2Corinthians is a letter where Paul is defending himself against attack by some unidentified opponents. But Paul does a fabulous job of responding while changing the tone. He doesn’t say. I am an apostle, I have miracles where ever I go, I am a great speaker, and I deserve every dollar you could give me. Instead he subverts the narrative. He doesn’t get caught into his opponents hubris. In the way that he responds he changes the conversation. I am weak, God is strong!
Have you thought about the way that you fight? Do you hit back when you are provoked, or do you change the conversation?
At corporate level – if someone challenges you do you fight back, or do you change the story. Your competition say one thing, but you spin that to your advantage.
Or at home, when someone gets upset – do you match their emotion; or do you try to de-escalate the situation.
On the sports field, someone fouls you – do you get angry; or do you play better?
Paul doesn’t react to accusation, he responds and he responds by praising God.
Why is Paul so reluctant to boast, to verify his credentials? Its because he felt like he would be stealing God’s Glory. This is the proper place for humility. I find it difficult when I hear people talking up their own skills. Humility is tiemless. A great preacher says that it was simply God working through me. A great lawyer says I just helped the jury to see the facts of the case. A great doctor, I was God’s hands helping this amazing body that God has given us heal itself. I’ve heard heart surgeon’s speak of their wonder at seeing the tiniest little piece of flesh grow back together. You can sew the most perfect little stitches but if the vessel doesn’t heal. For you in commerce, it’s the market that does the work, I’m sure you’re aware of guiding and allowing the market to flow – but by goodness if you ever try and trick the market, the outcome won't be good. We can be very skilled operators, but humility teaches us in all our fields that there are much greater forces at play. In teaching, I agriculture, in sales, in hospitality, the art is to let the wind carry you. And in one sense the wind is always the Holy Spirit. And there is a snesein which when we all do our jobs with humility, then we give Glory to God. This is the very point that King Canute made when he displayed to his courtiers that the word of the King cannot hold back the tide.
In our snippet todayPaul wants to forgo boasting, but feels that he must answer his critics. Now there are some really interesting layers that might be going on here. On the surface Paul is speaking to ordinary men and women saying. I’d rather not boast, if I must boast I will boast of my weaknesses, to show up God’s strength. A clear appeal to the ordinary Joe and Jane. At a second level Paul’s opponents seem to be saying, Paul’s not educated, he’s a nobody. Where is his learning? Where are the Miracles? Does he have Visions? And so a slightly more sophisticated group listening to Paul have disparaged him. But there’s another level that Paul may have been aware of. In Ancient Greece there had grown up a group of Sophists, philosophers who sold their learning for a fee and advocated material success, and used their influence for personal advancement. They talked themselves up. It may be that some of the more classical philosophers including Aristotle, rejected this approach and suggested that a true Philosopher was authenticated by their poverty and weakness, not their ability to sell wisdom. A True Philosopher would not boats but if forced to would defend himself with irony and talk of his weakness, and would not refer to himself directly. Hence Paul’s use of the third person. It is possible that Paul had a far better grasp of Greek wisdom than his opponents; and not only defended himself to the common man, but actually defended himself in a way that a classically educated person would appreciate. Just possible.
So what we have is Paul talking a little bit about a vision that he had 14 years ago, and he talks about it in the most humble way, while also putting on record that he did actually receive visions of God. Caught up to the third heaven? Ok so there are a series of ways in Paul’s time that people thought about heaven and layers within in. Probably most likely Paul was using the older Hebrew division, the first heave was the atmosphere, the second heaven was the realm of heavenly bodies – which we know as planets, and the third heaven – the highest heaven was the arena of God. In the body or not. I love Paul’s approach, clearly there was a great argument going on about visions and whether your soul went outside your body or whether your whole body was caught up into heaven in a such a trance. And Paul says – I don’t know, God did what God does. Again he deflates the arrogance of those who say – “Well I had a proper out of body vision.” What was important for Paul’s visions was that God blessed him and that he saw unutterable things. Wonderful things. And his inner man was built up. Visions build up our faith.
I’ve always taken Paul’s approach in my attitude to what happens to the bread and wine at communion. I think of it like Paul’s Razor, God knows what he’s doing. I think the elements at communion are much more than just symbols. I don’t think they should be treated casually. I don’t go so far as the the Catholic view that the elements themselves are mysteriously transformed into the body and Blood of the risen Christ. But I do take John 6 seriously where Jesus says unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no part in me. I think John Calvin sums it up best – the bread and wine don’t change, but those who receive the elements with faith receive the actual body and blood of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit which works through the sacrament. But my point is, ultimatelyGod does what God does, if God wants to make Christ really present in the elements he’ll do so regardless of what Reformedtheologians think, and if he wants to make Christ truly present in a more spiritual way he will do so regardless of what Catholic Theologians say.
I want to talk about Visions in the bible today, Visions and Dreams. Because they can also build up our inner man, or inner woman. I remember Jackie Pullingerwarning us that when we seek prophetic words we shouldn’t belooking for Christian Fortune Telling. The Old testament is very clear that we shouldn’t visit Seers, or Mediums or Fortune tellers – however that doesn’t preclude God giving us Visions, or Dreams, or words of prophesy for ourselves or others. In fact Joel promises that we will see Visions and Dream dreams.
So what are some of the Visions recorded in the Bible.
Abraham had his Covenant with God explained to him in a Vision and then confirmed in a Dream Genesis 15.
Jacob had a vision about a stairway to heaven in Genesis 28.
Pharaoh had a dreams or fat and thin cows. Moses encountered God in a Burning Bush
Samuel heard God calling to him in the night, The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, where Solomon asked for Wisdom.
Isaiah had a Vision of the throne room of God, Ezekiel had a vision of God’s glory, and Daniel saw many visions.
The wise men at Jesus’ birth were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, an Angel appeared in a dream to Joseph telling him to flee Bethlehem, and then another angel told him when it was safe to return.
Peter a dream in which he saw Heaven opened and sheet being let down full of all kids of foods. Cornelius had a vision of an angel telling him that God had heard his prayers, and remembered his gifts to the poor. Finally, Paul encountered the risen Christ – in a vision, then later had a vision of a man from Macedonia asking him to come over and help him and later a vision of the Lord telling him he would speak at Rome.
So we should expect Visions, and Dreams and if we have them, seek the Lord’s advice as to how to interpret them.
But we should not try to manufacture them.
Here’s my 3 fold advice
Notice, expect that you might get a vision. Remember Moses, he noticed the Burning bush. Remember Samuel, he kept saying – someone is calling out.
Record. Write down your vision. Hold onto it so that if God later fulfils it you will have a record.
If it asks for response. Do something. Shepherd it, nurture it, prepare. Think of poor Noah – he had to build a boat. God can direct us best when we are moving
I follow Nicky Gumbells Bible in one year. In the readings this week Jeremiah got a vision for the king and people. He wrote it down and delivered it. Jeremiah 36
What did the king do? 36.23 Whenever Jehudihad read three or four columns of the scroll, the king cut them off with a scribe’s knife and threw them into the firepot, until the entire scroll was burned in the fire. - That’s worse than someone ridiculing your vision.
What did Jeremiah do? He went to God. And God told him to write it down again. v32 Have you ever had to do that! If someone ridicules your vision. Hold onto it anyway.
Notice, record, response
I’ve had a Vision come to my mind. When I came here I had a Vision of St Peters like Jerusalem in Ezekiel and Revelation, and God’s life flowing down into the city, down spring St, this water that wells up to eternal life. That was just a vision of water pouring down Spring St; But then about 3 years ago; there was a burst water main at the top of Spring St; and I saw my Vision brought to life. And you know what happened at the side streets on the way down the water flowed sideways also; into all of the city. Fabulous; that’s our Vision to be water of life; soul for this city.
Do you have a vision or a dream? Perhaps it’s not as dramatic as Paul’s, perhaps it’s more like mine – something you could easily ignore or discount. Have you ever had a Vision or a dream that might have been form God? What will you do about it?