I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough. I think that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. I may be untrained in speech, but not in knowledge; certainly in every way and in all things we have made this evident to you.
Did I commit a sin by humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I proclaimed God’s good news to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for my needs were supplied by the friends who came from Macedonia. So I refrained and will continue to refrain from burdening you in any way. As the truth of Christ is in me, this boast of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!
And what I do I will also continue to do, in order to deny an opportunity to those who want an opportunity to be recognized as our equals in what they boast about. For such boasters are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds.
It can be very frustrating to hear one side of a conversation, especially if all you can hear is, ‘oh, no!’ or ‘great!’ My husband and I often put family phone calls on speakerphone to solve that problem, but we can’t do that with Paul. We only have one side of the conversation, and we may not even have all of that.
We can never know exactly what the false apostles were preaching. Some commentators think that they may have been knocking a few of the rough edges off the Gospel, making it more palatable for refined appetites and something worth paying for. Perhaps the ugliness, shame and pain of the Cross were being downplayed, and consequently the love and grace of God were also being downplayed, together, possibly, with the need for that grace.
It’s a tendency that has continued down the years. We like to advertise what we see as the positives of our faith, but sometimes without reference to the costs. Or we emphasise the cost to Christ, but fail to mention that Christ’s love calls for a costly response. It’s the gospel of the softly lit Christmas scene, with Mary serene, Jesus clean and smiling and Joseph unruffled, moments after an unplanned birth, in a dark and dirty stable, surrounded by smelly animals.
That’s not a gospel fit for the dirty, smelly, too often unpalatable world in which we live. We need God with us in the worst of times and circumstances, as well as the best. So, let’s listen to Paul and welcome the Gospel he preached in its entirety, despite the horror of the Cross at its centre, the seeming impossibility of the resurrection, and the response that such love demands of us.
Living and Loving God, from birth to death, Jesus knew the reality of our humanity. As we live that reality, may we know him by our sides. As our world and its people struggle with the totality of that reality, may the gospel in all its starkness and love be both support and salvation. Thanks be to God. Amen