GOD’S “WHATEVER IT TAKES” GRACE
Expository Sermon on 2 Corinthians 6
Bellevue SDA Church 00/00/17
©2017 by Maylan Schurch
To hear the audio for this sermon, delivered by Karen Murcia, click the little white triangle at the left of the line below:
Please open your Bibles to Second Corinthians chapter six.
As I’ve been doing pretty much every Sabbath since the beginning of the year, I based today’s sermon on a passage from this past week’s Andrews Study Bible reading plan. If you don’t have a copy of the Andrews Study Bible and would like to have a copy of the plan, there are several on the counter by the stairs. (Ceci just ran some fresh ones, because people have been picking them up.) So you can grab one on your way up to potluck, or after you’re done eating.
I think that Second Corinthians 6 is a perfect example of why you and I need to get on some kind of daily Bible reading plan. This chapter is such a practical one, and I think you’ll see how when we go through it.
I’ve always loved “whatever it takes” stories. What do I mean by “whatever it takes” stories? I mean stories where someone is so excited and deeply committed about a project that he or she will carry it through “whatever it takes.”
Not too long ago in one of my sermons I told the story of a couple I knew back in South Dakota, Perry and Inez Clifford. I won’t tell you the whole story again, but Perry and Inez had both graduated from South Dakota State University sometime in the nineteen-teens, and started farming in a county northwest of the one in which I grew up.
But right from the start it was clear that farming wasn’t their highest priority. While they were in college, both Perry and Inez had fallen in love not only with each other but with choral music. And once they landed on their little farm, they decided that they would gather as many farmers and farmers wives as they could from all over the county and rehearse and perform Handel’s “The Messiah.”
Can you imagine what a task this was? Probably most of those farm families had never even heard the “Messiah” in their lives. So somehow Perry and Inez had to get them interested enough in the music, and the dream, that they would gather at little churches in groups of 5 or 6 to rehearse, with Inez playing the piano and Perry conducting. And finally all these sub-groups got together for a couple of ensemble rehearsals, and then they performed it. That was the start of 30 or 40 years of that county chorus’s history.
What a splendid triumph of the “whatever it takes” spirit. My farmer grandfather sang in that chorus, and his eyes would fill with nostalgic tears when he told me about that experience.
One day, a long, long time ago, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit got together and decided that whatever it took, they would rescue a rebellious planet from oblivion. And just like my grandfather responded to Perry and Inez’ “whatever it takes” spirit, the apostle Paul urges you and me to respond to heaven’s fondest hopes for us.
You see, Heaven is fond of using “whatever it takes” to do many good things. For example, Paul himself was formerly a vicious persecutor of Christians, but Jesus reached out to him using the method He knew would reach Saul’s hard heart.
So let’s listen with deep respect as this former misguided “Jehovah jihadist” tells us about God’s “whatever it takes” grace and how we should respond to it.
2 Corinthians 6:1 [NKJV]: We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
What is the grace of God? It is the totally undeserved gift of our salvation. Grace is “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
God gave us His grace—that “undeserved mercy”—through Jesus His Son. And Paul is urging his readers in the Christian church at Corinth to not receive this gift “in vain.”
How could you or I receive a present “in vain”? I think back to the Christmas presents of my childhood. Normally the presents would be things I had asked for or strongly hinted about, and I absolutely could not wait until Christmas Eve, which was when our family opened presents. And once I got the present I had longed for, I would immediately start playing with it.
I remember when I was about five or six I got a heavy-duty foot-long yellow metal road grader with an adjustable blade and with front wheels that would turn left and right. This must’ve been a present I got in the spring, because as soon as I got that present I took it right outside to the back yard and started grading little furrows of dirt with it.
So Paul tells these Corinthian Christians not to receive the gift of God’s gracious salvation in vain.
Now, let’s keep reading.
Verses 1 – 2: We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
So what should I do? If you’re taking sermon notes, here comes Sermon Point One:
Whatever it takes, accept God’s grace right now.
Because when you come to think of it, “now” is all we have. For humans, there is no other moment besides right now. There are events that have happened in the past, but all we have left are the results of those events. Those events are not still happening. Other events will happen in the future, but they do not exist yet. All we have is now.
And I can tell you stories, and you can tell me stories, about how you just never know what will happen. One moment you might be healthy, and the next you might be clutching your chest with a heart attack. Even young basketball athletes can be stricken with a heart attack or some other health tragedy. We just never know.
So how do we accept God’s grace? Remember, God can show His mercy to us because Jesus has died for our sins. What we need to do is to accept this gift. Open it up, admire it, and take it with us. Whatever it takes, accept God’ grace right now. Say, “Lord Jesus, I am a sinner. I cannot help or save myself. Please forgive my sins. I want Your life to be mine.”
So what might it “take” to accept God’s grace? Why might this be a challenge? Well, “what it takes” is for me to admit that nothing I can do will improve me spiritually. The Bible is liberally sprinkled with texts which say that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, or that there is none righteous, no not one.
It’s humbling to admit that I am not after all the master of my fate. I am not the captain of my soul. My choices are not God, Satan and a no-man’s land between. Instead, it’s either God or the devil. In Matthew 12:30 Jesus said emphatically, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.”
So that’s why accepting God’s grace right now is so important. If I’m not on God’s side, I’m heading down the devil’s highway to destruction. He who isn’t with Jesus is ultimately against Him.
Now, get ready. Fasten your seat belt, because we are going to ride on a roller coaster. Paul is going to tell us what he himself and his fellow-missionary friends were having to go through because they had accepted God’s grace.
Verse 3: We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed.
In other words, Paul is saying that he doesn’t go out of his way to cause problems. Christianity would be in a whole lot better shape if people who claim to be Christians behaved in this way. Christians need to be humble, not snooty. They need to be friendly and not intimidating. They need to be truthful and not liars. They need to be faithful to their spouses and their families.
But even though Paul is doing his best to represent Jesus correctly, watch what happens.
Verses 3 – 5: We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings;
Whoa. This doesn’t sound very attractive, does it? If this is what I go through when I accept the grace of God, it makes me wonder, “Is following Jesus worth it after all?”
In the next verse, things will lighten up considerably. But we do need to remember that when we take our stand for our Savior, the devil doesn’t like it. And people who are going in the devil’s direction often feel uncomfortable with people of faith. Christian young people know the uncomfortable feeling of refusing to go along with the crowd when the crowd is going in a sinful direction.
Until Jesus comes, there will always be that inherent frictioin between Christ’s way and the world’s way. Sometimes this conflict is under the surface, sometimes it’s more blatant. In John 16:33, Jesus tells us that this is the way it is—but in that same verse He gives us courage: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace,” He says. “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
So before we go any further, let’s lay down Sermon Point Two:
Whatever it takes, I should not only accept God’s grace right now, but I should also climb onto the roller-coaster paradox of living God’s way.
Again, if this seems intimidating, remember Jesus’ promises – in Him we can have peace, and He Himself has overcome this world which seems to us so intimidating.
And this is where Paul becomes more encouraging.
Verses 4 – 7: But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left,
So as we bump along on this sometimes wild roller coaster ride of being a faithful Christian, Paul gives us powerful tools which have worked for him—purity, longsuffering, kindness, the Holy Spirit, love, God’s Word, God’s power, the armor of righteousness. Not everything that happened to Paul may happen to us, but at least we are prepared.
Now comes the paradoxical part of this passage. The dictionary says that a paradox is “a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true.” Paul is going to give us some contradictions here, but if you think about them, you’ll see that they are very true. See if you can sense the up-and-down of the roller coaster. Remember, he’s talking about what can happen as a “minister” or representative of God:
Verses 8: by honor and dishonor . . . .
In other words, if you’re a Christian, some people might think you are dishonorable, while others will recognize that you are truly honorable. For example, Seventh-day Adventist Christians in Nazi Germany were considered dishonorable because they would not work on Sabbath, or send their children to school on Sabbath. In the government’s eyes they were dishonorable, but in God’s eyes they were honorable.
Paul goes on—and notice the paradoxes. These differences depend on which direction you’re looking from:
Verses 8 – 10: “ . . . by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
This Christian-life roller coaster can be an intimidating challenge. But whatever it takes, you and I need to get on it and ride it. Jesus did, His disciples did, faithful Christians down through the ages have. The only reason Christianity hasn’t faded from earth’s history is that there have been followers of Jesus who have lived lives of consistency and faithfulness – whatever it took.
But how do I do this? What do I need?
First, I need humility. I need to remember that I am not, after all, the center of the universe. Jesus is.
Second, I need a caring for people and their destiny. “For God so loved the world,” and I must pray that He increase that love within me.
Third, I need to keep my eye on the ultimate victory, and everything else will descend to its proper level of importance. Tomorrow the Seahawks play their opening home game at CenturyLink Field. During that game, a lot of huge-muscled people will be smashing into each other. Many will finish the game with bruises on their bodies. I once heard an interview with an NFL football player in which he said that from Day One of the season you start to hurt—and you keep hurting all the way through until the end of the season.
But these guys are used to that. In a football game they allow themselves to suffer assaults which off the field would get people thrown in jail. They do this because their eye is on the hoped-for victory, and nothing else is as important.
The more you study the stories of the Bible, the more you realize that this is what almost all its famous people did—ignored the discomfort and disapproval and ignominy, and kept their eyes on the victory. Noah did this, and Abraham, and Joseph, and David, and many others.
It’s interesting that the first couple of verses of Hebrews 12 encourage us by telling us that Jesus did exactly the same thing—kept His eyes on the victory. Put a marker in Second Corinthians 6, because we’ll be back in a few seconds. But turn to Hebrews 12.
Hebrews 12:1 – 2: Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Do you see? Jesus won the victory! He despised being bothered by any shame He suffered, so that He could win salvation’s victory for us!
Now back to Second Corinthians 6 for one final sermon point. We’ve learned that whatever it takes, we should accept God’s grace right now. And we should resolutely climb on to that up-and-down roller-coaster of living God’s way.
And here’s where Paul gets really specific. Here’s where he tells us just how we can survive as followers of Jesus.
2 Corinthians 6:11 – 13: O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also be open.
So Paul says, “Corinthians, we have opened our hearts wide to you. You need to open yours just as wide to your Savior.”
And now he tells them—and tells us—how up close and personal this “whatever it takes” openness must become. And again, there’s a wonderful privilege, a joyful “victory,” if you want to call it that, at the very end of the verses I’m about to read.
Verses 14 – 18: Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty.”
Here comes the final sermon point.
Paul tells me that whatever it takes, I should not only accept God’s grace right now, and I should not only cheerfully and resolutely climb onto the roller-coaster paradox of living God’s way, but Paul also tells me that whatever it takes, I must open all of my heart and let God live there.
“Wait just a minute,” someone says. “ALL of my heart? But there are parts of my heart that maybe I don’t want God to see. Also, there are parts of my heart that I want to leave pretty much unchanged.”
Are some of the undesirable desires of your heart really tempting? By following Paul’s steps that we’ve just read, you will make it easier for the Holy Spirit to re-create your heart’s desires.
King David knew very well that the Lord can do this. In Psalm 51:10, after a time of great sinfulness, he prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
You see, Satan and his selfishness have deceived us about what our heart’s most healthy desires can be. You and I need to continually pray for the clean heart God can put within us.
In fact, notice a very interesting passage in Ezekiel chapter 11. You can turn there with me if you’d like. This is an example of how important it is to read Bible verses in their contexts. This is the famous verse about God promising to take away our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh. But watch what happens when I read it in context. God is talking to His exiled people in Babylon, telling them what will happen when they return to the land of Judah, which has been polluted with idol worship. Watch what happens.
Ezekiel 11:17 – 20: Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “I will gather you from the peoples, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.” ’ And they will go there, and they will take away all its detestable things and all its abominations from there. Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.
Do you see what happens there? The people return home, and they remove all of the detestable things and all those abominations from their lives. Then the Lord goes to work and changes their hearts. First they need to do exactly what Paul tells the Corinthians to do—separate themselves from sinful associations, be holy, don’t touch what is unclean. Then He will receive then, and they will be His children. Jesus told us that we cannot serve two masters at once.
This doesn’t mean we should all go to a monastery. By no means. Jesus was the ultimate example of someone who didn’t allow sinful people to influence Him—yet He spent each and every day of His ministry in the presence of people who needed to know His Father better.
And He was the One who did “whatever it took,” allowing Himself to die on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins. And He calls you and me to do whatever it takes for us to come to that cross and take our stand beneath it, and accept His sacrifice and His love.
Do you want to do that this morning? Let me see your hands if you do. One way is to sing about it in our closing song, which is number 303, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.” Let’s stand and sing it together.