2 Cor. 4:13—5:1
13 We have the same faithful spirit as what is written in scripture: I had faith, and so I spoke. We also have faith, and so we also speak. 14 We do this because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus, and he will bring us into his presence along with you. 15 All these things are for your benefit. As grace increases to benefit more and more people, it will cause gratitude to increase, which results in God’s glory.
16 So we aren’t depressed. But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. 17 Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. 18 We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.
5 We know that if the tent that we live in on earth is torn down, we have a building from God. It’s a house that isn’t handmade, which is eternal and located in heaven.
Paul here, in this, his most personal of all his letters, gives us extraordinary insight into how we ought to reframe the course of our life as followers of Jesus Christ. Reframing is perhaps the most pervasive and least recognized response to God’s grace in Christ in Christian living.
By reframing I mean coming to understand one’s life as part of God’s story. Our usual tendency, at least in the west, has been to try and understand God as a part of our story. Such a practice ends up domesticating God and harnessing him to what projects or agendas we devise for our lives. Paul, however, will have none of this. He has learned to reframe his story as a part of God’s story and this is a good part of what makes him an effective apostle and Christian. Let’s see how he does this in our reading for today.
Paul makes three moves in his reframing.
1. He decenters himself.
Contrary to the dogma of our western creed, it is NOT “all about us.” Some of the practical consequences of this we see in Paul’s subordination of his ownership and sense of his life to God: “We do this because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus, and he will bring us into his presence along with you” (4:14). Reframing requires first of all a resurrection reality-base. Without this one cannot follow Paul or even really understand what he does here.
2. He deploys God’s “glory” as his end game.
This used to be a staple, especially of reformed theology. I heard a story from the Netherlands about an 18th century candidate for ministry who was being examined at Presbytery. One presbyter asked him if he was willing to be damned for the glory of God. The candidate paused, are replied, “No, but I’d be willing for the presbytery to be so damned.” Much of this earlier deployment of God’s glory treats it primarily as an primary abstract quality of God for which we are due to honor him. However, if we reach back to Irenaeus in the 2nd century, we can recover a different and better sense of God’s glory that makes much better sense in Paul’s deployment of it here. Irenaeus described the “glory of God” as “humanity fully alive and to be alive consists in beholding God.” This ties in nicely with what Paul writes here: “As grace increases to benefit more and more people, it will cause gratitude to increase, which results in God’s glory.”
Though we seldom think of God’s glory in any way other than an increase in his good reputation, it would behoove us to follow Paul’s lead here and embrace a vision of God’s glory like that of Irenaeus. That’s a vision of glory we can genuinely deploy as an energizing and alluring end game in our service to God.
3. He develops an undaunted drive for ministry.
As Paul works with, to, and for others, this drive enables his to not allow his suffering and deprivations (of which there were many and often) to depress him (v.16). Instead, with God’s raising Jesus from the dead as his reality-base and God’s glory (as just described) as his theological and missional end game, Paul’s reframing of his life as a part of God’s story sustains him when the “rubber hits the road.”
Difficulties and sufferings are no longer taken personally (as it were) and allowed to define reality for Paul. Rather, with the resurrection of Jesus, and the cross he made his modus operandi which lead to it, such things are the raw material out which Paul can minister to others (see 2 Cor.1:3-7) in way that increases God’s glory.
Such reframing is a skill badly needed in our time and place. Paul can be a wise guide here, if we will follow him. His letter to the Philippians is a full-dress exercise in this kind of reframing. I hope and pray each of us will spend time allowing Paul to teach how to reframe our lives as part of God’s story. Thanks be to God!