1. When Christianity started, it was largely a Jewish movement. Jesus was a Jew, the disciples were all Jews, virtually all of the earliest Christians were Jews.
a. But when persecution drove them north to Syria, some of these Jewish Christians began to preach the gospel to Gentiles in Antioch. And Gentiles began to become Christians (Acts 11:20-21).
b. Paul came to help lead that first Gentile church in Antioch, and eventually they sent him off to preach the gospel in other Gentile lands.
2. On his 2nd missionary journey, Paul planted the 1st Christian church in the city of Corinth, Greece.
3. But Paul had a problem which followed him wherever he went.
a. Many of Paul’s fellow Jews were upset with Paul for bringing Gentiles into the church.
b. Even among those Jews who believed that Jesus was the messiah, many were still opposed to including the Gentiles, without them first becoming Jews through circumcision and the keeping of the ceremonial law. Folks who thought this way we refer to as Judaizers, because they wanted the Gentiles to be Judaized before they could be Christians.
c. And wherever Paul went, the Jews or the Judaizers opposed him.
d. But even after Paul left a certain city, Judaizers would often swoop in and try to convince Paul’s Gentile converts that they needed to adopt the ceremonial law of Moses. E.g. Galatians
e. They tried to attack Paul when he first preached the gospel in Corinth, but he was protected by the proconsul (Acts 18:12-16).
f. However, after Paul left, and returned to Antioch, Judaizers began to infiltrate the Corinthian church. They couldn’t drive him out, but once the eagle was gone, they climbed into the nest and went after the eagle’s eggs.
g. They began to spread the claim in the congregation that Paul was not a true apostle.
4. In 2Cor.10-11, he defends himself from their accusations and begins to go on the attack as well.
B. 2Corinthians 10:13–15 But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. 15 We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others.
A. It’s important to know this morning that defending himself is the same as boasting in himself, which is the same thing as comparing oneself with others. They’re all talking about the same thing.
B. This is what Paul’s detractors have been doing to him, to which he is now responding. They have been criticizing him and elevating themselves over him and demeaning him to the Corinthians.
C. And in this section of 2Corinthians, Paul is responding to these detractors. And though he criticizes their boasting and comparing themselves to him, he does engage in it himself, beginning in our passage this morning – but very reluctantly because the Bible is critical of boasting (Proverbs 27:2).
D. But, Paul says, if he is going to boast, he is not going to boast in the accomplishments of others, but only in his own accomplishments. In saying this, Paul is criticizing his adversaries, who had not only invaded his ministry field, but now they were boasting in the fruits of his labors.
1. 99% of the time it’s wrong to boast in one’s own accomplishments, but it’s always wrong to boast in someone else’s accomplishments as if they were yours!
2. But it just shows us how audacious these people were! But we see it in politics all the time.
A. You don’t have to know the Bible very well to know that it is down on boasting. But here we learn that although we should always be reluctant to boast or compare ourselves with others or even defend ourselves, there is an appropriate time to do so. So, when is the appropriate time to boast, or defend oneself, or play the comparison game (e.g. 2Cor.11:16-18, 21b-23)?
1. Just because you get falsely accused certainly doesn’t mean you need to respond.
2. There is a sin of defensiveness. But there is also a duty of self-defense. So, what is the distinction between the two?
a. Godly self-defense is done for Christ and motivated by love.
b. Defensiveness is done for self and motivated by pride. (Of course, the two can be mixed.)
3. Here’s a litmus test to help you discern between the two:
a. If you find yourself defending yourself every time you’re falsely accused, you know you’re being defensive. In other words, if you give in to your defensive impulses without careful consideration of whether it is right and loving and necessary to defend yourself, then you are being defensive.
b. If your pattern is to keep your mouth shut, and consider whether it is necessary to say something, then, it seems to me, you are closer to the place we all need to be.
4. Examples of when we need to defend ourselves:
a. When not doing so would hurt other people,
b. When not responding would be unloving,
c. When remaining quiet would be a bad witness,
d. When it would bring shame to the name of Christ to say nothing.
5. Did Jesus defend Himself?
a. Yes. He often defended Himself against false accusations.
(1) Accused of being empowered by the devil: “A house divided cannot stand.” – Matt.12:25ff.
(2) Accused of treason: “My kingdom is not of this world.” – John 18:36
(3) Accused of violating the Sabbath: “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” – Luke 14:5
b. But when His time came, He refused to defend Himself. And THAT is what is given to us as an example to follow in 1Peter 2:21–23, “To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
(1) And notice who wrote this: Peter, the very one Jesus rebuked for trying to defend – pulling out his sword to resist when they came to arrest Jesus.
6. Now this doesn’t mean it’s always wrong to defend ourselves. It just means that there is a greater danger of sinfully defending ourselves than there is of sinfully not defending ourselves.
a. It means that we must be willing to – and we must expect to – be reviled without reviling in return; we must be willing to – and we must expect to – suffer mistreatment without threatening in return; we must be willing to – and we must expect to – be falsely accused without defending ourselves.
7. I’m a defensive person by nature. There’s hardly anything which bothers me more than when I believe I am falsely accused.
a. But over the years, I’ve learned some things, mainly through godly examples I’ve had the privilege of witnessing.
b. I’ve learned that sometimes a situation’s not about my falsely-impugned reputation.
c. Sometimes it’s about my wife’s exhaustion, not about the accuracy of her criticism of me.
d. Sometimes it’s about my relationship with my child, not about protecting my name.
e. Sometimes it’s about my sinful behavior, not about the precision of another person’s criticism.
f. And if every time I feel like I’m falsely accused, I want to stop the train & defend myself, I’m often missing the point of the moment. I’m making it about me when it may be about someone else.
g. Another way of saying this is that love is more important than one’s reputation, and love of self is to be subordinated to love of others, so the only time to defend oneself is when love demands it.
h. And the reason Paul defends himself in 2Corinthians is because his love for the Corinthians demands it.
8. Defending ourselves is one of those things we must be very reluctant to do, and yet must be willing to do if the situation demands it.
a. There are a number of things like this: getting angry, speaking harshly, calling someone names, pulling rank / exercising authority over others, boasting in one’s achievements, using violence.
b. Though these things are ordinarily sinful, there is a limited permission given in Scripture for their use when love demands it. But we must not turn this limited permission into an excuse to indulge the flesh.
c. These things must be held in check, much like Paul was so very reluctant to boast in 2Corinthians.
B. My friends, Christ wants everything in our lives submitted to Him. He wants everything we do to be done under His sway.
1. It may seem impossible to learn and remember all of these subtle things in the Bible, and to think of the right rule at the right time when you’re faced with a given situation.
2. Let me say a couple of things about this.
a. There are situations where you need the wisdom and guidance of God’s word to know what is the loving thing to do. And it may at times seem overwhelming to keep track of all God’s principles of love and try to figure out which ones apply in which case.
(1) But this is part of the path to maturity. Whenever you are learning something new – and godliness is new to every young believer – it’s overwhelming to try to figure it all out.
(2) Learning golf or ballet or driving a car or swimming. There are lots of things you have to try to keep in mind at the same time, and some of your instincts make you want to do the very thing you can’t do, and some of the things you have to do seem so unnatural.
(3) But the world’s best golfer and tennis players and ballerinas and drivers and swimmers were once in that same place. But now you watch them and it seems so natural. They don’t have to think about all those things, they’ve become habits, patterns which they don’t have to make themselves remember anymore.
(4) And that’s the way it is with learning to love as well.
(5) It seems to me that there are three stages:
(a) The first stage is when we get gripped by our need for learning to live godly lives, when we’re given the passion to honor the Lord in the choices we make, in the way we relate, in the deeds we perform. Jesus refers to this as the time when “anyone’s will is to do God’s will” – Jn.7:17.
(b) The second stage is the one we were talking about a minute ago. It’s when we begin to strive to learn what God tells us in His word and live according to what it says. And it involves making lots of mistakes, and recognizing those mistakes and seeking to correct them. And it’s sometimes overwhelming.
(c) The third stage, though, one which we never completely reach, is when godliness becomes habitual. We don’t need to think about it, we know immediately what to do and what to say.
i) This is way it was for our Lord Jesus. It’s not just that He had a perfectly righteous heart.
ii) He also had grown in wisdom (Lk.2:52), and in the knowledge of God’s word, such that He never had to stop & figure out what to say or do. He always knew the perfect thing to say/do.
(6) This is the way it works for many things in life. Let’s take tennis for example.
(a) When I was around 11-12, my parents decided that we were all going to learn to play tennis.
(b) So, we got a membership at a tennis club & we began to take lessons and play a lot of tennis.
(c) And there were a lot of things to learn, and a lot of things to keep in mind: how to hold the racquet, when to rush the net, how to serve the first serve and the second serve, how to position your feet on a ground stroke, how to use backspin and topspin, how to volley, how to lob and how to defend against a lob, how and when to attempt a drop shot, when to play the ball in the air and when to let it bounce first. And a thousand other things.
(d) But eventually, over the next few years, we all got pretty good at tennis, playing in tournaments, playing on our high school team, even teaching lessons. No longer were we trying to remember all the things we had learned. Most of it had become muscle memory. Often there was some bad habit we had fallen into and we had to consciously work on getting rid of that habit. But mostly we just played.
(7) So, where are you in this process in terms of godliness?
(a) Have you gotten to the first stage where you have the passion to learn God’s word and live according to it?
(b) Are you busy working on learning and putting into practice the things you learn – even though it is sometimes difficult and even confusing, failing often, repenting & trying again?
(c) Are you finding that love comes quicker to you than it used to?
i) Holding your tongue instead of blurting out something inconsiderate?
ii) Feeling compassion toward a sinner instead of reacting self-righteously?
iii) Looking for a way to meet a need when you see one instead of looking for a way to avoid it?
b. Secondly, submitting to Christ isn’t just a matter of knowing the rules and figuring out which one applies at a given time.
(1) It is more a matter of arresting yourself before you act according to your natural impulse and ask yourself: Am I under the control of the love of Christ here?
(2) Or am I just doing what my sinful flesh tells me to do?
(3) You see, when we defend ourselves wrongly or boast in ourselves wrongly or whatever, these things are indicators that Christ is not ruling on the throne of our hearts.
(4) These things are like alarms telling us that we’re not abiding in Jesus, that Jesus is not living through us.
(5) These things are calls to come back to Jesus.
(6) If we think that the Christian life is all about learning what to do and trying to do it, we’ve got it all wrong.
(7) Just as salvation is all about Jesus, so is the Christian life. Even though knowing the commands of God plays a role, the biggest issue of the Christian life is not one of knowledge but one of power. Knowing all the commands and all the wisdom and all the doctrine doesn’t get you very far by itself, because you can know the commands and the wisdom and the doctrine and not live in Christ, not be empowered by Christ, not be in step with Christ.
(8) And when we sin, it’s not time to kick ourselves, it’s time to wake up and realize we’ve drifted from Christ once again, and need to return to Him.
(9) Ultimately, the goal of the Christian life is not so much moral as relational. It is to know Him, to walk with Him, to abide in Him, to sup with Him, to be filled with Him.
(10) Striving to do right can be Christless. Seeking to learn doctrine can be Christless. Even the search for wisdom can be Christless, for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
(11) Godliness isn’t a matter of human effort. It’s a matter of matter of coming to the Lord; it’s a matter of opening the door; it’s a matter of responding to His lovingkindness and grace.
(12) Godliness begins with crying out, “Abba, Father!”