Title: So, You Want to Serve the Lord?
Text: 2 Corinthians 6.3-13
Introduction: We begin with v 3 in ch. 6 today, by way of an introduction. Paul writes: 3 We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: … and then he lists these struggles. I think this is Paul’s thesis statement for this passage. He’s been doing his best to defend his ministry against the accusations that have come from what appears to be outsiders.
The Gk vb translated “fault” here also conveys the suggestion of mocking and ridicule. In the NICNT – Philip Hughes suggests that Paul may very well have had this idea in mind, including the thought of being made a laughing-stock, and it may well be that Calvin had this implication of the term in mind when commenting that nothing is more ridiculous than striving to maintain your reputation before others, while you invite reproach upon yourself by a shameful and base life.
It’s one thing for Christians to strive to maintain a life that mirrors their profession, but preachers must attain to an even higher standard. Any conflict between what they say and the life they live brings reproach upon themselves. Listen to Calvin – I’m quoting from the NICNT: it is an artifice of Satan to seek some misconduct on the part of ministers which may tend to the dishonor of the Gospel; for when he has been successful in bringing the ministry into contempt, all hope of progress is destroyed: therefore the man who wishes to serve Christ with usefulness must apply himself with all possible diligence to preserve the honor of his ministry.
So, the minister of God is attacked no matter what. If he lives in a house to small in an area where the poor live, he’s criticized. If he lives in a nice home in a wealthy neighborhood, he’s criticized. If he drives a beater, he’s criticized. If he drives a new car, he’s criticized.
Also, when hearing the preaching of repentance, the offended often try to sully those who are confronting them. The preaching of the cross of Christ is offensive. Why did Christ die? Was it not for our sins? People don’t want to hear they’re sinners! People want to be comforted, especially in their shame. They want to find those who agree and give validation to their shame. But I don’t think Paul is really so worried about his reputation, as he is about the reputation of his ministry. Garland, author of the NAC on 2 Corinthians says: the apostle is not concerned about his own personal reputation, but the reputation of the ministry and its effectiveness. The censure he dreads does not come from humans but from God. To be discredited before humans is one thing; to be discredited before God is quite another. People inevitably find fault with human ministers, and trying to avoid this by ministering “defensively,” skirting around anything that might evoke possible criticism, will still meet with criticism. Worse, a ministry directed by what others might think is so neutralized that it is ultimately worthless to God.
Paul defends himself by presenting a defense to the Corinthians. At 1st I asked why? Why didn’t he just leave off in v 2? It would have been a great place to transition. No, Paul had been questioned, maligned and falsely accused when being compared to these super apostles. He needed to make:
1st, a declaration of what he is willing to endure as a minister of God in vs 3-5.
2ndly, Paul lists those spiritual qualities he had worked so hard to cultivate in his ministry in vs 6-7.
And 3rdly, Paul then gives a list of 9 opposites or paradoxes if you will, on the perspective others have of him as a minister (8b-10). Let’s begin with this list of struggles. I’ve entitled this 1st section as:
1. What the Minister of God Endures in his service to God: (3-5)
exp.: rd v 3-4a; διακονία, διάκονοι; A triad of struggles by way of great endurance:
- General Struggles – the topics
ill.: General struggles; nothing he wasn’t warned about when Christ 1st called him. Jesus sent Ananias to minister to this man named Saul. Ananias didn’t want to go; however, Christ said: Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name. Suffering came through people who afflicted, tortured and mistreated him. Hardships came through imprisonment and other times of struggle. Calamities came through storms, being ship wrecked and marooned on an island. He doesn’t go into detail here, he simply makes this short list of generalities.
Then, he gives us a 2nd triad. This one of struggles brought about by others.
- Bullies – mistreatment; struggles brought on by outside human forces.
- Beatings – Paul tells us he was in 11.23ff – … with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. We read about this stoning in Acts 14. 19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. In Act 16 we read about a certain beating: 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. Which is the 2nd struggle in this triad:
- Imprisonments: Added to the humiliation of beatings, Paul would often be thrown into prison. We know he spent two years in Caesarea before being shipped off to Rome, where he spent another two years as a prisoner waiting for his appeal to be heard before Caesar. 3rdly, he mentions…
- Riots: in many of the cities where Paul ministered, the Leadership of the Jews would be filled with Jealousy at the conversion of their people. Inciting the people with venomous lies, they would attack Paul and those with him. Other times it was those whose wallets felt the impact of a changed life. Idol makers would be affected by the loss of sales. These men did much of the same as the Jews, inciting literally, thousands of people. In Acts 17 one of the leaders cries: “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”
Paul lists general struggles, struggles of mistreatment through beatings, imprisonment and riots and then the struggles that come from the decision to follow Christ. I call these self-inflicted.
- Self-inflicted or Willingly sacrificing to be able to minister
- Labors: I’m pretty sure he’s referring to both of his jobs as a Bi-vocational minister. He would make tents with his friends Aquila and Pricilla, and minister the Word of God in the community when the opportunity presented itself.
- Sleepless nights: I’m guessing his sleepless nights might have been something I’ve experienced many times. We know of the instance in the Philippian jail cell, where he and others with him were praying and singing hymns to God. Praying through the long dark hours of the night, Paul would take his requests to God and beg for his intercession.
- Hunger: I feel confident that Paul set aside times to fast and pray. But I’m sure there were other times when traveling and working when food wasn’t available.
ill.: We had a similar experience on our trip to make contact with our UUPG: up in the mountains, nowhere near a place to eat, Lisa saved us by breaking out all kinds of bars and snacks for some essential nutritional consumption!
t.s.: Paul gives us a series of struggles – 9 to be specific. Next, Paul moves to a set of spiritual qualities – also 9 in number. So, point # 2…
2. What the Minister of God Cultivates in his life through ministry (6-7)
exp.: Paul lists these 9 spiritual or internal qualities he had worked so hard to cultivate in his ministry. (rd v 6-7)
- The Holy Spirit, in a spirit of holiness (The Bible Knowledge Commentary)
- Genuine Love, in a love that is unhypocritical
- Truthful Speech, in speech that is truthful
- The power of God, in power that is of God
- Righteousness in both hands – actions
- Internal quality as well as an external experience.
ill.: I think of my life and how as a young man. These qualities were not evident. Impure, ignorant, impatient, unkind, unholy, I loved only myself, I was a liar – a good one, The power of God? – no, I lived by my own, weak generic power – as an unrighteous man.
app.: I’m so grateful that God didn’t leave me that way. When I preach repentance, Satan always has a way of telling me that I’m not worthy. He shows me who I was and how faithless and rebellious I was. But there is something about the forgiveness of God that washes all that away. Like Paul, I can stand and say, I’m not who I was. And, I hope you’ll come to the end of yourself, if you’re lost today and find that same forgiveness. God can change you, too, and begin the process of making these qualities a part of your life.
t.s.: There is a final section here, in what I’ve called…
3. What the Minister of God Experiences from others (8-10)
exp.: rd 8-10
- through honor (glory) and dishonor,
- through slander (defamation) and praise (a good report).
ill.: the Preacher’s Commentary Series – My own service for the Lord has been relatively free of the type of abuse which Paul suffered, but in different ways I believe I’ve experienced some of the feelings he had at that time. I well recall one particular occasion when I was under attack for certain of my views. Some of those who disagreed with me began to spread the word that I didn’t believe the Bible.
I paid little attention to the accusations. But then one day one of the ladies of the church appeared at my study and asked, “Pastor, I’ve come to see if you believe the Bible.”
When I asked what had prompted her question, I was told that she had been attending a Bible study in another church, and when the leader, who had found that she was from the church where I was the pastor, had asked, “How can you stay in a church where the pastor doesn’t believe the Bible?”
She had been a member of the church for over six years and had heard me preach and teach the Scriptures on a fairly regular basis. So I asked her, “In all the years you have listened to me, have you ever heard me say anything that would raise the slightest doubt concerning the Bible’s inspiration or authority?” Without a moment’s hesitation she said, “No, I haven’t, but he seemed like such a spiritual man I couldn’t imagine his saying something that wasn’t true.” My emotions ranged from being angry at that “spiritual man” who attempted to undermine confidence in me and a feeling of sadness for the woman who in her immaturity and gullibility was so easily taken in by irresponsible criticism.
We are treated…
- as impostors (deceitful, leading astray), and yet are true; 9
- as unknown (not being recognized – (I don’t know the face), and yet well known (being recognized);
- as dying, and behold, we live;
- as punished (being punished), and yet not killed (being put to death); 10
- as sorrowful (grieving), yet always rejoicing;
- as poor (one who crouches or cowers, beggarly) greatly (this adjective isn’t in the English), very poor, yet making many rich;
- as having nothing, yet possessing everything (all things possessing).
app.: Paul began with: 3 We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry and in conclusion: 11 We have spoken freely to you (play on words: our mouths are open to you), Corinthians; our heart is wide open (perf. Pass.). 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.
Conclusion: this past week I was reading in Mark 10(.17-31) and was so moved at three different places. This rich young ruler runs up to Jesus and knells before him. Wow, what deep humility. V 21 – Jesus, looking at him, loved him.
The Man’s seeking, his attitude
The love of Jesus – his speaking truth
What we have to look forward to… who will not receive in this lifetime 100 fold!
I have received these things because believers have shared. I’ve stayed in nice homes, cabins, boats, taken world-wide trips, I’ve skied, I’ve ridden horses and 4-wheelers and motorcycles and in nice cars. But look at that last one: persecutions.
Jesus said: in this life you will have tribulation. Paul said: all who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted.
- Paul has endured immense struggles to bring them the Gospel. What would we endure for others to bring them the Gospel?
- Have you thought through the inner, spiritual qualities you possess? And, are you cultivating them in your life? Purity, Knowledge, Patience, Kindness, holiness, unconditional, unhypocritical Love, truthfulness, the power of God, Righteousness
- When you are mistreated, how do you see that treatment? It’s a matter of perspective.