June 24, 2012
Fr. Philip Eberhart
4th Sunday of Pentecost
Commending ourselves – God’s Way
As I read the lessons for this morning I was struck by the recurring theme of storms in life that are stilled by God, by the Lord Jesus Christ - I was struck by the list of Paul’s hardships and then my eyes fell on the previous phrase, just before that list in 2 Cor 6:
Look at the reading with me for a moment:
“As servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way:”
Commend is to “represent as worthy, desireable – to recommend”
Paul’s point here, and I’ll make it right up front today, is that we “commend” ourselves in the service of God by pressing through the hardships and the terrible circumstances that come our way as well as by pressing into the character of Jesus that these hardships duly produce in our lives.
This and other sections of Paul’s letters paint a picture that is uncomfortable for us in our western form of Christianity – great endurance; afflictions; hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger. Paul is recounting in shorthand, the tale of his apostolic ministry of church planting!
It’s interesting! When we here in our day “commend ourselves” it’s usually in the form of a resume, while we are job hunting. We list our accomplishments – we list what we excel at, what we’re good at, in order to show how we might meet a need that the employer has that we can fill.
How differently Paul approaches “commending himself” as a servant of God! We think that he should have used the list in Phil 3 here, instead of the list before us! You remember the list right?
Circumcised the eighth day…
Of the nation of Israel…
Of the tribe of Benjamin
A Hebrew of Hebrews,
As to the Law… a Pharisee;
As to Zeal, a persecutor of the church;
As to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless!
Sounds like a great pedigree – there is much to commend Paul to his fellows here!!
But before launching into the list he says this:
(reading from the New Living Translation): We who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could! Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!”
Paul is contrasting the attainments of the flesh in his lineage and life accomplishments as a Jew, a Pharisee and zealot in persecuting the church, with what he now knows to be the true basis for any “commendation” of his ministry.
He says of all his accomplishments – of his Jewish pedigree – “now I consider these things as rubbish – worthless – because of what Christ has done!” Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ!”
As we turn back to our reading in 2 Cor 6 we can see that there are three distinct sections in the listing that Paul puts forward here as “commending ourselves”:
The section we’ve mentioned above of hardships preceeds, but is then followed by a listing that is reminiscent of other listings of the FRUIT of godly life, in both Paul’s letters and in Peter’s second letter:
“In Purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love,
In the word of truth, in the power of God, by the weapons of righteousness for the
Right hand and the left…”
Paul’s list in Galatians of the Fruit of the Spirit:
“Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”
And the list we find in Peter’s second letter:
“In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God's promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.”
It seems that for Paul (and for Peter), the commendation that they seek arises from hardship in the form of the character of Jesus -- produced by the hardships themselves. Our commendation in life, comes in the form of character, that Jesus and the Spirit of Jesus produces in our lives through the diligence of pressing through the difficulties that come our way and into the character of Godliness and “holiness, without which no one will see the Lord!”
And another interesting thing then happens in Paul’s description in our reading: a third section. Let me read now from the New Living again:
“We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.”
Can you see the progression here?
Stage 1 is just hardship – yuk, going through the hard things in life as we all do, but the message is GO THROUGH
Stage 2 is God’s grace to use the hardships of our life, the times we are “UNDER the circumstances,” to create a new kind of life in us – a JESUS LIFE. So we are being formed, almost pressed, into His image and likeness, day by day.
Stage 3 is where we begin to see God’s purpose of fruitfulness and character in the circumstances of our lives and we begin to see that those things only matter, to the extent that they are forming us into His image!
Two chapters earlier in this letter Paul makes such a reference, beginning in Chapter 4, verse 7:
“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.”
And Paul ends that section of his letter with this thought:
“For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”
Friends, how can we fix our gaze on things that can’t be seen? There are a lot of changes going on around us, a lot of people who are in difficulty or in transition, a lot of people who are ill or suffering in some way, in body or mind. And that’s just here at REZ! Not to mention all that is going on around us in our world, at our jobs and in our neighborhoods. What would happen if we began to see it all differently?
What would happen if, in the midst of the storms of life, we realized that Jesus is right here in the boat with us!!
We seem to think that when Jesus woke up and calmed the storm, the metaphor can be made to our lives, and that He will simply command all the bad stuff to go away! Isn’t that what all that means? Hmmm?
Isn’t this to be read as a metaphor for the storms of our own lives?
I think it wasn’t a metaphor – it was a real circumstance! One in which the disciples were fearful and despairing of their very lives, right? They were actually incredulous that Jesus could be asleep during such a storm!! And they did everything they could in their own power until finally, they gave up, and woke Jesus, and appealed to Him for His input.
Now there’s the metaphor for our lives! We row and row and row and row against the wind and the waves, our sail gets battered and torn and our boat is about to sink, and THEN we come to Jesus for His help. THEN we cry out to Him, “Save us, LORD.”
What would happen if we learned the lesson that Jesus is in the boat! That all the authority and power of the universe is right here in the boat with us!!!
At that point, the storms can rage all they want. Sure the boat will be tossed, BUT JESUS…
Jesus Christ stands in our boat today, friends. In your boat! No matter what the storm you are facing, be it trouble or perplexity or being hunted down, or knocked down, or suffering or in danger of death.
Jesus Christ stands in our boat today – in your boat – through troubles, hardships, calamities of every kind: being beaten, put in prison, facing angry mobs, working to exhaustion, enduring sleepless nights, going without food.
Jesus is creating in us HIS LIFE and HIS CHARACTER!! So we look to what is unseen.
The writer of Hebrews put it this way:
“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.