As you read this, Lisa and I will be on our way or just arriving at our home away from home for the next few weeks. We’d both like to express our overwhelming gratitude for this wonderful blessing in our lives. We recognize the sacrifices being made for us to be able to take this much needed time away. We want you all to know how much we appreciate this opportunity and we commit to use this timely wisely. We both have been working hard these last few weeks to consider our goals and objectives for this sabbatical, carefully and prayerfully considering books to study, mentors and pastors to meet with and projects to complete, in addition to making time to relax and reflect. It is our hearts’ desire to return home to you all refocused and with a renewed passion for all God has planned for Calvary for years to come. Thank you for your encouraging words and commitments to pray for us. We are so looking forward to our time “away from it all” to grow closer to each other and to The Lord, as well as our return to our Calvary church family. We will keep you updated on how things are going for us in the coming weeks.
Until then, know we love you and are praying for you as well.
Monthly Archives: July 2014
Title: Confidence in our Insufficiency
Text: 2 Corinthians 3.4-6
CIT: Paul’s confidence in ministry was born out of God’s sufficiency in the Gospel and the Holy Spirit.
CIS: We, too, can be confident in our service to God. Not in anything that comes from us, but in the sufficiency of The New Covenant and the Holy Spirit.
Introduction: We’re in 2 Corinthians 3.4-6; A quick review of how we got here…
- Content in his leadership 1.1-12
- Content in his plan 1.12-2.4
- Content in his decision 2.5-11
- Content with God’s direction 2.12-17
- Confidence in his Ministry 3.1-18
- Confidence in the Message 4.1-18
- Confidence in the future 5.1-10
- Confidence in the Gospel 5.11-21
- Confidence in affliction 1-13-7.1
- Confidence in grief and sorrow 7.2-16
- Giving generously 8
- Confidence in their completion 9
- Concern for their spirituality 10
- Concern for their leadership 11.1-23
- Paul’s suffering 11.22-33
- Paul’s boasting 12.1-11
- Concern for their deception 12.11
- Final warnings 13
Now under Chapters 3-7: Confidence, in chapter 3 The topic is ministry – That is Paul’s Confidence in his ministry. He expounds on the reasons for this in v.4-6, which is our focus today; rd: 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.
Transition: So his one point is simply this:
We are Confident (4-5a)
exp.: you see that point made in v 4; rd v 4; Lit.: we have such confidence or we have confidence such as this. Confident? Really? Even in our weakness and insufficiency? Even in our struggle and persecution? Simply put: Yes, because, look at v 5; rd v 5a; here is the 1st sub-point Paul makes:
- But our confidence is not through us, but through Christ (4-5a).
exp.: We are insufficient for the task. We recognize our insufficiency as to consider anything coming from us. Period! Q.: What do you have that qualifies you for ministry?
ill.: I have no idea how I came across the book Loving God. I’m sure it was recommended to me somewhere along the way. When I read it, I knew very little about Chuck Colson. It was his third book and hadn’t been out for very long. I loved it and have recommended it to many people through the years. It remains one of my all time favorites. In it, Chuck Colson attempts to answer the question: how do I love the Lord, my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my strength?
There is a passage in this book that I return to regularly, which helps me regain a perspective on my life and my ministry.
As I sat on the platform, waiting my turn at the pulpit, my mind began to drift back in time … to scholarships and honors earned, cases argued and won, great decisions made from lofty government offices. My life had been the great American dream fulfilled.
But all at once I realized that it was not my success God had used to enable me to help those in this prison, or in hundreds of others just like it. My life of success was not what made this morning so glorious — all my achievements meant nothing in God’s economy.
No, the real legacy of my life was my biggest failure — that I was an ex-convict. My greatest humiliation — being sent to prison — was the beginning of God’s greatest use of my life; He chose the one thing in which I could not glory for His glory.
Confronted with this staggering truth, I discovered in those few moments in the prison chapel that my world was turned upside down. I understood with a jolt that I had been looking at life backward. But now I could see: Only when I lost everything I thought made Chuck Colson a great guy had I found the true self God intended me to be and the true purpose of my life.
app.: Colson got it: not through us, but through Christ. Of all his success and glory, of all his awards and recognition, of all he’d ever accomplished, even to the heights of power and success in government, it was useless. It wasn’t even what God wanted to use. May I ask you again: Q.: What do you have that qualifies you for ministry? What is it about you that qualifies you to serve in the King’s presence? May I say: nothing! Pile up all of your accolades, awards, and success and leave it where it is. Your confidence must come, not from yourself, but only from God.
transition: and that’s the next sub-point of Paul’s…
- Our confidence is from God (5b)
exp.: rd 5; our confidence is from God because he has made us sufficient for the task. A big problem for those of us who minister is the issue of self-sufficiency. We think to ourselves: I am sufficient through my gifts of accounting, building, problem solving, entertaining, and the list goes on. But Paul clarifies: our sufficiency is from God. That’ll make you confident. Rd v 6;
Because, He has made us ministers. Hear Paul echo this thought in Ephesians:
Eph 3.7-12 – Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.
So: insufficient in himself, but sufficient for the call by the gift of grace given to him. rd v 5-6a; but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant. There it is – ministers or servants of a new covenant; this is scary. Think about it! Called to something different – something new! Ministers of a new covenant! Make your way through Scripture and most men are quickly reduced to nothing before God and afraid to be his mouthpiece when called to speak or serve as He got ready to do something new.
- Moses – send someone else!
- Aaron – after he had watched his sons be torched when they offered unauthorized fire. He was scared and couldn’t function properly.
- Joshua – how many times did he have to hear the phrase – only be strong and courageous!
- Barak with Deborah – I won’t go unless you go with me!
- Gideon – How many times did he ask the Lord for another sign? (i.e.: With the Fleece, with the men at the river.)
- Saul – when he was introduced as the new king – he was found hidden in the midst of the baggage.
- Jeremiah – who like Moses, told God that he didn’t know how to speak. I am too young.
- Elijah – hiding in the hills, fed by a raven and a babbling brook. Depressed and Scared
- Elisha – when he first was called by Elijah
- Esther – when she had become queen – still lived in fear and didn’t want to speak up.
- Peter – walking with the Lord by the sea – Simon do you love me? How ashamed of himself he must have felt – having denied Christ.
- And even Paul – who had the finest training as a Pharisee, didn’t go up to Peter and James, the Lord’s brother for three years. According to Galatians, it took many years to begin this ministry to which he is called so clearly in Acts 9. Maybe as much as 14 years.
app.: We are not sufficient for the task. For those who think they are – they are often led to ruin. Nadab and Abihu – when they offered unauthorized fire. The tax collector who cried out for mercy vs. the Pharisee who prayed so arrogantly. I wish we had time to go down the list of men who stood cocky before the Lord and were torched.
Transition: No, Paul says, we are confident, but not in anything that comes from us. No, our confidence is in the Lord’s sufficiency. It comes from God. And 3rd, this confidence is of the Holy Spirit.
- Our confidence is of the Holy Spirit
exp.: rd 5b-6; We base our ministry and service, not on legalism; or tradition, or law, or experience and following the letter of the law, which kills (brings death), but on the Spirit, who gives us life. Paul expounds on this in his letter to the Romans (8.1-7)
8 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
(There is a table used here, but it wouldn’t insert properly)
There is of course, no way to read all of Galatians here this morning, but it appears that Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia is a confrontation to this very issue – depending on the law and not the Spirit. But, Paul warned them. Paul’s confidence stemmed not from his intellect or abilities. As a matter of fact he said, 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us. His confidence to minister came from God’s sufficiency in two areas:
- The New Covenant – that’s the Gospel
- The Holy Spirit – at work in the lives of men
Transition: I know the word Trinity never appears in Scripture, but here is a passage that has all three working together.
Going back to Colson in Loving God he writes: It is not what we do that matters, but what a sovereign God chooses to do through us. God doesn’t want our success; He wants us. He doesn’t demand our achievements; He demands our obedience. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of paradox, where through the ugly defeat of a cross, a holy God is utterly glorified. Victory comes through defeat; healing through brokenness; finding self through losing self.
Observations & Implications:
- Only someone who is humbly aware of their complete weakness can know and prove the total sufficiency of God’s grace (R. Kent Hughes). Your and my worldly talents and gifts often hinder that. I wonder if we try to impress people with our programs and our people; our facilities and our ministries. I wonder if we rely to much on us and what we have? In our complete weakness, we are insufficient for the task. It is then – only then, that God uses us in his sufficiency.
- Over the next 12 weeks, will you pray? Pray for me. Pray that I’ll experience a revival in my spirit. Pray that God will let me know Him in the now.
- Pray for you – as a body. I worry that you’re going to say – Ah, we got this covered. Be not afraid to let your weakness show – that you might know and prove the total sufficiency of God’s Grace.
- The Gospel is complete. I need not add to it, nor take away from it. It is simple and yet profound. Hear me.
- The Gospel doesn’t need a cool youth minister to reach your teen.
- The Gospel doesn’t need a hip worship pastor round out the staff.
- The Gospel doesn’t need nice facilities to complete it’s message.
- The Gospel doesn’t need a church full of sinless, perfect people to make it’s point!
- What the Gospel needs is a jar of clay to be poured through. You and I want to be crystal chalices, clear and beautiful with no imperfections. But God uses clean mason jars and Tupperware cups to carry his Gospel to a thirsty world.
- The Holy Spirit doesn’t need my help to complete his work. He uses me or not. It seems that he uses me best when I am surrendered to Him and have removed ‘me’ from the equation (my wants, my wishes, my goals, my agenda). Sometimes, he works in the silence. Sometimes he uses my life and not my words. Sometimes he uses me when I am unaware. He doesn’t need me, but he desires to use me.
- What qualifies you for service? Will you pray that God would empty you of all the ‘stuff’ that hinders his work? I’m talking about the stuff that the world tells you that you need to be successful. Would you ask God to help you show your scars and your wounds and quit coving them up with band-aids that have pictures of Disney characters on them? Or worse, hiding them under your pretty clothes so that no one sees. You just might find that your greatest failure is your greatest asset to ministry in the lives of those with whom you work.
- Caveat: Don’t cast your pearls before swine.
- What qualifies you for service – I hope you’ll see it’s nothing from you.
- Christianity is truly paradoxical. Things are not what they seem. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Title: Standing Firm
Text: 2 Corinthians 3.1-3
CIT: Paul stands firm in the face of his critics. He states that his work among them has given him the credibility he needs.
CIS: We should stand firm, too. Our lives should communicate our credibility. Our hearts reveal our passion.
Introduction: The Church of England has voted recently to ordain women as Bishops. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville Kentucky, has an excellent article on this latest move by Anglicans. It has been a natural progression. Once they voted to ordain women as priests, it was only a natural move to ordain them as bishops. The Church of England has had tremendous pressure to conform to English culture and society at large.
Mohler says that this move has brought a sense of accomplishment to the English government; However, it isn’t enough. Mohler writes: Ruth Gledhill is profoundly right about another aspect of Monday’s vote as well. It won’t stop with women bishops. “Now the church can move into the 20th century, although perhaps not the 21st,” she wrote. “A change on gay marriage would be needed to do that.” Well, stay tuned, as they say. The same church now has bishops living and teaching in open defiance of the church’s law on sexuality as well.
But what does this mean for them? Mohler continues as he says that their decision…will leave conservative evangelicals in the Church of England increasingly out in the cold, despite all the talk of “mutual flourishing.”
I have a friend who retired from the ministry, rather than face the struggle ahead. This man was a godly, wise, conservative Episcopalian priest. He’s faced the struggle for years against an openly gay leadership in the church. For Episcopalians or Anglicans who leave their denomination, they lose their property. They lose everything that they’ve built through the years. And, Judges have continued to side with the denomination in the courts. If you as a church disagree with the denomination, at this stage, all you can do is walk away and leave everything you’ve worked to build to them. If you’re a pastor, your choices are hard. Trying to lead the church to do the right thing will no doubt lead to church splits. How many people are married to facilities and not to the church? Standing firm in such times takes a tremendous toll on a man. After years of struggle, my friend retired early.
Though quite different, Paul was facing a similar dilemma in Corinth. There was a split over and against him. What could Paul do when his people were at odds over his ministry? Obviously there were some problems here: rd v 1; Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?
Here, we see two types of commendations: (in Gk, basically synonymous)
- Self-commendations (1st question): When Paul arrived in Corinth the 1st time, he led people to the Lord, saw baptisms and a church planted. There were no believers there to which he should take letters of commendation! So he had to commend himself. That’s why he says: again. He didn’t come with 3rd party recommendations.
- Third party commendations (2nd question): rd v 1b; Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you?
Who are these Some? Probably, it refers to the many peddling the Word of God in 2.17. These people came after Paul – they needed 3rd party recommendations – letters from their churches to the people in Corinth. It appears that these super-apostles, these opponents of Paul, had letters of recommendation to the people of Corinth. And Paul, he had none. Think about that for a moment. Why would that be? Why would they have letters and Paul didn’t? There was no church in Corinth to which he should take letters of commendation! The Church, these super-apostles brought their letters of recommendation to, didn’t exist when Paul got to Corinth! He planted and established it!
Transition: Now, at this stage, Paul presents his main and only point, as if to say: you want a letter of recommendation? You’re Our Letter of recommendation!
- You’re Our Letter of recommendation written on our hearts!
- You’re Our Letter of recommendation written on our hearts from Christ!
- You’re Our Letter of recommendation written on our hearts from Christ penned with the Holy Spirit!
And the way I’m going to present this in outline form is:
- You are our letter of recommendation
- Written on
- Written from
- Written with
Transition: So let’s begin with Paul’s main and only point…
I. You are our letter of recommendation (2)
exp.: rd v2a; if someone wanted information about me, I’d refer them to you. I first give them the elder’s contact number, including Jason Hall. 2nd, I’d give the staff info and then finally, the deacons – and maybe the church directory. You’re my letter of recommendation. You know my service. Some of you can even go back to the days when I was an associate and led worship. Just curious, how many of you’ve been here longer than me? Look at all those I’ve been a part of reaching! 😉
Paul says to the Corinthians – you are our letter! Written on our hearts…
1. Written on (2b)
exp.: So one facet or characteristic about this letter that they are, is that it was written on our hearts; now you would think that on our hearts implies an internal dimension; you can’t see someone’s heart. At least you would think that.
ill.: I saw an interesting article about Google glass. They’re here, but people don’t like them. Actually, people love them – they think they’re a really cool technological advancement. What they don’t like is anyone else wearing them. Google glasses are a pair of glasses you wear that act like your smart phone or ipad. You can call, text, Skype, circle or fb, use gps, take pictures, you can video, etc.
The problem is that people don’t like others wearing google glasses. Someone can be sitting across from you on a bus or subway or even a restaurant and take pictures and video. They can even use recognition software and download all the information available about you on the Internet!
Some good uses are out there. A surgeon recently removed a tumor during abdominal surgery while wearing Google glasses. He was able to see what he was doing but also looked at the live mri images at the same time. Think about the possibilities: to see your heart and into your heart with mri imagary, without even opening you up.
Transition: Obviously, that’s not what Paul is talking about. He means that your heart is seen by your life – your actions. Look at how a letter written on our hearts is understood – rd 2b;
- Known by all
- Read by all
ill.: I love this concept as it’s applied to me – you are my letter of recommendation – written on my heart. But it isn’t quietly hiding there. No, everyone is able to read it
app.:My love for you in my heart is evident to all. I bear my heart for you in such a way that everyone can know it and read it.
Transition: So, Paul says you are our letter of recommendation – a letter that is written on our hearts. And, there is another facet to this letter Paul tells the Corinthians about… He says: You’re Our Letter of recommendation from Christ!
2. Written from (3a)
exp.: rd 3a; And you show that you are a letter from Christ, I can’t think of a better reference for a job than Christ, himself!
ill.: We kind of practice this today – this commending men to churches by licensing or ordaining them in our church. We will license men to the ministry as we determine God’s call on their lives. As a young man gets this license, he may travel to another church to serve. That license will communicate our commendation. It will state that we, the undersigned, do recognized God’s call on someone’s life. And, furthermore, we’ve chosen to license them as evidence of our faith in God’s call. That license is our letter of recommendation to wherever and to whoever that young man serves.
exp.: Letters to commend someone often come from a 3rd party, as mentioned in the introduction. Christ commends Paul to the Corinthians. It is an interesting way Paul communicates to the believers in Corinth. You are our letter of recommendation from Christ!
ill.: As I was studying and looking for passages of Scripture related to this text, I searched for a place where known and read were near each other (2b). I found it in Daniel. Turn to Daniel 5; There is a story where A king has this huge party and breaks out the gold cups from the Temple – that his father took when they sacked Jerusalem and the Temple. They took the valuable gold and silver as spoils of war. While drinking and partying with all of his guests and using the utensils of the Temple, a human hand appears and begins writing on the wall. The king summons all of his wise men (the Magi) to see if they can read the message and know what it means. Of course, many of you know the story: they fail. But the queen tells the king about Daniel.
And so, Daniel is called in to see the king to read a message from God and make it known to the King. Rd Daniel 5.13-16; I thought there were some interesting parallels to this passage.
The king is given a message from God, himself. I thought of Christ when I read this story in Daniel. A human hand doing the writing:Christ is God in the flesh. Daniel is summoned to deliver this message from God.
exp.: and this also parallels what Paul is writing; rd v 3a – this letter of recommendation is delivered by us! That word delivered in the Gk is the word from which we get deacon. It means to minister or serve. I hope you’ve never experienced this, but I’m sure you’ve seen it on tv or in the movies – You’ve been served! Same idea.
app.: and you can see how this relates, as Paul served them – he ministered to them. His heart was made visible, as it were, through his service and love for them.
Transition: And then Paul presents this one final facet of the this letter of recommendation… it’s written on our hearts, it’s written from Christ and 3rd, it’s written with, not ink, but the Holy Spirit of God.
3. Written with (3b)
exp.: rd 3b; the Spirit of the Living God. This echoes the Daniel story, too. The inscription isn’t something written with ink or even carved into stone. No, it’s written with the Holy Spirit. That’s a pretty deep concept. Personalize that for a moment. If you’ve ever surrendered your life to Christ, he writes upon your heart with the Holy Spirit. You’re sealed, as Paul says in Ephesians.
ill.: R. Kent Hughes has a wonderful illustration in his commentary. Dr. Christiaan Barnard, the first surgeon ever to do a heart transplant, impulsively asked one of his patients, Dr. Philip Blaiberg,
“Would you like to see your old heart?” At 8 p.m. on a subsequent evening, the men stood in a room of the Groote Schuur Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa. Dr. Barnard went up to a cupboard, took down a glass container and handed it to Dr. Blaiberg. Inside that container was Blaiberg’s old heart. For a moment he stood there stunned into silence—the first man in history ever to hold his own heart in his hands. Finally he spoke and for ten minutes plied Dr. Barnard with technical questions. Then he turned to take a final look at the contents of the glass container, and said, “So this is my old heart that caused me so much trouble.”
He handed it back, turned away and left it forever.
This is a window into what Christ does. We remain the same people, but our hearts become radically new.
app.:Paul is referencing Jeremiah 31.31-33: 31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Transition: certain members of the Corinthian Church had harshly criticized Paul. But he could stand in the face of their criticism because his conscience was clear, he had been obedient to Christ in Paul’s service to the Corinthians. Furthermore, Paul had no need to commend himself to them again and he had no need for letters of recommendation from other churches. Their very existence was evidence of Paul’s credibility. They were his credentials. They were his letter of recommendation.
Observations & Implications:
- I stand before you today and think for myself – that you are my letter of recommendation. We’ve seen some hard times, but my passion for you is evident in my presence. Hopefully that doesn’t make sense to some of you, for you see a healthy church. But for those who’ve been here for 10 years or more – you know. That may sound like bragging, but it’s not. I can think of no other way to express my love for you than my loyalty through the hardest of times. My obedience to Christ has been the foundation. He has called me and with integrity I can say, I have stayed and served. You are my letter of commendation.
- What about for you? How does this apply? Our hearts, though hidden from physical sight, are often seen through our actions. Based on your actions, what would people say is your passion? For many of you, I can see that Calvary is a letter of recommendation for you, too. You’ve stayed the course, you’ve been faithful and obedient in your service to Christ. That’s powerful!
- Some of you may be saying: what’s he talking about? The church has problems? Many years ago she did, but the health you are experiencing now it the fruit of the faithful. And for that, you have been faithful are to be commended!
- Oh, she’s not perfect. We’ve still got a lot to do, but by God’s grace and leadership, we shall continue on our journey of sanctification.
- Maybe you’re sitting there today and think you’d like to become part of the faithful. You’re thinking to yourself that God may be calling you to roll up your sleeves and join these people in their work. You’ve dated the church for a while, but you’ve never married her. Church membership is simple.
- You must be a Christian
i. You’re committing your life to him today
ii. You have in the past and you want to move your membership.
- You must formally request to join – that is, you simply come forward during the invitation and ask.
- You must attend a New Member’s Class. It’s so called, because it describes in great detail who we are and what we believe. Our next class will be presented by the elders in September. Usually the 3rd weekend.
- Submit to an interview with an elder. I hate that word interview, but no one has come up with a better title. Here’s what it means: you’ve gotten to know us through attendance and participation. You’ve learned about us through our New Member’s class. We want to hear from you: what are your passions and gifts? Where do you see yourself serving in the body? What has your spiritual journey been like? This is your chance to tell us all about you. Up to this point, we’ve done all the talking about who we are. We just want to hear from you.
- What kind of heart condition do you have? Is it a hard heart, like stone? Has it hardened through bitterness and resentment? Has it been beaten and abused by others. Have you tucked it away, not willing to ever let anyone break your heart again? Christ wants to give you a new heart – a soft and tender one. He can take your old one and replace it with a new one. You can trust him.
Title: The Routine Kills the Reality…
Text: 2 Corinthians 2.12-17
CIT: Paul struggled in ministry – especially with the Corinthians; however, he always understood that his life was a living sacrifice to the Lord.
CIS: Ministry is hard – people can make it harder or a joy.
Introduction: The Philanthropist, Fred Smith, begins his latest blog: If all I knew about my grandfather was what I read in his 1952 diary I might think he was a man whose life was a monotonous string of colorless days.
My grandfather, Bunyan Smith, was a pastor in one of the poorest sections of Nashville, and I knew enough about his life as a preacher to expect that his diary would not likely be thrilling. However, I was completely unprepared for how unremarkable it would be.
His first entry on January 1 begins with, “Up about 7:00 a.m. Family worship at breakfast. Dressed for the day. Went to church to pray. Studied. Visited the sick. Wrote letters. Ate supper. Retired.”
His last entry on December 31: “Up about 7:00 a.m. Family worship at breakfast. Went to church to pray.”
The pages in between are filled with uneventful days of prayer, study, visiting the sick, meetings with deacons, dinner and retiring to bed.
Perhaps that is how he saw his life as a pastor? Perhaps that is how many pastors see their lives? The routine kills the reality.
The Life of a Pastor: seriously, it feels weird to try and communicate to you what it means to be a pastor. I’m grateful for these passages from Paul in his letters, not only because they communicate for you so much what it means to be a pastor, but even more so because it helps me understand why I often feel the way I do.
When we began this section we looked at Paul and his integrity in ministry. He gave the defense for his change in plans. Then, Paul began to address the issue of sin in the Corinthian church. This point was basically clarifying how sin makes ministry difficult – if not impossible. Today, we’ll see how Paul addresses the issue of ministry and sacrifice.
Ray Carroll, author of The Fallen Pastor, says the struggle in ministry is so overwhelming that an estimated 1,500 pastors leave the ministry every month, never to return to full-time vocational ministry. According to Carroll, the three main reasons they leave are:
- Conflict within the church,
- A moral failure.
Listen to Carroll:I remember on the first day of seminary orientation, the leader told us that only half of us in that room would graduate. Of that half, only half would make it two years.
The ministry is a difficult thing. It is hard on the pastor, his family and his emotions. Unless you’ve been “behind the curtain“, it’s hard to know exactly what a pastor goes through. There are high expectations (which should be there), unrealistic expectations (which should not be there), feelings of isolation, a distancing between himself and his spouse and the daily grind of ministry. Behind all of this, the pastor forges ahead, seeking to do what he feels is right, chasing after the ministry. In the end, many leave disillusioned with bitterness, sin and a wounded church left in the wake.
I found this letter from a tired pastor quoted in John MacArthur’s commentary of 2 Corinthians:
My dear Jim: I am through. Yesterday I handed in my resignation, to take effect at once, and this morning I began to work for the ______ Land Company. I shall not return to the pastorate. I think I can see into your heart as you read these words and behold not a little disappointment, if not disgust. I don’t blame you at all, I’m somewhat disgusted with myself. Do you recall the days in the seminary when we talked of the future and painted pictures of what we were to do for the kingdom of God? We saw the boundless need for an unselfish Christian service, and longed to be out among men doing our part toward the world’s redemption. I shall never forget that last talk on the night before our graduation. You were to go to the foreign field and I to a “church.”
We had brave dreams of usefulness, and you have realized them. As I look back across twenty-five years I can see some lives that I have helped, and some things which I have been permitted to do that are worthwhile; but, sitting here tonight, I am more than half convinced that God never intended me to be a minister. If He did, I am not big enough and brave enough to pay the price. Even if it leads you to write me down as a coward, I am going to tell you why I’ve quit …
In these years I have found “only a few” earnest, unselfish, consecrated Christians. I do not believe that I am specially morbid or unfair in my estimate. So far as I know my own heart, I am not bitter. But through all these years a conviction has been growing within me that the average church member cares precious little about the kingdom of God and its advancement, or the welfare of his fellow men. He is a Christian in order that he may save his soul from hell, and for no other reason. He does as little as he can, lives as indifferently as he dares. If he thought he could gain heaven without even lifting his finger for others, he would jump at the chance. Never have I known more than a small minority of any church which I have served to be really interested in and unselfishly devoted to God’s work. It took my whole time to pull and push and urge and persuade the reluctant members of my church to undertake a little something for their fellow men. They took a covenant to be faithful in attendance upon the services of the church and not one out of ten ever thought of attending prayer meeting.
A large percentage seldom attended church in the morning, and a pitifully small number in the evening. It didn’t seem to mean anything to them that they had dedicated themselves to the service of Christ.
I am tired; tired of being the only one in the church from whom real sacrifice is expected; tired of straining and tugging to get Christian people to live like Christians; tired of planning work for my people and then being compelled to do it myself or see it left undone; tired of dodging my creditors when I would not need to if I had what is due me; tired of the frightening vision of penniless old age. I am not leaving Christ. I love Him. I shall still try to serve Him.
Judge me leniently, old friend. I can’t bear to lose your friendship… Yours as of old, William
Sounds like the 21st Century; however, this letter was written in 1911.
MaranathaLife.com has posted some stats on pastors and their families which they have compiled through the following ministries:Pastor to Pastor, Focus on the Family, Ministries Today, Charisma Magazine, TNT Ministries, Campus Crusade for Christ and the Global Pastors Network. I thought I’d share them with you:
Pastors today are faced with more work, more problems, and more stress than any other time in the history of the church. This is taking a frightening toll on the ministry, shown by the statistics below:
- 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention in their churches.
- 4,000 new churches begin each year, but over seven thousand churches close.
- 50% of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
- 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
- 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
- 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years. 90% of pastors said their seminary or Bible school training did only a fair to poor job preparing them for ministry.
- 85% of pastors said their greatest problem is they are sick and tired of dealing with problem people, such as disgruntled elders, deacons, worship leaders, worship teams, board members, and associate pastors. 90% said the hardest thing about ministry is dealing with uncooperative people.
- 70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.
- 90% said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be before they entered the ministry.
- 70% felt God called them to pastoral ministry before their ministry began, but after three years of ministry, only 15% still felt called.
- 80% of pastors’ spouses feel their spouse is overworked.
- 80% of pastors’ wives feel left out and unappreciated by the church members.
- 80% of pastors’ spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession.
- 80% of pastors’ wives feel pressured to do things and be something in the church that they are really not.
- The majority of pastor’s wives surveyed said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry.
- 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
- Almost 40% polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
80% of adult children of pastors surveyed have had to seek professional help for depression.
Now, in spite of these staggering statistics, there are men who survive in ministry. According to these statistics, about 10-20%. But don’t equate staying with contentment. Remember, half of all pastors would leave the ministry if they could find another way to make a living. Paul clarifies for us today that he, too, struggled. He understood that he was a sacrifice for the glory of God and that God would use him in the simplest of ways to accomplish His task. That’s the message today:
- Paul’s Struggle with Ministry
- Paul’s Sacrifice to Ministry
- Paul’s Success in Ministry
Transition: Let’s look first at his struggle.
1. Paul’s Struggle with Ministry (12-13)
exp.: rd v 12-13; the situation: an open door; a phrasing that implies success in ministry; these words are used in Acts 14.27 in Paul’s report to the sending church in Antioch; 1 Corinthians 16.26 about his ministry in Ephesus; here; and in Colossians 4.3 as a prayer request for success in ministry; however, with this great success he’s been having, there’s a problem in His spirit: rd v 13a; unrest in his spirit; even with this open door – what we’d call success in ministry, Paul is troubled. Paul confirms this unrest over and over again in this letter.
His concern for the churches topped his list of struggles in 2 Corinthians 11.28, after a litany of physical struggles in every sphere of ministry, Paul tops his list with: 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. So what does he do? Rd 13b; he packs up and leaves this open door of success to the Macedonians to rendezvous with Titus. He just can’t take not knowing how the Corinthian church is doing. And in Chapter 7.5-6 he states that even after he got to Macedonia, he found himself depressed, his soul downcast as he says: our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within.
app.:Paul can’t shut his concerns off. He can’t turn off his computer and go home. People aren’t like crops or cows. Sure farmers and ranchers have concerns about rain and industry prices, but there is an added element Paul is dealing with concerning his people.
Transition: However, for me, what is so interesting is that despite his struggles, he’s ok with it all. It doesn’t lessen the stress, but Paul knows he’s been called to this struggle – like a moth drawn to the flame, drawn to the light and the pain. Paul has been called to sacrifice.
2. Paul’s Sacrifice to Ministry (14-16)
exp.: rd v 14; It’s funny how these two run together: The Concern for the Church and the Knowledge that it is Christ’s Church. A pastor knows full well that this church isn’t his, but he aches for it, like it all depends on him! Check out Paul’s analogy of the triumphal procession. It was a practice that had gone on for centuries. A parade of sorts began with the triumphant General riding through the streets on a chariot drawn by multiple horses (or elephants, depending on the country!) For the Romans, he would be clothed in a purple toga and a tunic stitched with palm fronds. In his hand he carried a scepter crowned by an eagle, and his face was tinted red in reference to the god, Jupiter. In his commentary, Hughes cites Appian, who witnessed General Pompey’s Triumphal entry after a glorious victory: Appian described General Pompey’s third triumph in 61 b.c. as follows:
[I]n the triumphal procession were two-horse carriages and litters laden with gold or other ornaments of various kinds, also the son of Hystaspes, the throne and scepter of Mithridates Eupator himself, and his image, eight cubits high, made of solid gold, and 75,100,000 drachmas of silver coin; also an infinite number of wagons carrying arms and beaks of ships, and a multitude of captives and pirates, none of them bound, but all arrayed in their native costumes.
After this, Appian provides a long list of various kings, satraps, and generals led in procession. Add to this the pagan priests burning incense and musicians and cultic rhythms, and we have the picture.
The question I thought of when reading this was: where does Paul see himself in this processional? I think his writings make it clear that he’s one of the conquered. There are those who suppose Paul to see himself as one of the victorious soldiers walking behind their General – Christ. But I don’t think so…I think Paul sees himself as one who has been conquered and is being paraded in this processional to his death – a sacrifice. These captives – the conquered, would be led to their deaths – a sacrifice to the Roman gods.
That’s why I say that Paul understands, as a pastor should, that this church isn’t his! Look at v 14 again. There are two actions of Christ that Paul mentions:
- Christ leads – he leads in triumphal procession and he
- Christ spreads – the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. I read you earlier about the burning incense of the priests in the processional. It would linger in the air for sometime after the parade had passed. Paul is using an analogy that those folks could understand and relate to.
ill.: a few weeks ago Mike Strout presented a devotional at FLOW on our thoughts. One of the elements of this devotional was that smell triggers thoughts. Now, this might gross you out, but a feedlot brings back fond memories for me. Another one that will gross you out: a men’s locker room. Yeah, they both stink, but when those particular odors waft through the air, I’m taken back to pleasant memories.
app.: Paul is building on this metaphor with something his readers can identify: smell. Rd v 15-16
Everyone loves a parade. If you’ve ever lived in a small town, then you know about parades. In Worland, we had like 6-8 parades a year: even if it was 10 degrees outside. Ann Clower was sharing with me last week about a parade her neighborhood has on the 4th.
There is excitement, recognition, people being honored, candy! Who wouldn’t want to join in the parade? Right?
Transition: Well, if you’re the conquered, a parade wouldn’t be so wonderful! You’re headed toward your death. You’re presence in this parade is degrading, humiliating. You’re beaten. And as the readers come across this metaphor, their senses recall the fragrance, the odor and how, even after the parade has passed, they remember. They understand that Paul is using this analogy to describe his suffering and sacrifice.
But Paul doesn’t want them to think so negatively about all of this… look at his 3rd point…
3. Paul’s Success in Ministry (17)
exp.: rd v17; Paul uses a negative illustration first – I suppose he’s taking a shot at those super-apostles. He says lit.: we’re not as the many peddling the Word of God, But and now Paul uses the same word as to describe his ministry and this is most literally from the Gk:
- But we speak as from Sincerity
- But we speak as from God
- But we speak as before (in the sight of; opposite) God
- But we speak as in Christ
Transition: Oh, yes, I’ve been conquered by this Commanding General, Christ Jesus, and he leads me to my impending death, a sacrifice to his glory. And I would have it no other way, for there is nothing else in the world I can do: Woe is me, if I do not preach the Gospel!
Observations & Implications: so, you ask, how does this relate to me, Brother Fred? I’m no minister and I’ve certainly not been called to do what Paul did. Well,
- This past week Lane’s Chapel had a message upon their sign that reminded me of a saying. Lisa shared it with me year’s ago and again this past week as we drove by their marquee. I don’t remember exactly who shared it with her. Some people brighten a room when they walk into it. Others brighten the room when they leave. Which person are you? Do you realize how important you are in the life of your ministers and their families? KK needs you to protect and provide for her – to make her service a joy. Phil and Wendy need your love and friendship. They need your service and your help. Lisa and I would echo that need. How do you brighten a room? Is it brighter when you enter or leave? Heb. 13.17
- Just curious: as you view the processional of Christ in his victory parade, where do you see yourself?
- Are you a curious onlooker?
- Are you one of the conquering soldiers, smiling and waving at the crowds?
- Or, do you see yourself as one of the conquered, being led to your death by your conquering hero? This perspective will tell you a lot about how you view the church and ministry in general.
- As you look back on church life and your service in the body, have you ever been party to hurting a pastor and his family? Maybe you see your motives were impure, selfish? Pastors don’t just get fired by one person – it takes a movement of people. Have you ever been jealous of someone else’s ministry? Have you ever undermined their position to oust them – to take over their class or ministry? Have you ever done so with the intention of getting someone else to take his or her place? If so, you should take that to the Lord. You might even need to contact that pastor or teacher or chairman and ask for forgiveness.
- If you don’t see yourself as one of the conquered – might I give that chance? Would you let today be the day that you surrender your life to Christ?
The following was taken from Steven Furtick’s Blog…
Illustration: Have you ever been dressed to the nines for a wedding and had to stop along the way at a gas station? Feels pretty silly to be dressed so nice pumping gas. And it almost feels like you need to explain to everyone: “I’m going to a wedding…” whether they ask or not.
But when you get to where you’re going, you’ll look great. You’ll fit right in.
Church growth is like this. It feels silly sometimes to build structures and systems that accommodate more people than you’re currently serving. But you must. In fact, my mentors have told me to structure Elevation like we have twice as many people as we currently do.
People may even think you look ridiculous or pretentious at the level you’re at if you build layers of organization, infrastructure, or protocol that are bigger than you need at that point.
But who cares what all the people at the gas station think?
You’re going somewhere important.
And when you get there, you’ll be glad you dressed for the occasion.
(Special thanks to Ron Carpenter for the analogy.)
Title: Love Covers Sin
Text: 2 Corinthians 2.5-11
CIT: Paul’s ministry was possible because he confronted the sin in the church.
CIS: Sin in the church destroys the body, makes ministry ineffective, and destroys her witness.
Introduction: Family Life Ministries would like to take the rest of the summer to focus on service. How can you and your family serve together? We’ve had some campaigns in the past that were such a blessing. For example, we focused on family dinners, where we set goals to eat together as a family. Our little girls loved that push. The prayer focus challenged me on a personal level. This summer, FLM wants to encourage families to serve together. An easy way to begin would be to visit with Christoph and Laura, Daniel and Julianne, or Anna Beth about the ministry happening under the bridge. Sign your family up for service at the local soup kitchen; Call Philip and Angela Greenwell and sign your family up to serve in the kitchen one week; Something Lisa and I did with our children when they were in elementary and middle school was Meals on Wheels; Call Laura Coody or Rae Lynn Seutch and clean the church on their behalf – allowing them to get a week’s paid vacation! Maybe Mimi and Theresa could offer us some advice on that, because they’ve had experience through Cottage Garden in caring for the facilities. Just ask them for advice.
This theme of service and ministry is part of what Paul’s been getting at in his letter to the Corinthians. Last week, it was an issue with his integrity – and for Paul, his integrity was intact. It came from a Clear Conscience and an obedient faith. This week, we’ll look at struggle Paul dealt with when serving them: Sin in the church. Paul was serving the Lord, by serving them. However, ministry breaks down when sin abides in the camp. So, let me ask you: How does sin affect service? How does sin affect ministry? As Paul writes his letter, he outlines for us the impact of sin on a church:
And here’s the outline for today,
- Sin causes pain and
- Sin brings punishment; therefore,
- Sin must be dealt with, because if it isn’t,
- Sin has the power to destroy lives.
Sin causes pain and sin brings punishment; therefore, sin must be dealt with, because if it isn’t, sin has the power to destroy lives. Let’s begin with the 1st point Paul makes:
- Sin Causes Pain
exp.: rd v 5a; 5 Now if anyone has caused pain; he’s talking about someone in particular or maybe a group;
- For the Person or People in Sin; anyone is singular, here; however, some speculate that Paul’s problem was with a group of people; rd v 5b;
- For Paul: You remember the story. Paul had established the church and later left to continue on his missionary journey. While on this journey he wrote them a letter. But there was much confusion and many question came out of that letter. So, Paul sent Timothy to deal with issues and then later sent a 2nd Letter: 1st Corinthians. Problems persisted, so Paul journeyed there, too. But something happened, wounding Paul. Paul left Corinth and wrote a stinging letter of reproof and correction. That 3rd letter is called ‘the severe letter’. Whatever was in there, it worked. Titus came back and reported of their repentance and faithfulness in God. They dealt with this person. Rd 5c;
- For the People of Corinth – “all of you”
Transition: So we see, when sin is in the church, it hurts people – the one who sins, the one who is sinned against, and the body as a whole – not to put it too severely – to all of you. Next, Paul clarifies for us that…
- Sin Brings Punishment
exp.: rd v 6; evidently, this person had experienced church discipline and had been brought to a state of repentance, which is the purpose. Now, some people believe this person is the immoral brother in the incestuous relationship from 1 Cor. 5. I don’t think that’s the case, mainly, because that person didn’t hurt Paul with their immorality. In any case, Paul makes it clear that this person has repented and now it is time to restore them to the fellowship. Rd v 7;
- Forgive – the word ‘forgive’ is a beautiful word; this isn’t the most popular word (aphi-ami) used in the NT for forgive, it’s different; Doing a word search will show you what Paul is getting at; Forgive means to give graciously, or even more so, to give grace. Luke 7.21: 21 In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. Luke 7.42-43 – the King ‘cancelled their debts; Romans 8.32: 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 1 Corinthians 2.12 –12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.
We even have placed a bit of the meaning in our English word: for-give; Here’s what I’m wanting you to see about forgiveness:
– This act of giving grace is a characteristic of God. Someone said, I don’t remember who or where, but it has stuck with me: We are never more like God than when we forgive. Because forgiveness is giving grace – unmerited favor. It’s crazy, but we cannot earn grace. That’s what makes it so beautiful – it’s a gift.
– But there’s a 2nd part of this word that I think is important: this infinitive is in the middle voice, meaning this – that forgiveness is as much for you, as it is for the one your giving grace to. To forgive for yourself; Isn’t that what forgiveness does, it blesses the one forgiven and the one forgiving. For instance, look at the next couple of words: and comfort him;
- Comfort: this verb is in the infinitive form, too, showing that both forgiveness and comfort go together. Which BTW is a Characteristic of God, too. The word Jesus uses to describe the Holy Spirit – paraclete, is a derivative of this word (παρακαλέω).
So, how does one comfort? Rd v 8; Reaffirm your Love; we’re all sinners, right?
- Some of us were born and raised in the church
- Some of us got here later as teens
- Some of us got saved as adults
But, the one thing we all have in common is that we’ve committed sins even after we got here. Nary-a-one of us is immune to this fact – we’ve all sinned. But some sins committed by us are pretty grievous. Some of us went to jail. Some of us didn’t get caught. I say that about all of my brothers on my mother’s side: 4 boys and I’m the only one who didn’t serve time – either in a Boy’s home or a prison. People are like, “Really…” thinking Jesus made the difference. Naw, I just didn’t get caught!
ill.: Lisa and I knew a man who cheated on his wife, divorced her and then married the woman he had had an affair with. Sometime later, he repented and came back to the Lord. The church had excommunicated him – not formally, mind you. They just treated him like he no longer belonged. It’s like we know we’re supposed to exercise church discipline when someone is in sin, but the leadership doesn’t do it, so we all pitch in and make someone feel unwelcomed: whispering, gossiping. He began going back to church, and if I recall correctly, his new wife went with him a time or two, but after that she wouldn’t subject herself to the silent excommunication. She couldn’t handle the silence toward her and the talking behind her back. He however continued to go. Years passed, and after all those years, he was still an outcast in his own church. And so, he sat alone, week by week, month by month, year after year.
He had us over for dinner and took me into his study, his office in the home, to tell me his testimony. I didn’t understand it then, but now older (and hopefully a little wiser) I see he was trying to find some affirmation. He was dying to be reaffirmed. I think he found forgiveness from God – and maybe he could forgive himself, if the church could somehow forgive him. He needed some sort of re-affirmation that he had indeed been forgiven and could be restored. This doesn’t happen quickly. Indeed, it should take time. Years maybe, but eventually, re-affirm and restore to the fellowship.
Transition: Now, this brings up a very important point that Paul makes…
- Sin must be dealt with by the church.
exp.: rd v 9; the church has got to learn to be obedient in everything. Excommunication by omission is wrong. When there is sin in the body, Scripture gives us clear instruction. And the purpose of that instruction is to lead us to repentance. The process is clear and I blame the leadership in the American Church for this failure. Instead of leading like pastors, elders, and deacons are supposed to do, we – the Leadership, avoid taking responsibility. Then, the church, instead of acting like we’ve been instructed to act, just whisper and gossip and make our fallen brother or sister feel bad. We try to do the convicting part of the Holy Spirit.
The Corinthian Church got this right! They obeyed! Rd v 10;
exp.: Listen, I’m no dummy. I get it; this stinks. I hate this! I’d rather just let the sinner wonder off into the world than go through the pain of confrontation! Does that shock you? I don’t want to do this! But, Scripture is clear about helping those who’ve wondered off into sin. But why? Why not just let it go and maybe it’ll just go away? Let me offer two simple reasons:
i. The Church is the image of Christ – we are the body of Christ. Is there sin in Christ? NO! He is perfect. Therefore, we should be perfect as he is perfect. We are to be holy as He is holy. That is our calling.
ii. Sin in the church confuses the world. Why would the world ever want to come here if we’re not different? When we allow sin to continue in the church, we nullify the gospel. Here’s the Gospel:
- You’re a sinner
- Sin’s punishment is death, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.
- Acknowledge your sin and need for a savior.
- Jesus died for your sin. He suffered the punishment in your stead.
- Confess and Commit your life to Christ. Romans 10.9-10. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. This means turning from your sin to the Savior.
But, what if we don’t turn from our sin? That’s what confuses the world: we preach one thing, but practice another. And, when someone in our midst lives in blatant sin, they’re acting like they haven’t Confessed and haven’t Committed. They’re acting like they’re not saved – and that’s confusing to a lost person.
Therefore, we must confront the sin and the sinner. Either one of two statements is true:
- The person in sin is a believer, but has fallen into sin and needs to repent to restore their fellowship with Christ. Sin separates. And if they don’t repent, then…
- The person is in sin not a believer. It really is that simple.
1 John is clear on this: we are all sinners and we all sin, but someone who is Christ’s, does not live in habitual sin (i.e.: keeps on sinning). If he does continue to live in sin, then he is a liar and the love of Jesus isn’t in him. And, furthermore, if he is not Christ’s, then he is doomed to eternity in Hell; hence, the need to present the Gospel to him. And, he is in need of salvation. Rd 1 John 1.5-2.6; So, when we see sin in the church, we confront it. That’s what Paul did. And repentance illustrates a true believer. You’ve probably heard that the church is filled with sinners. True, but only partially, The Church is filled with repentant sinners! People who’ve come face to face with their sin and repented. And when we sin again, we repent – that’s what believers do. Unbelievers, non-christians don’t repent – but live in a state of sin and rebellion.
Transition: So, when we see someone in the church in a state of rebellion and sin, we confront them. The reason we confront the sin in the church is because sin has the power to destroy lives.
- Sin has the power to destroy lives.
exp.: rd v 11; designs means thought process; And Satan’s goal, his scheme is that the believer be…v 7…overwhelmed with excessive sorrow.
- Swallowed by Sorrow
Swallow: Mt 23.24, 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! 1 Corinthians 15:54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”; and in Hebrews 11.29 in explaining how the Egyptian Armies of Pharaoh were swallowed up by the sea. But it is most clear and compatible with this verse in 1 Peter 5.8: 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
We can’t let that happen; hence, the process of church discipline. We act against sin and forgive when repentance has occurred.
Transition: Sin causes pain, and brings punishment. And, it must be dealt with in the church because it has the tremendous power to destroy lives.
- In the absence of leadership, the church acts like the world.
- So, Men, Lead! The Leadership in the church is given for a reason. I know it’s not easy. It’s hard. I’ve been in discussion with a couple of folks about why elders and deacons take a year off in the 7th year of their service. We deal with tough issues. Our last elders’ meeting lasted until 11:30 pm. And I’m grateful for these men who bear my pastoral burdens. We make hard decisions. We hurt and pray for you. When we’re tired, we have a tendency to wimp out and not lead. Gentlemen, don’t let that happen. Man up!
- When you become aware of sin in the church, don’t tell anyone – go to that person. There is great wisdom here.
- When one is confronted alone, then you don’t humiliate that person in front of others. They can be humiliated in front of you, but no one else. Assure them you’ll take this to the grave. Lead them to repentance, pray with them. And never mention it again! Ever.
- When someone is confronted in numbers, you’ve already alienated them. You’ve humiliated them and you’ve probably lost them.
- Don’t go to your friend seeking advice. That’s really only gossip! You know what to do – Scripture says so.
- If you go and find you are wrong – repent.
- There comes a time when repentant sinners must be embraced. A clear picture of this is a powerful testimony. The problem is we try to tell the world that the church is a perfect place and filled with perfect people. No, it’s not. It’s an imperfect place with imperfect people who serve a perfect savior. We still sin because we’re not perfect. And when we sin, we repent of that sin. Really, this altar should be filled every week with repentant sinners. Our problem is, we want people to think we’ve got it all together.
Question: did anyone here make it through the week without sinning, even one time?
- It’s time for the church to stop practicing church discipline by omission. You know what I mean…whispering and gossip, making people feel bad about their lives, like the Holy Spirit has given us that task. When you or I do not approach a believer in sin, one on one, but instead talk amongst ourselves and shut that person out without proper due course, we’re in sin!
Do you remember the man I told you about earlier? I have no idea what happened to him. We moved on and never saw or heard from him again. When Lisa and I met him, It had been about 13 years since his failure. I remember he’d go to church and sit there with his son. And people just shunned him; like, what are you doing here? He had made a horrible decision. He altered the course of his life. But what is to be done now? Can a person find forgiveness in Christ when they’ve gone horribly astray? Please tell me the answer is yes.
- If you’re here and you’ve ever practiced excommunication by omission, will you repent of that sin today? Don’t embrace the sin, but rather embrace the sinner as they repent.
- Leadership: shame on us for putting our members in a place of having to act that way. It’s our responsibility to lead. If you’ve ever been in a position of leadership, but abdicated your responsibility because you were scared, will you repent today?
- Sin should be repented of as publicly or as privately as it was committed.
- Private sins should be confessed privately. Only to those involved. Don’t tell us your thoughts – those are between you and the Lord. Keep them there. The only person outside of that might be your mentor or counselor.
- If sin is between two people – keep it there between the two of you. Involve only the Lord. If others know about it – repent to them, so that they know you’ve repented.
- If your sin comes out in the newspaper, then your repentance should be very public.
Title: The “What if” Game
Text: 2 Corinthians 1.12-2.4
CIT: Paul’s Integrity had been called into question. He responds by giving a defense of his change in plans.
CIS: Playing the ‘what if’ game can lead us to doubt and despair. God is at work in our lives. We make plans, but God directs our paths.
Introduction: We’re in 2 Cor. 1.12-2.4 today. Today is June 29th, 2014. World Magazine’s Marvin Olasky wrote an article in their most recent edition of the News Magazine: The assassination that destroyed a century. In his artcle, he mentions that one Hundred years ago, yesterday, June 28, 1914, an assassin killed Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the Balkan city of Sarajevo. That incident touched off World War I, which ended with 18 million dead bodies and led to a Communist takeover of Russia (millions more died) and, eventually, World War II (tens of millions more died).
The story is an interesting to say the least. It appears that earlier in the day a would-be assassin threw a bomb underneath the archduke’s moving vehicle. The bomb, however, did not explode until the next vehicle was over it. After finishing his speech, Archduke Ferdinand wanted to visit those injured in the bombing. It was while he was riding to the hospital that his driver made a wrong turn. While backing up, Gravilo Princip approached the vehicle and fired on the archduke and his wife Sophie, killing them both. That one incident was the spark that launched World War I and killed millions and millions of people.
Olasky’s interest was peaked as he studied this historical event, and so he decided to write a fictional story, what he calls a ‘counterfactual’ of what would have happened if Franz Ferdinand had never been assassinated. He continues: At that point I almost went thoroughly astray. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand took place because of a thoroughly unlikely set of circumstances. The assassin with a handgun, Gavrilo Princip, was a bad shot, but Ferdinand’s driver made a wrong turn and backed up, then stopped, in a way that left Ferdinand several feet from Princip, who at that distance couldn’t miss. And that got me thinking: Why didn’t God (acting as He usually does, in ways subtle enough to give atheists deniability) keep Ferdinand from being shot?
Think about it: No assassination, no war, no Communist coup, no German hyper-inflation and depression that paved the way for Hitler, no World War II, no Holocaust … One small flick of the wrist for God, one large leap for mankind to the century of peaceful progress that postmillennialists expected in 1900, rather than the century of disaster that fueled much premillennialist thought.
Then I thought: No, our merciful God must have had His reasons for allowing the assassination and the subsequent slaughter. Musing that God makes all things work together for good, I starting writing a playful counterfactual column: What could have happened had Ferdinand’s driver not made the wrong turn, and if war had never come?
Man, how many times have I played that game? What if…? Well, the last 100 years would have been so different! But, it didn’t work out that way. For me, what if I’d have made this choice or not that choice? But we can’t play that game. It is what it is!
Transition: We see in Scripture that the sisters, Mary and Martha played that game: 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Did Paul ever play that game? Or maybe the Corinthians? I guessing no on Paul, and probably on the Corinthians.
Today’s passage is all about Paul’s reason for not traveling to Corinth. Plans had not progressed as he had originally outlined them, but it was all God’s doing, as we shall see. Paul began his letter with the typical greeting, address and doxology; review 1-3; Paul, Corinth, Achaia, Blessed;
Now, he moves in v 12, directly to the purpose of this letter: the reason for his change of plans. Paul doesn’t have a problem with this. We know it’s been his experience to make plans and change them as God leads. Remember Bithynia by way of Mysia? Well, God closed that door. Next week, we’ll see something similar in 2.13-14; Proverbs 19.21: 21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
And Paul knows this. With this knowledge of God’s Sovereignty, Paul alters his plans to align with what God is doing in his life. And he can do this with absolute integrity. This passage shows us…
That Paul’s integrity comes from:
➢ A clear conscience and
➢ from his act of obedience in the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s begin with our 1st point: Paul’s Integrity comes from
1. A Clear Conscience (12-14)
ill.: There is a joke about a young seminary student who asked his professor to write a letter of reference. The professor really didn’t have much confidence in the student, but he didn’t want to ruin the young man’s chances at a good start in ministry. At the same time, he didn’t want to lie to the pastor search team, so he wrote, “If you knew him the way I know him, then you would feel about him the way I do.”
Too often we water down our integrity. Which begs the question: is it really integrity anymore? We don’t want to hurt feelings. We desire to be liked. Not Paul…his integrity is intact. His conscience is clear. Rd v 12-14;
➢ So we see his integrity 1st, His Behavior toward them. (12-14); simplicity, godly sincerity; wisdom; so confident in this, he can say “we boast”;
➢ 2nd, we see his plan to visit them (15-16). rd v 15-16; his plan was simple: Two visits (v16); One on his way through and one on his way back to Judea. But things didn’t progress the way he’d outlined them, so…
➢ 3rd, we see his failure to achieve that visit (17).
exp.: rd v 17; this is really the 2nd time he’s mentioned this: 1st, in v. 12, not by earthly wisdom, and here, his plans come according to the leading of the Spirit, not according to the flesh; Really, that’s the answer. Does he really need to say anything else? No, that should be enough; however, he expounds on his answer.
Transition: Paul’s Integrity comes from a Clear Conscience, but also through his obedience to Christ’s Call on his life.
2. His Obedience in the Face of Criticism (18-22)
exp.: Being led by the Spirit means that
a. Paul’s faithfulness is born out of God’s Faithfulness (18); rd v 18; in other words, Paul is faithful because God is faithful. He cites 3 areas of God’s faithfulness to Paul and to the Corinthians.
i. God is faithful in the Proclamation of the Gospel (19); rd v 19; I love the confidence that comes in proclaiming the Gospel. Nothing depends on me for results. I can do so, knowing that God is faithful. 2ndly,
ii. God is faithful in the Promises of God (20); rd v 20; what He has said, he will do; v 20 is hard to understand and even more difficult when you read it literally. The NIV (and yes, I’m no big fan of the NIV) does a wonderful job of interpreting the Greek here: 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. “Amen: so be it!”
iii. God is faithful in Establishing the Believers (21-22) rd v 21-22
1. He anoints us (with the promised Holy Spirit)
2. He seals us (with the promised Holy Spirit)
3. He guarantees us (with the promised Holy Spirit); this echoes Ephesians 1.7-14;
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
ill.: Listen to Philip Hughes, writer of the New International Commentary of the NT: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians:
In Christ is the yes, the grand consummating affirmative, to all God’s promises. He is the horn of salvation raised up for us by God, “as He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets which have been since the world began” (Lk. 24:44). The covenant promises addressed to Abraham and his seed are realized in His single person (Gal. 3:16).
To the believer, therefore, Christ is all, not merely as fulfilling a word of the past, but as Himself being the very living Word of God, faithful and eternal. In Him all fullness dwells (Col. 1:19): wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption are to be found in Him alone (1 Cor. 1:30). There is nothing which is not in Him, who is the First and the Last, the Beginning and End (Rev. 22:13).
Transition: Paul’s faithfulness is possible because of God’s faithfulness. And so, Paul allows himself to be led by the Spirit of God – because Paul knows he is faithful to accomplish through him, all that he’s been called to do. Sometimes, that means my plans take a back seat!
iv. Paul’s Obedience is Explained (23-2.4) he refrains from visiting them
exp.: To save you! Rd v 23-24-2.4; remember v 15-16? What does he mean a 2nd grace? I think of revival.
ill.: what a wonderful experience revival is: it comes to individuals, it comes to groups. I’ve experienced it in private, personal dimensions. I’ve experienced it on a small scale at Youth Camp and one particular church experience that was church wide. I’ve never experienced true revival on a wide scale. I’ve heard of revival taking place in various places, but they seem to me to be I saw a video this week of DA Carson and Tim Keller talking about revival and their experiences. Here are some highlights of what Tim Keller said:
➢ Is a gift from God (15, 18)
➢ It is centered on the preaching of the Gospel (v 19)
➢ It is grounded in extraordinary prayer (20-21)
➢ Is something we must be receptive toward
➢ It is not something we can create (or re-create), Or meet the conditions of…
➢ But is to be received by us when given as a gift.
Spirit Given vs. Human Agency
app.: Paul is wanting them to experience this precious gift of God and they weren’t ready for it. But, as I look at this list, something I don’t see – what is not mentioned above is: repentance of sin. Revival will not come without repentance of sin.
➢ An embattled church is a church in sin.
➢ But, just existing and getting by is sin, too. A church that floats with the current, living in mediocrity is in sin. I think we as believers can get comfortable and nod off while on the wall – forgetting the task at hand.
Paul wants them to experience this precious gift of God, but they’re not ready for it.
I’ve often played the game of what if… I’ve known it was wrong to waste so much time wondering what if this had happened or what if that hadn’t happened. Remember the article by Marvin Olasky in the beginning of the message, where he questioned what would have happened if Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand hadn’t been assassinated? I was surprised by how many articles were written this weekend by magazines and newspapers: editorials and articles alike. And, the one element they had in common was the question of what if. What if his driver hadn’t backed up? What if the shot fired would have missed it’s mark? What if Ferdinand hadn’t decided to check on those who injured in the bombing? What if the bomb went off under his car and he had survived? What if he simply survived the attack? He was a liberal who greatest hate was going to war! What if… Well, after beginning his short story of what if’s, Olasky writes: Halfway through writing I picked up my copy of J.I. Packer’s Knowing God, in which the theologian notes that Christians err by thinking that “if they were really walking close to God, so that he could impart wisdom to them freely, then they would … discern the real purpose of everything that happened to them, and it would be clear to them every moment how God was making all things work together for good.”
Packer continued, “Such people spend much time poring over the book of providence, wondering why God should have allowed this or that to take place.” His recommendation: Don’t do it. We do not and cannot have “inside information as to the why and wherefore of God’s doings.” Packer and Olasky are right. We cannot possibly begin to comprehend what God is doing. What seems bad at the moment, might be building for us glory – and more importantly, Glory to the Father.
Transition: which brings me to observations I’d like to make some…
1. Obviously, the Corinthians are not ready for a movement of the Spirit of God. Are we? Are you? This question really got me to thinking: Are we ready for revival? Is there anything in us that hinders the Holy Spirit from moving mightily? I’ve been telling people that our church is healthy. And it is, especially compared to the overwhelming majority of churches in the US that are dysfunctional. But, we’re not perfect. We’re deeply involved in missions and ministry. There is lots of activity. There is peace and joy. There is no power struggle or fighting. But can I list some areas of concern? We’re comfortable: Our state of peace and contentment has slowed us down. We’re comfortable where we are and we don’t want to mess that up. Still, our comfort has created some concerns. If you’re a guest, let this list cause you to think of what might be concerns in your church.
a. Finances: Giving is down. $15,000 short of expenditures – that’s $3,000.00 a month short.
b. Evangelism: With all of our activity, we’re not leading people to Christ. We must not be witnessing, I mean on a grand scale. Usually, a continued evangelistic effort will see some people getting saved. We’re not seeing that.
c. Mediocrity – We’re lazy when it comes to participation. We have some hard workers. I’ve been blown away by some of you! No doubt. But as a whole – too many of us are letting the few do all of the work.
i. Worship: For weeks, our attendance has been down. We’ve been down 30, 40, maybe 50 people? And not just Sunday Morning worship, but also in
ii. FLOW; Last Wednesday night was VBS. The previous week we had only staff members and their families – with one exception (The Halls). The Youth group was the exception. And, maybe they were there out of loyalty to Jason. IDK. Listen, I know there are those who just couldn’t be here. Surgery, illness, vacation, etc. I know. But, at the same time, you can’t convince me that everyone in the church body, But I want you to know that if the elders and staff weren’t there – no one would have been there! – except a few youth! Maybe FLOW shouldn’t be done this summer. And, if you’re not going to participate, let us know – we would like to enjoy the evening home, too.
iii. But there is a laziness that hangs over us. A comfortable feeling that we don’t want to interrupt. Maybe it’s summer. Maybe it’s a season. Maybe we’re tired.
iv. But, the Spirit won’t move in our midst if we’re in sin – and mediocrity is a sin.
2. The Corinthians would have done better to give Paul the benefit of the doubt. Instead of talking to each other and speculating – they’d have done better to write Paul and wait for his answer. Think about this: they knew him and they knew he loved them.
a. For us, we should reserve judgment until we’ve discussed the matter with those directly involved. The context in this passage would be leadership. With you it may be a Bible Study leader, a deacon, maybe a ministry, or maybe with leadership…
b. 2ndly, we should follow the Matthew 18 example: go 1 on 1; then 2 or 3 on one; then the church.
i. Avoid ‘discussions’ with others who aren’t involved.
ii. Avoid ‘discussions’ with those involved in front of others who aren’t involved.
3. The passion of your leadership for your benefit is often hard to see. Really, they desire your growth and revival. Yes, there are too many leaders in churches who use the church for their own gain and their own selfish desires. That was the problem in Corinth – too many super apostles were leading the people astray. I work closely with your elders and deacons and believe there isn’t a man whose heart is serving himself, but rather, is whole-hearted passionate for you. I mean that.
4. Let’s not play the “what if” game. What if that happened or didn’t happen? What if we hadn’t taken out that loan back in 2002? What if we’d never… Well, we did. Well, it did. So what now? The Real question now is, Can we forgive? Can we forgive ourselves? Maybe that “whatever it is” can cause you to lean more on Christ – to show you that you need him! You’re weak, you’re vulnerable, you’re not as strong as you think and you need Christ! Resolve in your heart today, not to look back in regret, but instead, to use your failures, mistakes and struggles as stepping-stones. Let them remind you of your deep need for Christ.