Bible interpretation is so key, and it's so rewarding to track down what a difficult passage means, but it inevitably leads to the question "What's the point?". Application is the necessary end result of our study, to change and conform our lives to the truth of God we've received. So that's the question we want to answer today about 2 Cor 2:15-16, and tease out all the implications my tiny brain can handle.
|Soon she'll be bald like me!|
The main big idea that is closely related to these verses is the philosophy of utilitarianism. (I don't know about you, but I love learning and using big words; even if you don't, knowing one more foundation of the mindset of most lost people is useful) I'm sure you're familiar with the fundamentals of utility, if not the term: basically, if it works, it's good. If it doesn't work, it's bad. Real tough, right? To be sure, there are many useful and necessary areas that this approach functions well in; if your computer contracts a virus, and banging your fist on it doesn't help, maybe you should try calling the help desk. If you are in a rush in the drive-thru, and screaming at the poor young woman doesn't make your food magically appear, ask her how school is going instead. Seriously, the practical applications of utility seem very obvious: in companies, government, the military, in almost every arena, if something doesn't work, we try something else. If it ain't broke, we don't fix it.
The problem is that, like everything else, this idea has crept into the religious practice of most churches in N. America. To be fair, many of the "non-spiritual", administrative details of church management are benefitted by utility, from building maintenance to financial arrangements. So when does utility go too far? Allow me to relate 2 actual conversations I've had with lost people recently to illustrate, one oblique, one transparent:
First the oblique: in the company gym, an admin gal and I got to chatting about Israel and the Palestinians (I love politics), and she was absolutely convinced America should become much more stringent with Israel, threatening to withhold our generous military aid unless they meet certain conditions, driving them to the bargaining table until both sides had laid down their guns and were holding hands around a campfire, singing "Kumbayah".
Second, in our many exchanges, Friendly Neighborhood Atheist has repeatedly turned to a very simple, straightforward piece of logic to prove the lunacy of the biblical narrative: "If the Bible is true and God is all-powerful, why does everyone not believe/worship/serve Him? Why has He failed so badly?" (FNA sees all tragedy in the world as God's fault) "How come the Bible doesn't work?!?"
Clear as mud? Both of these folks were convinced that if something didn't achieve the desired goal, it was inherently wrong in every case and should be jettisoned. So we as Christians take utility too far when we fail to accept God's declared intentions and goals, and spurn His methods to achieve them, thinking (perhaps unconsciously) that the ends justify the means. We instead create our own solutions:
- Is your church not growing numerically? Just turn to Rick Warren (or any other church growth expert) for the methods, techniques and approaches that are perfect for your locale and demographic. Never mind that it's "Christ who builds His church"...
- Is your church or parachurch organization in a financial bind? Marketing companies can help you, tailoring your message and repackaging the church/parachurch in mass mailings, billboards, bumper stickers and/or any other advertising strategy, maximizing your appeal to your target group. Never mind that it's "God who makes all grace abound to us"...
|Making people happy everywhere...|
- Do visitors find the "hellfire and damnation" of certain passages depressing? Joel Osteen can help, tutoring your pastor and teachers to focus on positive messages that make people feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Never mind that "God calls all men everywhere to repent"...
You get the point, and that's the joy and peace of 2 Cor 2:15-16: all of the prophets, the apostles, and most importantly, Jesus Christ had a message divinely designed to be unpopular with His enemies, and that's most of humanity (Matt 7:13-14). By nature, the preaching of the cross is "death to death" (i.e. those who are spiritually dead). So it's a supernatural miracle when anyone receives and rejoices in God's truth, and it's a great litmus test for us: if we preach Christ unvarnished, odds are those who rejoice and affirm the gospel belong to Him. (Kinda like in the 1st and 2nd century: if you professed Christ even when the lions in the arena were gnawing on your legs, odds are you're a Christian.)
So all the pressure's off; we are faithful and stick to God's truth, and He calls whom He chooses. If our humble presentation offends, we are not discouraged and what's more: we know why...
"...people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed." (John 3:19-20)
photos courtesy of Cliff1066 and Collegedegrees 360