Friday, August 15, 2008


2 Corinthians 11 The Cost Of Commitment


21 I say this to [our]shame: we have been weak. But in whatever anyone dares [to boast]—I am talking foolishly—I also dare:
22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I.
23 Are they servants of Christ? I’m talking like a madman—I’m a better one: with far more labors, many more imprisonments, far worse beatings, near death many times.
24 Five times I received from the Jews 40 lashes minus one.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the depths of the sea.
26 On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers  in  the open country, dangers on the sea, and dangers among false brothers;
27 labor and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and lacking clothing.
28 Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches.
29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
30 If boasting is necessary, I will boast about my weaknesses.
31 The eternally blessed One, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, knows I am not lying.
32 In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of the Damascenes in order to arrest me,
33 so I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.

Many of these Corinthians had been swept away by a group of men claiming to be apostles of Christ who had come from Jerusalem, boasting about all their tremendous accomplishments for Christ. As a result, the Corinthians were in danger of following their false teachings rather than listening to the apostle who had won them to Christ and who had so faithfully taught them and prayed for them and loved them.

Paul explains to the Corinthians why he finally resorts to boasting: It is because that is the only thing that will impress them, and win them back to a hearing of the truth of the gospel. So, very reluctantly and with considerable dislike evident in his reactions, Paul sinks to this level and begins to talk about his accomplishments for Christ. You can see this in the words in Verse 16 and following in

Chapter 11, where he says:

I repeat, let no one think me foolish; but even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. (What I am saying I say not with the Lord's authority but as a fool, in this boastful confidence; since many boast of worldly things, I too will boast.) {2 Cor 11:16-18 RSV}

It is very apparent that Paul does not want to do this. It is not normally right for a Christian to do this. That may come as a surprise, because if you listen to the media or read Christian literature you will find that it is quite normal, apparently, for Christians to brag about who they are, what they have done, where they have been, and what their accomplishments are. But Paul is talking about true, normal Christianity. He says that it is not for Christians to brag about themselves in any way, but he is ready to do so because he hopes it will break the spell that these false teachers have created in Corinth. Some of the Corinthians had so completely swallowed these false teachers' line that they actually put up with arrogance and insult from them without protest. You can see that in what Paul continues to say, Verse 19:

For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if a man makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or take advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! [Obviously that is an ironic statement. {2 Cor 11:19-21a RSV}

These false apostles were actually becoming arrogant and boastful. The kind of mentality that depends upon bragging to gain people's attention always tends, ultimately, towards arrogance.

But for you and I this is overwhelmingly instructive.

It Costs to be a Christian. The Cost of Commitment.

A pastor and theologian called Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a wonderful book called "The Cost of Discipleship", Bonhoeffer starts his book by saying, "Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace" . Costly grace is what Jesus offers us. To quote again from Bonhoeffer,

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that the he has. It is a pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son, and what has cost God much cannot be cheaper for us.

Incidentally, Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew a bit about the cost of discipleship. He was a German, and throughout the war, driven by his Christian faith, he opposed the Nazis. Eventually, in 1943, the Gestapo arrested him and sent him first to prison and then to concentration camps. He was executed by the Nazis at the Flossenburg concentration camp just five days before it was liberated by the Nazis. He had written his book, the Cost of Discipleship, many years earlier, but there's no doubt that he lived out what he preached.

The Lord Jesus descried the cost of commitment in this way: Luke 14

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple... Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-33)

: 28-30 he describes a man building a tower.

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'ref

Of course he will sit down beforehand and estimate the cost, and check his resources, before embarking on the project. No one wants to end up a laughing stock, do they? Perhaps we could change the word "tower" to "dome" to make it more contemporary, or am I being a little unfair?

More seriously, we should understand that Christian discipleship is like going to war, which is the picture Jesus uses in verses 31-32.

Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.

In other words, Jesus is saying, "Don't start it if you can't finish it. Sit down beforehand and estimate the cost.

Christian discipleship can be a dangerous affair. Paul endured great suffering in his mission. Modern missionaries have had similar experiences. We must be willing to back up our beliefs with our lives.

1. It Can Cost you Physically To Be A Christian

Forty lashes minus one. This was a purely Jewish form of punishment. The Law of Moses said that for certain offenses you could be publicly whipped with forty lashes. But it also said, according to the Jewish rabbis, that if more than forty were inflicted the man who did the whipping had to receive forty lashes of his own. So to prevent that they were careful not to go quite to forty; they made it thirty-nine, "forty less one."

Also it may have been the whip had 3 tails on it. And they were beaten 13 times with the 3 pronged whip. The victim was tied between two pillars on his back, with his chest laid bare. One third of the blows fell on his chest from neck to navel. The he was turned over on to his back and the other two thirds of the beating were administered.

Now incredible as it sounds (and we have no record of it other than this), Paul had endured that terrible beating five times. The Law also said that if a man died because of a flogging, his death would not be blamed upon the man doing the whipping, so it is clear that this whipping was so severe it could take your life.

Beaten with rods. This was Roman punishment. Paul was a Roman citizen and although the law of Rome decreed that no citizen should be beaten with rods. Yet by this time on three different occasions he had been so beaten. In the book of Acts there is another incident of that nature recorded which comes later than this.

Missionary woman doctor in Africa. Helen Roseveare was born into a well-respected English family.

During her freshman year in Cambridge University she had a conversion experience and joined an evangelical church. She became a doctor and felt called to serve God in Africa.

In 1953 she set sail for the Congo. Very soon she realized the typical missionary hospital wasn't adequate for the human suffering she encountered. Helen envisioned a training center where nurses would be taught the Bible and basic medicine. Then they would be sent back to their villages to handle routine cases, teach preventive medicine, and evangelize. Her missionary colleagues blocked her at every turn. Just when her training center was ready to graduate its first students, the mission moved her to Nebobongo, a remote leprosy camp in the jungle. Helen started from scratch and built up a new training

center. She also became friends with the Africans and went to an old African preacher when she needed spiritual help. Humbling herself in this way was unacceptable to the other missionaries.

To keep her in her place, the mission board sent a man to Nebobongo and put him in charge. It was a bitter pill for Helen. She submitted to his authority but it tore her up. Every seven years she was given a furlough back in England. This time she decided to get a husband so she would have more pull with the other missionaries. She met a young Christian doctor, bought new clothes and got a new hair style, and tried to win him. She even resigned from the mission. The young doctor liked her but wouldn't marry her.

Still single, Helen returned to Congo in 1960, just as that nation became independent.

It was a very uneasy time for whites and many of the missionaries began to leave for good. Helen had a great opportunity to build up Nebobongo on her own. Meanwhile, the Simba rebels took control of village after village. In the summer of 1964 they occupied Nebobongo and put Helen under house arrest.

Atrocities were being committed daily. On October 29, Helen was forced to endure a series of brutal assaults. One verse came to her mind: "My God, my God, why have you

forsaken me?" Two months later she was finally liberated. A year later Helen Roseveare returned to Nebobongo. The new spirit of African nationalism continually questioned her authority. Finally, after twenty years of hard service, she arranged to turn over the mission to an African colleague. She organized a big day to celebrate the handover and the graduation of a class of students. At the last moment the students went on strike and the celebration was cancelled. Helen returned to England in 1973 to face a very lonely period in her life. But as with so many other disappointing experiences, she turned to God. Instead of bitterness there was a new spirit of humility and a new appreciation for what Jesus had done for her on the cross. In the years that followed she became an acclaimed spokeswoman for Christian missions.

Martyred missionary in India. Just a few years ago an Australian missionary and his two sons were burned to death in India. Graham Staines and his wife Gladys had answered the call to spread the gospel there. After the murders, Gladys publicly forgave the murderers. Her forgiveness of such brutality is being seen as "true spirituality" which is inherently attractive to the Hindu mind. More than this, she is staying in India instead of going home. "The thought of getting up and leaving has just not occurred to me once. I just feel that this is where God has called me."

When I read this list I ask myself, "What have I ever endured for Christ's sake?" It makes me feel grateful that God has never asked me to endure such things. He could have, he could have asked us all to, but he did not. And it also makes me wonder how I would go if I had to endure what Paul had endured.

2. It Can Cost you Emotionally To Be A Christian

See the anxiety, in Verse 28: And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? {2 Cor 11:28-29 RSV}

Through the course of these twelve years that I have been pastor here, I have been privileged to bear some of the burdens, the sorrows, the pain, the heartache and tears of many of you and share them with you. I confess that it is sometimes a great strain. I have not done very well at it. It makes me even more amazed to think of this mighty apostle bearing the burdens of dozens of churches that he founded, being open to their needs, and praying for them daily. He had never even been to Colossae, he did not start the church there, but he prayed for them, and upheld them before God every day. What a tremendous ministry of mercy this man had! What empathy he shows. What ability to respond to the emotional heart-cries of people. I shake my head in amazement.

As you read a list like this it raises the question: "Why would anyone put up with this kind of life?"

If that is what Christianity can involve, what made this man willing to go through these terrible hardships, pressures, trials and dangers? What motivated him?

The only answer I can find is the one he himself gives us in Chapter 5 of this very letter -- "the love of Christ constrains me," {cf, 2 Cor 5:14a KJV}. It was his sense of gratitude to the risen Lord who not only had forgiven him and filled him and restored him but who went with him into these trials and sustained him in every one of them, turning them into experiences of joy rather than hardship. That love flowed through Paul to reach out to those around to whom he was ministering.

26 On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers  in  the open country, dangers on the sea, and dangers among false brothers;

The dangers, these dangers produce anxiety of themselves. Sometimes I wonder whether the anxiety over something is not much worse than the thing itself.

How do you cope with that kind of relentless pressure that is more than any of us is dealing with? Paul's answer was to search for God's design in the stresses and draw strength and hope from that. For example, once in Asia the pressure rose to the breaking point and Paul described how he handled it this way: We were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but (here he looks for the design of God that gives meaning and hope to the experience) that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead . . . on him we have set our hope. (2 Corinthians 1:8-10) The crushing experience was not meaningless. His life was not in disarray. There was a divine design. God had a purpose in all his pressures. And that purpose and that design gave him strength, and sustained him. (The same thing is seen in 4:8-11 and 12:8-10.) Victor Frankl survivor of the holocaust in Germany. Why could some endure the years of incredible stress and others not? Frankl concluded with the words: "He who has a WHY to live can bear almost any HOW."

Adoniram Judson, who went to Burma. When war broke out with England. Because he was white and English speaking was arrested, force marched barefoot for eight miles, where he was tortured by being hanged from his manacled ankles upside down each night on a bamboo pole, mosquitoes feasted on his raw flesh. This went on for two years and Judson managed to endure because his beloved wife brought him food each day and pleaded with the guards for better treatment. A few months after his release, Judson’s wife, weakened by small pox died and shortly thereafter their baby daughter. He would kneel beside here grave for hours daily and work tirelessly to translate the Bible into Burmese. Only a handful of people showed any interest at all in the Christian message. He labored for 24 years to see his first convert. He stayed on, in total, 34 years and because of his faithfulness, more than one million Burmese Christians today trace their roots to Adoniram Judson.

It can Cost You Financially to Be A Christian.

27 labor and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and lacking clothing.

It can Cost You Your Self to Be A Christian.

30 If boasting is necessary, I will boast about my weaknesses. 31 The eternally blessed One, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, knows I am not lying. 32 In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of the Damascenes in order to arrest me, 33 so I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.

The verses here are interesting. Did you notice verse 30.. and veses 32 and 33 are the fulfilment of this.

There is a reverse boasting here. In a military campaign an award ws given to the first man “over the wall” to take a city. It was sort of like being awarded an Order of Australia. The first one in a battle to breach the wall got the prize! Here is the reverse for this.

Here was Paul’s weakness. He boasts of being the first Christian out of the city over the wall.

He was at the mercy of others to save him.

Mark 8: 34 Summoning the crowd along with His disciples, He said to them, “If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it. 36 For what does it benefit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his life?

In his book, Above the Level of Mediocrity, Chuck Swindoll writes: A house church in a city in the Soviet Union received a copy of the Gospel of Luke, the only Scripture most of these Christians had ever seen. They tore it into small sections and distributed these sections among the believers.. Their plan was to memorize the portion they had been given; then on the next Lord's Day, they would meet and exchange their copy with other believers. One Sunday these believers arrived inconspicuously in small groups throughout the day so not to arouse the suspicion of KGB informers. By dusk they were all safely inside, windows closed and doors locked. They began by quietly singing a hymn with deep emotion. Suddenly, the door was pushed open and in walked two soldiers with loaded automatic weapons at the ready. One shouted, "All right, everyone line up against the wall. If you wish to renounce your commitment to Jesus Christ, leave now!" Two or three quickly left then another. After a few more seconds, two more. "This is your last chance. Either turn against your faith in Christ," he ordered, "or stay and suffer the consequences." Another left. Finally, two more in embarrassed silence with their faces covered slipped out into the night. No one else moved. Parents with small children trembling beside them looked down reassuringly. They fully expected to be gunned down, or at best, to be imprisoned. After a few moments of complete silence, the other soldier closed the door, looked back at those who stood against the wall and said, "Keep your hands up, but this time in praise to our Lord Jesus Christ. We, too, are Christians and you are our brothers and sisters. We were sent to another house church several weeks ago to arrest a group of believers . . . " The other soldier interrupted, "But, instead, we were converted! We have learned by experience, however, that unless people are willing to die for their faith, they cannot be fully trusted."

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