2Cor.3:4-6 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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2 Corinthians 3:4-6


Reading: Judges 7:1-22

A Christian CV

In today's world finding a job is not as straightforward as perhaps it once was. For many jobs you have to include a detailed copy of your CV along with any job application you make.

It seems that it is difficult to overestimate the importance of having a good CV. Listen to this piece of advice I found on the internet – it is just one example of what is repeated over and over again when it comes to job-hunting.

"Your CV is the first chance you get to make a good impression on a potential employer. A top-quality CV will considerably boost your chance of getting a face-to-face interview, so it is worth spending time and effort on the content and presentation. It will make all the difference in obtaining the position you want. You must therefore highlight your skills, expertise and value."

If all this is true then a good CV involves a significant amount of self-promotion.

One of the essential elements of a good CV is the ability to offer references that can be followed up by your potential employer.

There was at least one group of people in the church in Corinth who would have agreed wholeheartedly with this whole process – I'm referring to those interlopers who considered themselves to be super-apostles. They were quite happy to blow their own trumpets (or to blow on behalf of their friends) but they didn't rate Paul highly at all. If it was to be left up to them the apostle Paul would certainly not get a job in Corinth.

But it wasn't up to them and for the simple reason that the work of building the church is Christ's.

The secular world is always trying to squeeze the Christian church into its mould. Individuals within the church are regularly put under pressure to adopt the values and the methods that are current in the world. The thinking that predominates in society at large can seep almost unnoticed into the church. If this is allowed to continue the church eventually loses its saltiness and becomes, to all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from the world.

Are we in danger of adopting a worldly mindset when it comes to evaluating Christian ministry and Christian service? Such a worldly mindset may reveal itself in our lives as we resist invitations and opportunities for service within the church.

This evening we'll find that what Paul wrote all those years ago is still immensely relevant to us in the church today.

Paul's Confidence
Paul has just been writing in glowing terms about the gospel successes he has enjoyed in his life. How God has blessed his ministry! Indeed as Paul sums up his ministry he does so in seemingly extravagant terms but Paul is not exaggerating:

2:14 "thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere."

And Paul went on to illustrate by referring to the Corinthians' own spiritual experience. The very fact that they were Christians at all was due to the fact that God had used the apostle Paul's ministry. Paul was absolutely certain that this was the case and he affirms that confidence as he writes his letter.

Is he boasting about his own gifts and abilities? Are we to understand him to be polishing and putting the finishing touches to an already impressive CV as he does this?

We might be tempted to think like that were it not for the fact that Paul immediately distances himself from any such an interpretation.

Paul's confidence is not located in his own particular skill-set: his confidence doesn't come from the fact that he considers himself to be a wonderfully gifted missionary, or a great preacher, or a clever letter-writer or anything indeed at all like that. And yet Paul is confident; because his confidence is located firmly in God.

Look at how he puts this:

v.5 "Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,"

Paul resolutely refuses to take any personal credit for what Christ achieves through him in ministry. Paul does not see himself as being at the origin of the gospel successes that his ministry enjoys rather he sees himself as a simple channel through which those blessings flow from God to the happy recipients.

If success depended upon qualities, gifts or abilities in Paul's own life then any confidence he might have about gospel success would have to be hedged about with a series of ifs and buts. Knowing his own weaknesses and his failure to have yet attained to perfection Paul's confidence would certainly have had to be attenuated. However, if his imperfections were quite simply not in view because all gospel success proceeded not from him at all but from God in Christ then his confidence could be and should be very high indeed!

So important is this theme that Paul returns to it several times in the coming chapters:

In chapter four, for example, he explained that his whole life and ministry was taken up with proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord, he didn't aim to put himself forward at all:

4:7 "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."

Paul doesn't want to do anything that might draw attention away from God and unto himself:

11:30 "If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness."

And in chapter twelve he developed this idea further

12:9-10 "But (the Lord) said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

How strange this would look on a normal CV! But Paul's values are not those of the world his are the values of a gospel minister.

God had called him, along with the other apostles, to be a minister of a new covenant and this same God went on and on equipping him so that he might carry out the task to which he had been called.

3:5-6 "our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant,"

Do you notice how Paul attributes everything to God? It is not as though God has given him abilities and Paul must get on with them as best he might it is that that God is constantly supplying Paul with what he needs in order to serve effectively.

An Immediate Application
Although Paul was an apostle and was writing about his ministry as an apostle what he has to say about that ministry could and should be applied to every Christian ministry, to every act of Christian service.

Paul is confident because he does not look to his own experience, to his own understanding, to his own abilities, but because he looks away from himself to God through Christ.
If we are Christians we ought to serve with a similar degree of confidence.

Practically that will mean that we won't refuse to offer service by pleading lack of experience, lack of understanding or lack of ability. While to plead along those lines may well have the appearance of humility it is nevertheless wrong because it is looking for the basis of our confidence in entirely the wrong place. It may really be true that I am not particularly gifted in preaching, in teaching, in speaking to an outsider, of witnessing for Christ but the success of any of my efforts at ministry does not in any shape or form depend upon such things – it depends upon God who alone can give the increase.

We must not bemoan perceived lack of gifts or abilities as though such lack excludes us from service. To refuse to serve for any of those reasons would a form of inverted pride every bit as obnoxious as that of the person who crassly overestimates his skills. Quite simply put of ourselves we can do nothing but no Christian is ever to be in such a position. Is there any lack of ability in God? Can he not use any tool he choose and yet still secure the exact result he wants?
Is not the Gideon principle of Judges 7 still valid today?

Jug.7:2 "The LORD said to Gideon, "The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’"

The OT contains many illustrations of this: see for example.

1Sa 14:6 "Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armour, "Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.""

2Ch 14:11 "And Asa cried to the LORD his God, "O LORD, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O LORD, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.""

Jer.9:23-24 "Thus says the LORD: "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me."

Zec 4:6 "Then he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts."

Is not the same truth taught to us in the life and ministry of Elijah? Think of that confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal in the days when Ahab was King of Israel. All day long those false prophets had danced and pranced as they tried to cajole the false god Baal into action and to send fire from heaven. Then came Elijah's turn. The false prophets had no power to produce fire and neither did Elijah! But it wasn't up to Elijah to do so anyway! Listen to how he prayed:

1Kings 18:36-39 "At the time for offering the /evening/ sacrifice, Elijah the prophet approached /the altar/ and said, "LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that at Your word I have done all these things. Answer me, LORD! Answer me so that this people will know that You, Yahweh, are God and that You have turned their hearts back." Then Yahweh’s fire fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell face down and said, "Yahweh, He is God! Yahweh, He is God!""

In the NT this principle has in no way been abrogated with Jesus rather confirming it when he told his disciples:

Jn.15:5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."

Paul had reminded the Corinthians of this in his first letter too:

1Cor.15:58 "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain."

New Covenant Ministry
Before we come to an end this evening we must go on to think for a moment about what Paul has to say about the ministry to which he was called.. His ministry is specifically a new covenant ministry. He has already begun to differentiate between and the old and the new and now he continues to tell us some more.

In v.3 Paul has referred to the internal and spiritual nature of the new covenant compared to the externality of the old covenant. Now he contrasts the letter of the old with the Spirit at work through the new.

The old covenant was not bad. It did what it was intended to do and it continues to teach us some very necessary lessons but it was never intended to provide us with a way of salvation. The old covenant made (and makes) men and women aware of the holy character of God and how he wanted them to live by revealing what he required of them. However no sufficient provisions were made under the terms of the old covenant for dealing with the problems and predicament into which men and women got themselves when they became covenant breakers themselves.

It is helpful to think of the difference between the old and the new covenant in the following way:

  • The old covenant (the letter) was about regulation and demand.

  • The new covenant (the Spirit) is about promise and gift.

If the old covenant told men and women what God expected them to do but could do no more than to leave them aware of their need because they couldn't perform to God's standards: it effectively brought them death.

On the other hand, the new covenant is all about how God himself has provided everything that men and women needed and offers it freely to us in Jesus Christ and specifically in his death and subsequent resurrection. The problem of death is resolved by this new covenant as the Spirit gives us new life as he brings us from spiritual death to spiritual life. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power at work in us under the terms of this new covenant (Eph.1:19-20).

How important it is for us not to confuse these two covenants! If we do we'll end up turning the new covenant into what is really a second old covenant equally full of rules and regulations. Throughout the NT the judaizers were falling into this particular trap and then ended up turning the salvation of "by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone" into a salvation package that was a mixture of Jesus and my own efforts – a disastrous mix if ever there was one. The new covenant fulfils the promise of life because God in Christ freely forgives our sins and justly justifies us.

We need to understand this for ourselves so that we may live truly and enjoy our salvation in Jesus Christ.

We need to understand this so that we are able to share what is really the good news about Jesus and not simply offer to others another form of legalism or moralism.

This task is by no means beyond us because God is our sufficiency and let's not forget it!


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