Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I Believed, And So I Spoke

The Resurrection of Christ - Cranach

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1).

You have seen Christian men and Christian churches so dispirited and discouraged that you knew at once that they could not hope for success at that rate. What a pity to work so hard for years in the kingdom of God and then to give up, just because we do not seem to be making much headway – possibly none at all. Humanly speaking, what would have become of that little band of Saxon immigrants in 1839 when their leader went wrong if Dr. C.F.W. Walther and his colleagues had given up in despair (Burgess, 1988)?

Dr. Walther, along with approximately 800 other German Lutherans left Saxony when they came to realize that they were not free to practice their Christian faith according to the Lutheran Confessions. This group of Christians found themselves increasingly at odds with the Saxon government at the time, which vigorously promoted rationalism and unionism among the Lutheran (Evangelical) and Reformed (Calvinist) churches in Saxony (Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, 2012). Unwilling to compromise the Lutheran Confessions, this group set out to the United States in 1838. One of their ships was lost at sea; after an arduous voyage, the settlers landed in New Orleans, Louisiana. They made their way up the Mississippi River and settled in Perry County, Missouri. Soon after the immigrants were settled in the new homeland, their leader, Martin Stephan, was accused of financial and sexual misconduct and was expelled from the settlement (Concordia Historical Institute). This shook the community. The people were deeply disturbed. They were unsure whether or not they were a new church after having left the governing church authorities and church hierarchy in Germany, or if they were simply a branch of the old church in Germany. Dr. Walther eventually emerged as the leader of the community, and was able to persuade the people that they were indeed a new church body, separate from the church they left behind in the Old World (Concordia Historical Institute).

This letter was written to the church at Corinth; they seem to have been a congregation with plenty of their own troubles as well. Paul visited Corinth during his second missionary journey; he later wrote a letter to them, mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:9, which has been lost to the ages. Paul then sent them what we today call 1 Corinthians, to which some scholars believe Paul may have referred to as the “painful letter” in 2 Corinthians 2:4 (Engelbrecht, et al., 2009). 2 Corinthians was written in approximately AD 55. The purpose of the entire letter was to show the Corinthian Christians that Paul’s work among them was truly Christ’s work (Engelbrecht, et al., 2009). He writes about the very real human problems congregations, both ancient and modern, face such as divisions, false apostles/teachers, human frailty, poverty of sin, generosity, suffering, and self-examination. He wrote directly to the Corinthians; he is, by virtue of the universality of his message, speaking to all Christians of all times. Paul quotes Psalm 116:10:

I believed, even when I spoke: “I am greatly afflicted” (Psalm 116:10).

He does so to explain his motivation for proclaiming the Gospel in the midst of suffering (Engelbrecht, et al., 2009). The psalmist writes that, even though he was greatly afflicted with terrible trials, he nevertheless believed and trusted in the Lord. St. Paul also seeks to encourage the reader to remain faithful to the Lord in the midst of trials, looking forward to the Lord’s redemption. This would be significant to the Corinthians, as they were a congregation in turmoil, and Paul has been shepherding them through their tumultuous times. They are also, as Paul writes earlier in chapter four, “jars of clay,” in which God has placed his treasure[1]. Paul wants the Corinthians, though frail, afflicted, persecuted, perplexed, and struck down, to continue speaking to the Gospel to everyone. As they continue to do so, God’s saving grace would naturally extend to more people. Such is the nature of evangelism[2]. As God’s kingdom grows, thanksgiving among his subjects would grow as well, and God would be glorified all the more among mankind.

…knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence (2 Corinthians 4:14).

St. Paul gives the Corinthians the thing upon which they must always remain focused in verse 14 – the resurrection of Jesus. The “he” in that verse is clearly God the Father, as we are told elsewhere in the New Testament that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead[3]. This is not to be taken as some sort of evidence that Jesus is inferior to God the Father, or that he is not divine in his nature. Scripture also tells us that Jesus raised himself from the dead[4], and that Jesus was raised by the Spirit[5]. Jesus, Scripture teaches, has two natures – one human, and one divine. With respect to his human nature, Jesus was certainly subordinate to God the Father and, while he was on the earth, he had to rely on God the Father for everything. This is called Jesus being in the “state of humiliation” (Luther, 1991). The reason for this is not because Jesus was essentially less than divine. It is because he voluntarily emptied himself of his divine power and set it aside to take on human nature, in fulfillment of God the Father’s will[6]. When St. Paul speaks of the resurrection, he means the literal, bodily raising of Jesus, or another, from the dead. Paul uses lots of imagery in 2 Corinthians 4, but not where the resurrection is concerned. To Paul the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus is the most important aspect of the Christian faith[7].

Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

The Outer self is the physical person; the inner self is the spiritual person. The outer self experiences all of the wasting away that St. Paul describes in Chapter four because of the Fall and sin. When sin entered creation, God’s creation became totally corrupted. Sin entered God’s creation through one man, and death through sin[8]. Because the corruption of sin reaches the very nature of mankind, all people are subject to physical death. Our inner, or spiritual, self is revived by the power of God’s Holy Spirit working through his means – Word and Sacrament – as God has promised us (Luther, 1991). The Holy Spirit works a renewal of a believer’s whole life – in spirit, will, attitude, and desires[9]. This spiritual renewal manifests itself in a believer’s life as what Paul calls the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control[10].

What does St. Paul mean by the “light momentary affliction”, and how does that affliction prepare St. Paul’s readers for, “…an eternal weight of glory…”? He is writing about life. After sin entered the world and corrupted God’s creation, life got difficult. Man had to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, woman had to endure pain in childbirth, our corrupt nature turned away from God and turned in toward ourselves. We became subject to sorrow, pain, and death. Paul tells us, however that this light, momentary affliction is not all that there is. Because we have been spiritually united with Christ in his resurrection through baptism, we will also be physically resurrected to eternal life, just as he was[11]. And, just as an athlete endures the pain of training so that he may bear the weight of the sport in which he competes, so we endure the affliction of a corrupt and sinful world, in anticipation of the weight of eternal glory with Christ.

Paul continues with his comparison of temporal and eternal things in verse 18. “The things that are seen” is the physical world; “the things that are unseen” is the spiritual world. The physical world is in a state of decay; the spiritual world is eternal. Paul is not a Christian Scientist; he is not saying that that humanity and the universe are spiritual rather than material (Christian Science, 2012). He does not deny that the physical world is real, as the Gnostics of his day did, and claim that it is evil, and only a projection, or shadow, of the true spiritual reality. The physical world is merely in a state of “passing away”. Even if St. Paul believed that the physical world was not real, and only the spiritual world was reality, he was reminded of the truth constantly. He could not simply project, or believe his way out of beatings, stoning, imprisonment, and ultimately, death.

For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Corinthians 4:18 – 5:1).

Paul moves from talking about the general physical world to our individual physical bodies. Our corrupted physical body will eventually be destroyed by death. Paul refers to it as a tent, which is a temporary structure. When this happens, though, we know that, through faith in Christ, we have a building from God – a permanent structure – which will last forever. This building from God is the resurrected body promised to us by Christ, redeemed for eternity, restored and transformed by God himself (Engelbrecht, et al., 2009).

This is what we, as Christians, must focus on when times become tough for us. We may not be facing the same sort of obstacles that St. Paul and the Corinthian church faced in their everyday lives, such as violence and persecution. We do, however, face life as believing Christians in an increasingly secular world that is more hostile to the message of Christ crucified and risen every day. We may not be dealing with the trials of establishing and holding together a religious colony in a new country, trying to overcome all the obstacles that go along with such an undertaking. We are, however, a church made up of human beings, complete with sinful human natures; our human failings prove this to us, and those around us, daily. St. Paul instructs Christians to look beyond the momentary affliction to the eternal glory of salvation in Jesus (Engelbrecht, et al., 2009). We must fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. And, because we believe, we must also speak. We must speak to those around us who do not know the good news of what Jesus accomplished on the cross at Calvary. The goal of St. Paul’s ministry among the Corinthians was to reach more people with the Gospel. Our goal is the same. Our human failings, our afflictions, all those things that Satan uses to trouble and harass us, become temporary nuisances that will surely give way to the glory of life eternal with our Savior (Engelbrecht, et al., 2009).

Works Cited

Burgess, D. F. (1988). Encyclopedia of Sermon Illustrations. St. Louis, MO, USA: Concordia Publishing House.

Christian Science. (2012, June 12). Retrieved June 12, 2012, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Science

Concordia Historical Institute. (n.d.). Concordia Historical Institute. Retrieved June 12, 2012, from C. F. W. Walther: http://www.lutheranhistory.org/collections/fa/m-0004.htm

Engelbrecht, E. A., Deterding, P. E., Ehlke, R. C., Joersz, J. C., Love, M. W., Mueller, S. P., et al. (Eds.). (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis, Missouri, USA: Concordia Publishing House.

Luther, M. (1991). Kleine Katechismus, English. (C. P. House, Trans.) Saint Louis, Missouri, USA: Concordia Publishing House.

Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. (2012, June 12). Retrieved June 12, 2012, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lutheran_Church%E2%80%93Missouri_Synod

End Notes

[1] 2 Corinthians 4:7
[2] Isaiah 55:11
[3] Romans 10:9
[4] John 2:19-21; 10:17-18
[5] Romans 8:11
[6] Philippians 2:5-11
[7] See 1 Corinthians 15. The resurrection of Christ is the subject for the entire 15th chapter of this book. St. Paul writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in you sins…If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied,” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17, 19).
[8] Romans 5:12-21
[9] Romans 8:9; 2 Corinthians 5:17
[10] Galatians 5:22-23
[11] Romans 6:3-4