2Cor.12:11-21 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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2 Corinthians 12:11-21


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Disappointments in Ministry

Paul has been defending his ministry amongst the Corinthians. He has entreated them and pleaded with them to recognise the facts and to judge with a right and proper judgment. Now he tells them that he really should never have needed to do any of this.

Paul is still desperately concerned for the spiritual well-being of the Corinthians and how deeply he loves them! And yet they must be brought to realise their own failures and short-comings. So Paul speaks frankly and directly challenging the Corinthians not to allow themselves to be duped any further.

Guilty Silence and Further Explanations
Paul was disappointed with the Corinthians and with good reason. He had been left to "boast" about his own credentials for the simple reason that the Corinthians had failed to speak up for him.

Yet while it had been necessary for him to speak this way about himself Paul was nevertheless ill at ease in doing so. Why did he have to defend himself against multiple accusations and why was he left to refute the insinuations made against him? Why hadn’t the Corinthians spoken up in his defence?

Paul had been led into this personally awkward and uncomfortable situation because the Corinthians either couldn’t or wouldn’t speak up for him!

v.11 "I ought to have been commended by you..."

Was it a failure of courage on the part of the Corinthians or was it simply due to a failure to think clearly? Perhaps they paid too much attention to the "super-apostles" and/or others and allowed their ideas to cloud their thinking.

Whatever it was they failed in their duty to speak up for Paul. This failure was a serious disappointment to Paul. Was his work amongst them going to prove fruitless in the end? Cf. vv.20+21.

This should be a serious warning to us. We often like to "keep our heads down" and not to speak out. We don’t do or say anything because we don’t want to get involved. But there are times when we do have information and understanding and should speak out to defend others. In our country we have so many freedoms and there are certainly times when we should avail ourselves of them. We can and should sign some of the petitions we are made aware of; we can and should perhaps write to our MPs. We should express our support for organisations such as the Christian Institute which do take such stands.

Why was the Corinthian’s silence such a disappointment to the apostle?

Before we consider that we would do well to pause and ask ourselves whether there are areas of our lives which are serving as a disappointment to others. If there are areas where we are failing then let us resolve with God’s help to put matters right.

Now back to the Corinthians: Paul was disappointed with them quite simply because they knew better! He highlights a number of areas where that was the case

They knew Paul to be a true apostle because the attesting signs of a genuine apostle had been manifested amongst them. Paul described those apostolic signs as:

"signs and wonders and mighty works" v.12.

These signs were demonstrations of divine power operative in and through Paul’s ministry. They had been carefully and deliberately carried out and the Corinthians had seen them. They knew by their own experience that the authority of this man confirmed him to be a true apostle of Jesus Christ by the exercise of these special gifts, gifts that accomplished something only God could achieve.

Knowing this, the Corinthians had no reason to imagine that the founding of their own church was somehow below par or sub-standard. They ought to have realised that their own church founded as it was by the apostle was no second class church. They had not been duped into accepting a lesser Christian experience by a man who was less than an apostle – their Christian experience was authentic and genuine. They should not have listened to suggestions that hinted or suggested otherwise.

v.13 "For in what were you less favoured than the rest of the churches?"

Paul continued with an ironic apology: he had not inflicted a heavy burden upon the Corinthian church when he ministered amongst them – the type of burden that the super-apostles longed to  impose themselves – and he asked for their forgiveness for that:

v.13 "I myself did not burden you. Forgive me this wrong!"

Again and again the Corinthians had allowed themselves to be negatively influenced by these "super-apostles" and accepting their system of values they failed to properly understand the principles which directed Paul in the exercise of his ministry. The gospel was the free gift of God and the whole of Paul’s practice was designed to illustrate the freedom of this gospel message. That was the reason he refused to charge for the teaching of the gospel message. To try to help them finally understand this Paul employed his parent/child illustration, an illustration which we have no difficulty understanding: parents make provision for their children and not vice versa in the normal run of things!

vv.14-15 "For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls."

If only the Corinthians had understood that Paul’s motivation in his relations with them was that of love they would never in a million years have interpreted his refusal to accept payment for his ministry to them as a snub as the interlopers suggested. And if Paul loved them so greatly then surely such love did not mean that the Corinthians should love him less! (v.15)

But still this whole question of finance was causing problems – doesn’t this suggest to us just how careful we must be! The rumours had circulated suggesting that Paul was misusing some of the funds that had been collected. These rumours were destructive and undermining the trust that should have been there between the apostle and the Corinthians. Sadly rumours and scandals concerning financial impropriety did not end in Corinth and have continued to dog the Christian church down through the centuries.

The idea had somehow been put about that while Paul wasn’t prepared to receive money for his ministry he was still intent on getting his hands on the Corinthians’ money to use for his own purposes.

The suggestion was that Paul was fraudulently dipping his hand into the poor relief fund that he was involved in organising ostensibly for the relief of the saints in Jerusalem.

How painful it is to be falsely accused and that behind your back! Paul rejects this further insinuation by naming one of the men who would have had to be corrupt too if the rumours about Paul were to be believed. So he names Titus and Titus is well-known and well-respected by the Corinthians.

So Paul asks them do you really think Titus was capable of that? He knows the answer: of course they don’t doubt Titus and they should realise that in giving credence to insinuations made against Paul they were implicitly treating Titus as a culprit too.

A Defence?
I began this sermon by describing Paul as defending his ministry and now I need to be a little clearer in just what that means because Paul asks the Corinthians whether they think he has simply been defending himself in what he has had to say.

Paul denies that what he has been doing has been an exercise in this type of self-defence. He solemnly declares that his motivation has not been in any way to secure or promote his own reputation as though that was his primary goal. No, Paul now declares that his motivation had nothing to do with his own status or reputation he was motivated by his desire to see the Corinthians built up and not destroyed in their faith.

Of course in order to be able to bring positive benefit to the Corinthians Paul had to remove the obstacles that had been put in the way. Paul wants them to recognise that he is an apostle not simply so that he might be recognised as an apostle but that he might be enabled to help them and do them good.

The ideas are closely linked but Paul does not wish to leave the Corinthians thinking that all Paul is interested in is a bit of his own one-upmanship.

Again and again in this letter Paul’s loving concern for the spiritual well-being of the Corinthians comes to the fore but how slow they were to grasp that.

Paul too recognises their slowness to grasp this and wonders whether his ministry amongst them will actually be able to bring about the fruit he hopes it will. He is in fact fearful that it might not!

Now what does he mean by expressing such a concern?

Paul is not suggesting that these Corinthians who have come to faith in Christ will somehow lose that faith and stop being Christians but he is suggesting something that is still very serious. He fears that when he arrives on his third trip to see them he will find them in a very immature and sinful condition. His fears are both for the Corinthians and for the humbling effect this will have on himself as he sees his own efforts coming to nothing.

Paul’s concerns are not about which preacher the Corinthians prefer but his concern is for their holiness. He fears that their lives may not be developing in holiness at all.

If the apostle Paul were to plan a visit to our church would he entertain the same fears about us? Is Jesus pleased with what he sees amongst us here in Herne Bay?

Paul doesn’t leave his anxieties unexpressed nor does he leave them undetailed. Paul is worried that the Corinthians are not advancing in sanctification and he names some of the sins he is particularly worried about. It is important for us to note that the first list of sins he writes about in v.20 are very ordinary sins if we can speak like that. They are the kind of sins that are all too easily relegated in our thinking to matters of little importance:

v.20 "there may be quarrelling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder."

P aul   does   not   want to find these things present but fears he will. He also wants the Corinthians to know that if he does find them then they will not find him accommodating, weak or tame but he will deal with such a situation with vigorous discipline:

v.20 "you may find me not as you wish..."

In addition to fearing to find such behaviour prevalent in the church Paul also fears that he will find that repentance is anything but the order of the day. He fears that those who had been guilty of some of the grosser (that is, flagrant, indecent, obscene,) public sins in their lives will simply not be bothered by them and will not be expressing any repentance concerning them.

In the final chapter of this letter Paul will go on to explain that he is writing warning about the possibility of him needing to come to exercise stern discipline so that when he does come he will not actually need to. Paul does not delight in threatening but he delights in doing good – just like his Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.


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