Sunday, July 3, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Summer Bible Series
2 Corinthians 2
Introduction and offering:
Welcome to the Summer Bible Series. We’re working our way through 2 Corinthians, one chapter a week. Each week, we’ll try to understand what Paul was saying in this letter to the church at Corinth, and then we’ll make application to our own lives. What does it say? What does it mean? What should I do? Chapter 2 begins with: (Offering here)
- A change of plans: Paul cancelled a painful visit. 1-13
In the first 13 verses, Paul continues to address the problem caused by his change of plans. Paul had planned on visiting them twice, but changed his mind, which led some people in Corinth to disparage Paul as fickle and unreliable. He started addressing this at 1:12, insisting that he acted with integrity and sincerity, and was faithful just as God is faithful. In chapter 2, he continues to explain why he changed his plans. First, he was motivated by love.
- Motivated by love. 1-4
2 Corinthians 2
1 So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? 3 I wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. 4 For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.
In 1:23, Paul told them that he cancelled his visit to spare them, and it’s clear in verses 1-2 that he wanted to spare them a painful visit that would cause them grief. Paul changed his plans based on what he thought was best for them. What do we call it when you do what is best for another? Love. Love is doing what is best for others no matter what it costs you. Paul’s change of plans was motivated by love; he was doing what he thought was best for them.
Rather than visiting, Paul wrote a letter (v. 3) with the hopes that the Corinthians would respond well to the letter, so that when he came, they could rejoice together rather than be distressed. Most scholars call this the “severe or painful letter” and believe that it is lost. In it, they believe that Paul called the church to discipline the individual who was causing dissension by attacking Paul, and rebuked the church for allowing this to go unchecked. If this is true, you can understand why they may not have been excited about saving that letter!
If love motivated his change of plans, what motivated this painful letter? Look at verse 4.
4 For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.
What motivated this letter? Love. “I wrote you to let you know the depth of my love for you.” Can you feel Paul’s deep love for this church in this verse? Paul wrote the letter out of great distress and anguish and with many tears. But his purpose wasn’t to grieve or hurt them, but “to let you know the depth of my love for you.” He was motivated by love.
Are love and discipline mutually exclusive? Of course not. Parents discipline their children out of love—you want the best for them. Granted, sometimes we discipline out of irritation or exasperation—I did this more than once and I’m not proud of those moments. But at our best, parents, we discipline because we want the best for our kids. This is how God disciplines us.
Proverbs 3:11–12 My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, 12 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
Are love and rebuke or correction mutually exclusive? Of course not. If you really love someone and you see him doing something wrong, you’ll say something.
Proverbs 27:5 Better is open rebuke than hidden love.
Love people enough to tell them the truth. It’s not easy or pleasant to rebuke or correct someone, but if they are wrong, it is the loving thing to do. Be motivated by love, by what is best for others.
Second, you must forgive.
- You must forgive. 5-11
5 If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. 6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 9 Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 10 Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
Evidently, Paul had written the church to discipline a certain man. Who was he and what had he done? We don’t know. Some people believe that this is the man in 1 Corinthians 5 who was sleeping with his step-mom. There, Paul told the church to boot him out, in the hopes that the discipline would get his attention and save him. But most scholars don’t think that’s the man Paul has in mind here. For one thing, Paul says in verse 10 that he has forgiven the man “if there was anything to forgive.” This would be a really strange thing to say about incest—there was no doubt he had sinned and needed to be forgiven.
Most scholars think that there was a man in Corinth who was stirring up trouble for Paul, leading an anti-Paul crusade. Remember, what was at stake for Paul wasn’t his own reputation—it wasn’t personal—it was the gospel. Discredit the messenger and you discredit the message. If Paul is not a real apostle, maybe his message isn’t the real gospel from God. So Paul wrote to the church to discipline this man, which they evidently did. Now he writes to say, “Enough. Forgive him, encourage him, reaffirm your love for him.”
Look again at: 10 Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
In verse 7, Paul urged them to forgive the offender, and now he adds that he has forgiven him too, “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”
You must forgive. If you don’t, Satan has outwitted you! Failure to forgive plays right into the devil’s schemes. And we are to be aware of the devil’s schemes. Here are some of the devil’s schemes.
First, your enemy wants to keep you bound in bitterness. We often refuse to forgive someone because we want to punish them, pay them back. But who are you really punishing? Yourself! Usually the offending person doesn’t know or doesn’t care that you’re still holding a grudge. You’re only hurting yourself, not them. Unforgiveness hurts you, not them; it’s toxic; it makes you a bitter, sour person.
But the most serious way it hurts you is that you can’t be forgiven! Jesus made that really clear. If you want to be forgiven, you must forgive. Jesus taught us to pray:
Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And then He explained:
Matthew 6:14–15 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Refuse to forgive and you won’t be forgiven.
ILL: Someone once told John Wesley, “I never forgive,” to which Wesley replied, “Then, sir, I hope that you never sin.”
Refuse to forgive and you won’t be forgiven. Can you see why this is one of the devil’s schemes? If he can convince you not to forgive, you lose everything, and he wins. You must forgive! Your forgiveness, your life depends upon it!
Second, your enemy wants to keep you at odds with others. One of the devil’s schemes is to keep the hurt alive, keep the offense going so that he can keep us apart. I heard a story about two sisters who wouldn’t forgive each other, so they drew a line down the middle of their small apartment, and lived the rest of their lives ignoring each other. Devil: one; sisters: zero. How many families and friendships are blown to pieces because we won’t forgive? Every broken relationship is a victory for the devil. He wants to keep you at odds with others.
ILL: Many years ago some good friends left our church and said some unkind things on the way out. These were friends we vacationed with and raised our kids together—good friends. I was hurt, and I forgave them, but the hurt kept resurfacing.
Late one Saturday night, I was praying and these folks came to mind, and I got so mad that I couldn’t pray; or I was going to pray one of those imprecatory prayers: “Lord, dash them on the rocks till their bowels spill out.” I told the Lord that I was frustrated because I had forgiven them, but every time I thought of them, the hurt came back, and with it the anger.
I suddenly had a picture of someone punching me hard in the arm and leaving a big bruise. He apologized and I forgave him. But another guy saw it all, and he wanted to keep us apart, so every time he saw me, he just tapped that bruise, just enough to keep it sore and tender, and remind me of the first guy.
The Lord said, “You have forgiven, but the enemy is pounding on your bruise. Tell him to leave you alone and it will heal.” So I did. I told the devil to buzz off, in Jesus’ name, that I had forgiven those people and he couldn’t keep pounding my bruise. And I felt an instant release from the anger. The next time I thought of them a couple weeks later, here came the hurt and the anger, but this time I was ready, and told the devil to go to hell. (He’s the only one you can say that to, since Jesus said hell was made for the devil and his angels.) And that was the end of it.
Keeping us hurt and angry and unforgiving—keeping us apart—that’s the devil’s work. He’s the one pounding on your bruise. Tell him to go to hell!
Third, your enemy wants to ruin the church. And nothing does that more than unforgiveness. Churches are made up of people, which means that you’re going to be hurt, disappointed and frustrated at times. Guaranteed. When that happens, you have 3 choices:
- Forgive and keep moving forward.
- Don’t forgive and poison the church.
- Don’t forgive and leave the church.
Only the first is a good choice.
ILL: A couple weeks ago I was playing golf with a friend, and he wasn’t playing well. But he kept telling himself, “It doesn’t matter.” He said that was his golf mantra: “It doesn’t matter.” He explained that nobody in the whole world cared what his golf score was, except him. It doesn’t matter.
Often people get hurt and offended by the smallest things. Some little offense gets blown way out of proportion. Who do you think is behind that? “We are not unaware of the devil’s schemes.” He loves to keep us fighting. He wants to ruin the church by unforgiveness. Most of the time, if we took an honest look at what upset us, we’d say, “It doesn’t matter,” and we’d forgive and move on.
“But,” you say, “what he did does matter. It was wrong.” Ok, but you still have to forgive. You must forgive—or you better not sin, because you won’t be forgiven. Jesus gave clear instructions in Matthew 18 that when someone does something wrong, we are to go them in person, just the two of us, and gently point out their fault. (Jesus also told us to be sure to take the log out of our own eye first—so before you correct anyone, you want to do a thorough I-exam!) The point of the going is to win our brother back—to correct the wrong, forgive them and move on. Notice that you go to that person one-on-one, just the two of you. You don’t tell anyone else—that’s gossip, and that’s sin. You go directly to the offending party, and you have a redemptive conversation, and when you’re done, you must forgive.
These are the devil’s schemes. He wants to keep you locked away in a prison of anger, bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness. He wants to poison you, destroy your relationships, and ruin the church. If you don’t forgive, he has outwitted you, taken advantage of you. But we’re aware of his schemes and we’re not going to let him do that! Right?
Paul has one more thing to say about his change of plans.
- This is how much I love you! 12-13
12 Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, 13 I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia.
Here is another change. Paul went to Troas to preach the gospel and found that the Lord had opened a door for him—he had an excellent opportunity, and in fact, he left a new church there. It was a short but fruitful visit. Normally, if Paul had a wide open door, he’d stay to take advantage of it. But he changed his mind and left early—an astonishing thing to do in light of the open door. Why?
He had no peace because Titus hadn’t come. Where was Titus coming from? Corinth. He was bringing news of how the Corinthians were doing. Paul was so concerned for this church that he couldn’t wait to hear the news. So he left in the middle of a great opportunity and set out to find Titus.
Paul is saying, “I changed my plans because I love you, and I’ve done this more than once. I also changed my plans at Troas because I love you, and I just had to find Titus to hear how you were doing.”
A change of plans. Paul explained why he changed his plans: he was motivated by his love for them, and tucked in the middle of this is an important reminder: you must forgive. Don’t let the devil take advantage of you!
From a change of plans to a change of subjects.
- A change of subjects: the privilege of apostolic ministry. 14-17
I titled this “a change of subjects” because Paul abruptly changes the subject here and goes on a lengthy digression that lasts until 7:5. In fact, look at 2:13 again.
2 Corinthians 2:13 I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia.
Now flip ahead to 7:5.
2 Corinthians 7:5 For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within.
Everything between those two verses is considered by many scholars to be a long digression. Paul is the master of digression.
ILL: Pastor Jack Hayford is a well-known pastor in our movement, and he too is a master of digression. In his sermons, he can wander off on a side subject and then brilliantly bring it back into his main argument. When I was a new pastor here, I listened to Pastor Jack’s sermons and I tried to be like him. But I would go off on a digression and never come back. People said, “There he goes. We have no idea where he’s going or if he’ll ever be back…but there he goes.” I wasn’t a good Jack Hayford.
Paul is a master of digression; he often goes off on a subject in his letters, and that’s what he does here. It’s an important digression, though—he is going to defend his ministry as an apostle. He starts by describing the privilege of apostolic ministry.
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.
I want to draw your attention to two things.
- God uses us to spread the aroma of Jesus everywhere.
Paul uses the imagery of a Roman Triumph. When a Roman general returned from a successful military campaign, the emperor would throw a triumphal procession. Think of a ticker-tape parade in New York City for national heroes and you get the idea. In the Roman triumphal procession, captives marched ahead of the conquering general and his troops, and incense was burned along the parade route. The captives were marched to their deaths or slavery. To them, the incense was “the aroma that brings death.” To the conquering Romans, it was “an aroma that brings life.” Most people in the Roman empire would have been familiar with the Roman triumphal procession.
But Paul spins it for his own purpose. Jesus is the conquering general—it is “Christ’s triumphal procession.” And we are His captives. You’d think we’d be part of the triumphant army—no, we are the captives. But we are marching to life, not death. We are happy captives, whose hearts have been captured by the love of God, and who gladly “spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.”
Look at v. 14: God “uses us to spread the aroma” of Jesus everywhere. The “us” certainly refers to the apostles. However, by extension it also includes all of us who follow Jesus, all of us who are Christ’s captives. I am Christ’s captive. I belong to Him. He has won my heart, my allegiance, my love, my life. Are you Christ’s captive too? If so, God uses us to spread the aroma of Jesus everywhere.
You ought to smell like Jesus! You should give off the fragrance of Jesus. “Brother, what’s that fragrance you’re wearing? Is that Armani Gio or Guilty by Gucci?” No, it’s Jesus!
“Darling, what’s that fragrance you’re wearing? Is it Coco Chanel?” No, it’s Jesus!
What do I mean, “you ought to smell like Jesus?” Your life should give people a pretty strong scent of what Jesus is like. The message of Jesus is the gospel, the good news. Is your life good news? Does it point people to Jesus and to His life-changing good news? When people are around you, do they want to have what you have?
I said last week that you are the only Bible some people will ever read. And you may be the only scent of Jesus some people will ever get. Do you smell like Jesus?
ILL: Michael Green, Anglican priest and author, wrote:
I read about a missionary candidate in language school. The very first day of class the teacher entered the room and, without saying a word, walked down every row of students. Finally, still without saying a word, she walked out of the room again. Then she came back and addressed the class. “Did you notice anything special about me?” she asked.
Nobody could think of anything in particular. One student finally raised her hand. “I noticed that you had on a very lovely perfume,” she said. The class laughed.
But the teacher said, “That was exactly the point. [It] will be a long time before any of you will be able to speak Chinese well enough to share the gospel with anyone in China. But even before you are able to do that, you can minister the sweet fragrance of Jesus to these people by the quality of your lives.”
Do you smell like Jesus? Does your life intrigue non-believers? We spread the aroma of Jesus everywhere—on our jobs, in our schools, and our neighborhoods—everywhere.
One last thing.
- There are two kinds of people: being saved or perishing.
Everyone knows that there are two kinds of people: those who say that there are two kinds of people, and those who don’t.
Look at verse 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. For Paul, there were only two kinds of people: those who are being saved, and those who are perishing. With Jesus, we are being saved. Without Jesus, we are perishing. Every person I meet, I should wonder what kind of person they are: are they being saved or perishing?
The world in which Paul grew up was deeply divided: Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. But Jesus wiped out all those distinctions.
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Race, socio-economic status, gender, age—all the typical divisions vanish in Christ. Now, we simply see people as with Jesus or without Jesus, being saved or perishing. And I want to live my life so that as many people as possible go from perishing to being saved. I want to be the aroma of Jesus that makes perishing people ask, “What is that fragrance?”
ILL: Several years ago I bumped into a friend in the Costco parking lot. He said, “I’ve been watching you and the Damons (our neighbors and LC members) for awhile. You all are doing life better than I am. I want what you have. How do I get it?” He became a Christian because he smelled the fragrance.
Everyone you know is either being saved or perishing. Live in such a way that they smell Jesus and want what you have.
- What do you call it when you do what’s best for another no matter what it costs you? Do you think you Excel with this attribute or could you use some work? Share an example of a time when you loved someone well, and another example of a time you wish you would have loved better.
- Are love and discipline mutually exclusive? Why or why not?
- Are there people in your life who you struggle to forgive? How do you feel when you can’t forgive someone? Do you think it hurts them more, or yourself? Why?
- Do you consider yourself Christ’s captive? Do you think your fragrance spreads the aroma of Jesus? What are some ways that your actions could portray the love of God to others without words?
Everyone you know is either being saved or perishing. Live in such a way that they can smell Jesus and want what you have. Be intentional about spreading God’s aroma wherever you are this week.