Summary: 2 Corinthians 5:9 to 6:2. St Paul, rather than boasting about his special place as an apostle instead submits himself entirely to the control of Christ. What does that mean to us?
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.