Sunday, September 29, 2019

Come Follow Me - Ephesians

Come Follow Me - Ephesians

Who wrote Ephesians

The tenth book of the New Testament is generally considered to not have been written by Paul, but perhaps by one of his disciples (Timothy, Titus, etc).  While tradition has it written by Paul around 62 AD while imprisoned at Rome, most scholars believe it was written after 80 AD.   The earliest manuscripts suggest it was written to “the saints”, rather than to the Ephesians.  The author does not seem to know the people of Ephesus very well (Eph 1:15-16), which Paul would know intimately, given he spent several years there in his missionary efforts.  In fact, Marcion, a later Gnostic Christian leader, believed the letter was instead sent to the Laodiceans, given the content of the letter.

Two key themes are that the Church members should get along, be unified in the work of Christ, and that the body of Christ (the Church) should be kept pure.  Such concepts suggest that Paul’s letter is primarily focused on behavior rather than doctrine.  

Grace not Works
Ephesians 1-2

The epistle begins by telling us that we are “predestined” to be adopted children of God, having been chosen of God from “before the foundation of the world.”  In this sense, Paul is explaining that even before birth, Christ chose to save the world, adopting all as his own if they will but “be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph 1:4-5).  This fits in well with the LDS concept of fore-ordination.  We believe that before this mortal existence, we dwelt with God.  Satan and many angels rebelled against God and were cast out as devils.  Those who were not cast out, were then prepared to come to mortal life, in order to develop faith and faithfulness in Christ.  Those who are born upon the earth are “predestined” to come here and freely partake of the atonement of Christ.

Sin brings spiritual death.  We are no longer in the presence of God, even symbolically.  We are no longer holy.  But Jesus spiritually brings us back to life through grace (Eph 2:4-6).  

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Not of works, lest any man should boast.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10).

Paul is speaking on two levels here.  First, the works required by the Law of Moses will not save us.  We can sacrifice animals all day long, be circumcised, and follow all the 613 points of the Mosaic law, and still not be resurrected nor brought back into God’s presence.

Instead, we are saved solely by the atonement of Christ.  Through our faith in Christ prior to this existence, we accepted him as Savior.  For this past faith, all those born into mortality will resurrect.  We are saved from physical death.  Through our faith in Christ in this life, we are saved from spiritual death and hell.  

It is a simple faith and repentance that is required to escape spiritual death and hell.  When Jesus was on the cross, he promised the repentant thief “To day thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).  Paradise is a portion of the Spirit World, where the dead await the resurrection.  The thief would not have to suffer in Spirit Prison/hell for sins, because he already believed and repented of them (1 Peter 3:18-22, 2 Corinthians 12:1-4).

In the Book of Mormon, the rebellious Alma had a near death experience, in which he noted the intense suffering he went through in hell:  

“Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments....
And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.
And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:11-20).

There was no cause for him to pay for his sins.  Christ had already done so.  The only requirement was to believe and repent.  Once his repentance was complete, he was rescued.  

So it is with us in this life.  We have sinned and fallen from grace.  We return to grace, or life in Christ by believing on him, exercising faith, and repenting.  In the previous lesson on Romans, I discussed justification in regards to this process of salvation by grace.  We are made guiltless or without sin. We are reconciled with God through Christ (Eph 2:16).

From Sinner to Saint
Ephesians 2

With the discussion on justification, or to be made guiltless through Christ’s grace, Paul moves on to making us Saints through the sanctification of the Spirit.

“For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph 2:18-22).
Once we are justified (made sinless) in Christ’s blood through faith in Christ and repentance, we are ready to join the Saints through baptism of water and the Spirit.  The Holy Ghost moves upon us, making a mighty change in us, causing us to “no more have disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:1-4).  As we grow spiritually, line upon line, from one level of grace to the next level of grace, receiving “grace for grace” even as Jesus did in his mortal life (D&C 93:11-14).

As the Spirit changes us, we keep the great commandments without fear nor pressure. We desire spiritual things, and to be like Christ.  We seek to be as the Saints, or righteous members of the body of Christ, his Church.  As “fellow citizens of the household of God”, we embrace the foundation Christ has built for us: “apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.”

So, as we establish ourselves on Christ’s atonement and the teachings of both dead and living oracles of God, we grow in grace and righteousness.  We become sanctified and righteous, symbolically becoming “an holy  temple in the Lord.”

As we truly become as Christ is, a place where the Holy Spirit may reside, barriers break down between the Saints.  In the world, we see contention, arguments, hatred, spite, and enmity among families, peoples and nations.  Jews and Gentiles were often divided in Paul’s day.  But with the covenant of Christ, they were now one house of God.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent, we learn:
“the establishment of a community of salvation welcoming within its fold both Jews and Gentiles without distinction, the Death of Christ having broken down the middle wall of partition, i.e. the Law, and both sections of the human race having thus been reconciled to God so as thenceforth to form but one body, one house, one temple, of which the apostles and Christian prophets are the foundation and Christ Himself is the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 1:16-2:20)”

Not only does Christ break down the partitions of the Law of Moses, but every other wall that separates mankind. For example, in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus, a giant gulf separated the two dead men.  In Luke 16, we find that Lazarus was in the bosom of Abraham (Paradise), while the rich man suffered in hell (Spirit Prison). With the resurrection and atonement, Jesus bridged that gulf, so that even the rich man can have a chance to believe and repent of his sins (1 Peter 4:6, 3:18-22).  As people believe in Christ and are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, they are no more strangers, but family.  

Pass through any Christian congregation that is filled with the Spirit and you will find a united people with compassion, love and kindness.  Glance at the world we live in today, and you will find discord, contention, hatred, war, violence, and sin.  Whether in politics, in many religions, sports, etc, there is a continual strife.

Among the first things the resurrected Christ taught the Nephites was:
“And after this manner shall ye baptize in my name; for behold, verily I say unto you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one.
And according as I have commanded you thus shall ye baptize. And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away” (3 Nephi 11:27-30).

The Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one in all attributes. The only difference in them is they are separate persons or personages. Such is the example we are given from the Godhead.  We must be united in faith, hope and charity in Christ.  That our sainthood and holiness must be founded upon apostles and prophets, with Christ as the chief cornerstone, makes perfect sense.  To the faithful Latter-day Saints, the Lord stated:

“he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;  And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him” (D&C 84:36-38).

On the other hand, Satan thrives on contention.  His is a house divided, whereon he can master all within the house by keeping them at odds with one another.  We must seek to be united, as Paul and Jesus taught, or we cannot be of the household of God and dwell as saints with Christ.

Paul as the least of the saints
Ephesians 3

Paul then describes his role in this wonderful plan of salvation, unity and reconciliation.  His responsibility is to bring the gospel and  the mysteries of godliness to the Gentiles.  What once was the sole domain of the Jews would now go forth throughout the world!  The Gentiles would become joint-heirs with the Jews of all that God wished to give mankind.

Paul’s greatest hope was:

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph 3:17-19).

Only as a Saint, one who is justified in Christ (made guiltless) and sanctified in the Spirit (made holy) can know of Christ’s love and to receive “all that the Father hath.”

How to be ONE
Ephesians 4

For the Saints to truly be Saints means there must be one way of doing things. There really is only “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5).  Yet, while not everyone is ready just now to be a saint and have a fullness of God’s blessings, they can still receive grace.  “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Eph 4:7).  We see that levels of grace are given to those who seek, according to the level they are ready and willing to receive.  Again, we move from “grace to grace” receiving “grace for grace” (D&C 93) as we become more and more sanctified and perfected in Christ, even until we receive a fullness.  

As Alma noted:
“the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true” (Alma 29:8).

Becoming a saint, becoming one, is a process.  It does not occur the moment we believe, the moment we are baptized, nor the moment the Spirit first touches our hearts with pure testimony.  And God has provided helps to guide us in the process of becoming one.

“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Eph 4:11-15).

Not only is the Spirit given to us to guide us along, but men called from God are sent to assist us.  There are many  evangelists, pastors and teachers in the world that help much of mankind to live better lives, guiding them according to the knowledge they have received.  The more grounded they are in the Bible and the whisperings of the Spirit, the more they can help their flocks become unified in Christ.  

Interestingly, the first two noted by Paul, namely apostles and prophets, are in a class of their own. Anciently, God “only revealed his secrets through his servants, the prophets” (Amos 3:7).  Moses, Isaiah, and other prophets foresaw the coming of Christ, and prepared the hearts of the people in their day.  The prophet John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord’s mortal ministry, which began with his own baptism.  Paul believed the prophecies of Agabus, the prophet. John the Revelator saw in vision that the events of Armageddon in the last days will include two prophets in Jerusalem.  And in the midst of all this, the Lord called twelve special prophets, named “apostles.”  These would be special witnesses of the resurrected Lord.  Paul would also be such a special witness, having seen the Lord Jesus in vision.  His witness would be retold several times by him in the scriptures, and countless other times by those who read his account and believe.

Today, the Lord has again called forth apostles and prophets to join their voices with the ancient ones.  Through Joseph Smith, the Lord restored the priesthood callings of apostle and prophet. Today, we enjoy the blessings of listening to modern prophets and apostles.  They are special witnesses of the resurrected Christ, inviting us to repent and believe, inviting us to become united as saints of God.

Their voice is given us to enhance and add greater things of God to the voice of the wonderful pastors, priests, and teachers that preach faith in Christ throughout the world.  The teachings of modern prophets and apostles include the teachings of the temple, wherein we learn the mysteries of godliness, and the highest form of unity.  

If Paul was the actual author of Ephesians, then the Jerusalem temple still stood.  If not, then the temple had been destroyed for at least a decade or more.  Either way, the author would have known the workings of the temple.  He would have understood the importance of using it as a symbol for those seeking to be saints.  Symbolically or literally, the temple must be founded on Christ as the cornerstone, with apostles and prophets as foundation.  In this way, the people know how to follow Christ in unity.  There are no major variations of doctrine that can twist and toss members around in vain contentions.  We will not all come to a full “unity of faith” until we all repent and embrace the living prophets and apostles of Christ.  That probably will not occur until His 2nd Coming.

In the meantime, those LDS saints who enter the modern temples of God, learn that it really is the “House of God” and a place where “the Spirit of God like a fire is burning.”  In the process of receiving sacred rites for oneself or vicariously for one’s ancestors, we find a oneness.  Individuals are united across the ages into eternal families.  The dead in the Spirit World, who never had the chance to hear of Christ’s grace in mortality, are given the chance to accept a baptism done on their behalf.  Passing through rooms that represent the gloom and contention of earth life, we symbolically rise to higher levels of grace and glory, until we are taken into the Celestial Room and enjoy fellowship with God and Christ in the perfect union of oneness.


Ephesians - wikipedia:

Ephesians - New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia:

Ephesians -  Early Christian Writings:

“The Spirit of God”, LDS hymn #2:

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Come Follow Me - Galatians

The Epistle to the Galatians

Another Gospel
Chapter 1

Paul made a bold statement to protect the gospel in his day from apostates’ false claims. Today, this is often misinterpreted by some Christians to show that other Christian faiths (such as Latter-day Saints) are evil:

“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9)

As in Corinth, Paul is fighting a growing problem of false apostles and teachings entering into the Christian church. A big problem is the continual push by Jewish Christians to enforce the Law of Moses upon all Christians, Jew and Gentile. It is almost as if the decision made by Peter and James in Jerusalem regarding Gentile converts and circumcision and the Law did not happen, or that even the authority of the chief apostles was questioned. This growing threat from apostates would threaten the main Church for several centuries. Gnostic Christianity would come close to replacing Christianity, and in fact, influenced the concept that we now call the Trinity.

Some modern Christians use this passage to claim that Mormons preach another gospel, and that the angel mentioned is Moroni. This claim may be useful to them, if it were not taken out of context. Just reading a few more verses explains much more:

“For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.
But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:9-12)

The gospel which Paul received was not given him by any man, but through revelation. Revelation that Paul received initially came from his vision of Jesus Christ, but also by other revelations: angels, impressions from the Holy Ghost, and revelations shared by other apostles and prophets (like Peter). Paul was warning about regular men corrupting the teachings of Christ, perhaps claiming that an angel taught them something different. Why? Because beginning already in Paul’s day were men who were corrupting the gospel with false claims. Paul warned that after he left a region, “grievous wolves” would enter in to tear the flock with false doctrines (Acts 20:28-35). Some would later claim that Jesus had already returned for the Second Coming, and Gnostics would insist that the resurrection was not a physical/bodily resurrection. For those deeply studying the Bible, it seems clear that the Great Apostasy was already in its early stages during Paul's lifetime.

That Joseph Smith had a First Vision of Jesus Christ, telling him regarding the truth of religion, just as Jesus did for Paul, should help us realize that it was not another angel preaching another gospel, but it was God restoring gospel truth via revelation of Jesus Christ!  Writing decades after Paul wrote Galatians, the apostle John would mention many angels coming to earth, one even bringing the gospel with him:

"And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" (Revelation 14:6)

 Joseph Smith did not preach a different gospel given him by a false angel. It was another angel that brought the "everlasting gospel." He preached the same gospel that Christ preached, and was taught to restore ancient teachings and authority.

Controversy over the Law of Moses

However, apostate concepts were already apparent among the Galatians, as Jewish-Christians came among them insisting that the members had to live by the Law of Moses. For several years, the young Christian Church had lived with the apostolic order that Gentiles did not have to abide the Law of Moses, yet here came members preaching false teachings!

Paul explained that the issue was already resolved years before in Jerusalem. By revelation, the Spirit sent Paul to Jerusalem to discuss the matter, and the apostles Peter,James and John spoke on behalf of the Gentile converts: they did not need to be circumcised nor follow the Law of Moses. A small list of laws were given for them to follow, including being chaste and not worshiping idols. But the Law of Moses would not apply to the Gentiles.

“And when James, Cephas (Peter), and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.
Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.” (Galatians 2:9-10)

The Galatians could live by the difficult law of Moses or by faith in Christ. The Law of Moses would not save them, but Christ could and would through faith on his name. This is not to say they didn’t have to keep commandments. It does mean they did not keep all the hundreds of commandments in the law of Moses. Instead, they lived a higher law: by growing in faith and repentance in Christ, they would naturally seek to serve Christ and their fellow man. Loving others, forgiving others, helping others would come naturally as an outpouring of the Holy Spirit due to their faith on Christ.

Paul explained that the promises were made to Abraham and his seed. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as the original Twelve Tribes of Israel did not live the Law of Moses and its many restrictions. They worked through faith, and were blessed and considered holy because of their faith.

Moses tried to bring Israel the fullness of the gospel and bring them into the presence of Christ at Mount Sinai (D&C 84:19-26). Israel refused to go up the mountain to see Christ, and so the Melchizedek Priesthood’s fullness was taken from them. They were given the lesser priesthood of Aaron/Levi, and the many rules of the Mosaic Law in the stead of the higher law of Christ. Paul explained that the Law “was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). Once we find ourselves walking in the path of Christ’s fullness, we no longer need the Law of Moses, as we are now made holy in Christ and will walk by faith, and not by physical works of the Law of Moses. Under the Law, we were slaves to the law. Under Christ, we are made free.

“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29)

By faith in Christ, repenting of our sins, and making a covenant with Christ through baptism, we put on Christ, or become Christ-like and holy. No longer slaves to the Law, we are freed. We become the family of Christ, the seed of Abraham and heirs of God through Christ.

Heirs of God through Christ

Paul continues in chapter four, explaining that we are all born slaves and servants on earth because of sin. We have no way to change our eternal path on our own. Without Jesus, we would forever be slaves to death and hell.

But God has seen fit to send us a Savior. We are spiritually adopted into the family of God through our covenant with Christ. We exercise faith in him, we repent, and we accept the covenant. In turn, he promises to make us the seed of Abraham and heirs of God.

“And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Galatians 4:6-7)

Because of the Fall of Adam, we are out of God’s presence. Christ provides the reconciliation between the natural and spiritual man, so that we may be made holy and return as heirs of God into His presence.

Paul was afraid for the Galatians and he feared he wasted his time on them. For even after accepting the gospel, they were wont to go after other gods, They celebrated the festivals of the pagan gods, whether they lasted days, weeks or months. One cannot be a true son of God through Christ, if also proclaiming to follow other gods as well.

Abraham had two wives: Sarah and Hagar, an Egyptian woman. One was called the daughter of God, the other lived and acted the part of a servant/slave. The children of Israel were slaves in Egypt, but given the chance to be sons of the Divine at Mount Sinai. We and the Galatians both have to decide whether to remain slaves in unbelief, or rise above our current state and choose to be like Sarah: chosen by Jehovah to be his daughter and heir, knowing she would be faithful to Abraham, the covenant, and the Lord.

Finally, in chapter five Paul explains:

“For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” (Galatians 5:6)

It does not matter whether we are circumcised or not. Outward evidences are only useful as symbols of our inward love, faith and devotion to Christ and Heavenly Father. As the Lord explained through Moses:

“Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff necked” (Deut 10:16).

Paul taught that the commandments are important and necessary to keep. Obedience keeps us from following Satan and being in his power. Keeping the commandments may bring us earthly blessings and good fortune. But the keeping of commandments alone cannot save nor exalt us. The Pharisees kept many commandments, rules, regulations, and even made up more to follow in order to build a wall of protection around the Torah (Books of Moses). Yet, these efforts only led them away from Christ, as they focused on the external changes, and not on changing from within.

We must BECOME Christ-like in order to be a son or daughter of God. This change occurs as we grow in faith and repent of our sins. The Holy Ghost inspires us to live righteously, and in following his inspiration, we naturally keep the commandments of God more and more, until we become perfected in Christ. We keep the commandments because we desire to be holy and find joy in being like Jesus. For those struggling with such a concept, we have repentance. We are called upon to keep commandments, and Paul gives a laundry list in Galatians of the commandments we need to follow. But we do not follow them as one would follow the Law of Moses, except that they become a schoolmaster to lead us to faith in Christ, changing us from temporal slavery to spiritual freedom. Our faith in Christ fills us with the Holy Ghost, heals us, and makes us whole. We become true disciples of Christ, and heirs of God.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Come Follow Me - 2 Corinthians 8-13

Come Follow Me - 2 Corinthians 8-13

Second Corinthians

Second Corinthians is accepted by almost all scholars as being authentically written by Paul. There is a twist, however. There is evidence that suggests that 2 Corinthians isn’t one letter, but actually two letters that were later combined. Chapters 1-9 focus on harmony and reconciliation. The last four chapters focus on divisions occurring in Corinth. In fact, 2 Cor 2:4 mentions a “sorrowful letter” or “letter of tears” that Paul had written them. Several scholars believe that the chapters 10-13 of Second Corinthians are that sorrowful letter.

In the “sorrowful letter” found in chapters 10-13, Paul discussed his sadness from a visit he made to Corinth, where he was humiliated by others who had obtained power in the church there. In fact, it becomes a polemic defense of his apostleship against those who attacked his authority.

2 Corinthians 8-9 - Be a Cheerful Giver

Corinth was a rich city. It was situated perfectly on the Mediterranean Sea on the main trade routes. Peoples from all over the Roman Empire lived there involved in shipping and trading. It was a center for Roman/Greek religion and learning. Being along the coast, it was also a fertile area for farming.

Meanwhile, Jerusalem was generally poor. Little rain. One of its two main bodies of water filled with salt and lifeless. Generally not fertile. Continually in the path of competing rival nations and power brokers. For Paul, it was important to have the saints support one another. In this case, ask the Corinthians to donate generously to the poor Jewish Christians in Israel.

Paul connects giving with receiving blessings.

"He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows [d]bountifully will also reap [e]bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Cor 9:6-7 NKJV)

 Being a cheerful giver provides us with an important Christian attribute: gratitude. We donate, help and minister, not because we feel a responsibility or imposition to do so, but because we seek to follow Christ. We learn to be grateful for all that God has done for us in blessing us and providing us with the atonement and resurrection. Through gratitude, we then seek to share our blessings with others in need.

2 Corinthians 10-11 - Spiritual Warfare

Paul notes that we do not fight a physical/temporal battle, but a spiritual one. He notes that there are still many that fight against his teachings and authority as an apostle. He notes that he hates to boast about his authority, but insists it is necessary to separate him from those who would take advantage of Paul's absence.

So dangerous are the other preachers that Paul warns:

"But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast.For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works." (2 Cor 11:12-15 NKJV)
Who are some of the false apostles today? What are some of their teachings that sound wonderful to the ears of the wicked, but lead us away from the law of God? How do they oppose the living prophets and apostles?

Paul’s Vision of the Heavens
2 Corinthians 12:2-4

Paul continued to explain his authority and power that God had given him through visions:

“I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
"And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
"How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” (2 Cor 12:2-4)

Most scholars agree that Paul is speaking about himself when he refers to “a man” who was caught up to heaven. Such an experience would show that Paul was worthy of being an apostle of God, and with knowledge of God to share with the people of Corinth.

These verses are perhaps the best in all scripture to denote a separation between paradise and heaven, and that there are levels of heaven. LDS belief is along these lines. For Latter-day Saints, Paradise is the place the spirits of the dead go to as they await the resurrection and final judgment of God. So, when Jesus told the thief on the cross, “today shalt thou be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43) we get a better understanding of what was going on. Jesus went to the “spirits in prison” to preach to them (1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6) - obviously there are two sections to the world of Spirits (paradise and prison). The thief could not have been that day with Jesus in heaven, for Jesus told Mary Magdalene he had not yet ascended up to God (John 20:17), but he could be with him in Paradise, the place where spirits await the resurrection.

Ancient Jews and Christians believed in three or more levels of heaven. Some think these statements referenced the Hebrew belief of a tripartite world: heavens above, earth, and Sheol or hell beneath. And while this may apply, there is definite evidence from early sources of levels within heaven itself, such as the Ascension of Isaiah and other early texts. These describe three, 10, or 40 levels of heaven.

There is an ancient Christian text entitled, “the Apocalypse of Paul”, wherein Paul ascends through the ten levels of heaven. Like Nephi, Moses, the apostle John, and others, Paul is caught up to an exceedingly high mountain. There, he is given a special guide to direct him through the vision. In this case, as with Nephi (1 Nephi 11), it is the Holy Spirit.

Paul tells us:

“Then the Holy Spirit who was speaking with him caught him up on high to the third heaven, and he passed beyond to the fourth heaven.”

The fourth heaven was filled with angels, presided over by the “toll collector” or sentinel. People were judged for their sins, with witnesses and books brought forth to judge them. With the Holy Spirit as his guide, Paul continued through the fifth and onto the sixth heavens.

“Then we went up to the sixth heaven. And I saw my fellow apostles going with me, and the Holy Spirit was leading me before them. And I gazed up on high and saw a great light shining down on the sixth heaven. I spoke, saying to the toll-collector who was in the sixth heaven, "Open to me and the Holy Spirit who is before me." He opened to me.
Then we went up to the seventh heaven, and I saw an old man [...] light and whose garment was white. His throne, which is in the seventh heaven, was brighter than the sun by seven times. The old man spoke, saying to me, "Where are you going, Paul? O blessed one and the one who was set apart from his mother`s womb." But I looked at the Spirit, and he was nodding his head, saying to me, "Speak with him!". And I replied, saying to the old man, "I am going to the place from which I came." And the old man responded to me, "Where are you from?" But I replied, saying, "I am going down to the world of the dead in order to lead captive the captivity that was led captive in the captivity of Babylon." The old man replied to me saying, "How will you be able to get away from me? Look and see the principalities and authorities." The Spirit spoke, saying, "Give him the sign that you have, and he will open for you." And then I gave him the sign. He turned his face downwards to his creation and to those who are his own authorities.
And then the heaven opened and we went up to the Ogdoad. And I saw the twelve apostles. They greeted me, and we went up to the ninth heaven. I greeted all those who were in the ninth heaven, and we went up to the tenth heaven. And I greeted my fellow spirits.”

In this instance, we see there are ten levels or layers of heaven. At least some of them are guarded by sentinels, who question Paul concerning his purpose and require a sign before he is allowed to pass on to the next higher level.

While this series of events may seem strange to most Christians, they make perfect sense to Mormons, whose temple rites include practicing going through levels of heaven and returning back into the presence of God. Speaking of these rites, President Brigham Young stated:

"Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell." (Journal of Discourses 2:31).

Here are some links to ancient texts that show a belief in multiple heavens:


Early Christian Writings on 2 Corinthians:

Wikipedia on 2 Corinthians:’s Intro on 2 Corinthians:

Ascension of Isaiah:

The Apocalypse of Paul:

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Come Follow Me - 2 Corinthians 1-7

Come Follow Me - 2 Corinthians 1-7

Second Corinthians

Second Corinthians is accepted by almost all scholars as being authentically written by Paul. There is a twist, however. There is evidence that suggests that 2 Corinthians isn’t one letter, but actually two letters that were later combined. Chapters 1-9 focus on harmony and reconciliation. The last four chapters focus on divisions occurring in Corinth. In fact, 2 Cor 2:4 mentions a “sorrowful letter” or “letter of tears” that Paul had written them. Several scholars believe that the chapters 10-13 of Second Corinthians are that sorrowful letter.

In chapters 2-6, Paul attempts to establish himself with the Corinthian Christians, explaining his authority compared to that of others who had arrived in Corinth with claims of authority from elsewhere. He has had a painful visit with them, and wants to show that his love for them is greater than the pain caused during the visit. Chapters 1 and 7 show Paul’s effort to reconcile with the saints in Corinth and to reestablish the gospel in its proper form.

In the “sorrowful letter” found in chapters 10-13, Paul discussed his sadness from a visit he made to Corinth, where he was humiliated by others who had obtained power in the church there. In fact, it becomes a polemic defense of his apostleship against those who attacked his authority.

Problems Corinth has with Paul

The Corinthians had three major complaints with Paul.  Paul's companion, Titus had visited Corinth in his place, and they shared with him these complaints.

First, they couldn't understand his letters (2 Cor 1:12-14). Anyone today who has attempted to study Paul will come out asking, "WHAT????"  His letters bounce all around. His thoughts are often incoherent (just reread Romans as an example). The Corinthians wanted a gospel they could easily understand, but were not getting it from Paul. '

Paul deals with this complaint by discussing his good conduct, as an example of what a Christian should be. Some have thought that Paul was being arrogant in discussing all the things he accomplished. Yet, this is to contrast his efforts from the opposing preachers, a list of things he and his companions had done (we, not I) as servants of Christ.

Second,  on at least one occasion, Paul promised to visit Corinth, but then changed his mind without even letting them know. They felt slighted by the apostle (vv 15-23). He mentioned visiting with them twice, with a trip to Macedonia in between. During his first visit to Corinth, Paul had many struggles with them, and being frustrated, chose to go to Ephesus instead. This complaint has substance, but also shows that Paul had to choose between important and less important visits and works all the time. As Stephen Covey noted in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we must choose between what is important and what is urgent. That said, not discussing the change with Corinth would have left them feeling unimportant and left out: a letter apologizing for the change would have gone a long way to maintain his relationship with them.

Finally, they felt Paul was very domineering and demanding of them. They wanted to make sure he knew they were in control of their own Christian church in Corinth (1:24-2:4). They were likely being encouraged by visiting preachers, who wanted to replace Paul as their leader.

In these verses, Paul feels he's on trial. He uses legal terms to discuss what occurred, swearing to the truthfulness of his account ("as God is my witness"). Paul knew that if he had returned to Corinth, he would have had to discipline them for not repenting and following him. His visit would have made them sad, and there would be no gladness for them.

Spirit of the Law

In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul then urges forgiveness. He understands that his relationship with them is marred, and so focusing on forgiveness of all those who offend, is a path that can repair their relationship.

In chapter 3, he explains the difference between the Letter of the Law and the Spirit. The Mosaic Law does not bring eternal life. A person following the Mosaic Law will die and cannot return to Heaven. Only in following the Law of Christ, born of the Spirit, can a person be reborn and live. Without Christ, there would be no resurrection, not atonement, no mercy, no forgiveness. So, the Letter (Mosaic) Law was dead, as it was useful for this life, but could not save anyone. Only through Christ could anyone hope to be saved.