Confessions and Testimony

There’s a tendency in Christian communities to sometimes hide your “dirt,” things that potentially place shame or accusation over your identity. Perhaps it is concern over the judgement of Man, fear that these people in our community who should embrace and love us for where we are will instead judge us for who we were or what we’ve done. But this is not our identity, and it is not the way we were intended to relate to one another. In fact, our “dirt” is where we bring freedom to one another; freedom from lies and invitation into a deeper relationship with our community and God.

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

And so it is not our wisdom but our foolishness that God teaches through; He shows up again and again not through our strengths but the places where we were weak. When God restores us from a place where we feel lowly and despised, who are we left to boast in but the Lord? We did not restore ourselves but were restored by God, from whom stems our righteousness, holiness and redemption. We cannot point to ourselves but only to God. Is this not the best testimony for our Father?

What better way to show that God is alive and moving in this world, through His people, than through the testimony of true redemption? So it is our dirt that is a critical part of our story, the story we must share, because it is there that God plants His seed and reclaims it for His own.  This doesn’t mean it is effortless on our part; no. Love, faith, hope: actionable things that transform life through the power of God. But in every place where I once felt shame, where I once felt a fear of judgement or accusation I see God transforming it into testimony to His power. What can I do but boast in the Lord when he takes my darkness and turns it into light? What else can I do when He takes my faithlessness and turns it into faithfulness?

My friends: Your dirt, your testimony. These are love notes to a King who served you. These are ballads of praise to a Savior who redeems you. These are tools in an effort to show the sacrificial love to others that our God, in His grace, has shown to you.

Advertisements

Reflections on 2 Corinthians

2 CORINTHIANS
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.

Reflections on I Corinthians

I CORINTHIANS

As we begin I Corinthians, we begin to see a pattern with Paul’s writing in that he foreshadows much of his letter within his greeting. In this instance, he reminds the Corinthians both of his apostleship and of their call in I Corinthians 1:1-2 “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy…” Gorman’s emphasis on the Corinthian’s failure to love and Paul’s repeated emphasis of the holiness of humility and love in the Story of Christ becomes readily apparent as we work our way through this letter. The countercultural nature of the letter is clear; Paul is serious and moves quickly into addressing some of the major issues.

“I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” (I Cor 1:10) Paul is focused on unity here; division is a massive problem and Paul is deeply concerned. He spends a long time addressing it, first through relating how he heard of it then tying it back to Christ and his own story. He tries through various means to communicate to them that the paradigm they are used to has shifted. “Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are already something, so that no human being might boast before God.” (I Cor 1:27-29)

As Gorman calls out, wisdom and power might have been elements that Corinthians were well familiar with, and shifting their understanding that what it meant in God’s Kingdom proved to be a challenge. Paul tried to demonstrate God’s preference for the other through his own story in I Corinthians 2:2-5, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive [words of] wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” Then Paul tells them that he couldn’t talk to them as spiritual people but as people of the flesh. Gorman points to the fact that Paul reforms their view of ministers, apostle’s and the Church at this point, and points not to man but to God for boasting. Corinthians 3:9 “For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” Furthermore, he reminds them of their own holiness in their relationship with God: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” (I Cor 4:16-17)

Paul goes on to address things like factionalism and incest and, as Gorman puts it, “Paul hopes that removing this man from the sphere of the Lord Jesus and remitting him to the sphere of Satan will eventually terminate his behavior so that he will finally be saved.” (Gorman, pg. 247) Paul challenges the Corinthians spirit of “toleration,” recognizing it instead as a spirit of pride in extreme libertinism. Believing they could do what they wanted sexually with their bodies, Paul quickly moves to address this and all misunderstandings of what freedom meant in I Corinthians 6:12, “’Everything is lawful for me,’ but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is lawful for me,’ but I will not let myself be dominated by anything.’” He goes on to say that the body is not for immorality but for God; remembering earlier that the Spirit is now in us. He reminds them that their bodies are members of Christ and questions how they would treat members of Christ’s body. “For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.” (I Cor 6:20) He goes on to explain that if you are married, sex within marriage is perfectly acceptable and expected so as not to be tempted to do anything sinful.

I Corinthians 8 really comes down to, as we said in the beginning, what Gorman points out as the Corinthians unlovingness towards one another. Paul would not need to address either insufficient knowledge or practical rules if the Corinthians were able to love each other more than they loved themselves. I Corinthians 8:1 “Now in regard to meat sacrificed to idols: we realize that ‘all of us have knowledge’: knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up.” So he goes on to say that yes, while you can eat meat sacrificed to other gods because there are, in fact, no other gods, if doing so puts those who are weak in faith at risk, then a loving response is to not eat that meat in that circumstance. “But make sure that this liberty of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak… Thus through your knowledge, the weak person is brought to destruction, the brother for whom Christ died.” (I Corinthians 8:8-11) Paul goes so far as to say “Therefore, if food causes my brother to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I may not cause my brother to sin.” (I Cor 8:13) In other words, I would rather practice cruciform love for my brother by not eating meat than risk a brothers salvation through my meat eating.

Paul proceeds with was foreshadowed in the Greeting, to establish his Apostleship, and why he refrains from the rights he has as an Apostle for which some criticize him (he refrains for the good of the Gospel and sees the financial sacrifice as a reflection of Christ’s cruciform love). “I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.” (I Cor 9:23) He warns them against being overconfident; that past Israelites had relationship and no faith because of the traps of idolatry and God was displeased and so they should always be cautious. In Corinthians 10:12-13 “Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall. No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” He continues to warn against idolatry and encourage fellowship through things like the Lord’s Supper.

Paul returns again to, as Gorman points out, the Corinth slogan of “Everything is lawful.” Here he reminds them that it might be lawful but it doesn’t necessarily build up. Again, cruciform love is held up as the standard for a response to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Avoid giving offense, whether to Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.” (I Cor 10:31-33) He ends it to imitate him as he imitates Christ.

Then Paul talks about liturgical assemblies, and the abuse of the Lord’s Supper which really just traces back to the Corinthian’s inability to love one another with compassion or cruciform love. As Gorman wrote, Paul saw it as an event of solidarity with no division or neglect and yet it had become a time of division and exclusion. Paul issues a high challenge to the Corinthians within this section, saying in I Corinthians 11:27-29, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself…For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” Then he instructs them on how to properly care for one another during the Lord’s Supper.

Next Paul writes about spiritual gifts, because everyone was thinking that certain gifts were better than others. Paul emphasizes that, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (I Cor 12:12) Additionally, everyone is where they are supposed to be with the gifts that are meant to have. “But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body… Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary.” (I Cor 12:18-22) Every gift is necessary and those that seem weakest are the most necessary to the body. Love, above all things, is most important, and all gifts must be practiced with love. Since it seems to be the greatest challenge for the Corinthians, Paul describes love in detail and then names some of the gifts and how worthless they are if they are done without love. After clearly emphasizing the importance of these things, he says, “Pursue love, but strive eagerly for the spiritual gifts, above all that you may prophesy…for their building up, encouragement and solace. Whoever speaks in a tongue builds himself up, but whoever prophesies builds up the church.” (I Cor 13:1-4)

Later he says “Thus, tongues are a sign not for those who believe but for unbelievers, whereas prophecy is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.” (I Cor 14:22) I find this really interesting because I can see where this is actually true; where tongues might have been something that would have pulled in someone who was a skeptic but for a believer, prophetic words then and now would have great value to their life. A non-believer on the other hand would have no use for prophecy, because there wouldn’t be any faith or action behind it.

Lastly, if we look at the resurrection, Paul was unsure if the Corinthians really believed in the resurrection. This is understandable; for Paul it was the crux of his faith in Christ and in fact when we look at the disciples, it was the changing point for all their behavior. But Paul sees the Corinthians still behaving as pagans. We’re really getting to the point of Paul’s entire letter. If they truly did believe, they would be living as if they believed. This is why Paul warns them in I Corinthians 15:2 “Through it you were also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.” He explains the ins and out of bodily resurrection and why it is important (namely, there is no reason for faith or hope or love without it) and that because of it we are called to those things and to live a life like Christ. He wraps up the resurrection section by stating in I Corinthians 15:56-58 “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Then he wraps up with some final exhortations and greetings. When Paul writes, “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Your every act should be love.” (I Cor 16:13-14) it can feel like a call to action! Gorman writes that Paul ends with a common early Christian prayer for the Parousia which I also think is beautiful, “Our Lord, come” or Maranatha in Aramaic (pg. 283)