As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,
‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.
Now is the acceptable time!
It is hard to mistake the sense of urgency in Paul’s appeal. The earlier emphasis in 5.20 on the ‘go between’ function of Christians as agents of reconciliation is a call to action for followers of the Prince of Peace. The Cross of Christ challenges this world’s values to its very core .This is no time for Christian lives to be all about ease and comfort and self-focus or for that matter the life of our local churches. There is evidence all around us of a lostness. A celebrity culture that gives struggling people hope only to dash them down. An incipient violence fuelled by the way we speak about and to one another.
To be effective in this urgent work of proclaiming Christ, we need to have a regard to the obstacles in our own lives which might prevent work colleagues, friends and family members from themselves responding to God’s call in Christ. We may not have as dramatic a set of circumstances as Paul detailed in verse 5 but with the daily inspiration of the Holy Spirit we can try to manifest authentic Christian living in our daily encounters. Those who choose Christ’s way are ‘resident aliens’ to use Stanley Hauerwas’s memorable phrase. At rock bottom we don’t belong however much part of us longs to belong. We are seeking a homeland but equally importantly encouraging others to journey on with us.
It is an urgent task to give people back the dignity with which God has endowed each one of us, to share a hope that extends beyond life on earth, and to have the joy of seeing people lay hold of this deeper life in the strength of the Jesus who has laid hold of us.
Lord, We hear the urgency of the task to proclaim your saving message. Forgive our lethargy. Deliver from despair those who are struggling with life either because of not having enough or having too much. Create in us a pure heart, truthful speech and genuine love. Today help us to open our hearts to those whom we encounter, So that others may experience your presence, your promise and your purpose for their lives, Amen
The Rev’d Richard Church is a member of Streatham URC, and Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship)