Community Requires Sacrificial Ministry
Passage: 2 Corinthians 12:11-21
I would like to conclude our series “Christ-Centered Community” today. I hope you have enjoyed the series and that you have been encouraged and challenged. But above all, I pray that we will be different because of what we have studied. After all if we don’t obey they Word, hearing it is useless.
Therefore, are you living according to the biblical model of community? Do you ever step outside your comfort zone to minister to people in need? Are you alert to the spiritual condition of others and do you move to serve them? Do you let others minister to you? Are you a doer of the Word or just a hearer?
But maybe you have sat here throughout the series and thought, “This all sounds good in theory, but I’ve really been hurt in the past by people I have loved, and I don’t know if I want to open myself up to that kind of pain again.
If that’s where you are at, I can understand. I know several former pastors who are very gifted for ministry, but they are no longer in the ministry because they were crushed by disappointment. When I was a freshman in high school, I watched a sister church where I attended their Christian school go through a heated split. People on both sides were deeply hurt by things that were said and done. Of course, Life Point has been through it’s own very difficult times, and some of you still are hurt over things that happened. And this kind of hurt also happens in families. I know lots of godly parents who grieve over a child who has walked away from Christ.
When these kinds of things happen, we are tempted to put up a wall and refuse to be hurt like that again. And this fear often hinders the fellowship God wants us to enjoy. Therefore, I want to conclude our series by considering 2 Corinthians 12:11–21, where we will see that “Community Requires Sacrificial Ministry” (Read). This text, and really most of 2 Corinthians, is deeply personal.
I’d like us to see four truths about ministry from this passage that I hope will encourage us to serve no matter the cost. The first truth is simply that…
Ministry is often painful.
We all know that the people who hurt us the most are often those that we love the most, and Paul certainly loved the Corinthians and had invested a lot in them. Paul stayed at Corinth for 18 months on his first visit, which was the much longer than he stayed anywhere else except for Ephesus. So, he knew these people and invested heavily in them.
But despite his investment, the church always struggled; Second Corinthians is actually the 4th letter he wrote to this church. And at one point, Paul even made an emergency visit to Corinth to try and deal with issues that had come up. But that visit didn’t go well at all. He tells us in chapter 2 that it was a painful visit where he was forced to endure terrible accusations at the hands of his opponents. Paul was not the kind of person to run from a fight, but he actually cut that visit short because the tensions were so high.
And Paul’s grief over the problems at Corinth is obvious throughout 2 Corinthians. He had poured so much in this church, but they continued to struggle.
Our text notes 3 ways they had disappointed Paul that often happen in our relationships too.
People commit grievous sins (vv. 20–21).
According to v. 14 Paul was preparing to make a third visit to Corinth, and notice the fear he expresses in vv. 20–21. Imagine walking into a church and finding the sort of nasty, divided culture that v. 20 describes.
But that’s not even the worst of it. Look at the sins in v. 21. Can you imagine walking into a church where there is open immorality and “lewdness”? Paul is talking about a complete lack of sexual restraint and open perversion. Paul had some real fears, and it wasn’t because he was a “Debbie downer.” These were realistic fears because they had all happened in the past.
And sadly people we love may do this to us as well. One of the first teens that we really invested in was a girl named Sabrina. She didn’t come from a Christian family, and she had quite the history of sin for being only 13 or 14 years old. But she had an obvious desire for the things of the Lord, and Heidi poured hours into her over the course of a couple of years. Finally, she made a profession of faith, and she was very close to getting baptized. Then out of the blue one Sunday, she told Heidi she was pregnant, but she seemed repentant. We worked hard over the next few months to encourage her, but then one night she was gone. She ran away with her boyfriend. We were devastated, and we have never seen her again.
Paul was also grieving. Notice in v. 21 the reaction Paul would have to this kind of news. And if you pour your life into ministry, those kinds of things will happen to you as well.
But there are other pains in ministry.
People make false accusations (vv. 16–18).
These verses reference a conflict that comes up over and over in 1, 2 Corinthians. Paul had refused to accept financial support from the church at Corinth and had instead worked as a tentmaker to support himself. He did this to make it very clear that he wasn’t there to take their money, and to distinguish the gospel from some broken aspects of Corinthian culture. But in Corinthian culture this stance was offensive. Rock star rhetoricians would come into town to teach, and they would be paid handsomely and be treated as royalty.
And so some of the wealthy people in the church were offended that Paul wouldn’t accept $ from them, and they were embarrassed to see their “star” out making tents vs. acting like a celebrity. Paul didn’t think that would be helpful to the gospel, but no matter how many times he explained himself the tension persisted.
And v. 16 indicates that some were now accusing Paul of finding back channels to make himself rich off the Corinthians. Most likely this was tied to an offering that Paul was collecting for struggling Christians in Jerusalem. They were saying the offering was just a ploy for Paul to embezzle funds.
Imagine how frustrating that would be. Paul had poured his life into the ministry (11:23–28). Paul had literal scars from the ministry, and yet these punks had the audacity to claim that he was in it for the money. If I were Paul, I’d have a really hard time not getting angry. I’m sure it really hurt.
And if you invest in people, it will probably happen to you as well. Someday your kids may say some terrible things about you that are not true. Or someone you tried to disciple may claim that you taught him a hateful doctrine. And it’s very hard to have your character assaulted.
People betray our service (vv. 11–13).
The context for these verses is that some Jewish false teachers had gained an audience among some in the church. According to v. 11, they claimed to be “eminent” or “super apostles.” They had all of the marks of the rock star rhetoricians the Corinthians loved, and they claimed to be superior to Paul. However, they were actually wicked men who were teaching false doctrine.
But some in the church bought the hype, and they abandoned the apostolic leadership of Paul, which had even been confirmed by miracles, to follow these wicked men. This had to be so painful for Paul. He could clearly see the hypocrisy and wickedness of the false teachers. They were tearing apart the church he had worked so hard to build. And yet some of the people he loved were following them down a path of destruction. And v. 13 indicates that they were even accusing Paul of mistreating them.
And again, this will probably happen to you. Your teenager will ignore you while soaking up the wisdom of some punk at school or some charismatic but wicked influence on T.V. Or someone you work hard to disciple will decide to move on to a flashier voice that clearly lacks a heart of godliness all the while accusing you of being a legalist or some other nonsense. It will hurt.
And so ministry with people is painful. And if you throw yourself into the life of the church, it will probably bring you lots of grief. So should you just keep your distance and not get involved? Or is there a better way?
Paul sets a better example in this passage, and I’d like to challenge you to embrace three aspects of a godly mindset from Paul’s example.
I must remember that ministry is not about me.
This truth is so important because even though the heart of ministry is to serve others sinners we can’t help but be concerned for themselves. We want to be appreciated and honored. That’s why it is so painful when people make accusations or betray us.
That’s also why we must always remember that...
I am a nobody (v. 11).
In this verse, Paul talks about how he found himself in a difficult predicament. He hated to “boast” or to talk about his credentials as an apostle. And he shouldn’t have needed to. The Corinthians knew he was God’s messenger, and they should have stood up for him. But they didn’t, and since the truth of God was at stake, he had to defend himself.
Therefore, throughout chapters 10-12 Paul has to defend his apostleship. He argues that he was God’s authoritative messenger to the church and that his motives were sincere. Folks, Paul was a big deal. He had seen the Lord. He was caught up into heaven. He had suffered dearly for the gospel.
And yet notice what he says in v. 11b. How could Paul say that in light of everything he had experienced (1 Cor 15:9–10)? Paul understood that God had given him a unique calling, but it wasn’t because of anything in Paul. Before God’s grace, Paul was just a wicked persecutor of the church. He understood that everything he was, he was by the grace of God. Paul wasn’t a self-made man; he was a grace-made man.
And so am I, and so are you. I am nothing but a dead, wicked sinner. The ministry I have is all of grace. And the same is true of you. And if you are ever going to endure the pain of ministry well, you have to come to grips with the fact that you are a nobody.
Therefore, you must also come to grips with the fact that…
I don’t have to be appreciated (v. 15).
Paul had invested so much in this church, and he says that he will gladly “spend and be spent.” The second verb is an intensive form of the first verb. Paul was saying that he will gladly give everything he has to these people.
But in a sad irony, the more he gave by resisting the wickedness of their culture and modeling the humility of Christ, the less they loved him. That would have to be so frustrating. We all hate to be misunderstood or to have a godly word or action used against us. Maybe you lovingly confront a friend’s sin, and they run from you to someone who will tell them what they want to hear. This bothers us so much because we are all wired for the “pride of life.”
But if you are going to be truly effective in ministry and have joy in ministry, you must learn to be content with not being appreciated (1 Cor 4:8–13). You can see in v. 8 the same pride and accusatory tone of our text. And notice how Paul and the other apostles were often viewed. Verse 13 is especially graphic. Paul pictures himself as the gunk at the bottom of a trashcan.
This verse is so challenging. If people appreciate me, that’s great, but I must be okay with people perceiving me as the nasty goo in the bottom of the barrel if that’s what God calls me to be. Are you okay with that? If no one ever notices your ministry or appreciates your gifts, can you still have joy in ministry? Or what if people mistake your investment in them as being corrupt, legalistic, or hateful, can you live with that and keep serving? What if doing the right thing means that you lose a friend or there is tension in your family. Can you accept that and have joy in Christ? Folks, if we are going to be committed to each other in way that truly honors Christ, we must be selfless. We must remember that it’s not about me. It is about the mission of Christ and resting in God’s sovereign will.
The second aspect of a godly mindset that Paul exemplifies is that…
I must give demanding nothing in return (vv. 14–15).
Do you think that the Corinthians owed something to Paul? They absolutely did. Paul had made tremendous sacrifices to bring them the gospel and to lead them to salvation. I’m sure he had spent countless hours discipling them and counseling them. From a human perspective, they owed Paul their lives. Paul didn’t want their money, but it sure would have been nice if they would have at least appreciated his investment and welcomed him back as an honored guest.
But Paul refused to dwell on what he deserved. This is because he had trained himself to think sacrificially. Verse 14 tells us that as he prepared for his visit, he wasn’t thinking about all he had done and how much they owed him. As he says, I don’t want “yours,” speaking of their money. Rather, he says “I want you.” Paul’s only concern was to serve this church and see it grow into maturity.
He illustrates this by comparing himself to a parent. It’s not primarily a child’s job to pay the mortgage or buy food; rather, parents provide for the kids. And that was how Paul thought.
Therefore, he says in v. 15, he was coming to “spend and be spent.” Again, this statement describes working the point of exhaustion. Paul was going to give, give, give. And he wasn’t doing it in order to get anything back. Verse 15 concludes by saying, “I am going to love sacrificially regardless of whether or not I am loved in return.
Boy is that challenging; because sometimes we really notice what people ought be to doing for us. We work hard at ministry, but we rehearse in our minds over and over how much we are doing and how grateful others should. And naturally we are very frustrated when people aren’t as openly appreciative as we think they should be.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t express gratitude to people who serve because we are all encouraged when people notice our hard work. Saying “thanks” or giving intentional words of encouragement is an important way that we can extend grace to others.
But when I’m the one ministering, I can’t demand it. I’ve often been challenged by the idea that the way you can tell if you are a servant is how you respond when you are treated like one. Do you get offended when people treat you like a servant? “How dare they ask me to do such a trivial task?” “Don’t they realize what kinds of gifts I have?” Or do you just find joy in the fact that you can be a blessing to people you love?
Folks, this is so important to our life as a community. If you come to church every week with a list of expectations for what people need to do for you, you will always be disappointed. You will have a jaded view of the church, and you will always be frustrated in ministry. But if you come with a servant’s attitude, and you are just grateful for the opportunity to be a blessing and to advance Christ’s mission, you can serve with joy and eagerness no matter what comes.
And so have a heart to give demanding nothing in return. The third aspect of a godly mindset is…
I must focus on God’s purpose (v. 19).
Notice first of all that Paul was focused on…
The Edification of God’s People:
Our English word edify is related to another term edifice or building. The same is true in Greek. The family of terms that are normally translated edification have to do with building something. This was Paul’s focus as he prepared for his 3rd visit to Corinth. He wasn’t coming to make friends or to get accolades. He wasn’t coming just to smooth things over, or especially not to get a paycheck. His focus was on building these believers and this church into the image of Christ.
Now, it’s important to note that edification doesn’t always feel like building up. Sometimes, it’s painful. It had been very painful the last time Paul had visited. But Paul understood that a beautiful building that sits on a bad foundation is worthless. Similarly platitudes and peace that aren’t founded on God’s Word wouldn’t last either. Therefore, Paul was focused on building these people up on Christ and Christ alone.
It is so important that we keep the same focus as we think about ministry and life in the community. When I am with God’s people, I should always have a vision for edification. Who is struggling? Who needs support? How can I turn this conversation toward the things of Christ?
And ultimately, we must value edification over our own comfort because very often the edifying step is not the easy one. It will always be easier to talk sports than the things of the Lord. It will always be easier to overlook sin than to confront it. But we can’t let that stop us. We must love each other enough that we are intent on edification.
Now you might say, “What if my role doesn’t directly minister to people?” When I stack chairs or clean a toilet, I’m not edifying anyone, so does that mean my role is not important? I think we know that’s not true because all of those service roles contribute to an edifying context. And if you are in one of those roles, then rejoice that you can contribute to the edification of the body.
And so we must remain focused on edification. But notice that ultimately, we must be focused on…
Our Accountability to God:
The idea behind the opening question in v. 19 is that Paul was not ultimately concerned with defending himself to the Corinthians. It didn’t ultimately matter if they approved of him. Rather, Paul says, “We speak before God in Christ.”
“In Christ” means that his relationship with Christ was his security. It didn’t ultimately matter if the Corinthians accepted him because he was accepted in Christ and Christ promises to never leave or forsake his people. This was his confidence.
And “before God” speaks of the fact that Paul lived to please God knowing that someday he would give an account of his life to God. And Paul knew that receiving God’s approval was far more important than receiving the Corinthians’ approval. And this is what he lived for. Ultimately it didn’t matter whether the Corinthians loved him or hated him, whether Paul had lots of disciples or none, or whether he had a pleasant, comfortable visit or a painful one. What mattered is that he obeyed God and God was pleased.
And ultimately there is so much liberty in living with this focus because trying to earn the approval of people is just frustrating. People are fickle and selfish, and they don’t have a complete perspective. You can’t please everyone, so just try to please God, and consider it an added blessing if you please others along the way.
What a blessing it is to know that God always sees perfectly, and his favor is far more predictable than the favor of people. And not only that, God’s favor will receive his eternal reward which will far exceed anything this world can offer (2 Cor 4:16–18).
As you think about the church and your ministry in the church, keep the same eternal focus. Let’s resist the urge to live among each other with a temporal focus on my comfort. Instead, let’s all pursue Christ who is the center of our community, and let’s help each other get there, leaving no one behind. And someday we will stand before him and praise him together for all eternity.