2 Corinthians 4:13–5:1 (NRSV)
13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
Living by Faith
16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
5 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Have you noticed how a change of perspective can change your entire view? Perspective is the way that we look at the world around us, it’s what we see. Many times because we are rushing from one thing to the next we do not have time to examine things more deeply, but there is more going on than what we see.
If we were to take an art class one of the first lessons would be a perspective drawing. I remember doing this in the seventh grade. The teacher would have each of us sit in the hall way and draw what we saw. Then he would have us move to a different location and draw everything again. Some of us would have to draw as best as we could laying on the ground, other would have a seat in a high chair, others of us would stand close to a wall, and some right in the center of the hallway. The one thing that took from these lessons was that I am not an artist. But I also learned that from where we are standing the view changes, certain things seem to become more of a focal point while others fade into the background. The teacher was trying to give us the techniques to draw but he also taught us that there can always be a different way to look at things. I think that is the whole purpose of the creative arts. God has gifted certain people with an ability to assist everyone else to step back and look at something from a different vantage point, and just possibly see something more clearly.
In today’s scripture we find Paul speaking to the church in Corinth. It is important to remember who this letter was written to because it helps us put things into perspective. Corinth was a very important trade city during this time frame. Not only was it a center for trade but it was one of the host cities for athletic events that were associated with the origins of the Olympics. This gives us clues as to the reasons Paul speaks in a certain way to this particular church. Words like, “You know that in a race all the runners run, but only one runner gets the prize. So run like that. Run to win!” (1 Corinthians 9:24) or “No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:27). These are terms that speak volumes to a population that lives for the games. Paul spoke and wrote to them using language that they would understand, preaching the Gospel from a perspective that was unique to them.
There is another bit of information about ancient Corinth that sheds light into the words that Paul uses in his letter. Corinth as a culture was deeply devoted to the goddess Aphrodite. As many of us are aware the worship of this goddess usually revolved around sensual rites with the temple slaves. This one city was home to over a thousand sacred prostitutes. This city locate on a busy trade route connecting two seas, was the home of one of the largest sporting events in the empire and was deeply devoted to the goddess of love (or lust). Everything about this city revolved around entertainment and commerce, with a specialty of entertainment commerce. But even within this city devoted to pleasures of the flesh there was a large Jewish population, so they were not totally unaware of the history and religion that brought our Lord to us.
This city would make places like Las Vegas seem pretty mild. Yet this is the city in which Paul spent the most time in his missionary journeys, and it was the recipient of two of the most widely read epistles in scripture. Not only do Christian athletes find comfort and encouragement from these letters, but quotes from the letters penned to Corinth are the most widely read passages from scripture in weddings. I even used a passage from 1 Corinthians in a wedding on Saturday. We find them encouraging and comforting because the people of Corinth and the people of America are not that different. Many of the issues we struggle with today are issues causing stress to the people who first heard the words written by Paul.
If we were to look at the city of Corinth and visualize an ancient version of Las Vegas we might get an idea of just how big the task set before Paul might have been like. He had to start with the basics and then work his way up to the deeper things of Christ. In his first letter, the most widely read, he explains to us what Love is, what discipline looks like, and how important a life with God really is. The second letter is a bit more depressing, mainly because this is one of the few major first century church centers and they required a second letter from the apostle.
Yet even though Paul felt the need to remind them of all the ways they were falling short of the glory of Christ, he tells them do not give up, and to look at things from a different perspective. Not necessarily a new perspective but to slow down enough to look around. He reminds them of the faith that they had heard him and others speak about. Reminding them that very spirit that prompted the apostles to go out and boldly speak and live for Christ was available to them in the very real way.
That spirit was given so that each of us could relate to the living God personally. God sent the Spirit to us so that the one who and through whom all things were created could know us deeply and so that we could know him deeply. When he says “I believe, and so I spoke,” refers to a belief that goes beyond knowledge, goes further than trust it is a belief that entrusts every aspect of his life to the hands of God. Entrusting to such a degree that Paul would leave the comforts and security of his position as a Pharisee to speak the words the Spirit of God laid on his heart to a city consumed with the worship of pleasure.
“’I believe, and so I spoke.’ – We also believe, and so we speak.” This statement gives us a glimpse into the heart of God. Yes He desires a close and intimate relationship with us individually, one in which we are loving Him with all of our heart, with all of our mind, and with all of our strength but that relationship is not to be lived out alone. It is to be shared with the world around us, invested in the lives of others. But the church of Corinth was struggling. They lived in a culture that was about as far from God honoring as a culture could get. For every new person added to their ranks others would be drawn back into the clutches of the idolatry of the flesh. It was as if all of the work they were doing was for nothing, and many believed that they should withdraw, isolate and fortify themselves from the influences of the outside world.
Just looking at our world today we can understand how and why they might come to that conclusion. It is extremely difficult to believe and speak to a world that seems to have little interest in knowing Christ. We can look back in our history and believe that the best days are behind us, that the end is near and pray Lord Come! But Paul tells us do not give up. We know that the one that raised Christ from the grave is with us even to this day. We know that he will not forsake us even when we cannot see him working. We know that He is here and wants us to be in His presence. We know this…but do we believe?
Corinth was distracted. They could not get a handle of what it means to be in the world but not of the world, because so often when they would try the assembly would be flooded with people trying to move them away from God. They would reach out becoming vulnerable to people only to be burned, and as a result they took steps back to protect their own. They may have even pushed people away from their Meeting that had a different perspective because the very idea of looking at things differently scared them. But Paul says all this grace is for you, so that you can extend it to others. God gave us grace so we can extend that very same grace to those around us.
Paul is graciously telling them that they are wrong in their thinking. They have taken a perspective that is so limited in view that they cannot see beyond themselves, and that is an unhealthy church. It is a church that is not living out the holy rhythm of Christ. It is a church that has stopped listening and stopped believing. They may worship God, they may have all the right answers and the best systematic theologies but they are stuck.
Do not lose heart Paul tells these broken people. Though you may be weak in your body, the very same Spirit that raised Christ from the grave can renew within you the right spirit. Do not lose faith, but get back to what you know. Go back to that lifestyle of loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. Enter again into that holy rhythm of life that Christ himself taught us, a life of prayer, worship, and service to others. Listen again, believe again, believe so deeply that you are willing to give all that you are and all that you have for the glory of God, and love those lost people of the world that are wondering in the darkness without the light.
It is very easy to get bound in one perspective, unable to step back and examine life from a different point of view. It is easy to believe that the way that I think is the only way that things should be done, because the others options require that we put faith in someone else. It is easy to step back and isolate ourselves, because there are risks when we step forward into the unknown. God took a risk by coming to live among mankind, He took a risk by allowing His son to die on our behalf, and He took a risk by ascending into heaven and leaving what He started in the hands of man. He took a risk in us. He invested life in us. Are we willing to risk what he has given us for our world? Are we willing to believe and speak? Are we willing to entrust and act? Are we willing to allow God to use us in His ministry of restoration? As we enter into a time of holy expectancy and communion as Friends, I challenge each of us to ask those questions and to be still before God to listen to what He will say.