2 Corinthians 2-4
I am often amazed at the disconnect between what I am reading in scripture and what I see play out in the world around me today. Paul starts the second chapter of 2 Corinthians by talking about the harshness he has used in his interactions with the church in Corinth.
For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all.2 Corinthians 2:1–3, ESV
This, of course, is the same man who wrote the incredible “Love Chapter” that we read yesterday in 1 Corinthians 13. So what is the deal with him being so adamant and unwavering here? Believe it or not, his motivation is love.
This, of course, is the same man who wrote the incredible “Love Chapter” that we read yesterday in 1 Corinthians 13. So what is the deal with him being so adamant and unwavering towards towards them? Believe it or not, his motivation is love.
For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.2 Corinthians 2:4, ESV
It is a shame that we have largely lost this understanding of love in our current culture. And I’m not just talking about the non-churched. Sometimes I fear that the Church is just as guilty of embracing a false definition of “love” as the world around us is. “Tolerance” and “acceptance” rule the day, and if you don’t tolerate and accept sinful behavior, then you are seen as unloving. It is a real shame, because it is such a distortion of the true definition of love.
Sometimes love means saying the hard truth.
Several years ago, I wrote a short story to illustrate this disconnect. The story has thus far never found a home, but I think it may be helpful here. The story is called, “Jim’s Freedom”
Jim pulled in to the driveway. He nearly forgot to use his turn signal and the horn coming from the much-too-close car behind him served as a both a reminder that he could never do anything right, and as additional fuel for the fire in his soul. Wavering somewhere between depression and aggression, Jim parked his car mostly between the designated white lines of a parking spot at his church. It was Tuesday afternoon.
The car idled for a full minute before Jim cut the engine and let his foot off of the brake. The keys wouldn’t come out. What more could go wrong!? Jim thought to himself, but then he realized that he never shifted into Park. Once in the correct position, the keys came out with ease.
Jim took a deep breath, stepped out of the car, and made his way into the church.
He was late, but not too late. Certainly the Pastor would still be in his office like he said. Almost as if walking in his sleep, Jim simply took one step at a time, thinking to himself, I hope he’s not in his office. If he’s not there, then I can just leave and all of this will be his fault since he didn’t have time to meet with me.
Much to Jim’s disappointment, Pastor Steve was sitting in his office just as he said he would be. Jim smiled and held out his hand to greet Pastor Steve. It was not difficult for Jim to smile. He had perfected the art of the fake smile. For Jim, the only thing difficult was being real.
The two men struck up conversation. Jim was really good about moving his mouth while his mind was far away. He had a hard time remembering conversations after the fact, but it was easy for him to be in the middle of one. I hope he doesn’t ask why I wanted to see him Jim thought.
“So, Jim, why did you want to see me?” Pastor Steve asked.
There’s no turning back now.
“Pastor Steve, I, uh, I’ve… I’ve been having an affair…”
The words just hung in the air. Did I really just say that!? The scene was like a slow motion instant replay. What is going to happen? What will be the ruling on the field?
Jim’s eyes were wide open. His mouth never completely closed after those last words came out. He was tempted to think that his heart had stopped beating, if not for the fact that he could feel it pulsating in his ears and in his throat.
He wanted to look down, ashamed, but he needed to see Pastor Steve’s face. He needed to judge the reaction.
Pastor Steve hesitated, thought for a moment, and then replied in the most loving tone that Jim had ever heard, “It’s okay, Jim.”
Jim’s eyes shifted left, and then right, and then back to Pastor Steve. Had he heard clearly?
“What do you mean, ‘It’s okay?’”
Pastor Steve smiled a slight, compassionate smile that gave even more meaning to his words, “I mean, it’s okay. God knows your struggles, and He loves you anyway.”
“But what about the affair?! What about my wife? What about my kids? What about the church? What about the woman I am having an affair with? How is this okay?”
Pastor Steve took a breath and let it back out. He placed his hand gently on Jim’s shoulder. “Jim, God loves you. He wants you to be happy. He cares for you, and He cares for them, too.”
Pastor Steve was so full of love and understanding. It made Jim feel like everything really was going to be okay. Jim was so afraid that he would be judged, or that Pastor Steve would revoke his church membership, but instead he just felt so loved, understood, and cared for. His feelings were validated and his heart was alive.
Jim was free! It was a feeling that he had not felt for years. But it was a good feeling.
His mind was still confused. He was not sure how all of this lined up with scripture, but he was very sure of how it all made him feel… And Pastor Steve was a Seminary graduate! If anyone knew the heart of God on this subject, it was Pastor Steve.
Surely God is love! It says that somewhere in scripture, right?!
This is the moment that Jim would remember for the rest of his life. This was the moment that Pastor Steve had set him free.
(Or was it Jesus who was supposed to set him free?!)
Who cares! He was free! This was the best moment of his life.
In that same moment, off in the distance and yet right in that office were two distinct sounds that couldn’t be heard by human ears. One was the unmistakable sound of laughter from the pit of hell. The other was the sound of chains.
At this rate, those chains are never coming off.
2 Corinthians 5-7
Make no mistake about it, one day we will all die. Morbid? Maybe. I suppose it depends on how you respond to Christ’s offer of forgiveness while you live on the earth. If you respond by putting your faith in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, then dead is really just the start of eternal life. If, however, you do not trust Jesus to be your Glorious Savior on earth, then you will be eternally separated from the King Forever in death. Not good.
But what about those who put their faith in Christ? Is that it? Is simple faith all that is required of us? Well, yes! And no! As I have said before, simple faith with get you firmly established on “Team Jesus”! Everyone who trusts in Him alone will have eternal life! So in that sense, yes! Simple faith is all that is required. However, in another sense, there is much more. It is free to get on “Team Jesus”, but it will cost you if you want to be a “Starter” for the team. It is in light of this reality that Paul offers this sobering (and exciting) reminder in 2 Corinthians 5:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.2 Corinthians 5:10, ESV
This is not exactly a salvation passage. Our good deeds cannot remove our sin, and good deeds will never earn our way into God’s favor -or to heaven. No! Only Christ’s work on the cross can remove our sins. So what is Paul talking about, then?
He is talking about being rewarded for good deeds that were done in faith. Yes, there is much more to the Christian life than simple faith -though simple faith alone is absolutely the starting point.
Personally, I like to think that our good deeds will fashion for us a crown in heaven. The more good deeds that we do on earth, in faith, the bigger and more beautiful crown we will receive. What, then, is the purpose of the crown? Is it to wear around heaven as we compare and brag about our good deeds? No! It is for the distinct purpose of casting at the feet of Jesus, as an offering!
I am motivated to to live a life worthy of the calling to which I have been called, and though I am saved by grace alone, I want to honor Christ as I live on this earth by doing good deeds in faith. I expect to receive a crown in heaven that corresponds to my good deeds, and I can’t wait to give that crown to Jesus as an act of worship.