Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Obstructions and "Unobstructions"

Smack dab in the middle of Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians is a curious little diatribe, the contents of which contain so many implications of and applications to how we do church, it's like a giant, razor-sharp diamond under a spotlight shooting off brilliant refracting beams. Seriously, there's an eternity's worth of insight in just eleven short verses.
Here's the passage:
Working together with him, then, we appeal to you, not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, "In a favorable time I listened to ou, and in a day of salvation I have helped you." Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise.

We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections.

-- 2 Corinthians 6:1-12

Holy cow, that rings my bell like Quasimoto on crack. N.T. Wright once said, "The amazing thing about Paul isn't just that he said and did all these incredible things, but that he said and did all these incredible things without coffee." I read that passage and think Paul was actually freshly buzzed off his fifth cup of Fourbucks.

I don't want to either diminish or complicate what is in that blockquoted Scripture passage with my rumination and explication. I do encourage you to read it and re-read it, to chew on it and wrestle with it. To see, first, what it means. Then when you reckon you've got that pinned, ask how it might apply to your life and to the life of The Church. Not the little-"c" church, BCC, but the big-"C" Church universal. What does it say about ministry and the approach to ministry? About the quality of life? About the tensions involved, the perceptions from within and without? About motivations? About inspirations?

I will offer two starting points I think significant. The first is the antitheses presented in verses 4-5 and then 6-7, and then compounded into dualities in verses 8-10. There is an eschatological* tension involved there of the "already" and the "not yet," and also a contrast between how the world sees what's going on and what the truth is.
The second starting point is actually the last verse cited. "You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections" (v.12). What a soul-piercing truth that is. For every one of us. And there are applications in that one verse not just for our personal "affections" but for how we do church. (Hint: What obstructions on sinners are we creating in how we do church? Are they necessary? Shouldn't the only obstruction to someone's reconciliation with God be their own affection for their own sin and the scandal of the cross of Christ? How do we communicate that?)

Okay, so I rambled. Ignore my stuff and just read the passage. If anything, our church could stand a greater biblical literacy. And 2 Corinthians 6:1-12 presents a great exercise in working our developing exegetical muscles. ;-)

* Look it up. ;-)


At 11:57 AM, Blogger C. Evan Leonard said...

Still chewing, Jared...... still wrestling.....

This is very deep and rich with understanding.... but also very challenging to totally grasp.

I had actually been in a study group that focused on Corinthians for a time.... and the whole book, along with the passages here, is quite a meal.... spiritually speaking.

Thanks for bringing it back to my attention. I don't think it was a meal I ever finished. But, one I have thoroughly enjoyed partaking of.

C. Evan Leonard


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