2 Corinthians 7:11-16 ~ 20190721 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
07/21_2 Corinthians 7:11-16; Gospel Confidence and Gospel Boasting ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20190721_2cor7_11-16.mp3
The Results of Grief According to God
Paul rejoices at the report of the Corinthian's grief, not because they were grieved, but because their grief was according to God, it produced a repentance that leads to salvation. Paul was not eager to crush them; he 'worked with them for their joy' (1:24).
Their grief according to God produced the appropriate results. Paul draws their attention in verse 11 to what it worked in them; see what urgency or earnestness, also what defense or clearing of yourselves, also what indignation or repulsion over your sins, also what fear recognizing God's just judgment on wrongdoers, also what desire or earnest longing for reconciliation and to do what is right, also what zeal or fervency as opposed to a lack of care or concern, also what punishment or vindication, a commitment to what is right and just.
“At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” We are not certain what the matter was that he was referring to, but they knew. He refers back in chapter 2 to an issue that had caused pain. He said:
We don't know exactly what the issue was, nor are we intended to. He leaves it ambiguous, so that what he says can be applied to many specific situations. Possibly it was the immoral man addressed in 1 Corinthians 5; possibly someone who was defiant in the church, who had undermined and opposed Paul's authority, someone who gained a following. Whatever the sin issue, they had responded with appropriate earnestness, clearing, indignation, fear, desire, fervency, vindication. They had demonstrated their purity.
Why Paul Wrote; To Show Them Their Own Earnestness
He said in 2:3
His purpose for writing was to communicate his abundant love for them.
He said in 2:9
Now here in 7:12 he says
He wrote what he did not (primarily) for the sake of the wrongdoer, nor (primarily) for the sake of the one who was wronged. Rather, he says, it was in order to show to you your eagerness for us before God.
Do you see what he is doing here? He wrote a stern letter through his tears, and sent it with Titus, not primarily to correct the wrongdoer, nor primarily to clear the one wronged (which, if the offender was the one who attacked his character, the one wronged was Paul himself). Rather, his purpose was as he said in chapter 2 'to test or prove you'. Here he elaborates that it was to demonstrate to you your eagerness for us.
What does this mean? What does it matter? Why would his primary aim be to reveal to them their eagerness for the apostle Paul? Isn't that a bit self-promoting? Paul has written in 2 Corinthians defending his apostolic ministry and teaching them what authentic ministry looks like because authentic Christian ministry is shaped by the gospel and it is shaped like the gospel. Authentic ministry is self-sacrificial service for the ultimate good of others. In pursuing their eagerness for him, he is pursuing their eagerness for the genuine gospel, and ultimately their eagerness to follow Jesus. His desire is that they see their eagerness for their apostle who proclaimed to them the gospel message and lived out the gospel before them.
How does this work? Paul visits them, attempts to correct them, and it doesn't go well. He leaves, writes them a tearful letter, sends it with Titus, and prays that their eagerness for him will be revealed to them in the presence of God. Titus comes, delivers the letter. They experience grief according to God that leads them to repentance, and it reveals to them their love for the gospel, and for the one who brought them the gospel.
They see this in the presence of God. Paul by his openness has commended himself to everyone's conscience in the sight of God (4:2). Later in chapter 12 he says that 'in the sight of God he speaks in Christ for your upbuilding'. They come to the realization of their love for Paul and the gospel in the presence of God. This is God at work in them.
Reciprocal Refreshment and Joy
When Paul arrived in Troas, he said (2:13) “my spirit was not at rest.” When he entered Macedonia in search of Titus, he says (7:5) “our bodies had no rest.” Now he says that he is comforted and rejoiced because Titus' spirit had been refreshed by you. Here again we see this reciprocal comfort, this reciprocal refreshment, this reciprocal joy in the body of Christ. We need each other. We are meant to encourage each other. Paul began the letter saying that he was a fellow-worker with the Corinthians for their joy (1:24), that the Corinthians were meant to bring him joy, and
Paul's joy at over the Corinthians would be their joy. Even his severe letter that grieved them was meant ultimately for their joy. When they repented with a grief brought about by God, this brought Titus refreshment of spirit, and that brought Paul comfort and joy. There will be difficult times being part of the church. But even the difficult things are meant to encourage and bring joy. Have you brought joy and refreshment to anyone this past week?
Gospel Boasting and Gospel Confidence
This is stunning, staggering, startling. Paul had been boasting about the Corinthians to Titus. This is startling on multiple levels. For one, Paul had told the Galatians
He said in 1 Corinthians
But here Paul seems to be violating his own instruction and boasting about this church. This is even more startling when you look at what we know about the church in Corinth. From 1 Corinthians we learn that they were divided with quarreling, jealousy and strife (1Cor.1:10-11; 3:3). They were embracing sexual immorality of a kind that was not even tolerated among the pagans (5:1). They were bringing lawsuits against each other (6:1). They were confused on marriage and morality (7). They were participating in idol feasts (8-10). They were disordered in their gatherings, and when they came together to eat the Lord's supper, the rich would get drunk and the poor would go hungry (11:21). He said that it would be better if they did not meet at all (11:17). They were abusing spiritual gifts to promote themselves and impress others (12-14). They were even beginning to doubt the resurrection (15)! They didn't respond well to his letter, or to his visit, so he had to write a severe letter and send it with someone else. And even though they responded well to that letter, there were still serious problems that he addresses in 2 Corinthians; they misunderstood Christian leadership, they were in danger of being deceived like Eve in the garden, being led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
This church was and still is a mess at the time of his writing. And in the middle of the mess, when he sent Titus with the severe letter, he boasted to Titus about them. What could this boasting possibly consist of? Surely it was misplaced!
Boasting in God or Boasting in Men?
We get a glimpse of what Paul means when he said he boasted in them if we look back to the thanksgiving at the beginning of 1 Corinthians. Before addressing all the problems that were going on in the church, he started by saying:
Where we might see nothing at all to be thankful for, he thanks God continually for them. What does he see? He sees the grace of God given freely to them. It is clear they don't deserve it; it is sheer grace! He thanks God that the testimony of Christ was confirmed among them; that they believed the gospel! This foolish message of the cross was demonstrated to be the power of God for salvation in them when they believed. They now are waiting for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. And notice, it is this Jesus who will sustain you to the end guiltless. He reiterates; God is faithful. God called you into the fellowship of his Son. God did it. God is doing it. God will finish it. Notice where Paul's confidence lies? Not in them; they were flakes. His confidence was squarely on God and the power of the gospel. His confidence was not in the faithfulness of the Corinthians; it was in the faithfulness of God to make good on his promises. This reminds me of Philippians 1:6
God began the good work. God will finish what he started. I am sure of this. Are you sure of that? When you look around the room this morning, do you see a bunch of messes? That's accurate; but do you see the gospel at work transforming those messes into something beautiful? Are you sure of this? Are you confident in God's power at work in the gospel? When I look at you, do I see God's grace? Man! You don't deserve it! That's grace, it's all grace! And we need God's grace! God's grace was given to us in Christ Jesus, and Jesus will sustain us to the end guiltless, and God who called us into the fellowship of his Son, he is faithful!
This is gospel confidence and gospel boasting, and it is perfectly compatible with boasting only in the cross. It fits perfectly with what Paul says later in 2 Corinthians 10
He went out on a limb and boasted to Titus about the Corinthians, not because he thought the Corinthians were basically pretty good people and they wouldn't let him down, but because he knew that although they were worse at heart than he dared imagine, God's transforming power through the gospel is more potent and will surely not fail to bring about his promises. His boasting in the Corinthians was boasting because they had believed the gospel. That good gospel seed with time will bust up their concrete hearts and produce good fruit. They were believing, trusting, depending on another. And that another is more than capable to bring about what he promised. Paul was confident that they hadn't believed in vain; that they were being saved day by day by the gospel.
Imagine the conversation between Paul and Titus. “Titus, I know this church is a mess, and I don't know how they are going to respond to you. They didn't respond well to my letters or my visit. But when I went the first time and proclaimed the good news, they genuinely believed it. God opened their blind eyes to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. God's power began to change them. And he promises to finish what he started. I am praying that God would use this strong letter and your unique gifts and personality to bring about the godly grief and repentance that we both know would glorify God. I want you to go, confident that God has shown them grace, and although they will never deserve it, God is able to sustain them to the end, guiltless, because they are believing in Jesus. God called them and God is faithful. He will surely do it!”
Everything we said to you was true. We proclaimed the true gospel to you, the good news of Jesus Christ and him crucified. Our boasting has in the same way proved true, because our boasting was rooted in the gospel. The gospel works! It is true and it works! God works through it! It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. We shouldn't be surprised when we see the gospel working, transforming hopeless desperate lives. That is what God does. The more desperate and dark the situation, the greater the platform on which to display his glory. We can bank on it. We can boast in it.
Is there a situation today that you need to have gospel confidence in? Is there a person or situation that looks hopeless that you need to look at through the gospel lens and thank God for his grace to those who don't deserve it? To thank him for his sustaining power? To thank him for calling us into the fellowship of his Son, to thank him for being always faithful, mighty to save? To thank him that he is a God who breathes life into dead things, who sets prisoners free, who brings hope to the hopeless, and overcomes darkness with his marvelous light?
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org