We have just started a new series of sermons on 2 Corinthians. And this morning we come to 2 Corinthians 1.12-2.4. Let me say something by way of introduction.
You can read how Paul planted the church at Corinth originally in Acts 18. But he didn't then say "good-bye" and leave it to its own devices. No! He was concerned to keep in touch and help them spiritually as much as he could. He did this through visits and through letters. In our passage this morning (chapter 2 verse 1), he refers to a "painful visit". It was to deal with a disciplinary problem that had cropped up. But he now writes that he doesn't want to make "another painful visit" like that one. He had planned another visit. But he wants to change his plans. It was difficult keeping in touch in the ancient Mediterranean world with people in other countries. There were no e-mails or jet planes in those days.
Over the years it has not always been easy keeping in touch with St Philip's Community Centre in rural Kenya. So how do we do it? Like Paul, by visits and by letters. So Jonathan Redfearn will soon be visiting Mburi on his Sabbatical; and this morning we have a visit from Mr Mwendwa's son, Duncan. This past week I also received a letter from Mr Mwendwa. Some of you know of the recent attack on the centre. This letter, has at last, filled us in. Let me read some of it to you. Mr Mwendwa begins with a good report of the tailoring course, the nursery school, and the Jesmond clinic. He then goes on like this:
"It was sad that on 12 March at around 9.30 pm, three people came to the centre and called the watchman pretending that they had brought a sick person and when the watchman went to call the nurse, they jumped over the gate and entered, went direct to Susan's house; and two others had cut the fence behind the Guest House and joined the others. They tied up Susan, her husband and the house girl and also the watchman.
Susan, our laboratory technologist, has a small infant and was left helpless on the floor. The house was ransacked and they took Kshs - 16,000 [that is well over £100 and a lot for rural Kenya] and the house was a total mess and they took some important documents. Susan was cut on the hand and had to be stitched at Kianyaga Health Centre and also the watchman had injuries on the head. Mr Mwai, Susan's husband, was beaten up and was taken to Kerugoya General Hospital for a check up. It was God's mercy that they were left alive. 'Unless the Lord watches over the city the watchman stays awake in vain' (Psalm 127 verse 1). We need your prayers very much.
Greetings from Joyce.
So we must pray for them. It was good to hear that no one was killed. But some of the information Paul was receiving from Corinth was not good at all. He heard that there was still immorality or some other from of wrong doing in the Church in Corinth. Also there was now an attack on Paul himself and his leadership. So in his reply in 2 Corinthians (among other things) Paul tells us something about his philosophy of leadership. He does this as he answers the unpleasant criticism that is coming from some at Corinth. And I want us to think about that this morning. So let's now look at our passage. You'll see I have the following headings: First. GRACE and TRUTH; secondly, YES and NO; and, thirdly, LOVE and JOY.
First. GRACE and TRUTH
What are some of Paul's non-negotiables in leadership? First, consistency. He tells us that he is the same in the church with Christians and in the world. He is not one thing on Sunday and another Monday to Saturday. Look at the first part of verse 12:
"Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God."
There are some people who can talk the language of Zion in church on Sunday but in the week they switch to being something else. The world and the Bible calls that hypocrisy. So Paul was consistent.
Secondly, Paul motives were right. Look at the second part of verse 12:
"We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God's grace."
Tragically there are church leaders who lead "according to worldly wisdom." They are motivated by the world's values rather than God's. They undertake leadership for their own benefit and not God's. Their motives are self-centred. They are motivated, perhaps, by the reputation they may gain. If they are ordained clergy, it may be to improve their career chances. For others it may be for more money or because they want to be affirmed by other people and thought well of by other people. But when that is your motivation, you will be a bad leader. You will not be able to say, "No!". You will not be able to do anything that is conflictual. You will have to go with the flow. You will try to be nice to everybody even when they are very wrong and need correcting.
By contrast, Paul wanted to act "not according to worldly wisdom but according to God's grace". Living "according to God's grace" is to be the mark of any genuine Christian. The Christian message in the first place is the gospel - or good news - of grace. It is the goodnews of what God has done for men and women once and for all in Jesus Christ. And he calls them to turn to Christ not because Christ is clever or the most inspired of religious teachers - No! - but because he is the unique, crucified and risen Saviour. He died on a cross to do what had to be done - bearing your and my guilt in our place. That was the only way sinful men and women could be reconciled to the all-holy God.
Who needs to trust Christ this morning as the risen Saviour? Then when you are right with God, you will, and must, live a life that has the cross and the assurance of God's forgiveness as its great motivation. That is living "according to the grace of God." So Paul's motives were right.
Thirdly, Paul aimed to be clear in his leadership - verse 13:
"For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand."
Some of Paul's critics might have tried to get round his statements about their immoral or unjust behaviour by saying, "he doesn't mean what he says." Paul will have none of it. "We do not," he says, "write you anything you cannot read or understand." And he certainly wasn't obscure. How important that is in leadership. You get even very senior clergy who, as one newspaper said recently, speak "gobbledygook". Paul wasn't like that.
You can see from 1 Corinthians that Paul was clear in dealing with divisions in the church, sexual immorality, going to law against fellow Christians, the abuse of Holy Communion, going over-board on charismatic gifts and denials of the Resurrection of Christ. So any leader has to be clear. When you are dealing, as Paul was, in disciplinary situations, that is so important. But clarity doesn't mean you have to be rude.
You can be clear without being rude. Yes, clarity will mean pain, where people are in the wrong. And speaking the truth will be painful on many occasions. But, as we shall see, Paul wanted to cause as little pain as possible. That is why he changed his plans. So Paul was clear in his leadership.
Fourthly, Paul was always aware of eternity. Paul was willing to write or say what was painful, because he had an eternal perspective. Look at verse 14:
"And I hope that, as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus."
Paul knew that he would have to give an account of his leadership "in the day of the Lord Jesus" - on the last day when Christ returns. Paul saw that great judgment day as a reality. And he saw that temporary pain was infinitely worth it compared with the glory that these folk one day would enjoy. He is going to write in chapter 4 verse 17 (of 2 Corinthians):
"For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all."
Paul's leadership was concerned with people's ultimate welfare.
So Paul was consistent, motivated by God's grace and not worldly wisdom, he was clear, and he had an eternal perspective. Let's move on.
Secondly, YES and NO
The basic charge from some in Corinth against Paul seems to have been that he was indefinite. He was not sufficiently firm. He was a fence sitter. He vacillated. He planned and then he changed his plans. Look at verses 15-17:
"Because I was confident of this, I planned to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. I planned to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea. When I planned this, did I do it lightly? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say, "Yes, yes" and "No, no"?"
Paul's reaction is to say, "rubbish!" He is not an equivocator, a vacillator or a fence sitter. Look at verse 18:
"But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not 'Yes' and 'No'."
Paul is saying that he is not a "'Yes and No' at the same time" type of person on important or primary issues. Yes, on secondary issues Paul was "Yes and No". He had already told the Corinthians (1 Cor 9.22):
"I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some."
But he was not "Yes and No" on primary issues or important issues. And these plans were important. Tragically there are leaders in the church today who are like that. They want to say "Yes and No" at the same time. That is what is going on in the sordid but serious Jeffrey John case. But Paul was not like that. He had to deal with sexual sin, greed, dishonesty and alcohol problems in Corinth. But he was quite black and white and definite in 1 Corinthians chapter 6.
He was, of course, also definite about forgiveness through the Cross. Paul was concerned that someone who had been disciplined should be reinstated (as we will hear next week). So he is not referring to people who, when they sin, genuinely repent. He is talking about people who glory in their sin and openly sin and call it "holy living".
Listen to 1 Corinthians 6.9-11:
"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."
Because he was such a "Yes" or a "No" man (not a "Yes" and a "No" man) that is why Paul was, and still is, hated. And he argues, that it is not just Christian ethics but the whole Christian faith that is so definite. Look at verses 19-20:
"For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not 'Yes' and 'No,' but in him it has always been 'Yes.' For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ."
The Bible is clear. Christ is the only fulfilment of God's promises of salvation in the Old Testament. There is no other way. Other religions and other philosophies do not provide salvation. Jesus himself was definite about this. He said (John 14.6):
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
The apostle Peter was also definite. Speaking of Jesus he said:
"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4.12).
But Paul then implies that it is not only himself but all the people of God - the whole congregation - who are to be definite as well. Look at the last part of verse 20:
"And so through him the 'Amen' is spoken by us to the glory of God."
"Amen" is the Hebrew for "it is true". And in services in the early church Christians said (and today they still say) in liturgical and non liturgical prayers, "Amen" at the end. In some churches they say it in the middle! But Paul implies that Christian people generally ought to be "Amen" people and definite people all the time - not just in formal or informal services, but in their lives in the world.
How vital that is today. Western secular culture is brain washing all of us. Unless we go back to the Bible and are willing to be countercultural, we will become "'Yes' and 'No'" people ourselves, before we know it. I have seen so many people that have compromised and in these two areas especially - sexual ethics and the multi-faith agenda. Paul will have none of it. But you say,
"It is tough. How can you stand firm today when your friends, the media, the educational establishment, the government, the social services and so on, are all going in a different direction?"
Look at verses 21-22:
"Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come."
The Holy Spirit will strengthen you. So you go to a meeting where something quite dishonest, immoral or just wrongly compromising is being proposed. But before you go in, you pray for the Holy Spirit to give you the strength to be in a minority of one; and that you can turn things around; or at least that your stand on that occasion will mean next time others will think twice before a similar proposal. It is as you "stand firm in Christ" - in his principles - you get the strength of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is given, says the Bible, to those who obey (Acts 5.32). You're not told that you will feel confident before-hand. Some people expect that if God is making them spiritually strong, they will feel it. So when they don't feel it, they don't open their mouths. How wrong that is! It is in the doing that you are strengthened.
Thirdly, (and finally) LOVE and JOY
In verses 23 to verse 4 of chapter 2, Paul explains that his reason for this change of plan was not for his sake. He was not doing it for his convenience. He was doing it for the Corinthians' sake. He knew there was going to have to be some painful talking, but Paul's goal was to cause as little pain as possible.
Paul was not a tyrant. Yes, Christ had given him authority in the church but he didn't want to "Lord it over" the Corinthians. His goal was not to set himself up as a great sheikh. His goal was their long term joy. But he knew that true Christian love means that sometimes you have to say things that are hard for some people to hear.
So I conclude with verses 23 to verse 4 of chapter 2:
"I call God as my witness that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm. So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote to you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you."