Paul’s witness in trouble and weakness

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

We live in a society, in a world which is indeed allergic to trouble, as well as death. The American Dream isn’t directly about a trouble free existence, but for many, at least having all of our troubles taken care of by our own ingenuity and strength.

Enter Paul. Paul’s world was about following Christ, others following him as he followed Christ, living in Christ, living for the gospel. It didn’t exclude what is considered the mundane matters of life, in his case, tent making. Paul’s passion was Christ and the gospel. And his own witness was to let the gospel become evident in large part through his life, and specifically in his weakness. No, we’re not referring to sin here, but to his mortality and the inherent weakness of his body.

2 Corinthians is a beautiful book laying all of this out, a great read from start to finish.

Paul’s passion in and through Jesus ought to be ours. Yes, we are all weak in ourselves, but that’s exactly where Christ’s strength comes through. And we are broken, cracked jars of clay, as it were, but through that comes Christ’s light. So that we should never give in to despair, or the lie that somehow we’re not succeeding because life’s circumstances are at best difficult. We should see all of life as a window of opportunity for the light of the gospel, the good news in Jesus to shine even through us, through our brokenness.

When we have it all together, we’re on our own. But when we’re broken, in great need, and living on the edge of what seems to be death, if we’re seeking to live in and for the gospel in the midst of that, then Christ’s life will become evident even in us, in our lives. In and through him.

 

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the power of poetry and song (the Christ-kenosis/self-emptying hymn)

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

In Jeff Manion’s message to us this past weekend in the series “Choosing Joy Under Pressure,” through the book of Philippians, entitled “The Servant Mindset,” he touched on the power of song. Yes, most Bible scholars believe this was a hymn which Paul included in this letter. And that we do well to play that song again and again in our heads until it becomes the theme to which we live.

Notice that although it’s about Jesus, it is to be applied by us who are in Jesus in our individual lives, and in the context of the letter, especially in our relationships with each other. We are to take on ourselves the same humility and servant mindset that Jesus took on himself.

This doesn’t mean trying to perform great heroics. Of course what Jesus did in the eyes of the world was exactly the reverse of that. There was nothing more humbling than a cross, probably not much higher from ground level than one would stand, likely hung naked, and just outside the city where the populace could walk by, say anything they wanted to say, and spit in one’s face.

Jesus’s attitude was one of humility, service, and obedience. It ended up being great since he stooped to the greatest depths possible: God becoming human, and then subjecting himself as a man to the death of the cross, all out of love, as a servant. And for our salvation, but in this context specifically as the example we’re to follow. And therefore God raised Jesus to the highest heights, giving him the name above every name, so that all might bow the knee to him.

We do well to read both what precedes this poem, and what follows, the context, because this poem is followed by a “therefore” as well as the call to value others above ourselves.

But again, this needs to be the kind of song playing in our heads. Which acclimates us over time to grow in the depths of the life we’re to live in Jesus. Toward each other, and toward the world. In and through Jesus.

deficits becoming helps

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

2 Corinthians 1:8-11

Some of us are challenged in significant ways. Actually all humans are likely challenged in some way or another. In a sense, just because of sin, we all are.

Some problems can be rather life threatening. Sin can put a choke hold on anyone, and there can seem to be no way out. It takes the form of addictions and sometimes simply liabilities which threaten our sense of well being.

Redemption in Christ frees us from sin’s consequences by freeing us from its power over us. That comes by faith. We look to the crucified, risen Lord for the salvation we need, and we begin to live the new life that brings. And it involves a process which takes time, along with the fellowship of the church and prayer.

In the case of the Apostle Paul and his team, they were evangelizing, sharing the gospel in areas where it had never been proclaimed. And as a result, they were up against it from people who opposed such a message, which seemed to strike at the heart of what they were all about, and ultimately does, although it sets us on the course of being truly human, toward fulfilling our own humanity. And they as well as we face the spiritual enemy, which is bent on keeping people in blindness and chains for ultimate destruction.

One of the truths I find in my own life, which actually is both discouraging, but ultimate encouraging is that the struggles I face can by and by help me to a stronger, deeper faith. What can be discouraging is not only the problems themselves, but the fact that the same old problems we overcame can be back again later, after we think we had overcome them. And rationality is a challenge when we’re cast in the midst of darkness, when all seems lost, and we’re at a loss. But during those times we need to hold on to faith and pray. And have others pray for us, as was true in Paul’s case (see passage above). “This too will pass.”

And so deficits can become helps. I dislike an opposite word or something like it which would mean positives. It’s the way of Jesus, the way of the cross that we are taking. Inherently in the way of our human weakness (read the entire book of 2 Corinthians). But through that, coming to know the Lord’s strength. In and through Jesus.

finding the wealth in poverty

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5

Scripture and especially in the way of Jesus is full of paradox in which the normal order of things seems upside down. What works in the world isn’t at all what works in the way of the Lord. Unless somehow the world’s values are imposed on the church, which all too often is the case, and which we need to guard against both in our personal lives, and together, in the life and witness of the church. Of course that’s not to say that somehow we don’t try to connect with others in following Paul’s example of being all things to all people to by all possible means save as many as possible (1 Corinthians 9).

The way Jesus starts out the Sermon on the Mount is especially near and dear to me, since most all of my life I’ve really struggled internally. And scripture and especially the gospel does answer much of that struggle, for example the Lord gives us his peace in his presence in the Father’s love by the Spirit which is for all of us, for all who believe.

I find over and over again that accepting the struggle and hard places of life, instead of trying to find an answer past or around them is key for me. I find the Lord in those places, his strength in my weakness. I also have found again and again that the Lord meets me in the depths, in the hardest places. And that I shouldn’t be afraid of either pressure or even controversy, both inevitable even as simple followers of Jesus. But I am more than happy for those times which are relaxing and in which there doesn’t seem to be a care in the world.

The poor in spirit is an apt description of myself and my own spirit and spiritual state. But I find that’s where faith is born, and grows, and even thrives. Not in a world in which everything is awesome with high fives. But in a place of struggle which encourages humility so that we’re cast upon God.

I get in trouble when I am trying to find the spiritual secret to getting out of my mess. But when I accept the poverty, then ironically I find the Lord’s hand to help me to a place that seems more like Jesus, in him. Paul’s thought in Philippians comes to mind here:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…

Philippians 3

Over and over again, we find this to be true in the witness of scripture, and in life. With that comes the danger of caving in, and not having the right attitude in the midst of difficulty. Instead we need to press on in faith, and learn to rest in Jesus and the Father’s love in him. Accepting poverty so that we might find true riches in and through Jesus.

where does our confidence lie?

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1

Oftentimes, especially in this world, we really can get out of sorts, because of all the evil going on, along with the nagging problems which are not easily resolved. We can see so much depending on this or that entity, or even ourselves, and we can become both overwhelmed and afraid. Add to that our own struggles, probably in part coming from that, so that at times we may seem to be suffering spiritual setback.

Jeff Manion in his new series on the book of Philippians, “Choosing Joy Under Pressure,” “Week 2/The Partnership” adeptly led us through that passage. This was a relatively young church, around 10 years old in the Lord, faithful to the gospel, but struggling under some persecution and internal conflicts, with the danger that some might become discouraged to the point of completely losing their faith. Hence this great letter from the imprisoned Paul. Well worth the listen and watch.

The gospel is both the heart of our witness, and the heart of our existence. How in the world do we think we’ll make it? And how is the world itself going to make it? Ultimately only through the gospel, period. Other things are good and important in their place, but there is only one “good news” which will prevail while everything else falls to the wayside. That of Jesus and his death for us, out of which comes the new life for us and for the world.

God who began his good work in us through that good news/ gospel will complete what he started. We only need to hold on in faith to that good news in Jesus for ourselves, for others, indeed, even for the world. We can have confidence that whatever else might happen, this gospel in and through Jesus and his death will prevail, changing us into his likeness in this world, even becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3) toward the children of God in Jesus which we were created to become in the new creation all in him are destined for.

Something to celebrate, look forward to, and rest in, even in this life, when so much else can be up in the air with no certain outcome. What matters most is in process even in the midst of a world which at times seems to be unraveling, and is not eternal in and of itself. We can rest assured that God’s good will in Jesus will prevail. Confident in that no matter what else happens. In and through Jesus.

the Jesus way is the way of the cross

In the gospel narratives: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, one is pressed in one direction: the cross of our Lord. And even the resurrection’s meaning and significance is derived from the cross, our Lord’s death. And the lives of Jesus’s disciples were to actually be with him on that same journey:

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Luke 9

If we think post-resurrection or post-Pentecost might be different, here are these words from the Apostle Paul, just one of many passages which makes it clear that a Christ-centered, crucified-shaped (cruciform) life is the norm for all of Christ’s followers today:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2

Everyone of Jesus’s apostles laid down their lives in martyrdom, the only exception being John, who tradition suggests was exiled and perhaps miraculously delivered from the same fate.

This is the Christ-shaped existence to which all believers in Christ are changed by the Spirit. As Paul says elsewhere:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…

Philippians 3

where Greg Boyd’s *Cross Vision* takes us: classic Christianity

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

John 12

Far from being heretical, Greg Boyd’s recent work in The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2 and Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence simply directs us into the full classic Christianity. Not to say at all that one has to accept his view of how to read the violent texts of the Old Testament to be Christian. But simply to say that the less than constructive critics likely to arise may be removed a bit from that Christianity themselves due to their metaphysics or epistemology, which is simply to say the philosophy they’ve added to the biblical text, unlike, I might say, Paul, who knew nothing else except Jesus and him crucified. And actually the only things I’ve seen so far from the scholarly world is just a bit of constructive criticism, and not much even in the way of that, but that will likely change. I use the word “classic” here in the sense of what conforms to the teaching of Christ himself in scripture, and which the church has acknowledged, even if often not living up to its light.

The chapter on the centrality of the cross for the gospel, knowing God, and for the Christian life, “A Cruciform Through Line” alone is easily worth the price of the book. It gets us back to “what is of first importance,” what is basic to the Christian life if one is to be in Christ and a follower of Christ.

A major stumbling block for some will be Boyd’s view on scripture, which while he says holds to its infallibility, does not mean for him that it’s inerrant in all matters. Inerrancy might hold depending on what you mean, and how that’s explained. I don’t know, myself. I’m inclined maybe a little more toward the view that without a doubt the Bible is inerrant in its main point, the point of it all, what it’s trying to do: lead us to Christ and the good news in him, and specifically, as Boyd would put it, and as scripture itself seems to indicate: Christ crucified. While our view of scripture is surely important: it is the God-breathed word, the written word of God, nevertheless the emphasis from many defenders of that in my lifetime in part has to be tied to a Modernist mindset which seems foreign to the Bible itself in the effort to defend its every part from the charge of error. Every word is important in its place for sure, Boyd tying that to its testimony of pointing us toward the cross of Christ either in God taking on himself the sin of his people and of the world, as well as God in Christ giving himself completely into the hands of sinners and evil, and by that reconciling the world to himself. Of course the cross always includes the resurrection, the resurrection deriving its meaning and significance through the centerpiece of the cross.

We’re saved through Jesus’s death, and we’re to live out that same death even now, a crucified life (Galatians 2:20, etc.) as God’s resurrection people in Jesus.

So please don’t jump to the conclusion that either Boyd, or others who may accept his proposals have jumped off the wagon of Christianity. Just maybe they might be closer to the essence and fullness of it in their emphasis on seeing Christ and him crucified as central to it all.

Earlier post: what if God never commanded the extermination of the Canaanites?