2 Corinthians 7:2-3 ~ 20190526 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
05/26_2 Corinthians 7:2-3; To Die Together and Live Together Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190526_2cor7_2-3.mp3
Paul has written to the Corinthians to address a problem in their understanding. They were questioning his qualifications as an apostle. He wasn't what they expected. They expected someone who had it together, who was impressive, who commanded attention, who didn't struggle, who didn't, well, who didn't suffer so much.
They were measuring success by the metrics of power, influence, position, possessions, progress, popularity, wealth, health, strength. They were measuring successful ministry according to the world's standards; they were not measuring according to the gospel.
Paul redefines for them what authentic ministry looks like, smells like. He teaches them to measure by a different standard. He teaches to measure according to Jesus, measure by the gospel, by the cross. There success looks like suffering, weakness, dependence, selfless sacrifice in service to others. He's taken 5 chapters to lay this foundation reshaping for them what authentic Christian ministry is.
In 6:11 he comes to the point; he applies what he has been teaching to them directly.
They were listening to other voices; they had become enamored with false apostles, and had begun to doubt Paul. As a means of enlarging their affections for their apostle, he exhorts them to cut off all inappropriate affections. Do not be yoked together in service with those who don't hold the same beliefs.
Although this is a personal issue, rather than take it personally, Paul uses it as an opportunity to teach truth. He points them to the promises of God as a foundation for holy affections; because of who you are in Christ, because God has promised to live in you and to adopt you as his own, don't live like those who don't know God; don't love the things that displease him. Pursue a life that pleases him.
And here in 7:2 he comes back around to their affections;
Having cut off unholy alliances, make much room for the apostle and authentic apostolic teaching. This word is the opposite of that in 6:12 'restricted or constricted, squeezed out'; you had no room for us in your affections; now make room for us.
Paul again affirms his integrity. We have seen him defend his character multiple times in this letter. Here he puts it staccato; no-one wronged; no-one corrupted; no-one exploited.
These are things Paul is likely being accused of. No one wronged. Some may have objected that he was overly harsh and unjustified in his demand in 1 Corinthians 5 to turn the unrepentant brother over to Satan. He was not wronged; it was for his good, ultimately for his salvation. It is possible that his firm stand against idolatry and immorality had cost some of the business owners in Corinth and they resented the loss. Paul would say 'any profit made that way will not profit you.' No one corrupted. Then and still today Paul is accused of corrupting or leading astray by his teaching, as if grace was a license to sin. No one exploited. Some were accusing him that his collection for the poor was a pretense for lining his own pockets and taking advantage of them. Paul flatly denies any of this. None of these are legitimate reasons to squeeze us out of your affections.
In fact, it is the false teachers who are peddling God's word for profit, who are leading astray to a different Jesus and corroding the relationship between this church and their apostle, who threaten to cost them great spiritual loss.
Paul is terse in his rejection of these false accusations, but he does not want them to misread his heart.
He goes out of his way to reiterate his affections for them. Referring to his previous painful letter in chapter 2 he said:
In chapter 3 he said that Corinthians are written on his heart. In 6:11 he said his heart is wide open to them. In 7:1 he addresses them as 'beloved'. Here he says 'you are in our hearts.' Paul is not reluctant to express his affections. He loves them. His heart is open to them, and that leaves him open to the real potential of being hurt by them.
To Die and Live Together
He affirms his affection by a common expression that he is willing to live or die with them. We see 'to live together and to die together' in classic literature as an expression of loyalty and friendship. Think of Peter's exclamation “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (Mt.26:35). David sings in his lament over Saul and Jonathan “In life and in death they were not divided” (2Sam.1:23).
Paul makes use of this common expression, but he doesn't use it unaltered. He adjusts it. He tweaks it to suit his purposes. Whenever we see Paul taking a common expression and changing it, it should alert us to pay attention and ask what he means by changing it.
The first thing he does is he makes this into a purpose statement. 'You are in our hearts, in order to die together and to live together; you are in our hearts so that we die together and live together.' His grammatical structure [εἰς τὸ + inf.] indicates purpose. Why? Normally we would expect a phrase like this to be conditional: 'if we live or if we die; whether we live or die; come what may, we are sticking together, we are in it to the end.' This is not what Paul says. Paul's aim is to die together and live together with this church, and so he keeps them in his heart.
The order here is also unusual; we would expect 'to live and die together.' But Paul reverses this intentionally, and puts death first.
When we see things like this, we should ask why? Why does he say it differently than we might expect? He is not sloppy or haphazard with his words. He is intentional. Every word is breathed out by God and profitable.
We think of the normal sequence, life and then death. But in the Christian experience, death comes before life. Romans 6 paints this picture.
You see, death must come before new life. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal.2:20). He says in Romans 6:8
He says the same thing in 2 Timothy 2:11
Peter says it this way:
Death comes before life. This comes directly from Jesus' teaching.
This teaching shows up in all four gospels more than once. Here in Mark it comes right after Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about his coming death. Death must come before life. We must die with Christ, die to ourselves if we would truly live. Jesus established this pattern himself. He says in John 10:
He says in John 12
Fruitful life comes after death, not before. Paul restates this teaching of Jesus in Romans 8:13
This is really what the letter of 2 Corinthians is about. Authentic ministry is sacrifice, suffering in service to others. Ministry, really the entire Christian experience is death before life, suffering before glory, the cross before the crown. We are:
Union and Communion in Community
Paul puts death before life, and he says that he has them in his heart so that he will die with them and live with them. Paul's life is wrapped up in the lives of his spiritual children. For Paul the Christian life is a life in community, a life together with. We died with Christ. We are united to him in his death, and in his resurrection. And if each of us individually is united with Christ, there is a sense in which we are united with one another in death and in life. There is a union with others in the body of Christ. None of us are solo Christians. We are connected.
On an objective theological level, we died with Christ and so we are united together in his death and resurrection life. That is true. But it seems Paul is looking at something more. He is looking to bring this theological reality out into practical experience. He wants to experience death together with them and life together with them. You are in our hearts in order to die together and to live together. There is an aspect of union and communion that is only experienced when we suffer together. He said back in chapter 1
Do you hear that? Suffering comes before comfort; death before life. We share in Christ's sufferings, and then we share in his comfort. And there is a together with aspect; we are afflicted for your comfort and salvation. And you experience comfort when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. There is a fellowship, a union and communion in suffering.
We know this to be true. When we suffer together there is a knitting together that happens. Soldiers on the battlefield together experience this. Hostages or captives that experience suffering together experience this. Unbelievers who suffer together can experience a union because of shared suffering.
But when this knitting together in suffering is combined with the theological reality of our union with Christ, this is the union and communion that Paul is after. We are not suffering together merely because of circumstances; we are suffering together because of Christ. The Corinthians can be experiencing affliction because of Jesus in Achaia, and Paul in Asia or Macedonia, but they are suffering together as Christians. They are experiencing a dying together and living together in affectionate relationship. You are in our hearts.
Paul longs for this relationship, for this connection. For this theological union to be played out in real communion. The connection is open on his end. He urges them to open the connection on their end.
Are we experiencing this battlefield unity with other believers? Are we united in death and in life? Do we have each other in our hearts in order to die together and live together?
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org