2 Corinthians 6:3-4 ~ 20190310 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
03/10_2 Corinthians 6:3-4; No Obstacle But The Cross Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190310_2cor6_3-4.mp3
Paul has just laid out the riches of gospel truth; that we are reconciled to God through the finished work of Christ; that the sinless Christ was counted as a sinner when he took my sin, and now I am counted righteous because I am found in Christ. He has called the church in Corinth to respond rightly to this message; he begs them as God's ambassador 'be reconciled to God' and he appeals to them not to receive the grace of God in vain; in a meaningless, worthless, empty way, in a way that does not save. He quotes from the suffering servant section of Isaiah (49:8) to impress them with the urgency of responding to his message now, while God's grace is being extended.
Here in verses 3-10 he presents his résumé as God's minister, Christ's ambassador, God's fellow-worker. This is a memorable, lyrical, eloquent passage, on par with 1 Corinthians 13, and just as worthy of memorization.
The content of this highly structured résumé will have to wait until next week, but we will look at his cover letter in verses 3-4 today.
First, a note about how this sentence fits with the context. The main verb is all the way back in verse 1, 'we appeal.' “We appeal to you not in vain to receive the grace of God.” This is modified by the participle that begins the sentence 'working together'. Then after the quotation in verse 2, he modifies this verb with two more participles:
Paul's appeal to the church is his working together with God; his appeal comes with both negative and positive force. Negative in verse 3, which could literally be translated 'to no one in nothing giving an obstacle'; and positive in verse 4, literally 'but in all things commending ourselves.'
The Offense of the Cross
What does Paul mean when he says 'to no one in nothing giving an obstacle'?
Let's start by clarifying what he does not mean. Back in 1 Corinthians, he said
Paul is fully aware that the word of the cross, the gospel of Christ crucified for sinners is foolishness and a stumbling block, literally a scandal to many. When he says that 'we put no obstacle in anyone's way' he does not mean that he ceases to preach the gospel for fear of tripping up or offending anyone. In Galatians 5:11 he refers to the 'offense' or 'stumbling block' or 'scandal' of the cross. He refuses to compromise or water down the simple gospel message of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners and raised on the third day. That will be an obstacle to many; however to attempt to remove that obstacle empties the gospel of any power to save. To tell people that they have sinned and offended a holy God, and that the wages of sin is death is offensive. To say that your only hope is that God had to become human in order to take your sin and die in your place is hard to swallow, but it is the gospel. We must not, we dare not tamper with the gospel. Paul refused to tamper with the offense of the cross.
So what does Paul mean, when he says 'to no one in nothing giving an obstacle'? Paul did talk at length in 1 Corinthians 8-10 about Christian rights, Christian liberties, and avoiding unnecessary offenses or obstacles. In that section (and in Romans 14) he discusses what you should or shouldn't eat, specifically concerning meat that may have been sacrificed to idols. His conclusion is: flee idolatry (1Cor.10:14), but eat whatever is sold to you or set before you without raising question of where it came from (1Cor.10:25-27).
In chapter 9 he uses himself as an illustration of letting go of legitimate rights for the good of others. He has the right as a minister of the gospel to make his living by the gospel (1Cor.9:4,14).
This is the passage where he says “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. ...I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel” (1Cor.9:19,22-23). He removed any unnecessary obstacles to the gospel, any unnecessary offenses; he was always conscious of his surroundings and intentional about how he conducted himself. He was aware of contrasting cultures and careful not to unnecessarily offend.
His conclusion in 1 Corinthians 10:
When Offense is Fruitful
But it's more complex than just seeking never to offend anyone. Many people attempt to live that way today and are utterly useless for Christ. Paul offended plenty of people; that got him beat up, run out of town, thrown in jail on multiple occasions. He said some really offensive things. His first time in Corinth, in Acts 18, he was testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus,
That's offensive! That's the kind of thing that started riots in other cities. That's not very culturally sensitive. But we learn from Romans 11:11-14 that his goal was “in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.” This was a fruitful offense; a gospel driven offense.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:12 that he refused to receive compensation from the Corinthians in order to avoid putting obstacles in the way of the gospel. But that was contrary to their culture and offensive to them. In their culture, the better the teacher, the higher the price, and the more you paid for your instruction, the more bragging rights you had. He took that away from them. He took a job and worked with his own hands in menial labor to support himself, which tripped them up. But he claimed that this was to avoid 'putting an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.' He was more concerned with the integrity of the gospel than he was in simply avoiding offense. If he accepted pay from them, it would send a message that the gospel was out of reach of the poor, that it was not all of grace, that it was only for those who could pay top dollar.
Another way he offended the Corinthians was in his manner of speech. Although fully capable of eloquence, as this passage so clearly demonstrates, he says “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Cor.2:2), and this was contrary to their expectations. Paul made a conscious decision when he came to Corinth to not fit the mold, to fly in the face of their culture and not use oratorical skill or eloquent words of wisdom, because if he did it would imply that the gospel was only for the wise, the literate, the well educated.
Here's an illustration of this principle of 'becoming all things to all people' tragically misapplied. Paul records in Galatians 2 that Peter in Antioch 'was eating with the Gentiles;' but when a Jewish delegation came from James in Jerusalem, 'he drew back and separated himself.' Isn't this a case of 'To those outside the law I became as one outside the law' and 'To those under the law I became as one under the law'? Paul says No! 'I opposed him to his face'; he 'acted hypocritically'; his 'conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel'. By withdrawing from eating with the Gentiles, he was saying that Christ had not successfully broken down the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Greeks. He was actually contradicting the gospel.
This calls for discernment. How can I be culturally sensitive without compromising the gospel? What unnecessary obstacles do we put in the way of the gospel? How do I unnecessarily offend? Am I content with my own friend group, not open to others? Am I unwelcoming, unfriendly, sometimes irritable? Am I unwilling to get out of my comfort zone or risk being inconvenienced? These would be evidences of pride, selfishness, and would be potential obstacles to the gospel.
What are things in our church body that are stumbling blocks to the gospel? Our heart's desire above all else should be to see God glorified as people come into a reconciled relationship with God through our Lord Jesus. And this reconciliation is from God. All this is from God. God alone can save. We cannot. But we can remove obstacles from the gospel. We can clear the way for the gospel to have full impact in someone's life. What things are we doing – or not doing that are obstructing the gospel?
Purpose: A No Fault Ministry
Paul says 'to no one in nothing giving an obstacle'
His purpose for avoiding unnecessary obstacles is 'in order that no fault may be found with the ministry.' This word for 'finding fault' shows up again in chapter 8, illustrating what he means here. There he is talking about the collection of money from the churches that he intends to bring to the poor saints in Jerusalem. He makes it clear that he will not be doing this alone; he will be taking others with, people known by them.
He seeks to be honorable, above reproach in the way he handles other people's money. He wants accountability. He aims for integrity that is unassailable.
There are a hundred ways to discredit your ministry. Sadly, you have seen enough examples of this in the news, and you know the immense hindrance it is to the gospel.
'To no one in nothing giving an obstacle... but in all things commending ourselves.' This commending his ministry is a thread woven through this letter. He said in 3:1 in exasperation 'we are beginning to commend ourselves again!' We've already been through the introductions; you know me. I spent 18 months with you, and then another visit and wrote at least two letters. You ought to know my character by now. You yourselves are evidence of my authenticity.
He says in chapter 4
The way we handle God's word demonstrates our integrity. He says in chapter 5:
You ought to be able to defend us to those who are attempting to undermine our character. This thread appears again in chapter 10, where he points out that some commend themselves by comparing themselves with others, but only those whom the Lord commends are approved (10:12,18). In chapter 12 he says that he ought to have been commended by them (12:11).
Ministers of God with Faultless Ministry
In all things we commend ourselves as servants, ministers of God. We remove unnecessary obstacles, so that no fault can be found with the ministry. Ministers of God with faultless ministry.
How does Paul commend himself? What is the content of his résumé? It may not be what you expect. This is his cover letter. Next week we will review his resume.
What can we take away from this? As followers of Jesus, each of us is a minister, called to serve others for their good.
-Is your ministry blameless or blameworthy?
-Does your character and conduct discredit your message or commend it to others?
-Are you holding fast to the offense of the cross, or are you willing to manipulate the message to make it seem less offensive?
-What stumbling blocks are you putting in front of others?
*Ask God to open your eyes to see the obstacles you place in front of others.
*Ask him to give you a tenacious grip on the gospel
*Ask him to create integrity of character that displays his grace
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org