Spiritual Schizophrenia (2 Cor. 6:10)
The dictionary entry on the word “Schizophrenia” defines it as “a situation or condition that results from the coexistence of disparate or antagonistic qualities, identities, or activities” (http://www.dictionary.com/). Another entry reads: “a state characterized by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements.”
Given these definitions, there is a sense in which Christianity gives every appearance of being schizophrenic! There are in the Christian life, and in that of the apostle Paul in particular, situations or conditions or states of mind, if you will, that strike those outside the believing community (and more than a few on the inside as well) as being disparate or antagonistic or contradictory or incompatible.
If that sounds outlandish to you, meditate for a few moments on Paul’s description of his life and ministry as portrayed here in 2 Corinthians 6:10. I am, said Paul, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” Although I am “poor” I make “many rich”. I have “nothing,” he confessed, yet I possess “everything”!
I want to say, “Make up your mind, Paul! You can’t have it both ways. Sorrow and joy are incompatible. Poverty and riches are disparate, mutually exclusive states of being.” No wonder non-Christians think we’re crazy.
What accounts for Paul’s admittedly odd perspective on life? Is he emotionally unstable, a dreamer, a man who’s lost touch with reality, or someone who has a deep and profound grasp on what is of ultimate value? I suggest it is the latter.
Let’s be clear about one thing. If there is no life beyond the grave, Paul is certifiably insane. If this world is all there has been, is, or ever will be, it is senseless to speak of joy in the midst of suffering or to regard oneself as wealthy in the face of poverty. The value system that accounts for Paul’s point of view is one shaped by a belief in the reality of eternity, a life everlasting in which never-ending good prevails over evil, an existence in which the beauty and splendor of Jesus Christ provide ceaseless and ever-increasing satisfaction that transcends anything this current life can afford.
Paul’s “sorrow” was very real. His anticipation of eternal joy did not negate the hardships of life, but it did make them bearable. We misunderstand the apostle, and Christianity as a whole, if we believe the Bible is telling us to ignore pain or pretend that it is less agonizing than it is.
The source of his sorrow was multi-faceted. He felt “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” (Rom. 9:2) over the lost estate of his Jewish brethren. His often tumultuous relationship with the Corinthians was the source of “much affliction and anguish of heart” (2 Cor. 2:4). Then there was “the daily pressure” of his “anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28), not to mention the sadness he felt upon seeing Christ scorned and mocked, as well as his own sufferings from persecution and slander.
Yet, we are told, he was “always rejoicing”! This can only be explained in light of two factors. First, he must have believed that even the worst of circumstances and the most oppressive of trials were subject to an overriding and gracious providence. Were it not for his belief that “all things work together for good” for those who love God and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28), he could not have rejoiced simultaneously with his sorrow. It was not wishful thinking but the most rigorous spiritual realism that enabled him to endure, knowing that whatever befell him was sovereignly designed to facilitate his conformity “to the image” of God’s Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29).
Second, there must have been a deep and abiding well of spiritual refreshment from which he regularly drew that provided his heart with incomparable and life-sustaining satisfaction, something so fascinating, enthralling, and captivating that no root of bitterness could thrive or disillusionment could displace. As we’ve seen repeatedly, it was the goodness and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ himself (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9-10).
Even when joy in the present felt incomplete and distant and strained, Paul labored to savor the foretaste of future delight in God, no doubt constantly reminding himself that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). Clearly, true joy is not dependent on pleasant circumstances. It is possible to rejoice in a way that is genuine and real and sincere and unfeigned while yet enduring trials that in themselves have the potential to bring only misery and despair.
The apparent spiritual schizophrenia continues when Paul describes himself “as poor, yet making many rich.” What could he possibly mean by this? Obviously both can’t be literal, for Paul would never have thought of himself as increasing the financial wealth of the churches where he ministered. That would simply have never factored into the goals he set for his work among the congregations he founded.
Paul probably meant it literally in saying that he was “poor”. In his first letter to the Corinthians he wrote: “To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands” (1 Cor. 4:11-12a; an important reminder for all aspiring apostles!). Paul’s work as a tentmaker only provided him with basic necessities. But his poverty was a matter of choice. He wanted to avoid any possibility that people might think he was in the ministry for the money (2 Cor. 11:7-12; 1 Cor. 9:12,15,18), and he never wanted to be a burden to his converts (see 2 Cor. 11:9; 12:13,16).
Yet, he was not in the least bothered by his material deprivation, for it served to enhance the opportunity to “enrich” others spiritually and for eternity. This verb is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:5 where he describes the believers in that church as “in every way” “enriched in him [i.e., in Christ] in all speech and all knowledge” (cf. 2 Cor. 9:11).
Although Paul himself lacked earthly riches he delighted in imparting to others “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8) and the “surpassing worth of knowing” Christ Jesus as Lord (Phil. 3:8; cf. Rom. 10:12; 11:12). He labored among the Colossians to make known “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
Nothing could be more obvious than this: if Christ is not himself a treasure of incomparable worth, a prize of incalculable value, a source of ineffable satisfaction, material hardship will only serve to embitter and harden your heart.
Finally, though I have nothing, said Paul, I possess everything! But he surely had a few worldly possessions, and would never have claimed ownership in sin and ill-gotten gain. This is undoubtedly rhetorical hyperbole, designed to highlight the infinitely superior blessings of Christ and the age to come. Although he owned little in terms of transient and worldly goods, Paul considered himself opulent when it came to things eternal and of infinite spiritual value.
“So let no one boast in men,” he wrote to the Corinthians. “For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:21-22).
If we are able to embrace a thoroughly biblical worldview, a perspective in which the values of eternity impinge on the present, we will always appear schizophrenic to those who do not know Christ as Lord and Savior.
Without him, sorrow trumps joy, and material gain becomes our only reasonable goal. With him, joy flourishes in the midst of all, even financial lack or physical pain.