The young church in Corinth was having its problems. Sex scandals, cliques, rumors, squabbles, even lawsuits within the church family – no wonder Paul felt compelled to write to this body of believers poised to tear itself apart at the seams.
There were positives in the Corinthian church too, of course. But as often happens, once they got their eyes off God and on themselves, the upsets just seemed to keep on coming. It wasn’t all about God’s truth anymore, but about proving that I’m right and you’re wrong. And those factions had dug in, even bringing their divisions to the communion table. “No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you has God’s approval,” Paul writes with sad irony.
Clearly, none of this had God’s approval. Division is Satan’s territory, not God’s. But under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul was helping them to work through it, to get things back into perspective.
All of us who have faced a personal tragedy know how quickly it changes our views about what’s important. Things that occupied big chunks of our thinking and efforts just a day earlier are suddenly inconsequential when a loved one dies suddenly, or other negative events rock our lives. There’s nothing like serious trouble to separate the vital from the trivial, and the worse the trouble, the sharper the perspective.
Perhaps this was one reason Paul begins his second letter to the Corinthian church by talking about his struggles as he conducted his ministry. “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself,” Paul says. Later he gives some details: 39 lashes on five occasions; beaten with rods three times; three shipwrecks; facing dangers on all sides from people and the elements; thrown in prison; often sleepless, hungry, thirsty, cold, and lacking adequate clothing. I can almost hear Paul saying to the Corinthians, “You think you’ve got troubles?”
Paul faces trouble with a capital “T.” But, he says, it serves a purpose; it keeps him focused on what – and Who – his work is really about and for. “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God,” he explains. By keeping his eyes on God and trusting in His power, Paul can report that “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
Then Paul says an astonishing thing. He refers to these repeated life-threatening events as “light and momentary troubles.” Seriously?
Amazingly, yes. Compared with what God has for us in eternity, these hardships don’t amount to a hill of beans. Paul has an eternal perspective, and it changes everything.
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal,” Paul says.
Squabbles are temporary.
Hurt feelings are temporary.
Power plays are temporary.
Sensual indulgence is temporary.
So what should we fix our eyes on? What should we spend our time and energy fostering?
Love is the vital underpinning of our life here and hereafter. The kind of love that God calls us to “is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
This is the love God has for us, and the kind we must have for one another. We can only have it when we depend totally on God. Whatever else happens, this kind of love never fails.
This kind of love is not temporary, given when we feel like it, when everything is going well. This kind of love takes guts, grit and most of all, grace. Satan will throw everything in his arsenal at us to make us let go of it, to lose our perspective, to focus on the temporary.
Love is eternal. Let’s adjust our vision until we can see that with absolute clarity.