Parenting in the Sufficiency in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:12-3:6)

It is so easy to feel like a failure as a parent.  We are bombarded with so many things that we should be doing that all the things we are not doing is like a jackhammer of guilt that is pounding on our souls. 
"Never lose your temper with your kids. Always make sure you feed them organic food.  Make  sure you pray without ceasing. Be a constant encourager of their hearts. Make sure you are firm and consistent with your discipline. Never make the child the center of the home, but always make sure he feels loved. Disciple your children one on one. Make sure they have plenty of outlets outside of the home. Never miss church. Take lots of pictures and document everything they do for your records, they grow up fast. Love your spouse. Make sure you meet their emotional and physical needs. Read books on parenting, but make sure they are the right books."  With each expectation the heart feels heavier and heavier making you want to scream, “Enough!! I can’t take it anymore.” 

            That is maybe how many of your feel after this conference. You have heard wonderful talks and have been given great tips on discipline and family worship, but you are starting to think, “There is no way I am going to be able to do this.”  If we are not careful, a conference meant to encourage gospel-centered parenting, ends up making us feel condemnation of the law. The weight of our parental responsibility makes us feel inadequate, ashamed and broken.  Who is sufficient for these things?

            Beloved, the first step to true gospel-centered parenting is to realize that we are not sufficient for such things by ourselves.  If we are confident that we can be great parents alone, then our vision for our children is too small.  We want to raise a generation rooted in the gospel to grow up into Christ our head who pushes back the very gates of hell.  Psalm 127,

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127)

We are raising arrows to be shot out into the world to battle the forces of darkness in the heavenly realms.  Parenting is the front line battle between heaven and hell for the souls of your children and for the future grace that will bear through your children.  And unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain.

            We are insufficient in ourselves to bring to bear God’s goals for our children.  So if you feel overwhelmed in the task God has given you, good.  It is only through your insufficiency that you will fight to find the sufficiency of Another. It is only through our insufficiency that we will desire to find our sufficiency in Christ.  We are insufficient, but Christ is fully sufficient.  Let me encourage you to find your sufficiency in Christ in four ways so you like Paul, can say, “Thanks be to God.”

The Sufficient Leadership of Christ

            Paul writes 2 Corinthians to defend himself as an apostle.  There were certain teachers claiming that Paul was not a true apostle for several reasons. Paul responds to their claims with a letter legitimizing his rights of apostleship.  Some of you may be able to resonate with Paul, 2 Corinthians 2:8-10a,

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.

As much as we love our children, there are days we feel utterly burdened beyond our strength.  And maybe that burdened feels so heavy that we even despair of life itself.  The Bible does not paint a rosy picture o this life, but a picture of death and despair. Paul felt that he had received the sentence of death. 

Have you ever feel like that? Been overwhelmed with life?  Paul was desperate, but notice the purpose of Paul’s desperation in verse 9-10,

Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

The purpose in his despair was to train him not to rely on himself, but on God who raises the dead.  One of the main lessons in parenting is not to rely on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead. 

            We can have confidence and hope that God will deliver us because he has caused us to be born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  This is a beautiful promise, we are insufficient, but Christ leads us.  2 Corinthians 2:14,

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.

Christ leads us in a triumphal procession.  But we have to ask what does Paul mean when he says we are being led by a triumphal procession? 

            The passage has been widely interpreted by a number of conservative scholars. At first reading, we tend to grasp the idea that God is victorious and we are being led in His victory. And this is true, we are being led in God’s victory, but the imagery highlights God’s victory and not our own.  Paul paints a picture of a Roman general leading captives back as spoils of war, parading them through the streets to magnify the greatness of the victory.  Paul does not look at himself (and by extension us) as victorious, but as captives. We were once enemies of God, but have been captured by Christ. We were once captured by Satan to do his will, but we now have been crucified with Christ.  We were rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Beloved Son, in whom we have redemption the forgiveness of sin. 

            I will come back to Paul’s argument in a second and show why it is so liberating in our request to raise a generation rooted in Christ, but let me first ask, “Have you been captured by Christ? Have you repented of your sins and trusted in Christ as your Savior?”  In a room this size, there may be those who have never truly humbled themselves and crucified their former way of life in repentance and faith.  It is impossible to please God in your parenting without faith, “for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). The Bible says that every human being has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

 We all have gone astray and lived for ourselves, serving our own passions and desires.  We all deserve death for our sins, but God in his loving kindness sent Christ into the world to rescue us by conquering the power and the penalty of death. Jesus lived a perfect life. He committed no sin and no deceit was found in his mouth, yet he was crushed for our iniquity.  He was slain for our sin.  But thanks be to God, the grave could not hold him and 3 days later God raised him from the dead.  The Bible says that Jesus was the firstborn of many brothers.  Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers for he has promised to save whosoever would repent of your sins and trust in Christ. Friend, can I encourage you today to change your master? No longer follow the prince of the darkness, but allow the sweet message of Christ to capture your heart. Follow Christ the King.  Our ultimate goal in this conference is not to make you a better parent, but to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His Name among all the nations to the praise of his glorious grace. Have you been captured by Christ?

It is only when we have been captured by Christ that he leads us in a humbling parade where we can spread the sufficient life of Christ.

The Sufficient Life through Christ

            The life of the Christian is difficult. It is full of trials and pain.  And much more difficult is the life of a Christian parent. Parenting is hard for anybody, but it is especially hard for the Christian because are completely opposed by the flesh, the world and the devil. We have enemies in his life that fight against all our efforts to raise our children rooted and built up in Christ.  We are opposed.  We are at war.  Parenting outside of Christ is sitting in a canoe going down stream. If you just sit in the boat and do what the culture says, you will raise children who know how to succeed in this world.  But a Christian sits in a paddle boat peddling up the Mississippi battling the current for the glory of God.  The boat we are in does not prize success in this world, but in the world to come.

            And my fear is with most Christian parents is that we care more about worldly success than we do about the eternal weight of glory promised to His children. How would you define your success as parent?  The Apostle Paul was looked down upon because he appeared to be a worldly failure.  As I stated earlier, Paul wrote this letter in part to prove that he was a legitimate apostle. Some believed that because he did not charge large sums of money for his preaching and that he was beaten, stoned, and poor that he was not a true apostle.

Paul is not saying that he was being led as a victor, but as a captive.  He was a led as a prisoner of war from the kingdom of Satan so the glory of Christ would be displayed to a watching world.  2 Corinthians 2:14-16,

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

It was through the suffering and the humiliation of God’s people that spread the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 

            Your suffering and sacrifice for your children is the aroma of Christ. When you overcome your laziness and rise up to discipline your children, you are the aroma of Christ.  When you bear the weight of rejection from your kids by telling them they cannot do what their friends do, you are the aroma of Christ. When you wake up early in the morning and fall to your face in pray for their souls, you are the aroma of Christ.  It is through our humiliation that God spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  He leads us in a triumphal procession and then through us spreads his glory among the earth including to the hearts and minds of our own children.

            Paul makes a similar argument in Chapter 4 showing how as God’s people we carry along the death of Christ so that we can display the life of Christ,

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12 ESV)

Death is at work in the Christian parent so that life will be at work in our kids.  Our parental sacrifice is nothing more than walking in the footsteps of the Savior.  1 Peter 2:20b-21; 24,

But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Death always comes before life.  We have only experienced life because of the death of Christ. 

The call of Christian parenting is a call to die as everything else with life.  Now you can hear this call and be discouraged or you can realize that Christ is sufficient to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere through you!!! The life of Christ is sufficient. Christ is sufficient. He is leading you. And He is using you to spread His great name to your children.  Rejoice, I say again rejoice!!  Parenting is hard, but I “consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

            So here is my plea, do not strive to be a successful parent in the eyes of the world, but live in such a way knowing that one day you and your children will stand in the face of almighty God. Be the aroma of Christ for your children.

The Sufficient Lovers of Christ

            How are Christian parents different?  How can we be the aroma of Christ to our children? At the end of verse 16, we see that question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Paul tells us how we are called to live before the world and most particularly those closest to us in the world, our children, verse 17,

For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

We want our love rooted in Christ and we want to see our children built up in Christ then let us be like Paul in theses ways. First,

Do not love your children more the God – Paul makes a contrast to how the apostles were different the others who loved money, but used Christ.  They used the ministry of the Word to fatten their pockets.  They did not love God first, but his blessings.  God does not promise your children will grow up to love you.  Even when we are the aroma of Christ we will smell like the stench of death to some. We do not know the Lord’s plans with our children.  Do you love your children more than God? Are you willing to sacrifice biblical principles for the sake of your kids’ happiness?  Are you more concerned with their temporal joys than their eternal happiness? Love God more than your children.

Speak with sincerity – Be genuine in your parenting. The best way to love your children is to love God first.  Do not be a hypocrite at home.  Lead by example.

Know Your Role – When the Rock, Duane Johnson, was a member of the WWF, he had a famous line, “Know your Role and shut your mouth Jabroni.”  The only reason I remember this is because it was the same line the upperclassmen on my college football team used to put down the freshman.  Likewise, we need to know our role.  We have been given our role by God. God has commissioned us to care for and disciple our children.  There are a lot of great things to do in this life, but you must know your role.  You have been commissioned by God to pick up your cross and follow Christ so that His knowledge would be spread to your kids.  Know your role parents. 

Know You Will Give Account – We all will one day stand before God and answer for how we lived.  God sees all and knows all.  There is a Latin phrase, “Coram Deo,” meaning before the face of God.  Always remember you are living before the face of God.  Live for what truly matters. Beloved, parent for God’s pleasure.

Speak in Christ – Speak the gospel to your kids. Remind them as you remind your own heart that we are all sinners and need a Savior. Know the great promise that if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse from all unrighteous, but if we do sin and fall short know that we have one standing before the Father on our behalf, Jesus Christ, our Righteous Advocate.  Make the gospel promise sweet to your kids. 

Sufficient Letter by Christ

            Life is built relationships.  And because life is built on relationships, the pendulum swings to
great joys and deep hurts.  I have worked with parents whose children have forsaken them, who have turned their backs on their families and on the Lord.  It can be very painful.  We see a glimpse of that pain here from Paul. Paul loved the Corinthians.  Hear what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:14-15,

I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (1 Corinthians 4:14-15)

Paul viewed himself as a spiritual father to the church in Corinth. 

He lived and labored among them with love becoming their father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  And after you feel his love for the church, feel his pain, 2 Corinthians 3:1,

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you?

In the ancient world, a letter of recommendation was used as an introduction and validation of friendship. 

Paul’s love was thrown into question by a group within the church implying that he would need to have someone write him a recommendation to encourage the church to welcome him. Listen to his response,

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)

Paul needed no letter, because the Corinthians were the letter.  They were written on Paul’s heart and read by all. His letter of recommendation is far better than the letters of the false apostles, for his letter was written by God. 

Verse 3 is a great verse for parents.  Paul, a spiritual father, writing to his spiritual children, says that Christ is writing His letter on their hearts by the Spirit of the living God and Paul has the great privilege to deliver it.  Can we think of ourselves as God’s mailman?  Christ has written the letter on our children’s heart; it is our job to deliver it to the world.  Do you see the great privilege of Christian parents? 

            In the early church, Paul often used an amanuensis who would write the letter as Paul would dictate what to say.  This is a great picture.  God has spoken to us on what to write on our children’s heart. We write the glory of the gospel through our words and lives on our children’s hearts.  God is using us as an amanuensis to deliver his message on our children’s hearts.  Every day you are writing a letter from Christ on the tablet of the human heart to be read by all. What a glorious task!!! Who is sufficient for these things?

Beloved, we are not sufficient alone, but we are not sufficiently alone. We are in Christ. Therefore, we have been made sufficient to be ministers of the new covenant to our children.  We will fail as parents, but God’s grace is bigger than our failures.  2 Corinthians 3:4-6,

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Did you catch that?  God made us sufficient to be ministers of the new covenant by the Spirit of God.  Friends, you are sufficient for this parenting task in Christ.  As Christ leads us, he will use us to raise a generation rooted in Christ. He has made us sufficient. Who is sufficient for these things? You are…in Christ. 
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