Daily morning rhythms generally fail to surprise me. The quiet house feels the same. The same sunrise brightens. The first sip of coffee tastes as expected. Mornings go as mornings go. (Note to the reader: This wasn't the case in the Bugnar household for every season...especially with four kids under five years of age at one point!)
The routine seems on repeat, that is, until the Bible is opened. In one sense, that act of reading is the same. In another sense, where that one act will take me I can't project. The Bible has a knack for taking its reader by surprise.
Perhaps it's because the One who authored it has made explicit his desire to sweep sinners off their feet in the extravagant display of the riches of his grace (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). Perhaps it's a function of the breadth of the Bible's vision, going from eternity past to eternity future. Perhaps it stems from just how big the book is. But it's been 26 years since my first deep dive into this book as a freshman in college, and I can confidently say this Book refuses to yield to my settled routine and boring expectations. It still catches me off guard.
Over the past few weeks, I have been slowly plodding through 2 Corinthians. Unexplored dimensions of my own heart continue to surface. What starts out as a letter overflowing with words of comfort that would rival any Hallmark card becomes a heart-wrenching letter laced with anguish. What was up? The church at Corinth was questioning the motives and ministry of the very apostle who planted the church there, Paul himself. Was he legitimate as an apostle? Did he really love them? This conflict hurt. Their flirting with false teachers cut him deeply.
And out of this heavy situation, into the ups and downs of painful conflict in this letter, God once again takes me off guard. Three facets of Paul's ministry have forced me to stop and explore previously unseen dimensions of my ministry and my motives, especially in seasons of conflict.
1. The Stubborn Orientation Toward the Good of the Other. In 1:24b, "We are workers with you for your joy, because you stand firm in your faith." Do I lean in when conflict hits so that the other feels I am "with" them and "for" them? Or does conflict send me into the black hole of self-pity and self-preoccupation, and I forget the joy of the other is my goal? Am I more concerned with others' progress or what I perceive to be the other's problem?
2. The Godward Anchor of a Clear Conscience. Paul could sleep at night in the confidence of his purity of motive (except for his restless in Troas out of love for Corinth (2:13-17)). Despite Corinth's questioning of his intentions and the potential misunderstandings that lingered, Paul remained sincere in his love for them and unshaken in his conscience before God (2 Cor. 1:12, 23, 2:9, 17, 4:2, 8:8, 11:31).
This God-awareness Paul expressed in 2:17b: "we speak in sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God." It wasn't "before Corinth" Paul stood. Their scrutiny of him was important to him, ironically, for their own sake, not for his. Paul's focus remained unmoved: his ministry was from God and before God. How often in conflict do we lose this God-awareness and focus on how we've been wronged? What's bigger to me in conflict? The situation itself, the other's opinion of me, or God Himself?
3. The Unrelenting Confidence in the Gospel. Despite the wishy-washines of Corinth and Paul's own hurt over this situation, the whole letter of 2 Corinthians oozes with an other-worldly confidence
I don't know about you, but when conflict erupts and questions about motives emerge and things get messy, I trend downward in my confidence. The mess just gets messier. Not Paul. Paul knew the power of the gospel message would prove its merit in sustaining the ongoing obedience of this church.
The gospel grants us the honesty to face up to brokenness without losing hope in the power of the gospel to overcome it. It seems my heart needs to remember just how powerful the gospel really is. Confidence is possible even in the mess.
Through 2 Corinthians, God has been using his word to do it again - diagnosing hidden ailments of my preoccupation with myself and driving me toward further dimensions of gospel confidence. These needs in my own character and ministry flew under my radar until 2 Corinthians exposed my unsuspecting heart.
It takes time to meditate and slowly plod through the text. It takes surrender to not presuppose you already know the meaning. But when the Bible is heard on its own terms, watch out. Remember - you are tracing the steps of Him whose wisdom remains untraceable, searching the mind of Him whose mind remains unsearchable. This is no familiar journey.
**One of the ways to surrender to the text of Scripture is by learning how to read it more carefully. Global is hosting its first "Text to Teaching" module on Saturday, January 14th. If you'd like to hear more about this or register for it, email Andrew at email@example.com This session will give you more practical handles on how to sharpen your listening skills so that Scripture's living and active voice is heard more clearly.