2 Corinthians 6 – Play through the Pain

Read 2 Corinthians 6

Paul’s ministry, and indeed the ministry of all of the apostles and the Church, in general, endured great hardship.  Paul was whipped, beaten, imprisoned, and rioted against, all because of the message of Christ.  He also experienced a great deal of joy in his ministry, seeing churches grow and the message of the Gospel advance in ways that were likely beyond his imagination.

Through it all, however, Paul makes it very clear that the circumstances that he has encountered have not stopped him from preaching the Gospel or opening his heart to them.  In no way has he put a stumbling block before them or in any way tried to hinder their growth.  He has been truly authentic with them, and he asked them to do the same.

This can be a hard passage to read.  Paul lays all of this out before the Corinthians, saying that he’s pushed through so much and it hasn’t stopped him from continuing his work.  Essentially, it sounds like he is saying that he is playing through the pain and telling others to do so as well.  Does that mean that our pain, our struggles, and our insecurities don’t matter?

Certainly not.  Paul would never, and is not here, minimizing the trials of his readers.  In fact, he is acknowledging here the vast array of things that he has encountered in his ministry.  In spite of it all, however, he encourages them to remain focused on Jesus Christ and the hope that God offers through Him.

While the many struggles, hurts, pains, and wounds of this life are a lot, Paul encourages us to not allow the enemy to make a stumbling block out of them.  Instead, we are honest in our sufferings, fixing our eyes on Jesus who walks through it all with us and guides us through the Holy Spirit towards deeper healing and reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 2 – Pleasing Aroma

Read 2 Corinthians 2

In Hebrew culture, hundreds of years before this was written, there was a prevailing understanding that our actions, as well as our prayers, rose up before God in the same way the smoke rose from the fires of a sacrifice.  When we love God and love our neighbors, our actions are a pleasing aroma to Him.  However,  in the case of Israel, when the turned away from God, even the smell of the Temple sacrifices was repulsive before Him.

Paul draws on this theme as he addresses the church in Corinth, knowing full well that the divisions there, between each other and even what has happened between them and Paul are anything but a pleasing aroma.  What’s worse, this so-called aroma is one that everyone else around them can “smell” as well.  Rather than being the pleasing aroma of Christ, Paul warns them such actions (as well as many others) could be an aroma of death.

Reconciliation is what Paul is seeking here; living into the call of the Gospel for unity in the Holy Spirit.  Paul longs to be reconciled to them and them to each other, that their actions of forgiveness and love would be the “aroma” that those around them smell.

People can almost smell fakeness on others.  I think this is something that the church today struggles with a lot.  We all want everyone else to believe that we have it all together; that somehow our faith has made everything in life perfect for us (because obviously, it is for everyone else).  The reality, though, is that we’re not perfect… we’re all messed up.  Pretending to be perfect, or that the hurts of the past don’t matter, doesn’t actually help and those outside of our faith communities can see right through it.

We are called to be reconciled to each other.  In fact, we are given the ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation as those who are in Christ and it has to start with us.  As much as it may be easier to call others to it while ignoring ourselves, reconciliation is the “plank in our own eye” that we may need to get out first.

1 Corinthians 4 – Scum of the Earth

Read 1 Corinthians 4

Paul continues to talk about earthly wisdom vs. the wisdom of God.  As he talks, though, his tone almost takes on that of sarcasm.  He has been talking to them about who they are following and what they should be listening for, but he implies that maybe they have it sorted.

They don’t actually “have it all together,” otherwise Paul wouldn’t be writing this.  However, when they look to human achievement and human strengths as the foundation for their faith, they indeed *do* have what they want.  Obviously, though, this will only lead to failure.

Interestingly, though, these words have a lot to do with us in the contemporary church.  So often, we come to worship and live our lives like we already have everything we need.  We put on a good face when we come to church on Sunday and always make sure our houses are clean when guests come over.  A house that appears messy is a source of considerable anxiety to us because it may reflect a life that is also messy… we wouldn’t want people to think that.

But irony behind this is that church is precisely for those who don’t have their lives all put together and it is, in fact, made up of those who don’t either.  We participate in this “stain glass masquerade,” as the casting crowns song so eloquently puts it, and all it succeeds in doing is creating a false image of the church keeping out those whom God loves and wants to hear of love and grace.

Paul’s claim to be the “scum of the earth,” is not a self-deprecating move to create some sort of “false humility,” it is a realization of who he is and how desperately he, of all people, needs the grace of God.