2 Corinthians 2:14-16 and Christian Polarization

extremes_mIn America, we are witnessing an increasingly polarized country. Whether it is over the issues of politics, race, economics, orientations, or some other one, we are seeing an increasingly divided society that cannot find common ground. Interestingly enough, this kind of polarization is not new to us. Paul experienced it in his ministry:

14 But thank God, who is always leading us around through Christ as if we were in a parade. He releases the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere through us. 15 We smell like the aroma of Christ’s offering to God, both to those who are being saved and to those who are on the road to destruction. 16 We smell like a contagious dead person to those who are dying, but we smell like the fountain of life to those who are being saved.

You cannot get much more polarized than this–he smells like a rotting corpse to one group of people and the fountain of life to another group. Paul’s ministry and message had a polarizing effect on the people that heard him. This is true if you read the Book of Acts and see that almost everywhere Paul went and preached he encountered people who joined him and people who wanted to kill him.

Jesus said his followers would experience as much when he told his disciples, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household (Matthew 10:34-36, quoting Micah 7:6). The choice to follow Jesus creates a division and a tension between people. It polarizes them.

Why?

Because the message of Christianity is that we are not truly who we are supposed to be until we are in a relationship with the one, true God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No amount of success in this world can cover over that fact. No amount of sincerity of belief in a different god can cover over that fact. There is only one God. As well, the Triune God is very concerned with how we live our lives here and now. It is not enough to go through the motions and feign devotion. God wants a real relationship with us. Religious actions will not cover over that fact. Only offering all of ourselves to him will work.

To those outside of this relationship and who are committed to staying outside of it, this sounds horrible. It sounds like a group of people who would give up all the good of this life for something that cannot be proven about a potential next life. It sounds like people who are convinced there is something deeply wrong with them and need an invisible friend to fix it. It sounds like lunacy and they want nothing to do with it. In fact, the mere suggestion that people are not whole without God is an insult to them that reeks of manipulation, control, and a weak mind.

To those inside this relationship, it sounds wonderful. It is an ever-deepening and growing relationship with One who truly loves us and gave up everything for us. It is a life being continually transformed and bettered. It is the ability to become the people we know, deep down inside, we were created to be. And it is a reminder that this life is not all there is in creation. It is Good News.

The Gospel message polarizes people. If you are a Christian, you may have experienced this in your own family or circles of influence. Yet one thing we need to keep in mind is that if there is going to be polarization in our lives, let us make sure it is because of the Gospel of Christ and not something else. Let us not be self-righteous and judgmental. Let us not confuse some political platform for the truth of God. Let us not elevate anything in this world to the level of divine.

Let us make sure we are living according to the Gospel. In order to do this, it requires that you know the Gospel. Become familiar with it by reading it every day. Blogs like this one are another way to supplement what you read on your own in the Bible, but this is one opinion among many and it is no substitute for the Bible. If you have never read anything in the Bible before, get a translation you can understand easily. You can go to any bookstore and there will be a wide variety of translations from which you can choose. Some of the easiest to understand are the New Living Translation (NLT) and the Common English Bible (CEB). Then begin to read the New Testament.

I would suggest reading Mark, Matthew, John, Luke, Acts, and then the rest in order. The reason for taking the Gospels out of order is simple. Mark is the smallest and quickest of the Gospels. It gives a good overview of Jesus’ ministry. Matthew gives a lot more to what Mark recorded. John has a completely different perspective. And Luke echos a lot of Mark and Matthew, but he also wrote Acts, so reading those two back-to-back makes sense.

Remember, if Christians are going to polarize the world, let’s make sure it is because we are following the Gospel.

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