The ministry of reconciliation…

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2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

Paul has been writing about Christians being made new in Jesus Christ. Instead of being trapped in sin forever, separating us from a holy God, the forgiveness we receive through Christ cleanses us from sin and brings us near (reconciles us) to God. And now that we ourselves are Christians God “has given us the ministry of reconciliation”.

The Lord Jesus (then and now) uses everyday believers to draw people to himself.

When I think of my own faith journey I recall several people the Lord used to draw me close to him, starting when I was a child into adulthood. I’m so grateful for all of them and pray the Lord uses me to connect others to Jesus.

 

Pursuing what matters…

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2 Corinthians 5:6 So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. 11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others (of the gospel); but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart.

Paul continues his defense against those in the Corinthian church who are critical of his poor physical condition. The man had been beaten and persecuted for the sake of the gospel for decades, what did they expect? Yet instead of seeing Paul’s frailty as a badge of honor they criticize him for it. Ridiculous, right?

Paul’s focus is not on his looks, but on his deeds – given that the physical body is a temporary dwelling place anyway. He is confident that one day he will be freed from his broken mortal body and be found pleasing to the Lord Jesus on the day of judgment. What other people think of him is immaterial to Paul.

I’m at the age in life when I likely have more years behind me than ahead. When my mortal life is over, I pray I will be found pleasing to the Lord Jesus. Yes I have made many mistakes, and will no doubt make many more. I have sinned greatly and need the mercy and grace of Jesus every day. Yet my hope is that the Lord will approve of how I invested the years I have been given, that (like Paul) I pursued things that matter. Lord let it be so. Amen.

 

Jesus can still use a cracked pot…

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2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure (the gospel of Jesus) in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you. 

Clay isn’t a very durable material. Unlike metal or even wood, clay tends to chip and crack fairly easily. Paul is suggesting that he and his traveling ministry partners were a bit like clay jars. They’d been through a lot – and I expect it showed. Their bodies were cracked, chipped, and broken from decades of abuse and persecution. And yet the mighty power of God showed up in their ministry over and over again. Yes they were on their way to death, but at the same time they were giving eternal life to others by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In a very small way I’d like to think that I share in Paul’s experience described in our passage. As I get older my body is more chipped and cracked than it used to be. But I pray the Lord is using me more and more for the sake of the gospel, that through me other people are receiving eternal life in Jesus. Frankly, that’s my prayer for you as well. Lord, let it be so.

 

The veil of Moses…

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2 Corinthians 3:12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13 not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. 14 But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15 Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

This stuff about veils and glory can be confusing. Moses was the only person we know in scripture who spoke directly to God, as a “friend”. However, this left Moses with a face that shone brightly, reflecting God’s glory. It freaked people out, so Moses put a veil over his face so they could stand to be in his presence. We encounter this bright “glory of the Lord” several times in scripture. For instance angels often shine brightly when they appeared to people, as did Jesus when he was transfigured before his Peter, James, and John.

Paul then transitioned from discussing the literal veil of Moses to a metaphorical “veil” to describe the sin which impaired the peoples’ ability to follow the law. In Christ our sin is forgiven, the veil of sin is removed, and bondage to sin is replaced with “freedom” of the Spirit (v.17).

This is not to say that Christians no longer sin. We do. Yet when we are convicted of sin by the Spirit, we are able to confess our sin to the Lord and be set free. Again and again. The mercy and grace of Jesus Christ never runs out. Ever. Thank you Lord!

You yourselves are our letter..

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2 Corinthians 3:Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; 3 and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 

In Corinth Paul and his co-workers in the gospel were being challenged by leaders who had arrived after Paul and his colleagues had departed. It’s likely these new leaders had arrived with letters of recommendation and wondered if Paul had done the same. Well, no, he didn’t. But he didn’t need to because their very existence proved he was a genuine apostle. Before Paul – there was no church in Corinth!

“You yourselves are our letter…”

Some people particularly enjoy working with their hands because they have something tangible to show for their work. I get it. But as a pastor my work is generally connected to leading, developing, and caring for other people. And the nature of this work is such that it’s not always easy to know if what I’m doing is working. Sometimes results come right away, but usually not. It can take quite some time, even many years, to see the fruit of what I do.

But then there are times when spiritual breakthrough is visible. A person’s life is turned around, a family is reconciled, one’s sins are forgiven. And in those moments, when the saving work of the gospel is clearly visible, I remember why I do this work and thank God for the privilege.

Restoring one who has been disciplined…

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2 Corinthians 2:5 But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent—not to exaggerate it—to all of you. 6 This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; 7 so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 I wrote for this reason: to test you and to know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ. 11 And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. 

So apparently someone in the church of Corinth was badmouthing or otherwise banging on Paul, who advised the leaders to discipline the person – which they did. But Paul knows it’s important not to leave it there, but to attempt to restore the person to fellowship.

“…so now you should forgive and console him… So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him”

In v.11 Paul mentions the “designs” of Satan. Satan would try to use this situation to bring division in the church. Satan would whisper in the ear of the one who was disciplined, “See, they don’t want you. They’re through with you!” Likewise Satan would whisper in the ears of the church, “There’s no restoring that man. He’s not to be trusted. Be rid of him once and for all!” Jesus taught that, while we should hold people accountable for their actions, we should ALWAYS forgive and, when possible, restore someone to community.

Friends… precious…

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Proverbs 17:9 One who forgives an affront fosters friendship, but one who dwells on disputes will alienate a friend.

Reading through the book of Proverbs can be very repetitive. The same ideas are recycled hundreds of different ways. However, I thought this was a great verse related to forgiveness. It’s true that keeping one’s friends means learning to forgive in response to inevitable “disputes”. Dwelling on them, however, can mean losing a friend.

This verse has me thinking about friends. When I was younger, especially in my school years, I had lots of friends. It was easy because I was required to be around the same people day after day. After graduation from college my work colleagues became a substitute for classmates. This was a smaller group than in school, but the same dynamic applied. I was around the same people more or less day after day.

I have far fewer friends today than I did in my youth, which makes the ones I have extremely valuable. So today I’m asking the Lord to show me places where unforgiveness may have taken root in my heart. Friends are far too precious to lose them.