“For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (4:5). This one statement captures Paul’s ministry heartbeat as found in his second letter to the Corinthian church. “Super apostles” (11:5) had captured the affections of the Corinthian church and convinced them to look down on Paul, even though he was their father in the faith. 2 Corinthians is Paul’s defense of his ministry.
To a great extent, Paul’s defense is that he served the Corinthians disinterestedly for Christ’s sake and for the sake of the truth found in Him. Not that he was uninterested in the Corinthians or complacent about their spiritual progress. Rather, Paul cares so greatly for them that everything he did and continues to do in ministering for them is motivated by their joy, their progress in Christ, their firm stance in the gospel, their comfort, and their spiritual well being (1:6, 24; 6:11-13; 7:2-4, 13-16; 13:9). Everything, beloved, is for the sake of building you up (12:19). 2 Corinthians contains the longest list of what Paul endured for the sake of the gospel (11:16-33; see also 1:8-10; 4:8-12). He felt a little foolish in including such a list in his letter but the list shows up the superficiality of the super apostles who had so wowed the Corinthians. What had they suffered? What had they sacrificed? How had they served disinterestedly? Paul’s defense of his ministry in 2 Corinthians gets to the heart of what should be the motives of any Christian minister and, frankly, any Christian. He should serve those to whom he is ministering for Christ’s sake and keep his motives and ministry methods free from greed, pretense, self-interest, or deceit (2:17; 4:2).
As you read Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia look for words like redeemed, enslaved, free, freedom, or compelled. In some ways, the word freed summarizes Galatians. The true gospel of Jesus Christ, the one that preaches salvation by faith alone, frees. Other false gospels or erroneous ways of living the Christian faith enslave (2:4). “Christ has set us free” (5:1). Christ has rescued us from this evil age (1:3). He has redeemed us from the curse of the law (3:13)—the curse that falls upon anyone who tries to keep the law for salvation and comes up short just one time. The faith-alone gospel frees.
But the gospel does not just free from. It also frees to. Our freedom in Christ frees us to serve one another (5:13). Faith that works “through love” is the Christian’s motto (5:6). Love (and other fruit) is what the Spirit of God produces in us as we walk in Him (5:16, 22-23). The cross has freed me so I can serve. Therefore, “as for me, let me never boast in anything other than the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (6:14).
Ephesians—The church as the body of Christ
Ephesians sets forth the calling (chs. 1-3) and conduct (chs. 4-6) of the church as the body of Christ. Is there any higher honor for the church than to be called Christ’s body? As such, it is the fullness of Him who fills all in all (1:23). The same power at work to resurrect and exalt Christ is the power that has brought spiritual life to those who were formerly spiritually dead (1:20-2:6). Furthermore, Christ went to the cross in order to bring Jew and Gentile together in one body that would be the dwelling of God through the Spirit (2:11-22). By the Spirit’s empowering, the church then has the privilege and responsibility to be filled up to all the fullness of God (3:16-19). That’s the church’s calling!
Ephesians 4-6 then unpacks the conduct (“walk”) commensurate with such a calling. In short, the church should walk in unity (4:1-16), as a new man in Christ (4:17-32), in love (5:1-2), in light (5:3-14), and in wisdom and the Spirit (5:15-6:9). The church must recognize that it is in a battle to walk worthy of its calling and must put on the whole armor of God (6:10-20).
Divine love brought the church into existence, and the church ought to mimic that love in its dealings with one another (see 5:1-2). Ephesians ends by wishing grace upon all those who do not cease to love the Lord Jesus (6:24). Tragically, within 30 years of these words, Jesus rebukes the church at Ephesus for having lost its initial love for Him (Rev. 2:4).
Philippians—Behavior worthy of the gospel
Philippians (like Ephesians) was written while Paul was in prison. Paul writes primarily in order to thank the Philippians for a financial gift he had received from them (4:10-20). In the process of thanking them, Paul updates them on his situation and—being the Apostle Paul—takes the opportunity to exhort them on a few particulars. Evidently something about the unity of the Philippian church concerned him, and so he emphasizes that living worthy of the gospel of Christ includes striving together side by side for the gospel along with other believers (1:27). Unfortunately, strife exists even in gospel ministry at times, and Paul alludes to a couple such situations (1:15-17; 4:2-3).
One solution to unity is humility—and Paul sets forth Christ as the ultimate example of humility. Another solution is to joy in sacrificial ministry for the sake of others (2:17-18). But ultimately, and most importantly, the Philippians needed to rejoice in the Lord (3:1-4:7). Rejoicing in the Lord leads to boasting in Christ Jesus (v. 3), considering everything loss for Christ Jesus (v. 8), pursuing that which Christ laid hold of you to accomplish (v. 12), and eagerly waiting for the transformation that Christ's return will bring (vv. 20-21). Rejoicing in the Lord will even help believers to agree with each other (4:2-4): you can be gracious to others (4:5) when the Lord is your rejoicing and petition the Lord about any concerns you might have (4:6-7). Finally, unity comes to those who control their minds and force their thoughts to run in honorable directions (4:8).
- In 2 Corinthians, how does Paul defend his ministry?
- According to 2 Corinthians, what should be the motive of any Christian in his or her ministry to others?
- What one word summarizes Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches?
- According to Galatians, what has the gospel freed us from? What has it freed us to?
- What phrase in Galatians 5:6 could be viewed as the Christian’s motto?
- What, according to Ephesians, is the church’s calling?
- How should the church conduct itself in light of its calling?
- According to Philippians, what does behavior worthy of the gospel look like?
- According to Philippians, what are some solutions to help the body of Christ attain unity?