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We talk a lot about natural human behavior and how that often runs counter to the real
life given to us in Jesus Christ. Today I want to talk about your image. In our natural
state we try really hard to present a good image to the world. We try to clean up, dress
well, and act civilly. Beyond that, then, we try to present ourselves to the world in
a way that we appear competent, successful, together, and basically as impressive as we
can make ourselves appear. For Christians we end up talking and acting so we appear
to be obedient, spiritual, holy, and together in our walk with the Lord.
Now Iím not saying that our goal shouldnít be to become more like Jesusóof course thatís
the goal. But when we put on the ìChristianî mask (which doesnít necessarily mirror the
character of the Messiah), we actually hide our true selves from others and from God.
What we miss is an opportunity to be authentic with others, which leads to support (or should),
and encouragement for others to be authentic with usóand it leads to us hiding out from
God in a made-up Jesus suit.
Such was the case in Corinth where a group of men came into the church who appeared on
the outside to have it all together. They sounded and acted like real apostles, or at
least what an apostle ought to look like from a natural human stand point. Paul the Apostle
didnít really fit that character sketch. Everywhere he went people seemed unhappy or
downright hostile to him, and it led the Corinthians to doubt him, and even the doctrine that he
had preached to them.
So in chapter 4, Paul suggests a reality of living that is completely opposite and diametrically
opposed to this sort of ìfakeî Christian character. And as we go through this, I want
us to picture ourselves coming out from behind the mask and being truly authenticóand what
an opportunity it is and what incredible impact we can have on the world around us.
Paul has been talking about a new realityóone not of rules chiseled in stone externally
that point out our failures, but a reality of internal change caused by the Spirit of
God. Itís a gradual transition from one character to the nextófrom natural human character
to supernatural Jesusí character. The veil is off because the gospel is real and our
lives are shining outónot a made up mask but real changes.
In this light Paul says ìThis is our ministry and it is one of mercy, not sacrificeî (Matthew
9:13 ). So he contrasts this way of life with the character being presented by the false
apostles. And despite the tendency to ìfake itî and become legalistic like the false
teachers, Paul will not give up!
Paul basically accuses the false teachers of being disingenuous. They are hiding their
true motivations and their true selves and in the process distorting the truth of the
gospel by claiming that to look impressive is to be good and what God wants. He is accusing
the false teachers of being con-men. A con man makes you feel comfortable and like you
can trust them. You donít know youíve been fleeced until they are long gone.
One great way to tell a huckster is how they handle the Bible. If they fill the gospel
with legalism, self determinism, or health, wealth, and prosperityóthen watch outóthere
is probably more going on under the surface. Your spiritual danger detector should be going
off loud and clear.
But I love how Paul puts it: ìwe commend ourselves to every personís conscience by
an open display of the truth.î ìDonít look on the surface for impressivenessî Paul says
ìbut look in your heart, and look at our hearts for we are an open book.î
Someone might say ìwell if you are so truthful then how come not everyone comes to Jesus?î
Hereís the answer.
3 ñ 6
Itís all about seeing God. As you are transformed into Godís image, His character begins to
ooze out of you. Lucifer, the ìgod of this ageî wants to mitigate the effect of your
changed character and the effect of the gospel, which Paul said in Romans is ìthe power of
God for salvation to everyone who believes.î Satanís plan is to make sure their minds
are so pre-occupied with worshiping either themselves or this creation that they have
no room for another God and certainly not another Lord.
Unlike the false teachers, Paul is not proclaiming himself, but Jesus. And thatís the whole
idea. As we become more like Him people see us and are drawn to Jesus.
Jesus said ìYou are the light of the worldî (Matthew 5:14 ). If you have the spotlight
on yourself it is shining in the wrong direction. So we get out of the way and let Jesusí character
shine into the darkness of this age.
Paul then goes on to describe how this works out.
This is one of the coolest verses in the Bible. The most awesome treasure imaginableóthe
glory of GodóGodís character, in a common clay jar: us. The point is so that when those
outside of Jesus look at us they know for certain there is no way you could be this
way on your own. Thatís very humbling for us humans who want to be impressive.
In John chapter 16 Jesus says two things about the Holy Spirit. One is that ìhe will not
speak on His ownî and ìHe will glorify Me.î Just as the wind (a picture of the Holy Spirit)
is invisible, so too we need to speak in a way that reflects the character of Jesus,
and act in a way that shines the light on Jesus and not on ourselves as something good.
We would put a treasure in a crystal container or a gold box but God has put His character
in ordinary people so He will receive the glory (because only He is worthy of it and
only He can handle it).
So here is the result of thatóopenness to God and willingness to be a common vessel
containing the character of Godóthose jars get thrown around and brokenóand thatís
8 ñ 12
So this is very cool and very troubling at the same time. Essentially God is willing
to take this jar of clay, our lives, and throw it over a cliff for it to be broken on the
rocks of difficulty in this age so that the treasure inside us can shine out of the cracks
and pieces. This runs totally counter to our natural inclination and to the way the false
teachers acted in Corinth.
It also echoes what Paul said in chapter 2. If you are doing well with God your circumstances
will be doing well. Not so. In many ways the Christian is always looking like he is about
to be defeated, but not quite.
Pressure without crushing, consternation without giving up, attack with Godís presence, pressing
the battle upon us without utter defeat. Itís much like Jesus who seemed to be totally defeated
on the cross when in reality it was victory pulled from the jaws of defeat.
We play out that same drama every time God brings us into failure or difficult circumstances.
(And Iím not talking about willful disobedience here). Hereís what we missówe want to appear
in control so we hide the brokenness. But Paul says that it is the very presence of
brokenness that brings healing. Why? Because then we are authentic and real, and others
who are also experiencing difficulty can see that it is not about us and having it all
together, but about Jesus and Him making it all better as he breaks then heals and strengthens
13 ñ 15
Paul quotes Psalm 116 and clearly identifies with the Psalmist who said ìThe ropes of
death were wrapped around me.î ìThen I called on the name of the LORD: ìLord, save me!îî
And I love how it goes on: ìThe LORD guards the inexperienced; I was helpless, and He
Hereís the promise: no matter what happens to you, God is working His glory in you and
shining it out from you in order to bring more people into His family.
2 Timothy 4:18 ìThe Lord will rescue me from every evil work and will bring me safely into
His heavenly kingdom.î
There is a purpose to everything that happens to you. It is so that others will see, not
your incredibleness, but Godís grace and say ìthatís for me!î
And the conclusion gives us the perspective that allows us to be authentic with God and
16 ñ 18
Psalm 30:5 ìWeeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning.î
For the false apostles, perception is reality. Style is more important than substance. This
feeds our natural human nature. But in the kingdom of God the outer circumstances might
look dire, but God is busy working an ìabsolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.î
We want to escape difficulty while God wants to use it to break us and build us and shine through
us. We want temporary fixes, God wants eternal ones.
To think of difficulties as ìmomentary light afflictionî is almost laughable. But remember
Hebrews 12:11-13 No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however,
it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore
strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet,
so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but healed instead.
So we have two things we need to consider from this chapter.
?How do we make sure we arenít being duped by the super cool?
The Corinthians really like style over substance and we can fall into that too. There are plenty
of great sounding teachers out thereóand especially those that embrace post-modernismóseem
so current and we all want to be current, not old fashioned or out of date.
Here in Chapter 4 we see several ways to spot a fake:
Does their doctrine line up with the Bible? Is their focus on themselves more than on
Jesus? How genuine are theyóhow real?
Do they put a lot of emphasis on the cost of ministry? (2:17)
Is the gospel their number one aim?
?We have to make a choice tooóare we going to try to appear to others as super cool,
or be super real?
We also do it to each otherócriticizing people for being vulnerable. Taking off the mask, being authentic with others, letting
them see your
difficulties and weaknessesóthis is hard for us. We want to appear like we have it all together and
want everyone around us to have it all together too.
But somehow in
the sharing of our weaknesses we can make others stronger. How? Weíll get to it in
Chapter 12 in more detail, but Paul says there:
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses,
so that Christ's power may reside in me. 10 So because of Christ, I am pleased in weaknesses,
in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then
I am strong. ?
Living as super real means a) others see that life can be tough and that then sets good
expectations and so when tough things come they wonít doubt their salvation or standing
with God and b) as you yourself lean on the Lord for your strength they
that too and
Paul says ìSo death works in us,
but life in you.î