We are going to wrap up 2 Corinthians today. Paul planted this church at Corinth and the first challenge this young congregation faced was internal. This is review for those who have been with us a while back when we covered 1 Corinthians. After Paul left the church at Corinth to continue planting other churches, the Corinthian leaders who remained began to diminish the centrality of the gospel message and to pursue the supernatural, charismatic gifts like speaking in tongues and prophecy. There is nothing wrong with such gifts because Paul himself spoke in tongues privately and had special revelations and spiritual experiences. However, when these things become the focus and Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection becomes secondary, it’s just a matter of time before the church will fall apart.
In 2 Corinthians, the challenge was external. False teachers had come in and turned the gospel of free grace which liberates people into a legalistic religion that enslaves. This is a running theme in Paul’s ministry. He plants churches, he leaves and false teachers come in. The result: people suffer, they stumble and they are led astray. We will read about the exact same thing happening at the church in Galatia next week.
We started our study through this letter six weeks ago in 2 Cor 11:1-4. [READ]
Notice the choice of words. If you add to the gospel or subtract from the gospel or you raise another teaching above the gospel, you end up teaching a false gospel or another Jesus. And soon, you will lose everything.
With this as the backdrop, the first teaching was about repentance and the reality of spiritual battle. Week 2 was the new covenant (2 Cor 3). Week 3 was the gospel of Christ, the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4). Week 4 was about having an eternal perspective (2 Cor 4-5). Week 5 was the new creation and the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5-6). Last week was the grace of giving in terms of finances (2 Cor 8-9).
And finally, today, drawing from the final 2 chapters of the letter, I am going to talk about humility, but more specifically, weakness. Paul uses the word “weakness” quite a bit throughout this letter. Humility and weakness are pretty much interchangeable.
1) We don’t like to be weak.
Quite the contrary, we like to boast. When you are growing up, esp. for guys, physical prowess is what the popular kids possess and what the rest of us want. At that age, nothing else matters. Who gets picked first at recess is really important, not who got an A on the math test. The strong, athletic kids are popular.
I remember not knowing about the Presidential Fitness test when I grew up in Flushing, NY in Queens. But when I was in the fourth grade and we moved to a suburb near Philadelphia, I found out one morning that it was time to be tested for Presidential Fitness. I had no idea what that was. But soon enough, I found out that it was a test to see who the toughest, strongest, fastest kid in the school was. As a fourth grader, one of the most nerve wracking things is walking up to a pull up bar one at a time having just watched my peers do 5, 6, 7 pullups and I had never done a pull up in my life. It might be shocking to you, but I was a bit of a chunky kid. There is nothing more embarrassing than having a kid right in front of me do 10 pull ups and then I was hanging on the bar and the gravitational pull of the earth at that moment suddenly quadrupled and my arm refused to bend.
By sixth grade, I was fed up with being picked on or being perceived to be weak so I started taking taekwondo. I know that Mr. Miyagi from the 1984 Karate Kid and Jackie Chan from the more recent version said we should only use martial arts for self-defense, but that’s not why I took it. I took taekwondo because I wanted people to fear me. I didn’t want people to mock me with the crane technique, but I wanted to walk down the hall and have the crowd of people split around me because if they bumped into me, they would be afraid of what I might do to them.
From a young age, we don’t want to be weak because society looks down on weak people. When I trash talk my kids and Elijah, my four year old, is going up for a shot in our indoor hoop and I block him, I like to yell, get out of here son! I find it poetic because he is my son so this is high level of trash talking because there is a double meaning.
You might not be as vocal in your boasting as I am with my kids, but don’t we all boast in our hearts? Boasting stems from a belief that we think we are better than others in some area. The greater the gap, the greater the boasting. Lebron James has the nickname, King James. And on the basketball court, he is the king. His team, the Miami Heat are the reigning champs. Earlier this year, they won 27 straight games. Lebron was the key reason for their dominance. He is the MVP on the best team in the league and they’ll most likely win another championship. Lebron can call himself a king on the court and he has the play to back it up. We love Lebron because he seems larger than life. He plays at another level. He is faster, he jumps higher, he makes all of his teammates around him better. He’s like a video game character. Almost super human.
I grew up carrying around an Incredible Hulk doll while wearing a Superman T-shirt and a blanket tied around my neck as a cape. We all want to be super strong, we all want to jump over buildings in a single bound and soar through the air. Have you ever seen a superhero with a “W” on his chest for Wimpy. Wolverine, yes, but it is doubtful if Wimpy Man would become a summer blockbuster. We like to cover our weakness. We put on an Iron Man suit so that we can appear invincible.
Sad to say, even in spiritual life, we don’t like to be weak. We gravitate to spiritual ministers who speak eloquently, who are highly competent, very decisive and gifted. Sometimes, when you compare yourself with such people, you think, they are too perfect. Do they have any weaknesses? Am I the only one around here who is struggling? We are drawn to such people who have it all pulled together.