COLUMN: At home in ourselves

Published 10:38 am Wednesday, June 26, 2024

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I once had a church member in another city who went downtown to volunteer. Let’s say this particular member wasn’t one of our most likely or regular participants in hands-on ministry. So it was surprising and gratifying when he signed up and went. 

Sadly, though, it was also terrible to hear that, of all people, he had a fender-bender on a side street as he returned from volunteering that day. No one was hurt. The cars were not even terribly damaged. Mostly, it was the hassle and discouragement of something like that happening. 

Afterward, when we discussed the whole thing, he said what we hear so often. He said in summary, “Oh well… I guess no good deed goes unpunished. Which is about the saddest thing you can hear someone say after they’ve just volunteered. 

I’m afraid that was his takeaway. Not his satisfaction, I was hoping he would gain from his foray into actually ministering with the church rather than his usual role of trying to run it. The fender-bender was all he could see. 

There is a central question that our scripture from 2 Corinthians 5: 6-17 could ask. “What gives us the courage to do the right thing, to act on what our conscience calls us to do when we know that we often will not be rewarded for it in this life?” At least in the conventional ways we have come to understand being rewarded. 

Let me ask you a similar question in another way, which might be helpful: what have you done at a moment when you knew the reward might be little or none… but the deed was the right thing to do anyway? 

Sooner or later, in order to evaluate the ups and downs of life and come out feeling positive on balance, we’ll have to be genuinely transformed people who have yielded our lives to Jesus’ ways. That’s the only way I think this all works out, and we can still feel at home. 

That is, if the “self” we’re talking about is a self that has actually been renewed and remade by Jesus. You could argue that Paul and his fellow missionaries had very few good deeds that went unpunished. 

2 Corinthians is replete with mentions of the true price they paid over the years. He will list the imprisonments, the beatings and the discouraging times. You have to admit that the apostle Paul was straightforward about his life. He wasn’t polishing up the apple here and putting forward a Pollyanna version of what serving God looked like all the time. He was at home in himself, persecution, rejections, and all.

Paul reminds the Corinthians that human opinions of his person and ministry, based on external appearances and earthly standards, don’t matter. Not to him. It is Christ who will judge Paul and each of us according to what we have done. He is comfortable in that. He is at home in himself in that way. 

He was rejected and punished for his good deeds by so many across the known world. Yet as he aged and as he looked at his life on balance, it wasn’t self-pity Paul felt. 

He didn’t obsess over his rejection and exclusion that rewarded so many of his best ministry efforts. That would cause so many of us to second-guess everything we thought we knew. 

If in his shoes, we might be tempted to wonder what we had gotten so wrong. We might ponder what we had misunderstood. But not Paul. Instead, he felt quite at home in his true self.   

Do you want some really good news? Paul didn’t just view himself differently. He viewed you and me differently than most might view us, as well. We get the same hope in God that he does. 

In v16-17 here, did you catch what he said? “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we no longer know him in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; look, new things have come into being.”

We are tempted to view worldly success as a sign of God’s favor, and conversely, to view weakness and suffering as a sign of God’s absence or even God’s punishment. All the while, Paul is begging us to feel a little more at home in our redeemed, renewed and empowered selves.

DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.