Living in a changing world shaped by eternal values
Paul opens the lectionary passage by explaining the reason for his confession of faith. We find the same message found in I Corinthians 15 where he confessed teaching the resurrection of Jesus. In the 2 Corinthians passage we find his testimony to the resurrection in v. 14 “We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also.” We also find the same authority for his confession. In I Corinthians 15 he affirmed his theology to be “according to the scripture,” and here in verse 13 he claimed to have the “same spirit of faith that is in accordance with the scripture.” He made his confession by quoting from Psalm 116:10, “I believed and so I speak.” Verses 14 and 15 contain a string of promises that produce faith: raised with Jesus, in his presence, and for your sake. The resurrection destroys the ultimate cause of suffering, the mortality that leads to death.
Beginning in verse 16 Paul explains why he did not lose heart in the midst of suffering. He contrasts the wasting away of the outer nature with the renewal of the inner nature. Focusing upon the eternal and putting the present into perspective is not the message and practice of Christians alone. Similar to some Christians who fast during the season of Lent, both Jews and Muslims practice times of fasting. Perhaps looking at their practices can remind Christians of how they might renew their inner nature even while living in a temporal world where everything decays and wastes away. The Jewish year begins with the High Holy Days when Jews pause to remember the deliverance brought by God and the need to restore relationships with fellow humans and with God. The High Holy Days start with Rosh Hashanah celebrated as a one day holiday in Jerusalem and two days outside of Israel. In 2018 in the United States Rosh Hashanah begins at sunset on Sunday, September 9, and ends at nightfall on Tuesday, September 11. The High Holy Days culminate with Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement that begins at sunset on September 18 and ends at nightfall on September 19. On Yom Kippur, observant Jews fast or remove themselves from five areas of physical involvement: “eating and drinking, washing, applying oils or lotions to the skin, marital relations and wearing leather shoes.”[see link] Can you guess why Jews abstain from these acts? The following explanation tells why: “Throughout the year, many people spend their days focusing on almost nothing else besides food, sex, work, superficial material possessions (symbolized by shoes) and superficial pleasures (symbolized by anointing). On Yom Kippur, we restore our priorities to what really counts in life.” [https://www.ou.org/holidays/yom-kippur/the_abcs_of_yom_kippur/]. On this day Jews focus upon God. In this season they consider how they relate to both other humans and God. What practices of the Christian faith invade our living to remind us of a higher purpose? How might our inner nature be renewed as we live out the Christian faith within a materialistic culture?
Presently, Muslims are observing Ramadan with a month long fast. The celebration during the ninth month of the Muslim calendar has the capacity to reorient Muslims to focus on what really matters. During daylight, Muslims abstain from food, drink and many activities of pleasure. Ramadan calls attention to God’s revelation of the Qur’an and God’s deliverance of Muslims at Badr signaling that God had chosen them. Of particular significance are the last ten days of the month as it is believed to be when God’s angel commanded Muhammad to begin to recite the Qur’an. In 2018, Ramadan began on the evening of May 15 and ends on June 14 so we are now in the ten day period of the month when the Laylat al Qada or Night of Power is celebrated. In the US this special night will be the evening of June 10 into June 11. Muslims fast many of the things having to do with Paul’s outer nature in order to pray and meditate on the message sent from God in the Qur’an. In many Mosques the Qur’an is recited each day. Prayer is another focus. On the Night of Power one may spend the entire night inside the Mosque reciting special prayers. In a month devoted to fasting during daylight, one has special social gatherings with family and friends at night. Doing good deeds is another emphasis. Muslims speak of fasting of the hands and fasting of the tongue. People watch how they relate to one another and become sensitive as to what they say to each other. Fasting hopefully points to what is important and fosters self-control. Through fasting and remembrance, Muslims cultivate the perspective that what is permanent should take precedence over the temporary. Christians could be reminded by Jews and Muslims about how fasting might restore the value of the permanent to our living. Fasting becomes more than a health practice when one places spiritual thoughts and activities in the place of what is fasted. On Yom Kippur Jews focus on their relationship with God. During Ramadan Muslims consider the teachings revealed in the Qur’an. If Christians observe fasting, they can choose to give up something temporal and replace it with thoughts about God or activities that reveal commitment to the concerns of God. Fast something of temporal value to remember what is of ultimate value.
Paul continues to call Christians to focus on the permanent and eternal as he discusses the outer nature and the inner nature. But the question remains how one can focus on the permanent when the immediate is right before us. Paul’s attitude may not work for some. In verse 18 he contends “we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” Does Paul not understand that what we see and handle every day looks to be permanent while the unseen eternal seems unreal? How can we know the eternal is the real especially if our faith seems to discount the world that exists in front of our eyes? Is our faith of much value if it only points to future eschatology and ignores the needs and injustice of the world that we exist in? We have to be careful about valuing the unseen spiritual over the body making it seem that Christians should not care about the problems of this world. Remember Christian faith is founded on the resurrection of the body, not the immortality of the soul. At the same time Christians want to be aware, as are Jews and Muslims, that living is more than the sum total of what we eat and drink and who we relate to. However, the permanent values of the future Kingdom must connect to daily living. What we see might be temporal but the unseen eternal must invade the tangible world to have any relevance. Sometimes the values of the kingdom mean Christians see the world differently. Will Christians view race and the role of women differently than the prevailing culture of injustice and exploitation? Paul might help us realize that the permanent must appear in the temporal. In so doing our inner nature becomes renewed.
The passage closes in a similar fashion to its beginning with the focus on the ultimate answer to the problem of decay and suffering. 5:1 acknowledges the transformation resulting from the resurrection: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” From birth, death and decay chase all men and women until the end of life. In his resurrection, Jesus defeated this enemy so we have the promise of living beyond our own death. This promise must revalue everything we see and handle. Similar to Muslims, whatever the hands of Christians touch and whatever their tongue says must be shaped by their understanding of the eternal. For Christians this means their confession of the resurrection. In this way the validation of the permanent rests not merely upon the mere proclamation of the gospel and the rational argument for it, but in how we live out our faith in the everyday moments that constitute life as we know it. Just as Christians confess “He is Risen, Indeed!” on Easter Sunday, Christians should witness to the resurrection in how they live each day. A Christian life shaped by eternal values reveals that the message of the resurrection is not mere story or rhetoric but true and life changing. We too like Paul can confess, “I believed and so I speak.”