Know Pain Know Gain (2Corinthians 3-4)



There is an old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” While that is an old saying it isn’t a good saying. At least personally, I have not found that saying to be true. Sticks and stones can break bones, and words have hurt me – things I’ve said to others that I regret and have caused hurt AND words spoken by others to me have caused me disappointment and discouragement.

Paul’s ministry is also a testament to this old saying. His life has experienced suffering from the physical harm of sticks and stones. And, he Paul has also been wounded emotionally through the attacks on his ministry credibility (apostle, preacher) and his appearance & personality.

We all feel the pains of inadequacy from external and internal voices.

  • Appearance: too overweight, too thin, forehead too tall, bad hair style or no hair!, clothing is dated.
  • Personality: too bold and over-confident, too meek and soft-spoken, vocal accent is off, etc.
  • Comparison: not like others of the past or present
  • Failures and mistakes…
  • Fulfillment: desires and goals unmet
  • Criticisms pile up and inadequacy becomes engulfing.CD1A6CE9-0626-4CD9-BE01-446BA58B1F79

So, where should we find the source for sufficiency? Today’s text reveals 3 sources.

EXAMINE           2Corinthians 2:17 – 3:6; 4:1-18
How Pain of Insufficiency Gains Fullness

2:16b “Who is sufficient for [being the aroma of Christ]?”

Paul’s question is in response to his apostolic authority in the Corinthian church. Essentially, he’s reminding the Corinthians that his ministry brought the aroma of Christ: grace for the sin-burdened, compassion for the suffering, and truth for idolaters. To those who are perishing from sin and suffering, there’s the stench of death, but those who hear and believe the gospel have the aroma of Christ.

  • What do people smell when you’re around? Is it the fresh air of grace or the stench of judgment?

In contrast, there were others who were “peddling the word of God.” Paul’s critics sought to discredit his apostolic authority and sufficiency. The idea of peddling (καπηλεύω Kapeleuo) is one as a wholesale “middleman” merchant, who cheats customers by manipulating prices and misrepresenting product for selfish gain.[1] In other words, these peddling preachers were distracting the Corinthians from truth of Paul’s teaching and they were diluting the gospel, speaking falsely about Jesus – either seeking to add law to gospel (Judaizers – Catholics and others today?!?) or remove Jesus as divine Son of God (cults: JW, LDS, etc.). Paul says, there are “so many” of them (2Cor 2:17).

  • 2Corinthians 11:4-6, 13 “For is someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge… For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” 
  • Be alert to peddling preachers. The prosperity gospel is broad. While God does want to bless His people, there are multiple ways God blesses: spiritual fullness (Eph 1:3), godliness with contentment (Ps 63:3; 1Tim 6:6), relational affirmation (Php 1:3-4), etc…

So, why is Paul different then the peddling preachers? Paul is different because the source of his sufficiency:

The source of sufficiency is

  • Sincere motives (2Cor 2:17).
    Paul contrasts himself and the apostles with those who are peddling the word of God with a false gospel. His motives are pure because he is not profiting selfishly: he’s not commending self (2Cor 3:1; 4:5), not practicing underhanded ways (2Cor 3:17; 4:1), and not living a posh lifestyle (cf. 2Cor 4:7-12; 6:3-10). True ministers care for and serve people; shepherds smell like sheep. Paul’s sufficiency is sincerity of motive and integrity.
  • Authenticity is uncommon. Authenticity is today’s buzzword but it’s often faked: entertainers lip syncing, clothing pre-wripped/scuffed/stained, vinyl flooring that looks like wood or ceramic, even spray-on-mud.[2]In Christianity we can fake
    • authentic faith by knowing the right words and sayings: “I’m blessed” can really be code for “I’m messed up but too afraid to admit it.” We can have a positive personality but an ungodly spirit.
      • Instead, authentic faith is self-aware. Admission of weakness and short-comings is a sign of maturity not immaturity.
    • fake compassion by saying, “I’ll pray for you” but give little in meaningful time, talking, and true ministering to a need.
      • Instead, authentic compassion is service-oriented. Authentic Christianity is focused on the mission of people, especially the underprivileged. One can’t live a materialistic lifestyle to the large minimization of ministering to the needs of others.
    • authentic worship of God thinking worship is only about a preferred style or class of skill, or even just showing up.
      • Instead, authentic worship is about sacrifice. We deny self for the sake of living. We surrender our possessions and preferences in order to gain.
    • authentic discipleship by performing religious duty without the relational devotion to Jesus Christ.
      • Instead, authentic discipleship is sustainable. Authenticity is focused on the end. Short-lived hype is easy to attract crowds. But, authentic disciples and ministries endure through struggle and suffering because


  • Saturated in Christ (2Cor 2:17).
    Paul speaks commissioned “by God and in the sight of God”. In other words, his message and ministry is not one made up by his own insights or opinions, but is revealed to Him by God (cf. 1Cor 2:1-5; Gal 1:12; 1Thess 2:4; 1Tim 1:11; Titus 1:3).
  • Is our sufficiency from experience and circumstances, or the principles of God’s word?
    Many times we gain confidence because of positive circumstances, or we make decisions on the future based on past experiences. While these are common basis for operating, we must not allow experience to eclipse the word of God.

    • There will be times we will be tempted to shrink back from speaking up and standing up for God. In those moments, we must not operate based on comfort zones or potentially feeling rejected, but realize such divine revelation compels us to speak (cf. 2Cor 5:11-21).

à We speak from what we are saturated in. Take summer months to saturate in memorizing a Scripture passage (1Cor 13; 2Cor 5:17-21) or a specific book study – or attending a group if not already participating.

  • Shared testimony (2Cor 3:1-3)
    Paul asks the Corinthians if he needs a letter of commendation. Letters were given to travelers or sponsors to introduce them to persons in another city or country who could provide them with hospitality and meet their particular needs.[3] A letter of recommendation must always come from a third party. [4] To Paul, the ultimate third-party recommender is “the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but o tablets of human hearts” (2Cor 3:3). Those questioning his credibility need not look beyond the lives changed at the church at Corinth. Paul was calling the church to rise up and speak.

In referencing the people of Paul’s ministry he has moved from defense to offense against his detractors. He is not trying to display his personal credibility but allowing his ministry with the churches to speak for itself. As the people of God live and lead a life that is marked by the gospel Paul preached, the detractors are silenced.

Illus: On occasion I write reference letters for people: jobs, college, loans. On occasion I have asked for reference letters for staff, or myself have needed reference. A reference is meant to help gain an accurate picture of a person.
Paul’s letters to churches gave commendation to multiple individuals and workers (cf. Rom 16; 1Cor 16; Eph 6; Col 4:7-10; Phm 1:10-12, 17-19; etc.).
Illus: Additionally, some experts say that handwriting can determine personality. This skill is called graphology, but is a debatable science.[5] Graphology is used to solve criminal investigations, health screenings, and in employee searches. Experts say 5K personality traits can be revealed.
– Ex. Large letters = extrovert and attention seeking; Small letters = either concealing traits or just really concentrating & focused.
– Right slant implies people oriented but Left slant implies task oriented. No slant means logical person.
– Wide loops implies larger circle of friends, or artistic type person.
– Even spacing of words understands boundaries.

– Switching large to small letters, slant directions, loops to no loops, etc. means not always a truth teller or perhaps even schizophrenic tendencies.[6]

Likewise, our life is a reference letter for Jesus and the gospel. Our life may be the only “bible” people read, or the introduction to Jesus. Therefore, our life must be legible and not indecipherable or confusing  others about Christianity. Further, a living letter doesn’t stay in an envelope but becomes advertising message billboard for all to see.

  • Each one, reach one for the year. But what if we took narrower approach for seasons – what are your plans this summer as a living letter testifying of Jesus?


Sufficiency: sincere motives, speak from God, shared testimony.

2Corinthians 4:7-12

7  But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
8  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;
9  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
10  always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
11  For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
12  So death is at work in us, but life in you.


Jars of Clay

  • Fragile but carry treasure
  • Wabi Sabi art – Japanese form of art for when a jar is cracked or broken, instead of discarding item it is mended back with gold gloss. Japanese philosophy embraces flaws and imperfection and highlights the cracks instead of hiding them. The idea is seeing beauty that is present in the midst of brokenness.  

Sufficiency is in our insufficiency and Christ’s sufficiency.


[1] Murray J. Harris, NIGTC: 2Corinthians 2:17.


[3] NIGTC: 2Cor 3:1.

[4] Kent Hughes, Preaching The Word Commentary, 2Corinthians 3:1.



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