I was reading through 2 Corinthians, chapter 6, this morning and was struck by the chapter and its application to my life – though I wasn’t expecting one.
The chapter begins with a call to salvation – which is a weird thing as Paul addresses the letter to the church; that is, believers in Jesus, the people of God, those who are saved. So, it turns out that the gospel may be applicable to Christians after all. Huh; go figure.
Then Paul moves quickly to a discussion of evangelism. Specifically, that he puts nothing in the way of anyone and engages in great sacrifice so that people might receive the grace of God. Of course, this is what the “seeker” movement has really been about for decades: making sure that the gospel of Jesus is accessible to all, without putting religious expectations (dress, old music, style of architecture, and even confusing words) in the way of those who God is bringing to himself. This is also very annoying to those who have been in the church for a Long Time and are comfortable with the way church was done in their youth, forgetting how radical some of those things were back in the day, and now unjustly critiquing young evangelicals today. I find that tragically ironic.
But here was the thing that arrested my attention. I’ve read verses four through ten frequently enough to dismiss this section of scripture. It just doesn’t relate to me. Even more: I most certainly DO NOT want it to relate to me! This is a section where Paul, in his on-going ‘discussion’ with the Corinthians about how much they disrespect him, speaks of his very hard life for the sake of preaching the gospel. He says – and we can believe him – that he’s (at times) been beaten up, thrown in jail, been in riots, worked very hard, lost a lot of sleep, and hasn’t had enough to eat.
Let me be blunt. I’m a rather “pain adverse” kinda guy. I don’t like pain and I avoid it. I don’t like adversity and my first reaction, should I encounter something that hurts, is to go away from it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll put up with pain, suffering, and hardship if I can see the ultimate benefit. For a minor example, I recently went to the dentist and (because I haven’t been for a few years) had a major cleaning done. The dental hygienist commented that she has to use anesthetic on most people going through these procedures but I seemed to be enduring the pain rather well. Folks, it wasn’t because it didn’t hurt. It was because my teeth needed to be cleaned and for the long-term viability of my dental health, I needed to endure this.
So I, in times past have read this (and other sections like it) and prayed, “Thank you, God, that I have not had to suffer like Paul did.” And as of this moment, that is still the case – no body’s beat me up, thrown me in jail, etc.
However, I will say that I have lost some sleep over pastoral concerns - as Paul relates. In addition, as the chapter continues, Paul says some other things have happened. He turns to what we would (and should) think of as positive things and yet Paul says he has to “endure” them: purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, real love, telling the truth, and the power of God. Maybe I’m not getting this, but what I hear is that Paul is saying that not only must he endure the hard things, but he must endure the “good” things. What does that mean?
I wonder if what Paul is suggesting is that ministry is a disciplined activity. And that he must exercise discipline to be pure (for the sake of preaching the gospel), that he must exercise discipline to make sure his mind is clear and truly understands the gospel and scripture (for the sake of preaching the gospel); that he must be patient with difficult people and situations, be kind when he feels like being mean, yield to the Spirit when he’d rather act in the ‘natural’ man, exercise tough love when he’d rather just be ‘nice,’ and just be a “normal guy” but God keeps insisting that Paul must act in God’s power – all for the sake of preaching the gospel.
Then, and here’s where it got personal: Paul next goes through this list of human-related sufferings: that he is dishonored, slandered, treated as an obscure, dead, cursed, unhappy, and poor impostor. Yep, there were those who were coming close to calling Paul a heretic.
Ouch – talk about criticizing the pastor!
Finally, Paul concludes his thought with a very interesting warning. He says that his heart was open to the Corinthians; he spoke freely with them and encouraged them to be free with their affections. But they would not. They were emotionally constipated and immature. Note that, specifically in the context of their emotional response of affection, he tells them to remove the restriction because they are behaving like children. The warning is that the Corinthians were in a case of arrested development. And, for a church, that is a Very Bad Thing.