A. 2Corinthians 6:3–7 We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;
B. I said there were 27 items on this long list, and that they clearly split into 3 nines. Two weeks ago we looked at the first nine, which were all about suffering.
C. This morning we’re looking at the second nine, the middle nine.
1. These are nine qualities which make for a good witness, nine characteristics of a life which commends the gospel. And these are qualities which, if they are missing, put an obstacle in the way of people listening to the gospel.
2. It’s not surprising that this list bears a similarity to the fruits of the HS in Gal.5, only this list is focused not just on what the Spirit produces in us, but what fruits are important for ministry and for being a good witness.
D. But we can’t just leave the suffering of the first nine in this list alone and be done with it. The suffering of the first nine forms the context in which these qualities are demonstrated. So, the issue isn’t so much whether we have these qualities, but whether we have them when we’re suffering.
1. While suffering, then, Paul lived a life characterized by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, the power of God; and the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;
E. The first nine items split neatly into 3 threes. As presbyterians, we feel very comfortable with perfect symmetry. However, today the pattern breaks. The middle 9 do not split 3-3-3, but 2-2-4-1.
II. Nine qualities of life which commend the gospel
A. The first two virtues in this middle list of nine are purity and knowledge.
1. These two virtues describe where God wants our heads and our hearts.
a. The head should be full of the knowledge of God, and the heart should be pure before Him.
2. Too many Christians underemphasize one or the other of these 2 essentials of Christian character.
a. Some feel that knowledge is unimportant or even harmful.
(1) But God has given us our minds – they are good and not evil (though of course they can be used for evil).
(2) And God has called us to love Him with all of our heart, soul, MIND and strength.
(3) And He has given us His word for us to understand with our minds.
(4) And He wants us to have the mind of Christ.
(5) Knowledge about God is useless in and of itself, but knowledge joined with purity of heart toward God is the right recipe for spiritual maturity.
b. On the other hand, some neglect purity of heart, as if only what you think is important. But God calls us to be sincere in our faith and undivided in our loyalty and unadulterated in our motives.
(1) It is not enough to know the right things. God calls us to love Him with ALL our heart.
(2) That is purity of heart. And "blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt.5:8).
B. The next two qualities by which Paul commends the gospel are patience and kindness.
1. One of the main ways that people can tell that Christ is at work in us is by seeing a pattern of patience and kindness in our lives.
2. These two are also linked together in Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit in Gal.5:22-23: "The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness..." (Cf. Col.3:12.)
3. They’re really 2 sides of the same coin. Patience is passive goodness. Kindness is active goodness.
4. We might think that the world would be more impressed and Christ more commended through more spectacular displays of God’s power: like miracles and the ability to predict the future. But in Col.1:11 when Paul prays for the Colossians to be "strengthened with all power according to His glorious might" the result he’s hoping for is "the attaining of all steadfastness and patience."
5. Each day we have many little opportunities to show patience and kindness, even in the face of antagonism. The Bible is filled with this:
a. 1Peter 3:9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless.
6. Even when we’re proclaiming the message of Christ, we need to handle the truth with patience and kindness: "The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition." (2Tim.2:24-25)
7. When we do so, we imitate God, who is rich in "kindness and tolerance and patience" (Rom.2:4). When we are patient & kind, we show forth His love, which each person desperately needs to see.
8. In my observation, many Christians have gotten sucked into the thinking that we serve God by demanding their rights, as if we are another special-interest group vying for power. Not at all. It is by kindness and patience that we engage the world.
9. This kind of living is what F.Schaeffer called "the final apologetic."
C. Commending the gospel through love and truth
1. So, we said 2-2-4-1. We’ve done the 2-2 part and now we come to the four. And this is different.
2. Here are the four: “the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God”
3. The first thing you notice in the Greek is that each of these four have three words in the Greek -- in contrast to the items before and after, which all have two.
4. What seems to be going on here with these four is called an inclusio, where items are bracketed together by two synonymous phrases or statements.
5. The first and fourth items in this group of four are "in the Holy Spirit" and "in the power of God." These are synonymous expressions Paul is using as a literary device to signal the fact that he wants these four to be understood as linked up together.
6. Taken then as a unit, these four tell us a story. They tell us that quite apart from ordinary human ability, Paul has been empowered by the Holy Spirit to demonstrate the love of Christ and proclaim the truth of Christ. In doing so, he is a model for the rest of us, a model of Spirit-empowered love and Spirit-empowered truth-proclamation.
7. Our witness in this world is well-summarized by the middle expressions: "in genuine love, in the word of truth." We are called to speak and show the truth & love which Christ spoke and showed.
8. But we cannot do so apart from divine power. In ourselves there is no real love. For "love is of God and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." (1John 4:7-8)
9. As long as our Christian life is merely a matter of trying harder, we will fail. We just don’t have it in us. It can only happen by the power of God. That means we must pray.
10. Failure to pray like this means one of three things: either we don’t care about being faithful to God, or we don’t think we need His help to do so, or we don’t think He is going to help us.
D. Commending the gospel by the weapons of righteousness
1. The last of these nine qualities is: “the weapons of righteousness for the right hand & for the left.”
2. In order to commend the gospel to the world, Paul makes full use of the weapons God has given.
3. Two things we notice about these weapons:
a. They are “weapons of righteousness.”
b. They are the weapons of righteousness “for the right hand & for the left.”
4. What are these righteous weapons? He tells us more in 10:3-5 "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." So we’ll cover this more fully then.
a. But the point is that there are weapons which are unrighteous when it comes to the gospel:
(1) For instance, we don’t believe in spreading the gospel by force.
(a) If there was the greatest revival ever and 98% of people in the world became Christians, what would you think should be done with the other 2%?
(b) If you think they should be punished in some way for not accepting the Lord, when it was so clear and obvious to everyone else, then you believe in spreading the gospel by force.
(c) That is a contradiction of the gospel.
(2) Other unrighteous weapons include pressure, snide remarks, humiliation, and deception.
(3) We use righteous weapons like the loving presentation of the gospel, like prayer, like good deeds, like humility and sincerity.
(4) Romans 12:17 tells us: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
5. Why does he say "for the right hand and the left"? In his left hand a soldier would hold his shield, a defensive weapon. In his right hand he would hold a sword or some other weapon of offense.
a. In Eph. 6:12-17 Paul lists some of the defensive weapons God has given the believer: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation. In 1Thes.5:8 he adds love.
b. The offensive weapon listed in Eph.6, of course, is the sword of the Spirit, the word of God.
A. So, Paul tells us that he commends the gospel by enduring trouble and pressure with godly virtue.
B. But this list is much more than a description of Paul’s life. It is a call to imitate his example.
1. Christ made Paul a model of a life hijacked by divine grace. “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”
2. God does not call us to be bystanders applauding the dedicated service of the apostle. We are called to serve like him. It is not enough to stand on the sideline with a clean T-shirt bearing the name of the winning team. There is no verse which says, "Well done, good and faithful spectator."
C. So, how does your life measure up to this list? Knowledge of God, purity of heart. Patience and kindness. Spirit-empowered love and truth-proclamation. Being engaged in spiritual warfare.
D. If it’s humbling to go through these (and how can it not be humbling?), how do we deal with that?
E. Are you content to put an obstacle in the way of people listening to the gospel? Does it bother you?
F. We ought to feel bad if we feel like we’ve put an obstacle in people’s way, damaging their view of Christ. But it’s not enough just to feel bad.
G. Maybe it’s something you’ve known about for a long time and have tried to change many times.
H. Maybe there’s been a long-term tolerance of sinful patterns. Peaceful coexistence.
I. Maybe it’s time to repent before the Lord and before the people you’ve hurt. Maybe it’s time to start praying urgently for God to deliver you from that sin.
J. It’s OK if you’ve given up on changing, as long as you never give up on being changed,
K. Or do you think your sin or weakness is stronger than the power of God’s grace?
L. No? Then why aren’t we shaking the doors of heaven in prayer for God’s intervention?
M. The fact is, sometimes we don’t want to change. We have an idol and we don’t want it taken away.
N. Why would you try to get rid of something which you love, which you look to to give you life.
O. If that’s the case, you’re in dangerous territory. Don’t feel safe. Cry out to God for mercy.
IV. That brings up something that I need to speak to you about.
A. Last month the Lord convicted me of the sin of gluttony.
B. Why am I telling you this? Because I know that it’s hard for some to listen to someone talk about sin when you can see that he has an idol. I don’t want to put an obstacle in anyone’s way.
C. And I know that my being overweight has done damage to my ministry.
D. And I’m very sad about that and sorry for that. And I want to apologize to you for putting a stumbling block in your way in terms of my ministry.
E. And for those who were able to listen to me just the same, I want to thank you.
F. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. And with regard to eating, it’s one I’ve been lacking.
G. There’s nothing wrong with loving something like food. The problem comes in loving it too much.
H. Now it took over ten years to put on this extra weight. And it’s not going to go away overnight.
I. So, please pray for me. I need the Lord’s help.
J. Two blessings in this:
1. God showed me it was a blessed to wear my sin.
2. I’m also grateful that God showed me this and convicted me of this before I had a health problem as a result. This is a spiritual issue, and I want to deal with it as a spiritual issue.
K. If there’s any other way you feel my life contradicts the gospel I’m trying to preach, please tell me.