What I’m Thinking: Arrogant Complacency

The Apostle Paul thought he’d gone a little too far in demonstrating his status as an apostle. He even called himself a fool. Our arrogance in the 21st century mainline church takes a… different form.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the twelfth chapter of Second Corinthians (2 Corinthians 12:2-10). The Apostle Paul had had a long relationship with the church in Corinth. He had been among its founders. Since then, he had moved on to other places, bringing the good news of Jesus up and down the coasts of Greece and Asia Minor.

He had heard that things were not well in Corinth. In the First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul had lots and lots of advice – some of it rather pointed, but in general these were the words that one would expect to hear from someone who had enormous concern and also great love for the people to whom they were writing. By the time Paul wrote what we call the Second Letter to the Corinthians, things had not improved. Second Corinthians shows definite signs of conflict. Paul referred to avoiding a visit lest it be contentious. He talked about a painful letter, one that apparently has been lost to us. Second Corinthians itself can be read as a painful letter.

By the time we get to chapter twelve, Paul has gone so far as to remind the people who know him well of his credentials as an apostle. These include such things as his education in the Pharisaic tradition of Judaism, his encounters with Jesus, his many, many labors and hard work on behalf of the Gospel. Towards the end of chapter eleven, Paul goes on to even list the disasters that he had encountered, ranging from shipwrecks to imprisonment and beatings.

Here at the beginning of chapter twelve, he turns to experiences of God.

Paul at this point is taking a slight step back from talking about himself. He speaks of “one that he knows” who has had this significant experience of being caught up into the heavens. And it’s pretty clear that he’s not talking about anybody except himself.

I read this and I recognize some of my own arrogance, my own spiritual arrogance, my own arrogance as a leader within the Church of Jesus Christ. I rather resonate with some of it, and at the same time I shake my head and say, “Well, at least I never got quite that bad.”

Paul himself knew. In fact, he said it right at the beginning. It’s left out of our lectionary text, but he talks about “it will do no good, but I will share this. It’s foolish, but I will share this.”

You see, it’s toward the end of this section that Paul gets to the real point, that the experiences of Christ are wonderful – literally filled with wonder – but they are also in some ways irrelevant. What matters to Paul was his weakness, the strength he did not have. In the absence of that strength, he was filled with the strength of Christ.

Arrogance, exaltation, is not in twenty-first century mainline Christianity, in the United Church of Christ, our primary problem. We do not run through the streets shouting the name of Jesus. On the other hand, we are inclined towards a rather casual acceptance of how things are. We assume that because we have the control that we do, that things are as they should be. The Apostle Paul could tell us quite clearly, and, well, through talking to the Corinthians, has, that things are not as good as we believe.

So I think we might follow Paul into that exploration of our weakness, follow Paul into understanding how much of what we believe is our strength is actually God’s strength working within us, how much more we might accomplish if we let our strength go and welcomed the Holy Spirit fully into our hearts.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: | Posted on June 28, 2021

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