February 16, 2014

A Duplicate of The Divine - Part Two

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: 2 Corinthians Scripture: 2 Corinthians 1:15– 2:4


A Duplicate of The Divine-Part Two

2 Corinthians 1:15-2:4
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Pastor Randy Smith


So in a desire to earn some money, my daughter started to babysit at the gym two nights a week. She was scheduled to get off at 8:00 when the childcare area closes. So I go to the gym, squeeze in a quick workout and prepare myself to take her home. I arrive in the childcare area at 8:05, the same time the announcement is made for tardy parents to pick-up their children. I sit on the floor as Hailey attends two children waiting for the final mother to arrive. And we wait and we wait!

What's the Christian response? Is it disappointment over the inconsideration of this lady in forcing my daughter and I to be held hostage, carving out precious time from our evening until she is good and ready to pick up her children? Should I have said something to address her unfaithfulness? Or is it compassion for the woman, keeping quiet myself, believing the best and knowing that I am unaware of her situation that possibly might have been a valid reason for her delay. Maybe a little of both?

Few things bother me more than Christians who try to fit everything into a tidy, little theological box. A lot of Christians know a lot, but I believe very few have the wisdom to apply the biblical information in the most appropriate ways. We have some general parameters to guide us, but Christianity is not "one size fits all" with simple solutions to complex problems. If we believe that, the Apostle Paul's opponents have one up on him!

In his final words to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians, Paul expressed his desire to be with them (1 Cor. 16:5-9). As time went on his emotions for the church intensified and travel arrangements made possible not one but two visits to the church spoken of in 2 Corinthians 1:15-16.

However, things went totally south. In hearing of problems in this beloved church from Timothy, Paul made an emergency visit. Sadly the false teachers had so defrauded his character and reputation that the very people Paul poured his life into had rejected him when he arrived. If Paul were the captain and this was his ship, we're talking about a total mutiny! Paul leaves the church dejected and depressed. Sometimes we need to know when to bail on a plan. Paul cancels his promised visits which led to open season on Paul by his opponents. Verse 17, "He vacillates." Verse 18, "He's unfaithful." Verse 18, "He fails to keep his word." "Didn't we tell you that you can't trust this guy?"

Last week we saw how Paul took these complaints against him and used them to preach the faithfulness of God, the God who always keeps His word and always fulfills all His promises in Christ. He took advantage of this opportunity to preach Christ! Then he concluded his mini-sermon with a hearty "Amen" in verse 20. Implying, "As God is faithful, so am I." Last week we called that point, "Following God's Integrity."

Today if the Lord permits we'll cover the second point of this sermon entitled, "Following God's Heart" found in verse 23 of chapter 1 to chapter 2, verse 4. In this section we'll see Paul explain why he changed his travel plans and his justification in doing so. He will again explain that he is a duplicate of the Divine, this time that he has a heart of love that beats in line with God's. This is a principle that should ring true for all of us in this sanctuary who love Christ.

2. Following God's Heart (1:23-2:4)

So why in the world, as we move to the second part of this two-part sermon, would a man who claims to be faithful (which implies keeping your word), simply write a letter to the church reneging on his promised two-visit trip to the church?

Look with me starting in verse 23. "But I call God as witness to my soul, that to spare you I did not come again to Corinth." So right off the bat the first reason for Paul's refusal to come was for their sake in a desire to give them mercy. He didn't come because he wanted to "spare" them. Imagine me not showing up for today's sermon, and then my response next week that my reason for doing so was that I wanted to "spare" you from the convicting message. Would you buy it? Paul's response sounds like a cop-out and clever excuse after the fact. However, he (unlike I would be able to) backed it up in verse 23 by calling God as a witness to his soul. In other words, Paul was invoking God's judgment on his life if he were not telling the truth by making this solemn oath.

Again, these are the complexities of life that call for wisdom. When do we confront a person with truth and when do we overlook the sin and keep our big mouths shut? Both sides can be justified in Scripture. When do we discipline our children and when do we extend mercy for a punishable offense? Paul was the pastor of this church. There needed to be discipline. If he came, he would have to act. So he chose to stay home to "spare" the church as he says to exercise mercy in hopes that the Holy Spirit would Himself lead this church to repentance.

As I have said, we have too many in the church that adopt a "one size fits all" theology. For some it's all about mercy and grace. For others it's all about judgment and discipline. Both sides are stressed in the Bible, but oftentimes even when we act in love only one side will be dominate. The Lord balances this perfectly. Even with the two comings of Christ we see the first exercised in mercy (the Lamb of God) and the second in judgment (the Lion of Judah). Likewise, Paul chose the same. Mercy this time, but the promise of correction if he needs to when he arrives. In chapter 13 of this letter he forewarns, "I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again I will not spare anyone" (2 Cor. 13:2). So when I ask for prayer for the elders that we'd be given wisdom, God's insight in these tough situations is what I'm requesting.

The primary issue destroying this Corinthian church was the vicious attacks on Paul. So what will Paul do? One of the toughest discipline cases for a pastor is to go after the person or people that are personally attacking you. How do you not look self-seeking? It's hard to use your authority to fight for your own vindication! Therefore in a sense, Paul's threats of judgment here could even play further into the hands of his opponents. So immediately Paul clarifies in verse 24: "Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm."

In other words, "Judgment will follow if I arrive in an effort to get this church back on line. But please don't think for a minute that I enjoy talking like this. As every parent has said, 'This will hurt me more than it hurts you.' My desire is that we can simply serve the Lord together. I don't lord my authority over you like some insecure power-hungry, control-freak boss looking to strike someone down for the smallest mistake. I am simply a co-worker with you, laboring as God has called me no different than you laboring as God has called you. My goal is to serve you, and I want all of my influence toward you not to be one that results in shame or guilt or fear, but rather one that results in joy. I hope that because of my influence in your life that your life will be one of increased joy as you stand not primarily under my authority, but rather that your faith grows, under the authority of Jesus Christ. Therefore though I could vindicate myself very easily, I'm forsaking that immediate pleasure it might personally bring to me for the greater satisfaction of your renewed faith."

As we learned, the last visit Paul made to Corinth was extremely painful. So in chapter 2, verse 1 he says, "But I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again." He went once and it was terrible. Why should he immediately subject himself to two more visits? What was there to gain if the church had not repented? Why would he intentionally place himself in a position of sorrow?

You see, when we can minister in joy there is so much more strength in our service (Neh. 8:10). Hebrews 13:17 teaches this principle in the context of church leaders. "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you." You see, if the church wears down her leaders, they will lose their joy in the ministry. And when leaders lose their joy, their energy is sapped and their service will be either non-existent or not from the heart. And when that happens, the entire church they shepherd will suffer. The same applies for you. I am not implying that all church service is easy. I'm just saying serve with joy! As you walk in the Spirit, serve where God calls you to serve and serve in such a way that you refuse to allow people and circumstances to steal your joy and shut you down.

During that memorable visit to Corinth no doubt there were some heated conversations between Paul and noted members of that church. Things didn't go too well. Paul leaves heartbroken, and several there in response to Paul's words were, according to verse 2, heartbroken as well. "For if I cause you sorrow, who then makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful?"

Notice again how Paul is seeking joy both for the people and himself, a joy that will come not through shortcuts, but the obedient repentant attitudes of the congregation. When the disobedient repent, they will be made joyful and when the disobedient whom Paul confronted repent, he too will also be made joyful.

Are you seeing a theme running though this section? Pastor and author, John Piper, coined the term "Christian Hedonism." Don't be turned off by the word "hedonism." We know the gratification of self through whatever means possible is evil. However, "Christian" hedonism is the radical pursuit of my personal joy providing I do it in obedience to the precepts of Scripture.

You see every human being is hard-wired by God to pursue joy. Sadly we pursue it in the wrong avenues that bring anything but joy into our lives. True joy is found in pursuing Christ, and the more that I obey Him and find my pleasures in Him, the more joy I will experience. In other words, I'd like to sound the death-knell to the long faced, God-hates-pleasure, depressed attitude in the church. Pursue your joy, provided you pursue it in the true source of joy, Jesus Christ!

But you ask, aren't we primarily called to pursue the glory of God? How can I pursue my joy (which appears to be putting my pleasures first) and the glory of God at the same time? If your joy is found in the second-rate trinkets of the world, you can't! But if your joy is found supremely in Christ, you can! As one author said, "The glum, sour faces of many Christians. They rather give the impression that, instead of coming from the Father's joyful banquet, they have just come from the Sheriff who has auctioned off their sins and now are sorry they can't get them back again" (Helmut Thielicke).

Don't you think the greatest way you can glorify God is to be found totally happy, content and satisfied in Him whereby you acknowledge that His providence and commandments have resulted in your greatest happiness? As Piper often says, "God is most glorified when you are most satisfied (or joyful) in Him."

So Paul doesn't go back a second time. Rather he chooses to write them a letter from Ephesus. This is commonly called the "severe letter." And though we no longer have its contents, we do have a reference to it in verses 3 and 4 or chapter 2. Verse 3, "This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all that my joy would be the joy of you all."

Before Paul would visit again he wanted to reflect upon his painful visit and clearly articulate his thoughts in a letter. He held out confidence that this was truly God's church and if so he wanted to give the Holy Spirit time to convict their hearts and bring about genuine repentance. Paul wanted to make sure that when he came as promised that this visit, though delayed, would result in joy for him and joy for the church - that their joy would feed off each other. Their joy would increase his joy, and his joy would be the joy of them all.

Verse 4, "For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you." So in verse 2 we see that Paul wanted joy from the people. In verse 3 we see the converse that Paul wanted his joy to be the joy of the people. Now in verse 4 we see the whole thing motivated by love. So what is love? Not just seeking your joy, but loving you so much that I seek your joy as my joy. In other words, when I can be most delighted in the things that most delight you, I am expressing to you great love and affection.

John Piper provides this illustration in his book Desiring God. "Suppose I tell one of my sons, 'be nice to your brother, help him clean up the room, try to make him happy, not miserable.' What if he does help his brother clean up the room, but he pouts the whole time and generally exudes unhappiness? Is there virtue in his effort? Not much. What's wrong is that his brother's happiness is not his own happiness. When he helps his brother, he does not pursue his joy in his brother's happiness. He is not acting like a Christian Hedonist. His labor is not the labor of love. It is the labor of legalism - he acts out of mere duty to escape punishment" (p. 106).

Therefore I think the common belief that in order to serve someone in love means that we need to give up our concern for ourselves is totally false. Rather we honor people the most when we can pursue our happiness in serving them.

For example, when I visit people in the hospital they either say, Thank you" or "You didn't have to come, Pastor." What's the most loving response on my part? "It's my duty," or "Just doing my job." Of course not! What if I say, "I've been looking forward to being with you all day, and right now there is no other place I'd rather be." Would the person respond, "There you go again, only thinking about yourself!" No, they would take my pursuing of joy in them as the highest form of love!

And this loving fulfillment of one's personal joy reaches its highest fulfillment, as we see here with Paul, at the spiritual level. This is the motivation for Christian service! I pursue my joy in your joy as you are maturing and being used by God. This underscores the fact that our spiritual progress and involvement has a direct bearing not only on our own personal joy, but the joy of every Christian in the church.

Paul knew this last letter that he wrote to them would potentially bring great sorrow to their hearts. He wanted them to know that writing it wasn't easy as it brought him (the words he used) great "affliction," "anguish" and "tears." He wanted them to know that his goal was not to bring them down, though that inevitably could have occurred, but rather to express the love that he had for them.

You see, Paul didn't need this church. It would have been very easy for him to simply write them off. But in his love for God he had a genuine love for God's people. He was a duplicate of the Divine. His persistence despite the pain kept him pursuing these people with a fatherly affection. Despite the mutiny Paul had confidence (as he says) that the Holy Spirit was still overseeing the affairs of this church through him things in this church would turn around. We see Paul respond not on the fly, according to his emotions, in the flesh or in alignment with popular opinion, but rather with deep-seated, theological convictions.

So did the church receive this severe letter? Did they read it? Did they repent? And if so, did Paul receive the good news? The answer is "yes" to all of these questions.

Look with me at chapter 7, beginning in verse 5. "For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more. For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it - for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while - I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us" (2 Cor. 7:5-9).

So what can we take away from this? First, true joy can never be achieved until we come to God through faith in Christ and have Him dwelling within us. Second, then with Christ dwelling in us through the power of the Holy Spirit, we must make it our primary ambition to submit to Him as He duplicates His divine nature in us. And that will be seen in weighing heavier on mercy than judgment, forsaking our own vindication if it means the opportunity for the church to progress, pursuing joy in another's spiritual progress so much that their spiritual progress becomes our joy and allowing love to direct, motivate and empower every decision we make.


other sermons in this series

Mar 8


Optimistic Admonitions

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 2 Corinthians 13:11–14 Series: 2 Corinthians

Mar 1


Severity In Weakness

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 2 Corinthians 13:1–10 Series: 2 Corinthians

Feb 22


Signs, Sacrifice, and Sorrow

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12:11–21 Series: 2 Corinthians