"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Controlled by Christ, 2 Corinthians 5:9 to 6:2

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Final draft!

Pray.  We’re continuing our series walking through St Paul’s second letter to the Christians at Corinth.  In today’s selection we are hearing Paul recite the history of our salvation, and indeed the redemption of the totality of the creation, along with our very high calling in the service of Christ.  Paul is answering the question, ‘why be an evangelist?’  The answer is compelling and convicting. 

Paul begins by stating the reason that the members of the Body are called into a role of doing Christ’s will, to ‘make it our aim to please Him’.  The reason is stated in legal terms – the Greek here refers to appearing before a tribunal to be judged – and each of us will receive what is our due for what we have done in the Body, whether good or evil.  This is more than a little intimidating – and it should be, but this we will see is tempered with the love of Christ.  The being of God is such that our proper response to His presence is at least partly fear, and always reverence and awe.  It is important to be reminded of this, for our present understanding of God is informed by a very modern and very incorrect idea that God is love and nothing else – no judgement, no wrath.  The problem with a God reduced to this level, is what you have left is no longer the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but rather a cultural amalgam we have recreated in our image.

We start to hear about the radical difference that defines those who serve our God – rather than seeking to puff himself up with boasts, Paul instead focuses not on outward appearances, but what is in the heart.  The reason for this radical focus is because of what we know about God – that is that God knows us each intimately.  This is also intimidating, but also comforting.  The God who knows each sparrow, likewise knows us.  There is no aspect of us that is not already part of God’s knowledge. 

Now, this source of absolute truth about ourselves, enables Paul to focus on what is in the heart, and not on outward appearances.  This sounds like it might have been an issue in Corinth, and there are suggestions that Paul’s adversaries in Corinth were criticizing Paul’s lack of overt, mystical spiritual manifestations, essentially they wanted him to act more like an episode of Ghost Hunters, than an apostle to the Lord Most High!  Paul instead turns them back to inner intentions, which is the place of God’s concern when He comes into our lives.  This is an important truth as it helps to free us from the shackles of this world – where appearance is everything, and the inner intentions of our hearts are no one’s business but our own. 

This focus of God on the inner intentions is clearly reflected throughout Scripture: – Luke 6:45, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”  Luke 16:15, “And Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”  John 7:37, “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’39 ”  Romans 10:10, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”  Matthew 15:18-19, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality […and so on]” 

I’m emphasizing this point as it is key to both Paul’s writing and to our ministry as members of the Body of Christ.  Do not act as the world acts, focused on fancy robes and the best seats at the festivals, rather give it all up and follow our Lord Jesus.  Believe in your heart, so that you may become a spring of living water for the world.  Reject that which is exalted among men, and is an abomination in the sight of God, reject the fleshy wisdom that Paul rejects.  What Paul is trying to emphasize to the Corinthians is this very radical idea – that there is a great leveling that happens within the community of Christ, at least as measured by the world’s yardstick.  This is the reason that Christianity, in particular, is so threatening to dictatorships and anyplace where people seek to exert power over others – it is not by our appearance we are measured, but rather by the inner intentions of our hearts.  

Here’s a contemporary example of a Christian who doesn’t seem to quite have this inner intentions of the heart thing down…who probably would have been understood well by Paul’s adversaries in Corinth: Christian man Carl Behr of Baldwin, Pennsylvania received a notice on Monday ordering him to remove the 24-foot high illuminated cross he has installed in his front yard and kept lit day and night.  But Behr plans to fight the order at a municipal meeting.  “It’s all about my faith, and some people are trying to turn this into a real circus,” Behr said the cross directly measured in his faith in God and had previously said “no man” would instruct him how to show his devotion. Behr told FoxNews.com. “They’re going to get a mouthful [at the meeting] tonight.”  Big cross = big faith is very much the way of the world, the way of outward appearances…what does being a neighbour look like for the person with Christ in their heart?  If it is the love of Christ that controls us, and sets the priorities of our heart, then how can the size of a cross in our front yard directly measure our faith in God?  Unless, that is, we’re living under the lie of following the way of outward appearances. 

Paul, one who could certainly boast, instead submits himself to the control of Christ, utterly and totally.  Now, I will say that this is not the easiest thing in the world to do, and that I, along with each of you, can say along with Paul…for I do the things I do not wish to do, and I do not do the things I wish to do.  Our ‘old person’, the one that is impressed with outward appearances, continually wars with the Word of God written on our hearts.  Why does Paul submit himself so totally to the control of Christ?  Because of the one central truth: one has died for all; therefore, all have died.   This truth is also the reason that Paul can talk about being content, regardless of his circumstance shipwrecked or at dinner. 

Now, what does Paul say about the impact Christ’s death has had upon the creation?  The result is that all have died…and this is a universal truth, that is, the impact of Christ’s sacrifice is felt across the breadth of creation including those who are non-believers.  Christ has died for all, therefore, all have died.  These all’s speak to the totality of creation, and not just to the Body of Christ.  Paul is not being a universalist here – suggesting that all will be saved regardless of how they live –  but rather is emphasizing that Christ’s death caused a change even for those who do not profess faith.  This is the reason why we can see the hallmarks of God’s work throughout our society beyond the level of something that is mere historical conditioning.  God’s death for humankind has changed us collectively, so that even those who deny God’s dominion have been changed.  For Paul, the reason that death is so important in his present rhetoric is because Christ’s selfless action of dying for all of us, similarly frees us to no longer live for ourselves, that is in the way of this selfish world, but rather to live fully into Christ. 

Paul also tells us why the disciples continued to get Jesus completely wrong throughout his life.  As you read the Gospels, you sometimes want to shout at Peter, don’t you understand who you’re talking to?  He just doesn’t get it, and the reason Paul identifies is that they once regarded Christ according to the flesh…that is, they assessed Jesus as the world assesses a person, by those outward signs.  When he looked like the revolutionary leader that would overthrow the Romans and the corrupt Temple establishment, they were ecstatic.  When he proved himself the servant of all by dying on that Roman instrument of torture, they all scattered in confusion and dismay, until the coming of the Spirit – when they understood the deep power that surrounded Jesus, and how the only real change could come about through God incarnate offered as a sacrifice. 

That is one of the most beautiful scenes out of the movie The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.  After Aslan has been sacrificed on the stone table by the White Witch, Lucy and Susan are left in despair and grief for the death of all they thought would save them – a powerful golden lion who would use the force of muscle to defeat their enemies.  Instead, they find a dead saviour, who is freed from his bonds by mice nibbling away at the ropes.  When he rises, Aslan tells them of the deep truth: when an innocent victim is sacrificed for the crimes of another, the deep magic will turn death inside out.  That turning inside out of death is God’s gift to us, for a heart that believes.  When Aslan rises, the stone table is split asunder.  A new order has entered Narnia – the stone tablets that previously held the Law, Torah, have been left behind, because there is a new creation, the old has passed away.  The reason we can partake of this is Christ’s reconciliation of us with God. 

We’ve heard about this new creation before from Don who preached around this passage, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  This is a very interesting thing for Paul to say, reinforced again in today’s reading, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  That reference to letting light shine out of the darkness brings us back to Genesis and the first creation.  Now that God’s light has shone in our hearts, bringing the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, we are made a new creation by faith.  Talk about intimidating – the maker of the cosmos, who made light to shine out of the chaos, offers us the same promise.  Our process of believing, allowing Christ to dwell in our hearts, makes us a new creation just like God brought this very good creation from nothingness in the first days.  

After we enter into the new creation that is the born again believer, our appearance remains unchanged as does the world around us – what changes is the way we react.  We still bear the capacity to sin, we still bear many of the attributes of our prior life in death, and must now conduct our life on the basis of faith in Christ, rather than the appearance of things.  John Wesley wrote, “Therefore, if any one be in Christ – a true believer in Him.  There is a new creation – Only the power that makes a world can make a Christian.”  Now that is an awesome thought, and emphasizes to us the high calling of the Christian.  If we have been remade just like the early creation was made, how can we not find contentment in any circumstance, like Paul? 

I’m not suggesting that the struggle associated with our life in this broken world is lessened, or disappears, but that being that new creation in Christ gives us a path to contentment that does not exist for the world of the non-believer.  So while Christ died for all, it is those who choose to be remade into that new creation that find the path to Paul’s contentment.  We don’t often think of that contentment in terms other than those of this world, which speaks far more in terms of happiness…and invariably happiness resulting from getting something I’ve been wanting and praying for. 

This was part of what I preached about several weeks back, when I told the story of my yearning for an electrical experiment set when I was a child, and concluded that God must be a God of yes and no, because he didn’t give me what I so badly wanted and prayed for.  In the new creation of Christ, those sorts of things fall away…my fixation and the world’s fixation with being happy falls away…and is replaced with the contentment of Christ.  It is that contentment that allows the saints to endure even great trials – it is that contentment that brings peace into the middle of grieving a lost love – it is that contentment that brings peace into conflicts at work – it is that contentment that allows us to congratulate our neighbour on their brand-new fifth wheel trailer, without thinking, ‘my trailer is too small’.  It is that contentment that allows us to understand Luke’s words, “For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”  If we cease to exalt the things that our world holds to be important contentment results. 

Now, where has Paul been heading with all this talk of the new creation, Christ’s sacrifice, and how all things have passed away?  To this conclusion, which is also intimidating.  God has reconciled the world to himself through Christ, so that the message of reconciliation (v 19) could be entrusted to us.  (v 20) Because that message was entrusted to us, we have become ambassadors for Christ, and God makes His continued appeal to the creation through us.  What does it mean to be an ambassador for Christ?  Paul goes on to tell us: we have become the bearers of the message of reconciliation (v 19).  God has entrusted this message of freedom and salvation, not to those with a pleasing outward appearance to whom the world will turn, but to all of us.  Paul now tells us how we bear that message of reconciliation God has entrusted to us.  (v. 21) Christ died so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God.  This is quite profound – and it is what gives the Christian their high calling, set apart from the world that operates on a different set of rules.  The path of believing, in saying our own Amen, Amen to God’s Amen, converts us into a visible, physical testament of God’s righteousness.  Wow, I’m struck by how often I fall short of that reality, how often I opt for the way of this world instead of the way of righteousness. 

The ministry is not Paul, but rather Paul working through Christ exercising a ministry of reconciliation and righteousness so that the grace of God will not be received in vain.  The Body of Christ, all of us, exist to do and be for the world what Jesus had been for his disciples: to bring healing and hope, release for the prisoners, to proclaim truth in the place of distortion, and to rescue people trapped in their own sinfulness.  Do we perform our work in the world, whatever it may be, in a way that brings glory to God?  We communicate the Gospel by Word and deed in our everyday life. This is our calling.  You may respond that “I’m not an evangelist!”  Even if you don’t have that particular gifting, what Paul is saying is that all Christians are evangelists, proclaimers of the Good News of Christ, by virtue of our death and rebirth in Christ.  How we do that is by being what Christ called us to be, and by existing in a reality that shouts to the world that we are followers of a different way – one that looks beyond who we are, to the one we serve…one that admits we, among all people, know that we are sinners, but also that the call of the Master compels us to go out into the world as that light on a stand, proclaiming that death, despair and violence are not the final word. 

Existing in Christ transforms how we see the world, and particularly those around us.  This is a cosmic reversal of the way of the world, through Christ.  The reason we can be reconciled with others, is because Christ first reconciled us to God, not counting our trespasses against us, but rather freeing us so that we can act as his ambassador.  And more than an ambassador in the way the world understands, for we have been freed in Christ so that we may become a physical bearer of the righteousness of God.

 “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Let us each be ambassadors for God, in Christ I pray.  Amen.


Written by sameo416

July 14, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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