I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but]indeed you are bearing with me. 2 For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. 3 But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.(2 Corinthians 11:1-3, NASB)
There is a longing in our hearts for simplicity. For stripping things right back to the essentials. We see this desire reflected in our culture as well as resonating in our own hearts and minds.
As we journey together, we want to keep our clear focus simply on following Jesus together. Over the next few months, we will consider the One we are following – Jesus. We want to be reminded of, and learn to maintain, what Paul calls here the ‘simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.’
We keep things simple not primarily through personal organisation but by the purity of our hearts. Christian philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, wrote that ‘purity of heart is to will one thing.’ It is the opposite of being double-minded (James 1:7-8). That is why James says ‘purify your hearts you double minded’ (4:8). Jesus is the ‘one thing necessary’ that we give our hearts and minds to. And so we must be devoted to Jesus, purely and simply, without anything competing in our hearts with him. To use the strong language that Paul uses here (and is used throughout the Bible), we must keep ourselves pure and chaste, a virgin for the one we are betrothed to, the lover of our souls, Jesus.
There are two kinds of things that Paul addresses here and in this letter that can divide people’s affections and cause them to lose this simplicity and purity.
We can add something to the gospel other than Jesus. We subtly change the message to Jesus plus something (e.g. psychological well-being, social justice) and then the thing that we have added becomes more important than Jesus himself. Some false teachers in Corinth were doing this and it is a concern that Paul addresses in several of his letters, including Colossians. The message of the kingdom embraces many good things, including wellbeing and justice, but some people want the kingdom without the king. Such good things must never seduce us away from the pinpoint focus on Jesus himself.
We can get distracted by many things, and one of the things that Paul addresses here is the distraction of personality and celebrity. Some in Corinth were comparing Paul unfavourably to other ‘super apostles’ (2 Cor.11:5). Others were dividing over their preferred leader or speaker (1 Cor.3:3-5). We can still do this. If you have favourite authors, speakers, TED talks, podcasts, YouTube channels etc., that’s fine if they help lead you to Jesus. But don’t let any of them replace Jesus. You will know you have done this when you forget his example and message that the last are first, that we die to live, that he calls the foolish to shame the wise etc. and start comparing some unfavourably to others. Beware the cult of personality in our age, and keep focused on the only person who ultimately matters, Jesus.
Paul does not address this here, but I see it often as something that leads us away from simply following Jesus
In the letter to the Hebrews, the writer says ‘We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away’ (Heb.2:1). The message that they had heard was the message about Jesus. We can drift away from Jesus simply through the cares and trials of life. Sometimes just getting through the busyness of life is enough to cause us to drift. Hebrews is all about how Jesus is the perfect one, better than anything or anyone else. And the answer to drift is what its writer exhorts:
…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.Hebrews 12:1-2
This year, let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and follow him, purely and simply.