Connections 06.10.2018: Keeping Heart

2 Corinthians 4:13–5:5

When Paul says that he and his missionary companions “do not lose heart” (4:16), he means they aren’t overcome with despair. I don’t think he means they never get discouraged.

To my way of thinking, to despair is to be so troubled by circumstances that you give up. It is to be without hope. On the other hand, to be discouraged is to be troubled by circumstances but not give up. It is to remain hopeful. The Message’s rendering of Paul’s statement as “we’re not giving up” reflects what I’m trying to say.

To be in despair is to lose heart in the sense of experiencing spiritual heart failure, as the KJV captures in its translation, “we faint not.” To be discouraged while maintaining hope is to experience a broken heart that keeps on going. Maybe the opposite of “losing heart” is “keeping heart”—even when your heart gets damaged.

So when Paul says that he and his companions “do not lose heart,” he isn’t denying the heartbreak of human experience in general or of Christian experience in particular. Paul openly acknowledges that he and his missionary partners experience rejection, persecution, and other kinds of suffering. But they don’t give up. They keep on keeping on.

A heart broken by rejection and opposition may not work as well for a while.
Not to give up doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes pause, wonder, reflect, and hesitate. Besides, discouragement can be a positive experience—it demonstrates that we are aware of and sensitive to the reality of what is happening around us. There is a lot to be discouraged about these days, and I don’t see how we can honestly face contemporary life without having our hearts broken. I’d go so far as to say that if your heart doesn’t break, you might be out of touch with reality.

How do we keep from crossing the line from discouragement to despair? How do we remain encouraged and even gain greater encouragement? Paul would say that we do so by staying in touch with a greater reality than the one that confronts us in the world. What we can see is quite real and can be quite painful, Paul says, but he also says that what we can’t see is even more real and is wonderful. Even as our outer visible body is wasting away, our inner invisible self is growing toward maturity in Christ (4:16). Even as we deal with present temporary suffering, we anticipate future eternal glory (4:17-18). And even as we experience opposition and misunderstanding, we realize that it is all worth it if others can see Jesus in us and come to experience God’s grace (4:15).

By this grace, in Christ we don’t lose heart even when our hearts are broken because we know that, as real as the problems we face are, what awaits us in eternity is even more real. That gives us the encouragement we need to do all we can to share God’s grace with others. And such sharing may contribute to making the present reality a little better.

Discussion

1. What is the relationship between believing and speaking (4:13)? What do we believe that gives us encouraging words to say (4:14)?
2. How do people receive grace? What does the experience of grace lead to (4:15)?
3. How do we look “at what cannot be seen” (4:18)?
4. How would you explain Paul’s clothing imagery (5:1-4)?
5. What does it mean for the Spirit to be a guarantee? What does the Spirit make sure we know (5:5)?

Reference Shelf

Paul declares again that he does not lose heart. On the contrary, “although our outer self [or person; the Greek is anthrøpos] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (v. 16). These ideas of “inner and outer” selves are unusual for Paul, introduced rather suddenly here. Lots of scholars’ ink has been spilled exploring possible origins for the concepts (e.g., Plato? Philo?), how Paul may have come upon them (e.g., was there ever a direct connection between Paul and Philo?), why he used them here (e.g., did the Corinthians use them?), and what he meant by them. Since we only have Paul’s words, we lack the necessary information to find definitive answers to such questions. Fortunately, we can still make good sense of Paul’s thought by keeping the following in mind.

First, whatever else Paul intended to convey by these terms, it is unlikely that he had any Greek separation of body and soul in mind. Traditionally, Jewish thinkers did not share this dualism with Greek thinkers, and we have noted several times in this commen- tary how deeply rooted Paul was in his Jewish heritage. As Hans Dieter Betz has shown, the Christian’s self, for Paul, was tied to the søma (body), which is why the body is not cast off at death but is transformed into a “spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44-46).

Second, our context actually offers a good indication of what Paul meant by “outer self.” It surely corresponds to the clay jars, the body, and the mortal flesh of vv. 7, 10, and 11. It is the outward part of Paul, the part the Corinthians could visibly see (and which some of them apparently judged as unimpressive). Thus the “wasting away” of “the outer self ” likely points back to the hardships depicted in vv. 8-9 and the toll they would take on one’s body.

Third, what he meant by “inner person” is not so easily specified. Ancient thinkers used such terms as mind (nous), soul (psyche), or spirit (pneuma) to denote the “highest” and truest part of a human being (the body being the lowest part for some Greek thinkers). But Paul had no such dualistic thinking, did not denigrate the body, and did not use these terms here. Though unable to specify what he meant, we can still say that Paul is clearly acknowledging what many of us would affirm from our own experience, that there is an “inmost self” for each of us that is invisible but very real, that is not identical with the body but also not separate from it, that we might call the essence of who we are. At this deepest level of himself, Paul says, he is not wasting away but rather is being renewed day by day. The resurrection life of Jesus flows through his body.

Mitzi L. Minor, 2 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2009) 92-93

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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