June 16, 2010 David Balzer

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.

Comment (1)

  1. MICHELLE,Came over from laced w/grace and wanted to say hello. I am your nweest follower and look forward to knowing you ! We share some of the same meme’s….I also join in on Spiritual Sundays :)Thanks for this post today! I completely agree and found encouragement from you

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