” I told myself…that to be able to see the spot where Dietrich had managed, against all odds, to train young men for the ministry not in the state church but in the newly formed Confessing Church whose pastors refused to take the loyalty oath to Hitler, was important for our pilgrimage. Every day they risked their lives. Every day they stood against the Nazi machine, witnessing to another reality, an alternative truth and a transformed community.” Jim Belcher: ‘In search of Deep Faith’, p.10.
As we know, there were so – called ‘super apostles’ influencing the church in Corinth. These braggarts lifted themselves up and put Paul down. Shepherds care for the flock but false teachers ‘fleece’ the sheep (20). Spiritual abuse was taking place in that congregation. In speaking about ”boasting”, Paul is being ironic. There is more than a hint of sarcasm in his words. Paul’s boast was not about Himself, but it was of the Lord and His strength (30). His aim was to bring praise to God (31). His very weakness made him more deeply reliant on God’s resources, and that meant God’s glory shone all the more brightly in him and through him.
A key message of 2 Corinthians is that suffering is the badge of authenticity. It was clear to see that the persecuted Paul was the genuine article, and that the proud, egotistical false teachers were not. Here is a test of genuineness: ‘How much are you prepared to suffer for your faith?’ There are two words repeated frequently in today’s passage. They are ”in danger”. That was Paul’s life story. He was ‘Danger Man!’ His life was constantly under threat. How different he was to the mouthy imposters. They had flashy words; Paul had outstanding character. His life was lived under constant threat, and he endured so much privation for the sake of Christ. Never lose sight of the fact that it is always dangerous to be a Christian, although some believers are forced to face this reality more than others. But it’s always true.
Another key word in the passage is ”more”(23). There was so much more to Paul than there was to the false apostles, and that more came from God ultimately. But genuine people, have you noticed, are prepared to give so much more of themselves, and do more, and put up with more for the cause of Jesus?
It is possible to read this bit of the Bible and feel guilty that you don’t suffer anything like Paul did. But would you want to? No, neither do I? I don’t think God intends us to feel such shame. We can’t make ourselves suffer, nor should we try. But the question to face is this: ‘Are you prepared to live faithfully, openly and honestly for Jesus in the culture in which God has placed you? And, the Lord helping you, are you prepared to take whatever hostility may come your way for standing up as a Christian and living the Jesus way?’ In ‘In search of deep faith’ , Jim Belcher tells how he and his wife and young family of two girls and two boys, took a year out and travelled across Europe on a ‘pilgrimage’, visiting sites connected to great heroes of the faith like Corrie Ten Boom, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and C.S.Lewis. They started out in Oxford and visited the place where Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer were martyred. Belcher used this trip to teach his children important truths about the life of discipleship whilst ‘on the go’ ”I asked them if they would be willing to be burned at the stake for their beliefs. They didn’t answer. ”Or would you recant,” I asked them, ”and say you don’t really believe in order to save your life?” They laughed nervously. I pushed a little harder, with a little more enthusiasm…You may never have to face that dilemma, I told them, but what if someday someone asks you if you are a Christian? Will you deny it? How strong are your convictions, your roots?…will you just keep quiet about what you believe and go with the flow of those around you?” (p.27).
Allow yourself to feel the force of these questions. They are important for us all.
Prayer: Lord, I never want to deny you or let you down. Let me never be ashamed of you.