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  To Spend and Be Expended for Others

2 Corinthians 12:11-13:14

Jim Davis

Paul’s letters are full of instructions on how to deal with conflict within the church. Throughout his epistles he is functioning as an ambassador as he instructs numerous congregations as to how to handle their problems. As individuals in the first century were converted from literally every spectrum of society problems were inevitable. There were cultural and religious differences, as well as intellectual and emotional differences. Of course, there are always those preaching false teaching questioning Paul’s credentials. Clicks had formed in first century congregations around personalities. There were problems of carnality and immorality.

Paul approached the problems of the first century like a true diplomat. I think that the first job of a diplomat is to recognize the importance of each person involved in the conflict. What sets the Bible apart from other religious writings is the spirit by which the writers of the Bible wrote. The spirit exemplified by the writers is absolutely astonishing. There is not a single hint of vindictiveness on the part of those proclaiming the message. Bible writers entered into the conflict with a truly humble spirit. The spiritual attitude of Paul is absolutely amazing.

A Truly Humble Spirit

Paul speaks of the spirit he manifested to the Thessalonians.

1 Thessalonians 2:3-12
For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed-God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.

As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, 7 but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.

You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. (NIV)

The mark of Paul's greatness was his ability to maintain a spirit of humility as he dealt with the conflicts within the church. It was no big thing to Paul that others sought to discredit him. Paul didn’t want his message discredited. To do this he maintained a spirit of humility.

2 Corinthians 12:11-13
I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the "super-apostles," even though I am nothing. The things that mark an apostle-signs, wonders and miracles-were done among you with great perseverance. How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong! (NIV)

Americans have felt the lack of appreciation for their efforts to spread freedom and democracy around the globe. How many of our soldiers have ended up in graves in foreign countries because of their efforts to bring freedom to others. How many times have we fought some other country's war at our own expense? Yet, how quickly do our soldiers respond to the call of duty and devotion with little or no complaint? Likewise, Paul continued to humbly serve the congregation in Corinth regardless of his lack of appreciation.

1 Corinthians 4:6-13
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?

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings-and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. 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)

In the Old Testament, God’s prophets are set apart by being able to perform certain accrediting miracles. If the things these prophets promise to do are not accomplished, it is sure proof that they are false prophets (see Deuteronomy 18:21-22). There were accrediting miracles as well in the ministry of our Lord and His chosen apostles:

Hebrews 2:1-4
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (NIV)

The signs of an apostle followed Paul wherever he went. The miracles God worked through the apostle allowed the people to see the wonders of God and they served as a sign that the apostle was from God.

"God wanted them to understand that Paul was not like the religious hucksters of his day or of ours. He will not go about ‘missionarying,’ as Mark Twain described this type of religious swindling. Paul does not set up a large tent, promising dazzling miracles, then perform magic tricks to the wonder of his audience—followed by a collection. Paul performs the 'signs of a true apostle' before an audience, which includes many skeptics and hecklers. He does not have a controlled setting, where tricks can be played on a gullible audience. Paul’s signs are performed in the most difficult setting with the most skeptical observers watching, looking for any hint of falsehood or deception. In this most difficult setting, Paul is shown to be a 'true apostle.' I believe the same words can be said of Paul’s ministry in Corinth, and that this is what Paul means when he writes of performing 'the signs of a true apostle' with all perseverance.

"Paul reminds his Corinthian readers that they are witnesses of these accrediting miracles, and that these are no less impressive or convincing than those performed by the most highly regarded of the apostles. Paul writes that these ‘signs of a true apostle’ were performed among the Corinthianswith all perseverance.’ (Paul’s Closing Argument, Appeal, and Blessing, Robert Deffinbaugh, http://www.bible.org)

Feeling Superior Doesn’t Work

What God was doing through Paul did not make him strut in self-flagellating pride. He did not think himself to be a "super-apostle." Instead God's work done through Paul led the apostle to persevere in humility as he sought to deal with the problems in the Corinthian congregation. His humility was revealed as he sought the good of others.

1 Corinthians 10:23-24
"Everything is permissible"-but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"-but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (NIV)

The miracles served as a sign of God’s presence in Paul’s life. However, it was Paul’s attitude toward those he taught that gave him personal credibility. His ambassadorship required great perseverance among those troubled. He did not consider himself the least bit superior, although he was not the least inferior. But he says, "I am nothing." Nothing reveals an unchristian attitude more than letting knowledge go to our head.

1 Corinthians 8:1-3
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God. (NIV)

The proper use of knowledge will give us a realization of the strengths and weakness of each person without a feeling of superiority. If you want to build a church you will have to trust God and use the gifts God has given you without becoming high minded about what he has given you.

Romans 12:3-13
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (NIV)

If we are going to build a church we are going to have to entrust the work to the ones God has gifted. A story is told of a tramp that came begging to a good woman’s door. She went to get something to give to him and found that she had no change at all in the house. She went to him and told him and said, "I have not a penny of small change. I need a loaf of bread. Here is a pound note. Go and buy the loaf and bring me back the change and I will give you something."

The man did as he was asked and returned and the woman gave him some money. He took it with tears in his eyes. "It’s not the money," he said, "it’s the way you trusted me. No one ever trusted me like that before, and I can’t thank you enough."

It would be easy to say that the woman took a risk that only a soft hearted fool would take, but she had given that man more than money, she had given him something of herself by giving her trust.

Paul revealed his confidence in the church at Corinthian by investing his possessions and expending himself for them. In essence he is entrusting himself to them. Paul’s devotion to the church is seen in that he was willing to spend his resources and expend himself on their behalf. Paul not only taught the life saving message, but he brought the message to them through his own life-changing experience of Gods grace. He exemplified the message as he spent his resources and expended himself for them.

2 Corinthians 12:14-15
Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? (NIV)

Proper Response to Problems

The Corinthians could not say that Paul had ever taken advantage of them. As you read these letters you realize Paul is asking for nothing for himself. He seeks to bring them closer to Christ.

2 Corinthians 12:19-21
Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged. (NIV)

The effectiveness of the gospel is seen in how we respond to our problems. It is often hard to answer your critics without sounding defensive. Paul’s approach was to reveal his heart to the Corinthians. His heart was motivated by the compelling love of Christ. His willingness to expend himself for them revealed that he was not seeking anything for himself.

2 Corinthians 5:12-15
We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (NIV)

Paul writes, "For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be." Paul didn’t want to have to go to Corinth to straighten out the problems. He wanted the Corinthians to handle their own problems. Paul was afraid of finding trouble when he visited. He writes, "I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder."

However, if the problems aren’t corrected when he visits, he will personally deal with the problems.

2 Corinthians 13:1-5
This will be my third visit to you. "Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God's power we will live with him to serve you.

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you-unless, of course, you fail the test? NIV

Paul is speaking of church discipline, which would follow the pattern that Jesus set forth.

Matthew 18:15-20
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

"I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

"Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (NIV)

It seems important to note that Paul is about to make his third visit to Corinth. We can safely assume that he has carefully followed Jesus' instruction. He has visited them twice. He has laid out the case against them in his first letter and he addressed the problem more fully in his second letter. Paul wants them to examine their situation and pass judgment upon themselves.

Now it is time to take action in the form of discipline. It is not discipline from a heart of vengeance. Paul's threat of discipline came from the heart of a servant. It writes, "by God's power we will live with him to serve you" (2 Corinthians 13:4 NIV).

Paul has approached Corinth's problems in the meekness and gentleness of Christ (10:1). But now he is threatening them with his authority. Paul writes, "This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority--the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down" (13:10).


Paul sought to get them to recognize their responsibility regardless of how they felt about him.

2 Corinthians 13:5-10
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you-unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection. This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority-the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. (NIV)

As you read the letter to the Corinthians Paul’s pure heartfelt desire for the Corinthians perfection is evident. He was sincerely using his authority to build them up, rather than tearing them down.


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