So in my attempt to approach life differently these days I’ve also started approaching reading Scripture again in a new light. After reading a passage from 2 Corinthians in a devotional I thought maybe there was some more wisdom to glean from this letter so one afternoon I opened it up and started reading. I started at the beginning and didn’t stop till I reached the end. Now normally I would have read a section and left it at that and pulled out my journal and willed myself to find some application to my life, but this time felt different.
I’ve probably read through the whole Bible at this point in my life. I’ve had this desire for as long as I can remember to learn the original languages of the Bible. I don’t know what it is but over the years reading the Bible and then teaching it to others has been my happy place in life and when I’m not doing it, everything feels out of joint. One thing that rubs me the wrong way is when we take Scripture passages and dissect them out of their natural context to suit whatever point we’re trying to make in life. This is not why the Bible was given to us.
So that day I picked up 2 Corinthians I thought how would the original recipients of this letter have received it. They wouldn’t have dissected it, they would have listened from beginning to end wondering what their mentor and father of faith Paul had to say to them. They would have been eager to get to hear from him, except maybe the people he chastises, and they would have listened to the whole thing and the completeness of what Paul was sharing about life.
Well, I have to say that I felt like I was reading these words for the first time in my life. I found the pithy quotes we so often pull out but they took on new meaning and I realized that one of the things I abhor is exactly what I’ve done to these words of wisdom, manipulated them for my own benefit. Sure, I was maybe reading the letter differently because I was different and because words take on new meaning depending on the lens we are looking through at the time, but this new lens was more than just me, it was about the Word I was reading and what it was revealing to me.
The passage that has left an imprint on me all these months later still comes at the beginning-ish in the fifth chapter. (I must admit I really don’t like chapter and verse numbers when reading, it’s so distracting and helps too much with the dissecting I think). Written there is this little gem that gets pulled out so often to make us feel better about ourselves, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Well, of course, it gets quoted all the time, it’s a tenant essential to our faith, but I believe after reading the whole letter, it’s a line not about you at all.
Here’s the deal that we American Christians must face up to, our faith, isn’t about us. Jesus isn’t here just for you. My faith is not some personal, self-help, feel better about me thing. To believe it’s about us continues to pervert the idea of grace and prolong the lie that started in the Garden that we could be like God. Our faith, our relationship with God is a gift given, something we were created for because here’s the thing, we are the creation, not the creator. Anything we have is because of God and so his words are not meant to make us feel better but are meant to glorify him and transform us so that we can, in turn, glorify him. So when we read the Bible and wonder what am I suppose to get out of this, we miss the point from the very beginning.
So back to Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. He’s laying out the gospel again to the people, he’s compelling them to understand what the words he preached to them meant, that Christ came to reconcile a people, not a person and he, Christ died so that we would no longer live for ourselves, patting ourselves on the back but that we should live for God. And then he says this line, “that we no longer view anyone from a worldly perspective, but that we view them from as a new creation in Christ, the old is gone, the new has come!” (forgive my paraphrasing in there).
My mind was blown. All this time I kept regarding myself as a new creation, but what about everyone else I came in contact with? What about my husband, my friends, my neighbors. What about the people I don’t get along with. They are a new creation too and even though I might be regarding them from a worldly perspective, how they’ve hurt me or sinned against another, guess what, in Christ, they are a new creation and because of that, I don’t get to view them how I want to anymore, if I’m a new creation too.
Now understanding these words as they are illuminating my mind in a whole new way, how will I look to others? Will I see them through eyes of compassion, regarding them as Jesus does first extending grace? Will I regard people on how they can best serve me, make me feel better about myself, or will I think first how to love my neighbor, therefore loving God and fulfilling all the law and prophets? When someone hurts me, and let’s be honest we all hurt each other on a continual basis, what will be my first reaction? Or my second reaction? Or my seventy times seven reaction? Am I willing to push my ego aside and view others as a new creation in Christ?
This is hard friends, and it is uprooting those sins that are deep. But don’t you have hope? Because that’s what else I see in this letter from Paul. If reconciling the whole world to himself is possible and because of that I get to be included in this new creation well then sign me up, because Paul also talks a lot about momentary suffering and that this road in this life will be marked by it. I believe that this suffering has everything to do with our transformation and so we set our eyes on what is unseen, that which is eternal.