FOR READERS: I have just started a new blog: xtremejesus.co which is intended to contribute to political and social debate from the point of view of the Jesus tradition. Some have found difficulty in accessing the site from their search engines and browsers. At present, Google Chrome gives it easily.
MEANWHILE, this old faithful blog continues to explore Paul’s Corinthian correspondence day by day. At present it is dealing with 2 Corinthians. I’m assuming that all his Corinthian letters were sent from Ephesos. The news headline is a reminder of the world we live in.
2 Corinthians 5
This is one of the greatest of Paul’s compositions, and the translation offered here is my own.
For we know that if our temporary house on earth is demolished, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, everlasting in the heavens; and certainly in this one, we sigh with longing to be clothed with our house from heaven – as long as, once we’ve been stripped, we’re not left naked! For weighed down as we are in this tent, we sigh, not to be stripped but to be clothed, so that the mortal being may be swallowed up by life.
The One who has fitted us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a first instalment. Since therefore we are always confident and know that ‘at home’ in the body means ‘away’ from the Lord – for we walk by trust and not by sight – we are indeed confident and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our ambition to be acceptable to him, at home or away; for we must all appear before the tribunal of Messiah, so that each one may receive the recompense of his bodily life, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
Therefore, because we know the fear of the Lord, we work to persuade others, but we are completely transparent to God, as I hope we are also to your judgement. No, we are not recommending but ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you have something to set against those who boast of the face and not the heart. For if we are ‘out of our minds’ it is for God; if we are sane, it is for you.
Messiah’s love compels us –
– since we have come to this conclusion that one died for all, therefore all died; and he died for all so that those alive might no longer live for themselves but for him who died and rose again for them –
Messiah’s love compels us from now on to see nobody with worldly eyes. Even if we have seen Messiah with worldly eyes, we no longer do so. For if anyone is in Messiah, there is new creation: old things have slipped away; new things have arrived, all of which are from God who reconciled us to himself through Messiah and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Messiah, reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning their faults to their account, and he has entrusted us with the word of reconciliation.
So we are Messiah’s ambassadors, God making his appeal through us. We ask on Messiah’s behalf: be reconciled to God! The One who knew no sin, God made him into sin for our sake, so that in him we might become the goodness of God.
In the first section of this passage Paul plays with the image of a tent. We remember that he was a tent maker who often plied his trade to pay his own expenses as a missionary. We also should remember the holy tent enclosing the Covenant Box, carried by the Israelites through the desert, as the place of God’s presence. Paul describes the human body as a tent in which the human person lives on earth, and which will be demolished on death, when God will provide a new immortal house for each person. At present God can dwell with us in our mortal bodies, as he dwelt with the Israelites in the holy tent, but in the life to come, the very fabric of our bodies will share God’s immortality. .
Paul says that trust in this future makes him long for it to come, but that even in this earthly life he can be full,of confidence. Those who criticise the hope of resurrection as depriving this life of meaning and purpose, should reckon with Paul’s life of adventure, courage and affection. I’m glad to note Paul’s assertion that trust in Messiah JEsus does not mean that we shall escape judgement; each will be ‘recompensed for what he/ she has done in the body’. I like that. I do not want a sort of blanket mercy that ignores my life. Trusting in God’s mercy, I want the truth about myself at last.
The second section of this passage deals with the way in which God has transformed the lives of those who trust in Jesus Messiah. Paul’s thought is vivid and complex so I’ll note the elements of his theology bit by bit.
1. Jesus Messiah has died for all. This language reflects the song of the servant in Isaiah 53, in which the servant/ Israel suffers “for” the Gentile nations, to bring them to God. This is the strange fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham that in his descendants all nations will be blessed. Paul sees Jesus Messiah offering to God the perfect obedience and sacrifice which Israel has not offered; and that now all people can identify with this offering and find God’s blessing.
2. Because of Jesus’ death for all, “all” have died. I think Paul means that all who trust Messiah Jesus identify with his death, by surrendering their selfish selves. That is why they can now live for him and not for themselves.
3. Living for or in Messiah Jesus involves a complete change of perspective. It means abandoning our old selves to God’s continuous creating action by which we are utterly changed.
4. Our capacity to abandon our old selves, is brought about by God who in Jesus accepts us and sets aside the barrier of our sins. We respond to this advance of trust by entering God’s new creation.
5. This “setting aside the barrier of our sins” is no mere act of forgetfulness. No, Jesus Messiah has come to find us in the place of our sinfulness, has bound himself to our sin, in death and separation from God, so that we can be bound to him in God’s goodness, which is the creative process of which it can be said, “And God saw it, that it was good.”
6. As Paul tells this story there is no separation between God and his Messiah, and no confusion of their different roles in the transformation of humanity.
Of course, Paul’s passionate language is much more flexible and suggestive than mine, but this prosaic account may help those who are unfamiliar with his way of thinking.