This morning at our men’s Bible Study group we looked at 2 Corinthians 11. Two things jumped out at me in particular:
First, in verse 4 Paul says,
‘For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough’ (NIV 2011).
It’s easy enough for me to use this verse as a weapon, to point fingers at others whose life and teaching don’t measure up to my own exacting standards. I think it’s more profitable to apply these words to myself and to the congregation I serve. We have a responsibility to make sure that the Lord Jesus Christ who we present is the real, biblical Lord Jesus Christ. And that means careful study of Jesus as he is presented to us in the gospels and the epistles, study that takes into account the historical background. I remember very well the summer I read N.T. Wright’s two fat books The New Testament and the People of God and Jesus and the Victory of God, and the huge impact they had on my understanding of Jesus and the Gospels. That sort of study is very important for me; I must be continually striving to make sure that I understand Jesus as accurately as possible, so that I may present him as faithfully as possible. And of course this cannot be divorced from following him as closely as possible!
The second thing that struck me (although it comes first, in chronological order) was verse 2:
‘I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him’ (NIV 2011)
The image Paul is using of becoming a Christian here is not marriage but betrothal. We as Christians are engaged to Christ, but the wedding is still to come, on ‘the day of his appearing’ (as other NT texts have it).
It struck me that there is a huge strand of popular Christian culture, not to mention the assumptions of those outside of Christian faith, that gets this wrong. We assume that we’re already married – that we’ve already received everything we hope for – and then we wonder why life is still so full of trouble and suffering. But Paul’s illustration assumes that the best is yet to come. A girl who is engaged to the love of her life enjoys being engaged, yes, but she enjoys it because she’s looking forward to the consummation of her hopes on her wedding day. She does not expect full satisfaction of those hopes in this waiting period. She knows that full satisfaction will not be possible until after the wedding.
And the same is true for us as Christians. It’s false and misleading to imply that if you just give your life to Jesus everything will be rosy from now on. That’s to mistake a betrothal for a wedding. No, Jesus promises us “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Trouble is not a sign that something is wrong, it’s just ‘situation normal’. We will continue to struggle, but in the midst of our struggles we look forward with hope to the day when our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed and the wedding feast will take place!
Let me close with some words of Peter along the same lines:
‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time’ (1 Peter 1:3-5, NIV 2011).