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Tempest Tossed

Date: Sep. 27, 2020

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

2 Corinthians 1:12-2:4

Key Verse: 2 Corinthians 1:21

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.

This past summer, my wife and I bought our kids an inflatable pool because COVID shut down most of the fun things to do. It is one of those multi-ring pools, this one had three rings of inflatable goodness and had the color scheme of a watermelon. At least on a hot summer day, they could go out and have fun splashing in the water. Each time, after they were done playing, we emptied the water, but we didn’t deflate it. So, we stored it on the back porch, so they could use it again in the next few days. At this time, my mother-in-law was coming over to watch the kids. She was usually dropped off and picked up by my father-in-law or one of my brothers-in-law. Occasionally, she would need a ride home and I would oblige. Now, there was the one day, you might remember, that a big storm was coming through. It was going to come through, right about the time I needed to take her home. I get her in the car, but then the wind kicked up and that inflatable pool started moving. It was blown against some metal patio furniture and began to move it. It was on the verge of taking flight. I had to run over and put the pool inside before it was either blown away or punctured. It was getting to the point where anything not tied down or really heavy was going to get blown away. These lightweight items were at the mercy of the wind and tossed about with no concern. Being at the mercy of such turbulent circumstances can be rough. I’ve been behind the wheel when the wind is so strong it is pushing the car around and pushing over large semi-trucks. However, it is not just the wind that is turbulent. Sometimes it just feels like we are tossed around by the circumstances of the world. The world is so crazy right now. It feels like every day you don’t know what is going to happen. Sometimes, it is the outside circumstances that make us feel that way, but other times, it is our own whims and emotions that make us feel tempest tossed. In today’s passage, Paul shows the Corinthians that he is not one that gives in to whims, but it is God who makes him stand firm in Christ.

As we heard last week, we are now in the book of 2 Corinthians. It is a new book and new direction for us. As a ministry, we haven’t studied the book before, but about twelve years ago, we did study the book of 1 Corinthians and these two books are related by more than just a name. Both books are letters that the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. Now, as Bob told us last week, Corinth was a very important city in the Roman Empire. It was the regional capital and a major port with two harbors. During Paul’s second missionary journey, as recorded in Acts 18, he founded the church by teaching the gospel to the Corinthians for eighteen months. After leaving Corinth, Paul still kept in touch with the church there. He wrote them a few letters and visited on occasion. The books 1 and 2 Corinthians are two of his letters to the church in Corinth, but based on what is written in these letters, there were two more that Paul wrote that no longer exist. There was one letter before 1 Corinthians and one between 1 and 2 Corinthians. That makes 2 Corinthians the fourth letter Paul wrote to the church there.

Now after Paul left Corinth, some other people came to the church and started to churn up trouble. They disagreed with Paul on many things, particularly how strict a believer should be in the Jewish law. These troublemakers tried to discredit Paul in a number of ways. They said that he wasn’t a true apostle because he wasn’t one of the Twelve. They also used things that Paul did and misconstrued them to make him look unreliable. In our passage today, Paul speaks to that reliability. Our passage starts out, “Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace.” (1:12) Paul mentions from the outset that everything that he had done, especially around the Corinthians, has been done with integrity and godly sincerity. People had been accusing Paul of being duplicitous, but Paul was claiming that he was sincere and that he was relying on God’s grace. He put himself before God and said that everything that he had done was in good conscience. Being called a liar or two-faced is not an easy thing to hear, especially if it is not true. That is something that is one of my triggers. If someone calls me a liar or even insinuates it, it can send me off into a fury. It really bothers me because I strive to be a person of integrity. Paul could have been extremely hurt with the accusations, but instead he pleads with the church.

Paul continues, “For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1:13-14) Paul always spoke and wrote plainly to the Corinthians. There are a number of people that love to speak in mystery or speak to make themselves look smarter, but not Paul. He could because Paul is a very bright man, but it never benefitted anyone else for him to do so. Instead, he gave them the gospel and his own letters in a way that they could comprehend. Even the things that they couldn’t understand fully, it would only be a matter of time before they could truly comprehend them. He wasn’t intentionally hiding anything.

In the next couple of verses, Paul gets to the heart of the issue, “Because I was confident of this, I wanted to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea.” (1:15-16) He knew that he had never hidden anything from them, and he knew that the Corinthians knew him. He wanted to go to visit them. He wanted to bring them joy and him joy by visiting them, but instead of one long visit, he was planning two smaller trips. At the time, Paul was in Ephesus and was traveling to Macedonia. His plan was to stop in Corinth on his way to Macedonia and again when he was leaving Macedonia and heading to Judea. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned and he never made the second visit to Corinth. There was a legitimate reason for not making a second visit, as I will get into soon, but that incident served as fodder for those who sought to discredit Paul. They used his lack of follow-through as proof that he was not to be trusted. If Paul changed his plans on a whim, then what else from Paul was subject to his frivolity?

Paul tackles this head-on, “Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both ‘Yes, yes’ and ‘No, no’?” (1:17) Paul knew that people, that naysayers, were trying to paint him as fickle and duplicitous. He knew that they would say that his words are meaningless because he is saying opposing things in the same breath. Man, the election is just over a month away and these sorts of things are the backbone of political messages nowadays. You can’t trust the other person because their words and their record don’t match. Promises are never kept by the other side. All the politicians seem to do this, but it is a tactic that is thousands of years old.

Paul’s detractors were trying to discredit his gospel message by finding fault in other things he has said and done, but Paul doesn’t defend those other things, he defends the gospel. “But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No,’ but in him it has always been ‘Yes.’” (1:18-19) The message Paul refers to here is the gospel message that he gave to them on his first trip to Corinth. It was a message that they had accepted as true without ambiguity. It was the same message Silas and Timothy also shared as his coworkers. This gospel wasn’t something that he had made up or hidden parts of the message from them. Paul gave them the whole gospel and it was a gospel that the Corinthians attested was true. The gospel that Paul shared is as true as God is faithful.

Paul continues that thought in verse 20, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.” God had promised in the Old Testament that he would send one to bring salvation to the world. He gave the circumstances and signs of who that person would be. There are hundreds of prophecies about who the Messiah would be and each and every one of them point to Jesus without ambiguity. Every promise about Jesus came true. God was faithful to his word. Not one promise that he made fell by the wayside. Again, this was something that the Corinthians could attest to. Paul also mentions in the verse about the “Amen” spoken by us. “Amen” literally means “so be it”. It is an attestation that it will be done, a mark that we agree with what is said. Their “Amen” is proof of their belief that gospel shared with them is true.

Since they believed that gospel as truth, they ought to hold on to it and stand firm in it. “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.” (1:21) Paul says that it is God that make both him and us stand firm in Christ. It is God that gives us conviction to hold on to his word. It is God who confirms in us that his gospel is true and the only gospel. By ourselves, we can start to doubt the message. We can wonder about God and his love. It is a popular tool of the devil. It is the very tool that the devil used to entice Adam and Eve to disobey God and commit sin. In our lives as Christians, there are times where we are tempted to doubt some of our very core beliefs. We might be filled with pain, sorrow and regret and wonder about the hope of salvation. We might wonder if the gospel can truly save us. We might wonder as believers, people who are faithful to God, why there is so much struggle in our existence. Why does it always feel like there is so much to bear? If God is with us, then why is there so much stress and sorrow in our lives? These thoughts can cause us to doubt the love of God. They can cause us to stumble and falter, but we can’t give in to such whims.

In regard to God’s love, the greatest proof is Jesus himself. God sent his one and only Son to die on the cross to save us. Jesus laid down his life to save us. That is love. When we are weak, we have to trust in God. The theme of our study of 2 Corinthians is Strength in Weakness and, in this passage, we see that it is God who makes us stand firm in Christ. When we trust in God and rely on him and not our own strength, we can truly stand firm. Like I mentioned earlier, some of Paul’s detractors were trying to add to the gospel and make following the Jewish laws a requirement for salvation. They called his message, the gospel message, an incomplete message. Without following the law, they were not truly saved. They were trying to find any way they could to discredit Paul’s message by making him look flippant.

Paul reminds the Corinthians, “He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (1:21-22) By conferring his Spirit on the Corinthians, God took ownership of them and promised the complete salvation that comes by faith. They had proof in their hearts that their salvation was by faith and not by works. There wasn’t some list they had to keep, no matter what someone else said, and Paul calls on them to stand firm.

It is here that Paul begins to explain his change of plans. “I call God as my witness—and I stake my life on it—that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth.” (1:23) Paul did not return to Corinth because he wanted to spare them something. Now, he mentions what he wanted to spare them in just a moment, but at this point we can see that something changed Paul’s mind about returning to Corinth. He went there on his way to Macedonia, but something happened that changed his mind. It wasn’t some flippant and insensitive thought, but one taken with careful consideration for the Corinthians. He continues on, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.” (1:24) Here again, we can see that it is by faith that the Corinthians can stand firm. This faith is faith in God, the same God who causes us to stand firm in Christ. Paul is imploring the Corinthians to stand firm in the belief concerning Jesus. He is their Savior and they should stand firm on that belief and not be influenced by the detractors.

Paul continues to explain, “So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you.” (2:1) It seems that first visit, the one he made on his way to Macedonia was a painful visit. We don’t know all the details, but during that visit there was someone that caused a great offense. Someone had done something terrible, but it seems that the Corinthians did nothing about it. So, after Paul left, instead of returning to them, he wrote them a severe letter calling for the church in Corinth to discipline the offender. Paul had gone to Corinth as a friend and mentor but left with a strained relationship with them. He didn’t want to strain that relationship further by making another visit, so he wrote the letter. He alludes to this in the next verse, “For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved?” (2:2) He mentions here that the only one who could make him glad is the one whom he has grieved. He is referring to the person he rebuked in the severe letter. If the offender comes to repentance, then their relationship can be restored, but Paul didn’t want to go to Corinth before that step could take place.

Paul wasn’t trying to appear as their friend in person and rebuke them harshly when he was away. He was not trying to be two-faced. “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. 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.” (2:3-4) Paul wasn’t trying to grieve the Corinthians, he loved them and wanted for them to change their ways. I know this. As a parent, you have to discipline your children because you want for them to grow and not go down a dark path. You do it out of love, not because you want to squash all fun. You don’t discipline because you want them to feel bad, but to help them back to the right way. Paul was doing the same for the offender in Corinth. He wasn’t trying to make the person feel bad in his strong letter, but he wanted the offender to repent and turn back to God. Until that would take place, then he could not return to Corinth because that would just make things worse.

Like I said earlier, there were people in Corinth who were trying to use this change of plans as proof that Paul was to not be trusted. They took his words and actions out of context in order to further their own agenda. They tried to make him look fickle and one who lives his life giving in to his whims, but he asserts that he is standing firm on Christ. He knows their true agenda. They want to add to the gospel so that they can have influence over others.

We can see in this passage how important it is to stand firm in the gospel and not live like a leaf in the wind. We can’t live like we are being tossed about like an inflatable pool in a storm. We have to be firm in the gospel. Paul wasn’t concerned about how the message was delivered, but of the message itself. We have to stand firm in Christ and not waver on the belief that Christ died for us to bring us salvation and there is no other action required for salvation. We have a tendency to want to do something to save ourselves, but in reality, there is nothing that we can do, but believe that we are saved.

Now, standing firm does not mean that we are stubborn. Stubbornness is based on pride and our own strength, but we are called to stand firm in Christ because of God. Now, there are times where we might be rebuked for doing something wrong, like the offender. And, in those cases, it is up to us not to stubbornly hold on to our offense, but to see the error of our ways. We have to look at our words and actions and see how they compare to the gospel. If there is a difference, then we shouldn’t be stubborn about it, but we should repent. I am certain that when people started complaining about Paul, he looked to see if he was in error. In his case, some people were falsely accusing him, but, even then, he did not stand firm on his own actions, but on the gospel. He reaffirmed that he pulled his strength from God and the gospel he spoke was the true gospel and there was proof based on what God has done in the church. God put his Spirit in the Corinthians as a deposit of the salvation that comes through Christ.

It can be very discouraging when people accuse you of doing something wrong, especially if it is someone in the church. It can sow doubt in your own faith. I remember a time when I had a string of setbacks in my life. I was talking with someone in the church about these setbacks and they wanted me to take a look at my life and repent for some secret sin that was causing my setbacks. I started to ponder about my sin, and it started to discourage me. Was I preventing my own success? I was a sinner, I still am. I prayed to God for help and understanding and he gave me a word from John 9:3, “‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” In the passage, there was a man born blind, and the Jews thought that all misfortune came from sin, but this man’s misfortune came at birth, so whose sin caused it? Jesus explained, that the man’s misfortune was not a result of anyone’s sin, but it happened so that God’s work might be displayed in his life. It was a revelation to me. Hardship is an opportunity to glorify God. Sin didn’t necessarily cause hardship. I mean, Jesus had the greatest hardship of all, and he never sinned. This caused me to hold on to the gospel that I know and to cling to the one true God who saved me from a life of sin. I am a sinner who has received salvation by the blood of Christ. Sin no longer has power over my life. Everything that happens to me and my family is so that the work of God might be displayed in our lives. This verse became my key verse for my life. I stand firm on what Jesus said, not by my own strength because it is what God showed me about him. He showed me this corner of his nature to help rid me of doubt in this regard. I can’t go on second-guessing myself and my actions. I must trust and rely on God. I must trust the gospel I have heard and have shared. I cannot forget the gospel when it is convenient for me or hard to accept. It must trust in God to help me hold on to it.

The same holds for each of us. We have to stand firm in the gospel and not be tossed about like a rag doll. Paul didn’t let the accusations keep him down. He held firm to the gospel message and encouraged the Corinthians to do the same. He wanted them to remember that they accepted the gospel as truth and there was proof of their salvation in the Spirit that resided in them. If God approved, then why would you need to doubt? God is faithful and all his promises come true. We only need to trust in him. There is so much in this world that can sow doubt in our hearts. We are in a pandemic, the economy is faltering, justice seems selective, and politics seems as muddy as ever. We might ask, where is God in all this? But he is always there trying to get us to focus on him and not the world. We cannot let go of the gospel, but stand firm in that basic belief.

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