A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Six)

I’d strongly suggest starting at Part 1, it’s probably worth it. We’re diving into “The Talk,” in chapter 8. It’s maybe the talk we should have gotten, but most of us didn’t, and even if we did, most of us didn’t listen.

Sex isn’t just physical. Sex in more than just physical. Way more.” (132) Many of us might feel the truth in this statement, but often don’t act that way. Society doesn’t tell us this either: hook-up culture is rampant. If you’re being safe and it’s consensual, enjoy. Satisfy those physical urges, right? But sex is more because you are more. You are way more than a body. Think this isn’t true? “If sex is just physical, then once any physical damage was healed, that would be the end of it. Granted, there may be some residual trust issues to work through. But every pastor, counselor, and victim knows the flood of emotions associated with sexual abuse goes way beyond trust issues.” (133) Andy Stanley walks through several more examples, including rape, to help highlight the fact that sex goes way beyond the physical.

He then looks at the connection between sexual addiction and alienation from fathers. Having talked to dozens of men with these issues, something else was revealed: “The men I’ve talked to would be quick to tell you their sexuality and their sexual struggles are not just physical. Something other than their male appetite for sex was driving their self-destructive behavior. Many of these men had given up on actual sex.” (136) Consider this, if sex is “just sex,” why the sense of betrayal when someone in a marriage has sex with someone outside a marriage? Why is that one of the deepest cuts you can make to the trust in your relationship? Or why do people care about the sexual history of the person you date? It comes down to our desire for intimacy. “You may find this difficult to believe, but you have an appetite for intimacy… knowing fully and being fully known… There’s a significant and mysterious connection between one’s sexual experience and one’s capacity to experience relational intimacy.” (138)

What does this mean? It means the sexual choices you make now will influence your marriage later. It means that what we do now has an impact on what we can experience later. Pretending something isn’t true (like intimacy being important doesn’t help you, it sets you up for disappointment. “The heartbreaking consequence of our sexually liberated culture is that single men and women are undermining their own potential for sexual fulfillment later in life.” (141) The more partners you have, the more your experience of sexual intimacy decreases. This is the outcome of separating sex from the significance it has to us beyond the physical.

“What is touted as safe for the body is dangerous for the soul. While your body is designed with the capacity to successfully accommodate multiple sex partners with no apparent consequences, you are not.” (143) And this isn’t just your history; it’s the history that will impact and influence your future partner for life. While we can certainly alter our path now, it is worth noting the difference between forgiveness and consequences. The past doesn’t necessarily remain the past: you bring into your bedroom memories, guilt, comparison (or the fear of it), etc. This isn’t saying that you shouldn’t be with anyone who has a sexual past. It IS saying that you should understand what that was and what repercussions it may have.

“Over 30 percent of the couples that come to us for premarital counseling are already living together. Of the remaining 70 percent, most are already involved sexually. You might assume couples who are living and sleeping together have worked through the sexual challenges created by their sexual histories. Not so.” (144) Why? This goes back to the earlier chapters that mention that adding sex to a relationship stunts the ability to build healthy relationships. Andy Stanley requires those going through premarital counseling to cease sexual activity before marriage, and they have those living together make separate living arrangements as well. Why? Taking sex out of the equation makes talking about issues easier. “Those who comply thank us later. And only 7 percent call off the wedding.” (145) He gives other examples for why this no sex before marriage is a good idea, but I think that the gist of it is pretty clear. Working to preserve your purity now makes a path for deeper intimacy in the future.

You might think abstaining from sex outside of marriage is only for teens. It’s not meant for newly single adults, right? Or maybe you think that if the damage is done, is it really worth stopping at this point? Ask yourself this: “Has sex as a single… made your life better or more complicated? If God is a heavenly Father who loves you and wants the best for you… and he knows sex apart from marriage will complicate your life… what would you expect him to say about it?” (148) The thing is, each time we sexually engage with a person and then it ends, we end up hardening our heart a little more. Insulating ourselves a little more (the opposite of intimacy). We lie to ourselves, we say it was meaningless, that we’re over it. This is true of all of us, if we really look at ourselves. If we look at our choices and the effects it has. If we look at how we relate to people.

“All regret is difficult to live with. Sexual regret may be the most difficult. So we lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves we haven’t done anything wrong. It was his fault. Her fault. You were young. You were drunk. All of which may be true. But you’re still guilty. Nobody wants to feel guilty. So we create narratives we can live with and move on. Or attempt to.” (150) When we acknowledge this (some might call it sin), things shift. When we change our path from sexual encounters to preservation for marriage (let’s call this an act of repentance), things break free. You move towards a healthy understanding of sex and intimacy in relationships. It’s how you engage in that process we’ve been calling becoming.

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A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Four)

I’m clearly getting a lot from this since we are in Part 4. I encourage anyone reading this to start at the beginning with Part 1.

Chapter 5 is called ‘Love Is,’ but I think the best way to describe this chapter would be, ‘Love Does.’ When you think about all the Disney stories, fairy tales and (again) romantic comedies that are ever so popular, the understanding is (whether stated or not) that everyone lives happily ever after. Those who scoff might be called realists, or skeptics, perhaps even cynics. But one thing that is abundant in life is trials and tribulations: generally only children believe that happily ever after happens in this life. Paul wrote on love in I Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” In order to be a man (or an adult), you must put away your childish understanding of what and how to love.

“Think about it. Aren’t you amazed at how immature adults can be when it comes to love and relationships? Immature, as in childish. Childlike. Why is that? When it comes to their relationships with women, why do grown men revert to acting like teenaged boys? And why do grown women play along? …We all know that approach to romance never ends well. So why is it repeated so often?” (74)

But if that doesn’t work, what does? How do we love as mature adults? If we seek the answer within the bible, Paul provides the context of love as a verb. And verbs, being actions, naturally have effects. In other words, “When both people are willing to do a little causing, both experience a little effecting. Perhaps affection would be a better word. When two people choose to put the other first, powerful things transpire.” (76) What exactly are those verbs? Check out I Corinthians 13:4-8. This, in essence, ought to be our “Become List.” Find someone that has mastered these or is at minimum actively working at them on their “Become List.” Why? Because impatient people don’t suddenly become patient when they fall in love; it is a skill that is built over time. But on to the list.

  1. Patient: Rather than a means to an end, “Patience is the decision to move at someone else’s pace rather than pressure him or her to match yours.” (78) Counter to idea that life is about getting ahead and being first, this calls us to match pace. “It is a decision to pause rather than push.” (78) Impatience, on the other hand, is an emotional response that you feel. So patience is a choice, impatience is a feeling. What effect do they have? Patience, unnaturally shifting your pace to that of another, isn’t natural but it is an act of submission, of putting another first. It is an expression of love. Meanwhile, being impatiently pushed by someone you love can cause you to feel less loved (because they aren’t showing love).
  2. Kind: I am a BIG fan of kindness. Kindness is at the top of my list for desirable traits in a man. Super attractive. Kindness isn’t soft or weak: “To be kind is to leverage one’s strength on behalf of another. When we’re kind, we put our strength, abilities, and resources on loan to someone who lacks them… Kindness is love’s response to weakness.” (80) It is a choice and in it’s highest form, it is unconditional. Andy Stanley notes that it is likely the most important attribute in any romantic relationship! Conversely, unkindness brings death to romance: consistent acts of unkindness will end any relationship. Like patience, it is not a means to an end. Paying attention to how a person reacts to people either in a difficult situation or to whom they are under no obligation to be kind to will be a strong indicator of how they will end up treating you.
  3.  Doesn’t Envy, Boast, and is not Proud: Manifestations of insecurity, these three are expressed through sarcasm, criticism and public disrespect and they also kill romance. Think of relationships where one person could hardly say a nice or kind thing about the other person. Rather than celebrate the successes and strengths, they celebrate failures and cut their teeth on one another’s weaknesses. Envy is not rooted in the relationship; it’s roots spread deeper and farther than the expanses of any one relationship. Envy establishes it’s roots in a person and influences all relationships; envy is a problem smuggled in. “Is your initial response to celebrate or denigrate? To add or subtract from? Are you comfortable allowing the spotlight to remain on other people? …Envy is next to impossible to see in the mirror. But if you pay attention, you may see it mirrored in your relationships… you’ve got to own it and dethrone it.” (83) How? Celebrate, lift up, encourage. Instead of you telling a better story, you celebrate theirs. Lastly, pride prevents celebration because rather than pouring praise and encouragement, we remain silent.
  4. Doesn’t Dishonor: A rarely used term, some might think that honor is antiquated. “But honor is at the heart of every great relationship. In fact, if you fall in love with someone who has prepared to, and is committed to, honoring you, you are one lucky individual. In some ways, honor is the epicenter of a satisfying relationship.” (84) Picture your most prized possession, the thing you would choose save if there was a fire. How do you treat that possession? How do you care for it? How would you feel if it was mishandled by another person? Your instinct is to protect those things which you value. “Protecting is an expression of honor… Honor defers. Honor yields. Honor gives way… Interesting thing, Paul doesn’t present honor as something to aspire to. He presents it as something we should never deviate from.” (86) Why? Because love is choosing to give honor to another. Honor is, in a way, also an act of submission. Conversely, dishonor is dangerously comfortable. Treated that way long enough, one can begin to believe that is their truth. Resting in the fact that we are all created in the image of God, we must recall that our honor is not reliant on what we have done but on that which we innately are: created and loved by God.
  5. Not Self-Seeking: If love is about putting another before yourself, than it is a necessity that you not put yourself first, and it’s also a great test. “If you give and give and give and the other person takes and takes and takes, then you’ll know to run and run and run. But if you choose not to be self-seeking and your love interest returns the favor, then you’ve made a valuable discovery.” (87-88)
  6. Not Provocative: Modern translations have this as “not easily angered,” but Paul was likely referring to being ‘fired up,’ if you will. It’s having a short fuse, assigning blame. “…you may be tempted to respond, ‘That’s easy for you to say because you don’t know (name of person who stirs you up).’ That’s true. Here’s something equally true. Stir-ees always blame the stir-ers.” (88) This doesn’t change the dynamic though. If you provoke others, you are not acting in a loving manner. If you allow yourself to be provoked, you are equally not responding in a loving way. It is best to seek one who is not easily provoked, and doesn’t thrive on provoking others.
  7. Not a Record Keeper: While they can totally be into vinyl (the sound quality is better, right?), NASB translates this part as “does not take into account a wrong suffered.” We all know people who, in the midst of a disagreement, pull up past sins to be used against the other person. If someone is a record keeper with others, undoubtedly that tendency will eventually turn towards you. This can bring the same reaction out in you as a means of defense with an increasing likelihood to continue responding in the same manner. “The challenge for record keepers is that they are right… The problem isn’t their accuracy. The problem is the damage it does to a relationship.” (91) Why? It doesn’t foster love; forgiveness does. Even if you can’t forget, the best option is to pretend you have until you do. Keeping records is about keeping others down. Love is about lifting others up. This is often justified through the fact that it’s truth, but this kind of truth is best left to friends, counselors, etc. Truth served up by a record keeper will just lead to isolation and pain.
  8. “Love chooses to see the best and believe the best while choosing to overlook the rest.” (94) This summary from Andy Stanley is based on I Corinthians 13:6-7 which says, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Always. Sound impossible? It is making the choice to always trust that they are putting you first. It is to always hope. And it is choosing to persevere in the face of things which could drive you apart. “Every time your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, or friend-friend makes a promise or sets an expectation and doesn’t come through, he or she creates a gap. Whether you realize it or not, you choose what goes in the gap. And there are only two choices: trust or suspicion… when there’s a gap, love does everything possible to protect the integrity of the relationship rather than undermine it with suspicion.” (96) It is choosing love, when everything says otherwise. This inspires the other person to be their best self. If we always believe the best, they carry that with them. If we always believe the worst, it can end up leading them to believe that is who they are. It is, in a way, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

That’s it. None of this comes naturally, they are all something we choose, something we cultivate, and according to Paul, they’re all non-negotiable when it comes to the love Christ calls us into. The question is, are we ready to put our childish view of love away and focus on becoming the person God calls us to be?

Want more? Check out A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Five)

How Do You Love Others

In class, we watched a video like so many other videos I’ve seen shared in the news or on social media: it captured another negative encounter between police and black lives. This time, it was of Dejerria Becton, a black girl who was fifteen years old. The video, I found out when researching, was made by a white boy who was friends with many of the kids at the pool party. He noted that the cop would yell at his black friends while completely ignoring him. It reminds us yet again of the inherent bias against one race to the benefit of the other by those in power. Where white children are taught to trust police officers and go to them in times of trouble or concern, black children are provided a very different lesson on how to interact with cops. The question was asked if I love Dejerria Becton, or any of the other black women who have been murdered through state sanctioned violence, as much as I love my sister or mother. The answer is no; proximity plays a huge factor in the psychology of relationships, of who we feel closer to or further from. But I do love her as I love humanity, and I lament any time where a person is not in possession of dignity. I mourn the injustice we see perpetuated against her, and I grieve the hurt on all sides that results from encounters like this.

It is a core belief of mine that God intended for each person to be in possession of human dignity: to be worthy of respect and treated with compassion. I lament whenever I see or learn of a person who has had their dignity stripped from them; when through actions or words they are told that their value is not the same of others around them and that they deserve to be treated as less than human. This is what we do when we target one population instead of another, when we use language that de-humanizes, when we say that released prisoners have serve their time but they are never treated that way. These things I lament.

I mourn, and I believe God mourns, when there is injustice. Deuteronomy 10:18 says, “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.” Do we not take a people and make a clear majority of them orphans and widows through our “justice” system? I feel I have a sense for where God’s heart would fall on this issue, and what kind of reconciliation he seeks so that there will be justice for the marginalized. This is because God is not an unjust God.

Lastly I grieve; I grieve for the suffering inflicted on Dejerria, I grieve for the man who felt he was entitled to treat others in the manner he did. I grieve for all the children who cannot be children because their bodies are viewed as a threat purely because of the color of their skin. I grieve that our society cannot benefit from the true gifts that a massive percentage of our population might be able to offer, that we cannot be a community in commune, because we are too busy imprisoning people who have no reason to be behind bars.  I grieve because there’s people out there who would tell Dejerria, “you’re lucky, it could have been worse,” and that there are people who see this and still insist that there haven’t been systemic issues over race for fifty or more years. And this grief ends with me being angry that Dejerria doesn’t feel loved by all the people in her community. That this is the brokenness that we work to reconcile.

So, I move towards loving Dejerria and any of the other black women who have been murdered through state sanctioned violence, not the way I love my sister or mother but the way I love a fellow creation made in the image of God: as no more than myself or less than myself. I love them as a critical part of a community that is not whole without them in it. I love them deeply.

The Process of Discernment

About a year or two ago, I had this idea, this burning vision, that I was trying to understand. It mobilized me so much that I wrote people, met with organizations and even pursued a grant. But then I had this sense of not now, not yet. Today I remembered that vision and asked myself, “Had I just misunderstood it?”

You see, this vision was this big room, and each Cincinnati neighborhood was represented by the a 8′ tower that looked like a building. There’s 52 neighborhoods in the city, and there were 52 pillars in this vision, laid out in a grid pattern, so as you walked through it, almost as if you were walking the a city.

Each tower had the name of the neighborhood and a couple infographs telling the story of racial and economic disparity through the decades. On the other side of the towers (in the “windows”) were pictures of people from the neighborhood as well as the places they took pride in or that served as the heart of their community. Lastly, there’d be some kind of audio that would share people’s stories, but only if you were close to their “neighborhood.”

On the other side of this installation, we’d have a video sharing a few stories of what it’s like to be in Cincinnati and some of the big obstacles we are facing.

So, that was the vision. Today I suddenly recalled that vision and thought about where God has put me, in a role where it is possible for me to potentially engage with people across the city, possibly from every neighborhood. And as I work through the classes I’m in right now and ask myself what this vision meant, I’m beginning to wonder if the dream wasn’t some massive project for me to create, but instead it was a visual expression for what my path would look like. This vision was meant to be a means of education: to reveal the HUMANITY that exists in every single neighborhood (give them faces), to recognize our successes while also opening our eyes to places of total failure. To stir hearts to become reconcilers in this city (not necessarily the same as peacemakers).

I really don’t know yet but I do feel as if I’ve gained some kind of understanding around all of this. It’s as if a fog is lifting and I can discern shapes and movement but none of the details.

Christian Life and Politics

I hear the laments of people who feel like their faith has been hijacked; who look at the face of Christian’s in the media and even in the people around them and feel anger and sickness.  They want to disassociate themselves with their faith and God because of what they see playing out locally, nationally and globally in his name. But friends, we must remember that this darkness is not evidence of God’s absence but rather a choice in the disobedience of his people. Therefore we must seek the light and shine it into those places which reject it.

We must remember and be encouraged that even Jesus saw this, that he knew that there would be people proclaiming deeds and works in his name who knew him not. Your spiritual family is not with those who claim a title but do not know what it means. In Matthew 12:48-50 it says: “But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus recognizes those who abide in the Word of God as his family, not the workers of lawlessness. And this is a lawlessness from God, not this world. It says in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’” In really simple terms, what is that law that Jesus speaks to?

There’s several places where Jesus makes this really simple for everyone. One instance is right before he illustrates his point in the story of the Good Samaritan (keeping in mind that Samaritans were a shunned people by the religious, and Jesus later sent his disciples SPECIFICALLY to Samaria, wanting them to continue the work he had started with the Samaritans):

“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” -Luke 10:25-28

It’s also expressed again in Matthew where he reminds us that ALL the law and the prophets hang on the fact that we love God with our entire selves (heart, soul and mind) and that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:36-40

This might seem fairly obvious and simple but consider that God doesn’t want part of you; he wants all of you. Politics, employment, friendships, policy, institutions, family, finances… these all belong to God and the choices we make matter deeply. It says in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” We cannot trust in our God, love him with all our being and love our neighbor as ourselves if the space we are operating out of is fear. Fear of Others, fear of terrorism, fear of economic downturns, fear of scarcity, fear of man, fear of loss. This is not what God’s people were made for!

In 1 Peter 2:9 we are reminded, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We bear light into the darkness! We are not a nation formed from blood or heritage but rather from a King who came to earth and spilled his blood not out of obligation but out of love.  Love.  Love for a God that is good. Love for a people that persecuted Him. Love for a world that yearned for salvation even when it turned away. We cannot find anything to boast in unless it is the profound way God redeems every part of our lives. We are told in Luke 3:8, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” We must remember to not become prideful but be a people of repentance and humility, for who are we apart from God?

But, you say, this is real-life 2000+ years down the road, right? Life feels pretty hard. People we love are dying and suffering, anger and violence appearing to push in from all corners, and things are just so different from that time…how could we possibly know what we are meant to do? Yet, the world has been a messed up place for a super long time, and this isn’t a new story for anyone. It was dark in the time of Jesus and his answer wasn’t to build walls, reject the refugee, and blame the oppressed for their oppression. It wasn’t to deny the existence of privilege. Jesus tells you what will happen to you and it isn’t based on your feelings or the amount of money you gave or the roles you held in your church. You will be sorted based on how you cared for others.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ -Matthew 25:31-36 

And then you consider the ‘blow away moment’ that comes next when we discover that even the righteous didn’t recognize God as they were meeting the real needs of others rather than protecting what was theirs.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:37-40

Consider how truly profound this statement is. How could Jesus be present in the strangers we welcome, or in the naked we clothed or the sick we care for? What relationship could Jesus possibly have to us visiting those in prison?

Love. Our God is love. Agape. God doesn’t just feel love; God IS love. It says in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Because if you know Him, you know love, and where there is love God is present. When one of us goes to the prisoner to show solidarity, God is there. When you go to give warmth through clothing, God is there. When you welcome the foreigner, the refugee, the stranger, God is there.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:41-46

Our fate is clear; it is a choice. Will we be a people who chooses to care for the sick? Who gives asylum to the stranger? Who quenches thirst and satisfies hunger? Or will we choose to be a people lost to our basest fears?

 

 

The Silent Victim of Imprisonment: Children

According to alternet.org (link below) in 2013, around 2.7 million children under the age of 18 had a parent in prison or jail. In this video they quote 3 million which shouldn’t be a surprise since the prison population has been rising for decades. The tragedy that strikes here is twofold: first, that children suffer the pain of growing up parentless. Second, with our system and society the way it is, those children will then be six times more likely to enter the system themselves.

Some people might say that these men don’t deserve to see their children; perhaps those people are against rehabilitating prisoners so they can be productive members of society when released.  But what about the kids? Do you think that the “sins” of the parents should be the “sins” of the child?  And thus the “sin” of society?  Or do you think we can do better? This program that allows dads and their kids to spend time together seems like an amazing step in the right direction.

 

(AlterNet Article) http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/27-million-children-under-age-18-have-parent-prison-or-jail

(Article Video was from) http://tosavealife.com/inspiration/dads-behind-bars-hold-kids-1st-time-look-faces/

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.