And Who Is Sufficient
March 11th, 1956 @ 10:50 AM
WHO IS SUFFICIENT?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 2:16
3-11-56 10:50 a.m.
Last Sunday evening, we finished speaking through the first chapter of the second Corinthian letter, and today we begin in the second chapter of the second Corinthian letter. And the title of the message is a cry that was wrung from the heart of the burdened apostle, and you will find it in the sixteenth verse, the last sentence, 2 Corinthians 2:16: "And Who is Sufficient for These Things?" That is our text. It is the title of the message And Who is Sufficient for These Things? Who is adequate or equal to them?
Now, I said that the question was wrung from the heart of a burdened apostle. For you see, in the first chapter, in the eighth and the ninth verses, he says:
For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.
Yea, we had the sentence of death in ourselves,
Now look in that second chapter, look in the fourth verse, "For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears." Did you ever do that? Was there ever a time in your life when your heart was so torn asunder that you wrote a letter to Mama? Or you wrote a letter to somebody dear to you? And as you wrote, the tears fell on the leaves of the page. Did you ever do that? Then you know what he says in the sentence, "For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears."
Now in the eleventh chapter and the twenty-eighth verse – I want you to see the concluding. He speaks here – beginning at the twenty-third verse of that eleventh chapter – he speaks of all of the afflictions and the sufferings that are laid upon him, ",In stripes, in prisons, shipwrecked in the deep, in perils of waters, perils of robbers, in weariness and painfulness, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness."
Now, look at the last: The climactic thing that he says in listing that long and – I’ve just mentioned a few. In listing that long groupings of the burdens and afflictions the Lord had laid upon him, the last he mentions, last he says: "Beside those things that are without that which cometh upon me daily the care of all the churches." [2 Corinthians 11:28]
The burden of the churches – and of that burden, there was no burden like the burden of the church at Corinth. I do not quite know why – as I’ve read the life of Paul and meditated upon it, I’m not able to say – I do not know why, but he loved the church at Corinth. His heart was extended to the people at Corinth. There was something about Corinth that moved the soul of Paul. For example, in the sixth chapter and eleventh verse, he’ll just break out in a cry: "O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged."
"You Corinthians," Corinthians – Well, the thing that overwhelmed him about Corinth was this. I suppose there is no heartache that could ever come to a preacher than to see the life and work of his love crumble after he has left it, having poured into its ministry the utmost that God had given him; then he go away, then he leave. And while he’s gone, or after the age of his ministry has passed, then to see the church fall into discord and fall into disorder and dissolve away. And that was the thing that was happening in the church at Corinth.
And I say for some cause he loved that congregation better and more than any congregation that he ever established. The thing that was happening at Corinth was this. The church, Paul says, was filled with gifted and talented people, wonderfully so. Beyond any other church in the world, they had spiritual gifts. They had heavenly endowments. They were a marvelously talented people.
Then how were they? Everybody was jealous of everybody else. All of the singers that could sing, they were jealous of one another. And that makes the most miserable choir in the world. And all of the fine men that were in the church, able men, they were all jealous of one another. Who was going to be exalted? Who was going to be elected? Who was going to be recognized? And the church had marvelously gifted and able women in it, and they were all personally ambitious. Why, it filled the church with a complex of envy and jealousy that broke the heart of the apostle.
Another thing about the church at Corinth, they were filled with factional, divisive commitments and devotions and likes. One man would get up and he’d say, "I’m for Paul!" And another one would get up and say, "But I’m against Paul!" One man would stand up and say, "I’m for Apollos!" And another man would stand up, and he’d say, "But I’m against Apollos!" Another would stand up, and he’d say, "And I’m for Cephas!" And another would stand up and confront him and say, "But I’m against Cephas!" And those factional divisions were carried through all of the body of the church.
Could I pause here to say a little word out of my heart? Not in this earth have I ever found any congregation, any body of Christ that was so untouched by divisiveness as this blessed and holy First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas. No wonder a pastor could love, and rejoice, and exult over this incomparable congregation. There’s not a sect in it. There’s not a division in it. There’s not a separation among our people anywhere. There hasn’t been. There isn’t. There’s not going to be.
Our people are one great holy committed congregation to the Lord. We’re not as good as we ought to be. That’s why we come to church. We need to do better. We need God. We need Christ. We need the Spirit of Jesus. We need the unction of God and heaven upon us. We need the encouragement of the message. That’s why we’re here. That’s what I’m going to preach about this morning.
Now about Corinth, to go on; upon not only that, but they fell into great doctrinal aberrations, which fundamentally will finally plow under a congregation in a church. We maybe – on the surface – fall into error and get over it, but if our error is doctrinal, if we’re unsound in our faith, finally, it means the ultimate dissolution of our ability as one to follow Jesus. And they fell into deep doctrinal aberrations. Some of them fell into it about the Lord’s Supper. Some of them fell into it denying the doctrine of the resurrection. And in many other ways they were falling into heretical doctrinal disputations in the church at Corinth.
Not only that, but when they gathered together for their services, their public services were scenes of confusion and disorder. And it resulted, finally – at least I’d say – resulted finally in the great offering that the apostle was taking up through the churches of Galatia, and Macedonia, and Achaia – Corinth was in Achaia – and Achaia, the great offering in Achaia had fallen to the ground. The people had done nothing at all. Now, all of those things were upon the heart of the apostle as he was trying to encourage and help the congregation at Corinth. He wrote a letter over there – that letter is lost. They sent a disputation over there. He wrote them again. That’s the first Corinthian letter we have.
He sent Timothy over there. Timothy was insulted and came back in confusion and failure. He sent Titus over there, and prayed and hoped that somehow Titus could bring the church together and in the service and worship of God. And he made arrangements to meet Titus in Troas.
Now, while that was going on after Titus had left, Paul fell into this grievous illness, and he thought he was dying. "Brethren, we were pressed above measure. We despaired even of life, for we had the sentence of death in ourselves." [2 Corinthians 1:8] He thought he was dying. And beyond that, the final straw that simply broke his spirit, Demetrius, the silversmith, raised a riot about him, and the whole city was in an uproar and in confusion. And in the midst of this incomparable ministry there, in the Asian capital of Ephesus, he was forced to leave and came to Troas.
Now, look at the twelfth verse and the thirteenth verses in the second chapter, out of which I’m preaching. And he came to Troas hoping to meet Titus to have some word of encouragement from Titus,
But when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened to me unto of the Lord, I couldn’t preach, I couldn’t preach.
I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother, but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia.
[2 Corinthians 2:12,13]
Now, the rest of it belongs to following sermons. You can’t say it all at one time. But we take it right there. For right here, Paul uttered that question which is my text and our subject. All of these things – the harsh burdens and realities of life – "who is sufficient for them?" Who’s equal to them? Who is adequate. Now, it’s a significant thing that it was a man like Paul that asked that question. "Who is sufficient for these things?" I say it is significant that a man like Paul asked it.
I could not conceive of crafty Caiaphas asking it. Could you? Why, he’d call in his Sanhedrin, and he’d call in his henchmen, and he’d buy off a trader. He wouldn’t ask a question like that. Not Caiaphas! He had his own schemes and his own answers. I couldn’t imagine a dissolute Nero asking a question like that – Nero, egotistical, arrogant, contumacious, lifted up – why, he’d call out his legionnaires and his praetorian guard, and he’d burn down a whole city. I couldn’t imagine – couldn’t imagine – Nero asking a question like that. I couldn’t imagine – I could not imagine – a cowardly, a pusillanimous Pilate asking a question like that. I couldn’t, I couldn’t imagine Pontius Pilate asking that question. He’d have some kind of a way to get out. He’d sacrifice Christ. He’d nail Him to the cross.
I say it’s significant that it’s a man like Paul that asked a question like this. "Who is sufficient for these things?" Who is adequate? For it is the man that undertakes impossible tasks that shoulders great, great burdens, that seeks to carry on an incomparable work, one that he can’t do himself, one for which he’s not equal. It’s that kind of a man that asks a question like this. "Who can do it? Who is sufficient? O God! O God!" It’s a man like Moses that asks a question like that.
When the Lord said, "Moses, I want to send thee down into Egypt to deliver My people." Moses replied, "Lord, who am I? Who am I that I should go down into the land of Egypt to deliver Thy people? [Exodus 3:11] Lord, not I. Not I! I can’t do it." It’s a man like Jeremiah who asks that question, "Lord, I’m but a child, and I cannot bear their hard faces" [Jeremiah 1:6-8].
It’s a man like Amos who asks a question like that when Amaziah, the court preacher, the prelate of the king, when he accosted Amos. He pointed at him, and Amos had to admit [Amos 7:14], "It’s true. I’m no prophet. I’m not a graduate of the prophetic school. I’m not even the son of a prophet. I don’t even belong in the family of the ministry. It’s true. I am a herdsman. I herd sheep, and I gather sycamore fruit. Little scrawny, shriveled up pieces that grew on desert plants. That’s right," said Amos.
It’s that kind of a man that asks a question like this. It’s a Martin Luther, who, one time, as he began his great work of reformation, referred to himself as a despised and a weak man. That’s the kind of a man that asks a question like this. "Who is sufficient for these things?"
Now turn the page, that is, I have to turn the page. Turn the page, and here’s his answer. In the third chapter of the second Corinthian letter, look at the fifth verse. Now you look at it! Here’s his answer. Who is sufficient? Who is able? Who is adequate for these things? "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God." [2 Corinthians 3:5] What a difference! Not that we aren’t sufficient of ourselves, but "Our sufficiency is of God."
And I think of Moses, and the Lord said: "But, Moses, I will go with thee." And I think of Jeremiah, and the Lord said to Jeremiah: "But I will deliver thee." And I think of Martin Luther when he stood by the council chamber in the Diet of Worms and looked where he was to be tried, he said: "But God will be with me." And I look at the Apostle Paul, and God said, "My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." [2 Corinthians 12:9] Our adequacy and our sufficiency is not found in ourselves, but it is found in God. Psalm 62:11, "God hath spoken once. Twice have I heard it that power belongeth unto God." In the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, when Sarah laughed, when God said – Sarah, ninety years old, Abraham, a hundred years old, "Sarah, you shall have a child." But Sarah laughed and the angel replied: "But, Sarah, is anything too hard for God?" [Genesis 18:14]
Jesus said in the nineteenth chapter of Matthew: "But with God all things are possible." John 1:12: "But unto them that received Him, to them gave He power." In the first chapter and nineteenth of Ephesians: "The exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe." In ourselves, we’re not sufficient. Our sufficiency is of God.
Now to speak of that for us; the root and the foundation of all religion is found in this thing right here. That in us, there’s no adequacy and no sufficiency, but our power, and our strength, and our adequacy, and our sufficiency is found in God. That’s the root and the beginning. That’s the basis and the foundation of all true religion. Not us, but God. Not what we can do but what God can do. Not what we are, but what God is. That is true about the building of a world. How are we going to have a world of security and peace, of promise? How are we to build it? How could we build it?
Oh, says men, "We know how to build that world of peace and security. We’ll do it by the U.N. And we’ll do it by NATO. And we’ll do it by SEATO. And we’ll do it by UNESCO. And we’ll do it by concordance and by treaty and by military alliance. We are able. We know how to build a world of justice and order. We know how to bring security and peace." Who is sufficient for these things? "Why, we are," says the man, "Glory to man in the highest! We can do it by our strong arms. We can!"
O God, how I wish I had confidence that they could. But I hide thee back to a long, long time ago where there were men, who in arrogant conceit, said, "And we’ll build a great tower above any flood, and above any catastrophe" [Genesis 11:1-9]. And they built it and they built it. And the name of that tower is Babel. And the name Babel means "confusion, dissolution, failure."
What kind of men to build a world of peace and security of any hope for our children and our children’s children? I wish it could be men like this. Men who would bow their knees before the great God and our Father, and say, "O God, there is no wisdom in us. There is no sufficiency in us. There’s no ableness in us. O God, all sufficiency is of Thee! Lord, grant us wisdom to know where to go and how to do and what choice to make. Grant Lord, that our actions and our decisions and our framings and treaties and all of these things of state and of peace, grant Lord, that they might come from Thee."
I don’t think I ever read in our history books anything that ever moved my heart more than when Abraham Lincoln came into Richmond, the capital city of our defeated Confederacy. When he came in, he did not ride in. Nor did he come triumphantly in. But when he came to the city of Richmond, he walked through the streets. Anyone of those people that lined those avenues could have shot him from any window or any street corner. He walked down the streets of Richmond. He walked to the office of the Confederacy. He sat down at the desk of Jefferson Davis. He bowed his head. He cried. He prayed to God. And had Abraham Lincoln been spared, the story and the history of our Southland would have been a different story and a different history.
That kind of men, who will bow before God and pray; who will weep before God and confess their insufficiency and look to heaven from whom comes all wisdom and power and our sufficiency. Could I speak of that with our own lives? How shall a man live his life? How? Well, in his own strength and in his own adequacy. That would be fine and wonderful if we were adequate enough, and if we were strong enough. But, O my soul, the vicissitudes and fortunes of life overwhelm us. If not today, then tomorrow – that was what Paul meant when he said, God said to me, "My grace is sufficient for thee. For my strength is made perfect in weakness." [2 Corinthians 12:9] Therefore, when I am weak, then am I strong.
When I say "there’s no strength in me; there’s no ableness in me; there’s no wisdom in me" – When I pray that, when I’m weak, then God takes over. "I’ll be thy strength. I’ll be thy sufficiency. I’ll be thy choice and thy wisdom. I’ll be thy right hand. I’ll be thy sun."
"When I’m weak, then am I strong." How shall a man live his life? On his knees, bowed before God, confessing our weakness, looking to heaven. I have a motto in my Bible. Could I read it to you in humility? Could I? "He stands best who kneels most. He stands strongest who kneels weakest. He stands longest who kneels lowest." And I look at that almost every time I prepare these sermons. Could I read it again? "He stands best who kneels most. He stands strongest who kneels weakest. He stands longest who kneels lowest."
"For when I am weak, then am I strong."
Now, may I say that of our souls? How can God save a man? How can the Lord remake us? How can God mend us? How can God change us? He can never do it as long as I feel adequate in myself. If I can do it, no need for God to try. "I can do it myself!"
One of the strangest things in reading this holy Word, one of the strangest things is this that the best, holiest men in the Bible have felt themselves the weakest and the sinfulest. Isaiah, the incomparable court preacher of Israel, Isaiah said when he saw the Lord high lifted up, he cried saying, "Woe is me. I’m undone, for I’m a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. For mine eyes have seen the Lord, the God of hosts." [Isaiah 6:5] Simon Peter said that. When the Lord said: "Simon, you go out in the deep and cast." And Simon said: "But Lord, we’ve tried all night long and haven’t caught a fish. Didn’t even have a bite. Little bobber there, it didn’t even bubble. There’s no fish, Lord." Nevertheless, said Simon Peter, "At Thy word, I’ll try." [Luke 5:4,5] And he let down his net and could hardly pull it into the boat, for the whole school of fishes that he’d caught. And somehow the overwhelming majesty and glory and omnipotence and omniscience of Jesus just made Simon Peter feel so little and so undone that he fell at the feet of Jesus in the boat and said: "Lord, I’m not fit to be in Thy presence. Depart from me, Lord. I am a sinful man." [Luke 5:8]
That’s what the publican did – beat on his breast – wouldn’t even so much as look to God and cried, saying, "Lord, be merciful to me." You have it translated "a sinner." The Greek of that is: "Lord, be merciful unto me, the sinner:" [Luke 18:13] The only one in the world – the worst of all of them – I.
That’s the way that God can save a man. As long as the man says to the appeal of the Holy Spirit, "I don’t need Christ. I don’t need that Book. And I don’t need that church, and I don’t need the message and the hope of the Lord. I can do it myself. I’m adequate. I’ll take my own chances. I’m as good as anybody else. I walk as uprightly, I’m a man of integrity. I don’t need God, and I don’t need Christ. And I don’t need the blood, and I don’t need the cross. And I don’t need the Spirit, and I don’t need the church." Long as a man feels adequate and sufficient in himself, he shuts God out.
But when the man says, "O Lord, I can’t do it. I can’t. Lord, the issues of life are too much for me. The harsh and terrible realities of this awful world are too much for me. Lord, this age and this death. I’m not sufficient. O God, when that inevitable hour comes, what shall I do? And to whom shall I turn?" When a man comes to the end of his way, then God has a chance to carry through in God’s way. "Here," says the Lord. "I’ll be your decision. I’ll be that strength. I’ll be that help. I’ll be that life. I’ll be that salvation. I’ll be that heaven. I’ll be there carrying through when you come to the end of your feeble way."
Who is sufficient? "Not in ourselves," said Paul. "But our sufficiency is of God." For He said, "My grace is sufficient for thee." And that’s enough – don’t need beyond God; don’t need beyond His promise; don’t need beyond Christ; don’t need beyond His Spirit for every issue of life, for death, for eternity, having God, that’s enough. That’s enough!
And He’s ours, for the man who will humble himself and ask. Would you? Would you do it? In this great throng who listened so prayerfully this holy hour, on that radio, many who have listened to this word from the Book, where you are facing all of the inevitable vicissitudes and fortunes of life, would you kneel and tell God, "Lord, I’m not able, but there’s ableness in Thee. And I’ll open my heart to receive all the full gifts of Christ." Would you do it? Would you do it?
And in this vast throng here this morning, "Pastor, here I am, and here I come. I don’t understand all these things." God understands, and that’s enough. "I’m not able for all these things, but God is able and that’s enough. I’m not adequate, but He’s adequate. I’m not lovely, but He’s lovely. I’m not righteous, but He’s righteous. I’m not good, but He is good. I cannot, but God can! And in the persuasion that He’s able to do, exceedingly above all that we ask or think, on that promise and in that hope, here I come, pastor, and here I am." In that topmost balcony, anywhere, somebody you, giving his heart in faith to Christ, or putting his life in the fellowship of the church, while we make the appeal, while we pray, while we sing this song, would you come and stand by me while all of us stand and sing together?
WHO IS SUFFICIENT?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 2:16
A. The depths of despair that overwhelmed the apostle(2 Corinthians 1:8-9, 2:4, 11:23-28)
1. The heavy burden of the church on his spirit(2 Corinthians 6:11)
2. Corinthians were richly endowed, but every endowment the occasion of envy, factions
3. Factional divisions for or against Paul, Apollos, Cephas
4. Doctrinal aberrations
5. Public services were scenes of confusion and disorder
B. First letter he wrote is lost to us; his second is our first Corinthian letter
C. Timothy sent to Corinth; was mistreated and came back in failure
D. Titus sent to Corinth; Paul to meet him in Troas
1. Paul fell into grievous illness and thought he was dying (2 Corinthians 1:8)
2. Demetrius raised a riot; Paul forced to leave Ephesus
3. Titus not found in Troas; Paul went to Macedonia(2 Corinthians 2:12-13)
II. Paul’s cry – "Who is sufficient for these things?"(2 Corinthians 2:16)
A. Not without significance that it was Paul who asked the question
1. Can’t imagine Caiaphas, Nero or Pilate asking it
2. It is the man that undertakes impossible tasks, seeks to carry on an incomparable work for which he’s not equal, who asks that question
a. Moses, Jeremiah, Amos(Exodus 3:11, Jeremiah 1:6-8, Amos 7:14)
b. Martin Luther
B. The answer – our sufficiency is of God (2 Corinthians 3:5, 12:9, Psalm 62:11, Genesis 18:14, Matthew 19:26, John 1:12, Ephesians 1:19)
III. Basis of religion – our inadequacy and God’s sufficiency
A. Our world
1. Cannot build a world of peace and security without help of God
a. Tower of Babel(Genesis 11:1-9)
2. The men to do it are those who fall on their knees before God
a. Abraham Lincoln walking through Richmond
B. Our lives
1. Acknowledge dependence upon God (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
2. My Bible motto: "He stands best who kneels most. He stands strongest who kneels weakest. He stands longest who kneels lowest."
C. Our souls
1. God can never mend us, remake us, save us, unless we are conscious of our need and lack
2. The best, holiest men in the Bible have felt themselves the weakest and most sinful(Isaiah 6:5, Luke 5:4-5, 8, 18:13)
3. As long as a man feels adequate in himself, he shuts God out