When Paul wrote the letter we now call Second Corinthians, his relationship with the believers at Corinth was already well established. He had lived among them for at least eighteen months. Along with visits, he likely had written other letters besides the two we have preserved in Christian scriptures.
Paul is not writing a disinterested treatise for readers to debate. He is writing a personal appeal, born of his own life and his mutual life with his readers. And his interactions with them were not all pleasant. Later in this letter (chapters 10-13), Paul addresses the difficulties between him and some of the Corinthians. He brings to light charges of hypocrisy (“timid” when face to face but “bold” in letters). He charges some Corinthians with unwise boasting. He defends himself against charges of lack of affection. And he names some of his detractors as false prophets.
But the bulk of this letter, including today’s passage, is more conciliatory. In addition, the Corinthians are aware of Paul’s triumphs and his adversities. They know what he refers to as this “slight, momentary affliction.” They know his afflictions have been many and that he does not lose heart.
And their knowledge of Paul’s afflictions is not simply from a detached distance. They are aware of his sacrifices and the gift of the good news he has brought them. They know what his commitment to them has cost him. He is writing out of gratitude and a desire for reconciliation.
We too experience afflictions of various kinds. Our relationships are healthy and unhealthy, strong and weak, rewarding and empty. But Paul points to the possibilities. Hope endures even over our greatest obstacle, and our most difficult relationships.
God, help us in times of our “light and momentary afflictions.” Give us the gifts of reconciliation and hope in our circumstances. Amen.
We sometimes struggle to believe in the power of a God we cannot see. The psalmist declares that God is greater than any earthly king and will preserve us in the face of our enemies. However, in the time of Samuel, the Israelites demanded a human king to lead them into battle. God was not enough for them. Paul admonishes the Corinthians not to repeat this mistake. We should not think that what we see is the ultimate reality. What we see is temporary; what cannot be seen is eternal. Perhaps Jesus is teaching a similar idea in this somewhat troubling passage in Mark. Jesus is not against family, but he is emphasizing that human families are temporary; spiritual family is eternal.
Read 1 Samuel 8:4-20. How are you influenced by the culture around you? What helps you try to align your priorities with God’s?
Read Psalm 138. When you “walk in the midst of trouble,” how do you remember God’s presence with you?
Read 2 Corinthians 4:13–5:1. How do you find yourself being renewed today in spite of parts of your “outer nature” that may be “wasting away”?
Read Mark 3:20-35. Who is your spiritual family? Whom do you identify as your brothers, sisters, mother, and father?
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