Saturday, July 19, 2008

For Your Comfort....Call for Unity

If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” (2 Cor 1:6-7)
Whether in distress, or whether in comfort, Paul and his followers prays and longs for them with a heart of love in Christ. Their mindfulness of the people they love is so intense, that whether they feel down or up, they pray blessings and goodwill on the Corinthian Christians. Whatever stresses or joys they experience, they desire good upon their brethren in Corinth. Whether in distress or in comfort, they remember their brothers and sisters in Christ there. Such a focused prayer is a powerful demonstration of their love for the Corinthian Church. This is only possible because Christ has first done the same for Paul and his followers. ‘…through Christ our comfort overflows,’ is a vivid imagery of what Christ has done for them. Likewise, having received such blessings from up high, they are empowered to share that love. Looking at the word ‘comfort’ which was used 3 times, I marvel at the extent of Paul’s love. Twice the word comfort is used as a noun, once used as a verb. The words in bold ‘for your comfort’ is in the genitive voice, which means that ‘comfort’ is for the recipients of Paul’s letter to accept. It is a free gift to the Corinthians. It is a noun. The word ‘comfort’ that was used of Paul is actually a verb in the middle voice. Being a verb, it is actively being practiced, that Paul is essentially the generator of comfort for the Corinthians. In manufacturing terms, it is like anything ingredient he obtains he processes it and churns out comfort for his brethren. This extent of such love is driven home by the word ‘comfort being used in the middle voice. It is like waiting for something to come. It is something that Paul has not received yet, but he is prepared beforehand to give it away the moment he gets it. It is a credit card of love that he is prepared to sign for, at his own expense, even at the brim of exceeding his credit limit.

Let me explain it in another way. If we were to replace the word ‘comfort’ with $$$, it can be paraphrased like this: “If we struggle to earn $1000, know that the benefits of the struggle are also meant for you. When we receive $1000, even though we are broke now, we will earmark all of it for your sake, so that you will be able to endure the same struggles like us.”

A Reprimand?
The rhetoric that Paul uses is a subtle reprimand on the Corinthians who argue and quarrel over every little thing. What Paul is demonstrating is that there are far more important things than to boast in their own righteousness and perspectives. Nothing shall separate Paul from loving the Corinthians. Then why are they going to argue and dispute little things that mean almost nothing compared to Paul? The Church of today needs to learn this lesson over and over again. Churches have been known to split over a single issue. The Cambodian proverbs teaches us:
When the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.” (Cambodian proverb)
If feuding parties take time to pray and be magnanimous in their treatment and opinions of one another, they will not come to the point of trampling the grassroots of the church. David Wong lamented on how his church denomination a few years ago, split over a single issue: use of Bible translations.
How was I to explain our decision to the people in my church? They might have had an inkling of the troubles brewing in the Synod, but how would they understand their spiritual leaders’ inability to resolve their differences? If pastors and elders could not agree on what was right and wrong, true and false, where would that leave them? The issues on which we were divided were too complex for ordinary believers. They came to church not to debate theology or engage in politics. They came to receive the Word of God from leaders in whom they had put their trust.” (David Wong, Journey Mercies Singapore: David Wong, 2002, 83-4)
He suggests that ‘irreconcilable differences’ are often due to the clash of two strong personality types: ‘Priestly’ vs the ‘Prophetic’ types. Priestly types are more ‘people-oriented’ while the prophetic type tends to be more ‘task-oriented’ and they do not match (Wong, 86). I think Wong might have managed to put a toe on the closing door, in trying to explain church splits. The Corinthians were in danger of being divided many ways. Paul, in writing his epistle to them wants to see unity in the body. He wants to direct all of them back to God in Christ. Unfortunately, many churches in our modern world tend to major on the minors, that they lose sight of the big picture as they zoom into the smaller details. Or they become too general in their great visions, that they lose sight of the small particulars that matters to the ordinary members. God made all of us different, granting us various gifts not to divide and boast about, but to use it to bring the body of Christ closer to one another.

We need childlike simplicity in our churches. May this prayer, written for children be our prayer too.
O God, give me in my life the fruit of peace.
Help me to take things calmly.
Help me not to get into a panic when things go wrong.
Help me not to worry but to take things as they come, a day at a time.
Help me not to be nervous but to keep cool when I have something important to do.
Help me never to lose my temper, no matter how annoying things or people may be.
Keep me calm and steady, so that I will never collapse,
And so that others may be able to rely on me when they are up against it.
This I ask for Jesus’ sake, Amen.

(Carol Wilson, 365 Children’s Prayers, Oxford, England: Lion Book, 1989, 11)


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