Friday, January 27, 2017

EmmDev 2017-01-27 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] The limits of comparison (part 2)

The limits of comparison (part 2)

We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you. 14 We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ.... 17 But, "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.      (2Corinthians10:13-18)
In our last dev we looked at the comparisons we make to validate ourselves. But where does our worth and value come actually from?

Paul is clear: Our value and worth comes from (1) doing what God has asked us to do and from (2) understanding that even what He asks is to do is only done in the strength that He gives.

Jesus told a parable that illustrated the same point:

"Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? 8 Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? 9 Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.' (Luke 17:7-10)"

When we make comparisons with one another or even when we compete with ourselves we have the wrong reference point.

Where does our worth come from?
Two prayers:

  • "Here I am Lord, I have come to do YOUR will" (Heb 10:7)
  • "He must become greater and I must become less" (John 3:30)

So Paul focused on the "field God assigned" to him and when all the work was done he said I will "boast in the Lord!"

And then he knew that His commendation would come from God.
He would hear His Master say: "Well done, good and faithful servant."

May we learn from his example!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

EmmDev 2017-01-25 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] The limits of comparison.

The limits of comparison.

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. 13 We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you. 14 We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. 15 Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, 16 so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in another man's territory. 17 But, "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.      (2Corinthians10:12-18)
This passage is a prelude to an "epic" Paul chapter where he will "boast" of things that make him look weak in order to show up those who were boasting in their abilities and exploits. This was one of the key problems Paul faced with the Corinthians: false apostles who claimed to be super-apostles, running Paul down and bragging of their exploits.

And so Paul sets some limits for comparison. He is laying down the ground-rules for comparison and bragging even before he starts chapter 11.

So what is he saying?

1. These days in education and parenting circles competition is considered a negative thing. They say "There shouldn't be winners and losers - each child should compete against themselves." Whether we agree with this or not, Paul takes it a step further by pointing out that when we compare ourselves with ourselves we are not wise. The problem is that we become self-referencing - we set our own standards and can become obsessed with our own achievements or goals and there is no reality check.

2. We also should not boast in areas we have no experience. He argues that he could not boast to the Corinthians if he hadn't been to Corinth. This sounds obvious, but in practice I see this often... More than once I have sat with folk who have lost a loved one when a condolence giver will come in and say "I know exactly how you feel..." Really??? Even if you experience a similar loss, you never know exactly how someone feels... It's so much more constructive to say "I am so sorry. I'm here for you if you need me and I will be praying for you."

3. We should never take credit for work done by others. Unfortunately this is very prevalent. It's so easy to bask in reflected glory. Even in the church I see preachers using other people's ideas and materials as though they came up with it themselves. I see leaders receiving kudos but forgetting the team that made it happen.

4. Although he doesn't talk about it here Paul implies that comparing with others is out of the picture too. In ch.11 he will caricature this kind of pastoral competition by making himself look weaker than the "super-apostles."

So what are the grounds of comparison?

  • Not ourselves - lest we become self-absorbed and self-referencing.
  • Not about things we have no experience in.
  • Not on the basis of what we have received from others
  • Not on the basis of being "better" than others.
only on what God has asked us to do
in the power that He has given us
based solely on the work Jesus did on the cross for us.

(More on this tomorrow...)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

EmmDev 2017-01-24 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Is Paul contradicting himself?

Is Paul contradicting himself?

And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.
7 You are looking only on the surface of things. If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as he. 8 For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it. 9 I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. 10 For some say, "His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing." 11 Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.
Paul has just been talking about fighting with weapons that are not of this world. We assumed that the weapons were the weapons of love and grace. Weapons that Jesus and urged us to use.

So why does Paul suddenly sound like an angry dictator making threats to "punish every act of disobedience"? And why is he suddenly going on about authority and belonging?

It certainly makes Paul seem to be double-minded and contradictory.

There are three perspectives that help us here:

  1. The stakes are very high. The unity and health of the Corinthian congregation is of paramount importance. The sheer destructive power of false teaching on the one hand and disunity on the other could be very very damaging to the life of the congregation.
  2. Paul has been accused of weak leadership. The implication is that he will back down when faced with a strong opponent, a difficult situation or an uncomfortable conflict.
  3. In Christ we are one body - we belong to each other and are accountable to each other. We don't have unlimited personal freedom. Belonging to each other means we are responsible for each other.

So Paul talks about right and wrong, about disobedience and punishment. He is not a tyrant, but he needs to protect the church because the stakes of unity and truth are high. Church discipline is primarily a loving act of protection rather than a cruel act of punishment. Good church discipline is not about causing pain but about getting the perpetrator to change their ways. (Unfortunately the church has a very poor record in its history as far as discipline goes - unfortunately the principle is good but the "execution" (pun intended) is not.)

Paul demonstrates that he has the courage and determination to endure a season of discipline - that he will not be intimidated. The church is too important to him. There is coherence between his letters and his actions and he will do what it takes to protect the church.

Finally, Paul is also clear that all belong to the body and all must be protected. He refuses to be reduced to an outsider, writing ineffectual letters - he sees himself as part of the community and part of its problems and solutions. This requires both courage and restraint. Paul is not haphazardly or emotionally swinging between love and punishment - he is keeping them in balance.

Friday, January 20, 2017

EmmDev 2017-01-20 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Different rules of engagement.

Different rules of engagement.

I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. 3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.       (2Corinthians10:2-5)
Paul is referring to his enemies who have used ridicule, boasting and power to make Paul look bad and themselves look good. From the chapters that follow we'll learn that they:
  • Demanded to be paid while Paul paid his own way
  • Used power and influence whereas Paul was gentle and loving
  • Boasted in their successes whereas Paul will boast in his weakness

The standards of this world in the areas of interpersonal conflict are:

  • See the other person as an enemy
  • The strongest one wins (unless you undermine their strength)
  • Attack and expose the enemy's weaknesses and defend and deny your own
  • Break you enemy down and build yourself up

But Paul reminds them to walk to the beat of a different drum:
"You live in the world but don't do it like they do!"

  1. Use different weapons: (Prayer, Wisdom, Forgiveness and LOVE)
  2. Recognise that through prayer and God's wisdom we can demolish arguments and pretensions. Think about how often Jesus discombobulated His enemies (To discombobulate is to "graciously explode" preconceived ideas):
    • When questioned on taxes: Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and God what is God's.
    • When asked "Who is my neighbour?" He told the Good Samaritan story.
    • When confronted with the woman in adultery He said "Let him without sin cast the first stone."
    • When the hammered nails through His hands and feet, He prayed "Father forgive them - they don't know what they are doing!"
  3. Remember the object is not that people know who you are but who God is. When we go into any conflict defending ourselves and our egos, pain is the only possible result (either for us or the "enemy"). When we go into conflict seeking that God be seen more clearly we stand a better chance of resolving it.
  4. Ultimately our agenda is to bring about a solution that is in accordance with God's will. If we can't sincerely pray "Your Kingdom Come" when we enter a conflict, we are not doing it God's way.

This is how we should deal with conflicts and challenges. It requires a mindset that has moved away from my ego to a sincere desire to see God revealed and glorified.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

EmmDev 2017-01-19 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Whose standards do we live by?

Welcome to our eDevotions (EmmDevs) for 2017!
We're continuing our series in 2Corinthians but I need to give just as a reminder of the background:

  • Although we call this letter 2Corinthians it's actually Paul's third letter to them. His first letter (1Corinthians) caused a lot of reaction in terms of remorse and anger because Paul had to confront some very bad behaviour in his letter. He then wrote a "letter of tears" to address these actions. While he refers to this letter, we don't actually have the letter itself and so this is his third letter.
  • This letter was prompted by some false teachers and self-centred leaders who were trying to get control of the congregation and they were doing this by sowing division and discrediting Paul.
  • Paul is very concerned about their tactics, their claims to superiority and the model of success they were promoting. These issues now come to the forefront in the rest of this letter.
The chapters that follow are intense and challenging. We will see Paul employing some drastic measures, but he is fighting for the soul of the congregation.

Whose standards do we live by?

By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you--I, Paul, who am "timid" when face to face with you, but "bold" when away! 2 I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. 3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.      (2Corinthians10:1-3)

The false teachers had a cunning accusation: They claimed that Paul was "timid" when face to face and "bold" when he wrote letters. Basically they were implying that was a cowardly manipulative bully. This was an attempt to negate the influence of Paul's letters.

Paul's concern, as it was in his first letter, is that the Corinthians were being sucked into worldly ways. The false teachers were trying to discredit Paul, by saying that Paul was false and manipulative and inconsistent. But Paul makes it clear: "If you don't respond to my 'bold' letter, I will come and be 'bold' in person. It's also important to note that he "begs" them to resolve the situation. He does not relish the conflict.

Paul counters their argument with an implication of his own: They're fighting a power battle with worldly ways - using character assassination, lies and half-truths. But, he says, we don't wage war as the world does.

We're two thirds through the first month of the new year.
- The honeymoon of the new year has passed.
- The pressure is mounting and we face various battles.
The temptation is to match insult to insult.
To fight fire with fire.
To fight attitude with attitude and aggro with aggro.
To fight power with power.

Paul is going to show us a better way to face our battles and we'll look at this tomorrow.
Let us resolve today to not fall into the trap of character assassination and accusation. Let us resolve to be consistent in all we do. Let us "beg" people to resolve conflict in less destructive ways.

This seems like a strange first devotion, but it is actually very apt. What is certain about any year is that trouble will come. This is an important reminder to handle it differently from the world.