2 Corinthians Study: Boast in Weakness

What does God want me to do with my money? How should I respond to someone who has wronged me? What is the purpose of suffering and hardships? Can’t I boast a little bit? These are some of the questions you will discover as you read through 2 Corinthians.

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church has a different flavor than the first. It is more personal and pastoral. You see Paul roll up his sleeves and wear his emotions on them. Paul loves the church and so should we. How can we love the church despite all its people problems? Paul gives us practical insights. There is something for everyone. Just take a look at this 2 Corinthians Study: Boast in Weakness

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living and serving with others

serving with others

Living the others can be difficult. My first experience living with another person was in college. As a freshman, I was preselected a roommate and had no idea who he would be. I was going to share a fifteen foot by fifteen foot room with a stranger. It turned out my roommate was a dairy cow farmer from Ohio and a camping ministries major. I remember after a whitewater rafting class he got a bad sunburn. He bathed himself in vinegar and smelled like a pickle for a week. Although we were very different and butted heads on occasion our living arrangement worked out.

Sometimes living and serving with others doesn’t work out so easily. Sometimes it is work. Hard work. If you are doing life with members of a church or are serving on a team with other Christians you know just how hard it can be.

At the end of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he writes five rapid-fire imperatives and one promise to those who are living and serving together in the church. The five imperatives have one singular focus on bringing unity to the Corinthian church. Take note of how intentionally intrusive they are. Paul knows firsthand that ministry relationships are full of passion and opportunities for disunity are apparent. Unless you are a hermit, being intentionally intrusive with others is important, especially if you are living and serving with others.

“Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13:11)

1. Rejoice.

There is no surprise that the first imperative is “rejoice”. Why? Paul longed for the Corinthians to be a cause for his own rejoicing (cf. 1:24; 2:3). He loved the church deeply. He knew there would be rejoicing in the church if all members listened to him, trusted his apostleship and walked in repentance. Paul had every reason to despise the Corinthians and to give up on them. So “rejoice” is an imperative full of faith and expectation that the Corinthians were on the verge of joyous unity. He was nowhere near giving up on them. They brought him that much joy!

How can you rejoice in the Lord giving you a church? How are your church members a cause for your own rejoicing?

2. Mend.

The second imperative, “Aim for restoration,” has the sense of putting back into place or mending or repairing. Living and serving with others is a group assignment and the more you are with each other the great the probability there will be friction and fraction. Paul lays the responsibility directly on the church—“Get it together”—work at restoring your unity in Christ (cf. 13:9; Ephesians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:10). Paul echoes this when writing another church, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1b-3)

Are there any relationships within your church that need mending or repair?    What are the most prominent heart idols that you anticipate may get in the way of you allowing others from being intentionally intrusive into your life (i.e. fear of man, lover of pleasure, pride, wanting control, comparing yourself to others, failing to believe the best in another, etc.)? Are you working towards restoration rather than destruction? Explain.

3. Comfort.

The third imperative is to “comfort one another” or listen with tenderness (cf. 1:3-11). Paul was aware of the depth of the hurt among both those who were in the right and in the wrong. He himself needed comfort as his relationship with the Corinthian church was frayed.The situation then and now in Corinth demanded mutual tenderness and comfort. Comfort is the currency of unity and harmony. To comfort another means you spend your time and energies to reassure, relieve and repose another who is hurt or struggling.

Who is someone in your church who needs the tenderness of Christ right now? How will you comfort them?     If you were to be struggling with allowing someone to be intentionally intrusive into your life, what would be the manifestations of your struggle (i.e. not returning phone calls, short answers, no eye contact, easily irritable, blame shifting, etc.)?

4. Harmony.

The next imperative is to “agree with one another” or “be of one mind” or “live in harmony” (cf. 1:10). Every church needs this admonition, but no church needed it more than Corinth. The elitist, Corinthianized super-apostles had issues with everything Paul stood for. Harmony is sounds working together on different notes that make a pleasing sound. Paul did not ask the church to agree on everything, but they were called to agree with one another on the the main things like his role as an apostle and message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Are there secondary issues that are causing disunity among you and another church member (i.e. decision making style, not being understood, not liking what someone else is doing, etc.)? Have these secondary things become an idol in your heart? How can focusing on the main thing or the essentials help build harmony between you and others?

5. Peace.

Lastly, the imperative to “live in peace” flows out of such harmony, since being out of tune is not a peaceable sound; rather it’s discord. Peace doesn’t come passively. Nevertheless, living in peace requires intention and determination (cf. Mark 9:50; 33-37; 42-48).

How are you pursuing peace with church members? Would others describe you as a peacemaker? How can you actively live in peace?

God’s Promise

Now, if you step back and look at the whole, all five imperatives call the Corinthians to continuous action day in and day out. If the Corinthians heed them and walk in them they are given a resplendent promise: “and the God of love and peace will be with you” (v. 11b). God promises to give his children his love and peace as they actively do his work together.

What is it like to not experience the love and peace of God? How can the love and peace of God be with you when others do not seem to be at peace with you? In what ways are you being blessed by God’s love and peace with your church members?

Unity by living and serving with others in a team/church does not come easily. We must work at every facet at all times. Restoration is work, comfort is work, harmony is work, peace is work, and even rejoicing requires work. Paul called for continuous, specific focus for the church—and everything depends upon their response.

“Passion for the church involves diving into the community of the local church. It means ‘doing life’ with other Christians by pursuing relationships that extend beyond the church building and official church functions… ‘Fellowship is a uniquely Christian relational experience,’ writes pastor John Loftness. ‘Fellowship is participating together in the life and truth made possible by the Holy Spirit through our union with Christ. Fellowship is sharing something in common at the deepest possible level of human relationships – our experience of God Himself.’ Fellowship means belonging to each other” (Joshua Harris, Stop Dating the Church pg. 75).

Paul was so concerned about restoration and unity in Corinth that he became especially directive about demonstrating affection. First, he called them “brothers.” (v.11) Paul’s relationship to the church is not professional. The familial language assumes that Christians are family in meaningful spiritual relationship. Second, to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (v. 12) was a cultural expression of affection among family members. It is difficult to embrace another person with whom you have discord. Third, Paul shares a “Hello” from his companions in Ephesus, “All the saints greet you” (v. 13). The unity he desires to renew in Corinth is universal. Christian unity is true for the whole Body of Christ. Finally, in Paul’s final benediction he says, “The [amazing] grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the [extravagant] love of God and the [intimate] fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (v.14) The example of the Trinity is also a picture of unity. The promise was for everyone—the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was Corinth’s hope. And today it is ours too!

Who is a person in your life whom you welcome to be intentionally intrusive who you know will love you in Christ, show you grace and provide intimate fellowship? How will you be more intentional involved in the fellowship of your church? How does the grace, love and fellowship of God encourage you to share the same with others?

purpose of pain

thorns

The deepest pain we experience is often inflicted by people, especially those who we care for the most. The closer we are to people the more vulnerable we are to be hurt and wounded. Not just physically (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-27), but emotionally (11:28-29). People can disappoint, reject, abuse, slander, fail, betray, or turn on you. These type of wounds go deep and hurt. Have you ever felt pain from someone close to you? A spouse? A parent? A child? A friend? A church?

Jonathan Edward, a pastor through America’s Great Awakening, was voted out of the church where he pastored for 22-years over a disagreement about who takes communion. The pain caused by this lead him to live meekly among Native Indians, a broken man until his death. Charles Haddon Spurgeon—some would say the greatest preacher the world has ever known—was voted out of the Baptist Union for standing strongly for the Scripture. He was crushed and his health was never the same.

Paul experienced this kind of pain too. He loved the church at Corinth immensely. He spent 18-months with them. He saw many come to Christ and he nurtured them. He invested his life to the church. He thought of himself as their father and them as his daughter. And yet he also experienced his greatest pain and heart-ache from this church. False teachers came into the church and spread lies about Paul cutting down his credibility as an apostle therein cutting down the credibility of the gospel. They called into question his integrity, character, leadership, wisdom, honesty, motives, love and loyalty. Many in the church bought into the lies of false teachers. And Paul was left assaulted, crushed and hurt deeply.

Pain is universal. Every human experiences pain at some point. It’s the problem of pain. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” Pain is part of life. It’s not a matter of if, it’s when.

Pain is never pleasant, until we understand what God is accomplishing by it. Often the greatest times of spiritual development happen in times of great pain. Paul teaches us how to see the hand of God in the midst of pain. No text unfolds this in greater detail than 2 Corinthians 12. It is set in one of the most emotionally charged portions Paul had put pen (See Chapters 10-13). Paul lays his heart wide open and we see what God endeavors to accomplish in our pain and where we find strength in the deepest pain.

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited” (v.7)

First, Paul described the pain was like “a thorn.” Have you ever got a thorn stuck in your foot? In Chad, there are thorns everywhere. Just yesterday I was raking our yard and I literally pulled out over 10 thorns from the bottom of my flip-flops. I was immediately decommissioned from any further work until I pulled each thorn out of my foot. The word “thorn” as Paul used it can refer to a small thorn or an object as big as a stake. Imagine that. It is as if he says “a stake was driven right through my flesh.” Ouch.

We understand the word “thorn” was used metaphorically, like when we say, “He is a real thorn in my side.” So what was Paul’s thorn? What was bothering Paul? There are dozens of speculation as to what the cause of the thorn could be (ex: headaches, lust, eye problem, malaria, epilepsy, loss of hair, hysteria, gastritis, leprosy, lice, deafness, stuttering, etc.). In all, these trivial speculations miss the what the text says itself about the thorn, they miss the debilitating and humiliating depth of Paul’s pain and it misses God’s purposes for the thorn.

Second, Paul said the thorn was “given” to him. Satan inflicted it, but ultimately God allowed it for he pleads with God to take it away (v.8; cf. Mark 14:32-41). In Greek, the phrase reads “a thorn for the flesh was given me.” What we know about the word “flesh” in Scripture is that more often it doesn’t refer to the physical flesh, but the home of human impulses and sinful tendencies. The thorn poked Paul deeper than the surface of his skin. Paul goes on to tell what the thorn is. It is a “messenger or Satan to harass me (torment, punch).” It is a messenger (angel); a demon sent to inflict Paul.

Now it is interesting because a demon would not want to humble Paul, but to exalt him. A demon would not want to drive a stake through his flesh, but his spirit. The context gives light to this messenger being false teachers who are controlled by a demon as they reject Paul’s authority, ministry and integrity (cf. 11:13-15; 1 Timothy 4:1-2). Like Satan, these false teachers are so close to truth that the people buy into it and it is crushing Paul because he can see the angel of light twisting the truth against him.

There is a question some would ask here. Why would God allow Paul to be tormented? Does God really allow pain? In short, yes. God has used demons, even Satan, and pain for his purposes in the lives of believers. Job is a great example. The moment God allowed Satan to test Job all hell broke loose. Everyone in Job’s family was killed except his wife. All his crops and animals were destroyed. His own body became ravaged by a skin disease. A Middle Eastern mogul was reduced to rubble. Job was in deep pain. And it was compounded by his wife and friends giving him bad advice. Notice, in the end, God never tells Job why all this happened. God never apologizes. God never blames Satan. God simply praises Job for his persevering faith.

In Luke 22:31-32, Jesus says to Peter, “Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” In other words, “Peter, you would make a good prospect for Satan. I think I will use him for my purposes in you.” You could hear Peter say, “Jesus, You said ‘no’ right?” Jesus knew this would be a defining moment for Peter. He would move from being a great denier to becoming the great defender.

While Paul’s thorn was a thing that his opposers used as a means of showing other that God was not with him. It had the opposite effect. The thorn was proof that God was with him. God was with him, keeping him humble when he could be the opposite because of all that God did through him.

Third, Paul said the thorn was to “keep [him] from becoming conceited.” Paul became a figure head. Everywhere he went two things started: a church and a riot. The work he accomplished in his lifespan is staggering. He had all the reasons in the world to be be proud: he had visions, wrote revelation, planted churches, brought the gospel to the gentile world, but this thorn was crushing him, inflicting pain to keep him humble.

Why was God allowing this mess at Corinth? Why was God allowing Paul to experience deep pain? God was teaching him and the church deep truths about Himself that they might not learn otherwise. God’s purposes for the Paul are made clear,

“But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (vs.9-10)

Like Paul, we learn much about God through pain. First, God uses pain reveals our spiritual character (vs.5-6). We are like a sponge and pain squeezes out what is really inside. Second, God uses pain to humble us (v.7). Third, God uses pain to draw us to Himself (v.8). Going to God is the right place to go. Fourth, God uses pain to display his grace (v.9). God answers is often “no” to removing the pain, but God gives the grace. We will have trouble, God never promises to remove it, but he promises enough grace to endure it. God increases grace to those who are broken. Fifth, God uses pain to perfect his power (v.10). When there is nothing left within us—no pride, no glory, no strength, no ability to fix it—then there is room for the power of God. This is power in our weakness.(Romans 8:18).

Paul was burdened beyond strength. He was left broken, beaten, battered. He could not fix the situation. He was at the end of his rope. He hurt deeply because of what others had done. Yet it was here that the power of God was displayed in his weakness (cf. 4:7-12; 6:4-10).

Power in weakness is most vividly seen in the cross of Christ. Jesus, the man of sorrows was the strongest man to ever live because at his weakest earthly moment he did not use all the power he had to stop the pain or avoid the pain, rather he embraced his own thorns so that the plans of God could be accomplished through him. In God’s plan of redemption, there had to be weakness (crucifixion) before there was power (resurrection). Paul came to understand and embrace the fact that his thorn in the flesh was essential to his ongoing weakness and the experience of Christ’s ongoing power. Through Christ’s temporary pain we have eternal gain.

If you are doing ministry in Jesus name you need to expect stakes to be driven through your flesh. Pain is a part of life as a follower of Christ (outside and inside the church). Christ in us! That is the reward of those who serve him with their weakness. As Isaac Watts wrote,

“Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.”

backwards boasting

backwards boasting

The biggest problem in my life and ministry is me. And one of my biggest problem among many is my gravitation toward self-defense or self-justification. I have an inner defense attorney from the firm of Flesh & Associates who is always there challenging the case in my favor. Well, not exactly for my favor. I am grateful for the Spirits work in me in this area, but I still have a long way to go.

When was the last time you defended yourself? Why did you feel the need to do it? Often times one is feels the need to defend themselves when confronted or attempting to protect an opinion or reputation.

Ironically, in 2 Corinthians 10-11, Paul is in the middle of defending himself and his ministry. Why does Paul feel the need to defend himself? What could be such a big deal that he feels the need to protect his reputation? Well, some in Corinth are discrediting him as an apostle. They say he is tough on paper, but in person he appears weak and doesn’t speak quite like the pros. Paul not only defends his ministry, but in doing so he defends the gospel message. It’s a big deal because he is protecting the reputation of Christ.

To defend himself Paul does a little boasting (v.1). Doesn’t that sound backward for Paul? Shouldn’t he turn the other cheek or be more humble? Instead Paul sees it is necessary to exercise “a little foolishness.”

Why is boasting foolish? It is foolish because no one likes listening to a boaster. Boasters are so full of themselves (show Packer shirt). If we do like people who boast, how much does God like it?

  • “Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches,” (Jeremiah 9:23)
  • “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” (Proverbs 27:1)
  • “Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give.” (Proverbs 25:14)
  • “These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.” (Jude 1:16)
  • “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” …For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:11-12, 14b)

God doesn’t like boasters. So why is Paul stooping to that level? Now to be fair, boasting was anathema to Paul too, but he engages in it to show the church just how foolish it is and how foolish his opponents are. Here are three justified boasts of Paul.

1.  As a father of the Bride, he is jealous for the church’s purity (vs.2-4).

What is the responsibility of the father of the bride? One of the most emotional moments for me when I married Sarah was the moment when the doors in the back of the church opened and my wife dressed in a white dressed walked down between our friends and family who were standing all looking at her. I was speechless. As so was her father. He was walking his daughter to me. For 27 years, he had been teaching her, giving her counsel and presented her to me as a pure bride.

How does Paul take his responsibility seriously as father of the church at Corinth? Paul, knew just how vulnerable the church was (vs.2-4). Like a faithful father he has boasted in his daughter and wants to keep the her pure and protect her from other lovers (deceivers) and present her not to just any man but the Son of Man, the Blessed Bride Groom.

Paul was properly jealous about this. He had paternal jealously handed down from another Father. It is said that “Human jealousy is a vice, but to share divine jealousy is a virtue.” Our God is a jealous God. He is jealous for the truth. He doesn’t like people adding or subtracting things from the message of Jesus, the work of the Spirit, or the Gospel. If God and Paul are jealous for these things, so must we.

2.  As a faithful apostle, he compares himself to the super-apostles (vs. 5-15).

Here Paul takes the opportunity to boast in his authority. Remember, it is not his own authority, but an authority given to him from Jesus. And some were challenging his authority. Paul sarcastically refers to them as Super-apostles (v.5) because they made themselves bigger than Paul. We don’t know much about these super-apostles other than that they were skilled speakers and were paid well for their skills. I am sure they also had capes and sidekicks too.

How does Paul compare himself to the super-apostles? (v.6) First, he admits he is not a skilled speak. He doesn’t wow the crowds like the Greco-Roman speakers who were suave, spoke with a swagger, yet were synthetic. Second, he admits he excels in knowledge. In other words he says the main criteria you need to be a good preacher is a knowledge of God. This knowledge made him a powerful and persuasive preacher.

Third, Paul explains that he came to Corinth free of charge (vs.7-11). Paul didn’t take speakers fees like the skilled speakers or professional philosophers. Not that this is wrong, but it can be a temptation. Paul instead says he received support from Philippi and other churches in Macedonia so he didn’t have to burden to the church in Corinth. People misinterpreted this as if Paul was not charging for his services as a self-admission that he was a low caliber speaker and his message wasn’t worth much. That he gave away the gospel because no one would pay to he it, when he gave it freely as proof he loved them.

Paul will switch his tone from sarcastic to serious as he now calls these super-apostles false prophets, deceitful workers (vs.12-15). Why would he use such harsh terms? These super-apostles are changing Jesus, the Spirits work and the gospel message for their profit. That gives Paul grounds to boast. What Paul boasts in is the faithful, self-sacrificing efforts made on behalf of the gospel ministry in Corinth to the degree that his example serves to expose false apostles as what they really are, ministers of Satan.

This passage challenges all who take money and serve the name of Jesus. I must ask myself the question, do I consider the financial gain before you consider the glory of the Name? This is a real temptation. Remember, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (cf. 8:9).

3.  As a follower of Christ, he has counted the cost and carries his cross (16-33)

Paul boasts to prove a point to boasters, “Look, isn’t boasting really foolish?” If Paul must be forced to boast, it will not be in the things that are impressive from a human standpoint. Rather, he will boast in those things that put him in such a vulnerable situation that he has to depend utterly upon God. He takes great lengths to share all that happened to him for the sake of the name of Christ (vs.16-33).

Paul answers the question, When is foolish boasting acceptable? “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (10:17; cf. Jer. 9:23-24). Nothing, absolutely nothing trumps the Lord. It doesn’t matter what I say about myself, it’s what I say about God. It’s the essence of backward boasting. I am nothing. God is everything. When the foolish boasting is in favor of Jesus and the gospel message it is sometimes acceptable.

How might this chapter be applicable to your life and ministry? Can you embrace your weaknesses? Will you boast in your weaknesses? The answer to that question has everything to do with the authenticity of the gospel and the church and its mission.

3 benefits of repentance

repent

Repentance. I’ll just come out and say it. It’s a word I don’t like to hear. It’s difficult to talk about. It’s often an awkward topic. It isn’t easy or comfortable or catchy or natural. However, I believe it is one of the biggest things that is lacking in my spiritual life and maybe even in yours.

The Bible is not shy when it comes to talking about repentance. We kind of know this already, right? In fact, it is the most common term and sermon topic in Scripture. “Repentance” or “return to the Lord” is mentioned over 1,000 times in Old Testament alone. The message of repentance was in the mouth of every prophet. Their sermon was like this, “(Clear throat) Good morning congregation. (Deep breath) REPENT! (Awkward silence) Okay. Let’s pray.” That was their message. It was all that needed to be said and heard.

In the New Testament, the message isn’t much different. John the Baptist’s message was: repent (Mark 1:4). The apostles first preached that people should: repent (Mark 6:11). Jesus tender, yet tough, said in his first sermon, “Repent and believe.” (Mark 1:15) Jesus shared the story of the prodigal son, the poster boy of repentance, that heaven rejoices over one sinner who: repents. In Revelation 2:5, Jesus says to the church: repent. As the church goes global in Acts, what was the apostle Peter’s message? “Repent.” (2:38; 3:19) God’s heart from the front cover to the back cover of Scripture that we would be tenderhearted, submissive, quick to respond to the Spirit’s conviction and repent of sin.

2 Corinthians 7, our text today, is the most concentrated teaching on the topic of repentance in the Bible. This is Paul’s listen-up-and-get-ahold-of-this sermon on repentance. The goal of this message is that you and I would repent. I will challenge you to do as God has challenged me to do throughout this text. I want to practice what I preach, but also preach what I practice. Will you join me?

Have you ever had to say a hard thing, confront sin, or call someone to repent? No one wants to do it, but there come times when you have to say hard things. As you come to 2 Corinthians 7, you see Paul had to write some hard things. In a previous, unknown letter, Paul, pleaded with the church to restore a sinful brother. The church rightfully disciplined a man for causing division in the church, but when the discipline worked and he repented, the church held it over the man and was not welcomed back into the fellowship. But now, Paul, in this letter, praises them for doing the hard thing, the right thing. What you and I discover from this text are three amazing benefits of repentance.

1. Repentance is good (vs.8-9).

While not easy, repentance is good. Even Paul had mixed feelings about his letter to Corinth (v.8). On one hand he had regrets (for the grief it caused) but on the other hand he did not have regrets (for the repentance it produced). While at times painful, repentance has its purpose. Just as parents do not enjoy disciplining their children, Paul did not enjoy the sorrow he brought to the church. He did not like seeing them in pain. Yet their pain was “only for a while.” And in this, Paul, rejoiced like a parent who sees their child experience small pain by his hand only to see them escape greater pain by their own hand (v.9).

Repentance is good because God uses the short-lived sorrow to protect you from greater sorrow and greater harm in the future (cf. Hebrews 12:7-11). If Corinth did not repent, the church could have been shattered by its sin and shortage of Christlikeness. Repentance is the funnel through which blessing flows. Lack of repentance brings misery, despair, and as we will see, death.

Repentance is good because it takes stubborn, callused, dull-hearted people and makes them tender towards God’s heart. Remember this: Repentance is a gift from God. The most dangerous thing you can say is, “I will repent when I am ready.” It’s dangerous because only God readies a heart for repentance (cf. Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim.2:25). If you wait until you are ready you will only get hardhearted. Sin is the blockage that kills the heart, but repentance is bypass surgery that God does WITHIN you and it “leads to salvation without regrets” (v.10b). Repentance is that good.

2. Repentance is change (v.10a).

What is true repentance? By definition repentance means change of mind; a turning away from evil to God; a 180 from my hearts desires to God’s heart. Repentance without change is not repentance.

There are three common components of repentance as seen in Scripture. First, there is a recognition of sin. I must recognize that I have sinned. I must see that I have offended God. Yet recognition alone is not repentance. Repentance is not simply regret or remorse or feeling bad about something bad I did. I can feel sorry about something and immediately do it again. Thus Paul compares the difference between godly grief and worldly grief (v.10). Worldly grief is when I feel bad because I looked bad to others. Godly grief is sorrow is when I recognize I have offended God. Grief that leads to repentance is as Charlie Brown would say, “Good grief!” Yet I don’t have to sink into grief because I have received the forgiveness of Christ (1 John 1:9). The sin under all other sin is the lack of joy in Christ, but Jesus was the one who suffered and was miserable for my sin. Repentance is my pathway to joy.

Second, there is repentance of sin. I must admit that I am wrong or have been wrong. This is often the hardest thing to do. Repentance is not mere confession or saying what God says about sin as if that will make God happy with me. Repentance is not about keeping God happy. God is not a magic genie who grants wishes when on his good side. This makes repentance selfish. I don’t please God to get or to escape consequences of sin. I cannot manipulate him nor is he is not obligated to me.

Third, there is a returning to the Lord. I must leave my sin behind. I must come to God. I must make a clean break. I must come to him as I am. I can wallow in the sin-confess-sin-confess cycle trying to do it on my own or I can come to my Lord. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

This is illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son. When you repent, you are like the prodigal son. You don’t have it all together. You are living in the pig style. You come to your senses. You change your mind. You don’t want to think for yourself. You come to the end of yourself. You think about your father. You run back home to him still messy and smelling like the stench. You come as you are. You know you are unworthy to be your fathers son, but the father runs to you, gives you his best robe and throws you a party.

Biblical repentance is recognizing your sin, repenting to it and returning to the Lord. When was the last time you did that?

3. Repentance bears fruit (vs.9,11).

“The reach of our repentance should match the reach of our sin. Private sins demand private repentance. Sins that can be seen by many necessitate a repentance that can be seen by many. And while we ought to forgive each other seven times, and seventy times, and even seven times seventy times, looking for the fruit of repentance is not the same as being unforgiving. Ronald Reagan was right: trust, but verify.” – Keven DeYoung

The beauty of repentance is what it produces. It produces things on the inside that are reflected on the outside. Acts 26:11 says there are “deeds of repentance.” In other words, repentance produces fruit (Matthew 3:8). While the list in 2 Corinthians 7 is not sequential or exhaustive, it gives you a sense of the affects of repentance (vs.9-11).

First, repentance produces godly grief over sin (v.9). “Grief” is soul anguish, a heart wrenching and heart changing emotion. Its a grief that says you can never be the same again. Second, repentance produces revulsion towards sin (v.11) The word used is “earnestness.” What used to please (attracts) you now repulses (detracts) you. Sin sickens you. Third, it produces restitution towards others (v.11b) It produces a desire to “clear yourself,” to make it right, right away with those your sin has injured. Fourth, it produces revival toward God (v.11c) You have a “longing” to walk with God. Fifth, it turns your eyes forward, not backward (vs.8-9). Repentance sees “no loss” and is “without regret.” It walks into the future full of freedom.

Repentance happens both as a process and a crisis. It happens over time and it happens at a point in time. Repentance is not a place I visit or a place I go and get over it. It is the place I live. I must never get over it. I never want to leave it. Just like Disney World. Who wants to leave Disney? Give me a room at the castle! God desires a lifestyle of repentance.

Martin Luther launched the Reformation with hammer and nail, nailing “The Ninety-Five Theses” to the front door of Wittenberg Cathedral. Do you know what the first theses stated? It said, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” What Luther saw as he unpacked the Scripture is that repentance is the way we progress in the Christian life. Repentance is the fruit you are growing deep and strong and rapid in the character of Christ.

How do you respond when confronted? How do you respond when the Spirit convicts you? How do you respond when you know you are wrong? How do you respond when you have sinned against another person? When was the last time you had godly grief over sin that produced repentance? Don’t wait. Repent. Be free. It is good.

home

home

How would you describe your dream home? Maybe like you, I find myself dwelling on this question often, especially now that I am house hunting in Africa. I think about sitting in air conditioning, having a green garden with shade trees, actually staying in a place longer than 4-years, and a sizable list of other things. Until then my thinking is preoccupied with fixing our home, making it more comfortable and more like home. All these thoughts are normal and not bad in and of themselves, but they often become an end. I find myself getting stuck making earth my home, when as a Christian I’ve been secured another home beyond.

there is more beyond this world (2 Cor. 5:1)

There is more beyond, right? That is a heavenly reality. The Apostle Paul writes, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

And he continues, “For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (v. 1). Paul’s metaphor of the body being like a tent is fitting. First, Paul made tents. It was his side job. He knew tents well. He had good job security, since tents tore or wore out. Tents are both vulnerable and temporary dwelling places and therefore a fitting metaphor for the body. Second, “tent” is a biblical metaphor. When Paul switches metaphors from “tent” to “a building from God” he has in mind the tabernacle tent that was superseded by the temple building. Temporary became permanent, tent became Temple, thus earthly body will become resurrection body. We ought to pinch ourselves with exuberant joy for what awaits our bodies!

Paul talks a lot about a future body, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:20, 21) And  “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-53)

Why does Paul talk so much about the future body? Why does he have death on the mind? Is he morbid? Is he as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. says, “Some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good”?

Ironically, the problem is precisely the opposite. The issue is not that Christians think too much about heaven, but rather that we think too little about it. The apostle Paul said,  “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2). Some translations use the word “affections,” instead of “minds,” which gives it the feel of saying: “get fixated on heaven, not on earth!”

Paul thinks about death because he is aging. He isn’t getting any younger. Also, he bears the scars, wounds and bruises of years of persecution. Life has been difficult for this Jesus follower. Paul, like most bold Jesus followers, knows there is more beyond this world.

a longing for home always dwells within you (5:2-5)

Have you ever really longed for something? Like Christmas to come or your next vacation or to see a friend or loved one? What does it mean to long for something? To long is to desire something so deeply often there aren’t words for it. How does Paul express his longing? He uses the word “groan” (vs.2-4; cf. Rom. 8:23). Paul’s groans are echoed by creation (Rom. 8:19-22), Christians (8:23), and the Holy Spirit (8:26). All are groaning over the present worlds nakedness, longing for the day when our groans will transformed into praises and our nakedness will be robed in the righteousness of Christ, just as God clothed Adam and Eve’s nakedness covering their shame (Gen. 3:21).

From the beginning, God intended humans to have immortal bodies and live in constant fellowship with Him. Since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden we’ve been longing for home. We are most at home with God. While we wait for home we have been given a guarantee, the Holy Spirit, “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (v. 5; cf. Eph.1:13-14) Our guarantee is that the Holy Spirit sets up residence in us as His temple. That’s a pretty good guarantee as we wait for our eternal dwelling place—God dwells within us.

Do you groan in this body, longing for heaven? If so, you’re not alone. C. S. Lewis said,

“There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven, but more often I find myself wondering whether in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else… It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work.”

take courage even when you haven’t seen home yet (5:6-8)

Paul’s faith was not weakened by his present pain and persecution, rather it made his faith stronger. Therefore he encouraged the Corinthians,  “we are always of good courage” (v. 6a; cf. 4:18), or, more precisely, “we are courageous.” Paul faced his present reality with cheerful optimism. “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight” (vs. 6b-7). There is a day coming when we will not need faith anymore because we will see God face-to-face.

Paul has that in mind when he says,  “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (v. 8). I remember, when I was a child, I would struggle the last few weeks of school before summer break because I knew I would soon go to my grandparents house on Alma Lake. I would drift away to that home and dream of it’s oaky smell, lakeside views through the birch trees, and familial comforts. Now think of what it must be like to be at home with the Lord. Paul has tasted a little bit of heaven and he hungers it more and more. Home is where God is and it is home sweet home.

home, here or there, the goal is the same (5:9-10)

Notice, the goal of “home” is not to escape this world or settle for a homecoming alone. The goal is to please God whether near or far from home. God is the goal. He is the main thing. This hope of imminent face-to-face communion with Christ naturally evokes an ongoing resolve to please Him. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (v. 9). And if that is not enough to effect your resolve, there is one other eschatological component, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (v.10)

Like I said, we are house hunting in Africa. There is no Century 21 or Remax. Options are limited. I often compare life here to camping. So house hunting is simply trying to find the smoothest plot of land. We have no running water other than a boy who runs to get the water from a well. We have no consistent electricity other than what we brought with us. We sleep under mosquito nets. We cook over a gas stove. Not only that, many people do not respond to the gospel, we’ve even had people call us names and throw rocks at our house. With all that said, I like living in Africa because it makes me desire home.

C. S. Lewis, said in his book Mere Christianity,

“A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

forgiveness and ministry

pointing fingers

A relationship that his been vital to me has been to long-time missionary Marc Blackwell. I first met Marc during my year long church planting apprenticeship in South Africa. By the time I met him he had already been serving overseas for three decades and had been used by God to plant churches from Sarasota, Florida to Harare, Zimbabwe to Cape Town, South Africa. In the short time that I was with him he demonstrated how to plant churches, showed the innards of being a godly husband and father, and helped me “act like a man”. It was a high privilege.

Today we have the high privilege of hearing from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. By the time Paul wrote this letter he had just wrapped up his third missionary journey and for two decades he had planted churches around the northern Mediterranean coastline.

If you could describe Paul in one word, what word would you use? There are certainly many words one could choose, but I would choose the word “defender.” Paul was a defender of the faith, a defender of Christ, a defender of the resurrection, a defender of his own ministry, and today we will see him as a defender of the unforgiven. Today’s message is on forgiveness and ministry,

2 Corinthians has a different flavor than 1 Corinthians. Paul’s first letter has a zesty flavor as he addresses questions and concerns in the church, but his second letter has a sweet n’ salty flavor as he shares his heart as a pastor and defends his calling from Jesus.

We don’t know much about the explosive situation that happened at Corinth between letters, only that there was a man who opposed Paul and shredded his character and ministry. A mutiny arose and some in the church sided with the man. It was sticky enough to cause Paul to leave Corinth. It also caused him and the church much pain. Paul wrote another letter known as the “severe letter,” which is not included in the NT. It was clearly a difficult letter for him to write (v.5; cf. 2 Cor. 7:8-13a).

By the time Paul wrote 2 Corinthians the majority of people in the church agreed with the apostle Paul, not the false teacher. The church grasped onto Paul’s guidance and disciplined the man from the church. The discipline proved to be effective for the man grew sorrowful and it led to his repentance. Isn’t it wonderful to see church discipline work? Yet there was still one problem at Corinth: some in the church had not forgiven the man nor did they restore him to the church. For whatever reason, whether some members of the Apostle Paul posse were offended more than Paul and wanted to inflict more punishment or some were skeptical if the man really had repented or if there was fear he would be a repeat offender, we are not sure. But what is sure, this type of situation can shipwreck a church and the reputation of Christ. This is why Paul takes time to address the situation.

When Paul used the title the Body of Christ to describe the church he wasn’t using it as a churchy slogan (cf. Rom. 7:4; 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 4:12). It was a God-ordained image for a community of brothers and sisters with radically interconnected relationships. That’s why Paul said, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26). The pain that Paul felt by this man’s personal attack was also felt by the church, but the joy Paul had for his repentance was not shared.

You are most like God when you forgive (vs.6-9)

One of the hardest thing to do in life is to forgive an offense, maybe it’s because of the pain and shame and embarrassment. Maybe it’s because our world elevates revenge and retribution, when forgiveness is viewed as weakness. I love superhero movies like Spiderman, Batman, and Captain America, but within each you will see a theme being “Revenge is mine. I will defend my pride.” Today, revenge is in and forgiveness is out.

Paul is a hero of a different kind. He felt the pain from being shamed. And most in his shoes would find a way to round house kick this man Chuck Norris style. Yet Paul walks a different road and he submits to another power. And he asks the church to forgive the man and restore him to fellowship (vs.6-8). What we see is Paul’s heart, a heart that Christ had freed and restored on the Damascus Road, where he—the chief of sinners—had come face-to-face with the grace of God. He was a man given much grace and becomes an agent of grace to others. Like Joseph, Paul understood the plan of God is to forgive and restore his brothers.

Paul praised Corinth for their obedience to discipline the man, but he poo-poo-ed their reluctance to welcome him back into the family. The offense bounced off Paul. The pain of his opposer didn’t rub him wrong. He already forgiven him. He thought their discipline was punishment enough, it worked, and the man didn’t need to suffer anymore. Enough was enough. Paul now saw the man was being swallowed up in his sorrow and if he wasn’t restored soon the man would drown in it. What the repentant disciplined man understood, many in the church do not understand—life apart from the Body of Christ is to be void of its benefits and securities and comforts and joys.

If forgiveness is of paramount importance for this man and the reputation of the church, so it is with us. Forgiveness is not optional, rather it is a matter of obedience (v.9). Our ministry is a ministry of forgiveness. We extend the forgiveness of God with those who hope God will forgive them someday. To forgive an offense is to act most like God, while withholding forgiveness is the most self-righteous act. God is a forgiving God. He forgets our offenses as far as the east is from the west. Jesus is forgiving even on the brink of death on the cross (Lk. 23:34, 43). What would a lack of forgiveness on our part say about our Christ or his church? Let us freely forgive because we have been forgiven much.

You are only able to forgive an offense because you were also forgiven (vs.10-11)

Paul makes his plea to the church to forgive by saying, “I, the offended, did it, and you can do it too.” (v.10a) And he adds that the forgiveness was for you—the Corinthians’ sake—“in the presence of Christ.” (v.10b) The fact was, if the Corinthian church refused to forgive this repentant sinner, a poison would choke the way of grace and their refusal to forgive could kill their church.

Jesus said that unwillingness to forgive is proof of not having experienced His forgiveness. Remember Jesus prayed, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Then He drives the truth home in the next sentence, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (6:14, 15). Jesus is serious about forgiveness. This “forgiven people forgive” teaching was so elementary to Jesus’ teaching that he devoted entire parables to it, “‘So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart’” (Matthew 18:35).

Your example to forgive an offense might be just the encouragement that a lost sinner or a young believer or a well-established church needs to see to help them when an opportunity to extend forgiveness comes their way. A few years ago, I met a elderly missionary couple who served on an international team in the jungles of Brazil. A small misunderstanding caused one couple to be offended and it grew to be so painful that the villagers could feel it. The team was on the verge of separation. They tried one last meeting to discuss the situation, but before they did they shared communion. As curious villages looked through windows at the three couples they saw them break bread and drink together. The meeting to follow never happened because in the image of communion the couples remembered who they united around first and foremost. The team wept, prayed and embraced one another. Decades later after a church was established in the village and the church began to have it’s own issues and the elders remembered the example of the missionaries who had broke bread and forgave one another as Christ had forgiven them.

What do you learn about forgiveness and ministry from this text? I have learned two vital truths: First, my ministry of forgiveness comes from Christ. I am challenged by how Paul minimizes the offense and maximizes the presence of Jesus. I see that the motivation to forgive was given to Paul “in the presence of Christ,” as He looks on in approval and empowerment.

Second, unforgiveness is Satan’s strategy. Paul concludes his plea by saying if you don’t forgive the man you have been duped by Satan — “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” (v. 11) The young church in Corinth could have collapsed if they refusing to obey God by forgiving the repentant sinner, even though he caused such pain. If they had let him stew in his sorrow, they would have cooked him and them. And Satan could then have put a fork in the church of Corinth.

Corrie ten Boom recalled in her book The Hiding Place a postwar meeting with a guard from the Ravensbrück concentration camp where her sister had died and where she herself had been subjected to horrible shame:

“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbrück. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there — the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face. He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness. As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.”

God’s Word says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). And again, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:12-13). It is your ministry to forgive because you have been forgiven.

Is there unforgiveness in your heart today? Is there pain or embarrassment or shame caused by someone that you need to allow God to restore? Will you rejoice, today, in your own forgiveness?

I’m pressed like a grape

from a good friend Hugo Butts

 

I’m pressed like a grape

Not crushed like a stone;

 

I’m perplexed like the Sphinx

Not in despair like grief

 

I’m persecuted like Jesus

Not abandoned like an orphan

 

I am struck to my knees

But my head is not hacked off

 

Life and death both live in me

But the life of Christ will win;

 

I believe therefore I have;

I pray because I believed

 

He will present me perfect before You

In a crowd that will bring glory

 

Grace in great quantity

Piled up glowing as in gold and precious stones.

 

An eternal thanksgiving where

The outer person is destroyed

And the inner person renewed

 

Light afflictions producing

An eternal weight of glory

As I worship the Unseen.

 

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 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 manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

 

cross-centered relationships

What is at the center of your of your life? Your center is what is your main thing, your top priority, and the thing you most passionate about. It is what defines you. Your center is clearly seen in what do you talk about or what is on your mind the most. Commonly it is a relationship, passion, career or cause. Have you seen your center change over the years?

What is the one thing God says must be our center? In 1 Corinthians 15:3 Paul says that our first importance is the cross of Christ—the gospel. The cross is like a hub with spokes to a wheel. It affects everything you do—your passions, career, causes and relationships. It wasn’t until I came to know Christ and begin a relationship with the God of the universe that I realized my relationships with my parents, friends, and authorities could be different.

For those who do not know God the cross is silly and stupid. “The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:18] People hate the work of Christ because it runs so contradictory to the way people think and live. The cross is foolish because people do not make the connection from what Christ did on the cross to how it impacts their life. The cross is crucial to all our relationships. If you say you have a relationship with God, the proof of it is how you view your relationships. How does the cross impact my relationships: with my parents, friends, authorities, or dating partners?

1. The cross is the means to change my motives within relationships [2 Corinthians 5:14-15]. Jesus went to the cross not because he thought it was going to be fun or a vacation to the beach. It was hard, painful, and torturous. He could have backed down, but He didn’t. He was motivated by love and joyful obedience, even when people mocked Him and beat Him and bullied Him.

First, my relationships must be motivated by Christ’s love. This is often difficult because we are motivated by getting things from people. We are consumers. We view our relationships as people owing us attention, love, and respect [note Pharisees: John 12:43; Luke 7:47]. We say to our parents, “You owe me a nice room with privacy. You owe me new clothes for school and respect for my possessions.” We think our authorities and friends should treat us fairly and respectably. If you think people owe you it will frustrate you because you often do not get what you want.

My esteem does not come from self or others, but comes from Christ. I have Christ-esteem [v.15]. The question is not what do people owe me, but what do I owe them? “Owe no one anything, except love each other.” [Romans 13:3] “Walk in love as Christ loved you.” [Ephesians 5:2] “The love of Christ controls us.” [v.14] I owe others love because God commands me to love one another [Colossians 3:12-17]. If I am a genuine follower of Christ I am able to love others because He has loved me [1 John 3:7-21]. The cross is proof of His love [1 John 3:16]. The cross shows just how horrendous my sin is, but how immense is God’s love. The cross puts me on equal terms with everyone else. I am no better, and no worse.

Second, my relationships must be motivated by joyful obedience. I am willing to submit to others authority in my life because I see it has benefitted me to submit to God’s authority. God protects and provides. No longer do I need to live in the frustration of being a man pleaser, but in the joyfulness of becoming a God pleaser. My motivation as a follower of Christ is not what other people think about me, but is God pleased with me [2 Corinthians 5:9].

2. The cross is the means of dealing with conflict in relationships [2 Corinthians 5:16-19]. The cross challenges my attitude towards those I have something against [v.17; cf. Titus 3:1-11; Colossians 3:8-15]. Often when I have something against another person I want to control the situation by letting them feel my pain or know my hurt. However, God says that vengeance is not yours and when we take wrath into our hands we make a mess of the situation [Romans 12:19]. Only God can be God. So how does God desire us to deal with conflicts?

What if I have sinned against someone? What if I have blow it and messed up a relationship? As a new creation in Christ I seek reconciliation and forgiveness for your sin. What if they do not accept my forgiveness? You cannot control their response. You have done your part. Trust God to minister to them [v.18-19]. What if it is physically impossible to ask for their forgiveness because of death or distance? If death take your unforgiveness to God, but if not write a letter or call the person you have something against.

What if someone sinned against me? If someone has wronged you and you are struggling with thoughts of bitterness or rage seek their forgiveness for your sinful attitude. You can, “Forgive as Christ forgave you.” [Ephesians 4:32] because “Love covers a multitude of sins.” [1 Peter 4:8] Love is powerful.

What about those who don’t seem to deserve my love? Have you heard it said, “Hurt me once shame on you, hurt me twice shame on me”? The Bible says, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men.” [1 Thessalonians 5:15] What does it say about you if God can forgive sins eternally, but you cannot forgive someone? The proper response is to confront in love pointing them to the cross. In the cross, there is no one undeserving of God’s love.

Some people are fire starter while others are fire extinguisher. Who are you? An attitude of humility, gentleness, and understanding can diffuse many arguments, tensions and disagreements. “If any man is caught in any sin, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” [Galatians 6:1ff] “Let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” [1 Peter 3:8-9]

3. The cross is the means to restore broken relationships [2 Corinthians 5:20-21]. The cross makes our relationship right with God and gives us the ability to reconcile our earthly relationships because we are ambassadors of reconciliation [v.20]. The cross attacks the issues that hurt relationships. The cross attacks and defeats sin. The cross does not tear down a relationship with God it builds up. Teenagers are champs at knocking others down with their teasing and tearing words. This has no place in the life of a Christian, “Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” [Romans 14:19]

How has the cross impacted your relationships with God and others? The proof of your relationship with Heavenly Father is seen and heard in your earthly relationships.

Quick Q&A on Cross-Centered Communication in my Relationships:

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like at home with my parents? What if my parents are on my case? What if we do not get along What if they have does something to you that scarred you really deep? Begin with the road towards reconciliation and obey joyfully as to the Lord [Ephesians 6:1-3]. As you honor your parents you are really honoring God.

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like at school with my teachers or at work with my boss? Trust God who appoints all your authorities [Ephesians 6:1-9; Titus 3:1ff] Even if some are unfair or unreasonable God has placed them into their positions of authority. Remember your boss is ultimately God. The way you work can be a shining light for God’s glory.

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like with my friends? If you see your friends sinning be willing to confront their sin [cf. Matthew 18:15-17]. This is what good friends do—they hold one another accountable. A loving friend does not sympathize with sin; rather they help their friends overcome sin. Also, humbly accept confrontation for your sin too.

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like in my future marriage or dating relationships? [More on this the next few weeks] Check out: 1 Peter 3:1-7, Ephesians 5:22ff, and 1 Corinthians 7.