Friday, January 18, 2019

Forgive and Comfort...2 Corinthians 2:5-10

“For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough,
so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him,
or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.”

     Do you remember the Beetle Bailey comic strip?  Beetle was in the army, and he was often on the wrong side of his sergeant.  Eventually Beetle would end up on the ground in a mangled mess.  In one strip, Sarge says to another soldier, “It’s great how you can beat up somebody in a comic strip.  Then they get well the minute you leave.”
     Comic strips are not real life.  In this world, if you beat someone up, they don’t get well the minute you leave.  It is true physically and spiritually.  Paul now turns to the subject of someone who has “caused pain” to Paul and the Corinthians.  This could be the man from Paul’s previous letter who was in a sexual relationship with his father’s wife, but it could also be someone who has opposed Paul in recent days.  The majority in the church has challenged him about his sin, and he has repented.  Paul’s wonders if the Corinthians will keep beating up on him.  Instead, they should turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.
     It is right to confront sin in the body of Christ.  Church members and leaders should speak to each other about the sin in each others’ lives and seek repentance.  But it is easy for confrontation over sin to harden into bitterness and vengeance.  You speak, they repent, but you won’t let it go.  You may refuse to forgive, or you may say you forgive but keep holding the sin over the person’s head.  This is not gospel living.  The gospel says, “You sin.”  But the gospel also says, “Jesus forgives sinners, and forgiven sinners forgive each other.”  If you fail to do this, you dishonor Christ and damage the spirit of the other person.  Indeed, such excessive sorrow may irreparably harm the sinner’s confidence in the forgiveness of Jesus.
     What do people see in your life?  
     > When your spouse hurts you and confesses, do you keep returning the hurt for days on end?
     > When your child disobeys you and is sorry, do you ignore their sorrow?
     > When your friend gossips about you, do you refuse to accept their repentance?
     > When your co-worker fails you and admits it, do you still seek revenge?
     This is also a question for the church body.  When a sinner truly repents of their sin, the body should genuinely forgive.  Yes, there may be situations where consequences must ensue, such as restitution for loss or removal from duties, but the body should demonstrate the grace of the gospel and extend forgiveness instead of seeking more and more sorrow for sin.
     Life is not a cartoon.  When Jesus forgives, you have no right to beat on people.  Turn from bitterness and vengeance.  Forgive and comfort.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Abundant Love...2 Corinthians 2:1-4

“For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears,
not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.”

You always hurt the one you love
The one you shouldn't hurt at all 
You always take the sweetest rose 
And crush it till the petals fall
You always break the kindest heart 
With a hasty word you can't recall, so
If I broke your heart last night
It's because I love you most of all

     This popular song, recorded by numerous artists, reflects the reality of love in a broken world.  How often do we claim to love another person, then hurt them with needless and harmful words?
     Would Paul sing this song to the Corinthians?  Not quite.  As he continues to describe why he did not make another visit to them, he declares a desire to prevent pain, not inflict pain.  He has had one painful visit and sent one difficult letter, but he believes the time has passed for such treatment of the Corinthians.
     Yet our understanding of Paul’s history with the Corinthians should remind us that sometimes we need to hurt people we love.  In our culture, we equate love with supporting whatever the other person wants.  We do this with lovers, children, and friends.  We believe that if we challenge someone or condemn their actions, we are being cruel and unloving.  Indeed, this can occur.  The popular song reflects the reality in many of our relationships.
     But Paul’s inspired words provide God’s perspective on this issue.  Certainly, we should never seek to cause unnecessary hurt to another person.  But love must sometimes cause pain.  If I love you, I want what is best for you, and sometimes this means I must respond in ways that are painful in the moment, but ultimately for your good.
     > I must strongly rebuke my child for doing something foolish and dangerous.
     > I might passionately counter my friend’s rationale for being unfaithful to his spouse.
     > I could directly challenge my spouse’s gossip about another church member.
     > I may firmly dispute a company policy that harms customers.
     > I should humbly argue about unbiblical teaching from my pastor.
     If you read through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, you will discover repeated rebukes of the Corinthians.  There is evidence that Paul’s challenges extended to issues beyond the letter.  His words were not demonstrations of a lack of love; they were signs of his abundant love.
     Are you willing to love others in this way, or have you followed the cultural lie that says that if you love someone, you must always go along with their desires?  
     Conversely, when someone rebukes you for your sin, are you willing to accept their words as words of love, even if they are painful?  
    Ask the Lord for grace to never needlessly cause pain, and for courage to cause the pain that flows from abundant love.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Your Joy...2 Corinthians 1:24

“Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy,
for you stand firm in your faith.”

     During every political season, candidates present a variety of themes, but the consistent claim beneath all of them is this: “I am on your side.”  Politicians want you to believe that they will serve in the town council, state legislature, United States Congress, or anywhere else not for their sake, but for your sake.  In a generation of cynicism, few of us believe this, but the message works because no one would ever stand up and say, “Elect me so I can help myself!”
     Should the Corinthians possess such cynicism toward Paul?  Some seem to do so.  We have seen that Paul’s critics are questioning his integrity.  As Paul explains his decision to postpone a visit to Corinth, he wants his readers to understand that his decision was not for his good, but for their good.  He does not want to lord it over their faith.  Here Paul is picking up on Jesus’ language in the gospels, where the Savior calls His disciples to lead others as kind servants, not as cruel masters.  Paul contends for the joy of the Corinthians as they stand firm in their faith.
     Paul’s example here is an excellent one for every believer.  In one way or another, most of us have the opportunity to lead others.  This leadership may be formal or informal, paid or unpaid, with a title or without a title.  But no matter who we lead, we must always ask how we lead.  The fundamental principle announced by Jesus and reinforced by Paul is that our leadership should be for the sake of the people we lead.  
     Consider the politicians again.  We are cynical because all too often we have seen them lead for their sake, not our sake.  The most egregious example is when they vote themselves pay raises year after year.  They say they are serving for our good, but they act for their own good.
     What about you and me?  Where has God called us to lead others?  As we consider the roles we play and the habits we cultivate, we must ask who we are truly serving.  Ultimately, we want to serve God.  Yet we honor Him not when we lord it over others, but when we lead them in ways that bless them.
     This does not mean we never do hard things or speak tough words.  Paul was willing to do both with the Corinthians.  But his motive was the stirring of their joy and the strengthening of their faith.  He failed at times, but with Jesus as his example and enabler, he worked hard to serve their interests as he led them spiritually.
     We are cynical toward our politicians.  But are we more like them than we admit?  Search your heart and habits.  Ask God to lead you in leading for His glory and others’ good.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Yes, Yes...2 Corinthians 1:15-23

“As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.”

     The story is told of a man who grew ill.  He promised that if he lived, he would sell his house and give the money to the poor.  He was healed, but he had second thoughts about losing all that money.  So he sold his house for one silver coin — a coin he would give to charity.  But if you bought his house, you also had to buy his cat — for a price of a hundred gold coins.
     People break promises.  Has Paul broken a promise here?  His critics seem to be chirping at him because it appeared he was planning another visit to Corinth, but the visit never materialized.  They may have been accusing him of either being weak (“vacillating”) or being dishonest.  Paul eventually explains that he decided not to make the visit because he wanted to “spare” the Corinthians a difficult meeting with him.  This episode teaches us some core principles about human and divine faithfulness.
     First, as followers of our promise-keeping God, we should strive to keep our promises.  If we claim the name of Jesus, we must honor this name by doing what we say we will do.  This may involve anything from completing a work project on time to remaining faithful to wedding vows when sin and suffering invade the relationship.  What testimonies to Christ have been obliterated by the dishonesty of professing believers?
     Yet even as we assert this standard, we know we will fail.  Honesty should compel us to admit when we have done this.  As we see in scandal after scandal, the cover-up is often worse than the crime.  Our failures require a deeper honesty — a honesty that says, “Yes, I did not keep the promise I made.  Please forgive me.  I will try to make it right.”
     Second, as followers of our promise-keeping God, we should rely on His promises.  Paul declares that “all the promises of God find their Yes” in Jesus.  Because the Father has sent the Son to secure a long-promised salvation, we can be confident in God’s faithfulness.  As we anticipate the future of our lives and world, we should depend on the words of God, not the words of people.  We must point to divine faithfulness as the only sure anchor of hope.
     Yet we can also rejoice that God’s faithfulness is the source of our faithfulness.  We want to keep our promises.  But how will we do it?  We look in faith to our faithful God for the grace, mercy, and help we need to demonstrate the faithfulness we desire.  As we struggle through situations where promise-keeping is difficult, we set on our hearts on our faithful God and lean on the Holy Spirit to give us the honesty and integrity we need and desire.
     People break promises.  God keeps promises.  God transforms promise-breakers into promise-keepers. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Day of Our Lord...2 Corinthians 1:13-14

“For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand
and I hope you will fully understand — just as you did partially understand us —
that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.”

     How many preachers have said this?  They are preaching on the unity of the church, and they tell people to look around at the other people in the room.  “These people,” the preacher solemnly intones, “will spend eternity with you.”  Sometimes people laugh, other times people groan, and inwardly they may want to cry.  I have to spend eternity with these people?
     Paul continues to reflect on his relationship with the Corinthians.  It has not been easy, but it will be eternal.  He reminds them of the day of our Lord Jesus — the day when Jesus will return, judge the nations, and welcome His people to the new heavens and new Earth.  God’s people will be with Him and each other — for eternity.  On that day, Paul and the Corinthians will boast in each other.  They will glory in God’s grace in uniting them.
     This is hard for us to imagine because we don’t know much about the details of our eternal existence.  Yet we may seriously struggle with this because getting along with fellow Christians can be difficult.  Paul has had a tumultuous relationship with the Corinthians, and this letter will expose more of the troubles.  Yet Paul can make this assertion because he envisions a day when sin will be gone from our existence.  Whenever you relate to another person, you are a sinner relating to a sinner.  This means you both bring sad history, corrupt hearts, and irritating habits to your interactions.  
     If eternity with God’s people meant eternity with them as they are now, it would be miserable for all of us.  But what about a sinless eternity?  What of endless days with people who perfectly glorify the God who has been so gracious to us?  What would it be like to live with people who have forever shed the history, hearts, and habits that have so annoyed you?  And what would it be like for them to live with you?
     We must keep this vision in our minds and hearts because glory still awaits.  As you read what I have written, your mind surely races to people who frustrate and infuriate you.  They are believers in Jesus, but you find it hard to believe that you will enjoy eternity with them.  
    Paul’s words call us to live today in light of this promise.  This vision should engender more patience, kindness, forgiveness, and affection in our dealings with each other.  The irritations remain, but glory beckons.  As you consider or confront that frustrating brother or sister, may God remind you of this union, and may He stir these graces in you as you anticipate the day of our Lord Jesus.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Our Boast...2 Corinthians 1:12

“For our boast is this: the testimony of our conscience
that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity,
not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.”

     How often have I had this conversation with myself or others?  “I am being treated unfairly.  I am facing a situation I cannot change.  What can I do?  I can only live with integrity.  I must say and do what is right.  When the day is done, the results may not be what I want, but at least I will have peace of conscience.”
     I believe Paul would affirm this perspective.  Much of this letter is a defense of his conduct and ministry, and his argument begins here.  We don’t know all the reasons for the ongoing opposition to Paul.  Theories include:
     > His failure to come to Corinth as he had intended;
     > His unwillingness to accept payment for his ministry;
     > Conversely, the accusation that he had secretly received some payments;
     > An uncompleted collection for saints in Jerusalem;
     > Disagreements with Jewish Christians who compelled obedience to the ceremonial law.
     Paul begins his response by describing the testimony of his conscience: He and his partners in ministry have lived with simplicity and godly sincerity.  Simplicity refers to holiness.  Godly sincerity refers to purity.  Instead of following the standards of earthly wisdom, they have pursued God’s standards for their lives.  They are surely not sinless, but they have sought to live with godliness as they have ministered to the Corinthians and others.  
     Can Paul prove all of this to the satisfaction of his critics?  Probably not.  As my daughter has said to me, “Haters are gonna hate.”  Paul might live with the utmost honesty and integrity, faithfully proclaiming the pure gospel of Jesus, and some will still despise and oppose him.  They are either unbelievers masquerading as believers or believers who need to grow in spiritual and emotional maturity.  In either case, Paul will serve, and they will oppose him.
     Paul cannot control their response, but he can boast of the truth with God as his witness.  He must strive for the habits that will keep his conscience at peace, even as he realizes some will not choose to live at peace with him.  He knows God is the judge who will make all things right in the end.
     What unfair treatment do you face?  If you live for the gospel of Jesus, you will have to deal with it.  Perhaps it will come from unbelievers who detest your faith or from believers who cannot or will not see the truth about you.  No matter the reason, this is the reasoning you must possess and express.  Live with simplicity and godly sincerity, not with the standards of the world.  Let your conscience testify to your godly efforts.  Boast only in the grace of God that has enabled you to live in these ways.  Then rest in peace, come what may.  May it be so.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Despair...2 Corinthians 1:8-11

“For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength
that we despaired of life itself.”

     “I was so sick that I thought I would have to rally to die.”  You may hear someone say this as they describe a recent illness.  You can be so physically miserable that you feel worse than death.  Yet this can also be a spiritual reality.
     After reflecting on the comfort of Christ, Paul now mentions “the affliction we experienced in Asia.”  He may be referring to the riot in Ephesus that ended Paul’s ministry there.  When an angry mob surrounds you, you wonder if this life is over.  Paul writes that he and his companions despaired of life itself.  They were at a loss, with no way out of the situation.  The “sentence of death” seemed to be upon them.  Yet they escaped.
     As Paul reflects on his experience, he realizes why God gave it to them.  “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”  The Father has raised the Son from the grave as the first fruits of all who will rise from the dead.  If He is great enough to do this, He is great enough to deliver Paul and his companions from certain demise at the hands of a hostile crowd.
     God has delivered, and “on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.”  Paul will trust that His sovereign God will preserve his life for as long as He desires.  If Paul has to rely on God again, he will do it again with confidence in His deliverance.
     How will this happen?  The Corinthians must help with their prayers.  As they approach the throne of God’s grace for Paul, “many will give thanks” as they see God deliver Paul from a sentence of death and the despair it brings.
     As you ponder these words, step back and consider your life or the life of someone you love.  Whether the struggle is physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, the sentence of death may loom and despair may overwhelm.  You or someone else may feel as if you have to rally to die.  This is when reliance on God becomes so important.  When we are healthy and strong in body or spirit, we tend to depend on ourselves.  But God gives us situations where all we can do is cry out for His grace, mercy, and help.  He wants us to rely on Him for every breath, but He knows He will teach us this lesson of dependence through the desperate difficulties we face.
     Ponder your history.  How has God instructed you in this truth?  Think about your attitude toward this day.  You may not be under a sentence of death, but you need the care of your Father.  Do not wait until you need to rally to die.  Look to Him in every situation.  Pray for others in their afflictions.  Give thanks for His blessings.