Anyone who says the Christian life is unadventurous hasn’t hung out much with the Apostle Paul. You can feel the tension rising as he goes to bat for the things Jesus has done in his life. You can hear him momentarily go off-roading in order to defend the message of the Gospel and pursue those whom he loves. Let’s not forget–Christianity is not meant to be a bunch of “do’s and don’t’s”–it’s meant to be relational!
The false teachers of this day were masquerading as image bearers of Jesus. They were Christian-fakers. They could talk the talk. They were “spiritual”…but not Christlike. They had head knowledge…but not heart. Take a closer look at how Paul describes them: “You have such admirable tolerance for impostors who rob your freedom, rip you off, steal you blind, put you down—even slap your face! I shouldn’t admit it to you, but our stomachs aren’t strong enough to tolerate that kind of stuff (v.20–MSG).”
From a distance, it appears obvious that these leaders did not have the best interest of others in mind. They were selfish and wrongly motivated. However, it is so easy to get entangled with others (even in the church) who persuasively influence you or impact your thinking. When you are looking for a place to belong and a people to accept you…it is surprising what you will put up with. It may take some personal introspection to examine your friendships and relationships in order to determine whether or not they are Christ-centered.
What are the characteristics of a godly leader, mentor, or friend? Ask yourself…
- What word best describes the other person: arrogance or humility?
- Do they tear you down, or build you up?
- Do they talk over you, putting you in your place? Or do you consider them a place of refuge and comfort?
- Do they brag about their self-accomplishments? Or, their weakness that was made strong in Jesus?
- Do they want to hurry you on out the door? Or are they patient with you, filled with grace?
- Do they make every problem “your” problem? Or, do you find them relatable and human, willing to put themselves in your shoes?
- Do they point you to Jesus above everything else?
Paul was a committed leader who was willing to endure incredible hardship and suffering in order to pursue the heart of the ones he loved. He leveraged his talents, abilities, knowledge, lineage, education, and career to steer the believers back to Jesus. We need more people like this today! People who are willing to take risks for others. People who will humbly take a stand, regardless of the fallout. People who are fearless faith-walkers to defend the truth.
Why is it necessary to stand up for the truth? Why do we find it so difficult to do so?
This is the question that Stanford asks every year as part of their MBA admissions process. In a 750-word essay, the applicant is required to declare their primary objective in life and then demonstrate why their goal is imperative. Flippantly, one may answer a good cup of jo, raising respectful kids, watching the next episode of your favorite show on Netflix, or reaching the pinnacle of retirement.
Think about it for a moment. What would you say?
The answer to this question begins to reveal a lot about you. How you spend your time. What you value. The impact you desire to have in the world. The calling to which you aspire.
You see, it becomes a question that cuts to the core of your heart matter. Not only must you answer what you deem important…but why? Why does this one thing matter more than anything else in the world? It is a question that requires honest self-evaluation, a touch of humility, and peeling back the layers of pride.
Read 2 Corinthians 11:5-15. Much like our current culture, the Corinthians were looking for a leader who was powerful, strong, charismatic, funny, or famous. They were looking for someone to follow and emulate. So when tent-making, mediocre speaker Apostle Paul came around…they weren’t impressed. They wanted the bling and the bang. Glitz and glamour. Paparazzi and more. Sound familiar to anyone?
We desperately need to be people who are following JESUS more than anything or anyone else. The wisdom and power of God are waaaay more impressive than what we can garner from the New-York top-selling book list.
We live in a world where people are looking for answers and desperate to find hope. They are hinging on the edge of their seat looking for satisfaction and joy. Many don’t know why they are here, who they are living for, and what is the meaning of life. They don’t have a clue. They are pleasure-seeking in the moment. Living for the here and now.
What if we lived sharing the HOPE that we have?
Each one of you has been afforded a great opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life. We have the answer that this world desperately needs. His name is JESUS. What about sharing him with the friend next door? People are longing to see real people who live out their life story with hope, dedication, authenticity, humility, and faith.
This world needs you.
It needs your story.
And your story needs Jesus more than anything else.
Why is it difficult to tell your story? What holds you back? Are you afraid to tell your narrative?
Paul is begging the Corinthian church to get back on track and to resist the alluring tide of false teaching that so easily sweeps one away. The Corinthians are being derailed by intellectualism and performance-based Christianity. They were stuck in a comparison trap of “Who’s Who and Who’s Not.” We see Paul’s undeterred affection for their spiritual welfare reach a new height today. Read 2 Cor. 11:1-6.
But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 2 Cor. 11:3
We can be so startled and taken back by the physical presence of a snake and yet, when the Enemy strikes in serpent-like form, why are we so hesitant to run? Why do we struggle to recognize him? Did you notice how Paul describes the faith of his friends?
Scary, isn’t it? Paul’s description here is not the non-religious or atheist, the infrequent “Christmas and Easter only” church attendee or even the superficial, carnal Christian. Did you catch his very descriptive adjectives? The person who can be seduced by the enemy is one who is wholeheartedly and sincerely pursuing devotion to Christ. I believe that none is safe or off limits from the seduction of the Enemy. There are other scriptures that support this phenomenon.
- Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Prov. 16:18
- Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 1 Cor. 10:12
- Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Gal. 6:1
Do not be fooled into thinking that just because you are passionately pursuing Christ that you have received immunity from temptation. Even the godliest people have a propensity to sin. In my lifetime, I’ve seen some godly people fall. They had become so busy doing the work of God that they no longer had intimacy with God. This is a slippery slope. We can have a headful of knowledge about the Word of God and yet have a heart that is miles away. After all, isn’t this exactly the example of the Pharisees and Sadducees in scripture? Their heads were full but their hearts were empty.
Satan, as the Father of Lies, comes to deceive us into a faulty line of thinking. He knows that we are prone to trust our feelings over our mind. We often are swayed in our thinking by how we feel. This is exactly the trap that Eve fell for. She believed the apple would give her knowledge that she did not currently possess. A sense of entitlement crept in. If we are going to win against the wiles of the Enemy, then we will have to learn how to behave out of what we know as truth rather than how we feel.
Paul was afraid the Corinthian church would be deceived with a worldly view. He tried to guard their hearts against deception. Just like Eve was deceived by the serpent, we too can be tricked or misled. It happens subtly. It can be a slow decline.
In order to guard our hearts and minds against the wiles of the Enemy, we must saturate ourselves in the Word of God. Have controversial issues replaced your “sincere and pure devotion”? Has head knowledge superseded your relationship with Jesus? How do you see the serpent sneaking into our current culture?
The more I dive into our study of 2 Corinthians, the more excited I become to meet the Apostle Paul someday. My preconceived imagery of a strong, warrior-type leader is being transformed to see a softer side. Instead, I see a man who puts the interests of others before his own. A parent. A servant. One who meets real needs, in God’s way.
Read 2 Corinthians 10:1-2, 7-11. Paul kicks off his appeal to the Corinthians with meekness and gentleness, the complete opposite of how our flesh would respond. The Corinthians dissenters were looking for a strong, formidable, and somewhat intimidating leader that would waltz in and win crowds. Wealth. Power. Prestige. All the things the world says are important to have.
But instead, we see Paul speak in a tone of humility, full of grace, led by the Spirit, and kind. The Greek word for gentleness is prautes. It describes a condition of heart and mind – an internal attitude – that will endure injury with patience and peace of mind. Prautes, according to Aristotle, is the middle standing between two extremes: getting angry without reason and not getting angry at all. Therefore, prautes is getting angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reason. It is a condition of mind and heart that demonstrates gentleness, not in weakness, but in power. It is a balance born in the strength of character.
It is hard to grasp a Biblical perspective of gentleness since the English language has commonly associated it with weakness. However, to be gentle doesn’t mean to be spineless and cowardly. To be gentle doesn’t mean to be spiritless and timid. To be gentle doesn’t mean to be docile or apathetic! In fact, the Hebrew word for gentle means to be sculpted, like soft clay, in God’s hands. Submission of your life entails laying down your wants and your desires to be used in any way, shape or form that God desires.
To boil it all down, gentleness means a complete surrender to the will of God, with a spirit of humility. It means to stop fighting and rebelling towards God and surrender your all to Him. It is by God’s power that we receive and activate the fruit of gentleness, not on our own doing.
Gentleness is a spiritual quality of humility that reflects outwardly in our attitudes and dealings with people. Instead of being cruel, critical, and challenging, we choose to be considerate and caring. Instead of reacting when we’re annoyed or critiqued, we choose to be quiet. Gentleness takes time to stop, pause and focus on the cross in the forefront. Since it “loves others as yourself,” gentleness lives in complete submission to the will of God and humbly approaches others with the intent of redirecting their attention to Christ. I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of person I want to be. Those are the kind of people I enjoy hanging around.
The meek are those who go to the Lord rather than to self-determination. They recognize their need for a Savior and are completely yielded to Him. They depend on Him, they trust in Him; they commit their lives to Him, and as a result, they can rest in Him. It takes the pressure off of your back to have everything in life figured out. You can hand it over to the Lord and just rest in Him! You don’t have to have all the answers — just rest assured in the One that does! A meek and quiet spirit is so very precious to God that He says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” Matthew 5:5 (ESV).
According to British theologian J.I. Packer, “Nobody can produce new evidence of your depravity that will make God change his mind. For God justified you with (so to speak) His eyes open. He knew the worst about you at the time when he accepted you for Jesus’ sake; and the verdict which he passed then was, and is, final.” The work has already been done. The blood of Jesus Christ covers our sins committed yesterday…and the sins we commit today and tomorrow are covered as well. Therefore, the pressure is off of us and we can rest assured in our eternal inheritance. Liberty has been granted for us to react to others with gentleness in the toughest situations.
Gentleness is a challenge to think in a distinctive way from the world, to act in a different way than the world acts, and to turn the other cheek when the world counters. Gentleness dares us to lay our lives down. Gentleness confronts us not to grip, but to give. Gentleness is allowing the One who is meek and lowly to rule in our hearts and lives.
What does it look like to live out gentleness? Look around…who could use some right now?
I grew up attending Sunday School and so, the word “obedience” carries a heightened sense of weightiness. Immediately the 10 Commandments and an Old Testament God come to mind. For me, it brings a negative connotation. An angry God. Difficult rules to live by. And almost unknowingly, I feel my inward being start to buck inside.
However, the more I delve into Scripture, I realize that God is good (Rom. 8:28) and He is for me, not against me (Rom. 8:31). As I work through the strongholds of my thoughtlife, I realize that the boundaries God has established are for my benefit. He has my good in mind! And I come to the realization that I must retrain my thinking.
You see, in 2 Cor. 10:1-6 we have a bunch of believers who are much like you and I. They struggle with believing God and trusting Him. They want to connect with God but are unable to due to the barriers that have been built up in their mind. They have a mental blockade. There are doubts surrounding them on every side. There are some false teachers trying to get their foot in the door. Tearing down. Causing disruption. Much like the thoughts that invade our own mind. Thoughts like “God doesn’t love me. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t see. I don’t matter.”
Paul goes about addressing these problems head-on by starting to tear the walls down. The first battle he fought was occurring in the mind. He refers to it as a stronghold. This can be anything that doesn’t align with God’s Word, such as fear, anxiety, bitterness, anger, jealousy, and insecurity (to name a few). It can also be a worldview that contradicts Scripture, such as atheism or materialism.
And then Paul goes on to say “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” But how do we do that? How do we get our thoughts in line with the Word of God? I don’t know about you…but my mind tends to wander. I struggle to stay focused. I get stuck on the treadmill with debilitating thoughts. Like a gerbil wheel going around and around.
Guard Your Mind
We have to watch over what we allow into our minds. The things we mull over, chew on, and read between the lines. We live in a world that bombards us with things that conflict with a godly point of view. If we spend too much time here, we can wind up with a confused, restless, troubled, deluded, corrupt, or blinded mind. As a result of sin, we all have a broken mind. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” We must realize that our mind is able to play tricks on us. Lie to us. Deceive us.
We have been prewired with blind spots. We too easily believe everything we’re told. We fall for the fake news. However, we need to constantly be on our toes and challenge our thought life. And we do so 1) by living in constant conversation with Jesus and 2) by comparing what we think with the Word of God.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Phil. 4:7-8
- Develop an intentional prayer life. Talk to God about everything. Be in constant communion with Him. You can pray and carry on a conversation with someone at the same time. I’ve tried it. You can.
- Train your brain. When a debilitating thought comes into your mind, replace it with something excellent or praiseworthy. Focus your thoughts on the good. Don’t merely resist the bad thought, replace it. Fill the hole. Replace the dirt. And plant something that can bloom.
Set Your Mind
Be a continuous learner. Set your thoughts on what is above, not below. Don’t let up. Surround yourself with others that can pour into you and spur you on. Dig into God’s Word. Memorize it. Repeat it over and over again. The word “disciple” means learner. We are never too old, too young, too smart, too dumb to stop learning. God’s Word is new every morning and He has something new to teach you.
Imagine what God can do with your life and your situation. Dream about how He can redeem you right now. Cast your burden on Him and allow Him to use it, for the sake of others and the glory of God. We get stuck in our pits of despair because we fail to envision anything good coming about from it.
Ask God to help you dream. Ask Him to help you get out of the pit of despair. Ask Him to give you vision. Without it, people perish. With it, people hope.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think. Ephesians 3:20
I believe in a God that can do ANYTHING. Use ANYONE. At ANYTIME. Pray now for God to use you!
No one is exempt. Every single one of us has a calling from the Lord. We have a purpose for our time here on earth. We have an assignment from God.
In 2 Cor. 9:1-5, we see Paul’s continued dedication to the Corinthians. Paul had every excuse to walk away. He could have easily deserted them and moved on. A lot of times…that seems like the best option. But Paul doesn’t throw in the towel and call it quits. Oh, he soooo easily could have! The oxygen was waning thin. The deep, dark bags under his eyes were showing. However, he stayed in the game…not because he was receiving a pat on the back or high-fives in the air…but merely because God had called him.
Despite the false teachers, confused Corinthians, and unending hostile work environment–Paul presses on. He fights the good fight. He doesn’t let exhaustion win. Paul continues on because he is smack dab where God assigned him to be. He is living out the calling on his life. And whether you realize it or not, you have a calling too. God has called you to use the gifts He has apportioned to you.
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). John Piper defines our spiritual gifts as “varied grace incarnate in human personalities which we steward for the good of others.” Consider the extraordinary privilege of being useful to God. He has gifted you with spiritual gifts, appointed you as an ambassador, and invited you to be a part of the Great Commission.
Now, it is our responsibility to heed the call. Finish the task. And follow through. The Corinthians had shown readiness to respond to the call by generously giving to the church in Jerusalem. Paul wanted to make sure that they follow through on their good intentions. Urge them to do what they said they would do. It was a call to integrity and honor.
In one moment (like the Corinthians) we may be ready. We may be amped up. But then we hop in our car, turn on the radio, and start singing a different tune. Forgetting all about our calling. We lack grit and integrity to finish the task well.
Do you have any unfinished business? Have you lacked the resolve to carry it through? Is there anything God has called you to do that has been left undone? Paul sent overseers to the church in Corinth to help them stay on course and execute the plan. Maybe some of us need an accountability partner. Maybe some of us need to get back in the game. Maybe some of us need reminding that Jesus is coming back soon…and we need to be up and ready with the kettle pot on.
What is your biggest distraction? When Jesus comes back, will you be ready?
I was reminded of the testimony of my friend, Anne Marie Stern, today when reading 2 Cor. 8:10-15. A few years ago, she made a trip to Haiti to visit her niece who was working for the mission organization MyLIFEspeaks. Anne Marie knew her visit would be short. One suitcase was all she needed.
She enjoyed helping with community outreach in the village of Neply and had full intentions of returning to the states. Afterall, she had booked a round-trip flight. But then something happened. She saw a huge need. The need in the hands she held, the mouths she fed, and the eyes she looked into.
And the Holy Spirit moved and worked in her heart to the point that when it was time for her to depart…she couldn’t go. She couldn’t leave.
Now…she had every reason to go. She had plenty of excuses. “What about the job I have back home? What about my family and friends? Don’t I have a hair appointment next weekend?
What about the important meeting on my calendar? What about my favorite show on t.v.? I don’t know if I remembered to record it.
I could possibly miss eating out with friends and the sweet comfort of home. Oh yah, there is this thing called a/c and hot water. Besides, I don’t know how I will live without my next paycheck.
Oh, and most important of all, what about the fact that I only have one suitcase? One change of shoes. One tube of toothpaste. Not to mention, only 3 ounces of body wash, shampoo, and conditioner.”
You see…when it comes to giving…we readily put limits on God, rather than looking to His limitlessness. We often are reluctant because of what it will cost us. In our text, we see the poverty-stricken Macedonian church give to the Corinthians. They gave what they had, allowing God to make it abundant.
I get the privilege of observing Anne Marie on my frequent trips to Haiti and I can tell you something…this girl isn’t poor. She is lavishing abounding in joy and fruitfulness.
As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” 2 Cor. 8:10-15
Jesus can use whatever you have. Wherever you are. Whenever you’re ready. What is holding you back from being a generous giver?