Hum “Family of God” as you read this one
2Corinthians 9: God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.
In spite of Paul having written some pretty stern stuff to them, he remains confident of his good relationship with the Corinthians. In fact, he moves from the topic of his first letter to them to encourage them to be generous in their giving to a special relief offering he’s collecting to be taken to the Christian poor in Jerusalem. If you think about it it’s quite an impressive thing he’s doing. These Gentiles wouldn’t have given a second thought to some Jews living in Jerusalem just a few years earlier. They felt no connection to them and they certainly wouldn’t have considered sending them a relief offering. Now, though, it’s all changed. Their lives are now linked to the lives of people throughout the region. Before it was “us and them” but now it’s all “us.” What has happened? Jesus! His presence in their lives has made them part of a family. These days, they not only know about fellow believers in distant Jerusalem, but they’re willing to send them some of their hard earned cash to help them through hard times. What Paul began so long ago continues to this day as Christians send offerings to people in distant places in the Name of Jesus. God’s people are the most generous people on the face of the earth. The reason, according to Paul, is that we’re behaving like our Heavenly Father who’s the most generous Being there is. We’re part of a great family and our Father has set for us a powerful example of giving. We give to all who are in need, but we’re especially willing to give, even sacrificially, to help our brothers and sisters. “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.”
Take Away: God’s people are wonderfully generous people.
2Corinthians 8: We don’t want anyone suspecting us of taking one penny of this money for ourselves.
Paul’s collecting an offering for the Christian poor in Jerusalem. The idea came from the churches in Macedonia but has now spread throughout the Gentile Church. There’s no pressure as to what individuals give. Paul just urges people to give the best they are able. He does note though, that in spite of the Macedonian Christians going through some hard times of their own that they’ve set the giving bar pretty high. Now, Paul’s sending some folks to Corinth to collect their offering and take it to Jerusalem. He’s quite business like in his approach and wants to assure them that Titus won’t be alone in caring for this money but will be joined by another trustworthy individual in handling it. The Apostle adds that he doesn’t want anyone to have any reason to think he’s skimming expense money off the top of this designated offering. He wants them to be confident that everything they give will go to its designated purpose. As a pastor I’ve always followed Paul’s approach in money matters. I try to stay away from handling church cash if at all possible. Also, in the church we deal with money handling issues using accepted business practices along with a dose of sanctified common sense. Like Paul, we want to handle money and other church assets in such a way that no reasonable person will have reason to question our honesty. Beyond that, of course, we’re well aware that the Almighty sees it all and that someday we’ll stand before him in Judgment.
Take Away: Good business practices are good business for the church.
2Corinthians 7: I know I distressed you greatly with my letter.
The book of 1 Corinthians is almost painful to read. It’s clear the there are some sick situations there and that this church is far from being a healthy congregation. The Corinthian church isn’t a prototype of what a Christian church is supposed to look like, although how Paul deals with them is a primer on how a spiritual leader is to deal with a difficult church situation. An insight in this passage is that as Paul writes to Corinth he knows the impact his words will have on the church. Beyond that, his words impact him as well. Administrating this strong medicine is painful for Paul too. The old “this hurts me more than it hurts you” line is literally true in this situation. Paul gets no pleasure in writing to his friends at Corinth as he does. He’s frustrated with them and somewhat fearful for them. Still, he expects his strong medicine to bring about, in the long run, good results. Sometimes parents have to be disciplinarians. It would be nice to always feel warm and fuzzy about things but to do so isn’t what real love is like. In his first letter Paul steps up to the plate, telling them the facts of spiritual life even though, in his words, “I felt awful at the time.” Sometimes preachers have to be disciplinarians. As it is for Paul and as it is for parents, proper discipline should never carry with it a sense of pleasure in causing pain. I imagine tearstains on the parchment that contains what we think of as 1 Corinthians. In the same way, there should be tearstains on the sermon notes of a pastor who preaches a sermon that will cause some pain. Otherwise, that sermon should never be preached.
Take Away: Sometimes discipline must be done but it should never be done with pleasure.
Living unreservedly for God
2Corinthians 6: The smallness you feel comes from within you.
These are emotional words from the Apostle. He loves this church. They’re his dear friends. In fact, he considers them to be his children in Christ. At the same time he’s frustrated with the smallness of their lives. The infighting, bickering, competing attitude of theirs not only breaks his heart but it also limits their view of God and what he does in people’s lives. Without reservation Paul has given himself to them and to the Church in general. He’s suffered physically for it but at the same time he’s been blessed beyond description. If the Corinthians feel their religion puts them in a straightjacket it’s their own fault. There’s so much more to being a Christian than trying to be first in line at church potlucks or getting to be the one who sings the special song. Paul calls them to a better way: a passionate life lived joyfully for the Lord. These words speak to church people throughout the ages. Am I going to make church about meetings and rules and authority or am I going to make it about living passionately for the Lord? The first binds and limits me. The second sets me free to live “openly and expansively.”
Take Away: The Christian life isn’t binding – rather, it’s wonderfully freeing.
Our number one motivation
2Corinthians 5: Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing.
Having described himself as a “clay jar” the Apostle is well aware of his inadequacies. The day’s coming, he says, when these “tents” (that is our earthly bodies) will shut down and be replaced by bodies of heavenly construction. The weaknesses we deal with every day even to the point that we come to think of them as ordinary and acceptable will be gone forever, replaced by that which is amazingly superior. Paul says that we get just a taste of what it will be like as we enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As good as that is, it’s just a small sample of what’s coming. With such exciting prospects you’d think that that’s what Paul would think about all the time and that if he’s asked what motivates him his answer will focus on making the big move from the “tent to the palace.” Make no mistake; he likes thinking about it all. However, the big deal for him isn’t “exile or homecoming.” Rather, he declares, the big thing is pleasing God in all his life. His greatest motivation is the knowledge that there’s a way to live in this life that’s pleasing to God. There’s a possibility of standing before the Lord and hearing him say “well done.” For Paul, the big deal isn’t pie in the sky as much as it’s pleasing the Father in this life. Going to heaven is huge, no doubt about it. However, pleasing the Lord, our Creator and Master, according to Paul, is even bigger.
Take Away: When we live to please the Lord we’re living as we were designed to live.
My close, personal Friend
2Corinthians 3: God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone.
Paul’s ancestors placed the weight of their hope in God on the Law given through Moses. And not just his ancestors, Paul, himself, starts off here. Then, out in the wilderness on the road to Damascus he has a personal, transforming encounter with the Lord that forever changes his life. Never again will he base his relationship with God on what was written on stone tablets hundreds of years earlier. Now, his relationship with the Lord is just that: a relationship. He doesn’t have to check a rulebook to know how things are between him and God. Rather, he enjoys a personal, intimate relationship with his Creator. This “face to face” level of faith is what the Apostle wants for his friends at Corinth and it’s what the Lord wants to have with you and me. Listen, don’t ever settle for a book of rules when you can personally know God. That’s the offer he makes to us in Christ, who not only came to die for us, but also came to live with and in us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. For Christians, the Bible isn’t a book of rules to be followed. Rather, it’s a map that leads us to God and then helps us live in his personal presence.
Take Away: Don’t settle for rules when the reality of God in your heart is abundantly available in Christ.
God is the God of Second Chances
2Corinthians 2: Getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church.
This is likely a reference to the situation described in the first letter. Apparently, one of the members of the congregation at Corinth was living in an immoral relationship with his stepmother. Now, Paul has received word that the church took action on this. There has been, first: discipline, and then, second: repentance, and now, forgiveness. Paul tells them that that’s good enough for him. He stands by their handling of things and now counsels them to add a double portion of love for the one who had been involved in the immorality. Otherwise, he cautions, the enemy of their souls will use the situation to work against them, doing more harm than good. It seems to me that the church generally errs on the extremes of issues like this. Sometimes, we’re so open minded that we just go with the flow. People behave in immoral ways and “we just love them anyway” never getting around to pointing out that their behavior will destroy their lives and damn their souls. In other situations, the church is so intent on “telling it like it is” that we drive away the very people for whom Christ died. We think we’re being spiritual, but really we’re just being hateful. In the middle there’s loving people enough to tell them the truth in such a way that they know we love them. God is a God of Second Chances and the church should be a Church of Second Chances.
Take Away: We need the help of the Lord to find the middle ground when dealing with sinners who are loved by Christ.
At the end of myself and at the beginning of God
2Corinthians 1: And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing.
Since his first letter to the church at Corinth Paul has gone though some hard times. His words remind me of some of the Psalms of complaint when David thought it was all over for him. In words similar to what David used, Paul describes how he was crushed and sure that he was at the end. In his despair he realized he was out of options and that there was nothing he could do to save himself. At that low point, he remembered his greatest Resource. When he came to the end of himself he found himself at just the beginning of God. Throwing himself on the mercy of God is the smartest thing he ever did. After all, Paul reminds us, this is the God who even raises the dead. The Lord was equal to the challenge and, for Paul, the sun rose once again in his life, giving him a new lease on life. This journey to death’s door and back, Paul says, has turned out to be a positive event in his life. These days he’s quicker to stop struggling and to start trusting in God to bring about a rescue in his life. This is a lesson I need to learn anew. I serve a God who loves me and who has the power to, when necessary, raise the dead. I may not like it when life brings me my share of uncertainty and even pain. At the same time, I can remember that the same God who has brought me through difficult times in the past can “rescue me as many times as I need rescuing.”
Take Away: In an uncertain world the Lord remains my steadfast certainty.
I’m glad I’m part of the family of God
1Corinthians 16: And I love you all in the Messiah, Jesus.
Paul has been pretty hard on the church at Corinth and with good reason. On one hand, they appear to be a template for what a Christian church isn’t supposed to be. There are failures upon failures there and in this letter the Apostle is like a fireman trying to extinguish several blazes. On the other hand, he has a warm, fatherly, relationship with them. He’s not angrily ready to toss them aside. Instead, he sees them as worth redeeming. Beyond all that, I have the distinct feeling that my impression of this congregation is rather one sided. There’s plenty wrong there, but a lot of it is likely associated with their being enthusiastic about living for the Lord and, at the same time, are coming out of a clueless, immoral culture. The result is enthusiastic ignorance. Maybe that’s better than being knowledgably bored! Paul concludes his letter by restating his love for them. They may be an ignorant and frustrating crowd, but Paul claims them as his own. It’s a pretty good reminder of how things are supposed to be in the family of God. We may have a few who are sometimes a bit off the grid, (of course that doesn’t include you and me!) but we love them just the same. After all, we’re together in this family of God.
Take Away: As the old saying goes, “Sometimes I wonder about everyone but me and thee…and sometimes I wonder about thee.”