For the Love of God, Volume 2/March 10

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Exodus 21; Luke 24; Job 39; 2 Corinthians 9

THE SEPTEMBER 20 MEDITATION IN volume 1 worked its way through 2 Corinthians 9. Nevertheless I want to come back to that passage.

Paul’s carefully worded exhortation to the Christians in Corinth—to have ready for him the money they pledged to send to the poor in Jerusalem (chaps. 8—9)—need not be reviewed again. What I shall focus on for today’s meditation is how Paul’s exhortation about giving and money is tied to the Gospel.

In chapter 8 Paul invokes the example of Christ’s self-giving: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (8:9). Here in chapter 9 Paul says that, if the Corinthians come through with their promised gift, people “will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity” (9:13, italics added). In any case Paul never lets Christians forget that all our giving is but a pale reflection of God’s “indescribable gift” (9:15), which of course lies at the heart of the Gospel.

So much of basic Christian ethics is tied in one way or another to the Gospel. When husbands need instruction on how to treat their wives, Paul does not introduce special marriage therapy or appeal to a mystical experience. Rather, he grounds conduct in the Gospel: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). If you are looking for maturity, beware of any “deeper life” approach that sidesteps the Gospel, for Paul writes, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:6-7). Of course, there is “deeper life” in the sense that Christians are exhorted to press on toward greater conformity to Christ Jesus and not to be satisfied with their present level of obedience (e.g., Phil. 3). But none of this is an appeal to something that leaves the Gospel behind or that adds something to the Gospel.

We must avoid the view that, while the Gospel provides a sort of escape ticket from judgment and hell, all the real life-transforming power comes from something else—an esoteric doctrine, a mystical experience, a therapeutic technique, a discipleship course. That is too narrow a view of the Gospel. Worse, it ends up relativizing and marginalizing the Gospel, stripping it of its power while it directs the attention of people away from the Gospel and toward something less helpful.

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