Jars of Clay: The Pastoral Heart

jars - calendarThere were lots of things which caused Paul to consider he was a jar of clay. The violence he experienced, the weight of apostolic responsibility, and “people”. People give us our greatest joys and some of our deepest despairs.

The Corinthians people problem.

Paul nowhere mentions the specifics of the offence. Could have been the same as in 1 Cor 5

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? …. 4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,[a][b] so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

…. 9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[c] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

1. If the offence been against Paul alone, he would have been compelled to heed his own advice in 1 Corinthians 6:7 and "rather be wronged" than pursue personal vindication.

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. 9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

2. But, the integrity of the congregation was at stake (1 Cor. 4:14-21).

If not the 1 Cor 5 man, then this is someone who is undermining the church and Paul’s ministry to it. This is the heart of much church discord.

Most of the Corinthians seem to have initially sided with this offender. Later, after the majority had repented as a result of Paul’s "tearful letter"; (2:4,-7:8-13), they grieved with Paul because of the offenders influence over them. They consequently punished him (2:6), by excluding him from the fellowship of the Christian community in accordance with the precedent set in 1 Corinthians 5:2, 5, 13.

The punishment had its intended, salutary impact. The offender had repented. He was ready to re-join the congregation. In response, Paul calls the Corinthians to follow in his footsteps not only in pouring out punishment on those who deserve it, but also in showing mercy to the repentant. Paul’s purpose is redemptive, not the reestablishment of reputations.

Baptists’ churches, until they started behaving like Victorian clubs, and now charitable businesses also did this. Baptist year books would contain the names of the covenanted members and then described any disciplinary action taken (usually excluding the offender from communion).

3. There is a spiritual battle that is raging as they fight the temptation to bear a grudge and to transform their punishment into an act of revenge by extending it beyond what is needed.

The majority of the Corinthians had shown righteous anger against the one who caused Paul grief and harmed the church. Now it is time to pass the ultimate test of whether their repentance is indeed legitimate. Nothing less than the validity of their own salvation is on the line in the call to forgive others. Those who have repented and experienced mercy from God have no choice but to extend the same mercy to those who have done likewise (Matt. 6:12, 14-15).

4. Pastoral care is based on theology and ecclesiology (1:12-2:4).

Our behaviour is not just WWJD! In our finite, sinful state we cannot do everything that Jesus did as the messianic Son of Man and the incarnate, divine Word. Most attempts to discover "WWJD" degenerate into an attempt to “get behind the texts of the Gospels” into the "mind of Christ." At best a guess. We find this so difficult to understand because we believe that there is some hidden will of God seen in “doing the loving thing”. Paul’s concern was not there is some hidden "will of God" that he must set out to discover. To God’s plan for our lives, we must discover the Bible itself as the focal point for finding God’s purposes.

Paul was practicing what he preached when he admonished others to be "imitators of God" (Eph. 5:1). In 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, he applies the same principles to the Corinthians. He expected them to "follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1)..

A. Theology: There is a direct link between theology and ethics, between the dynamic nature of God’s presence in one’s life and how we actually live. God’s work in our lives will mean that we do not need to hide our actions or motives behind a wall of secrecy, even when we are wrong (1:13). For “Jars of Clay”, this combination of humility before others and confidence before God becomes the strength we need(1:14).

Faced with unbelief, even among those who claim to follow Christ, our response must therefore always be to warn of the judgment of God rather than to offer a false comfort in the midst of sin (cf. 13:1-10). At the same time, the offer of forgiveness and reconciliation to those who return to Christ must be equally strong. Such a serious and gracious call will be the very means God uses to bring his people to repentance (cf. 7:8-13). We must also examine ourselves, to make sure that we too are not presuming on God’s grace in the face of flagrant sin.

B. Ecclesiology. In 2:5-11, the overarching principle that guided Paul was his understanding of the church.

i. We are connected

In 1 Corinthians 12:26: "If one part suffers, every part if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it". The grief, punishment, and forgiveness taking place in the church are not individual matters of private experience. Being part of the Christian community is not a slogan. Our local gathering of God’s people is part of own identity. Like a family we are inextricably intertwined. Such a collective understanding is not easy to maintain in the West, with its transient individualism.

John Piper: So what is love? Love abounds between us when your joy is mine and my joy is yours. I am not loving just because I seek your joy, but because I seek it as mine. … love is what exists between people when they find their joy in each other’s joy.

Our joy is all wrapped up in each other’s joy!.(Phil. 2:1-4). This is the point of 2 Corinthians 2:3b. Our mutual joy is at stake. When one member of the body of Christ suffers, all suffer,- when one is honoured, all rejoice (1 Cor. 12:26).

ii. Genuine faith needs both the courage to confront and the willingness to forgive

Church is not a "club" we have "joined. As Jesus’ qualifications to prayer demonstrate (cf. Matt 6:12, 14-15),

   14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

this twofold test of faith is intimately intertwined. Not to forgive the sinner is evidence that we have not repented and experienced forgiveness ourselves (Matt 18:21-35)

3. The Lordship of Christ leads to forgiving others for their sake, not to seeking vengeance for one’s own.

He who has had mercy on us will be the one to judge us, with Christ’s own righteous and merciful character being the essential criterion for evaluation. Those who have received mercy in Christ will be merciful to others, receiving mercy from Christ on the Day of Judgment.

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