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Inadequacy: The Surprising Secret to Being Useful to God (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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August 21, 2023 4:00 am

Inadequacy: The Surprising Secret to Being Useful to God (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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August 21, 2023 4:00 am

Do you ever wonder if you’re “useful” to God? Listen as Alistair Begg talks to college students about what he describes as “the surprising secret to being useful to God.” It’s another listener-favorite message from Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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Is it possible for us to live our lives in a way that is useful, to God? Do we do it by tapping into our strengths or leveraging our experiences? Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg explains what he describes as the surprising secret to being useful to God.

This is another listener favorite from our Encore 2023 series. Alistair is teaching from 2 Corinthians chapter 2 beginning at verse 12. Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind because I did not find my brother Titus there.

So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia. But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death, to the other the fragrance of life.

And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary in Christ we speak before God with sincerity like men sent from God. Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?

Or do we need like some people letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ the result of our ministry written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant not of the letter but of the Spirit for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.

Amen. The Oxford English Dictionary which is the only dictionary that anyone should really pay attention to defines inadequacy as quotes the condition or quality of being inadequate. If you think about that you look up a dictionary for help and that's as good as it can do perhaps I misspoke in commending the dictionary at all. But rather what it is pointing out is that inadequacy is an indication of being unequal to what a task requires. And it is that very issue that in the NIV from which I was reading Paul addresses at the very end of verse 16 and in a simple sentence when he asked the question who is equal to such a task?

Or in the ESV who is sufficient for these things? What Paul is doing there is he's addressing the issue of adequacy and his expressions of confidence particularly in this second letter are not displays of self assumption. He freely admits as you would have noticed towards the end of our reading that he is unequal to the task in himself and he makes it perfectly clear that the secret to his usefulness in ministry cannot be traced to any natural competence. So in verse five again not that we are competent or sufficient or adequate in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves but our competence comes from God. Now this is not an aberration on the part of Paul this is true to his self designation throughout all of his letters classically in first Corinthians 15 he says on that occasion I am the least of the apostles unworthy to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God.

But by the grace of God I am what I am and his grace towards me was not in vain. And it is this perspective which underpins Paul's entire understanding not only of himself but also of the ministry to which God has called him. And in addressing the Corinthians in his second letter part of the challenge that he faces is found in responding to those who have opposed him and who accuse him of being cowardly and of being unworldly of being worldly I should say and of being something of a second class citizen when it comes to the things of Christ. You must take my word for that and then read chapter 10 and see if what I'm telling you is true.

And if you have an NIV and you're open there chapter 10 has the heading Paul's defense of his ministry. And his defense of his ministry is a reluctant defense because he recognizes at the very end of chapter 10 that it's not the one who commends himself who is approved but the one whom the Lord commends. He actually says that directly in verse 12, somewhat ironically, we do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves they are not wise. What you say about yourself means nothing in God's work. It's what God says about you that matters.

That's how he finishes chapter 10. And so he says if there's any boasting to be done. It mustn't be about personal achievements, but rather it must be about the Lord. And it is the Lord who has been underpinning all that Paul has done all the way through so that when for example in his first letter he writes concerning success and encouragement in evangelism in the sowing of the seeds of the gospel, he puts it succinctly and with great humility. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

I did the job of planting, he said, and others did their part. Now when we reach chapter 11, we discover that his detractors have been boasting, among other things, about their Jewishness and about their servanthood. And that is why he says in verse 22, are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham's descendants?

So am I. Are they the servants of Christ? And then he says, I am out of my mind to talk like this. I am more. Now when he then goes to the more, what he goes on to describe is his experience of suffering for Christ. He does not list his credentials, but rather he says, and I'm out of my mind to say this, if you want to consider my life and my ministry, then consider it distinctly in terms of inadequacy. And then he goes through his list, been in prison more frequently, flogged more severely, been exposed to death again and again, and all the way through. It's not dissimilar to what he does when he ends his letter in Galatians.

He says, I don't want to have any, I don't want to really to have any trouble from any of you that I've written to. And he doesn't then say, because you all know how prestigious I am, because you all know that I am the great mighty apostle Paul. No, if you recall, what he says is, I don't really want to have any trouble from you because I bear in my body the marks of Christ. In other words, his credential is a credential of weakness. His appeal is the appeal of a back that has been broken open in the service of Jesus Christ. If there is to be any boasting, he says, let it then be boasting in the Lord. And, perhaps to illustrate the very point, at the end of chapter 11, he says, if I'm going to boast, I'll boast of the things that show my weakness.

The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I'm not telling lies. And then he says, in Damascus, the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lured in a basket from a window in the wall, and I slipped through his hands. Not exactly an auspicious departure from Damascus. Could he ever have forgotten the great contrast between the way in which he had proceeded to Damascus, in all of the pride of his heart, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against those who name the name of Jesus Christ?

And now he leaves, squeezed into a basket, and pushed out through the wall, and scarpering away to safety. Says, wait, it was there that the persecutor became the persecuted. And in that new experience now of persecution, in all of the weakness that unfolds, Paul declares the credentials of his ministry. And so in chapter 12, which of course you are greatly familiar with, he is aware of the fact that the opportunity for boasting concerning the peculiar experience of being caught up into the third heaven is a wonderful one.

If ever you had an opportunity to brag, to go on the equivalent of Christian TV, and let everybody know what had happened to you in those strange moments, it is there for you to do. But he says, I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to use that as a basis for self-promotion. I'm not going to use that as a platform to set myself forward and make these people know who are my detractors, just how significant I am, and just what I have experienced of God, and all the things that are peculiar to me. He says, I'm not going to do that.

I could do that, but I choose not to do that. It's along the lines of his arrival in Corinth, isn't it? 1 Corinthians 2. When I came to you, loved ones, I didn't come to you with this or with that, not because he was incompetent in the term of his intellectual faculty, but because he recognized the incongruity in the proclamation of a message that was so foolish. There is a lesson in this in passing.

My boss in Edinburgh all those years ago makes a wonderful comment on this. He says, of all the contexts in which boasting is inappropriate, this surely heads the list. Any genuine experience of God is a gift of his love and provides no basis for us to elevate ourselves.

So he says, I'm not going to use this as a basis of elevation. And then he explains his thorn in the flesh in terms of God's purposeful intervention in his life. There was given me, verse seven, a thorn in my flesh. This is his theologizing of his experience.

It's not our jurisdiction here to go into this just now, but the way in which he expresses this is striking. Peterson paraphrases it helpfully. Because of the extravagance of these revelations and to keep me from getting a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in touch with my limitations.

I find that very helpful. Says Bengal, how dangerous must self exaltation be when the apostle required so much restraint? That God intervened in his life at the deepest level of his physicality in order to ensure that he would understand. That actually it was in the experience of weakness and inadequacy that his greatest usefulness was to be found.

Now, let's finish this first point with just a couple of comments. It is in the confrontation with inadequacy that he discovers that God's grace is sufficient. You will notice that his weakness is not removed. He asked for this thorn in the flesh to be removed.

That is not removed. But the weakness becomes the conduit of God's power. And I think verse 10 gives it to us perfectly in that sentence, doesn't it? The paradox of grace. When I am weak, then I am strong.

When I am weak, then I am strong. Here I suggest to you is the principle of all effective service. And if I may jump outside of my first point for a moment, and this is why some of us will never amount to anything for God. Because we revolt against this principle.

And I'm going to show you in a moment just why we are prone to do so. The glory does not lie in our inadequacy. This is not a plea for going around like Uriah Heep, trying to tell everybody, I'm a very humble man, Mr. Copperfield. I am your humble servant, Master Copperfield.

If you know David Copperfield. The glory does not lie in our inadequacy, but lies in the adequacy of Christ, which is discovered in our weakness and in our insufficiency. So again, Peterson's paraphrase at the end, he says, now I take limitations in my stride and with good cheer. These limitations that cut me down to size. And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

Well, there we have it. That's enough on the first point. I think instead of my insufficiency proving to be a barrier to usefulness, the reverse is the case.

Since dependence is the objective, weakness is the advantage. Secondly, let's look at it in terms of the cultural setting in which we read our Bibles and in which we respond to these truths. A culture that to borrow a phrase from David Wells has quotes, a bloated sense of human capacity, a bloated sense of human capacity. In keeping with that assessment and writing in the Wall Street Journal in July 2009, Peggy Noonan observed in one of her columns, quotes, for 30 years, the self-esteem movement told the young they're perfect in every way. It's yielding something new in history, an entire generation with no proper sense of inadequacy.

An entire generation with no proper sense of inadequacy. Those of you who are sociologists will be familiar with the book Therapy Culture written by a professor from Kent University in the south of England, Frank Furedy or Furedy. And in that book, he records at the beginning, he has some very helpful graphs. And in one of them, he records a search of 300 United Kingdom newspapers in 1980. He searched 300 newspapers looking for a reference to self-esteem.

In 1980, they couldn't find a single one. In 1986, they found three citations. By 1990, there were 103. A decade later in 2000, there were a staggering 3,328 references.

Who knows how many there are today? But what we do know today is that living for oneself and feeling good about oneself is increasingly the central and controlling feature of human existence. And such an orientation has no place for thoughts of inadequacy. Because to tolerate such notions works against the absolute essentiality of maintaining a favorable opinion of oneself. Whatever else happens, we must never ever lose that. It is the key to everything our world tells us.

Says Furedy in his book, low self-esteem is one of the most overused diagnoses for the problem of the human condition. And if you care to read the book, he works it out very helpfully. Earlier this year, around the time of college and university graduation, David Brooks wrote an editorial in the New York Times entitled, It's Not About You. He described the graduates setting off into the world with what he refers to as the baby boomer theology, so often iterated in commencement addresses ringing in their ears.

And then he articulates that theology. Follow your passion. Chart your own course.

Follow your dreams. Find your self. This, says Brooks, is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant theme in American culture. Again, quoting him, today's graduates enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as the center of life. But, says Brooks in his concluding sentence, the purpose in life is not to find yourself.

It is to lose yourself. Are we going to have to turn to the editorial pages of the New York Times in order to correct the warped theology of contemporary evangelicalism? And we shouldn't assume that this kind of pushback to any realistic proper sense of inadequacy is a 21st century phenomenon, because it isn't. In 1946, John Sloan, who was then president of Dartmouth College, told the graduating class, quotes, There is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix. In 2010, Jim Yong Kim referenced the statement from 1946 and then told the graduating class, quotes, You are the better human beings we've all been waiting for.

Now, if you found that statement in 46 staggering, what do you make of such a statement in 2010? The starting point for this mentality actually is not high school graduation. It's beginning a lot earlier than that, as those of you who are doing child psychology know, the time when children could relax and be children and fall off their bikes and fail has faded into the distant past. Achievement is aspired to from the moment of birth, if not before. William Cohen in The New York Times says, Nowadays, parents hire tutors to correct the pitching motions of little leaguers.

Because the one thing we couldn't possibly tolerate is for little Freddy to be a failure or to find out that he has an inadequate little left arm and he's just going to have to live with it for the rest of his life. Now, you're sensible people. You read the papers, you review culture. Every so often, a discordant note sounds someone introduces the idea of inadequacy or failure as important to usefulness. Someone as significant as Steve Jobs in his now legendary graduation speech at Stanford University in 2005. Steve Jobs at least moved in the direction of Paul's perspective when he tied his being fired from Apple at the age of 30 to significant progress in his later life. This is what he said, It turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again.

Less sure about everything. But actually, that perspective is still more than a Sabbath day's journey away from the biblical framework. You're listening to Truth for Life and a message from Alistair Begg titled, Inadequacy, the Surprising Secret of Being Useful to God. Alistair originally delivered today's sermon to an audience of college students.

We'll hear more tomorrow. By the way, if you have someone in your family who is soon headed to college, why not send them off with a copy of God's Word? You'll find a high quality genuine leather Bible in our online store for just $35. Go to slash store.

This is an ESV version. It makes a great gift that your student will value for years to come. We absolutely love it when we hear from young adults who appreciate Alistair's teaching and who thank us for providing easy access to these programs. Every time you donate to Truth for Life, you're helping make this possible. And when you give today, we want to invite you to request a book titled Radically Whole Gospel Healing for the Divided Heart. This is a book that helps us better understand the nature of our divided hearts.

For example, when it comes to serving God, our desire is to live according to his instructions, but our actions are often contrary. Radically Whole explores the solution to this struggle that is found in the New Testament book of James. As you read Radically Whole, you'll dive deeper into God's guidelines for how we're to love one another, how to apply wisdom, even how to embrace suffering. These instructions are extremely challenging, but you can learn how God gives you hope to deal with your divided heart. Request a copy of Radically Whole when you give a donation to Truth for Life. Go to slash donate. I'm Bob Lapine. Tomorrow we'll learn about the dangers of being squeezed into the world's mold, whether it's as an individual or in our churches. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life. Where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-27 13:01:28 / 2023-08-27 13:09:53 / 8

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