Recently, this blog detailed the problems, the blemishes, the inferior state of faith in the first letter to the Corinthians. The greatest or certainly the most blatant violation was the man who had taken his mother-in-law as a wife! And that with little objection by the saints. Such tolerance was unthinkable to Paul.
The Second Letter to the Corinthians
The church finally deals with the man noted by Paul in I Corinthians 5, and evidently severely so. So now Paul writes a second letter to the Church to urge them to forgive and show mercy (II Cor. 2:6-8)! Truth is always to be balanced with grace.
Now that the church seems to be heeding Paul’s concerns about the integrity of their witness, the moral order of their lives, he moves to the underlying issue – a bigger and more important one. The Corinthians were not in a position to do ministry to their city, because of the lack of congregational health. But now Paul surfaces this important and missional component of their existence.
The idea of being in a position to do ministry in the city is foreign to many Christians, even to pastors. But that is the matter at the heart of Paul’s second letter. We see the church as the place we go to receive ministry. If others desire ministry – let them come to the church and sit in the pews with us! Paul sees the church as a field camp, a beach-head from which to launch community impact. But a “go ye” gospel can never be neatly stuffed into a “come to” church.
In the second letter, he says to them, “We have this ministry!” (II Cor. 4:1) All in the church, every person is called to this ministry! And the nature of the ministry is the reconciliation of a lost world to Christ (II Cor. 5:18-19). This is not about us! Faith cannot be a private and personal matter (II Cor. 4:6). The church at Corinth, and every church, is called to the mission of representing Christ in the earth, and bringing men to Christ.
But, the credibility of this representative ministry demands evidence of change in the lives of church members. Bringing men to Christ demands that they are convinced we know the way to Christ. Suppose I was standing outside the White House and I walked up to you and offered to get you into the Oval Office. “Just follow me, and I will take you to the President!” I say to you with a wink. You might rightly conclude that I was a lunatic and that following might get you into trouble, in fact, it might land you in jail. Such an incredible offer should demand some badge, some compelling evidence. Listen to the voices. They are everywhere, “Follow me. I will tell you how to get into heaven. I will lead you to God – to eternal life!”
It is amazing how easily people today trust their soul to any message and any man. No other decision in all of life is made so lightly by Americans as the decision concerning their soul and their spiritual health.
Paul says to the Corinthians, “We have this ministry!” It is the ministry of reconciliation, of bringing God to the world, and bringing the world, one person at a time, to God. To make this introduction, to represent God to the world, demands that there be evidence in our lives in order to give our message credibility. Paul offers a glimpse of such evidences. We are:
1. A Sweet Fragrance
A fragrance! A sweetness! You can’t contain an odor. Smells – good or bad – invade and charge the air with distinctive aromas. You can’t enclose them, restrain them or hold them in check. No fence can confine them. Food aromas wake up appetites. Perfumes attract. Tangy scents make us curious. A stink calls up howls of protests. A stench nauseates. Our reaction is autonomic (II Cor. 2:14-17). The idea of fragrance may find its Old Testament connection in incense – the mix of potent scents burned as a symbol of passionate worship and prayer.
2. A Letter from God
Written epistles, a love letter from God, read by men openly (II Cor. 3:1-3).
People draw conclusions from our lives. They read our intentions and values by our actions and attitudes. Without saying a word, we witness, and often boldly. Our lives are an open book. Our motives manifest themselves. Our integrity or lack of it tells on us. There is an old story about a bus driver who recognized the new preacher in town and decided to test him by giving him an extra quarter as change. Have you ever sold your soul for a quarter? Destroyed the integrity of your witness for a few bucks? Barna, the researcher, says that Christians are no more likely to return spare change than non-Christians, and in fact on more than one-hundred measures, there is no difference in our behavior than that of the world around us.
3. Marked by His Glory
Bearers of the glory of God (II Cor. 3:7-17). When Moses came down from the mountain after his meeting with God, his face shown with such glory that the people could not look upon it. So Moses wore a veil. If an encounter with God over the law, in the Old Testament, marked a man with such glory, what should an encounter with the resurrected Christ, over grace, do to us? Should our lives not be marked by some mysterious grace that provides evidence, supernatural proof, of our relationship with God?
There should be some confirmation in the lives of believers – something obvious, not only to other Christians, but also to the unregenerate world, that we are legitimately the children of God. So, at the end of this second letter, Paul challenges the Corinthians one final time, to take an internal inventory, to put themselves to a test, as to whether or not they are really disciples.
What signs are present in your own life that distinguish you as a child of God?
2 Corinthians 3:18 – And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
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