Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Where your strength comes from

…and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust [confided], and I am sure [persuaded] that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 2 Timothy 1.12

The word ‘confidence’ occurs 15 times in the New Testament, and 5 of those occurrences are in 2 Corinthians [5 are in Hebrews and the rest in other Pauline writings]. But the root of the word is the verb ‘to persuade’, and when you realize this, you realize also just how deeply embedded the idea of confidence is in the scriptures:

1.      God acts powerfully;
2.      We are persuaded by what we have seen and heard;
3.      We are filled with confidence;
4.      We are persuaded that what God has done will continue until the Kingdom come;
5.      We are transformed by God’s confidence in us and through us, and proclaim the gospel boldly.

Let me now briefly unwrap ‘confidence’ in 2 Corinthians. The argument is this:

1.      God redeems;
2.      We are given confidence/we are persuaded;
3.      Confidence is embedded in us;
4.      With that confidence, we act in the same way towards others.

This is acted out for starters in chapter 1, where – in response to his critics who accuse him of dithering – Paul reminds his hearers that they can have confidence in God’s ‘Yes’. God does not vacillate, is not changeable, does not dither. For in Christ every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ And, Paul says, because God only says ‘Yes’, you can have confidence in us his servants, for we live in the light of that ‘Yes’.

In the next chapter, he underlines the fact that our confidence in God’s Yes comes by way of Christ’s triumphal procession: we are redeemed by the saving work of Christ. As in chapter 1, we are led to understand that this confidence leads to transformed lives: new creations. The metaphor here is the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. We who have confidence in the work of God become part of God’s ongoing work of redeeming humanity.

The 3rd chapter speaks of confidence in terms of the new covenant, again rooting it in the redeeming blood of Christ. Such in the confidence that we have through Christ towards God. [3.4] This new covenant, which removes the veil, enables us to see the glory of God, and (again, in case we haven’t yet got it), we are told that God’s glory transforms us: from one degree of glory to another.

After a reality check in chapter 4 about our weakness and suffering, Paul comes back to the theme of glory: Though we suffer now, we are being prepared for an eternal weight of glory. Glory and confidence are fully interlinked, of course, because our confidence comes from the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ.  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. [John 1.14]
The 1st part of chapter 5 deals with the resurrection of the body: in the middle of it, though he is assured that he will be raised, he abandons everything for the sake of his pure confidence in God: Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. [5.8]
By the time we reach 5.14, Paul has repeatedly hammered home the two parallels:

Confidence in God is placed alongside our own brokenness
Confidence in Christ’s redeeming work leads to our transformation and reconciling work

So here’s your homework!

1.      Ask yourself how confident you are. If you are confident, be careful that it’s not self-confidence that you’re dealing with. If you’re unconfident, then know that you can depend on God alone.
2.      Knowing that in Christ we are a new creation, think about the fact that you are already changed – you are a likeness of a saint! How can you let this new creation shine out of you without striving to be nice, or good, or artificially holy?
3.      Do you really, really believe that the gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s Church? Or are you wasting a lot of missional time worrying about the death-throes of old institutional patterns?
4.      Are you confident in God and his Church, or in God despite his Church?

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