2 Corinthians 5-9

The first thing that goes through my mind as I read this passage is that Paul recently had reason to believe that the Church in Corinth had strayed away or was drifting.   Today it seems like he is celebrating in the knowledge that the report wasn’t true.    That makes me think of something….
If the Apostle Paul, who clearly was a dedicated and devout believer, and clearly heard from God, could be worried about a church drifting when it wasn’t exactly as bad as he thought, then couldn’t the same thing happen to me?    My personal experience in ministry is that the devil whispers lies to me about how bad things are, or how the church is right on the edge of disintegrating.    It’s always a lie, because the devil is the father of lies….but for some reason those lies don’t ever seem to “roll off” of me as easily as they should.    I find myself thinking “things aren’t going well” or “people are becoming __________” (fill in the blank with whatever negative thing the devil whispers this month….)    But when I go back and look at the facts, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide me, I find that the opposite is often true.   That’s when my jaw drops, my eyes pop open further and I realize “that sneaky devil did it again”!      Unbelievable.    I look forward to the day when I no longer am deceived by him.
Maybe that particular thought has colored my perspective today as I read.   There are other key phrases to learn from in this passage.  There are encouraging and helpful thoughts that instruct and guide us.    In fact, every time we read Scripture we should pick up new thoughts and ideas, and see new things…that complement the rest of Scripture.     Here’s a couple of things that jumped out at me today:
“Stop evaluating others from a human point of view.”     It’s so easy to focus on what we can see, like the clothes or the mannerisms or the work habits…but I am reminded that God isn’t defining us by any of those things.   I am not valuable because of what I look like or what I do.   I am valuable simply because God says that I am valuable.  He assigns my value and worth and he does so knowing full well that I don’t measure up (by human standards).    If I get my eyes off God and onto what the world uses to evaluate people, I may relate to them in ways that God never would.    I don’t want to do that, I can’t afford to do that.    So, I covenant to ask God today to help me see people through His eyes.    That may mean I need to challenge some and comfort others.  It will certainly mean that I will need to encourage all.
“Don’t accept the gift and then ignore it.”    Some time later in his writing Paul will encourage Timothy to “fan into flame” the gift that he already has.   This comment…after Timothy has already been traveling with Paul, suffering with him in many ways.   And yet Paul can encourage him to “go further?”    Paul has a higher regard for God’s power and Timothy’s gift than I would have.       It’s sort of like watching a professional athlete perform some extraordinary act and say to yourself “that was incredible” only to realize that the athlete isn’t happy with the result, because they expected more from themseves.
I look at a construction job that I have done and feel good about it.   But my son look at the same job and winces….he has higher standards when it comes to building.   He won’t put up with the sort of thing that I think is “okay”.    I read some of the trials that Paul faced and think to myself “I haven’t had any problems at all in ministry compared to Paul”.   It’s humbling in a way, and it makes me wonder if  I am doing something wrong….I mean, why am I so blessed, and why is life so fulfilling?   I can’t even think of a trial I could brag about….except maybe working to exhaustion.    Paul had high standards, so high that they pushed him to excel in ways that I think we miss.     I wonder if Jesus is as happy about how I am using my gifts and my time as I am.    Maybe we should talk……
“Live so that no one stumbles because of me.”  I wrote that phrase as I read the passage, wanting to comment on it later (now it’s later….) It’s only now that I realize how closely it ties into the thought above.    How I use my gift, and the extent to which I use it….has an impact on those who are watching.   I mean, here I am 2000 years later, watching how Paul used his gift, and how he lived.   I doubt that Paul thought that anyone beyond his lifetime would notice whether or not he worked to pay his own way in ministry.    But his example has motivated and guided many people to give up lucrative and successful jobs in order to serve the Lord for far less money and prestige.    I’m not saying everyone should be a “tentmaking minister” (working a secular job while preaching).   I’m just saying that income clearly wasn’t Paul’s priority, and that sets a good example.
“Worldly sorrow lacks repentance and leads to spiritual death”.     I need to be sorry for the times that I commit a sin…sorry enough to change my actions.   I can’t expect that God is going to look with favor upon me saying “I’m sorry for watching that TV show” and then doing the same thing again.   Worldly sorrow lacks the one thing that spiritual sorrow possesses…..transformation.     We must change.    I am amazed at how little people actually change in their lifetimes.   You can see habits and character traits from childhood still present in adults.    Opinions seem to form and never change…even though the evidence to support the decision has long ago eroded.    We simply don’t change “well”.     That leads to doing the same thing time and time again, and being sorry for doing it….but never changing.      I am reminded today that kind of sorrow won’t produce forgiveness.    God will not forgive just because I say “I’m sorry”….I have to mean it…and meaning it means there is evidence of genuine repentance, which is evidenced by change.    I don’t want to drift away from grace here…I just want to underscore that saying “sorry” when you have every intention of doing it again doesn’t mean you truly are “sorry”
Joy in times of testing can create generosity.”    God doesn’t call me to be joyful in trials for no reason…or just for the benefit of others.   This attitude creates maturity within me.   Generosity can grow out of a trial…if I am joyful through it.    I want to remember this, and learn to apply it to my life, so that when my trials come I will see them as the precursor to increased generosity, not as something that simply must be “endured”.
As always, there is so much more, and I feel guilty leaving the passage having only scratched the surface.   It’s like looking at the fine work of art..you want to keep looking, but there are so many other things to see as well….    (that makes it sound like I’m an art aficionado…which I’m not….I’d rather marvel at a stone wall that someone else has built, or a model of ancient Jerusalem)