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Earl Marshall

Category: 2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer: 2 Corinthians 7

This is an interesting chapter. You can feel Paul’s love and concern about how the Corinthians are accepting of him. Actually one of the subplots of 2 Corinthians is the importance of relationships. Early on he is concerned about his relationship with the Corinthians and their relationship with one another. I have found this to be true that when you are in the midst of weakness from affliction relationships matter more than ever.

It is no secret that the past three years have been life altering for Brenda and I and at the heart of the struggle and change has been how things changed with our relationships. So, as I found myself diagnosed with cancer and dealing with the rhythms of treatment the relationships were what mattered, I love how God in his grace gave me a phone call during cancer treatment that helped begin the process towards restoration in the things that matter most, relationships.

Paul has made a difficult decision and you can hear the angst he feels with this. His difficult decision was to write the Corinthian’s a challenging letter. Making these kinds of difficult decisions and not knowing how they will impact your relationships is gut wrenching. He is almost on “pins and needles” wondering how the church has received this and how it has impacted his relationship with them. See what he says in 7:7, “Make room in your heart for us.”

He is effusive towards them. He says in 7:4, “In all our afflictions, I am overflowing with joy.” He speaks of being in Macedonia of having a body that had on rest, but being afflicted at every turn – fighting without and within. We don’t know exactly what he is referring to. Perhaps he is speaking of his conflict with the Corinthian church. I tend to think that he is making a general comment to his suffering for the faith. The Apostle Paul and his team did not have an easy go in most places. The Gospel was confrontational and he was afflicted because of it – fighting within and without.

What I love the most about this chapter is that in the midst of the fighting without and fear within, God comforts him with news from Corinth which causes great overflowing joy in his life. In the midst of the affliction and suffering he is comforted – from unexpected places.

Oh, how I loved that phone call. With tears streaming down my face God comforted me with news from unexpected places. It is true that relationships do matter. God will comfort and bring joy but sometimes not where you are expecting or with the direct struggle you are dealing with. I would love to hear “you are healed” but sometimes the words we receive are other words and from different places. These to bring us joy. An unexpected word of testimony about a past deed or word said in someone’s life or even a moment of peaceful quiet in your soul or a glimpse of the greatness of your Creator, all bring overflowing joy.

Joy comes from the beginning of the restoration of relationships that were torn in the midst of the struggle. Sometimes hard words must be said. Many times the hard words said are difficult for the one who is saying them. But because relationships matter and restoration can happen in Christ . . . therefore, we are comforted (7:13).

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer: 2 Corinthians 6

I have been reminded that even in the midst of something so life-jolting as cancer people/I struggle with having the right affections. You would think something that is so life and death altering as cancer would rattle you into reality. 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 reminds me that this is not the case.

Persuasion is not always the problem. Now is the favourable time for salvation. There is never a better time than the now. The Apostle Paul says that he/we is not the obstacle to a person’s response of repentance and therefore, reconciliation with the Lord. He says in 6:11, “we have spoken freely to you . . . You are not restricted by us.” No, the problem is that they are restricted by their affections.

We are finding this to be true even with those who have cancer. Crazy really to face the reality of death without any sense of hope and still not turn to God. Our affections, the things we hold on to in our hearts are what keeps us from relationship with the Lord. We hold on to things, idolize things that are in replacement of God. The temple of God does not have agreement with idols. You can’t be unequally yoked. It does not work, at all!

We can preach, present the gospel with an open heart but if hearts are trapped by the affections of idols of this world, and they are, there is hope for salvation only with the Spirit of God tearing down the idols. Please Lord do this thing before our very eyes. Save us from ourselves.

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer: 2 Cor. 5

May 8, 2019

It has been a few days. I am in the middle of Chemo Round #3 Week. Monday, my hospital day, was long. The “hood” on the chemo drug mixing machine was not working properly so it pushed everything back. My 9:00am appointment turned into a 12:45 pm appointment and we did not get home until about 4:45pm. I think all of that set me back and made Tuesday that much more difficult. I was really out of it all day Tuesday. Today, May 8, I have more energy. Overall the week so far has been similar to previous treatment weeks so I am able to cope. I just don’t like going through it – that is basically it. I don’t enjoy trials.

This week I have been reflecting on 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 and today I read 2 Corinthians 5. I can’t imagine a more concise chapter on ministry than 2 Corinthians 5. In 5:1-5 the Apostle Paul reminds us that while we are still in this tent, we groan (covering that feeling . . . so get that), being burdened . . . so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. I can relate to that. But note that the conclusion to all of this is NOT to give up but to press on. 5:6 he says, “so we are always of good courage.” 5:8 he says, “yes, we are of good courage.” Why does he say that? In 5:7 he notes that “we walk by faith and not by sight” and in 5:6 because “we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.”

Because of all of this “we make it our aim to please him.” Knowing that we will stand judgment we make it our aim to please him.

This was so timely for me . . . thank you Lord for this reminder that I must make it my aim to please you. No matter how many days I have on this earth and in this body, this tent that is being destroyed, I make it my aim to please you!

So how do I specifically do that? While I am suffering how do I please the Lord? Well there are many ways to do that but the direct application in this chapter is found in 5:11. “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord we persuade others.” The idea behind persuade is convince. This is a strong convicting word. The Apostle Paul picks this theme up again in 5:20 when he says that “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Pleasing God has everything to do with persuading others to be reconciled to God. Not that I am able to persuade anyone but there is a conviction that God wants to through me make his appeal. There is no lack of boldness in these words.

Why do we do this? Because of the fear of the Lord and because of the love of Christ that controls us, see 5:14. Even as we suffer our aim is to please the Lord and we do this by convincing others to be reconciled to God through Christ. We have no ability on our own to convince anyone. It is the Holy Spirit that does this. But we act/preach/communicate boldly. We are ambassadors of the King.

None of this is possible without the love of Jesus Christ. 5:21 reminds us that Christ knew no sin, God made him to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. That is amazing love!

So when you and I are suffering be of good courage and make it your aim to please the Lord by persuading others to be reconciled to God. We do this because we fear the Lord and when the love of Christ controls us. We implore others to be reconciled to God and experience in Christ being the righteousness of God.

This is an other-world, kingdom, way of thinking. Oh, to be able to see the daily grind of suffering with these kinds of spiritual eyes.

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer: 4:16-18

On May 4 I realized that I was starting to feel sorry for myself. It was amazing how a little thing like tingling in my finger tips set me off and got me thinking about the worst. I so needed 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 that morning and it is what God gave me for my daily meditation.

So we do not lose heart! There should be no give up or a discouragement that leads to stopping. This is the same idea that Jesus speaks to his disciples about prayer in Luke 18:1. We all have a tendency to get discouraged and give up. There is room for lament for sure. Lament is necessary. But even though our outer self is wasting away and indeed that is happening, to all of us and at different timetables, the question is, “is my inner self being renewed day by day?” Is the outer man so much of my focus that my inner man is not being renewed? There are these moments where I am realizing that the circumstances just take over. How do I see my inner soul renewed every day even when cancer and this treatment seems all pervasive?

I have to recategorize the cancer. It is a light and momentary affliction. Note first that it is an affliction. I am not saying I should ignore the affliction. It is a suffering that does not always feel light nor does it always seem to be momentary. Yet this is how the Apostle Paul categorizes his sufferings. The only way I can recategorize cancer like this is if I see the purpose behind it and the result of it.

I need a reason for my suffering. It is preparing. That word means to have an effort by labour or to achieve. It is used in passages like Romans 4:15; Romans 5:3; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 2 Corinthians 9:11; James 1:3. There is a reason for my suffering, for my cancer, and it has to do with preparation. I want to be careful here to not be so trite with suffering. This is not a “suck it up buttercup” statement. Suffering is painful, long, hard and recategorizing it and seeing a reason to it does not negate the pain. It is the miracle of God, however, to be able to experience purpose in the midst of the pain, to experience joy and trust in suffering.

The reason of preparation is a result, an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. This light and momentary affliction is preparing this result. We enter the kingdom of God through suffering. In comparison to the eternal weight of glory my cancer and suffering is a light and momentary affliction. There is no comparison to glory. Again, we enter the kingdom of God through suffering. The glory of the kingdom shines bright. Revelation 21 and 22 is so triumphant that it is beyond words. The image of the lamb shining the glory of God into every corner of the eternal city is too much to comprehend. It is crazy amazing!

Now all of this is not automatic. Just because someone is suffering does not mean that it will automatically produce this result. There is a note of faithfulness in these verses. There is a response that is necessary. How I see is the difference. What my mind and heart are focused on is what is important. We look not at the things that are transient or momentary but on the things that are eternal. So in the midst of the pain and suffering we are called upon to focus our attention not on the momentary but the eternal. My mind and heart need to be focused on the things that God is doing for me now and in the future that are eternal. Things like shaping my character and making me more like his Son and my eternal rest. All of these are motivation to see these verses true in my life.

It comes down to an affirmation of priority – what is of greatest value and what I believe is most important. This is how my inner self is being renewed day by day.

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer: 1:5-7

It has been a while since I originally read these verses as part of my journey through 2 Corinthians with cancer but they are even more important to me tonight. I am starting to begin to feel the cumulative effects of cancer treatment. I am thankful for how God is faithfully carrying me through the challenge. After my first round I found the rebound of the two weeks after the chemo treatment week to be such that I felt good strength. After my second round the rebound was not as strong and I can now begin to see that this journey may very well be a steady decline. I believe I am up for this with the strength of the Holy Spirit in my life. When I am weak is when God’s strength is on display. I believe that.

Now this is where the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:6 ring true for me. He says that comfort comes when we patiently endure the sufferings. Paul is speaking to the Corinthian church and the suffering that they are going through that is common to Paul’s. I know this is different than my suffering but the applicational principle is true.

Comfort comes when you patiently endure in the suffering!

There is no short pathway to comfort. The kind of comfort that God gives comes through patient endurance in the suffering. There are many forms of comfort. There is the comfort of relief that you get when the struggle is removed. So many of us wish the circumstances that we face could just be gone from our lives. There is the comfort of distraction. Most of us understand that the brokenness that life brings does not just disappear and that is when some look for a temporary comfort through distraction. Looking for anything that can numb the pain or even for a short period of time transport you to another kind of reality. Some turn to abusive behaviours that eventually wear off. There is the comfort of patient endurance. This is the kind of comfort that 2 Corinthians 1:6 is talking about. This is what I long for. This is God’s comfort. This is normally a comfort found in the midst of the pain. I don’t believe that Paul is speaking of comfort as an end to the suffering but I do believe he is speaking to a comfort that is found in the suffering. To share in God’s comfort means to share in the sufferings.

All of this is accessible in our lives when we patiently endure.

I so needed to read that again tonight. No comfort without patient endurance.

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer: 1:3-4

1:3

God is blessed. This is a word of worship not a literal understanding that God is blessed but that we are to bless him, worship him. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is my Father. He is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. It is precisely because of his mercies that I am comforted or comfort is one of his mercies. I so need to know this. In the midst of uncertainty and even fear God is merciful with his comfort.

1:4

How does God comfort us? In all of our affliction is the sphere of his comfort. 1:8 gives a clearer context of what the Apostle Paul is speaking about but I share in the general overtone of this word – in ALL our AFFLICTION.

It is interesting for me to consider how God comforts us in all of our affliction. In this time since I have heard the words “you have cancer” I have found the comfort of God comes from various sources. The Word of God has been a great source of comfort. Being reminded of God’s promises and his character has been life giving for me. The power of lament has also been renewed in my life. I found myself the other night listening to a sermon on healing with tears running down my faith knowing that God can, is able, and the question is ultimately about his will. I like the Apostle Paul wish this thorn could be taken from me. Lamenting, “how long O Lord” has helped me receive comfort for my soul. I am beginning to read¬†Dark Clouds Deep Mercy¬†as a companion to my reading in 2 Corinthians. The second source of God’s comfort in my life has been God’s people. I will never forget the night last week when a small group we were part of five years ago FaceTimed Brenda and I to pray over us. The prayers of faith and the crying out to God on our behalf by those who are old in the faith and those young in the faith have been such a source of encouragement. The food dropped off at our home has been a great comfort. The church staff have been an amazing support and encouragement. God is at work in all of this.

There is no limit to the comfort of God . . . nothing separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. The Lord is our shepherd and I shall not want. I am comforted.

In the midst of the cancer is where I will know God’s comfort. The joy, peace and patience I am asking God for will be found in the midst of the affliction. These comforts are not found separate from the affliction but are found in the affliction. I will, no doubt, experience the greatness of God’s comfort as I am afflicted. Indeed there seems little need for comfort apart from the affliction.

Why does God comfort us?

So that I may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction. Paul recognized that his suffering in the faith was so that he would be able to comfort those who were in any affliction. The comfort, although experienced by the apostle and directed to Paul by God, was for the purpose of ministry to others. This cancer experience is full of purpose. I refuse to see this any other way. I must embrace my calling to help others with this. God’s comfort can not stop with me it must extend to others. And the comfort that I extend must be the comfort I received from God. This is so important. No pious platitudes but truly the comfort that God has given to me.

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer: Introduction

It is not lost on me that persecution and suffering for the faith makes up the context of many of the NT Gospels and epistles. I did not have to choose 2 Corinthians to do this reflection. I could have chosen 1 Peter or The Revelation for that matter. But I have chosen 2 Corinthians because of the personal nature of the book. When I read 2 Corinthians it feels like the Job of the New Testament. Paul is writing throughout 2 Corinthians his personal reflections as he suffers for the sake of the gospel.

I do not pretend to believe that my context, cancer, is identical to the Apostle Paul’s. His suffering is much deeper than mine and is a consequence of his faith and calling. My cancer is a consequence of sin, not personal, and the brokenness of this world. These are two very different things and situations. I do share with the Apostle Paul the pain of circumstances and the reality of facing death. I do acknowledge the same comfort from the same Father. In these things we stand side by side.

I am blessed to walk, then in the Apostle Paul’s footsteps.

2 Corinthians Through the Lens of Cancer is not an exegetical commentary but a commentary of the intersection of life and the biblical text. It is my hope that this journey will prove to be a catharsis of my soul. I am in no rush to make my way through 2 Corinthians. I am on schedule to complete my cancer treatment some time in July 2019. This will be a long and slow walk through my cancer treatment with 2 Corinthians being my constant companion. I hope it will be a blessing to me and to others who stumble across the content of these posts.

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