Faithlife Sermons

The Faithful Fool

2 Corinthians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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The following are two resumes. Who would you hire?
Super Apostles, Corinth, Achaia
50 A.D. to Present
A Hebrew, Israelite from the chosen people associated with the true God
Offspring of Abraham, the father of faith and children of promise
Preached eloquent speeches which stirred the Corinthian congregations
Planted churches throughout all of Asia, Achaia, Macedonia (basically where ever Paul went, we went further)
Demonstrated signs and visions regularly about the wonders of God
Convincing cities upon cities of Gentiles to truly be Christian by following the law of Moses
Commended by the Jerusalem Council and the pillars of the Apostles
Now take a look at what Paul says from verse 22 to 28:
2 Corinthians 11:22–28 ESV
22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
Who would you hire?
If I were to provide these two resume to most churches, the confident, assertive, dazzling super apostle would most likely be hired. Why? Well, because it’s an impressive resume. He is successful, competent, gets things done. Is he a preacher? Even Paul admits they are eloquent in speech. And since they can do signs and wonders and see visions, this must mean they are more used by God. Their reference is the Jerusalem church. That’s solid, we probably don’t need to check them.
Now look at Paul’s section on experience. It’s dramatic, but it’s pretty depressing. Now if I were a pagan, I might say, wow this guy really has a lot of bad luck. Three shipwrecks? Or, wow this guy has a criminal record: imprisonments, can’t hire him. Or, pretty bad judgment, being in danger all the time, with robbers and in the city or wilderness. Bad interpersonal relationships, even his own people doesn’t like him, let alone the foreigners. Bad money management? Why is he hungry and thirsty all the time. At least our first candidate asks us for provisions. And naked? Shameful. Stoning? Rods? Lashes? This person is a troublemaker.
We have been entering the last part of this letter to the church in Corinth as we continue on the theme of foolishness from two weeks ago. What led to Paul playing the fool was how some in the church readily accepted these superapostles who have an impressive show basically sabotaging Paul’s work in Achaia, sow seeds of division and undermine his authority, causing the church and Paul to be at odds and question his integrity and whether he was a true apostle. We are in the middle of Paul’s correction, and in no uncertain terms he will prove once and for all how he differs from his opponents in one single way, our big idea for this week:
Let’s begin with our first point:

I. God sees your character, not your impressive spiritual resume. (20-21)

2 Corinthians 11:16–21 ESV
16 I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. 17 What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. 19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that.
Paul is basically playing the role of a fool, who he describes as boastful because it seems to garner the Corinthian church’s attention. However, he clearly draws the line what he is about to do is not from the Lord because Paul knows Jesus, who is not boastful, unlike his opponents. Even in his anguish, Paul knew he had to make sure the Corinthians don’t see what he’s about to do as attributed to the Lord, but attributed to a fool. He cares too much for any chance that God’s name would be maligned. But then he goes on the attack in verse 20 and listed out five traits of the superapostles, and if we add these to those we uncovered last week, one thing clearly stands out:
2 Corinthians 11:20 ESV
20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.
The superapostles have impressive resumes, but resumes rarely tell the whole story. They can be exaggerated, altered, made more impressive than they really are, but what matters is integrity and character. In that arena, these superapostles is sorely lacking. They made the church their slaves, possibly referring to the demands of service to them, and not to God, serving their agenda. They enslave the Corinthians by superimposing the law of Moses which is bondage and not required in the final verdict of the Jerusalem council instead of the freedom that is in Christ. They devour and take advantage, which is just their way of greedily consuming all that the Corinth church has to offer, money, admiration, if you are treated as some superemissary from God. The term put on airs means to elevate themselves, in other words, the Corinth church is a stepping stone to even more ambitious and lofty aims. Their intention is not pure. Lastly, they strike your face which reveals their aggressive and combative stance. Eager for an argument, to put others down to further elevate themselves, quarreling to prove how strong they are.
Now look at this on a resume, would you still hire these people? Absolutely not! To hire them is to invite division and destroy team work. Yet this is a cautionary tale for all of us, in or out of ministry. We are thankful God looks at our heart and character, and not our appearance as we remember what God said to the prophet Samuel at the selection of the successor to Saul. That’s why God chose David, a man after his own heart. Whether it’s ministry, a small group leader, a church, the English pastor in teaching and worship, a summer student worker, or in your career as a manager, a director, an assistant, a resume can be fudged, but character will be exposed by those who have worked with him or her, by interaction with this person. Does he forgive? Does she apologize? Do they pass the smell test and tell the truth?

II. God takes us through persecution and hardships, not away from them. (22-29)

Now Paul plays the fool, comparing apples to apples with the superapostles in his secure Jewish identity. He is a Hebrew, that is how non-Israelites refer to Israelites, as when they separate themselves from the Egyptians by the God they believe in, the customs they practice. Whereas to be an Israelite is the identity of his membership to his people and religion from which his ancestor Jacob receive this name when he finally trusted God after they wrestled at . And finally an offspring of Abraham should be understood as the covenant God made with him as a children of promise. In all three matters of identity, Paul and his opponents are the same.
2 Corinthians 11:23 ESV
23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.
However, as to being a servant, Paul says he is a better one, and immediately catches his boastfulness, and so qualifies himself as deranged for being so out of character. Paul is basically saying you can be the superapostle, but you can never be a superservant! Superservant is an oxy-moron. How can someone who submits and serves in a lowly and humble position be super in it? That’s just the point. It’s absurd. But Paul will prove his point at the end. He categorizes generally what it means to be a servant: work harder than others, have freedom removed for not standing up for what’s truth and right, the gospel that he loves, for enduring physical punishment at the hands of former friends and foes, his own people and foreigners, and to cap it off, to the point where he sometimes doesn’t even know if he’s going to come out of it! That’s the way of the superservant. Details are important here, to build up what Paul endured. We can compare the first two:
Lashes and Beating by Rods (24-25a)
The forty stripes minus one is a well-known punishment within the Jewish religious system, as recorded in Deuteronomy 23.
Deuteronomy 25:3 ESV
3 Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight.
There is a limit though, call it mercy or not wanting to kill the person or humiliate them, 39 times this can be inflicted on a fellow Jew. For what crime of Paul? Most likely, and most ironically, blasphemy. For in Paul saying Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and often in the same tone accusing the Sanhedrin and Jews for putting their Messiah to death, would warrant this punishment. Except Jesus is the Christ, he was punished for saying the truth the religious system didn’t want to hear and still doesn’t hear. Beating with rods is a humiliating Roman punishment. Paul would have received the rods as he shares the gospel to the Gentiles all throughout the empire of Rome, those who feel their false gods are threatened, their business is at stake, can cause riots which local governors are weary of because if word gets to Caesar, their career, maybe even their life would be in jeopardy. So you silent these dissenting voices. How ironic the preaching of Jesus as King, Lord and Saviour who has saved us from our sin and will topple all empires would be an affront to both Jews and Gentiles alike. Stoning of course is a punishment against sin and is a community event. The irony cannot also be missed that just as once young Saul (who is Paul’s Jewish name) was on the side of the protagonist as Stephen is martyred, that he would also be stoned by those he once was in alliance with. The only recorded shipwrecked in Acts 27 most likely happened after this letter was written when Paul was appealing to Caesar on his way to Rome, but he seemed to have encountered three other shipwrecks before . Lastly, he named seven dangers and though not pointed out in commentaries, seven in Jewish numerology means totality and one can’t help seeing the dangers he faced he is basically saying he’s experienced it all. I separated this first set of persecution from the rest because these ones would probably be the hardest for us to relate to since our persecution in Canada would never amount to this, at least not yet. However, the next set we can relate to:
2 Corinthians 11:27 ESV
27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
Remember last time we said Paul deliberately refused to take advantage of his apostleship by requiring the Corinthian church to supply his need. So why is he hungry and thirsty, without food? Most likely even if he applies his rule to have outside churches supply his need, they didn’t have a plane or automobile back then, only carriages and ships, so even if other churches wanted to supply Paul such as the Macedonians, it still means there would be days Paul will work all day in trade as a tentmaker and use the nighttime to teach and encourage and proclaim the gospel just to survive. All of these afflictions in verse 27 are physical in nature.
2 Corinthians 11:28 ESV
28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
The last affliction is psychological, which I can relate the most to, and if you are well invested into your church, your ministry, you would share this pressure to a degree. Just look at the church of Corinth alone, the daily pressure of initially being misunderstood, to wait for Titus’ news whether they repented from 1 Corinthians, to just wait for Titus not knowing if something bad has happened to him (after all, Paul was the one who sent him), to now have to deal with opponents, defiers of God’s word, the arrogance and boastfulness, the blatant disregard for holiness and continual sin, the regular preparation of sermons (okay, this one might be more me than Paul), the expectations upon expectations either you yourself conjure up to not lose anyone God has entrusted into your care at MCBC, the visitations, house calls, whatsapp messages, it is too much to bear!
2 Corinthians 11:29 ESV
29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
Paul basically sums it up this way, the opponents seek to be the strongest, but I choose to be the weakest, because I know my lot and I know my limits. I know I can’t look the other way when someone sins, and I don’t burn (that’s what the Greek word for what’s translated for indignant), I don’t burn with anguish for seeing someone on their faith journey to be led astray.
But we shouldn’t miss the bigger picture, despite all of this, Paul is still writing this part of the letter, surviving through it, because God has brought him through all the dangers and mental turmoil and physical limits. That’s where our hope lie when we face any problem.

III. God uses us despite our weakness, not in spite of our strengths. (30-33)

2 Corinthians 11:30–33 ESV
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, 33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.
So there’s nothing to be proud about before God. Where we are strong, it’s because of his providence. Where we are weak, it’s because of our strength. However what is this verse 32-33 about Damascus about? It seems not to fit the passage at all. It’s an example from Paul’s ministry early on, why does Paul end this section with this? Honestly I needed help here, and again it’s David Garland’s commentary which shed new lights to this abrupt ending which I would not have seen.
Acts 9:23–25 ESV
23 When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.
This was just after Paul’s encounter of the risen Lord Jesus in a bright light on Damascus Road, when he realize as he was persecuting the disciples, he was persecuting Jesus his Lord, his cause, symbolize by his blinding until Ananias lay hands on him and he can see, symbolize dramatically his repentance. Paul did a 180 and start to preach not against, but for Jesus as the Christ and these expat Jews wanted to kill him. So the disciples helped him escape through hiding him in a large hamper and letting him down the tall fortified walls of Damascus. It’s a story of humiliation, his first taste of persecution. That’s one meaning. But the other meaning is more subtle, as many people who have been used by God have escaped from scaling down the wall by rope. Recall in Joshua the two spies whom Rahab the prostitute lowered to escape from the army of Jericho led to the victory of Joshua and the salvation of Rahab’s household, or David fleeing from Saul by being lowered by Michal, Saul’s daughter who would one day become King of the very empire Saul is afraid of losing, all display the power of God when we are at our weakest, most pathetic and helpless state. Paul remembers his God can deliver when he humbles and debases himself.
Let’s face it, these are tough times. And it really didn’t dawn on me until slowly but surely I feel less and less joy in ministry. Everything feels like a chore. At first I thought I could just plow through it and just try harder. But now I feel like I am always trying to conserve my energy, the little I have left, so I sleep more and do less. And guess what? It’s not working. Only a much needed call by one of my friends and groomsmen Pastor Jim did everything add up. I was so far away from God as I try to do ministry in the pandemic, I drifted away. I am not well. I need to remember how much he loves me. I need to care less about how people think of me. I need to not think of ministry as performance, but in terms of love and gratitude. I am once again, a recovering God-fleer.
I hope to share this with you so don’t feel you need to have everything together. I bought into the lie, I want to appear strong, appear to have it altogether, but it’s only when I surrender and say to God, “MCBC is your people, too numerous, and too great for me to pastor. You take care of them!” It’s when I am at my strength’s end that I realize I have been more affected by the pandemic than I realize. So I am boasting my weakness, in the sure hope that just as God would lead Paul through his struggles, He would lead me through mine.
GOD CAN USE OUR WEAKNESS TO SHAME THE BOASTFUL, and sometimes its the same person.
Let’s pray.
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