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

Ephesians 2:11-22 – Included

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (New International Version)

There is perhaps no better explanation in the entire New Testament about what the Church truly is than here in today’s lesson.

The redemptive events of Jesus – especially the crucifixion of Christ – has completely changed everything. The cross is the mid-point of history, the fulcrum in which all things in heaven and on earth hinge.

The cross has totally transformed our status from being:

  • in Adam (fallen and separated from God) to being in Christ (now lifted and in union with God)
  • in the flesh (driven by our immoral and unethical impulses) to being in the Spirit (now driven by moral and ethical desires)
  • a Jew or a Gentile (defined by race, ethnicity, etc.) to being one people of God, a new egalitarian society, the community of the redeemed, the Church.

We were once far from God. Now we are brought near through the blood of Christ.

We are included, not excluded; graced and loved, not shamed and shunned.

And our status isn’t based on physical circumcision but on circumcision of the heart, that is, by faith.

There was a time when we were estranged from God, as if we were migrants from another country, or aliens from another world. We were strangers with no visible hope in anything or anyone.

But now, because of Christ’s cross, we have become near to God, gained an inheritance in Christ, and are seated in the heavens as royalty. Everything has mercifully changed. All is incredibly different – a good different.

Jesus Christ himself is our peace. He is the superglue who has bonded us to God and to one another as the one people of God. Because of this gracious union, there is no more anger and malice toward each other. There is, instead, peace.

The Lord Jesus has torn down the walls of separation between people, stripped the armor off of those who used it to keep a distance, and obliterated all obstacles to genuine relational connection – including the obstacle of the Law.

By his crucifixion, death, and resurrection, Christ Jesus fulfilled all the demands of the Law. Therefore, the Law of Moses is no longer needed. Those who love one another and carry one another’s burdens are the ones who fulfill the Law of Christ.

The reason for abolishing all the laws and layers of separation is so that Christ could create one new people from the disparate groups – thus making peace through the cross.

Just as two people come together in marriage and create an entirely new relationship – one new person from the two – so Christ has joined Jew and Gentile together and formed an entirely new society of unity and one-ness.

We are, then, on equal footing with one another. One group is no longer privileged over another. There is no such thing as an underprivileged people-group in God’s new society.

The Church is to be the one place on earth where all are privileged, all are included, and none are left behind.

There is reconciliation. The situation isn’t of people simply not fighting with each other, not at one another’s throats and sitting with a grumpy affect and arms folded. Quite the opposite. It is a restored relationship, harmonious interactions, and working together in loving fellowship.

Christianity is distinct from all other religions and all other ethical systems because everything is based, tethered, and moored in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. In Christianity, enmity, hate, and rage aren’t managed; they’re put to death – nailed to the cross and done away with.

Unfettered access to God, through Christ and the Spirit, means that we have an open channel to receiving the faith, hope, and love needed to address the darkness of this world and those still stuck in chaos, disconnection, and shame.

Christ himself is the cornerstone to the superstructure of peace and love which has been erected – the very things we have longed for throughout our personal lives and throughout history.

Jesus is the King who brought radical amnesty and hospitality to the entire country by making us all fellow citizens, enjoying all the rights and privileges thereof.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the Son who welcomed us into God’s family, embracing our adoption and making us full-blooded brothers and sisters, and giving us a prominent place at the Table.

All of these things about Christians and the Church aren’t ideals; they’re reality.

Anytime we are spiteful, ignorant, prejudiced, or unkind, we are not living in reality – we’re living in an old evil world that isn’t ours.

Therefore, we are called to fully live into God’s new society – a community of equals – loving and leading like Jesus, living into his words and ways, embracing our new status as children of God, offering radical mercy and grace because that’s exactly what our Lord did for us.

Creator God, who made us different from one another in myriad ways, yet all made in your image: Fill our hearts with your love and our minds with your wisdom so that we may truly become brothers and sisters of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Romans 5:1-5 – Maybe There Can Be Peace…

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (New International Version)

Today, there are millions, perhaps billions, of people without peace in this world.

Maybe…

Maybe there isn’t much peace in your life. Because of that unsettled icky sense of agitation, your mind is somewhere else. It could be that you are upset about something that has happened or are worried about something that is going to happen. 

Maybe the lack of peace has to do with another person. They did or said something, and it’s been grinding on you. So, you are having conversations with that person in your head for which you will probably never say aloud. 

Maybe you have to deal with someone else who doesn’t have peace, and it’s creating stress for you. And you are wondering when things will settle down.

Maybe the lack of peace runs much deeper than your immediate circumstances and plans. 

Maybe every day, day-in-and-day-out, you are not quite sure about where you stand with a person or a group of people.

Maybe you aren’t sure about how you stand with God. You wonder whether God is really pleased with you, or not. 

Maybe you aren’t even in touch with your lack of peace because you are an expert at pushing whatever feelings you have so far down that you think you’re fine. But you really aren’t.

Maybe you are a perfectionist…

Perfectionists are never at peace. The specter of perfectionism always hangs in the air. There’s a steady stream of “should have’s,” and “could have’s” making noise in your head. Your work, no matter how good, is never good enough. “I should have done better.”  “I ought to do better.”  “I must be better.” 

Instead of viewing life’s opportunities as challenges to be welcomed, the perfectionist sees life as one unending mountain to climb, never quite reaching the top. 

The constant companions of perfectionistic people are disappointment, condemnation, frustration, and perceived failure. There is, for them, an internal world of self-loathing based on the lie that I am not enough – I have to be perfect. Peace, for the perfectionist, is a pipe dream.

Maybe we could focus a bit on God…

The Christian God is a triune God, existing in three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – the great Three-in-One. The Trinity is the basis for all we are and all we do.

All of life is grounded in the triune God. God exists in perfect unity and harmony. God is God’s own community of glorious love. God’s glory is primarily seen on this earth through creation, through us, God’s creatures.

Glory is revealed as we reflect the image of God stamped on us in creation. Since God is love, God’s people are to be characterized by love – loving God, loving one another, and loving neighbor. God’s people are meant to exist together in unity and harmony, reflecting the very nature of the Holy Trinity. 

Yet, after the creation of the world and humanity, man and woman fell into guilt and shame through bucking God’s design for people. Ever since, God has been on a mission to reclaim the lost glory.

Maybe we need to focus on the Son… 

The ultimate expression of God’s mission was the sending of the Son to this earth. It is through Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension that the way has been opened to a renewed relationship with our triune God.

The way is now clear for us to experience real practical peace. It has been achieved through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, since God has initiated a rescue mission for us by sending the Son, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God. 

To be justified means God made us righteous – has made things right between us. God has also provided access for us to be right with each other and the rest of creation. To put this in a contemporary vernacular, we ask God, “Are we good?” and God responds, “We’re good.”

Since then, we’re good with God, we have peace with God. 

Since then, that is true, we cannot try and get peace by another way.

Peace does not come through doing the right things, and by being a good person. 

Peace does not come through trying to obtain feelings of peace.

Peace is not merely the absence of conflict – of just keeping people from strangling each other and harming one another. 

Peace cannot be achieved by trying to relieve anxiety through better effort. 

Maybe grace is the answer…

The antidote to perfectionism, the resolution to feeling a lack of peace is unconditional approval from God. 

Grace is the elixir of life. 

Grace is the thing a perfectionist cannot work to obtain, and the thing that truly helps. 

Grace is freely given; it is a gift.   

Grace (God’s loving unconditional acceptance of us) is the true way of peace.

Some folks have so tied themselves to impossible performances and conditional love that the gift of grace is hard to accept. 

Change won’t happen overnight, and that’s okay – because God deals with us according to grace, not by earning spiritual merit badges. 

The renewal that brings transformation is a process, not an event. In Scripture it’s called “sanctification.” So, it’s important to enjoy the process. 

When you’ve caught yourself going back to the pigsty of perfectionism, instead of beating yourself up, go ahead and laugh at yourself and your own fallibility. Perfectionists take themselves way too serious. Anytime they can lighten up, it lights up the face of God (in a non-performance sort of way!).

Maybe peace is possible…

Peace delivers us from our brokenness.  Again, let’s return to the triune God. There is perfect peace within Father, Son, and Spirit. God is perfect unity, harmony, and love.

Peace means living, working, and playing together. 

Peace means experiencing wholeness, integrity, and contentment, even in the midst of hard circumstances. 

Peace means being a peacemaker.

The late Fred Rogers, from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, got into television because he didn’t like TV. During spring break of his senior year in seminary he encountered television for the first time. What he saw repulsed him because he saw people demeaning each other and not having peace.  

Fred Rogers worried that TV programming would create a generation of emotionally-bankrupt children. Faced with the decision to either sour on television itself or work to restore the medium, he chose the latter. He dropped out of seminary and began pursuing a career in broadcasting. Fourteen years later, he created a television show that shaped entire generations of children, running on PBS from 1968-2001.

Mr. Rogers was a devout Christian who rarely talked about his faith on the air. Yet, his show infused our society with beauty and grace. “You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you,” he’d famously sign off. “There is no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.” 

In many ways, the lasting legacy of Mr. Rogers will not only be the greater emotional stability of generations of children, but also his wonderful example of peace and how to restore the world through basic human kindness.

Maybe the path of peace is different than I believed…

Having all our circumstances like we want them is not the basis of experiencing peace. That’s being delusional. Peace doesn’t happen whenever everything goes our way.

Instead, we are to rejoice in all our circumstances, even the ones which cause suffering – because they the Holy Spirit’s means of teaching us to experience the peace we long for.

Suffering is our triune God’s way of weaning us off all that divides and antagonizes so that we can attach ourselves to God’s peace. 

One of the most read Christian books of all time was written in the 1500’s by a French woman known as Madame Guyon. She saw the disunity of the world and the lack of peace in our individual lives as stemming from our lack of practicing God’s ways. 

Much of the world doesn’t know what to do with suffering, and does not accept it, because people want their own way with everything.

War and Peace by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jamal D. Sutter

To know God’s peace, we must practice just the opposite – by refusing all personal desires we have, whether good or bad. Why? Because the practice of refusing our own will breaks it free so it can attach to God’s will.  

We need our brains to be rewired in saying “no” to ourselves.

The other part of Madame Guyon’s practice is to accept every circumstance, even difficulty and suffering, with joy and thanksgiving. 

We can learn to say “yes, thank you” for each hard circumstance, whether good or bad. As in the case of Mr. Rogers, the evil we observe can spur us toward making peace in this world. We detach from personal desires so we can attach to what God wants to do.

Peace, on the practical level, comes from persevering under suffering and rejoicing in it. Why rejoice? Because suffering produces character and character hope. There cannot be hope without suffering. 

God the Father called God the Son to suffer; and God the Spirit leads us into suffering so that we might know peace and hope on a daily basis.

Conclusion

Abandon everything to God. Let it go – every dream, every personal desire, everything you have so that you are free to know God’s will for your life. 

Accept each circumstance you face with joy and thanksgiving. The Trinitarian love of God is poured into our hearts through every circumstance of life, even if it is difficult and hard. 

When we practice abandonment of our wills and acceptance of our circumstances, the result gives us hope, the confident expectation that nothing in our lives happens in vain. 

Every situation can lead us to know God and experience peace. This is very different from simply believing in the Trinity; it is to daily experience the Trinity. 

Glorious God, make your presence known through our worship, our prayer, and our reading of your Word. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, within you lies unity, love, justice, peace, and power.

Fill our outstretched hearts with your Spirit and encircle us with your love. Make yourself known to us in new and challenging ways. Empower us to forsake every will but your own.  Inspire us toward your peace. Do with us what you will, through Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ephesians 4:1-6 – Realizing Unity and Peace through Humility

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (New International Version)

In the economy of God, unity isn’t a privilege but a necessity. Unity is not an ancillary or side issue to the real work of the Church and the Christian life; it is very much at the center of Christianity. 

Christians have been fashioned through the Holy Spirit into a single harmonious religious community of redeemed people, called to exemplify a counter-cultural presence in the world. 

There is a solid theological reason for this: God is one. Just as the triune God exists as one deity in three persons, so the church is to reflect God’s image through its unified oneness.

Although unity has been accomplished through the finished work of Jesus on the cross, the practical implications must be daily worked out. This is why we are to strive, or to put significant effort into, having unity. 

Simply getting along outwardly with someone or some group, while inwardly harboring animosity toward them, is not unity. Just because two people are not at each other’s throats does not mean there is peaceful unity. 

Unity only occurs when the Body of Christ works together in its diverse gifts toward a common goal of knowing Christ and making him known… with humility.  

In yesterday’s blog post on Ephesians 1:17-19, I laid down the challenge of praying chapter one’s prayer daily for two weeks. To up the ante on the prayer, try doing it with another person in the church. Having a common unity of purpose in mind and heart through prayer is a beautiful thing. 

In fact, if there is to be any sort of church revitalization, personal renewal, and national revival, it will begin in the prayer rooms of unified believers who share a common love for God and neighbor, a similar attitude of humility and gentleness, and a shared commitment of showing patience toward others.

This is the way of unity and peace. And it requires a great deal of effort to unpack these gracious spiritual gifts which have been mercifully given to us.

Unity is at the center of the earliest ecumenical creeds of the Church. The early church fathers (and mothers) wisely discerned the great importance of a unified faith and striving toward peace with all believers.

We believe in one God,

            the Father, the Almighty,

            maker of heaven and earth,

            of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

            the only Son of God,

            eternally begotten of the Father….

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

            who proceeds from the Father and the Son….

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

            We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. – The Nicene Creed

There is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three spirits.

And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so, we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons….

Although he is God and man, he is not divided, but is one Christ.

He is united because God has taken humanity into himself; he does not transform deity into humanity.

He is completely one in the unity of his person, without confusing his natures.

For as the rational soul and body are one person, so the one Christ is God and man. – The Athanasian Creed

Since God is one, we are to be one people. This is the path of peace. One God. One people. There cannot be unity and peace apart from humility.

Invalidating a person’s feelings or thoughts does no one any good. It happens because of pride and a profound lack of humility.

Imagine going to see a doctor who turns out to be arrogant. He doesn’t really listen to you. He just gives a quick exam and offers his diagnosis with a regimen of more pills to take. You’re left sitting there while he’s off to another patient, colonizing another person’s mind and emotions with his expertise.

I’m not giving doctors a hard knock. I know many physicians, and they do wonderful compassionate work. Yet, it’s likely that you, like me, have had that occasional experience of the doctor, all full of themselves, having all the right answers on your pain and situation.

You may have also had the unfortunate experience of having a pastor, therapist, or counselor assess your situation with little information and even smaller compassion. Like writing a script for pills, they give you a few Bible verses and tell you to quit sinning and live obediently.

If pride and arrogance are the original sin, then the remedy to that malady is humility. No matter who we are – whether doctors, pastors, laypersons, patients, or whomever – we are meant and designed by our Creator God to live a humble life.

Humility is the cornerstone to the unity and peace we desire. Jesus said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3, NIV)

The door of God’s kingdom swings-open on the hinges of humility. The Apostle Paul, seeking to follow his Master Jesus in his teaching and humility said:

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12, NLT)

Basic human kindness with one another is grounded in humility.

The beauty of a humility-based existence is that multiple people discover together how to grow, thrive, and flourish in a situation where it isn’t currently happening. Breakthroughs occur in the soil of humility when all voices are heard and given weight.

We live with the confidence of the Psalmist:

“God leads humble people to do what is right and teaches them the way.” (Psalm 25:9, GW)

In the end, it’s a common commitment to exercise humility which realizes unity and enjoys peace.

May it be so, to the glory of God and for the sake of the world.

Blessed Holy Trinity, the God whom I serve, may your church on earth be one as you are one. I pray our unity of love and purpose will transform individuals, churches, organizations, systems, and the entire world for the glory of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.