Saturday, May 23, 2009

Having Nothing, yet Possessing All Things

“If you accept the fact that ownership on earth is only fleeting and for a time, then you may be ready for eternal possessions in heaven”
–Paulinus of Nola.[1]
To the Corinthians in his final canonical letter Paul said,
“But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: … as having nothing, and yet possessing all things”
–2 Corinthians 6:4a, 10b

Such wild contrasts in life; real poverty and wealth.

We, in our society, know scant little of real destitute poverty. We’d have to go to another--third world--country to see it, and even then we’d not know it because we’d have to actually live it, starving, not out of choice as we might do when fasting or out of guilt, but being devoid of the means to survive, physically.

But this discussion is not about that.

It’s about the spiritual choice to give it all up for ‘eternal possessions in heaven,’ a choice of true, grounded faith.

From a purely technical viewpoint, verse 10b is the seventh and final antithesis regarding Paul’s list of then-present hardships, transferring the reality of hardship for the eternal reality of glory. “There is a paradoxical dimension to [Paul’s] life, then, that only those who understand the workings of the Spirit can perceive.”[2]

And just like the poor widow who gave away all she had (Mark 12:41-44), we cannot possibly know the ease of that decision until we ourselves have made it, casting our welfare and ever-personal cares to the wind. And what for? For the spiritual blessings of the eternal God… another thing for those only who understand the workings of the Spirit.

On a lesser scale is giving up something we cherish for the things eternal. How can we be ready for our heavenly inheritance if we can’t give up the ‘precious things of earth?’ To not release these precious things is to be in bondage, and a slave, to them.

Quite truly, I recall hearing a missionary from Mozambique decry the temptations heaped upon us in Western civilisation, for those living on less than one dollar a day are all ready for heaven in their hearts!

It wasn’t as if he had a problem with us, having been a slouchy Westerner most of his life himself, but he was both bemused with the contrastive polar irony in one world, yet sympathetic to the obvious problems these trappings create for us, including obesity, diabetes, addictions, and a plethora of social problems rooted in selfishness and materialism.

The original quote is truly remarkable. Think about it. It reverses the natural order of the wealthy and the poor. The less we have, the more we’re ready. Even better, the person who has much but would sooner give it all away to please God whom has ownership of his soul!

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Thomas C. Oden, The Good Works Reader – Classic Christian Readers (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), p. 75.
[2] Frank J. Matera, II Corinthians – A Commentary (The New Testament Library) (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), p. 156.

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