PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 10:12-18; Leadership and the Lord’s Approval

10/04_2 Corinthians 10:12-18; Leadership and the Lord’s Approval; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20201004_2cor10_12-18.mp3

Who won the debate? By what standard? Who had better arguments? Who had greater eloquence? Who made a better show? Who listened well and followed the rules of etiquette? Who showed greater kindness to his opponent? By what standard do you judge? (I didn’t watch it.)

2 Corinthians 10:12 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. 13 But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. 15 We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, 16 so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence. 17 “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

You’ve seen kids on the playground who are told to line up smallest to tallest. They stand back to back to measure themselves against each other and stretch to their full height and re-order themselves and argue about who is taller and who was standing on tippie-toes and who has shoes that give an unfair advantage. Someone establishes themselves as judge to evaluate, but then they have to be evaluated by others to find their place in the line. That is the kind of thing that is going on in this passage, and Paul calls it foolishness. He says ‘I wouldn’t dare to even play your silly game.’

Let me give you a rough literal translation; it’s not good English, but it brings out some of the repetition and verbal links that are there in the original.

12. For we don’t dare judge in or judge with those who commend themselves; but those who by themselves with themselves measure and judge themselves with themselves do not understand.

13. But we will not boast to that without measure; but according to the measure of the rule which God measured to us; which measure extended even as far as you.

14. For not as not extending to you do we hyper-extend ourselves, for even as far as you we arrived before in the gospel of Christ –

15. Not into that without measure do we boast in another’s toils; but we hold hope by the growth of your faith, by you to be magnified according to our rule to super-abound 16. into the still farther parts beyond you to evangelize; not to boast in another rule to that which is prepared;

17. but the one who boasts must boast in the Lord

18. for not the one who commends himself is that one approved, but whom the Lord commends.

Paul is under attack. His authority and credibility in the church in Corinth is being undermined by those he later calls

2 Corinthians 11:13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.

Paul is not ashamed to boast excessively of his authority, which he received from the Lord for building up the church (2Cor.10:8). He calls them sarcastically ‘super-apostles’ who are preaching a different Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel (2Cor.11:4).

Paul and Delegating Leadership

Paul has no problem turning over the local leadership of a church to another. He left Titus in Crete

Titus 1:5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—

Paul was eager to establish others, men of character, in leadership. But, along with personal integrity,

Titus 1:9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

He must hold firm the trustworthy word as taught. There are deceivers who must be rebuked and silenced.

According to Philippians 1, Paul can rejoice even over the preaching of those with impure motives, when they are preaching Christ.

Paul has no problem with someone like Apollos coming in behind him to follow up his ministry and serve in the churches he planted.

1 Corinthians 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, …

The Corinthians tried to pit Paul against Apollos. Paul says no, we are on the same team. We are one. We are fulfilling different roles that God has given to each of us.

False Apostles and Usurped Authority

So what is different between Apollos or the elders appointed by Titus and these ‘super-apostles’?

1 Corinthians 3:10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

The false apostles are seeking to dig up the foundation of Jesus and under their authority transplant the church on to a different foundation of a different Jesus and a different gospel. This is what Paul is up against in this passage.

Subjective Comparison

Paul’s sarcasm is biting, and this passage drips with irony.

2 Corinthians 10:12 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.

The false apostles are commending themselves. Back in chapter 3, we see that apparently they were coming in with letters of recommendation, seeking to establish their own authority. Paul says ‘you are our letter of recommendation.’ In Chapter 4, Paul says that he does not tamper with God’s word, but commends himself to all by the open statement of the truth. In chapter 5 he says that he is not seeking to commend himself, but rather to give them an answer to use with those who boast merely in outward appearances. In chapter 6 Paul commends himself by cataloging his sufferings that demonstrate he is following in the footsteps of his Master.

The false apostles are commending themselves, by judging themselves with themselves. This is a danger today. We are a competitive culture. How successful is your ministry? How big is your church? Your bible study? How many have you led to Christ? How many followers do you have, how many views, how many hits, how many likes? Or in some circles, how much opposition do you have? How many are criticizing your ministry? Because if you’re being attacked, you must be doing something right (it couldn’t mean that you are just rude, or being a jerk).

How do you measure ministry success? This is a case of the seven dwarves bickering over who is the tallest. Snow White smiles and stoops down to pat them on the head. At Babel (Gen.11) mankind came together to make a name for themselves and a tower to compete with heaven. The Lord came down to get a better look at the puny little tower they had built.

We like to look sideways to see how we are doing. Am I keeping up? Am I doing better than the other guy? If I am ahead, I can ease up and relax a little. If I am behind I need to push hard to catch up. How are you doing? ‘Well, I’m faster than him, but I’m way behind her.’ Paul says ‘when you measure yourselves by one another and compare yourselves with one another, you are without understanding.’ You lack spiritual insight. You don’t have an external standard, an absolute standard.

The Standard and Measure

2 Corinthians 10:13 But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ.

What is the standard? ‘We will not boast without measure; but according to the measure of the rule which God measured to us; which measure extended even as far as you. For not as not extending to you do we hyper-extend ourselves, for even as far as you we arrived before in the gospel of Christ.’ What is the measure of the rule that God measured to Paul? What is the limit of the area of influence that God assigned to Paul and his co-workers?

Acts 9:15 …“…he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Paul is to bear the name of Jesus everywhere he goes. And, by the way, his ministry will be accompanied by suffering. In his letter to the Romans (a church he hadn’t yet visited and didn’t establish)

Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, …5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,

Paul is set apart for the gospel of God. In Romans 11 and in Galatians he claims to be an apostle to the Gentiles, but that does not seem to be the primary thing he has in mind here. What he says here is that he was ‘the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ.’ The standard is the gospel. It was by his open statement of the truth that he commended himself. He proclaimed Christ and him crucified. He preached the cross.

The false apostles are seeking to build themselves up by attacking Paul’s character and undermining his authority. His defense? On his second missionary journey in Acts 18, he made it all the way to Corinth. He spent 18 months preaching Jesus, and a church was birthed. They exist as a church because he brought the gospel to them, because the message of Christ crucified had life transforming power. He says ‘you are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts’

Hopes for Evangelism Beyond

And here he wants them to know that he is looking beyond them. It’s not all about them. The mission is bigger than them. But they are part of it.

2 Corinthians 10:15 We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you [by you] may be greatly enlarged, 16 so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence.

The Corinthians are Paul’s labor. And they have been a painful labor to him. But his hope is as their faith grows, they will be instrumental in expanding the mission beyond them. A short time later, in the letter to the Romans, writing from Corinth he says

Romans 15:17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, 21 but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” 22 This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.

Paul is eager to preach to those who have never heard. He hopes that when the faith of the Corinthians grows, they will be a launching pad to send him out to Rome, and then on to Spain. This is Paul’s heart. Do you know that there are still today places and peoples who have never heard the good news, who have never heard the name of Jesus?

Boasting in Knowing the Lord

Paul doesn’t commend himself by comparing himself with others. He measures himself by the objective standard of the gospel that he was called to proclaim. He doesn’t boast in someone else’s labors; he boasts in the work prepared for him by God. He boasts only in what God has accomplished through him, so his boasting is ultimately boasting in the Lord.

2 Corinthians 10:17 “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Paul paraphrases Jeremiah 9:24

Jeremiah 9:24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

Boast only in the Lord. This is an echo back to verse 12, where Paul accuses the false teachers who compare themselves with one another of being without understanding. The understanding they lack is understanding and knowing the Lord. They were boasting in outward metrics and measurables. They were hyper-extending themselves and boasting about the labors of another as if it were their own.

Paul says it comes down to this. Accomplishments are great, and he hopes to be used by God to reach more and more people with the good news, but what really matters is boasting in the Lord, knowing the Lord, having real understanding, a real relationship with Jesus.

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

Self-commendation doesn’t mean anything. The commendation of others doesn’t mean anything. What you think of yourself doesn’t matter. What others think of you or your ministry doesn’t really matter. It is what Jesus thinks of you that matters.

The false apostles are in danger of hearing these fateful words from the Lord:

Matthew 7:23 …‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Paul knows it is only what Jesus thinks of him that matters, and he looks forward to hearing these words:

Matthew 25:21 …‘Well done, good and faithful servant. … Enter into the joy of your master.’

Paul didn’t lose heart, he didn’t despair even when everything seemed to be falling apart, because he was looking not to the things that are seen, but to the unseen eternal realities (2Cor.4:16,18). He had his eyes fixed on Jesus, and the only approval he was seeking was the approval of Jesus.

***

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

October 8, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 3:4-6; Are You Weak Enough?

05/13_2 Corinthians 3:4-6; Are You Weak Enough? ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180513_2cor3_4-6.mp3

Confidence of Ministry Competence

Are you competent to minister to people? Are you confident of your competence? Do you possess confidence? Even boldness?

Specifically when you see spiritual needs around you; hurting broken people who don’t know Jesus. Self-righteous people who don’t think they need Jesus. Brothers or sisters struggling to follow Jesus, faltering or wandering away. Do you look at those spiritual needs around you with confident boldness that you are competent to minister to them?

In 2 Corinthians 3:4-6, Paul is talking about confidence in ministry competence.

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

Such is the confidence that we have. We have this kind of confidence. What kind of confidence does he have? ‘Such’ refers back to his last paragraphs.

It is this kind of confidence or boldness or persuasion:

2:14 confidence always to be led on display by God in Christ

confidence to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere

2:15 confidence to be the fragrance of Christ to God

2:16 confidence to be the aroma of death to the perishing;

confidence to be the aroma of life to those being saved

2:17 confidence to be people of sincerity /integrity

confidence as (sent) of God and in the presence of God

confidence to speak in Christ

3:3 confidence that through our ministry Christ has been written on your tender hearts with the Spirit of the living God

This is staggering confidence! Startling boldness! Would you be able to claim this sort of confidence?

Means and Scope of Confidence

Where does he get this kind of confidence?

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

The means of his confidence is ‘through Christ.’ Oh do not slide casually over words in the text of Scripture! All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable (2Tim3:16). Every word of God proves true (Prov30:5). Not the smallest stroke of a letter will pass away until all is fulfilled (Mat5:18). It is easy for us to just slip past words that God gave us for our building up. We can only have this confidence through Christ or not at all. It is through faith in Christ, by means of the shed blood of Jesus on the cross for my sins that I can have boldness and confident access through grace into the presence of God. It is only because of the finished work of Christ that I have any good message to give to sinners alienated from God. The only means of our confidence is through Christ.

The scope of his confidence is ‘toward God.’ As a kid, you talk big with your friends, but when the powerful or important or intimidating person is in the room, suddenly all that confidence gets deflated. Are there people around whom you have more confidence than others? In your circle of friends, around those you know love and accept you, you have a level of confidence. But around those you are intimidated by, that confidence evaporates. Paul says that his confidence is ‘toward God.’ That is an amazing statement. Who is possibly more intimidating than God, the God of the universe, the holy and just judge, against whom we have sinned, the one who spoke all things into existence by the word of his power. He is the one we ought to be most intimidated by, and we are constantly under his watchful eye. If we can be confident in his presence, no human power ought to intimidate us. And Paul says that it is toward God that he is confident. He is confident of his identity, and he is confident of where his identity comes from. Yes, Paul is a sinner, the chief of sinners, who fully deserves the just wrath of the all-holy God. But Paul knows peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul knows the forgiveness of sins through his blood. Paul knows the love of God poured out in his heart through the Holy Spirit whom he has given to us. Paul knows his identity. He is a pardoned sinner, washed clean, given new life, reconciled fully, loved extravagantly, accepted, adopted. Paul knows who he is, and he knows where his identity comes from. It is through Christ that he has been forgiven, cleansed, set free, reconciled, loved.

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

He has confidence of his sufficiency as a minister of the gospel to spread the knowledge of Jesus all the time in every place, to those who are being saved the aroma of life to life, to those who are perishing the aroma of death to death. He is confident of his competence before the all watchful eye of God the Father.

No Sufficiency From Ourselves

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Paul is confident of his identity before God, and he knows where his competence or sufficiency comes from. It is not from himself. It is not internal. It is from outside himself; it is a gift given to him.

In 2:16, after describing a ministry that brings eternal life to some and eternal death to others, Paul asks ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ Here he answers his own question. ‘We are sufficient, but our sufficiency does not come from us.’ We have confidence of our sufficiency in Christ before God, but our sufficiency does not come from ourselves.

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim [lit. to reckon, suppose, conclude or think] anything as coming from us. This is humbling. Any ministry I do, I am not to draw the conclusion that any of that was from me. I can’t take credit for anything. That’s what the text says. Any competency, any sufficiency, I am not to think that anything, anything, ANYTHING came from me. I am not sufficient, I am not competent, I am not adequate in myself. Didn’t Jesus say ‘apart from me you can do nothing? (Jn.15:5)’ Zero, zilch, nada, nothing. I am not sufficient to think of anything as coming from me.

Full-Time Ministry

How many of you are in full-time ministry? Show me hands. How many of you claim to be followers of Jesus? If you are a follower of Jesus, you are in full-time ministry. We use that phrase to describe people who earn a living by their ministry. And that is legitimate. But I don’t care where you earn your living, if you follow Jesus, he has called you to full time ministry. In your family, with your friends, at your work, in your free time, you are a minister. But at my job, they don’t allow me to talk about Jesus. That’s fine. You are a testimony to the transforming power of the gospel by your quiet character and integrity, your faithfulness, your diligence, your self sacrificial service for the good of others. Let me ask again, how many of you are in full time ministry? Ministry means service. Service to others.

We tend to think of ministry in terms of preaching and outreach and church service. And that is important. Paul is talking here primarily about his own apostolic ministry. But I want you to see all of life as ministry. Paul’s apostolic ministry wasn’t only when he was preaching in front of a crowd. Paul at times worked a regular job. How are you serving your employer, your co-workers? How are you serving your spouse, your children? How are you ministering to every person you come in contact with? Paul says that ‘through us God is spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere.’ Not only in words that are heard. But in a fragrance that is smelled. Do people around you sense something different about you? Without you having to say anything?

Broken people were attracted to Jesus. Needy people were following him around all the time. It seemed he couldn’t get away from them. They sensed something about him that gave them hope. Are they attracted to you? We have a message that can raise the dead!

This verse absolutely blew my mind when I first read it. I still remember where I was and who I was with. Jesus said to his followers:

John 14:12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

Greater works than Jesus? Jesus was healing the lame, opening blind eyes, cleansing lepers, even raising the dead. Greater works than these? How can that be? Notice, he doesn’t say a few select church leaders. He says ‘whoever believes in me.’ That means me. That means you! Through our ministry the Holy Spirit will open blind eyes to the beauty of the gospel, through our ministry he will cleanse people from their sin, through us he will raise dead sinners to eternal life and make them whole and complete in Christ. Greater works than these? Yes!

Are broken people attracted to you? You have a message that can set them free, give them life! Who is sufficient for these things?

Upside-down Confidence

You are, if you recognize that ‘you are not sufficient in yourself to claim anything as coming from you, but your sufficiency is from God.’

Are you weak enough to be confident? This is upside-down thinking. You have to go back to progress; you have to go down to rise up, you have to empty yourself to make room for God to fill you to overflowing. Does your adequacy come from an acute aware of your own incompetence? You have to recognize that your fitness, your competence, your sufficiency for ministry does not come from you. Do you think that anything comes from yourself? To the extent you conclude that you contribute, that you have something you can claim as your part, that you can boast about, to that extent you are unfit for ministry.

Paul said in chapter 1, talking about his afflictions,

2 Corinthians 1:9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

God used affliction to wean Paul away from any self-dependence and force him to rely completely on the resurrecting God. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, speaking of his role as apostle,

1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Do you hear that? Paul considered himself unworthy. But his identity came from God’s grace. And God’s grace transformed him into something he was not fit to be. God’s undeserved kindness is powerful and transformational. And he says, comparing himself with the other apostles ‘I worked harder than any of them.’ But he is quick to clarify. I worked harder than any of them, but none of that was me. It did not come from me. It did not originate with me. It was God’s grace at work in me.

2 Corinthians 3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

God made us sufficient. Do you feel insufficient? Do you feel inadequate? Do you feel unworthy? Good! You should. You are. I am. That is a prerequisite for fruitful ministry. Are you weak enough for God to use you?

So That God Gets the Glory

Remember Gideon? The Angel of the LORD addressed him ‘O mighty man of valor’ (Jdg.6:12) while he was beating out the wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. When he was told to pull down his father’s idols burn them and make a sacrifice to the LORD, he did it by night, ‘because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day’ (Jdg.6:27). But it says ‘the Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon’ (6:34) and he rallied an army of 32,000 to fight against the Midianites and Amalekites and the people of the East who had assembled against them, who ‘lay along the valley like locust in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance (7:12).

Judges 7:2 The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ 3 Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.

Do you hear what God says? Against an innumerable multitude, 32,000 are too many because you might be tempted to claim something as coming from yourselves. You might take credit. You might boast over God, saying ‘my own hand saved me’.

Judges 7:4 And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many.

10,000 is still too many. God was going to give the Midianites into their hand, and he refused to allow them to think that they contributed in any way. So God thinned the army down to 300 men. And the 300 men were armed with trumpets and empty jars and torches inside the jars. No sword, no spear, not even a sling is mentioned. Just musical instruments, and empty clay pots with a fire burning inside. And the LORD gave the host of Midian into their hand. They were told to make some noise and stand their ground. They could claim nothing as coming from themselves. Their sufficiency was totally from God.

Psalm 115 begins:

Psalm 115:1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, because not from us, not from us, we are not sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, so no glory comes to us. Instead, to your name give glory. It is your steadfast covenant love, it is your faithfulness.

2 Corinthians 3:5 …but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

We are sufficient, because we freely acknowledge that we are insufficient in ourselves. Our sufficiency comes from God. He makes what we are not. He makes us sufficient. Sufficient for ministry. Sufficient to be ministers of the life giving ministry of the Holy Spirit, the New Covenant.

Are you weak enough for God to transform lives through your service, because you recognize that you are not sufficient to consider anything as coming from yourself? Are you weak enough for God to use you, are you weak enough to give God all the glory for what he does in you and through you?

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

May 16, 2018 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