So we are deep into 2nd Corinthians. Paul has been speaking much about the Resurrection. He has been emphasizing to the people that the resurrection will be bodily. This makes sense in that Corinth was a commercial city composed of both Jews and Greeks. The Greek cultural tradition considered the spirit freeing itself from the body as the ultimate goal. Thus bodily resurrection would have seemed contradictory to them. What the resurrection would be would therefore be a point of continued debate and discussion in the community.
It is in this context that we come do one of the most misquoted verses in all of scripture. Here it is:
6 So we are always of good courage; we know that WHILE we are at home in the body WE ARE away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are of good courage, and we WOULD RATHER BE AWAY FROM the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
This verse is often misquoted as “TO BE absent from the body IS TO BE at home with the Lord”.
Here is the KJV:
6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: 7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight). 8 We are confident, I say, and willing RATHER to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. 9 Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.
And Young’s literal translation:
6 having courage, then, at all times, and knowing that being at home in the body, we are away from home from the Lord, — 7 for through faith we walk, not through sight — 8 we have courage, and are well pleased RATHER to be away from the home of the body, and to be at home with the Lord. 9 Wherefore also we are ambitious, whether at home or away from home, to be well pleasing to him.
We can see from all the different translations that the verse is speaking about our desire it is not establishing a de facto condition as the misquotation implies. In other words, while it is always true that we would rather be in heaven with the Lord it is not always true that dying (to be absent from the body) means that you are automatically present with the Lord. Paul confirms that being absent from the body does not automatically mean that you are present with the Lord in the next sentence.
10* For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.
Obviously, proper quotation and reference to scripture is imperative to our proper understanding of theology. If you have been misquoting this verse to yourself now is a great time to “reset” it in your mind.
Paul then goes on to describe his work and the work of the other evangelists is to facilitate reconciliation of men to God. He writes:
18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave US the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to US the message of reconciliation. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through US.
WE beseech you ON BEHALF OF Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Again, sometimes we read words like these and their full weight doesn’t strike us unless we focus on them. Paul says that they (the Apostles) have been entrusted with a MINISTRY of reconciliation. A ministry is holy work, a calling from God. More than a job or a career it is a life’s work. And it is a ministry of RECONCILIATION. To reconcile is to repair or to make right again. In the next sentence Paul tells us God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ but that now Christ has now entrusted that same work, the spreading of the same message, to the Apostles. Paul says that they are Christ’s ambassadors and that “… God making his appeal through US.”
There are many ways to interpret this passage. One could validly interpret it broadly and ascribe the term “us” to mean all Christians. One could also validly interpret it historically and ascribe the term “us” to mean “by the Apostles through the scriptures” – as in “the Apostles still speak to us through their writing in the New Testament”. I think both interpretations can be valid. However, there is a third interpretation that is equally, if not more true. Remember, Paul did not write 2 Corinthians alone. Remember he begins the letter with greetings from him and Timothy. We know that Timothy is being trained by Paul and we know from Paul’s letters to him that Timothy will one day be the bishop of the Church in Ephesus. Thus, one can validly ascribe the term “us” to mean the Apostles and their successors. Therefore we can know that the Ministry of Reconciliation given to the Apostles by Jesus is not something that ends with the death of the last Apostle. It is something that is incumbent of all Christians and particularly to that group of Christians who are given that ministry.