Confronting the Competition

From sermon preached at Calvary Baptist Church Sunday morning, February 22, 2009

Click here to listen to the entire sermon.

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:3

This verse contains one of the most beautiful and eloquent phrases in scripture: the simplicity that is in Christ.

I studied and savored this phrase last week. Let me share some of what I learned. I’ve divided the following into three sections (word definitions, context, commentaries) in order to help you understand how I arrived at my interpretation of this phrase.

Word definitions
Simplicity means “singleness.” It means to be whole or undivided. Paul used it in Ephesians 6:5 when he challenged servants to obey their masters and do their master’s will “in singleness of heart.” He said servants should have no divided loyalty and no hidden agenda. He used it in Romans 12 and also in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 where he talks about giving, encouraging people who give to do it “with simplicity,” that is, sincerely, without a selfish motive, and openly and generously. “Simplicity” is the quality of being single-minded, whole-hearted, undivided and without dual loyalty or hidden agenda.

Then Paul said, “that is in Christ.” The Greek preposition translated “in” is eis; it means unto, toward. He is not talking about a simplicity that belongs to Christ. He is talking about a simplicity toward Christ or with respect to Jesus Christ.

So, this simplicity that is in Christ or that we have toward Christ involves a condition of being single or sincere and whole and undivided and without an ulterior motive or a hidden agenda, a simplicity toward, with respect to Jesus Christ.

Is he talking about simple, childlike faith in Christ for salvation? We know that is how we are saved, by simply believing in and trusting like a child would do, simply, in the finished work of Jesus Christ for our salvation. He could be including that. Is he talking about faith alone in Christ alone? It is possible that he is including this important principle. But I think what he says goes further. I think what he is describing goes much deeper than that.

Notice the illustration that Paul used in verse 2, For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. He was calling himself the “father of the bride.” He was saying that he was like the father of a young woman who is a virgin and who is betrothed. She has been promised formally and legally to a man and she is awaiting and preparing for the marriage ceremony, the consummation of the relationship, and the life that she will spend together with him. It is normal and right for her to be single-minded about her betrothed bridegroom, her husband-to-be. She should be wholehearted and fully devoted to “one husband” (v. 2). There should be no other suitor. She should never entertain or give the impression that she is open to someone else coming into her life and stealing her heart from that one man. There should be no seducer who has a chance to steal her away or even raise a doubt in anyone’s mind about her loyalty and her devotion to her husband-to-be. She should be totally and exclusively devoted to her future husband. So, Paul is emphasizing here total, exclusive loyalty and devotion.

Here is how some writers have described the meaning of this phrase, “the simplicity that is in Christ.” One calls it “single-minded faithfulness to Christ” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary). Another identifies it as, “exclusive devotion to Christ” (Walvoord & Zuck). Another says that it is “freedom from duplicity toward Christ” (F. F. Bruce).  And, here is my favorite, by Alan Redpath from his commentary on 2 Corinthians called Blessings Out of Buffetings: “It is a faith that is exclusively resting in and centered upon Jesus Christ alone and a love that is clear from every competing affection.”

The word definitions, the context, and how other students of the Word interpret this beautiful, profound phrase have helped me arrive at this conclusion: “The simplicity that is in Christ” equals faith in Christ alone and love for Christ above all. Paul said, “Here is what I want for you, what I am concerned about for you, what I am on guard to protect in your lives – your faith in Christ alone and your love for Christ above all. It should be absolute; it should be supreme; it should be unconditional; it should be unquestionable.

Paul’s use of the analogy of betrothal and marriage shows that we as believers should reject any interest, any advance by another suitor or seducer. We should remain steadfast and faithful to our bridegroom, Jesus Christ, as we wait for Him to come and as we anticipate the ceremony, the consummation, and being united to Him, as the Bride of Christ with our Bridegroom, to be with Him forever.

There was a threat, influences and people who were stealing the Corinthian Christians’ hearts and minds away from all that Paul had taught them and the truth about Jesus Christ. Paul fulfilled the responsibility of an authentic Christian minister as he confronted that threat. He was aggressive, forceful, and did not hold back. He confronted the competition.

Outline of Sunday AM Sermon

Confronting the Competition

2 Corinthians 11:1-4


There are several dynamics at work in a person who is willing to confront the competition, to guard his or another’s faith in Christ alone and love for Christ above all.

  1. Experience the Force of Jealousy (1-3)
  2. Recognize the Importance of Purity (2)
  3. Identify the Place of Vulnerability (3-4)

Meditation on Psalm 4

Psalm 4

To the Chief Musician.
With stringed instruments.
A Psalm of David.

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness!

You have relieved me in my distress;
have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.

How long, O you sons of men, will you turn my glory to shame?
How long will you love worthlessness and seek falsehood?

But know that the LORD has set apart for Himself him who is godly;
The LORD will hear when I call to Him.
Be angry, and do not sin.
Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.

Offer the sacrifices of righteousness,
and put your trust in the LORD.
There are many who say, “Who will show us any good?”
LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.
You have put gladness in my heart,
more than in the season that their grain and wine increased.
I will both lie down in peace, and sleep;
for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

David talked to God  (1)
David’s insistence that God listen to him was not a brash demand, but rather bold desperation.  The only way out of his problem was to get help from God.  He dialed 911.  “Listen to me, I need help.”  He was familiar enough with God’s character to know that He would listen and would do what was right and just as well as what was gracious and favorable.  Do I know God that well?

David did not remind God, but himself, that God had opened a way for him through tight spots in the past (KJV “enlarged me when I was in distress”).  I am encouraged when I remember all the times God has rescued me from or carried me through personal failures, ministry pressures, financial needs, family crises, and more.

David talked to his enemies (2)
There may be people who design to dishonor, not merely me personally, but what my life and work represent.  Certainly there are evil spirits, the devil and his demons, who plot to defame my Lord by disgracing me.  They should realize what they have an appetite for will never satisfy them.  What they pursue is not even real.  My saying it won’t stop them from trying to harm me, but it sure helps me to remember how futile their efforts are.

David talked to himself (3-8)
David overcame several emotional, mental, and spiritual problems.  Many people battle one or more of these every day.  He controlled how he thought and felt.  You can get through a lot of problems by learning to counsel yourself.  Rather than popping pills or curling up in a fetal position and withdrawing from life’s responsibilities and challenges, David purposefully directed his thoughts. You and I can too.

I am identifying these problems and presenting them in the form of a remedy.  The word which indicates the problem he addressed is underlined.  A few thoughts accompany each one.

Remedy for doubt
that God has set apart him that is godly for Himself.

Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David – “set apart” – The fact that you are set apart “as God’s own peculiar treasure should give you courage and inspire you with fervency and faith . . . Since he chose to love us he cannot but choose to hear us.”

Note – “him [or her] that is godly” – godly is Heb. hasid – faithful, loyal; cf. Jewish Hassidim – the faithful ones

I don’t think this means that God doesn’t hear me any time I fall short of perfect faithfulness.  It is describing loyalty to God as a way of life. Cf. Rom 8:28 – “all things work together for good to them that love God” doesn’t require perfect love, but loving God as a way of life.

The Lord will hear when I call on Him.

I have heard a radio commercial for an insurance company in which the announcer promises that callers will always get a live person rather than a recorded voice giving push-button options.  Without irreverence, I am confident that I am talking to God live when I call Him!  I’m glad God listens to me.  I’m amazed, too.

Remedy for anger
Be angry, and do not sin.

Be angry for the right reasons.  Do not be controlled by anger.  Do not remain angry.

Paul repeated and expanded on this in Ephesians 4:26-27: Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.

Reacting in anger puts the object of your anger in control of your thoughts and emotions.

Remedy for agitation
Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.

Sometimes Restless Leg Syndrome keeps me from falling asleep at night.  Sometimes Restless Brain Syndrome does also.  I can quiet my mind and heart by directing my thoughts to what I know to be true about God.  It works!

Remedy for depression
You have put gladness in my heart

The Hebrew word for “gladness” means being joyful with one’s whole personality and character.  This gladness is not a smile that you paste on or a pretense that you put on.  It is real, springing from the heart and spreading throughout the life.  It is not based on circumstances (increase of oil and wine), but comes directly from God.

Remedy for anxiety
I will lie down in peace

All is as it should be.  I can go to bed, knowing God will keep the world spinning.  He will push the ocean back and forth, crank the moon around the earth and the earth around the sun another time.  He’ll feed the birds and water the flowers.  He will solve the problems I can’t.  He will be there when I wake up.

Remedy for insomnia
and sleep

/ – )


The turning point
Put your trust in the LORD.

I see over and over through the Psalms that David cried out and complained about his personal failures and fierce foes.  There is a turning point in almost every Psalm in which David describes these problems.  He “puts his trust in the Lord.”  Telling myself, or someone else, to “trust the Lord” is not merely reciting a platitude.  Deciding to rely only and wholly on God is the answer.  It’s where despair ends, and where real security (“safety”) lies.

A Rare Opportunity

What Paul relates in 2 Corinthians is fascinating to me. It is intensely, uncomfortably personal. The preacher bares his soul. Paul is saying, “Here is what hurts inside of me. Here is what some of you have done to me. Here is what I have wrestled with. Here is what gets me down.” He also declares the source of His hope, courage, and resolve to steadfastly serve His Savior and Lord. His transparency gives you and me a rare opportunity to understand the minister and the ministry.

Summary of 02.15.09 am Sermon

Click here to listen to 02.15.09 am Sermon

Paul the Apostle defended, not himself personally, but his ministry, against the critics and attackers who were influential in the Corinthian church. This defense is outlined in 2 Corinthians chapters 10-13. Twenty-six times in 2 Corinthians and 22 times in the last four chapters Paul uses the word kaucaomai (kauchaomai), translated “boast,” “glory,”, and “rejoice.” He speaks positively, not pridefully, about the ministry in order to identify for his friends in Corinth characteristics of authentic Christian ministry.

2 Corinthians 10:7-18 includes Four Criteria for Authentic Christian Ministry. The qualities Paul highlighted in his own ministry can be used as criteria for determining what is authentic Christian ministry today. What is true of the minister is usually reflected in characteristics of his ministry.

An authentic Christian minister:

  • Is secure in his calling from Christ (7-8b)
  • Uses his position for the benefit of the church (8b-11)
  • Measures himself by God-given standards (12)
  • Operates in his God-appointed sphere (13-16)

Paul concludes by directing the attention where it belongs (17-18). Our boasting is in the Lord, not ourselves or our ministry accomplishments. The approval that matters comes from God.

Focus on verses 8-11

An authentic Christian minister uses his position for the benefit of the church.

Some ministers use their positions to develop a power base or personality cult. Paul used his position to strengthen others (“for edification” cf. 13:10; Eph. 4:12). He also used it to handle problems (vv. 10-11). The false teachers in Corinth denigrated Paul’s speaking ability and physical appearance. Paul was painfully aware of these problems. He recognized that they were not merely attacking his personality or performance; they were attacking the God-ordained position that he represented.

Paul had a position of leadership and authority as an apostle, but he did not use that position for himself; he used it for the benefit of the church. First, he used his position to strengthen others. Notice in verse 8 he says, “the Lord hath given us this authority for edification.” He is saying, “This authority is not for my own personal benefit; it is to help you, to build your lives and your ministry.” He restated this point at the end of the letter (13:10): “Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness according to the power (exousia, authority) which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction.”

His point about using authority relates to what he said in Ephesians 4:12 “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” God has not given evangelists and pastor-teachers to the church today to be entertainers. But to fit with and be attractive to the ideas of many people, that is what pastors or preachers are supposed to do. You have to be a standup comedian to draw a crowd. God has not given them to the church to expand the church like a CEO takes on an assignment to follow a business model and expand that company. God has given ministers to the church to build, to strengthen, to construct the people and the body. God will take care of the expansion in His way and in His time.

Some ministers use their position to develop a powerbase. Some take advantage of their influence to develop a personality cult. But Paul here is identifying that an authentic Christian minister uses his position to strengthen the people with whom God has placed him.

Second, he used his position to handle problems. Verse 10 is one place where we know he is directly quoting his attackers in Corinth. “For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful;” The accusers said, “From a safe distance, he lets it fly. He really gives it to you.” “But his bodily presence” when he is around and speaking, “is weak, and his speech contemptible.” They were denigrating his appearance and his speaking ability. They were saying “his stage presence is weak, his oratory skills leave a lot to be desired. Who told him he was a public speaker anyway?” Now, if you are a public speaker, that hurts. We know that Paul probably wasn’t the greatest orator. Remember, he put Eutychus to sleep (Acts 20:29). Maybe he was unprofessional. He might have been unpolished. Oratory skills were highly esteemed in the Greek culture of his day. He may have been a better writer than he was a public speaker. We see from what Paul said in other places that he was very self-conscious about his disability, weakness, health problem, vision problem, whatever it was.

From Vincent’s Word Studies in the NT

“No one can even cursorily read St. Paul’s epistles without observing that he was aware of something in his aspect or his personality which distressed him with an agony of humiliation – something which seems to force him, against every natural instinct of his disposition, into language which sounds to himself like a boastfulness which was abhorrent to him, but which he finds to be more necessary to himself than to other men. It is as though he felt that his appearance was against him…. His language leaves on us the impression of one who was acutely sensitive, and whose sensitiveness of temperament has been aggravated by a meanness of presence which is indeed forgotten by the friends who know him, but which raises in strangers a prejudice not always overcome” (Farrar).

Paul appreciated people who listened to him regardless of his limitations. He gave this testimony of the people in Galatia in Galatians 4:13-14 “Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.” He was grateful for their interest and their willingness to listen to him and not say a word and not notice or reject him because of his physical limitations. He really appreciated that.

Impressive appearance and polished delivery are not necessarily advantages for someone in ministry. God may bless a minister with these gifts. But just because someone doesn’t speak well or doesn’t impress you with their appearance, does not mean that you should disregard what that person says. In fact, many times the opposite is true. God uses the message and the content of a person who isn’t impressive in their delivery or their presentation to reach and penetrate the heart and do the work of God.

Why do you listen to preachers? What impresses you? “Wow, what a speaker!” “Boy, he was funny!” “He just kept my attention.” Do you turn a preacher off because he doesn’t necessarily grab your attention with his presentation of himself or his content? Paul says, “Do not focus on my personality; do not regard or disregard my message based on my physical appearance.”

Understand that Paul was not just reacting to hurtful personal attacks. The divisive leaders in Corinth threatened the congregation’s loyalty, not merely to Paul, but to Christ. Paul confronted the problem people in Corinth from a distance, and planned to do so in person if necessary (v. 11). He used his position for the good of the church, not to advance his own cause. This is a mark of an authentic Christian minister.

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