It has been an interesting process going through all of the steps of writing a book and working with a publishing house to bring it to fruition. Today, Tara and I received from the senior art director at Baker Books the proposed cover art for Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care. The director spoke of how they took an earlier message from us mentioning that we had suggested Second Corinthians 4:16-18 as a verse that captured so much of what we were seeking to convey in our book. The cover art depicts a view heavenward, past the cross, into eternity, yet from the perspective of those of us still earthbound, struggling with all of the pain of conflict. The view upward is from one standing in front of a church …
Second Corinthians 4:16-18 stands in the same relationship to that view toward eternity. As every passage in Scripture, this one stands in relationship to the context within which it appears. It has meaning, a specific meaning and message, because of its relationship to the whole of the context. The troubled believers at Corinth, who had been through so much church conflict, needed more in order to lift their spirits and eyes toward eternity, heavenward, and Paul gives them more. The context for the passage begins back in chapter 1 where Paul puts some meaning to the suffering the church’s members have experienced: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (chapter 1, verses 3 and 4). Our troubles and our sufferings are not without meaning and purpose. Our painful church conflicts are not without meaning and purpose!
Paul’s pain is real in having had to write and visit and deal with the church’s conflicts: I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart with many tears (chapter 2, verse 4). His first letter was dealing with the many issues of church conflict tearing the fabric of Christian community apart. No one can read First Corinthians and come away unscathed from the anguish of a church in conflict. The pain of excessive sorrow in the need to bring church discipline as God’s way of building the church weighs heavily on Paul in chapter 2, verses 5 through 11, but he knows that the real message behind Matthew 18:15-20 is forgiveness.
In spite of Paul’s pain and that of his friends in this church, the message of the “New Covenant” so dominates his mind and his being that he turns to the theme of justifying the ministry he and we now carry as “men sent from God” (chapter 2, verse 17). In chapter 3 Paul contrasts with force that if the law, “that condemns men” was glorious, how much more glorious is “the ministry that brings righteousness.” Verse 10: For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. The surpassing glory of which he speaks is, of course, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God who hung on the cross so that we might have that ministry of glory, the glory of that which lasts!
And then the Therefores begin…
- Therefore, since we have such a hope… (chapter 3, verse 12), because the veil is taken away!
- Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart… (chapter 4, verse 1), because we have renounced secret and shameful ways, holding this treasurer in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us!
- Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (chapter 4, verses 16 through 18)!
So, yes, Tara and I like our new cover art. But even more, our passion for the ministry of hope in eternity outshines even conflict in the church that so often seems so much more then trouble that is “light and momentary.”
Can you see the unseen glory in living from an eternal perspective when church conflict seeks to rob you of hope and joy? In Christ you have an unveiled face that reflects the Lord’s glory! Therefore, you can live as one “being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (chapter 3, verse 18)”. May nothing steal your eternal perspective. Or hope. Or joy in the new covenant.