Corinthians – Belief and Behavior
We spent last Saturday as servers at a middle/high school show choir invitational hosted by our grandkids’ school. For a few hours, our job was to retrieve trays of trash from students and sponsors as soon as they ate so the trays could be cleaned and used by others. (School cafeterias don’t stock enough trays for an event for hundreds!) We also wiped tables as quickly as possible to keep the crowd moving in and out. It worked well. Everyone seemed happy. However what we saw, as servers, was all the mess under the tables. But we were too busy and it was too crowded to get to it while they were eating. The mess would have to be mopped up later.
Sometimes ministry is messing. (Sometimes?!, you’re thinking.) As leaders you can’t get to it all at once. God leads us to the most important aspects of His work of telling His story, teaching us how to love Him and how to love each other. All seems well until we “look under the tables” and see the messy details of what needs to be cleaned up in communication, relationships with continual restoring the unity of the Body of Christ, His church. Be encouraged! God is in the details. He helps us to mop up the messy with His guidance. Paul does just that as he writes his second letter to the church gone wild who have left a mess here and there.
For anyone operating under the naive presumption that joining a Christian church is a good way to meet all the best people and cultivate smooth social relations, a reading of Paul’s Corinthian correspondence is the prescribed cure. And we should be thankful, for his writing help us today.
Paul’s second letter was also prompted by the church’s attack on his leadership for correcting them. They bucked his authority and motives and questioned his credentials. (Like Jesus!) Paul was forced to defend his leadership. After mopping up a few details left over from the first letter, he confronted the challenge, and in the process probed the very nature of leadership in a community of believers.
Let’s begin with the salutation…”cleaning the tables”…
2 Corinthians 1, The Message
1-2 I, Paul, have been sent on a special mission by the Messiah, Jesus, planned by God himself. I write this to God’s congregation in Corinth, and to believers all over Achaia province. May all the gifts and benefits that come from God our Father and the Master, Jesus Christ, be yours! Timothy, someone you know and trust, joins me in this greeting.
3-5 All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.
6-7 When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation. If we are treated well, given a helping hand and encouraging word, that also works to your benefit, spurring you on, face forward, unflinching. Your hard times are also our hard times. When we see that you’re just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you’re going to make it, no doubt about it.
8-11 We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing. You and your prayers are part of the rescue operation—I don’t want you in the dark about that either. I can see your faces even now, lifted in praise for God’s deliverance of us, a rescue in which your prayers played such a crucial part.
12-14 Now that the worst is over, we’re pleased we can report that we’ve come out of this with conscience and faith intact, and can face the world—and even more importantly, face you with our heads held high. But it wasn’t by any fancy footwork on our part. It was God who kept us focused on him, uncompromised. Don’t try to read between the lines or look for hidden meanings in this letter. We’re writing plain, unembellished truth, hoping that you’ll now see the whole picture as well as you’ve seen some of the details. We want you to be as proud of us as we are of you when we stand together before our Master Jesus.
15-16 Confident of your welcome, I had originally planned two great visits with you—coming by on my way to Macedonia province, and then again on my return trip. Then we could have had a bon-voyage party as you sent me off to Judea. That was the plan.
17-19 Are you now going to accuse me of being flip with my promises because it didn’t work out? Do you think I talk out of both sides of my mouth—a glib yes one moment, a glib no the next? Well, you’re wrong. I try to be as true to my word as God is to his. Our word to you wasn’t a careless yes canceled by an indifferent no. How could it be? When Silas and Timothy and I proclaimed the Son of God among you, did you pick up on any yes-and-no, on-again, off-again waffling? Wasn’t it a clean, strong Yes?
20-22 Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete.
23 Now, are you ready for the real reason I didn’t visit you in Corinth? As God is my witness, the only reason I didn’t come was to spare you pain. I was being considerate of you, not indifferent, not manipulative.
24 We’re not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. We’re partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I pray for all leaders whom You have called to lead your church forward, to clean up messes along the way and to cast Your vision for Your church…to find and follow You. Help us as servants to do what is necessary to help not hinder Your work. Transform me. Transform Your church. Transform the world.
In Jesus Name, Amen