Tuesday, January 8, 2008

II Corinthians 7

II Corinthians 7:1: Paul’s comments about paying attention to the kinds of associations one makes with the surrounding culture end with this verse. To reiterate what I’ve already said, it is better, and more in keeping with Paul’s thought elsewhere, to think in terms of resisting elements of the surrounding culture that are inconsistent with Christian values, than to read these verses as encouraging our disassociation from other people. There may be times when that is necessary. Someone who has been addicted to alcohol sometimes has to disassociate, for a time, with former drinking partners in order to strengthen their sobriety. More often than not, however, we should not be engaged in disassociation, and need to take care that we not project a “holier-than-thou attitude.” Jesus seemed very critical of that kind of thing.

II Corinthians 7:2-4: With verse 2, we continue the thought Paul left in 6:13, where he encourages the Corinthian Christians to open their heart to him. Paul again defends his work with the people – “we have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.” Paul seems to have been accused of doing such things by others in Corinth. He asserts that this community is in his heart – “to die together and to live together.” Apparently this was a common proverb used for close friendship. Paul not only has them in his heart and considers them bound together in friendship, he often boasts about them.

II Corinthians 7:5-16: In chapter 2, verse 13, Paul had discussed going on to Macedonia from Troas. In Troas, he had not been able to receive a report from Titus about the Corinthian Church. Paul had been worried about how the community might have received a difficult letter he had sent them. These verses indicate that Paul received a report from Titus in Macedonia, and that what he heard was good news. Again, the flow of the letter seems very choppy. Paul invites the Corinthians to open their hearts to him in verse 2-4, and now we will hear about a good report he had received about the congregation. Is his defense of his ministry made in light of yet more news he has heard since the report from Titus, or are they a part of an on-going correspondence, and we have in the remainder of this chapter a report on how they responded to Paul’s defense of his work? What we can say is that Paul’s relationship with this Jesus community had its ups and downs, times when Paul was held in relatively high esteem and times when his ministry was under attack. Paul writes them words of encouragement and love, often reminding them of their common faith, but also defends himself and in places calls them into account for their words and actions.

When Paul went to Macedonia, he encountered difficulty – “disputes without and fears within.” Charles Wesley must have had this verse in mind when he penned the hymn “And Are We Yet Alive” (“fightings without and fears within since we assembled last”). In the midst of these difficulties, Paul receives news from Titus and he is deeply consoled by it. He had grieved the community with a letter calling them to change, to repent, holding them accountable for their actions, but they responded positively. They had felt a “godly grief” – “You were jarred into turning things around. You let the distress bring you to God.” (The Message) Paul distinguishes between a kind of grief or distress that does good from a kind that does not – a wise distinction, one that the church has not always done very well with. Sometimes Christians have made “guilt” nearly sacramental! The issue at hand, the issue over which the Corinthians changed, was in their relationship to Paul and his ministry.

Paul not only was pleased by the news delivered by Titus, but by the joy Titus experienced in his interaction with the Corinthian community. Paul had bragged them up to Titus, they ended up welcoming Titus and coming around. Paul had sent Titus into a hostile situation with the delicate task of presenting and interpreting the harsh letter from Paul, participating in the soul-searching discussions it caused, leading the church back to the Pauline gospel, and reintroducing the touchy matter of the collection. The collection was an especially sensitive issue, since the Corinthians had been suspicious of Paul’s handling o money and his promotion of the offering for Jerusalem. The (re)conversion of the Corinthians may own as much to Titus’ pastoral skills as to Paul’s theology and harsh letter. (People’s New Testament Commentary) The next chapters take up the issue of the collection.

Conflict has been a part of the church from its beginnings, and conflict, when it is disagreement managed well, can be transforming. Conflict, when it becomes a battle over personalities or entrenched positions, can be poisonous to a community. How the church works with conflict will either lend credibility to its witness to the transforming power of God’s love in Jesus, or will detract from that witness.

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