Wednesday, July 25, 2018

BEING VULNERABLE

When we've been hurt it is hard to risk being vulnerable. I know that I tend to close the door to my feelings and put out the no trespassing sign. I put up walls to protect my heart. Paul shows us another way. Ministry calls for transparency and transparency can be traumatic. "You are not being cramped by us," Paul wrote, "but you are being cramped in your feelings. Now, in exchange, I am talking as little children, be opened wide to us also" (2 Cor. 6:12-13).

Twice Paul uses an interesting word translated being cramped or restricted. The noun form of the word is a synonym for distress or affliction. The verb used here (στενοχωρεῖσθε) refers to a narrow space, being confined by inner or outer troubles. It means to be crowded, cramped, confined or oppressed (NIDNTT, 2:807). Both verbs are in the present tense indicating ongoing action. The emotional constriction in their relationship was continuous. Paul assures them that he is not oppressing their emotions but they are clearly confining their emotions toward him. We oppress our feelings as a coping mechanism to avoid risking more rejection. If we open up and let our feelings be seen, we risk being hurt again. God urges us to open up anyway. Take the risk. Fear of rejection, like fear of failure, can cripple our ministries.

The noun translated "affections" or "feelings" (σπλάγχνοις) literally means "inward parts" or "entrails." It was specifically used for the more valuable parts of the sacrificial animal such as heart, lungs, liver, spleen, and kidneys. These organs were removed immediately after killing the animal and eaten as part of the sacrificial meal. In Greek culture, the word was used for the male sexual organs and the womb, so children were sometimes called σπλάγχνα because they were born from one's own flesh and blood (NIDNTT, 2:599). As a result, people thought of the intestines as the seat of human passion. After all, we feel the physical effects of anger, sadness, and happiness in our abdomens. Our feelings are visceral!

The opening clause of verse 13 talks of an exchange of feelings. The noun (ἀντιμισθίαν) means a reward or penalty (BAGD, p.75). It may have been an expression made up by Paul where he used a noun in an adverbial phrase by blending two more common expressions together (Moule, An Idiom Book of NT Greek, p.160). The word itself is a compound noun with the preposition αντί (instead of) combined with the noun μισθός (reward) to express the thought of reciprocation (TDNT, 4:695-702). Paul encouraged responsiveness of emotions. He shared his feelings and desired for them to share their feelings in return. The addition of the preposition αντί to the noun emphasizes the idea of exchange (NIDNTT, 3:197). An exchange of reward, a reciprocation of feelings, must take place between two people seeking reconciliation.

Lord, help me not to wall up my feelings, but to open my heart and risk rejection to build healthy relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Friday, July 6, 2018

RECONCILIATION: CROSSING THE BRIDGE

Reconciliation requires us to be open with our feelings where once we were closed. When we have been hurt by another, we pull up the drawbridge to the castle of our hearts. We fill the moat with water to keep people away. The other party must cross the great divide to reach us. Crossing that bridge is an emotional challenge for all of us.

Paul had been deeply hurt in ministry. He was estranged from the Corinthians because of past feelings. His wounds were so deep that they affected his ministry causing him to write this extended parenthesis of pain (2 Cor. 2:14-7:4). Paul models for us how we can attempt to cross the bridge of hard feelings. Paul writes, "Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians, our heart has been opened wide. ... Open wide to us also" (2 Cor. 6:11-13).

One side in a conflict must take the initiative to cross the bridge. Often what happens is that we say something like, "I'll forgive him if he forgives me." "She's got to take the first step. The ball is in her court." "If he reaches out to me, I'll work it out with him." Waiting means that reconciliation never takes place. We can stay in waiting mode for a very long time. Reconciliation requires that one person takes the initiative to walk across the bridge - to risk rejection to start the process.

Paul risks rejection. He uses two different words for "open" in verse 11. The first word for "open" (ἀνέωγεν) refers to his mouth. If the mouth does not open, reconciliation never happens. The other person cannot know what is in my head unless I open my mouth. C.K. Barrett expresses it this way. "I have let my tongue run away with me" (Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, BNTC, 1973, p.191).  Paul is referring to the previous verses where he has talked about his sacrificial suffering. He is saying that he has freely spoken to them. He has not held back his feelings. There are no secrets. His mouth is an open book sharing his raw feelings for them (NIDNTT, 2:727). Huge risk! We do not know how the other party will react when we speak freely about our feelings. I may be rejected, but I must take that risk. I must cross the bridge.

The word is a perfect passive verb from ἀνοίγω. Paul says, "our mouth had been opened to you." He has opened his mouth in the previous chapters and freely shared his feelings. The open mouth has continuing results as he seeks reconciliation. The passive voice indicates that God influenced him to open his mouth. Sharing our feelings with one who has hurt us is not natural. God must open our mouths to do it.

Paul goes on to say that "our heart has been opened wide." The heart (καρδία) is the center of man where God is at work. The center of the inner man includes our will and our understanding. The heart is also the seat of our emotions (TDNT, 3:111-112). We use the heart as the seat of our emotions today. Paul is saying our inner man including our feelings has been opened wide. He uses a different verb for "open" (πεπλάτυνται) in this clause. It is the perfect passive of πλατύνω meaning to widen or enlarge. The noun (πλάτος) means the breadth or width of something. The enemies of God will come up on the "broad plain" (τὸ πλάτος τῆς γῆς) from the four corners of the earth to surround Jerusalem before God destroys them (Rev. 20:9). The verb was used for opening large leather cases that contained texts (NIDNTT, 1:253-254). Paul's heart was opened to them by God like a broad plain or the opening of a large briefcase.

 Paul takes the initiative to cross the bridge and then appeals to them to "Open wide also" (πλατύνθητε). He uses an imperative, a command, but he softens it with the passive voice. "Let God through our appeal to you open wide your hearts to us like a broad plain." Reconciliation is a two-way street. The other side must allow their hearts to be opened wide so that their feelings are shared freely too. The bridge of alienation must be crossed in both directions to have true reconciliation - the open, free and honest sharing of our feelings with one another.

Lord, help me to seek and accept reconciliation with my brothers and sisters in the church.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

MONUMENTS OF SERVICE

Paul was tough. The list of sufferings in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 boggles the mind. Chrysostom called Paul's CV a "blizzard of troubles" (Martin, 2 Corinthians, p.172). Most of us want our CVs to be more self-promoting, not Paul. He repeated a similar list of his qualifications for ministry in 2 Corinthians 11:21-27 (cf. 4:7-11) to show that true ministry is demonstrated by sacrifice.

The Greek text of 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 shows great emotion. Paul was so passionate about his list of struggles that he used grammar loosely to share his heart (Moule, Idiom Book, p.196) as if his words flowed faster than his scribe could pen. Sacrifice marks our service in the cause of Christ. We are foot soldiers in the army of His kingdom.

Battle scars are the marks of ministry. Paul shares with pride his wounds representing the stigmata which prove him to be the slave of Christ (Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, p.462). He boasts about his hardships (2 Corinthians 11:30), something we rarely do today. But Paul is not boasting to promote himself. He takes pains to avoid self-promotion. His CV is for ministry promotion. He does it to defend the ministry.

We moderns find this boasting offensive, but in a culture built around honor and shame, this was an acceptable model for ministry defense. Paul knew the rules of rhetoric for what was considered "inoffensive self-praise," and he used those rhetorical tools well (Witherington, The Paul Quest, p.300). The list is similar to a list in Tacitus. The Stoics and the Cynics used lists like this to demonstrate character, so it was a well-established method for personal defense (Witherington, Conflict & Community in Corinth, p.399). Paul is defending his apostolic ministry with this resume of hardships.

The rhetorical structure of the passage breaks down into three general themes. 1) Hardships in service prove his endurance (4b-5). 2) Virtues of character prove his integrity (6-7a). Tools from God prove his wisdom (7b-10), First, Paul uses nine phrases grouped in threes and introduced by "in much endurance" (ἐν ὑπομονῇ πολλῇ). Each phrase begins with the same preposition "in" (ἐν) to show that our endurance in ministry is demonstrated in hardships. Next, Paul uses eight phrases which are also introduced by the preposition "in" (ἐν) in verses 6-7a. The virtues demonstrate that Paul handled the hardships of ministry with integrity. Paul is demonstrating his ethos with this list. The greatest test of our integrity is how we handle adversity. Finally, Paul uses phrases to show that God has equipped him with the tools to live wisely. There are three phrases introduced by the preposition "through" (διὰ) and seven phrases introduced by the comparative "as" (ὡς).

Paul is raising the bar for evaluating ministry. Our qualifications for ministry revolve around the model of the cross. The Corinthians were enamored with the world's wisdom of success and power and forgetting Christ's wisdom of the cross and suffering. The wise life with Christ is the life of suffering not success (Witherington, Conflict & Community in Corinth, pp.398-401).

We live in a day when self-promotion, marketing, and savvy media methods grow many ministries. Paul would not say that we are wrong to use accepted cultural methods (modern media) because he used the accepted rhetorical practices of his day. However, Paul lays out a refreshing model for ministry promotion emphasizing sacrifice and suffering. Sacrificial service leaves scars which are the monuments of ministry worth remembering.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

THE PREACHER'S ETHOS

Perched precariously on our shaky pedestals, we preachers can feel vulnerable to the changing tides of popularity. The lure of pragmatism - using rhetorical methods to generate crowds - is powerful especially when critics blame our lack of success on methodological failure. Paul dealt with the rhetorical sophists of his day in 2 Corinthians. His letter is an example of "forensic rhetoric" (Witherington, Conflict & Community, p.333ff). Forensic rhetoric was the use of rhetoric to defend the communicator. Paul develops his proposition (propositio in forensic rhetoric) in 2 Corinthians 2:17. "For we are not like many, peddling the Word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God." Here is the proposition Paul is defending in his letter (Witherington, p.371).

There were three categories of classical rhetoric, logos, ethos, and pathos. Ethos referred to the character of the preacher. Paul defends his character as a preacher in 2 Corinthians 6. The structure of 2 Corinthians 6:1-4 helps us understand his defense. The main verb is "we urge" or "we appeal" (παρακαλοῦμεν, v.1). It is followed by two parallel participles explaining the preaching appeal: "giving" (διδόντες, v.3) no cause for offense and "commending" (συνίσταντες, v.4) ourselves as "servants of God." Both are present tense participles indicating continuous action.

Paul asks a question immediately following his proposition 2 Corinthians 2:17. "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?" (3:1) The verb "to commend" (συνίστημι) comes from two words meaning "to put or place" (ἵστημι) and "with someone" (σύν). The classical sense of the verb grew out of the meaning to "stand together" leading to the idea of commendation (TDNT, 7:896-898). Paul says that we who are appealing are commending ourselves to you. The nominative case connects the participle to the subject of the main verb.

How does Paul commend himself to the Corinthians? He defends his ethos, his character. In classical rhetoric, the most powerfully persuasive arguments came from personal integrity - ethos! So we, like Paul, commend ourselves as "servants of God." The word "servants" (διάκονοι) is a nominative plural to agree with the subject "we." Paul is saying, "as servants of God, we commend ourselves" (Robertson, Grammar, p.454). It is who we are not what we do. We are not recommending ourselves to be servants as if interviewing for the role. We preachers are already servants which is the basis for our recommendation of ourselves to others. Our primary ethical qualification for ministry is servanthood.

Paul has been deeply hurt and discouraged by the criticisms of the Corinthians. He is seeking reconciliation with them. They have criticized him for his failure to be successful as a Greek rhetor (speaker), and he is defending his character as an apostle from those who claim he is a failure.  We, too, face our critics whenever we are not as successful as other preachers by the standards of pragmatism. How do we defend ourselves from those attacks? We defend ourselves by arguing that we are not peddlers of the Word of God selling our wares to consumers. We are servants of God. Our ethos is our defense. Servanthood is the way we recommend ourselves. It is the foundation of our commendation. Servanthood is our ethos - our character - in ministry.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

DO NO HARM

How often do we "bag it" and move on in our relationships with other Christians? Disagreements, irritations, and hurt feelings develop. We distance ourselves from one another, dismissing the relationships as peripheral to ministry. Not Paul! He writes, "working together we also urge you ... giving no cause for offense at all that the ministry might not be blemished" (2 Cor. 6:1&3). The first rule of ministry, like medicine, is to do no harm.

Paul spoke his letters like a pastor preaching to his people. One feature of oral communication is anacoluthon, a dramatic break in the sentence structure so that the final thought does not follow grammatically from the previous thought (Robertson, Grammar, p.435). Anacoluthon shows the depth of emotion that Paul feels as he breaks into his own sentence with a new thought in verse three. The phrase "giving" (διδόντες) no offense skips over verse 2 and qualifies or explains "we urge you" (παρακαλοῦμεν) in verse 1 (Meyer, 2 Corinthians, p. 546). What follows (vs. 4-10) is a long list of emotional experiences that Paul uses to appeal to the affections of the Corinthians before he concludes his appeal with his "heart opened wide" to them (vs. 11).

Paul starts his anacoluthon with an emphatic double negative (μηδεμίαν ἐν μηδενὶ) meaning "no offense at all" (R&R Linguistic Key, p.471). The participle "giving" (διδόντες) is in the present tense indicating ongoing, continuous action. Giving no offense at all is not a one-time act but a habit of life. In ministry, we are constantly seeking to give no offense to others - to do no harm in the church. The word "offense" (προσκοπήν) is only used here in the New Testament and means "an occasion for making a misstep" (BAGD, p.716). It is related to the more common word (πρόσκομμα) meaning an obstacle or hindrance, referring to the stumbling itself.

Paul wants to give no reason for anyone to stumble so that "the ministry might not be discredited" (μωμηθῇ). The verb means to find fault with or to blame. The noun form (μῶμος) means a defect or a blemish and Peter uses it as a description of false teachers in 2 Peter 2:13 (BAGD, p.531). The noun is frequently used in the book of Leviticus to describe defects or blemishes in the sacrifices or the priests (Hatch & Redpath, Concordance to the Septuagint, 2:93). No priest, for example, could come near to the altar to offer a sacrifice if he had a blemish (Lev. 21:21). Our ministries today are not discredited by physical blemishes but by spiritual blemishes. If we cause offense to others, we blemish our ministries. At the very least, we should do no harm to the church always seeking her interest instead of our self-interests in all our decisions.

Paul is beginning his final emotional appeal to the Corinthians to be reconciled to him (Witherington, Conflict & Community, p.398). He is writing to believers who have become estranged from him. He pleads with them to open their hearts - their affections - to him as he has to them (6:11-13). Paul is wearing his heart on his sleeve as he extends his hand to them in reconciliation. He does not want to be the cause of anything that blemishes his relationship with them in the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Relationships matter in ministry!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

EMPTY RECONCILIATION

What does it mean to receive the grace of God in vain? Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:1, "And working together we also are appealing to you not in vain to receive the grace of God." The words conclude Paul's explanation of God's reconciling work in Christ and the reconciling ministry we have toward others (2 Cor. 5:16-21). Therefore, Paul warns us not to receive God's grace in vain.

The infinitive "to receive" (δέξασθαι) means to receive a gift from someone or to receive someone into your home (BAGD, p.177). Paul uses the word in 2 Corinthians 7:15 to describe the reception the Corinthian church gave to Titus, his messenger. The negative particle (μὴ) goes with the infinitive rather than the verb "appeal" (παρακαλοῦμεν) because οὐκ is used with indicatives while μὴ is used with the other moods (BAGD, p.590). The sense is "we appeal to you not to receive" as opposed to "we do not appeal to you to receive." The phrase translated "in vain" (εἰς κενὸν) means without result, without reaching its goal. God's grace is empty and achieves no purpose (BAGD, p.427) if it is received in vain.

Is it even possible to receive the grace of God in a way that proves to be ineffective? Philip Hughes raises that question and then summarizes the four ways that this phrase is interpreted (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, pp.217-219). 1) Paul is talking about receiving God's grace in a purely external and superficial manner. Such a person is a professing Christian but not a true believer. However, the context makes it unlikely that Paul is talking about false professions of faith. 2) Paul is talking about a person who accepts God's grace only to reject it later. Such a person loses his salvation, thus receiving the grace in vain. This view flies in the face of Paul's statements elsewhere regarding salvation (e.g., Phil. 1:6) 3) Paul's appeal is not directed toward the Corinthians but to the world in general to whom God offers His reconciliation. Paul appeals to the world not to reject this great salvation. In this view, people do not receive the grace in vain. They never receive it all. 4) Paul is talking about Christians when they stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10)

The best interpretation is the fourth view. To receive the grace of God in vain is to live in ways that are inconsistent with grace. Our practice does not match our doctrine. Here we go back to the meaning of the word "vain" (κενὸν) above. The grace of God does not produce the intended results in our lives. Our actions constitute a denial of the truth. When we stand before Christ's judgment seat (the evaluation of believers not unbelievers), our actions will prove to be empty of eternal value. The purifying fire of God's judgment will consume the wood, hay, and stubble in our lives although we will be saved "as through fire" (1 Cor. 3:10-15).

Paul writes these words in the context of a great parenthesis in his letter (2 Cor. 2:14 - 7:4) dealing with sin and conflict in the body. He exhorts them to forgive the sinful offender before the parenthesis and then commends them for that forgiveness after the parenthesis (2 Cor. 2:7, cf. 2 Cor. 7:12). The conflict includes Paul who has felt alienated from the people in Corinth (2:2:13, cf. 7:5-16). Reconciliation is meant to transform our relationships. If we are reconciled to God by His grace, then we should be reconciled to one another as well. If we are not reconciled with one another, then we have received God's grace in vain. In this case, His reconciling grace serves no purpose in our lives (Martin, 2 Corinthians, p.166).

Horizontal reconciliation proves we have not received vertical reconciliation in vain!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

THE PRICE OF PEACE

The clearest and most important verse in the Bible regarding justification is 2 Corinthians 5:21. God made peace with us by removing the enmity between us, but someone must pay to reconcile enemies. Forensic payment for sin is justification. Paul writes, "Be reconciled to God. The one who knew no sin, He made to be sin on our behalf, in order that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

Verse 21 is an example of asyndeton, a sentence that is grammatically unconnected to what comes before or after (MHT, Grammar, 3:340). Paul's transition from the topic of reconciliation to justification is abrupt without any connecting particles. The verse stands alone grammatically but is essential to the overall argument Paul advances. To be reconciled requires us to be justified.

God made (ἐποίησεν) the sinless Christ to be sin for us. Christ is sin. He is neither sinner nor sin offering. Christ is sin (ἁμαρτία) not a sinner (ἁμαρτωλός). This point is important theologically for if Christ became a sinner, He could not die for our sins. God made him sin itself, the object of God's forensic anger so that our sin could be judged and removed. Reconciliation depends on the removal of that which caused God anger by the satisfying of His judicial wrath. Furthermore, Christ is not merely a sin offering like the scapegoat under the Mosaic law. We discern this truth because of the double use of the noun "sin" which requires us to take both uses of sin in the same way. While it is possible to understand "he made Him sin" as "He made him a sin offering," it is not possible to take "the one who knew no sin" as "the one who knew no sin offering." Therefore both uses of the word must mean sin, not sin offering (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, pp. 213-215).

The two clauses are parallel, Paul draws a sharp contrast between sin (ἁμαρτίαν) and righteousness (δικαιοσύνη) and between made (ἐποίησεν) and might become (γενώμεθα). Christ was made sin. We are not made righteous. Our righteousness is a gift of God in Christ. It is the righteousness of God (θεοῦ) which must be understood as a subjective genitive meaning that the righteousness comes from God. It is also only a righteousness found in Him (ἐν αὐτῷ). The antecedent must be Christ (Χριστοῦ) in verse 20. God gives us His righteousness because of our union with Christ.

Since righteousness is a gift from God (Rom. 5:17), it cannot mean good works. Good works cannot be given to us. The righteousness Paul is talking about must refer to a right relationship with God. God confers a standing of righteousness on us in Christ. God provides the right standing Christ bought for us. The gift is judicial righteousness on the basis of His payment for sin. In this sense, our sin is imputed to Christ, and His right standing with God is imputed to us (Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, pp.281-282). God both requires of us and provides to us His righteousness. The verb "might become" (γενώμεθα) infers a growing life of actual righteousness (good works) as the result of this conferral of judicial righteousness (Eph. 2:10) although Paul's emphasis is forensic in this passage.

Reconciliation depends on justification and justification depends on atonement. Justification is judicial forgiveness. Christ paid the price for God to forgive. Because God forgives, we can be reconciled to God and offer reconciliation to others. The price tag of peace is payment for sins.