred to as being born again (John 3:3). Paul wanted the Corinthian believers to understand that being identified with Christ meant you would receive a particular spiritual capability that was different than your natural capability in order to facilitate the effective functioning of the body of Christ. Paul said:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, ESV)

Paul described all believers collectively as the body of Christ and explained that in the same way that a human body has many parts that enable it to function effectively, so all believers are expected to function as a collective unit. Paul referred to both diversity and unity in his description of the spiritual capabilities that every believer is given and stated, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12).

The point I believe Paul was trying to make was that spiritual gifts are only useful in a collective sense. Paul used the expression tempered together (1 Corinthians 12:24) to describe the process God uses to unify the body of Christ. The Greek word sugkerannumi (soong-ker-an’-noo-mee) means “to commingle” (G4786). Figuratively, sugkerannumi can mean to assimilate. Paul was most likely talking about Christians being joined together culturally. One of the Old Testament uses of the phrase tempered together had to do with the creation of a perfume that was placed before the ark in the most holy place of God’s temple (Exodus 30:34-36). The individual elements of this holy anointing oil were beaten together until they dissolved and became an aromatic fragrance comparable to a priceless perfume. When Paul said there should be “no schism” in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:25), he was probably referring to an expensive garment that had been sewn together in such a way that it was impossible to tell that it wasn’t a single piece of cloth. Together, these illustrations suggest that the body of Christ is like an Olympic athlete that is able to accomplish superhuman feats through its collective efforts.

Expectations

As Jesus approached Jerusalem, he took some time to prepare his disciples for his departure “because they thought that the kingdom of God should appear immediately” (19:11). The Jews expected their “Messiah to appear in power and glory and to set up His earthly kingdom, defeating all their political and military enemies” (note on Luke 19:11). In spite of his repeated warnings, some of Jesus’ followers still didn’t realize he was about to be crucified. Rather than stating the truth plainly, Jesus once again used a parable to explain what was going to happen. He told them, “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:12-13). Jesus’ description of heaven as a “far country” suggested that he would be away for a long period of time. The fact that he would eventually return meant that there would be some type of continuation or follow up to his earthly ministry. In other words, Jesus’ resurrection was not the conclusion of his work on Earth. The ten servants were most likely representative of all who would serve Christ as ministers of the gospel until Jesus’ second coming, but this may have been a direct reference to the Jewish believers that would be given the responsibility of establishing Christianity among the Jews in Jerusalem.

In his parable, Jesus said the nobleman gave each of his ten servants a pound of silver and told them to “Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13). The Greek term translated occupy, pragmateuomai (prag-mat-yoo´-om-ahee) means “to busy oneself with that is to trade” (G4231), the implication being that the king’s servants were to be involved in business matters, making a living for themselves and earning a profit for their master. Although it may seem unusual for God’s work to be likened to a profitable business, Jesus was clearly telling his disciples that he expected them to be doing something while he was gone. Jesus went on to say, “And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received his kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading” (Luke 19:15). This part of Jesus’ parable could be a reference to the rapture, a moment in time that the Apostle Paul referred to as the sudden coming of the Lord, of which he said, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Sometime following this, there will be an event referred to as the judgment seat of Christ. At that time, Christians will be held accountable for their actions while they were alive on Earth (Romans 14:10, 2 Corinthians 5:10).

In his parable of the pounds, Jesus gave examples of the type of rewards Christians can expect to receive at the judgment seat of Christ. He said, “Then came the first saying, Lord thy pound hath gained ten pounds. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities” (Luke 19:16-17). The faithful servant’s reward was described as “authority over ten cities.” The ten cities most likely represented a spiritual jurisdiction equivalent to what we might think of today in the United States as a voting district. Even though Jesus will not be an elected official when he reigns on Earth, he will have a political system that he will use to govern the world. The purpose of the servant’s delegated authority might be to enforce spiritual laws that were identified and/or established during Jesus’ ministry e.g. “These things I command you, that ye love one another” (John 15:17). Although Christians will not receive punishment at the judgment seat of Christ, Jesus indicated there would be negative consequences for failing to produce revenue for his kingdom. He said, “And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: for I feared thee, because thou are an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow…And he said to them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds” (Luke 19:20-24).

Even though it wasn’t specifically stated, it could be assumed that by taking away of the wicked servant’s pound, the master was removing him from his position. This doesn’t mean that Christians can lose their salvation, but it does suggest that our position in God’s kingdom is dependent upon our obedience. The reason Jesus used money to represent the resources his disciples received from him may have been because he wanted them to realize that their spiritual gifts were valuable and he expected them to be used frequently to do his work. While he was in prison, Paul identified various motivations for preaching the gospel and said, “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will” (Philippians 1:15). Paul went on to say, “What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:18-21). In other words, Paul expected to be judged not just by Christ, but by Christ’s example, and he didn’t want to be ashamed when he was asked to account for the result of ministry.