Category Archives: 2 Corinthians

Six Steps to Encouragement 3: 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2: God’s fellow-workers

This is the THIRD week in a five week series on ENCOURAGEMENT. Which is how we can ALL speak God’s word to each other in love, so that we grow in maturity.

 

We’ve seen how GOD is a speaker. How he communicates with words. And how his words are POWERFUL.

 

And we’ve seen that God’s words have changed US. And that through US, they can change OTHERS, TOO.

 

The Change

And that’s what we’re going to look at in a bit more detail TODAY. How God can use US to change other people.

 

It’s the BEST THING about this job. I get FRONT ROW POSITION to watch God’s word CHANGING PEOPLE.

 

(DEAN gets front row position to watch HOUSES change. Walls go up and roofs go on. Windows and bathrooms and light fittings go in. That’s pretty exciting change. But, as good as Cape Cod extensions are, it’s change that’s not THAT IMPORTANT.)

 

(Gordon and Jo get to watch people grow in their ability to speak English. Which is EXCITING! And people’s lives REALLY CHANGE for the BETTER. But it’s not THAT IMPORTANT.)

 

But I love MY JOB because I get FRONT ROW POSITION to watch God’s word CHANGING PEOPLE. And I get to be PART OF IT.

 

But it’s not just ME who gets to watch it, and be part of it. We ALL do. We get to see God’s word changing US. Or our kids. We see it changing us in home groups or youth Group or Kids church. We see it changing non-Christians into Christians. We see it changing people sitting NEXT TO US here in church from week to week.

 

Sometimes it’s slow and gentle and small. Like a tree growing bigger. And the changes in people are GRADUAL. And you can only see them over the long haul.

 

Sometimes it’s change that’s violent and fast, like a tornado. Or an earthquake. RADICAL change, where God turns someone’s life on its head.

 

And, unfortunately, sometimes, like Jesus promised, it’s THE OPPOSITE. Sometimes, God’s word LOOKS to be powerful, but just like a seed that’s fallen on rocky ground, or among weeds, the change doesn’t LAST. And people go back to their old lives. They fall away.

 

And that’s the TOUGHEST part of the job.

 

But in OTHER spots, the seed lands in good soil. And the seed GROWS. It PRODUCES FRUIT. The roots of the message grow DEEP into people. And they’re convincingly, thoroughly, and lastingly changed. And there’s nothing more exciting than THAT!

 

Right in the middle of the section we just read, Paul puts it like this. 2 Cor 5:17.

if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the OLD has gone, the NEW has come!

A new creation!

The old worry and fear about THE FUTURE  is replaced by a new ACCEPTANCE AND PEACE.

The old temper and anger  replaced by a new gentleness and humility.

The old idols of work and money and acceptance and pleasure  replaced with a deep joy in knowing Christ and being known by him.

Selfishness replaced by love.

Pride and self-centredness replaced with servant-hearted sacrifice.

Foolishness in decisions replaced with a balanced, godly wisdom.

An insecure shyness replaced by a quiet confidence in Christ, and a willingness to give new things a go.

Attitudes of thinking you were good enough for God replaced with a genuine recognition of sin, of repentance, and an grateful amazement at the wonder of grace.

 

I could embarrass some of you by naming you. But I won’t. But I can honestly look around at you this morning, and see each of those changes in people out there.

 

And that’s EXCITING! But it’s also encouraging and challenging, too. Because as I look at all of those things happening, I’m challenged to look at MYSELF. To ask whether I’m displaying those same changes. Those same attitudes and actions.

 

So what’s the powerful Word God speaks that can bring about change like that? It’s THE GOSPEL. The message about Jesus. About his life, his death. About his resurrection. And about our response to that. That’s the gospel.

 

And that’s not something you hear ONCE, and then move onto something else. It’s not like the key that opens the front door of the house. You get in, and then you put it in your pocket and forget about it. It’s not like that .

 

You can’t say “I heard the gospel at a Billy Graham crusade in 1977. That’s when I became a Christian. I don’t need to hear that anymore. That’s for non-Christians.”

 

The gospel is a message we need to keep speaking to each other over and over again. To keep REMINDING ourselves of who we really are. Of how helpless and hopeless. How UNDESERVING we are of grace. And how GOOD grace is. Of how GLORIOUS Jesus is. And how everything is for HIS glory.

 

1. The message

Let’s see how Paul puts that message. As he speaks to the Corinthians. It’s a message that he speaks to NON-Christians. But it’s also a message he CONTINUES to speak to the church. And to US. WE need to keep hearing the message of the Gospel. Because that’s what God uses to CHANGE us. Pick it up in the middle of v14.

…we are convinced that ONE DIED FOR ALL, and therefore all died.

 

One short sentence. But it summarises what Jesus did. And then what WE do to respond to that. First, Jesus. And the point he’s making is that there’s been A SUBSTITUTION. ONE person dying IN PLACE OF many. One died FOR all.

 

We’re sinful people who deserve judgment. Eternal separation from God. But rather than leave us where we DESERVE, God bridges the gap himself. He sent Jesus who willingly gave himself as a sacrifice. In obedience to his Father. To take the punishment we deserved.

 

That’s what it means that ONE died FOR ALL.

 

Like what happened with Sergeant Michael Lyddiard in Afghanistan in 2008. He’s a bomb disposal specialist who was called to examine a roadside explosive device. He made sure the area was evacuated. Then began to disarm it. Risking his life to save others.

 

But the bomb suddenly exploded. He was seriously wounded. Apparently losing an eye and a leg. But because he’d cleared the area, everyone else was saved. He bore the brunt of the explosion. TOOK ITS DESTRUCTIVE FORCE ON HIMSELF. SO THAT OTHERS WOULD LIVE.

 

Same with Jesus. He died in our place. To take the destructive force of God’s wrath on himself. So that we might be saved its effects.

 

Down in v18, Paul puts it a different way. God’s made us new (v17) by RECONCILING us to himself. Making us his friends. Through Christ. God’s the one who bridges the gap caused by our sin. Jesus takes the wrath, so we can move from ENEMIES to FRIENDS.

 

That’s what JESUS does. Then back up in v14, we see OUR RESPONSE. (One died for all) and THEREFORE ALL DIED. Somehow, our response is TO DIE. Which is explained in v15.

15 (And he died for all), that those who live SHOULD NO LONGER LIVE FOR THEMSELVES BUT FOR HIM WHO DIED FOR THEM and was raised again.

 

Our response is to LIVE FOR HIM. To no longer live for ourselves. To DIE to that person. And, instead, to LIVE FOR Christ. That’s what it means to be CHANGED. To be a NEW PERSON (v17).

 

And that’s the gospel. The message we need to keep speaking to each other.

 

The messenger

The second point in the outline is to do with THE MESSENGER. Paul’s the one in view here. But what he says about himself is no different from what’s expected of ALL CHRISTIANS. Because God’s preferred method of delivering his message  – his offer of a fresh start – is through ONE person telling ANOTHER person. There in v18- we’ve already looked at the FIRST half.

18 All this is from God, who reconciled US to himself through Christ and GAVE US THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION:

 

Whoever’s been RECONCILED, is given the MINISTRY of reconciliation. It’s part of the deal. It’s “US” who’s been reconciled. So it’s “US” who’s been given the MINISTRY of reconciliation.

 

Ministry sounds like a fancy word just for professionals. Like a government portfolio – minister of reconciliation. But it’s actually just the word for SERVANT. Or even SLAVE might be a better translation. God gave ordinary people the job of being SERVANTS. Slaving away, offering his message of reconciliation to OTHERS. SERVING them in that way.

 

Is that how YOU think about yourself?

 

V20 gives it a different title.

20 We are therefore Christ’s AMBASSADORS, as though God were making his appeal through us.

 

An ambassador’s an officially-appointed representative. That’s what Christians are –GOD’S OFFICIAL SPOKESMEN AND WOMEN. “As though God were making his appeal through us!” That’s a heavy responsibility.

 

Many people’s only experience of what GOD is like is by looking at YOU. By listening to YOU!

 

What sort of ambassador are you?

 

The same word that’s used of Christ standing in OUR place. Is used of US standing in Christ’s place.

 

“One died FOR all (that’s v14 and 15). And in v21, God made him who had no sin to be sin FOR us”. That’s Jesus standing in OUR place.

 

But then v20 says this. We are ambassadors FOR Christ. Same word. (Our versions don’t have the word FOR). As though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you ON CHRIST’S BEHALF (it’s same word again- FOR Christ) – be reconciled to God.

 

Christ has stood up for US. OUR job is to be standing up for him. He made the tough decision – took the hard road – for US. Let’s do the same for HIM.

 

And if you’re tempted to take that for granted, listen carefully to Jesus’ warning. Lk 9:26

26 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

 

He’s stood up for US at the cross. We’re to stand up for him in THIS life. And then he promises to stand up for US on judgment day.

 

We’re AMBASSADORS. Let’s do our job of representing well.

 

The THIRD description Paul uses of the messenger really flows from the SECOND. If we’re ambassadors for God, then that makes us his FELLOW-WORKER. There in Ch 6:1.

6:1 As God’s FELLOW WORKERS we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.

 

God’s got a message to get out. And he’s given the responsibility, in normal situations, to US. He’s making his appeal through us. We implore people ON Christ’s BEHALF.

 

Just stop for a moment, and THINK about that. Working alongside the God of all the Universe! God’s CO-WORKER! How WEIRD that an infinitely powerful God would choose to use people LIKE US to work WITH him. Surely, it would be much more EFFICIENT if he did it all himself. But he’s chosen to work with US.

 

It’s a great comfort – that all of the resources of heaven are backing us. God’s Spirit guiding us, giving us courage. Giving us the words to say. Opening the eyes of people we talk to, helping them understand.

 

We don’t HAVE to get the whole message out every time. We don’t HAVE to push the point. Close the deal. We don’t HAVE to stress over whether we’ve used the right words. We might sow the seed, but only GOD can make it grow.

 

It’s a COMFORT. But it’s also a great CHALLENGE. That God wants to work WITH you and THROUGH you and ALONGSIDE you.

 

But to DO that, you need to start WORKING. To pick up the tools. To take your light from under your bushel. To open your mouth. To break down barriers. To build bridges. To mend fences.

 

God’s waiting. With all the resources of heaven. To help you. But you’ve got to take the step to SPEAK. God uses words, and he works when WE use words, TOO.

 

Do you recognise the WEIGHT of that responsibility? You may be the only Christian some of your friends and acquaintances WILL EVER KNOW!

 

Or with CHRISTIANS. People here at church. Are you sitting back, waiting for OTHER PEOPLE to say those encouraging things? Perhaps NO ONE’S doing it. Perhaps there are people here this morning who are close to walking away from it all, and they’re hanging out for someone to NOTICE. For someone to ASK. And then to actually look like they’re INTERESTED in LISTENING TO THE ANSWER.

 

Are you sitting back, only talking to the same people each week? The people you feel most comfortable with? Or sticking to the TOPICS OF CONVERSATION you’re most comfortable with..

 

Go on. Toughen up. Take a risk. Go out on a limb. Build a bridge. Don’t risk Jesus being ashamed of you, because you’re too embarrassed to speak up.

 

Write the card. Make the phone call. Pull out the Bible at the dinner table with your family. Remind someone of what’s so good about God. Tell them what you’ve been reading in the Bible. Invite them to pray.

 

Get below the surface. Open up about yourself. Be vulnerable, so someone else will be more confident to open up about themselves.

 

Introduce yourself to someone new. Invite someone to lunch. Or out for coffee. Or a beer.

 

Say thank you. Give reasons. Make a list of what you appreciate in someone. And TELL them. TELL them you’re praying for them. And PRAY.

 

How well are you DOING at that? Individually? How well are we doing that as a church? How can we be doing that better?

 

What do OUTSIDERS say about us? Or maybe more importantly, what do people who’ve been here for YEARS say? People who are part of the furniture? Would THEY say we’re doing well? That we’re working hard? Or would they say we’ve dropped the ball? Got soft and flabby?

 

And let me give you the encouragement to do it by sharing Paul’s MOTIVATION. What put the fuel in his tank to live the life he lived. And see if it can motivate YOU TOO.

 

The Motivation

Paul was certainly PASSIONATE about his message. V20. He IMPLORES people on Christ’s behalf. It’s a strong word. We PLEAD with you. Or Ch 6 v 1 – we “URGE you not to receive God’s grace in vain”.

 

Paul knows the danger. And rescuing people is a matter of life and death. Like surf life savers on the Gold Coast. The swell is huge. Rips on both sides of the flags. And overseas tourists are just playing around in the water, unsuspectingly. Then suddenly, they’re dragged out to sea by the rip. And before they know it their lives were in danger.

 

They didn’t realise it. But the lifesavers can see exactly what the surf was doing. What the danger was. And they’re PLEADING with the people. URGING them. Stay between the flags. Get out of the danger zone. They’re blowing whistles. Waving arms. Helping people out of the water.

 

Same with Paul. As a minister – a servant – of reconciliation Paul IMPLORES people on Christ’s behalf. BE RECONCILED TO GOD. As Christ’s ambassador, he PLEADS with people GET RIGHT with God.

 

That’s a NEGATIVE motivation. So people DON’T end up in judgment. But the CLEAREST indication of Paul’s motivation comes from v14. Have a look at it with me.

14 For Christ’s love COMPELS us, because we are convinced that one died for all...

 

Paul’s driving motivation was the unshakeable confidence that Jesus had died FOR HIM. Taken his place. Died HIS death. Simply out of LOVE.

 

That’s because he’s SPEAKING THE GOSPEL to himself.

 

And so he spoke the gospel to OTHERS, TOO. His whole life DRIVEN by the desire to see OTHERS rescued. From the moment he was converted. The instant he’d received his fresh start, he wanted OTHERS to get that same chance.

 

He was COMPELLED by Christ’s love.

 

James Johnson was on board the ship Dunbar when it tried to enter Sydney Harbour in 1857. But, in the fierce storm, the captain mis-judged his approach. By the time he saw the sheer cliffs of South Head looming out of the mist, it was too late. The ship smashed against the rocks. Absolute tragedy – 121 people on board died.

 

But James was the one person who survived. He was plucked from a tiny ledge on the cliff he was clinging to.

 

But that experience MOTIVATED James Johnson to be the FIRST LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER for the lighthouse that was eventually built on that spot.

 

He was a man who knew the danger. But he also new the WONDER of being saved. He was filled with gratitude for having life. And so he was motivated to want to save others as well.

 

If you’ve known the wonder of a fresh start. The delight of experiencing Christ’s love and God’s forgiveness. If you’re CONVINCED of the reality of being God’s friend. If you’ve spoken the gospel to YOURSELF.

 

Then let that motivate you, energise you, to implore people on Christ’s behalf… be reconciled to God. Speak it to OTHERS so they might be encouraged. Built up. So they might walk more closely to Jesus, and follow his purposes better.

 

One of the passages in the study this week was Ephesians 4. And I’ll finish with these verses. About how Christ gave gifts to his people – gifts of prophets and apostles and teachers and pastors and evangelists. And the point of gifts like that (V12 of Eph 4) was

12 to prepare GOD’S PEOPLE (that’s ALL of us) for works of service, so that the body of Christ MAY BE BUILT UP (that’s the goal in EVERYTHING we do) 13 until we ALL reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and BECOME MATURE, ATTAINING TO THE WHOLE MEASURE OF THE FULLNESS OF CHRIST.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. (In other words the goal is that we’ll all be STABLE and SOLID) 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, (all of us) we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, AS EACH PART DOES ITS WORK.

 

What a picture! What a goal! May God work that in US. Amen.

 

Introduction to 2 Corinthians

It’s nice to receive a hand written letter in the mail isn’t it! The time that someone spends writ ing the words show they care for you, that they are thinking of you. Of course sometimes letters are written to express disappointment and perhaps even offer criticism. These letters are harder to write, and ly they are very hard to read! Paul’s letter to the Greek city of Corinth is like this. In this letter Paul expresses his love for the church he helped establish through the preaching of the gospel. Read Acts 18 to find out some of the background.

But at the same time, Paul in this letter has some very difficult things to say. More than any of Paul’s letters we have in the New Testament, 2 Corinthians is full of anguish, emotion and even defensiveness. Obviously since his first visit to Corinth, things have become strained with the Corinthian church, and this letter is Paul’s effort to restore the relationship.

As we work our way through the letter, it can be hard to work out what precisely has gone wrong. We only have this letter from Paul in which he seeks to resolve the problems, not a clear presentation of what the problems are for the benefit of readers 2000 years later! But there are clues for us. If we fast-forward towards the end of the letter, we read passages like this:

But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles. I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. 11:5-6

I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles/, even though I am nothing. 12:11

It seems that since Paul’s time in Corinth, others have come into the church flaunting their powers and qualifications as ‘apostles’ and turning the Christians against Paul. It seems that compared to these ‘super-apostles’ Paul looks unimpressive and weak and so Paul has fallen out of favour.

In an effort to defend himself, Paul talks a lot about his own ministry in this letter. But he ac tually takes an unusual approach. Rather than boasting about how impressive he is and playing the ‘super-apostles’ at their own game, he talks about his weakness and his suffering. For us it may not seem like a very winning strategy! But as we’ll see, Paul wants to show that it is in his weakness that God’s power is revealed. And that it is in what looks unimpressive, that God is at work.

2 Corinthians 1:1-11: The God of all comfort

The federal election’s coming up soon. And it seems like Kevin Rudd’s going to be the toughest opposition John Howard’s faced for a decade.

It’s certainly been a tough year for John Howard. Kevin Rudd seems to be making all the right noises to be a LEADER. I guess time will tell whether he’s got SUBSTANCE behind all the bluster.

And Howard’s way behind in the polls. And, if we believe the rumours, there’s been a groundswell of opposition from within his own party to replace him. Although I’m not sure the alternative is any better. Peter Costello hardly fills you with confidence, does he.

Did you know John Howard’s the second-longest serving prime minister in Australia’s history? More than 10 years. And the winner of four federal elections. He’s certainly got the runs on the board. And he’s a very clever operator. But that’s not stopping the knives coming out.

I wonder how he feels. The voters don’t seem to want him. His own colleagues don’t seem to want him. Does he still have the fight? The energy? Does he feel betrayed and hurt and unappreciated? After all he’s done for the party. After all the years he’s served the Australian people? He’s been the member for Bennelong since 1974!

I wonder whether he ever entertains the thoughts of just chucking it all away and living an easier life. After all, he’s 67. An age when many men are slowing down, playing more golf, watching more cricket, and working on the garden.

It’s the sort of situation the Apostle Paul finds himself in as he sits down to write 2 Corinthians.

He’d STARTED the church at Corinth. You can read about it in Acts 18. He went there, preached the gospel and people became Christians, despite strong opposition. Paul stayed there for 18 months – ages compared to many of the places Paul started churches. He’d made deep friendships, the sort of strong connections that can only come between Christians labouring together, side by side, in God’s work.

This group OWED Paul their salvation. Their new life in Christ, humanly speaking, was because of Paul.

Paul and his opponents

But when Paul moved ON, his opponents moved IN. They infiltrated the church and started to drive a wedge between the church and Paul. They criticised Paul, and they criticised his message.

And slowly but surely the Corinthian church was swayed against Paul. They started to believe Paul was worldly and insincere, that he was a coward, that he was weak, a theological deviant who preached a deficient gospel because he didn’t stress the Old Testament laws enough.

They began to think of Paul as an impostor, a false apostle, a weak and second-class substitute. Someone who was corrupt, only in the religion business to exploit people – someone who talked tough in his letters, but face to face was just a wimp.

To the Corinthians Paul was either a fool and a wimp. Or else crafty, and deceitful. And not to be trusted.

And all this came from a church that Paul had poured his life and soul into. … all this criticism from people Paul knew and loved, who he’d nurtured in the faith. It tore the heart out of Paul’s chest.

And so Paul sits down to write another letter. To try to rectify the problem. To build the bridge. To repair the bond between himself and the Corinthian church.

And he begins with a reminder of his credentials.

APOSTLE is a title the New Testament doesn’t throw around lightly. But notice it’s the credential Paul introduces himself with. v1.

Paul, AN APOSTLE OF CHRIST JESUS by the WILL OF GOD,

And it’s to the CHURCH OF GOD in Corinth, as well as all the Christians round the region of Achaia.

Paul a REPRESENTATIVE of Christ Jesus himself. Like an AMBASSADOR to the another country. Proclaiming and defending the interests of the one who’s sent you.

It’s not a job Paul VOLUNTEERED for; he was conscripted by God – struck down by a flash of blinding light on the road, and told in no uncertain terms what he was going to do. This is the Paul who used to PERSECUTE CHRISTIANS on behalf of the Jews. Now he’s an ambassador for the Christ he used to persecute. BY THE WILL OF GOD.

And this messenger of God is addressing himself in the second sentence there to the CHURCH OF GOD. God’s representative, talking to GOD’S PEOPLE.

So, before he starts repairing any relationships, Before he has to talk tough. He just wants to lay his cards out on the table. “I’m God’s envoy, appointed by God himself. And you’re God’s CHURCH.” So listen up!

But the question is, IS ANYBODY LISTENING to him? Or have they switched off Paul, because something more exciting’s come along?

As the letter goes on we’re going to see more and more clearly what’s happened. They’ve ditched him. In favour of something new. Something more impressive. Something a lot more flash.

The problem is, they’ve fallen for a USED-CAR SALESMAN sort of Christianity that promises the WORLD. And doesn’t DELIVER.

Friends, it’s a danger that’s just as real these days. It’s a danger to go looking for that little something extra. With the expectation at the back of your mind that your faith in Jesus should be delivering just that little bit more than you’re getting.

You’re doing it tough. You’re tired of being nice to people. You’ve been doing the same things at church for years and no-one appreciates you. You’re bored. You’re tired of having the same old minister preaching week in and week out, and you find out he’s just an ordinary bloke with feet of clay.

Life’s getting harder. And Faster. And busier. The kids don’t listen to you like they used to. The world’s getting scarier. But the answers from the front of church always seem to be the same. “Read the Bible more, pray, come to church, join a home group, tell people about Jesus”. And nothing much seems to change in life.

And then somebody says, IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS. There’s MORE. There’s a whole new level of blessing, a whole new level of love, a whole new level of spiritual experiences you haven’t even heard of.

And what do you say? You say, YOU BEAUTY. And you wander off and try it out.

That’s what’s happened in Corinth. And Paul’s writing this letter with tears in his eyes. You can almost still see the ink smudges on the page.

Turn over to chapter 11 and verse 3 and 4 and you’ll get a taste of what it’s all about. We’ll look at it more closely in a few weeks time, but here it is. And it’s a key to the whole letter. 2 Corinthians 11 verse 3. He says

“But I’m afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpents cunning, your MINDS MAY SOMEHOW BE LED ASTRAY from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus OTHER than the one we preached, or if you received a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, YOU PUT UP WITH IT EASILY ENOUGH.”

In other words they’re saying “It’s no big deal to try something new. Give it a go… doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter if it’s a NEW MESSAGE. That’s what we want. After all, isn’t God the god of surprises? Isn’t God the God of New things.”

Friends, let me tell you… NO HE’S NOT. And there’s only ONE GOSPEL. Once you’ve got hold of it, HANG ON TO IT. There’s only ONE SPIRIT. And once the Spirit’s come into your life and brought you to your knees before Jesus and started growing fruit in your life, HANG ON TO IT.

And there’s only ONE JESUS. The suffering servant. Who went to the cross for your sins and mine. And ROSE AS OUR MASTER AND KING. If you haven’t committed yourself to him yet, DO IT NOW. But once you’ve done it, DON’T MOVE FROM THAT. No matter what anyone else has got on offer.

Turn back to chapter 1 for a taste of what Paul’s saying.

It’s hardly the sort of sales pitch that’s going to win you an election. But that might just be because it’s TRUTH. And people don’t always LIKE the truth.

Pick it up from v3. And notice that Paul’s praising God. Not for making all his troubles GO AWAY. But for giving him COMFORT.

He sort of gets stuck on that word. He uses it nine times in the space of five verses. Now you don’t need COMFORTING unless you’re DOING IT TOUGH.

Which Paul certainly IS. Read from verse 3. He says

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who COMFORTS US IN ALL OUR TROUBLES, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves has received from God. For just as THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST FLOW INTO OUR LIVES, so also through Christ our COMFORT overflows.

Following Jesus means following him right into TROUBLES. Into SUFFERINGS. Taking up your cross, just like Jesus. DOING IT TOUGH is the mark of a GENUINE APOSTLE OF JESUS CHRIST.

Which is not the most OBVIOUS mark of authenticity to the Corinthians. Because they reckon they’ve found some BETTER Apostles.

As we work our way through this letter, we’re going to see THE SUPER APOSTLES have come to town. Smooth operators, out for a quick buck; slick hairstyles, Ray ban sunglasses. And when it comes to public speaking, they can really hold a crowd. And these guys make it all sound so appealing. These guys know all the answers. You name it, they can FIX IT.

And their message is that whatever God’s PROMISED/ is available NOW. No need to WAIT. No need to HOPE. No delayed gratification. All there for the asking.

Which is a pretty attractive message!

And then there’s Paul. The original version. Writes good letters, but gee he’s a boring speaker. A bit like the John Howard of the ancient world.

And he’s bedraggled looking, he keeps getting beaten up all the time, he’s got no idea at all about PR. Talks about SUFFERING. Talks about TROUBLE. Talks about PERSECUTION. Instead of healing. And power. And VICTORY.

I mean, tell me the truth. Which one are YOU going to sign up with?

Read from verse 8. We don’t want you to be uniformed, brothers, about the HARDSHIPS WE SUFFERED in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of LIFE. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of .

Who’d sign up with a guy like Paul, when you can go down the road and sign up for success and victory?

The big question – who looks more like jesus?

Well, folks, before you make up your mind about that, there’s just one question I want you to ask. Which one looks the more like JESUS? I mean, if the apostle is meant to be REPRESENTING JESUS, if he’s meant to be the AMBASSADOR FROM JESUS, which version looks more like a SUFFERING SERVANT.

Cause that’s what JESUS WAS, isn’t it? And when you look at Jesus writhing there in agony as the raw flesh on his back rubs up against the splinters of the cross, as he heaves for breath as he pushes his weight up against the nails through his feet, as he suffers the weight of GOD’S REJECTION because he’s taking our sins on himself… then you shouldn’t be surprised when someone says FOLLOWING JESUS isn’t all beer and skittles. And Jesus said it himself. Being a disciple means TAKING UP YOUR CROSS and FOLLOWING ME.

Which is exactly what Paul’s doing. And which is why he says in verse 5, the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives. And he fully expects if the Corinthians are going to be faithful, it’s going to be tough. And he says in verse 7, you’ll share in our sufferings.

What a sales pitch! Become a Christian – follow Christ. And the sufferings of Christ will flow over into your life! Whoo Hoo!

At the very least, Paul’s thinking about PERSECUTIONS. But there’s also the anxiety that comes from being passionate about the Kingdom. The sleepless nights worrying about a brother or sister in Christ who’s falling away and you’re at your wits’ end to try and bring them back. The hurt that can come from being misunderstood by someone, when, in all honesty, all you’re trying to do is help them follow Jesus. But they think you’re judging them – looking down on them.

Or the ANGER you can feel when a false gospel is preached. The FRUSTRATION you feel when people don’t seem to want to take Jesus seriously enough.

This is what Paul was going through with the Corinthian church.

SHARING IN THE COMFORT

Now that’s not to say it’s all bad news, cause it’s not. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Remember Paul’s PRAISING God in v3. Because we get back to the word we started with. COMFORT. And the fact is, says Paul, we’re dealing with a God who’s the father of all compassion, and the God of all comfort. V4 who COMFORTS US IN ALL OUR TROUBLES.

But not just Paul and his companions. The Corinthians too. Paul says to the Corinthians there in verse 7, just as you share in our sufferings, so you also SHARE IN OUR COMFORT.

And it’s exactly the same for US. And in a very real way, what ever sort of troubles YOU find yourself in the middle of, you can look to GOD FOR COMFORT. And you’ll find it.

The comfort comes from knowing that God has got it all in control. And you’ve only got to look to Jesus to see how THAT worked. It seemed like his suffering and were the worst possible outcome. That God was nowhere to be found. The disciples were heart-broken. But God was right in the middle of it. What man intended for evil, God intended for GOOD. And after the CROSS, came the CROWN. After the PAIN, came the PLEASURE. After the CRYING came the COMFORT.

And God promises it will work the same for YOU. As you FOLLOW Jesus.

ANOTHER part of the comfort comes from seeing God’s PURPOSES in tough times. Look at what Paul says in verse 9, when he and Timothy were at their wits end, it was the perfect reminder of the fact that we’re not meant to be relying on ourselves anyway. We’re meant to be RELYING ON GOD.

It’s easy to forget, isn’t it? And what I always find is, when things are going well, I’ll pat myself on the back; I’ll be self sufficient. I’ll rely on the things I can do on my own. And God gets pushed to the side til I need him.

There was a great line in the Purpose Driven Life. What are the areas you’re relying on God for? They’re the exact same areas you’re PRAYING about. If you’re not praying about something, you’re not trusting God for it.

Have a think about the things YOU’RE praying for. And the things you’re NOT praying for.

Be careful! Because if you’re not praying about all sorts of things, God may need to TEACH YOU A LESSON. A lesson that you need to be relying on him. And his chosen method of education is suffering.

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of . BUT THIS HAPPENED THAT WE MIGHT NOT RELY ON OURSELVES BUT ON GOD, who raises the .

He says God delivered us, and we’re convinced he’ll keep doing it. Time after time after time. Because God raised JESUS FROM THE . No trouble. Which means we can have confidence he’ll do the same for us.

That’s the confidence that comes from having been through the valley of the shadow of . And made it out the other side. Still in one piece. Still following Jesus.

Paul says, No worries. I mean, there we are at the point of . But what’s it matter? ‘s the end for us – but for God it’s just A BEGINNING. He raised Jesus, which was just the beginning. So Paul’s absolutely confident that whatever happens, it’s all under control.

And when you make it through your troubles with THAT sort of perspective that puts you in a pretty special position. You’ve got a pretty clear view of how the world works. And that’s a view that other people need to share. And so Paul can say in v4.

3 Praise be to God … 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, SO THAT WE CAN COMFORT THOSE IN ANY TROUBLE WITH THE COMFORT WE OURSELVES HAVE RECEIVED FROM GOD.

When you’ve seen God’s purpose in things. When you’ve known his strength. When you’ve learnt to rely on him. When you’ve faced square in the eye, and not blinked. When you’ve begun to see the crown that comes after the cross. Then that’s a lesson worth sharing.

We saw that yesterday at the breakfast at the Workers Club. You missed a beauty if you weren’t there. The best yet. David Perrigault was the guy in the car who had the metal post through him.

And when Ben Johnson asked him what he’d LEARNED. He said two things. I’ve learned to be Thankful. Thankful for all the things God gives me. And I’ve learned that I’m not scared of .

And that makes Pez in a position to be a real comfort to those who are going through something similar.

Friends, can I just say to you, if you’re doing it tough, if you’re struggling, if you’re just holding together – remember that you’re serving a God who’s the God of all comfort. Who doesn’t promise he’ll take us AROUND all our problems. But he promises he’ll take us THROUGH THEM.

Stick with the God of comfort, who if you’re a Christian, you already know. And don’t be sucked in by the offer of anything else.

And I know plenty of people here who can say AMEN to that. Who’ve been through terrible times. And are STILL struggling through.

And if you’re NOT doing it tough right at the moment, there’s a message for you, too. Be a COMFORTER. Paul says in verse 4 that God comforts us in our own troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received.

Which is just a complicated way of saying, PASS IT ON. If you’ve been through hard times and you’ve made it, it’s your turn to be a comforter. And a PRAY-ER. Share the burden.

That’s what makes a church a REAL church. And we need to be doing that more and more – in PRACTICAL ways. If someone’s hurting, don’t sidestep the issue. Don’t cross the road so you don’t have to talk to them. Bear one another’s burdens. Encourage one another to stick with it when it’s tough. Because that’s what the REAL Christian life is made of. Not the FAKE one.

2 Corinthians 1:12-2:17: Stinking Christians

It’s painful when you’re misunderstood. Take it from me. I’ve had a lifetime of suffering from FOOT IN MOUTH DISEASE. Of trying to say something funny, or helpful, or friendly. And it comes out instead as mean, or bitter, or inappropriate. Or just plain dumb.  And people get upset or angry or hurt. And the relationship needs to be repaired.

But at least I’m not the only one. Here’s some church newsletter bloopers doing the email rounds. Makes MY mistakes not seem so bad after all.

  1. Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.
  2. For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a creche.
  3. This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. Lewis to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.
  4. The Pastor is on vacation. Massages can be given to church secretary.
  5. The Senior Choir invites any member of the congregation who enjoys sinning to join the choir.
  6. The third verse of Amazing Grace will be sung without musical accomplishment.
  7. During the absence of our pastor, we enjoyed the rare privilege of hearing a good sermon when J.F. Stubbs supplied our pulpit.
  8. Due to the Rector’s illness, Wednesday’s healing services will be discontinued until further notice.
  9. The concert held in Fellowship Hall was a great success. Special thanks are due to Jan, who labored the whole evening at the piano, which as usual fell upon her.

10.  A song fest was hell at the Methodist church Wednesday.

11. Today’s Sermon: HOW MUCH CAN A MAN DRINK? with hymns from a full choir.

12.  On a church bulletin during the minister’s illness: GOD IS GOOD Rev. Hargreaves is better.

13.  Potluck supper: prayer and medication to follow.

14.  Eight new choir robes are currently needed, due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.

I think there would have been some careful diplomacy after THOSE mistakes! The pain of being misunderstood.

And it’s the same situation with the Apostle Paul. In fact, it’s a major reason he’s writing the letter. To EXPLAIN himself. And repair the friendship.

You can see what he’s hoping to achieve there in v13 of Ch 1.

13 For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, 14 as you have understood us in part, YOU WILL COME TO UNDERSTAND FULLY that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.

He wants to explain where he’s coming from. Why he did what he did.

The situation

There’s a lot going on below the surface. And it’s a bit hard to unravel. A bit like listening in on one side of a telephone conversation. But the basic situation was that Paul had said he’d visit TWICE. But he’d only come ONCE.

And that was enough for people to start accusing him of all sorts of things. That he couldn’t be trusted. That he didn’t CARE about them anymore. That he wasn’t organised or professional enough to keep his word.

(show slide 4) The map there on the screen shows Paul’s third missionary journey. He’s going to REVISIT all the churches he’d planted on his SECOND journey.

And we find a record of it in Acts 18 and 19. He starts in Antioch, and heads off through Galatia, then over to Macedonia, and then, eventually, to Corinth. And he writes 2 Corinthians during this third journey, probably from Macedonia. Before he gets to Corinth.

The problem is/ the LAST time he was in Corinth, he said he’d visit TWICE. Once BEFORE going to Macedonia, and then AGAIN on his way back home. (You can see that there in v15-16).

And that LAST time he’d visited/ things hadn’t gone well. It probably had something to do with disciplining the guy there in Ch 2 v5. Paul wanted them to be TOUGH on this guy. But not everyone had agreed. And they’d taken offence at Paul’ firm position. It felt like he didn’t LOVE them anymore.

And so Paul had left, with people still angry with him. At which point he decides that perhaps a quick return visit may not be such a good idea. You can see that there at the start of Ch 2.

2:1 So I made up my mind that I would not make ANOTHER PAINFUL VISIT to you.

So INSTEAD, Paul decides to write ANOTHER LETTER. Often a good way to go when people are angry. Because you’re less likely to say things you don’t mean. Or react in ways you regret later.

He writes a letter to explain where he’s coming from. He lays it all out on the table. Why the guy needs to be disciplined. And why the Corinthian church needs to listen to him.

We haven’t got a copy of that letter. It comes in between 1 and 2 Corinthians. But it must have been hard to write. Paul didn’t like having to talk so tough. And it was covered in smudges because Paul wrote it with many tears. Look there in v3 of Ch 2.

3 I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. 4 For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.

And then he’d had to wait to see what affect it had. Would they COMPLETELY reject him? Or would they recognise their mistake?

But then a wonderful thing had happened. Paul heard news from Titus that everything was FINE. Flip over to Ch 7. Paul couldn’t wait in Troas any longer for news. So he hopped on a boat and crossed over into Macedonia. Like an expectant father waiting for news of a new baby.

And it was there he finally caught up with Titus. V6.

6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus , 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort YOU had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever. 8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it-I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while- 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.

Paul’s overjoyed! The letter worked! And so, when he catches up on all the news from Titus, he decides it’s time to write ANOTHER letter.

So, the timeline goes something like this.

  1. Paul plants the church during his second missionary journey, and spends 18 months there.
  2. He returns to Antioch, then begins his third journey. He lands in Ephesus and ends up spending 3 years there.
  3. While he’s there he writes 1 Corinthians.
  4. Then he makes the painful visit
  5. Then he writes his sorrowful letter.
  6. Then he travels to Macedonia where he hears from Titus that the church has taken his advice in the letter.
  7. Then he writes 2 Corinthians.

Paul’s personal explanation

And that’s what we’re looking at today. As Paul tries to clear up the whole mess. AGAIN.

They accuse him of being deceitful. Of not being able to make up his mind. Of saying one thing and doing another. And we’re reading about his PERSONAL EXPLANATION in these verses.

a. his motives

And he starts of by describing his MOTIVES. He’s had a good hard look in the mirror, and he reckons all his decisions were based on his love and concern for THEM. Ch 1 v12.

12 Now this is our boast: OUR CONSCIENCE TESTIFIES that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and ESPECIALLY IN OUR RELATIONS WITH YOU, in the HOLINESS and SINCERITY that are from God.

He’s not doing things out of self-interest. Or because he’s a hypocrite, or selfish. He’s SINCERE and GENUINE. He’s shown INTEGRITY.

A bit further down in v23, he goes into a bit more detail.

23 I call God as my witness that it was IN ORDER TO SPARE YOU that I did not return to Corinth. 24 Not that we LORD IT OVER your faith, but we WORK WITH YOU for your joy,

He’s not a power-hungry tyrant. He decided not to visit for THEIR benefit. To avoid more hurt and pain. He wanted to work WITH them.

The visit had been so tough. And the letter had been so gut-wrenching. Paul had honestly thought another visit wouldn’t have been HELPFUL to them.

b) Paul’s feelings

Paul doesn’t just explain his MOTIVES. But his FEELINGS as well. This isn’t some disconnected, aloof bigwig. The apostle with so much on his plate that he never connects with people in a real way. There’s none of that with Paul. Look at how he describes the last letter he wrote. Ch 2 v3.

3 I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be DISTRESSED by those who ought to make me REJOICE. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. 4 For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with MANY TEARS, not to grieve you but to let you KNOW THE DEPTH OF MY LOVE FOR YOU.

This is a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. Who’s joy is closely connected to how well the Corinthian church are doing in the faith. Who’s love is genuine.

Paul went through plenty of TOUGH times. But it was relationships like those he had at Corinth that made it all worthwhile. And it broke his heart to think the friendship had broken down.

It’s a model all of us in leadership need to copy.

c) his message

The third area Paul gives a personal explanation about is HIS MESSAGE. The situation that caused the problem. Disciplining the sinful man.

It’s described there in v5-11 of Ch 2. Paul’s heard from Titus that they’ve finally accepted his command. They’ve removed this guy from membership. And it’s WORKED. The guy’s REPENTED.

Perhaps they’ve gone a bit overboard, and won’t forgive him, and welcome him back. So Paul has to clarify his message. It’s time to RESTORE him. Which was the aim all along. V6.

6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.

And just in passing, notice why it’s so important for us to be working hard to restore relationships. Because Satan LOVES it when Christians are fighting. V10 and 11.

10 If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven-if there was anything to forgive-I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

Are there broken relationships that YOU’RE involved in here. Disagreements or misunderstandings that you haven’t dealt with. Perhaps because you don’t want to make things WORSE. Or because you think it’s up to the other person to make the first move?

We’ve got to follow Paul’s example here. Make the tough choice of DEALING with it. Take the risk. Bring it out into the open. TALK about it. Like Paul, give personal explanations.

Trust God’s work of grace in the other person. Give them the opportunity to repent. Or to forgive you. Clear the air. Because Satan LOVES it when we’re not working together.

It was the nature of sinful Christians working together THEN. And it will KEEP happening because we’re STILL sinful Christians working together.

Comfort One

But as Paul gives personal explanations. As he thinks about the accusations made against him. That he’s a ditherer. Unreliable. Perhaps even a liar.

There’s one truth he can RELY ON. He gets comfort from the faithfulness of God. Human beings are fallible. And human relationships break down. But God NEVER will.

In the topsy turvy mess of ministry TO fallen people BY fallen people, the ONE CONSTANT COMFORT is that God is reliable and trustworthy. A ROCK to depend on.

Have a look at Paul’s line of thinking. Back up in v17 of ch 1.

17 When I planned this, did I do it lightly? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say, “Yes, yes” and “No, no”?

That’s what he was ACCUSED of. Saying ONE thing, but doing ANOTHER. Yes one minute, then NO the next. But whatever Paul is PERSONALLY accused of, the facts of his MESSAGE are ANOTHER thing. V18.

18 But as surely as God is faithful, our MESSAGE to you is not “Yes” and “No.” 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” 20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God

Ultimately, it’s not about trusting PAUL, but trusting GOD. The wonderful news of the gospel is that a trustworthy GOD has made lots of promises to UNDESERVING people.

And ALL of them are answered, ultimately, in Jesus.

God promises FORGIVENESS. It comes through Jesus.

God promises LIFE. It comes through Jesus.

God promises comfort. It comes through Jesus.

God promises direction and purpose and strength and eternity and love and hope and family. And they all come through Jesus.

Paul goes on. V21.

21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

God promises to make us stand firm. To never let us go. How does that happen? IN Christ.

And when we become Christians, he pours his Holy Spirit into us. A sign that we’re HIS. A down payment. His guarantee that we’re his. It’s a PROMISE.

And once again, it comes through Jesus.

Paul’s point is “When people might let you down. God NEVER will.” And it’s a comfort for Paul. And for the Corinthians. And for us too.

You might think Christians are constantly letting you down. Mucking things up. Disappointing you. Treading on toes. And that will ALWAYS happen. But God will never move. Or let you down.

And if you start to DOUBT it. Don’t look at Christians for reassurance. Because, eventually, they’ll disappoint you.

Ultimately, it’s not about trusting ME, or any other minister. Because at some stage I WILL let you down. I know that’s hard to imagine. But one day it will happen. So, don’t be following ME. Follow Jesus. Follow the one my MESSAGE is about.

Look to Jesus. To the cross. That’s your guarantee that God keeps his promises.

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.

Comfort Two

But there’s another comfort for Paul. As he gives his personal explanation. Down into Ch 2. V12. As he talks about his travels. He was over in Asia. The other side of the Aegean Sea. In Troas. Waiting for news from Titus. He was busy preaching the gospel.

But it was really bothering him. He wanted to find out how his letter to Corinth had gone. So he hopped on a boat, and crossed over to Macedonia. Hoping to bump into Titus.

It doesn’t sound very organised does it? Remember there were no mobiles, or email. No way of finding out where Titus was. He just had to WAIT. Or HOPE he bumped into him.

And as Paul describes the haphazard way of organising things. It would be easy to get discouraged. Overawed by the enormity of the task. And the frailty and weakness of the workers.

How on earth could he do a job like bringing Jesus to the whole known world?

Well, it’s then that Paul describes his SECOND comfort. From v14. Because it’s God who’s leading the way.

And the image he describes is of a victorious Roman general marching through the city streets to the cheers of the crowd. There’s spices and incense burning. And his army follows along behind. Look there in v14.

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us s everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

Paul’s job is just to follow along behind wherever God leads. And waft the aroma of Jesus to the crowd as he goes.

Sometimes it will be a SWEET smell. And people will accept his message, and receive LIFE. But others will hear the news, and it will smell like . Rubbish. Foolishness.

Paul is used to how DIVISIVE the gospel was. ALWAYS, people either wanted to hear more. Or they got so angry they wanted to RUN HIM OUT OF TOWN.

Paul recognises what a weighty responsibility he has. The end of v16.

who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, LIKE MEN SENT FROM GOD.

And that’s his comfort. God is LEADING the parade. God has SENT them. And so Paul will continue wafting the sweet aroma of Jesus wherever he goes. Knowing that it’s all up to God where and how and who responds.

So? Are you too broken to be any use to God?

So, when you start to wonder whether you’re the right person for the ministry you’re doing. And the nagging doubts come.

You’re up at midnight finishing that Bible Study, or kids church lesson.

Or the Scripture kids are pulling each other’s hair out.

Or you’re exhausted, and everyone leaves you to pack up. Again.

Or no one appreciates you.

Or someone takes offence when you offer them a church leaflet.

Or you get lost trying to find that meeting.

Be comforted by the facts Paul was comforted by.

1. When people let you down. God never will. All of his wonderful promises find their YES in Jesus.

2. And two, it’s God who’s leading the procession. It’s HIS gospel. HIS victory. He’s chosen people. We’re just following along behind.

Probably the major theme of 2 Corinthians is that God’s STRENGTH is seen in our WEAKNESS. In Ch 4 Paul puts it like this (v7)

7 But we have this treasure (the treasure of the gospel) in JARS OF CLAY (that’s weak, fallible humans) to show that THIS ALL-SURPASSING POWER IS FROM GOD AND NOT FROM US. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

And a bit further on in Ch 12, Paul writes these words. He’d asked God to remove a thorn from his flesh. But here’s what God said. Ch 12 v9.

9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Are you tempted to give up? Because of misunderstandings, or mistakes, or failures? Stick it out, and LOOK TO GOD. Because he turns your WEAKNESSES into STRENGTHS as you trust him.

2 Corinthians 3: Counterfeit Christianity

This is my NEW Timex Ironman triathlon watch. 30 Lap stopwatch, with lap and split mode. 3 alarms, water resistant to 100m. Full price from Rebel was $150.

This is my OLD Timex Ironman triathlon watch. 30 lap stopwatch, with lap and split mode. 3 alarms. It SAYS it’s water resistant to 200m. Which SOUNDS better. Bought on ebay, brand new for $40.

Which seemed too good to be true… Because it WAS too good to be true. Ever since I bought it, I’d had suspicions. The display didn’t quite seem as bright as it should be. And the night light seemed a bit dodgy.

Caron reckoned it was a fake right from the start. But it wasn’t until I took it into the surf during the holidays, and it STOPPED WORKING that I realised it was A FAKE. A cheap COPY. An imitation.

All the LABELS said it was genuine. And it came with all the right bits of PAPER. It promised to be just as good. In fact, it promised to be BETTER than the original. 200m water resistant. That’s like a proper DIVING watch. But I shouldn’t even have got it DAMP.

It’s the problem of being able to tell the GENUINE article from the COUNTERFEIT version.

In the big scheme of things, my mistake didn’t matter that much.

But when it came to the Corinthian Christians, it was literally a matter of life and . How to tell the GENUINE article from the COUNTERFEIT. In this case, the difference between fake and authentic CHRISTIANITY.

We’re looking at Ch 3 of the Apostle Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians. And I think we forget how easy it would be to fall for a fake back in Paul’s day. TODAY, we’ve got the Bible. We’ve got countless books on Christianity. There’s tapes and videos. The internet. There’s older Christians. Theologically-trained Christians. Who can WARN us. TEACH us. Who can be on the look out against counterfeits.

But in Corinth, there was no Bible. Only the OT. Perhaps a copy of some of Paul’s letters. And when it came to older Christians, the most at Corinth were no more than three years old! Remember Paul founded the church there, saw people converted. And only stayed for EIGHTEEN MONTHS before he moved on.

No wonder it was easy for false teachers to come in, and start making all sorts of outrageous claims. Teaching a COUNTERFEIT CHRISTIANITY.

We saw last time some of the claims they were making. That Christianity was about SUCCESS and POWER. About receiving all God’s promises and blessings NOW. And that if you were SUFFERING, or doing it TOUGH. Or still struggling. Then there was something WRONG, deficient, with your version of Christianity.

And THAT showed Paul in a bad light. Because those were the things that described him to A TEE. Suffering. Persecuted. Sick. Hungry. Beaten. Shipwrecked. Penniless, and Single.

So, who was right? What ARE the marks of authentic Christianity? And how can you tell the FAKE, from the real thing?

And it’s a question that’s just as important TODAY. Because there’s a whole range of different opinions out there about what genuine Christian experience LOOKS LIKE.

Some say it’s about speaking in tongues. Or about priests dressing up in special gear, doing mysterious stuff up the front. Or it’s about everyone using the right WORDS week after week – like some sort of mantra. Or it’s about the sort of songs you sing.

Others say GENUINE Christians will never be SICK, or POOR, or SUFFER. And still OTHERS say it doesn’t matter WHAT you believe, as long as everyone is NICE to each other, and that God will reckon THAT’S GOOD ENOUGH.

So, what ARE the marks of authentic Christianity? And how can you tell the FAKE, from the real thing? It was important for Paul/ and it’s just as important for US TODAY.

Paul’s references

What made things even more difficult in Paul’s time was that the impostors came with REFERENCES. They’d turned up in Corinth with letters of recommendation from other churches. “This guy’s the real deal. He’s got some teaching that will really make a difference in your Christian life.”

That’s the sort of thing that’s behind what Paul says in v1.

3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like SOME people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?

Paul’s trying to defend himself. They accuse him of not being THE REAL DEAL. Of not having any accreditation. Like the false teachers / who had references by the BUCKET LOAD.

But Paul goes on to say HIS mark of authenticity isn’t bits of paper. It’s the reality of his work. Paul’s marks of authenticity are the CORINTHIANS THEMSELVES Look there in v2.

2 YOU YOURSELVES ARE OUR LETTER, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 3 You show that YOU are a letter from Christ, THE RESULT OF OUR MINISTRY, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

The proof of the pudding’s in the eating. And Paul’s PROVED he’s authentic because of his FRUIT. The Corinthian church is growing and maturing, going from strength to strength HUMANLY SPEAKING, because of Paul’s work.

Not that Paul’s taking the CREDIT for it. Any growth at Corinth is because of the work of THE SPIRIT. See it there in v3? “You are the result of our ministry WRITTEN WITH THE SPIRIT OF THE LIVING GOD on your hearts.

God is LIVING. And LIVING Christians see GOD AT WORK IN THEM. That’s the FIRST test of authenticity.

So, I guess it bears asking the question – Do YOU bear the marks of authenticity that other people can see? Are you a LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION for Jesus/ to those who know you’re a Christian?

Has the Spirit of the living God written himself across YOUR heart? Is he obvious in YOUR PRIORITIES? In the things you LOVE? In your speech? In the way you treat people? In the things you consider WORTHLESS?

Are you DIFFERENT from a year ago? Is there PROGRESS? Are you more even-tempered? More self-controlled? Less selfish? Is your prayer-life better? Is your knowledge of the Bible better? Are you more faithful? More consistent? More thorough? More joyful? More content? More calm? More secure?

When someone looks at you, will they see that Christianity WORKS?

Or what about us AS A CHURCH? What do visitors think? Is this a place where they see AUTHENTICITY? Genuine love and faith and hope? Where they see the love God’s shown us in Christ/ working itself out in the depth of AUTHENTIC RELATIONSHIPS, in sacrificial service in each others lives. Where they see a genuine desire to see people saved. A consistent commitment to speaking the truth in love to each other.

I’ve mentioned it before, but here’s Leadership’s vision for where we’d like to be in five years time.

A vibrant, energetic, and active, loving, outward-looking, Bible-saturated, joyful, godly, generous, mutually encouraging, and prayerful body of believers, who long for heaven, and who follow Jesus courageously as individuals, families and a congregation

That’s where we want to be. Because they’re the REAL marks of authenticity. Of success. Not huge numbers. Or big buildings. Or multiple staff. OR slick presentations.

God MAY be working through those things. But they’re only the MEANS to the END. The end of MATURITY and CHRISTLIKENESS.

We need to make sure our focus doesn’t get distracted from the GOAL/ by some of these OTHER things that might only be part of the process.

Because it’s THOSE sorts of things which God is at work doing. And they’re the things which are the mark of our authenticity.

Let me read that goal again. Why not stick that somewhere you can see it. In your Bible. On the toilet door, or the fridge. And PRAY about it. Pray that God will be making us a people like THAT.

A vibrant, energetic, and active, loving, outward-looking, Bible-saturated, joyful, godly, generous, mutually encouraging, and prayerful body of believers, who long for heaven, and who follow Jesus courageously as individuals, families and a congregation

Marks of Authenticity

Back to Paul’s argument. He’s said the Corinthian church is his living letter of recommendation. Because they bear the marks of GENUINE CHRISTIANITY.

And then Paul goes on to describe IN MORE DETAIL the sort of genuine ministry he has. And along the way, he gives us a number of tests of authenticity. Marks of genuine Christian experience.

And as we work through the list, I want to dedicate it to TWO SORTS OF PEOPLE. Firstly, if you’re a Christian – which is most of you – this is dedicated to you.

These marks of authenticity Paul goes on to describe/ are wonderful gifts from God for YOU TO EXPERIENCE. So I want you, as we work through them, to be REJOICING. To be thanking God for his GOODNESS to you. For all that the Christian life is about.

Thank him that you haven’t been tricked into any of the counterfeits that people have come up with. Pale imitations of the life God’s prepared for us in Jesus.

Secondly, perhaps you’re NOT a Christian. If that’s you, then this is dedicated to YOU TOO. As we work through these marks of authenticity I want you to be listening carefully. And asking yourself, are these GOOD THINGS TO HAVE? Are these the sorts of things that I WANT? And are these the sorts of things I see in this group of people here at Western Blacktown?

And if, at the end of today, you end up answering YES to those questions. Then it would be great to talk to me about it. And you can find out how they can become part of YOUR experience. Which really means becoming a Christian.

1. God gets the credit

The first mark of authentic Christianity is there in v3-6. Paul’s talking about how the credit needs to go to God.

Look at v5.

5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but OUR COMPETENCE COMES FROM GOD. 6 HE has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant

There’s nothing about Paul’s own abilities, or qualifications, his success, or his efforts. Anything progress that’s being made through Paul’s work is BECAUSE of GOD. Authentic Christianity is marked by a desire to see GOD get the credit.

When leaders of churches want to take all the attention. When they want people to follow THEM, rather than following Jesus. When leaders insist that they’re RIGHT, and everyone else is WRONG. It should set warning bells off.

So, if I tell you something, please, never just take my word for it. Be checking what I say against God’s Word. And if you think I’ve got it wrong, then TELL me.

Because genuine Christianity recognizes that God’s the one who causes people to grow. God’s the one who builds churches. Who guides and directs. Who empowers and gives gifts. Who produces fruit.

Which is a wonderful comfort and encouragement for a church. To know that it’s not just about US. Success doesn’t rest solely on OUR SHOULDERS. Because if that was the case, I probably would have given up YEARS AGO.

  1. Life, not (6)

The second mark of authentic Christianity is that God’s Spirit is PRODUCING LIFE. Not . Have a look at the second part of v6.

6 He has made us competent as ministers of A NEW COVENANT-not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but THE SPIRIT GIVES LIFE.

Paul’s comparing HIS message – the good news of forgiveness through Jesus – with the OLD covenant. The OT. Which was about following all the rules. Commandments. The sacrifices. The food laws. The ritual. Completely. Perfectly. All the time.

And if you didn’t/ it meant JUDGMENT. And .

Judgment and FOR EVERYONE. Because there’s NO ONE who can keep the OLD rules. And so we’re all under God’s condemnation.

But authentic Christianity proclaims FORGIVENESS. And LIFE. Eternal life. Life that not only goes forever. But a richness to life that begins NOW. Life that takes on the flavour and colour and perspective of eternity.

It’s life that only comes from God’s Spirit.

  1. Righteousness, not condemnation (9)

And closely tied up with LIFE/ is the next mark of authentic Christianity. Number 3. RIGHTEOUSNESS.

In the next paragraph Paul goes on comparing the OT and the New. And he bases it on that story we read earlier about Moses.

In Exodus 34 Moses went up on the mountain to meet with God. And God gave him the ten commandments. And when he came down to talk to the people, his face SHONE. So bright he had to cover it up.

And Paul says that if the Ten Commandments, and everything that went with them, came with GLORY, (Moses’ face shone) and THEY only result in . Then how much MORE glorious is Christianity. Look there in v9.

9 If the ministry that CONDEMNS men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings RIGHTEOUSNESS!

That is/ right standing before God. Forgiveness. Acceptance. Friendship. It’s the OPPOSITE of condemnation and guilt.

Not something we EARN, but a gift from God, through the of Jesus in our place.

And authentic Christianity rejoices in that verdict that God gives us. Because it could NEVER come through the obeying the rules in the OT system.

SOME people find God’s verdict hard to accept. IT seems to god to be true. Or they’re suspicious of getting something for nothing.

And so they go through life with a huge set of scales. Weighing up their GOOD deeds and their BAD deeds. HOPING that at the end of their life they’ll come down on the GOOD side. And that will be enough for God to sneak them in the back door.

Acceptance and restoration and righteousness. It’s something Mormons can’t understand. Or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Muslims have no understanding of grace. Of a God who forgives.

Many Catholics have taken their eyes off Jesus, and are too concerned about deeds, and ritual. About attendance, and rule-keeping. And so the simple mark of AUTHENTIC Christianity gets lost. That when God forgives us, he declares us . Righteous in his sight. Because of the work of Jesus.

  1. Everlasting, not finishing (11)

Fourth, the OT system FADES AWAY. God designed it with in-built obsolescence. An expiry date. Like milk that lasts a week, or TV’s that break down after five years. But Christianity has a glory that LASTS. See it there in v11?

11 And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which LASTS!

The promises of God in Christ will never be superceded, or need updating. Science will never disprove them. The work of Jesus was ONE EVENT. And its effectiveness lasts FOREVER. No UPDATES, or PRODUCT RE-CALLS. No second editions. No renovation, or updating required.

  1. Boldness, not reluctance and fear (12)

Fifth, all of that/ means authentic Christianity has an attitude of BOLDNESS AND CONFIDENCE. Not reluctance and fear. V12.

12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, WE ARE VERY BOLD.

Christians don’t have a SELF-confidence but a SAVIOUR-confidence. Not confidence in OUR works, but JESUS’ work. It’s not presumption, but confident trust. Hebrews 10:19 puts it like this

19 ..since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place BY THE OF JESUS, …let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience … 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

That’s the confidence that genuine Christianity can have. No wonder Christians have something to sing about!

  1. Clarity and intimacy, not haziness, and alienation (13-16)

Moving on. The sixth test Paul mentions is that genuine Christianity is about CLARITY AND INTIMACY, not haziness and alienation.

He says, in v13, we are NOT like MOSES. When Moses came down from Mt Sinai, the people couldn’t look at him because his face shone so brightly. He covered it up. The people had to keep their distance from the mountain itself. Only Moses could get near to God.

But Paul says we are not like that. Look down to v16.

16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, THE VEIL IS TAKEN AWAY.

In other words, God has gone to the trouble to REVEAL himself to us. In his word the Bible, and in his Son Jesus. We can know what he’s like. We can see him CLEARLY.

But what’s more, we can APPROACH him. Get close. We can be in a real, living relationship with the Creator of the Universe.

Which other religions and cults just can’t understand. It’s an incredible privilege that comes, not because we’ve managed to reach God on our own. That’s like trying to lift yourself up by the boot strings. But that God has bridged the gap himself. With the cross of Jesus.

  1. Freedom, not slavery (17)

Seventh. Authentic Christianity is about FREEDOM, not slavery. V17.

17 ..where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is FREEDOM.

If you follow Paul’s argument, it’s God’s Spirit that gives LIFE, it’s the ministry of the Spirit that brings RIGHTEOUSNESS, which means we can have BOLDNESS and INTIMACY. All of that means we’ve been SET FREE. Released from guilt, and . Released from judgment and fear.

Released to live life now the way we were designed, knowing who we are, and what we’re here for. Knowing our Creator and Saviour. Knowing our FUTURE. Living with Jesus on the throne of your life.

Which really IS freedom.

8. Growing more like Christ (18)

The final mark of authentic Christianity is there on v18. Once again, Paul’s thinking back to that story of Moses. When Moses met with God, and his face shone, it gradually FADED. Over days or weeks. Until it was back to normal. But it’s not like that when Christians come into contact with Jesus. Look at v18.

18 And we, who with unveiled faces ALL REFLECT THE LORD’S GLORY, are BEING TRANSFORMED INTO HIS LIKENESS with EVER-INCREASING GLORY, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Little by little, as we follow Jesus, as we submit to his kingship over us more and more, we begin to REFLECT him. Our character becomes a little more like his. Our attitude to people, and things becomes a little more like Jesus. The way we speak, and the way we think reflects more and more of the perfection of Jesus.

There are probably times when you WONDER about that truth. When it doesn’t seem like you’re reflected ANYTHING AT ALL of Jesus.

When that same sin seems to drag you down. When the changes seem to came so slowly and painfully that you wonder whether

But the reality is/ if you’re a Christian, then God’s Spirit is living in you. And he’s slowly but surely working on you. Polishing you up, rubbing the rough edges off.

And one day, he’ll COMPLETE the job. In eternity, there’ll be no more sin, and God’s people will reflect him ABSOLUTELY.

Well, they’re Paul’s marks of authenticity. How did you go with the check list?

If you’re a Christian, this list is dedicated to YOU. Rejoice and praise God for his goodness to you. Which of these do you need to be taken a tighter hold of?

Finally, if you’re NOT a Christian (YET), this list is ALSO dedicated to YOU. What do you think of it? Are they the sorts of things that make you THIRSTY? Things you LONG for?

Jesus said “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and DRINK.”

These are the things God promises are AUTHENTIC Christianity. His gift. And he’s offering it to you FOR FREE. Won’t you TAKE it?

Don’t settle for an imitation!

2 Corinthians 4: Loud and Clear

There’s a certain CONFIDENCE that comes from knowing you’re in the right. That you know the TRUTH. And that OTHERS have got it wrong. You don’t have to move anywhere. You can proclaim it clearly and confidently. Loud and clear. And people can like it, or lump it.

(Check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x91iciAYcw0&feature=related

EVIDENCE may say otherwise. You may LOOK small and insignificant. Weak and helpless. Just a small green dot on a radar screen. But the reality is something different. You’re planted firm on a rock that doesn’t move. Your future is certain, you’re SOLID, and you’re not going ANYWHERE.

Whether you’re a lighthouse keeper in the Irish Sea, or the Apostle Paul in 1st century Greece, or a Christian in 21st century Sydney.

Truth and clarity (1-6)

We pick up Paul’s letter at ch 4 , where he’s just finished talking about talking about the type of GLORIOUS MINISTRY God’s given him. See it there at the end of ch 3?

A ministry that sees people turn to the Lord, that sees the veil that blinds them removed from their eyes so they can see God for who he really is. A ministry that leads to people being transformed into the image of God, made more and more like Jesus as they allow him to be the king of more and more of their lives.

And so he begins Ch 4.

4:1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have THIS MINISTRY, we DO NOT LOSE HEART.

In other words. There’s LOTS of things about Paul’s life that would make it tempting to give up. To feel sorry for himself. To take a well-earned break. But it’s the fact that his work sees CHANGED LIVES that gets him out of bed in the morning. Since he has a ministry that CHANGES LIVES, he doesn’t lose heart.

Which is a word FOR ME. I must admit I’ve been doing a bit of soul-searching in the last year or so. It’s looked, at various stages recently, like the church would run out of money to keep paying me. And that I might end up looking for somewhere else to work.

At the moment it looks like we’ll finish the year with about $6000 in the bank. And a loss of about $4000 for the year. So I’m safe for a while yet.

But it caused me to start looking back over the 7 years I’ve been here. And looking for what DIFFERENCE I’d made. Whether things were better at Western Blacktown NOW than when I’d arrived. A reason for me NOT TO LOSE HEART.

I was looking for CHANGE. I wanted to compare the BEFORE and AFTER photos, to see whether there’d been GROWTH.

It’s a funny job, really. Because you can’t get to the end of the month. And report to your production meeting, or your sales meeting, “Yes, I’ve built 7000 widgets” Or “I’ve signed 4 new contracts, and sold 65 do-dads.”

But in ministry, often, from one year to the next, there’s not a lot of VISIBLE evidence that you’ve been significant AT ALL.

And so, in my darker moments, I’d feel a bit DOWN that things weren’t really powering ahead like SOME churches. That there wasn’t a big budget, or multiple staff, or mass conversions, or huge youth groups.

But the reality is God IS working in people. Transforming them. Gradually changing their attitudes and their characters. Shaping their hearts and their hands and their tongues.

And as I look around here, I can SEE EVIDENCE of that change. God IS AT WORK. And that’s ENCOURAGING.

4:1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have THIS MINISTRY, we DO NOT LOSE HEART.

And what that means in practice is that we present God’s message with TRUTH and CLARITY. You see, if you can see evidence that God’s Word IS powerful and effective. That it IS changing people. Then that, to put it slightly crassly, affects YOUR ATTITUDE to your PRODUCT.

If you’ve got a DODGY PRODUCT you know people don’t really NEED, or don’t really WANT. Then you work out some sort of SALES PITCH. Like those telephone salesmen. A whole series of questions people can’t say NO to. Which at the end of it, hopefully, they’ll be convinced by, or TRICKED, into buying something they had no intention of buying at the START of the pitch.

I was the target for one just like it on Friday. A nice young , said she was from A CLEANING COMPANY, offering me a free clean of a carpet or rug or mattress.

As I looked at the brochure, in small print I saw. The free offer is part of a presentation of KIRBY products. And straight away I wasn’t interested. Because I’ve had experience with KIRBY. It’s a VACUUM CLEANER. And the offer was basically to sit through a 1 hour high pressure sales pitch, while they SHOWED you how they cleaned the rug.

Because, when my younger brother first left school, he worked selling KIRBY vacuum cleaners. American made, cost over $2000 – and that was about 15 years ago.

And he got paid for each DEMONSTRATION he did, as well as a commission for each SALE. And he did a demo for US. But he was the WORST salesman in the world. Because he didn’t really BELIEVE in the product. He said, “You don’t really want to buy this. Because it’s too expensive. It’s GOOD, but not WORTH IT!”

He didn’t last long in that job. I think he only sold TWO – one to MUM. And one to her BEST FRIEND!

But when you BELIEVE in your PRODUCT, you’ll do whatever you can to point out how GOOD IT IS to people. And Paul’s like that with the gospel. The good news about Jesus. Look there at v2.

…we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced SECRET and shameful ways; we do not use DECEPTION, nor do we DISTORT the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth PLAINLY we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

The gospel needs to be presented CLEARLY. Without TRICKS. As plain, and as obviously as we can. Because it’s by HEARING THE MESSAGE that God works in people to CHANGE THEM. He’s the one who opens eyes, not the cleverness of our pitch.

So they need to hear it LOUD AND CLEAR. And not with SECRET TRICKS, or in a DISTORTED way.

It’s something we’re tempted to do, isn’t it? To invite people to an evangelistic event. Like a men’s breakfast. But not tell them that the gospel will be presented. And they’ll be CHALLENGED to consider Jesus.

Or underplaying what’s really going on.

Or we doubt that people will be convinced by the message itself. And so we feel the need to JAZZ IT UP a bit. Perhaps hold back on a few of the bits we think are less attractive. Like sin and judgment.

Or we try to pump up people’s EMOTIONS. So that they’ll make a rash decision.

And yet, Paul says it’s not like that with Christianity. The message is SO GOOD, all we need to do is make it as CRYSTAL CLEAR as we can. Removing anything that might cause people to misunderstand. Or be distracted.

Polishing up the lens so that the searchlight of Jesus can shine into the dark corners of people’s lives. And restore their SIGHT. Give them LIFE.

Because the world IS a dark place. Which is just how Satan LIKES it. See there in v4?

4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

He’ll do ANYTHING to stop people HEARING. To stop people SEEING the truth about Jesus. Microphones not working. Kids misbehaving. Cars breaking down. Late nights and sleeping in. Excuses. Distractions.

All things Satan uses to stop people HEARING.

But God’s WEAPON, his ENDOSCOPE for delivering his light to the darkest corners of people’s lives is Christians speaking of what they’ve found. Speaking truthfully and clearly about Jesus.

And that means presenting things WELL. Plain, interesting talks. Clear amplification. Bright overheads. Pictures. Colour. Explanations. Page numbers. Child-minding.

All done/ so that the MESSAGE will be as clear as possible.

Because that’s how God does his work. Through men and women telling OTHER men and women the message of forgiveness and reconciliation in Jesus. And then God opening eyes. Shining his light. Unblocking ears.

Power and weakness (7-9)

In the next paragraph Paul moves on from the MESSAGE to the MESSENGER. From the content to the conduit. And his point is the contrast between POWER AND WEAKNESS.

The glorious MESSAGE is only carried by a humble MESSENGER. Precious riches in a cheap, disposable container. There in v7. “TREASURE/ in jars of clay”.

Like a wad full of money kept in an old shoe box under the bed. Or a handful of diamonds kept in an old flower pot in the garden shed. The contrast between MESSAGE and MESSENGER. Between POWER and WEAKNESS.

Why would God choose to do things that way? Why not use impressive, charismatic people? Gifted, powerful, successful people? Wouldn’t that SUIT the message better?

The answer’s there in the second half of v7.

to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

God’s chosen method of advertising is NOT to use powerful, successful, charismatic, attractive people. But normal, weak, everyday people. He’s after JARS, not STARS.

Because THAT way, it’s obvious that the power and change is coming from GOD, and not from people. It’s the way he’s ALWAYS worked. All the way through the Bible.

God didn’t choose Israel because they were big or strong or influential. In fact, the very opposite. Moses says to them in Deut 7:7

7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers

God likes WEAK and insignificant vessels. Because THAT way, He gets the credit.

When Gideon’s army turned up to fight the Midianites, he sent most of them home. Because otherwise they’d think the victory came from THEM. And so a huge army was defeated with just 300 soldiers. And God got the credit.

When King David was picked, Samuel overlooked all the bigger, older, stronger brothers. All the likely candidates. And chose the youngest brother – the baby of the family. Because God said “I don’t look at the things MAN looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, But I look at the HEART.”

Weak on the OUTSIDE, but full of God’s strength on the inside.

And it was no different with the Corinthians themselves. Here’s what Paul said about them in his FIRST letter. 1 Cor 1:26-29

26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were WISE by human standards; not many were INFLUENTIAL; not many were of NOBLE BIRTH. 27 But God chose the FOOLISH things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the WEAK things of the world to shame the strong. … 29 so that NO ONE MAY BOAST BEFORE HIM.

And when it came to the Apostle Paul and his companions, it was no different. God wants JARS, not STARS. Treasure in jars of clay.

But it’s more than God working DESPITE an unimpressive messenger. That’s like Andrew Johns winning a footy game DESPITE team-mates who aren’t very good.

Paul’s saying that God’s power is seen BECAUSE Paul is such a fragile vessel. God achieves his purposes. And builds a successful ministry exactly BECAUSE Paul is so unimpressive.

When people look at the churches Paul’s helped to grow, and the converts he’s seen. And the way Paul sticks at it. And never gives up. They would be expecting some sort of SUPERMAN.

And yet when they meet Paul, they realise how UN-impressive he is. Unassuming. And so, they’re forced to say – it MUST be God who’s doing all this. PAUL’s not capable of this. “To show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us”

God uses our very imperfections and flaws to make beautiful music.

Imagine someone gave you a Stradivarius violin – hundreds of years old. The best-sounding violins in the world. Worth millions of dollars. And you decided to give it a bit of a clean up. Because it looked a bit dark, and dirty and grimy. So you got to work with the steel wool and the sand paper. With the hot soapy water, and the paint .

And in the end, you MIGHT end up with a violin that LOOKED as good as a NEW ONE. But it wouldn’t SOUND as good. It wouldn’t give the beautiful resonance or sustain or tone it was famous for.

Because it’s the very imperfections and grime. The ancient treatment of the wood. That gives it some of its special character. It’s quality. Without the weakness, there wouldn’t be the special music.

And it’s the same with God working in YOU. It’s only as you recognise your own weakness, and dependence on God, that he can USE you, that he can show that the power comes from him. And so God can get the glory.

See how it works in practice? Look there in v8

8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

On the OUTSIDE, Paul and his companions looked weak and insignificant. They looked defeated and overcome. But the reality was God was working THROUGH that very weakness. Enabling them to stick it out. Achieving his purposes, bringing glory to himself.

Is that how YOU think when tough times happen? When you’re tempted to doubt that you can DO something. Or tempted to give up? Throw in the towel?

Your very persistence, and stickability, are signs that God is working his strength through your weakness.

And that should make us stick at it for another week. And rejoice that God is at work in us. And through us!

And it’s got implications for the type of churches we want to AIM for. If successful ministry is about weak and frail vessels, humanly unimpressive, who rely completely on God for strength. Then that’s the sort of CHURCH we should be AIMING at.

Not that we deliberately do things in a slip-shod, or unprofessional way – after all, we want to make sure things are AS CLEAR AS POSSIBLE – but we want to make sure our focus never STOPS at doing things well. That our CONFIDENCE isn’t in our professional presentation, and slick graphics, and buildings, and attendance.

But that we always recognise that confidence in THE MESSAGE, and in the one who WORKS through the message. They’re the things we need to be aiming for. They’re the things that last for eternity.

And we’ll see it in how we PRAY. If we really recognise God as the one who does the work, then we’ll be COMMITTED to bringing ALL we do to him. Asking for HIM to DO HIS WORK. To GUIDE us. To PRESERVE and KEEP us. To USE us. To achieve HIS PURPOSES. For HIS GLORY.

Seen and unseen (10-18)

And the way we can keep going. Keep sticking it out in the face of defeat and despair and disappointment. Is to recognise the difference between the SEEN and the UNSEEN.

Whether that be the difference between the INSIDE and the OUTSIDE. Or between the PRESENT and the FUTURE.

Firstly, the inside and the outside. Look there in v11.

11 For we who are alive are always being given over to for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.

He’s summarising the sorts of things he was saying in vv 8 and 9. Following Jesus, and proclaiming him as the King of life and means that Paul will SUFFER like Jesus. Given over to . That’s on the OUTSIDE. Things look GRIM. DIRE. DANGEROUS. LY. A FAILURE.

But ON THE INSIDE, there’s something different happening. God is at work producing LIFE. The Christian is HEADED for eternal life. And God is at work in him making him more and more fit for heaven. God’s Spirit gives us the power to be conforming our thoughts and words and actions into the likeness of Jesus. Strengthening our FAITH. Intensifying our HOPE. Deepening our LOVE.

He puts it a bit differently down in v16.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

The bones are getting stiffer. The skin a little saggier. The hair a little thinner, and greyer. The eyes a little blurrier. The mind a little slower. The back a little tighter.

But if God’s at work in us, we’re being RENEWED DAILY. ON THE INSIDE. Does that describe the transformations in YOUR life? Are you getting more and more like Jesus?

As you get older, are you MORE patient with people? Or are you developing into a y old man or woman?

Are you MORE generous with your time? Or are you in more and more of a hurry?

Is your love for God’s Word GROWING? Or are you getting BORED with studying the Bible?

Are you MORE keen to see people come to Jesus? Or does evangelism just make you feel TIRED?

Because God is at work among us, we can look beyond THE SEEN. To the UNSEEN. Beyond the OUTSIDE to the INSIDE.

But also beyond the PRESENT. To the FUTURE. That’s how Paul finishes the chapter. v17-18.

17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us AN ETERNAL GLORY that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is UNSEEN IS ETERNAL.

Things might be GORY NOW, but there’ll be GLORY LATER.

Because ETERNAL GLORY is the ultimate goal. That’s long-sighted ministry. Ministry that sees beyond the tiredness, The late nights. The unresponsive Scripture class. The unappreciative Bible study group. The poor singing. The thankless tasks repeated week after week. The doors shut in your face.

Therefore, we don’t lose heart

So don’t lose heart. Paul BEGAN the chapter that way. And he FINISHES with it. DON’T LOSE HEART.

Paul doesn’t lose heart. He keeps going. He sticks at it because his eyes are ON ETERNITY. His body’s getting weaker, and flabbier, and slower. But he’s becoming more like Jesus. And that’s better by far.

Life is full of trials, and struggles, and disappointments. But the end result will be an eternal glory far more significant than any of that.

Life is full of visible and noisy distractions – Temporary, passing. Noises, sights, smells. But Paul’s not looking at any of that. His eyes are on the unseen. The spiritual. The eternal.

And so he’ll proclaim his message to all who’ll hear it. The message that Jesus Christ is LORD. The staggeringly good news that God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

That’s a message that’s worth standing rock solid on the promises of God. In the midst of a stormy sea.

That’s the message of brilliant light that’s worth beaming out like a searchlight into a dark world.

That’s a message that’s worth proclaiming LOUD and CLEAR.

2 Corinthians 5:1-9: Tents and Houses

Is your idea of the perfect holiday ROUGHING IT in a TENT, or being pampered in the LAP OF LUXURY?

It can be a delicate problem to navigate when husband and wife are on different ends of the spectrum.

About ten years ago Caron and I decided to camp at Katoomba Easter Convention. I’d always camped growing up. But it wasn’t something Caron had done a lot of. But I finally managed to convince her.

So we got all the gear together. Pitched the tent. And were looking forward to a great weekend. Right next to the hall. No travelling. Good friends to spend time with.

And everything was fine until Katoomba did what it normally does. RAINS. And the dirt turned to mud. Which went EVERYWHERE. All through the tent. In food. In cups. In sleeping bags. And the tent leaked.

I have to admit it was MISERABLE.

I don’t think I’ve got Caron camping SINCE.

Let me tell you, when it comes to the choice between living in a tent/ and living in the comforts of home, I’ll take HOME any day. Because it’s hard to beat the comforts of home. The warm bath. The telly. The comfortable bed. Away from the mossies. And the sunburn. And the mud in your sheets.

And here at the start of 2 Corinthians chapter 5, Paul’s saying exactly the same sort of thing. He’s talking about tents – and houses. He’s talking about where he IS, and where he’d RATHER be.

Paul’s looking at THIS life. And what it’s like. And he says it’s a bit like roughing it in a tent. The thing he’s looking forward to most, is GOING HOME. He’s groaning with anticipation. He’s camping in the middle of the mud, and he’s looking forward to something better.

And here’s what he says. Read from the first verse.

“Now we know that if this earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an ETERNAL HOUSE IN HEAVEN, not build by human hands. Meanwhile, we GROAN, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we’re clothed we will not be found .”

The TENT he’s talking about is HIS BODY. The tent he’s talking about is THIS LIFE.

Now think about the difference between a TENT and a HOUSE. The tent’s a TEMPORARY thing. It’s okay for a while. But the walls shake in the wind, the drafts get through the gaps. Tents are okay for A WEEK OR TWO, but they’re not meant to be PERMANENT.

It’s what he was talking about at the end of Ch 4. v16.

(2 Cor 4:16-18 NIV)  …Though outwardly we are WASTING AWAY, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. {17} For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. {18} So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Life’s a TENT. That’s wasting away. But our REAL HOME is in ETERNITY. Which is FAR better.

That’s the way we SHOULD think. But it often doesn’t look like that IN PRACTICE.

I mean, a lot of the time we live like THIS IS ALL THERE IS. We live with A DEEP SEATED FEAR OF , that all the time we push under the surface. We work our guts out to make sure we’re SECURE. Build up as much money as we can, fix up the garden, do up the house. And whatever level we do it at, the desire’s the same – we want to make HEAVEN ON EARTH.

There’s been a perfect example in the news in the last of weeks. John Ilhan, the founder of the Crazy John’s phone company, built a fortune out of NOTHING. Worked his GUTS out. All the outward signs of success. One of the richest men in Australia. All the plans were in place to EXPAND into EUROPE. To get even bigger and better.

He’d even given up smoking, and was fit and active.

But he died suddenly of a heart-attack at 42, leaving behind a wife and four kids. His wife said they’d been MAKING PLANS for the FUTURE. SO he could spend more time with the family.

I wonder if those plans stretched to BEYOND ?

It’s the humanist dream. And we get sucked right into it. We’ll fix all the problems here, we’ll make ourselves comfortable. And we won’t think about ANYTHING ELSE. Friends, can I ask you, is it any wonder we lose sight of the fact that we’re meant to be GROANING FOR HEAVEN?

We’re like the people I saw at CMS Summer School a of years ago. THAT time the weather was good. It was quite close to the main auditorium. And I walked past it most days.

There were two tents set-up quite close to each other. With a shared kitchen and eating area in between. Nothing unusual in that.

But what really stood out was what they had in the kitchen area.

No collapsible camping chairs for these guys. They had a full-size SOFA. And an esky, and gas lights weren’t good enough for them either. They had power. Extension cords everywhere. And they had fluorescent lights rigged up. And a FULL-SIZE FRIDGE.

And here’s the icing on the cake. On the kitchen table, they had, not one, but TWO cappuccino makers.

And it’s what we’re tempted to do here on earth. We try to surround ourselves with so much comfort in this world that we’re not looking for anything else at all.

And we’ll build a religion out of it as well. We’ll build a religion that says ALL THE BLESSINGS COME IN THIS LIFE. A religion that says WE CAN FIX ANYTHING. That says COME AND GET IT. COME AND GET HEALED, COME AND GET RICH. Come and get fixed up from this and that and the other thing. Come and get so filled with the spirit and get so close to Jesus that you wonder if there’s any need for heaven to be there at all.

That’s what Paul’s up against in Corinth. That sort of teaching. People who are on about THIS LIFE. So much that they’ve forgotten IT’S JUST A TENT. Look at verse 12 and you’ll see what he calls them. He’s talking about the fake apostles who have come to Corinth with their new ideas. With their big promises FOR NOW. Verse 12. Paul says

“We’re not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in WHAT IS SEEN, RATHER THAN WHAT IS UNSEEN.”

Here’s Paul, the guy groaning for heaven. Here’s the other guys, successful, super-spiritual, so close to God they don’t even catch colds. Kenneth Copeland Ministries from the United States, who say if you’re a truly faithful Christian you can SEE IT IN YOUR BANK BALANCE.

Paul says, get it right. HEAVEN’S IN HEAVEN. Get your eyes on THAT. Long for what is unseen. Instead of taking pride in the here and now.

The problem is/ most of the time/ Heaven seems so UNREAL. So quiet and distant. It’s hard to see it as CERTAIN. But look at what Paul says in v5. Two reasons to help keep our minds on heaven.

(2 Cor 5:5 NIV)  Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose

First up, we were designed for our HEAVENLY HOME. Our heavenly BODY. It’s EARTH which is un . It’s THIS body which is sub-human. Reality is our heavenly body. Our resurrected body. It’s what we WERE MADE FOR.

And when we take our eyes of that, it’s like a tadpole who’s happy staying a tadpole. And never wants to be a frog. A puddle of water is all he can imagine. Jumping and breathing is just another world.

If you ever have this nagging feeling that you don’t fit in. That you were made for something more. Then that’s . Because you WERE made for something more. You were designed for ETERNITY. For a body that lasts FOREVER! Without sickness, or pain. You were designed for relationships that DON’T break down. For complete intimacy. For life WITHOUT disappointment. Or mistrust.

Which is WHY were LONG for those things HERE.

But we’ll never find them FULLY. Because THIS LIFE is just a TENT. It’s just TEMPORARY. And it’s not what you were MADE FOR.

The second reason to keep our minds on heaven is ALSO there in v5.

He’s given us THE SPIRIT AS A DEPOSIT, guaranteeing WHAT IS TO COME.

God’s given us HIS Spirit to live IN US as a guarantee of ownership. And a glimpse of heaven RIGHT NOW. A taste of what complete fellowship we’ll have with Jesus THEN. Complete joy and love.

You bought that apartment on the Gold Coast. You’ve paid the deposit, and they send you the receipt. And they throw in a free video into the envelope. Showing you all what you can look forward to. That package is PROOF of what belongs to you. And it’s also a TASTE of what you can look forward to.

And that’s what the Holy Spirit does.

Just as an aside, these verses are one of the few places that talk about what happens to a Christian when he dies. V3 and 4 talk about THREE STAGES. Being clothed in a TENT. Being UNCLOTHED or . And being clothed with our heavenly dwelling.

And this stage is a description of what the Christian experiences after his , until Christ returns. Until judgment day. He’ll be WITH Christ (Today you will be with me in Paradise). He won’t have his EARTHLY body. That’s rotting in the ground somewhere. But his Spirit, who HE is, is with Christ the moment he dies.

But he won’t have his resurrected body yet EITHER. That only comes when Christ returns.

V8 and 9 talk about being either at home in the body, OR at home with the Lord. Two situations. And my reading is that to be at home with the Lord, for a Christian who dies, NOW means to be UNCLOTHED. You haven’t got your EARTHLY body. OR your ETERNAL body.

But then, on judgment day, you’ll get your ETERNAL body. Your heavenly home.

A of other passages.

(Rev 6:9-11 NIV)  When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the SOULS of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. {10} They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our ?” {11} Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to WAIT A LITTLE LONGER, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.

That’s ness. They’re WITH THE LORD. But still . They don’t have their resurrection bodies yet. That will only happen at Christ’s return.

Listen to how THAT’S described in 1 Corinthians 15. v51. Paul’s describing two types of Christians. Depending on what state they’re in at Christ’s return. Those who SLEEP, and those who are still alive.

(1 Cor 15:51-54 NIV)  Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not ALL sleep, but we WILL all be changed– {52} in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the WILL BE RAISED IMPERISHABLE, / and WE will be CHANGED. {53} For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

Back to the big idea of the passage. Tents and houses. Paul’s saying, “Catch the vision. You’re made for heaven. That’s HOME. Get your eyes off the TENT.

And when you think like that. It’s going to affect WHAT YOU DO NOW. If you’re camping, and you know you’re going HOME soon, you don’t bother planting roses at the front door. You don’t carpet the floor, or install an air-conditioner.

You get ready to go home.

And it’s the same with Paul. He says in verse 6, while we’re here in the body, we’re AWAY FROM THE LORD. Things aren’t what they should be. We live by FAITH. Not by sight. We’re in the dark. And we’ve just got to trust Jesus FROM A DISTANCE.

I’ve said this to a of people in the last few weeks. Going through some things which are VERY TOUGH. And we don’t know why. I said “We don’t know what God’s plans are. We only know that he DOES have a plan. In fact we may NEVER find out what the plan WAS. Why these things happened.”

That’s walking by FAITH, and not SIGHT. It’s trusting that THIS state of play is only TEMPORARY. And ONE day it will change.

It’s a long way from ideal, isn’t it? And Paul says that – he says in the next verse, I’d PREFER to be away from the body and AT HOME WITH THE LORD.

And because of that, he says, he’s going to make it his goal to please the Lord whatever he does. That’s GETTING READY TO GO HOME.

He’ll put up with ANYTHING. NOW. Because his goal is to please the Lord. And because he’s going home soon. Look at how he describes it over in Ch 11. v23.

(2 Cor 11:23-27 NIV)  …I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to again and again. {24} Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. {25} Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, {26} I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. {27} I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and .

It sounds just like Caron and my camping trip. But isn’t that a more accurate understanding of the reality? This life’s a tent. Eternity’s our HOME.

I wonder whether Paul will get to judgment day. And he’ll see all the FRUIT from that labour. All the people in heaven because of THAT SORT of SUFFERING. And whether he’ll say “Gee, that was a waste of time wasn’t it. What was I thinking?”

Of course not! He’ll say it was ALL WORTH IT. Every hungry and sleepless night. Every scar. Every heartache. Every danger.

“I would have done it TEN TIMES % ”

Because it was getting ready for HOME. It was preparing for what Paul was MADE for. It was working at pleasing the One he was spending eternity with.

Have you got THAT PERSPECTIVE? Are you Making it your goal to please God while you’re in this body. Because ONE DAY SOON, you’ll be home.

Is life NOW about getting ready FOR HOME?

The decisions you take about your family. The choices you make about how you use your money. How you spend your time. The people you make the effort to build relationships with. The causes you commit to.

Are they getting you ready for home? Or are you making THIS TENT more and more comfortable?

Make it your goal to PLEASE Jesus. Since your home is eternity.

2 Corinthians 5:10-6:1: A Fresh Start

There’s something incredibly attractive about being able to make a FRESH START. Getting behind the wheel of a brand new car. The clock reads zero km’s, it’s got that new car smell. There’s no scratches, or dents or leaks or smells. You’ve put the old BEHIND you. And you’re making a fresh start.

Andrew Branson’s bought himself a new bike. After 15 years of maintaining and repairing the old one. And the NEW one’s quick and smooth and light and fast. And the OLD one’s gathering dust.

Or what about a fresh start in LIFE. Perhaps you’re coming to the end of ONE chapter of your life. And just about to begin a NEW one. Rod’s finishing school soon. And he’s off to Tasmania, then WHO-KNOWS-WHERE after that. That’s pretty exciting.

Maybe it’s a CAREER change. Grant spent years in Real Estate, but he’d had enough. Now he’s in insurance.

Or a SEA change. Leaving the big smoke for a slower lifestyle.

A FRESH START. It’s the chance to go back to the beginning. With a clean slate. And build something new and fresh from the ground up. No suffering the consequences of past mistakes. No on-going conflicts or struggles that keep coming back to slow you down.

There’s lots of people that get to a certain age. And wish they could make a whole fresh start with LIFE. It’s the classic mid-life crisis. They take a look back over their life. And they regret some decisions, and choices. Some missed opportunities. And they’ve ended up a long way from where they THOUGHT they’d be. And what they want is A FRESH START.

Do you ever wonder wish you could get a fresh start in your RELATIONSHIPS? Perhaps things started off well, but then there were a whole series of misunderstandings. Hasty decisions. Thoughtless words. Hurt feelings.

And after a while, a close warm friendship becomes distant and cold. Resentment and mistrust builds and builds until you can hardly say ANYTHING without the other person interpreting it BADLY. The sad thing is lots of marriages look like that.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get a fresh start in A MARRIAGE?

Lots of people THINK you can/ by just finding someone DIFFERENT. Get a divorce and start again. But often exactly the same problems start appearing a few years down the track in the NEW marriage. Because it’s still the same person making the same mistakes.

Is a fresh start really possible?

The great news from this passage is that, YES, a fresh start is possible. God makes you an offer to START AGAIN. For REAL. Have a look there in v17. Right in the middle of the section.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is A NEW CREATION; THE OLD HAS GONE, THE NEW HAS COME!

But it’s not a new car, or a new job, or a new address. Although THIS fresh start may have a big influence on YOUR MARRIAGE.

No – the NEW we’re talking about. Is a new relationship with God. A RESTORED relationship. A change from enemies to allies. From strangers to friends. And the big word he uses is RECONCILIATION. There in the very next verse. 18.

18 All this is from God, who RECONCILED US TO HIMSELF through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:

Reconciliation’s about saying sorry. About mending fences. It’s about FORGIVENESS.

And the incredible thing about the reconciliation between us and God. The fresh start. Is that GOD is the one doing the fence mending. Notice what it says there? “All this is FROM GOD who reconciled us to himself”.

Normally it’s up to the person who’s IN THE WRONG to make the first move. Here’s the way WE think. If the person who’s broken the relationship can eat enough humble pie. And is SORRY ENOUGH. Make the first move. And come crawling back, then we MIGHT forgive them.

But here it’s GOD who makes the first move. WE’RE the ones who’ve wandered away. WE’RE the ones who thumb our noses at him. Who live with a blatant disregard of what God thinks. Which is another way of saying we’re SINNERS. And yet, DESPITE THAT, it’s GOD who bridges the gap. GOD, who offers us a FRESH START. A way BACK to him.

It’s an incredible offer. And one we’re going to look at in a bit more detail. Under three headings. The MESSAGE. The MESSENGER. And finally, the MOTIVATION.

1. The message

First, the MESSAGE. Pick it up from v14. Paul’s talking about himself and the other apostles. Those delivering God’s message to people everywhere. And he says this.

14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that ONE DIED FOR ALL, and therefore all died.

We’ll come back to the FIRST part of the verse later. But the key to the message is there at the END. “We are convinced that ONE DIED FOR ALL”.

He’s talking about Jesus. And his . And the point he’s making is that there’s been A SUBSTITUTION. ONE person dying IN PLACE OF many.

There’s a barrier between us and God. A gap. A breakdown in relationships. We haven’t wanted anything to do with God. We’ve lived as if he’s not even there. Which is the ESSENCE of sin. And God’s just judgment for that/ is to give us what we want. Eternal separation from him.

Which is a TERRIBLE prospect.

But rather than leave us where we DESERVE, God bridges the gap himself. Reconciles us. Turns us from enemies into friends. He sent Jesus who willingly gave himself as a sacrifice. In obedience to his Father. To take the punishment we deserved.

That’s what it means that ONE died FOR ALL.

We’ve seen something a little bit like it in Afghanistan on Saturday. Australian soldiers came across a roadside during a major operation against Taliban fighters. Highly dangerous. So they called in Sergeant Michael Lyddiard, a disposal specialist. He made sure the area was evacuated. Then began to disarm it. Risking his life to save others.

But the suddenly exploded.

He was seriously wounded. Apparently losing an eye and a leg. But by clearing the area, everyone else was saved. He bore the brunt of the explosion. TOOK ITS DESTRUCTIVE FORCE ON HIMSELF. SO THAT OTHERS WOULD LIVE.

In the same way Jesus died in our place. To take the destructive force of God’s wrath on himself. So that we might be saved its effects.

You can see how that action worked from GOD’S end a few verses down. Down in v19.

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, NOT COUNTING MEN’S SINS AGAINST THEM.

In other words, we’ve been ACQUITTED. Because Jesus died the he didn’t deserve, God pronounces an verdict against THOSE who don’t deserve it. He doesn’t OVERLOOK the offence. But the / is punished as GUILTY, and the GUILTY/ declared .

And so God’s justice is satisfied.

And again, down in v21,

21 God made HIM WHO HAD NO SIN to be SIN FOR US, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

That’s the substitution! And the result is that we can receive God’s righteous verdict. Acquitted. Declared before God.

A gift, freely offered to everyone.

But just like ANY gift. It’s got to be RECEIVED.

Christmas is coming up soon. Just over 6 weeks. Imagine someone gave you a wonderful gift. There it was all wrapped up under the tree. You were so excited! But Christmas came and went. And it stayed there under the tree. And every day you just looked at it, smiled, and walked away.

That’s CRAZY behaviour! You’ve been given the gift. You need to ACCEPT it. TAKE it. UNWRAP it.

Which is just what Paul’s message is. God’s OFFERING us the wonderful gift of reconciliation. Friendship. And a fresh start. Look at v20. The second half.

20 … We implore you on Christ’s behalf: BE RECONCILED TO GOD.

The offer’s being made. You need to ACCEPT it. It’s not an automatic credit. Like a bank transfer. You’ve got to CLAIM the fresh start. Paul pleads with people BE RECONCILED to GOD. Accept the gift. Recognise you’ve ignored God. Turn back to him in repentance. Accept the sacrifice of Jesus on your behalf. Live with Jesus as your king.

THAT’S what it means to be reconciled to God.

And when you DO that. That’s when the fresh start begins. The first day of the rest of your life. V17 – we read it earlier – says

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

A new standing before God. A new heart. A new orientation. A new direction. A new motivation. A new future. And a new ability to actually live pleasing God.

They’re all the things that come with a fresh start.

The day you accept the offer really IS the first day of the rest of your life. It’s why the Bible talks about it as being BORN AGAIN.

And it’s never too late. There’s no such thing as a case too hard for God. EVERYONE is offered the fresh start. EVERYONE is offered forgiveness. And all you’ve got to do is TAKE it.

BE RECONCILED TO GOD.

It’s as simple as talking to God. Saying something like. “Thanks God for your offer of a fresh start. Forgive me for living as if you’re not there – for ignoring you. Thank you for Jesus’ in my place. Help me to live with him as my king.”

The messenger

The second point in the outline is to do with THE MESSENGER. Paul’s the one in view here. But what he says about himself is no different from what’s expected of ALL CHRISTIANS. Because God’s preferred method of delivering his message  – his offer of a fresh start – is through ONE person telling OTHER people.

There in v18.

18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and GAVE US THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION:

Ministry sounds like a fancy word just for professionals. But it’s actually just the word for SERVANT. God gave ordinary people the job of being a SERVANT. Offering his message of reconciliation to OTHERS.

V20 gives it a different title.

20 We are therefore Christ’s AMBASSADORS, as though God were making his appeal through us.

An ambassador’s an officially-appointed representative. That’s what Christians are –God’s official spokesmen and women. “As though God were making his appeal through us!” That’s a heavy responsibility. Many people’s only experience of what GOD is like/ is by looking at YOU. By listening to YOU!

What sort of ambassador are you?

The same word that’s used of Christ standing in OUR place. Is used of US standing in Christ’s place.

“One died FOR all (that’s v14 and 15). And in v21, God made him who had no sin to be sin FOR us”. That’s Jesus standing in our place.

But then v20 says this. We are ambassadors FOR Christ. (Our versions don’t have the word FOR). As though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you ON CHRIST’S BEHALF (it’s same word again) – be reconciled to God.

Christ has stood up for us. Our job is to be standing up for him.

The THIRD description Paul uses of the messenger is that of God’s FELLOW-WORKER. There in Ch 6:1.

6:1 As God’s FELLOW WORKERS we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.

Just stop for a moment, and THINK about that. Working alongside the God of all the Universe! God’s CO-WORKER! How WEIRD that an infinitely powerful God would choose to use people LIKE US to work WITH him.

God makes his appeal THROUGH us. We implore people ON Christ’s BEHALF.

It’s a great comfort – that all of the resources of heaven are backing us. God’s Spirit guiding us, giving us courage. Giving us the words to say. Opening the eyes of people we talk to, helping them understand.

But it’s also a great CHALLENGE. That God wants to work WITH you and THROUGH you and ALONGSIDE you. But to DO that, you need to start WORKING. To pick up the tools. To take your light from under your bushel. To open your mouth. To break down barriers. To build bridges. To mend fences.

To take the great news of God’s FRESH START to people who NEED ONE.

Do you recognise the WEIGHT of that responsibility? You may be the only Christian some of your friends and acquaintances WILL EVER KNOW!

How well are you DOING at that? Individually? How well are we doing that as a church? How can we be doing that better?

It’s one of our CORE VALUES, did you know? (I wonder if you can say it?) We value non-Christians … hearing and responding … to the Gospel (both … here and around the world).

And if we DO value it, we should be able to TELL in the WAY WE DO THINGS. In our priorities. The things we DO, and the things we DON’T do. The things we TALK about. The things we choose to spend money on.

As your kids watch you – and they DO – can they TELL that you VALUE people being reconciled to God? Is it TRANSPARENTLY OBVIOUS in your life? Is it obvious in the things you PRAY about as a family? Is it obvious in things you DON’T do because they’re not as important?

Are you sending the message/ to those who know you best / that people becoming friends with Jesus is one of the major motivations of your life?

Which is the third section in the outline.

The Motivation

You can see PAUL’S motivation in the way he describes his work. V20. We IMPLORE you on Christ’s behalf. It’s a strong word. We PLEAD with you. Or Ch 6 v 1 – we URGE you not to receive God’s grace in vain.

I was watching SURF RESCUE on telly this week. About surf life savers on the Gold Coast. One THIS day, the swell was huge. There were rips on both sides of the flags. And overseas tourists were just playing around in the water, unsuspectingly. Then getting dragged out to sea by the rip. And before they knew it their lives were in danger.

They didn’t realise it. But the lifesavers could see exactly what the surf was doing. What the danger was. And they were PLEADING with the people. URGING them. Stay between the flags. Get out of the here. They were blowing whistles. Waving arms. Helping people out of the water.

As a minister – a servant – of reconciliation Paul IMPLORES people on Christ’s behalf. BE RECONCILED TO GOD. As Christ’s ambassador, he PLEADS with people GET RIGHT with God.

But the CLEAREST indication of Paul’s motivation comes from v14. We’re going to finish on that verse. So have a look at it with me.

14 For Christ’s love COMPELS us, because we are convinced that one died for all...

Paul’s driving motivation was the unshakeable confidence that Jesus had died FOR HIM. Taken his place. Died HIS . Simply out of LOVE.

And so his whole life was DRIVEN by the desire to see OTHERS rescued. From the moment he was converted. The instant he’d received his fresh start, he wanted OTHERS to get that same chance.

He was COMPELLED by Christ’s love.

James Johnson was on board the ship Dunbar when it tried to enter Sydney Harbour in 1857. But, in the fierce storm, the captain mis-judged his approach. By the time he saw the sheer cliffs of South Head looming out of the mist, it was too late. The ship smashed against the rocks. Absolute tragedy – 121 people on board died.

But James was the one person who survived. He was plucked from this little ledge in the cliff he was clinging to.

But that experience MOTIVATED James Johnson to be the first lighthouse keeper for the lighthouse that was eventually built on that spot.

He was a man who knew the danger. But he also new the WONDER of being saved. He was filled with gratitude for having life. And so he was motivated to want to save others as well.

If you have known the wonder of a fresh start. The delight of experiencing Christ’s love and God’s forgiveness. If you’re CONVINCED of the reality of being God’s friend.

Then let that motivate you, energise you, to implore people on Christ’s behalf… be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 6: Who to Listen to

Who gives you reliable advice?

You normally assume that when you walk into a doctor’s surgery, you can trust the advice of the person behind the desk.

But last month a WA court convicted Lorraine Smith of IMPERSONATING A DOCTOR. Giving advice, performing tests, prescribing medication.

All without a single qualification.

Unless you count watching every episode of ER as a qualification. There’s probably a few of THOSE doctors around. Who can talk the talk. Use all the right terminology. Know the names of the tests, and the equipment. But don’t have the KNOWLEDGE to back up the show.

Apparently, pretending to be a cardiologist, she gave advice to a cardiac patient. It’s lucky she didn’t KILL SOMEONE. Imagine misdiagnosing angina for indigestion. Or melanoma for freckles. Or pregnancy for obesity.

Her defence lawyer said Smith made the character up to receive approval and respect from other people.

But a spokesman from the NSW Medical Board said, “She chooses to live in a world of fantasy concerning her own achievements and qualifications.”

It’s important, isn’t it, to know WHO TO LISTEN TO. And who NOT to listen to.

And it’s even MORE important when it comes to the Christian life.

The Apostle Paul’s spent the last of chapters describing his OWN ministry. But now he’s going to come back to THE FALSE TEACHERS. People the Corinthians are LISTENING to. And being lead astray by.

He started talking about them back in Ch 2 v17

(2 Cor 2:17 NIV)  Unlike SO MANY, we do not peddle the word of God for PROFIT. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God. Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like SOME PEOPLE, letters of recommendation to you or from you?

False teachers with dodgy motivations. Out to make money. And forged credentials. Like that pretend doctor. Doing it for the money, or the attention.

And it’s a situation that’s got Paul SO HOT under the collar. He’s going to do TWO THINGS he’d prefer NOT to.

He’s going to talk up the importance, and truthfulness, and authority/ of his own ministry. And he’s going to discredit the ministry of the others.

A bit like what they do on SURVIVOR. At the tribal council. Before they all go off and vote. The host, Jeff, asks them difficult questions. Things like why they should stay on. And why the other people should get voted off.

And the trick is to deflect attention from yourself. Say things which make YOU seem like the BEST person to keep on. And SOMEONE ELSE seem like the WORST person to keep around.

All without making you look like a two-faced, back-stabbing liar. Which they all are.

And without putting Paul in the same camp, he’s actually got a similar difficult task. To talk up his own ministry. And to undermine that of the false apostles.

It’s difficult because it goes against the grain so much. Because Paul has always talked about his WEAKNESS. And UN-impressiveness. And humility. And how it’s all about God’s power at work in him.

But he’s going to do it anyway. Because it’s so important that the Corinthians are listening to the right people. To A RELIABLE GUIDE.

  1. The reliable guide (5:20-6:13)

You can see the sort of advice/ RELIABLE guides give. At the end of Ch 5. We looked at it a of weeks ago. V20.

(2 Cor 5:20 NIV)  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: BE RECONCILED TO GOD.

  1. Making friends for God

The most important advice we can give anyone is that they need to be friends with God. Nothing is more crucial. Nothing is more dangerous to ignore.

A reliable guide points people to God. Even if it risks their relationship.

We sometimes think we’re being NICE to people by not pushing the conversation. But we’re doing them a great dis-service. We’re being unreliable guides. We’ve got the road-map, the torch, and the directions. And we need to IMPLORE people to come with us. Because they’re lost without the advice.

  1. As fellow-workers (ambassadors) (5:20-6:1)

You can see the importance of the task from the way Paul describes himself. In v20, he’s God’s AMBASSADOR. Representing God before men. As though God himself were making his appeal to people through us!

And down in v1 of Ch 6. That means we’re God’s FELLOW-WORKERS. Working BESIDE him. WITH him in the task.

Which is both ENCOURAGING AND CHALLENGING.

  1. With urgency (6:1-2)

You can see how it motivated Paul. Look at his URGENCY. There at the start of Ch 6.

Paul IMPLORES the Corinthians. Pleads with them. And down in v2, he tells them NOT TO PUT IT OFF. NOW is the time to make a decision. TODAY is the day of salvation. You may not get another chance. Do it now!

The reliable guide is URGENT.

  1. Without stumbling-blocks (6:3)

Fourth, a reliable guide is concerned that his followers DON’T STUMBLE. V3

(2 Cor 6:3-4 NIV)  We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.

The sort of thing Paul’s talking about are INCONSISTENCIES in his own life. DIFFERENCES between his walk and his talk.

You know the sort of thing. Unfortunately we see it in the news too much. A moral failure on the part of a priest, or minister. Child abuse, marital unfaithfulness, business fraud, theft from Christian leaders.

The media LOVES that sort of thing.

And it causes people to STUMBLE. To miss seeing JESUS because they can’t take their eyes of his FOLLOWERS.

The best way to avoid it. Is to strive to be CONSISTENT. TRANSPARENT. Be the same person in your own house/ as you are when you’re “ON SHOW” at work, or with friends.

Strive for godliness.

Make yourself accountable to other Christians. Share your temptations with them. Give them permission to ask you about them. To pray with you.

So people don’t stumble over YOU/ on their way to meeting Jesus.

But if something terrible DOES happen in the church. The best way to deal with it/ once again/ is to be CONSISTENT. TRANSPARENT. With nothing to hide.

Trinity Grammar was made to look bad a few years ago. Some boys were abused by older boys. And instead of being open and transparent, they tried to hush it up. Which made them look bad.

Or Peter Hollingsworth. He had to resign as Governor- General because of the way he dealt with someone accused of child abuse 20 years ago.

Our church has a child protection policy. With clear guidelines for how to TREAT children. To avoid situations occurring.

And then how to deal with any allegations, God forbid, that might come up.

Because it’s situations like that, dealt with BADLY, which can not only cause great harm to CHILDREN. But great harm to the GOSPEL.

Or on a BIGGER SCALE. How many times have you heard a comment like this “I can’t believe in a loving God, when most of the wars in history have started because of RELIGION.”

The cause of Christ done a dis-service by people who kill in the cause of Christ. They’re STUMBLING BLOCKS to people. That cause the gospel to be dis-credited.

And Paul’s determined that there’ll be nothing in HIS LIFE which will act like that.

  1. With commendation (6:4-5)

Next, Paul changes from THE NEGATIVE to THE POSITIVE. Not only does he REMOVE stumbling blocks. But he ADDS POSITIVE things. V4 and 5. He COMMENDS himself in every way.

Attractive qualities. Servant-like actions. Genuine interest and love for non-Christians. These are POSITIVE things which reinforce, and commend the gospel.

Caron’s parents became Christians because of the kind help of the local Anglican minister and his wife. Unusually, he’d agreed to baptise Caron and her brother – even though her parents weren’t Christian. Something he NEVER did. But it started a relationship. So that when Caron’s mum had to take Caron’s brother to the hospital with asthma, it was the minister who looked after Caron.

And that led to first Caron’s mum, then Dad, then both Caron and her brother becoming Christians.

The gospel was commended by the loving actions of this family. Their WALK backed up their TALK.

Is that how it is WITH YOU?

And for Paul, it wasn’t how he dealt with things from the comfort of his own home. But how he dealt with DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES. Look at v4.

(2 Cor 6:4-5 NIV)  Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; {5} in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;

It’s often only in trials like this that you know the measure of a man. It’s DIFFICULTIES which separate the MAN/ from the MOUSE. The RELIABLE guide/ from the UNRELIABLE one. The man with conviction and courage and substance/ from the man with nothing.

Look at the sort of things Paul talks about. Great endurance sums up his attitude to everything. And then three sets of three.

First, three GENERAL situations. Troubles, hardships and distresses.

Then three trials brought on by OTHERS. Beatings, imprisonments and riots.

And finally three behaviours that Paul himself chooses to respond with. Hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger. Things he could have AVOIDED if he’d chosen a different path. Taken an easier option.

It’s how he deals with all of these that he COMMENDS the gospel. I’ve heard it time and time again. A Christian goes through a terrible time, and rather than putting people off, it drives people TOWARDS Jesus. Towards a Saviour who doesn’t guarantee a COMFORTABLE life, but who gives hope and joy and peace in the face of a DIFFICULT one.

Nikolai Khamara was a thief imprisoned in Soviet Russia in the 1970’s. Day after day he watched Christians who showed joy in suffering. He said, “What kind of men are these? They sing in very dark hours. When they have a piece of bread, they share it with someone who has none. Morning and evening, they fold their hands and speak to someone whom no one can see. As they do, their faces shine.”

Before long, he was talking to two Christians. And not long after that, he became a Christian.

All because Christians refused to let their response to difficult times be a stumbling block to someone finding Jesus.

  1. With weapons (6:6-7)

And the only way that’s able to happen is with God’s help. With the weapons God provides. Look at v6 and 7

(2 Cor 6:6-7 NIV)  in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; {7} in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;

The picture’s of a soldier. Armed to the teeth. Pistol in one hand. Knife in the other. launcher over one shoulder. Long range rifle over the other. Gas mask in his belt. Night vision goggle perched on the top of his head.

Any situation. He’s equipped to cope. The weapons God provides by his Holy Spirit.

v   ual temptation comes along? PURITY can fight it off.

v   A difficult cultural decision? UNDERSTANDING makes light work of it.

v   Long days, difficult conditions, slow responses? PATIENCE keeps him going.

v   A difficult, needy personality? KINDNESS keeps giving to them.

v   The temptation to work for SELFISH MOTIVES instead of SERVICE? SINCERE LOVE keeps the interests of OTHERS always at the front.

v   Conflict and opposition? False accusations? The temptation to guild the lily? Stretch the truth? TRUTHFUL SPEECH ensures that God will always honour his words.

v   The ugly monsters of DOUBT, LOW SELF-ESTEEM, and A LACK OF CONFIDENCE rise? Remembering that it’s ALL DONE BY THE POWER OF GOD keeps his eyes on God, and off himself.

  1. With self-sacrifice (6:8-10)

And it’s these weapons which keeps his mind off what OTHERS are thinking of him. Or doing to him.

He’ll sacrifice everything. All for the sake of the ministry. All for the sake of what GOD thinks. Look at v8.

(2 Cor 6:8-10 NIV)  through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; {9} known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; {10} sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

It’s so hard, isn’t it, to not be swayed by WHAT PEOPLE THINK OF US? I find it a very strong influence on ME.

Worrying about what others think / will keep my mouth shut when I should speak up. It will make me stammer and stutter when I should be bold. It will make me retreat when I should be standing firm. It will make me be soft when I should be firm.

But for Paul the dishonour and bad report from some/ is much less important than the GLORY and good report from God.

Much more important to be KNOWN as GENUINE by GOD/ than to be thought an impostor, and unknown by SOME.

Much better to be Dying, and beaten, and sorrowful, and poor, on the OUTSIDE/ For a MOMENT. And to LIVE ON, REJOICING, making many RICH, and possessing ETERNITY!

They think Paul is giving up everything. And yet, it’s nothing compared to what he’s looking forward to. What he gives up is NOTHING compared to what he’s GAINING.

Have you got THAT sort of perspective?

This is the picture of the reliable guide. Follow men like this.

  1. The unreliable guide (6:14-7:1 cf 11:13-15)

Paul pleads with the Corinthians (v11). Come back to us. We LOVE you. OPEN your hearts to US. Leave the false teachers alone. The UNRELIABLE guides.

And he uses some pretty severe language as he describes them. Look at v14.

(2 Cor 6:14 NIV)  Do not be yoked together with UNBELIEVERS. For what do righteousness and WICKEDNESS have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with DARKNESS?

The picture is of two oxen. Yoked together. Pulling a plough. But they’re pulling in opposite directions. And NOTHING gets done.

Now, you normally hear this verse used to say you shouldn’t go out with a non-Christian. Or marry one. And that’s certainly good advice. And it might be an application from this verse. But it’s not what Paul’s talking about.

He’s talking about the false teachers who are leading the Corinthians away from the truth of the gospel. Making them trust in human appearance, smooth speech, slick presentation, impressive gifts.

You might think that’s a tough call – calling them wicked unbelievers. After all, they’re saying things that AREN’T TOO BAD. But look at what he says about them over in Ch 11. Say, v4

(2 Cor 11:4-5 NIV)  For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. {5} But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.”

And down in v13.

(2 Cor 11:13-15 NIV)  For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. {14} And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. {15} It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

Strong words. They look alright. Sound alright. But they’re deceitful. Devious. Leading people astray.

And, back over in Ch 6, Paul goes on. Steer clear of them. Don’t listen to them. Stick your fingers in your ears. Run a hundred miles.

Because like two oxen pulling in opposite directions, they’ve got different priorities. You want to be pleasing Jesus. They want to be pleasing themselves. YOU want to be building God’s kingdom, they want to be building THEIR OWN.

  1. The reliable advice (6:17-7:1)

So Paul’s reliable advice is to SEPARATE from them. And he quotes God’s promise. V17

(2 Cor 6:17-18 NIV)  “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” {18} “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

God promises to MAKE US HIS CHILDREN. And children are to bear the family resemblance. To be godly, and pure. Perfecting holiness. Working at it.

And yet it’s a balancing act, isn’t it? How to be a strong witness, putting no stumbling block before people. Commending ourselves in every way.

And yet, still being separate and holy, and distinct, and pure.

Influencing, without being influenced. In the world, but not of it.

Being involved in the community and making a difference, without softening and compensating, without compromising. The YMCA – Young Men Christian Association – began as a Christian mission organisation – reaching out to Boys through sport. But, rather than INFLUENCING, it’s now been INFLUENCED. And the only place Christianity has any place is in its NAME.

(slow) It’s the sort of balancing act that we need GOD’S help for. His wisdom, and fruit, and gifts. His weapons of righteousness. To deal with any situation that comes our way.

That’s the advice that comes from reliable guides. Listen to people like THAT. COPY people like that.

2 Corinthians 7:2-16: Tough Love!

Sometimes a parent has to show TOUGH LOVE. Have you ever had to use the phrase, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you!”

I remember when Lachlan was about two. His sister, Alex, pushed him off the top of the slippery slide. And he cut open the corner of his mouth.

And it was bad enough that it needed to be stitched. So we bundled him into the car, and took him to the Medical Centre.

It’s pretty difficult for a 2 year old to understand that they’ve hurt themselves. That they’re bleeding. And that they need medical attention.

But try explaining that he needs a pain-killing injection into his mouth.

And THEN. That he needs to have his face stitched up.

He went HYSTERICAL. We had to wrap him in a blanket to hold him still. It took TWO GROWN S to hold him down while the doctor stitched.

We felt terrible. Not surprisingly, Lachlan was rather spoilt for the next week or so!

1. Real love (2-4)

Sometimes a parent needs to show TOUGH LOVE. REAL love.

Stitches that hurt for a few MINUTES/ to avoid an injury which might take MUCH LONGER to heal properly. Short term PAIN. For long-term GAIN.

And that’s the situation we’ve got here. With Paul the FATHER, and the CORINTHIANS – his CHILDREN.

The problem in working out exactly what’s going on/ is we’re only listening to ONE SIDE OF THE CONVERSATION.

Alex and I reckon we can tell who Caron is talking to on the phone/ just by the way she answers.

If it’s “Oh, Hi! How ARE you?” Then it’s one of her close friends.

If it’s “Yes…. No…. No thankyou!…. NO!” It’s a tele-marketer selling something.

We can tell if it’s her MUM calling, or someone from WORK, or even someone from CHURCH.

We use various clues. Tone of voice. Snippets of information. To piece together the puzzle. And we’re rarely wrong.

And we’ve got to do a similar thing here. Because we’re only hearing Paul’s side of the conversation. And it’s really only HALF of HIS conversation.

Because he’s talking about a LETTER he’s already WRITTEN to them. That’s back in Ch 2.

It was a TOUGH letter. Because he needed to CORRECT them. REBUKE them. Make them realise they were doing things WRONG. And that they needed to CHANGE.

Look at what he says back there in Ch 2. V3.

(2 Cor 2:3-4 NIV)  I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be DISTRESSED by those who ought to make me REJOICE. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. {4} For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.

It’s because a parent LOVES his child that he makes the TOUGH DECISION. To Punish. Or give the painful medical procedure.

And Paul certainly did LOVE the Corinthians. There’s no doubt about that. No matter WHAT rumours the false teachers had been ing about him.

Flip back over to Ch 7. Paul’s defending himself. V2

(2 Cor 7:2-3 NIV)  Make room for us in your hearts. We have WRONGED no one, we have CORRUPTED no one, we have EXPLOITED no one. {3} I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that YOU HAVE SUCH A PLACE IN OUR HEARTS that we would LIVE OR DIE WITH YOU.

Whatever happens. Paul loves the Corinthians so much, he’d be with them in ANYTHING. Whether it was trials and persecution in LIFE. Or even in . That’s how much Paul loves them.

Because whatever he said in the letter, Paul’s enemies have used it against him. As evidence that he didn’t care. That he was callous, and hurtful, and vindictive.

And yet the VERY OPPOSITE was true. Ch 2 v4.

(2 Cor 2:4 NIV)  For I wrote … not to GRIEVE you but to let you know the DEPTH OF MY LOVE for you.

It’s not because he’s being VINDICTIVE that he writes. But because he LOVES. It’s his LOVE makes him bold enough to write. He’s SO concerned for their well-being / that he’s willing to risk his friendship to keep them on the right path! That’s real love!

Is that something YOU’RE prepared to do?

A Christian friend of mine told me something that happened to her a number of years previous. She was going out with a non-Christian at the time.

And one of her best friends, a Christian, said to her one day. “It’s wrong for you to keep going out with this guy. You’re disobeying God. And I don’t think I can be your friend while you keep this relationship.”

Now, whether you think that was a WISE thing to do, or not. It was certainly a BRAVE thing to do. One which only came because of the LOVE this friend had.

My friend was furious. And she didn’t speak to this for 18 months! But it turned out alright in the end. Because she broke up with the boy. And MADE-up with her friend.

What sort of TOUGH DECISIONS will YOU make because of your love for others?

But what was PAUL’S situation? What were THE SPECIFICS? Many people think the letter Paul’s talking about is 1 Corinthians. There’s certainly parts of THAT/ which would be difficult to take.

Like 1 Corinthians 5.

(1 Cor 5:1-6 NIV)  It is actually reported that there is ual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. {2} And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? {3} Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. {4} When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, {5} hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. {6} Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?

That’s pretty tough talk.

Others reckon there’s a THIRD letter. That’s since been lost. Where Paul corrects them on SOMETHING ELSE.

Either way, we don’t really know. And that’s the problem with hearing one side of the conversation.

But perhaps that’s for the best. Because when you don’t know the SPECIFICS, you can focus more on the ATTITUDE to correction. So that whatever the specifics are FOR YOU, you can accept the loving correction WELL. Just like the Corinthians.

2. Real comfort (5-7)

But whatever was in the letter, it was a real hand-grenade. And Paul had REAL DISTRESS. He regretting sending a letter. From the moment he gave it to the messenger.

Not that he regretted the CONTENTS. Rather, the EFFECT they might have. Look down at v8.

(2 Cor 7:8 NIV)  Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it–I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while–

Have you ever done that? Posted a letter, and as soon as it hits the bottom of the postbox, you wish you’d never sent it?

For a while, there wasn’t a letterbox at Woodcroft shops because someone drove into it, knocked it down, and drove off with it! They must have REALLY wanted to get a letter back.

A heard about a lady organising Xmas gifts for her nieces and nephews. It had been a busy year, so instead of buying presents, she organised CHEQUES for everyone, and cards with the inscription “Too busy to buy presents this year. Buy something yourself.”

She posted off the cards. And thought nothing more about it. Until she failed to receive any thank-you letters, and got the cold shoulder at a family gathering.

It wasn’t until a few months later that she found the cheques in a top-drawer, UN-POSTED. That she worked out what had happened.

She’d mailed THE CARDS ONLY. With the message “Too busy to buy presents this year. Buy something yourself.”

No wonder she got the cold shoulder! I bet she wished she’d been able to get THOSE letters back!

And it’s the same sort of impact that Paul is dreading. A message with the potential to RUIN the RELATIONSHIP.

Yet he needn’t have worried. Because Titus arrived. And he brought good news. Real comfort. After the real distress. Look at v6.

(2 Cor 7:6-7 NIV)  But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, {7} and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.

What a turning point! He’d worried the relationship was over. But the good news was that it was EVEN STRONGER.

3. Real Sorrow (8-16)

Real DISTRESS had turned to real COMFORT. Because the letter had produced real SORROW. Look at v9.

(2 Cor 7:9-10 NIV)  yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your SORROW LED YOU TO REPENTANCE. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. {10} Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings .

You see, there’s nothing wrong with SORROW. We shouldn’t be AFRAID of it. As long as it’s REAL SORROW. As long as it produces the right response.

Real sorrow is GODLY sorrow.

What makes something GODLY sorrow? What it LEADS to.

You see, godly sorrow brings REPENTANCE. But worldly sorrow brings .

Worldly sorrow is NEGATIVE. It focuses on despair. It wallows in self-pity. And never moves beyond it. There’s no acknowledgement of WRONG. Of SIN. No repentance.

It’s the alcoholic who’s marriage has broken up. His kids won’t talk to him. His wife lives in another city. But he refused to accept any responsibility for the situation. Refuses to CHANGE his BEHAVIOUR. To REPENT. And it leads to .

Worldly sorrow is non-Christian funeral. Where people cry at the loss of a loved-one. Catch a glimpse of their own mortality. And a their need to get their affairs in order. But, as soon as they walk out the door, they forget it all. And go back to doing the same as before. And it leads to .

Worldly sorrow is taking a victim mentality. Things go wrong, and you start blaming everyone else. Feeling sorry for yourself. Wallowing in self-pity. And expecting someone else to fix your problems. And so you sink lower and lower. And you become less and less likely of being able to sort anything out yourself. And it leads to .

Worldly sorrow doesn’t take criticism well. Even well-meaning criticism. And it even happens in the church.

A courageous brother or sister points out an area of sin you’re struggling with. Upside-down priorities. Or unhelpful attitudes or words about someone else. Inappropriate relationships.

And we explode. Self-righteous. Indignant anger. “How DARE you tell me what to do? I suppose you’re PERFECT are you?” And we justify ourselves. And look for excuses.

Or we might even throw SCRIPTURE back in their face. When you’re WITHOUT SIN, you can cast the first stone. Or, “get the LOG out of your OWN eye, before you start on the SPLINTER in mine.”

And yet it’s these very verses that turn around and bite us on the behind. Because the reality is/ it’s US who are casting stones, without EXAMINING whether we really ARE sinning.

And it’s US who have the LOG, yet are more interested in another’s SPLINTER.

And it’s worldly sorrow like that which leads to .

Death, because that’s where EVERYONE is headed who refuses to recognise their sin. Who continues to live in rebellion against God. Whose world revolves around themselves.

The root cause of worldly sorrow IS SIN. Sin – which is that basic attitude – that basic ORIENTATION – that says “I’m going to do what I want to do. And stuff anyone else. No one – including God – tells me what to do.”

And it leads to .

That’s worldly sorrow. But it’s not what the Corinthians showed. Their reaction was GODLY sorrow. And look at IT’S result V11.

(2 Cor 7:11 NIV)  See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be in this matter.

Like an arrow to the heart, Like a mirror. Like a searchlight. Paul’s letter had struck its mark. They’d recognised the TRUTH of it. And they EARNESTLY and EAGERLY set about fixing things up.

Indignant that they’d got things wrong. Alarmed and concerned at the hurt they’d caused. Longing to restore any broken relationships. Eager to see justice done. Even if they’d been to blame. At every turn, they’d fixed things up.

That’s GODLY sorrow. And Paul’s overjoyed.

How quick are YOU to fix things up? To apologise? Does “I’m sorry” come EASILY from your lips?

Or are you like Fonzie from Happy Days, who was NEVER wrong. “I’m SSSSSSS (orry). I was WRRRRRR (ong)”

Are you FIRST to apologise after a fight. Or LAST. Are your words “I’m sorry I hurt you”?

Or are you the “Yeah, I’m sorry, TOO!” type?

Godly sorrow receives tough love WELL, and produces repentance and salvation.

Whether it be the correction of PEOPLE, or God’s WORD.

How about how well you listen to God’s Word. Do you here a command or a warning from the Bible, and it’s just like water off a duck’s back? Do you more easily find an application for SOMEONE ELSE? “what a shame Bill wasn’t here this morning, he REALLY needs to hear THAT sermon!”

Or perhaps your such an expert sermon hearer, that your first reaction is to focus on the PRESENTATION. “Good sermon today Dave. Great application. Really connected it well to the introduction.” But then you forget to apply it to YOURSELF.

God’s Word is the SWORD of his SPIRIT. It’s how he does his work in your life. And it’s a SHARP sword, that cuts you right to core of who you are. If you LET it.

James 1:22 says this.

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-he will be blessed in what he does.

That’s the correction that comes from God’s WORD. What about when it comes from PEOPLE?

The way YOU receive criticism has a positive effect on those around you. Because as people see YOU recognising your mistakes – as they see that you’re not perfect. But that you’re serious about WORKING at it. Then they’ll be more likely to admit their OWN failings.

Let’s make THIS CHURCH a place we’re THOSE sorts of relationships are encouraged and fostered. Where HUMILITY and HONESTY and OPENNESS and ACCOUNTABILITY and RESPONSIBILITY and CONCERN for each other MEAN something. Where they’re more than just words, but an accurate description of the way we relate to each other.

So that our concern and correction of each other might lead godly sorrow which would lead to repentance which would lead to GODLINESS AND LIFE.