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For Your Strengthening

Date: Feb. 28, 2021

Author: Bob Henkins

2 Corinthians 12:11-21

Key Verse: 2 Corinthians 12:19

Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening.

As we know by now, the theme for our study of 2 Corinthians has been “Strength in Weakness”. And Mike’s message last week was the climax of the book where we found the source of strength in weakness. When God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Through this Paul came to realize that having weaknesses was ok. Usually, people don’t like to look or feel weak because that puts you at a disadvantage. Rather we like to be strong and rise above others. But contrary to popular opinion, Paul came to understand that being weak was ok. In fact, Paul said that he delighted in weaknesses and difficulties because it was when he was weak, that’s when Christ’s power lifted him up and he could be strong. (2 Cor 12)

In this week’s passage, Paul takes this thought a step further as he applies it to the Corinthian church. By applying the practice of weakness, Paul gives practical examples of walking in weaknesses and how it made him strong. He wants to help the Corinthian’s to understand that they needed to acknowledge and admit to their weakness if they want to experience the power of Christ for themselves. Everything Paul did was for their benefit, so that they could become strong. But to become strong, they had to first acknowledge their weakness.

Our passage starts off today with Paul still reeling from their personal attacks against him as he took those attacks to heart. Take a look at verses 11-13. “11 I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. 12 I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. 13 How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!” As we have heard for the past several messages, Paul was kind of stuck on the topic of being attacked until he felt like he made a fool of himself. Maybe this is an indication that Paul wasn’t the most emotionally intelligent person. I don’t say this to diminish Paul but to show that he wasn’t a super-man, he gets hurt just like the rest of us. However, Paul didn’t take pity upon himself, rather he used it to motivate himself all the more to share God’s love with the Corinthians.

Paul didn’t let the personal attacks, and the wavering of the Corinthians get him down to the point of giving up on them, instead he persevered through those low points for their sake. Paul never had to prove who he was, throughout his life his actions demonstrated the marks of a true apostle. His commitment to Christ, his love of God, his faithfulness to God’s word and his service to others all revealed who he was. Oh, and of course there was also the performing of signs, wonders and miracles. Once when Paul was in Cyprus he was filled with the Holy Spirit and rebuked Elymas, the sorcerer, and blinded him. (Act 13:11), another time when Paul was in Lystra, he healed a man that was lame from birth. (Act 14:10), and yet another time when he was at Troas, he raised a man from the dead (Act 20:10). In fact, God was doing so many miracles through Paul, that even if handkerchiefs just touched him, they would heal the sick and drive out evil spirits (Act 19). Could the super apostles make such claims? No. Paul was not inferior to the super apostles. He was right saying that the Corinthians should have been commended him. Because according to the evidence, they should have, but that’s not what he was looking for.

Even though Paul knows that he is not inferior it doesn’t mean that he was proud thinking highly of himself. He didn’t suddenly think that he was a “somebody”. There is a saying, “Pride comes before the fall.” Pride over others destroys the unity of a group. Even though Paul acknowledges that wasn’t inferior to the SA’s it’s not like he is bragging or acting proud, but rather the opposite he says that he is nothing. It’s not fake humility Paul knows that all of it was because of what God did for him. It wasn’t that he did something, but that God did something through him and that kept him humble.

The purpose of Paul’s third visit was to help the Corinthian believers to restore their faith. His purpose was always to help the Corinthians so that they may stand firm in the Lord. Take a look at verses 14-16. “14 Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? 16 Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! ” We can see here that one way Paul demonstrated his apostleship by not being a burden to them financially. In doing so, he demonstrated a principal, that Christians should not take advantage of one another and make themselves a burden on others. They should love one another, without thinking what they can get from them. Christian leaders should display sacrifice, not self-service. They should look out for other’s best interests and not take advantage.

Here, Paul uses the illustration of parents and children. He loved them as a parent loves their child. Parents don’t want their children’s possessions. Likewise, Paul didn’t want their possessions but them. How silly would it be for a parent to always be trying to take from their children? He expressed his father’s heart for them by saying that he would very gladly give everything he had for them, even himself if necessary. Paul was a spiritual father to them so he bore their burdens so that they could be born spiritually, just like a real father does. The word “expend” means to spend or use up the resources one has. He did not draw the line about how much he loved them. Even he risked his own life to love them.

From verse 15 we get the impression that maybe Paul thought that they did not love him as much as he loved them. Usually if we sense this we close up and don’t expose ourselves so that we won’t get hurt. However, Paul imitated God’s unconditional love and continued to love and give himself for them. From verses 17 & 18, we can thank God who raise up such reliable and honest servants of God, like Paul and Titus, who worked together serve faithfully them without exploiting them.

The Corinthian church had a history of sin, and Paul's first letter to them was a forceful rebuke. It wasn’t written to tear them down, but to strengthen them by helping them to repent. Let’s take a look at verse 19. “Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening” Maybe the Corinthian’s accused Paul of defending himself. So, Paul explained to them that he wasn’t trying to defend himself but rather he was working to make them stronger. He wasn’t building up a wall to defend himself, he was telling them the truth which actually opened himself up to attacks.

Paul says that he was working for their good, to build them up and strengthen them. This reminds me of God who works for the good of those who love him. (Romans 8:28) Paul explains that he did everything in the sight of God, he didn’t try to hide, conceal, or do things in secret. He did everything out in the open because his intentions were for their good. Everything he did was to strengthen them. But they didn’t realize this. It was like the movie “Karate Kid”, where everything Mr. Miyagi did for Daniel was for him to learn Karate. In the movie, Mr. Miyagi had Daniel paint the fence, sand the deck, wax the cars, etc. Daniel thought Mr. Miyagi was taking advantage of him and getting free labor. But Mr. Miyagi’s intentions having Daniel do all these things was to teach him karate moves through repeated muscle memory. Likewise, Paul said everything he did was to build up and strengthen the Corinthian church.

In verses 20-21 Paul touches upon certain sinful qualities that should not occur in the church. “20 For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. 21 I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.” Exploring these a little will help us see their destructive power. For example, discord is a lack of harmony and full of contention, conflict, and strife. If this is the atmosphere of the church how could there be love and joy? It is wrong when a church is in discord quarreling and fighting with one another. Sinful jealousy comes from self-centered thinking. This comes when we have a negative attitude toward someone and don’t think well of them. We look at the other person and we cannot be happy for them. We cannot be joyful with those who are joyful and weep with those who weep. Rather, we get upset because of their joy and happy because of their sorrow. This is not what Christians should display. Jealousy is the outflow of rivalry and competition with others.

There is no place for rage and anger in the church (unless it is righteous anger like Jesus). People should not be afraid of you. They should not be afraid of how you will respond if they come to you to tell you something. We should be able to approach each other about anything and not find a response of anger, rage, hot temper. We should not have selfish ambition in the church. This is an ambitious rivalry driven by selfishness that causes division. These divisive attitudes and hostilities are not the marks of a Christian. This breaks the unity of the church.

Nothing will destroy relationships faster than slander and gossip toward one another. We should not speak against each other by saying things that are hurtful or harmful about another person. When we sow seeds of disorder and discord though our words about others, divisions quickly arise. Rather, our words should be loving and encouraging, instead of hateful or hurtful.

Lastly Paul mentions impurity, sexual sin and debauchery. None of these should be found in the church. For those who might not be familiar with debauchery, that is an excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures. There is not a sexual activity outside of the marriage that is lawful according to God. We shouldn’t let ourselves be pulled by the world to accept all kinds of sexual sins that the world wants to deem as acceptable.

As Paul thought about the Corinthians, he looked at them through a father’s eyes. And what he saw scared him. He was afraid that if he visited them, he would find them enjoying their life of sin with no desire to change. He was afraid that their relationship was broken beyond the point of repair. That he would find them not as he wanted them to be, and they would find him not as they wanted him to be. Like a rebelling child against their stubborn parents. Paul was afraid of finding a lack of true repentance among them. And as a father for them, that would break his heart watching his children go down the path to destruction. Likewise, God loves us as our heavenly father. That is why he sent his servants to tell us what is right and what is wrong, what we should and shouldn’t do. God doesn’t want us to perish, so, he sent Jesus to save us. Jesus said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.” (Rev 3:19)

Generally, we don’t like to be told what to do, especially to be told what we are doing is wrong. We tend to make excuses for our sins, not repent for them. We may feel like we look weak when we repent, but that is the way we become strong. When we acknowledge and admit our weakness of sin and repent, we are strengthened in the grace of Jesus. John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord by preaching a message of repentance. This raised up every valley and made every mountain and hill low. For when we repent, it opens the flood gates for God’s grace to come in. In the valley of repentance, the rain can fall, and water collect, but on top of the mountain of pride it’s cold, dry and hard.

Everything Paul did was for the Corinthian’s benefit, so that they could become strong in the grace of God. Paul wanted to help the Corinthian’s to understand that they needed to acknowledge and admit to their weakness if they want to experience the power of Christ for themselves.

When I was in college, I lived life according to the way I wanted to live. If I didn’t like the rules, I didn’t follow them. I didn’t want to be seen as weak, so I developed humor as a way to deflect. When I was challenged to repent in Bible study, I rebelled. I wanted to do things my way. However, over the course of time, my actions, my sin, lead me down a path of destruction. I needed to repent, but I was so stubborn. So, it took a while, for me to realize that I was wrong. In my pride, not wanting to look weak, refusing to repent, I suffered. I had to be humbled and go down to a point to where my eyes were opened. The depth to which we go down is different for each person for we all have different levels of pride, some have a mountain and some a hill. But through repentance all will be made level. When we repent, we say we’re sorry, we acknowledge our weakness. We have to admit there is a problem and then the healing can begin. The world is full of people that acknowledge their weakness but don’t repent and fall into depression without healing. It’s only when we completely surrender to God acknowledge and admit our weakness of sin and repent, we are strengthened in the grace of Jesus.

Therefore, it is good for us to examine ourselves and see if we are practicing the characteristics that Paul has described in this passage. Pride, taking advantage of others, discord, jealousy, anger, slander, gossip, arrogance, disorder, impurity, sexual immorality, and debauchery cannot be part of our actions or character.

Our daily bread passage 2 days ago encouraged us similarly to “5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Col 3)

Jesus is the ultimate example of strength in weakness, for in his weakness he saved us all. He gave his life on the cross to save us from our sin. The apostle Matthew recorded this for us, “39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” (Mt 27) Jesus had all power and authority given to him by his father. He could have destroyed all those who mocked him while he hung on the cross, but yet he gave it up. He gave up his power and became weak. Through his weakness, through his death he saved us all. We should take Jesus’ example to heart and listen to his words and live like that among one another. So that we may strengthen and build each other up so that in the end, all of us may cross the finish line in the race of faith together and enter into God’s kingdom.

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