2nd Corinthians – Wayne Barber/Part 1
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2006|
|This month Dr. Barber begins a new study by taking a general look at the book of 2 Corinthians and making some observations about what the book teaches.|
A Look at the Book – A Study of 2 Corinthians
Father, may we understand the words that we just sang, “On Christ the Solid Rock We Stand.” Our hope is in You forevermore. Lord, let that go deep into our lives. Help us to realize who, and whose, we are. And, Lord, I just pray that as we come to the Word, that in my weakness, Your strength will be made perfect. Lord, draw us all into what your word has to say to us tonight. We ask you to do that Lord, we can’t, Lord, thank You that You can. Lord, in my weakness would You be my strength? In Jesus’ name, amen.
Well, turn with me, as we start a brand new study, to the book of 2 Corinthians. You know, when I was praying about this and deciding where to go, it dawned on me, just really as I was studying this weekend, and that is that I’ve preached through the whole New Testament, I haven’t preached Matthew, Mark, and Luke and 2 Corinthians. And so I am really looking forward to this. I have never had the chance to go through it to study it to teach it. I’ve preached from it, but I’ve never taken the book and looked at it as a whole and I’m so looking forward to it.
Any time we start a brand new message I just want to make sure you understand that’s God invitation for us to join Him in what He has to say to us both corporately and individually. The title is “A Look at the Book,” but really I apologize for that title, because we’re not really going to get to the book. We’re going to back up and kind of run toward it and then next week we’ll get more and more into it, but we’ll start it tonight. I believe God spoke to us in Habakkuk. I’ve had so many of you echo that to me. God has a message for us in 2 Corinthians. So I just pray that He’ll speak it to us and we’ll hear it clearly.
Now, to introduce 2 Corinthians we really have to go back and understand some events in Paul’s life concerning his relationship to Corinth and to the Corinthian believers. It’s in Acts 18, that we discover that the church was founded through the apostle Paul. In fact, let me read some of those verses to you. Acts 18:1, “After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade,…” Now, many people don’t know this but the apostle Paul chose to really earn his living in another way. He wouldn’t accept things, unless people just gave them to him, he didn’t ask for help. As a matter of fact he was the very one who championed the fact that it was okay to do that, but he chose to be an exception to the rule. And he was a tentmaker.
It says, “because he was of the same trade,” he worked with them, Priscilla and Aquila, and “he stayed with them and they were working; for by trade they were tentmakers. And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. And when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be upon your own heads! I am clean. From now on I shall go to the Gentiles.’ And he departed from there and went to the house of a certain man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue. And Crispus [the first convert in the church of Corinth], the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.”
What a beautiful picture of how God just decided to birth a church right there in Corinth. The book of 1 Corinthians, in our Bible, is actually the second letter that Paul wrote to these Corinthian believers. First Corinthians 5:9 references a first letter that has been lost. We don’t really know a lot about it except he said, “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people.” So we know that there was another letter somewhere. First Corinthians was really his second instructional letter that he wrote to the Corinthian believers there in Corinth.
Now I want to inject something here—that the New Testament evangelists are not what we think of evangelism today. Ours is so shallow compared to this. The evangelists like Paul didn’t just see people come to Christ and move on. They took a personal responsibility with people that were led to Christ. They sometimes stayed with them up to two or more years. Paul did that in Ephesus and two other places, but if they didn’t stay with them, he would at least stay in touch with them and make sure that they were being discipled and grounded in the message of grace. I wish we could grasp this concept of evangelism in the 21st century. The responsibility that goes with the opportunity to share Christ with others.
It’s like the man who was elk hunting and he was way off with a guide and that big herd of bulls walked out. That big old herd bull walks out; it’s a good shot, 200-250 yards. He’s got his rifle all set, high powered, got the right caliber bullet, and he’s got that scope and it’s right on the right place and just as he slips the safety off and his finger touches the trigger, just before he pulls it, the guide that was with him leans over into his ear and says, “Remember, before you pull the trigger, it’s ten miles back to camp.”
Now, how many understood exactly what I just said? You see, some of you don’t understand what I’m talking about. The work is not in pulling the trigger, the work is once the trigger has been pulled. And that’s exactly what the New Testament evangelist understood. You don’t lead a person to Christ and then leave them off and go off to somebody else. You take a personal responsibility in making certain that they’re being grounded in the Word of God.
Well, Paul was deeply concerned for the Christians there in Corinth, particularly about their walk with Christ. First Corinthians 1:11 tells us that he wrote the letter—1 Corinthians, which was his second letter—to deal with various problems that had come to him by the family members of the household of a lady by the name of Chloe. We don’t know a lot about her. It says in verse 11, “For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people.” So evidently she was trustworthy because you don’t just take somebody’s word and news had come to him of some real problems in the church.
First Corinthians 4:1-18 shows us that he also wrote the letter to head off some of the skepticism that some people were questioning whether or not he truly, legitimately was an apostle. And by the way, he continues to face that and faces it in 2 Corinthians that we’ll be studying. He also wrote in 1 Corinthians that they had written to him. They had evidently had some problems that they didn’t know what to do with and they wrote Paul, and in 1 Corinthians 7:1 it says, “Now concerning the things about which you wrote.” So he began to answer their questions. He also wrote to them to set up Timothy’s visit. That’s very important; 1 Corinthians 4:17 states the fact that Timothy is going to be coming to them, and then 1 Corinthians 16:10-11 talks about Timothy’s visit to the believers there in Corinth. He also wanted to prepare them for his own personal visit. He has leaving Ephesus and was going to go to Macedonia and he wanted to let them know that as soon as he got there he was coming down to visit with them, 1 Corinthians 16:5-9 tells us about Paul’s visit.
Now we don’t know much about Timothy’s visit, there’s not a lot that is told to us, except that in 2 Corinthians 1:1 he’s already come back. How do you know that? Because Paul says, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother.” So he was there to assist him as Paul was writing the letter to the Corinthians. Evidently, when Timothy did visit the church it was to help them, to instruct them. That was what this was all about. He came back to Paul and brought some disturbing news about the Corinthian believers. It really bothered Paul. So Paul, instead of going to Macedonia first, he had planned to come and see them, but he was going from Ephesus to Macedonia and come down. But instead of doing that he sailed from Ephesus directly to Corinth. This was evidently bad news that Timothy brought. In fact, the situation was so bad that he intended to leave them, go to Macedonia and come back again after he left Macedonia.
So whatever Timothy told him was not good about the church. When he got to Corinth he got into a personal attack by a certain individual, we don’t exactly know who that individual was, probably questioning the credibility of Paul being an apostle. This is found in 2 Corinthians 2:5. It’s a little vague, but if you understand what he’s saying here, “But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree—that I may not overcharge you all.” Then he says in verse 12, “So although I wrote to you it was not for the sake of his cause that had done the wrong.” Now, who was this guy? We don’t know. “Nor for his cause that suffered the wrong.” Paul suffered that wrong. “But that our care for you in the sight of God might appear unto you.”
The thing that we’ve gathered that had hurt Paul so deeply when he got to Corinth was not necessarily that he was under a personal attack by this individual, but that the Corinthian believers didn’t come and stand behind him. And that dug deep into the heart of the apostle Paul. Instead of returning for his second visit when he left there, he went to Macedonia, but he didn’t come back. He’d planned to do that, the news had been bad, but because of the overwhelming problem that he ran into, he goes on back to Macedonia and then he goes straight to Ephesus.
Once he was back in Ephesus, he wrote a third letter which evidently was a scalding kind of letter, a very severe letter. From what we know about this letter, which has also been lost, he wrote the Corinthian church to straighten up in certain matters, but particularly to deal with that individual who had caused him the kind of harm that he had caused. Like I said, the letter is lost. And not only that, we don’t know for a fact who took the letter to them, but most everybody believes it was Titus because he says something in 2 Corinthians that gives us that indication. It’s 2 Corinthians 7:14-16. Now Paul told Titus before he takes the letter, he said, “I believe the Corinthians this time are going to respond.” And he had great encouragement that those believers would finally pay attention and listen. Second Corinthians 7:14 says, “For if in anything I have boasted to him about you, I was not put to shame; but as we spoke all things to you in truth, so also our boasting before Titus proved to be the truth.” In other words, we told him what we were going to do. “And his affection abounds all the more toward you, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. I rejoice that in everything I have confidence in you.”
Paul sent Titus with that affirmation in his heart. Maybe God gave that to him, that they were going to respond this time, it wasn’t going to be the difficult uphill battle that he’d had before. He was so excited to hear the news back from Titus. He was going to meet him in Macedonia but he couldn’t wait. He had to go down to Troas to catch up with him, to find out how they responded. And Titus brought back a good report. Now listen, 2 Corinthians is Paul’s joyful response to the good news that Titus brought back to him when he caught up with him there at Troas.
So 2 Corinthians would be the fourth letter Paul had written to these people trying to instruct them, to disciple them, to discipline them, to correct them, the things that were necessary to keep them on the right road. Probably it was written about six months after 1 Corinthians had been written.
But today what I want to do—and these two things I want to bring out—I want us to back up, to make certain we have a feel for what is going on. We need know something about Corinth, and we need to know something early on about the Corinthian believers and about how they were living, because you see the beautiful progression that comes into 2 Corinthians.
The place called Corinth
So first of all, the place called Corinth. Do we even know where it is? Let’s be sure we understand where Corinth was and some things about it. Scripture doesn’t tell us much about the city of Corinth, but history does. In fact, Corinth is a very insignificant city today, but it is significant historically. It was located about 45 miles southwest of Athens. How many of you have been to Athens, Greece? It’s located on an isthmus. Now I’m going to challenge some of you. Do you know what an isthmus is? An isthmus is a narrow strip of land that connects two large bodies. And hopefully on the map you can see that little tiny strip of land that connects the two parts of Greece. Geographically you have to understand that when Rome conquered Greece it divided the country into the northern and the southern part. The isthmus connected the northern and southern parts. Corinth was on the eastern side of this little isthmus, this little small piece of land. Before Paul’s day, Corinth had been destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC, but 100 years later Julius Caesar rebuilt the city which would be the city which Paul would know about when he came into it.
When it was rebuilt it was basically a Roman colony. It became the capital city of the Roman province of Achaia. You see that many times in Scripture, as a matter of fact you’ll see that in 2 Corinthians 1:1. Achaia is that southern part of Greece. So Corinth was a very strategic city in the time that Paul knew about it. It couldn’t help but be a strategic city; it was a crossroads made up of Greeks, made up of Roman officials, businessmen and even people from other lands, particularly Jewish people. There were a lot of Jew in Corinth at the time Paul went there.
In ancient times if you were traveling from northern Greece to southern Greece you had to go right through Corinth. In fact, ships that would normally sail all the way down and go around the tip of Greece were lured, these Corinthians were so industrious in their thinking, they talked the sailors instead of sailing all that long way and coming around the tip of Greece to bring their ship in, and they would pull them across that little isthmus. Now they wanted to build a canal, which was not built for centuries. So what they did, they built a road and they lined it with logs and they took slave labor and those slaves would take those ships and pull them across that little small isthmus there to save those sailors all that distance of having to sail around the tip of Greece. Today, instead of this road, there’s a huge canal. We stood there and looked down on the ships that come through that spans the two gulfs on each side. Now this caused Corinth to be a wealthy, wealthy city, one of the wealthiest cities in all of Greece.
Another thing about Corinth that you want to know about is its participation in athletics. The Olympic Games were begun at Athens. And, by the way, I have a funny story about that. Do you remember when Atlanta got the Olympics back in 1996, Greece was supposed to get it, that was the 200th anniversary of the Olympics, but Atlanta got it. Well, the funny story is that I was in Alaska with my family and instead of flying over the other way, I was going to Thessalonica, Greece, from Alaska, but instead I came back the other way. And we flew all the way to Atlanta, through Salt Lake. My family went to Chattanooga, I got on another plane and flew to Thessalonica, Greece. That’s a long way. But in the Atlanta airport I realized I’d been in this shirt for a long time. That’s a long flight from Alaska to Atlanta, and so I went into a little shop there in the concourse and the only shirt I could find that was my size was a shirt that said, “Atlanta, home of the 1996 Olympics.” I didn’t know the animosity between Greece and Atlanta, I didn’t know it, so I put it in the bag and I got on the plane, , and right before we got there, about an hour, I went in to freshen up and I put on that shirt, “Atlanta, home of the 1996 Olympics.” I’ll never forget this, I got off the plane and I kept noticing everybody looking at me with a kind of contempt, and I’m thinking, “What is the deal?” Well, the guy that met me when I finally got through customs, he saw the shirt, and one ran and got right in front of me and the other got right behind me since there were some things on the back of it, and they just walked me through the airport.
I said, “What are you guys doing?” They said, “Wayne, that’s a good way to get yourself killed over here, by wearing that particular shirt at this time.” Well, we associate the Olympics with the Greeks and we associate it with Athens, but what a lot of people don’t know, there were two sets of those games. There were the Olympic Games that were in Athens, but there were the Isthmian games that were held in Corinth. In fact, this is why we believe that Paul went to Corinth to make tents. Because the people that came from all over the world to that event stayed in tents. That was a great way to make some money for his ministry, and that’s why he went there and met Priscilla and Aquila.
Well, Corinth was prominent and it was wealthy in the world of that day. But here’s the problem: it was morally decadent. It was known for its immoral temple that hovered over the city. You see, like most Greek cities they had an acropolis, and that means a high place. It stood about 2,000 feet above sea level because it’s a coastal area. This acropolis was used for two things: one was for defense. Obviously you get up high and if anyone comes after you, you go to the high place. It was even big enough for neighboring people to come and be safe on top of that acropolis. But the saddest use of that acropolis was that it housed the pagan worship of the worst kind. It was totally built around immorality. At the top of that acropolis stood the pagan temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. In that temple were 1,000 women priestesses, or so they called themselves, that were actually prostitutes, ritual temple prostitutes. Now, can you imagine this being a part of religion? That was a part of that pagan religion. At night, since these women could not solicit men on the street, they would put on the bottom of their shoes, “follow me,” and they would come off the top of that acropolis and they would walk down, you can still see the road they walked down, and walk through the town, and these sailors and businessmen and foreign people, they would see that and they would follow those tracks and be led right into all of that idolatry.
It was a pagan, terrible place. Even to the pagan world Corinth was known for its moral corruption. In fact, there was a phrase in Greek that was used back then, “You behave like a Corinthian.” But it was never used unless somebody was participating in gross immorality or drunkenness. Corinth was a very, very rich, but a very, very evil city. Horribly depraved. And right in the middle of Corinth is a little church that God had planted. The believers that had come to know Christ in the work that Paul had there, how he shared in the synagogue, had been saved out of this pagan setting. Let me read to you 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Let me just show you what I’m talking about.
Paul says, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” But watch what he says, “And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.” What a beautiful picture. This shows you what they came out of. The believers came out of this kind of debauchery there in the city.
Well, even though they were saved out of it, the moral decay of that city and the constant battering of the minds of the people was like a pull of gravity, trying to pull it right back into its grasp. It was always there trying to pull them into the immoral things of that day and the worldly concepts of that people of that day. The people who were believers had to live in that kind of garbage every day of their life. But here’s their problem: the problem was, instead of a church getting into Corinth because of the transformed lives of believers, Corinth got into the church. And this is why Paul had to write 1 Corinthians. And some of the problems that came out of it weren’t because they were saved out of it, but because they allowed it to come back in. And the world got inside the church and this is why Paul had to write that first epistle.
So the first thing is the place called Corinth. But let me introduce an early introduction to these Corinthian believers and the problem that resulted because they bought into the schemes and ways of the world. The people of the church of Corinth. We’ve seen the place called Corinth, but let’s look at the people of the church of Corinth.
The people of the church of Corinth
In the book of 1 Corinthians, we learned how the Corinthian believers were so affected by the worldly mindset. You have to understand that it was constantly bombarding—and I’ll tell you what, it’s like reading the newspaper in the 21st century. The essence of their spiritual problem is found in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3. Look there with me. I want to show you what Paul had to say about them. “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it.” Now, nothing he says in that is an indictment to these people. Babies act like babies. They need milk; they can’t eat meat. I remember one time trying to give my daughter something she couldn’t chew and everybody ran and screamed and grabbed it out of my hand and I looked at everybody and said, “What are you doing?” They said, “Wayne, she doesn’t have teeth. She can’t chew it, she needs milk.” Babies attach themselves to flesh. Whoever birthed them, they’re going to hang on for dear life until they grow up and get old enough to stand on their own two feet. Nothing here is an indictment to them until you get into the middle of verse 2.
Here comes the indictment, “Indeed, even now you are not yet able.” Now that’s the indictment. When a baby is born you want it to grow up. A baby is beautiful. I’ve got our two grandchildren on my desktop. Every time I turn in on I smile. But, you know, I don’t want them to stay there. I want them to grow up. And Paul said that the problem with the church here, yes, you were birthed in the kingdom, but he said you will not grow up. You still can’t take the meat of the Word.
Then in verse 3 he says, “for you are still fleshly.” And then he gives the evidence of how they’re still fleshly, which means they’re still living their lives according to what they can do, what men can do. He says, “For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” And this jealousy and strife had caused such division in the church, included the way they looked at their pastors. Some were “Paul followers,” who was the first pastor. And others were “Apollos followers,” who was the second pastor. It’s interesting, isn’t it? They adapted themselves to one, one or the other, but not both.
It says in 1 Corinthians 3:4, “For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men?” Do mere men not do that? They love the flesh of this world. Well, this among other things, like I said, caused great division in the church. The Corinthians believers who just chose not to grow up, and they’re saved, were totally involved to the wisdom of the world. It grabbed them: the intelligentsia around them, the wealth that was in Corinth. The immorality was just one of the things they bought in to. And Paul had to address this problem and started his whole epistle that way. And I want you to see some things that he said.
Like I said earlier, it’s almost like reading the newspaper today about Christians in the 21st century who believe that somehow, because of what they know, that they have such intelligent creativity, that they can reach people that God can’t touch through His Word. That’s exactly what happened here and I’ll show you in just a minute. To refute the wisdom and the creative ways of men that they had bought into, Paul shows them that God chose a foolish message, and He chose a foolish method to accomplish their very salvation. The message of Christ dying on the cross for our sin was the foolish message, and the foolish method was the preaching of that word.
He begins in verse 18 and says, “For the word of the cross is foolishness for those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Now, Paul wanted to show them that God is not impressed in any way with the wisdom of men. He’s never impressed with the wisdom of men. He says in 19, “For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.’” In fact, Paul challenges them: “Where is the wise man?” Show me, “Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not come to know God. God was well pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” His examples of this were not only the Jews but the Gentile believers, the Gentiles themselves.
Now 1 Corinthians 1:22 says, “For indeed Jews ask for signs,” they’ve got to see it, but see, it’s got to be believed; and then he turns it around, “and the Greeks, they search for wisdom.” They have to understand it, but it’s known only by revelation. Verse 23, “But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called,” the ones in that group that are going to respond, “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God” both in His message and in His method, “is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
Then He turns it to their own salvation. This is such an interesting verse, verse 26, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are.” But then Paul wanted them to know why God chose the foolish message method of the cross and the foolish method of preaching the Word of God. He said in verse 29, “that no man should boast before God.”
He reminds them that only through what Christ did were they believers. It wasn’t through what any man did, it was what Christ did. He said in verse 30, “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, that just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” That the whole reason it was done that way. Paul then defended why he was what he was, and why he did what he did. Verse 1 of chapter 2, “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom,” I didn’t have all these creative ways of doing something outside of the foolish method God had given, “proclaiming to you the testimony of God.”
The word “superiority” that is used there, “superiority of speech or of wisdom,” Paul says he was careful not to overshadow message of the Word of God. He was so careful not to do that. Paul never wanted to use anything that would cause the people to walk away with that on their minds instead of the message of God. He says in verse 2, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Now that’s an important verse there. That word “crucified” there is in the perfect tense. Perfect tense means that something happened back here—and in this text he’s talking about He was crucified—and he’s talking about that has a continuing influence on our life, even now as believers. It’s the crucifixion of Christ that put all of us to death, all of our fleshly methods, all of our worldly ways, all of our fleshly ideas died when we were crucified with Him, when we received the Lord Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Do you see what Paul is saying here? He’s saying there is nothing in my flesh that can contribute to the reaching of people for salvation. Nothing in my flesh whatsoever. It died at salvation. Therefore I have to come back to the age old method that God has given, the foolish method and the foolish message which is the preaching of the Word of God. I do not want anything that will in some way come up and overshadow the message and the thoughts that God wants to share with the human heart through His Word. Paul said that my creativity is a poor contrast to God’s Word when it’s preached properly. And he says in verse 3, “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.”
You know, it took years of my life to understand what that meant. It only comes when we understand how weak and ineffective we are in our flesh. We can do great things in the corporate world, we can do great things in the political world, but when it comes to the kingdom of God, we’re on a brand new page and we have to understand our own personal, fleshly incompetence. And when we see our weakness and our inability, and that God is not impressed with all the ideas we offer to Him and ask Him to bless, it is then that we tremble in the face of what we represent. We are all desperate for His power.
Paul says in verse 4, “And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” and then he says why. He comes back to the same thing. If you want to know what drove Paul, what motivated him from the time he started his ministry to the time he died, it’s right here in verse 5, “so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men but on the power of God.”
Well, did the Corinthian church get the picture? Absolutely not. They fell into the same trap many have fallen in to. They didn’t seem to get it. Chapter 5, sin went undisciplined in the church. Chapter 6 it was so bad that they would even sue each other in public, pagan court, ruining their witness to others over something trivial like money. In chapter 7 their families were upside down. In chapters 8-10 they used the precious message of God’s grace as a license to walk all over their weaker brother. In chapter 11 they desecrated the Lord’s Supper. He said every time you come together you bring shame on His name. In chapter 12 they thought that anything emotional must be spiritual. In chapter 13 they knew nothing of God’s love. In chapter 14 they’re babbling in an unknown tongue, a practice that was not only wrong, the whole premise was wrong. It wasn’t for believers, it was for unbelievers. In chapter 15 they didn’t believe the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Paul said if you don’t believe that then you can’t know Him, because that’s part of the gospel. And then in chapter 16 they knew nothing of stewardship to the church.
All because they would not yield themselves to Christ and allow Him to do through them what only He in His power could do. Their faith rested on the wisdom and creativity of men instead of on Christ. And the proof of the immaturity was in the pudding. You just had to study the book and you saw through it.
Well, this is early on and I want to make sure you see that, because there is going to be a transition here. And there is hope. We’ve seen the place called Corinth, not a good place to live because of the influence on everybody. We’ve seen the people early on of the church there, but next time we’ll begin to get more and more into 2 Corinthians. We sang about comfort earlier. It’s used ten times in the first 11 verses. Paul has a lot of great things to say in 2 Corinthians. It’s a powerful book, quite unlike what he’s dealt with them before, and that’s an encouragement to me. It ought to be an encouragement to you, that there have been days in my life that I couldn’t wait to share my creative ideas with God to where I finally figured out He wasn’t interested. And the only time that God is impressed is when He looks at me and sees Himself. And for that to happen I’ve got to come to the end of all of my earthly ideas and ways and thoughts and I’ve got to learn to bow before Him and go back to the foolish method and go back to the foolish message and continue to do what God said to do and then God touches the hearts of people.
I believe that we’ll see that there’s great encouragement in this book. We don’t have to walk after the flesh. We don’t have to look like the world to reach the world. Christ has been reaching it for a long time. It’s nothing new to him. In fact, our son and his wife are about to have their first child. One day—he was all nervous—I said, “You know, having babies, it’s been around for a long time. It’s not something real new.” Christ reaching different cultures, different people, different races, has been around for a long time. He chose a foolish message and He chose a foolish method, but it has to be done in the power and demonstration of God and it will do its work.
Well, that’s the early-on look at the church of Corinth. I was at a conference for youth pastors of all denominations. I was one of the speakers, but I had a seminar, and I didn’t know what to do. And I said, “Is ministry received or is it achieved?” Is it something man in his own wisdom comes up with and does for God and ask Him to bless, or is it something he receives from God as he walks in yieldedness to His Word and to His will? I didn’t think anyone would come; there was standing room only. When I finished I didn’t know if anybody had heard a thing I said. Have you ever taught some place and you didn’t know? They look at you like a calf at a new gate and you haven’t got a clue if they heard a thing you said?
Nobody left, everybody just sat there. I said, “You’re free.” They just sat there. Finally one guy stood up and he said, “Can I say something?” And I said yes. He said, “When I got saved I knew that it was nothing about me that got me saved, and when I got in the ministry I understood unless it was God’s Word, unless it was the Spirit of God anointing His Word, it wasn’t going to accomplish anything eternal. But you know what happened to me? I got up under a committee that started looking for numbers and I became numbers-driven for the last five years of my life. I have lost my joy, I have lost my sense of purpose, and I beat myself up anytime we have one less than we had the week before.” He began to sob. We just stopped and had prayer for him. He finally sat down still weeping.
Another man said, “Can I say something?” For one hour and 45 minutes we saw people come back to the foolish message and the foolish method. That’s the way they started, that’s what God set up and that’s the way it’s going to be finished. And that’s the church of Corinth. Thank God they came around. And I think we’re going to enjoy
Second Corinthians. As a matter of fact, you’re going to see more of Christ in you, the hope of glory in 2 Corinthians than in just about any epistle we’ve looked at except for Galatians. It’s powerfully packed in this small epistle.
So you say, how do you take something home with you? Let me ask you a question. Have you ever had someone personally attack you because of your stand on the Word of God and the will of God? You don’t have to be a pastor to be in that boat. Somebody at work? Let me ask you another question. Have you ever had somebody attack you, and your friends wouldn’t stand behind you, and they stayed quiet and left you standing there by yourself? You can just walk through this whole study in the background and find all kinds of ways it can apply to your life. How much is the world affecting the way you do things? And what is it in your life that has somehow become so superior over the message of the Word of God shared or preached in Spirit power and demonstration that people walk away with that and miss the whole message of what God was trying to say? There are a lot of things we can take home tonight.
The one I want you to take home is that there is hope. There sure is hope. We’ve got to be brought back to where we departed.