Our reading in 2 Corinthians 1-3 has a definite theme to it. Today we in the realm of the church and Christianity deal with two different aspects of the Gospel. One is as we live out the Gospel in our world publicly, we become attacked and ridiculed like Jesus and the Apostles were in their day. Scripture holds that we will suffer for righteousness sake, and Jesus, himself told us “if they have persecuted me, they will persecute you. Then in addition, Jesus tells us that in the world we will have persecution, but to take heart for He has overcome the world. Secondly, is the philosophy that In Christ there is only joy, peace, happiness, blessings and good towards us. One could identify this as the “health and wealth” thought, but I think it goes much deeper than this. I hold to a first option, that as we live out the faith in us and become more conformed to the image of Jesus, that the world [churches included] will be against us. The fight is not personally against us – but against the witness of Christ that comes out of our obedient life. The second option resonates with “Jewish” philosophy of “blessings are a result of a right life, and troubles are a result of sin.” This thought played out in the book of Job and is still be applied today.
This applies to what Paul is trying to convey to the church at Corinth. He already has a tenuous relationship with them because of his former letters. Paul addressed several issues of behavior in the church that was unacceptable. Paul indicates that he wrote addressing the issues with heavy tears. He wanted to come to them, but knew that his presence was [at that time] more of a hindrance than a help to the church. Paul tries to give the church a close up look at what ministry is all about. Pastors and missionaries struggle more with the church than they do the lost/unredeemed. The Corinthian church was carnal, they felt they were superior to Paul, and were offended that he would attempt to correct them and their obvious sins.
In the 1st chapter, Paul uses the word “Comfort” ten times. He also uses the word “affliction” or similar word nine times. The message is that redeemed people, living an obedient life will have troubles [James 1:2-4], but those experiences are not only for the working of righteousness and sanctification in the person, but for an example and lesson to be used for others. As the believer experiences trials and tribulations, it becomes effectual in the work in and out of the Gospel. Our struggle is we don’t want to have trials and tribulations in our lives – we have been preached and taught that “if” we will just live the Christian life, they all our worries and problems will disappear. This is a false message! Countless times in the bible we find where God allowed difficulties to occur in righteous people for the purifying of the person and the proclamation of the Gospel.
This is not to say that we should go around moping because we have troubles – in fact, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for such behavior. A word of caution for all of us. If we are suffering because of things we have done wrong – there is no testimony out of our hardships. [1 Peter 3:16-17]
Paul was hurting because the Corinthian church was hurting. In chapter 2, he addresses the stern position of tolerated sin found in 1 Cor. 5; there is no apology for his words, but a “brokenness” for the church. In the suffering Paul experienced, he is trying to get them to understand that he was willing to go through the struggles and pain for their benefit. In a very kind way, Paul attests to his calling and apostleship again to them. Paul brings an Old Testament illustration at the end of the chapter by using the “sweet aroma” analogy. Sweet aroma was a result of the burnt sacrifices on the altar before God. While it was death to the sacrifice, it was Glory to the Father. So in the “sacrifice” of doing ministry, it was a foul smell to unbelievers, but a sweet aroma to those that believed.
In Chapter three, Paul uses beautiful language to convey the difference between the glory of Moses with the Law, and the glory of the Spirit of God in the believer. While the glory on Moses’ face was temporary, the glory displayed through the believer by the Holy Spirit was sustained. Paul says you are our letter, no longer stone tablets, but real people, living out a real, authentic indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit was “glowing” through them to the eyes of others, the Glory of God was manifested. Pressing this a bit more, think of Stephen when he was stoned, and the radiant glory Paul and others saw as Stephen was dying.
So it is clear that as we live [die daily] out our faith before the world, we will be misunderstood, persecuted and experience troubles. This should be expected, for it happened to Jesus our Lord and all those who lived out their faith before men. Our challenge – will we be willing to allow the Glory of God to “glow” through us in testimony of the Gospel?