George O'Reilly
George O’Reilly

By George O’Reilly
Year of Covenant Facilitator

The Church of today is in a crisis of credibility. Not just with those who never entertained the possibility of Christian faith, but especially with many who tried the Church and found it “wanting.” If the Church just had problems with intellectuals and materialists, the Church would have much higher standing with our society in general. But many frankly have left the “fold of the Church” for the “field of spirituality,” some having been raised in the Christian community. In some way they are suggesting that the church they have experienced lacks credibility.

And credibility does matter — or at least it did with the Apostle Paul. In arguing for influence among those in Corinth, where he had started a fledgling community of believers, Paul describes the peculiar kind of credibility he believes should inspire confidence — his own confidence with regard to his own ministry, and confidence within the hearts of those who had experienced that ministry first hand.

“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” — 2 Corinthians 3: 4-6

Paul steers away from declarations of personal or even communal competence — Paul certainly had partners with him on most of his ministry endeavors — and points to the “inspired” competence given by the Spirit to bring the Gospel into the ministry of those willing to allow that Spirit freedom to flow in their endeavors.

Even the positive effects of the Gospel Paul declared to this people were related less to Paul’s personal competence than to the flowing of the Spirit, energizing and transforming, bringing the work of God personally and corporately to this new fellowship among God’s people.

“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? … You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” — 2 Corinthians 3: 1-3

And while Paul would quite readily confess that he had been and was being changed by the power of the Gospel in his own life, Paul does not suggest that any competence he has received is related to his mastery of the Law. In fact, it is quite the opposite. As seen in 2 Corinthians 3, he contrasts “tablets of stone” (the 10 Commandments) with the quite miraculous work of the Spirit in the very hearts of persons. The Spirit does the things the Law cannot approach.

Paul guides his audience to look elsewhere rather than at him or anything from him. And in fact, he is quite ready to admit he receives a competence that is beyond his own completeness.

“For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” — 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

Paul declares that any power to be truly changed originates and continues through the working of the Spirit. And Paul shares in this powerful work only as a “fragile vessel” through which the Spirit accomplishes this work of power.

While many in the Church may demean the notion of “spirituality,” perhaps we should ask if Paul would do so. If taken to mean the powerful working of the Spirit of God in common weak people and communities, why can we not admit that actually this could imply something about how God works in our lives? Perhaps we in the Church have often feared that any admission of personal or corporate insufficiency would weaken our witness to those outside the Church. It seems to me, Paul would make quite the opposite argument.