2 CORINTHIANS 6:1-13 (20 JUN 2021)
Language use changes with time like fashions. words and phrases become common, change their meaning and fall in and out of use.
Many, many years ago when I was just a young boy I had to ask the meaning a a term I heard used when one man said to another, “your lip’s bleeding.”
Has anyone else heard it used and do you know what it meant?
The context in which I heard it used was when one man was sprouting off about his grand achievements. He was talking on and on about his great adventure. He was boasting. He was what we called a “skite”.
After a while his listener decided he had heard enough and said, “your lip’s bleeding.”
It worked well. The skite was stopped in mid boast and started feeling around his mouth for the blood apparently flowing from his lips. What was best, of course, was that he stopped the flow of drivel flowing from his lips.
Now, when I read the passage for today and the list of hardships Paul tells us about my one unkind and ignorant response is to tell Paul, “your lip’s bleeding”.
Look again at 2 Corinthians 6:4b to 10
Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
It would be very easy to say, come on, Paul, “your lip’s bleeding”. Really? Are you boasting again? Looking for sympathy? Trying to make us feel bad?
But the thing is that when you look into this you find that the apostle Paul did, in fact, have all these experiences. This is simply a statement of fact.
There’s no reason to ask if it was true, because the records show that it is. A good question to ask is, “why include this account in a letter to the Corinthian Christians?” Then go further and ask, “why include this account in a letter which came, eventually, to us?” What’s he trying to get through to us?
Acts 18 tells of Paul’s ministry in Corinth during his second missionary journey. Paul came to Corinth from Athens, which was about 45 miles away. In Corinth he met Aquila and Priscilla and worked with them in the tent making trade. Paul used the income he earned to preach the gospel without relying upon support from others.
He preached in the synagogue every Sabbath. When the Jews would not respond, Paul decided to take the message to the Gentiles. His ministry resulted in the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles, so the church in Corinth was made up of both. Paul ministered in Corinth for about a year and a half.
During Paul’s time in Corinth, opposition against him began to grow, especially from the Jewish leaders, of course, but there were also gentiles who thought they knew better than Paul, coming up with their own, new ideas. The people began to take up some false teaching and they were divided amongst themselves. Some followed Paul, others followed other leaders.
Paul sent them at least two letters appealing to them to remain faithful to the truth of the gospel message, the one he had taught them when he was in town.
In this passage he was writing to them pointing out the realities of life when you live as a faithful disciple of Christ, sharing the good news about him to others. When you do this you run into trouble. For Paul, being such a significant leader amongst Christians he ran into very real trouble, but the Corinthians knew about this because they it was happening amongst them there and then.
Jesus warned his disciples, including Paul, the Corinthians and us, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) and Paul certainly knew about it and he was encouraging his readers to get on with life, get on living for Christ no matter what.
None of us really want what Paul experienced and we are unlikely to do so here in Bellingen. We don’t get treated with “beatings, imprisonments and riots. Dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, poor, having nothing.”
However, there are people in some parts of the world who certainly have such experiences. Because they are Christians there are people every day who lose their jobs, are arrested on false charges, even have their houses and businesses burned down.
I recently read an autobiography where a muslim girl discovered the falsehoods and ugliness in the Koran and became a Christian. Some of her young friends had been sexually abused by their father and their brothers. When this girl left home with her Christian husband her father issued printed notices urging anyone who found her to kill her as an act of jihad and promising that anyone who did so would bypass hell and go straight to heaven. He wanted his daughter killed because she had become a Christian!
We might not have to experience the worst of these troubles but there are some we might have as part of our lives. Things such as “through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown.”
Because you are a Christian some people will mock you, falsely accuse you of some form of phobia and might even avoid getting too close to you for fear of catching Christianity, too!
Paul did not give us this recitation of hardships to warn us off, or to make us feel bad, or even to make us sorry for Him.
He wrote these things because we are, as he says, “fellow workers”.
We have received the grace of God. God has mercifully, lovingly, sacrificially given Jesus to be our Saviour. He has revealed his love to us, forgiven us, adopted us as his children, sent us his Holy Spirit and given us eternal life.
With such grace lavished upon us whatever you do don’t waste it. Don’t receive God’s grace in vain!
Paul had opened his heart to the Corinthians, not withdrawing his affection from them. He had opened wide his heart to them. But, sadly, unfairly, they were withholding affection from Paul so he appealed to them, “as a fair exchange – open wide your hearts also.”
He was appealing for unity, for teamwork, for commitment, for response, for action and for us to open our hearts to each other.
About 60 years ago when I was in my twenties I became a Christian. David Tow, a Chinese fellow student helped me see that it was logical, reasonable to be a Christian. Although my family had never been church goers I assumed that the right thing to do was to go to church but I knew nothing about churches, the differences between them or what happened there so I started visiting different church services each Sunday morning.
After each service I followed the tradition of shaking hands with the minister at the door on the way out. Each time I simply said that I had become a Christian and was trying to find out what church God wanted me to go to. Each time the minister replied with words like, “All the best in your search”.
One morning I decided to try St Paul’s Anglican in Oatley but this time the minister’s response was so very different. His smile beamed, he was excited to meet a new Christian. He celebrated! He urged me to come back to the evening service because that’s when the young people came.
This was a good idea and made sense because at the time I was a young person myself. So I started going to church there including the Friday night Youth Fellowship.
I had also decided that I should read the Bible so bought myself a pocket version. For some reason I started reading it not at the beginning but with the letter to the Ephesians and it filled me with more and more excitement, thrilling me with the wonderful news about the love and grace of God in my Saviour, Jesus.
It was so disappointing when the other Christians I was meeting were so little interested in these glorious discoveries I was making. How could they be so blasé about such wonders?
So, when the time came and I was asked to give my very first talk as a Christian to Christians I read to them Ephesians 5:15-20 (KJV)
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.
There was no trouble pointing out that the days are evil and although times have changed a lot in the last 60 years I can still confidently say that there is always plenty of evil around as part of the lives we live.
But I don’t think words like “circumspectly” and “redeeming the time” meant much to them. So I told them.
You are wasting your time! You are fooling around with trivia, missing the point. You are being so foolish! Pay attention to what God has given you in the Bible, through the Holy Spirit, in Jesus.
Find out what he wants you to do, how he wants you to behave. Start celebrating being Christians! Enjoy being Christians!
As a result of talking like this I became known as the institutional wet blanket.
But being called a wet blanket is nothing compared with what Paul went through, so I’ll wear the label and not complain.
Because the message in that passage in Ephesians is there also in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians 6.
There he quotes the prophet Isaiah, ‘In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’
Just when they needed it, God saved them, just then, God showed them his favour and helped them.
So when is that time? NOW!
NOW is the time of God’s favour, NOW is the time of salvation.
OK, there might be trouble ahead. There might be work to do. There might be changes to make. Don’t waste your time. You have had the grace of God poured out on you – don’t waste it! Don’t insult God’s care for you by allowing him to be gracious to you in vain.
Paul could have been more blunt and quoted Proverbs 6:
How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
When will you get up from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest.
Instead he gave us an example, he gave us encouragement and urged us on.
NOW is the time of God’s favour, NOW is the time of salvation.
(Bellingen Uniting Church)