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"Who Is Sufficient for Such a Task?"

2 Corinthians 2:12-3:18

Jim Davis

Where is your confidence for living for Christ derived? Are you relying upon on your own competence? Is it from self-commendation? Do you rely on the commendations of others for confidence? Is your confidence derived from the belief that you are equal to the task you are called upon to perform? Does your confidence rely upon your peace of mind?  Do you rely upon your own successes?

Often we are robbed of a peace of mind because we know that we are not equal to the task that we are called upon to perform. Paul asks a rhetorical question, "And who is equal to such a task?" Paul was asking, "Who is sufficient for such a task?" This question was asked in the context of doing the Lord’s work of spreading the gospel. Through many humanly insurmountable tasks Paul had learned the rhetorical answer to this question, "No one, but God is sufficient for such a task" (2:16). When doing God's work, we realize, that only God can accomplish what must be done.

Trusting in God’s Leading for Victory

2 Corinthians 2:12-3:2
Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-by to them and went on to Macedonia.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? (NIV)

A Roman triumphal march was a parade that took place when a general returned after winning a major victory. The high political officials would lead the procession, followed by men blowing their trumpets. Then would come wagons carrying some of the spoils taken from the conquered territory, and just behind them a number of defeated army officers in chains. The priests, carrying burning censers from which a fragrance pervaded the air, were next in line. Bringing up the rear would be a group of cheering military men of various ranks. The smell of the incense symbolized joy, triumph, and life to the victorious general and his followers; but to the wretched captives who were on their way to execution, it savored of death.

When you know God is leading you, you are not as concerned about the negative responses of others. What Christian’s do and say creates an aroma that some love and others despise. To one, our lives may be the breath of life. To another, our lives bring the stench of death. The conflict between the two sure responses usually means trouble for the Christian. The kind of trouble we are not sufficient to handle alone. You would think that his call through an open door of opportunity would always bring peace. Those who stumble because the gospel becomes a stench in their nostrils usually become troublemakers.

Under such troublesome circumstances we must look to the one who is always leading us to victory in Christ. Paul writes, "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." Paul kept his eye on God who was always leading him to victory despite his circumstances.

Paul sees God in charge of the triumphal procession he is marching with. Paul further explains this triumphal victory in Ephesians for Christians today.

Ephesians 4:7-13
"But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

'When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.'

"(What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (NIV)

God is not only leading us to victory in Christ, but he is also imparting the gifts necessary to accomplish his mission through the agency of Christians. These gifts or abilities must be used by each of us as we rely upon God’s leading.

God’s leading is designed to instill confidence in the one leading. The Jews in Corinth became abusive to Paul as he sought to preach the gospel (Acts 18:5-8). Under those circumstances God spoke to Paul to give him confidence to abide in his calling.

Acts 18:9-13
"One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court. 'This man,' they charged, 'is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.'" (NIV)

We find Paul speaking of the conflict within the Corinthian church.

1 Corinthians 4:6-7
Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, "Do not go beyond what is written." Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (NIV)

1 Corinthians 4:10-13
We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. (NIV)

1 Corinthians 4:18-21
Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit? (NIV)

God's leading does not always result in peaceful pleasant circumstances. But knowing that you are on your mission because of God's leading, gives you confidence in God in every circumstance.

Our Competence Comes from God

Paul’s ministry to the Corinthians was a competent ministry. Paul was a minister seeking God’s leading for the opportunities afforded him. He followed God’s call into Troas. It was God that always led him to victory in every undertaking. Through Paul the fragrance of the knowledge of God was being spread to the lost.

In Corinth many were peddling their teaching for profit. Philosophers would travel around peddling their teaching for profit. They were teachers who sought letters of commendation to and from others to lend credibility to their teaching as they sought to make a profit.

This had led many to peddle the gospel for profit. Those who peddled God’s word tried to make it attractive. Like many of the philosophers, they sought letters of recommendation to and from others to lend to their credibility. They practiced cunning deceit as they tampered with God’s word (4:2), and they preyed on the people (11:13). They would seek to diminish the teaching of others to enhance their own credibility.

In contrast Paul’s message was given in sincerity. Paul spent a year and a half in the city of Corinthian. He preached the gospel while he supported himself through making tents. Paul writes, "Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God." Paul didn’t make tents because he thought preachers shouldn’t be paid, apparently, he did this so as not to bring a harmful accusation against himself so as to impede his work in the Lord.

Under those circumstances Paul chose to support himself (Acts 18:1-9), although he defended a preachers right to compensation.

1 Corinthians 9:7-12
Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more? (NIV)

It takes a person of sincerity to recognize their rights without demanding their rights. Paul refused to demand his rights in an effort to thwart questions about his sincerity.

Paul didn’t rely upon others to testify to his competence. He didn’t need letters of recommendation to them or from them. When you read these verses, it is as if Paul is giving a personal testimony of what he had done for the Lord. Paul followed God’s lead; as a result he became the aroma of Christ to the saved and the power of death to the disobedient. His ministry was conducted from a heart of sincerity. But then Paul asks, "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need letters of recommendation to you or from you?" Paul’s testimony about himself, or the testimony of others was not his source for competence.

2 Corinthians 3:1-6
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant-not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (NIV)

Paul is not comfortable with commending himself. He is not comfortable with the commendation of others. Paul’s ministry was not dependent upon what he accomplished through the flesh. He refused to focus upon his fleshly accomplishments, but rather chose to reflect upon the divine aspect of his ministry. Paul was triumphant in spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ, but recognized that it was actually God’s sufficiency accomplishing it.

Confidence and sufficiency come through knowing that God is at work in others as a result of your efforts. Paul was able to trust in what God was doing in the hearts of those hearing the message.

1 Corinthians 3:5-9
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe-as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. (NIV)

Paul’s ministry was to point believers to the sufficiency of God‘s work in their hearts. The Spirit of God was making an indelible impression upon the hearts of the believers in Corinth. It was God’s work in the Corinthians hearts that made them and Paul competent ministers of Christ.

We have all heard of graphology, the study of handwriting for the purpose of character analysis. Experts in this field watch for things like the slant of the letters, the way they are formed, where the "t" is crossed, and how the "i" is dotted. Based on these distinctions, certain conclusions are drawn concerning one's personality. We are told that the style of our writing shows whether we are outgoing or withdrawn, individualistic or of a conforming nature. While some may question the reliability of this practice, it does suggest an important spiritual truth. In 2 Corinthians 3:2 the apostle Paul tells us that we as Christians are epistles "known and read of all men."

It is God’s penmanship at work upon our hearts that makes it possible. God’s wisdom and power was the source of his competence and ours. Ministry becomes glorious because of what God is doing.

2 Corinthians 3:7-11
Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! (NIV)

Under the Old Testament system believers approached the law to fulfill the law through the strength of the flesh. The system focused on the inadequacy and insufficiency of the worshippers. When the worshippers failed through human weakness, they would offer another sacrifice to God. As they focused upon their accomplishments God’s glory often faded into insignificance, for man’s glory is fading.

The glory of Christ’s ministry is far superior to that old system. Under the old system their faith rested in a system what they could do. Under the New Testament our faith and hope rest in what God has done, and is doing for us. Our accomplishments pale into insignificance in light of what God is doing.

1 Peter 1:17-25
"Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

'All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord stands forever.'

And this is the word that was preached to you." (NIV)

God’s glory is revealed when a new spiritual birth takes place through the reception of the message of the gospel. Obedience to the truth of God’s message allows God to begin his glorious eternal work within us.

The glory of Moses face was a fading glory. It was something that had to be constantly renewed as he sought God’s face anew each time he went into the Lord’s presence.

Exodus 34:29-35
"When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the LORD had given him on Mount Sinai.

"When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the LORD's presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD." (NIV)

Under the New Testament system the Spirit of God approaches sinners to write God’s law upon our their hearts. We become the letter of Christ. Our adequacy is dependent upon what God is doing in us. The glory of the old system faded into insignificance as a result of the eternal glory of Christ.

This is Paul’s answer for those in Corinth taking issue with the credibility of his ministry. He needed no letters of recommendation to them or from them. He didn’t seek to point out his accomplishments. He simply pointed to what God was doing in their hearts.

2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (NIV)

Practical Lessons for Today

These passages were penned so that you might see yourself marching in a triumphant procession leading to heaven. This procession is something sincere Christians are always being led in. Christ is leading the procession. Paul says, "Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ . . ." Victory is a present reality for those seeking the unity of faith through the knowledge of Christ in order that they might become as mature as Christ. Victory is not something gained at death or at the judgment; it is to be enjoyed in the present.

"Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God" (2 Corinthians 3:4-5 NIV).

Christ is leading a triumphant procession through our world. He is imparting gifts to those seeking freedom from the oppression of sin. These gifts enable those held in bondage to join in the triumphant procession. Those gifts are also offered to our enemies, but too often they remain the stench of death. The glory of our triumphant procession is not found in the gifts he has imparted to each of us, but in the one leading us to victory. He assures us of our eternal glory with him.

Relying upon God gives us boldness as we seek to serve him with the gifts he has given us. This triumphant procession is of little benefit if we refuse the gifts the victor offers. The gifts Christ gives are "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." What work of service are you engaged in? How do you contribute to the building up of the body of Christ here at this congregation? Are you really marching to victory with Christ, or are you just carried along in the victory parade as part of a captive audience?

True spirituality comes from God; it doesn’t come from us. It comes through the agency of man but it is from God. It comes as we make ourselves available to God’s leading. It comes through walking in the Spirit as the Spirit writes God’s laws upon our hearts.

What is written upon our hearts is read by the world. The world knows whether what is written is from God.

Transformation comes as we trust in God’s sufficiency. Using our God given abilities allows the church to grow to maturity in Christ, as the leading of the Spirit transforms the church into the image of Christ. True spirituality takes time to develop. God may be a God of miracles, but he doesn’t specialize in instant discipleship. There are no overnight transformations.

 

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