2 Cor10: PAUL'S DEFENCE OF HIS MINISTRY
(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)
It seems strange that after receiving Titus' report affirming the goodwill of the Corinthians and the joy this brought him, Paul goes on to the attack.
But it is likely that Titus also told Paul about a minority faction consisting of visiting Jewish "super apostles" and their admirers. See2Cor11v5and22.
Paul chose to make his defence against the criticism they levelled against him. We do have a problem in that we have to work out what these were from the defence Paul makes.
It is highly likely that the "super apostles" hoped to undermine Paul's standing at Corinth so they could exercise their own authority.
So the greater part of this exposition will be taken up looking at Paul's response to the accusations made against him. There were four:
(B) Inconsistency. See vs1, 9 and 10.
Paul's opponents wondered why an apostle whose letters were bold, weighty and forceful should, when actually present among them, be so timid and unimpressive both in appearance and as a speaker.
(1) The truth of the accusation.
There is some truth in what Paul's opponents asserted:
(b) He preached a simple, clear and fervent gospel message. Paul tried being clever in Athens and it didn't produce the results he hoped for. So when the apostle got to Corinth in much fear and trembling he decided to preach nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1Cor2v3and4.
(c) What is harder to understand is the contrast between the confrontational nature of 1Corinthians and Paul's lack of forthrightness during his second visit. Paul's first epistle is quite scathing in places. He was obviously far less scathing in person.
In this matter Paul may have been at fault. I think he was the sort of person who thrived on acceptance and affection. This may have made him very conciliatory when he was actually with people.
(2) Paul's defence.
Paul justified himself in two ways:
Meekness means exercising self-control - being angry only when appropriate and only in proportion to the severity of the offence. It is the word used to describe a horse that has been broken in. Such a horse is docile but capable of exerting itself at need.
Gentleness means acting with sweet reasonableness according to the spirit and not the letter of the law.
So, that is how Paul tried to behave. He didn't flare up when his authority was questioned. He tried to resolve problems by gentle persuasion.
(b) Nonetheless, at need, Paul warns he can be bold, forceful and weighty in person. See v11. He will be like this as a last resort. Such was the case when he confronted Peter and Barnabas for not participating in the Lord's Supper with Gentiles. See Gal2v11to14.
There is a great need for Christians to exercise spiritual discernment. Such is not always the case!
Warren Wiersbe makes some very sharp comments on 2Cor10 born of his pastoral experience. I hope he will forgive me for quoting him extensively in this exposition. He writes: Some friends and I once listened to a man preach whose entire sermon was made up of impressive "big" words, an occasional quotation from the Bible (usually taken out of context), and many references to world events and the "signs of the times." As we left the meeting, one of my friends said, "First Kings 19:11 describes that performance perfectly: 'The Lord was not in the wind.'" Yet people around us were saying that it was "the most wonderful sermon" they had ever heard. I seriously doubt that ten minutes later they were able to recall one concrete thing that the preacher had said.
When I was a boy I listened to my father discuss with my mother the plight of an old pastor in a Cambridgeshire Baptist church. He had been at the small Fenland cause for several years. As time passed he took on more and more of the chores needed to keep the church going. He cleaned the chapel, lit the fire for the Sunday services, raked it out when they were over, maintained the graveyard and so on. My father said, "Poor old X is not respected - his people take him for granted." He was a humble, uncomplaining man who did his best. He SHOULD have been appreciated!
This very sad observation of Warren Wiersbe has for me the ring of truth: In my many years of pastoral and itinerant ministry, I have never ceased to be amazed at how some local churches treat their pastors. If a man shows love and true humility, they resist his leadership and break his heart. The next pastor will be a "dictator" who "runs the church" - and he gets just what he wants. And the people love him and brag about him! Our Lord was treated the same way (As the first man!), so perhaps who should not be surprised.
Paul needed to assert: For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. v3.
(1) Why the accusation was made.
(a) Adopted a policy of being all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 1Cor9v22. This was a sure fire way of ensuring the disapproval of the narrow-minded Jewish "super apostles".
(b) Had a very relaxed attitude to Jewish law - circumcision, Sabbath observance and the dietary restrictions.
(c) Used illustrations taken from the Gentile world, for example: the Olympic Games. See 1Cor9v24to27. Sometimes Paul used imagination and wit to put across his message; no doubt a practice scorned by his opponents. There used to be a very serious-minded Christian who acted as secretary of a local church. He banned me for using Snoopy Cartoons in the children's address and warned another itinerant preacher that he would be dropped if he didn't cut out all his amusing anecdotes. He was dropped!!
(d) Earned a living with fellow Gentile craftsmen as a worker in leather. I expect the "super apostles" considered religious leaders should be above such activities. They should keep themselves separate and not be rubbing shoulders with the world. I consider this attitude is very prevalent today. I don't imagine that there will ever be a part-time Pope - one doubling up as a car mechanic. Most Protestants want their leaders to be religious professionals - not amateurs - like Jesus!
(2) Paul's defence.
Paul wrote that he didn't:
(a) Use the weapons of the world. v4. What are these weapons - used by Romans, Nazis and Stalinists alike? They are: propaganda and misinformation, ostentatious displays of majesty and might, bribery and corruption, coercion - the use of naked force - imprisonment, torture and death.
Sometimes the church has forsaken the good example of Paul and aped the world with disastrous results.
(b) Flinch from taking on strongholds. v4. Paul avoided easy targets. Instead he took on Satan's strongholds. These included: other religions - paganism and legalistic Judaism, intellectualism - the Greek philosophers, the materialism rife amongst well-to-do Romans and hedonism - living for pleasure - for gluttony, drink and sex in many of its perverted forms.
(c) Rely on his own strength - but divine power to demolish strongholds. Paul needed divine power to confound articulate and convincing opponents of God's word. Sometimes he actually took his opponents ideas and claimed them for Christ. See Acts17v27and28.
(b) Divine power should enable Christians to withstand the efforts of secularists and atheistic Scientists to discredit the Faith.
(c) Christian leaders should still take ideas from the Arts, Science, Politics and Sport to illustrate Divine truth. See story about Hank Aaron. They certainly shouldn't be disparaged for doing so!
(D) Lack of devotion.
It seems incredible that anyone would question Paul's devotion to and service of Jesus. But it seems that this is what his opponents were doing so that Paul is driven to write: If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should consider again that we belong to Christ as much as he. v7.
(1) What justification was there for questioning Paul's allegiance to Jesus?
There is undoubtedly a difference of emphasis in the teaching of Paul and Jesus.
(b) Paul concentrated on the significance of Jesus' death and resurrection. He emphasised that salvation had nothing to do with keeping the Law but was God's gift received through faith. Salvation and the promise of eternal life were confirmed by the gift of the Spirit. As far as the apostle was concerned Christ's ransomed people were more of a family, body or even a building, than a kingdom. Paul's theology marked a significant departure from Judaism.
These differences have puzzled scholars through the centuries so it is hardly surprising that they stirred up controversy at the time.
(2) Paul's defence.
Paul mounts a three-fold defence:
(b) He was given authority to be the apostle to the Gentiles by Christ himself. He writes: For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us... . v8.
No one could deny Paul his conversion experience. It must have been obvious something dramatic happened on the road to Damascus to transform the leading opponent of Christianity into one of its greatest devotees.
No Christian can be denied his experience. This was the bedrock of the man born blind's faith. He was able to say to his interrogators, "This one thing I do know. I was blind but now I see." Jn9v25.
(c) He had built the church at Corinth. He claimed: For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down. v8.
He could write in his first epistle: By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder ... . For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1Cor3v10and11.
Paul was able with power from the Holy Spirit to build the Corinthian church on the foundation of Christ Jesus. If the church followed all his advice in his first epistle then they would become more united, stronger, orderly and increasingly effective. Other people were threatening to undermine the good work Paul had done by creating disunity, distrust and legalism.
Paul's track record at Corinth was a convincing demonstration of his devoted service to Jesus his Lord.
We should credit Christians from whom we differ with what they do and achieve by God's Spirit.
(b) I am sometimes critical of my fellow Grace Baptists. I dislike their Reformed doctrine and their pride in being right. However, I would never question the real and active devotion to Jesus of almost all of them. Grace Baptist pastors preach the gospel and long to see men and women, boys and girls saved.
(c) Sometimes the personalities of our fellow Christians may irk us. My fellow elder, Edward, and myself were not much alike. His desire to be well thought of sometimes annoyed me. My aggressive, bombastic style occasionally upset him. But I recognised that my brother was totally devoted to the Lord and spent his life serving him from pure motives.
The "super-apostles" may have been a faction made up of Pharisees who had converted to a form of Christianity. They obviously made much of their curricula vitae and testimonials. According to Paul they wrote testimonials for one another. See v12. The "super apostles" were an incestuous, self-congratulatory clique of self-promoting, legalistic, Jewish Christians. Their only standard of comparison and measurement was their own values and experience. In his commentary on 2 Corinthians Colin G Kruse lists the qualities they apparently set great store by: an authoritative presence and impressive powers of oratory. (See 2Cor10v1, 10 and 2Cor11v20and21), impressive spiritual experiences (See 2Cor12v1to6), the performance of apostolic signs (See 2Cor12v12), some show of power and authority (See 2Cor11v19and20), an impeccable Jewish ancestry (See 2Cor11v21and22), and the size of fee they could command (See 2Cor11v7to11). Like some Christians I know today they were both triumphalist and also blinkered, narrow and full of pride in being right.
Paul did not belong to this group. Nobody in this super-spiritual clique had written any testimonials for him!! Paul had nothing on paper to impress anyone - but he wrote to the Corinthians: You yourselves are our letter written on your hearts and read by everybody. 2Cor3v2. (See exposition on 2Cor3v1to3.)
(1) Paul's defence.
(b) Unlike the "super apostles" Paul does not take credit for work done by others. See v15.
(c) He hopes that after he has sorted out the problems at Corinth he will be free again to take the gospel even further afield. See v16.
(d) The only commendation worth having is that of Christ. See v17.
Warren Wiersbe remarks that there is something intimidating about attending a pastor's conference or denominational convention. The speakers are usually those who have enjoyed much success in their field. So young pastors and older men in 'narrow places' go home feeling guilty and inadequate. Some are so charged up they try all sorts of new initiatives only to experience further disappointment. Perhaps they become so disillusioned they leave the ministry. Wiersbe writes: If only they would realise that God measures their ministries on the basis of where he has put them, and not on the basis of what is going on in some other city, it would encourage them to stay on the job and keep being faithful.
Not all Christian leaders in Western Europe can preside over growing churches. It remains necessary to maintain ageing and declining churches for the sake of the elderly saints who attend until such time as they are called home to glory. This is not glamorous work but it seems to be the field God has assigned me!
(b) We shouldn't take all the credit for the work of others. I can recall taking on a class of grammar school girls for the final year of their A level Geography course. They did brilliantly well in their exam and achieved excellent grades. It would have been very foolish of me to take all the credit! I taught them 1 year in 7. It was the important final year but I was building on foundations laid by other teachers.
After Jesus had talked to the woman of Samaria and contemplated the local population as a field ripe for harvest he said to his disciples: "I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour."
During my twenty years serving at a Christian camp for young people I witnessed many conversions. We who worked at camp realised that we were reaping what others had sowed. It was a wonderful, uplifting experience to reap but Christian parents, godly Sunday school teachers, caring pastors and dedicated youth leaders and done the sowing.
I love what Jesus said on the subject: A day will dawn when the sower and reaper may be glad together. John4v36.
(c) Like Paul we should always be looking to broaden our field of operation. There is always something more we can do - a bit further to push on. William Barclay quotes an extract from a poem by Rudyard Kipling called, 'The explorer', to this end.
Till a voice, as bad as Conscience, rang interminable changes
Till a voice, as bad as Conscience, rang interminable changes
(d) We should leave the ultimate judgment of our work to God. It is his commendation that really matters.
I have just received an email from a rather disgruntled Christian who works in a university in the United States. He undoubtedly feels that the academics at the university look down on a person like himself with no degree. Perhaps he is a caretaker, handyman, technician or gardener - doing work vital to the institution but sadly unappreciated and undervalued. But Paul would say it doesn't matter how men judge us. The only judgment we should be concerned about is that of God. God will judge us not in comparison to others. He will commend us on how well we do the work HE HAS ALLOTED TO US.