That's All I Want
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer."
"That's All I Want"
(2 Corinthians 12:2-10)
When Ben Franklin was the ambassador to France for the newly independent United States of America, his quick wit and well-thought wisdom opened many doors for him and this new country. At one dinner in 1781 where the guest list included the powers of the day, the French foreign secretary began the dinner with a toast to King Louis, "To His Majesty, King Louis, the Sun, whose shining presence radiates the earth of France."
Not to be outdone, the British ambassador rose with the toast, "To King George the Third, the Moon, whose brilliance lights up the skies of Britain."
With a twinkle in his eye, Franklin slowly rose and said, "I cannot give you the sun nor the moon, but I give you General George Washington of the United States, the Joshua who made the Sun and Moon stand still when he commanded." (1)
What is it about human nature that makes us want to boast? We all do it. We all get together and somebody tells a story and pretty soon we all start playing that little game of one-up-man-ship.
A certain older woman was trying to impress the guests at a party. "My family's ancestry is very old," she boasted. "It dates back to the days of Alexander the Great." Then, turning to a young lady standing quietly at her side, she asked condescendingly: "And how old is your family, my dear?"
The younger woman smiled and quietly came back, "Well, I can't really say. All of our family records were lost in the Flood."
We may not do it very often but we all boast from time to time. Sometimes we even do it when we talk about our faith. Each time we tell the story we embellish it a little, we add more and more amazing details. Apparently that's what was going on in the congregation at Corinth. Some of the people began telling their stories and every time they told them they added something to make themselves look better than they really were. Pretty soon those people began to think pretty highly of themselves. And then, they began to think that everyone had to have the same sort of religious experience they had to qualify as a Christian. They even began to ask questions about the Apostle Paul. Was he really someone to look up to? Was he really "with it?" Was he a part of the inner circle? Did Paul really know what he was talking about? Well, that was going too far, and Paul wrote to the Corinthians to warn them about false apostles who were misleading the congregation. And in writing he reminded them that the overriding concern of the Church is not status, but service and unity within the congregation.
Paul knew, from experience, that boasting about spiritual superiority does not build up the faith of others. It does not lead others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Instead it creates hard feelings and it divides the congregation.
I. WE BOAST ONLY OF GOD:
Paul's point is that our attention should be on Jesus and not on our own personal experiences or what we do for Jesus and the work of the Church. Paul says that the ONLY thing we can boast of is the Grace of God. Apart from God's Grace we are nothing. But through the Grace of God, God can taken even our weaknesses and our failures and turn them into something great.Ê
I remember preaching a really rotten sermon one time. I worked hard and tried to take a different twist to a familiar passage of scripture and when I put all of my sermon notes together I was really pleased. But...when I stood up and began preaching I could tell that it really stunk. The words came out of my mouth, went about two feet past the pulpit and dropped screaming to the floor, their smell rising as they decomposed right under our noses.
I could tell I hadn't clicked with anybody because there weren't many lights on in any faces. They all had that look like "Nobody's home here." So I did the best I could with the little that I had. I cut and hacked and tried to perform CPR while I preached. I achieved shortening everybody's ordeal that day. And through the Grace of God, we all made it to the end of that sermon without dying, though that's exactly what I wanted to do.
I was so embarrassed and in such a hurry to get it over with, that I didn't even give an invitation. I announced the first and last verses of the closing hymn. While singing, I was mentally confessing and asking forgiveness, promising to do better and hardly paying any attention to the congregation. I looked up and there were three families at the altar wanting to join.
That day I learned two things. 1) Always give an invitation and 2) God uses even our worst efforts for God's work. All of those couples became active workers and leaders in that Church.
Later there were three little old ladies sitting together who told me they could tell I was struggling and having a rough time, so they started praying for me in the middle of the service.
And then about five weeks later a gentleman came forward and joined the church. We had visited several times and I knew the struggles of faith he had gone through. It sort of surprised me that he joined. Later that day he told me that he really liked my sermons and he thought I was a good preacher but there was one sermon that really stunk. I told him he was right and I hoped nobody remembered that sermon. And then he told me that sermon was the one that brought him closest to Christ. I asked, "How?"
He said, "Because, you always seemed to have it together. You made it look easy to be a Christian. You never seemed to have any trouble. And then I saw you stumbling and sweating and stammering and realized that if you could blow and God still use you to bring three families into the Church, God can use ME, too."
Like Paul, I don't tell you this to boast about me, I was tongue tied, brain dead and blowing it, God did it all. And that's the point. God can take our worst and transform it into a thing of beauty. God can use our weaknesses for God's glory. That's how and why Paul can write, "So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong."
A Sunday School class was learning the 23rd Psalm. In doing her recitation, one little girl missed the words but summed up the meaning beautifully. She said, "The Lord is my shepherd, that's all I want."
In a very real sense, that's what Paul is saying in this passage from 2nd Corinthians. By using himself as an example, Paul reminds us that God's grace IS sufficient for all our needs. Knowing that from a first hand experience allowed Paul to boast, not of himself, but of God in even the most difficult situations. And when we put our whole trust in Christ, we too can say, "The Lord is my shepherd, that's all I want."
Come to the Lord's table this morning, Feast at the table of grace with Christ. Bring your weaknesses, your failures, and your faults and put them into His hands. Let God transform them so that you can boast with the words of Paul "I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me... For whenever I am weak, then I am strong."
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. EMPHASIS, Sep/Oct 93, p. 127. Contributed by Dr. John Bardsley