2 Corinthians 13:5-10 Prayer for Faith and Restoration
If you would, please turn with me in your bibles to 2 Corinthians 13. We’re going to be looking today specifically at verses 5 to 10, right before the final greetings. We’re going to just look at that last little section. We’ve been working our way through the Prayers of Scripture. The prayers that God through His spirit inspired the men who wrote the New Testament to pray. These are things that they prayed. And we’re looking at these prayers in order to inform and instruct our praying life.
We’re going to jump in here, and you guys know ever since I’ve been here and responsible for the preaching and teaching aspect of the worship service, we have made it our policy to go book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse. We started in James. We worked our way through Galatians. Then we jumped into Exodus. Then we went into Matthew. And here, we’re taking a little bit of a break. So I just confess to you my struggles. I don’t know how some men are able to do this. I come into a passage with a cold shoulder, jumping into the middle of it, and I find so many questions, and so many things that I would like to dive into and explain and elaborate on. Unfortunately, we just don’t have the flexibility for that as we’re focusing very specifically on the prayers.
Now that said, I just want to show this to you: If you look at verse 10, chapter 13, verse 10, Paul makes the statement, “For this reason I write these things while I am away from you that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up, and not for tearing down”
Specifically what I want you to see there in verse 10 is when he says, “for this reason I write these things so that I don’t have to be severe, for the authority,” specifically that he has, “for building up the body” for building up the church, for edifying the church. “To be severe in my use of the authority for building up and not for tearing down.”
Now if you’ll go back to chapter 12, verse 19, he makes the statement there, “have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you?” Now this is the thing that I need you to see here: “It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuiliding”—or building you up--“beloved.”
So we see there between chapter 12, verse 19 and chapter 13, verse 10 a thought. Now I know what you’re thinking: you’re like, “well ok, there’s a chapter break right in the middle of that.” The chapters and the verses were added centuries after the fact. They are not inspired. They’re added in order to facilitate our ability to find things within the Scripture. But I’m quite convinced that between 12:19 and 13:10, that is the complete thought. Since it is our custom not to pull anything out of context, we will be specifically focusing in on verses 5-10, but we will read chapter 12, beginning in verse 19 down to 13:10.
Paul writing to the church in Corinth. This is a church that he has visited three times during the course of his apostolic ministry. There are two letters preserved for us in the cannon of scripture—1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. We know from extensive scholarly research there were actually four letters written. The first letter is lost to history, and the third letter is lost to history. What has been preserved for us is his second letter and his fourth letter. So there is an actual letter in between the first Corinthians letter that we have and the second letter that we have in our Bible. Obviously this church did not consider those letters as Scripture, and as a result did not regard them as holy and they were lost to history. All well and good. Chapter 12, verse 19. We’ll read, then we’ll pray. Then we’ll get to work.
“Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for you upbuilding, beloved. For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that have practiced. This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them—since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you? —Unless you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find that we have not failed the test. But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.”
Would you bow with me for a word of prayer? Oh God, we love you. And we know that You love us. And we know that everything You ask of us is for our ultimate joy and blessing. We know that you never want to do anything to hurt us and You never want to see us do anything that would hurt ourselves. And Father, we sang a hymn earlier about how our hearts are prone to wander and we feel it. So I’m asking, God, that those who are here today would give you their heart, that you would take it and seal it for Yourself. That You would guard them wandering. That You would guard them from straying away from You. That they would see everyday of their lives as needy and dependent upon You. That they would hunger and thirst for You as the very thing that sustains them. And Lord, I just pray for integrity. Not that we would on the outside, look like good Christians, but that the Gospel would touch every aspect, every fiber, every part of our being. That we would not only look good on the outside, but that the Gospel would transform us and make us look good on the inside, and that we would not be hypocrites. God, there are some here today who do not look good on the inside, who are not all the way through and through totally Yours. I pray God that You would work among us this afternoon to make us totally Yours. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Wholeness of Integrity
A couple of years ago, my wife bought a bread maker. We love it. She bakes bread all the time. You pour the ingredients in, you put it in the thing, you hit the button, and it starts to whip the bread. And next thing you know, three hours later, bam, get it out, it’s fresh, it’s hot—it tastes good. Now, I’m not really gifted in the kitchen. I wouldn’t really know how to make bread from scratch. So bear with me, especially the ladies in the room and those of you who make bread, if I say something that sounds kind of ignorant, I’m just going off of an illustration. I did talk to Shanti before the sermon, and got the low-down on how to make bread by hand, so just bear with me. Basically, you take some flour; you put it in a pan. You take some milk, you take some salt, and you take some yeast. You put all this together in a pan and then you mix it up. Right? You’ve got to mix it up so that all of the ingredients in the pan come into contact with all of the other ingredients in the pan, so that the whole lump of dough all the way through has touched and been mixed with all the other ingredients in the pan. And then you put that in the oven, and you cook that. Now if you were, as I thought initially as I was having this discussion with my wife, if you were just to take the flour, and put in some flour, and then take the yeast and put in some yeast, and then put in a little pinch of salt and then just kind of pour some milk over the top of that, and then stick that in the oven without mixing it, what you would get after 2 to 3 hours of baking is not bread. In fact, our bread maker is automated, its got these beaters in the bottom of it, so you stick it in there, and automatically, sounds almost like World War 3 coming out of the kitchen the way this thing is beating the dough. But there have been occasions in which we have baked bread, and it comes out, and you’re like, “Oh yes! Yummy, delicious bread.” But the machine has malfunctioned and hasn’t’ done as thorough of a job as it ought, and not all of the ingredients got worked around as thoroughly as they should have. And so, you cut into this thing, and you saw into it, and you find within the middle of it little pockets of it that still have basically straight flour that hasn’t been mixed or straight nasty yeast stuff that hasn’t been mixed. And you bite into that, and you’re like, “ugh, that’s gross.” Its disgusting, and it really takes away from the whole experience of savouring the bread, which if you’ve been waiting for 3 hours and that hot steaming thing comes out and you’re just excited, but then you bite into it, and it’s gross.
Now the reason I start there today is because what we are taking about in regards to bread, specifically in the formation of bread, in the baking of bread, is integrity. Like I said, the ingredients that form the substance of bread have to touch every other ingredient within that bread. The bread has to have integrity. It has to be consistent all the way through. As we are praying for each other, we are prone to pray prayers like, “God, I pray that this person would be healed of their sickness. God, this person over here is struggling with emotional difficulty, a loss in their family. I pray that you would help them get through that emotional time. God, I pray for this person over here, they’ve just lost their job, they have no finances, they can’t pay their bills, and I pray Lord that you would just help them through the struggle of those financial situations that they’re facing.” These are prayers that we pray for each other, and again we find that the Scriptures pray much more holistic, full-encompassing prayers.
If you look with me here in verse 9, Paul makes the statement: “For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong.” He says, “your restoration is what we are praying for.” Your restoration is what we are praying for. Now, the Greek word for restoration, ‘kathartidzo’, literally it’s a medical term speaking to the fact that there is a broken bone, fractured bone within the body. It’s a term that is used extra-biblically to describe the setting of that bone, so that the pieces of that bone can come together and heal properly. In other words, not a superficial fix, but an internal fix. When Paul says here, ‘we are praying for your restoration,” it’s coming in the context of all kinds of turmoil going on in the church at Corinth. This is a church that is under threat of church discipline. Numerous individuals within this church who claim to be followers of Christ who talk a good talk, who say all the right things, and yet their lives clearly do not reflect the teaching of the Gospel. So as Paul is addressing this church congregation, he alludes to the fact that he is going to come and visit them. This is his third visit. He is going to come; every charge is going to be established by two or three witnesses. And he’s clearly talking about coming in and doing church discipline. He’s talking about coming in, the church gathering together, and for the sake of a person’s restoration, for the sake of a person being made whole all the way through—not in words, not just in the things that they say, but in the way that they actually live their lives. And he’s referencing very specifically sensuality, idolatry, and sexual immorality. He’s talking about things that are rampant within the church. These are people that are saying that they following Jesus Christ, who say they’ve embraced the truth, and yet their lifestyle completely denies and rejects the truth. And so he is threatening church discipline for the sake of their wholeness. For the sake of their internal integrity, that the Gospel that they say they believe that they intellectually understand, that they grasp—you can quiz them on it, you can discuss it with them, you can debate it with them—and yet that ingredient has not been, just like bread, totally worked deep down into every fiber of their lives. They are not people of integrity. And that ingredient has not pervaded and impacted every part of their soul. So that’s the prayer that Paul is praying. And that’s the prayer that I pray for you guys. My prayer for you and what I think your prayer for each other should be, as Christians here at Bridge Baptist Church—and don’t hear me the wrong way, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with praying for someone struggling with a financial difficulty, or praying for somebody who is struggling with some emotional loss or some difficulty that they’ve suffered. But first and foremost, the most important prayer that we need to pray for ourselves and for each other, and for our church as a whole, and really praying for all the Christians across Kamloops, that we would not be Christian in name only, but that we would be people of integrity, that the Gospel would pervade every aspect of our lives and that we would live it out. That’s what Paul is saying here when he says ‘your restoration’, your full integrity.
Now that phrase is coming towards the close of a section here. SO I just want to back up and walk through this section. He makes that statement following a series of previous statement, and all of those statements, I think, are the beaters, if you will, of a bread machine. All of that is the precursor or the run-down to that statement. Starting in verse 5, and this is where we’re going to pick it up.
Paul—now he planted this church in Corinth-- he says in 13:5 “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves, or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” “There is many a man who loves an examined faith, but does not necessarily want a proven faith.” That’s a quote from Spurgeon. You need to understand that the Gospel is something that when it impacts our lives, when it impacts our soul, it is not just enough that when we ask each other questions about what we believe that we can answer those questions correctly. A genuine Christian faith is a faith that goes through the test that can withstand the fire and the heat of the world and still come out shining. WE saw last week in John 17, the prayer of Christ just before He’s going to be crucified, in which He prays “God, I don’t pray that you take them out of the world, but that you sanctify them in the world and that you sanctify them in your word, in truth, your word is truth.” John 17:17. And so here we see that there is a difference between people who confess faith versus people who have a proven faith.
Now when Paul says here to examine themselves, he is telling them to test it. In other words, take your faith, the things you say you believe and put them to the hazard. Put them through the ringer. See if they will pass the test. And it is a bit of a solemn warning. And it’s the same for you in this room today. You’re here; you say that you love Jesus. That’s good. That’s a great start. But let’s ask ourselves whether or not that is really the case.
A Solemn Warning: Heed the Gospel
Over in Hebrews, chapter 2, the author of Hebrews, writing to a bunch of Christians, probably Jewish believers who are struggling in their faith and starting to backslide. Hebrews 2:1-4 “therefore, we must pay much much closer attention to what we have heard lest we drift from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution”—talking about the law—“how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will.” And so the author of Hebrews is saying in the Old Testament God gave the law from Sinai and it was straight on. Everything that God promised He would do if we violated the law, if we broke His covenant, He did it. He said if we would slip into idolatry, He would drag us out of the land into exile. He said if we engage in various forms of immorality and sinful behavior, these were the punishments that we could expect. And it happened. And so I’m stepping back from that. I’m just looking at it, apart from the Scriptures, and you just look at history, at the nation of Israel, they are a living testament to the fact that when you come back to the Scriptures, God gave ample warning ahead of time, “this is what I expect from you, this is what I want to see from you.” And when they failed to live up to it, He didn’t back down. He spoke, He made a statement. His word was His bond, and He lived up to every aspect of what He promised beforehand. And the whole point of all that, of all the law, is this: the righteousness that Christ demands of us, we are utterly and totally helpless, completely incapable of living up to the standard that God wants from us. So there’s the Gospel. The good news. Now here in Hebrews, he says, “they should not have ignored what God said.” And then he transitions into the New Testament and says, “so we, in this room, you and me, we had better not ignore what God is saying.” Now the Old Testament says, “now this is what I expect from you.” And those who lived in the Old Testament time clearly demonstrated that in spite their best efforts, they could not measure up. So the question becomes, “what does the New Testament say?” The New Testament says, “that’s right, you can not measure up. Nothing you can do can ever make you right before God. You are broken and on your best days your best acts of righteousness in His eyes still look like filthy rags.” The New Testament says something completely different actually. Although the Old Testament bears witness to it. The New Testament says that you are needy. That you need God. The new testament says you’re desperate for Him. That you are spiritual beggar before Him and that all you can do is come to him on your hands and knees and beg of Him and ask Him, and He will give. Now the author of Hebrews is saying, “don’t run past that.” Which leads me to ask, “are we running past that?”
We are Needy
Let me ask you a question: Do you see yourself as needy before God? “Oh, absolutely.” Oh, ok, so you’re professing sort of like the Corinthians did with their mouth that you need God? “Oh yeah, absolutely.” Well, lets just take a little look. Are you so desperate for Him that you need to read His word everyday to have His thoughts and His statements constantly forming and correcting and adjusting and shifting your mind--which is prone to wandering—back to the truth? Do you see in your own life and in your own heart, and in your own soul, a weird tendency to shift off the truth? Do you see that? Does it cause in you a realization that man, if I don’t really just hold on to this thing day by day, needy and desperate for God, then its only a matter of time before I drift away from it? You say you do, so here’s the question: does that lead you to hunger and thirst for His word and to want to read what he’s saying to you everyday? In other words, does the realization that you’re going to drift remind you of your neediness and desperation for God? Let me ask you another question, as Adam and Eve fell in the Garden, it was because Satan came into their lives and tempted them. And rather than taking the dilemma, the decision, back to God and asking God what His perspective is, they just said, “you know what? I don’t need God to advise me. I don’t need His council. I don’t need His wisdom.” And they looked at the thing, and said, “yeah, it looks pretty tasty,” and bam, they fell. So the question is, are you needy for God’s wisdom and council in your life? Do you take every decision, every day-to-day major decision before Him and ask His council and seek His direction? Do you feel that kind of need and desperation?
Ok, now lets step back a little further. In the wake of everything that happened in the Garden, we see men descending into isolation, growing increasingly bitter and angry towards his fellow man. The relationships between him and the guy next to him being fractured and torn apart so much so that they don’t love each other and they hate each other and they’re warring against each other. And the Gospel says that you need Him and you need your fellow believers in Christ. You are desperate for their fellowship. You are desperate for His fellowship. The Gospel should transform that isolation, to where you’re no longer living apart from everyone else, but you’re seeking true, genuine, God-desperate community with other people. Do you find that in your life? You see, we’re talking about things like attending worship services, and reading your bible everyday, and praying everyday, and participating in the fellowship and the life of the church, being involved in a Life Group—not because you have to in order to earn your righteousness with God—but because that you understand the Gospel, and you understand that you need those things. And that you want to -out of a heart of desperation. Now you don’t have to do anything to earn your standing with God. In fact, the Old Testament makes it painfully clear, you couldn’t do anything. But in the same way that the New Testament supplies your every need, it should reinforce and emphasize your desperation for all of those things.
So are we? Are we needy, church? We don’t like to think of ourselves as beggars. We’d prefer to think of ourselves as self-reliant, independent, we don’t need anyone or anything else. If that’s your attitude—you don't’ need the people in your church, you don’t need the Bible, you don’t need to go to God everyday, I don't’ think you really have understood the Gospel. I don’t think you’ve really allowed it to impact every area of your life. Paul makes a statement in 2 Corinthians 13:5 “examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith.” AT its most fundamental core, that is the Christian faith. That you could never do anything and that you need everything. So do you see that in your life? He goes on, “or do you not realize this about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you? Unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test.” In other words, Paul is assuming as he is writing the church in Corinth, that they are genuine Christians, but that their lifestyle does not measure up, their lifestyle does not reflect the teaching of Christ. It is clear that as they’ve been pursuing God that at some point along the way, they have strayed from the clear teaching of His word, the solid understanding of who He is and that everything that they need is provided for them in Christ. They have stepped away from that, and have said, “yeah, but we have these other teachers over here who are teaching other things.” Now we don’t have time to unpack all of that, but suffice it to say that there are multiple teachers that have come into the church in Corinth who were teaching contrary things. So much so that the church in Corinth was coming to a place in which they were like, “Yes, we need God, but yes we’re also capable on certain levels of establishing our own righteousness.” And random other things were probably introduced, probably circumcision, probably a number of other things in which we could do these activities, yes what Jesus has accomplished for us on the cross is good, but maybe if we participate in these other activities we could add to that. And what Paul is saying there is that if you take anything and try to add anything to Jesus, you have never really understood Jesus. He has everything that you could ever possibly need. And He will supply your every need. Him alone. No one else. So you don’t have to go shopping because there is no other store in town that could supply what Christ has. And Paul makes it pretty clear, you don’t need to go anywhere else, you don’t need to try anything else, you don’t need to pursue any other religion, because I have made it so simple, I have met your every need abundantly beyond anything you could possibly hope or ask for in Christ Jesus. Right here. “Do you not realize this about yourselves that Christ Jesus is in you? Unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test.” Paul is alluding to the fact that yes, there might be people in Corinth who are saying with the words of their mouth that they worship Christ, but if you were to examine the totality of their life, not just the things on the outside, but the things on the inside, which sooner or later will work themselves out to external characteristics and behaviors that you could observe, that it would be clear that the Gospel, just like yeast, has now permanently invaded every aspect of their being. They could not fail the test.
Now, they are struggling here. Because Paul—and he loved this church—he came to Corinth and under incredible persecution he preached. In fact, at one time he was thinking maybe he should leave and God came to him and said, “Don’t leave. I have many people in this city whom I am going to save.” And so Paul plants his feet and he stands up in the midst of it for a long time and lots of people got saved. Now he was their teacher. He was their pastor. They got saved through his preaching. Not that Paul was responsible for their salvation. It was God, start to finish. But he was the instrument that God used to proclaim that message which they heard, they believed, they got saved. They repented. They embraced Christ. And one of the struggles that they’re having now in the church in Corinth is lots of other teachers coming in and teaching lots of different things. Now, these teachers, they know that what Paul has said has been pretty good. So in order to sort of assert their authority, to level the playing fields, to make them, the false teachers, look as good as Paul, the genuine teacher, they’ve had to do a little bit of character assassination. They’ve had to go after Paul, and criticize and attack him. SO Paul, through much of 2 Corinthians, here and there, works hard to defend his character against the false accusations and the slander of these false teachers. He makes this statement in verse 6, “I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test.”
Now that’s an interesting comment, don’t you think? His whole exhortation has been, “examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith.” And then, after examining themselves, his hope is that after examining yourselves, after the completion of your own self-examination, your own self-scrutiny, that you would arrive at the conclusion that Paul was legit. Now that’s fascinating. Paul is saying here that as a pastor, who has preached the Gospel to you, if your life has been transformed, if there has been genuine transformation in your life as a result of the message that you heard me proclaiming, then really, all you need to do to determine the validity of my ministry, to determine the validity of the things I’ve preached to you, is to look in your own soul and see whether or not the things that I am preaching have had a genuine impact on you. Because Paul knows he’s preaching the truth. He knows it. And he knows that the false teachers are teaching a whole bunch of add-ons to Christ, trying to corrupt and distort the simple truth of needy desperation, beggars, before God. He knows that’s what the false teachers are doing, and he’s saying, “I want you to look inside your soul and I want you to take a good, long, hard look. Has your needy desperation for Jesus transformed you, improved you, and made you a better person? And if it has, then really, all these false accusations that all these teachers are making against me are automatically right there, bunk. If the message that I am preaching has transformed you, then you know right off the bat, that my message is legit. If the message I’m preaching hasn’t had any effect in you, well, I hope you don’t find that I have failed the test.”
And we see something here of the concern. We’re talking about people’s restoration. We’re talking about people coming to a wholeness of embracing the Gospel in every aspect of their being. We’re talking about people who understand that Jesus Christ has died for their sins and that they are completely needy before Him; they need Him for everything in their lives. And if you’ll recall as we’re reading thought the passage in Hebrews, it says there, “don't let us neglect the new covenant, don't’ let us neglect the Gospel which God bore witness to” and he references several things there—you know, He says “signs and miracles” and then he says, “gifts, distributed by the holy spirit as He wills.” That’s one of the things the author of Hebrews says there in Hebrews 2. And we know from Ephesians chapter 4 as Paul is writing at the church in Ephesus, he says that pastor/teachers are given as a gift to the church for its upbuliding, for its edification. And here, as he’s writing to the church in Corinth, we see in chapter 12, verse 19, he’s writing the letter for their edification. And we see here in chapter 13 verse 10, again he is not wanting to be severe, he’s not wanting to exercise church discipline. But he’s using his authority for the edification of the church. And in the midst of all that he says, “I hope that you don’t fail the test. I hope that I don’t fail the test.” And he’s alluding to the fact that as their pastor, as the guy who proclaimed the gospel to them, he is instrumental in the fact that message ought to permeate every aspect of their being. Not just intellectually, but deep down in the way that they live their lives.
The Scriptures say an awful lot about this in terms of the role that pastors play in the life of the church. As rich with images and metaphors that depict the duties and responsibilities of pastors, the role that they have in your life, they are pictured as leaders (Hebrews 13:17), overseers-there’s a number reference them as overseers—shepherds (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter), teachers (Acts 13:1, 1 Corinthians), warners, watchmen who keep watch over your soul (1 Thessalonians, Acts 20), servants—they are there to serve you, they are to assist you, stewards—people who have been entrusted with the church of the living God to steward and shepherd it, comforters. Last, but most importantly, examples. Now you look at a pastor, and you want to see the true nature of his preaching, his teaching, and his ministry, you can gauge that by looking at the people who follow him. Do they follow his example? Or is his example really not that good of an example? In terms of the way the people of his congregation imitate him? Seems to be a pretty clear teaching in the New Testament that the man that you appoint to be a watchman over you, and I’m referencing the Ezekiel watchman from Ezekiel 33, is a person who just by standing up and preaching to you on a week-to-week basis, is somebody, whether you like it or not, that is going to spiritually influence you. So now if you subject yourself to that man’s teaching—now obviously I’m talking about myself here—if you subject yourself to that man’s teaching, you sit underneath that man’s teaching—sooner or later its going to impact you. It’s going to influence you. It’s going to shape you. Which means that as a church congregation—we do believe in congregationalism here—you as a church are called to safeguard each other, to look after each other, but you’re also called as a body of believers to look after the men you appoint to keep watch over your souls. As the Ezekiel watchman. You are to safeguard and look after them. And if the day comes that they start teaching something different, something contrary to the Gospel, it is incumbent upon you before Christ, because if you allow that, if you permit that, it will shape you. It will influence you. It will hinder your witness to the community outside. So as a body of believers, you’re called to always keep careful watch on the men that you would have instruct you and lead by example. Always.
They Tested Jesus
They tested Jesus. They put him through his paces. There was no question they didn’t ask. There was no theological controversy that they did not put to him for his consideration. They were watching him like a hawk in order to trip him up in something that He might say, in something that He might do. They were looking for any opportunity to discredit b/c of just how much he was challenging the false teacher’s authority. In Luke 20, they’re ticked. “They watched him, and they sent spies who pretended to be sincere that they might catch him in something that he said so as to deliver Him up to the authority and the jurisdiction of the government.” They come with malicious intent. They don’t like him. They don’t want Him. They tested Him. And of course, they asked several questions here, “is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?” And He basically blows that one out of the water. And they’re all amazed. It says, “They were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what He said. Marveling at His answer, they become silent.” But they don’t stop there. They try again. And so they come to Him and they ask Him the silly question about people getting married and different brothers having the same woman, and there’s seven brothers, and if they all die, then whose wife will she be in the resurrection? They’re trying to trip him up and he basically blows that one out of the water. He responds to that. And they respond, they say, “teacher, you have spoken well.” And then verse 40 says, “they no longer dared to ask Him any question.” They put Him through His paces. They tried their hardest. Their real big stumper questions, the ones that everybody kind of scratching their heads, not sure what to do with that question, Jesus answered them and blew them away. He stood up to the scrutiny, he stood up to the watchfulness of this nation, and he passed every single test flawlessly.
Now listen to me. If Jesus passes every test that you can put to Him, then does that not mean that He is the leader He claims to be? Ok. And if he is the leader that He claims to be, and in our minds its no longer a claim, it is something that we have tested and found certain, then are we not obligated to follow Him? It is the greatest failure of the Christian faith that we should say that we honor and revere Christ as able to pass any test, settle any theological dispute and give us a perfect example by His life and by His teaching how we ought to live. WE know that, we see that in the Gospels. But then we do not turn to Him in our day-to-day lives. We do not seek His example and we do not ask His council. That is hypocrisy. That’s Christianity on the outside, church, that does not come inside. Jesus doesn’t stop there. “Oh, you smart guys like to put me to the test? Let me put you to the test. You’ve been here scrutinizing me all this time and I have not run from your scrutiny, I have not backed down from your questions; I haven't strayed away from the tough quizzes that you’ve got. My turn.” And he says, in verse 41, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? For David himself says in the Psalms, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your foot stool.’ David thus calls Him Lord. So how is He his son?” And the Scriptures bear witness to the fact that they could not answer that question. They could not do it.
Got a lot of people in this world that like to teach a lot of stuff. A lot of self-help. A lot of this new-age spiritualism. Holism. Holistic. You know, we want to have a holistic approach to our lives. We want to have stuff that will treat our emotional and our physical state. And all of this sort of stuff. And we are turning to a lot of different gurus, and a lot of different self-help kind of people. And they all say that they have the answer. And my question is, this man withstood every challenge. Do these teachers withstand His scrutiny? Do they? You be the judge. I’m telling you now, they don’t. And any teacher that comes that would bring any other teaching other than Jesus Christ has never understood who God really is. Has never understood what God really has to say. And if you trust them, and I’m speaking to you, because some of us do it too. I like what the Bible says, I’m a good Christian, I feel in my own wisdom and my own strength this is a good course of action, you have become just like the false teachers in Corinth. You have put Jesus to the test. But you have not subjected yourself to His teaching. And that is the greatest form of hypocrisy.
Praying for Your Integrity
Paul, as their pastor, has withstood every test, every examination. Not that their faith, or their salvation, is ever in Paul’s hands for one second, but he has been a man of integrity, he has upheld the Gospel. He has preached the Gospel. He has lived the Gospel. And he looks back on his church that he loves, that he is getting ready to visit for the third time. And his prayer is not, “Yay! I get to meet with these people that I’ve invested so much of my life and ministry into.” That’s not his prayer request. His prayer request is, “Dear God, restore them! Let them actually have integrity! Let the Gospel pervade every aspect of their being.” And he’s not confident that that’s the case. So he’s begging God, “please, let that be the case! In order that I would pass the test.” Then he goes on in the next verse, “we pray to God that you may not do wrong.” We don’t want you to sin. We don’t want you to live contrary to the neediness and the desperation that you should feel in the face of the Gospel. To come to Christ for every aspect of everything in your life. We don’t want you to do wrong. And doing wrong is when you’re not needy. If you don’t feel desperation before God, you’re wrong. He says, “We pray that you may not do wrong. Not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right.”
Now as he’s looking back and measuring his ministry and the lives of the people that he has poured himself out for, and the lives of the people that he has preached to and the lives that he has completely sacrificed for, does he want these people to actually live out the Gospel in every aspect of their lives? Yeah, he does! He has completely sacrificed his whole life and his whole career for the sake of these churches. He wants them to look like Jesus. He wants them to scrutinize and test themselves. And he knows, on some measure, that’s a reflection on him. And he doesn’t want to come and do church discipline. It’s not his desire. But, we’re going to have to honor the truth no matter what. He makes the statement, “Not that we would have appeared to have met the test, but that you might do what is right, though it may seem that we have failed.” My prayer for you is that you would actually be Christians, all the way through. Head to toe. Inside to the outside. “For we cannot do anything against the truth.” We cannot stop the Gospel. You can add all the teaching and all the extraneous stuff to it. You can’t stop the Gospel. At the end of the day, people who add things to Jesus just get themselves so wound up and messed up and just running a million different directions. You just break your lives when you try to add stuff to Jesus. You just complicate things. You get confused. You get all scatter-brained. And your life becomes a mess. You need Jesus. And you can’t add anything to it. You can’t break that truth. That truth for better or worse will be revealed in your life.
In other words, if you’re holding to Jesus, it will look good. And if you’re holding to Jesus plus something else, it’s going to look bad. It’s going to look bad. You cannot do anything to the truth. Your life, in a positive testimony or in a negative testimony, will bear witness to the fact that salvation is only in Jesus Christ, and no other way. That’s what Paul is saying there. We are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for.
Threatening Consequences: Church Discipline
Sometimes, in order to really get that Gospel truth to work its way all the way into every aspect of the dough that is our lives, we have to threaten consequences. And sometimes we have to bring consequences. There has to be accountability. That’s what Paul is alluding to here. He’s’ talking about church discipline. He’s’ talking about the fact that you have people in the church who claim that there are Christians but its obvious that they are not totally embracing Christ, that the totality of that message is not working itself out into every fiber of their being. He wishes that it would. That is his prayer and hope. But if they do not, as an act of grace and mercy for their sake, he will lead this church to kick them out of the church. To draw a hard line between people who seek Jesus, coming to Him as needy, seeing Him as the sole sufficient source of everything that they need. There are those people. And there are other people, who do not see it that way. And Paul’s statement here is that we’re going to have draw a hard line in the sand and some people who are with us who say they are Christians, but are not genuinely, are not living them out, because we love them and they need to stand with the Father, because we are no longer confident that the Gospel has transformed them, because of the things that we see in their life, as an act of love, we are going to push them out of the church.
In 1 Corinthians, the second letter that Paul writes to this church in Corinth, in chapter 5 he alludes to the fact there’s a man there living in horrible sexual immorality, engaging in an incestuous and adulterous affair, and Paul makes the statement, “you guys are happy, you think this is a good thing. You should be grieved to your core.” And he says, “when you gather together as a church, you need to hand him over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh.” Not punitive, but restorative. Paul makes the statement in 1 Corinthians, “hand him over to Satan for the destruction of his body that his soul might be saved in the day of judgment.”
Job: Destruction of the Flesh for the Sake of the Soul
What Paul is saying there is, “yeah, we’re going to have to do something really hard.” People ask me, “well, what does that look like? ‘You hand somebody over to Satan.’” I don’t know 100%. All I know is that there is one man that I am completely convinced that God handed over to Satan, and that was Job, and it didn’t look good. Now doest that mean that if we do church discipline and we kick somebody out, that his whole family is going to be killed and everything he owns is going to be wiped out? I don’t see a necessary absolute correlation there, but when you ask me what it means to kick someone out of the church, out of the fellowship of Christ, and put him into the domain of the world, into the hands of Satan for the destruction of his flesh, the only sure reference point that I have is Job. And Job was a believer. Job was a Christian. He wasn’t somebody under church discipline by any stretch of the imagination. But in terms of answering, it looks like what God is doing there is removing His hedge of protection from around that person, and is allowing the influences and torments of this world to come and have their way with that person. Again, not punitive, but restorative.
Now he’s getting ready to make his third visit here to Corinth, and his prayer, as my prayer is for you, is that you would be a Christian through and through. Every aspect of your being. And he prays that prayer in the midst—the context is explicit—in the midst of the threat of church discipline. Paul, though he would rather not, sees something much more important necessary in the life of individual believers of the church than rather or not they like him. What is more necessary is that they would be restored, that they would have integrity that they would be Christians through and through. And a necessary element to baking bread is bringing the heat. And if they will not respond to the grace of Jesus Christ as he prays for them, he is fully prepared to do what Jesus has commanded for the restoration of that person’s soul: which is to kick them out of the church.
So here, at Bridge Baptist, my prayer for you is that you would never ever have to go through church discipline. I never want to see that happen in anybody’s life. But as I pray for you, as God works in the life of me as your pastor, I don't want my ministry, however long or short it might be, to be superficial. I do not want it to be surface-level. I want to see the Gospel go all the way down to your core, which means as we, as a congregation, strive to be faithful to the text, in those moments where it is clear that the Gospel and our needy desperation for Jesus is not permeating every aspect of our character, we cannot bring that about through pleas and cries and tears and prayers, and if you go on to living publically and flagrantly in violation of the Gospel, as a means of answering that prayer request, “we pray for your restoration”, the Scriptures clearly teach church discipline is a necessary element for answering that prayer request. Which means that in our prayer lives, you know, we’re praying “oh, financial situation! Oh, despair, heartache! Oh, this person’s worried over this and that person’s worried over that!” Thos are all wonderful prayers to pray. But church, let us be praying this: that we would be Christians through and through. Paul’s statement is, “I write these things, that while I’m away from you, that when come, I may not have to be severe.” He does not want to do church discipline. “I don’t want to have to be severe in the use of my authority. I do not want to have to do church discipline. God has given me this authority for building up, and not for tearing down.” Which means that he felt it necessary to tear some people out of the church for the greater edification of the body.
Whatever Happened in Corinth?
The question becomes, when we talk about Corinth, and I’ve used this expression, “Corinth is like Las Vegas, you know, ‘what happens in Corinth stays in Corinth.’” And we understand the church in Corinth to be this horribly wickedly bad church and nobody would ever want to go there and pastor that church, except for Paul who went three times and was ready to go again if necessary. And we always look at this church as the church that always had it wrong and was always messed up. And Paul is always just rebuking them and chastising them and they never could get it right. That’s not true. Just to be completely fair. Did they have a lot of issues? Yes. Did Paul have to threaten church discipline? Yeah. But did he pray for their restoration? Everyday. And did God hear that prayer and answer it? I think that He did. Paul says, “I’m writing this so that when I come and see you, I don’t have to be severe, I don’t have to do church discipline, I don’t have to restore order out of chaos, and bring healing out of nastiness. I don’t want to do any of that. I don’t want any of that to happen. When I come, I want it to be a happy time. I want it to be a pleasant time.” Now, its recorded in Acts 20, if you want to flip there, in Acts 20 we actually have on record in Scripture Paul’s third visit to Macedonia.
Argument 1: In Acts 20:1-3 Scriptures record after the uproar cease and he’s leaving Ephesus, Paul sent for the disciples and after encouraging them, he said farewell and he departed from Macedonia. Macedonia is the southern province of modern day Greece. And it’s the province where Corinth was located. Evangelical scholars are pretty well set that this is where he went when he goes in Acts 20. We don’t have a lot of details here. It says, “After encouraging them he went to Macedonia. When he had gone through these regions, and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. There he spent three months. And when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail”—in other words, he’s in Greece, he’s in the southern region of Greece, in Macedonia there. He’s getting ready to set sail after he’s only been there for three months. Now we also know that the book of Romans was written by Paul from Corinth here in Acts 20. So the Apostle Paul visits Corinth, he’s only there for three month, he’s planning to sail when this plan from the Jews is hashed against him. They come after him—but he’s already planning to sail. And during that time he found time to write one the most amazing pieces of Scripture in the whole Bible. The book of Romans. Which means that in the book of Romans you get a view into Paul’s emotional life. As you read through the book of Romans there’s no mention whatsoever of any personal difficulties. There’s no mention of any grief or tragedy. There’s no mention of any heartache. He doesn’t mention any difficulty in Corinth, at all. So probably when he showed up in Corinth, because he was only there for three months, he didn’t have to stay a long time, probably—we don’t know this absolutely—but probably, they read the word of the living God; they were humbled. They realized Paul meant business. They knew it broke his heart. But as they actually looked in their own souls, they found that he was right. That they were wrong. That they needed Jesus and they repented.
Argument number 2: In the book of Romans, chapter 15, Paul makes it pretty clear that as he’s writing to the church in Rome, he wants to come to them, and by way of them, make his way to Spain. This is an Apostle who is on the move. He’s got the missionary fire back in his bones. In other words, the heart of a pastor, in terms of having to deal with this church and having to shepherd them and walk with them, and deal with all these different struggles, that’s not on his mind when he sits down to write Romans. What’s on his mind, and again we know he was only there for three months, is that itch, that fire, that hunger to go out and tell people about Jesus sand to plant churches. And there’s no way that would be on his mind if there were heartache upon heartache and issue upon issue here at the church in Corinth that he had to deal with. That’s argument number 2.
Argument number 3: We have just read the tail end of the letter of 2 Corinthians. Now if they were not humbled, if they were not grieved by what Paul said, do you think they would have hung on to the letter? Probably not. I mean, this letter does not paint them in the best light. Who hangs onto a letter that says, “you’re horribly bad. Repent. Repent. Repent. Or else.” Who hangs on to that? A church that saw the value of it. A church that was lead by the Spirit of God to see it for what it was. A church that hung onto that letter and said, “we will repent.”
You have an apostle that doesn’t stay long. You have a church that hangs onto a letter that is very incriminating against them. And you have an apostle who, while he’s there, writes a letter talking about having that fire in his soul to go plant churches. All that leads me to believe that the church at Corinth understood that they needed to be needy. They needed life group. They needed prayer. They needed worship. They needed nothing but Jesus. And they repented. And Paul’s prayer for restoration was answered. That’s my prayer for you.
Let’s pray. God, we know Lord that we are prone to wander. Lord we feel it. Here is my heart, take and seal it. That’s my prayer for every person at Bridge Baptist Church, those who could not be with us today. That’s my prayer for my congregation today. And that we would be praying those prayers for each other. That the thing that would grip us in our day to day prayer life, as we think of our membership, our brothers and sisters in this room—not that they would look good on the outside, but that they would look good through and through. Father, I pray that those who are here who don't’ look good even on the outside, that are struggling in every aspect of their life, I pray that you would show them that the solution to their problems is in a return to desperation and neediness for you. I pray You would convict them of that. God, my prayer for this church is that we would be all the way through Christians. Lord, I pray that they would strive for that with their whole heart, mind, body and soul. That they would love you with all that they are. Lord, we’ve done church discipline here before, and I never want to do it again. And I never, never, want to do it again. And so I pray that Your word would have its effect. That you would form us and shape us into the image of Your son. I pray Lord that we as a congregation would never have to be severe in our edification and in our upbuliding. That’s my deepest prayer, Lord. Would you please answer that prayer?