2 Corinthians 2:16-17 ~ 20180422 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
04/22_2 Corinthians 2:16-17; Who is Sufficient? ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180422_2cor2_16-17.mp3
In 2 Corinthians Paul describes what authentic Christian ministry is and corrects mistaken views.
Paul paints a picture of authentic Christian ministry as a triumphal procession, being led as a conquered captive and slave to God, spreading a fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus everywhere. And this aroma of Jesus, while always pleasing to the Father, divides humanity into two categories; those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To those who are being saved, he is the smell of life leading to eternal life. But to those who are perishing, he is perceived as the smell of death and leads to eternal death. Authentic ministry divides.
Jesus said he came to cause division between people. He said:
Jesus describes this division of all mankind into two categories in Matthew 25.
Jesus describes those who are being saved as blessed by my Father, who inherit the kingdom. And he describes those who are perishing as suffering eternal punishment, eternal fire.
Paul says that God
When Jesus sent out the twelve to proclaim the kingdom, he told them:
The proclamation of the gospel, the word of the cross, is a weighty responsibility. On the one hand, it is a message that rescues and delivers and breathes life into dead souls. On the other hand, it increases the accountability of the one who hears. Better never to hear of Jesus at all, than to hear of him and reject him.
Who Is Sufficient?
This is heavy. Some will benefit eternally from the message, but those who reject will be forever made held to a higher level of accountability; 'to whom much is given, much will be required' (Lk.12:48). To be the one who brings this dividing message, to be a fragrance of life to some, and the stench of death to others, is an incredibly sobering responsibility. Paul recognizes that the gospel he declares divides humanity, and he asks the question 'who is sufficient for these things?'
Who is fit, able, worthy, competent; who is sufficient? Who is up to this weighty responsibility?
This reminds us of Moses, when God called him out of exile to lead his people out of Egypt. God sent Moses to two distinct groups of people. He was to go to Israel to declare that God was coming down to rescue them and set them free. He was also to go to the Pharaoh of Egypt and demand that he let his slaves go free. God said:
This was good news to a people who were enslaved to a cruel tyrant. But this meant God's judgment against the Egyptians who refused to bow to God's authority. Moses felt the weight of this call.
The Greek translation of this verse uses this same word 'sufficient' or competent. 'Oh, my LORD, I am not sufficient. I am not competent.' Moses is acutely aware of his own inadequacy in the face of such a weight responsibility.
For We Are Not...
Who is sufficient? This sounds like a rhetorical question, and we are quick to answer 'no one!' Paul begins as we would expect 'for we are not...' Who possibly is up to this task? With Moses, we certainly do not feel competent. But this is not Paul's answer. He says:
Paul gives a five part answer to the question in this verse, one negative and four positive characteristics of his own ministry to demonstrate that he is indeed competent. But this is not all he has to say; his answer continues on into the next chapter. Paul is guarding himself against misunderstanding. This is not a question to which a simple 'yes' or 'no' will suffice. He gives a nuanced answer; he qualifies his answer. What characterizes his ministry?
Not Peddlers of the Word of God
Notice that the word of God is central to what it means to be a minister. He starts with the word of God, and he ends this verse with the verb 'we speak.' As an authentic minister, he speaks the word of God.
But others are speaking God's word, and he draws a contrast here. It matters how the word of God is handled. Later in this book, chapters 11-13 he confronts the false apostles who proclaim a false Jesus, a false Spirit, and a false gospel. It matters the content of the message. But it also matters the motive of the messenger. Paul says he is not like so many others who are not competent, who peddle God's word. This is a common word for retail shop vendors, who take a product made by someone else and sell it for a profit. This term has very negative connotations, implying underhanded shady business practices, false advertising, dishonest dealing, diluting the product. These were often con artists, expert at ripping off the unsuspecting public.
We have to balance this with what he said in 1 Corinthians 9. In that whole chapter he strongly defends the right of a minister of the gospel to be paid for that ministry. He says:
It is the right, it is the command of the Lord Jesus that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
So what is Paul saying that he is not like so many peddlers of God's word? Although Paul adamantly defends his own and others' right to make a living by the gospel, he chooses not to make use of that right. But he has nothing bad to say about the other apostles who do make use of that right. What is he saying here?
Listen to Paul's requirements for Christian leadership of any kind:
This is a heart issue. What is the motive? What is the focus? 'We are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word.' Some, Paul says in Philippians 1 'preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely.'
So many are peddlers of God's word, seeking to make a profit, seeking gain out of selfish ambition. Those are not fit, not competent, not sufficient for gospel ministry.
The gospel is not a commodity to be sold; the gospel is the power of God to transform lives. Like strong medicine in incompetent hands, that which is meant to bring life can bring about death. Who is competent for these things? Not those who are pursuing personal gain.
That is the negative. Now he lists 4 positive criteria of competency for ministry. 'But as of sincerity, but as of God, directly before God, in Christ we speak.'
Paul operates out of sincerity. This is not the first time we have encountered this word. This verse is a bookend connecting back to 1:12, where Paul said
Paul's conscience bears him witness. He conducts himself always with sincerity. This word is a compound word that literally means judged by the sun. Paul's conduct is out in the wide open, in the full light of the sun; he has nothing to hide. No secrets. No bait and switch. He is not duplicitous. There is no question of motives. He shoots straight. He says what he means and means what he says. You don't have to read between the lines. What you see is what you get. He has integrity, not only in relation to ministry, but to all of life. He is transparent. Transparency is not something he strives for; it is simply who he is. And it is out of that open transparency that he speaks the word of God. Competent ministry must be sincere ministry.
'But as of sincerity, but as of God.' Paul is speaking of the source of his speaking and his authority. It all comes out of God. His authority comes from God, and he speaks God's words. The ESV fills in the sense of this brief phrase; 'as commissioned by God.' The NIV has 'as those sent from God.' The only source of authentic ministry is God. Paul's authority and Paul's message is not self-originated; he is not at liberty to make stuff up. Remember, he is a conquered captive, led in triumphal procession, and he spreads the scent of the knowledge of Christ everywhere. He is a glad slave of God, and it is his joy to make much of Jesus. The content and the power of his message come from God. Competent ministry must originate in God.
Directly Before God
'But as of sincerity, but as of God, directly before God.' Paul is over against God, directly in the presence of God. He is always before God or 'in the sight of God.' Now if we know the Bible teaches that God is everywhere present and knows everything about everyone everywhere all the time, how is this a qualification for competent ministry? It is one thing for God to know everything about you, and it is quite another thing for you to be constantly aware that God is constantly aware of you.
Listen to what Hebrews 4:12-13 says.
We all must give account to the Lord, who knows all and sees all. James cautions:
A key component of competency for ministry is an awareness the weighty responsibility of living in the light of God's presence.
'But as of sincerity, but as of God, directly before God, in Christ we speak.'
In Christ. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. This is a favorite description of the believer. It speaks of our position, our identity, our relationship. Salvation, forgiveness, justification, redemption, sanctification, reconciliation, adoption, eternal life, is all in Christ. Grace, love, peace, freedom, hope, unity, encouragement, approval, blessing, all come to us in Christ. We are alive in Christ; there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Paul's identity in Christ. For Paul everything is rubbish compared to knowing him and being found in him (Phil.3:9-10). There would be nothing worse than to be outside of Christ, apart from Christ.
There is no competency for ministry outside of Christ. Our only sufficiency comes from our union with Christ.
It is out of his union with Christ that Paul is able to speak.
Who is sufficient for these things? Who is sufficient to be the aroma of the knowledge of Jesus, who is competent to speak the word of God that to some becomes the smell of life to life, and to others is the scent of death to death? Not those who are in it for personal gain. Only those who operate out of a transparent sincerity, only whose only source is God, only those who live constantly in the light of God's presence, only those whose only sufficiency is in union with Christ.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org