PAUL’S APOSTLESHIP 2 Corinthians 10–11
“ ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Cor. 10:17–18).The differences between true and false servants of God are surprising.
Paul further explained his New Covenant ministry, touching on its resources (10:1–6), its essential character (vv. 7–18), its counterfeits (11:1–15), and its costs (vv. 16–33).
Understanding the Text
“ ‘Timid’ when face to face” 2 Cor. 10:1. These words reflect charges made against Paul by those in Corinth who shrugged and tried to dismiss the apostle as an insignificant man. They surely had their reasons. Paul wasn’t much of an orator (cf. 1 Cor. 2:4). He wasn’t a dominating personality: “timid” fit far better than “bold.” If we can believe early descriptions Paul was unimpressive physically. The earliest account we have describes Paul as a wizened little man, with a large hooked nose, peering up through eyebrows that met in the center of his forehead. Only his bright, twinkling eyes reflected the force of his personality. It’s all too easy for us to dismiss others on the basis of appearances. Or to be overly impressed. The last four chapters of 1 Corinthians serve as an important corrective, as Paul helps us better understand the qualities that make for spiritual power. Judging by appearances is neither right nor safe! “We do not wage war as the world does” 2 Cor. 10:2–6. Paul had been dismissed as spiritually irrelevant. He was not. Christians do not “live by the standards of this world” and there is a vast difference between spiritual and worldly power. Paul relied not on weapons of the world but on “divine power to demolish strongholds.” The image here is of an ancient fortified city set to resist a conqueror by taking refuge behind strong walls. Paul knew that those who resisted his authority resisted Christ, who appointed him an apostle. Paul was absolutely confident that God’s “divine power” would “demolish” the arguments of those who resisted his authority, for Paul’s sole goal was to bring every thought of the Corinthians into harmony with Christ’s will. Three things here lie at the root of spiritual power. To be called by Christ. To have confidence in spiritual rather than worldly power. To desire only to bring others to obedience to Jesus. Too many try to rest ministries on a two-legged rather than three-legged stool, and thus fall. Some are called and confident, but desire personal power over others. Some are called and seek to bring others into obedience to Jesus, but rely on worldly styles of “leadership.” But effective ministry must rest on all three legs for spiritual power. “Once your obedience is complete” 2 Cor. 10:6. Paul was sure that God’s power would work within the Corinthians, to change the minds and hearts of the majority and reestablish their obedience. Any who then continued to resist would be disciplined. Let’s be among the first to respond when called back to Christ. It’s dangerous to be among the last. “Building you up rather than pulling you down” 2 Cor. 10:7–11. Paul used this same phrase again in 13:10 to describe his authority. This is a critical difference between spiritual and worldly authority. Spiritual authority builds up others. Worldly authority builds up leaders. Watch a parade in Russia, and you see gigantic pictures of Marx and Lenin, with the current Chairman. In a land supposedly dedicated to equality, the fluttering portraits bear witness to the fact that in this world, leaders exalt themselves, not others. Christians become so used to worldly leadership that unless Christian leaders behave in the same way, we assume they are weak. We want “strong leaders.” Leaders the world will look at as “great” because they exalt themselves. It makes us feel good to be the followers of an acknowledged “great man.” But Paul, and mature believers today, knew that spiritual authority is given leaders to build others up. The test of spiritual leaders is not how “weighty and forceful” they appear to the world, but whether they are effective in helping others follow Jesus more closely. Don’t be taken in by the world’s fascination with “great men.” Choose instead the “timid,” unimpressive man or woman who sees authority as the privilege of building others up. “When they . . . compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” 2 Cor. 10:12–18. Paul was picturing the yearly denominational get-together. One pastor in Chattanooga is on five radio stations. His friend in Nashville is on six. One candidate for the “fastest growing church” has increased in membership 89 percent. Another candidate claims 89.5 percent. There’s a hot debate over baptisms. Seven churches have baptized 38 folks since the last annual meeting. But three of them counted people who were rebaptized, and some of the brethren think this shouldn’t count. Paul looked at this kind of thing and simply said, “They are not wise.” Numbers do count. But comparing numbers—measuring ourselves by ourselves—isn’t wise. Paul didn’t say exactly why, but I suspect there are several reasons. It makes us unduly proud. It makes us self-satisfied. It shifts our focus from Christ to ourselves. It shifts our focus from the people leaders are called to serve to the leaders themselves. It makes us look to others for approval rather than to Jesus. Paul avoided all these traps, and simply said he wanted to reach out as far as he could with the Gospel of Christ. And that his hope was the Corinthian’s faith would continue to grow. I suspect if our whole motivation is to share Christ and see Christians grow, the numbers will take care of themselves. And our commendation will come from the Lord rather than from ourselves. “Sincere and pure devotion to Christ” 2 Cor. 11:1–6. Paul’s great frustration was to see the Corinthians showing devotion to human leaders—some even to him!—rather than to Christ. How baffling when modern “super apostles” appear, and our friends seem more committed to them than to Jesus. “Preaching the Gospel of God to you free of charge” 2 Cor. 11:7–12. We recently had a TV “expose” of a tent evangelist in St. Petersburg. They took him to task for the usual things—an emphasis on money, a lavish lifestyle, a million-dollar home. We’re so used to such things that it’s almost stunning to realize that Paul was being criticized in Corinth for not taking money! There is one thing anyone in ministry can count on. Whatever you do, someone will be there to criticize you. Paul was not one of those hard shell types, able to shrug off criticism. It hurt Paul. Just as it hurts most of us. When we do something out of love for others, to have that act twisted and used as a club against us is painful indeed. In this case, Paul reacted strongly. He explained why he acted as he did, expressed the love that motivated his action, and said he would “keep on doing what I am doing.” There are times it may be best to suffer in silence. But there are times when we need to confront criticism, and make our motives clear. “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” 2 Cor. 11:13–15. Don’t expect the spiritual fraud or pseudo-apostle to appear wicked. In fact, such people “masquerade as servants of righteousness.” Paul’s point was that we must be rigorous in testing those who announce themselves as heaven’s great gift to the church! If we stick to the context of these two chapters, we have several tests we can apply. Are our leaders concerned with building us up—or themselves? Do they rely on worldly leadership practices, or the spiritual armory of Paul? Are they eager for personal wealth, or indifferent to it? If we move to other passages on false teachers we find more specific tests. Is their teaching true to the Word? And do they live what they teach? Let’s not be fooled by the masks people wear, or their pious talk. It doesn’t take too much wisdom to distinguish those who want to exploit you from those who wish to serve.
Hire This Man!(2 Cor. 11:16–32)
The ad said “Résumés Professionally Prepared.” It went on to say how important it is to make a good first impression. And how the professional resume service would help emphasize strengths, and even shape the presentation to the specific job you were looking for. What would happen if the Apostle Paul walked hesitantly into such an office, and diffidently held out the handwritten list of accomplishments that are found in 2 Corinthians 11:16–33? Well, let’s listen to the resume writer. “A Jew? That’s one strike against you, Paul, if you really want to work in Gentile society. “Ummm. Let’s see. In prison. Flogged. Beaten five times by the Jews, three times with rods by the Gentiles. Stoned by a mob. It seems, Paul, you have a hard time getting along with people. “And this. In danger a lot. From bandits? At sea? In the city? The country? I guess your judgment isn’t too good, eh? Always getting yourself in these difficult situations. “Worked hard, gone without sleep. Often gone without food? I’m afraid your only experience is in the unskilled, low-pay labor market, Paul. You can’t expect to get an important job with this your only experience. “This mention of ‘pressure’ and ‘feeling weak’ has got to go. Makes you sound emotionally unstable, you know. “Oh, no. Fled arrest in Damascus? “Paul, there’s nothing we can do for you. Your resume reveals far too many weaknesses for you to succeed at anything. “Oh? The job you’re applying for requires weaknesses? What in the world could that job be? Oh, the ministry. “I see. It’s so whatever you accomplish will clearly be through Christ’s power, not your own? And so you won’t rely on your own strengths or talents? “Let me make a phone call. ‘God, I’ve got an . . . What? Oh, sure.’ “Paul. You’re hired.”
God still looks for weak people in whom to display His strength. Want the job?
“When God delivered Israel out of Egypt, He didn’t send an army. We would have sent an army or an orator. But God sent a man who had been in the desert for 40 years, and had an impediment in his speech. It is weakness that God wants! Nothing is small when God handles it.”—D.L. Moody