February 1, 2015

Suffering Without Shame

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: 2 Corinthians Scripture: 2 Corinthians 11:16–33


Suffering Without Shame

2 Corinthians 11:16-33
Sunday, February 1, 2015
Pastor Randy Smith


"Whatever works for you" - The slogan of postmodernity! No absolute truth. Follow your feelings. Don't judge anyone else. Every opinion is right.

You know, if that were the case, life would have been made a lot easier for the apostle Paul. Why travel around the world to share Jesus with cultures that were already religious? Why suffer so much in the name of Christ? Why fight tooth and nail for biblical thinking within the churches? We can't hold to the modern values of this present age while at the same time have any respect for God's commands and His prized servants that preached them to the point of martyrdom. If anything flies, the apostle Paul was a fool. If the apostle Paul is an honored servant of God and example to all of us, we must discard the reasoning of this age. They are two opposing worldviews.

Paul didn't go to Corinth for a nice vacation - maybe some sightseeing in Athens, catch some sun on the Greek Islands. He went there specifically to tell very religious people that their religion was wrong. He went to tell people about Jesus Christ. He went there in love, knowing the words of Jesus when Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." Jesus Christ is the only Savior of humankind. Only He died for sins. Only He rose from dead. He is God and He offers salvation to all who place their trust in Him not based on their works, but rather based entirely on grace.

Acts 17 and 18 say Paul was running from the mob and facing hostility from the moment he first arrived in Corinth. He considered moving on. Yet the Lord spoke to him, "Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city" (Ac. 18:9-10). The next verse in Acts says, "And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them."

In the time of a year and a half, the church was planted. People were saved. He taught them and worked with his own hands to support himself. He moved on, but stayed in close connection with them through letters. And these letters proved effective when he needed to warn the church of the false teachers that entered their ranks. They brought a form of Christianity, but it wasn't true Christianity. Error must be discerned not only in the world, but also in the church as well. Paul stood for truth and these false teachers aggressively fought back by maligning his character and his ministry. We've spent over a year learning about this.

Obviously anything in a church does not fly. The bad guys, we learned in 11:4, preached a different Jesus and a different spirit and a different gospel under the banner of Christianity. For the sake of the purity of the church, Paul fought them with all his might. It took a significant toll on him emotionally. We learned last week that he called them servants of Satan. You can't get more direct than that!

Now as Paul prepares to close off his letter to the church, he goes down another road as to why the remaining deceived minority of the church should dump these false teachers and follow him and his teaching as a true apostle of Christ. We saw Paul at the end of chapter 10 engage in "righteous boasting." He boasted in what God was doing in his life and the tremendous ways God used him to plant and shepherd the church in Corinth. Now, beginning at the end of chapter 11, Paul gets into what he calls "foolish boasting."

Desperate times call for desperate measures. He's been sitting back absorbing all the cheap claims of the false teachers. It was killing him that this church was running after these men when Paul even exceeded the false teachers in the trivial areas as well, areas that seemed to impress the Corinthians church so much!

It's like someone saying, my car can go faster than your car. So you keep it in the objective domain. You challenge the person to a race at the Wall Stadium. When they realize that you'll win hands down, they begin to say their car is faster because of its paint job and racing stripes. You know this is meaningless when it comes to determining the speed of a car. But because they won't back off, you say, "I hate to stoop to your level, but even if that were the case, my paint job and my racing stripes are better too. So when it comes to rational and even your foolish arguments, my car can top your car." That is basically the situation where Paul found himself.

Look at verse 16, "Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, so that I also may boast a little." In other words, "I see where this kind of boasting is going. I hesitate in going down these foolish roads. But since you think I'm a fool, I boast in these foolish areas, but only a little."

Verse 17, "What I am saying, I am not saying as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting." In other words, "Since this is not how Jesus would respond, I feel uncomfortable boating in this manner. Righteous boasting honors the Lord for His grace. This is foolish boasting so bear with me just for a moment."

Verse 18, "Since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also." In other words, "The false teacher can't boast in what God has done through them. Therefore they need to boast as the unbelievers do. So I'll take what they claim and what seems to impress you so much and prove to you how I excel them, as much as it is going to kill me, in even these areas as well."

Then in verses 19-20, Paul uses scathing sarcasm as to why the rebellious faction in the church should listen to him as they listened to the false teachers. "For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly. For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face." In other words, "You are like the young girl that stays committed to her abusive boyfriend. Since you have no problem putting up with leaders that dominate and exploit and abuse you for their own selfish gains, you should have no problem listening to what I am about to say. We've given you our hearts. They have stomped on your hearts. I know you guys seem to like that." Verse 21, "To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison."

This morning we will look at three of Paul's comparisons. The first two will be very short. We'll spend the majority of the time on the third one. Paul is about to get specific, now that he has provided his disclaimer is verses 16-21. But before we move on, let me pause and provide my own disclaimer in defense of Paul's disclaimer.

What we have seen throughout this letter is Paul refusing to stoop to the level of the false teachers. Remember he spoke of God's measurement. He played by God's rules as the standard and didn't allow himself to get sidetracked on meaningless tangents. So we have to ask the question, why now? Why does he now waste his energy and risk the perception that they think him foolish by dignifying the false teachers' claims and go toe-to-toe with their ridiculous boasts?

The answer is found in Proverbs 26. Verse 4, "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will also be like him." That's what Paul has been doing. But then we read in the following verse in Proverbs 26, "Answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he not be wise in his own eyes." That's what Paul was doing now. Isn't that a contradiction in Proverbs 26? No, because when you are dealing with a fool, wisdom dictates a variety of ways to handle the situation. Sometimes you answer not as folly deserves. Sometimes you answer according to their folly.

Okay, so turn over your note sheet. Here we go with Paul's three rebuttals:

1. I Am Bold

The first point, "I am bold." Look at the second half of verse 21. "But in whatever respect anyone else is bold - I speak in foolishness - I am just as bold myself."

2. I Am Jewish

The second point, "I am Jewish." Verse 22, "Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I."

3. I Am Suffering

Told you we'd fly through the first two points! The third and final point, "I am suffering."

In this third comparison, it's now a question as to who's the true servant of Christ. Verse 23, "Are they servants of Christ? - I speak as if insane - I more so."

They claimed to be Christ's servants. Paul claimed to be Christ's servant. Based on the opposing doctrines and opposing behaviors, they both couldn't be Christ servants. The church is caught in the middle needing to choose. This is the fundamental question. Who is representing Christ? How will the church be able to tell the difference? This is the heart of this entire epistle! Paul goes down a very unexpected road. He's going to prove his validity as a true servant of Christ based on how much he has suffered in serving Christ.

Though we don't often tie our suffering for Christ to prove our commitment to Christ, we do frequently use this principle elsewhere to prove commitment and love. Child - "Mom, I don't think you love me." Mother - "I don't love you? Who's been driving you to swimming practice at 6:00 every morning? Who packs your lunch and has a nice dinner waiting for you when you get home? Who spends many sleepless nights sitting by your bed during a time of illness? Who still keeps coming to pick you up when you are embarrassed to have your friends see me? Who wipes your snot-filled nose and cleans up your vomit and changed your diapers? I don't love you?"

2 Timothy 3:12, "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." John 15:20, "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also." Acts 14:22, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God."

We do not look for it, but when a believer simply acts in a way our Lord expects, persecution is promised to the Christian as an inevitable result. I didn't say persecution because one is annoying and insensitive. I didn't say persecution because one is "following" the Bible in a way that is annoying and insensitive. Jesus Christ was sinless. The world hated Him. Therefore when we act like Jesus, we should expect a degree of persecution. And one of the benefits of persecution is that it shows who is really in it for Jesus' sake. If we can receive the hardship and still keep on serving the Lord, it not only shows our genuine love for Him, but it also shows us, verse 23, to be true "servants of Christ."

So with that as a backdrop, Paul from verse 23 to the end of the chapter will document some of his suffering for the name of Jesus - a comparison the false teachers who were only in it for themselves and through their lack of suffering demonstrated no love for Jesus or commitment to this church. Let me take you briefly through this list in verses 23-27.

Starting halfway through verse 23, "In far more labors." Literally working to the point of sweat and exhaustion.

"In far more imprisonments." Philippi (Ac. 16), Jerusalem (Ac. 22), Caesarea (Ac. 23), Rome - first time (Ac. 28), Rome - second time (2 Tim. 1:8). So we know of at least five of them from the biblical accounts.

"Beaten times without number, often in danger of death." This is specifically spelled out in verses 24 and 25.

"Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes." The Law permitted a maximum of forty lashes (Dt. 25:1-3). The Jews would stop at thirty-nine just in case they miscounted. Thirteen lashes to the chest and twenty-six lashes to the back. This also shows Paul still staying connected to the synagogues for the sake of sharing the Gospel to his Jewish kinsmen and the tremendous expense he paid as a result.

"Three times I was beaten with rods." This was the Roman form of punishment. The only recorded incident was in Philippi (Ac. 16:22-23, 27).

"Once I was stoned." We know of that account that occurred in Lystra from Acts 14:19. They thought Paul was dead. He brushed himself off and when right back to the city and kept preaching Jesus.

"Three times I was shipwrecked." Acts 27 narrates Paul's shipwreck on the island of Malta, but that has yet to occur at this point in Paul's life. So he experienced at least four shipwrecks.

"A night and a day I have spent in the deep." Sounds like clinging to a piece of wreckage after a shipwreck while waiting to be rescued.

"I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea." The various dangers that resulted from taking the Gospel around the world.

"Dangers among false brethren." I believe he mentioned this "danger" last, taking a significant shot at the false teachers in Corinth. The false teachers were a noticeable danger in Paul's life. After all, they tried to destroy his entire ministry!

"I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." He wraps up this portion of his list of suffering, but recalling all that he went through to bring the Corinthians and others the Gospel. In a desire not to be a burden to them, he raised support from other churches and worked his trade as a tentmaker.

Unlike the thinking of the false teachers, the suffering Paul faced was not a shameful thing, but evidence of his love for Christ and legitimacy as a servant of Christ.

But he's not done! You want to know Paul's greatest source of suffering? Verse 28, "Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches."

So we have covered righteous boasting and righteous jealousy, and now we see righteous anxiety. This is an interesting one. The general principle is to "be anxious for nothing (Phil. 4:6), to cast all our cares on the Lord because He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). We must always do that. Our Lord desires to carry our burdens. Yet he still calls us to grieve for the downcast, mourn over our sins, contemplate situations for wise decisions, pray continually, labor faithfully and even carry the burdens of others. So there is a sinful anxiety that keeps God out of the equation and focuses on self, but there is a godly anxiety that demonstrates God's heart as He grieves in a particular situation in care and concern for others.

We could preach to the apostle Paul all we want to about his need to give his worries to the Lord. But we know, what he definitely knows, that when we see injustice or suffering, there is something very unnatural when our hearts are not broken. And the depths we invest ourselves in a cause or a relationship, the more vulnerable and emotionally stirred we become. That's why Jesus could look at Jerusalem and weep.

As we read the New Testament, we read about Paul planting several churches. And when we read about those churches, we read about the various problems that plagued those churches. This was a foreboding presence in Paul's heart. This was a, verse 28, "daily pressure on [him] of concern for all the churches." The false teachers come and go. Some congregants do the same. True shepherds and to a degree committed Christians are burdened for the stability of the church. How can I encourage that person? Where has that person been? How can I assist that backslider? Why is she listening to that teacher? How can we save that marriage? Who is that man spreading doctrinal untruths? What should I say to that gossiper? How can we keep the church safe from predators? I could spell out hundreds of scenarios. As Paul said in verse 29, "Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?"

Though the church belongs to the Lord, every pastor worth his weight feels like he is daily balancing a pyramid of marbles. And when things go wrong as they frequently do in even the best churches, the shepherd experiences significant pain.

I've been there a few times in my life. Most don't understand it. That's understandable. These verses hit home to me several years ago. The pain was so intense that the physical affliction Paul spoke about earlier would be much preferred. I can take the long hours and the hard work. I can even take the pressures on my family. But the emotional pain is the one and only thing that forever tempts me to throw in the towel. When I feel that way, I can almost hear the Lord saying to me, "Are you in it for Me or are you in it for yourself?" That's gut-check time. Am I really a servant of Christ?

So in a small way, I can understand where Paul is coming from. I can see the Spirit using these words to pierce the hearts of the Corinthian congregation. It is like Paul saying, so you want to compare me and them? Please do! Do those false teachers still look as impressive? Verses 30 and 31, "[But] If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying."

So if there is one God and many roads that lead to Him and we should not examine the teachings and behaviors in the church, the Apostle Paul was indeed the true fool among these Corinthians. But if Jesus Christ is true God and Christians should be held accountable to follow Him and biblical doctrine does matter, then Paul was the real deal and we would do well to follow his example.

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