2 Corinthians 6: Are You Sincere?
Some definitions to start today’s lesson:
Sincere is defined as free from pretense or deceit: proceeding from genuine feelings. The Bible uses this adjective with sincere love, sincere faith, and sincere hearts. We value sincerity and we despise hypocrisy, deceitfulness, and flattery.
A fanatic is someone described as “filled with excessive and single-minded zeal, especially for an extreme religion or political cause.” They are defined by their excessive enthusiasm.
“At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “ You are out of your mind Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane. I am not insane, most excellent Festus, Paul replied. What I am saying is true and reasonable.” (Acts 26: 24, 25)
“When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him (Jesus), for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3: 21)
Paul and Jesus viewed as out of their minds- a description which might describe a person who is a fanatic. Paul admits to his single-mindedness, and says “this one thing I do”. And the one thing Paul did was what was the one most important thing in his life. There can only be one most important thing. The adjective, “most” says this is at the top of the list. This is why the first commandment of the Ten Commandments is” “You shall have no other gods before me.” This is why Jesus says the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord, thy God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
Let me ask you as well as me, does this definition describe your relationship with the Lord Jesus? You can rate yourself on any rating chart you have, from 1-10, from 1 star to 5 stars, with half stars an option. What is your level of commitment? I already do not like the way this lesson is going, and I am sure you are beginning to feel the same way also. I will come back to this question, but let’s take a look in today’s lesson from 2 Corinthians 6 as Paul speaks of being “sorrowful but always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing but possessing everything.” Talk about paradoxes, these seem to be completely incompatible. How can we be sorrowful, but always rejoicing or having nothing but possessing everything?
Have we missed something somewhere? Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before me, that they may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5)
It seems the extremes the Lord, Paul, the disciples and Christians down through the ages, including here in the 21st century have faced is what gives their lives a distinctive flavor and light which is both attractive and repelling. It is certainly not neutral, bland or flavorless.
Wait a minute- are you saying we have to be fanatics to be Christians? Are you saying we have to suffer persecution and be called names in order to be a real Christian? I believe we have come to a time in our lives, which we did not anticipate earlier in our lives in the ease and comfort of the greatest economy of the last 70+ years. Of the freedoms we experienced in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Now we realize we have to be brave in order to stay free. We have come to a time in our journey in this country, where to be a Christian and speak the truth can cause us to be persecuted, to be called names, such as: racists, bigots, fanatics, backwards, scientifically ignorant, superstitious, homophobic and hateful. Our reaction: “I never thought I would see the day when_____________” You fill in the blank and there are plenty of things we could put there, aren’t there?
Remember what Paul has told us we are: ministers of reconciliation, ambassadors, through whom, God is making his appeal to a lost and dying world. Paul’s warning to us is make sure we do not put a stumbling block in anyone’s path, that our ministry be blamed. The culture we live in is reflected in our media, who love to find a prominent Christian committing a sin, especially sexual sin. We also have preachers who preach a “prosperity gospel” and live lavish lifestyles which offend many who view them as phonies, imposters, con artists with false teaching.
Now Jesus said He came to give us life and life more abundantly. In America, the abundant life is considered the normal life. But is our definition of the abundant life and Jesus’ definition one and the same? Let’s see what Paul says.
“Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way:” (Commend means to present oneself as worthy of regard; approval of our behavior, actions and performance. We would applaud a worthy, inspiring performance of the choir of a beautiful hymn, well sung; Bravo, after a stirring performance by an actor on the stage. ) What does Paul commend himself and other servants for? Great endurance, great patience. When? In troubles, hardships and distresses. Troubles are used to describe a variety of afflictions: health, finances, relationships, and a variety of troubling circumstances from the untimely flat tire to the dire conditions of a deadly disease or the death of a loved one. Hardships are those circumstances which hem you in and you cannot seem to find a way out. How do you respond to those times and circumstances? Paul tells us it is alright to be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing because we know Whom we have believed and are confident He can complete that which He has begun. Paul uses the word, distresses, also as what we must endure. The word distress comes from the Greek root word for “narrow places.” Nowhere to turn but up.
Next Paul speaks of how others have inflicted these upon him and others: beatings, imprisonments and riots. This is happening to believers all over the world, and it is coming to our shores. The riots are here already. We can now see the real possibilities of laws being passed which could cause us to be dragged into court as some already have for the cause of the faith. We are facing tough times, tough opposition, and it requires tough commitments. The challenges Paul faced two thousand years ago in Corinth and in the Roman Empire are no different from what we face today. In fact they are eerily similar. Las Vegas had nothing over Corinth- the culture of the Roman Empire was no different from the one in America. Both cultures were consumed with arts, sports, sex, power, education, commerce and physical beauty.
Paul is telling us as God’s servants we must sacrifice. Notice hard work, sleepless nights and hungers were voluntary choices for one’s self in order to do the work of a minister of reconciliation, an ambassador of God through whom He is working. As ministers we are to be pure, understanding, patient and kind in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love.”(vs. 6)
Our resources are God’s weapons, His armor the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. We will study more about these weapons in chapter 10.
The Paul lists the list of opposites which he says we endure with great patients relying on the resources of God and all His promises. His promises from His Word are the anchor of our souls, which holds us steadfast in the storms of life.
“We endure and go through: glory and dishonor; bad reports and good reports; genuine, yet regarded as imposters; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, het we live on; beaten, yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (Vs. 7-10)
Easy to cheer for Jesus when every situation appears to be a win-win-win situation. Good things happening. Money is plentiful, health is good, and family is fine. Your daddy’s rich and your momma is good looking, it’s summer time and the living is easy!
Billy Graham was in Europe not long after the Berlin Wall had fallen. He was meeting with the leaders, the pastors who had been part of planning teams for his revivals. As he often, did Billy Graham begin to ask those believer and leader around the table, tell me how you can to know the Lord and be saved. He tells of this one man, who was a member of a denomination whose clergy wore robes and collars which signified their faith. He said he was already far advanced in the hierarchy of his church while he was on a trip to Chicago for an international meeting. Deciding he would take a bus to and from the meeting and get to see the city, he was on his way via the bus to a meeting dressed in his formal wear. He had to sit next to a large Afro-American woman. Who asked him where he was from and why he was in Chicago. He told her of his work and his church. She then asked him a question which shocked him. She had the audacity (in his opinion) to ask him, “Have you been born again?” He replied with great emphasis of the high office he held in his church and the number of years he had been serving. She replied nothing until she got ready to get off the bus. She then looked him in the eye and said, “That is not the question I asked you, I asked you “Have you been born again?” Her question bothered him all through the day. That night when he returned to his hotel room. He turned to the passage in John 3, where Jesus told Nicodemus – You must be born again. And this man wept and got down on his knees because he saw himself in Nicodemus, this religious man who had not been born again.
We all tend to measure our devotion, our relationship with the Lord based on those around us. There are some we believe are more committed than we are, but there are plenty who are not. What do we measure that by? Our service, our attendance, our giving. Mission trips. Home schoolers. We measure how good we are by how good our children are. Of course there are always those who seem to be doing better than us in every category.
Knowledge of the Bible and knowledge about Jesus is another measure we use. But knowledge is not intimacy. I shook hands with George Bush the elder. I know about him. I have been by his house in Kennebunk Port. But if I had shown up at the gate and told them to tell President Bush, Tim Fortner from Jackson, was there to visit him. President Bush would have said, I don’t know him. I do not have a relationship with him.
Nicodemus came to visit Jesus one night. We read of this encounter in the third chapter of the Gospel of John. Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was an elite group of community religious leaders in Israel. They were 70 of the most influential men in all of Jerusalem. Nicodemus was an admirer of Jesus. He had heard him teach and was inspired by his teaching. Nicodemus was looking to take his relationship to the next level and thus had sought out a personal one-on-one meeting with this famous teacher.
He came at night, because Jesus was a somewhat controversial person among the religious leaders. It could be costly for Nicodemus to be considered one of the followers of Jesus. But being a secret admirer was not costing him anything. He could have the best of both world, his religious place of authority and respect as a teacher and one of the select 70 most important people in the Temple and a private relationship with Jesus. So he came secretly at night, so as not risk losing any of this he had worked so hard to attain. No real changes. No public commitment.
Here is the first reality we must face: there is no way to follow Jesus without it interfering with the rest of your life. Nicodemus believed Jesus was from God. Is that enough? “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that- and shudder.”(James 2: 19)
Jesus would not accept a relationship with him where he simply believed. Jesus wanted Nicodemus to follow Him. He did not want Nicodemus just at night for a fireside conversation of inspiration then off the next morning to live life the way Nicodemus wanted to define their relationship. Jesus wanted Nicodemus, night and day for the rest of his life.
The man on the bus in Chicago realized he had a Nicodemus relationship with the Lord. Biblical faith is more than mental assent. This is why Paul wrote we must believe with ALL our heart, the mind, the will and the emotions. Peter, John and James were told by Jesus, “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
We tend to define belief as the acceptance of something as real or true. But Biblical faith is a commitment to follow. Following calls for movement. Believing in Jesus in the Scriptures involved following. They are not separate they are connected. In his book, “Not a Fan: Becoming a Follower of Jesus” by Kyle Idelman, I love his description of believing and following: “They are the heart and lungs of faith. One can’t live without the other.”
Following is part of believing. And like the heart and lungs, if you remove one of them belief dies. To truly believe is to follow.
Now you may not like what has been said today. I am not too crazy about it myself. In fact Kyle said he got an email after a particular sermon about believing and following being connected. The man requested to be removed from the church membership. His stated reason: “I don’t like Kyle’s sermons.”
Kyle got up his nerve and called the man and asked him what he disliked about his sermons. The man gave a rambling answer, but somewhere in there, he hit upon the truth. He said to Kyle, “Well…whenever I listen to one of your sermons, I feel like you are trying to interfere with my life. “ This is exactly what Jesus wants to do is interfere with your life without him.
I remember when I got saved. I began a journey with Him. I believed in Him and followed Him. But not always. It got better and what I really see now in the stories of those men and women of faith in the Bible, it takes time. Let me make this clear as your teacher, I do not always follow Jesus. Does this shock you? But more and more I have learned, to not follow Him always means I will head down some direction, usually what I consider a short cut. But like the Beverly Sills the opera singer said, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” Follow Him wherever He leads.
Let’s see what happened to Nicodemus. By John 7, Jesus has become very popular and many are following after him. The Sanhedrin is concerned how this Jesus and his ministry is impacting and undermining their ministry. They are jealous and want this Jesus silenced. Nicodemus speaks up for Jesus. Not too bold, but I can hear the quiver in his voice as he begins to follow his heart. Nicodemus speaks up: “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him and finding out what he is doing?” The response: “Are you from Galilee too?” Followed, I am sure by laughs all around and a red-faced Nicodemus embarrassed for his speaking up for Jesus.
Hey- it happens today quite frequently in mixed company when you speak up for Jesus, people roll their eyes and look at you as foolish.
But by the end of the Gospel of John, when Jesus is crucified, Nicodemus is seen publicly helping prepare the body of Jesus for burial. He brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about 75 pounds worth. This was expensive financially and it would cost Nicodemus his reputation. He was no longer a secret admirer who wanted Jesus and his career- he was a follower.
It is going to become less popular to be a believer and follower of Jesus in the days to come. Jesus said if they persecute me, they will persecute you. Jesus is calling us to follow Him and in doing so to define our relationship with Him.
Are you sincere when you say you love Him? Are you really His every day, all the time? Jesus knows if you are sincere because Jesus knows what is in your heart. Are you asking for directions in order to follow Him, or are you asking to consider your options? You must be sincere in your desire to follow Him- or else He will sense your insincerity and will not give you directions until you are sincere.
Because if you are sincere, you will follow Him.
How would you define your relationship to Jesus? Are you an admirer like Nicodemus? Not a bad start, but only a start. This was not what Jesus wants- He wants all of you so you can all of Him.
Are you sincere?