Abba, Father, Creator of all that has been and will be, how great and holy are You? I praise You that in the midst of all creation, You pursue so faithfully a relationship with us, Lord. You are all good and Your Kingdom is a Kingdom filled to the brim with the fruit of that goodness; our separateness is the fruit of our disobedience, not proof of your faithlessness. I pray you help me and my community to become more of a reflection of You, and that we bear fruit as you would have us do. You answer my prayers over and over again, Abba, and You provide for me in all ways and I give thanks for it. When disbelief in this creeps in, I pray you protect me from it. Remind me of Your steadfastness so that I can be more steadfast in my love to You. Help me to receive, Abba. Amen.
Some say Romans is the most influential letter every written. When in Christian circles, I often feel like it is certainly the most quoted. Some of the names which Gorman mentions as being inspired by it include Martin Luther, Augustine and John Wesley (founder of Methodism). “It narrates the grace of God toward sinful humanity, both Jews and Gentiles, that creates a multicultural cruciform community of obedient faith issuing in generous love and expectant hope.” (Gorman, pg. 339) It is easy when people begin to look at Jews and Gentiles to become divided, to see the separateness and differentness as one being superior but it is important to remember that Paul’s ministry was pastoral and particularly in Romans, the goal was to emphasize God’s grace. Romans 1:11-12 “For I long to see you, that I may share with you some spiritual gift so that you may be strengthened, that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith, yours and mine.” I particularly enjoy this verse, even though Gorman doesn’t focus much on it, because it emphasizes the community aspect of Christianity and the encouragement that can be found within that community and with God.
Paul, a self-identified Jew, identifies himself as a doulos, a slave of Christ whom God graced with the call to be an apostle. While this call to apostleship sets him apart, identifying himself as a slave to Christ quickly brings a posture of humility to someone who could easily be prideful either in their heritage or their calling. “Paul clearly views God’s gospel and salvation as oriented to all, ‘to the Jew first and also to the Greek’ (1:16).” (Gorman, pg. 349) There is an emphasis that this is for everyone and therefore there is no place for pride. Paul reminds people to be humble yet again in another passage, warning people to beware of pride and hypocrisy and that the law cannot be the means of justification. Romans 3:19-20 tells us, “Now we know that what the law says is addressed to those under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world stand accountable to God, since no human being will be justified in his sight by observing the law; for through the law comes consciousness of sin.” Although there is not justification found through the law, there is awareness of sin, which is discovered through the law but not created by it. A great amount of Romans is spent on sin and freedom from the law, but then we shift to our adoption and receipt of glory. The undeniable love of God witnessed through Christ Jesus.
Another verse that particularly pulls my attention is Romans 1:20 “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.” This is part of the argument that those who do not acknowledge God are without excuse because they witnessed God in creation and didn’t honor or thank him. This does not, however, negate the necessity of God and Christ, as we see later in Romans 8:35-39 “What will separate us from the love of Christ? What anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? …No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus or Lord.” So when we ask ourselves what God has done for us in order to maintain relationship with us, in order to save us, in order to keep promises with a people who break their promises… when we reflect on that, our only response if we agree with Paul is to respond in kind; to let nothing separate God’s love from us.
The final Romans verse I wanted to reflect on was Romans 14:1-3 “Welcome anyone who is weak in faith, but not for disputes over opinions. One person believes that one may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. The one who eats must not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains must not pass judgment on the one who eats; for God has welcomed him.” Although he touches on a lot of amazing things before this and after this, this echoes on what I wrote earlier from Corinthians and I speaks to something that I resonates with our society even today. While, as Gorman said, Paul wrote this about judgmentalism and accountability, today we see it modeled within the Church as those who are look or act “more” Christian than others. This could look like a lot of different things. For some, it may mean that there’s no drinking or dancing, others it means that your always in church on Wednesdays for the extra Spirit-filling, or that you are going door to door spreading the Word. Perhaps it means that your clothing, hair and makeup meets certain expectations. Anyone doing these things in the community could arguably be considered those who eat only vegetables. Ones within their community who do not conform to these standards but have relationship with the triune and believe in a Christ who fulfilled the Law would be the person who believes they may eat anything. You can see the risk involved here, where pride and judgement could easily creep into the hearts of either. As Paul goes on to point out, he would abstain from meat if it would avoid putting a weak person’s relationship with God at risk. This is because it models Christ’s servant attitude towards others. We must know when truth is needed and when it is best not to quibble over opinions that do not risk a persons faith.
While it is debated whether 2 Corinthians is a single letter or a collection of letters, one thing we can know for sure is that it is a treasure trove of spiritual wealth and knowledge; in it Paul provides a defense of cruciform ministry and instruction on the lifestyle of the apostle. “…he argues – sometimes gently and politely, sometimes aggressively and acerbically, but always compellingly – that cruciformity is the mark of apostleship, grace and the Spirit.” (Gorman, pg. 291)
We learn through Gorman that Paul starts not with his usual Thanksgiving but with a Jewish blessing that then begins to set the stage for the rest of the letter “…life in Christ is about suffering and endurance, affliction and comfort, partnership and mutual care. It is about an ‘abundant life’: experiencing the abundant presence of God in the midst of abundant tribulation.” (Gorman, pg. 294) I love the words that Paul leads with in 2 Cor 1:3-4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction…” because it reminds us that it is not God who afflicts us but who is compassionate towards us, who suffers affliction and encourages us when we persevere in our afflictions. This is why we can only agree with Paul when he states in 2 Cor 1:7 “Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement.” For our God is with us in everything.
We are reminded in 2 Cor 1:10 “He rescued us from such great danger of death, and he will continue to rescue us; in him we have put our hope [that] he will also rescue us again…” This must inspire us. When we examine this perspective, how can we not hope, for why would God go to such lengths to rescue us if he did not intend to save us? He is surely faithful to us. We are reminded again, in 2 Cor 1:20 “For however many are the promises of God, their Yes in in him, therefore, the Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory.” As Gorman explains, each of God’s promises is always a yes, although the timing of this promise is not assured.
The next part that really stuck out to me was what Paul wrote about the offender who had been punished by the community, the one who had hurt Paul and the church. By extending charisasthai kai parakalesai, or grace and comfort, they are showing love not just for the individual but for the community as well. “Therefore, I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.” (2 Cor 2:8) The community with which we share our suffering as Paul alluded to earlier in the letter offered both punishment and forgiveness, sharing the burden of suffering.
I also appreciate the contrast with which Paul compares the apostolic life to the life of the Romans, using the metaphors to frame up the cruciform lifestyle. “Paul claims that his life and message impact both those being saved and those perishing, functioning as confirmation of their life or their death, respectively (2:15-16; cf. 1 Cor. 1:18; Phil. 1:28). This, Paul realizes, is an awesome responsibility, such that ‘Who is sufficient?’ (NRSV) or ‘Who is qualified’ (NAB) is certainly an appropriate question (2:16).” (Gorman, pg. 298) What Paul helps us to see through his metaphors and questions is that we do not qualify ourselves but are divinely commissioned, and are held accountable to that commission.
This should lead us not to pride but humility in ourselves and confidence in Christ. As we often see with Paul, he pulls the old testament and new together in 2 Cor 3:3-5 “…shown to be a letter of Christ administered by us, written not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are hearts of flesh. Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us; rather, our qualification comes from God…” What I really appreciate is that Paul doesn’t devalue the old covenant; he gives thanks for the fulfillment of the temporary covenant and the deliverance of the new more grace-filled covenant that brought God’s Spirit with it. He goes on to contrast the two covenants, examining the suffering of death and the experience of glory as well as the veil over people who cannot see. This all points to the triune or trinity. “Ironically, Paul’s point is almost certainly that the Spirit is the Spirit of both YHWH and Jesus. The glory of Israel’s God is perceived only by seeing the glory of his “image,” the (crucified) Lord Jesus (4:4), like an image reflected in a mirror. In line with much ancient thought about God, Paul believes those who ‘gaze upon’ the image and glory of God are transformed into the divine image…” (Gorman, pg. 300) This translates life and freedom IN Christ THROUGH the Spirit by a God of Israel fully revealed.
While we understand this life and freedom promised, we look back at the original topic of affliction. “Paul senses the tension between a gospel of glory and a life of slavery and affliction. He resolves it by finding in the pattern of Jesus’ death and resurrection the pattern of his own life.” (Gorman, pg. 302) The metaphor that Paul uses this is beautifully described and is a salve to the soul in times of great affliction. 2 Cor 4:7-10 “But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.” It is to tie our suffering to the suffering of Christ and our life to the life of Christ and, as Gorman described, be transformed into the divine image. This leads us to cruciform ministry, a life that makes the life of Jesus visible to others through ourselves; but not by our words alone. Cruciform love isn’t suffering AND love, it’s suffering IN love. The same is true for cruciform ministry, and it’s all in Christ, a reflection of Christ and the hope offered in the resurrection.
It is a fundamental thing to note that it is Christ’s love, not the love of Christ, which compels them. 2 Cor 5:14 “For the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died.” This means that Christ died as an act of love for all, so that they would all die to themselves and live for God. This was an orienting act of Christ, but there is still an action to be taken, a response to be made on the part of the people: to choose God.
Paul writes of his experience in the ministry, establishing his integrity but also providing a framework for those to come for both what to expect and what to strive for. Additionally, it provides us context to understand the tremendous amount of endurance that Paul and his companions demonstrated during their ministry. 2 Cor 6:3-8 “We cause no one to stumble in anything, in order that no fault may be found within our ministry; on the contrary, in everything we commend ourselves as ministers of God, through much endurance, in afflictions, hardships constraints, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, vigils, fasts, by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, in a holy spirit, in unfeigned love, in truthful speech, in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness at the at the right and at the left; through glory and dishonor, insult and praise.”
Paul goes on to address many of the problems being faced, including those known as the “super apostles” who were anything but super. Although there is much to be said about these super apostles and so much more within 2 Corinthians, the final verse I’ll examine comes after Paul emphasizes what he ultimately seeks from them: obedience to Christ. Paul understood all the things the Corinthians were up against and warned them strongly in 2 Cor 10:3-6 “For, although we are in the flesh we do not battle according to the flesh, for the weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses. We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.” This is not a war of violence against the body but a call to repentance, peace and forgiveness. It is so easy to blame the flesh, the person, and to make their sin their identity but that is not who we are at war with; that is not who our enemy is. The enemy is sin, the enemy is whatever drives us further from relationship with God instead of bringing us closer and by recognizing that the enemy is sin and not the person we can bring freedom and the Kingdom to people who would otherwise believe there is no hope.
In Matt 5:3 Jesus says blessed are those who recognize their sinfulness and need of a savior. In Matthew 5:4 He adds blessed are those who mourn for their sin, for they will be comforted.
So much is changing right now and I get why everyone else thinks this should be so easy, so hope-filled. Why my “burden should be light.” I know I am making things harder than they need to be. But that is, perhaps, why it is my journey and not theirs. God is wiser than we are.
I’m not going to write much here but love, marriage, family and home keeps popping up. Sometimes I give thanks, sometimes I lament; often I do both. These songs seem to be speaking to me right now so I just wanted to document a few of them.