Service is success (or, can stupid people be Christians?)
Jesus tells his disciples he’s the Son of Man and is on his way to be killed. The disciples have a conversation amongst themselves about which one of them is the greatest. Jesus is redefining success. He says service is success. The best thing that any human being ever did was to give himself away for others. Welcome people who do nothing for you. Serving like Jesus means welcoming insignificant people. Jesus is greater than anyone else. You are not greater than anyone else. Jesus’ death shows us all of us need rescuing. If we seek success instead of service, we are believing that we’re better than others or even believing we’re better than Jesus.
Failure is success (or, am I really weak when I am strong?)
Becoming a Christian is inviting failure. The Bible says you see God most clearly as Jesus dies. The most admirable thing is when people give themselves up for others. The more Paul is unable to do things, the more opportunities to be like God in serving others. He lists his missionary failures. We’re best for what God wants to do for us when we’re at our weakest.
How does the gospel help us fight success?
We become like what we admire. If you admire the one who gave himself for the sake of others the most, that is what you’ll want to become like. If you come to love the God who serves it becomes a joy to serve. Put yourself in the weak place. There is no God but this one. This universe is an outpouring of self giving love.
Making others strong always means making yourself, in some way, weak. Forgiving the wicked person means you absorbing the hurt. It’s even true for Jesus. He had to become weak in order to make us strong. Do you choose strength for yourself or weakness for others? Paul raises the stakes.
Inappropriate visitor (v1-4)
Paul is saying Jesus is alive but if you rejected him on the cross, if you didn’t live the way he lived, the day you experience the resurrection power will not be good for you. He’s telling them to be careful what they wish for. They’re wishing for all of Jesus’ resurrection power instead of becoming like him in his weakness. Before that day, examine yourself to see if you’re in the faith. Make sure you’re ready.
Inappropriate question (v5-10)
This call to examine themselves is amongst the most severe things he could say. We are made right with God by simply trusting Jesus. The Bible is also clear that people welcomed into that family will be like Jesus. Be careful if you use Jesus to justify the way you’re living. You could be kidding everyone else that you’re in the faith when you aren’t. This limited authority (given to church leaders) has to be used.
Inappropriate joy (v11-14)
Examining yourself and finding rubbish stuff inside is a happy moment. Looking at yourself and seeing you’re not where you should be isn’t an occasion for sadness, only happiness. Take whatever you find back to the Lord and enjoy that he loves you. He even uses mistakes for good. There’s no fear for you in self examination if Jesus is the one who became sin so we didn’t have to. Strive for full restoration. Once you know you’re accepted start to do what’s right.
The only way to live as a Christian is to know you’re weak. You can’t make others strong without becoming weak. You can begin down that road by examining yourself.
Paul has become weak to help them become Christians. He’s worried because he understands if you insist on strength and not weakness, you end up preaching the wrong Jesus. This should be obvious but apparently it isn’t. It has been said churches get the leaders they deserve.
Respect endurance, not impressiveness
The Corinthian Christians seem to think Paul isn’t as impressive as the super apostles. The people you want leading you aren’t the ones who put on the best show but the ones who keep going as Christians.
Love the one who loves you
Paul says you’ve got the nature of the relationship wrong. Paul says he doesn’t want stuff from them. This parent is sad. If you have church leaders who love you, the right thing to do is to love them back. It’s wrong to think about abandoning them because something somewhere else is stronger.
Listen to stuff about Christ and sin
Loving you isn’t pleasing you. It’s doing what’s right before God. Loving you doesn’t mean making you happy. Paul is going to intrude on their personal lives. A leader who doesn’t do that doesn’t love you. Paul call it the ministry of reconciliation. You are in real trouble because of the wrong stuff you’ve done. Trust Jesus and be reconciled to him. Don’t appoint leaders who look strong but those who appear weak and make you feel weak.
Paul may not be the leader the church wants but he’s the leader they need. He shows them it’s okay to be weak.
The life you think you want
Paul shows he’s on the same level as the super apostles when it comes to religious pedigree. If you had all three labels you were at the highest religious pedigree. Paul talks about how he almost died. He’s been in danger. The life you think you want is the life where you win at the game of comparison; you win as you’re better than others. The problem is that someone younger comes along or with a better story and you’re crushed.
The life you never want
Paul is answering the super apostles to counter what they boast about. He seems nervous as to how he tells the story. Paul was taken into the very presence of God. He uses the word ‘paradise’ to describe it. He’s been given an incredibly high honour. He’s living the life of weakness. He refuses to use this experience to boast about himself. Whatever the thorn was, it was a messenger of Satan to torment him. It was a constant source of weakness.
The life you need
Whatever the thorn is, Paul will be given the strength to bear it. The best life is never promised to us now. God’s power gives Paul strength in weakness. The life you need is the life of weakness. It’s when we’re weak that Christ’s power comes to full strength in our lives. Paul embraces his weaknesses. The solution to our weakness is not to fix it but to embrace it because Christ’s power is made complete in it.
Paul doesn’t want to boast but he can’t seem to get through to the church any other way. Paul’s jealousy is godly. He’s jealous for the thing that God is jealous for. He’s jealous for the people who’ve been stolen by the false teachers. He uses arranged marriage imagery. The false teachers might lead them astray. We may not realise it but it’s easy to be led astray. Paul wants the church to cling to Christ.
Focus on truth
Paul proclaimed the gospel that displays the glory of Christ. If we’re going to cling to Christ we must focus on the truth. We need to know the true Jesus so when we’re confronted with a counterfeit we can spot it immediately.
Follow humble leaders
Paul calls them super apostles as they boast about how great they are. He lowered himself in order to elevate the church. His ministry reminds us of the ministry of Christ.
Face up to false teachers
It’s subtle and masquerading as truth but it’s deception. It’s far easier to be deceived than we realise.
Paul gives us a case study of what it means to be weak. He lets us see him at his most vulnerable.
Choose to follow Christ-like leaders into weakness
What more did Paul have to do? He’s saying they’re Christians because he shared the gospel with them. He wants them to listen to him. Are we guilty of listening to leaders who have a powerful message but not those who care for us spiritually? There are many leaders vying for our obedience. Who will we listen to? Paul could’ve gone straight to Corinth and laid down the law. Instead he appeals and begs. He doesn’t want them to be frightened of him. He wants to build them up.
to make Christ known
He chose humility and weakness and a display of love that is the way that we are saved. The Corinthians had to become weak and become obedient. Only then might they be built up and the gospel could move forward. The gospel can only move forward in humility. Obedience to our leaders is vital if we want to see gospel growth. Lay down your authority so that others might be built up. The alternative is to leave ourselves open to judgement.
It’s easy to admire generosity but it’s difficult to do. The Macedonians responded to Paul’s request with enthusiasm.
Be ready to give generously (v1-5)
The Corinthians had promised to give but it had slipped from their radar. Paul doesn’t want Titus to be the enforcer. He wants them to give generously and not begrudgingly. Our direct debit culture robs us of the joy of giving. We need to take ownership of our giving. There’s an active decision to be made. It can’t be a mindless response. We need to think about how the money’s being used.
because God gives it all (v6-11)
Paul ends this section with praise that what he’s said will spur the Corinthians on to generosity. Our culture tells us that whatever we have we’ve earned it. The earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24). Everything ultimately comes from God. Paul looks to the future and what God will give us. The reason that God gives us anything at all is so that we can abound in good works and be generous to others. The primary motivation isn’t gratitude. God meets our fears with the promise that he will provide. It’s when we’re weak that we see the goodness and the power of the Lord. We’ve been enriched so that we can be generous.
and God gets it all (v12-15)
Everything ultimately goes back to God. In the end he’ll be glorified for his lavish grace in the gospel. Let’s celebrate and remember the grace of God in the gospel.
Some of us are good at hiding what our lives are really like. When no one is looking we’re someone else. It eventually catches up to us and it ruins the reputation of who we represent. Paul doesn’t want people questioning his integrity. He’s collecting money to take to a church in Jerusalem that’s being persecuted.
Lead with integrity
Paul calls this a liberal gift (abundant). The last thing he wants to be accused of is any sort of lack of integrity. He wants the Corinthian church to be confident that he’ll handle it honestly. Integrity is first defined as what’s right in the eyes of God. He’s doing everything he can. Paul takes pains to make things right in the first place. Integrity doesn’t happen by accident. It often means choosing to be weak. Is there someone holding you accountable? Paul represents Christ. He wants his life to glorify Christ.
Live with integrity
Titus backs up his words with his actions. The first unnamed brother was well known as someone who served the gospel. The other one is known for being tested and proving he has the spiritual life to back it up. Both are an honour to Christ. You are the aroma of Christ.
Give with integrity
This letter is a challenge for them to maintain their integrity. The proof of their love is that they give all of what they promised to give. Have integrity so that others can see it. Each one of us is born with an integrity problem. The gospel gives us the integrity that we lack. It’s secured by Jesus. We’re part of his triumphal procession. Paul calls this church to integrity.
‘Generous’ can be applied to anyone. Paul uses this word to describe the church. He invited the churches he knew to join together to provide relief for Christians who were under persecution in Jerusalem.
The Macedonian model
The first few verses are shocking as the Macedonians are poor. The trial was so severe that it left the Macedonian church in extreme poverty. What made them so generous is that they gave themselves first to the Lord. Their generosity isn’t a result of their income, it’s a result of discipleship. Those who are the most joyful in Christ become the most generous.
The Corinthian challenge
Paul is urging Titus to go and to complete the previous challenge (1 Cor. 16:1-2). He points out all the ways in which the church excels. There’s one area where they don’t seem to be excelling – giving. Often the last thing that we allow the gospel to touch is our finances. It’s possible to be a generous giver but without the right motivation. He motivates them by pointing them straight to Jesus. He was rich yet became poor. We give not so that we become rich. We give because God has lavished the riches of his grace on us. When your greatest joy is found in Jesus you become generous.
Proper planning (v10-11). He refers to a planned gift and wants them to finish the work. Often the reason we don’t give is that we don’t plan to. Willing wallets (v12). Proper planning isn’t enough. It’s about your heart’s willingness. You could decide on an amount but give it unwillingly. You could make a plan but lose your income. Extending equality (v13-15). Paul seems to be saying that if your life is filled with luxuries while your brothers and sisters barely have a roof over their head, that should bother you as that’s not equality. There should be equality. Everyone’s basic needs should be met.
How much do you love other Christians? Paul wants us to see what it’s like to be alive as a Christian. It looks like loving sacrificially. He’s had to challenge them that some are spiritually dead.
Christians matter to you so much that:
You would live and die with them (v2-4)
Being reconciled to God means being reconciled to other people. The normal life for the Christian is to care so much for other Christians that we live or die depending on if they are keeping going as Christians. We should spend more time talking about what we believe.
No matter how you are suffering, hearing of them gives you comfort (v5-7)
The fears within are Paul’s concerns. God comforted us. It is in his nature to comfort the downcast. He does this for Paul through the arrival of Titus. Whatever he faces it’s nothing compared to knowing they’re still going as Christians. Paul is reminding us that this life isn’t all there is. There is an eternal life to come and Jesus is the only way to receive it.
You will cause them sorrow if it leads them to repent (v8-12)
There are two ways to be sorry – godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. Worldly sorrow is only concerned with other people, and appearances, whereas godly sorrow is concerned with other people in relation to God and so true reconciliation. There are some things that are important enough to be willing to upset people for. That is why Paul is willing, and we should be too, to cause them sorrow for a short while.
This is why we have structures in place for church discipline. We don’t want to have to use them, but If a member of our church is habitually acting in a way that is against what the Bible teaches for a Christian, we want to challenge them because we care that they keep being yoked to Jesus. Even if that leads to a strained relationship for a short time, it is worth it if it leads them to repent.
Are we willing to be challenged ourselves? When someone points out your sin they’re not simply judging you. They want you to grow as a Christian.
You boast about them to others (v13-16)
Paul loves them enough that he is able to boast about them even though he was concerned. Other Christians matter to us so much that we boast about them.
What does it look like to be alive? What does it look like to be yoked to Jesus? It is a life lived with a boastful, challenging, comforting, living or dying love for other Christians. So make room for them in your hearts.