Sunday, June 26, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Summer Bible Series
2 Corinthians 1
Introduction and offering:
Two questions: Have you ever gone through something hard and wondered why?
ILL: This week I played golf with a couple friends who struggled, and one of them asked in frustration, “What’s the purpose of golf?” I said, “To make you suffer so that you can help others who suffer.”
Why am I going through this? We’ve all asked that.
Second question: have you ever had someone break a promise? Did you begin to wonder if you could trust them with other things, bigger things?
These are questions that the apostle Paul is going to address in the first chapter of his second letter to the Corinthians.
Welcome to the Summer Bible Series. This summer we’re going to walk through 2 Corinthians one chapter each week. This is a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the new church in Corinth, which was located on the Aegean Sea in modern Greece. Paul planted this church in a very difficult environment; Corinth was infamous for its idolatry and immorality. Not surprisingly, these new Christians had a hard time. Paul wrote several letters and made multiple visits to help this struggling church.
Three years ago, we worked our way through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, and I titled that series, “A Glorious Mess” because it described this church. Honestly, every church is a glorious mess. The glorious part is that Jesus is here and working among us. The messy part is that we’re here. I always tell people that if you find a perfect church, don’t go there because you’ll spoil it!
Many scholars believe that 2 Corinthians is not Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church, but maybe his third or fourth, which means there are some lost letters we don’t have. Some scholars believe that 2 Corinthians is a collection of 2 or 3 letters Paul wrote to this church. Others believe it was written as a single letter with three main parts:
- 1-7 Paul explains and defends his ministry
- 8-9 Paul encourages them to generosity
- 10-13 Paul defends his authority
As you can see, Paul is on the defensive in this letter. He is being accused and attacked in this church that he founded and loves. Even though Paul has to defend himself, this is a love letter from a pastor to a church he cares about deeply. It’s rich in theology and very practical. Each week, God will speak to us through this letter and you will find it helpful—I promise.
The first chapter has two big ideas.
- God helps us so we can help others. 1-11
The letter starts with a typical opening that includes who it is from, who it is to, and a greeting.
2 Corinthians 1
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia:
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Next, Paul typically offers a prayer for his readers, or praise to God, which is what he does here.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
Here are three things you should know from this section.
- We will face trouble.
Guaranteed. Life is hard. Everyone you know is going through something hard—so be kind. Life is hard; we all suffer, we all face trouble; and everything I will say can be applied to those situations.
But I don’t think that’s the trouble that Paul is speaking about here. He is talking specifically about trouble that is related to their faith—it is suffering for Christ. Look at verse 5 where Paul says that he is sharing “abundantly in the sufferings of Christ.” In verses 8-11, Paul describes some trouble that was so serious, he thought he was a goner—he was going to die. We don’t know what that trouble was. We do know that he encountered it because of the gospel. He was risking his life for Christ. Later in this letter, when he is defending his authority as an apostle, he reluctantly boasts about his suffering for Christ. As we read this, you’ll get a sense of how much Paul suffered for Jesus.
2 Corinthians 11:23–29 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
To those who claimed he wasn’t a real apostle, Paul points to his scars. Five floggings, three beatings, three shipwrecks, pelted with stones, constantly on the move, always in danger, hungry, thirsty and sleepless! Paul was an animal! A beast! For Paul, suffering for Jesus was par for the course; it was expected. Why? First, because Jesus predicted it.
John 15:20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.
Second, on the day Paul became a Christian, God said of Paul:
Acts 9:16 “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
So Paul knew from the start that it would cost him to follow Jesus, that there would be trouble, and he would suffer. But he also knew that this would be true for all of us. He wrote to Timothy:
2 Timothy 3:12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,
Do you want to follow Jesus? Expect some trouble, some opposition. Peter agreed and wrote.
1 Peter 4:13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
Someone said that Jesus promised his disciples three things: that “they would be absurdly happy, completely fearless, and in constant trouble.” (F. R. Maltby.) This makes me wonder: If I am experiencing no opposition, am I living full on for Jesus?
So first, we will face trouble. Life is hard—everyone gets that. But if you are serious about following Jesus, you will share Christ’s suffering. We will face trouble, and…
- We won’t face it alone: God helps us.
In verses 3-4, Paul says that the God of all comfort “comforts us in all our trouble.” We don’t face trouble alone; God helps us.
The word “comfort” is found 9 times in verses 3-7. When we hear the word “comfort”, many of us picture someone patting us on the back, saying, “There, there; don’t cry; it will be ok.” Imagine consoling someone—that is what we picture and that idea is in the word. But the word is much more muscular than just that. The Greek word is parakaleo, which literally means, “to call alongside.” It meant “to encourage, to comfort, to help.” The idea is that someone comes alongside you to help you, to encourage, comfort and help you. These words contain the idea making someone courageous and strong. “Comfort” comes from the Latin root, fortis, which means strength. To comfort someone is to give strength and hope. “Encourage” comes from the Anglo-French root, curage, which means courage. To encourage someone is to inspire with courage and hope. When God “comforts” us, He makes us strong and brave to face whatever trouble is before us.
The noun form of the Greek word is parakletos, which Jesus used of the Holy Spirit. “I will send you another Comforter (or Helper).” The Holy Spirit empowers us; He gives us courage and strength to live for Jesus.
We all face trouble, but we don’t face it alone. God is there to make us strong and brave and help us through. When you’re in trouble, don’t try to go it alone. Turn to God; He’s there beside you waiting to help. That’s what Paul did. In verses 8-11 he describes the trouble he faced as “great pressure” and “deadly peril” that made him despair for his life. He thought he was going to die! So what did he do? Run? Give up? No, he learned to “rely on God who raises the dead.” Paul’s troubles drove him to depend on God. A new awareness of danger and death resulted in a deep dependence on God.
Do your troubles drive you to God? Do you rely on Him more deeply? Missionary Hudson Taylor said that our troubles can come between God and us and push us away; or we can turn to God and they will push us closer. Which do you do?
We face troubles, but not alone; God is with us. And we have each other. Paul believed that God would “continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.” Our prayers help. Think about that. When you pray for people, you come alongside them and help. How many of you have gone through trouble and knew that others were praying for you and felt their help?
We are not alone; God helps us, and we’re here to help each other. And God helps us so that:
- We will be able to help others.
Here is the Big Idea in this first section. God helps us so we can help others. Look again at verse 4: “(God) comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” God helps us so we can help others.
ILL: 2006 was a hard year for me. In March, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer; in October, my 22 year old son Jeff died.
When I discovered I had prostate cancer, I began researching my treatment options. Suddenly, guys without prostates came out of the woodwork, wanting to tell me their story and help me. Men whom I barely knew (or not at all) told me about their treatment—radiation or surgery— and about the complications afterwards. There are three big risks in treating prostate cancer.
- Death: they don’t get all the cancer.
- Incontinence: you lose bladder control and wear diapers the rest of your life.
- Impotence: you lose sexual function; you are unable to have an erection.
So here are strangers telling me about their sex lives and bladder control!
I discovered that I had joined a great fraternity, the BOP (Brotherhood of the Prostate). I learned that men who had been through this were eager to help other men who were facing it. After my surgery and recovery, I got to return the favor. I have talked with dozens of men on the phone or in person who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and were considering their treatment options. I happily told them about my sex life and bladder control!
I was helped, now I’m helping others. You pass it along.
The same was true when my son died. I naturally turned to friends who had lost a child and they comforted and encouraged us. And since then, Laina and I have sat with many couples who lost a child, and we comforted them “with the comfort we received from God.”
Here is a powerful truth: your ministry often grows out of your deepest sorrow or your darkest struggle. The best addiction counselors are usually those who have overcome addiction. The best divorce recovery leaders are often those who have been divorced.
ILL: I got a call yesterday from a young pastor here in town who wanted advice. He told me his story, and then asked, “Have you ever been through something like that?” Why did he ask that? Because we all want someone who understands, someone who has been through it. I assured him that I had and gave him some simple advice. I helped him with the help God had given me.
Your ministry often grows out of your deepest sorrow or deepest struggle. So don’t waste your sorrows! Don’t waste your troubles! Turn to God and let Him help you! And when He does, you’ll be able to pass that help on to others.
This is first: God helps us so we can help others.
Next, Paul begins to defend himself against some accusations. The first accusation was that he was fickle, vacillating and unreliable. He had told them he was coming to visit but he had changed his mind and hadn’t come. So some people were saying, “You can’t count on Paul. He says ‘yes’ and ‘no’ at the same time. You probably shouldn’t trust his message either.” Here’s Paul’s response.
- God is faithful and so are we. 12-24
12 Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. 13 For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, 14 as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.
15 Because I was confident of this, I wanted to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both “Yes, yes” and “No, no”?
18 But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” 20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
23 I call God as my witness—and I stake my life on it—that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.
To those who accused him of being fickle, Paul answered that God is faithful and so was he.
- We act with integrity and sincerity.
Look at verse 12: “Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity.” Paul boasted that he acted in all his relationships, and especially with them, with “integrity and godly sincerity.”
The word “integrity” here comes from the Greek word haplous, which literally meant “simple, single, unfolded” as opposed to diplous which meant “double, or folded”.
ILL: Here is a piece of paper. It is simple, single, nothing hidden. It is haplous. But if I fold it, it goes from a single page to double pages; it goes open to hidden; it goes from haplous to diplous.
So you can see how haplous came to mean “simple, sincere, frank, and honest.” You are an open book, nothing hidden. What you see is what you get. This is integrity.
“Godly sincerity” translates the Greek word eilikrineia, which means “sincerity or purity of motives.” Some scholars have suggested that the word literally means, “judge in the light of the sun.” Imagine taking something out in the sunlight so you can get a good look at it, or holding something transparent up to the sun so you can see through it. That gives a good picture of what it means to be sincere. It means you can look right through a person and see that they are true to the core. There are no hidden motives or agendas. This is sincerity.
Integrity and sincerity: Paul insists that he always conducted himself with these two virtues. He had no hidden motives or agendas. That’s how Christians live. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:8, “Live as children of light.” We live our lives in the bright light of God’s Son, with nothing to hide.
One of our guiding values at Life Center for years has been authenticity: We are open, honest and real. What you see is what you get. It’s why I tell stories about myself—I don’t want you thinking that I’m better than I really am. God wants all of us to live with integrity and sincerity. Why is this so important? Because the trustworthiness of the messenger affects the trustworthiness of the message. If I don’t trust you, I probably won’t believe what you say. If you are a genuine, authentic person with integrity and sincerity, I am more likely to believe what you say.
So let me ask you: is there anything in your life you feel you need to hide? Anything you don’t want others to know? Recently, a friend of mine was exposed—he’d been having an affair for a while and kept it hidden. He wasn’t living openly, honestly, with sincerity and integrity. And the fallout from his deception is awful, as you can imagine. Do you have anything like that—anything you are hiding? As bad as the fallout might be, it is better to bring it into the light, repent, clean it up and move on. The next step for you is to open up to someone you trust.
We live with integrity and sincerity.
- We represent a faithful God.
In verses 15-17, Paul brings up the issue of him changing his plans to visit them. “Was I being fickle?” Paul asks. “Am I the kind of guy who says yes when he means no?” Not at all! In verse 18, Paul appeals to the faithfulness of God. “As surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not yes and no.” Paul’s message was about Jesus, who is God’s YES. Later, in verses 23-24, Paul explains why he changed his mind. Simply put, he wanted to spare them. There are times when a relationship is strained, and a visit would only pour gas on the fire, or salt in the wound. It’s better to let it be. Paul evidently felt that way, and to spare them further pain, decided to postpone his visit.
So Paul insists that he was faithful, not fickle, because he represents a faithful God. He insists that he was not double minded—yes, then no—but is single minded because he represents a God who is not yes, then no, but is always YES! In other words, Paul says that his character matches his message; his character represents the God he proclaimed.
Here is an incredible challenge for us. We are God’s representatives in the world. You are the only Bible some people will read—what does your life say about God? About the gospel?
ILL: Jeffrey Collins wrote:
It had been a trying week at our Love & Action office. At five o’clock on a Friday, I was looking forward to having a quiet dinner with friends. Then the phone rang.
“Jeff! It’s Jimmy!” I heard a quivering voice say.
Jimmy, who suffered from several AIDS-related illnesses, was one of our regular clients. “I’m really sick, Jeff. I’ve got a fever. Please help me.”
I was angry. After a sixty-hour work week, I didn’t want to hear about Jimmy. But I promised to be right over. Still, during the drive over, I complained to God about the inconvenience.
The moment I walked in the door, I could smell the vomit. Jimmy was on the sofa, shivering and in distress. I wiped his forehead, then got a bucket of soapy water to clean up the mess. I managed to maintain a facade of concern, even though I was raging inside.
Jimmy’s friend, Russ, who also had AIDS, came down the stairs. The odor made Russ sick, too.
As I cleaned the carpet around Russ’s chair, I was ready to explode inside. Then Russ startled me. “I understand! I understand!”
“What Russ?” Jimmy asked weakly.
“I understand who Jesus is,” Russ said through tears. “He’s like Jeff!”
Weeping, I hugged Russ and prayed with him. That night Russ trusted Jesus Christ as his Savior. God had used me to show his love in spite of myself.
–Jeffrey Collins, Christian Reader (Mar/Apr 1998)
Do you people look at you and understand who Jesus is? Does your character represent our faithful God?
- Jesus is God’s YES!
Look again at verse 20. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.” Jesus is God’s YES! Paul is emphasizing God’s faithfulness, that God is not fickle or vacillating. God isn’t saying yes and no out of both sides of His mouth. God is saying YES! Jesus is God’s YES to all of His promises. Paul is thinking of all the promises God made in the Old Testament. Jesus is God’s YES to all those promises.
- Jeremiah 31:34 They will all know me, from the least to the greatest. Jesus is God’s YES to knowing Him! You can know God!
- Jeremiah 31:35 I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more. Jesus is God’s YES to full forgiveness. You can be forgiven!
- Joel 2:28 I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Jesus is God’s YES to the gift of the Holy Spirit. You can live by the power of God’s Spirit!
- Joel 2:32 Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Jesus is God’s YES to our salvation. You can be saved!
- Genesis 12:3 And all people on earth will be blessed through you. Jesus is God’s YES to His blessing on us. You can be blessed!
I could go on…and on and on. But you get the idea. As you read your Bible this week, each time you come to a promise, stop and say, “Yes! Jesus is God’s YES to this promise.” In Jesus, all God’s promises come true.