2nd Corinthians – Wayne Barber/Part 47
By: Dr. Wayne Barber
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2006|
|We’ve been talking about “Suffering for the Sake of Christ” and this is Part 4 of that mini-series as we’ve been going through 2 Corinthians verse by verse. I want to talk today about the “Part People Play in Weakness.|
The Part People Play in Weakness (2 Cor 12:11-21)
Would you turn in your Bibles today to 2 Corinthians 12 and we’re going to finish the chapter today. That means we only have 14 more verses to finish 2 Corinthians. Some of you thought you’d never live to see that day. It’s not over yet: you may not. We have awhile yet.
We’ve been talking about “Suffering for the Sake of Christ” and this is Part 4 of that mini-series as we’ve been going through 2 Corinthians verse by verse. I want to talk today about the “Part People Play in Weakness.” I used to say this all the time, I don’t know why I would do that, but if it wasn’t for people I could live the Christian life. Let me ask you a question: have you ever said it or thought it? Be honest. You’ve been the same place.
Now that I’ve lived for a little longer and understand a little more about the Christian life I realize that now if it wasn’t for people, I wouldn’t even understand the Christian life. I don’t know how it works in your life, but in my life, God uses people more than anything else to drive me to the end of myself. He’ll parachute a brother that I didn’t know existed into my life and He’ll command me to love that brother when I don’t even like him. He’ll bring me to the place of understanding what He’s been trying to teach me in the Word. I can’t, He never said I could; He can, and He always said He would.
Most Baptists particularly can’t even get along with themselves, much less anybody else. I heard about that Baptist guy that got on his plane one day and he decided to see how far he could fly out over the ocean. Didn’t realize the tailwind that was behind him. And the further he flew, the wind was carrying him even further. And he got so far out he turned around and realized he didn’t have enough gas to get back and made a crash landing on an isolated island. And for 30 years nobody found him. He lived by himself on an island for 30 years. One day miraculously they discovered him and when they saw him there was great joy and they looked around in amazement at what he had done to that island. He’d built three buildings by his own hands. Made his furniture, made everything out of his own hands. He’d really learned how to survive. So he took them in and showed them his house and all that he had made there and they came out and said, “What are these other two buildings?” He said, “Well, that building there is the church I used to attend, and this is the one I go to now.”
That’s about the way we are, isn’t it? The reason I bring this up is because it was people, the hurtful, critical people of Corinth that brought Paul to his knees. That was really the essence of his weakness. His weakness was largely because of what they did to him and what they said about him. Almost every word used by Paul in verse 10 of chapter 12 was the result of what people had done to him.
It says in verse 10, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses,” and any time Paul makes a list, look at the first thing, that’s the main thing, the rest of it seems to sort of edify that, “with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake.” But the sweet thing about it was, that’s the bitter part, the sweet part of it was that in this weakness that people had driven him to, he found that Christ’s strength was made perfect. He had to be weak in order to understand the message that he preached to everybody else.
He says, “for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Because of the pain that was caused in Paul’s life by those in Corinth, many think that the thorn he mentions back in verse 7 that we’ve already talked about, that the thorn could possibly be a person that God put into his life. But that’s one of the reasons, because when he talks about his weaknesses, it’s in what people have done to him. We don’t know for sure, but if there’s one thing I want you to realize, in our weakness God’s strength is made perfect, and that is truly what happens. He teaches us to love. He not only teaches us how, He enables us to love. He produces His love in us: that’s the fruit of His Spirit working in our lives. Even for people that are critical and hurt us and do harm to us.
But I want you to know today that even though His strength is made perfect in weakness, don’t ever make the mistake that weakness is painless. Don’t think that. Paul realized the strength of Christ living in him and he loved the Corinthians as much and maybe even more than he did other places because of the bad way they treated him. Sometimes it works that way. But he still felt the pain of what they had done and said about him.
I can promise you there is no greater pain, and if you’ve lived long and you’ve been in the church and you’ve been a Christian for a long time, there’s no great pain than the pain that one believer can cause upon another. Now we expect it in the world and that’s why I’m making this statement. You don’t expect it inside the church.
We used to do this in our new members classes. The first day that they met we’d say, “We’re so glad that you’re here, but let me tell you, it probably won’t be a week until somebody in this church offends you.” It was like, “Thanks a lot. We’re really looking forward to this.” But we were trying to help them understand what’s real. Not everybody within the church wants to live a surrendered life to Jesus Christ. There are different levels of faith. There are some people that won’t give Him time of day. There are some people that will come to church and never even look at the Word of God and they’re going to live after their flesh and their flesh is going to offend and that’s when it catches us off guard.
And this is what brought Paul to his knees. It wasn’t the persecution of the Romans or the persecution of the world, it was the persecution of the believers in the church that criticized and brought him down. In verse 11 and following in chapter 12 we hear the pain, or at least I do. I hear the pain coming out of Paul’s voice. He’s getting to the end of the letter now and you can sense that there’s almost like a weariness that’s in him. A weariness of having to deal with the criticism that was first of all completely off the wall, based on wrong information, you can just sense it coming out of him. Instead of being respected for his calling and respected for his walk and respected for the work of the Holy Spirit that had been done through him, Paul is really left hung out to dry by the people that should have stood up for him.
Paul should never have been put in a place to where he would have to defend himself. He hated to do that. He hated to speak of himself, but the unfounded, evil accusations against him from those he served with all of his heart forced him into having to defend himself. How bittersweet it really is. It’s bitter in the sense of the pain and you will feel the pain, but it’s sweet in the fact that God will even give you a love, a servant love for the people that treat you the way they treat you. Paul’s greatest hurt was inflicted by those that God has used him to set them free.
Verse 11, “I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody.” It’s interesting some of the words he chooses to use here. The verb “I have become,” that little phrase, is in the perfect tense. Perfect tense means that something has happened to cause me to do what I’m doing. And the word “compelled” is the word anagkazo, which means to force somebody into doing something.
Paul says, “You forced me to defend myself and you know I hate to do that.” “I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody.” Paul’s reference to the eminent apostles here is tongue in cheek, a little sarcasm here, spiritual sarcasm I guess you’d say, because these people were calling themselves apostles and he says they even called themselves cheap apostles and he says that ridiculous.
And then he says, “though I am a nobody,” is probably referring to a phrase the critics were using of Paul. But you notice something else here? If you study the apostle Paul’s life, he never thought of himself as a somebody. Have you ever been around Christians that think of themselves as a “somebody”? Paul never did think of himself as a somebody. He was a nobody who had a Somebody living in him. And he found his identity in Him. And so the nobody pointed to a Somebody. It’s kind of an interesting twist of words, but Paul never saw himself as a somebody.
It’s like what he said in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” See, God was so using the apostle Paul that you would wonder how could anybody in the church of Corinth miss the validity of his life? But flesh, this is the point that I think we all need to understand, flesh cannot see beyond itself. People that live after the flesh have no spiritual discernment whatsoever. And so once again, we see Paul and I picked it up, it’s a weariness that’s in him having to counter the deceitful, hurtful criticism that has been hurled his way.
And don’t ever forget. Yes, in our weakness His strength is made perfect, absolutely. But don’t ever think that weakness is painless. It’s very painful and you will bear the pain of what people say about you, what they do to you, you’ll bear it for a long time. But grief is a clean wound. It just takes time to heal. It will heal, but you’ll feel the pain—we’re human. And we’re not there yet and we will feel the pain just like Paul did.
Well, always be assured it is those whom God commends that are approved, whether they’re appreciated by man or not. Paul was a proven man, they just couldn’t see it; but he was unappreciated by those who should have known better. There are three ways in which he was proved and I want us to take this message and apply it to our lives this morning. Let it be an encouragement to you if you’re seeking to live a life yielded to Christ and people do not appreciate that fact and maybe people are criticizing you for one thing or another. But also let it be a challenge to you. Make sure that every day you can truthfully go before God and know that these things are present in your life. This is what Christ does in and through a yielded believer. And He will prove us. It’s never a matter of what people say. That’s not it at all. Remember: he that God commends is approved. And if you can live that way, don’t worry about mankind. God will prove you amongst them when he gets good and ready.
He was proven by the effectiveness of his ministry
Three things: First of all, he was proved by the effectiveness of his ministry. Verse 12, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” You say, what are the signs of a true apostle? What are you talking about here? What is a true apostle?
First of all make sure we understand this morning that we don’t have true apostles today like those appointed by Christ in New Testament times. I’ve said this before and I hope you will help me with it. If I ever get up here and say God has commissioned me to be an apostle, walk up here and take me by the hand, lead me someplace and have me committed because I’ve lost my mind. We don’t have apostles today like you had apostles then.
Now you can take the word apostolos, which is the word for apostle, one who is sent forth with a message, you can use that in the generic sense of a missionary, but you do not have apostles today like the apostles that were appointed by Christ and they served to get the gospel out, but they also gave us the New Testament, the canon’s closed, it’s not open, we don’t have apostles like this today.
But the signs of a true apostle were not in how much they charged for the people to hear them preach, because that’s what they were being judged by in Corinth. And it was not how successful they were in getting a crowd. That certainly wasn’t a sign of a true apostle. But God had chosen to identify them through signs and wonders and miracles. This is God’s way of affirming them as to who they were. It is so sad that many believers think that in our day that signs, wonders, and miracles are the evidence of someone who is truly filled with the Spirit of God. That’s absolutely ridiculous. Signs, wonders, and miracles were never, ever, you can’t show me in the New Testament ever a pattern for anyone except for Christ and His appointed, specific apostles during those times to identify them as to who they were.
The author of Hebrews helps us to understand this in Hebrews 2:2-4, “For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.” Who were the “them”? Who were the “those” who heard? It’s the apostles; and God used that to identify them just like He used signs, wonders and miracles in His own life to identify who He was. But we do not need signs, wonders and miracles now. We have the Scriptures; we have the Holy Spirit living in us. We’re living in a brand newness of time. And so don’t think that your life has to have signs, wonders, and miracles in it. Can God do that in specific people when He chooses? Well, certainly He can. But it’s not a pattern. It’s not what we look at to see whether or not a person is valid today. That’s what validated them back then.
Signs, wonders, and miracles were simply the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the people’s lives to give credibility to what they did. “What signs and wonders did Paul do? I didn’t know he was involved in that” I’m glad you asked. In Pathos God enabled Paul to blind a man by the name of Edymas the Sorcerer for opposing the gospel. That’s in Acts 13:6-12. In Iconium God enabled Paul to perform many signs and wonders as he talked about in Acts 14:1-3. In Lystra God enabled Paul to enable a crippled man to get up and walk, Acts 14:8-10. He described in detail the signs and wonders that God had done in the Gentile world through him to the Jerusalem council when he met with them in Acts 15:12. In Philippi God enabled Paul to exorcize a demon from a demon-possessed girl in Acts 16:16-18. In Ephesus and throughout all of Asia Minor God enabled Paul to perform all kinds of miracles including a handkerchief that he touched that actually would bring healing to people. In Troas God enabled Paul to bring Eutychus back to life after his deadly fall in Acts 20:9-12. In Malta God enabled Paul to heal Publius’ father and other sick people on the island in Acts 28:1-10.
These were the signs that identified him as a true apostle in his day and it says he performed them with all perseverance. Do you realize what that says? The implication of the word “perseverance” is the word hupomone, and it means to “bear up under.” And what he’s saying is that even in the midst of the miracles that God was doing through us, people still rejected us. It wasn’t the miracles that did anything for a lot of people, but yet they were severely treated even in the midst of God’s identifying them through the miraculous things He was doing through their life.
But Paul is saying, “Why don’t you judge me by the effectiveness, the spiritual effectiveness of the ministry God has given to me? Why do you compare me to these false teachers who have all kinds of crowds and they charge for what they do, there’s no integrity with them at all?” You see, the greatest miracle that is done through an individual’s life is the miracle of a transformed life. Not the signs, wonders, and miracles. They were used, but the greatest miracle that we’re part of even today is the transformation of other people’s lives.
He says in chapter 3, “You are my letter,” I love that, “read by all men.” The Corinthians had forgotten evidently what they used to be and how God miraculously had transformed their lives. That’s the truest miracle of any miracle you’ll ever want to be a part of. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Paul wrote these words, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you;” he speaks to the congregation there at Corinth, “but you were washed,” and that’s a miracle, “but you were sanctified,” and that’s a miracle, “but you were justified,” and that’s a miracle, “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.”
So the effectiveness of the ministry Christ was doing through him was clearly seen by everyone. He pointed to Christ, he never pointed to himself. He really believed he was a nobody apart from Christ. Christ was the Somebody that lived in him. Listen, though you and I will never be seen by the signs, wonders, and miracles to give us creditability, when we allow Jesus to be Jesus in our life, you can write it down, He’s going to do eternal transforming things in the lives of others and that always shows the effectiveness and the realness of who we are. He will positively affect others whether we’re appreciated or not. So to me, make sure daily, when you go to bed at night, make sure that you’ve dealt with any sin that has come up in your life and you’ve confessed that and you’ve sought to repent by trusting God in it. And make sure that you’re just no agendas other than just Jesus being Jesus in you and you can write it down: God will at some point prove you to men even though you’re unappreciated by them now. You just wait; God will vindicate you, God will prove you, as long as you’re living in that right relationship with Him, you don’t have to worry about what men do or what they don’t do, what they say or what they don’t say. God will prove you. God will prove you to be real and to be a believer.
Years ago I had a situation. Two people on my staff almost within a short period of time turned on me and it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever gone through in my life. Things were said about me that weren’t true. It was amazing. And I was listening to the radio one day feeling sorry for myself. Ever feel sorry for yourself? Have you ever noticed when you have a pity party nobody shows up but you? And I was riding along just feeling sorry for myself because I couldn’t seem to answer them the right way. Nobody would listen to me and I was listening to Joseph Stowell on Moody radio. Joe said that day on the radio, “If you’ve been maligned, if you’ve been criticized, if somebody is trying to tear down who you really are, there are two things you can hang onto today that will encourage you. One is truth and the other is time. Truth and time will be the two things God will use to prove you to be the one who is genuine. But you don’t have to do it yourself. You just let God do that. You just walk proven before Him. He that God commends is approved. You live that way and let God commend you before other men. Let God prove you before other men, but it’ll be truth and it’ll be time.
Two years, almost to the day when I heard that program, I had a letter from one of these individuals asking me to forgive him for what he did. And the other one called me on the same day, living in different states, not even having talked with each other. And I thought to myself, you don’t have to jump out there trying to say this or that. God will prove you. Live a life before Him that you know that you and He are okay. That you know that you’ve dealt with any sin that’s in your life. That’ you’re seeking to only be about His will. If you’ll live that way, don’t you worry about what people say about you. God will prove you amongst men as long as you live proven before Him. That’s the bottom line that I want you to see as an encouragement to your heart.
Paul was proven by the integrity of his methods
But the second thing about Paul is he was a proven not only by the effectiveness of his ministry, Paul was proven by the integrity of his methods, how he went about his ministry. You see, it’s not just the ministry that God has through an individual, it’s how they go about that ministry. I’ve said many times it’s not what you do for people, it’s how you go about doing it: that’s what proves you. Not what you do, but how you go about the spirit that you go about doing what you do.
Verse 13, “For in what respect were you treated as inferior to the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not become a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!” Paul asked them a question that has an easy answer to it because they know the answer. When he says, “in what respect were you treated as inferior to the rest of the churches,” you see, they knew this. Christ in Paul had loved those people just like he had loved others. In fact, when you deal with rebellious children sometimes the love is even seen in a greater way. And they knew that.
The only thing that Paul did differently with the church of Corinth that he didn’t do with the other churches was that he didn’t take one dime from them. This is what he means by the phrase that “I myself did not become a burden to you.” He realizes now that they totally did not understand this and, in fact, used it as a criticism of him. You see, what Paul taught was free and the teachers of the Greek culture there, they would charge people to come and hear them. What Paul taught couldn’t be marketed on the street with today’s world’s ways. That wasn’t what he was doing. Instead he was preaching a message that would set people free, and it was free of charge. You didn’t charge for people to hear it. His not charging those, however, was one thing that led the false teachers to criticize him: He must be a nobody.
But he says rather sarcastically, “Forgive me, this wrong!” I love the way he just goes back and forth here. Not because he saw it as wrong, but because he realized in their foolish way of thinking they couldn’t see the forest for the trees and they saw it as wrong. In fact, Paul felt like a father to them and as any father would be to his children, he would never ask anything of them. He’d want to give to them.
He says in verse 14, “Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you.” What he’s saying is, “I just want you to understand the message and live in the fullness of what Christ offers,” “for children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.” As a true father he loves the child more than the child ever thought about loving him. He says in verse 15, “And I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls. If I love you the more, am I to be loved the less?”
It was true: Paul loved them more than they ever thought about loving him. And why would they criticize somebody that loved them? You can hear the critical words of those opposing Paul just by what he says, verse 16, “But be that as it may, I did not burden you myself; nevertheless, crafty fellow that I am, I took you in by deceit.” That’s another tongue in cheek way of saying, “that’s what they’re saying, isn’t it: ‘I took you in by deceit’?”
That was so opposite of what Paul did. Isn’t it interesting though, you would think the apostle Paul, who could miss it? But they missed it. They didn’t even realize what was in their midst. They didn’t even realize that Paul was a man God had put in their midst. They didn’t see it. And he had not only not taken advantage of them, but the people he would send to work with them had the same spirit and they didn’t take advantage of them.
It says in verses 17-18, “Certainly I have not taken advantage of you through any of those who I have sent to you, have I? I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Titus did not take any advantage of you, did he? Did we not conduct ourselves in the same spirit and walk in the same steps?” It’s just amazing to me when I think of the Corinthian church and I think of Paul. The proof was right in front of them but they just didn’t get it. They just didn’t get it. They had a true apostle standing right there in front of them and yet they did not in any way appreciate who he was and what God was doing in his life.
God will affirm you though. You see, Paul was affirmed even though they hadn’t seen it yet. But Paul was being affirmed by the effectiveness of his ministry. What do I mean? By what the Holy Spirit chooses to do through your life, that points not to you; that points back to God. But also if you will just hang in there and trust God, He will prove you by the integrity of your methods. You see, you might be here today and have a husband who could care less about the Lord Jesus Christ and you may have to go home every day as a wife who loves Jesus with all your heart, and you may have to hear all the horrible things he says to you and all the things he does to you and you think, “Why can’t he see the realness of my life? Why can’t he see the change that’s in my life?” You just leave it alone. You know that God’s approved of you and God is your completeness and God is your sufficiency. And in your weakness just continue to let Him to pour out His strength in you and God will prove you. In His time and in His way by the effectiveness of Christ loving through you and by the integrity of the way you go about doing what you do. I want to say that again: it’s never what you do for people. It’s the way you go about doing it that points to Christ.
Any person that doesn’t even know God can do good things, but they cannot do it in the fruit, the love of the Spirit of God. That’s something nobody can refute and that’s something that everybody understands.
Paul was proven by the purity of his motive
But then thirdly, he was proven by the purity of his motive. Christ in Paul had produced such a love for the believers in Corinth that caused him to do everything that he did for their benefit, even his defense of his own actions which he hated to do. He was using that to help them; it wasn’t just simply that he must defend himself. It’s more than that. He’s trying to help them see something.
Verse 19, “All this time you have been thinking that we are defending ourselves to you. Actually, it is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ;” it’s the difference of reacting by defending yourself and there’s a difference in what you say in defense to help somebody else understand something.
“And all for your upbuilding, beloved.” The word “upbuilding” is the word oikodome, which means to “build up.” Now we have another word that’s very similar which means “to edify.” “Everything I’ve done is to build you up, it’s not to tear you down even when I said the hard things,” Paul says. It’s to build you up. Ephesians 4:29 uses this word in the life and the character of a believer and it says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear