Formations 04.26.2015: Do-overs

af24_2_042615_a_smDo you remember being a child and the grace you sometimes got in the form of a “do-over”? You’re just learning how to bat a baseball or play some other game. Your first attempt ended in failure—maybe even embarrassment. You feel mortified. But somebody, recognizing you needed a little more practice, calls, “do-over!”

Do-overs teach us that failure doesn’t have to be final. That first attempt was clearly inferior. Well, we just won’t count it. It’s as if it never happened.

Do-overs mean we can be patient with ourselves because others are willing to be patient with us. We can try our best. And if our best isn’t good enough, and if our friends are sympathetic to our plight, we can try again.

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul announces the greatest do-over ever. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Old things have passed away and everything is new. The failures of our old life do not have to be final. Instead, we can be part of something new—something far greater than merely a second try (that we’ll likely mess up again, anyway!). Through Christ, we receive not a new try but a new life, a new experience, a whole new world.

As citizens of this new world, believers in Christ have a job to do. Paul describes the “ministry of reconciliation” (v. 18) that informs his career as a missionary. Driven by a profound experience of Christ’s love, he is willing to go seemingly to any lengths to call others to be reconciled to God and thus become part of God’s new creation.

Discussion

• When has someone offered you a second chance? How did you respond?
• What does it mean to be a new creation?
• How is the new creation related to Paul’s determination no longer to recognize people by human standards (v. 16)?
• How can Paul be a role model for Christians today as they seek to be ambassadors who represent Christ?

Reference Shelf

The Ministry of Reconciliation

The first nine chapters of 2 Corinthians are congratulatory and congenial. Paul speaks of past conflicts as water under the bridge and encourages his friends to be as forgiving of former strife as he is (2 Cor 2:5-11). Paul further encourages the Corinthians to seize the mandate to ministry with maturity and to see themselves as bearers of the “message of reconciliation,” participants in the “ministry of reconciliation,” and “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor 5:16-21). The final encouragement of [2 Corinthians 1–9] is for the Corinthians to continue their support of the Jerusalem church, in whose name Paul was collecting a relief offering from the churches in Greece and Asia Minor (cf. Acts 11:29-30 for the initial decision).

Richard F. Wilson, “Corinthian Correspondence,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 173.

A New Creation

Many recent scholars…think there are good reasons to consider an individualistic interpretation of “new creation” as inadequate for appreciating Paul’s thought. The larger context argues against such an interpretation since Paul will go on to say “all things” are from God (v. 18) and that God was “in Christ reconciling the cosmos” to Godself (v. 19). Moreover, I’ve noted my understanding of Paul as an apocalyptic Jew. N. T. Wright, writing extensively about Jewish apocalyptic thinking in his study of Jesus’ resurrection, notes the implications of the deep Jewish conviction that Israel’s God is the Creator God. The creation is a good gift from God (unlike some Greco-Roman thinkers who considered the physical, material world a hindrance to be overcome) and was the basis for the ancient Jewish celebration of life in God’s good land. Evil and death, however, fractured the creation, bringing oppression, suffering, and death, not only to human beings but to the whole creation. Jews also believed deeply that their God was faithful, just, and abounding in steadfast love. From these convictions grew the apocalyptic hope that God would act to judge evil; forgive, vindicate, and heal the righteous (including resurrecting those who had died);
and renew the creation wherein God’s people
could finally live in the shalom of God. Wright is adamant that these
 Jewish thinkers did not yearn for a non-phys
ical, spiritual existence but for the renewal of
 God’s good creation. Paul appears to have been
just such an apocalyptic Jewish thinker who
 believed that the Messiah had come and whose
 death and resurrection set in motion a series of
 events that is leading to the healing and renewal for which his people longed. Individuals are being saved and becoming new, yes. But there is more. An entirely new order is being established in the cosmos, one that celebrates God’s shalom and life “in Christ” rather than one that knows people kata sarka (which is about divisions, pecking orders, competition, violence, and death). Thus, Sandra Hack Polaski can argue that “new creation” is a grounding conviction of faith for Paul: “Here, it seems, is Paul’s theology in a nutshell: God’s saving act in Christ effects new creation and issues forth in the new life of the believer. The proclamation of ‘new creation’ stands as the single summary of all that happens in the divine act, process, and life of salvation.”

All of these things “are from God,” Paul says (v. 18a). They are a grace-filled gift from the loving, faithful Creator. No wonder the love of Christ constrains Paul (v. 14)! Still, the new creation is not complete. Rather, it has been set in motion. So God has reconciled us to Godself through Christ, Paul declares (v. 18b), but there is still more. God has also given to believers the “ministry [diakonia] of reconciliation” (v. 18c). That is, there is more reconciling to be done, more new creation to bring into being, and the ministry of sharing these gifts has been given to believers who participate “in Christ” in God’s saving work in the world.

Mitzi L. Minor, 2 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2009), 113–114.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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