You CAN Handle the Truth!
2 Corinthians 2
As preachers we are privileged to handle the truth in our grasp. Sometimes it hurts, but it always helps, and God makes the truth to triumph gloriously!
Paul opens his heart to them.
For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you [2 Cor. 2:4].
A great many people today fall out with the preacher when he preaches a message that cuts to the bone. Sometimes correction from the Word of God will really bear down on some. Some people think that a pastor should not do that. May I say to you that a faithful pastor must do that. The command is: "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:1-2).
Any man who stands in the pulpit today has a tremendous responsibility to rebuke what is wrong. Many of the saints don't like this. Paul tells them here that his rebuke was not because he was opposed to them, but because he loved them. A faithful pastor shows his love by preaching the Word of God as it is rather than "buttering up" the congregation.
Restoring a Sinning Saint (2:5-13)
Let me remind you that in Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church, he rebuked them because they were permitting gross immorality in the congregation. In fact, they had a case of incest in their congregation, and they were shutting their eyes to it. (Yet they were acting as if they were very spiritual for overlooking it!) This kind of gross immorality was something that was even shocking to the heathen; yet the congregation was ignoring it. Paul had written them to get this matter straightened out. He told them, ". . . put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (1 Cor. 5:13).
The congregation did listen to Paul. They excommunicated the man.
Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many [2 Cor. 2:6].
They had obeyed Paul. They had practiced church discipline on the man, which was the right thing for them to do.
Then the man acknowledged his sin and came under great conviction. Now what ought they to do? They should forgive him.
So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.
Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him [2 Cor. 2:7-8].
Paul is saying, "He will be overwhelmed, not only because of his sin, but because you won't receive him. So now put your arm about him, and restore him to your fellowship."
To the Galatian believers Paul wrote: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal. 6:1).
For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things. To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; Lest Satan should get an advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices [2 Cor. 2:9-11].
Unfortunately, many of our stiff-backed brethren will not forgive anything. That can be the work of the Devil as much as shutting one's eyes to immorality. Satan gets the advantage of a great many Christians because they are unforgiving. There are two things that we don't hear very often even in our conservative churches: we don't hear folk admitting their sins and asking for forgiveness nor do we hear folk forgiving those who confess. There is an unforgiving spirit in many churches.
We need to remember that we are all capable of any sin. Whatever the other man has done, we are also capable of doing. When such a man repents from his sin, he is to be restored in the spirit of meekness. He is to be brought back into fellowship. This is part of the ministry.
The Triumphant Ministry (2:14-17)
Now we come to what some have called the power of the ministry. It is part of the greatness of the ministry, and I rejoice today to be able to preach the kind of gospel and the kind of Word of God that we have to give. We are dealing here with a grand and glorious picture.
Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place [2 Cor. 2:14].
In this dramatic picture, Paul is saying that preaching the gospel is like leading a triumphal entry. The background is a Roman triumphal entry. One of the great Roman generals would go out to the frontier -- to Europe where most of our ancestors were at that time, or down into Africa -- where he would have victory after victory, for Rome was victorious in most campaigns. The conqueror would then return to Rome, and there would be a big, triumphal entry into the city. It is said that sometimes the triumphal entry would begin in the morning and go on far into the night. The Roman conqueror would be bringing in animals and other bounty which he had captured. In the front of the procession would be the people who were going to be released. They had been captured but would be freed and would become Roman citizens. In the back of the procession would be the captive people who were to be executed.
In these triumphal entries there was always the burning of incense. They would be burning the incense to their gods to whom they gave credit for the victory. All the way through the procession would be clouds of smoke from the incense, sometimes even obscuring the procession as it passed by.
With this as a background, Paul is saying, "Thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ." This is wonderful, friend. You can't lose when you are in Christ. You cannot lose! Paul says that God always causeth us to triumph. Wait a minute, Paul. Always? In every place? We know you had wonderful success in Ephesus, but you didn't do so well in Athens. Do you feel that you triumphed in both places? "Yes," Paul says, "He always causes us to triumph in Christ!"
I look back on my ministry and many triumphs and many difficulties, but through it all God has always turned even tragedies into triumph thru things I learned or things I accidentally accomplished by doing something wrong even!
"And maketh manifest the savour [the sweet incense] of his knowledge by us in every place." Are you having a victory when no one turns to Christ? "Oh, yes," Paul says.
For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish [2 Cor. 2:15].
In that triumphal entry were those who were going to be set free and those who were going to be executed -- but all of them were in the triumphal entry. Our job is not to produce fruit as much as to be faithful and to exalt the truth. Once the ball is in the opposition's court they are in charge of their own destiny. But God still gets great glory as His will is formulated through it all.
To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? [2 Cor. 2:16].
Paul is overwhelmed by this -- "who is sufficient for these things?" My friend, the greatest privilege in the world is to give out the Word of God. There is nothing like it. I would never want to run for the presidency of the United States. It is difficult to understand why anyone would want to be president in this day of unsolvable problems. But it is glorious to give out the Word of God! Do you know why? Because He always causes us to triumph!
When the gospel is preached and people accept Christ, that is wonderful. We can see the triumph there. We are a "savour of life" unto those who are saved. But now wait a minute -- what about the crowd which rejects Christ? We are a "savour of death" to them.
ill.-- Is it any less glorious when I give the gospel here in the north rather than in the south? No way! And our God makes us triumph and has given us a ministry so far reaching it boggles the mind to try to comprehend! But even if He didn't, God would be glorified.
I should say to the congregation after I have preached a message, "If you go out of here rejecting Christ, I am the worst enemy you will ever have, because now you cannot go into the presence of God and say that you never heard the gospel."
However, all people are now in the triumphal entry. Many will not be set free; they will be judged. But regardless of our destiny, we are in the great triumphal entry of Jesus Christ because He is going to win, my friend! Every knee must bow to him, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Every individual will have to bow to Him someday -- regardless of whether He is the person's Savior or Judge. No wonder Paul exclaims, "Who is sufficient for these things?"
"To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life." Today the incense is ascending; the Word is going out. And we are a savor of life to some and a savor of death to others.
For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ [2 Cor. 2:17].
This is the entire plan of the Christian ministry. We are not to corrupt the Word of God or distort it or make merchandise of it, but to give it out in sincerity as the Spirit of God reveals its truth to us.
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