2 Corinthians 1:23-24 ~ 20180211 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
02/11_2 Corinthians 1:23-24; Christ-like Leadership for your Joy ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180211_2cor1_23-24.mp3
We are going to be looking at 2 Corinthians 1:23-24 to see what godly leadership ought to look like, to see the purpose and posture of godly leadership, the overarching goal of Christlike leadership to serve others for their joy.
Paul's Changing Travel Plans
There is a backstory to this book we know as 2 Corinthians. Paul came to the city of Corinth, proclaimed the gospel, and spent over a year and a half establishing a church there. He continued on across the Agean Sea to the city of Ephesus, and then on to Jerusalem. He returned by land through Asia to Ephesus, where he spent over 2 years.
Piecing the details together, we find that during his time in Ephesus, he received word that all was not well in in the church in Corinth. He wrote a letter to Corinth that was misunderstood, and then he wrote what we have as 1 Corinthians, addressing problems in the church, answering questions, and clarifying issues. His plan, as stated at the end of 1 Corinthians, was to leave Ephesus the following spring and travel up through Asia and then down through Macedonia to visit them, and spend some significant time with them, and then the following spring to carry their gift to the church in Jerusalem. We could call this 'plan A'.
But Timothy sent word to Paul that the Corinthians did not respond well to his letter, so Paul changed his plans and made an emergency visit to Corinth to address the problems face to face. This proved to be a difficult confrontation, a 'painful visit'. Paul returned to Ephesus, having been personally attacked, his authority rejected. This was an unplanned emergency visit.
He then planned to complete his ministry in Ephesus, sail to Corinth for a brief visit, continue up through Macedonia to receive their collection, then stop again in Corinth on his way back to Jerusalem with the collection. He may have communicated these plans to them during his painful visit. We'll call this 'plan B'.
Instead, when he received news that things only got worse in Corinth after his visit, he sent Titus with a 'painful letter.' Paul then traveled north to Troas, hoping to meet Titus there with word of how they responded to his letter, but not finding Titus, he continued on by land over into Macedonia, where he connected with Titus. It is from Macedonia that he writes the letter we know as 2 Corinthians. We could call this 'plan C,' which was in substance a return to 'plan A'.
Paul's Defense of His Changing Plans
In this letter, there is an undercurrent of 4-5 years worth of relational turmoil and tension with this church. They are questioning his authority, his credibility, his character. They are not following his instructions. In 2 Corinthians, Paul is communicating his heart, and why his plans changed:
In verses 8-11 he wants them to know that he experienced a deadly peril in Asia that disrupted some of his plans. In 12-14 he boasts in the testimony of his clear conscience; he always only operated with simplicity and godly sincerity; he based his decisions on the grace of God and not fleshly wisdom. In verses 15-17 he communicates that his desire to visit them twice was to give them a double opportunity to participate in the grace of giving. In 18-22 he takes an oath on the faithfulness of God; God's promises are always Yes & Amen in Jesus, and Paul's own heart is always Yes toward them.
But the Yes in God's actions is not always transparent. Often God's Yes is hidden in a No. God said No to his Son Jesus so that he could say Yes to us. God's promise of rescue came to us in the form of the crucifixion of God the Son. So too, Paul's Yes is sometimes concealed in what seems to be a No. His painful visit and painful letter may have seemed to them to be a No, that he is against them, but in fact, it was a Yes, that he loves them, he is all in, and he is for them.
Here in verse 23, Paul begins to hit head on the issue of his travel plans, and why they changed. In 1:23-2:2 he calls God as his witness; he did not come as he had planned in order to spare the Corinthians another painful visit. Instead he sent a painful letter by the hand of Titus. In chapter 2:3-4 he lets them know that this painful letter was to demonstrate his abundant love for them. In 2:5-11 he says that the painful letter was to give them an opportunity to demonstrate their obedience. In 2:12-13 he lets them know that he even walked away from an open door for the gospel out of a troubled spirit and deep concern for them.
Then from 2:14-7:4 he takes over 4 chapters to lay out the characteristics of cross-shaped gospel ministry, before he picks back up this thread of his travel plans and communicates in 7:5-16 that he indeed met Titus in Macedonia and received word that they had responded favorably to his painful letter.
God Is My Witness
With this background in mind, let's look at some profound truths in his answer in 1:23-24.
Paul is under attack. It is as if he were standing trial, with the Corinthians as the prosecuting attorney. He has communicated his tumultuous circumstances, he has produced the testimony of his own conscience, he has communicated that his motive was to do them good and not harm, and that as surely as God is faithful to his promises, so Paul is consistently for them. It was through Paul's preaching that Christ came to live among them through the gospel. He is with them being established by God in Christ through the Spirit. Here in verse 23, he calls God himself to take the witness stand. I call God to witness against my soul. He can appeal to no higher authority to establish his integrity.
It Was To Spare You
What does Paul mean 'it was to spare you'? If we look back to 1 Corinthians, he warned
As an Apostle of the Lord Christ, Paul carries God's power and authority. Paul bears the burden of parenting the churches that he planted, and part of the responsibility of a parent is to discipline his children. This church was out of line, and he has the authority to come with a rod. But as a good parent, he doesn't want to come at them with discipline. He wants to win their hearts. He says at the end of this letter,
He refrained from coming again to Corinth to spare them. But he will come again, and then if they are still unrepentant, he will not spare them. He goes on:
Paul was accused of being weak. Paul here says that it makes him happy to be able to be weak among them. His heart is not to be heavy-handed, but he prays for their restoration. His heart and his authority is to build up and not to tear down.
When It Is Better Not To Confront
We can learn something from Paul's approach. Sometimes it is better not to come. Sometimes it is better to stay away, to change plans, to postpone a visit.
Now Jesus is clear,
We are to keep sins private. We are never to gossip or slander. “You know, I'm really concerned about Bill. I think he might be slipping back into sin. Would you pray for him with me?” No, Jesus says go, between you and him alone. And the goal is always restoration. To win your brother back.
But Paul shows some fatherly wisdom here. Kids are different. They respond differently to different approaches. A wise father is sensitive to that, and if his goal is to win the hearts of his children, he will approach his children differently. Paul had written two letters. They didn't respond well. So he showed up. An emergency visit to deal with the problems head on, face to face. It was a painful confrontation. It didn't go well. They didn't respond well. So he backs off. He gives them space. He writes them another letter through his tears. He is brokenhearted, and he is on his knees. He sends someone else.
Kids are different, and relationships are messy. We would like for it to be clean cut. I followed the steps. Step one, step two, step three, you're out! But relationships are not like that. Embrace the messiness. Enter in with your whole heart. Allow God's pattern of grace to determine how best to move forward. Remember, in verse 12, Paul says 'I make my plans, I behave in the world ...by the grace of God.' How does God's grace come to you? What does God's grace look like in this situation? How can I extend God's undeserved grace toward you? How can I demonstrate love to you, to communicate that I am for you? How can I win your heart?
You think I didn't come because I don't care about you. But it was to spare you that I didn't come, to give you space. God is my witness, I didn't come because I love you.
Not Lording Over You
Now this is open to some misunderstanding. This might come across as heavy-handed; 'it was to spare you that I didn't come.' My sole purpose is to keep you in line. And if you don't listen up, watch out! So Paul clarifies:
Paul gives us huge insight into godly leadership. This is built on Jesus' teaching on leadership.
This is the same word as in 2 Corinthians 1:24; exercise lordship over. The disciples wanted to know who was top dog. Who is in authority. Who gets to have it his way. Who gets to call the shots. Who gets to dominate everyone else. Who gets titles of honor and respect. Jesus says this is how Gentile leadership looks,
Jesus turns leadership upside down. Jesus says that true greatness is serving others, not being served. Jesus says:
True leadership is sacrificial service for the good of others. Peter exhorts elders as a fellow elder,
Shepherd willingly, eagerly, as an example, not as an overlord. Peter says:
Shepherd. Not to be served, but to serve the needs of the sheep. Willingly, eagerly, clothed with humility.
By Faith you Stand Firm
Those in authority are not to domineer over anyone's faith, because, well, they can't. It is by faith you stand firm. Calvin (p.145) observes that this is a curious phrase; that “he argues from contraries. ...the nature and effect of faith [is] such that we lean, in order that we may stand”. Faith is by definition dependence upon another; we stand firm by our leaning on or trusting in another. And that another is not any church leader. If our faith is to stand, it must be on the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Paul is eager to say that he is not the Lord in whom anyone ought to trust. He together with the Corinthians is trusting in Jesus. God is establishing them both in Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Peter stated it clearly during the Jerusalem council of Acts 15, discussing how the Gentiles would be saved:
Peter the Apostle stands alongside every Gentile believer as one saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone and not by works of the Law.
No man can stand over another man's faith. There is one Lord in whom we must believe and that is Jesus Christ (1Cor.8:6).
Fellow-Workers for your Joy
Paul had an exclusive list of co-workers that included Priscilla, Aquila (Rom.16:3); Urbanus (Rom.16:9); Timothy (Rom.16:21, 1Thes.3:2); Apollos (1Cor.3:9); Titus (2Cor.8:23); Epaphroditus (Phil.2:25); Clement (Phil.4:3); Aristarchus, Mark, Jesus Justus (Col.4:11); Philemon (1:1); Demas, Luke (Phlm.1:24). This would have been something (if you were looking for status) to be able to say 'I made the list; I am a fellow-worker of the Apostle Paul.' Here he says 'I am your fellow-worker.' Paul and the other apostles come alongside me, labor together with me? He puts himself under and alongside us.
What is the aim? What are we working toward? What is it that Paul and the other Apostles come up under and alongside each one of us to accomplish? I could think of some great fill in the blanks; we are working together with you to bring the gospel to the whole world; We are working together with you for your holiness and sanctification. To establish churches in every city. To accomplish the great commission, to make disciples of all nations. To advance the glory of God and his kingdom in all the earth. Those would all be great biblical ways to finish the sentence, but that's not how Paul finishes the sentence. He says 'we are co-workers with you for your joy.' For your joy! Joy! Paul is working together with us for our joy! Even in the painful hard things, even in discipline, he is working with us for our joy. For your joy. Godly leadership is not domineering; godly leadership serves. Godly leadership works under and alongside you for your joy. For your joy! Oh I want to get into this, but it's going to have to wait until next week.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org