Faithlife Sermons

Characteristics of a Godly Heart - 2 Corinthians 12:11-21

2 Corinthians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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At my ordination for pastoral ministry I was asked many questions by the Pastors in attendance. The best question was from a Pastor who asked quite simply, “Do you have a Pastor’s heart?”

It is a pretty penetrating question. This Pastor recognized that being a Pastor was about more than education or spiritual gifts, it is about caring for the people whom God entrusts to you. For the record, I responded: “I hope so”. I continue to hope the same every day.

You see, the person we are is seen more in the heart we possess than in the title we wear. You can have Bible knowledge but you can’t truly be a Pastor unless you have the right heart. Likewise you may have an education degree but won’t be a good teacher unless you have the right heart. You can biologically be a parent but you won’t be a good parent unless you have the right heart.

In today’s text from 2 Corinthians 12:11-21 the Apostle Paul will reveal his Pastor’s heart to us. He will do so because he is in the position of having to defend himself before some of those in the Corinthian congregation. It is my hope that we will see the human side of Paul and also gain insight as to what a godly heart looks like.

What we are pursuing is not really a Pastor’s heart, we are pursuing the heart of Jesus. It is the same heart He desires to cultivate in each one of us.

11 You have made me act like a fool—boasting like this. You ought to be writing commendations for me, for I am not at all inferior to these “super apostles,” even though I am nothing at all. 12 When I was with you, I certainly gave you proof that I am an apostle. For I patiently did many signs and wonders and miracles among you. 13 The only thing I failed to do, which I do in the other churches, was to become a financial burden to you. Please forgive me for this wrong!


If you are involved with people in any kind of caring relationship, one thing is for sure. there will be joyful times and there will be times when you will be hurt. When you care for someone deeply it hurts when that affection is not returned. To be rejected by people you care about is painful.

Paul helped birth the Corinthian Church. He came and preached the gospel to them. He did it without asking for money. He worked on the side making tents just so he could offer the gospel free of charge and could preach the truth without anyone feeling Pau was trying to get “in their pocket”. Paul suffered for them. He sacrificed for them. And he did it all because he loved them.

When Paul heard the Corinthian church had turned away from him; when he heard that they were questioning his integrity; it broke his heart. Paul says, “You ought to be writing commendations for me.” In other words, these people should be defending him (because they know his heart) rather than jumping on the bandwagon of the opponents.

Perhaps you have been in this situation yourself. It may have been someone who was your best friend and your confidant and suddenly they turned against you. Perhaps it was an employer whom you served faithfully (even at times at the expense of your family and maybe even your health) and one day you get a severance notice because of downsizing. Maybe it was a child for whom you sacrificed greatly only to have them walk away and act like you no longer exist. If you have been in this situation you understand why Paul felt wounded. People who hurt, often hurt because they love.

Paul had given the church evidence that he was a true apostle. Now his authority was being questioned. Paul reminded the Corinthians that he patiently did many signs, wonders, and miracles in their midst. These were designed to authenticate his message and authority. When you read about all the miracles in the Bible days, it is helpful to understand that part of their purpose was to verify that the speaker was from God. The miracles authenticated what these people were saying.

I believe miracles still happen today but no longer have the same purpose. God has spoken clearly and fully through the Word of God. In other words, just because someone claims a miracle does not mean they have divine authority. It doesn’t mean you should believe everything they say. It doesn’t even necessarily mean the miracle itself is from God (though it certainly may be). The Bible warns us that there will be a time when there will be those who perform counterfeit miracles for the purpose of deceiving people.

We should be careful how we define “miracle”. We throw that word around pretty casually nowadays. A miracle is something that cannot be explained by natural means-something that science is at a loss to explain. For example, a sunset is a beautiful sign of God’s handiwork but it is not a miracle. Even birth is something gloriously wonderful and staggering, but it is not a miracle.

The point of Paul’s word is that he was saying: You should know me. You have heard me teach, you have seen the verification of my teaching, and most of all you know my heart. Paul didn’t understand how people could turn on him so quickly. They should have known better.


Paul was preparing to return to Corinth for a visit. He was apprehensive but he was coming anyhow. Listen to his heart as we read these words,

14 Now I am coming to you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you. I don’t want what you have—I want you. After all, children don’t provide for their parents. Rather, parents provide for their children. 15 I will gladly spend myself and all I have for you, even though it seems that the more I love you, the less you love me.

16 Some of you admit I was not a burden to you. But others still think I was sneaky and took advantage of you by trickery. 17 But how? Did any of the men I sent to you take advantage of you? 18 When I urged Titus to visit you and sent our other brother with him, did Titus take advantage of you? No! For we have the same spirit and walk in each other’s steps, doing things the same way.

The charge against Paul was that he was exploiting the people. They charged that somehow and in some way Paul was in this for the money. Paul has defended himself from this claim already but now he tells them: “Look, I am not interested in what I can get FROM you, I am interested in YOU.”

This is the heart of a true servant of God. A true servant’s heart sees people in terms of their strengths and their needs. They don’t look at them in terms of their income, their status, or even what they can do for us. A true servant’s heart sees people who need to know and grow in the Lord.

This sounds good but let’s face it, it is harder to do than we realize. We are naturally self-absorbed people. We tend to evaluate everything in terms of how it is going to impact us. We gravitate to those whom we find attractive and we push away from those we find difficult. It is natural.

Yet, at the same time what we all yearn for is to be fully seen and loved. We want people to care about us not because of what we can do for them but because of who we are. Children yearn for a love from their parents that is not conditioned on behavior, grades, or athletic prowess. Children want to be loved simply because they are lovable. And let’s face it, isn’t that what you want too?

God calls us to learn to see others with His eyes. He reminds us that we are all in the same boat theologically. Regardless of our appearance, social status, or background we are all lost people in need of a Savior. We find the love we so desperately desired from the Lord. And as soon as we begin to view other people through His eyes it will deepen our sense of compassion and grace toward others.

Paul said,

19 Perhaps you think we’re saying these things just to defend ourselves. No, we tell you this as Christ’s servants, and with God as our witness. Everything we do, dear friends, is to strengthen you.

Here is a question that will help us develop the heart of Jesus: Are we speaking, acting, and desiring to truly help and strengthen others by our words and actions or

Are we hoping to win (prove we are right and they are wrong)?

Are we trying to get an advantage? (Are you engaging in a “power move”?)

Do we hope to gain something from this relationship? (Are we looking to exploit the relationship for some gain?)

Do we desire to prove our spirituality is greater? (arrogance)

To answer these questions we must be painfully honest with ourselves. Our goal is to allow the Holy Spirit to make us willing to do whatever we can to help other people to grow. If we want a godly heart we must see others as Jesus does.

Desire for Growth

Part of wanting what is best for another person is wanting them to be free of sin that robs them of the blessing that comes from walking with God. Paul wanted the Corinthians to be people who have “given up their old sins”.

20 For I am afraid that when I come I won’t like what I find, and you won’t like my response. I am afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior. 21 Yes, I am afraid that when I come again, God will humble me in your presence. And I will be grieved because many of you have not given up your old sins. You have not repented of your impurity, sexual immorality, and eagerness for lustful pleasure.

In verse 20 it seems that Paul is hoping the church as a whole will give up the petty divisiveness that was so much a part of the church’s problems. Sadly these are things most of us have seen at one time or another in churches we have attended. We may even know people who have walked away from the faith because of the way Christians behaved toward each other. When God’s people act like the Devil they lose their credibility before a watching world.

Look at the things that Paul lists: “quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior.” Think about a church conflict of which you may be aware. Don’t those words describe what so often happens? People who say they are joined by the same Spirit suddenly attack each other. People become overly sensitive and even the most minor issues are treated as personal affronts.

Before long people are telling others about how corrupt their church has become. People who used to be friends stop talking to one another. Others withhold their offerings as a way of exacting a ransom they hope will influence the church board.

This is not the way God wants His church to be! We are going to have differences. That comes with being people. However, Christian people should handle their differences like Christian people! We should talk TO each other rather than ABOUT each other. We should speak the truth in love but also listen with loving ears as well. Our goal should be reconciliation and unity rather than “victory”.

Paul was concerned that these attitudes remained in the Corinthian church. The church had great potential. There were many gifted people in the congregation. However, conflict acts like a cancer in any church.  It eats away until it finally takes the life of the congregation. Paul didn’t want the church to die (any more than a parent would want their child to die); he wanted it to flourish. That’s the attitude anyone has who possesses a godly heart: they want people to grow and develop; it brings joy to watch someone grow even if they grow beyond us. That is our job--to help others grow in faith.

The second problem was the issue of personal holiness. Paul was concerned that they had not given up their “old sins”. These people had professed faith but they hadn’t moved away from their old life. Paul noted some of those behaviors, “You have not repented of your impurity, sexual immorality, and eagerness for lustful pleasure.”

Corinth was a city that had all kinds of worldly temptations. There were many opportunities to indulge in the sensual lifestyle. Surely most of these people came out of that lifestyle. Paul is concerned because these professing believers were still holding on to their old ways and vices.

Paul understood that the gospel sets us free from the hold and domination of sin in our lives. However, when we refuse to exit the door that has been opened, we are in trouble.

Think about someone who is afraid of leaving their home (agoraphobia). They choose to remain in their home because they feel safe and comfortable there. They are afraid of what is outside even though there is a much better, brighter, and wonderful life they could be living.

Some believers live this way. They are delivered from the life of impurity, sexual immorality, and the passion for lustful pleasures. However, their old life is comfortable. They hold on to what they know out of fear of what they don’t know. God has something better for them in the life of holiness and committed and pure relationships. However, they refuse to leave.

These words actually are much more all-encompassing than they seem; they refer to anything that would prohibit someone from being in the presence of a holy God. So all forms of idolatry, greed, hatred, arrogance, and selfishness would be included. When we refuse to change our lifestyle as a follower of Christ, we show that we have chosen to trust the world rather than the Creator.

It is important (as always) that we make a distinction. Paul is not talking about earning God’s favor. He is not saying we must behave a certain way in order to truly be saved. He is saying that people who are truly saved are set free from their past slavery. Perhaps a picture is in order

“There’s a story told, from Civil War days before America’s slaves were freed, about a northerner who went to a slave auction and purchased a young slave girl. As they walked away from the auction, the man turned to the girl and told her, “You’re free.”

With amazement she responded, “You mean, I’m free to do whatever I want?”

“Yes,” he said.

“And to say whatever I want to say?”

“Yes, anything.”

“And to be whatever I want to be?”


“And even go wherever I want to go?”

“Yes,” he answered with a smile. “You’re free to go wherever you’d like.”

She looked at him intently and replied, “Then I will go with you.”[1]

The sinner who has been set free from the power and penalty of sin through the payment of Christ on our behalf is the one who recognizes that the freest place in life is found by becoming a true follower of the Lord Jesus. True freedom is being able to live like a child of the living God. When we understand the freedom that has been purchased for us through the work, death, and resurrection of Christ, we too should desire to “go with Him” wherever He leads.

And if we get this, if we DO this, then it won’t be long before others begin to see a godly heart in you..

[1] Excerpt From: Tchividjian, Tullian. “Surprised by Grace.” Crossway Books & Bibles, 2010-05-08.

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