Why we do what we doSermon passage: (2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2) Spoken on: September 6, 2010
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 2 Corinthians
Sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2
There is a reason why the pastoral team has embarked on this sermon series on 2nd Corinthians. The reason is the apostle Paul. Paul is the most important figure in Christianity besides Jesus Christ. We use his perspective to understand the Christ event. We use his religious experience to understand our Christian living. It is therefore important for us that Paul is a dependable witness of the gospel. Would he hold up under scrutiny? Would he be unwavering under criticisms? Would he withstand the test of doubts? For if he falls, our entire belief system might just crumble along with him. The Corinthian attack on Paul is a chance for us to see how Paul would defend himself. It was the perfect opportunity for him to put his best case forward. For me, his bold and honest defense in 2nd Corinthians is a great assurance that our faith is indeed built on a firm foundation. Like soccer fans blessed with a good manager, we can boldly proclaim “in Paul we trust”.
In today’s passage, the accusation is on Paul’s motive. “Paul is a fraud! His product is a scam. Don’t be misled by him. His true motive is to cheat you. Why? He has nothing of substance to give!” Upon closer inspection, it seems to be the case. The Corinthian society values success. They want prosperity. They want to see evidence of achievements and letters of commendation. Yet, Paul’s life seems to be the exact opposite of this. Many of his missions were failures, often ending in riots or imprisonment. Instead of prosperity, he often needed money from the churches to help others. He does not boast of his prestige or spiritual gifts or special authority. Even his eloquence and knowledge of spiritual trivia is lacking compared to other teachers. If Paul has nothing to offer, then perhaps his entire ministry is a lie. He surely has ulterior motives. Paul is just a pretender. That is the accusation.
We live in a world that worships success. It seems unavoidable. Politicians lose elections when the economy fails. Students live with the consequences when their grades fail. Therefore, success, or the lack there of, strongly influences how others perceive us and even how we see ourselves. We work for success. We study for results. We live for achievements. And if we fail, the world will inevitably question our worth. Why should anybody have anything to do with a person without success? This is so in choosing friends, in selecting sports teammates, and even in job hunting. When we fail, not only does the world question our worth, they also question our motives. Why have you failed? Is it because you are doing it wrong? Is it because you are not trying hard enough? If you have no success, then why are you preaching to us? We find the intentions of an unsuccessful man highly suspicious.
Faced with this question, Paul first declares that his conscience is clear because he is preaching out of fear of the Lord. He knows he will face the judgment of Christ one day. His actions will prove to be innocent and worthy. He knows it is plain to God because God is the one who searches all hearts. His point is that his motive is answerable to God. But that may not be enough. He must be answerable now. And so he also appeals to the hearts of the Corinthian church.
The Corinthian church of course does not have the divine ability to search all hearts. But they have been in ministry with him for years and corresponded with him through letters. It’s sometimes difficult to tell what a person’s true motive is. But like the special connection between old friends or loving couples, Paul hopes his motives are also clear to the conscience of the Corinthians. This is not wishful thinking. Paul has poured his heart and soul into his ministry. He was their founder and pastor. He suffered for them. Just like a child can feel the love of his parents and know that it is true, so Paul is appealing for them to look into his heart and see that he is no pretender.
Thankfully, the majority of the Corinthian church does trust Paul. After all that Paul has given to them - his time, his effort, his life - the relationship is present. They have a common understanding. They have a connection, a bond forged through their time together. But this is all based on trust. How do they respond to the vocal minority who focus on “what is seen rather than what is in the heart”? How do they answer to the very accusation that Paul has nothing to offer? Because if you were to just focus on the outwardly pathetic state of Paul’s life, that seems to be the obvious conclusion. He is not successful. He has nothing to offer.
Therefore, Paul addresses this. It is not true that Paul has nothing to give. Paul brings to his church reconciliation with God. This reconciliation is so precious that Paul felt compelled into this ministry. He was not forced. Rather, this ministry was so important to him that he was fully willing to commit himself to it. That was his true motive. He wasn’t doing it for success. He did it because it needed to be done. He commits to it even beyond the common motivation for success. He perseveres in spite of failures and sufferings. What is this ministry of reconciliation with God? Is it truly so precious?
It all began with God. You see, originally, the sin of men has broken their relationship with God. But God has reconciled “the world to himself in Christ”. How is this accomplished? How is the broken relationship restored “in Christ”? It is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Allow me to explain further. Jesus as the unique Son of God is representative of all mankind. So when he died, he died for all. Our old self, that is a slave to sin and impossible with God, was crucified with Jesus on the cross (Romans 6:6). Jesus represented the death of our old self. In the same way, in union with Christ, we now live a new life belonging to Christ. Jesus represented our rebirth. Just as how Christ is exalted to the right hand of God the Father, we are now reconciled with God. Jesus represented our reconciliation.
But there is more. This reconciliation happened because, in Christ, we are now a new creation. What is the significance of being a new creation? New creation is a transformation of perspective. Whatever you were in the past, it is regarded as over. The key word is “regarded”. It died with Christ on the cross. In Christ, you are now a new creation. You are now to be regarded as a reconciled child of God. Once again, the key word is “regarded”. You were once a sinner. Now that there is a transformation of perspective, you are now the righteousness of God. You are a saint. This is what new creation means. This is its beauty. In Christ, I must see you as new. In Christ, you also must see yourself as new. In Christ, you must see me as new. This must be so because, in Christ, God sees us in this way: a new creation.
Brothers and sisters, do not take this transformation of perspective lightly. This is an idea that can change your entire world. I first encountered its impact when I saw this verse inscribed on a keychain. “17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” This keychain was made by Breakthrough Missions, a halfway home for drug addicts. Drug rehabilitation is a difficult process with frequent relapses for those who go through it. Those who overcome the addiction face yet another uphill task to reintegrate into society. But for those brothers in Breakthrough, their lives are forever different because of this transformation of perspective. In Christ, they are a new creation. Whatever they were in the past, it died with Jesus on the cross. In Christ, they see themselves as new. In Christ, we too see them as new. This must be so because, in Christ, God sees them in this way: a new creation. I believe this transformation is just as liberating for us as it is for them. For many of us struggling with guilt, with a painful past, with fear of the unknown or with issues of anger and forgiveness, understanding that we are now a new creation is critical for our spiritual freedom. And to those of us who continue to strive blindly for success, caught up in the rat race of the world, it is not easy to accept that something so precious can be given purely by grace. But we desperately need this transformation of perspective for ourselves. A new creation means a new beginning. We have no need for regrets or self-pity. In Christ, we always have a new beginning.
Because this transformation of perspective is not physical, it cannot be felt or experienced. It must be understood for it to have an impact in people’s minds. Any change will only happen when they subsequently live out their new life in Christ. This new life only begins with the new perspective, the new understanding. Therefore, it is a message. And it needs a messenger. Paul says he is that messenger whom God has entrusted this message. Paul is “Christ’s ambassador”.
Let me sum up my points so far: looking at Paul’s life of suffering and weakness, his doubters claim that Paul has nothing to offer. This is true if we are only looking for “success”. But there is a motive far nobler than “success”. That motive is to do what is good and what needs to be done. We have shown that Paul offers something truly precious. To those who listen to him and accept his message, their perspective will be transformed. In understanding their new reconciled status, their reconciliation with God is now complete. They begin a new life with God in Christ. This is living in God’s favor. This is salvation. But for those who don’t understand this message or reject it, it is “to receive God’s grace in vain.” They may have this new status as a new creation but they live like they don’t because they don’t see it that way. Knowing that Paul carries such a precious gift is important to us. Unlike his opponents, we do not second-guess the motives of Paul. We now know why he is so committed in his ministry. We can continue to trust him. We can be assured of our continued dependence on him.
What about you? What are your motives for the things you strive for everyday? Your motives may very often be success, because you know that’s how the world will judge you. But you do not need to fear the world. You only need to fear God. We can take a lesson from Paul and keep your motives pure and simple. Do what is good and what needs to be done. We are entrusted with a precious gospel. Isn’t it a greater joy to be striving for this instead, in spite of all hardships and suffering?
There is another application to today’s passage. The Jubilee Church does not have blatant opponents like Paul’s attacking us. But like him, we do fight a battle with the ways of the world. How do you define a Church that is for you? Some of us may doubt what Jubilee is doing. Should you seek a church that is successful? Or perhaps one that promises prosperity? The world questions anything not “proven” by numerical growth or substantiated by huge financial assets. They question our worth. They question our motives. What does Jubilee have to offer?
For the young, the message from pop culture may influence you towards enjoyment and personal satisfaction. It idolizes popularity and pursues feeling great or feeling high. We don’t have concerts or beauty pageants or fantastic music. Can you continue to trust Jubilee, since it seems like Jubilee has nothing to offer to you? You may say that you trust us. But how do you reply to the doubters who say “why do you continue to stay in a church that is so unsuccessful?” Well, “we are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart.”
It may seem crazy to some, the amount of effort we put in every Sunday in worship service, in teaching, in cell groups and in fellowship and various ministries. But I hope what we do make sense to you. It is not true that Jubilee has nothing to offer. Like Paul, we offer to you the precious gift of reconciliation with God. Like Paul, we see ourselves as Christ’s co-workers. We do all that we do because we yearn for others the transformation of perspective as a new creation. To believe we are reconciled with God. To regard one another no longer as sinners, but as saints. This is what reconciliation with God means. It is freedom from sin and guilt. It is to die and resurrect into a loving relationship with God. It is, to put it simply, a new life. So you see why we are irrepressible messengers of this truth. It’s so good, we have to share it. It’s so good, we have to practice it. That’s why we do what we do.