The above statement may bring a smile to your face, but I’m afraid it is often true. People can make a mess of some wonderful experiences. We expect problems at work, government, society and even in the family. But if there is one place we would think people would get along it should be the church. But that’s not what my experience teaches.
Churches are filled with imperfect, selfish people. Though we have a perfect instruction book, the Bible, and serve a perfect Savior, Jesus, we don’t always follow like we should. Sometimes church life can be messy.
This year I am continuing a sermon series I started last year. I began 2018 preaching through 1 Corinthians. The theme was “A Beautiful Mess.” The Corinthian church had many problems but God and the Apostle Paul loved them. They were a ‘beautiful mess.’ We discovered some practical lessons about getting along with others, spiritual gifts, doctrinal issues, and many other friction points of church life.
This year I continue with 2 Corinthians. As bad as it was, the Corinthian church became worse. Some things improved, but many of the church members turned against Paul and questioned his authority and apostleship. 2 Corinthians is Paul’s defense about his apostleship. It is his most personal letter. While 1 Corinthians concentrated on a messy church, 2 Corinthians majors on ministering to a messy church. It teaches how every member can better minister to each other in spite of problems.
I’ll be honest… a letter by Paul defending his apostleship didn’t sound very exciting. But, believe me, 2 Corinthians gets into some of the basic struggles of the Christian life. For example, some of the Corinthians felt like Paul’s suffering was due to being out of God’s will. Yet, Paul explains that suffering and effective ministry are connected in the opening verses.
If you want to read a few Scripture passages to discover the suffering that Paul experienced, you can read 2 Corinthians 4:7-12; 6:3-10; 11:23-30; and 12:9-10.
The church in Corinth ended up coming around to Paul. But at the time of his writing 2 Corinthians they were divided. In a move that seems so contemporary, rather than deal with the message some slandered the messenger. They pointed out Paul’s suffering, his weaknesses and unimpressive personal presence as proof that he was not an apostle. They criticized his practice of not receiving wages from churches yet collecting money for the poor saints in Jerusalem as a deception to get even more money from them. They couldn’t understand how he could claim being led by the Holy Spirit since he changed his plans to visit Corinth three times, So Paul wrote 2 Corinthians to defend his apostleship and ministry and explain his suffering.
One of the central theological themes of 2 Corinthians is the relationship between suffering and the power of the Spirit. Suffering is the vehicle of God’s power in life. Our weakness is actually our source of strength.
So there are three big lessons in 2 Corinthians:
1 – Suffering is Powerful.
Ministering to others is not a matter of technique, program, and performance but of mediating to others the same truth, mercy and comfort we have experienced in trusting God (1:9). Before God can use us he must break us. In his suffering, Paul called himself “the aroma of the crucified Christ” (2:14-16). It was his suffering that allowed God’s power to work through him.
2 – Ministry is Costly.
Paul’s willingness to suffer for the sake of the Gospel because of his love for Christ’s people calls into question the easy believism of contemporary Christianity. We live in a world of casual Christianity. But true faith is never casual. True ministry is a sacrifice.
3 – Weakness is Strength.
The gospel does not ride on health and wealth but on weakness. The ministry of the Spirit is not of splash and flash but of meekness and weakness. The gospel does not need the front page or the front seat. When it brags – it brags on its weakness and God’s power. In his “jar of clay“, Paul’s weakness carries the “treasure of God’s glory” (4:6-7)
Take some time to read through 2 Corinthians. It will encourage you as you minister to suffering people in spite of your own suffering. Though ministry is messy, it also miraculous as God changes lives.