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2 Corinthians

12.02.2010

Paul’s letters were apparently received in Corinth with only half the enthusiasm as in the other cities.  I say this because 2 Corinthians is actually the fourth letter Paul wrote to the church at Corinth.  With 1 Corinthians being actually his second letter, it appears that the Corinthian church had a policy of chuck-one, keep-one, chuck-one, keep-one with regards to apostolic correspondence.

After addressing some major issues in 1 Cor, the Corinthian church was persuaded by a band of rival preachers* to reject Paul’s teachings and authority.  They pointed out the many struggles and tribulations Paul faced (such as being beaten to within an inch of his life in Galatia and starting a riot in Ephesus) as evidence that the Holy Spirit was not with Paul.  In reaction to his third (now lost) letter, the tearful, anguished one referenced in 2:4, many in the church rejected the heretics, but a stubborn remnant remained.  It is to this remnant that Paul writes 2 Cor, and he meets his detractors head-on, focusing on how his struggles are evidence of the Spirit’s work in him and are even the vehicle through which the Spirit is woriking.

My first reaction to this thesis is to recall an illustration I’m sure I’ve shared here before.  Think of the spiritual realm like a giant orange.  We’re living on the surface of the rind, mainly insulated from the intensity of the spiritual realities beneath us.  When things are smooth, you can at best get a faint whiff of the flavor of God.  It’s when things get scuffed up or nicked that the spiritual world is more evident.  Things get zesty, if you will.  This is how I’ve always understood the relative abundance of visions and spiritual experiences by people living in war zones and extreme poverty and other ‘raw’ situations as compared to the affluent, insulated, safe, plastic experience in the Western middle class.

In general, though, you do hear both sides of this argument when it comes to guidance on discerning God’s will.  We’re told that the obstacles that confront us can be God’s way of slowing us down, frustrating us in our striving, demonstrating that our actions are not Spirit-led so that we can repent and submit to His will.  On the other hand, in addition to Paul’s arguments to the Corinthians, struggles can be evidence of doing God’s will because they represent the devil/flesh/world reacting to the Spirit with pushback.  I remember in college being told that struggles and ‘spiritual attacks’ tend to occur during periods of spiritual growth and are thus a good way to gauge the health of our faith: the more difficult, the better. 

Can both of these interpretations on the meaning of strife be correct?  Is my orange illustration off-base?  Does it concord with one or both of the interpretations? 

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* Picture gangs of Gnostics and Pelagians having knife fights and dance-offs, West Side Story-style.  ‘When you’re a Modalist, you’re a Modalist all the way…’

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