“THE ONLY CONFIDENCE WE NEED”
(A Sermon Series from 2 Corinthians)
Westgate Chapel 04-01-07 2 Corinthians 3:1-6
Proposition: The only confidence we need comes, not from letters of human accomplishment, but from the Spirit’s work in the lives of those to whom we are sent, which is the work of God through us.
- AT the end of the Book of Judges in the Old Testament, after 325 disastrous years of living in the Promised Land, the people of Israel asked God for a king….so they could be like the other nations of the world.
- THE 325 years under the judges had been disastrous for Israel because, for the most part, everyone did what was right in their own eyes (interestingly that is the leading characteristic of what is called post modernism in our day).
- BY the end of the judges Israel is in an absolute mess….
* The 12 tribes are fighting amongst themselves, killing each other off.
* God has allowed surrounding enemy nations to invade from time to time. Israel is plagued by war.
* Worship of the one true God is replaced by many false gods.
* The ministers of the covenant, the priests, have sold their message and ministry out to the highest bidder.
* Militant homosexuality rules in the cities of Israel.
- SO, Israel concludes what they need is a king….and reluctantly, God provides them with a king, named Saul; but King Saul ends up being just like the people.
* Evil….in that order.
- AND after some 40 years of disobedience and rebellion against God, God says to King Saul through the prophet Samuel,
“The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor, who is better than you.” (1 Samuel 15:28)
- AND in 1 Samuel 16:1, God says to the prophet Samuel,
“How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have selected a king for Myself among his sons.” (1 Samuel 16:1)
- SO, off Samuel goes to Bethlehem to anoint God’s replacement as king of Israel.
- THE only problem is that Jesse has eight sons.
- WHICH one was to be the next king of Israel.
- THE first king had been such a disaster, the selection process for the new king was critical.
- SO Samuel and the elders of the city consecrate themselves and invite Jesses and his sons to attend the sacrifice in the presence of the Lord.
- JESSE obviously knows something of great significance is taking place, so he has his eldest son come before Samuel first.
* That would be the only way things like this were done in those days….it was culturally appropriate protocol.
* The eldest obviously had more wisdom.
* And more experience.
* The Bible says that he was also the tallest, and the best looking of the brothers.
* He would be the logical choice for whatever blessing that would be announced by Samuel.
* Eliab was the eldest son.
- BUT God told Samuel that He had rejected Eliab.
- SO Jesse called the next eldest, Abinadab.
* Again, it was the only acceptable thing to do…it was protocol to bring the next eldest as the potential next king of Israel.
- BUT God told Samuel that He had not chosen Abinadab either.
- THE next eldest was Shammah, but God didn’t choose that son either.
- GOD’S answer was the same for each of the seven sons of Jesse that appeared before Samuel in descending order of age and importance….and then that was it. No more sons.
- SO Samuel has to ask Jesse, “Are these all your children?”
- “WELL,” Jesse replies, “there is one left, but he is the youngest and he is out tending the sheep.”
- BEING the youngest, tells us that in that culture, he was so far down the food chain that he would not have even been considered for the ceremony with Samuel.
- AND being that he was assigned the care of the sheep, tells us that he had the least respect of anyone in the family.
- BUT when David arrived from the fields, God said to Samuel,
“Arise, anoint him, for this is he!” (1 Samuel 16:12)
- GOD’S explanation for this amazing story carries a message for every one of us here today.
“…God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:b)
- LET me summarize this whole story this morning:
* The king that Israel insisted on having had failed….miserably…and God was removing Saul from the throne.
* The Philistines were attacking Israel constantly.
* The future of the nation of Israel hung in the balances.
* In the Old Testament, Israel represented God’s plan and purposes for the world.
* And in the process of anointing the next king of Israel, God rejects standard and accepted measures of competence….and chooses a man based on one thing; the condition of his heart.
- WATCH the same principle at work in 2 Corinthians 3:1-6 this morning!
ii. Not from the letters we carry
- PAUL is suffering heavy criticism from the Christians in the church of Corinth.
- THEY don’t like the tone of his letters.
- SOME are saying that in person he is a softy and that he is brash in his letters.
- THEY are questioning the credentials of his apostolic calling.
- SOME are saying that they prefer Peter or even Apollos’ leadership to Paul.
- OTHERS are offended by his teachings on grace, and others are saying that he lacks the wisdom of the Greek orators of their day.
- AND some are questioning his reliability based on his former travel plans.
- SO, if you were going to judge Paul based on outward appearances….you would be hard pressed to rank him among the influential spiritual leaders of his day.
- TITUS met Paul in Philippi and has informed Paul about everything that was being said about him back in Corinth.
- AND as long as you remember that the Bible is written about real people, just like you and me, you will have to agree with me that Paul was likely shaken by all of this….maybe even left feeling insecure about himself and his ministry.
- SO, you will understand why, in 2 Corinthians 3:1, Paul writes,
“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you?” (2 Corinthians 3:1)
- THE “some” here are Paul’s principle detractors, whose entrée into the life of the church of Corinth was based on letters of recommendation that boasted of …
* being listed in the who’s who of early church life or Judaism.
* having personal associations with people in high places (name-dropping of who you know back in Jerusalem).
* a record of previous accomplishments and successes.
* recognition by some of the great thinkers of that day, in Athens or Rome.
- AND Paul asks the Corinthians, “Is this the kind of commendation that you are going to need from me…letters written by others on my behalf based on external accomplishments?”
- ISN’T that how the whole world operates…then and now?
- AREN’T we all judged by others based on…
* How we look?
* How we dress?
* How much money we have?
* What titles we have?
* Our accomplishments and successes?
- AND aren’t we all vulnerable to evaluate ourselves and others in the same was the world does…even to the point of basing our confidence on the same external measures the world uses?
- PAUL bases his life on a totally different standard of measurement….the standard of the kingdom of God.
- LISTEN to Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:18,
“For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends.” (2 Corinthians 10:18)
- PAUL didn’t need a letter from himself or anyone else touting his external accomplishments.
- LET’S move to the next two verses.
iii. from the spirit’s work in others
- 2 CORINTHIANS 3:2-3,
“You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men 3 being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)
- IF there is going to be a letter, it is going to be the people that God had put on Paul’s heart….the Corinthians believers.
- THEY were written on Paul’s heart.
- THEIR lives were the only letter of any significance that he cared about.
- AND it was their lives that would be read by “all men”….i.e. the world.
- PAUL’S role in their lives was the care for them.
- THE Holy Spirit’s role was the write and form the image of Christ on the tablets of their hearts.
- ONE of the early church father’s, Ignatius of Antioch, wrote to the church in Ephesus….not long after Paul’s death,
“Give unbelievers the chance of believing through you. Consider yourselves employed by God; your lives the form of language in which He addresses them. Be mild when they are angry, humble when they are haughty; to their blasphemy oppose prayer without ceasing; to their inconsistency, a steadfast adherence to your faith.”
- IF Paul needed any commendation, if he needed any confidence in the face of much opposition, it was this….the Holy Spirit was writing Jesus on the lives of the Corinthians in ways that were visibly seen (manifested) to the inhabitants of the city.
* Can that be said of the Spirit’s work through you in the life of your spouse? Through your efforts, Jesus is being written in his/her life for all to see!
* Can that be said of the Spirit work through you in your children?
* In your friends?
* In the people you are assigned to minister to….in Children’s Ministry, Youth Ministry, Emergency Services?
- FORGET about….
* ...you have made a ton of money!
* … you wearing designer jeans!
* … your career goals being realized!
* …you have had plastic surgery!
- HERE is the question: do the people in your life look more like Jesus because of your involvement in their lives?
- THAT is a probing question in a time when the research tells us that very few Christians in this country look like Jesus at all!
- BUT Paul teaches us here that there is no other basis for confidence in your life…than what the Spirit is doing through you in others!
- NOTHING else goes to eternity with you!
iv. for god is adequate through us
- ONE last thought on this subject from Paul!
- DO you remember just five verses back, also in talking about the role of our lives in other people’s spiritual journey, Paul wrote…
“And who is adequate for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16b)
- PAUL expresses what everyone of us feels facing the seriousness of being an agent of the Spirit in the progress of other’s lives.
- WHO is adequate for these things?
- WELL, Paul answers that question in verses 4-6 in our passage today. Read it with me.
“Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6 who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)
- LET’S look at some of the kingdom principles that Paul covers in these three verses:
1. The most important court that any of us stands before is in the council chamber of God.
- We are His creation, His children and owe Him everything in our lives.
- We have been redeemed by grace to do His work.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
- We will have to stand before Him one day and give account for what we did with His assignments.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)
2. The confidence we have standing before the throne of God is found in Christ, not ourselves.
- Paul is very clear that he does not view himself as being adequate in anything he does (a far cry from a lot of what we see in Christian circles today).
- Our adequacy as ministers (which each believer is) of the new covenant comes from God alone.
- God is the source of any confidence we have.
3. The motivation and the power for our lives and our ministry to others comes from the Holy Spirit who indwells every believer.
- The letter of the Law of God is not done away with. God has not changed His mind about holiness. Jesus came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).
- But our motivation for holiness comes from the Holy Spirit and is the love of God in us.
- And the power for our holiness comes from the Holy Spirit….and when He is at work in us we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Romans 8:4).
- THE letter of the Law kills, but the Spirit gives life!
- THE lessons that we learn from Paul in this passage concerning the confidence we all long for are amazing!
1. We learn that our confidence will not come from any letters of commendation we carry based on the external appraisals of this world.
* Lay them consciously aside today.
* They are empty and fleeting.
* They do not and cannot satisfy.
* They actually make you insecure, not confident…because someone is always doing better than you.
2. We learn that confidence, rather than being based on externals, comes from the Holy Spirit’s work through us, producing change in the lives of others.
* That is the work we were saved to do.
* We will be accountable before God for how well we did in this work.
3. We learn that we can be confident in our work because our adequacy does not come from us but from God…and through us by His Spirit produces life in others.
- THIS is a totally different way of living than we are accustomed to in America….living for God and for others.
- WHO is saying this morning, “Count me in!”?