Know Pain Know Gain (2Corinthians 11-13)

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  • Weakness is a key to usefulness in the kingdom of God. But we often treat weakness as an excuse for why we DON’T serve God.
    • If I wasn’t an introvert, God would use me.
    • If I wasn’t so extroverted, God would use me.
    • If my health were better…
    • if my age was younger/older…
    • if I were married OR if I were single…
    • if I had children OR if I had less children…
    • If I lived in (geographic or demographic envy)
    • If I were more financially stable…
    • If I were more gifted…
    • If our church were bigger…These and dozens more limitations become our excuses for why we don’t serve God. We can rationalize or resent our weaknesses, but God wants us to allow them cause us to rely on Him. “God isn’t looking for assistants. The gospel is not a help-wanted ad. It is a help-available ad… God is not looking for people to work for Him but people who let Him work mightily in and through them.”[1]

 

  • Joni Erickson Tada, “Deny your weakness and you will never realize God’s strength in you.”
  • Hudson Taylor “All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things because they reckoned on His power and presence with them.”
  • “[weakness] were to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2Cor 1:9)
  • God doesn’t want us to hide our weaknesses but place them in His hands; “Therefore, I will most gladly boast all themore about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me…. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2Cor 12:9, 10)
  • All of us are under construction and a work in progress. God isn’t finished with us and His discipline is His commitment to finish His perfecting work.
  • God works in our church not because we are at our greatest but when we view God as greater than our weakness.

 

Today, we will review 2Cor 11-13, the last portions of Paul’s letter for how the pain of weakness can gain power. Specifically, we’ll identify characteristics of Paul’s life that allowed him to be used powerfully of God.

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EXAMINE           2Corinthians 11 – 13            How Pain of Weakness Gains Power

Paul compares himself with false teachers. He hesitates to compare because of his humility; Paul does not like defend or boast of his credentials, yet, he feels like he must. However, his boasting items reveals a true servant leader and apostle of Jesus Christ.

  • Suffering: God uses us powerfully when we view our life redemptively (11:23-27).
    Paul shares “an avalanche of hardships that sweeps the reader along in dazed disbelief.”[2] Paul is not retelling hardships to receive sympathy, but to reflect redemptively at his life for how God has used him in spite of his circumstances. In every danger, toil, and snare, God was faithful.

    • far greater labors: worked hard with every ounce of strength; embarrassingly compared today Paul would likely never take a vacation, take an extended (annual) break, or even consider retirement.
    • far more imprisonments (we only know Acts 16:23-40 in Philippi, and Acts 22-28 from Jerusalem to Rome). Yet, Paul likely had several other imprisonments. In fact, 1st C writings 1Clement 5:5-6 writes Paul was bound seven times. And remember, 1st C prisons were likely rat-infested, disease-ridden dungeons.
    • Countless beatings: Doubtless the reason why Paul’s detractors considered him weak, from sustained injuries.
      • Worse beatings
      • Near death
      • 5x the 40-1 lashes from Jews
        • Deut 25:1-3 “if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense. Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, you brother be degraded in your sight.”
        • 39 lashes were to protect from exceeding the law.
        • These strikes were administered with a three-strapped whip on both chest and back, 13 blows to the chest, then turned over and 26 with 2/3 to back.
        • 5 x 39 = 195 total would have left welts and scars (cf. Gal 6:17b “I bear on my body the marks of Christ”)
  • 3x beaten with rods by Romans (Acts 16:22-23), w/o limitations to quantity of punishment.
  • Stoned by enemies (Acts 14:19-20). This is not Paul’s trip to CO, but spontaneous public attempt by an angry crowd to execute Paul.
  • 3x shipwrecked – 20+ voyages (at time of 2Cor he’s taken 9 travels).
  • Adrift on open sea – likely wondering if his life would end without notice.
  • Dangers from rivers – flood surges, few bridges existed in 1st
  • Dangers from robbers – pick pockets, bandits, pirates, – risk was regular reality for Paul.
  • Dangers from own people (Jews / synagogues)
  • Dangers from Gentiles
  • Dangers in the city
  • Dangers in wilderness: animals, etc.
  • Dangers on the sea
  • Dangers among false brothers. This likely hurts the most. Paul’s language reminds us there is an in/out for faith, not for the sake of human judgment – leave that to God – but for the sake of recognizing who has commitment and integrity, and how to relate to them in the gospel.
  • Toil & hardship
    – John Newton lyrics of Amazing Grace, “through many dangers, toils, and snares…”
  • Many sleepless nights – more than insomnia, but motivation for the gospel (1Thess 2:9). As we can see, Paul’s travels weren’t first class cruises or unlimited room service!
    • Work for income with tentmaking
    • Work for ministry (1Thess 2:9)
    • Prayer for saints.
  • Hunger & thirst often without food (fasting voluntary), cold, and lacking clothing
    • Paul asks for his coat back that he lent out to Carpus at Troas (2 Tim 4:12)
  • Apart from other things (He means, I could mention more… not an exhaustive list.)
    •  11:32
    • He’d face much more in next 8-10 years of his life
  • Thorn in the flesh (12:7-10)
    • Thorn was given – permitted by God
    • Messenger of satan – demonic (cf. Eph 6).
    • Potential: illness, physical suffering, enemies and false teachers, sinful temptation

My personal suffering
– Not able to play baseball games on Sunday AM and our team missing me as starter (1B, P, LF).
– AGS boss pressuring me to work Sundays.
– Mocked by guys for virginity.
– Almost attacked for a granola bar by a Nicaraguan monkey named Michael Jackson.

– Like many, my persecution/suffering pales comparison of early Christians and many throughout globe today.

  • Paul’s suffering would have been that which he inflicted on Christians before his conversion (Acts 22:19; 26:11).
  • Paul’s suffering was counted joy to identify with his Savior (Rom 5:3-4; 8:17-18; Php 1:29; Col 1:24).
  • Paul’s suffering was for the sake of the gospel. For many of us, one beating or imprisonment would have been enough to stop us from sharing our faith, but Paul was radical and relentless to see people saved. More, it was Paul’s undying devotion to his Savior and Lord. Nothing short of death would prevent Paul from proclaiming the good news and grace of Jesus.
  • The aim for Christians is not that we are called to seek suffering, but that we should not be surprised by it (Mat 5:10-12; 2Tim 3:12; 1Pet 4:12). The heart of Paul to view suffering for Christ as joy, and as an opportunity to advance the gospel should be the heart that beats inside the chest of every Christ-follower.
  • We must view our circumstances – past, present, future – as woven by God for a greater purpose (Rom 8:28-29). If we reflect on our life redemptively, then we trust God is good and wise and will use all our hardships for glory (cf. Gen 50:20; Rom 8:17-18).

Sharing testimony and living in community is necessary to remind us to view life redemptively.

 

Starting & Strengthening churches: God uses us powerfully when we connect our life to God’s church.
The church is the only entity on earth that God promises will prevail over the gates of hell (Mat 16:18). God does not say we must have the right political party, the right persons in power or policy laws, or even the best military – as important as these things are and as much as I/we value them. But, God does expect us to endear ourselves to His church (Heb 3:13; 10:24-25).

  • The daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches (11:28; cf “divine jealousy” in 11:2).
    • Paul is faithful in prayer and support of churches… doesn’t just go to one and move on, he cares deeply and re-visits places and people.
    • Heart for weak, hurting, hopeless
    • Always on my mind and in my heart

Pray for your spiritual leaders.

Participate in the mission of your church: Loving God (worship), Loving Others (ministry), Leading Generations (mission).

 

Spiritual Revelation: God uses us powerfully when we learn His Word and love His voice.

2Cor 12:1 visions and revelation
Paul is often praying: Acts 9:11; 13:2-3; 16:25; 20:36; 21:5; 27:29; 28:8. Paul loved learning and reading the Scriptures, often quoting from them (cf. Col 3:16 “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”; 2Tim 4:2 “preach the word”; 2Tim 4:13 “bring the books, above all the parchments”). Through learning God’s Word and loving God’s voice in prayer, God gave visions and revelation to Paul.

  • “I know a man…” It is likely Paul is referencing himself but speaking in third person.
  • “14 years ago” would have been around Acts 13 and a few years after Paul’s conversion.
  • 1st heaven sky / 2nd stars / 3rd spirit world of heaven and realm of God
  • God gave spiritual revelation as motivation to endure earthly suffering.
  • “Heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter”: No earthly words able to convey what he saw and heard
    • — we should be cautious of people who write books about their NDE and entering heaven. When these happen, the biblical persons have difficulty describing it. Further, the biblical persons weren’t benefiting financially, yet many/most today are.
    • Heaven Is For Real because Christ proclaimed it and the apostles pointed to the gospel and words of Jesus – not because of fanciful imaginations of pearly gates.
    • The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven
      Alex Malarkey “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.”[3]
    • Others who speak of their spiritual visions are often self-serving, stirring pride to cause other’s jealousy or used manipulatively.
    • All the biblical writers give sparse details of their heavenly visions, but they are all fixated on the glory of God. They are overwhelmed, chagrined, petrified, and put to silence over the majesty and holiness of Almighty God – totally missing from the frivolous and juvenile accounts of today’s Heaven tourism books. [4]

Grow in the word (Psalm 119).

Guard the truth… use discernment for media and every wind of doctrine.

 

APPLY/THINK

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2Corinthians 12:9)

  • “finds its consummation” (BAGD 811a),
  • “attains its perfection” (TCNT),
  • “is most fully seen” (REB),
  • “is at full stretch” (NJB),
  • “is made fully present” (Furnish 513),
  • “realizes its full potential” (Carrez 226),
  • “is truly efficacious” (G. Delling, TDNT 59),
  • “has unhindered scope” (Meyer 684),
  • “reaches its zenith”.

 

In other words, there is great value to weakness in that it overflows with the supply of God’s power and grace. The value of weakness is at least 5-fold

  • Weakness prevents pride.
    so that I would not exalt myself or become conceited 2Cor 12:7
  • Weakness keeps us prayerful.
    “I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away…” 2Cor 12:8
  • Weakness creates community.
    “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses” 2Cor 12:9b
    When we are vulnerable and admit weakness, then others trust and are willing to do the same. Paul shared his weakness so the Corinthians would learn to embrace him and grow in the grace offered to Paul and available to them.
    Weakness also helps us to value others. Paul knew he needed the Corinthians help. He relied on them as they in return needed his leadership and influence. These long and personal letters reflect the biblical community and bond needed in our churches today.
  • Weakness creates fruitfulness.
    “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2Cor 12:10
  • Weakness guarantees God’s help.
    Many think God helps those who are strong and help themselves, but that’s not biblical. Instead, God helps those who cannot help themselves through our repentance, relying on His promises, and offering rescuing power over earthly difficulties and eternal death.

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2Corinthians 13:14

 

[1] John Piper, Brothers We Are Not Professionals, p.56.

[2] Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 795.

[3] https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/01/15/377589757/boy-says-he-didn-t-go-to-heaven-publisher-says-it-will-pull-book

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEAko02HD5o&feature=youtu.be

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