GCU Study Fall 2021-Spring 2022: II Corinthians, An Exposé of the New Covenant

Gradually, we see more…

This is a wonderful exposition of the dynamic, fulsome, transformative Gospel of Christ among us. It contains some of Paul’s most poetic and powerful writing. He encourages the young believers in Corinth to join him as ambassadors/ministers of this brilliant, colourful New Covenant. This follows suit with God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. Jesus is declared as Israel’s Messiah and authenticated by the work of the Spirit. How does it resonate with us today?

  • Treasures in Jars of Clay
  • Ministry of Reconciliation
  • Generosity as a Sign of the Kingdom
  • Grace through Suffering and Weakness
  • Help with our Guilt Burden
  • Comfort amidst Troubles

Highlights from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians from a Summer Study

Our witness through suffering has power to release. 1: 12-14

Life on the edge between heaven and earth, the now and the not yet. 1: 21

Suffering for Christ is a privilege and we share it with one another. 1:29; 2: 17

The Great Life Trajectory: We move through humility (and other virtues like forgiveness, caring, compassion) to glory producing unity and community on the way. It is a one-another mentality of sacrificial servanthood, taking responsibility for the other, under God’s care for us (Lévinas). 2: 1-4

Take no confidence in the flesh, or normal human credentials (degrees, Alma Mater, success record, wealth, property), which breeds pride, arrogance, superiority and division. This is regress compared to knowing Christ as a central focus (our life-long discipleship quest). Christ is profit; all else is loss 3: 7-10  Jesus must be our number one priority, Lord of our whole life.

Keep the main goal of life out front and in focus. Keep the mind focused on higher things, the eternal paths. This is covenant language. Press on with your calling in Christ; this is your Olympic Medal. 3: 12-14

Posture of rejoicing, praise, prayer and thanksgiving. Saturate your life in it. This invites God’s presence into our circumstances, which then leads to peace of mind and heart, even through troubled waters. 4: 4-7

In all your endeavours, focus on excellence and high /noble/full of integrity values (David Brooks, The Road to Character). Practice the virtues every day whatever you do. 4: 8

Body life among believers is life-giving, full of grace and gift. Generosity is a gift of the Spirit among us. 4: 10

Story of Paul: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTBS0NMWSPY

See below YouTube video by Tom Wright, Paul and the Transformative Gospel, great summary of Paul’s intent.

We learn about Paul’s visit to the Greek town Corinth in Acts 18. It is uncontested Pauline writing, probably written in 55 AD or CE, sent from Macedonia. It is also addressed to all southern Greece. Paul’s letters were circulated broadly for spiritual nurture. This letter is the third that he wrote to them, the second being the most scathing and corrective (written in tears). Some of them had chased after sexy, false teachers/Super-Apostles, and were questioning his authority and integrity as a Christian missionary and leader among the Greek churches. That hurt, but he wanted in this letter to take the high ground: to reconcile with them while continuing to set them on a good gospel path while arguing winsomely for his credibility and calling. His suffering and the fruit of his work was a key aspect of his apologia. The core brilliance of this whole book is his exposition and unpacking of the New Covenant, rooted in but different from the Old Covenant under Moses. There is continuity and discontinuity because of the fulsome revelation of Jesus’ incarnation. Jesus said it in the Gospel of John: “If you follow me, abide in me, you will gush with a river of living water to refresh and renew others.” Such is the healing stream of the New Covenant.

Chapter 1 God’s Comfort: Paul draws on this to bring him out of depression at the attitudes of some Corinthians. Resurrection is existentially real for him in this sense. It has been a dark and challenging time, with tension between them. This letter is a note of reconciliation–he wants to make things right and get things on track in their relationship. New hope appears on the horizon. In his body, he has felt the wounds of Christ. He is speaking of the cruciform life and suffering with others in their suffering (compassion). It starts with God who suffers with us and for us, who deeply identifies with our suffering in Christ. The one who suffers an also comfort–it is training in compassion. God sees us and knows us; we are not alone in the universe; there can be meaning in our suffering, especially in our identification with others–our solidarity. This then translates into body life where we grow through comforting each other. Powerful secret. Paul understands that the Corinthians have suffered, but he has as well–almost to the point of death. N.T. Wright comments that Paul speaks from a Natural Theology of Weakness in II Corinthians–he confidently embodies the Gospel in his Apostolic suffering. His wounds stand against the backdrop of God’s wounds on the cross and act as a sign of the kingdom. Christ’s wounds have a voice of their own, the voice of love. The epistemology of love includes both joy and suffering.

It is well-known in Psychology that we grow through our suffering, and that trying to avoid suffering (and responsibility) at all cost is dangerous to our health and spiritual wellbeing. Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled, notes that for our mental health: “We need to face reality at all cost.” This is often hard and painful. This is especially true as we move through different stages in life. If we refuse to suffer, we often hurt and alienate other people. We get stuck in a stage of our growth even though we are adults age-wise. This is the common story of extended adolescence–refusing adult responsibility. We escape in various ways. It takes real courage to grow up, to make tough choices, even to love and be loved in a serious relationship.

Chapter 2-3 The New Covenant is introduced. It is all about a new creation (Isaiah 55 & 56), a new spiritual horizon, and these believers are a sign of it.

Chapters 4-7 Paradoxes (Irony) of the Cross: a new cruciform style of life is put before them. Paul lives this way. It challenges our values focusing on humility and weakness because love and power were released through Jesus’ death and resurrection. And if we are transformed by the Holy Spirit, we too will see that Jesus’ cruciform life can be ours as well. In chapter 6, he goes into a rhetorical riff about his credibility through hardships, suffering and weakness. It is a subversive message. He has turned power on its head: “When I am weak, then I am strong because God is revealed through my weakness.”

Chapters 8 & 9 He also wants to spark their Christian generosity, to challenge them to show they love Christ with their money and shared resources. They made big promises, but he wants them to deliver on help for some of the poorer believers–> bringing shared suffering and unity. It is accountability time and he does this hard task with grace.

Chapter 10 , 11 & 12 Paul finishes with a defence of his ministry and spiritual authority. He has committed himself deeply to the way of the cross, taking every thought captive, submitting it to Christ, paid for with blood, sweat and tears. He wants to put their questions to bed, and challenge their idolatry/hero-worship of so-called ‘Super-Apostles’. He only wants to boast in Christ and his great sacrificial agape love. He will not defend himself, in the end. He is a ‘fool for Christ’ and Francis of Assisi followed through with this posture. He reveals the undaunted, deep commitment he has to them and to the Gospel, which he knows can change lives, change the culture.

Chapter 13 He challenges them to examine their motives, their behaviour, and see how true their faith really is.

Theological Background of II Corinthians from Biblical Theologian N.T. Wright of St. Andrews University and Oxford, UK (summary/paraphrase) “Paul and the Transformative Gospel: a Reframe

We need to learn to think our way into God’s new world inaugurated through Christ and the Spirit: the crucified Messiah and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the church age. We discern God’s will through the combination of worship, thinking and action. The Gospel is a new way of knowing and thinking, a new way of doing life together. It offers us a fresh consideration of who God is and what he intends for culture; it matures our thinking and action in a way that carries weight. Minds are deeply transformed by the Gospel when they take time to grapple with its implications—its existential impact. This fits better with the rigour of the Philosophy Department than Religious Studies in today’s university.

What does it mean to be in Christ, in his new covenant, justified by God into a righteous, engaged life, living justly and fruitfully to serve others? It is incarnational, immersive. The ‘People of God’ (serious followers of Jesus) in the New Testament are a vanguard of a new creation, a new culture. Jesus acts as a new Abraham (Genesis 15) to undo the sin of Adam, acts as a light to the nations, producing a community of peace and reconciliation, one who worships a holy God. Jesus turns out to be Israel’s Messiah, a prophetic promise fulfilled (Walter Kaiser, The Promise of God), showing in the flesh the goodness and righteousness of God. He is the product and process of a faithful God redeeming his people (calling them home). This is cataclysmic, pulsating and resonating with prophetic intimations (Isaiah). We are led into a whole new vocation, shining like stars in the world, living a culture of agape love, a whole new set of power relations. This is extremely hopeful, eye-opening and challenging . It offers a fresh and creative direction for one’s life.

In light of the resurrection, God’s kingdom has been set up on earth as the Old Testament Daniel (chapters 2 & 7) had promised. Heaven and earth have come together in God’s word made flesh, his logos. Jesus lays claim to the whole earth, all of culture. He is the Word sent to redeem all human words. God in raising him from the dead has vindicated him as his true Messiah. He will put things right, redress societal imbalances and injustice (Sermon on the Mount). Jesus is that ‘faithful Israelite’ required by God to do his will and chart a new course for humanity. The cross is central and effective (Christus Victor) in three ways: a. defeats the principalities and powers of evil and sin; b. substitutionary atonement; c. a divine act of love and self-giving. This creates a turning point in world history with the coming of the Spirit to execute the plan and build up the church with gifts. Romans 1-8 is one discourse about justification, one thought stream; it includes law court image of justifying the one accused + right living/behaviour change + covenant status (Phil. 3): covenant faithfulness of God and humans. See Paul & the Faithfulness of God  by N. T. Wright. It all flows from the love and faithfulness of God as its foundation. Paul’s is a modification of the Jewish doctrine of election (God’s chosen people, holy nation). This is the new cruciform way of life.

The second half of Chapter One is about the firm foundation in Jesus Christ, who is the Yes and Amen to it all. His life, death and resurrection, plus his current advocacy for us seals the covenant. It is up to us to actualize the potential of this relationship, to dig deep and walk into the arms of Christ, to embrace all that it means in our spiritual journey. There is no end to grace, imagination and creativity within the parameters of the New Covenant. Jesus will light the way forward.

Time Out in I Corinthians 1 as background to the values of the New Covenant: Christ crucified is God’s power and wisdom.

With the pantheon of Greek gods and philosophers and the political might of the Roman Empire in the background, Paul shows paradoxically that weakness and foolishness have the cutting edge/upper hand in the New Covenant social imaginary. It opens the door onto God’s grace and wisdom. It presents a reversal, a counter-cultural stance. Jesus, in his cruciform stance, has become the wisdom of God and the solution to our alienation. The metaphor is embedded in verse 25 “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” His ways are beyond our ways of thinking and desiring. The gospel is foolishness to the Greeks and Caesar, to Hercules and Atlas: God empowers us in the midst of our weakness, gives us insights into life beyond our years and education. It is subversive and paradoxical in a good sense. He calls the weak, the poor, the brokenhearted, the marginalized and welcomes them into this new agreement with heaven on earth–a portal. James 3: 13-18 speaks volumes on the wisdom from above over against wisdom without God. It entails righteousness, holiness, purity and integrity. We cannot boast about our giftedness but only about God’s grace/gift through Christ. When we live with such servanthood and principles, we are set free to share our faith in the One who just keeps on giving.

Premiered on Friday, October 22, 2021

II Corinthains 3: The Glorious New Covenant

There is a major contrast here between letter/tablets of stone and the Spirit; letters written on stone tablets (Ten Commandments) and letters written on the flesh of human hearts. The Spirit and the letters written on hearts, the law written on transformed human hearts, seems to be the direction of God’s revelation (Old to New Covenant). The Mosaic agreement (Old Covenant) and the law was temporary, inadequate but quite useful. It revealed the will and values of Yahweh: Put God first in everything you do. It came with dramatic earthquake and lightning effect, the voice of God to his people, a surreal meeting between Moses and God on Mount Sinai. It was an awesome and glorious experience for all. But this glory faded as did the face of Moses after he left the presence of God. The law was good in showing us our guilt, rebellion and selfishness, a mirror to us of what was missing in our attempts at self-justification. We humans failed to live up to God’s standards and so we resented the law. Just knowing the will of God was not enough; we needed inner motivation (a change of heart) to existentially live his law. But we humans were trapped by our sinful outlook (Romans 7:5-6). Is this the end game? Are we stuck in a kind of spiritual limbo: knowing God’s will but unable to please God, unable to obey?

Enter the New Covenant sealed in Jesus blood (Luke 22: 19-20). This was predicted much earlier by the prophet Jeremiah (31:33) and Ezekiel (11:19; 36:26) and fulfilled in Jesus incarnation, death and resurrection. It was a tectonic shift, a paradigm shift, an accomplishment only a great and loving God could execute. These are the new terms upon which we can have a relationship with God, centred on Jesus, executed by the Holy Spirit. Tablets of stone could not give us power to serve God; they only gave a map and showed us how hard it is based on our own strength. The Spirit of Christ provided the solution in personal transformation, the law written on our hearts. This brings the needed change, to make us humble and teachable, knowing our place in the universe. We discover that we are not the centre of the universe (impatient, hostile, self-absorbed). Now God’s will looks completely different: it is a delight to allow God to love us and inspire us to synchronize with his will and purpose for our lives. His agape love is our destiny (I Corinthians 13). Now his teaching and wisdom resonates with our hearts: the Spirit and letter are now friends under Jesus’ Lordship. Law and love are one. This is what we longed for, freedom from our natural rebellion. Here is an experience of glory to glory transformation. Wow! The Holy Spirit liberates us through greater access to God (II Corinthians 3:12).

Once a veil covered our hearts as it did the ancient Israelites–complete with obfuscation or cataracts. Now that mask has been removed by Christ and we see things more clearly. We can be open and vulnerable to God and Scripture and not fear condemnation and discipline–it builds trust and invites grace to enter the picture. We can live and approach God boldly in agape love. We see God for who he is (see him in the face of Jesus of Nazareth) and see ourselves better too. God shows us who we are and what we can become in Christ–great hope. So, how do we put ourselves in a position or posture where the Spirit can transform us? That is the million dollar question of the spiritual journey. Keep reading II Corinthians to find the answer.

A Short Story: Once I was on a spiritual awakening weekend retreat with a group of prisoners at Kingston’s Collins Bay Penitentiary (medium security). The weekend consisted of short talks and round table discussions. Some people would share at the end of the day as we gathered what we discovered. Others would draw art to capture the ideas and concepts. There was a brutal level of honesty that shook me to the core as a young, recent Queen’s graduate. I slept next to con artists, thieves and murderers. People at my table were often closed, tough and skeptical while still interested; many had stopped believing in love altogether. But at the final moment of the retreat, a breakthrough came. Two hundred people, who had been through one of these retreats to open their hearts to God once again and heal from their pain, came in a beautiful procession into the auditorium. It was very moving, almost surreal. Time stopped. Hard core men at my table broke down into tears. We saw the glory of the New Covenant that weekend and I have never forgotten it. Love broke through.

II Corinthians 4: This Treasure (Glory or Radiance) in Jars of Clay: November 23, 2021

Paul claims that we can gain perspective on our trials and struggles on the spiritual journey. This journey includes our faithful witness of speaking truth from God to our culture, speaking truth to power, to a friend. The greatness or honour of his calling puts Paul’s intense difficulties in perspective (8-12). He is reckoning at a deep existential level with leaving a prestigious post as a Pharisee (similar to a professor) to be beaten, misunderstood, marginalized as an apostolic missionary for the Gospel. We listen to him to gain perspective on our struggles in being faithful to the same glorious Gospel.

Our Unspeakably Great Treasure  God has given us a high, noble, transcendent message. We must share it boldly, clearly, sincerely—with God as our witness. We should be careful, Paul says, not to dilute, adulterate or corrupt it. People can discern it for themselves, test it with their own conscience to see its veracity. A faithful witness means practicing the presence of the Gospel.

Here it is in verse 6: For God who said, Let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. Here we have a reminder of Creation (Genesis 1: 3) and the Big Bang where the very first thing to happen is  a release of massive energy and light. Light is better translated radiance like the sun, a continual nuclear explosion. Hebrews 1: 3 puts it this way: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

As we behold the glory of God, we will be transformed. God will change our lives and change us from the inside out. Though the old covenant had its glory, it could never transform lives through the law. God uses the New Covenant to make us transformed people, not just nice civil people. The best and most enduring change comes into our life when we are transformed by time spent with the Lord. There are other ways to change, such as guilt, willpower, imprisonment or coercion, but none of these methods bring change that is as deep and lasts as long as the transformation that comes by the Spirit of God as we spend time in the presence of the Lord. When we spend time beholding the glory of the God of love, grace, peace, and righteousness, we will see a transforming growth in love, grace, peace, and righteousness. It is an inevitable process, as we engage. 

Paul was blinded by Glory, through a dramatic encounter with Jesus: Ironically the light of Christ blinded him with its radiance. He at first was blinded to the light/truth of Jesus and then blinded by the light through his encounter with living agape love in its purest form. Remember that Jesus once said, “He who has seen me, has seen the Father.” Now Paul sees Christ and the Gospel as an infinitely valuable treasure to be valued and shared with the whole world. He is obsessed with this task.

Our Inadequacy & Dependency on God (Jars of Clay) We all feel inadequate to this task: The smartest person is not smart enough; the purest person is not pure enough; the most spiritual person is not spiritual enough; the most talented person is not talented enough. How can we be carriers of the Gospel? We feel weak, vulnerable, imperfect. But as Christians we have been given these precious family jewels to be contained in a large clay jar (our bodies). The secret is that our power as conduits of this life is of God, not ourselves. Thus, we must reckon with a calling that surpasses both our adequacy and training. We depend on God’s sufficiency to deliver on his promises. We live the paradox: We die daily to self so that the life of the Gospel can be born in others. And we know we can count on God for daily resurrection (II Cor 1: 9) and renewed imagination. It involves profound grace upon grace. So we don’t need to look too good or strong for the sake of the Gospel. We have nothing to brag about except the Gospel and the loving God who strikes this New Covenant with humanity through Jesus.

We are humbled; it is a great honour and privilege to speak for God, to carry this treasure in our bodies/lives, to share this truth, to perform this truth through love and mercy. So we speak the truth in love out of a genuine heart and stand back to watch how God uses it. It is not secret knowledge like the Gnostics claim, but plain text, open to investigation by either seeker or skeptic. It is living language

Suffering is part and parcel of this witness. Paul holds a PhD in suffering for the work of the Gospel (8-12). Death-like trials become mere afflictions as he contemplates the gravitas of his calling. In this way, our wasting bodies amazingly can be the vehicles of eternal glory. These afflictions can work in us to produce an eternal weight of glory (16-17), one that outweighs the whole world, as one author said. We ought never to give up, lose heart, or run away. Our ultimate trajectory is Eternity/Transcendence/the Ancient Way/the Tried and True Path. Daily we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. In this line of reflection, I am reminded of a moving commencement speech by actor Denzel Washington on the theme: “Put God first in everything you do.” Here’s the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BxY_eJLBflk  

The invisible is actually the eternal, imperishable, enduring, more real than the physical world, because the physical world depends on it. This is thick, meaning-full language. Jesus has made the invisible God visible to us. Fantastic news! Prayer: God shine your light, the radiance of the Gospel, into my darkness, and the darkness of my friends and family. May the light of your radiance shine through my life to enlighten others about your reality and purpose for humankind. 

Book of the Week: Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God.

Lecture on Tolerance by Brian Bird, UBC Law: https://youtu.be/LqQV5yfGdqk

II Corinthians 5: Living in Light of Eternity Makes for a Better World December 11, 2021

What does it mean to live within an eternal frame or social imaginary? Below we explore with the Apostle Paul something of what this looks like in real terms:

a. II Corinthians 5: 1-10: Paul wants us to visualize our mortality in light of eternity. One is reminded of that famous soliloquy from Hamlet: “To die, to sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub. For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil.” Death holds a certain kind of terror one us. Paul contrasts the earthly dwelling of our physical bodies (the temporal, embodied self) with a future new body which Jesus had promised his disciples in John 14: 3. When they perish, people seem to be swallowed up by death (nihilism, meaninglessness, termination, separation from loved ones, the abyss, a black hole, the grave). Life seems so short, so ephemeral (Psalm 90), so fragile. The play ‘Wit’ powerfully depicts the existential struggle for meaning of a prestigious English professor, Dr. Vivian Bearing, as she dies of stage four ovarian cancer. She is alone, without family or even an emergency contact. All seems bleak and nihilistic as she tries to take some comfort in the works of John Donne. But Paul believes in a resurrection hope (one worthy of our longing) into a new bodily dwelling (v. 4), one fit for the presence of God. Within this perspective/frame, one is instead ‘swallowed up’ by life: Jesus claimed to be the Way, the Truth and the Life. Resurrection is known as the great reversal in Christian theology. In v. 5, the Holy Spirit is given as the guarantor (engagement ring) of this profound promise for believers. Because of this promise, as he peers into eternity, Paul remains fearless in facing his adversities. He is all-in with the Gospel; he will attempt to please God as long as he lives. He is driven by love, since Christ died for all to reconcile us to himself (see Part b. below, and Philippians 1). This is one of the implications of the eternal weight of glory talked about in chapter 4. This reality is invisible to many, but can be seen/understood by faith by those who have the ‘spiritual eyes’ to see that God’s promises are real/authentic.

There is much more to us than meets the eye. Our lives have exciting eternal consequences (I Corinthians 3: 12-15), and that offers great purpose and direction. We live on a knife edge, the now and the not-yet, we live in light of eternity. God is at work right now, preparing us for these new bodies. Our trials are part of the refining process–to become fit for heaven. This is the message of transcendence: we are not reducible to time-space-energy-matter. We are not our own, autonomous (Alan Noble, You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World), just individual bots choosing our way through life, inventing our own reality. There is so much more to anticipate in light of the work of Christ.

b. II Corinthians 5: 11-21: The Knowledge and Ministry of Reconciliation (a Core Concept)

Paul continues to write in this radically fresh perspective. In Christ, there is a new creation (new relationships, new identity). This is a welcomed, hopeful message in light of our weighty eternal destiny. We are called to become ambassadors of peace to a divided world, speaking words of kindness and consolation: Be reconciled to God and to one another. Tim Keller’s book, The Uncommon Good: Living Faithfully in a World Divided speaks about this culture. The time to exercise this agreement and this calling is now. Paul is compelled and constrained by love and compassion (14) for this cause; he embodies it deep in his bones. The hope of resurrection and reconciliation channels his energies into a formidable power for the good, towards a more peaceful world, into living for others in light of the Gospel. He champions truth and reconciliation. He sees no problem going the extra mile for someone in need, even risking his own life, reputation, wealth and wellbeing. Every one of us can have peace with God, and we can die to ourselves in order to give to others–the essence of community. The Holy Spirit is the presence of Jesus among us to lead us, empower us on this path.

This Second Creation of the New Covenant is something God does in us, transforming us, using our will and our choices. It is gift, a grace. The old is gone, the new has come. God is with us in a new way. Agape love changes everything as depicted by Larry Siedentop in Inventing the Individual; and David Bentley Hart in Atheist Delusions. It changed the ancient world of brutality and terror to one of mercy, civility and humanization. Revelation 21: 5 records that “God makes all things new.” He sets up a new destiny for human beings. God himself is reconciling the world to himself. What a story to carry with us daily. Jesus took the sin of the world on his back, in order that we might be made new and live a life of righteousness (truth, justice, compassion and mercy). Verse 21 says: “He made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” Jayant articulated this as the “great exchange” (Isaiah 53:10). It is the greatest mystery of all time. This changes how we think about ourselves, as we seek God with our whole heart (Jeremiah 29:11). We no longer think or act as those filled with guilt, resentment, shame or condemnation. Yale theologian, Miraslov Volf, argues the case for reconciliation and forgiveness in his profound book, Exclusion and Embrace (recently updated). We now recognize grace as key to our future and we honestly turn our back on sin, alienation and pride. Our despair is transformed into hope and trust in God to produce good fruit in the lives of others.

II Corinthians 6, Paul’s Unusual Resumé of Tears

Keep perspective on reality, says Paul. Do not form any alliances, temporary or permanent, with people or corporate entities that would lead to a compromise of your Christian standards (values, sympathies, goals, virtues) or jeopardize the consistency of your Christian witness. That could be a trap that will wreck your life. Paul writes as a collaborator with Christ in the ministry of reconciliation. He pleads with this church to take grace seriously, to realize its real eternal weight. God gives us grace as we work hard for him; grace is given to encourage the work even amidst its challenges, not to replace it. What is it that God is up to in our work/vocation, family, church or neighbourhood? We get to join him in that effort. Now is the right time to get on with such a great and noble opportunity.

Paul shares his battle-hardened resumé (4-10) from his existential efforts to build the kingdom. This is the basis of his claim to credibility as a leader for the Corinthians. To build community, he has to secure their trust. Instead of claiming his academic credentials or all his converts, he focuses on his struggles and trials in the mission of the church across the Greco-Roman world. These troubles and pains are his badges of honour for faithful work. He humbly wants the church in Corinth to celebrate the grace of God with him and to access the work of the Spirit. He says that what he does flows from who he is and who they are in Christ. Spiritual community is gathered around the presence of Christ.

His challenges include hardships, beatings, imprisonments, sleepless nights, and hunger. One could trace this in the Book of Acts. The work of the Gospel is not all glory. But his experience of the work also involves truthful speech, kindness and patience, sincere love, the power of God. Verses 4-7 are in parallel to 6-7. Grace is essential to his very survival and also to the effectiveness of the mission. His witness goes through suffering not around it. Why would he continue and persevere under such circumstances if he did not have a deep sense of call and commitment to their wellbeing? There is a notable rough and tumble to his experience and he is not hiding it because it shows God’s power released through his weakness and vulnerability. He is clearly not doing all this to be popular.

“The sufferings of Christ on the cross are not just his sufferings; they are “the sufferings of the poor and weak, which Jesus shares in his own body and in his own soul, in solidarity with them” (Moltmann 1992, 130). And since God was in Christ, “through his passion Christ brings into the passion history of this world the eternal fellowship of God and divine justice and righteousness that creates life” (131). On the cross, Christ both “identifies God with the victims of violence” and identifies “the victims with God, so that they are put under God’s protection and with him are given the rights of which they have been deprived” 
― Yale Theologian Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation

And so in 11-13, he encourages them to join him in covenant ministry, put their backs into the work of the Kingdom. “Please open your hearts and support the mission, support the growth we long for in your church, open your hearts to God.” says Paul. They are somewhat reluctant to go all in with Paul and the other Apostles. But he has not given up on them. Rather, he believes in them, in the God they both serve and the huge power of the Gospel to change lives. He calls them back to grace, back to the foundations of the New Covenant.

A profound thought came during our Saturday study from Gideon’s reflection: “I was reading through the book of Luke, and noted the story where Jesus asked Peter if he could borrow his boat to preach to the masses. Peter had been fishing all night, and caught nothing. He felt like a failure. But something more profound was at work here. Today, God may be asking us to surrender something along the lines of Peter’s boat. What is the ‘boat’ (work, loves, sport, family, wealth) in our lives that he wants us to offer to him to bring in the kingdom, to share the good news? So I have begun to pray about this daily”

Made for spirituality we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world. It is time, in the power of the Spirit, to take up our proper role, our full human role as agents, heralds, and stewards of the new day that is dawning. That, quite simply, is what is means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which he has thrown open before us. (N.T. Wright, Simply Christian)

Paul finishes the chapter talking about the call to purity and commitment. Do not be unequally connected with people who do not share your love of Christ. They will distract you from your high calling. Paul Rowe recently shared with us just how powerful this is for Christians in the Middle East today: church is literally life or death for them. Like Paul, they have to negotiate with an authoritarian regime ignorer to survive.

February 7, 2022 The Roots of Covenant in Abraham

This week, we go back to the headwaters of the Judea-Christian faith in Abraham (Genesis 12, 15 and 17). In chapter 12, God approaches Abram of Harran at 75 years old, and calls him into a journey away from home and towards his ultimate home, the promised land (Canaan). The unfolding Promise begins here: “I will make a great nation of you.” Abram obeys and take his entire household–no small task. There is an unusual connection with God and trust of him, because Abram is from a pagan background. As we know, this journey will involve many vulnerable, even dangerous, incidents.

Then in Chapter 15, we get more definition of the covenant: It begins with a vision. Here the dialogue is about a son/heir which does not exist yet and Abram is quite concerned. At this point, God promises him a son with his own DNA. “Look up at the sky Abram and see how plentiful your offspring will become.” Again, Abram accepts this promise on face value and that put him in good stead with Yahweh. Now the story of the covenant/promise becomes dramatic. Animals are cut in two and the situation is rife with gravitas of a smoking fire pot. God foretells the story of the Exodus from Egypt. It must have been amazing to take in and process. The promised land is now clearly part of the deal with God, a future home for Abram’s people/descendants.

Chapter 17 moves the drama of covenant forward even more: Now he is 99 years old and Abram still does not have an heir. Wow, the patience required. Here God changes his name to Abraham, father of many nations. The covenant will be everlasting between God & Abraham but also his descendants. The promise of the land/their future home is reinforced (the whole land of Canaan where he is still only a visitor). Now we are introduced to circumcision as a sign of the covenant. It speaks of embodiment in our faith. The promise of a son is reinforced, even though Sarah is 90 years old–Isaac is to be his name.

This is all background to the New Covenant in Christ. Here’s a brief overview to put it in perspective by a young Bible scholar.

New Covenant: While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (NASB) Matt. 26:26-29

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