Often times we are tempted to think that sermon intros to bible books are the most impractical, historically dry, and data raw sermons that offer no real practical application to the Christian life. However, to the surprise of many, God’s promise that all Scripture is profitable holds true in a practical way even for introductions. Recently, I preached the introduction to second Corinthians. Here are just some of the ways introducing this epistle remains practical and applicable to all believers.
First, we should not miss the wonder of God’s work in a sinner’s life even if it is the mighty apostle Paul. Paul had sinned greatly against God; he aided the killing and persecution of Christians (Acts 7.58; 8.1; Gal. 1.13), he coveted (Rom. 7.7); he was a blasphemer, a violent aggressor, and an unbeliever (1 Tim. 1.13). Even after conversion Paul seems to remain quite aware of the remaining corruption in his life (Rom. 7.14f); he was a “wretched man”, thinking of himself as the “foremost” of sinners (1 Tim. 1.15). Regardless of Paul’s genius, he had nothing to commend himself before God (cf. Phil. 3.7-9). The sheer fact that God is in the business of using unlikely people for His purposes should be a great incentive for our lives and should propel us to avail ourselves of God’s means of grace and seek to be used mightily for His glory (1 Cor. 1.26f).
Second, though Paul had a special calling as an apostle, like Paul, all believers belong to Jesus Christ. At the beginning of the letter, Paul’s salutation indicates what we often expect, “Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus...” (2 Cor. 1.1); yet in the very next breath Paul also identifies the church as “the church of God” (2 Cor. 1.2). This of course sets us, like Paul, apart as a holy people. As Peter told the scattered believer in the Diaspora, who no doubt longed for solidarity and identity, they were a special people:
1 Peter 2:9–10 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Third, Paul often mentions his companions in his salutations (here it is Timothy). Paul prized authentic friendship and kindred spirits in the gospel, and he was not shy about it. We see this very clearly in Philippians were Timothy is one-soul with Paul regarding the church and the gospel (Phil. 2.19-22). There is quite nothing like human friendships. This blessing however takes two. If we are tempted to think, that’s precisely what I need and that’s precisely what I cannot seem to find— a Timothy-like friendship experience -we must ask ourselves two things. First, are we friendly? Do we practice affirmation? Do we have the interests of others in mind? Or do we only look for what we can get out of a friendship? As a believer, the issue of friendships is serious business because Scripture describes Christian friendship, above all, as genuinely loving. Perhaps no other author teaches us that than the apostle John:
John 13:35 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 17:21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
1 John 3:10–18 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. 11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
Second, do we seek spiritual friendships in the gospel? This second one is crucial because our friendships will never go beyond the surface of worldly triviality if we do not connect on a spiritual plane with people. Our friendships should not be focused on food, clothes, shopping, sports, hobbies, or family; innocent as these things may be, we must master the art of Christianizing all we do. We must elevate the affairs of this life beyond their mundane spheres and on into prayer, spiritual fellowship, and Biblical one another ministry (cf. Eph. 4.31-32).
Fourth, the numerous and even complex correspondence between Paul and the Corinthians reveal to us Paul’s deep concern for the churches (cf. 2 Cor. 11.28-29). Paul did not give up on the church because there were problems there. He did not yield to the opposition of false teachers, but rather confronted and refuted them (Gal. 2.5). Some people cut tail and run at the first sign of trouble in a church. If God has knit you to a church, you should strive as much as possible towards the health and unity of the church.
Fifth, we can readily identify with the church at Corinth along many lines. The church in Corinth and those “throughout Achaia” no doubt had a similar mundane context. Yet, Paul did not hesitate to assign to them the glorious description “the church of God” (2 Cor. 1.2). Their context no matter how pagan, no matter how laden with sin, suffering, and adversity, could not separate them from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8.38-39). This is particularly precious in that all Christians suffer as dual citizens. Trying so hard to maintain our heavenly identity as citizens of heaven (Phil. 3.20) we still become discouraged, disheartened, depressed, and lonely as citizens in our earthly contexts as well (cf. John 17.14- 15). What a great comfort to know that, as with “the church of God in Corinth” in the first century, the church in the twenty first century equally belongs to God and cannot be separated from God.
2 Timothy 3:16–17 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Soli Deo Gloria