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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 12:19-21; Persistent Upbuilding

03/14_2 Corinthians 12:19-21; Persistent Upbuilding; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20210314_2cor12_19-21.mp3

Paul’s Defense?

In 2 Corinthians chapters 10-12, Paul confronts the danger of false apostles spreading a false gospel about a different jesus, receiving a different spirit. He is forced to defend his character, his ministry, his own integrity. At least that is what he appears to be doing. But is it?

2 Corinthians 12:14 Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?

As he said back in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 3:1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. …

Not much has changed over the 2 years since the writing of 1 Corinthians. They are still behaving like children, and Paul, as their father in the faith, is willing to spend and be spent for their sake.

2 Corinthians 12:16 But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit. 17 Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?

Paul is forced to defend his own integrity by appealing to his accountability and the integrity and character of his co-laborers in the gospel. Paul has been attacked, his character has been maligned, his credentials and authority have been doubted. He has been forced into foolish boasting to defend his character and his apostolic authority. But is that what he has been doing? Defending himself?

Not a Defense to Them

Paul says no, I am not defending myself to you. I don’t need to defend myself to you. You are not my judge and jury.

Children often know so much more than their parents, that their parents are uninformed and clueless; kids think they know better than their parents what is best for them. My wise parents often said to me ‘When you have your own kids, then maybe you’ll understand.’ Have you ever heard that? Have you who are now parents ever said that?

He has already told them in 1 Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 4:3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

Paul says ‘No, I am not defending myself to you. That would give you far too much credit. That would assume that you are competent to critique apostolic ministry.’ They have demonstrated their own incompetence by receiving the false apostles bringing another jesus, a different spirit, a false gospel.

It is not before you that I stand trial. It is before the Lord alone that I am ultimately accountable.

In The Sight Of God

2 Corinthians 12:19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved.

Paul says ‘we have been speaking in the sight of God.’ We are not responding to your demands and expectations. All the way back in chapter 1, he started this letter by saying:

2 Corinthians 1:12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.

His conscience was clear, by God’s grace and before God.

2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

He speaks in Christ. It is ‘not I, but Christ who lives in me.’ And he speaks as commissioned by God and in the sight of God. God sent him on mission to them. And it is to God he is accountable for what he says. He had asked back in chapter 3:

2 Corinthians 3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you?

He said in chapter 4:

2 Corinthians 4:2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Paul lives openly, transparently, in the presence of God. He said in chapter 5:

2 Corinthians 5:11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.

He is not commending himself to them. He doesn’t have to. His integrity is seen by God; he lives in the presence of God, in the fear of the Lord, who sees what is in the heart.

In chapter 7, he invites them in, to also live in awareness of the presence of God in their lives. He writes what he writes:

2 Corinthians 7:12 …in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God.

In chapter 8, in matters of financial integrity, he says:

2 Corinthians 8:21 for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.

And in chapter 10, he says:

2 Corinthians 10:18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

We live in the presence of God, to please God. He is our judge. Before him we stand or fall. Paul is not defending himself to the Corinthians. He was commissioned by God and carries out ministry in the sight of God.

All For Your Upbuilding, Beloved

2 Corinthians 12:19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved.

Paul is not defending himself. He is doing ministry in the sight of God. He is seeking to build them up. With his use of biting irony and sharp sarcasm in these chapters, it may not feel or sound like he is seeking to build them up, but that is exactly what he intends to do. And he reminds them, they are dearly beloved. He is not against them, he is for them. But sometimes the He wants to build them up, but the ground must be cleared of debris before building can occur. Sometimes existing structures must be demolished and cleared away before the proposed building can go up. As he said in chapter 10,

2 Corinthians 10:3 …we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Every stronghold, every argument, every proud opinion raised against the knowledge of the real Jesus must be torn down. The ground must be cleared. He wields God’s authority to build up, not to tear you down (10:8), but their false thinking must be demolished.

Apostolic Fear of Continued Division

Paul is ready to clear some ground.

2 Corinthians 12:20 For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.

Paul is afraid. He said he was afraid back in 11:3

2 Corinthians 11:3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

He was afraid that they were being led away by satanic deception after another jesus, a different spirit, a different gospel. Here he is afraid that when he arrives, he will find in them a proud divisiveness. He addressed the division, quarreling and strife back in 1 Corinthians (1Cor.1:11; 3:3). He is afraid not much has changed.

Apostolic Fear of Failure to Repent

He is afraid because the gospel changes people. He is afraid that he may not find them as he hopes, as genuine believers, transformed by the gospel. Throughout this letter he has been re-framing for them what authentic ministry is all about. He has reminded them of the gospel he proclaimed, and has implored them ‘be reconciled to God’ (2Cor.5:20). He appealed to them ‘not to receive the grace of God in vain’ (2Cor.6:1). He is afraid that they will have been led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ, to follow a false jesus and a false gospel. He is afraid that when judged by their fruit, their conversion may prove to be false.

2 Corinthians 12:21 I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.

Paul fears that the fruit of repentance will not be demonstrated in their lives. In 1 Corinthians chapters 5-7, Paul confronted them over their immorality. He called them to ‘flee from sexual immorality’ (1Cor.6:18). He called the church, if someone claimed to be a believer yet persisted in immorality unrepentant, to remove them from fellowship with the church (1Cor.5). Repentance is essential in the life of the believer. Repentance is a change of heart and mind, a recognition that sin is sin against a holy God. We have all sinned and gone astray, we have all followed our own way. And every sin can be forgiven when we confess it as sin, when we agree with God that what he thinks about it is true. Paul told the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 6:9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

We all have sinned. And every sin can be washed away in the blood of Jesus. Repentance is essential in the life of the believer; turning away from sin and back to Jesus; turning away from pride, from performance, from good works, from an ethic of earning.

These are not two distinct issues, divisive pride and sexual immorality, as if he is addressing the gossiping quarreling divisive group who entertained false teachers in verse 20 and the lustful sexually immoral group in verse 21. Bad theology leads to bad ethics. False teaching and immorality go hand in hand. Turning away from a sincere and pure devotion to Jesus leads to wrong thinking, wrong feeling, wrong acting. When our eyes are not fixed on Jesus, our hearts go after every kind of counterfeit.

Grief Over the Sins of Others

Listen to Paul’s heart. He is not self-righteous, gloating, rejoicing over the destruction of the wicked. He is not Jonah, sitting in the shade of his gourd, eager to see God pour out his almighty wrath on sinners.

2 Corinthians 12:21 I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented…

Paul is broken-hearted at the prospect of sinners who have not found true forgiveness at the foot of the cross. Paul takes the persistent unrepentance of this church personally, as his own responsibility. He will be humbled as having failed to see the gospel take effect in them.

2 Corinthians 5:15 [Jesus] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. … 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Paul’s pursuit and his heart is to see them built up into the image of Jesus, beholding the glory of Jesus and being transformed into his image by the Spirit (2Cor.3:18). He is willing to do the difficult work of confronting their sin to clear the ground for this building up that he is constantly striving for. He does everything he does and says everything he says for their upbuilding. Because he loves them.

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Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

March 16, 2021 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment