2nd Corinthians 2:4-17
As a church, I’m going to invite you this morning to second Corinthians chapter two, is where we’re going to be today. Second Corinthians chapter two and we’re not going to be specific in our message today related to Mother’s Day. However, you’re going to find a lot of application if you are a mother and not just in that category, but really any walk of life, this will be helpful as we deal with relationship today, in looking at this text in second Corinthians chapter two.
I’m just going to ask, this is a well known question and well, I’ll leave this rhetorical for you, but something to think about here, as we dive into this text. Do you know the number one reason Christian missionaries leave the mission field? What is the number one reason Christian missionaries leave the mission field? And of all the things you might conjure up or ideas to consider, the sad reality is the number one reason that’s been attributed to, really through many years. You can just Google this if you don’t believe me, you’ll see all kinds of articles pop up. It’s interpersonal conflict. They can’t get along with the other missionaries they work with and they end up leaving the mission field.
It’s a tragedy to think about, because when you consider what God does in his people, and then what God desires to do through his people, it is a beautiful work. When Christians within their own tribe can’t even get along, it’s what God calls us to, it’s a very tragic narrative that is written. Second Corinthians chapter two, that is exactly what Paul deals with here, is interpersonal conflict. You probably could have determined what the answer would’ve been to that question, if you looked to the headlines of the sermon notes, if you picked those up when you came in today. But Paul is giving us some thoughts as it relates today, how to navigate through conflict when we experience it, especially among God’s own people or in your close relationships in life.
That is how Paul approaches this text today, four thoughts when navigating through conflict. I’m just going to jump right into it. First, number one in your notes there, is to be mindful of the destruction conflict can cause to the work of the gospel. Be mindful of the destruction conflict can cause to the work of the gospel. Paul starts off in verse four, chapter two, just giving us the thought that way. But before we dive into verse four, I want us to see how Paul, right in the middle of what he’s sharing in this chapter. He says in verse 11, “So that we would not be outwitted by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his designs.” As Paul, through this section of verse four to verse 17, he’s talking about conflict. He wants us to realize just kind of a sobering reality, that in our interaction in life, there’s always something spiritual that’s taken place.
Sometimes people can get obsessive about spiritual warfare, but everything we do in life has some sort of spiritual implication related to it. Paul is saying, especially when we deal with relationship and it gets to the point of conflict, it doesn’t have to be a place where Satan gets victory in our lives. God can use our conflict, and we’re not as believers not to avoid conflict, but God can use that as a way in his life to show the beauty of the gospel, not to create the division among his people. But when it gets to that place where it becomes counterproductive in our relationships. Therefore, it becomes counterproductive in what God wants to do through us in this world as his community and it’s exactly what Satan wants to leverage among God’s people.
It’s important for us to be mindful of that, because sometimes when we get offended or we get hurt, we get all up in our emotion and all we can think about is ourself. We start to see red and we say things like, “Catch me outside.” It’s like, “Meet me out back.” If you’re from the 80s and, “Catch me outside.” If you’re from recent years. That’s how we phrase it and we get stuck in that emotion. We stop thinking about beyond us and the consequences of that and we live within our ourselves and how we can provide retribution to the moment.
Paul, taking a step back from the conflict he’s experiencing with the church of Corinth, begins to recognize and when we walk in that, Satan gets victory. So when we get to that place of that emotional turmoil and the frustration of relationship, to be mindful. Be mindful of the destruction conflict can cause to the work of the gospel. It’s not to say that we shouldn’t walk in conflict or step into a difficult situation as believers. We’re not talking about avoidance here, but to realize the repercussions as we journey down that path and we’re in precarious moments in places of adversity. In fact, in verse four, he says it like this, “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of my heart and with many tears.”
Paul, super apostle here, or an apostle. We’re going to talk about super apostles in this book, should not equate that with Paul, but Paul as an apostle of the Lord. If you think anyone’s got grit, it’s definitely Paul. I mean, in the book of Corinthians, he talks about all the things that he endured for the sake of the gospel, being shipwrecked and beaten and in prison, and not even knowing if he’s going to survive. He tells us in chapter one of this book, Paul’s gone through a lot, not even be able to eat, no clothing, no shelter. I mean, he has faced all the struggles, this is a tough dude.
But then he says in the reality of his interaction with God’s people in that struggle, his heart gets to that place of infliction and anguish and tears. Adversity affects all of us, especially when it’s relational, that cuts the deepest. I would say probably the wounds that cut the most deepest, can I even say that? The most deepest, that’s not even grammatically correct. It’s when people are closest to you, their wounds hurt the worst. Paul wants the church just to be aware of this, but he’s identifying the struggle of conflict and then he goes on in verse five and he’s saying, “Even as it affects me,” here’s what’s also important, he says, “Not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.”
Paul, in this moment, he’s still selfless. He still wants the church to realize, through all the hardship that he’s facing, his thoughts are to let go of himself and consider the wellbeing of everyone else involved. This affects me, but as it affects me, my heart is still about you. What does God desire to want to do through you and work through you? So conflict doesn’t have to be this black eye, but it can be a powerful way that the beauty of the gospel works through all of us. I think out of anywhere, out of anywhere, we can see the beauty of conflict resolve, it’s got to be among God’s people. Because we have the hope of the gospel, the forgiveness of Christ being lived through our lives. So if anyone should know how to walk through this moment, it’s got to be God’s people, because we’ve experienced the grace of Christ in our own lives and having our soul forgiven in Jesus.
Through that, the reconciliation of a relationship to Christ, as Christ has given himself completely for us while we were enemies of him, it tells us in Romans chapter five, verse 10. So Paul, I think though he recognizes what conflict can produce, he’s still boldly engaging this moment because he knows the hope of what the gospel presents and the beauty it can demonstrate before the world. The hope that we have because of Christ, in the midst of that kind of adversity, that we walk different than the world walks in those moments.
Which is why he goes on in verse five, he says, “Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure, not to put it too severely, to all of you.” Paul’s saying, “Look, as a church, we don’t run away from conflict. That’s not what God has called us to do, but we need to begin to realize that when one person within the Body of Christ starts to hurt, it affects all of us.” We may not recognize fully how it completely would affect us. But when someone goes to this part that Paul’s referring to and affliction and deep anguish, they’re in tears, in that moment it might sideline them from exercising the gifts that God has given them, to bless the Body of Christ. So in doing, when one is affected, all of us can feel the repercussions of that.
So Paul is saying, for us, it’s not about avoiding it and he’s also certainly beginning to recognize, look, and we don’t need to be obsessive about this. We don’t need to say now, because conflict can affect all of us in some way, that we all just need to start obsessively looking for conflict and go out and just start killing it. There are places in life where we can tolerate the tension in relationship, because we’re not all the same. Matter of fact, living in the Christian community, being a believer now, I think longer than being an unbeliever. I’ve just found that there’s a lot of quirky personalities in the Body of Christ and that’s a nice way of saying, “Look, all of you are weird.”
All of us have something about us that just make us, some aspect that only a mother can love and we need to be able to give grace to one another in that. We’re not trying to make clones of our preferences, but we’re trying to see in the life of each other, what is it Jesus desires for the benefit of the body, to his glory and his blessing of the world, the relationships around us. What does Jesus want to do with us and through us? So Paul, he’s saying, “Look, there’s this way it affects all of us, but point number two, we need to approach conflict with a godly heart.”
This is where he says in verse six, “For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough.” So Paul, in this moment, he’s thinking about a specific issue and this person, that’s a part of the body here, part of the church in Corinth, that most likely he’s had some sort of repentant heart. He’s saying to the church there, “For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough.” So the church has responded to what’s happening within the body of Christ here towards this individual. So Paul, in this moment, he’s acknowledging a few things by this verse.
One, he’s saying, “Look, you don’t sweep it under the rug. When Christians talk about conflict, we don’t just sweep it under the rug.” When there’s active sin within the Body of Christ, you don’t just ignore it and move away from it and turn a blind eye and act like it’s not there. We don’t just pretend, that’s not what Christian community is about. But at the same time, when he’s talking about this punishment by the majority is enough, he’s saying also, “We’re not bulldozers. We’re not pushovers and we’re not bulldozers. We don’t come in steamrolling people, that’s not what we’re about.”
But rather, the beauty of being a follower of Jesus, is God gives us a place to be open with our failures. Some people in this world, they walk around with their sin, they don’t know what to do with it. They try to cover it up, they try to eventually perform enough good works, that they can tolerate the bad things they’ve done in life. Try to make excuses, try to just move away from the negative things and shine a spotlight on all the great things they do, to say, “Look, doesn’t this make me lovable enough.” That’s the way the world tends to deal with these things. But as believers we’ve learned, in Jesus, we don’t have to do that. We can bring it straight to Christ.
You see, in the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve sinned, they didn’t know what to do with their sin. They ran and hid from God, they covered up themselves with fig leaves, they tried to pretend like there was nothing wrong, but Jesus is the one that pursued them. Jesus has demonstrated to us, that in him we have a place to take our sin. When we screw up, we could be honest with that, because we’re not trying to impress people with who we are. We’re trying to make our lives impressed by who Jesus is, because he’s the one that transforms us. So we can screw up, we can just say, “Look, I can acknowledge this, because I’m not trying to put this image of perfection before you in my identity.” But rather we can take it to Christ and be honest with it, and find healing and forgiveness and restoration in relationship.
But Paul, when he is describing this in this verse, he uses this very interesting word. He says and I highlighted it here for us, “For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough.” This punishment, could you imagine? You come to church on Sunday and I want to teach you, hey guys, great topic today. We’re going to talk about conflict, we’re going to talk about church discipline and I want you all to learn how to punish someone else. That is a strange word to be using in a passage like this. When Paul uses this word punishment, what makes it very interesting, is that this is the only time in the New Testament that this Greek word, punishment is used. There are other Greek words that we translate in English as punishment, but this particular Greek word, this is the only time it’s used in all of the New Testament.
When we understand this word, we have a better understanding of what Paul is saying. Because I will often tell you, even as parents, when you’re raising children, that your goal as a parent is not to punish your kids. When they do something wrong, it’s not to punish your kids. What you should be interested in as a parent, rather than punishment is discipline. Because what you’re interested in your child is the type of person they’re becoming, the character that they will ultimately display. As a parent, you’re thinking about the end goal of your child and you want to nurture that heart through proper discipline. Discipline doesn’t always have to be bad, but you want to see them develop into great human beings. Hopefully godly human beings, surrender to the Lord, but you want see them bless the world rather than tear the world apart.
So rather than punishment, we think about discipline. When I say that now, we got to deal with the fact that Paul is talking about punishment in the Body of Christ. If you look up, if you do a word search in the New Testament for the word punishment. You’ll find in the New Testament, that when the Bible uses the word punishment, it usually is dealing with the government punishing someone as a wrongdoer, it’s used in terms of Jesus and the gospels. It’s also used in terms of an unbeliever facing the judgment seat of Christ, but it is not used in terms of a New Testament, Christian. So why does Paul use it here?
Well, this particular word that Paul is using is in connection to citizenship and Rome. He’s talking about, he’s borrowing a word that is used for citizens in Rome, when they come before officials, because of something wrong they’ve done. Now what makes that unique and understanding is that not everyone that lived in Rome, that was a part of Rome, was a citizen of Rome. In fact, it was considered a very prestigious title to be termed a citizen in Rome. So this was unique, but there was certain privileges granted to Roman citizens when they were faced with charges that wasn’t given to everyone else that lived within Rome. They received this preferential treatment and they got due process in the law that wasn’t always granted to non-citizens.
So there was this particular way, that when a citizen came before local authorities for some kind of charge brought against him, that they were treated right. So what Paul is saying in this text is, “Look, he is one of us. This person is one of us and we need to meet them where they are, according to what they’ve done.” We’re not about overpowering them, we’re not about destroying them. We’re not about getting the upper hand. That’s not what the community of Christ is about, this domination over others, but we’re about meeting them where they are. The hope is that they awaken to what they’re doing. That they’re mindful of the repercussions of which they are bringing.
In fact, if you study in scripture how the Bible calls us to approach one another, when you know, a brother or sister in Christ is just actively walking contrary to Jesus, it’s a very humble approach. It’s not about lording over people, it’s not about smacking in the face and telling them to wake up. Peter says, “Unless you too would also be tempted to sin, approach humbly graciously.” Probably one of the best passages on it is Matthew chapter 18 versus 15, 16 and 17. It describes it like this, when you know a brother or sister in Christ is struggling in that way, but you come to them humbly and it’s verse 15. Then in verse 16, if they didn’t listen, go grab another believer in Christ and meet them where they’re at and just speak in to their lives. If that doesn’t work, get the Body of Christ.
What we do here is so sacred and we’re talking about life forever in Jesus and what God wants to do in you and through you is far more important than anything that can be tempted by this world, this other path for you to follow. So Paul is just wanting us to recognize this, the Body of Christ in this moment got involved. One of the things I love about this passage, is Paul never tells us what the problem is. Do you notice that? Some people speculate as to what it could be. Some people think in first Corinthians chapter five, that there’s this passage where Paul’s dealing with sexual sin in the church among a believer and perhaps it’s that.
Perhaps that’s what Paul’s addressing here, he’s saying that this person, that we’ve handled it. So we need to walk different in how we treat this person, we’re not here just to beat people up, or we’re not trying to dominate them, it’s not our purpose. Some people speculate, that’s what it could be. I don’t agree with that, I don’t think that’s what they’re dealing with in this passage. I think what they’re dealing with in this passage is someone who’s become vindictive towards the apostle Paul. I think this has been a personal attack on Paul, that’s why Paul talks about his own anguish and his own struggle in this passage. The Body of Christ has just stood up and said, “The way you’re treating Paul, it’s not right. It’s not helpful, it’s not godly, it’s not good.”
So when we think about what we desire as a church, our goal is different to the world’s goal. World’s goal has this cancel culture mentality. You see somebody do something wrong and especially against you, that the way the world teaches it, is now you have a platform to shame them, to promote yourself, to make you look better than them. I think that’s probably the general definition of cancel culture. If it’s not, just take my definition, it’s the right one, but that’s the way we treat people. That if someone does anything wrong in this world, then that gives me the platform to act just as nasty back. But I’m the righteous one here, because I’m the one that’s been wrong. So it doesn’t matter how venomous I get in response. I get to leverage where I’m at now, because they’ve done wrong to make me look good, because they’re awful, let’s shame them, everybody jump on board.
That’s not Jesus’ heart at all. Jesus’ heart is still for lives to be turned to him and this what Paul is saying in this passage. That we’re not here to become legalist, we’re not here to conform people to our preferences. We just want to see people walk with Jesus and help people see the need for what Christ can do in their lives. I love when Martin Luther, I think I’ve brought this quote up before, but when Martin Luther… This a beautiful picture of Martin Luther, where he gets his hair done and but I got to… But Martin Luther, when he was brought before religious leaders of his day and he was accused of wrongdoing, this is what he simply said. This is important for all of us, he says, “Unless I’m convinced by Scripture in plain reason, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right, nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.
What’s the Lord say? Where can my heart align with Christ? Number three, then Paul says this, verse seven and eight he says, “Reconcile with a repentant heart. Reconcile with a repentant heart.” This is where Paul gets to in this passage, he’s saying, “Look, what you’ve done as a body, in order to meet this brother or sister in Christ where they are, it’s sufficient, you’ve pursued the heart.” So he goes on, he says, “So you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.” Paul, in this passage, he gives us three ways to respond.
As a church, the Bible certainly says to us, “Our heart should always be open to forgive.” We should always extend that hand of forgiveness to people. Jesus was asked, “How many times should we forgive?” He said, “70 times 7.” Which is a way of saying, no one can keep track of that number, just forgive as long as you’re able to forgive, carry that heart. It’s reflective of who Jesus is to you, but we don’t experience full forgiveness until reconciliation takes place. You can always extend that heart to forgive, be willing to forgive, but the full embracing of forgiveness doesn’t happen until reconciliation takes place. But we, as God’s people should always be willing to extend that hand of forgiveness.
Corrie Ten Boom said it like this and Corrie Ten Boom, if you don’t know about her, she was taken into a concentration camp, her and her sister, they helped lead part of setting Jewish people free during Nazi Germany. She and her sister were eventually caught, put in a concentration camp. She watched her sister tortured and died there and then she went on to minister to the soldiers that were responsible for what Nazi Germany became. She helped them in their own personal recovery, because of what they had gone through. But she says this, she said, “Forgiveness is setting the prisoner free only to find out the prisoner was really me.”
That’s what a lack of forgiveness has the tendency to do within our lives. We feel like it becomes our responsibility to carry the vengeance and she began to realize that it really, it destroys you more than anyone else. Now when you think in terms of forgiving, what God desires for us, forgiveness is not forgetting. I think that’s important to know, forgiveness is not forgetting. In fact, forgetting can be one of the most destructive things that you could do. Now if you know someone in your life that you forgive, but they struggle in an area and forgetting it, set them up to repeat the same pattern, that’s not helpful for anybody. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting.
I know when the scripture tells us that, when we sin Jesus separates our sins as far as the east is from the west and that’s true, he does judicially. Judicially speaking, what I mean is he doesn’t hold that against you anymore. If you see your life before the court of law and God is judge and jury, when God thinks about your sin, if it’s been forgiven for him, he separates as far as the east is from the west. But God’s also all knowing and all knowing means he doesn’t really forget anything, he remembers and knows all things, but he doesn’t hold it to your account. That’s the idea of what forgiveness represents and forgiveness is not avoiding. It’s not avoiding the problem.
In fact, I think because of Jesus it gives you a place to talk about it, confront it, meet it where it’s at, to not be a pushover, but at the same time not be a bulldozer and steamrolling people. Forgiveness is really no longer taking the responsibility to hold something over someone. You deal with it, so you can move on, because God cares too much about you to let you become trapped in a heart of bitterness. God is big enough to handle it, which is why we’re able to deal with it and then turn it over to the Lord. Paul says, “Forgive.” Then he also says, “Comfort.” We’ve talked about this idea of comfort, comfort isn’t coddle. Comfort, really it is to nurture, it carries the idea of nurturing where someone is, but at the same time, strengthening them.
It’s to say, “God still wants to do a work in them. I don’t want to make them a prisoner to their past, if we’ve been reconciled in relationship. But they need freedom to run and to live as God has called them to live.” And then he says, “To reaffirm your love with him.” This doesn’t mean become best friends, just because you had to struggle with somebody, doesn’t mean if you want to forgive them that you got to become besties in that moment. But you do need to reaffirm a love towards them that gives them the opportunity to continue on to what God’s called them to. To be the Body of Christ, to do as God has created his church to do.
Then Paul goes on from there and he says this in verse nine and ten, he says, “For this is why I wrote, that I must test you and know whether you are obedient in everything.” I love this, Paul saying, “I know what I’m saying is not easy,” but it’s a good way to see where your own maturity is in the Lord. Because the very thing that we struggle to do in our own personal relationships, Jesus has done for you and to not carry this attitude of grace into this world, becomes hypocritical to your own faith. But the reality is, we all struggle because we’re all people and it can become personal. When it becomes personal, we get all emotional and we get very focused on us. We think internally and we say things like, “Catch me outside.” We got to work through that and so Paul is saying, “Look, there’s a place of maturity in the life of the believers, you learn to process this.”
CS Lewis, he gave us this quote, he says, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive and then it’s a whole different story.” But Paul is saying that, “Look, this becomes a place for you to measure where your growth is in the Lord. To see the kind of heart you’re carrying in this world, because relationships aren’t always easy.” But then he goes on in an encouraging way and says in verse 10, “Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ.” Is about what Jesus wants to do in all of us.
When he is saying this in verse 10, he’s saying, “Look, we’re in this together. We’re going to do this together. This is difficult, this isn’t easy, but God is maturing us through this and what he ultimately wants to do. Let’s not let Satan leverage this in verse 11, but man, let’s fix our eyes on the greater work that God wants to call in all of us. So on that journey, we get to see where our maturity is and we are in this together.
So in point number four in your notes, stay humble. Stay humble by remembering who you are apart from Christ. Paul, he is going to start sharing a little bit more about that humility in verse 14, but I want you to see this in verse 12. He just reminds us again of the effects that conflict has in the Body of Christ, he says this, “When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went to Macedonia.” Here’s what Paul’s saying, in Corinth there were a lot of people at one point that hated Paul. They rejected Paul and Paul had to deal with that and he didn’t run from it. He visited them and he found them malicious and then he left and so then he wrote a letter and he sent Titus to check on the church.
Then Paul was waiting in Troas for Titus to return from that, to let him know how the church is doing. He’s saying to us in the story, as he’s in this town of Troas, he can’t even focus on what God can do in him and through him in this town, because he is bearing the weight of knowing how Corinth might feel towards him and he just wants to hear it. The story goes, or the thought is that at the end of the year, when the last ships were coming in to the area where Titus or where Paul was in Troas, that Titus wasn’t there. So rather than wait through the winter until the spring, when Titus might return again from Corinth, Paul just jumped on a boat and got out and dodged, he’s like, “I got to move on. I got to get to Macedonia, clear my head and keep doing ministry.”
So Paul is bearing that weight and had an effect, even in how he’s trying to reach a town that’s not even in Corinth. But then he says this, he gives us the thought of humility, he brings this back to his own struggle and how he’s had to walk through this and then he gives us this thought, he says, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.” Paul says something interesting in verse 14, he’s painting a picture here. I want you to know we’re reading from the ESV this morning, the ESV translation. I actually disagree with the ESV in how they chose to translate this from Greek, with that word leads.
I’ll talk about it in a minute, but here’s the picture Paul’s painting. When a Roman general would go into battle and he was victorious and he would come back to Rome, there would be a parade, a big parade. People would even build platforms to stand on to see this parade, because it was a grand time to celebrate that Rome was victorious. When the general would return into the streets to lead the parade, he would be in the front being pulled by an elaborate chariot. Sometimes that chariot would be led by elephants rather than horses and this was to get your attention.
Then behind him would be the soldiers that were victorious in battle. Behind the soldiers then would become those that were prisoners of war, those that were captured in battle. Then behind that would come the priests and the priest would be waving incense in the air. The reason was, is that if the streets were too packed and you could not see the parade, the thought was, at least as the priests were waving the fragrances, at least you could smell the smell of victory. There was this place of celebration that would go through the streets and at the end of the parade, sometimes what was practiced was they would take the prisoners, they would become slaves or they would be slaughtered right then and there.
That’s the picture Paul paints here in verse 14 of his position. But what’s interesting and I think one of the reasons translators have such a difficult time with this. That when you think about that kind of parade, Paul is not describing himself in the parade as the general. Paul’s not even describing himself in this parade as one of the soldiers representing the general. Paul rather in this passage is describing himself and what it looks like in this verse, as one of the captives who have been conquered by the general. So when translators come to this section of scripture and they realize Paul’s describing himself as a prisoner, they don’t know what to do with it. This word leads as [foreign language 00:32:05] in Greek and it can carry the idea of simply leading, unless it follows a direct personal object, which in this sentence it does. When it follows a direct personal object, the way the word translates is as a captive being led.
So if you go with the traditional way of translating this sentence, what Paul is saying about himself is not that he’s simply being led, but that he is a captive being led and now you got to deal with that. Why in the world would Paul be calling himself a captive that’s being led? I think it’s because through this struggle, relationally, Paul is coming to this place of humility, of recognizing his own heart before the Lord, so that he responds properly to others who are enemies of Christ, or living as enemies of Christ by their poor behavior. I think Paul, in this moment he’s realizing who he was apart from Jesus.
First Corinthians 59, Galatians chapter one verse 13, Paul says of himself that he was the persecutor of God’s people, he was the enemy of Christ. In first Timothy chapter one, verse 15, he was the chief of sinners. That’s how Paul sees himself, but he realizes as he battled against the Lord, God was victorious over his heart. God brought him in and God called him his own and he now sees himself as a slave of that king, which is a far greater king to serve. In that, Paul comes to this place of humility, because he realizes we all struggle and he, more than anyone, was a great enemy of Christ, but Jesus conquered him and he is a good king. That same heart that fought for Paul is that same heart he wants to demonstrate towards others, even though they may fight against him. Because he realizes who he was against Jesus and he wants that same transformation, even of his enemies for the cause of Christ.
When we think about staying humble, it’s this reminder in our own hearts of who we are apart from Jesus. Which gives us grace to respond to anyone that we interact with in this world, even when they oppose us, because of who we are apart from Christ. Paul goes on and he says it like this, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”
Paul is saying, “Look, we’re going in this world, just sharing this aroma and not everybody’s going to embrace it.” Some people are going to smell that victory and only think of death, because they represent the people of death. But other people are going to smell that and think about the goodness of Christ. It’s not our job on how the chips fall, but it’s us who are called into this world to lift up that fragrance of the goodness of this king, that they can find freedom in him, that is our role. So our attitudes, many people may have, verse 17, different approaches on why they’re doing what they’re doing and they call it as representing Jesus when it’s not. But we want to be people of sincerity knowing the responsibility we carry, because we’ve been commissioned by God and that we speak in the representation of Christ, that’s our goal.
Man, even in enemies of the Lord, what is it God can do in you and how can I be a part of communicating that? It’s not my job to change your heart, but to demonstrate the goodness of this king that does change hearts, that your heart might have that freedom too. The way we can carry that posture, even when people might rail against us, is to remember we’re not fighting for what people think about us, we’re living for what people can think about Jesus. To the world it matters what you think directly about them, because to them, the only thing that matters is self, they’re gods of their own world. But to believers, it’s Jesus, because we’ve found our complete identity in him and to remember who we are before Christ, but now who we are because of Christ, it is incredible.
There’s a story of Hudson Taylor who was speaking in Melbourne Australia and it says that there was someone that came up to introduce Hudson Taylor to the world. They’re seen before this church, all these great and grandiose things he’s accomplished in China and went on and on with this list. Finally, when Hudson Taylor got in front of the crowd, he said, “Guys, I am but a small servant in the hands of a great master.” Hudson Taylor just spoke to the reality of that moment, in recognizing his life is only what it is because of the grace of God that’s been made known in his heart. Humility is such an important part of the life of the believer. I’ll give you one more illustration.
There was a young lady who from America, she went to Germany, she wanted to visit, she was a pianist, a great pianist and she wanted to visit Beethoven’s museum. She got to the part of the museum where they had the piano that Beethoven composed some of his greatest works and she asked the guard could she play the piano? The guard said, “No.” She said, “Okay. If I give you this much money, can I play the piano?” The guard said, “Yes.” So she got up there and she played the piano and she walked away and she said, “Yeah, it was great to play, but I bet all of the great pianists in the world play this piano.” The guard said, “No, not really. Most of them come to this piano and think they’re too unworthy to even touch it.” Typical American, right? Sorry.
But that’s the point with Jesus, what a gift, what a gift to even have a place to discover who we are and a God of such incredible grace and to have the privilege to live for him. As our life has transformed in him to offer that same opportunity to other people, knowing that we all, at some point or another are an enemy of Jesus, but it’s only by his grace that we find his freedom. Charles Spurgeon said it like this, “If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him. For you are far worse than he thinks you to be.” I’m not here to impress people, but I am here that our hearts would be impressed with the greatness of Christ. It’s that grace that gives us a platform to go out in this world and approach the conflict, because the goodness of what Jesus has brought in us, knowing that same goodness he can deliver to others.