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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:No Stumbling Blocks!
Text:2 Corinthians 6:1-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling
 
Preached:2018
Added:2020-03-10
Updated:2020-03-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


 
“No Stumbling Blocks!”
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
 
There is a beautiful truth in the familiar hymn, “Jesus Saves”: “We have heard the joyful sound… Jesus saves! Jesus saves!” Yet, have you thought about this?  Is it possible that one of the biggest obstacles for someone to believe in Jesus is the conduct of those who profess to be followers of Christ?
 
The charge of hypocrisy is one of the top reasons people give for not following Christ. Part of that charge of hypocrisy involves lame excuses. Blaming the conduct of Christians makes an easy and convenient excuse for not following Christ.
 
But there is also some legitimacy in that charge. Nothing drives people further away from Christianity than hypocritical scandals in the church. And every part of the visible church has put stumbling blocks in front of people. The conduct of pastors, priests and other religious leaders has been a stumbling block to a great multitude of people.
 
Whenever a prominent minister falls into blatant public sin, the evil one rejoices, the world heaps ridicule on Christ and the church, and more people stumble over – and reject – the truths of the gospel.
 
And that is why the apostle Paul, in the defense of his ministry, which was often under attack in Corinth, writes in verse 3: We put no stumbling block (“obstacle” – ESV) in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.
   
But it's not just those who are in public ministry who can be a stumbling block to others. It is not just the church that has a public ministry that can cause others to stumble. Every person in the church has a ministry. Earlier in this letter the apostle had written, in 2 Corinthians 3:2, You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.
 
Each one of us has a ministry. But when we do not live according to what we profess we cause others to stumble. When professing Christians “talk the talk” but do not “walk the walk” they cause others to stumble. It is that concept of stumbling blocks, and how not to be a stumbling block, that the apostle speaks about in these verses.
 
Isocrates, a Greek orator in the fourth century BC, said that the most powerful way to be persuasive is to argue from one's own life and experience. And that is what the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to do in these verses. In these verses the apostle states that he was not a stumbling block to others, and he gives us four keys for being a positive witness rather than a stumbling block.
 
Patience in Affliction
 
The first key is to be patient in affliction.  Affliction is a certainty in every person's life. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world,Jesus said in John 16:33. Acts 14:22 describes how through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. As Job's friend put it, “Man is born to trouble as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).
 
We can all relate to those statements because we have all faced affliction, to some degree or another in our lives. But no matter how much affliction comes our way, it is not close to the level that the apostle faced.
 
In verse 4 and 5 he lists three different categories of affliction: Verse 4 describes how he endured troubles, hardships and distresses which is affliction in a general sense. Verse 5 describes beatings, imprisonment and riots, which refers to affliction cause by others. Verse 5 also describes hard work, sleepless nights and hunger which is affliction caused by Paul’s exemplary standards. His hunger came not only from skipping a meal to get work done, but also fasting to bring himself closer to the Lord.
 
We also face affliction of many types, and it is our conduct under pressure – our conduct in affliction – that speaks the loudest to others, either as a stumbling block or as a powerful witness. Affliction is always the real test of a Christian’s faith and obedience.
 
For instance, in the life of Joseph we see steadfast obedience and sterling faith. But it is the background of his circumstances that makes his faith and obedience an even more powerful witness. Even when he was betrayed by his brothers, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, forgotten by the cup-bearer, he was yet a person of faith and a model of obedience.
 
It has been pointed out that the real self surfaces when your thumb is hit by the hammer. It is in those times of affliction, whether great or small, that others evaluate your conduct. At those times your conduct – and my conduct – will either be a powerful witness to God's sustaining grace. Or our conduct will be a detrimental stumbling block for those who know that we profess to be followers of Christ, yet do not show his sustaining grace in times of trial.
 
Living by Godly Principles
 
A second key in order not to be a stumbling block to others, is live by godly principles. How was the apostle Paul able to endure so much affliction from many different sources? It was because he lived by godly principles. Verse 6-7 contain a number of those principles.
 
The first principle listed is purity.  Purity is a godly principle that brings great blessing. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” As a godly principle, purity, along with other godly principles, also gives us a yardstick to measure what activities we should, or should not do. Do you remember how Philippians 4:8 gives us that standard to live by – and includes evaluating all things with purity? Philippians 4:8: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.
 
Writing to Titus the apostle adds, to the pure all things are pure but to the impure nothing is pure. Part of living your life as a powerful witness to others, instead of being a stumbling block, is to live a life of purity. A pure life is an especially powerful witness because it is lived in striking contrast to the impurity of our world.
 
Verse 6 also speaks about understanding. Putting yourself in another person's place can serve as a powerful witness of compassion and concern to them. There is truth to the old saying about how you need to walk a mile in another person’s shoes to know what they are going through.
 
No one has done that with more empathy, love and compassion than Jesus. He came to this earth and experienced every facet of living in a fallen world. Because of that he is the perfect high priest who understands us completely. As Hebrews 4:15-16 point out, …We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
 
Verse 6 also mentions patience. Patience can be a powerful witness to others. And impatience can be a detrimental stumbling block to them. Here again, who sets the ultimate example of patience? Peter writes: God waited patiently in the days of Noah. A great truth, without doubt. But God also waited patiently in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, and certainly waits patiently even today, not willing that any of His elect would perish but that all ordained unto salvation come to a saving knowledge of His Son.
 
And how patient has God been with you? How patient has he been with me? As Psalm 103 puts it: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities (vv. 8-10) Those attributes of God are rooted in His patience.  He is the ultimate example of patience!
 
Another godly trait is in verse 6, which speaks of kindness. A so-called “random act of kindness” toward a stranger can open the door of opportunity to witness about Christ. And here again it is Christ who is the ultimate example of kindness. He is the example that we are to follow. Titus 3:4 reminds us, But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior…
 
It is the Holy Spirit who graciously works within us, enabling us to live by godly principles and convicting us when we don't. And the Holy Spirit sanctifies us so that we are enabled to live by godly principles more and more as we are shaped and molded by the Spirit applying the Word of God to our hearts and lives.
    
When you and I not only profess to believe that these godly principles are a vital part of living as Christians but actually live them out in our lives, then our lives become a powerful witness. Then our lives become that letter from Christ known and read by everyone, in a positive God-honoring way. Then others see in us the work of the Holy Spirit: sincere love, truthful speech and the power of God as recorded in verse 7. Then, by God's grace, our lives are not a stumbling block, but a powerful witness for our Lord.
 
Accepting Praise and Criticism Graciously
 
A third principle to put into action in your life, so that you did not become a stumbling block to others, is to accept both praise and criticism graciously. In verse 8-9 the apostle writes about how he faced both glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; how he and other faithful messengers of the Lord were genuine, yet regarded as imposters; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on he writes; beaten, and yet not killed…
 
Every Christian will have bad things and good things said about them. You have undoubtedly experienced that in your life, as I have in mine.  I used to believe what I heard about other people. But it did not take too long to realize that gossip does great harm. Gossip is, as Proverbs 18:8 points out, like a choice morsel; it goes down to the inmost parts. When you hear something about someone else – whether it's true or whether it's gossip – it still has a way of affecting your perception of that person.
  
And when it comes to you, and what people say about you, remember that a bad report can be less harmful to you than a good report.  If someone says things about you that are not true, if someone smears and slanders you because of your faith, then you have the consolation of suffering as Jesus suffered.
 
He was maligned and ridiculed. More bad reports were said about Jesus Christ than anyone who has ever lived. And often his followers are given a bad report simply because they follow in the footsteps of their Savior and Lord. If that happens to you, take comfort that you are identified with Christ, sharing in his suffering.
 
But there is also a time to speak up and refute what is falsely said about you. Verse 7 speaks about truthful speech and the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left. It is telling us that in every Christian's life there must be an offensive strategy that moves the gospel forward, just as the offensive team moves the football toward the goal post. But there is also the defensive aspect of life. Speaking the truth in love to deflect the gossip and ridicule that would detract from the gospel of Jesus Christ, is part of that defensive strategy.
  
But, a good report on the other hand, often leads to pride, and pride can so quickly lead to a fall. When the Apostle Paul received a good report, he gave all the glory to the Lord and acknowledged that he was who he was, not because of any goodness within himself, but only because of God's grace and enabling Spirit. As he explained in 1 Corinthians 15:10, By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
 
The Silver Lining
 
And then a fourth principle that enabled the apostle not to be a stumbling block to others, especially when trouble loomed in his life, is that he looked – in the familiar analogy – for the silver lining on the clouds. In verse 10 he writes: Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
 
No matter how much affliction and sorrow we may face, no matter how much we may be ridiculed or persecuted for our faith, no matter how dreary our life may seem, we have no excuse to feel sorry for ourselves. We may have sorrow, yet we also have, as believers in Jesus Christ, an inexpressible and glorious joy, in the words of 1 Peter 1:8.
We may be poor in the eyes of the world, and yet by not being a stumbling block to others, God may use us to bring spiritual riches to many.  And even if we possess nothing in this life we possess everything, for we are heirs with Christ of heaven. Our eternal home has been prepared for us and we are guaranteed entrance because of what Jesus Christ has done for us in redeeming us from our sin and crediting his righteousness to us.
 
It is little wonder that the apostle Paul saw the proverbial silver lining on the clouds of adversity because, after all, he is the one who was inspired to write that well-known verse in Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
 
How else do we apply these verses, written so long ago, to your life and my life today? Part of the application is in chapter 7:1 where we are reminded that we are fellow workers with God. Each one of us has a ministry. If we truly belong to Christ, we are a letter written by Him, known and read by everyone.
 
And then in verse 2 we are told that now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.  All of us have unsaved friends, or perhaps family members, or coworkers or classmates who have not placed their faith in Christ alone for salvation.  Do those people whom you meet, whether they have known you for years or whether they just met you recently, see Christ living in you? Do they see Christ living in me?
 
Does your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ make a difference in those times of affliction that come into every person's life? Does the knowledge of the sovereign God who works all things for the good of those who love Him cause you to see the silver lining on the clouds of adversity in your life?
 
When people look at your life, and at my life, do they see that we live by the principles that we profess to believe in? Do they see your life as a life of purity, understanding, patience, kindness, Christ-like love, and truthfulness? Do they see the fruit of the Holy Spirit in you and in me?
 
There is a beautiful truth in the familiar hymn, “We have heard the joyful sound… Jesus saves! Jesus saves!” But those whom He saves, He also sanctifies. He molds and shapes us by the conviction of the Holy Spirit through the Word which He inspired.
 
By God's grace, may your life and my life be a powerful witness of the saving power of Jesus Christ! May your life and my life not be a stumbling block to others, hindering them from believing in our Savior and Lord. But rather, may the testimony of your life and mine be a vibrant testimony to God's goodness and grace! Amen.
 
                                              - bulletin outline -
 
 
We put no stumbling blocks in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.
                                                                                                                2 Corinthians 6:3
 
                                          “No Stumbling Blocks!”
                                             2 Corinthians 6:1-13
 
I.  Each one of us has a ministry (1; 2 Corinthians 3:2-3), but when we do
     not live according to what we profess, we cause others to stumble (3)
 
 
 
 
II. Keys for being a positive witness, not a stumbling block:
     1) Be patient when afflicted (4-5)
 
 
 
 
     2) Live by godly principles (6-7)
 
 
 
 
     3) Accept both praise and criticism graciously (8-9)
 
 
 
 
     4) Look for the silver lining on the clouds (10)
 
 
 
 
III. Application: Since “now is the day of salvation” (2), focus in faith on Christ, living as a
      witness for Him and not as a stumbling block – an obstacle – to others (3)

 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Ted Gray

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