Their Perception of YOU
[Below are the notes to tonight's message on perception as we get close to the end of Pastor Joel's series on Suffering. PTL!]
2Co 6:1 We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. 2Co 6:2 (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) 2Co 6:3 Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed: 2Co 6:4 But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, 2Co 6:5 In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings;2Co 6:6 By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, 2Co 6:7 By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, 6:8By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; 6:9 As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; 6:10As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
We’ve recapped many times the three lists in these passages, and if you’re sitting there thinking, “I have these verses memorize now and I could totally preach a sermon on the three lists in 2 Cor. 6,” then good. I’ve done my job. You need to have these verses memorized. Because hard times are coming. Because suffering is coming. Because persecution is coming. But it’s okay because the Lord is coming, too. But before He comes, you and I need to be experts on how to suffer God’s way, the grace way. You might remember those three lists. The first list had to do with the types of suffering Paul went through punctuated by the preposition “in.” In afflictions, in necessities, in distresses… The second list, which we’ve spent weeks covering, this second list starts in vs. 6 and it’s about how Paul got through those sufferings. This list is punctuated by the preposition “by.” By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness… And tonight, we’re going to finish that second list and go through the entire third list. This third list starts in the second half of vs. 8, and it’s a list that’s punctuated by the preposition “as.” As deceivers, and yet true; 6:9 As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live… Vs. 8 gave me pause. Notice what he says. 6:8 By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report and then he says as deceivers, and yet true… So what’s going on here? Why did the third list start with deceivers? Why not start the third list with honor and dishonor? Why wouldn’t honour and dishonour and evil report and good report be included in the third list? What exactly is Paul saying here? How do you explain all this? So I went through the Searchable Riches drive and got almost no results. Very few dispensationalists have written about these verses. What was written really wasn’t helpful except for one article by Ricky Kurth in a June 2010 BS, which was funny, and I’ll share some quotes. So I studied these verses old school by comparing Scripture with Scripture and prayerfully meditating on them.
I have to admit that while we’ve spent months digging into the meat of these verses to help us learn how to get through suffering, it’s true as we’ve been saying that all these areas of focus in the second list is how Paul got through suffering. When Paul suffered, he focused his mind upon excelling in his walk in specific areas. And we’ve made the point that by focusing upon excelling at these same qualities in your walk, you’re not as worried about the suffering, because you’re more concerned about your service to God. Rather then fretting and worrying yourself to death about “how do I get through all this suffering?” the question for all of us should be, “how do I excel while I’m suffering?”
But I think now is good to step back and take into consideration the greater context. These verses are also about how Paul was focused on approving himself as a minister of God while he went through suffering. Remember what he said in vs. 3-4. 2Co 6:3 Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed: 2Co 6:4 But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God… This was about how Paul was proving himself to everyone that he was a legitimate minister of God through the witness of the suffering servant. Sometimes the greatest testimony we can have is as the suffering servant and likewise, sometimes the greatest opportunity to approve yourself as a minister of God is as the suffering servant, by excelling when you suffer. These verses aren’t meant just for pastors. We’re all ministers. We’re all ambassadors for Christ. We’re all approving ourselves as ministers. Paul’s sharing the things he was focused upon as a suffering servant to prove himself as a minister of God was to not only validate his apostleship but to also be an example to us when we suffer. I’d say that in this second list, we really have three sections. We have the things Paul was focused upon, which we called PKLK, pureness, knowledge, longsuffering, and kindness. Then we have a second section in that list, which are the resources available to Paul to help him approve himself as a minister of God while he was suffering unbearably. He had, as we all have, the Holy Ghost, love unfeigned, the word of truth, the power of God, and the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left. And then we have a third section in that second list, by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report, which are important.
By honor and dishonor / By evil report and good report
I think that by highlighting honour and dishonour, evil report and good report, he’s saying that he is keeping himself focused upon PKLK and all the resources of God available to him as he suffers so that he may consistently prove himself as a minister of God regardless of how people perceived him. He’s essentially making the point here that he refused to allow people’s right or wrong perception of him to derail his mission to approve himself as the minister of God when he suffered. The two expressions, honour and dishonour, evil report and good report, are similar but different, but both have to do with perception. I suspect honour and dishonour had to do with how people viewed him whereas evil report and good report had to do with what was being said about him. You don’t let the honorable words said about you go to your head and you don’t let the dishonorable words said about you go to your heart. Paul’s point here screams out to us that we are to stay focused on our walk regardless of perception about us. Regardless of whether people perceive you as being honorable or dishonorable and regardless of what’s being said about you, despite whatever the perception is or what’s being said, we’re to stay focused upon pureness, knowledge, longsuffering, and kindness. Regardless of the truth or the lies that’s slung around about you, you’re to never abandon the resources of God, consistently yielding to the Holy Ghost, consistently connected to the unfeigned love of God which enables you to exhibit love unfeigned to others. You’re consistently focused upon the word of truth, which is the gospel and everything God made you in Christ. You’re consistently focused upon the power of God appropriated through the study of His Word. Plus, you keep your armor on at all times to protect yourself from the wiles of the devil. Honor and dishonor isn’t so much about being in circumstances in which you’re given honor or you’re being dishonored, he’s talking about keeping himself focused upon fulfilling his calling as a minister of God despite whatever the varied perceptions people may have about him. The big picture point here is that Paul is saying he will never allow the perceptions of others or what’s being said about him to knock him off course from his mission to stay focused upon PKLK so that he may approve himself as a minister of God. He will always keep himself focused upon those attributes in his walk and consistently use all the resources of God to fulfill his calling.
Paul was greatly loved by many Gentiles for the gospel of grace he shared with them, and I’ll bet many in those early days really honored him when he healed them. But then, of course, we’re reminded at the end of Acts when Paul was in his own hired house awaiting his trial before Nero and the Chief Jews came to see him, they said in Act 28:22 But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against. Despite what’s being said, Paul would not be deterred continuing in the ministry.
Ricky Kurth – “Grace pastors are also approved of God ‘by honor and dishonor’ (6:8). Even the world knows that a man is judged by his enemies as well as by his friends. If the wrong kind of people honor you, and the right kind of people dishonor you, you are not being approved in the ministry ‘by honor and dishonor.’ If the world crucified the Lord, but they honor you, what does that say about you? It says you must not be much like Him! Likewise if good men say evil things about you, and evil men say good things about you, you are not being approved as a minister of God ‘by evil report and good report’ (II Cor. 6:8).”
That’s it! We’re finally done with the second list. And all the saints said amen!
Now we’ve arrived at the third list, the blessed results after doing everything he did in that second list when he suffered. This list isn’t simply about personal fulfillment, but about how he approved himself as a minister of God, and how others were blessed through his suffering. A major takeaway from this third list is that while we often think when suffer, “How am I going to get through this?” Paul demonstrates to us here that suffering is an opportunity to approve yourself as an ambassador for Christ. Suffering is an opportunity for personal growth in the sense that you’re really putting into practice the sound doctrines of grace. Suffering is an opportunity for intense focus upon excelling at your walk to fulfill your calling, and we often forget the power of the testimony of the suffering servant. You excelling in your walk while you suffer can help get people saved and be a blessing to other believers in Christ.
Paul starts the third list in the second half of 6:8 …as deceivers, and yet true; 6:9 As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; 6:10 As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. Notice he doesn’t talk about a change in his circumstances but rather enduring his circumstances, approving himself as a minister of God, and others being blessed through his witness as a suffering servant as he stayed focused upon PKLK and the resources of God. I think that what Paul is doing in this third list overall is that he is continuing his thinking about perception, but this list is different than the two expressions we just covered. The point he had just made by highlighting honour and dishonour, evil report and good report is that regardless of how he’s perceived or what’s being said, he never lost focus on his walk. But this new list is different. Paul continues in his thinking about perception but now he contrasts perception with reality and the blessed results of enduring suffering in that manner that he did. In this new list, he continues the idea of perception about him but now it’s a contrast of perception vs. the reality of spiritual blessings.
So first he says, as deceivers, and yet true. This is about the perception of Paul being a deceiver and yet, he knows he’s speaking the truth. Paul said in Rom 9:1 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost… He said in 2Co 11:31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. He told the Galatians Gal 1:20 Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. And yet, the Jews, the unbelievers, and the world generally looked at Paul as some kind of agent of deception. What is a deceiver? A deceiver is one who leads into error. Paul gave a definition of a deceiver in Tit 1:10 For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Tit 1:11 Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake. These deceivers were leading people into doctrinal error for the sake of making money. The reason someone typically deceives is to serve himself or herself in some way. When it comes to Paul, everyone not only questioned his apostleship, but they also twisted what he taught into lies. Why? Because what Paul taught was a threat to them. A threat to their religion. A threat to their status. A threat to their precious means of making filthy lucre. And they attacked him for it. I’m reminded of Rom 3:8 And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just. His enemies were totally twisting his grace doctrines into a lie. Then in Romans Paul would go through the entire process of our justification by faith in chapters 3-5. Then, in chapter 6, Paul returns to the idea of that slanderous report in Rom 3:8. He says, essentially, Now that we’ve gone through the entire process of justification by faith, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid.” Knowing now how we have been saved by His blood, how shall we live? Have we been given a license to sin? God forbid! God Himself would protest such an evil thought. Why should God, who hates all unrighteousness, who sacrificed His Son on a cross for all our sins, suddenly betray His nature and give us a license to sin? Also, the Corinthians doubted Paul’s motives and worried that he’d take a cut from that collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem, and Paul had to go out of his way to take steps to disprove that concern. He wrote in 1Co 16:3 And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem. In other words, I’ll let you pick whomever you wish to personally deliver your love offering to the Jews in Jerusalem and I won’t even look at it. So despite the accusations of deception, he stayed focused upon PKLK while he continued to teach the sound doctrines of grace and went out of his way to be above reproach so as to approve himself as a minister of God. Despite the perception, he stayed true to the will of God to prove himself to everyone.
Next, in vs. 6:9 Paul says As unknown, and yet well known. What did he mean by that? Again, this is about perception. Paul was perceived “as unknown” by the world. Look at Act 17:18 Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. Act 17:19 And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? Act 17:20 For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. Here he is both known and unknown. He was not a famous man. He was not a wise philosopher in their eyes, and that elicited contempt and ridicule. Yet, he was known because they were all talking about this new doctrine of grace he preached. Paul was certainly well known by all the new grace believers in the world, too, and he also wrote in 1Co_4:9 he was …made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.
Next, Paul says as dying, and, behold, we live. What does he mean by that? I suspect that everybody kept thinking that Paul was going to die soon and that with Paul’s impending death, this little Christian sect he founded would die with him. This could be dying in the sense that Paul always seemed to be about to die, but this could also be dying in the sense of this new doctrine as a force in the world was going to die out soon. Probably both. But I’ll bet every time Paul was about to receive forty stripes save one, especially the fourth and fifth time, everybody thought he was going to die. They probably thought he would die after being beaten with rods three times. They thought he’d die during one of his four shipwrecks. He seemed to be one who was condemned to death by God and yet, he wouldn’t die. But he was constantly exposed to the possibility of death, and when Paul says in 1Co_15:31, that “I die daily” you can’t help but wonder if he didn’t mean that literally. But again, this expression as dying, and, behold, we live probably meant that Christianity would soon die out with the death of Paul, and not only did Paul continue living but at the time, the grace message was going out into all the world and kept growing by leaps and bounds.
Next, he says as chastened, and not killed. Again, we have perception vs. reality. There was a perception, I’m sure, by the Jews especially who knew only how God worked under Law, and they assumed Paul was being chastened by the Lord because of all the suffering he was going through. And the answer to that perception, the reality was, he’s not killed. If he was being chastened by God, he would’ve been dead by now. We know that in the age of grace, God is not chastening us through circumstances. Paul had just explained in the previous chapter, in 2Co 5:19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. What does it mean that God is reconciling the world unto Himself? The answer is in the context. He is reconciling the world unto Himself through the ministry of reconciliation, through His ambassadors who are out in the world begging the lost and dying in Christ’s stead to be ye reconciled to God! What does it mean that God is not imputing their trespasses unto them? Imputing their trespasses meant that God was charging people for their sins, which meant the He was punishing people on Earth for those sins. But God isn’t doing that today. He’s not reigning fire down upon cities like He did with Sodom and Gomorrah. If He was, Hollywood would’ve have been toast long ago. And why isn’t God doing this today? Because we live in the age of His grace, and His grace reigns today! God is now longsuffering with us about our sins hoping that more and more souls will embrace His gospel of grace by faith. The phrase, “not imputing their trespasses unto them” is not the equivalent of forgiveness of sins. It simply means that God is now longsuffering about sin. But we have been appointed to suffer. Paul wrote in 1Th 3:3 That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.
Next, Paul says, As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing. This was perception vs. reality. After highlighting that he was constantly exposed to death and yet he lived, and that he was suffering so much he was viewed as being chastened by God and yet he hasn’t died, he was being perceived as someone who must be “sorrowful” because who wouldn’t be sorrowful after having suffered so much? And yet, the reality was that he was alway rejoicing. The reality was as far from the perception as the east is from the west. While everyone is making assumptions about Paul because of his circumstances, those who knew him experienced firsthand the rich vitality of his spiritual life as he suffered because he was alway rejoicing. Why? Because the life of Christ was manifest in him. He knew God wasn’t punishing him through circumstances, because he had eternal life by the riches of His grace. Instead of punishing Paul, God already punished His Son on his behalf at Calvary because of the riches of His grace. He knew what God made him in Christ because of the riches of His grace. He knew he was identified with the Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection, because of the riches of His grace. He knew Christ lived in him and he lived in Christ, because of the riches of His grace. He knew he was a new creature, blessed with all spiritual blessings, made free from sin and alive unto God because of the riches of His grace. He knew he was a son of God, an heir of God, and a joint-heir with Christ, because of the riches of His grace. He knew of the “glory” that will be “revealed in” him that is “not worthy to be compared with” the “sufferings of this present time,” because of the riches of His grace. He already had “the love of God shed abroad in [his] heart by the Holy Ghost,” because of the riches of His grace. All the circumstances, which are but for a moment, all light afflictions, would never rob Paul of all the joy in Heaven that was his because of the riches of His grace.
Next, he says as poor, yet making many rich. When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, he said 1Co_4:11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace. He was dirt poor, which was a stark contrast to the life he had before he got saved. How can you not think of Php_3:8? Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ… The excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, in and of itself, outweighed the value of everything else in life. All the earthly treasures Paul gained as a Pharisee, he cast aside for the heavenly treasure of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. He had seen Christ. He had experienced Christ. He had learned from Christ, and he wanted more. He would desire nothing else. And the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus made it a joy to suffer the loss of all things and count them as dung. And boy, did Paul suffer the loss of all things, the loss of all the privileges afforded him in his previous life as a Pharisee, and the loss of all things needful in this life, like food, shelter, clothes, money, and protection from persecution. As a Pharisee, he had all the advantages in the world, but after his conversion, he lost everything and suffered enormously for the cause of Christ. He viewed all his former advantages as dung and he viewed his sufferings as nothing, because the gain of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ outweighed everything. And yet, through his poverty, everyone who accepted the gospel of grace became rich in ways beyond all comprehension, blessed with all spiritual blessings in this life, and in the life to come, as co-inheritors with Christ, we will all literally inherit everything. I loved with Ricky Kurth had to say: “Finally, if you decide to join the ranks of the faithful men of God who are standing for the truth, you’ll probably be perceived ‘as poor’ by others, just as Paul was (II Cor. 6:10), since standing for the truth will likely cost you financially, as it did him. But while you’ll never get rich preaching the grace message, you’ll be ‘making many rich’ (6:10), rich in grace, and in glory (Eph. 1:7,18) and in assurance (Col. 2:2). But the life of a grace pastor is a guaranteed life of ‘making many rich,’ for as men are enriched by the truth, the only loss they ever know is the loss of the shackles of religious error.”
And finally, Paul said as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. Again, we have perception vs. reality. He’s viewed as a poor suffering man who has nothing and yet he possesses everything. He possesses the life of God inside of him, the power of God inside of him, and when this life is over, as a co-inheritor with Christ he will, with all of us, literally possess all things. God has literally given to us as much as He’s given His Son because He loves us as much as His Son. He could not do more for us and He would not do less.
So this third list, that contrasted the perception of Paul vs. the spiritual reality of the life that existed in him, brings to mind again the very power of God at work inside of him, able to accomplish extraordinary feats while suffering, to be able to suffer and yet alway rejoice. We’re reminded again here in this third list that we’re designed to be able to endure all kinds afflictions because of the power of God at work inside of us. 2 Tim. 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,1:10 But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. We are simply empowered by the knowledge that God Himself called us through His gospel, He saved us by His grace, and He had determined to implement this new administration of grace before the foundation of the world. The promise of life in Christ Jesus for us was a promise God made to Himself before the foundation of the world, now revealed as part of the body of revelation given to Paul. Life in Christ Jesus, life and immortality, is now brought to light by Paul’s gospel, by which we are called by God to trust in His Son’s sacrifice and resurrection as a payment for all our sins, so that His death may become our eternal victory. We’re motivated, inspired, and empowered by Christ’s all-sufficient sacrifice on the cross, which abolished death on our behalf, which means Christ took on for us the sting of death, the penalty of sin, and freed us from the dominion of sin over our souls. God has brought to light life and immortality for us through the gospel. Christ is life in Himself. We are continually empowered by His life in us. We know that as we study His Word the Holy Spirit strengthens with might our inner man, fortifying in our souls the sound doctrines of grace. We know that the joy and the peace we feel while abounding in hope is the power of the Holy Spirit at work inside of us, which strengthens us with might and makes us equipped to endure all longsuffering with joyfulness. We can now and forever walk with confident assurance and joy about the permanence of our eternal life and walk with the power of God at work inside of us through the Spirit in the face of even the most horrible circumstances of life. We need not ever be distressed, or in despair, or cast down, or destroyed. I’m reminded of 2Co_4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. And then Paul gives examples of how the excellency of that power of God was at work inside of him. 2Co 4:8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 2Co 4:9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. This is God’s power on display in the life of a believer. God’s power kept Paul from falling apart while suffering through all the worst circumstances. He was troubled on every side, yet not distressed; he was perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. Not distressed, not in despair, not cast down, and not destroyed. Paul was able to do exceeding abundantly above all he could ever ask or think, because of the power that worked in him.
Their perception of you is irrelevant because all that matters is what God tells you in His Word about your standing before Him and everything He made you in His Son. We’re given in our apostle the example of how you can endure great suffering through the empowering sufficiency of His grace. And yet, despite any honor, despite any dishonor, despite what’s said, despite the perception, Paul stayed focused upon his walk, upon the pureness of his walk, being an example in true purity for the Lord. He strove for purity in his thinking, in his emotions, and in his actions to believers and unbelievers alike. He stayed focused upon God’s knowledge, because it’s God’s spiritual knowledge that carries you when you’re weak. It’s God’s spiritual knowledge that keeps you from caving in to temptations of the flesh, and it’s God’s spiritual knowledge that empowers you to meet the devil on the battlefield and counter his lies with the truth saying, “It is written,” just as the Lord told the devil in that wilderness so many years ago. He stayed focused upon longsuffering because suffering long with joyfulness puts on display to everyone the fact that His life is manifest in us, and that we intimately know God because we are exhibiting an attribute common amongst the entire Godhead – the capacity to suffer long with joy. And he stayed focused upon kindness when he suffered. Unkindness escalates the conflict, whereas kindness de-escalates conflict and tension. Kindness brings unity and love. Kindness isn’t simply acts of goodwill but having that disposition to act in kindness toward everyone. Kindness is in not just what you do but also in what you don’t do. Kindness is one of the attributes of God Himself, which is to be reflected in us. We are empowered by what God made us in Christ, which is strengthened through study, to fulfill our calling. So the question for all of us is, how much do you allow the perception of others to effect your walk? Are you going to let that derail you or are you going to follow Paul’s example and stay focused upon your walk?