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A Time for Power

2Corinthians: Paul's Most Underappreciated Epistle

Apr 11, 2021


by: Jack Lash Series: 2Corinthians: Paul's Most Underappreciated Epistle | Category: Sin | Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12:21–13:4

I. Introduction
A. Last chapter: four more sermons
B. Background
1. Paul is writing this letter partly to prepare them for his visit. He is very eager for this next visit to not end in disaster as his last one had.
2. False apostles accusing Paul of weakness
C. 2Corinthians 12:21–13:4 I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced. 1 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 2 I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them— 3 since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. 4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.
II. Explanation
A. 21 I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.
1. This verse was in the passage we focused on two weeks ago. However, we never talked about the second half of it. And it wouldn’t be fitting to leave this out.
2. Now it may seem like sexual immorality is not a big deal to Paul since this is the only place in 13 chapters where Paul brings it up. But actually the opposite is true. Let me explain why:
a. In this series on 2Corinthians, we have made numerous allusions to two other letters Paul wrote to the Corinthians: 1Corinthians and the severe letter Paul wrote between 1&2Corinthians. But we haven’t talked much about Paul’s earliest letter to the Corinthians.
b. Paul’s efforts to confront sexual immorality in Corinth did not begin with 1Corinthians. We know this because in 1Corinthians, Paul talks about an earlier letter in which he addressed this problem:
(1) 1Corinthians 5:9 “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.”
c. And then in 1Corinthians he confronts sexual immorality in the church a lot:
(1) Paul devotes the bulk of chapters 5-7 to this subject, speaking about it in a way which makes clear it was a real problem in the Corinthian congregation.
(a) One man was having an affair with his stepmother. (1Cor.5:1)
(b) Some were going to prostitutes. (1Cor.6:15-17)
(2) “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1Corinthians 6:18–20
d. Now in 2Cor.12:21 he is referring back to all that when he says, “I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality they have practiced.”
e. But Paul is not only concerned about those engaged in sexual sin, but also about those were just standing by letting it happen without consequence: “You are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (1Cor.5:2)
(1) That’s also why he told them in the very first letter not to associate with sexually immoral people (1Cor.5:9).
3. So, Paul talked about sexual immorality...
a. in the letter he wrote before 1Corinthians,
b. in 1Corinthians,
c. He talked about it during his second visit (2Cor.13:2),
d. And in light of 2Cor.12:21, it would be shocking if Paul didn’t talk about sexual immorality in his severe letter as well.
4. This means that 2Corinthians is the fourth letter Paul wrote to Corinthians which refers to their sexual immorality, as well as his recent visit and he’s planning to talk about it at his next visit.
5. I think this issue is important to Paul. He is patient, yes. But he is not tolerant.
B. 1 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
1. To prepare them for his visit Paul warns them that he is coming to conduct church discipline, if it’s necessary, if they’re still not repentant of their sin.
2. You can see in this verse that this is what he’s preparing for.
3. It seems he is connecting his three visits with the three stages of the process of church discipline (which implies that Paul also addressed the issue of sexual immorality in his original year and a half with them planting the church) and with the Bible’s justice requirement of two or three witnesses in order for a person to be convicted of a crime.
C. 2 I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them—
1. 2Cor.1:23 talks about how he is delaying his trip because he doesn’t want to have to confront them again without first giving them time to really think about what they’re doing.
2. In 2Cor.10:6 he tells them that when he finally does come, he will be “ready to punish every disobedience.”
3. This is remarkably parallel to Christ Himself. He is coming again as well, and when He comes He will not spare anyone who is not repentant. Cf. v.11.
D. 3 since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you.
1. Verse 3 continues v.2: "I will not spare anyone, since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me."
2. They accused him of being too weak to be a true apostle, when actually he was being patient and kind. And he is saying, “Well, if you want to see how strong Christ is in me, just wait until I show up and deal with those of you who have not repented.”
E. 4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.
1. Paul is drawing the parallel between his behavior with the Corinthians and Christ’s behavior.
2. He shows weakness just like Christ does. And when it’s time to show power, he’ll do that too.
3. The point is that both weakness and strength are a part of who Christ is, and so it will be with us.
4. Paul is saying, “You have seen me manifesting the weakness of Christ (through meekness, tenderness, patience, willingness to earn my own keep so as not to impose on you, through serving instead of being served, through giving instead of receiving, etc.), and now, if you don’t watch out, you will see me manifesting His power (in confrontation, rebuke, church discipline). You have seen us weak, like Christ on the cross, but you will see something of a resurrection occur when we come the next time, if you do not repent. ”
5. As FF Bruce says: “Those who are united by faith to Christ share the "weakness" of His passion but also the power of His resurrection.”
6. But notice that Paul says, "we also are weak IN HIM." Paul’s weakness is not a result of cowardice or insecurity, it is a result of Christ’s work in him.
7. Lord, help us be "weak in Him" when it’s called for and “strong in Him” when that’s called for.
III. That leads us to our first application. There is a time for weakness and a time for power.
A. The Bible tells us that “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace...11 He has made everything beautiful in its time.” – Eccl.3:1-11
B. The notion that there is a time for power implies that there’s also a time for weakness, or a time to not display power.
C. And, of course, we have seen this through this epistle. Paul has humbled himself and taken the path of weakness in dealing with the Corinthians — just like Jesus (Phil.2:5-8), who allowed Himself to be abused, mocked, & reviled – and then crucified.
1. This is the way Paul acted in his second visit to Corinth. Instead of getting into a big fight with them, he bowed out, and put his thoughts in writing.
2. (The false apostles then accused Paul of being a coward because he didn’t knock heads together when he came to Corinth.)
D. What’s the point for us?
1. We’ve talked about our need to have two skills: weakness and strength, gentleness and firmness, that we need to be able to soundly rebuke, and to be able to tenderly suggest.
a. We’ve talked about how love requires dexterity with a variety of tools, and flexibility to move from one tool to another.
b. We’ve talked about the need to have two fears, not just one.
(1) The fear of using power when it’s time for gentleness.
(2) The fear of being soft when it’s time to be strong.
c. And how most people have one of these fears much stronger than the other: One person is ALWAYS feeling like the right thing is to be soft, and another person is ALWAYS feeling like the right thing is to be hard.
2. But since Paul is anticipating the possibility of using his apostolic authority to conduct church discipline when he visits, let’s talk about the relationship between church discipline and showing weakness or power.
3. According to Jesus in Matt.18:15-17, the process of church discipline has three stages (see also Titus 3:10). It begins with a one-on-one conversation with the sinning person. Then one or two others are brought in. And finally, it becomes a formal case where ultimately a verdict is rendered, if there is no repentance, and the person is considered to be a non-believer and put out of the church.
4. There are cases where the tone of this process should be pretty strong from the get-go, because of the nature of the sin. Paul confronts a case of incest in 1Cor.5:1-5 in a very strong way.
a. There are other cases which are require more patience and gentleness, cases where the person needs to be persuaded of the sinfulness of his actions, for instance.
b. Or when a person needs to be helped to escape an addiction.
5. But most cases should be approached with gentleness at first (Galatians 6:1), and then with severity at the end, if the person persists in refusing to repent.
6. Unless it is a scandalous sin even in the eyes of the world, there should be patience and kindness and appeal and a willingness to listen – until the person has proven to be persistently unwilling to repent in spite of repeated appeals.
7. However, some people want to begin with severity, even in cases which don’t require it.
a. And others want to end with gentleness, even when there is no repentance.
8. No! Begin with going to the person humbly and lovingly. And if rejection is ultimately required, that comes only at the end of the three stages, and only if there’s no repentance.
IV. Now, secondly, let’s talk about lessons we can learn here about sexual immorality.
A. Some of you probably know that Corinth was known for sexual immorality.
1. It was rampant in the whole Gentile world, but in Corinth it was over-the-top.
2. “Corinth was at once the New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas of the ancient world.” – G. Fee
3. The city was known even in the Gentile world for its sexual immorality. In view of the city’s reputation, Aristophanes coined the term CORINTHIAZESTHAI which means to act like a Corinthian, meaning, to be sexually immoral. Plato used the expression ‘Corinthian girls’ to refer to prostitutes. One historian of the time said that the temple of Aphrodite in Corinth had 1000 prostitutes. (It was a part of their worship to engage in sex acts with these prostitutes.)
B. It is no wonder that sexual immorality was a big problem in the church at Corinth.
1. Paul speaks of this strongly in 1Cor.6:9-11 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 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.”
2. And the problem obviously persisted because here we are at the end Paul’s last letter to them and he’s still talking about “those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality they have practiced.”
C. What is sexual immorality? How do we know what it includes?
1. The definition of sexual immorality is laid out in the law of God contained in the first books of the Bible, most of which came to God’s people at Mt. Sinai, including laws about incest, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, transvestism.
2. This is what the NT is talking about when Jesus appears on the scene referring to sexual immorality (Matt.5:32; 15:19; 19:9), and others as well (John 8:41).
D. My friends, just like the Corinthians, we live in a time when sexual sin is running rampant in our culture. And just like the Corinthians, it’s not only that a lot of people doing it, but it is being defended as good and acceptable.
1. And just like in Corinth, the church is being influenced by the culture.
2. Paul was not afraid to call Christians to forsake the sexual sins of their culture.
a. We’ve seen that, though patient, he is unrelenting on the issue. He is not willing to live and let live. He is not willing to agree to disagree.
b. For Paul it was unacceptable for Christians to not live lives of sexual purity.
c. He persistently calls for repentance and the forsaking of sexual sin.
d. When all others tools have proven unsuccessful, when all other avenues have been tried, Paul is willing to pull the plug, he is willing to put his foot down, he is willing to reject those who reject Christ’s laws on sexuality.
E. But there’s something else!
1. Earlier I read 1Cor.5:9, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.” But listen to the next verses after this, when Paul goes on to clarify those earlier instructions: “not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of ‘brother’ if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’” – 1Corinthians 5:10–13
2. He reaffirms this when he says in 1Cor.6:11 “And such were some of you. 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.”
3. If Christians had refused to associate with me while I was living in sin, I would never have come to Christ. We can’t dissociate from those who are non-believers – even when they are immoral.
4. But when people give their lives to Christ, it involves accepting Him as Lord, and they must be willing to conform their lives to Him, including their sexuality. So, to say hello to Christ means saying good-bye to life choices which dishonor Christ.
5. Now some are afraid of God’s judgment coming because of rampant sexual sin in the world.
a. And that’s always possible. That seems to be part of why God judged Sodom and Gomorrah, although in that story, He rescued the innocent before He judged the guilty.
F. But the point is this: God has not assigned us the job of judging or punishing the people of the world. We proclaim the truth of the Bible, and we love the people around us, we pray for them and call them to Jesus – the greedy, the drunkard, the swindler, the idolater, AND THE SEXUALLY IMMORAL — whether they’re heterosexual or homosexual, whether they’re transsexual or pansexual.
1. We are not alone in living in a culture which is immoral and hostile to God. The same was true in Corinth and in many, many other places of the world, and down through the ages. The world is a wicked place.
2. Romans 1:18–32 talks about how sexual sin – and homosexuality in particular – is a part of the degradation of humanity as it plunges deeper and deeper into corruption. And Paul’s list there includes other things as well: evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, gossip, slander, hate toward God, insolence, haughtiness, boastfulness, disobedience of parents, foolishness, faithlessness, heartlessness, ruthlessness.
3. And we see this happening all around us. This is the way the world is!
4. But it must not happen within us or among us.
a. And when it does, it must be faithfully confronted. It is incompatible with the way of Christ.
5. And the wickedness of the world out there must not deter us from extending the love of Christ to our neighbors.