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2Corinthians: Paul Most Underappreciated Epistle

May 20, 2018

by: Jack Lash Series: 2Corinthians: Paul Most Underappreciated Epistle | Category: NT books | Scripture: 2 Corinthians 3:4–3:6
  1. Introduction
    A. 2Corinthians 3:4–6 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
      1. Paul has been responding to the criticisms of some elements in the Corinthian church which are calling into question the legitimacy of his apostleship. 
      2. In response (2Corinthians 3:1–3), it is clear that Paul is not insecure in the face of his adversaries’ disrespect. He is extremely confident in his apostleship. And so here in v.4-6, he comments on his confidence. 
     B. “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” – 2Corinthians 3:4–6 
      1. We’ll get to these last statements in v.6 about the letter and the Spirit next week. This morning we’ll focus on what he says in the first part about confidence. 
      2. And there are basically three things Paul says about confidence in this little passage:
       a. As a minister of the new covenant, Paul is confident. 
       b. But his confidence isn’t self-confidence, that is, his confidence is not confidence in himself. 
       c. Rather, Paul’s confidence comes from Christ. He is confident in the Lord’s power to work through his weakness. 
      3. So, Paul is not sufficient in himself, but he has been made sufficient by God.
    II. There are two theological truths behind the things Paul says here;
     A. Behind his statement that he is not sufficient in himself is the fact that sinners can’t do anything.
      1. John 15:4–5 “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me..., for apart from me you can do nothing.”
      2. Romans 7:18 “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”
      3. 1Cor.13:1–3 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
       a. You can do a lot of stuff – some of it impressive stuff – but it all amounts to nothing if you are not empowered and moved by the love of God.
      4. “we are not sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us”
     B. And behind his statement that in Christ he is sufficient to be a minister of the new covenant is the fact that Christ has sent us His Spirit, by whom His people are empowered to fulfill His call in this world.
      1. Acts 1:8 “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
      2. And Paul experienced this power in his ministry:
       a. Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” 
       b. Colossians 1:29 “I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
     C. And these two theological truths apply to us as well.
      1. We are just as incapable as Paul to do any good in ourselves. Apart from Jesus, we cannot bear any good fruit – John 15:4-5.
      2. And yet, God has given us the same Spirit which He gave to Paul and the apostles, to empower us to do His will in this world, so we also can fulfill our calling in this world with confidence.
       a. Listen to Ephesians 3:20: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.”
        (1) He is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, not merely according to His power out there apart from us, but according to the power that works within us. 
      3. Though our weakness and inability is deep and profound, it is in no way deeper or more profound than the Lord’s power through His Spirit. 
    III. You see, there are two potential errors here. Either one can trip us up.
     A. The first is adopting the world’s way of thinking about confidence, as if it’s all about me. 
      1. “You can do anything you set your mind to!”
      2. “Follow your dreams! You can make them happen!” 
      3. “There’s a source of power deep down inside of you which can conquer all the opposition you face.”
      4. The last thing the world wants to face is the human inability to do any good in ourselves.
     B. The second error is allowing our weakness to dominate our thoughts about our life in this world.
      1. This might sound like humility, but it’s not. It’s actually arrogant, because it thinks our weakness is greater than God’s power in us. 
       a. It might seem like low self-esteem, but it’s really a lack of faith. 
        (1) And it is a cop-out: “I don’t have to attempt anything daring. I can just do easyish kinds of things.”
      2. It’s not enough to know our weakness. We need to pray to have our eyes opened to the power of God.
       a. Ephesians 1:16–20 “I do not cease to remember you in my prayers, that God.. may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know...what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.”
       b. Colossians 1:9–11 “We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be...strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might.” 
      3. It is arrogant to think that my weakness is bigger than God’s strength! 
     C. You see, a sense of our own powerlessness is an important ingredient in a Biblical & godly view of ourselves. But it must be accompanied by a robust sense of God’s mighty power at work in us and through us. Our weakness is a PART of our story, but because of Christ it’s not the end of our story.
    IV. So, let’s talk about Christian confidence. 
     A. Swagger is in today. Well, the swagger which is popular today is about as opposite of what the Bible commends as it’s possible to be. 
      1. But I would suggest that there is a godly swagger, very different than worldly swagger.
       a. Think about what David said to Goliath: “You come to me with a sword, spear & javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down & cut off your head. And this day I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army to the birds of the air & the beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, & that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, & he will give you into our hand.” 1Sam.17:45-47
       b. David had a certain swagger, didn’t he? But it wasn’t confidence in himself, was it? He was confident in the Lord’s power at work in and through him. 
      2. So Paul says, “We have confidence through Christ. We’re not sufficient in ourselves, our sufficiency is from God.” Our is not the swagger of pride, but the swagger of humble faith. 
     B. Paul’s Christian confidence is very different than worldly confidence, or what he calls confidence in the flesh: 
      1. Philippians 3:4-9a “I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him.”
       a. After Paul met Christ, he no longer placed any trust in his own heritage, or devotion, or natural powers. 
      2. Listen to what he says in 1Corinthians 15:9–10: “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
       a. He now knows that he has an immense resource to draw on in the infinite grace of God’s empowering Spirit.
     C. Just as Paul’s confidence to be an apostle came not from himself but from the power of Christ, so our confidence to be husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children, students, church leaders, managers, employees, community leaders, etc. must come not from ourselves but from Christ. 
      1. Our confidence is not  based on some sense that in ourselves we have what it takes, but upon our conviction that God called us to this role and equips His people to do what He’s called them to do.
      2. In other words, godly confidence to do anything does not come from a sense of self-qualification or ability. It comes from the conviction that because God has called me to do it, He will empower me for the task, even if I feel totally inadequate in myself: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.”
      3. So having godly confidence means realizing that in ourselves we don’t have what it takes, but that we can do all things Christ calls us to do through His power and grace.
     D. All through this epistle we see the theme of God’s strength in our weakness. And here it is again. Yes, we are weak. Very weak. But God is strong. Very, very strong. We don’t need to be — no, we must NOT be, intimidated by our weaknesses, insults, hardships, etc. We have Christ, and He reigns over every detail of our lives. He is our Helper. We don’t need to fear. We don’t need to hide. 
      1. Do you think God is intimidated by our weakness? 
      2. Think about Moses. Why did God call Moses to be His spokesman, when he was a man of stammering speech and slow of tongue? It was because choosing a weak vessel displayed God’s power in a way that choosing a strong vessel would not. 
      3. In the same way, God chose fishermen and tax-gatherers to be the apostles of the new covenant.
      4. God makes fit for service those who are blatantly unfit. That way, He gets the glory.