Description / Transcription
We just started a few weeks ago, a series in the evening on 2 Corinthians, and we come tonight to 2 Corinthians chapter 1, verse 23, through chapter 2, verse 4. There’s many well-known sections and famous, eloquent verses in the book of 2 Corinthians, and this is not one of the most resounding of them. Of course, it’s God’s Word and it’s, I hope you’ll see, very relevant for us, but of all the famous places in this book, this is likely not one of them, and yet I think you will quickly find that the subject of this passage, though Paul I don’t believe was writing with Bernie in mind, nevertheless is quite appropriate for our occasion this evening. I’m not going to make it a sermon about Bernie, he wouldn’t want that. It’s a sermon from 2 Corinthians chapter 1 and 2, and yet those of you who know Bernie, have benefited from his ministry, will find all sorts of connections in the example that Paul holds up for the kind of ministry that he has among the Corinthians, and the kind of ministry that Bernie has had for all of these years among us.
Follow along then as I read, beginning at verse 23:
“But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.”
“For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.”
A little bit of background on 2 Corinthians. You’ve already gotten this from the messages that have gone before, and we’ll come to more of the story behind the story, Lord willing, next week, but Paul wrote 2 Corinthians because as best as we can tell, a rift had developed between him and the church. Paul planted the church in Corinth, Acts 18, and sometime between the writing of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians, Paul had visited the church a second time after that initial visit to plant.
And after that second visit, before writing 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote another letter. So you look in chapter 2, verse 3, “I wrote as I did,” most scholars conclude and I think rightly that that is not a reference to 1 Corinthians but to another letter that Paul wrote in between, sometimes called “the severe letter.” As we’ll see in the sections ahead, it seems that someone from the congregation had rebuked Paul on his visit.
And we don’t know if the concern was theological, personal, pastoral, moral. Maybe it was a combination of all of the above, but there was a man who had turned against Paul, their father in the faith, and had been drawn away after other kinds of super apostles that he thought more impressive. And that was a problem in itself, but the bigger problem was that at first, at least, it seemed that the Corinthians didn’t do anything about it.
They didn’t come to Paul’s defense. They didn’t really to his aid. Isn’t it true, it’s the silence of our friends that hurts much more than the attacks from our enemies? And the whole ordeal was painful for Paul and for the whole congregation. We’ll look at the situation in more detail in verses 5 through 11 next week, and what Paul had advised them to do and what they did and now they’re coming to a point to forgive the sinner, if it’s the same person, and we’ll talk about that next week.
So there are questions about Paul’s character floating around. Can he be trusted? Is he fickle? Is he a bully? Does he really care about us? In particular that he had changed his mind, it seemed, when he had promised that he was going to come visit them and then he didn’t, and here Paul gives some of the explanation why he didn’t come.
In so doing, we see here three characteristics of faithful, humble, Christ-like, Gospel ministers. Briefly then, three characteristics of Christ-like, humble, faithful, Gospel ministers.
Number one: They are not lords.
You see this. Paul is on trial before the Corinthians. He says in verse 23, “I call God to witness against me.” Already we saw in verse 12, “Our boast is this: The testimony of our conscience.” So is seeing himself in trial, standing in the dock, as the Corinthians have these issues against him, and he says in verse 12, “My conscience is clean. So I bring, I call to my witness, my conscience. My conscience tells me that I’m in the clear.”
Now he says in verse 23, “Not only do I call my conscience, I call God to witness against me.” Paul says, “I am confident I am laboring, I’m making decisions, in order to spare the pain of discipline and further censure.” His goal is to come for reconciliation, and so the reason for delaying his visit is because he didn’t want to come when things weren’t in order and he would have to issue a stern rebuke, but rather he has changed his plans, not because he’s fickle but because his aim all along was this one thing, for their good.
So because of that, he has a bit of a change. But you see in verse 24, “not that we lord it over your faith.” He’s just explained in verse 23 it was to “spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth, this is why I didn’t make that visit that I had told you about, because I didn’t want to come and I didn’t want to have to get in your face again.” Now he says, “We do not lord it over you.”
Now we know from Paul’s letters he’s not anti-authority, he believes in pastors and elders and rebuking and disciplining and submitting to your leaders. He’s not against offices in the church. But he is against lords. There is only Lord in the church; it’s not the minister, it’s not the elders, it’s Jesus Christ.
Later in chapter 4, verse 5, he’ll write: “What we proclaim is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” Woe be to the minister and pity the congregation whoever has a pastor who gets those two things confused. We preach Christ as Lord and ourselves as your servants. We do not come to you to be lords that you might be our servants.
1 Peter 5:3: “Elders must not be domineering over those in their charge.”
Jesus Himself, who is the Lord, yet said in Mark 10, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. Whoever would be great among you must be your servant; whoever would be first among you must be salve of all.”
So Paul is concerned the Corinthians not get the wrong impression, because he’s talking about “I’m coming” or “I’m not coming” and “there’ll be visits” and “there’s going to be pain…” He wants to make clear, “I am not a meddling, overbearing parent. I am not a busybody who just stops by unannounced. I am not your apostle-on-demand, that you just flash up the apostle, kind of bat-signal and Paul swoops in and takes care of everything and starts kicking some behind.” No. He believes in persuasion, not coercion. He wants to work with them, not on them. He doesn’t want to browbeat them. He doesn’t want to manage their lives as a spiritual dictator. He says, “I am not your lord.”
It’s remarkable. The Apostle Paul, the one who planted this church, the apostle inspired by the Spirit to write these very words, if anyone could have said, “Well, maybe I’m like a little, I mean, a mostly servant, little, mmm, 10% lord.” Not Paul.
Calvin says: “For if there ever was a single individual of mortals that has authority to claim for himself such a dominion, Paul assuredly was worth of such a privilege, yet he acknowledges that it does not belong to him. Hence, we infer that faith owns no subjection except to the Word of God, and that it is not all in subjection to human control. This always remains a settled point.” And listen to this: “Pastors have no peculiar dominion over men’s consciences in as much as they are ministers and helpers, not lords.”
That means that though you take membership vows and submit yourself to the governing authorities in this church and to the teaching elders and the ruling elders, we never have a right to say to you, “Well, you ought to do this. Why? Because I’m an elder. Because I’m your pastor.”
No, the authority is always a derived authority. The only reason we can tell you to do anything is if it is according to the Word of God.
Listen to Calvin again: “Pastors have no peculiar dominion over mens’ consciences in as much as they are ministers and helpers, not lords.”
There’s so many times where I’ve said to people over 20 years of ministry, in particular sometimes where maybe they’re eager for the pastors to get even more involved in someone’s lives, and we have elders who are very involved in people’s lives, but sometimes you say, “Well, shouldn’t you be telling them not to go there and do that and to put…” and I say, “We’re not a cult.” Meaning we do not try to control every aspect of people’s lives.
Pastors and leaders do not bind the conscience of their people to anything except the Word of God. We can give you counsel, we can give you encouragement, we can give you advice, but the only time we can bind anyone’s conscience is when we have the authority of God’s Word, and that goes for all of us in positions of leadership. Pastors, elders, growth group leaders, Bible study leaders, senior shepherds and shepherdesses, missionaries, parents…. We must resist the temptation to be hyper-controlling in our ministry to others. We must resist the urge to constantly tell whether it’s the women we’re ministering to, our disciples, our congregation, our Bible study, the students we’re discipling, how to run every detail of their lives.
So here’s another little saying that has served me well in ministry: I am not the Holy Spirit.
Now I have to remember that as a parent. I would, you know, parents sometimes would like to run their children’s lives and be the Holy Spirit to make sure they get everything. You’re not the Holy Spirit, I’m not the Holy Spirit.
Paul says, “I’m not here to lord it over your faith.” Of course, this doesn’t mean we’re just all passive, we don’t ask hard questions, we don’t challenge people, we don’t rebuke people. Of course, but we do not ever do it as lord. We do it to help them serve the Lord, Jesus Christ.
So we must know there’s a difference between advice and a command, a difference between good counsel and controlling people.
So good Gospel ministers, number one: They are not lords.
Number two: They work for joy.
Have you noticed this verse before? 24: “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you…” Now you might think it would say “we work with you for your faith.” That would be good. “We work with you for love.” “We work with you for obedience.” “We work with you for hope.” All of those are biblical and they’re said elsewhere. But here it says, “We work with you for your joy.”
This is the work, I trust, of every shepherd in this congregation. It certainly has been for Bernie. Our fight is a fight for your joy, that you would know and believe all the blessings of the Gospel, that you would treasure Christ, that you would rejoice in Christ above money and sex and power and influence and politics and sports and even above your family. We work for your joy.
Not let’s not misunderstand that. Our world may hear that and think, “Ah, you work for my own affirmation of my choices. You work for my self-esteem. You work for my expressive individualism.”
Well, that’s not the same as joy. We work for joy. Deep, abiding, Gospel joy. Of course, this isn’t the only thing that you could say, but it is worth reminding. Any of us who have ministry, in whatever aspect, you’re ministering to your kids, I’m ministering from the pulpit, however your ministering to people, what is it? What’s the banner flying over your ministry? What you want? You want them to get good theology? Well, I want that. Or you think about, you know, your children, you want them to get a good job, get ahead in life. Or you want them to have justice, or you want them to have a moral compass, or you labor so that they might make a difference in the planet.
Paul says, “I’ll give you the bottom line for me: I want you to be happy in Jesus.”
Is that what you want for your kids? Is that what you want ultimately for your neighbors? Is that what you, is that your dream ultimately for the body politic in the United States of America? As many people as possible to be happy in Jesus. We’re not just cleaning up people’s lives and getting them on their feet, we’re laboring for lasting joy.
It must be the pastor’s resolve then, not that I labor so you make me feel good about myself, “Well, that’s nice, I’m doing a good job.” I labor so that you feel satisfied in Christ. Even when it’s hard.
Now Paul has to go. This is why he’s telling them. He’s told them hard things. He’s written a severe letter. If he goes again he’s going to have to rebuke them, but he says, “I am not in this for pain. I’m not in this to make your life difficult, but there’s going to be difficulties because ultimately I want your joy.”
If you can forgive the obligatory Lord of the Rings reference, you know you think of the ring with Frodo and it takes this control over him and he loves it and he hates it and he has to get rid of it. Well, the process of getting rid of that ring does not feel like joy; it is great pain and sorrow and will cost him everything to get rid of this precious, and if you’ve read the books, you’ve seen the movie, you know that to get rid of that idol, to get rid of that oppression, as painful as it may seem, is ultimately for lasting joy.
Do you notice what Paul says about himself in verse 3 of chapter 2? “I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all.”
You see, it’s going to be very hard to pass on what you don’t have. Be very hard to make a very happy, joyful congregation if none of your pastors have any joy in the Lord, and we’ve probably, you know, had that experience before and someone said, “Why aren’t you more joyful? I can’t believe you people. You make me sick with your lack of joy.” [laughter] Our kids pick that up.
Joy is like so many other things in the Christian life. It is more easily caught than taught. There, ah, I want to be like that, the joy of the Lord is my strength.
So the Gospel minister, the faithful, humble, Christ-like, Gospel minister, they are not lords, they work for joy.
Number three: They say “I love you.”
Paul has a deep love for this congregation. They were his disciples, his friends, his brothers, his sisters. He loved them deeply, even when they failed him, even when they hurt him. If you truly love someone, you confront them. Now you don’t confront them over every little thing that you would have done differently and every mistake they make, but when they are in danger of abandoning the Gospel, destroying their lives, destroying the lives of others, love demands speaking the truth.
But let us not forget that truth must always come from a heart of love. Look at the Apostle Paul. We can have this impression of him sometimes, he’s so brilliant and learned and fearless, and yet he doesn’t come in here, flippant or cavalier. He’s broken-hearted over their failings. In fact, he’s broken-hearted over having to write such a hard letter.
Mark it very well. If you never say hard things to people, you’re not being faithful. Never? There’s no one in your life who ever has to hear any hard thing? No? Then you’re probably a people-pleaser. You’re just saying what everyone likes to hear.
So if you never say hard things, that’s probably not faithful.
I’m reminded of the line from C.S. Lewis. He says, “The hard sayings of Jesus are only good for those who find them hard.”
When Jesus says you have to leave your father and mother, you have to hate your family to follow me, if you hear that and say, “Man, this is the religion I’ve been looking for. Hating my family.” No, that ought to be hard because Jesus is telling us by comparison to do something that is unnatural.
No, if you never say hard things, something’s wrong. And if you love to say hard things, something’s probably wrong.
This wasn’t Paul. This wasn’t Jesus. They didn’t shoot first and ask questions later. They wept first, rebuked later.
Paul’s philosophy of ministry is quite simple: Minister so that others will be full of joy, and if you cause them pain, the pain must be first felt in your own heart, and the reason you would cause them pain is to increase their joy.
The old adage is true: People will not care what you have to say until they know that you care.
Surely one of the consistent things we will reflect on tonight is how much all of us who have known Bernie and Pat have known beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have cared for us, and Bernie cared for each one he counseled and met with and prayed for.
So a good Gospel minister says “I love you.” You see this in verse 4, “I wrote to you… much affliction, anguish of heart… many tears.” Paul’s an emotional wreck, “Okay, I am really broken-hearted over this… Not to cause you pain, that’s not my goal. Now it’s going to hurt sometimes, but that’s not the goal, but to let you know the abundant love the I have for you.”
I love to be your pastor, and I love you as the flock of God here at Christ Covenant. Certainly, Pastor Bernie did and does and will deeply love and care for you. You can do so much if people know you are really, really for them. Now they won’t always see it. They won’t always appreciate it. Sometimes they’ll still say, “Well, you’re a jerk and I don’t believe you,” but if they know that they’re not a project, they’re not obstacles, they’re first of all people what you love and you tell them.
We don’t have time to go through all the times Paul says such warm-hearted things to his congregation. Parents, you say it to your kids. You say, “Well, they know it.” Well, do you say it? Do you say it to your parents? Do you say it to siblings? Do you say it to friends? Just simple words, “I love you.”
Paul says, “I am broken-hearted and I’m doing what I’m doing not so you hurt, but because I want you to know just how much I love you. I’m not your lord, I may tell you hard things, I may correct you, I may rebuke you. You may not always like what I have to say and do, but I truly love you and I am jealous for your joy.”
Such has been Bernie’s ministry among us, and may be it true of each one of us in whatever ministry he gives to our charge.
Let’s pray. Father, we ask that You would give to this congregation such ministers, not lords, working for joy, saying “I love you.” We would minister in that way to our children, to those in our Bible study, to those in our campus group, to those in our covenant group, and Lord would you do a sweet and precious Gospel work among us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.