My martial arts instructor often talks about the difficulty of trying to put together a puzzle when all the pieces are still face-down on the table. It can be done, but without a sense of the larger picture, the task of putting together the puzzle becomes much more complex – much more arduous.
This morning, on the eighth day of reading through the New Testament, I felt as if I had the opportunity to turn over some of the puzzle pieces; and I’m starting to get a sense of the larger picture.
The first piece that was turned over this morning is found in 2 Corinthians 3:1-3. Here, the Apostle Paul talks about whether or not he needs “letters of recommendation” so that others might be willing to listen to Gospel he is preaching/living. Now look at what Paul says:
“You yourselves are … a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts.”
Typically, in the past, when I have heard others teach on this passage, the discussion turns to issues of piety. We are told that others will “see” Christ if we avoid certain behaviors and activities (e.g. swearing, drinking, gambling, pornography, etc…). But this morning, as I read through 2 Corinthians in one sitting, something else become abundantly clear. Take a look at the following themes that are discussed in the chapters that surround these verses:
- We don’t want to keep you in the dark about the suffering we went through in Asia. The load we had to cary was far too heavy for us; it got to the point where we gave up on life itself.” (1:8)
- God brings suffering so that comfort can be delivered to others (chpt 1)
- “We are under all kinds of pressure, but we are not crushed completely; we are at a loss, but not at our wits’ end; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are cast down, but not destroyed.” (4:8)
- “For we know that if our earthly house, our present “tent,” is destroyed, we have a building from God (5:1a)
- “We recommend ourselves as God’s servants: with much patience, with sufferings, difficulties, hardships, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard work, sleepless nights, going without food” (6:4-5)
So when you look at these words from chapter 3 in the context of the entire book, it becomes clear. We are not meant to be “letters” solely through our acts of piety. We are meant to be blood stained ink. We are meant to live our lives is such a way that our suffering for Christ bears witness to the centrality of His claim to be the Son of the Living God.
So now, when you look at this in context of the Gospels, which call us to reach out to the poor, the afflicted and the oppressed, it starts to come together; and the questions become obvious.
Does your discipleship involve reaching out to those in desperate need?
Does it involve any kind of significant sacrifice on your part?
Is your life marked by suffering?
If it is, does your suffering cause others to pity you or see Christ through way you handle it?
Now for the harder question:
What does it mean if your life is not marked in this way?