A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ (1) (2 Cor. 11:3)
I want to be a person known for one thing. Although I'm an author, it matters little if people buy my books. Although I'm a speaker, it matters little if they hear what I say. What ultimately matters, what is of preeminent importance, is that I be a person known for "a sincere and pure devotion to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3).
I can't begin to describe the effect these simple words have had on me of late. Perhaps it comes from getting older. The more one sees and experiences in life, the less important much of it becomes. Time has a way of exposing what is superficial and weeding out so much of what I once regarded as essential. Things that used to occupy my time and capture my attention no longer do. What I thought I needed, I'm fine without. What once was sweet has of late turned sour.
This isn't to say I'm not still tempted! God knows, I am. Worse still, the temptation all too often turns to sin. But at least I know that's what it is. At least, by God's grace, I know what I ought to value and pursue, even if far too often I fail to do so. So, like I said, it's come down to this: a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
The apostle Paul had grown deeply concerned, dare I say fearful ("I am afraid," v. 3a), that some of those in the church at Corinth had been led astray from the simplicity and centrality of this sort of passion for Jesus. Unashamed, extravagant affection for the Son of God was being corrupted by a different gospel that proclaimed a different Christ in the power of a different spirit. Thus he wrote:
"I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough" (2 Cor. 11:1-4).
Sincerity and pure devotion, in themselves, are useless if not centered in Christ. People are often described as passionate and zealous, or sincere and single-minded, especially when it comes to religion or spirituality. But it's all for naught if it isn't for Christ! Our society applauds people for being singularly devoted to their "faith" or their "god" or their "cause", whoever or whatever it may be. In fact, the latter doesn't matter much at all. In our pluralistic world, all that counts is commitment. The focus of one's faith is less important than the faith itself. That one is a believer is more important than what one believes. Paul would beg to differ!
Zeal is a colossal waste of energy if its aim is anything other than Christ. Spirituality is a sham if Christ is not its substance. Passion, no matter how intense or well-intended, is a meaningless vapor in the human soul if it is not awakened by the beauty and splendor of Christ and has for its goal the glory and praise of Christ. There simply is no value in religious activity that is not Christological at its core.
Each week, in churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, shrines, and homes around the world, people will worship. They will sing and pray and dance and genuflect. Some will raise their hands, a few will clap, and others will lie prostrate in the dust (or on the carpet). They will read sacred texts and burn candles in symbolic praise. They will proclaim ancient truths and seek for contemporary relevance. But it is all to no avail if Christ Jesus is not central and supreme in their affections. No matter how deeply they believe it or how generously they support it or how clearly they defend it, if "it" isn't Jesus, it is for naught.
What precisely does Paul have in mind when he speaks of a devotion to Christ that is "sincere" and "pure"? At its most basic and foundational level, he's talking about a single-minded and altogether exclusive preoccupation with the person of Christ and a life that pleases him. This must be contrasted with half-hearted, lukewarm, convenient Christianity, the sort that is happy to have Christ on Sunday or when one is in a crisis or a time of need.
Paul is calling for an unswerving commitment to believing the right things about Jesus and doing the right things on his behalf. No duplicity, no divided loyalties, no double-mindedness can be allowed. As it was in the first century, so it is in the twenty-first: cunning and devious paramours seek to turn the allegiance of our hearts away from Jesus and to capture our affections for another.
There is also a moral quality to this devotion, without which its sincerity is of little use. It is a pure devotion, a righteous passion, a holy heart that will not tolerate sin, for which Paul makes his appeal.
Earlier in v. 2, Paul spoke of his desire "to present" the Corinthians as "a pure (hagnos) virgin to Christ." It's no mistake, and not without significance, that now in v. 3 he uses a related term (hagnotes) to describe the only sort of devotion to Christ that counts for both time and eternity.
So again, speaking and singing much of Christ while consciously toying with sin is far removed from the devotion here in view. Have we not seen enough of public figures who tout their religious zeal (often to gain votes) while repeatedly and unrepentantly violating their marital vows? Have we not heard enough of people in the pew whose private lives differ little, if at all, from their atheistic neighbors? Have we not all grown weary of our own hypocrisy, our declarations of love and faith from the same mouth that spews hatred and contempt?
I'll have more to say in a subsequent meditation about Eve and the serpent and Paul's allusion to their encounter in the garden, but for now I only draw your attention to the verb translated "led astray" (v. 3). The word means something along the lines of "to corrupt" or "ruin" and in doing so "to seduce", "deceive", and "lead astray".
Here's how. The enemy, through a variety of means, lies to us. He wants you to believe that the pleasure he promises is more fulfilling than what may be found in a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. He rarely threatens or intimidates. His strategy is to allure and seduce on the strength of what sin can bring you now. If he can deceive you into believing that the way of Christ is hard, with no reward, that it is demanding, with no delight, that painful sacrifices are required with no satisfaction either now or in the age to come, he's won.
This is why the focus of Paul's ministry in Corinth, as in every city, was Jesus. Simply Jesus. The spiritually blinding, breathtaking splendor of the "light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6) alone will avail to trump the enemies lies and empower the soul to pursue and rest satisfied in a "sincere and pure devotion to Christ," and to Christ alone.
Is Christ the ground and source of your joy? Is Christ the object and focus of your faith? Is Christ the aim of your affection and the point of your passion? Or are you just into religion for the ride? For whose sake are you "sincere"? To what end are you "pure"? To whom are you "devoted"?
"Glorious Father, turn our eyes from the tawdry and transient pleasures of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Let us see your Son! Satisfy us with his goodness and grace. May our sincere and pure devotion be centered in him. Amen."