March 11, 2011 Devotion Sharing

Submitted by Jisup Hong, Gracepoint Berkeley

What words in the text reveal Apostle Paul’s heart?

2 Cor. 7
“make room for us in your hearts” (v.2)
“in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds” (v.4)
“But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus” (v.6)
“he told us about your longing for me… so that my joy was greater than ever” (v.7)
“though I did regret it” (v.8)

1 Thess. 2
“out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you” (v.17)
“For what is out hope, our joy, or the crown … Is it not you?” (v.19)

1 Thess. 3
“He has told us that you … long to see us, just as we also long to see you.” (v.6)
“For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord” (v.8)

What do these passages reveal about Apostle Paul’s source of sorrow, stress, gladness and joy?
These passages reveal how bound up Apostle Paul’s sorrow, stress, gladness, and joy are with the churches that he ministered to—in this case, the Corinthians and the Thessalonians. One might think that Apostle Paul, having had faith enough to do miracles, including healing, and raising the dead, having been stoned, shipwrecked, beaten, etc. that he would be fearless, invulnerable, and never all that disturbed. But these passages reveal quite a different picture of Apostle Paul—an almost pathetic one. All the most revealing passages in 2 Cor. 7 are those that show how relieved and glad he was at the Corinthians’ response to his letter, and thus how worried he was, until he found out their response—v.6 it says that he was downcast until Titus came with good news. In v.8 we find out that Apostle Paul had sent a letter and then initially regretted it, out of how they might take it, but then later it says he did not regret it, because they repented—but there is that sign of anguish over what might have happened, and that Apostle Paul was anything but stoic.

Another thing that is very revealing about these passages is how much they have to do with Apostle Paul’s relationship with these churches, rather than their relationship with Christ—at least in terms of explicit mention. They all have to do with those churches’ response to Apostle Paul. In 2 Cor. 7, he says “make room for us” (v.2), his joy was great because of “your longing for me” and “your ardent concern for me.” 1 Thess. 3 he specifically mentions how they “have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us. just as we also long to see you.” (v.6) With that—their affection for him—he seems to conclude in v.8 that they are standing firm in the Lord.

Based on this, it seems that the source of Apostle Paul’s sorrow, stress, gladness, joy is the reciprocation or non-reciprocation of his love for the Christians at these churches. He longs for them, he has concern for them—and there is gladness and joy when these are reciprocated, and sorrow and stress when they are not. His source of these things is his relationships with people in the church—and how those people are doing, including those peoples’ love for him.
This raises an interesting question: Shouldn’t Apostle Paul’s sorrow, stress, gladness, joy be dependent only on his relationship with Jesus—or shouldn’t that be enough, such that he shouldn’t be so affected by human relationships? Well, apparently not, that is that not the Biblical understanding of how love works. Apostle Paul was very much concerned with his relationships. Verses like 1 Cor. 7:7 and 1 Thess 3:6 seem to indicate how important reciprocation of concern and affection was for Apostle Paul with regard to his relationships with these churches. This reciprocation was so important that if they had not responded this way, it seems like he might have concluded that the were not standing firm in Christ. These passages then seem to throw out the possibility that one could have a thriving, close, intimate relationship with Christ while having a distant or cold relationship with other Christians—or at least with your leaders in particular.

What would it look like for today’s Christians, and today’s churches, to imitate the Apostle in these ways?
It would mean that in today’s churches, Christians would build relationships like this—the kind that matter to you and affect your sense of sorrow, stress, joy, gladness. It would mean that people in the church, with regard to each other, would not maintain a polite distance—where you’re okay and I’m okay—but one in which there is heightened sensitivity toward each other—kind of like parents have heightened sensitivity toward their kids. It would mean that with regard to sorrow, stress, joy, gladness, that these things revolve around people you love in the church rather than around how my grades are doing, how my thesis is doing, how my career is doing, etc. It would mean that the people that you claim that you love, your sense of sorrow, stress, gladness, joy would be bound up with those people.

Today’s churches—I think people are content if there are no fights among people. As long as there is no fighting, no outward wickedness, as long as no one hates another person—things are good. Absence of conflict is equated with good relationships. Churches are also seen as a place where people come to do their business with God, and where the other people who are there are just incidental. People also approach each other in the church in functional ways—kind of like the people behind the desk at the DMV. Those people are supposed to do certain things and you are happy if they do those certain things, and beyond that you mind your business with each other.

For Christians and churches to imitate Apostle Paul in this regard—it would mean that your life is bound up with others in the church.

APPLICATION

This text is at the same time comforting and challenging. Comforting because often my sense of sorrow, stress, joy, gladness, etc. depends a lot on people that I am leading—and I realize that is how it is supposed to be. Sometimes, I think to myself that since I’m saved, I should be joyful and glad all the time, but that’s not Biblical. If I am supposed to care for people, but be joyful all the time, that seems impossible for me. At times, I find myself complaining to God about this, but I realize that that is what it means to share God’s heart.

It is challenging because in a sense I realize that I have a lot of power to affect the sorrow/joy, etc. of people who love me in the church, especially my leaders. I don’t tend to think of myself as being influential or figuring much—which is to say that I underestimate how I am loved, and how much impact my expression of affection, devotion, or appreciation toward people who love me could have on them. As a performance-oriented person I tend to think that the solution to everything is to just try harder or to do better, and that how I have done is much more important to someone than how I feel toward that person. That’s how relationships in the world often work, but not love relationships in Christ. I need to be a lot more expressive of affection and appreciation that I feel toward people in the church so that I don’t deprive those who love me of joy and encouragement they could have.

As a leader, it is also challenging to me in that here is a measure of “standing firm in the Lord,” which has to do with how much love there is toward me. It seems like it is not enough for people to be just “doing what they are supposed to be doing.” Maybe everyone is doing their DT, they are even reaching out to non-Christians, they come to all the meetings and everything, they even like each other, they do everything I ask them to do—but if there isn’t reciprocated love toward me, the leader, then there is something wrong. This is kind of embarrassing to think about, because on the one hand, I think—well, who am I? It’s okay if no one feels much affection toward me. But here it is—it could be that something is wrong with me, or it could be that those I am leading are not “standing firm in the Lord”—but it is something as God’s shepherd that I need to get to bottom of and do something about.

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