Second Corinthians – June 2021
“The world does not need cool Christians who are culturally saturated. it needs exiles with the scent of Heaven and the aroma of Christ.” – John Piper
Paul was such aa man as this. He was an amazing man who wrote most of the New Testament. To us he is the quintessential pastor and evangelist, but to the Corinthians he was some jerk who got in their way, tied them to the past and was not very “cool”. They said he was untrained, unqualified, unimpressive. Wow. I was shaking my head, thinking about the persecution that surrounded Paul this week when I read a quote from Marc Rubio concerning Tim Tebow: “Tim Tebow sure does stir up a lot of scorn and mockery for someone, who has never been accused of wrongdoing, treats everyone with respect and organizes a high school prom every year for kids with special needs.” It’s a good thing Paul didn’t live in the age of twitter or things may have been worse for him! Question: what is it that glows inside of a man or woman, that evokes such intense hatred from others? Is that indicative of a lamp burning brightly – the more stuff that gets spewed out ? It would certainly change our litmus test for ministry, wouldn’t it? Jesus said beware when men speak well of you (Luke 6:25). We live in a time where discernment is very necessary.
I wonder how history will record the “super apostles” of our day? Will they be those who did not burden others, or those asking for money? Will they be known for charitable deeds or huge crowds? Will the Gospel still exist down the road because Jesus remained the center of their message? Hmm. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of being disappointed by large speakers who later come out as having lived secret lives, prophets whose prophecies don’t come to pass and showmen who do not impact their community. The majority of churches in our nation are led by simple, faithful men and women who pray and preach and make less than 50k a year. To them Paul says that “The God of all comfort will comfort you”. To them Paul says, “Keep on praying – your prayers are effectual.” To them Paul says “ALL of Gods promises in Christ are yes and amen.” Does Paul’s word also say that to the popular, super apostles? Yes, but they may be to important or busy to hear it. What we hear in silent, sacred moments is the “stuff” Paul suggests we pass along. We rest, we receive, we share what the Lord is saying and doing – not the culture or our own agendas.
This past week I celebrated another birthday and now sit at the top of the hill. There’s a new perspective from this vantage point – I can see more clearly the past and am aware that the downward journey is much faster than I would like it to be. One thing I’ve learned is that if you are doing the will of the Lord, there will be slander, gossip mongers and rumors that you can’t control. People will write a narrative that makes them feel comfortable – whether it’s true or not. The Corinthians had much drama in their midst, and it was much easier to look at Paul’s weakness and failures than their own. If you want to destroy a man (or woman’s) message – go after them with mistruths and then no one will want to listen to their message. Sneaky warfare. Doubt the praises, throw shade on the testimonies, spread misinformation so it will not be suspect rather than clear to the hearers. I don’t think Paul cared so much about his reputation, but I believe he did want God’s message to be proclaimed with integrity (and not sullied among unbelievers). So, he set out in 2nd Corinthians to set the record straight – to vindicate himself, if at all possible, so the Gospel would go forth.
It’s a deeper cut when gossip prevents Gods message from reaching the lost.
Paul’s desperation to set the record straight and explain his heart and ministry was presented in three arenas: Being, Giving and Training. I think it is relevant to our lives today. We will consider just one section:
Paul points out in chapter one that the Paraclete will come alongside the believer and bring comfort. Paraclete is a Greek word for “One you call out to, to give you aid.” It’s a fancy word for the Holy Spirit, also called the Comforter. It further explains what type of spirit is coming to support. The helping, comforting one. It’s a living being with personality and power to change things. It reminds me of firefighters who yell “fire department- call out” when they enter a building. If they don’t come to help –the person will be lost. Just a mere mental assent, wishing rescue would come, is not a wise default posture – someone needs to call 911 right? If the person does not actively CALL OUT– they could forfeit that assistance. “My name is, my injury is,” works in prayer also!
One late night after a prayer meeting, when I lived in Minneapolis, I drove down Lyndale avenue and saw a house that was on fire. Smoke and fire were billowing out of the roof. The owner didn’t answer when I ran to the door and knocked — my persistence was ignored. I prayed, then went back to my car and laid on the horn. The neighbors started coming out of their houses, swearing at me, not aware of what was taking place. The call has to be strong enough to be heard. The Ones hearing have to be compassionate enough to come and help! Paul knew the ministry of the Paraclete and the power to help the believer. He had experienced it not as religion in some dusty, leather bound book but –deliverance in the fire of life! Cliches don’t quench flames. If we do not receive this comfort firsthand, we will not be able to comfort others. At least not with the same humility as ones remembering they were in need of it first. The fragrance of that smoke should always linger to remind us of the sweet smelling fragrance of a saving Christ.
My pastor has been going through a trial and in the middle of it, he preached one of the best messages I have ever heard. The things the Lord shared with him were gold. One of those things was this, “The will of the LORD will prevail.” In his weakness, we could see Christ’s strength. Literally thousands of people were touched by one message that was not “stellar” by human terms. The weakness showcased the strength of the Lord and amplified the message. We were able to see first- hand, what raw trust looks like in the midst of great suffering. Christ’s presence was tangible.
In spite of all that Paul endured, he kept promoting Christ. He was beaten, shipwrecked, and even despaired of life – that’s spiritual words for he wanted to give up, quit, die. When Paul penned the words, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us”, he understood that the best message was the one that came from the throne room, the message that focuses on Christ. His vessel was “perishing, yet his inward man was being renewed day by day (4:18).” Gods’ favor was on Paul in his worst misery and during his best ministry because he was clinging to Christ – not because of big audiences or works.
Joyce Meyer often says, “We are human beings, not human doing’s. I would add we are believers – not just behavers. Martin Luther said, “The just shall live by faith.” Following Jesus is paramount to carrying out His kingdom. Paul did not do good works just to do them – his life had been affected by this Christ that stopped him in his tracks and changed him. His ministry was an outgrowth of that encounter and thankfulness for transformation and comfort – not for applause or promotion. Paul’s motivation for preaching the gospel was that he was a new creation in Christ – “old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new”. But it does not end there– the next verse (5:18) states that because of that transformation, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. Given, not earned, we are commissioned by the transforming One to be “ambassadors for God”. But how?
When we moved to the woods, I was mortified. Yes, I wanted to be like Abraham and Sarah and yes I believed we were in Gods will –but there were snakes in the bushes, just waiting to bite me. When storms came thru, they ejected large branches and swirling leaves swept all over the yard and house. We had a bear, a deer and turtles in our backyard! It’s not a very controlled environment. The insects were twice the size as back home. It took me a while to get “content” in my new location. This city girl had to make adjustments.
One day the boys and I were outside looking at nature. It was a beautiful, sunny day. Did you know that butterflies have tongues? They are called proboscis and they roll out when they sip nectar, then curl back up when not in use. Tiny little tongues on beautiful, brightly colored, winged creatures. (I had never encountered this in the cement jungle of the city). Butterflies have purpose in the life cycle of the woods. They do not just leave the cocoon to chilax and laze around. They fly, they drink, they flutter. New creations are meant to have new activity, to do things they could not previously do. Paul wanted the Corinthians to get back to the basics – Jesus saved us, now we proclaim Him. In all the minutia (false gods, pagan worship, immorality, others matter issues, the divisive drama of Corinth) they had forgotten that. They were not only saved from sin but they were supposed to be saved “to” something.
Perhaps Pauls first thoughts in chapter one – that the God of all comfort will help us comfort others was overshadowed by his exhortations regarding their bad behavior? I was impressed that the small minority who had been gossiping and causing problems repented. That’s growth. They were sorry for their behavior and made changes. The “they” included leaders and congregants. I have no doubt that the missing letters to the Corinthians was an act of grace. Kind of like the missing commentary from mother Sarah tromping across the desert and missing her family. Thank heavens we only hear of that one time she laughed. Whew! Some things are silent for a reason. We can learn from some of their issues but perhaps the other stuff was too personal or – forgiven.
Proverbs says that, “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers all transgressions.”
We do not need to be spiritual voyeurs into their mess anyway – we have enough crud of our own to manage, right? They took Paul’s advice, reconciled and moved forward.
Many years later, another minister of the gospel was going thru intense trials. He came down with Pleurisy. It almost took his life, and his outward man was perishing. He was discouraged and had serious doubts about God. The Christian believers around him, comforted this man with testimony and food (yum- love that blessing), and through them, he experienced the genuine love of the Lord. He later stated in his journal that though he was terribly ill, his spirit had been renewed.
As a praise for this encounter and to pass on the comfort he had received, Charles Wesley wrote the song, “O for a thousand tongues to sing”. Charles states he wanted those tongues to sing, ” my great Redeemers praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of His grace.“ He lived the triumph of Gods grace. But Wesley didn’t stop at just being a “new creation”. He went on to share his reconciliation with God and bring that reconciliation to others. His brother John Wesley was one of those he encouraged. Paul’s message to the Corinthians was this, “If ANYONE is in Christ, he/she is a new creation, old things have passed away, behold all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to US the word of reconciliation. Therefore – we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us; we IMPLORE you, on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.
I do not know what drama is in your life right now. Perhaps you struggle with substance abuse, sexual addiction, or some other type of immorality. Perhaps you have compared yourself to the super apostles who are like clouds without rain. Perhaps you have gotten caught up in the maligning of some leaders character or the slander of some Christians life. Paul would tell you as he told the Corinthians – be reconciled to God. After you have gone to the throne … Be reconciled to one another. Repentance is one prayer away.
Then, take your little tongue and go use it for God’s glory. You do not need a professional license to share your story. Your story, like a butterflies wings is unique to your area, your calling. You do not need to have someone else tell you that God has chosen YOU to testify of your transformation. If you have been reconciled to God thru Christ, here’s the thing –
GOD HAS CALLED YOU TO BE HIS AMBASSADOR
Praise Him, proclaim Him, preach about Him. Not because others are, not because others do it differently or better. Do it because that is exactly what new creations were created to do – use your little tongue to share Jesus. That he has come to reconcile people to God. Whatever comfort you have received, whatever joy, whatever strength, whatever gift – pass it on. The weary world is waiting…