August 1: Freedom, Confrontation, and Forgiveness.

2 Corinthians 2:5-11. Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

The details of the drama that Paul is talking about here are fuzzy at best. It appears that someone in the Corinthian church has slandered Paul and his credibility and apostleship. We know that this was a common problem that Paul faced. After he would preach the gospel in a place, someone would come in and say that Paul’s gospel was false. Most likely this was a Jewish missionary who wanted the Gentiles to keep the Old Testament law in order to maintain their relationship with God. Some in the Corinthian church may have taken up this cause and continued to attack Paul.

We also know that Paul had made a hard visit to the Corinthian church earlier and then he wrote a pretty harsh letter to them telling them that they needed to discipline this divisive person for the sake of the gospel message.

Which they did. Which is great!

But what wasn’t so great was that even after this person repented, the church was still not forgiving him, comforting him, and welcoming him back into fellowship (v.7-8).

You see, all discipline is meant to be restorative. Life isn’t supposed to be about status. It’s about love and relationships. We must always fight for the relationship. No matter what. We don’t fight for our honor, or our reputation, or our standing. We fight for the heart of the other person. The offending person. That is what Paul is calling on the church to do here- so I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.

Yes, sometimes we have to respond to each other in such a way that it brings sorrow. Sometimes when confronting sin, we must load that person down with guilt. But we must never ever leave them there, especially if they have seen their own sin and turned away from it. We must not drown them in excessive sorrow. Excessive sorrow, devoid of grace, will only drive a person deeper into isolation and bitterness. There will not be restoration, and there will be no relationship left to save.

Confrontation must always go hand in hand with humble forgiveness. If you are not ready to comfort, you are not ready to confront. 

Notice the personal freedom Paul exhibits which allows him to forgive. The offense was against Paul, but Paul did not make it personal. He made it about the church. In what might be a little bit of tongue in cheek, Paul says if I have forgiven anything, that is, “I can’t remember what I’ve forgiven because I’ve let it go.” It is his freedom in Christ that allows Paul to confront, forgive, and comfort those who oppose the gospel and attack his reputation, without making it about himself. 

Notice also the communal nature of this whole passage. The church as a community is under attack – We would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. Our Enemy will do whatever it takes to water down, pollute, or hinder the gospel. It takes discipline within a church to prevent this from happening. The church must protect the gospel, and confront those who violate it. A church must maintain great grace, humility and balance when practicing this kind of discipline. But it can be done in love. This letter is an example for us all.

“To live is Christ” is the freedom to confront, forgive, and comfort. It is the freedom to not take up a personal offense, but rather to take up the cause of the gospel. Union with Christ means that the unified church must stand in protection of the gospel, even if it means disciplining a member of a specific church. This is one of many reasons why attaching yourself to a local church is so important.

Are you easily offended? Do you take personal offense to things, or do you take up the cause of the gospel? Do you confront with a readiness to forgive and comfort? How can your union with Christ free you to forgive today? To comfort? Are you part of a local church that proclaims and protects the gospel?

July 31: Yes!

2 Corinthians 1:19-22. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

Paul wanted to visit Corinth again but plans kept changing. As a result, they thought he was saying “yes” out of one side of his mouth and “no” out of the other (see 1:15-18). But in Christ, Paul says, his answer to the Corinthians was always “yes.” Why? Because Christ would say yes.

Corinthians: Will you come visit us?

Paul: Well, what would Christ say to that? Yes?! Then let’s get to Corinth!

But then it suddenly gets even deeper. Christ not only says “yes” to us, he IS God’s “yes.” All the promises of God find their Yes in him. 

Every promise made by God to Israel and to us, every story in the Bible, every part of his redemptive plan finds it’s YES in Jesus’ life and death. The resurrection was God screaming YES to them and to us. Yes, I love you. Yes, you’re my people. Yes, I will give you everything. And this living and breathing Yes of God lives inside of us. Every promise of God is now manifest in and through our lives as the people of God, the Church of God. And one day Christ will return as God’s final YES, as he establishes his Kingdom on earth forever. Every promise will be kept by God through Christ.  

The result of this is that through him we utter our Amen to God for his glory. Our “Amen” is our yes (that’s what “amen” means). When we pray, we are agreeing with God. He has said yes to us, now we say “I agree” or “amen” back to him. God says yes and we say yes. This brings glory to God. This simple word is an act of great faith. 

Then Paul goes on to give us one of the greatest statements about our union with Christ that he has written so far. God has established us with you in Christ, and he has anointed us and sealed us by giving us the Holy Spirit into our hearts. 

Just like Christ is the anointed one (that’s what “Christ” means), we too are anointed kings and priests in God’s kingdom. Because we share in Christ’s life and death we have nothing to fear, nothing to prove, and nothing to lose. Why? Because God has sealed us as his possession and given us the Spirit as the guarantee, or down payment, of future glory. We are “already” anointed or set apart for Christ’s Kingdom, but “not yet” fully glorified. But that day is coming.

The Old Testament story of David illustrates this. David was anointed as king long before he would actually serve as king. He would spend decades being chased through the wilderness, fighting battles, and facing severe trials. So how could he trust God’s promise through all of that? He was given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee at the time of his anointing.

1 Samuel 16:13. Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.

The Spirit would empower David to persevere until the day he was crowned in glory.

“To live is Christ” means we are the living embodiment of God’s great big YES. All of his promises are fulfilled in Christ and now in us. How do we know? Because he has anointed and sealed us with himself, the Spirit, by the indwelling life of Christ. God has preserved us for future glory. Now we can say yes to God.

And maybe it’s time to start saying yes to others. Yes to serving. Yes to sacrifice. Yes to love.

How does it encourage you that God has said yes to you in Christ? Do you agree with God even when it’s hard or doesn’t make sense? Have you said yes to others where Christ would say yes? How can union with Christ and God’s YES to you in Christ give you the courage to say yes to God today?

 

 

July 30: Sharing Suffering, Sharing Comfort.

2 Corinthians 1:6-7. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

In Paul’s mind there was no such thing as an isolated Christian. In fact, for the truths of the gospel to take shape in our lives, we must do life together, not alone. The sorrows and comforts of life are meant to be shared. How does this happen? How do we share in suffering and the comfort of God?

First when we suffer in affliction it is for the sake of others. And when we are comforted, we are comforted for the sake of others. What does this mean? It means that when we experience affliction and then comfort from God, it allows us to empathize with others and serve others. We can pass on the comfort of God to others. Then when we see them endure through trials, we know that they too have received the same comfort of God.

Also, all Christians, when we suffer, share the suffering of Christ. And all Christians, when we are comforted by God, share the comfort of Christ. Paul and the Corinthians did not share the same exact suffering. Paul wasn’t even literally with them. Yet he spoke about them sharing in his suffering. They weren’t shipwrecked with him, or locked in jail with him. So how did they share his suffering? Because whenever a Christian suffers it is the suffering of Christ. Why? Because we are united to Christ. Our suffering is his suffering, and his suffering is our suffering. Because all Christians are united to Christ in this way, we all share the same suffering.

So often when we go through a trial we are blinded by the Enemy and deceived into thinking that we are alone on an island. But we never are. Our affliction is the shared affliction of Christ. Our comfort is the shared comfort of Christ. And now, through our union with the Church, that affliction and comfort is shared with the Body of Christ. No matter how much we might feel like we are alone, we are never alone. What happens to one Christian happens to the Body. What happens to any Christian happens to Christ.

“To live is Christ” unites all of our suffering and all of our comfort to Christ and to the Body of Christ. We never have to suffer alone. Christ is always with us. And the Body is meant to be there for each other as well. This simple yet amazing truth is what gives us a hope that is unshaken.

Do you tend to suffer alone? Do you see your sufferings as part of Christ’s suffering? Shared suffering is endurable suffering. Do you believe this? Do you practice this with others? How can union with Christ give us the hope of comfort in our suffering?

 

July 29: The Suffering and Comfort of Christ.

Today we move from 1 Corinthians to 2 Corinthians. If you are newer to this blog, you may not have realized that we are focusing on our union with Christ but we are also working through Paul’s letters chronologically: Galatians, 1 Corinthians, and now 2 Corinthians.

As you know from 1 Corinthians, the church at Corinth was quite troubled. Paul has been writing back and forth with this church over several years. In fact 1 Corinthians was Paul’s second letter to the church, and 2 Corinthians is Paul’s fourth letter to the church (we no longer have letters 1 and 3). 2 Corinthians is a deeply personal letter from Paul. He is exhausted and has been through many physical and emotional trials. This is a letter written primarily from sorrow. The church has turned a corner though, and has been receptive to his loving exhortations. 2 Corinthians offers us one of the most gutsy letters in the New Testament, and an intimate look into what it means to suffer while being in Christ.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

Paul is going to teach us to see the whole world through the lens of Christ’s suffering. The gospel is the good news of the suffering of Christ. He suffered. He died. He was buried. Then he was raised. We are left to carry that same suffering of his death and the same comfort of his resurrection with us in this life. If you signed up for Christianity but want a religion that will remove your suffering immediately,  you’ve signed up for the wrong one. To be in Christ is a call to suffering.

But the gospel is also a call to comfort. The word that Paul keeps using over and over, comfort, is the Greek word paraklesis. This word means to encourage, to come alongside, and to be a friend. Jesus called the Holy Spirit the other paraklete back in John’s gospel. Jesus was the first paraklete to the disciples. The Holy Spirit came as their new paraklete. And now we who are in Christ parakaleo each other. That is, we sit with one another, speak words of encouragement, help bring change to a situation, give hope, direction and insight, and let them know that we believe in them because we believe in the Christ that lives in them. In other words, we’re a friend like Jesus.

“To live is Christ” is the co-mingled life of both sorrow and comfort. To be in Christ is to receive the comfort of Christ. To have Christ in us is to give the comfort of Christ to others. Christ’s life is now our life. We live as he lived. He too received comfort from the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He too gave mercy and comfort to his disciples when he gave us his own indwelling life through the Spirit, the Paraklete.

Have you experienced the sufferings of Christ? Have you experienced the comfort of Christ? Have you allowed the Spirit to use you to comfort others? How can meditating upon your union with Christ bring you comfort today?

July 28: We Are Living Proof.

1 Corinthians 15:58. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

This verse may seem a little anti-climactic after such a glorious chapter on the resurrection and eternal glorification of Christ (and us). Shouldn’t Paul have ended this section with something like “Therefore let us sit and glory in the amazing truth of our resurrection with Christ?” But Paul still needs to make the extremely important point for the Corinthians (and us): our everyday lives prove the past and future resurrection.

How do we know the resurrection will really happen? At the beginning of this chapter Paul looked back to the event itself and all the witnesses of Christ’s resurrection – Peter, the Twelve, 500 others, James and even Paul himself.

Now, at the end of the chapter, Paul looks at our present work of the Lord as the proof of the resurrection. How will the world know that the resurrection will happen? Because of the actual resurrection of Christ himself, AND because of the lives of believers each and every day. How do our lives prove that the resurrection is real? How are they a visual display of what is to come? Let’s consider three things the resurrection proves and how our lives also prove these same three things.

The proof of hope.

The resurrection of Christ proves that we have hope beyond this life. The hope of eternal goodness. The hope of a future. When we live steadfast, unmovable, and abounding in the work of the Lord lives, we prove to the world that this hope is real to us. Our daily hope proves that there is a resurrection yet to come. And this hope is convicting. Others will see us living in hope and ask us why. Hope then becomes the witness that enables the work of the Lord to continue.

The proof of life.

Christ’s resurrection proves that life can and will go on forever for those who are in Christ. Christ’s SAME life went on forever. We too will continue to live forever the same life we are living now (only much better). As we have seen in 1 Corinthians 15, there is a continuity to our life from here to eternity. When we choose to live steadfast, unmovable, and abounding lives we prove the truth of an eternal continuous life. If we don’t believe in the continuity of eternal life then go ahead and “eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (15:32). Our righteous living today proves that there will be an eternity of righteous living.

The proof of love.

Christ’s resurrection proves the eternal love of God, “for love is as strong as death” (Song 8:6). Love resurrected Jesus Christ from the grave. Now we who are in Christ know for sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love. As we live steadfast, unmovable lives that abound in the work of the Lord, we prove the ongoing love of Christ. The work of the Lord is to love others into the Kingdom of God. That work of love on our part proves that we will live forever beyond death.

We are the living proof of the resurrection. When we do the work of Christ each day, our lives prove the same three things the resurrection itself does: there really is eternal hope, life, and love. “To live is Christ” is to live in this hope, life, and love. Therefore, our ongoing daily lives are the proof of the resurrection. When someone meets you they are meeting an eternal being. They are experiencing the hope, life, and love of the resurrection through your life. So take heart Christian. Be steadfast. Be unmovable. Abound in the Lord’s work. Because nothing we do is pointless. Like Christ himself, it is eternal.

Have you considered that your life proves the resurrection (both Christ’s and yours yet to come)? Do you live in the hope, continuity of life, and love of the resurrection? What might look different in your life if you did? How does your union with Christ empower you to be steadfast and unmovable today?

July 27: Victory Over Death, Sin, and Law.

1 Corinthians 15:56. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Here is the logic of Paul: If Christ has defeated death, and we know he did by his resurrection, then he has also defeated sin. Christ has absorbed the sting of death- the sting of death is sin. Sin is what gave death it’s power, it’s pain. Sin brought death to us all. Jesus didn’t just conquer death when he arose, he conquered its source- sin. And along with it, he stole power away from the law.

And so a very practical question about our eternity is answered, “Will we live forever with the ability to keep sinning?” The answer is no. The sting of death, sin, will be placed under Jesus’ feet and stomped into oblivion forever.

What a blessed thought. A future of no more sinning. No more shame. No more guilt filled hiding and blaming and avoiding.

How is it possible that we won’t sin anymore? Well for one we will have glorified bodies to match our glorified spirits. We will be perfected from the inside to the outside- all the way through. But beyond this, there will be no more law to empower sin from outside of us.

It may seem strange that Paul brings up the law here. He hasn’t talked about the law much at all in this letter. This isn’t Galatians. The Corinthians had a spirituality problem, not a law problem. Right? But the law is what empowers our sin. When we think we can keep the perfect law we become blinded by our own pride. Then when we fail to keep the perfect law, we become blinded by our own shame and guilt. When it comes to the law, “success” and failure both lead us into sin, and thus death.

The law makes death a terror. Because there is a law, there is a judgment. Death ushers us into that judgment. Upon dying all mankind will be judged according to their relationship with the law. Without Christ you will stand on your own before God and his perfect standard. With Christ, you will stand as righteous and justified as Christ himself. This is why, following the judgment, there will be no more need for the law beyond the law of love.

On a slightly more down-to-earth level, Paul also wants us to know that every sin problem is a law problem. If there is sin (and there was in Corinth), then there is a power source to that sin-  law.

You see both the Corinthians and us are trying to live under a law. Anytime we try to make ourselves of more value than others, anytime we seek status over love, anytime we tout our own spirituality, we are placing ourselves and others under law. But Christ has abolished the condemning power of the law. The law no longer has to stir up sin in our lives because it is no longer a standard that has to be lived up to. Jesus already lived up to that standard for all of humanity. And he lived up to every other standard that we create for ourselves and each other. He lived up to all the perfectionism that we chase every day. Because this is true, no law has to drive us to sin. We no longer have to be obsessed with getting everything right. We no longer have to perform. We no longer have to despair when we get it all wrong. It’s ok to not be ok.

Why is this true? Because God has graciously given us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ. It’s all of grace.

“To live is Christ” means I live free from death, sin, and law. Christ has turned all of these into his victory. And now his victory is ours. Death is no longer the terror of judgment. In Christ we have already been judged and found guiltless. In Christ we have already been made resurrection and heaven ready. In Christ we are free from sin’s power today and we will be free from its presence one day forever.

Are you living a victorious life? In what ways does law still control you? Can you identify ways that you are putting others under law? How does union with Christ and his righteousness free you from the law today?

July 26: Swallowing Evil.

1 Corinthians 15:54-55. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

When Jesus faced death in the Garden of Gethsemane he did so in horror. He was not terrorized primarily by the idea of physical torture or pain. His terror was the separation from the Father that he would face, the God-forsakeness of death. For Jesus, death was a sting. It was the bite of the serpent.

Without Christ, death is horrifying. But in Christ, death is swallowed up in victory. Death is now the doorway into the presence of God and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). Death, the most evil thing in the universe, is now for our good. How is this possible? Because Christ has swallowed death and defeated it.

Christ did not run from death. He did not deny the reality of death’s evil. He did not pass it on to someone else. He absorbed it into his own being and re-made it into something beautiful. Death is now absorbed into victory. It is part of the process to experiencing glory. Through death we live. Through weakness we are empowered. Through sorrow we enter into joy. In the face of evil we learn to love.

A friend of mine recently told me a story about his time teaching high school students in the Amazon. While exploring the forest, a student came upon and stirred up a hive of killer bees. My friend proceeded to wave his arms in order to attract the bees to himself so that the students could escape and not be stung. My friend was stung over 30 times. His loving sacrifice saved others. He said that this incident helped him to stop doubting his own salvation.

What if this little phrase, death is swallowed up in victory, is one of the biggest truths we have in all of scripture? Not just for our future, but also for our here and now? What if the way to find victory in the sorrows of life is not to avoid evil, or deny it, or pass it on to someone else, but to confront, swallow, and absorb evil into your story? What if the way Christ faced and swallowed the poison of death is the way we are to face and swallow the poisons of this life? What if this is how evil is turned into victory? What if this is how the stinger is removed from the bee- by taking the sting into yourself. What if we are called to “swallow evil?”

Please understand what I am saying. By “swallowing” or “absorbing evil” I do not mean becoming like the evil or even accepting the evil or overlooking the evil, especially our own evil within. What I do mean is that we must confront the suffering and the evil outside of us that is behind it. We must absorb its painful sting for the sake of the one instigating the evil, and for our own sake.

Constantly running from and denying evil, or blaming and seeking vengeance will never allow the sting of death to be swallowed into victory. It will never allow whatever in you needs to die to die. Your own selfishness and pride will never be eradicated. “Swallowing evil” when evil is done to us causes us to confront our own heart’s desires. When evil steals what we desire from us our truer deeper desire for Christ can only then be revealed. Evil steals from you. But it can never steal you. Not if you are in Christ.

“Swallowing evil” will allow the power of the living Christ within you to burst forth in resurrection power defeating the evil through love, grace, and forgiveness, thus quenching its sting. “Swallowing evil” will allow your inner evil and your inner holiness to be revealed. It will allow the gospel to do its work in your life.

Do you remember the Joseph story from the Bible? Joseph was tortured by his brothers and then sold as a slave into a foreign land, Egypt. Ultimately Joseph saved, forgave, and restored his brothers. But Joseph had to swallow the evil that they had done to him in order for this to happen. He did not deny the evil- he called his brother’s actions evil to their faces. He did not flee the evil- he found comfort in his sorrow through hard work and the love of an Egyptian wife. He did not avenge the evil or pass it on- he actually rescued and provided for his brothers and their families. And he did not curse God and die- he learned to trust God’s promise to turn evil into victory. Ultimately Joseph “swallowed the evil.” He took it into himself and let it do its work in his life through faith in God’s goodness and love. He let it bring a death to his fantasy of what life was “supposed” to be as daddy’s favorite son, and he accepted what God wanted his life to actually be- a life lived for others.

“To live is Christ” is what empowers us to taunt death and evil. It no longer has the victory over us. It is union with Christ that allows us in the face of suffering caused by the evil of the world, to not run from it, or deny its existence, or pass it on to someone else. Union with Christ allows us to “swallow evil.” To take the bee sting. To truly love our enemies and forgive those who have trespassed against us.

Do you find yourself denying or running from the evils around you? Do you seek vengeance against those who have hurt you? Or have you learned to let evil and sorrow bring about the death to selfishness that it is meant to bring? How does union with Christ allow us to not only confront the evil done to us but also to reveal our own inner evil and our inner holiness?