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The Hardest Thing to Do

Date: Mar. 7, 2021

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

2 Corinthians 13:1-14

Key Verse: 2 Corinthians 13:4

For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.”

Today, we are completing our study of 2 Corinthians and I want to welcome you to our online worship service. It has been almost exactly a year since we have started these remote services. That means it has been nearly a year since our lives changed and we’ve been home a lot more than usual. It’s been a year since COVID has disrupted everything. Since that time, we finished our study in Mark’s Gospel where we saw Jesus as a man of action. We went through Philippians and Jonah, where we saw how to live joyfully and saw the effects of grumbling about God. Now, we are completing our study of 2 Corinthians. The theme for this study was strength in weakness. It is a contradictory statement, that we are strong when we are weak. It is a concept that can be very confusing. What it comes down to is the fact that what the world likes to think of as strength is nothing of the sort. In many places, brute force is seen as strength. The world sees the man with bulging muscles and swaggering machismo was the strong man, but what Paul has been showing us throughout this letter is that true strength is something very different. True strength is full of grace and the ability to restrain ourselves. To look weak, when we are not weak requires far more strength than we can come up with. It is God’s grace in us that is sufficient for anything we have to face. By not relying on our own strength and realizing that we honestly don’t have much strength to begin with, then we can rely on God’s strength to see us through even the things that torment our souls. In this last passage of 2 Corinthians, Paul gives his final thoughts to the church in Corinth.

Paul starts out, “This will be my third visit to you. ‘Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’” (1) Paul mentions that he is coming to them for a third time. The first visit was when he planted the church and stayed with them for an extended period to set up all the church components. The second visit was the short, painful visit that precipitated the harsh letter. He went there to quell a rebellion, but had a hard, embarrassing confrontation with an unnamed individual. Now, he was planning to visit Corinth one more time to take the offering from them to the church in Judea. Because of what happened in the previous visit and then the harsh letter which rebuked the church because of that confrontation, Paul wanted them to be prepared for his arrival. However, the odd thing is that he quotes Deuteronomy 19:15 after saying he was going to visit a third time. It seems very out of place for Paul to mention this. It refers to the fact that, in Jewish law, if a person committed a crime, it would take the testimony of two or three people to take the charge seriously. There was never to be an issue of one person’s word over another. However, here, there are no people. It almost seems like Paul is wanting to use each of his three visits as witnesses against the Corinthians. It seems to mean that Paul is going to bring charges against the Corinthians. By reading the rest of the passage, it seems to be that way. Perhaps Paul is warning the church in Corinth that if he continues to see their sinfulness, then there will be consequences. It might be sort of like three strikes and they are out. He had been patient with them, but time was coming for consequences.

Paul continues, “I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you.” (2-3) Paul is referring to how he left after his second visit. With the rebellion and sin that he witnessed during that visit, he warned them that they needed to repent. With his harsh letter, he rebuked them sharply and many of the Corinthians repented of their sin. However, it seems that there were a number of people who were involved with the rebellion that did not repent but continued to push back on Paul’s authority. They kept calling him weak and unimpressive. They wanted Paul to prove that he was chosen by Christ and given the full authority of an apostle. In the general Corinthian society, if someone had authority, they exercised it with ruthlessness. They forced their authority on others and flaunted it. It was normal to bludgeon your rivals with your authority. In light of that, the Corinthians may have expected someone of Paul’s stature to show divine power to those who would oppose him. The legend of an apostle was far more fantastic than the reality. They wanted proof of Christ speaking through him, which meant they expected some form of miracle. They expected some Old Testament fire and brimstone. They expected Paul to go Super Saiyan, power up and destroy all that oppose them. They expected Paul to go all Thanos on them by pulling out his Infinity Gauntlet and snapping them out of existence. Those were the methods they were used to, and they expected Paul to follow in those footsteps. If they saw lightning or fire or hailstones take care of those opposing Paul, the Corinthians would be convinced that God’s power was on him. In Acts 13, Paul actually does display such power. Elymas the sorcerer opposed Paul and Barnabas, and Paul struck him with blindness because of it. (Acts 13:11)

However, Paul rarely acted like that. In person, he was full of grace and gentleness. Because of their own culture, the Corinthians looked down on those virtues. They were appalled that Paul would flaunt his own weakness like he did. It was distasteful and embarrassing. It is not something that is uncommon even today. There are many that think that if they show any weakness, the sharks will circle. They think that weakness means there is blood in the water, and they will get eaten alive. Some things in life are looked down upon, like men showing any sort of vulnerability or crying. You must not be much of a man if you shed tears. Yet, Paul shows us that it is that very weakness that can bring us strength. Grace, compassion, empathy and gentleness show a tremendous amount of restraint, but it is a restraint that comes from our Lord and Savior.

We now come to our main point for today. “For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.” (4) Now, in the previous verse, Paul mentions that the Corinthians are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through him and he says, “He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you.” (3) Christ is not weak. I don’t think that any believer would say that Christ is weak. He is the Son of God, God incarnate. He would never be considered weak for anyone with faith, but in our main point, Paul reminds the Corinthians that Jesus was crucified in weakness. Jesus succumbed to the cross. He took the punishment that was due us. He didn’t go to the cross only to obliterate it with some sort of sky beam. Fire from heaven didn’t burn up the cross. A buff Jesus didn’t rip apart the cross as he hung on it. People were mocking him to come down and insulting his very mission and yet, he hung there with meekness and gentleness, forgiving those who were crucifying him. Jesus became weak, intentionally, to bring us life. He died on the cross but was raised again from the dead. Furthermore, the was raised even higher and now sits at the right hand of God in heaven in his full power and glory. Jesus lives in the power of God because lived in weakness for a greater purpose. The Corinthians wanted proof of Christ speaking through Paul, well they had it. He was reflecting Christ to them in his weakness. Jesus didn’t come as a vengeful God, but one who cared for us and loved us all the way to his death on the cross. If Jesus came to this earth using his authority to destroy all who opposed him, there would be no one left.

When we accept Jesus for who he is and accept him as our savior, then we too will live in true power. When we accept our weakness, but admitting our sins, we can have salvation. We don’t have to hide our sins and pain because the love of God covers over a multitude of sins. The well of sin is not too deep to forgive. His grace to us is sufficient for our sins. His forgiveness is all we need to move on and live in his power, but it requires us to realize just how weak we really are. It doesn’t matter how forceful and confident we appear to be, we are weak as we live in our sins. We are deeply flawed people who are living in decaying bodies. Even the best of us messes up, but we shouldn’t cover that up. We should acknowledge that weakness and give it to God. It should be a reminder to not trust in ourselves, but in God. I am no exception. There are parts of me that I used to prize, but they are now tattered. Back in college, my memory was phenomenal. I never took notes, but I was in the aerospace engineering program. I could remember exactly where something was in the notes even without taking notes. I could remember conversations in impeccable detail. Now, it is a far different story. I forget why I go into a room sometimes. I forget entire conversations and my brain changes things. Even this week, my wife wanted me to get parsley, but for some reason, my brain changed it to cilantro. I have no recollection of parsley being said, but I have confirmation that it was parsley. It’s embarrassing to me to have fallen so low. Yet, I have to accept my weakness and give to Jesus. I shouldn’t rely on my supposed strength, because it will fail. I have to rely on God’s strength and reflect him.

It is at this point where Paul starts to turn the tables on the Corinthians. They have been demanding proof of being an apostle of Christ. He has been by reflecting Christ in his actions in dealing with the Corinthians. The real problem that they were having was not that Paul was not exercising his authority, but that their faith was lacking. Paul charged them, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (5) The Corinthians were calling for Paul to prove himself, but Paul called the Corinthians to prove their own faith to test themselves. They had forgotten or not accepted the crucifixion of Christ for what it was: the power of God to forgive the whole world wrapped in an act that humanly looks weak.

Christ is in us when we accept what Christ did and it starts pouring out of us. We start becoming more and more like Christ. When we have Jesus within us, we are no longer demanding forceful uses of authority. We have to examine ourselves to see how we are living. There are so many Christians out there who try to hold on to morality and want to punish people who sin. They become self-righteous and want to go thermonuclear on any perceived sin. They forcefully call out other people’s sins, demanding that they have to change. They have no grace or love for others. All that really matters is that they are right. Honestly, I think that we all do that to some extent. Some may be more vocal than others, but there are many times that each and every one of us stands in judgement against someone. However, we should not be standing in judgement. We should be filled with grace and love and hope because that person, who probably is sinning as you might think, is in need of forgiveness. If they never repent, then they will face the real judge and at that point, without repentance and without Jesus, they are lost to fire and we should never want that for anyone. Having faith means having the grace and compassion that Jesus has. If we don’t have it, then we are failing the test.

Paul continues on, “And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed.” (6-7) Paul makes it a point to show that he has not failed the test because he is demonstrating the very characteristics Christ had as he went to the cross. He prays for them to not to anything wrong. The reason he does so is not because other people will know that he stood the test, but for their own benefit. If they fail the test, then Paul would come to show off his apostolic authority and give them the proof they want. But if they pass the test, then there is no reason for him to do so and it will look like he failed again. Paul is less than concerned about his appearances and people knowing that he is a true apostle and more concerned about making sure the Corinthians prove to be true Christians.

Paul adds, “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.” (8) The truth is Christ and his crucifixion. From a human perspective, it is sign of weakness and the Corinthians may have even found it distasteful. Jesus’ death on the cross is paramount to our faith, but it can be a stumbling block to people. If Jesus is God, how could he die? What kind of god can die? Some people just can’t get passed this point and try to make up explanations like, it actually wasn’t Jesus on the cross but someone who looked like him, or Jesus didn’t actually die he just passed out. Jesus can die because he chose to die. It was entirely his choice to die. If you say that God can’t die, you have just limited an unlimited God. Jesus is God and he did die, but just like he chose to die, Jesus also chose to not stay dead. Jesus rose from the dead and then rose into heaven where he waits for his return. This is the truth.

The passage continues, “We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored.” (9) Paul is now using their own words against them. The Corinthians love forceful uses of power but saw Paul as weak. Paul reveled in this weakness because it allowed Christ’s power to be made perfect. It was never about himself, but all about Christ. Paul constantly had a desire to see the Corinthians restored in their faith. His intention was never to destroy the Corinthians for their rebellion, but to restore them. He didn’t have a scorched earth policy. My kids are like that. When they are upset at one of their siblings, everything else must now be treated as evil and they are upset at everything. There is nothing good in this world anymore in their eyes.

This brings us to another good point, “This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.” (10) Here, Paul shows why there is such a disparity in his letters and his words in person. He is bold in his letters and gentle in person because he is trying to build them up and not tear them down. What the Corinthians were used to and were looking for only tears other people down. Harshness, especially in a first response, is usually not the best way to build people up. It is human nature to hold on to the harsh, negative things said to us. We do that so often. We remember the things we did wrong more readily than the things we did right. It is one of the reasons that we think that our lives are horrible, and everyone else’s life is going smoothly. We see the flaws and imperfections, but we should see those imperfections as opportunities to come to Jesus. We should be built up on those flaws and weaknesses because God’s perfection can be found in our weaknesses.

Paul is on the cusp of being harsh with the Corinthians, but under that harshness is a great deal of love. You can see it in his final greetings. “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (11-14) He reiterates the full restoration and unity. When they are restored and unified, they will have God’s love and peace in their hearts. They will no longer try to stir up trouble.

I see much of the Corinthians’ attitude in our current society. We are so afraid of what the other side will do, that we want to stamp them out, and it doesn’t matter what side you are on. Everyone seems to feel that way. One hundred people attended a mask burning protest in Idaho because they felt face masks were limiting their personal liberties. We want to destroy anything different and make up excuses for it. We want our enemies gone and only people with our own thoughts to remain. As Christians, this is ridiculous. Is that how Jesus acted toward those who opposed him? Even on the cross, he forgave them. He said that they did not know what they were doing. He had compassion and grace on everyone, not just the ones that pleased him. On the cross, everyone had abandoned him. There was nobody for him, but he still was with everyone. Jesus had far more strength than anyone has exhibited. We are not meant to be harsh or tear people down. We are intended to build people up. We are intended to bring people back to Jesus no matter how far away they may seem. Christianity is not an exclusive club with a high price tag; it is a place to find healing and reconciliation. It is a place to be restored and filled with love. When we are in Christ, we are not to use his authority in a way that is different than how he used it. Are we better than our Lord? No, we are far worse. We are to be like Christ in our grace and love. We bear the burden and not burden others. The goal is to bring others to Jesus to find in him the same love that we are to show others. It is a hard thing to do, but the strength to do so will come from God, when we acknowledge our weakness and need for Jesus. It will be the hardest thing to do when we die to ourselves and our own agendas and live for Christ as Christ lived for us.

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The Greatest of These is Love

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Key Verse: 13:13b

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

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