June 16, 2010 David Balzer

2 Corinthians 6: Who to Listen to

Who gives you reliable advice?

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

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

All without a single qualification.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He started talking about them back in Ch 2 v17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Making friends for God

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is both ENCOURAGING AND CHALLENGING.

  1. With urgency (6:1-2)

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

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

The reliable guide is URGENT.

  1. Without stumbling-blocks (6:3)

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

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

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

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

The media LOVES that sort of thing.

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

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

Strive for godliness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. With commendation (6:4-5)

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

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

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

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

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

Is that how it is WITH YOU?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. With weapons (6:6-7)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you got THAT sort of perspective?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And down in v13.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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