2 Corinthians 6:6a
The Enormity of Sin
Everyday upon this globe there is tragedy, hate, murder, racism, greed, scandal and fear. It can be overwhelming. For example, are you aware of the ongoing massive humanitarian crisis in South Sudan? South Sudan gained her independence in 2011 but,
Political conflict has caused massive displacement, raging violence and dire food shortages. Over 5 million people are in need of aid, and more than 6 million are facing severe hunger… On top of [the incredible violence], the country’s economy is in crisis — the South Sudanese pound has declined in value, and the cost of goods and services has skyrocketed. Food prices are at a record high… Since the conflict began, 1 in 5 people in South Sudan have been displaced. More than 2.3 million citizens have been forced to flee their homes. Just over 720,000 people have escaped to neighboring countries in search of safety, but most are trapped inside the warring nation (mercycorps.com).
We live in a world created by God very good, but now racked with the consequences of human sin. From our vantage point as those who have inherited incredible prosperity, affluence, and ease, the dangers and difficulties faced by the South Sudanese almost certainly do not strike us with the horror they should. But we ourselves are not immune from such things. We too are subject to death and the threat of famine, disease, war, terror attacks, and every kind of suffering common to man. We are not exempt, even as we have had many years of prosperity. Each one here just get a few short moments on this globe accompanied by the threat of astonishing pain, difficulty, and grief.
As we begin, let us consider the enormity of the problem in this world. If we care enough to look, suffering saturates this world. And the impulse to relieve that suffering is right and good. The impulse to love others and promote health and healing is a mark of godliness. But what is of first importance is that we diagnose the problem accurately. We must understand with crystal clarity that sin is the cause of this enormous suffering and universal death. When God is belittled, ignored, and rejected death reigns – and not simply as a natural or impersonal consequence. Death reigns because of Divine judgment. This world is under the curse of God. God opposes the proud and wicked and rebellious.
But God is also rich in mercy.
God has demonstrated His great mercy and love and Self-sacrifice for sinners. No, He has not yet brought poverty and famine and war to an end – that will come and with it the judgment against the wicked. And no, he has not yet eradicated disease and sickness and crying, but He will. Instead, what He has done is greater than those things – for those things are merely symptoms of the problem and not the problem itself. What God has done, as the Great Physician, is to deal with the root. The Great King over all kings has come, He has lived righteously, He has die substitutionally, and He has been raised for the justification of all who will trust Him. In Him alone there is forgiveness and peace and life from the dead. For those who believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ, God is reconciled and His plans and promises are for blessing and not for cursing. In Christ and Christ alone the curse has been broken. This is the true and lasting hope for South Sudan and for us and for the world. Do we live believing this truth?
But, don’t misunderstand, being a Christian, a child and servant and steward of the King, does not remove us from the effects of sin in this world. And, in fact, being a Christian may serve to increase our suffering here.
Opposed to Christ
I read this week that last Saturday Mrs. Eunice Elisha, a Nigerian Christian, age 42 and the mother of seven, was brutally murdered as she went out to evangelize in Kubwa, Nigeria. Eunice had mentioned to her husband the day before that some who knew she was evangelizing had made concerning comments and her husband, Olawale, had cautioned her. But Eunice went to make Christ known and it appears that Eunice died a brutal death for Christ.
Becoming a Christian in this world does not instantly transport us out of the pain and suffering of this world, in fact it may land us in the crosshairs of evil people. But if we are Christians (that is, in Christ by faith) our God is reconciled, our future is secure, our souls are safe, our true need has been met. And we are here to live, no longer for ourselves, but for Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. We are here to spread the fragrance of Christ everywhere we go as ambassadors, ministers, salt, and light in a dark world. Like Paul we have a ministry of reconciliation to attend to – the ministry of bringing the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ to more and more people so that perhaps by our means some might be saved and thanksgiving might increase and God might be glorified through Jesus Christ.
We continue in 2 Corinthians 6 looking at how Paul pursued that ministry in this world.
Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:3-13
We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.
Last time we began looking at 2 Corinthians 6 verse 3 and following and we focused in on verses 3-5. We will continue picking up this morning in verse 6. But let’s remember what Paul is doing here:
As we saw last time, one of the major reasons Paul was motivated to write this letter to the Corinthian church was because certain influential and persuasive personalities had come into that body of believers casting doubts about Paul, undermining his authority as an apostle [claiming] his character was questionable, and he was not to be trusted or followed. So a major reason for this letter was to answer some of these things – because for Paul nothing less than the gospel was at stake. Whether he is accepted or rejected as an apostle of Christ is so important to Paul, not because he feels personally rejected or disliked. Rather he is so concerned about his being rejected because if this assembly looks at Paul’s life and ministry and makes the determination that a life like that is not of Christ – than they have radically misunderstood the very nature of the gospel itself and its power and its fruit.
When we looked at verse 3 we saw that, Paul is making the claim that his life truly is in line with the truth of the gospel. He is claiming that any so called obstacle suggested by the underminers in Corinth don’t exist. In his life and ministry Paul is intentional about making sure there were no obstacles in anyone’s way to Christ. His desire is to demonstrate the connection that exists between his life and the word he proclaims in the message of the cross.
And this should be our desire as well – to be found faithful in the ministry that the Lord has given each of us.
And then what Paul did in verses 4-5 was to begin pointing to things that commend his ministry. He started pointing to things in his life that give evidence that he is a genuine minister of Christ. And what he did not point to was his eloquence or giftedness or his record of accomplishments. Instead, he stated by pointing to his great endurance through all kinds of difficulties and all kinds of rejections and dangers and through all kinds of labors. Paul did not give up. He endured in the ministry Christ had given him. The first thing from Paul’s pen that he believed commended his ministry was great endurance when the going got tough. And so Paul’s endurance for Christ’s sake demonstrated the worth of Christ.
And the way we will grow to endure more and more faithfully, is not by becoming more and more eloquent in our preaching and proclaiming, but by becoming more and more grounded and rooted and believing and joyful in the promises of God in Christ Jesus. We will endure more faithfully when Christ is loved more fully.
We continue in verse 6 as Paul continues listing things that commend him.
Purity, Knowledge, Patience, and Kindness
We going to take the first four words at the beginning of verse 6. Paul says he is commended by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness.
I think it might be helpful to get at these by considering the opposite of these qualities, which would in fact be what Paul calls putting obstacles in people’s way to Christ. If purity and knowledge and patience and kindness commend Paul as a true minster of Christ than impurity, ignorance, impatience, and unkindness would be things that put obstacles in the way of the gospel and would be a reason for finding fault in his ministry.
I want to think carefully about why that might be. Why does purity and knowledge and patience and kindness commend us as ministers and clear the way to Christ while impurity, ignorance, impatience, and unkindness block the way?
To begin getting at an answer to that question, I think we need to consider the relationship between godliness and salvation.
Godliness and Salvation
I fear some of us in the community going by the name Christian do not have a clear enough grasp on how godliness is related to salvation. For example some of us come from the strong and biblical tradition of the reformers who so clearly and so well put a badly needed biblical stake in the ground that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. And those truths need to be rehearsed and remembered because we are always in danger of losing the gospel and inserting ourselves into where only God should be. But this brief summary that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone is not the whole story. And for those who are more informed by tradition than by Scripture, even these biblical standards can become a distorted caricature of the entire vision God’s glorious work and Christian liberty can become a guise for God-belittling license.
On the other hand, some of us come out of Roman Catholicism or some kind of cultural fundamentalism, both of which emphasize personal good works, and explicitly or implicitly make those good works the necessary basis and foundation of being acceptable to God rather than Christ and Christ alone. And so the freedom for which Christ set us free is lost and legalism and guilt and fear reign.
But what the Scriptures actually teach is that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone so that no one can boast. But the Scriptures are equally as clear that saving faith in Christ is never alone. It is in Christ alone that any are saved and that by grace alone and it is faith alone which unites us to Christ, but there is more to the story. The grace that saves does not just bring about our justified position before God, it also brings about a spiritual re-brith and a new life in the Spirit and a transformation from one degree of glory to another as we behold the glory of the Lord and a new heart is given. The grace of God produces people zealous for godliness.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Let us always guard the gospel of God’s salvation, which is totally apart from our wisdom or power or merit, all glory goes to God – but let us also not be guilty of a half baked gospel that fails to see that God’s salvation produces people declared perfect and righteous AND who are new creatures and zealous for good works.
So if we bear the name of Christ and purity and knowledge and patience and kindness describe us, these qualities commend us as genuine followers and servants of Jesus and clear a path to Jesus. And conversely, if we bear the name of Christ and impurity and ignorance and impatience and unkindness characterize us, our lives are not in an accord with the Gospel – there is discord. And ultimately, and here is Paul’s main concern, our life will distract from the gospel and place obstacles in the path of people coming to Jesus.
So what I’d like to do is look at each of these qualities and their opposite and examine how they either serve to commend Christ or cover Christ.
Purity and Impurity
Consider purity: when we sully ourselves in crooked business dealings, for example, we demonstrate that money is (to steal a phrase from Keller) our functional savior, not Jesus. We are setting our hope in money, not Jesus. When we shade the truth and sully ourselves in dishonestly to avoid conflict or punishment we show that comfort or the praise of men is our functional savior, not Jesus.
But when we are pure in our dealings even with those who might use us and take advantage or harm us, we show that money and earthly comfort are not our savior and so the message of the gospel will be able to ring true on ours lips and the path to Christ will be clear.
When we sully ourselves in sexual sin (from lust to pornography to an adulterous affair) we demonstrate that the physical enjoyment of satisfying the desires of the flesh is our functional savior, not Jesus. That is what we are setting our hope in.
But when we are pure in the use of our bodies, honoring the marriage bed and making no provision for the flesh, avoiding all appearances of evil, even as it is difficult and the world scoffs and tells us we are crazy, as we conduct our selves in sexual purity we show that the physical enjoyment of satisfying the desire of the flesh is not our savior, not our hope, and so the gospel can then sound forth from us powerfully.
Knowledge and Ignorance
Consider knowledge: there can be very little doubt that Paul is referring to knowledge of Christ here, knowledge of God and His work and message of reconciliation. When we are ignorant and muddled in our understanding of the gospel we show that we have not taken the time to learn of Christ and so we show that Christ and His work are not the priority in our lives – something else is. When we know more about sports statistics and Hollywood celebrities than we do about the Scriptures and God’s work of redemption we are making it plain where we place value and so we are setting up the obstacle of indifference to Christ.
But when we have a growing understanding of God’s word and the Word made flesh, we show that He and His work are important to us. When we demonstrate a passion to learn of Christ as our chief aim we demonstrate that He is more valuable to us than other things and so the gospel will not ring hollow on our lips. Your pursuit of Christ will clear the obstacle of indifference and blaze a straight path for others to see Him as He truly is: the treasure worth selling all other treasures to obtain.
Patience and Impatience
Consider patience: patience is the quality of accepting, tolerating, or enduring difficulty without getting angry or upset and so it is a reactive or perhaps better a responsive quality. When we are impatient, responding in fear or anger when things don’t go our way, we are demonstrating that we have set our hope in people or things of this world. We show that we are not trusting God and resting in His promises. If we are frustrated and anxious and angry what is the reason? Is God weak and unable, or stupid and inept, or sleeping and careless, or malicious? If God is strong and wise and totally on your side working all things together for your good, which is promised in the gospel, why are you so frustrated and impatient?
When we are patient through difficult circumstances and difficult people we show that we are hoping in a God who is wise and strong and does good toward those in Christ Jesus. Why do you get so upset when people fail you or inconvenience you or when circumstances get hard? We think: if only my kids would obey then the universe would be in order – and I would be happy! If I were in charge of the universe I would do something about this heat. If only this traffic would go away, then I would be forever happy! – or more seriously, if only my health were excellent, if only my spouse was more thoughtful, if only my job was different… If only, if only, if only – then I would be happy! But in that impatience all you and I are really saying is that God’s wisdom and timing, God’s goodness and grace, God’s power and might, all promised to be for us in Christ Jesus – aren’t enough for me. And so with impatience the gospel of Christ’s reconciling work is hidden, but with patience the gospel can stand forth because Christ is shown to be enough for me.
Kindness and Unkindness
Consider Kindness: if patience is responsive or reactive, kindness is a proactive quality. When we are unkind we show that we think we are superior in someway compared to others. We demonstrate that we do not believe we have a reason to be clothed in humility and gentleness or go out of our way to serve another. We demonstrate that we don’t actually believe what God says about us, that we are sinful beyond measure and worthy of death and destruction. We turn to our neighbor forgetting the debt we have been forgiven and we look down our nose at one another. And so the gospel is obscured by our hypocrisy.
But when we are kind to everyone we show that we have acknowledged our own lowness and our eyes are up off of ourselves and looking out toward others; looking to do good to others, considering others as more significant that ourselves. What kindness does is shows the world that you have been freed from worshiping and honoring yourself, we have been freed from looking out for yourself, freed for self-righteousness and so the gospel will ring out from your voice with authenticity – that you are not the hero and Christ is your all in all.
Getting to the Root
Oh how important it is to bore down into the roots of our impurity, ignorance, impatience, and unkindness! We will either clear the way to Christ with our conduct or clutter it. Can we join Paul in inviting others to consider our lives and ministries? Do our lives commend us as servants of Christ? Or can fault be found?
When Paul thought of what commended a minister of Jesus he did not think of amazing accomplishments. He did not point to the crowds that followed him because of his eloquence or giftedness. Paul did not point to external beauty or power. He pointed to the power of God, demonstrated in endurance, purity, knowledge, patience, and kindness. A commendable minster of God is not just a great preacher of Christ, he is a passionate lover of Christ and it is evident in his conduct. Commendable ministers are those who have come to love and trust Jesus as their Lord and Savior and have been given a new life and joy in Him and they are diligently seeking to live in an accord with that confession.
If you look at your life and you see deficiencies, you are not alone. We all continue with the propensity to sin and do at times stumble and fall into sinful attitudes, words, and behaviors. But the grace of God in Christ Jesus trains us to renounce ungodliness (to wage war on it, to make a radical effort break away from it, utterly abandon it) and to live godly lives – that is what the grace of God trains us to do.
Your struggle with sin at its root is a struggle for faith. It is a struggle to believe the promises of God’d grace in Christ Jesus. As we come to behold our great and merciful and gracious God and Savior Jesus Christ as powerful and perfect, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people, as we see Him as He is in His transcendence and His kindness, fears begin to shrink, anxieties lose their grip, selfishness and pride turn to humility and praise and we become more and more zealous for good works. And if that transforming process is absent in your life, it has everything to do with your esteem for Christ.
Big Problems, Great Savior
There is great suffering is South Sudan today, and in every country around the world. And it is right to pray for their relief and it is right to help in every and any way we can and it is right to want the world to be a better place.
But we need to understand that the real problem in this world is that God is not honored and praised and trusted and adored. And this problem is deeply rooted in every person’s hearts. Do we understand that the problem is far beyond what any humanitarian aid can provide? It is far beyond want any army can destroy. It is beyond any king or government to fix. Yes, it is so right to look out on this world and weep over the suffering, but do we understand that the problems in the world are rooted in our sinful hearts? What we see all around us are the effects of sin and the curse.
And this is why Jesus was sent: to destroy the works of the devil. The only solution to the real, fundamental, root problem is the gospel, the message of reconciliation, the grace of God in Christ Jesus, which has appeared.
This is what the world and the United States and New England and this state and this town and this church and your family and your own heart needs more than anything else. And if we busy ourselves with action to improve the world but fail to recognize Christ as the only true solution we will busy ourselves in vain.
But even if we go out in the name of Christ to help others but are not ourselves embracing Christ in our hearts, it doesn’t matter how flashy, or eloquent or influential we are, we will be setting up obstacles to Christ by our conduct.
And so a commendable ministry for Christ must start in our own hearts. If we will be authentic servants of God, who do not place obstacles to Christ in anyone’s way, who are commended by endurance, purity, knowledge, patience, and kindness we will need to be those who esteem Christ Jesus and His work as the greatest treasure of our lives. What or whom is your treasure? What or whom is your functional savior? Where are you placing your hope for life and joy and happiness?
Jesus Christ is calling us. “Come to me all you who are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest – you will find rest for your souls. Come to me and find peace. Come to me and find forgiveness, find freedom from guilt, and life and joy everlasting. I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me. I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.” The word of Christ, that is the grace of God, has appeared; come to Christ and find joy.
Wash yourself again with the gospel and turn away from ungodliness to Christ.
My prayer is that each one here will come to Jesus and be resting in Jesus and learning of Him and that day by day He will grow in our heart to be larger and more wonderful in our estimation and what will flower out of that will be endurance and purity and knowledge and patience and kindness.