Stepping Stones or Stumbling Blocks?

Becoming A Stepping Stone—Not A Stumbling Block

A Study of 2 Corinthians 6:3 – 7:1

The boy should never have been hiking at that hour of the night in that neck of the woods. At 14, he was already an experienced hiker, having grown up in the mountains. But it was rainy. The ground was slick and the night was dark. He should have been in bed, but his father, an elder and an usher in the church, had gone on another rampage, yelling, screaming, threatening, throwing things and blowing up his family. The boy, listening to all in his bedroom, climbed out through the window; and he was still hiking at midnight, trying to figure out why his father, a professed Christian, was always so angry, violent, and out of control. In the darkness, the boy didn’t see the fallen log. He stumbled, tumbled, grabbed a branch and swung to his left. The next moment, he was plunging through the air down the side of a quarry, all the way to the grave.

Today we’re coming to a sober passage that warns Christians to live so as to never cause anyone to stumble on their pathway to Christ by our negative behavior. We’re to be stepping stones, not stumbling blocks.

Everyone who professes Christ as Savior carries around a certain influence. We identify as a Christian. People are watching to see if our faith is real and if we live according our beliefs. None of us are perfect. But whenever we grievously or repeatedly fall into sin or create a scandal, it can be stumbling block to another. It can make people cynical and cause them turn them away from the Lord. The Bible calls that being a stumbling block.

We cannot let that happen to us personally—and that’s the subject of the passage we’re coming to today—2 Corinthians 6:3-10.

Scripture Reading: We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships, and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as imposters; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we love on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Introduction: The theme of this passage is in verse 3: We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. In the verses that follow, Paul gives a list of 28 behaviors he is committed to follow. His list falls into three natural sections. We become stepping stones, not stumbling blocks:

1. In The Way We Handle Pressures of Life (Verses 3-5)

The text says: We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships, and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger….

He begins with the word endurance. Today this term designates an entire field of athletics—endurance sports, like marathons or triathlons. Endurance is the ability to bear up and keep going despite pain, hardship and fatigue. Paul was saying life was harder than he expected it to be. People are watching us to see how we handle adversity and problems.

When people see us coming apart the seams, collapsing in depression or exploding in anger—it’s a poor recommendation for the Christian life.

Paul says that he has endured through troubles, hardships, and distresses, including beatings and

imprisonments. He endured riots. On several occasions in the book of Acts, Paul’s preaching or his very presence caused crowds to riot, threatening his life. These are not riots like you see on television, in which demonstrators are protesting a political issue. These are moments when large crowds become so enraged by Christians that they surrounded them, attacked them; and on one occasion Paul was nearly killed and left outside town as good as dead.

In the middle of verse 5, Paul goes on to talk about hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger.

Many years ago when I was a teenager I asked Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth—I was just a kid and didn’t know what I was asking—“Does Dr. Graham realize how great and glorious his work is around the world?” She said, “Oh, it’s not that at all. It’s just hard work. Bill works to exhaustion, and there’s nothing glorious about it. God doesn’t share His glory with another. We would have been just as happy to have been assigned to an obscure place on some forgotten mission field. Wherever God puts you, it’s simply a matter working hard for His glory.”

I learned a lot from that answer. Serving the Lord isn’t about fame and fortune; it’s just hard work.

For Paul, that sometimes included sleepless nights and hunger. The point of all this is that life is full of hardships, problems, pressures, and uncomfortable situations. But people are watching to see how we handle the pressures of life. Do you handle difficulty with the faith and confidence and stability and even the joy that represents Jesus Christ? When people see us defeated by the difficulties of life, it’s a poor reflection on our Savior. When we see them sustained by grace during life’s difficulties, it’s a powerful testimony.

2. In The Way We Maintain Purity of God (Verses 6-7)

In the next two verses Paul shifts gears. He said he wants us to be a good representatives of Christ, not only in the way we handle difficulties but in the way we maintain purity. Verse 6 says, “(We commend ourselves) in purity. Nothing can damage our testimonies more than failing to maintain personal holiness in our lives. If you’re allowing something to violate your personal holiness and purity, it’s bound to negate your testimony and bring some degree of reproach to the cause of Christ.

Later in this chapter, the Lord is going to drill into this more, saying: Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?… Therefore, come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. And I will be a father to you and you will be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

Is anything contaminating your body or your spirit? That could be a stumbling block for another person, so let’s endure in purity and holiness. The Bible says we must endure in holiness and purity.

The passage goes on to say we must endure in understanding. Some translations say “knowledge and spiritual insight.” When we encounter struggles in life, we have an advantage. We have a Book that sheds light on whatever we’re going through.

Verse 6 says we must continue in patience and kindness. A few weeks ago, my sister, Ann, told me about a time when the Presbyterian minister and TV host, Fred Rogers, checked into a hotel. Everything went wrong and they took him to a room that didn’t even have a television in it. It was actually a candid camera sequence, and they were pulling a prank to see how he would react to a bad hotel experience. Mr. Rogers never showed the slightest irritation. He just smiled, and said, “Well, that’s all right. That’s all right. I don’t watch TV anyway.” No one could have been more patient or kind.

As it happened, the next day I checked into a hotel and several things were wrong with the room. I don’t remember what they were. I don’t think the TV or the lamp worked; but I said to myself, “Well, that’s all right. I don’t need a TV. I can do without the lamp.” The next morning when I stepped out of the shower, I realized there were no towels, not even a washcloth. I had to dry off with my old clothes from the day before and with the hairdryer. For a moment, I felt irritated. But then I thought of Mr. Rogers, and I just said, “Well, that’s all right. I don’t need towels anyway.”

Believe it or not, that little episode has stayed with me and helped me to be more patient and kind. We’re never too old to learn from Mr. Rogers, are we? Enduring in patience and kindness predates Mr. Rogers. It goes all the back to 2 Corinthians 6 and to many other passages in the Bible.

And then verse 6 goes on to say that commend our lives and ministries in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love. Earlier this fall, I had the opportunity of speaking to Christian workers from Middle East and Asia. When I finished, a young man came up to me and hugged me as if I were father. I asked him his name, and I said, “Where do you live?” He said, “In Pakistan.” “What do you do?” “I evangelize terrorists.” “You do what?” “I evangelize terrorists. I live in the town where a very famous terrorist was tracked down and killed. We have DASH. We have ISIS. These terrorists have family and children and they need the Lord.”

“Are you in danger?” “Yes.” Then I asked him, “Are you afraid?” He said, “No! We have the Holy Spirit!”

I’ll never forget that answer. That’s exactly what Paul said here. “I commend my ministry in this—that I have the Holy Spirit.” You have the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit always glorifies Christ. So when we go about our day in the Holy Spirit, we’re lifting up Christ.

Verse 7 continues truthful speech and the power of God, and with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left. What does that mean? We can cross-reference this verse with Ephesians 6, about the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. A Roman soldier kept his shield in his left hand for defense, and his sword in his right hand for attack.

This is the way we keep from being a stumbling block to anyone else—by the way we handle pressure and the way we maintain purity.

3. In the Way We Embody the Paradoxes of Faith

There’s another series of words here, and that leads to the final thing. We commend ourselves when we embody the paradoxes of life. Look at verses 8-10:

[We are] genuine, yet regarded as imposters; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we love on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

The apostle Paul gives us a list of seven paradoxes of the Christian faith. Jesus said in John 3 that His followers are as mysterious as the wind. No one knows where they came from; no one knows where they are going; but everyone can sense their presence as they pass by.

I don’t have time to dissect each of these seven phrases, but I’ll give you an illustration of them. For many years I went to Texas each fall to speak for a certain group, and over the years I became friends with a couple named Jerry and Shirley Horne. Jerry was an Air Force pilot as a young man, and he was also a Gideon. He passed away a couple of years ago, and Shirley has been declining for some time. A couple of weeks ago, her daughter wrote to me that her mother had passed away. But here is what the daughter told me.

For the past 6 weeks she has shared God’s love through giving out Bibles to doctors, nurses, everyone that walked in to her room.  Over 60 Bibles – she told me when the last one she had with her was gone she knew God was ready to take her home. The verse that comes to my mind for the past several weeks, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” She did exactly what God calls each of us to do. Do it well and do it until your last breath on this Earth. Even when  she could no longer speak this past week she would point and people knew she wanted them to have a Bible.

I received a phone call today from a nurse that was saddened to hear the news that she had passed away. She had been out for a week and upon returning heard that Shirley had passed away. She was very upset because she had wanted to share the news that God had touched her life in such a way that upon reading the Scriptures she was saved and live was different because Shirley prayed for her and gave her a Bible.

I would call that 2 Corinthians 6 living!

Conclusion: Here is what the Lord is telling us. He doesn’t want us to create any scandal in our life that would cause others to be disillusioned with Him. Instead, He wants us to commend ourselves and our message to the world, and we do that by handling the pressures of life, maintaining the purity of holiness, and embodying the paradoxes of Christianity.

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