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2 Corinthians 11:7-12; The Offense of Cultural Sensitivity

11/01_2 Corinthians 11:7-12; The Offense of Cultural Sensitivity; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20201101_2cor11_7-12.mp3

2 Corinthians 11:1 I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! 2 For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 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. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. 5 Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. 6 Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.

The Corinthians are enamored by false apostles selling a false gospel which cannot save, empowered by a different spirit, inviting them to follow another Jesus, a Jesus that promises power, prestige, position, but doesn’t require his followers to follow him by taking up their cross.

The false apostles attempted to undermine Paul’s authority in Corinth by pointing to his ‘contemptible speech’ (10:10). Paul answers maybe he doesn’t measure up to their standards of rhetorical style, but his substance is sound, by an open statement of the truth he has made the simple good news message of Christ crucified known to them.

Here in verses 7-12 he answers another objection;

2 Corinthians 11:7 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. 11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! 12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.

Paul is being criticized for not accepting money from them. Imagine that! In collecting money for the saints in Jerusalem, they suspect him of stealing. But in refusing payment for serving them, they object that his teaching must not be worth anything, or he must not love them. They are attempting to put him in a lose-lose corner.

The Sin of Christ-Likeness

Paul answers with a question. Was it a sin for me to humble myself? Paul had already addressed these issues in 1 Corinthians 9. There he argued that it is the right of a minister of the gospel to make his living by preaching the gospel (1Cor.9:14). He had the right to receive financial support from them for his ministry to them, but he did not make use of that right.

Here he asks, was it sinful for me to humble myself and forego my right as a minister? He wanted to put no stumbling block in the way of the gospel (1Cor.9:12). The culture of Corinth estimated the worth of a teacher by how much they charged, which put the best teachers out of reach of the poor. And those who did support the teacher financially became patrons who expected the allegiance of the teacher in return. Paul would not sell out in this way and become obligated to a few wealthy patrons, and he refused to withhold the gospel from the poor. As he said in 1 Corinthians 9:19, while remaining ‘free from all, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win more of them.’

Paul humbled himself by not making use of his right to financial support as a minister. He humbled himself in order to lift them up. He humbled himself so that he would be free to proclaim the gospel of God freely to all. He humbled himself so that in a city with no gospel presence, a church could be established in the grace of God. He was willing to go without, so that they could receive the gift of eternal life. He was willing to sacrifice, to suffer, to work with his own hands, so that the gospel would be seen as all of grace, a costly gift freely given to those who can’t earn it and don’t deserve it.

Paul humbled himself because that’s what Jesus did. Jesus, having all the rights of being himself fully God,

Philippians 2:7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

They criticized Paul for not receiving payment from them. He asks, did I commit a sin by humbling myself? Is it a sin to follow Jesus? Was it a sin for Jesus to humble himself in order to save us? Jesus came ‘not to be served but to serve’ (Mk.10:45). Paul once again brings them back to the central message of this letter; that authentic ministry is ministry that follows in the footsteps of Jesus. Authentic ministry is cross-shaped ministry. He clearly exposes the false teachers for calling evil good and good evil. Is Christ-likeness a sin?

Plundering Churches

Paul goes on to confront them with the harsh truth.

2 Corinthians 11:8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way.

If they didn’t know it before, he tells them now that he did accept support from other churches. In fact he calls it ‘plunder,’ stripping armor from the corpses of a defeated enemy. He uses graphic imagery to startle them with the costly realities of gospel ministry. Calvin saw this as ‘every thing that Paul took from the Churches that he had gained to Christ was, in a manner, the spoils of his victories, …what they contributed gratuitously was, in a manner, due by right of spiritual warfare.’ [Calvin, p.347]

Acts 18 tells us that he arrived alone in Corinth, and soon met Aquila and Priscilla, and worked with them in the menial trade of tentmaking to support himself while he preached each Sabbath, until his co-workers Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia with support to free him to spend more time proclaiming Jesus.

He has already championed the churches of Macedonia who out of their extreme poverty overflowed in abundant single-hearted devotion and gave beyond their ability (2Cor.8:1-3) to the relief of the saints.

Now he lets them know that these impoverished and persecuted churches gave support to him while he was serving in the relatively affluent city of Corinth.

To one of these afflicted Macedonian churches, in the city of Philippi, he writes of their ‘partnership in the gospel from the first day until now’ (Phil.1:5). He writes:

Philippians 4:15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.

This was a slap in the face to Corinth. Paul considered it less a risk to the gospel to plunder the poverty-stricken churches of Macedonia than to accept support from the affluent Corinthians.

Partnering to Pay the Gospel Forward

When Paul entered a new region, he refused support to prevent them thinking that they were paying a fee for the gospel. After a church was established, he allowed them to then partner with him in advancing the gospel on to the next area. In chapter 8 He is encouraging the Corinthians to participate in the relief of the poor Jerusalem saints, and it seems from 2 Corinthians 10:15-16 that he was willing for the Corinthians to partner with him in advancing the gospel to regions beyond them (cf. Rom.15:24, 28; 1Cor.16:5-6; 2Cor.1:15-16).

The Truth of Christ In Me

But he was insistent that he will not change his practice with them. He kept himself from being a burden to them, and he will continue to keep himself from ever burdening them.

As we learned from the Macedonians in chapter 8, when one truly understands and receives God’s grace, giving is no longer a burden but a delight. Their abundance of joy overflowed in a wealth of single-hearted devotion, and they gave beyond their means, ‘begging us earnestly for the grace of taking part in the fellowship of the saints’ (2Cor.8:2-4).

Paul here takes an oath before God.

2 Corinthians 11:9 …So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia.

This is an oath formula; Paul promised them he would enter into foolish boasting. Here he boasts that he has not and will not be a burden to them. He connects this boast of not being a burden to the truth of Christ in him. There may be more to this than a simple oath; ‘I swear by the truth of Christ.’ The truth of Christ is in Paul not merely in word, but also in deed. As he said back in chapter 8,

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Paul proclaimed the truth of Christ. But he also lived the truth of Christ. The truth of Christ lived in him. He lived among them ‘as poor, yet making many rich’ (2Cor.6:10)

He humbled himself ‘so that you might be exalted,’ preaching ‘God’s gospel to you free of charge’ (2Cor.11:7). This is not just a ministry tactic. This is Paul walking in the gospel, living out the gospel. His person, his method, his every decision was being shaped by the cross of Christ. The truth of Christ, quite literally, is in him.

Paul’s Love

Paul addresses their other accusation, that he refuses their money because he doesn’t love them. Financially investing in an individual creates a close bond, and they feel that Paul is holding them at arms length, not allowing them to get that close. From Paul’s perspective, receiving wages would oblige him to them and he would be relinquishing his freedom to offer the gospel free of charge to all.

2 Corinthians 11:11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!

He doesn’t even answer this charge, but appeals to God. God knows! He has already answered it. He humbled himself to lift them up. He labored with his own hands to relieve them of the burden of providing for his needs. He plundered other churches to show them that the costly gift of grace truly comes without charge. All this was evidence of his love for them.

Paul is being offensive here, insistent on refusing their payment and plundering poor churches in order to serve them, humiliating them by making them the recipients of charity from poorer saints. But his goal is not to tear them down but to build them up. He humbles them in order to show them what grace really is, to teach them that they must be humble enough to receive something they can’t pay for and don’t deserve. Even in this offense toward them, he is preaching the gospel to them. He is showing them that he loves them enough to tear down their ‘lofty opinions of themselves that are raised up against the knowledge of God’ (2Cor.10:5,8). Paul offends them, but it is a loving offense.

Cutting the Ground from the False Apostles

Paul again affirms that he will not adjust his course of action with them. It seems that they were applying pressure to get him to cave and accept their payments. But he is resolute. Here in verse 12 he gives his reason.

2 Corinthians 11:12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.

The pressure is coming ultimately from the false apostles. They want Paul to receive payment from the Corinthians so that they can claim to be no different than him. He refuses to take the bait. He is accusing them of peddling the word of God for money (2Cor.2:17). Paul here pulls the veil back from the false apostles. They are pressuring Paul to accept payment to justify their own money-grubbing. If Paul persists in refusing compensation, the false teachers will be unable to say that they operate on the same basis as he does, unless they are willing also to refuse payment, which is the whole reason they are there. His refusal is effectively cutting the ground out from under them.

Cultural Sensitivity

Paul is a culturally sensitive missionary. He is keenly aware of the cultural norms and nuances in the different places where he ministers. And he is aware of how the gospel will be perceived through these cultural lenses, so he is wisely strategic in the way he engages with the culture. But Paul will not adapt his message to suit the culture; in fact Paul is willing to offend the cultural sensibilities of the Corinthians for the sake of the gospel. When the truth of the gospel is at stake, he ‘would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting’ (1Cor.9:15).

He is willing to make a public scene and ‘oppose Peter to his face,’ because his ‘conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel’ (Gal.2:11,14).

Paul is culturally sensitive, not so that he can slip in unnoticed and make no waves, but so that he can make the right waves, gospel waves that crash in the face of cultures of merit that say ‘you get what you pay for’ and ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’. He plants his feet firmly and demonstrates that the gospel cannot be bought. The gospel is a treasure that is infinitely costly, but God gives it freely to those who don’t deserve it, to those who will humble themselves to receive.

In a culture that treasures popularity and prosperity and pleasure, who says it is a sin to surrender your rights or lay down your life for others, Paul shows us what it means to follow Jesus, who bids us take up our cross, lose our life for his sake and the gospel’s, so we can truly find it (Mt.16:24-25).

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

November 1, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 2:16-17; Who Is Sufficient?

04/22_2 Corinthians 2:16-17; Who is Sufficient? ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180422_2cor2_16-17.mp3

In 2 Corinthians Paul describes what authentic Christian ministry is and corrects mistaken views.

Paul paints a picture of authentic Christian ministry as a triumphal procession, being led as a conquered captive and slave to God, spreading a fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus everywhere. And this aroma of Jesus, while always pleasing to the Father, divides humanity into two categories; those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To those who are being saved, he is the smell of life leading to eternal life. But to those who are perishing, he is perceived as the smell of death and leads to eternal death. Authentic ministry divides.

Jesus said he came to cause division between people. He said:

Luke 12:51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Jesus describes this division of all mankind into two categories in Matthew 25.

Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

…34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

…41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

…46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Jesus describes those who are being saved as blessed by my Father, who inherit the kingdom. And he describes those who are perishing as suffering eternal punishment, eternal fire.

Paul says that God

2 Corinthians 2:14 …through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life…

When Jesus sent out the twelve to proclaim the kingdom, he told them:

Matthew 10:14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

The proclamation of the gospel, the word of the cross, is a weighty responsibility. On the one hand, it is a message that rescues and delivers and breathes life into dead souls. On the other hand, it increases the accountability of the one who hears. Better never to hear of Jesus at all, than to hear of him and reject him.

Who Is Sufficient?

This is heavy. Some will benefit eternally from the message, but those who reject will be forever made held to a higher level of accountability; ‘to whom much is given, much will be required’ (Lk.12:48). To be the one who brings this dividing message, to be a fragrance of life to some, and the stench of death to others, is an incredibly sobering responsibility. Paul recognizes that the gospel he declares divides humanity, and he asks the question ‘who is sufficient for these things?’

Who is fit, able, worthy, competent; who is sufficient? Who is up to this weighty responsibility?

This reminds us of Moses, when God called him out of exile to lead his people out of Egypt. God sent Moses to two distinct groups of people. He was to go to Israel to declare that God was coming down to rescue them and set them free. He was also to go to the Pharaoh of Egypt and demand that he let his slaves go free. God said:

Exodus 3:19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.

This was good news to a people who were enslaved to a cruel tyrant. But this meant God’s judgment against the Egyptians who refused to bow to God’s authority. Moses felt the weight of this call.

Exodus 4:10 But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”

The Greek translation of this verse uses this same word ‘sufficient’ or competent. ‘Oh, my LORD, I am not sufficient. I am not competent.’ Moses is acutely aware of his own inadequacy in the face of such a weight responsibility.

For We Are Not…

Who is sufficient? This sounds like a rhetorical question, and we are quick to answer ‘no one!’ Paul begins as we would expect ‘for we are not…’ Who possibly is up to this task? With Moses, we certainly do not feel competent. But this is not Paul’s answer. He says:

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.

Paul gives a five part answer to the question in this verse, one negative and four positive characteristics of his own ministry to demonstrate that he is indeed competent. But this is not all he has to say; his answer continues on into the next chapter. Paul is guarding himself against misunderstanding. This is not a question to which a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will suffice. He gives a nuanced answer; he qualifies his answer. What characterizes his ministry?

Not Peddlers of the Word of God

2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word,

Notice that the word of God is central to what it means to be a minister. He starts with the word of God, and he ends this verse with the verb ‘we speak.’ As an authentic minister, he speaks the word of God.

But others are speaking God’s word, and he draws a contrast here. It matters how the word of God is handled. Later in this book, chapters 11-13 he confronts the false apostles who proclaim a false Jesus, a false Spirit, and a false gospel. It matters the content of the message. But it also matters the motive of the messenger. Paul says he is not like so many others who are not competent, who peddle God’s word. This is a common word for retail shop vendors, who take a product made by someone else and sell it for a profit. This term has very negative connotations, implying underhanded shady business practices, false advertising, dishonest dealing, diluting the product. These were often con artists, expert at ripping off the unsuspecting public.

We have to balance this with what he said in 1 Corinthians 9. In that whole chapter he strongly defends the right of a minister of the gospel to be paid for that ministry. He says:

1 Corinthians 9:14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

It is the right, it is the command of the Lord Jesus that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

So what is Paul saying that he is not like so many peddlers of God’s word? Although Paul adamantly defends his own and others’ right to make a living by the gospel, he chooses not to make use of that right. But he has nothing bad to say about the other apostles who do make use of that right. What is he saying here?

Listen to Paul’s requirements for Christian leadership of any kind:

1 Timothy 3:2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, … 3 … not a lover of money.

1 Timothy 3:8 Deacons likewise must be …not greedy for dishonest gain.

Titus 1:7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be … greedy for gain,

Peter exhorts:

1 Peter 5:2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;

This is a heart issue. What is the motive? What is the focus? ‘We are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word.’ Some, Paul says in Philippians 1 ‘preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely.’

So many are peddlers of God’s word, seeking to make a profit, seeking gain out of selfish ambition. Those are not fit, not competent, not sufficient for gospel ministry.

The gospel is not a commodity to be sold; the gospel is the power of God to transform lives. Like strong medicine in incompetent hands, that which is meant to bring life can bring about death. Who is competent for these things? Not those who are pursuing personal gain.

Of Sincerity

That is the negative. Now he lists 4 positive criteria of competency for ministry. ‘But as of sincerity, but as of God, directly before God, in Christ we speak.’

Paul operates out of sincerity. This is not the first time we have encountered this word. This verse is a bookend connecting back to 1:12, where Paul said

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.

Paul’s conscience bears him witness. He conducts himself always with sincerity. This word is a compound word that literally means judged by the sun. Paul’s conduct is out in the wide open, in the full light of the sun; he has nothing to hide. No secrets. No bait and switch. He is not duplicitous. There is no question of motives. He shoots straight. He says what he means and means what he says. You don’t have to read between the lines. What you see is what you get. He has integrity, not only in relation to ministry, but to all of life. He is transparent. Transparency is not something he strives for; it is simply who he is. And it is out of that open transparency that he speaks the word of God. Competent ministry must be sincere ministry.

Of God

‘But as of sincerity, but as of God.’ Paul is speaking of the source of his speaking and his authority. It all comes out of God. His authority comes from God, and he speaks God’s words. The ESV fills in the sense of this brief phrase; ‘as commissioned by God.’ The NIV has ‘as those sent from God.’ The only source of authentic ministry is God. Paul’s authority and Paul’s message is not self-originated; he is not at liberty to make stuff up. Remember, he is a conquered captive, led in triumphal procession, and he spreads the scent of the knowledge of Christ everywhere. He is a glad slave of God, and it is his joy to make much of Jesus. The content and the power of his message come from God. Competent ministry must originate in God.

Directly Before God

‘But as of sincerity, but as of God, directly before God.’ Paul is over against God, directly in the presence of God. He is always before God or ‘in the sight of God.’ Now if we know the Bible teaches that God is everywhere present and knows everything about everyone everywhere all the time, how is this a qualification for competent ministry? It is one thing for God to know everything about you, and it is quite another thing for you to be constantly aware that God is constantly aware of you.

Listen to what Hebrews 4:12-13 says.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

We all must give account to the Lord, who knows all and sees all. James cautions:

James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.

A key component of competency for ministry is an awareness the weighty responsibility of living in the light of God’s presence.

In Christ

‘But as of sincerity, but as of God, directly before God, in Christ we speak.’

In Christ. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. This is a favorite description of the believer. It speaks of our position, our identity, our relationship. Salvation, forgiveness, justification, redemption, sanctification, reconciliation, adoption, eternal life, is all in Christ. Grace, love, peace, freedom, hope, unity, encouragement, approval, blessing, all come to us in Christ. We are alive in Christ; there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s identity in Christ. For Paul everything is rubbish compared to knowing him and being found in him (Phil.3:9-10). There would be nothing worse than to be outside of Christ, apart from Christ.

There is no competency for ministry outside of Christ. Our only sufficiency comes from our union with Christ.

It is out of his union with Christ that Paul is able to speak.

Summary

Who is sufficient for these things? Who is sufficient to be the aroma of the knowledge of Jesus, who is competent to speak the word of God that to some becomes the smell of life to life, and to others is the scent of death to death? Not those who are in it for personal gain. Only those who operate out of a transparent sincerity, only whose only source is God, only those who live constantly in the light of God’s presence, only those whose only sufficiency is in union with Christ.

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

April 22, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment