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Be a Wounded Healer!

Sermon passage: (2 Corinthians 12:14-21) Spoken on: November 29, 2010
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Pastor Daniel Tan
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 2 Corinthians

Tags: 2 Corinthians, 哥林多后书

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About Pastor Daniel Tan: Pastor Tan served as the youth pastor of Jubilee Church till his retirement. He is currently serving actively in missions.

Sermon on 2 Corinthians 12:14-21

In the movie “Into the Wild” released in 2007, Christopher McCandless has just graduated from Emory University as a top student. Memories of utter brokenness in his abusive household, the materialism of his parents, and the meaninglessness he experiences in worldly pursuits confront him afresh. So, he gives his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness alone, to find solace in a different kind of life.

Throughout his penniless journey to the Alaskan wilderness, Christopher’s earliest memories of abuse repeatedly assailed him. The shattering loss of a healthy family life left him bruised aching for healing. Yet, all along his journey to the wilderness, Christopher finds people who need him, relationships that could prove to be redemptive…a young woman, a lonely old man, and a grieving mother begging for his companionship. He indulges them for a while, staying with them until he finds himself restless for solitude again. So he keeps moving. But he keeps his wounded heart to himself. He hesitates to give it to anyone again. He can’t make space for others when he needs space for himself. “I have to move on. I am on my way to Alaska,” he tells people. Finally he reached his goal of isolation in Alaska. But eventually, his solitude in the wilderness brings him only death. (Kyle Brooks).

Yes, Christopher is wounded and he needs healing. As a matter of fact, nobody escapes being wounded. As we live in a difficult world marred by sins, we are going to be wounded by it. So, we all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. Life’s tragedies or ill- health can indeed be very wounding. But experiences such as alienation, separation, isolation and loneliness are equally wounding. And we often experience these wounding incidents through other persons, even our love ones. Some words may be spoken or some actions taken by them would leave us feeling dissociated, dejected, misunderstood, even depressed, violated and hurt. Whether it is done or spoken intentionally or unintentionally, we are wounded. Someone therefore remarks that being wounded is part of what comes with being a man. Life will wound us all to a greater or lesser extent. So, the problem is not the wounding but how we respond to it (Scott Nichols). In the movie “Into the Wild”, Christopher chooses to keep the wound to himself and to live in isolation.

But Paul in today passage shows us a different way of handling wounds. We are coming to an end of the sermon series on Paul’s 2 Corinthians. By now, we should be able to discern that Paul is indeed a wounded man when penning this letter to the church he founded in Corinth. This letter reflects what must have been one of the most distressing experiences of Paul’s life. He had personally been opposed and insulted by a group of people in the church at Corinth. He was accused of vacillation, of constantly changing his traveling plans (1:17), lack of success in preaching (4:3), physical weakness (10:10), not a trained speaker with deficiency in rhetorical skill (11:6), lack of apostolic standing (11:5) and witnesses because of his hardship (6:3ff). But worst of all, he is held to be a deceiver, lack of honesty (12:16). Such are the ministerial evaluation on Paul’s work and his personality. And they have treated him as if he were on trail. As we come to the second last chapter of this letter, today’s passage is deeply an interpersonal conversation with references to “I…you” in every verse. While studying this passage, I can’t help but pondering over and over on one of Paul’s questions posed to the Corinthians in verse 15: “If I love you more, will you love me less?” Paul’s emotion is on the surface. Here, we see the aching heart of Paul, a deeply injured person because of the lack of reciprocity from his converts at Corinth.

But even though Paul is deeply hurt by these troublesome members of the Corinth church, he still wants things to work out between him and them. In other words, instead of dwelling in his wound in self-pity and shun himself from the church he founded, Paul wants to be a wounded healer to them. This phrase or the striking image of a ‘wounded healer’ is first coined by the late Henri Nouwen, the great educator and spiritual master of the 20th century. In his book, The Wounded Healer, Nouwen describes wounded healers as individuals who “must look after their own wounds but at the same time be prepared to heal the wounds of others”. If we have wounds, we are potential wounded healers. As long as we are able to cope with our wounded feelings and our hurt, we will have the ability to heal others. In today’s passage, Paul is just demonstrating that. Thus, the theme of my today sermon is: Be a wounded healer! So, let us now examine the portrait of a wounded healer as painted by Paul. First, he is the one who willingly expends himself (herself) for the sake of others.

(1) A wounded healer is the one who willingly expends himself (herself) for the sake of others.

In today’s passage, Paul announces his impending visit for the third and final time to Corinth. As we should know by now his first visit was the founding visit to set up a church there, and the second the “painful” visit. As Paul now plans to go again, he realizes that the problem of his maintenance while staying there will resurface, since he has no intention of changing his policy of supporting himself. In the previous chapter (11:7-12), Paul has already explained to the Corinthians that his refusal to accept their patronage is not an indication that he does not love them. On the contrary, his decision not seeking their financial support is because he does not want to burden them. Unlike his opponents, he is not interested in benefiting financially from them. Instead, he wants the Corinthians themselves, not their possessions. In other words, Paul wants their continued allegiance and devotion to Christ, and their reciprocated love (6:13; 12:15).

In addition, Paul wants to show the Corinthians that, far from rejecting their offer of friendship, his decision of remaining financial independence is an expression of parental affection for them. So, he says: “Children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. So, I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well”. What does Paul mean by this? As the founder of the Corinth church, Paul is their parent in the faith and they are his beloved children. So, the Corinthians are not Paul’s patron, he is not dependent on them as their client. Rather, they are dependent on Paul as his children. So, it is important that the Corinthians change their way of thinking about their relationship with him. The Corinthians must understand that Paul’s self-support by manual labor is not motivated by a lack of love, as if to demean them. To the contrary, his sacrifice expresses the depth of his parental love towards them. Like a good parent who seeks the welfare of his children, Paul will gladly spend and be spent for them. Paul willingly spent everything for the Corinthians—all his material resources, all his energies and time. The long catalogue of his sufferings listed in chapter 11 shows how he spent himself. He would even allow death to work in him, so that life might work in them (4:12).

In his love and in his suffering, Paul gives himself totally for his beloved children, for whatever will contribute to their good. Paul loves them and tries to love them more. Yet everything seems to be going wrong. The Corinthians should recognize the depth of Paul’s love for them from the magnitude of his sacrifices. The least they can do is to love him and honor him in return. But the problem is the more he loves them and sacrifices for them, the less they seem to love him in return. Influences of the false teachers seem to be at work in Corinth. While being attacked by his enemies, Paul’s own converts fail to defend him. Preferring the worldly standards of leadership as paraded by the false teachers, they begin to feel ashamed that their father in Christ is meek, short of rhetorical skill, not secure financially, and reticent about his spiritual experiences (12:1-10). By not defending Paul and entertaining slander against him, they have put Paul in an awkward position of having to commend himself to them all over again as if he were a stranger. Their actions also cause great spiritual agony to Paul and hurt him emotionally. Paul thus asks them: “If I love you more, will you love me less?” Paul is in fact painfully expressing his disbelief: “My love for you exceeds that of parents for their children, so how can you love me less than a parent?” Paul is deeply wounded. So, how is he going to react towards their ungrateful behavior? Paul’s answer to them is: “Be that as it may, I have not been (and will not be) a burden to you” (v16). In other words, Paul will not allow their behavior to affect him or their lack of gratitude to quench his love for them. He will continue to show his love for them by refusing maintenance.

But even Paul’s insistence not to be a burden to them out of love could be misinterpreted. Some members actually believe that Paul is a con man, full of deceit. They reason that his working with his hands and refusing maintenance is done to make them believe he is a man of integrity. Consequently, when he asks them to give to the poor in Jerusalem, they would then give generously. And from this abundant collection Paul would line his own pockets, or his messengers would siphon off some of it and carry it to Paul. By actually labeling Paul to be cunning and trickery, Paul is wounded once again by his own converts. Paul nevertheless is confident this accusation will not come to anything and that both he and Titus will be seen to have acted with the same honesty.

Yes, brothers and sisters, even though Paul is deeply wounded many times, he does not pen his letter to the Corinthians as their boss, but as a parent who is willing to spend his very life for their welfare. If 2 Corinthians reveal anything about Paul, it reveals his long-suffering patience with his people and his role as a wounded healer. Unlike the movie’s character, Christopher, who can’t make space for others because of his own wound, Paul gives his heart to the people who have actually broken his. What enables Paul to be the wounded healer to his people? In his letter to them, we read also of his conviction that God is the God of all comfort. For Paul, God’s indescribable gift to him is that God’s power is perfected through his weakness; and God’s comfort is experienced through his suffering and grief. And it is precisely because Paul is healed by God, he too can become a wounded healer! Yes, brothers and sisters, if we want to truly serve God and others, there is no place for our wounded self-esteem to continue occupying our heart. We are all called to be the wounded healer as the true minister of God. As such, let us gladly spend and be spent for others, and at the same time experiencing God’s healing in our life.

(2) A wounded healer is the one who brings life-enhancement to the one he (she) ministers.

As I have mentioned before, one of the purposes of Paul’s writing of this letter is to defend his apostolic authority and teaching. But Paul also knows that some of the Corinthians, and especially his enemies, would dismiss his writing as a mere defensive, self-serving epistle. So, he asks: “Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you?” Yes, in one sense Paul has indeed been defending himself in a variety of ways. For example, he has been forced by the Corinthians to engage in the comparison game with his enemies; and in the foolish boasting to show his superlative nature of his ministry. But when Paul denies in this verse that he is defending himself, he means only that he is not merely arguing on his own self-interest to promote his personal authority. Furthermore, the Corinthians are not the judges who must assess what sort of man Paul is. In other words, Paul does not view himself as a defendant before the tribunal of the Corinthians: “defending ourselves to you”. To the contrary, only God can judge him. So, he tells the Corinthians that it is in God’s presence that he speaks the truth: What he has been writing he is saying it in complete and total honesty before God. It is God, the Judge, whom he wants to seek approval, not them. It is God, not they, he must please.

Thus, in actual fact, Paul is not on the defensive, but writing as their apostle out of concern for them rather than out of a concern to save his reputation. He is not arguing his own case but confronting them with the gospel. So, Paul says: “Everything we do is for your strengthening”. Paul though is wounded by his very own people, nevertheless his guiding principle of his ministry to them is to build them up. Here, we come to the second portrait of a wounded healer: To bring life-enhancement to the people he or she serves, to build them up.

What does Paul mean by building them up? If we read the letter carefully, we would find that at most points in his writing Paul has provided some theological and pastoral teaching for building up the spiritual and moral lives of his converts. In a nutshell, Paul is fighting for the faith of the Corinthians to remain faithful to the message of the gospel, thus be committed to God in Christ. They should stand firm and not to be swayed by the false teaching of his enemies. He therefore shows his concern to some of the members of the church for their continuing rebellion, as evidenced in their disharmony and sinful lifestyles. He does not want to arrive and find the community torn by strife, marked by “quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder”. Instead, Paul wants to see an undivided church, the unity of the members in accord with the gospel of reconciliation. Furthermore, the rebellion against Paul’s authority, fueled by the arrival of his opponents, cause some members of the church to show their unwillingness to repent from the kind of sexual immorality that has been a problem in Corinth from the very beginning. In other words, the continuing rejection of Paul’s apostolic gospel for an alien message of a different Jesus and Spirit has lead them to continue live the life of sexual immorality. That is why Paul calls the Corinthians to be reconciled to God and not to receive His grace in vain (5:20; 6:1). Paul wants their moral reformation does not make him into a moralist. It is because through Christ’s crucifixion in weakness, Christians can now live by God’s power that raised Jesus from the dead. So, the presence of the living God is real in Christian’s life, enabling us to live a life of transformation. Thus, we see though wounded, Paul’s writing of the letter is not to defend himself to seek approval of the Corinthians, or to rebuke them for the lack of love they show to him. Rather, his writing is to fight for their faith and to strengthen them.

Can you still recall the massive earthquake that rocked Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince in January this year? It was estimated that 230,000 people had died, 300,000 injured and 1.3 million were made homeless. Moise Vaval is a Haitian pastor who could not find his 8 year old son, Jean-Mark. Jean-Mark went to school the morning the quake hit, the quake that completely destroyed that poorly built structure. Although Jean-Mark was killed when the building collapsed, the family had no idea if little Jean-Mark was still alive. And if he was alive, they did not know if they would ever find him among the 50,000 lost children of Haiti. But Moise was not able to simply take time off to grieve his tremendous loss. He had responsibilities to his congregation. Each person there needed spiritual and emotional healing that their pastor was in a unique position to offer. More than that, Moise was the director for the country’s Global Orphans project. The devastating quake drastically increased the number of other people looking for their children. Jean-Mark was still unaccounted for, but everyone needed the presence of his father, Moise, to be their wounded healer. Moise, emotionally tattered from the loss of his son, still worked night and day visiting the orphans of Haiti. Of course, he went out looking for Jean-Mark every day, reporting him missing to pertinent agencies for help. But there were too many people in his congregation clamoring for his word of redemption and his healing touch. God gave him the strength to continue to preach to his congregation amidst the rubble of their ruined church building. In his own words, “We are looking for one, but there are hundreds here to care for.” The heart of God went out to the people of Haiti through Moise Vaval. (Kyle Brooks) Yes, as a wounded healer, Moise responded to the needs of the people around him so as to rebuild the community.

(3) A wounded healer is the one who is obliged to trust in God and be humbled by Him.

The final portrait that Paul painted for a wounded healer is that he (she) is the one who is obliged to trust in God and be humbled by Him. Yes, Paul longs for the Corinthians’ edification, for their renewed commitment to God in Christ. But he expresses his fear that the Corinthians may not be prepared for his third visit because of the moral laxity of many. He fears that he would enter into a conflict with the unrepentant. So, he says: “For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be”. What the Corinthians would want from Paul’s visit is not entirely clear, but most likely they would not want him to come with the rod of discipline (cf. 1Cor 4:21) to punish the community. Also, they would not want him to upset their pagan practices of immorality. For his part, Paul does not want to arrive and find the Corinthians indulging in self-seeking interest to divide the community into various factions, and in the sexual sin they continue to practice. In the past, Paul has been anything but aggressive when in Corinth (10:1). But this stance may change. Paul is quite concerned that this time he will have to take decisive action again those of the members who persist in their sin. He will not shrink from such an unhappy task if it will help his children. Paul understands that if it is necessary for him to act boldly and punish the community, it will be for him a moment not of personal victory but of humiliation. Thus, in verse 21 he writes, “I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the sexual sin in which they have indulged”.

Why would Paul speak of himself as humbled by God if he has to take the harsh action against the members who persist in their sin? When Paul speaks of God humbling him before the Corinthians, he has the understanding that his work in Corinth is not his own but belongs to God. In other words, God has made Paul His coworker, and what he needs to do is to faithfully carry out the responsibility entrusted to him as a coworker of God. So, even if he fails in his apostolic mission, God’s sovereign purpose for the good of Corinthians will not be thwarted and will still be working out. Very often God humbles His coworkers by causing them to endure the insults and hurt of others, and even in failure. So, for Paul, when someone injured or insulted him (2:5-11; 7:12) and when the community did not come to his support when he was attacked by his enemies, he knew that he was humbled in their midst by God for the sake of the gospel he preached. So, if he has to impose the hard measure of discipline against the Corinthians, Paul treats the need to do so as a personal humiliation, seeing it in some sense his own failure. Just as a father feels humbled by his son’s rebellion, Paul himself feels humbled in the face of some members’ failure to repent. But Paul understands that even in such pathetic and difficult situations, God’s sovereignty and His grace are not breached. After all, we can see throughout his letter Paul has placed great emphasis on his weakness so that God’s power is made perfect through it. In his weakness Paul is obliged to trust in God to be His humble servant. Thus, Paul’s humbling experience before God will enable him to carry on with full faith in the work God has entrusted him. Paul knows that “For in all things God works for the good of those who love Him”.

Yes, Paul is hoping that his final visit will bring about complete reconciliation with the church if the Corinthians heed his warnings about the intruding enemies, and if those who have sinned finally repent. Everything Paul does for the Corinthians is for their edification. But Paul’s fear is real. He fears that he has to deal severely with the church. He does not want to resort to hard measure of discipline as he clearly states in the later part of his letter: “When I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down” (13:10). Paul could have washed his hands and say in effect, “I have done what I could. If some of you insist not to repent and to continue living in sin, so be it. Prepare to be disciplined when I come.” Paul certainly does not want to tear them down. He is too much aware of his responsibility in the church he founded. He cannot and would not distance himself entirely from their sin. So, he ends his letter by praying to God for the recovery of the Corinthians from erroneous ways to which they have succumbed. It is because only God can enable the Corinthians to respond to his apostolic teaching and set themselves right again. Thus, Paul does not take the prayer lightly. As the wounded healer and knowing his own weakness, he learns humbly to trust in God and to depend on His grace and power as he ministers to his people.

A criminal under sentence of death was waiting the day of execution. A minister was called to attend to him. All efforts to lead him to repentance seemed unavailing. Going home, the minister met a man who was known all over the district for his life and good works. The conversation turned upon the criminal. The minister requested the elder to go and see him. He did so, and sitting beside the criminal, he took his hand in his, and said, with much fervor and simplicity, “Wasn’t it great love in God to send His Son into the world to die for sinners like you and me?” In a moment, the fountain of the man’s heart was broken up and he wept bitter tears. Afterward he said, “When the minister spoke to me, it seemed like one standing far above me, but that good man came in and sat down by my side, and classed himself with me, and said, ‘Wasn’t it great love in God to send His Son into the world to die for sinners like you and me?’ I couldn’t stand it any longer.” (The Presbyterian)

Yes, brothers and sisters, we are all the same, sinners, in the eyes of God. We all owe our debts and existence to Him. As I have mentioned before, no matter what ages you are, life will wound us all to a greater or lesser extent. All of us are wounded in one way or another. So, we are called to be wounded healers. Our wound should not be a shame or guilt for us; instead, it should humble us before God and be a source of healing. C.S. Lewis once said, “Think of me as a fellow patient in the same hospital who, having been admitted a little earlier could give some advice.” Yes, as long as we know who we are and humble ourselves before God, our wounds would certainly bring healing to others. Today as we begin to celebrate the season of Advent, let us always bear in mind the good news it brings: Jesus Christ, the greatest wounded healer has come into this world. He does not stand far above us, but classes Himself with us. He is the One who reaches out to touch the lepers, heals the sick, and welcomes into His Father’s kingdom all those who are lonely, unwanted, unloved, the rebellious, and you and me. By His wounds, we are healed! Following our Master wounded healer’s footsteps, the Christian community should thus be a healing community. To quote Henri Nouwen again: “A Christian community is therefore a healing community not because wounds are cured and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains become openings or occasions for a new vision.” Have a blessed Advent! May God bless you all!