2 Corinthians 13:5-10 – Examine Yourselves

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 

We are glad whenever we are weak, but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. (New International Version)

God is in the restoration business. Sometimes, we might lose sight of that reality.

In the Gospels, whenever Jesus miraculously healed a person, it was for far more than taking away a disease or correcting a disability. The Lord sought to restore a person’s life by including them in the community. For example:

  • Leprosy put a person on the outside, both literally and relationally. Ceasing to be a leper meant that a person now had no obstacles to full participation in communal life.
  • Blindness reduced a person to being a beggar in order to survive. Having sight restored meant that the person can now work with others, make a living, and contribute to the needs of others.
  • Incarceration was (and still is) a complete removal of a person from society. Being in prison severs much human connection. Release from jail opens the way to reconnection and an opportunity to have a different way of being with others.
  • Poverty encumbers a person and weighs them down so heavily that it limits their ability function socially and relationally. Without poverty, a person is able to establish healthy patterns of giving and receiving within the community.

Those who are physically whole, mentally sharp, emotionally satisfied, and spiritually redeemed are free of obstacles and impediments to communal life.

So, it is a travesty whenever the people who enjoy full inclusion in the community, turn around and separate themselves, keeping relational distance from certain persons, and do not participate in the common good of all.

The type of examination of faith the Apostle Paul was talking about was not to obsess over whether one is a true believer, or not. He was referring to the person who claims faith yet maintains separation from others. In other words, to exclude others is the kind of behavior that unbelievers do, not Christians.

Yet, there are many sections of Christianity and entire Protestant denominations who pride themselves on such separation. They believe they’re being holy and keeping themselves from impurity. However, far too many of them are really putting a sanctified spin on their own sinful predilections to avoid people they don’t like.

Paul has no tolerance for calling exclusion of others “holiness” and naming the maintenance of an insider/outsider status as “sanctification.” The Apostle knew this was all poppycock and wanted nothing to do with it.

Christ didn’t die on a cruel cross, take away the obstacles to faith, open the way to know God, and create peace through his blood for a pack of so-called Christians to then erect imaginary concrete border walls to keep others out of Christian community and fellowship.

In God’s upside-down kingdom, the privileged insiders are really the outsiders; and the underprivileged outsiders are actually the insiders.

The so-called privileged believers are in just as much need for restoration as the leper, the blind, the poor, and the prisoner. The path to their inclusion is solidarity with the entire community of the redeemed – rather than picking and choosing who is in and who is out.

All this, of course, is another way of stating that Christianity is as beset with cliques as anywhere else – with individual believers, local churches, and particular traditions following their pet theologians and pastors and not associating with others who follow a different sort of folks.

The ancient Corinthian church was a train wreck of opposing groups and clique-ish behavior. The Apostle Paul had had enough of it and called the people to do some serious self-examination. And he was careful not to degrade or discourage them but to try and encourage the church to tap into the Christ which dwells within them.

Restoration, for Paul, meant specific behaviors which intentionally include people. To be inclusive means we actively work toward grafting people into community, as well as discourage behaviors that create division. Here are three ways of doing that:

  • Practice hospitality. The word hospitality literally means, “love of stranger.” A hospitable believer goes out of their way to invite another into their life, to give them the gift of relationship and fellowship.

Take care of God’s needy people and welcome strangers into your home. (Romans 12:13, CEV)

Above all, show sincere love to each other, because love brings about the forgiveness of many sins. Open your homes to each other without complaining. And serve each other according to the gift each person has received, as good managers of God’s diverse gifts. (1 Peter 4:8-10, CEB)

  • Nip bitterness in the bud. In an ideal world, everyone holds hands and sings kumbaya together. We live, however, in a fallen world. Harmony, unity, and peace take copious amounts of energy. Like an attentive gardener, we must do the work of identifying weeds and uprooting them, so they don’t take over the garden.

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (Hebrews 12:14-15, NIV)

  • Seek to encourage and learn how to do it. Encouragement is both a gift and a skill to be developed. To encourage another is to come alongside and help someone with both affirming words and willing hands. It’s what Jesus did (and does) for us.

Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. So, encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:10-11, NLT)

Hospitality, harmony, and help are all forms of love. And love is to be the guiding principle and practice of church and community.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen. – A prayer of St. Francis of

2 Corinthians 7:2-16 – Genuine Sorrow Changes Us

Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.

For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. So even though I wrote to you, it was neither on account of the one who did the wrong nor on account of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. By all this we are encouraged.

In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you. I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well. And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling. I am glad I can have complete confidence in you. (New International Version)

“The only vice that cannot be forgiven is hypocrisy because the repentance of a hypocrite is itself hypocrisy.”

William Hazlitt (1778-1830)

I’m in the soul business. Not in the Detroit Mo-town Aretha Franklin kind of soul business (although that would be very cool) but in the sense of leading human souls to God and building them up in Christ. Key to the Christian life’s soul is the term “repentance.”  To repent means to turn around, to stop going in one direction and start going in another one. It is repentance which makes all the difference in the direction of our souls.

Certainly, no one can really judge the heart of another. Yet, today’s New Testament lesson lets us in on how to truly measure the sincerity of a person’s repentance. 

Worldly sorrow or grief does not lead to repentance, but disconnection and death. People with worldly sorrow beat themselves up but never really change direction. Like Judas Iscariot of old, they just hang themselves instead of admitting guilt to Jesus. 

Godly sorrow, however, leads to repentance, a change of direction. And here is the evidence of the genuine change: 

  • Owning the problem.
  • Eagerness to make things right.
  • Indignation over what has been done or said.
  • Discernment that there is more pain in avoiding the problem than there is confronting it.
  • Desire and energy to do what is best for the person who was wronged.
  • Willingness to accept whatever consequences which might result from the offense.

Crying and weeping might be necessary. Yet the tears can also be a cheap form of avoiding true repentance. 

Whether there are tears, or not, there must be solid action that changes direction and seeks to rectify offenses, as much as it is within our control to do so. 

Deliverance from the power of guilt and shame comes through repentance. There are no shortcuts or easy routes to the soul’s orientation to practical godliness. 

There is nothing romantic about repentance. It is typically messy, usually ugly, and often painful. Yet, there must be suffering before there is glory. Attempting to remove true repentance from personal transformation only eviscerates the Christian life and leaves our souls vacuous and empty.

Instead, we carefully, tediously, and patiently go about the important work of repentance, with all its deep sorrow, regret, vulnerability, challenge, awkwardness, and courage.

Holy God, I confess to you the things which I have said and done, as well as those things I have left unsaid and undone. And, yet your mercy is from everlasting to everlasting. Open my eyes to the ways I have offended others and failed to build them up. Help me to step boldly into repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 – Do Not Lose Heart

It is written: “I believed; therefore, I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. (New International Version)

We all face seasons and circumstances that stretch our faith and press the limits of what we can handle.

We have no promise from Scripture we will avoid trouble. 

Instead, Jesus promises his followers there will be adversity and stressful predicaments. 

The pressures of life can sometimes be so overwhelming, we might lapse into losing heart, either by chiding ourselves for the adversity and wishing things were different, or blaming others for our troubles, and believing that if they would just get their act together, all would be well with my soul. 

The ancient Corinthian Church had a bevy of relational issues and problems. Some they created themselves. Some came from other people. Other issues arose simply by living in a fallen world, surrounded by the effects of ever-present sinful crud. 

Yet, no matter the source or nature of the problem, the Corinthians needed a point of focus to direct their troubled hearts. They needed to be reminded of the grace they possessed in Jesus Christ.

Faith is a gift given by God. It is planted in the heart of the believer so that, over time, it will nurture, grow, and bear spiritual fruit. Out of that belief arises speaking words of hope and love that embrace the work of God in the life of the believer. The Apostle Paul said elsewhere to the Roman Church: 

If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. (Romans 10:9-10, NLT)

Christ’s resurrection from death is both a spiritual and a physical reality. If we believe this truth in our hearts, we will be raised both spiritually and physically. Faith in Christ gives shape to the hope that, although we might be experiencing the effects of mortality and the fall of humanity, we are, at the same time, being spiritually renewed day by day. 

The very same afflictions causing our bodies to degenerate and challenging our spirits, are the same means to achieving a glorious, resurrected existence. There cannot be the glory of spiritual and bodily resurrection without a shameful death. Jesus absorbed the shame of the world’s violent ways onto himself so that we might be raised with him. 

However, this does not mean we will never experience difficulty in this present life. In fact, daily spiritual renewal can and does happen through adverse circumstances. There must be suffering before glory, both for Jesus and for us. Deliverance from sin, death, and hell is not an inoculation from trouble. Because it is the troubles of this life which teach us to trust in God, as well as weaning us from everything we previously trusted to deal with those troubles.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust in me.”

Jesus (John 14:1, NIV)

So, we need to fix our gaze firmly on the unseen reality of faith and hope. All we see with our physical eyes is temporary. All that is unseen is eternal, especially and namely, God. Therefore, it is imperative we traffic in building heavenly treasure, learning to deal with the intangible and unseen dimensions of life.

We are to allow the physical to serve as a sign and seal of the spiritual realities they represent.

For example, Christians come to the Lord’s Table so that the tangible elements of bread and cup will bolster and fortify our faith with the grace that points to the intangible. The Table is to accomplish for us a spiritual renewal of lifting us up by God’s Spirit and joining us with Jesus. This union with Christ can never be taken away from us, even in death, because we have an eternal building from God which makes this present life look like a camping trip.

When I think of a person who is outwardly wasting away, yet inwardly being renewed, I think of Joni Eareckson Tada. She has been a paraplegic for fifty years, after an accident as a teenager in which she dove into shallow water and broke her neck. Afterwards, lying in a hospital for months unable to move, she had completely lost heart to the point of being suicidal. 

Joni could not even kill herself since she could not physically move. Finally, in her darkest moment, she cried to God with what she says was the most significant prayer she ever prayed: “Lord, if I can’t die, show me how to live.” And God did. Joni’s faith is as strong and robust as anyone’s, despite her infirmity and handicaps. She has learned to embrace her troubles as the means of growing her faith.

The path to accept, cope, and transcend our troubles and afflictions begins with acknowledging them. They only have power over us for ill if we ignore them or put up a false front to hide them. The Apostle Paul was open with the Corinthians about his life: 

We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, NRSV) 

Paul faced whippings, beatings, stoning, shipwreck, hunger, poverty, danger, and trouble, not to mention the stress of caring for fledgling churches. Through it all, Paul was transparent, and named his troubles so he could apply the poultice of God’s grace to his afflictions. 

It is our brokenness – not having it all together – which shows the grace of God to others.

Paul consistently described his life and ministry in apparent paradoxes: strength in weakness; glory through shame; life through death; riches through poverty. 

Although we experience the fallen nature of the world, God bends each situation toward divine purposes so that what seems to be our downfall becomes the means to our spiritual renewal.

Therefore, we do not lose heart. 

Holy Scripture encourages us not to give up because of hardship, since those very same troubles are the divine implements used to form us into solid followers of Jesus.

We need some stress. Just like a violin needing its strings adjusted to the right pressure, God will tune us with the right amount of stress we need to produce beautiful melodious music. God is the musician, and we are the instrument, not the other way around. 

We are to interpret our stress as God tuning us for good purposes. The pressure we experience becomes the means of glorious music in daily spiritual renewal for the life of the world.

Believers are being renewed daily into a valuable work of God. The stress and trouble we experience is very real and sometimes quite hard. Yet, we have the hope God will bend each circumstance for good purposes so that, even though we seem to be wasting away on the outside, on the inside those experiences are renewing us. 

When this present life is over, it is not the end; it is just the beginning.

God Almighty, you reign supreme, including over our stress and pressure in this present life. You have brought us in safety to this day. So, preserve us according to your mighty power, so that we might not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity. In all the situations of life, whether good or bad, direct us to the fulfilling of your purposes through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

2 Corinthians 2:12-17 – The Sweet Scent of Salvation

“When I went to Troas to preach the good news about Christ, I found that the Lord had already prepared the way.  But I was worried when I did not find my friend Titus there. So, I left the other followers and went on to Macedonia.

I am grateful that God always makes it possible for Christ to lead us to victory. God also helps us spread the knowledge about Christ everywhere, and this knowledge is like the smell of perfume. In fact, God thinks of us as a perfume that brings Christ to everyone. For people who are being saved, this perfume has a sweet smell and leads them to a better life. But for people who are lost, it has a bad smell and leads them to a horrible death.

No one really has what it takes to do this work.  A lot of people try to get rich from preaching God’s message. But we are God’s sincere messengers, and by the power of Christ we speak our message with God as our witness.” (CEV)

God is the One who calls and empowers people for service in the church and the world. God is the powerful sovereign ruler of the universe who prepares the way for people to proclaim the good news of deliverance in the name of Jesus. God is the Being who dominates Holy Scripture. God is the main and principal actor in the unfolding drama of redemption in the Bible.

God is the Great Shepherd who calls, gathers, assures, forgives, teaches, leads, and sends people throughout every era. God is the diligent and careful farmer who enables the knowledge of Jesus to spread across the earth and cause a bloom of grace to flower.

God is the divine florist who produces the sweet smell of salvation from a rancid past of relational separation.

You see, my friend, that unless we capture the vision of a God who orchestrates and animates self-revelation to others, you and I will muck around this world trying to live the Christian life in the misguided notion that leading others to Jesus Christ is on our shoulders – that somehow our ability, or lack thereof, determines whether another person is delivered from their brokenness and finds God.

Oh, my goodness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who are estranged from God, like vulnerable lost sheep in the world, are called by the shepherd, not us. We simply go in the enablement of God’s power and blessing to pick up lost sheep and carry them back to the fold. 

You and I are messengers, couriers from God with a life-giving message of forgiveness and deliverance for all whom the Lord calls – and God’s voice can be heard across the entire world.

We are field hands who enter the harvest and enjoy the gathering of fresh grain into God’s great storehouse of grace. You and I did not make anything grow. God was really behind the planting, the growth, the rain, the sunshine, and the harvest. In many ways, we are just along for the tractor ride.

Many Christians put far too much emphasis on themselves – what they should and could be doing, as if the salvation of others depended on them. But God is behind every good and beautiful thing in this earth. Learning to trust the Lord’s leading and power makes all the difference in a world needing Jesus. 

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me to the beginning of this day. Preserve me with your mighty power that I might be an instrument in your grand orchestra of salvation, giving off the sweet scent of salvation and blowing the sound of Jesus Christ in melodious sounds of deliverance; with the breath of the Holy Spirit giving the wind.  Amen.