Series on II Corinthians, III The Defense of Paul's Apostleship, C Conclusion, Part One, 1 Signs of an Apostle. Text: 12:11-21 Title: Signs of an Apostle


In our text the apostle Paul expresses his fatherly concern for the Corinthians. Verses 14-18, Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent you? I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not act in the same spirit and follow the same course? He did not work for selfish gain or his own advantage. His passion, like any good parent, was for the welfare of his children in the faith. His frequent references reinforce his concern. but today let us see another important truth in this text. Paul talks about the signs. wonders and miracles which accompanied his ministry to the Corinthians, and he reflects on the goal of that ministry. We shall, therefore, ponder today the gift of miracles and the goal of ministry. It is not uncommon today for Christian people to seek a confirmation of their faith in signs and wonders. In fact this is the most frequently asked question in our churches, and the greatest source of confusion. In one sermon I do not think that i can answer all the questions or end all the confusion, but we need to see that this is a mistake. The signs of the Apostles have a special place in history and they had the same purpose as the preaching of the word today.

I The Gift of Miracles

In verses 11-13 Paul mentions the signs and wonders that accompanied his ministry, I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance. How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong! In Ephesians 2:20 Paul reminds us that the Church, the household of God is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone. The ministry of the Apostles was foundational and not continuing. For this reason their preaching was accompanied by signs, wonders and miracles. These are not three different things, but three different ways of describing the same phenomena. They are signs because they direct and instruct people; they are wonders because they get people's attention; and they are miracles or acts of power causing men to look to God. It should not surprise us that such things occurred because in his first letter to the Corinthians Paul talks a lot about the extraordinary and miraculous gifts which were displayed by members of that congregation, gifts such as prophecy and speaking in unknown tongues were common, some even possessed gifts of healing and miraculous powers. I want us to examine two propositions with regard to signs and wonders. they were timely, and they were temporary.

A Timely

By timely I mean that signs and wonders are not given on demand. The miracles of the Bible are clustered. Moses was the first miracle working man in the Bible. God worked miracles through Moses for one reason, which was to certify that he was a prophet sent from God and speaking for God. The rule applies throughout the Old Testament. Moses was a prophet.  In a lesser way those that governed after him were prophets such as Joshua and the Judges. Once there was a monarchy, the office of prophet was separate and then God confirmed the words of men such as Elijah and Elisha as being his message. Psalm 74:9 sets forth this proposition, We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet. Moving on to the New Testament times, the only great, prolific outpouring of miracles occurred in Jesus ministry. To suggest as some do that we should see such a multitude of miracles today is to miss the point, and to do violence to God's revelation. The whole point of the abundance of miraculous signs in Jesus ministry was to set him apart in history as the Messiah and Savior. Signs and wonders continued in a drastically reduced number in the ministry of the Apostles. They were still needed at that stage because there was no written New Testament. The Word of the Lord was being revealed through the Apostles just as it had been through the Old Testament prophets. Such signs die out and are no longer to be found in the later writings of the New Testament, which brings me to the second proposition. they were temporary.

B Temporary

The temporary nature of such signs and wonders is clearly stated by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians in chapter 13. this is the place where he says in verses 8-10, Where there are prophecies they will cease, where there are tongues they will be stilled, where there is knowledge it will pass away. for we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes the imperfect disappears. Now I want you to notice that Paul is not comparing the present with the eternal state or heaven. He says faith, hope and love remain. Faith and hope in particular are fulfilled in the world to come. There, faith becomes sight and hope becomes reality. He must be talking about a future period in this life when perfection or maturity will be attained. He also says knowledge will pass away. He cannot mean that knowledge disappears in the eternal state. He is referring to words of knowledge or special revelations that were given in the early Church. His illustration is of a child maturing. The early Church is a child, but it will become a mature man. The mark of maturity will be a completed revelation from God. That's what we have now: a Bible to which nothing can be added. Paul says then we shall see face to face. If you look in II Corinthians 3 & 4 you will see Paul is talking about this fulfillment in chapter 3:17,18, Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory. And again in 4:6 For it is God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. So now we no longer need signs and wonders because we have a Bible of which Paul says to Timothy in II Timothy 3: 16 and 17 All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. We need nothing else! The signs of an Apostle, then, were given as credentials for his teaching and to instruct a youthful and immature church, but they also had the same purpose as the Bible has today. Let us now consider the goal of Paul's ministry

II The Goal of Paul's Ministry

The goal may be succinctly stated as holiness. Paul specifically states in verse, 19, Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening.   Everything we do is for your strengthening. Strengthening for what? Strengthening that they may bear the fruit of the Spirit. Paul lists the things he doesn't want to find when he comes to them in verses 20 and 21, For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged. Every one of these sins is identified in the course of the two letters Paul has written, and they had not dealt with the member who was guilty of incest. He refers to the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged. You find lists such as this elsewhere in the New Testament. For example when Christ describes what comes out of the human heart in Mark 7, or when Paul lists the works of the flesh in Galatians 5.  God wants to see the fruit of the spirit. This is the Apostle's goal too. In I Corinthians 13 Paul pleads for love. Love is a fruit of the Spirit and is opposed to these works of the flesh.  We know by now that the Corinthians excelled in spiritual gifts, in wonders and signs. Besides the extended passage in I Corinthians 12-14 listing the gifts and their uses and abuses, he says in II Corinthians 8 that they excelled in faith and speech and knowledge. He is referring to their prophecies and speaking in tongues, and words of knowledge. In spite of all this excellence they were not becoming more holy. The point is that God is more interested in morality than miracles. He is less concerned about our doing exceptional things than he is about our doing his will. Just as the signs and wonders should have led to holiness and obedience, and the fruit of the spirit, so the Bible is intended to lead us to that today. The gifts were given to serve the goal and the goal was holiness.