THE ADVENTURE OF FAITH
By Steve Zeisler
C.S. Lewis once said the following about poet George Herbert, looking
back on a time in his life when he himself was antagonistic towards the
Here was a man who seemed to me to excel all the authors I had
read in conveying the very quality of life as we live it from moment to
moment, but the wretched fellow, instead of doing it all directly, insisted
on mediating it through what I still would have called the "Christian
mythology." The upshot of it all could nearly be expressed, "Christians
are wrong, but all the rest are bores."
Lewis could not bring himself to accept what people like George Herbert
believed, but there was reality, attractiveness, authenticity and vitality
about such people that he found lacking in others. This is why he declared,
"Christians are wrong, but all the rest are bores."
If believers do not frequently manifest the kind of Christianity that causes
non-Christians to think along these lines, something is wrong. They may
not agree with us, to be sure. Certain elements of the Christian faith are
totally foreign to those who have been blinded by the god of this age; nevertheless
they ought to be challenged by it.
In the passage to which we come this morning, chapter 6 of 2 Corinthians,
the apostle Paul is concluding a lengthy section (chapters 2-6) concerning
the nature of Christian ministry. The phrases "ministers of a new covenant,"
and "ministers of reconciliation" are described and advocated
as superior to the ministry of a group with the inflated title, "super-apostles"
who preached a "different gospel" (11:4-5). If our lives do not
manifest vital Christianity, rather than a shallow substitute--a Christianity
of substance, not of style--then we are in danger of receiving God's grace
"in vain," to use Paul's words in the opening verse of chapter
As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace
in vain. For he says,
"in the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you."
I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.
We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that our ministry will not
be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every
No stumbling blocks
"Our ministry must not be discredited," says Paul. We take great
care to avoid placing a stumbling block in anyone's path; anything that
will cause someone to fall or to veer off in the wrong direction and miss
what God is offering them.
We must recall the context of these statements. Paul concluded chapter 5
with the powerful statement, "Be reconciled to God. God made him who
had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness
of God." As ministers, ambassadors of reconciliation, Christians should
be very careful that their behavior is such that nothing is placed as a
stumbling block in the way of non-believers.
When we hear the words, "stumbling block," what comes to mind?
Don't we usually think of some of the awkward, hard to accept aspects of
the Christian faith? The insistence of the New Testament that "there
is only one Mediator between God and man," for instance. The only means
by which sinners can come to know a righteous God is through Jesus Christ.
There is only one way to heaven, only one Savior. There are no other options.
Don't we at times think of this hard truth as an impediment to non-Christians
who are considering the gospel? They want instead a more flexible, inclusive
Endurance attracts the attention of unbelievers
The simplicity of the gospel seems likely to put off those with great intellectual
gifts. While the learned are forever probing the reason why things are the
way they are, Christians seem to have rather simplistic, naive answers to
the human dilemma. This is why we are tempted to be more sophisticated in
our presentation of the claims of the gospel--so as to present fewer stumbling
blocks to the non-believer.
But the passage before us, in which Paul says he is determined to "put
no stumbling block in anyone's path," seems to glory in the difficult
and awkward elements of real Christianity. He is doing this to remind us
that it is not the difficult, embarrassing things about the gospel that
cause people to stumble, rather, it is our very efforts to dilute, soften
and misrepresent the gospel that cause problems for unbelievers. In his
pre-Christian days, C.S. Lewis did not like Christianity, yet he found himself
attracted to the vibrancy and vitality which he recognized in the lives
of certain of his friends and in the poetry of George Herbert. Let us be
careful that in our efforts to remove stumbling blocks we instead mask the
reality of Christianity, and thereby achieve exactly what we hoped to avoid.
Leaving in the hard parts
Beginning with verse 4, Paul goes on to summarize what he himself had been
through in the course of his ministry:
Rather, as servants of the living God we commend ourselves in
every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in
beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;
in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and
in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons
of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor,
bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as imposters; known, yet
regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;
sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing,
and yet possessing everything.
What a remarkable man! What a remarkable life! There are a number of things
about this description by Paul of his Christian life that, on the one hand,
would make people want to avoid contact with such an individual, yet these
words are vibrant with real life. Someone has described Christians as "always
changing, continuously joyful, and everlastingly in trouble." Compared
with the apostle's description of his life, even this seems an under-statement.
Living the Christian life is not easy, but it's vital and real.
Paul begins this list by using the word "endurance." This is a
descriptive word in Greek which means "to hang in, to stay under pressure."
Then he speaks of "troubles, hardships and distresses." Here he
is referring to the beatings we take in life, when we become sick, when
things go wrong--floods, earthquakes, etc.--all the hard things that beset
us. These are not unique to Christians; they happen to everyone. But how
we respond to them is what makes us different. If we can hang in and handle
pressures that crush others, if we can continue to love those who have misused
and hurt us, then we have endured. Like those tri-athletes who bike two
hundred miles, swim ten miles, and run double marathons, demonstrating incredible
endurance in the process, there is something about Christians who endure
under tremendous pressure, and it is that endurance that attracts the attention
Paul then goes on to list some uncommon circumstances--"beatings, imprisonments
and riots." He suffered these persecutions for his faith because he
would not back down. I was in a riot once, at Stanford University in the
spring of 1970, during the time of student revolt against the Viet Nam war.
One night on the quad there were scores of helmeted police, and a growing
swell of students and onlookers. A number of fiery speeches challenged listeners
to take action. Suddenly, the crowd began moving toward the Applied Electronics
Lab to destroy it--which they succeeded in doing. Tear gas canisters began
to fly, megaphones began to sound. Although I was only on the fringes of
the action, I became aware very quickly that a riot is a frightening thing.
But Paul himself was the very subject of a riot once. In Ephesus, the whole
city was in hot pursuit of the apostle because of his faith. The truth was
making an impact whether people liked it or not. There was a challenging
reality about Paul's faith which caused him to suffer "beatings, imprisonments
"Hard work, sleepless nights and hunger," speak of discipline.
He deliberately subjected himself to nights when he went without sleep,
times when he suffered hunger; then there was the hard work of studying,
preaching and traveling so as to encourage the saints. No one made him do
these; he chose to do them himself. There are times when we suffer persecution
from others, but there are other occasions when, because we are committed,
we spend ourselves for the cause of Christ.
In verses 6 and 7, Paul goes on to talk about, not the difficulties of his
Christian life, but the character-building that God was accomplishing within
him. There is a beautiful contrast in verse 6, where he begins with the
word "purity"--"purity, understanding, patience and kindness;
in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love"--and ends with "sincere
love." There is a tenderness in what God is producing in this man who
has suffered so much for the gospel--the character of the Savior himself.
Verse 7 then presents another amazing contrast. "Truthful speech"--which
is always challenging speech, spoken in the face of error--"and in
the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in
the left." A man of purity and sensitivity, yet a warrior who knows
the power of God, declaring God's truth, and carrying God's weapons, willing
to go to war. Paul was inwardly kindhearted, yet outwardly engaged in life,
involved in tearing down strongholds of evil.
Then there follows a series of wonderful paradoxes: "through glory
and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as imposters;
known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet
not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich;
having nothing, and yet possessing everything." If our tendency is
to try and make Christianity as innocuous as possible, as much as possible
like what those in the world already believe, so as to avoid stumbling blocks
which may prevent their coming to faith in Christ, then I contend that everything
Paul says here is in direct contradiction.
He is championing a life without recognition; purity instead of self-indulgence;
close acquaintance with beatings; sorrow and poverty; rejection and misunderstanding
by loved ones--having nothing and possessing everything. This is the very
antithesis of attempting to sugar-coat strong medicine. Such a life might
be disagreed with, but will never be called boring.
Ken Kesey, the novelist, was at Stanford University back in the late '60's.
He was, to use Bible language, a "wild donkey of a man." He enjoyed
bursting the bubble of liberal academics, the kind of people who held genteel
conversations at sherry parties about the excitement of a changing world,
the youth revolt, the sexual revolution, etc. When Kesey threw a party,
however, he invited Hell's Angels, who arrived with their knives, chains,
and inclination to violence. The academics loved to talk about social change
in a controlled atmosphere, but what was this man doing inviting these strange
people to his parties? Kesey was not satisfied dealing with the theoretical.
He was not a servant of God (actually, the opposite in many ways), but he,
too, insisted that any idea had to be able to authenticate itself in real
Paul had been in prison, he had been involved in riots. We hear a lot today
about the war on drugs, about the tragedy of crack babies in the inner cities,
etc., but many of these comments are made by people who have never been
to an inner city, who don't know any such babies, who have never been in
a prison. Paul was bald, bowlegged and funny looking, he was not a good
speaker, yet while his detractors debated, Paul had a war to fight. There
is something about this that makes us want to be part of it. "Glory
and dishonor;...having nothing, and yet possessing everything."
If involving ourselves in the real human condition--difficult, painful,
peculiar--is what makes Christianity attractive, then what does Paul suggest
are the stumbling blocks the Corinthians need to be wary of? There are three.
First, in verse 2 of chapter 6:
For he says,
"In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.
I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation."
Paul is suggesting that one of the things we must avoid lest we present
a stumbling block to people is a loss of urgency. We are referring to the
spiritual "manana syndrome." We must insist choices cannot be
put off indefinitely, as if there will always be opportunity tomorrow. God
is reaching out to us, says the apostle, and now is the time to respond.
If Christians lose their sense of urgency they have placed a stumbling block
We must not dilute our testimony, saying darkness and light can easily
We find a second stumbling block alluded to in verse 11 and following:
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our
hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are
withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange--I speak as to my children--open
wide your hearts also.
The Corinthians' love was restricted and reserved--and that is also a stumbling
block. They withheld affection from Paul as they grew enamored of his opponents.
A competition for status between Paul's apostleship and the one claimed
by those who came later to Corinth had left him devalued and loved less
as a result. The apostle's point here is that a love that must meet certain
standards, that imposes rules and regulations, that must be earned before
it expresses itself, is a stumbling block. "Open wide your hearts,"
says Paul. The love that ought to be apparent in the Christian community
is one that takes no regard for its own advantage, that no longer views
anybody "according to the flesh," as he pointed out in chapter
In Paul's allusion to the Corinthians as his children I see a circumstance
I run into with my teenage children occasionally. Teenagers are often embarrassed
by their parents. As a matter of fact, I feel I would not be doing my job
as a parent if I did not every now and then say or do something embarrassing
in front of my children. They want to be considered sophisticated, and this
requires them to hold their parents at arm's length. But, says the apostle,
don't forget that your father really loves you. He had opened his heart
to the Corinthians, was it too much to ask that they should do the same
in return? Thus, if our fellowship does not manifest love that is thoroughly
selfless, openhearted, and devoid of rules, we have placed a stumbling block
in the way of people.
I will comment briefly on the closing verses of this section. Verse 14:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness
and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?
What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have
in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple
of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said,
"I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God,
and they will be my people."
"Therefore come out from them and be separate,"
says the Lord.
"Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you."
"I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters,"
says the Lord Almighty.
Here, in yet another series of contrasts--righteousness and wickedness,
light and darkness, believer and unbeliever, etc.--Paul admonishes that
Christians do nothing to dilute their Christian testimony. This too is a
stumbling block. A yoke was a device worn about the necks of animals to
compel them to walk and to work together. It was hurtful and painful (and
for that reason contrary to Jewish law) to yoke together different species
of animals, say an ox and an donkey. They were different sizes; they walked
at different gaits, resulting in misery for both.
Marriage is the most obvious illustration of how this passage ought to be
applied. A Christian should not yoke himself or herself in marriage to an
unbeliever. If they do, they will diminish the possibility of oneness in
marriage, or they will dull the cutting edge of the gospel. There must be
a recognition that what Christians are committed to is different from their
unbelieving neighbors' view life. We must not dilute our testimony, saying
that light and darkness can easily mingle, and therefore we must not be
To summarize, the three stumbling blocks which Paul alludes to here are,
first, a loss of urgency on the part of Christians. If our lives and our
teaching do not urge people to take the gospel seriously, then we have presented
a stumbling block. Secondly, restricted love. If our love has to be earned,
and can be withheld for any number of reasons--if our love isn't radical
and unfeigned--then we have placed another stumbling block before people.
And thirdly, we must not dilute the gospel. We must not give the impression
that righteousness and wickedness can join together. Each of these three
activities has the effect of diminishing the gospel. If we fall into them,
we are failing in our role as ambassadors of the good news.
On the other hand, being a warrior with weapons of righteousness in either
hand, yet one who is committed to kindness and patience, enduring hardship
and persecution, rejoicing in blessing for others even at cost to himself--someone
like that will shake people up but will never drive them from the Lord.
On the contrary, such activity, as C.S. Lewis discovered, may be the very
thing that attracts others to the gospel.
The apostle's opening words in chapter 7 declare that holiness is an adventure.
Do you believe that? The promise of God that he will be our Father and that
we will be his children, that he will be our Companion in life, ought to
make purity downright adventuresome and engaging.
Here is what Paul says:
Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves
from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out
of reverence for God.
God grant that we might be such a people.
Catalog No. 4224
2 Cor. 6:1-7:1
July 8, 1990
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