Sooo… I know that one of my New Year’s Resolutions–for some of you just tuning in, yes I actually make them and yes I try to keep them–was to memorize a passage of scripture for each month in 2013. I did Psalm 1 & 2 in January (and blogged about it), then 2 Corinthians 4 in February, and I started to memorize Isaiah 53 in March (in honor of Easter and because I love it), but I made it about halfway through before losing steam. I know… I know… and I never posted my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 4 either!!
So here I am. Trying to catch up. But I’ve decided to forge ahead and start a new passage for the month of June–Ephesians 4. No use getting stuck in a rut.
(Please note that I use paragraph breaks in order to better organize my thoughts.)
2 Corinthians 4
(1) Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. (2) But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth, we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
(3) And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. (4) In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
(5) For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (6) For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
(7) But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (8) We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; (9) persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; (10) always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be 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.
You guys, I… love… this passage. Like, I don’t even know where to begin. I really needed this passage in February. So much about it was and is relevant in my life.
Verses 1-2 >> “Therefore… we do not lose heart.”
One thing I am getting better at dealing with is that, sometimes, the greatest sort of “persecution” we may face in our walk with God comes from other Christians. I have a few ideas as to why this is: 1. We expect persecution of our beliefs to come from people who do not believe, but we do not expect it to come from people who do. Therefore, the latter sends more of a shock through the system. The disappointment of being shut down from another believer can be disheartening. 2. Experiencing persecution from someone who does not believe can strengthen our resolve. When someone who does not believe shuts me down, I am emboldened by the fact that this is what I believe. However, experiencing persecution from someone who does believe can breed doubt. I think, Wait… but I thought… So am I in the wrong?? Am I… weird?? Am I the only Christian who thinks this way? Doesn’t that mean I need to check myself?? Crap, what if I’m one of “those” Christians? Hey wait, who are “those” Christians? HELP ME!!
When I put this all in words, I see how fragile one has to be in order to be so easily swayed by others. I’m not… anymore. But one thing I really struggled with when I first began to “get back on track” with God is that I was so excited about Him!! And I expected everyone else to be, too. Instead, what I found is that the church and its members are invariably at different states of growth at any one point in time. And this is a beautiful thing. But, like me, sometimes the people who seem to “have it together”… don’t. They are cynical and jaded and sometimes angry. And that’s OK. I still don’t have it all together. But at least I’m honest about it now. The only thing that keeps me together is that Jesus Christ is my personal savior and that He makes this mess I call myself OK in the end.
I’ve learned to stand clear of anyone who has some serious nit-picking to do with the church. And it’s not that I think the church body is perfect… we’re not! But I think statements that assume If all Christians just did this then… or If all Christian just didn’t do that then… are destructive and seeded with falsehood. First and foremost we are called to be different, to be transformed, to be renewed by Jesus Christ. Action–that little verb called “do”–comes after. In my own life I have to constantly check my heart so that I can love others by giving them the benefit of the doubt. What I mean is, usually when I’m looking at someone and going, “Oh my gosh, they can’t possibly be serious right now… I bet they’re so insincere and are just saying or doing that because they think it makes them more holy…” it’s me who has the problem. It’s me who is just saying and doing stuff. Think about it. How often does a critique of Christianity rely on skepticism or mockery of a zealous heart? I know there are fakers out there. But there are many real ones, too.
I still get obnoxiously excited about Jesus sometimes, but not as much as I used to. This bothers me. I went through a stage–back in February, actually–when I wondered, “What’s the point?” I can’t even come up with the all of the details to describe how I felt at the time. Maybe, in some small sense, the real question was, “What am I getting out of this?” It was a selfish one, to say the least. The answer is: absolutely nothing. I get absolutely nothing out of being excited about Jesus except for the joy of being excited about Jesus. I realized, I don’t need someone to agree, “Wow, that’s really cool!” when I share something about Him. Having someone reassure me and share it with me was never the point in seeking God in the first place. But I still need to share it. At the end of the day, the point is that the name of Jesus would be lifted high. (John 12:32)
Verses 3-4 >> This part is always hard for me to swallow. I get a bit indignant and sort of stamp my foot before God. But what do you mean it’s veiled? That’s not fair!
I think what’s important to remember is that this part actually promises two things: 1. If you believe in God and His son, then the gospel will be revealed to you. You’ll understand it. Things will make sense. 2. The gospel has been veiled by “the god of this world;” as in Satan, not God. God’s true desire is to reveal Himself to all people. He promises that if we seek, we shall find. (Luke 11:9) I’m so excited by people who do not believe yet they just… can’t… stop… searching. I just want to jump up and down and shout, “Yes! Keep asking questions! Keep getting frustrated! Keep struggling! It’s a good thing!” Apathy is what terrifies me, more than anything else.
Verses 5-6 >> Again, it’s not about me. It’s about Jesus.
Verses 7-12 >> For the past year or so, the question that has been on my heart has been about suffering. I think that God is able to use sickness and suffering in order to bring glory to Himself. But how??? By healing people? Yes… and yet… no. Too often it seems God chooses not to heal someone. Cancer and disease eat away. But why? If you pray and you pray and you pray for someone to get better, but they die anyway, doesn’t that mean the prayer went unanswered? Didn’t it go unheard?
This is where some people start talking about “God’s plan” and “God’s will” and “God’s time.” If you notice, they’re really only taking words and attaching God as the possessive to them. It’s about as helpful as comforting someone at a funeral by saying, “There there, it was just God’s donut…” (Knowing me, the next funeral I’m at I’m going to think of this and burst out laughing and then everyone is going to GLARE at me. Because I… WORDS.) The reaction to this sentiment, of course, is completely warranted. What does that even mean? What do you know!! Go away!!
My bible study has seen a lot of sickness and suffering this past year. One night we completely avoided our study and ended up talking about it. If God can allow such bad things to happen, then is He still good? I can’t believe I’m about to share this, but I sometimes entertain a horrendously morbid thought… I wonder, I am not afraid to die, but what if I were to survive something that left me wishing I was dead? What if I became horribly maimed? What if it was one of those situations where my spouse or whoever stopped loving me because of it? What if I end up completely alone? Is God still good?
I know this seems very easy to say, you know, given that I have all my limbs and a chimp hasn’t gnawed my face off or anything, but yes. Yes He is. God is always good. Always.
(Ugh, and can I just say that I feel like everything I’m saying is completely silly and weird right now? I’m in a Dayquil fog from being sick… SICK!! …so sorry if nothing makes sense.)
I guess what I remember, when it comes to these verses, is that my hope was never based in my health or my appearance or even in having all my limbs. HA! It is based in Jesus Christ alone. And that is enough to get me through any sickness pr suffering, whether that be myself or someone else. We can talk about God’s plan and God’s will and God’s time, but let’s first just go back to the beginning–God. Let’s not stop and try to figure out why and what next and when. Just… God. He is in control. And He is love.
I know, it’s not much. But He’s everything.
Verses 13-15 >> “…so that as grace extends to more and more people…”
I love that. God isn’t willing that any should perish. :] (2 Peter 3:9)
Verses 16-18 >> This is like the grand finale of the passage. And not just because it’s the end. I like the repetition going back to the beginning: So we do not lose heart… Like, hey I hope you were paying attention–these are all the reasons why we don’t throw up our hands and say “What’s the point??” Because it all matters!! Because we are being renewed day by day!!
Being renewed day by day means:
The inner spiritual life of a Christian is not subject to the changes which come upon his outer life. The body suffers; but if one is living in fellowship with Christ, one’s spiritual life is untouched by physical sufferings. The normal Christian life is one of constant, unchecked, uninterrupted progress. Unkindly conditions do not stunt it. Misfortunes do not mar it.
The inner growth of a Christian should be continuous. The renewal is said to be “day by day.” No day should be without its line. We should count that day lost, which records no victory over some fault or secret sin, no new gain in self discipline, in the culture of some virtue, no enlargement of the power of serving, no added feature of likeness to the Master. “The inward man is renewed day by day.”
–From The Outer and Inner Life, J. R. Miller, 1895
I really liked Miller’s article. You should read it! The only thing that gives me the slightest bit of pause about it is that we should be “untouched” by physical sufferings. Yes, nothing should “stunt it” or “mar it,” but I think physical suffering can very much touch us!!
I think what’s most important is, at the end of the day, who is Lord of your life? Who are you turning to? In whom is your hope? Verses 7-12 make it very clear: We may not be destroyed, but we are struck down. And that’s OK. Jesus Christ may not allow our lives to be marred by physical suffering, but it may touch us. And he will work in us through that. Living the Christian life isn’t remaining stoic and unphased in the face of adversity. It is having the choice to despair or forge ahead and it is choosing to cling to Christ as our hope and Savior.
The Christian life is not perfection. It is redemption.
It is putting on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and when you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:13)