The Calvinball Field should consist of areas, or zones, which are governed by a set of rules declared by players. Zones may be appear and disappear as often and wherever the player decides. Score may be kept or disregarded. In the event that score is kept, it shall have no bearing on the game nor shall it have any logical consistency to it.
Christians live by a different set of rules from the world. Not at all fluid and ever-changing like Calvinball, but different. Sometimes not understood. A Christian living in the world has different goals from the world, different motives, and a different set of parameters.
This series is about restoring broken relationships. Paul is at war with the Church at Corinth, people whom he loves, a church he founded. As Paul writes this letter, clearly he is away from the people and addressing the tense situation. The people are accusing Paul of being two-faced, a different person when away than when present. Paul writes this letter because he wants to restore the broken relationship with the Corinthians. In today’s scripture he is declaring that he is going to fight to restore their relationships using the rules that spring from his faith in Christ.
When two people are fighting, the primary dance is typically about the rules. How to sort this problem out, how to define victory, the positions of people, who is willing to do what, who is going to make the first move. Sally and I once played a game of cribbage with a woman who literally had a mental disorder, and every round, she changed a rule. We had to constantly be adjusting the game to accommodate her, because we did not want to lose her emotionally as we attempted to help her. Sometimes when you are sorting through problems with a person, it can be so awkward, trying to figure out what the other person wants, trying to understand the every changing rules. Paul cuts through the garbage when he starts out by saying, “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you…” i.e. “I am going to play by the rules of Christ as we sort through our problems, not in a heavy-handed way, not in a domineering way, but by the meekness and gentleness I have learned from Christ.” Paul speaks with confidence in this passage because he is determined to play by the rules of faith.
Paul is straight-forward in how he is going to “fight” with the Corinthians:
(2 Cor. 10:3, 5). The rules of faith are not hard: be straightforward, try to persuade to solve the problems on the level of Christ, try to be on the same side, seek restoration.
If you are a Christian, conduct yourself with rules filtered through your faith in Jesus Christ. Christianity is not just a good idea, Christianity guides your everyday life. You no longer think as the world thinks or fight as the world fights.
What are the rules of faith? You don’t even resolve issues in your power: (2 Cor. 10:4 focus on, “divine power.”) You don’t need your own strength, your own wisdom, but to trust in the power of God to break down the walls that divide us. The “strongholds” are more often attitudes and tension. The rule of faith is that the Lord will give you divine strength to overcome. How different from the way of the world in which battle plans are drawn up.
What are the rules of faith? Paul makes no secret that he wants the discussion centered in Christ: “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” Conform the discussion to the values of Christ, the way of Christ, what would Jesus want. If I am having difficulty with somebody who is not a Christian, I don’t expect them to behave as a Christian, but I am going to try. Even non-Christians can find a measure of peace and understanding if they adopt the values of the Christian. I do not think of my faith as neutral, where it is my personal way of living but you can choose your way. On the contrary, I am going to do my best to persuade the world that Christian values have a lot to offer, whether you are a Christian or not. More than once I have tried to convince two people that are warring with each other, when neither one was a Christian, that the best solution will keep the integrity of both, a win-win, rather than one win and one lose. Christ died on the cross to forgive your sins, he lost the human battle. So if you and I are fighting, if we must have a winner and a loser, then I will do my best to make sure you are the one that wins.
What are the rules of faith? If we are fighting, my aim as a Christian is to build up the one with whom I am fighting (2 Cor. 10:8). When the Lord says in the gospel “Love your enemy,” you know what I think he was saying? “Do everything you can to make it a one-sided fight.” Practice this rule of building up the one with whom you have a broken relationship, and you will quickly cut through a lot of the garbage. Do you ever get to that place where you think to yourself, “what in the world am I doing, I have been acting so child like?” The rules of a Christian resolution have the potential to disarm the other person and to break down walls.
What are the rules of faith? Even if I lose, I cannot lose. Look at v. 10:18. When you are fighting with somebody, who’s approval are you seeking anyway. The older brother will sometimes sit on the younger brother and torture the younger brother until the younger brother cries “Uncle.” The rules of the world are that victory will be claimed when one admits defeat so that the winner can proudly stand tall and receive applause. What are the rules of faith? I am only seeking to please the Lord Jesus Christ. I want him to be the one to applaud. Even if I lose the fight between you and me, if I have conducted myself in a manner worthy of the Lord Jesus Christ then I am blessed. My only goal is for the Lord to love me, and that is everything. Early on when I first preached sermons I used to say to Sally almost weekly, if I am walking up to the pulpit and I fall and hit my head, will you love me anyway? I wanted to know I was love even if I failed. Even if nobody understood a word I said. To know that the Lord loves you no matter what happens means you cannot lose. It’s a great rule. If you are fighting with somebody, what’s the worst that can happen to you? This summer I am probably going to go through the book of Esther, a wonderful story of a godly woman. One of the powerful statements of faith as Esther resolves to go see the king about a matter of utmost importance, knowing that she could be put to death at the whim of the king if he was not pleased: “If I die, I die.”
If you are willing to lose the fight, if you are willing to die, then the other person has no power over you. You cannot lose. It is the Lord that commends you, it is the Lord that lifts you up, it is the Lord from whom you find yourself. It is the Lord Jesus Christ that loves you.
What are the rules of faith: within these verses Paul is confident. Paul is honest. Paul has integrity. He admits the things he has done wrong. It is almost as if he is saying, when you criticize me, you are probably right. I am in fact those things that you speak of. Although Paul is also not afraid to say what he has done right, either (2 Cor. 10:9-11).
One last “rule”: Godly Boasting. Paul redefines the word “boast.” Boasting is at the heart of the dance we so often do with each other. On occasion I’ve seen a new horse introduced into a herd and the tension, the jostling, the establishing of the dominance. Humans are not so different. We have our games, our needs for a certain reputation, when a relationship is broken the dance centers around who can come out on top, who can strut their stuff, who can gain the upper hand. Paul knows this. You gotta love verse 10:12. Too many people want to be a big fish in a small bowl. Too many people promote themselves.
Years ago I got a phone call from a man in the Everson community. He wanted to talk, so we sat down by ourselves and he said, “I don’t know how to pray.” It shocked me. This man was a puffer, loud stories, putting others down. As we talked he said he had a reputation and he did not like it and he wanted to change. I should have read through 2 Cor. 10-11 with this man (see 2 Cor. 10:13. “The proper limits of boasting”, what a wild phrase. Which comes first, the transformation of our language, or the transformation of our heart? I think it goes together, I think its person by person.
I’m still learning what godly boasting even means. 10:17: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” The rule of faith: talk a lot about God, talk God up and what he has done for you, talk about your weaknesses because who cares if others know you are not perfect. Do not promote yourself, unless it is your weakness, boast of Christ. Paul has some wonderful “boasting” in chapter 11, I am not sure if it is good or bad or if he is making fun of those who puff themselves up with all their accomplishments. You gotta read chapter 11 on your own, but just a sample (2 Cor. 11:16-23, 30-33). That image, Paul, helpless, vulnerable, dangling from a basket, is what sets up for the final call of restoration: weakness is strength.
How do you restore a broken relationship: you fight with the rules of faith. Not as the world fights. Be straight-forward, attempting to convince others that your rules of building each other up are superior. You fight with divine power, the Lord will do amazing things. You cannot lose, for it is the Lord you are seeking to please, and he has already said he loves you no matter what. Boast in your weakness, boast in what the Lord has done. As you bring your faith into the process of restoration, may you find peace and reconciliation. Amen.