Severity In Weakness
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 13:1–10
Severity In Weakness
2 Corinthians 13:1-10
Sunday, March 1, 2015
Pastor Randy Smith
We read in the eighteenth chapter of Acts that Paul on his second missionary journey planted a church in the Greek town of Corinth. The church began, but as you know struggled in many significant areas of the Christian life. After writing two corrective letters, one of them being 1 Corinthians in our Bibles, the apostle Paul chose to make a second visit. It was horrible. False teachers had infiltrated the church and led the very people converted under Paul's ministry to turn on him. One in particular, attacked Paul to his face without anyone coming to his defense. Paul departed in deep sadness and vowed never to return to the church in sorrow again (2 Cor. 2:1).
It was then that he wrote a third letter we no longer have in existence and sent it to the church with Titus. He spoke of that letter in 2 Corinthians: "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" (2 Cor. 2:4). He waited patiently for a response. Finally he caught up with Titus and was overjoyed to hear that the church not only reaffirmed their love for him, but the majority repented and even disciplined the ringleader of the divisive sect.
Paul speaks of all of this in 2 Corinthians (which is really 4 Corinthians). So with the majority of the church back on line, he now feels the desire to return. He speaks of it in 12:14 and 13:1, referring to it as his "third" visit. However there was still a minority in the church in rebellion. He addresses them specifically in chapters 10-13 of 2 Corinthians because he's concerned as to what he'll see when he arrives.
1. Strength and Weakness
As we prepare for the Lord's Table, let's go to the first point, "Strength and Weakness."
Let me see if I can set this up. As you know, the false teachers, in an effort to gain a following from the church, found every reason under the sun to critique Paul. One thing they used against him was his apparent weaknesses. He didn't speak with the impressive oratorical skills of the day. His personal presence was unimpressive. He didn't collect any money because they said he preached a second-rate message. He rejected the showy. And our focus this morning - the way he acted in gentleness, humility and meekness was a sure sign of his weakness. And no doubt when he crawled out of town, sobbing with his tail between his legs after his painful second visit, they only used the final actions the church witnessed to solidify their case against him. In a nutshell, there is no evidence of a triumphant Holy Spirit in his life, and Paul has demonstrated that he is not an apostle, but a very weak leader.
And to that Paul says, chapter 13, verse 2, "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." In other words, "Be forewarned. When I return, and I will if God permits, I had better see the house in order. And if I don't, I'll start cleaning shop. All those who are bent on unrepentant sin will not be spared."
Let's remember this was the first century. There wasn't a whole lot of communication going on. Paul wasn't sure what he was going to see when he peeked his head in the doors. And let's also remember Paul's concerns that we looked at last week. The end of 12:20, "that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances." The end of 12:21, "I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced." How ironic! The unruly sect of the church that labeled Paul a wimp were about to experience more than they expected when he arrived.
I've frequently said that in order to be successful in the Christian life, we need to keep our focus on Jesus. For example, here is one of the places where all secular counseling goes wrong. When someone goes to a counselor, feeling out of sorts, there is no one a secular counselor can point to by way of example as an ideal person. Without that, how do they determine right from wrong values? How do they know which human traits are best to pursue?
Yet as Christians, we have Christ. He is the ideal Person. When we study Him, we see how we are to approach the Father and how we are to treat others and what decisions we should make and what type of person we should become. The character of Jesus is what we would have had, had there been no sin in the world. And the character of Jesus is what we will have once glorified in heaven.
Looking to Jesus in all things glorifies Him. Looking to Jesus shows us how we are to live. And looking to Jesus is how Christians should solve their differences with each other as we'll see right here.
What Paul does in verses 3 and 4 is phenomenal. As his gaze is always upon the Savior, he can't help but interject Jesus into this discussion regarding Jesus' apparent weakness. And his point is going to be this: "How can you have a problem with me if I am acting like Jesus."
Verse 3, "Since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me, and who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you." Again, that is how they challenged Paul. "Christ is mighty, Paul. You claim to speak for Christ. But you are weak, Paul. Therefore there's no way you are an ambassador for Jesus."
So Paul reminds them in verse 4, "For indeed [Jesus] was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God."
Let's break down this half of the verse. The unruly sect rejected the traits of meekness and gentleness and humility. Similar to the world, they saw these as signs of weakness. Let's remember, "Nice guys finish last, right." However, what they overlooked was the fact that these traits characterized the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. Paul was only acting like Jesus. In 10:1 of this letter he said, "Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ." You see,> their attacks on Paul were in reality an attack on Christ.
In verse 4 Paul refers to Christ's crucifixion. Is there any other time that rivals His apparent weakness other than that at Calvary? The world saw a man defeated by the political and religious leaders of the day, helplessly bleeding as He suffered and died as a criminal in one of the most degrading and agonizing forms of death possible.
Yet what we as Christians see when we look to the cross is not weakness, but power on display. The power to willingly suffer for the sake of another. The power to hold back wrath when being mocked. The power to rise from the dead. And how was Jesus' power demonstrated? In meekness, gentleness and humility. And the reason they don't see it in Paul as a sign of greatness is probably because they've never seen it in Jesus. And that begs the question, were they really saved? We'll come back to that.
Therefore Paul says in the remaining words in verse 4, "For we also are weak in Him, yet we will live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you."
When Christ came the first time, He came as the Lamb of God. He came not to judge the world, but to save it. He reached out to those considered the most heinous sinners. Apart from a few occasions, such as clearing the temple and throwing woes down upon the Pharisees, society at large, especially during the finals days of His life, saw tremendous meekness. They can call it weakness. We know it was God in the flesh demonstrating tremendous strength under control.
Yet when Jesus comes a second time, it will be a completely different story. Still in perfect control, yet He will pour out His wrath on all who have refused to submit to His lordship. There will be no second chances. There will be complete and perfect judgment.
Likewise, Paul is modeling his final two visits to the Corinthian church on the same principle. The first time he departed like Christ, dragging himself after a beating up his own hill to Calvary apparently defeated with the opposition seeming to have the final word. However, when Paul returns, just like when Jesus returns no one who is unrepentant will be spared (as he declared in verse 2). They will indeed see the power of God directed toward them. I believe the NIV is misleading in their translation at the end of verse 4. Paul is not coming to "serve" them. The context is clear that Paul is coming to judge them according to God's Word.
2. Exhortation and Examination
That's why, as we move to the second point, Paul says in verse 5, "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!"
One of the primary reasons people today, like those in the Corinthians church live in unrepentant sin is because they are not believers. They might reject Christ and just hang out in the church because the church fulfills a need. Perhaps they were dragged to church by their parents. But the scariest kind of people are the ones who think they are believers, when in reality they are not and are living a life of self-deception.
You see, when we come to Christ, we are given a heart with new desires, an understanding of Scripture and a love for Jesus that makes us want to be like Him and a power from God that gives us the ability to recognize and overcome sin. All Christians sin, but professing Christians in sin with either an inability or lack of desire to repent from the sin, need to examine themselves as to whether or not they are in the faith, whether or not they are truly saved.
So here is Paul saying, "I'm coming again and I'll discipline those in unrepentant sin." But here's his heart of meekness saying, "I don't enjoy executing church discipline. If you are still in your sin, perhaps you're not saved. Stop right now. Examine yourself. Test yourself if you are in the faith. Because as tough as my judgment might be on you, infinitely worse will be the Lord's judgment if you leave this earth as an unbeliever, regardless of what you call yourself at this present time."
This is like thousands of people in our society today. They are confident they are going to a "better place." Many think they are right with God because they go to church or give money or pray and read their Bible or do good deeds. Some might even feel guilt over wrong doing, love truth, have good doctrine, desire eternal life or fear judgment. These are all good, but none of these are evidence of a transformed heart. Did you know someone can even say he or she believes in Jesus and still go to hell? The demons have great faith in Jesus, don't they (Jas. 2:19)?
Let's just stay within the context of 2 Corinthians. According to what we've learned today and over the past few weeks, what would identify a true believer? How can a person know if he or she is really saved? How about a submissiveness to the Word of God in all things? How about deep love for Jesus marked by obedience. How about a passion to live like Jesus lived? How about a desire and ability to repent from sin?
So Paul turns the tables. As the false teachers and divisive members of the church were examining him, he calls them to examine themselves. He wants them to do what God wants all of us to do. Based on observable fruit, can we confidently say, verse 5, that we are absolutely sure that Jesus lives in us? That is the most important question we can ever ask ourselves. And no one can answer that question for you, but you!
The language of verse 5 gives the impression that although these professing believers are in sin, Paul wants to think they are saved and with his prodding and the strength of the Holy Spirit, the self-examination will bring them to repentance and back into fellowship with God, him and the church. He's optimistic they will repent and pass the test. And he's confident in verse 6 that he himself has already passed the test, never asking the church to do something he's never done himself.
Yet if the opposition in the Corinthian church takes Paul's request for self-examination seriously, they will find themselves in a significant dilemma. If they say they failed the test, Paul's heart would be broken, but as then professing unbelievers they would be in no position to make further accusations against Paul. However, if they say they passed the test and then recall that they and the church came to Christ under Paul's ministry as he proclaimed the gospel they are claiming to believe, Paul is removed from their condemnation.
3. Prayer and Righteousness
Let's wrap it up as we move to the final point.
In verse 7, Paul expresses his prayer for the church. And it is simply this, "That [they] do no wrong." There is the goal of the Christian life. Act like Jesus! Yes we all fail, but when we fail as Christians we acknowledge our sin, feel broken over our sin and by God's grace turn from our sin. God forgives. God heals. God empowers. As His children we are given a fresh start - not to continue in that sin, but as Jesus told the repentant adulteress, "Go. From now on sin no more" (Jn. 8:11).
Verse 7 again, "Do what is right" (my new life verse!). Verse 8, "Do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth." Verse 9, "Be made complete."
Then he says in verse 10, "For this reason I am writing these things while absent, so that when present I need not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down." Once again, a warning from the apostle in his desire to see the church when he arrives filled with the Spirit and acting Christlike. God will be glorified. They will be much happier. And Paul will be relieved the agonizing discipline that would have been necessary and spend his time there building them up in Christ.
I remember when I worked at our old church in Illinois. We had three young daughters all about a year apart. On occasions I would speak to Julie and hear that the girls had a very disobedient day. It always pained me to have to come home as a disciplinarian as compared to a "happy father" returning to his family. The discipline is necessary. It is a sign of love. But no father wants to come and deal with that! Paul, as a spiritual father of this church felt the same way. He wanted to come home to hugs and smiles and mutual encouragement.
So we come to Jesus Christ by faith. We allow Him to bear fruit in our lives as we abide in Him and submit to His Word. If we see no fruit toward repentance and obedience, we examine ourselves and ask ourselves if Christ really dwells within us. Yet if He is bearing fruit, we'll become more and more like Him. We'll grow in humility, gentleness and meekness. And when we individually and as a church corporately do so, we'll then be a place of peace and the mutual upbuilding of each other. The Heavenly Father will be pleased with His children and in all that, Christ will be greatly exalted.