With all the fresh starts this new year, it seemed like a good time to begin a new sermon series, and that’s what we’re going to do this morning. Over the next several months, we’re going to go through the book of 2 Corinthians together. And the title that I’ve chosen for this series of lessons is “Power in Weakness”, which will make more and more sense as we work our way through this letter.
When mass production became popular, there was a manufacturing philosophy that developed in the 1920s and ’30s called “planned obsolescence.” The goal of manufacturers was to make a product or a part of a product that would fail after a certain amount of time. And, of course, that would force you then to buy another of those products from them.
And so, as a result, we are all surrounded by things that are broken. Sometimes, we try to repair an item that’s broken, but usually it’s easier to replace it, so we just take the broken item and throw it in the trash. Your television breaks? Throw it away. Your cell phone breaks? Throw it away. Your microwave breaks? Throw it away.
Most people don’t want anything to do with broken things, because if something is broken, that means that something is wrong with it. Something isn’t working the way it’s supposed to, so we get rid of it.
And, unfortunately, we not only tend to throw broken things away, but sometimes we throw broken people away as well. People who don’t act the way that we think they’re supposed to, people who have something wrong with them.
But strangely, God seems to love and is actually drawn toward broken people. Think about all the broken people in the Bible that God used – Moses, David, Jonah, Samson, Peter, James and John. And the list goes on and on. So, what is it about brokenness that attracts Gods attention? Why does God love to use broken people?
For starters, broken people are people who recognize their need for God. In Luke 13, Jesus told a parable about two men who prayed. One was a Pharisee who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” (Luke 18:11). But the prayer of the tax collector was, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). Broken people are people who recognize their need for God.
If you were to go to a recovery program meeting, you would find people who are willing to stand in front of everyone and identify their stuff. “Hi, I’m So and So and I struggle with alcohol, I struggle with sexual addiction, I struggle with anger.” And it takes a lot of courage to be able to identify your stuff in front of a group of people.
And it’s easy for us to sit here and say, “You know, it’s really nice that all those messed-up people have somewhere to go on Friday nights to help them get better.” But the only difference between those people and the rest of us is they have the courage to name their stuff, and many of us don’t. The truth is, we’re all messed up — we all have stuff. We’re all broken people.
This room is a gathering of sinners, misfits and losers who have found grace through Jesus Christ. The fact of the matter is we all have stuff. We’re all messed up…but it is out of our brokenness that God uses us to reach a broken world.
Last week, I listed five things that scripture tells us are a part of God’s will for our lives, and the first thing I mentioned was this – God wants unsaved people to become saved people. That’s God’s will. And that’s what we want to do here at Cruciform. We want to help unsaved people become saved people.
Now, when you think about reaching lost people, there are a couple of different schools of thought. One school of thought is what we might call a Presentational Model. Basically, you memorize a presentation and then, you wait for the right moment. You give your little spiel and you’re done. If that person doesn’t decide to follow God ― hey, that’s not your fault. You did your part.
The alternative is what we might call a Relational Approach, which was the method that Jesus used. It’s choosing to love people, to have compassion on people, to roll up our sleeves and get in the middle of their mess, in order to introduce them to the Jesus who has changed our lives.
Now, doing that takes a lot more effort on our part. But the effort is worth it, because there is no greater reward than to be part of seeing someone’s life radically changed forever. Paul begins 2 Corinthians by reminding us that the place we have to start, if we are going to help unsaved people become saved people is out of our own brokenness.
Just a little bit of background before we get into the text. If you were with us a couple of years ago, we went through I Corinthians. If you remember, Paul was in the city of Corinth for about eighteen months, he planted the church there, then he left and went on to Ephesus. From Ephesus, he wrote a letter back to the Corinthians — that would be I Corinthians. And then, about a year later, Paul sent this second letter. So, it seems safe to assume that most of the problems that were there in I Corinthians are still there. This is only a matter of a year or so later.
If you remember from our study, the church in Corinth was a really messed-up church. In fact, it may well have been themost messed up of all the New Testament churches. It was filled with division, spiritual arrogance, immorality, false teachers. And those false teachers were trying to discredit Paul in order to discredit his message. There was a lot of tension between the Corinthians and Paul, and you can still feel that tension as Paul writes this second letter.
But there’s also a very warm, caring tone to this letter. In fact, Paul reveals more about his own personal life in 2 Corinthians than he does any other letter that he wrote.
So, let’s get started.
Verse 1, “This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy. I am writing to God’s church in Corinth and to all of his holy people throughout Greece. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.” (2 Corinthians 1:1-2, NLT)
This kind of introduction makes sense if this was indeed written just a few months after I Corinthians. Paul tells us that he was an apostle “chosen by the will of God.” If you remember in I Corinthians, chapter 9, some of the Corinthians were calling Paul’s apostleship into question — they were trying to discredit his apostleship so that they could discredit his message. So, Paul makes it clear right from the very beginning that he was an apostle and that calling came directly from God.
Verse 3, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NLT)
Paul says here that God is a “merciful Father”. Now if you are a performance-driven person who takes great pride in everything you do for God, then you may skip right over those words and not give it a second thought. But if you are a person who knows that you are broken, you hold onto that phrase because that’s the only hope you have. “God is our merciful Father”, and if it were not for the fact that God is a God of mercy, you would have no hope.
When we read through scripture, it’s obvious that God’s method of reaching out to lost people is relational. When we were lost in our sin, God didn’t give us a lecture and tell us to clean up our act. Rather, God became flesh. He rolled up his sleeves and got right in the middle of our mess.
God sent Jesus to comfort us, not just so that we would feel better, but so that we might then be in a position where we can comfort others. We come to God in our brokenness so that we might reach out to a broken world.
The word “comfort” hereis an interesting word. It’s the Greek word paraklete. You may recognize that word because the Holy Spirit is often referred to as our Paraklete. The word literally means “to come alongside and to encourage”. It’s a very different word than sympathy.
For example, if you were on your way home after worship, and you happen to pass an 80-year-old lady stopped by the side of the road with a flat tire and you turn to your spouse and say, “Aw, that’s terrible, I feel bad for her. I hope that somebody will stop and help her,” that’s sympathy. But paraklete means you pull over, you roll up your sleeves and you go back and change the tire for her.
When we were lost in our sin, God didn’t lecture us. He rolled up his sleeves and he got into the middle of our mess. And he did that so that we would roll up our sleeves and get in the mess of people around us to reach a broken world.
Verse 5, “For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:5, NLT).
It’s almost like a formula here: The more afflicted we are, the more of God’s comfort we receive, and the more comfort we receive, the more comfort we have with which to comfort others. But, in order to do that, we’re going to have to do what God did. We’re going to have to get right in the middle of the mess of people’s lives.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul is going to bare his soul. Here in chapter 1, he talks about the kind of trials that he has faced and how discouraged and broken he was because of those situations. He’ll say it again in chapter 4. He will say, “We’re pressed on every side by troubles, but we’re not crushed…We’re knocked down but we’re not destroyed.”
And then we get to chapter 6, and Paul is going to talk about the times he was beaten and the times he was shipwrecked. And he’s going to do it again in chapter 11. Five times I was given 39 stripes by the Jews. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once, I was stoned. Three times, I was shipwrecked. And Paul gives this long list of all the things he suffered.
And then he’ll finish in chapter 12 by talking about his thorn in the flesh and how he prayed three times that it might be taken away. And all God would say is, “My grace is all you need. My grace is sufficient for you.” So here Paul is opening up to the Corinthians about his own personal struggles, trials, heartaches, and affliction.
J. I. Packer in his book, Knowing God, opens with a discussion about the difference between a Balconeer and a Traveller. Packer says a Balconeer is someone who sits in the balcony, sits above the pathway, and they look down and watch people that are traveling on the path, and they talk with each another about the best way to travel that path. They tend to be judgmental and critical. If they were traveling the path, they certainly wouldn’t do it that way. But at the end of the day, they’re just Balconeers. They never actually travel the path themselves.
The ones on the path are the Travellers. The Travellers don’t talk about theory; they live in reality. They experience what it’s like to live for God in the midst of an ungodly world. They’re bruised; they’re beat up; they’re bloodied. Every step on that path is a struggle.
Something I’ve learned over the years is that Balconeers don’t have much credibility with Travellers. “Don’t tell me how to travel this path unless you’re willing to get out of that balcony and come down here and walk with me.” And I think that’s what Paul is saying here. He’s not a Balconeer. He’s not sitting up in some ivory tower writing this letter. He was a Traveller. He’s afflicted; he’s beat up; he’s bruised; he’s bleeding. He has paid a tremendous cost to share the gospel with the Corinthians. And in his brokenness, he has experienced God’s comfort and, out of that, he seeks to comfort them.
In verse 6, “Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.” (2 Corinthians 1:6-7, NLT)
Paul says to the Corinthians, “I’m a Traveller. I can relate to what you’re going through. If you’re suffering some affliction, I’ve been through that myself. But I’ve discovered God’s comfort in my life and now I want to share that with you.”
As I said last week, suffering is part of God’s will for your life. It’s one of God’s tools to shape you. So, if you think, well, now that I’m a Christian, everything’s going to all be rosy and a perfect life with a nice, two-bedroom house and a white picket fence. And everybody grows up happy and healthy. If that’s what you think, then you haven’t spent much time in the New Testament.
So, we often wonder, God, why would you allow me, your favorite child, to suffer like this? If you ever wonder that, now you have your answer. It is because you are going to meet people who are experiencing what you have already experienced. And they’re going to ask the same question you did. And you’ll be able to put your arm around them, put your heart next to them, and you can minister to them out of your brokenness.
I heard recently about a large man named Larry. He went to Celebration Recovery and shared his story of addiction to alcohol, addiction to drugs, but most of all an addiction to violence. He said he truly loved hurting people, and he continued to pursue that lifestyle until his world caved in and there was nowhere else to turn. And, in his brokenness, he experienced the life-changing power of Jesus Christ and his life was radically changed!
God put his marriage back together. God brought his kids to faith in Jesus. And this man who had once lived with intimidation and violence was now a teddy bear, filled with the gentleness of Jesus and was now giving his life to reach others who were like that.
As he spoke those words to the people that listened, he had tremendous credibility because it was obvious that he was a Traveller. And with credibility he was able to say, “I’ve walked in your shoes and I have found the power of Jesus Christ that radically changed my life. That was his story. It was his brokenness. It was the fact that he was a Traveller that gave credibility to his message where he could say, “Jesus did this for me, so I know he can do the same thing for you.”
That’s what Paul is talking about here. This idea of brokenness was a big theme in I Corinthians because one of the biggest problems in that church was spiritual arrogance. It culminated in chapter 11 around the Lord’s Supper where their spiritual arrogance had made a disaster of this meal. And Paul had to remind them that when we come to the Lord’s Table, we remember that his body was broken for us. But at the same time, we remember that we ourselves are a broken body.
And then, Paul encouraged us to examine ourselves. But when he says, “Examine yourself”, he doesn’t mean that you look back at your performance this last week and say, “I performed pretty well, so I think I’m worthy of the Lord’s Table today.” If that’s how you understand what Paul said, you missed the point entirely. The examination is to recognize how desperately I need the broken body and the shed blood of Jesus Christ. It is to recognize that his body was broken because we had no hope, and to realize that we too are a broken body.
And now, here in 2 Corinthians, Paul remind these Christians that it’s out of his brokenness that he seeks to reach out to them.
And so, I’d like you to consider this question — Are you a Balconeer or are you a Traveller? My experience would tell me the longer you’ve been a Christian, the more likely it is that you’ve become a Balconeer. Over the years, as Christians, we tend to isolate ourselves more and more with other Christians and lose more and more contact with the messiness around us, until everything in our world is nice and neat.
And perhaps a good way to test it is this — can you name for me three specific unbelieving people that you are pursuing in order to share the gospel of Jesus? Three people? How about two? One? If you can’t even name one, you’re probably a Balconeer. Somewhere along the way, you got off the path and out of the messiness and got caught up in the balcony.
But up in the balcony, you’re not going to find broken people there. Broken people are always Travellers. Paul tells us in Galatians if we could perform well enough for God, there wouldn’t be any need for the broken body of Jesus. His body was broken because we were desperately in need of a Savior. If you’re not broken, you don’t have any need for the blood of Jesus. You can do it yourself. It’s only when we understand that we are a broken people that we cry out for salvation.
Paul goes on in verse 8, “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10, NLT)
We’re not quite sure what this affliction in Asia was. Whatever it was, Paul wants the Corinthians to know that he continues to be a Traveller. He continues to suffer, in order to take the gospel to a broken world. He uses some strong language here. He says, “we were crushed and overwhelmed” and “we expected to die.”
Then Paul makes an interesting statement: “we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God.” If there’s anyone whom you would think would already rely on God, it would be the apostle Paul. But Paul says, I needed this reminder. All of us have within us this desire to be dependent upon ourselves and Paul says, God let us go through some really difficult stuff so that we would realize how much we need to lean on him.
And then, Paul says something really interesting. He says, “God delivered us” and “he will deliver us. It’s something God has done in the past and it’s something that God will do in the future. And the assurance we have for this is that Jesus was raised from the dead.
And then finally, verse 11. “And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.” (2 Corinthians 1:11, NLT).
That’s interesting. Paul says that the Corinthians participated in Paul’s deliverance through their prayers. Now I don’t understand exactly how prayer works. I’m not sure anybody else does either. I don’t fully understand how prayer moves the hand of a sovereign God. I only know that it does. You would think God would have a plan for the apostle Paul and whether the Corinthians prayed or not, God would deliver him according to his plan. But that’s not what Paul says. He says that his deliverance was, in part, because the Corinthians prayed for him.
When you know family members, or friends, or people you know who are struggling with the stuff of life, the greatest weapon you have at your disposal is the weapon of prayer. I don’t completely understand it, but somehow prayer does move the hand of a sovereign God and we participate in their deliverance whenever we pray.
Paul opens this Corinthian letter by reminding us that what makes us useable to God is not our ability to perform. It’s our brokenness. It’s our own story, such as it is. Helen Baylor put it this way – “God uses broken people like you and me to fix broken people like you and me.”
So, let’s be honest. How long has it been since you were neck deep in someone else’s mess for the sake of the gospel? Has it been a while? Maybe you need to think about moving from the balcony back down to being a Traveller, to roll up your sleeves and get in the middle of the mess.
When you were broken, God rolled up his sleeves and came down into your mess, so that you, as a broken person, would then reach out to a broken world. We don’t need any more people in the balcony. Maybe we need to put up a sign: ― “The balcony is closed.” What we need are Travellers who are willing to suffer for the sake of the gospel, to come alongside a broken world and say, “I’ve been where you are and I know that the power of Jesus can deliver you because he delivered me.”