Sexagesima (About 60 days until Easter)

Readings: Isaiah 55:10-13 | 2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9 | Luke 8:4-15

Text: 2 Corinthians 11:19—12:9

Hearing today’s Epistle lesson is like you came to church late, while St. Paul was already deep into his sermon.  In fairness to those of us who didn’t start reading at the beginning of chapter 10, I’ll catch you up to speed.

1. What happened after Paul left Corinth:

a. Paul established this congregation beginning with Aquila and Priscilla (exiles from Rome), and later Crispus and Sosthenes (former synagogue leaders) and stayed with them for over 18 months (Acts 18:1-18)

b. He continued to correspond with them [1 Cor. 5:9] in at least one letter we don’t have. What we have as First Corinthians was written about AD 55 from Ephesus.

c. Sometime after that, a group that had been upsetting the church elsewhere came in claiming to be better than the Apostle Paul, with a better understanding of the Law of Moses and how it related to Jesus. They were possibly disciples of the Judaizers or the original party moved north after the matter was addressed by the Apostles in Jerusalem (see Acts 15, circa AD 45).

III. Paul contrasts a true apostle with a “super apostle”

a. Paul is concerned for the Corinthians, that they have been devilishly deceived by smooth-talkers who come in the guise of servants of Jesus. Paul is exposing the “super-apostles” for their duplicity and seeking to profit from selling an “improved” Jesus. They claimed stronger eloquence (10:10, 11:6). They counter Paul’s free Gospel with the argument ‘you get what you pay for’ (11:7-9) and disparaging Paul because of his bodily weakness (11:9).

b. What Paul has to “boast of”—his curriculum vitae or resume—is not money, skill, and popularity. (After all, isn’t this what Satan himself promised Christ in the wilderness? Matt. 4:1-11). His boasting is not of things that “shine the spotlight” on him, but on Christ alone even while he suffers.

22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

i. It wasn’t that Paul could make promises about how their congregation would grow under his tutelage, as some do in our day. The authenticity of Paul’s apostleship came from the Lord who sent him, and its truth was hidden under many rejections and the weakness of Paul the man.

c. Paul, even though he was gifted with a heavenly vision, was not thereby made anything more than a sinful and redeemed human being. He repentantly struggled against coveting (Rom. 7), and may have suffered residual eye problems from the Damascus encounter (Gal. 6:11)

i. Even more shocking is that the Lord allowed Satan to continue to harass him so that Paul’s flesh—so prone to pride and wickedness—would be kept in submission.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

d. For St. Paul (and we should expect no different), the outward evidence of our faith is not how many people we can influence, how well we can put Bethlehem Lutheran Church on the map or leave our mark in history. The success we want to be affirmed in isn’t this worldly kind.

III. Pastoral application: The Lord is working for our good in suffering, so that we may bear fruit with patience.

a. In the life of St. Valentine of Rome:

i. Valentine was a priest in Rome in the late 250’s AD, at a time when the Roman Empire was struggling to maintain its territory. They wanted to see a golden age return and were eager for whatever would bring that.

ii. At that time, since around the time of Decius (249-251), it was popular to blame the Christians for why the Empire was not prospering, and persecution was carried out in the name of “the safety of the empire”[1]

iii. Around that time, it was illegal to marry Christians. This was an order which the priest Valentine could not abide, because it came from God not Caesar.  But “obeying God rather than man” (Acts 5:29) did not gain him success or popularity. It meant his arrest and eventual beheading by government officials.

b. In the walk of every Christian:

i. We’re told the verse from Philippians 4:13 , “I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me.” Then, we lament our failure and think our faith is inferior. We want there to be a silver bullet solution to our persistent sin, our bodily weakness, the troubled marriage, the contention at work or school.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

ii. When the Lord says, “My grace is sufficient for you,” He means it. His grace is enough support you through your hardship and heartache, through the temptations and failures, in the long journey of the fruit of the Spirit growing.

iii. So long as you continue to rest on His grace. If you give up on His ways and timing, you can fall into unbelief which has an end far more dangerous and unpleasant than the temporal angst and pain you know now. Continue to hope in His steadfast love, His power made perfect in weakness, shown in how He will uphold you day by day.

iv. The Parable of the Sower warns us against this faith’s enemies:

1. Satan who would love for us to forsake God and treat Him as a stranger and enemy.

2. The troubles of this passing life as if “something strange were happening to them” (1 Pet. 4:12) and those struggles were more powerful than the Lord of heaven and earth.

3. The deceit of temporal cares and pleasure of this life, a desire for these over the Lord who calls us to the life to come.

c. Our aim is that good soil, “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”  That remaining firmly rooted in the Lord, we bear the fruit of faith in our daily life.

For the Christian, both the sorrows and the joys of this life are passing away. Neither ought to captivate us, since the Lord has given us something better: “The inheritance of the saints in light.” (Col. 1:12) This life, in its pains and pleasures, pales in comparison to what God has laid up for those who love Him.

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Cited in D.S. Potter “Persecution of the Early Church” (1992), p. 241