Christ Our Sufficiency

And such confidence have we through Christ to God-ward: not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to account anything as from ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God; who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant (2 Corinthians 3:4-6a).

Few things are as dangerous as when the instrument begins to vaunt itself over its designer and operator.

We see this happen sometimes in the movies. The Terminator series and the Matrix series all presuppose such a situation: humans make computers/robots, computers/robots get too smart, computers/robots try to take over. We have this feeling, deep down, that if our creation to take us over, it would be a very bad thing. We perceive that something is out of place in that condition.

The Apostle Paul understood this danger in his own life as it related to God his Creator and Christ his Savior, and it was a good thing. His ministry featured signs and wonders; many converted to the Lord on at least two continents based on his preaching and teaching. As he writes for at least the second time to the Corinthians, he has spoken of them as a living “letter of Christ,” through Paul’s ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). In that sense, the Corinthians themselves are commendation for Paul, and in that work he has great confidence (2 Corinthians 4:4).

What would happen if Paul rooted this confidence in what he could perceive in the physical realm? What if Paul thought that it was by his own strength, cunning, and persuasive ability that the Corinthians were converted to Jesus? It would be very tempting; it would satisfy the natural conceit that dwells within us all. He could feel quite important, vaunting in his position. In short, his pride could quickly undo all the work that had been done!

And that is why Paul hastens to declare that whereas the conversion of the Corinthians is his confidence in Christ toward God, it was not from his own strength or power; indeed, he declares that he has no sufficiency in himself (2 Corinthians 3:4-5). His sufficiency is from God; God is the one who made him sufficient to minister in this new covenant through Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:5-6). Paul recognizes that he is the instrument; God is the power and provides what is sufficient to accomplish His purpose (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7).

Paul’s declarations have become controversial since he established them. Some have taken his words to mean that the believer is able to do nothing at all, becoming entirely passive agents of God. Others, in seeking to avoid this extreme, go the other way, and over-emphasize the free will of mankind and come dangerously close to declaring their own sufficiency, albeit in a limited frame. What, then, are we to understand from what Paul has declared here?

We can all confess as true that everything we have and are come from God; we did not create the universe, we did not give ourselves life, and we did not make this creation for our use (cf. Genesis 1:1-2:3, Acts 17:24-29). Beyond that, since we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, there was nothing we could do in order to save ourselves; God did what we could not do in reconciling us back to Him through Jesus His Son (Romans 3:20-23, 5:6-11, 8:1-3). Therefore, every spiritual blessing comes from God through Christ, and we do not deserve them (Ephesians 1:3).

And yet God expects people to serve Him in Christ, to seek after His will (Romans 6:16-23, Philippians 2:12, 2 Peter 1:3-11). This cannot be forced, for that is not the way of love (John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 1 John 4:8). People must turn from sin and submit themselves to God, seeking His paths, walking as Jesus walked (Galatians 2:20, James 4:7, 1 John 2:6).

But is there any sufficiency in us to accomplish this through our own strength? We still fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23); we still are beset by sin (Hebrews 12:1-2, 1 John 1:8); left to our own devices, we still wander off onto the wrong path (Jeremiah 10:23). Therefore, it is good to agree with Paul: as he understood that he did not have any sufficiency in himself, but only received sufficiency through Christ, we are not sufficient in and of ourselves for anything, but must find our sufficiency through Christ.

That is why the concept of the believer as servant is so consistently maintained throughout Scripture (Luke 17:7-10, Romans 6:16-23, etc.). The slave does all things at the behest of his Master. Another image that indicates as much is that of the instrument (Acts 9:15, Romans 6:13): the tool may accomplish a given work, but only because it has been directed by the One wielding the tool.

So we ought to understand ourselves. Do we work and labor for the Lord? Absolutely. But do we labor by our own sufficiency? Our “sufficiency” always proves insufficient in every respect. Instead, Christ must be our sufficiency. We must do all things according to His direction (Colossians 3:17); we must be strengthened with the strength that comes through Him (Ephesians 3:16-17, Philippians 4:13). Our thoughts, feelings, and actions– our entire being– must be laid at His feet for use to advance His purposes (Galatians 2:20, 2 Corinthians 4:7, 10:5, Philippians 4:8). We may have confidence in Christ toward God for what is accomplished for His purposes through us, but it is no reason for us to glory in ourselves– all praise, honor, and glory are to go to God in Christ, because He is our sufficiency! Let us serve the Lord and use our energies toward His purposes; let us be His instruments to be directed according to His good purpose!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Self-Control and Sober-Mindedness

But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore of sound mind, and be sober unto prayer (1 Peter 4:7).

Even though they did not always live by it, the ancients considered “moderation in all things” as the ultimate ideal. When and if this ultimate equilibrium could be reached, life would be most pleasant.

Yet we, as humans, are not always well-balanced creatures. We often go to extremes. In some aspects of life, we may practice self-denial; in others, we throw ourselves into consumption. Our imbalances lead to feelings of craving or guilt.

We would do well, therefore, to maintain a “sound mind” and to be “sober,” or, as in other versions, to exhibit self-control and sober-mindedness. These attributes require discipline and balance, striving to be neither too stringent nor too lax (Colossians 2:20-23, Galatians 5:17-21).

Self-control means that we know when to say “yes” and when to say “no,” and to translate that knowledge into action. Self-control knows when to say, “enough,” either in denial or pleasure. Self-control must be accomplished in every aspect of life if it will be of real value. Even though self-control is listed at the end of the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit, it is hard to see how anyone can manifest the other characteristics without it (Galatians 5:22-24)!

When we think of sobriety, we generally think of not being on drugs or alcohol. Yet sobriety is much more than that– it means that we are free from any and all intoxicants. To be sober-minded means to not allow any thing to intoxicate or control the mind, save the believer subjecting his mind to the will of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). That includes drugs and alcohol, but also includes greed, lust, and anything else that would intoxicate the mind and distract us from our main purpose!

Let none be deceived: self-control and sober-mindedness are not forced upon anyone on account of circumstances. They are qualities that must be consciously developed whether in good times or bad. Are we willing to put effort into disciplining ourselves (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)?

We would also do well to consider why Peter says we ought to be self-controlled and sober-minded: “the end of all things is at hand.” If we knew for a certainty that this would be the last day of our lives, and that Jesus is going to return tomorrow, how would our story end? Would we be found as the “good and faithful servant,” doing the will of the Master despite His absence, showing proper self-control and sober-mindedness (Matthew 24:45-47)? Or would we be as the “wicked servant,” who has not acted as circumspectly, and fallen under condemnation for his sin (Matthew 24:48-51)?

In this circumstance, would knowing that Jesus is returning tomorrow change the way you lived? Would it lead you to “straighten up” and apply yourself more diligently to self-control and sober-mindedness? Even though we may not know for certain whether Jesus will come today, tomorrow, or in a thousand years, the New Testament makes clear that we must live as if He will return momentarily (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10, Matthew 25:1-30). Let us develop self-control and sober-mindedness so that we may be found faithful in the Kingdom!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Cost of Sacrifice

And the king said unto Araunah, “Nay; but I will verily buy it of thee at a price. Neither will I offer burnt-offerings unto the LORD my God which cost me nothing.”
So David bought the threshing-floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver (2 Samuel 24:24).

David here demonstrates an excellent understanding of the core idea of sacrifice: sacrifice must come at a personal cost.

The heart of the definition of sacrifice is “to suffer loss.”  If David accepted the gift of Araunah and made sacrifice, then David would not have really sacrificed anything– he was just using Araunah’s sacrifice for his own purposes.  He recognized that such is not really sacrifice– what has he really lost?

It is very easy to seek after “painless sacrifice”: this mirage allows people to have the good feeling of having done some good without actually suffering any loss.  The conscience is soothed and life is well.  But is that what God is after?

Jesus saw many people putting lots of money into Temple coffers and yet commends the widow for her two mites (Mark 12:41-44).  The people were providing painless sacrifices: they had plenty of other resources on which to live.  The widow truly sacrificed: she gave all she had!

The way of Jesus is not “painless” sacrifice, but demands true sacrifice.  The cross is not painless (Matthew 16:24).  Losing one’s life for His sake is not painless (Matthew 16:25).  Forsaking all other relations for Jesus is not painless (Matthew 10:34-39).

And, above all, living the life of a humble servant of Jesus is far from painless (Matthew 20:26-28)!  As it is written,

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service (Romans 12:1).

A “living” sacrifice– by no means a “painless” one.  We can only be a “living sacrifice” when we suffer great loss of all that we have for His purposes– to devote our material resources to brethren and those in need (Galatians 2:10, 6:10), to devote our time to those in distress and for the furtherance of the Kingdom (James 1:27, Matthew 28:18), and to show in all things that Christ is our Lord and Savior (Galatians 2:20).

It will not be painless.  Our offering to God will surely cost us.  Yet if our living sacrifice is found pleasing to our Lord, the reward will make it all worthwhile (Romans 8:18).  As God suffered great loss for us, let us suffer loss for God and His purposes!

Ethan R. Longhenry