The Real Thing

1 As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3 We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7 truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. 11 We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. 12 There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. 13 In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Let’s talk about “the real thing.” No, I’m not talking about Coca-Cola! Instead, what I’m interested in exploring in this post is what marks the genuine Christian life. How can we know the ‘real’ from the ‘illusory’? I maintain that our greatest clue is given us by Paul in a preceding verse. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul writes: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

There are entire dissertations that could be and have been written on this passage alone, but here’s the simple logic: for the sake of the reconciliation and rescue of the world, God submitted the Son to the humiliation of the cross. In his body, he took upon himself the weight of sin’s penalty (death and alienation from the superlatives we might ascribe to God). By lowering His own Son into indignity to carry what we couldn’t cure on our own, God himself stood in solidarity with us broken sinners. When the Father redeemed the very flesh of Jesus, raising him up on the third day, Jesus as new creation brought new creation to us.

In other words, in raising the Son up, God also pulled our very creature-liness, our “flesh” into union and fellowship with the very life of God through this solidarity in which we stand united to Christ. As resurrection people united in Christ, we, too, are elevated in status as co-heirs with Christ. We are ambassadors of God’s peace and reconciliation with the world, called to live as new creation in Christ in all that we do.

This is the pattern. This is how we tell the genuine article from imposters. As our lives are conformed to this pattern God the Father has shown in the Son, our credentials are established as genuine ambassadors. In other words, to look upon the righteousness of God means to look upon the humiliation and vindication of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The righteousness of God, in this sense, is best summed up in keeping the cross and the rolled away stone in the same frame. To see God’s righteousness on display in us means our lives must show the same pattern of humiliation and vindication. New creation can only shine out of the old passing away. Our lives must also bring together the cross and the empty tomb. Christ’s solidarity with us shapes what ought to be the pattern of our standing in solidarity with the broken places and people that litter our fallen world.

If you understand this, you understand what Paul is up to in these first thirteen verses of chapter 6. Remember, he began this letter as a defense of his ministry, and an appeal to the church in Corinth to reconcile with him despite their differences. As he has taken them on this whirlwind review of the meaning of the Gospel, he brings his argument to the point. Real faith, real exhibition of apostleship, real Christian living and witness does not come in glamor and refinement. No. It must be cross shaped, and framed by the rolled away stone. Death leading to life; humiliation leading to vindication; weakness being shown to be strength through God’s power alone — these things are the beating heart of discipleship.

Paul’s argument in these passages then is to show that his ministry displays the proper credentials. Where the church in Corinth was looking for displays of refinement and the ‘glamour’ of stardom in an apostle they see as fit to follow (befitting their supposed rank and refinement), Paul is telling them that only the one who bears the marks of humiliation and vindication, just as Jesus bore them, is, in fact, representing God. Therefore, he gives them a list of nine sufferings he has endured, followed by nine ways in which the new life he has in Christ has been put on display in him and his ministry.

These are the marks of Christian authenticity, and if the church in Corinth will recognize the truth Paul is pointing towards, he invites them to open their hearts to him and his ministry.

Here, I think, we discover a very rich lesson. Let’s get real, for a moment. We live in a church culture that puts a premium on slick presentations, popularity, and emotional response. It is not uncommon to hear of churches treating worship itself as a production rather than an act of worship. There are ministers of the Gospel who spend more on making sure their hair is just right on camera for the next broadcast than is often given to share the Gospel with the least of these in our society. Nowadays, the church seems to search hungrily for the “it” factor – presentation, style, flash, easily consumed, pre-digested bulletin points for fine Christian living – rather than the indwelt presence of the Spirit that drives us out to love others as we have been loved.

As a result, we don’t want to talk about our feelings of defeat, of inadequacy, of those places in our own hearts and minds where we are still crying out to God to come and deliver us from this body of death. If the Gospel has become about slick presentation, the warts of our lives are to be avoided at all costs.

Yet, it is here that Paul’s words cut through the fog and direct us to the real thing. If God’s righteousness was displayed in Christ’s humiliation and vindication, then this is exactly the way God’s redemption will play out in our own lives. It’s in those defeated pockets of our hearts that God in Christ is at work, bringing life out of death. It’s in those situations where we are disregarded by a dying world, in those moments where we are rejected for Christ’s sake just as Paul himself was rejected, that we put on the Lord Jesus, and have share in new creation.

Paul writes: “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

This is the paradox of the Gospel. When you are weak, in Christ, you are strong. When you are hated, in Christ, you are loved. I don’t know about you, the past sixteen months have left me utterly defeated on more than one occasion. However, Paul’s words bring me true hope. I don’t carry the burden of vindicating myself. No. All I have to do is trust, and conform myself to the life-giving pattern of the Son who loved me and gave His life for me. If I will do that, I, you, we will possess everything. Thanks be to God!

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