2nd Corinthians 11 and the Parable of the Sower both Show us God as the Strength in our Weakness.
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As we look at our lessons today, and I want to look briefly at both, comparing them together, (Glory to God) I’ll begin by sharing an old story some of you may know about a man named Phi-Dipp-adeez. I’d actually be impressed if you knew his name, but you probably know the name Marathon and Nike, both of which Phidippides made famous.
Short version, after watching a great victory by the undermanned Athenians over the Persians at a place named Marathon, he was charged with reporting this great, unexpected victory back to Athens. He reportedly ran the 26 miles from the battlefield all the way back to Athens where he gave his short two-word response, Rejoice-Nike (Victory). Then, to make sure we’d remember him (?), he died of exhaustion.
Now, this story may better fit last week, with Paul’s words concerning running for the prize, finishing the race, and setting aside everything that entangles, but it also fits well today which I hope to show you. Because we see, both in Jesus Parable of the Sower/Soils, (seed-world/Soils-us) and in our Epistle, again to the Corinthians, all the distractions which try to keep them (us) from finishing the race.
Jesus Parable began with a sower scattering seed everywhere. It’s really helpful when you hear this parable, I think, to imagine your pastor doing this to get the idea of what Jesus is teaching, and why the apostles were so confused. What do you say when the pastor buys the church grass seed, and then begins scattering it in the street, the sidewalk, and the cracks, the bushes, some rain gutters, and even the sand out by the ocean.
You probably think, this is some kind of stunt. I know Pastor Mike and he is the cheapest guy I ever met. The apostles hear this parable, and they lived in a society where most people knew agriculture. They knew seed was precious, you don’t waste it, and plant it carefully in tilled soil.
So they ask, explain this please, which Jesus does, which is why you are probably so familiar with the parable. It’s the one Jesus explains the clearest, so especially young pastors love to preach it, it was my first Parable I preached because it came with instructions!
2 applications here. First, Jesus encouragement for us, as His ambassadors to the world, is to share the faith freely, just like the sower shared the seed. Let God take care of watering it, and the Holy Spirit care for helping it go grow. When it comes to the gospel, our job is not to examine whether we think soils are receptive, We Share!
However, since I am pairing this with our lesson from 2 Corinthians this morning, I want to look at the second application. Jesus describes many problems which can come up for those who have received the Gospel with joy.
Some just let it go in one ear and out the other like telling a 15-year-old to take out the trash. Some are excited but shallow, and temptations overcome their faith. Others try to follow, but the things of this world, and the pleasures we can find in this world, blind them to the importance of the eternal, and they never produce any fruit and are choked out.
I want to stress all of this, because it rather clearly describes what is going on in the city of Corinth which is why Paul is writing them, and why Paul sounded so grumpy and frustrated in today’s lesson, which hopefully you caught, but we will refresh it again.
Corinth really is the problem church for the New Testament and the early church for that matter. Like many other letters, Galatians, Philippians, Thessalonians, Paul is writing to a church he founded and spent time/years in ministering to the people. He knows them well.
Corinth was maybe the biggest sports town in the ancient world, so he uses lots of sports metaphors with them. But they were also some of the most stubborn, pig headed, people around and very unwilling to be disciplined and learn.
For instance, when Paul is upset with the Galatians, he writes them warning them that they are being deceived by people wanting to burden them by keeping the Mosaic law. His encouragement is that we are free in Christ. His frustration is with false teachers, and they got the message.
The Corinthians were very different, they were a very wealthy people, most of whom didn’t have to work for their riches.
Because of this, they were prone to lots of the sins which are popular when people have too much time on their hands. Cliquishness, people were sleeping around with others in the church, including the pastors, and drunkenness. That last one was especially bad, because they had decided to celebrate the Lord’s Supper by many drinking until they got hammered in church, while at the same time, not extending the supper to poor people who didn’t have money for wine.
In the Soils Parable, they were practically planting Weeds all through the church, while telling the sower to “Hey, take a break and have a drink on me!” So Paul writes this church he planted, that he loves and spent 18 months pastoring, quite disappointed. That’s 1 Cor. We don’t have the Corinthians response to Paul, but we can guess what happened reading 2 Corinthians.
The Corinthians reply questioned whether Paul had the authority to tell them what to do. Stop here for a second, because I see this all the time. This is an important point where we, when sharing our faith with others, can also get stopped up. The world says, What authority do we have, why do we say what is right and wrong. Well we don’t, God does. But you see so often people, when confronted with their sin, try to attack the messenger, the people, the Bible, saying it’s just writings of dead men.
They basically ask for his resume, and say they have decided to follow the new shiny well-dressed and handsome leaders they just found that were letting them get away with stuff.
That’s why you hear his very terse rebuke:
Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I.
Telling them how he’s had greater labors, more imprisonments, countless beatings almost to death, and etc. Very unlike the new guys.
But as Paul continues giving his resume, he ends boasting not in his accomplishments, but his weakness. Here’s where the story turns!
Why? This is the most important thing, and hopefully you can see how it ties back to the Parable of the Sower. When Paul is weak, it shows that it is not him, but God, who is doing the work through him. This is why this chapter is so painful to Paul, and he says so many times, “I talk like a fool.”
Paul’s resume is, I was the worst of sinners, and God saved me.
If God’s Word touches your heart, it is Him. His Holy Spirit.
That’s how this lesson fits in so well with the Parable of the Sower. We, our job, again, is scattering the Seed, which represents God’s Word. And it is expected that we will be horrible at it by an earthly measure. We’re gonna throw it everywhere. We’re supposed to.
The beauty is, Paul’s point is, when seeds sprout, when the church grows, when Paul’s ministry bear’s fruit, when our ministry to others bears fruit, it is God, because he uses us weak vessels. It’s not us, it’s not mark’s on our resume, but His Holy Spirit. Let us pray he can use us, as he used Paul, weak as we may be, to spread your church throughout the world. Amen.