Living with the Mess
There’s a popular meme with the following caption: “I get more cleaning done in the ten minutes before someone comes over than I do in a week.” That’s certainly true in our household; if we are having company come over, it’s amazing how much cleaning we can get done, but if it’s just us, we pick up a few things here and there and we just sort of live with the mess. This can happen in our walk with Christ, as well, and Paul was suspicious that it was happening with the people of Corinth. You see, we can just get used to the mess and live with it. We get used to our sinful ways and we begin to not even notice it. (We discussed an aspect of this last week with Christians misusing the name of God.)
In 2 Corinthians 12 and 13, the final chapters of the letter, Paul is concerned that nothing has changed for the Corinthians.
“For I am afraid that when I come I won’t like what I find, and you won’t like my response. I am afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior. Yes, I am afraid that when I come again, God will humble me in your presence. And I will be grieved because many of you have not given up your old sins. You have not repented of your impurity, sexual immorality, and eagerness for lustful pleasure.” (2 Corinthians 12:20-21)
If that first list Paul gives sounds familiar it is because he used it in Galatians 5 when he listed the results of following your sinful nature. Paul is afraid he is going to find that they are following the desires of their sinful natures. He clearly states that he thinks he will be grieved or saddened or disappointed, that many of the people have not given up their old sins, that they haven’t repented of their impurity, sexual immorality, and eagerness for lustful pleasure. Have you? Paul is concerned about what he will find when he arrives. He thinks he’s going to find a mess that they never bothered to clean up. Do you live in a mess? Do you clean it up quickly in the moments before guests arrive, or before you walk into church, or before you post to social media? Does the mess just come right back out after the guests leave, after the church service has ended?
This is how the people of Corinth were living. They hadn’t actually repented of their sins and they were living by their sinful desires. Paul gave them one last chance in chapter 13 to clean up their act before he arrived.
“I have already warned those who had been sinning when I was there on my second visit. Now I again warn them and all others, just as I did before, that next time I will not spare them. I will give you all the proof you want that Christ speaks through me. Christ is not weak when he deals with you; he is powerful among you. Although he was crucified in weakness, he now lives by the power of God. We, too, are weak, just as Christ was, but when we deal with you we will be alive with him and will have God’s power.
“Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. As you test yourselves, I hope you will recognize that we have not failed the test of apostolic authority. I am writing this to you before I come, hoping that I won’t need to deal severely with you when I do come. For I want to use the authority the Lord has given me to strengthen you, not to tear you down.” (2 Corinthians 13:2-6, 10)
Paul has already warned the people of Corinth and asked them if he should come with the rod of punishment or a gentle spirit. Now in 2 Corinthians he does not give them the option: he declares that he will deal with the people of Corinth with God’s power. Paul pleads for them to examine and test themselves, to not refuse the apostles’ correction, and he asks them to do the right thing before they arrive. He doesn’t want to have to deal with them severely, and he is trying to give them every opportunity to self-correct.
We don’t have Paul coming to check on us; we have the Holy Spirit living within us to convict us (John 16:8) and we know that God sees everything we do. A quick clean-up isn’t going to fool Him. What it takes is complete surrender and repentance. Can you test yourself? Can you ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you any area you have not surrendered over to the Lord? Paul isn’t coming, but Jesus is and he will deal severely with those who have lived in obedience to their sinful nature (Matthew 7:21-23, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9, Revelation 21:8). Don’t just do a quick clean-up, don’t live with a mess. Surrender it all to Christ, repent of your sins and strive to live every day by the Spirit.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.