GCU Study Fall 2021: 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

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.

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. New hope appears on the horizon. In his body he has felt the woulds of Christ.

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.

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