Tuesday, June 13, 2006

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Second Corinthians 5:1-17

[Because of a recent minor surgery and for other reasons, I've not done this lately, but I try each week to help the people of our congregation and of other churches that use the lectionary, to prepare for weekend worship by taking several "passes" at the lesson on which worship will be built. This week, I try to resume that practice by taking a look at Second Corinthians 5:1-17.]

The Bible Lesson:
1For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling— 3if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. 4For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 6So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— 7for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. 11Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences.

12We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. 13For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

16From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

General Notes:
1. One of the most important general rules for studying a passage from the Bible is one to which I've referred many times: Context helps explain content. In other words, the general themes of a book; the identity of its writer and its original recipients; and the historical circumstances in which a book was written can all play an important role in helping us to understand what a writer means to say. I find that understanding the various contexts of a passage of Scripture adds to its power, casts out confusion, and helps me to avoid reading into a passage what shouldn't be taken from it.

2. Paul founded the church at Corinth in the Roman province of Achaia, in Greece. Corinth was an important city. Acts 18:1-11 tells about how Paul started the congregation there when he first proclaimed there the Good News of new life as the free gift to all with faith in Jesus Christ.

3. Paul had a stormy relationship with the Corinthian church, but also one of great affection. It appears, in fact, that he had greater love for this congregation than he had for any of the others he founded or nurtured.

4. The book we call First Corinthians was a letter from Paul to the Corinthian church, probably written from Ephesus (in Turkey) in which he addresses a whole host of doctrinal and ethical issues.

5. After First Corinthians was written, Paul had returned to Corinth for what he described as a "painful visit" (Second Corinthians 2:1). He didn't go back because he thought that would prove to be even more painful. Instead of going to the church there, he wrote an apparently scathing letter, copies of which haven't survived. (Second Corinthians 2:4) In it, it's thought that Paul upbraided the church for many things, calling them to repentance. He evidently waited anxiously for some time for them to respond and was ultimately assured by his friend, Titus, who he had sent with his angry missive, that the church at Corinth still held a high regard for Paul.

6. This letter comes after that and is filled with gratitude for the Corinthians' reconciliation with him, as well as discussion of an offering he's taking for the church at Jerusalem.

7. Of major importance in our particular passage though, is Paul's concern to underscore the legitimacy of his ministry. William Loader writes about it in this way:
The key to understanding these chapters of 2 Corinthians is to recognise that Paul faces criticism because of his ministry. It is personal and probably also directed against his particular theology. His opponents who have inflitrated Corinth sought to undermine him at a number of points. They apparently make much of their successes. They live "victorious Christian lives", whereas Paul shows many signs of being weak and vulnerable.
It's a sad story that continues to this day: There are preachers who forego references to unpleasant things like repentance for sin, death of the old sinful self, and the reality of difficulties in this life, painting a triumphalistic picture of Christianity. Such preachers, of course, can draw big crowds and fat wallets. They, in turn, interpret their "success" as a sign of God's favor. Meanwhile, down the street is the preacher whose life isn't perfect and who expresses no confidence about her or his own merits, and is portrayed by the successful preacher as a failure.

At Corinth, preachers who flashed their success around were making inroads into the church, causing some to question the legitimacy of Paul's ministry.

This lesson is Paul's ringing assertion that we live by faith and not by the things we can see, handle, or control. He says here, as he does in several other places in the entire letter, that his confidence is in Jesus Christ and what Christ has done for us, no matter what may befall him in this life. He also asserts that it's only in eternity, when this "earthly tent"--our bodies--have been destroyed and we are in eternity with God that we'll be clothed in the immortal temple in which all believers in Jesus are destined to live.

I hope to give specific commentary in a later pass at the lesson.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Good study.
Let's also not forget application, because the point is to watch God change lives. How does he create a new creature out of a lost person? How should we deal with baggage if the old things are passsed away? There are many wonderful challenges and encouragements in this passage.