I, Paul, personally urge you in the meekness and gentleness of Christ to help me so that I won’t have to be bold when I come. The fact is that whether I am bold or meek depends upon you, and how you respond to what I am saying here. (By the way, I know that some criticize me, saying that I am bold when absent, and tough when I write!)
Let me go ahead and address the criticism those of us who are authentic apostles face from those who are not apostles at all. They actually accuse us of not being spiritual, of walking according to the flesh. We do live in the real, physical, world, and live “earthier” lives than they, but our warfare is not with fleshly weapons. Our weapons (which I talk about elsewhere, such as in Ephesians 6) are divinely empowered. We are not really at war with men, but with spiritual forces who promote falsehood by turning men away from the truth of the Word of God. We authentic apostles are seeking to destroy such speculations and heady philosophies which have no basis in the Word of God, and in fact are opposed to it. To some, such speculations appear to be insightful and wise, and they puff up the egos of those who devise and embrace them. We, however, want to be certain that our every thought has been subjected to the knowledge of God which we obtain from the Scriptures, and thus inclines us to obey Christ’s commands. And we are ready and willing to deal decisively with every form of disobedience which is introduced or practiced in the church. We hope, however, that we will not have to take the initiative in correcting the problems in the church when we come, but that you will deal with the errors now. Consequently, we are delaying our return long enough for you to be obedient to God by dealing with the disobedience of some in the church. When I come, I can then rejoice in the fact that you have done the right thing in regard to the trouble-makers who are among you.
One reason for the troubles you are having is that you are currently looking only at things as they appear to be. I said earlier that some accuse us of not being spiritual enough. Some take this criticism to extremes, denying that we are even in the faith. Does one of my critics feel confident that they are a Christian? Fine, but let them also be quick to recognize that we belong to Christ as well. How quickly the cultic mindset inclines us to presume that those who differ with us may be defective not only in their knowledge, and in their spiritual life, but also in their faith.
I know I have been talking a great deal about the authority which I share with my fellow-apostles, but even if I do, it is because I have it, and this is not to make life hard for you, but so that you might be strengthened in your faith. When I write to you and say hard things, it is not something I enjoy doing. I know that some are quick to criticize me by saying that my letters are dogmatic, while in person I am not nearly so awe-inspiring, either in my appearance or in my manner of speaking. But I want those who criticize me to know that I am not inconsistent in what I say and do. What I say in my letters is what I will say and do when I come to be with you. They only hope that in my appearance I will not be as hard on them as I have been in my letters. Their fears are well-founded because when I come, they are the ones with whom I will deal most severely.
Do they accuse us for being bold in what we write? We may seem bold, but in many ways we are not as bold as they are. We who are authentic apostles do not dare to appraise our importance the way they do. They compare themselves with each other. And since these folks write their own press releases to make themselves appear to be better than their peers, they really have to talk themselves up and others down. In doing this, they only reveal their own ignorance of how ministry in the body of Christ works.
We who are authentic apostles do not boast in things that are not ours to boast about. Some of these fellows who are false apostles come along and lay claim to you, boasting that you are the fruit of their labors, the result of their ministry. This simply isn’t true. We came to you first, preaching Christ, and you were saved through the gospel we preached. We are not overreaching when we claim you as our spiritual children, the fruit of our labor and ministry. In fact, as we continue to minister to you and as you continue to grow in Christ, our boasting in you should increase further. But we are not content to stop with you. Our desire is to press on to other places where we can preach Christ to those who have never heard of Him, and thus bear more fruit. We don’t want to claim the credit for what others have done, but simply to do what God has given us to do, and rejoice in the fruit He gives. We who are the authentic apostles do not and will not boast beyond what we should. In fact, the only boasting we do is to boast in the Lord. It doesn’t matter how much we commend ourselves, it only matters how much our Lord commends us. It is His commendation (and not men’s) that we seek.55
Because I have almost come to expect it, I am seldom shocked by what I read in the paper concerning some who profess to be evangelical Christian leaders. The list of “fallen” religious leaders is becoming quite long. Yet another article appeared recently in the newspaper concerning a Dallas-based televangelist, who is in the process of divorcing his second wife (another evangelist). The newspaper article raised all sorts of questions, not only about his morality, but also about his conduct in legal matters, such as tax evasion.
It is very easy for us to point our finger at such men (and women) and shake our heads in disgust, since they are not a part of our church. The frightening thing is that a future cult leader may indeed be a member of our congregation. In speaking to the elders of the church in Ephesus, Paul warned that savage wolves would join their congregation, and that some of the elders he was addressing would arise, “speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). Harold Bussell, in his excellent little book, Unholy Devotion: Why Cults Lure Christians, describes some of the characteristics of a cult, and then shows that these same characteristics can be found among evangelical churches and Christians. In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul distinguishes himself and the other authentic apostles by contrasting the characteristics of the cultist leaders of that day with the doctrine, attitudes, and practice of the true apostles. These characteristics are just as true of leaders today as they were in Paul’s day, so let us be very attentive to his words.
Paul makes his appeal to the Corinthians in “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (verse 1). That is, Paul is meek and gentle, like Christ. Just what is this “meekness” and “gentleness” like? It is important for us to know because surely we too should demonstrate this Christ-like character. This meekness of our Lord was prophesied in the Old Testament, fulfilled by our Lord in the New, and required of those who have trusted in Him:
1 “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry out or raise His voice, Nor make His voice heard in the street. 3 A bruised reed He will not break, And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not be disheartened or crushed, Until He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law” (Isaiah 42:1-4).
28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and YOU SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30 For My yoke is easy, and My load is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
12 And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you (Colossians 3:12-13).
13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:13-18).
As I have studied and pondered this very difficult-to-nail-down term, “meekness,” I have concluded that it is a term employed to describe those in authority, those who are leaders. Initially, I wondered how meekness and leadership could be compatible, but now I realize that meekness is one of the necessary attitudes of a Christian leader. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, He fulfilled Zechariah 9:9, which prophesied the coming of Israel’s King, her gentle and meek King.
As I currently understand the biblical concept of meekness, there are at least three dimensions which relate to leadership. The first dimension is humility. A leader who is meek realizes that his or her position is divinely given and divinely empowered. There is no pride, because our leadership is rooted in God’s goodness and grace and not in anything we can claim as our own, independent of God. The second dimension of meekness in leadership is gentleness. It is very easy for a leader to “lord it over” his followers, because he has the power and the authority to do so. Meek leadership does not push people around, but gently leads (see Matthew 20:25-27; 2 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Peter 5:1-5). The third dimension is that meek leaders are not defensive, constantly reacting to their critics or retaliating to their criticism, but looking to the Lord to defend and to vindicate them. This is especially evident in Moses:
1 Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); 2 and they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” And the LORD heard it. 3 (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.) (Numbers 12:1-3).
The meekness and gentleness of Paul not only identifies him with Christ and his fellow-apostles, it also clearly distinguishes him from the false apostles:
19 For you, being so wise, bear with the foolish gladly. 20 For you bear with anyone if he enslaves you, if he devours you, if he takes advantage of you, if he exalts himself, if he hits you in the face. 21 To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison (2 Corinthians 11:19-21a).
These “take charge” folks are willing and eager to push people around, and their followers seem to love it. Paul dramatically and decisively distances himself from such leaders.
I must say to you that many Christians foolishly regard bullies as “spiritual leaders,” and they are tragically wrong. Assertiveness does not make one a leader. I fear that all too many pushy people are placed into leadership roles simply because they are aggressive and assertive. I am not saying that an aggressive person cannot ever be a leader. I am saying that their aggressive bent will have to be brought under the control of the Holy Spirit. I am saying that there may be many very capable, quiet leaders whom we have overlooked because we equate leadership with certain aggressive, assertive personality types.
I will go on to say that I have watched a number of single women be “swept off their feet” by the aggressive, assertive types, assuming that because of their assertive personalities their suitors must be “spiritual leaders.” All too often (and usually too late), they come to realize that the one they married is not a “spiritual leader” but a dictator. Beware of cultural stereotypes when it comes to leadership.
In verse 2 of our text, Paul pleads with57 the Corinthians to deal with the situation there so that he will not have to “play hardball” with the trouble-makers when he arrives. He does so indicating to them that he knows the criticism of some, that he is “meek when face to face with them, but bold when absent” (verse 1). Do they really think Paul will not be as strong in a face to face confrontation as he is when writing them from a distance? If so, they are wrong!
There comes a time when meek and gentle leaders must get tough. While I would agree that one can exercise aggressive leadership and still be meek, and even gentle, I do not think meekness and gentleness are always needed or appropriate. Our Lord was meek and gentle when challenged by the scribes and Pharisees. He was meek and gentle in dealing with guilty, but repentant, sinners. He was meek and gentle while He hung upon the cross of Calvary. Our Lord’s first coming was characterized by His meekness and gentleness. But His second coming will be vastly different, when He returns to defeat and punish His enemies (see Matthew 26:64; Acts 2:32-36; Revelation 19:11-18).
Meekness and gentleness characterized our Lord in His first coming and in His relationship to His own, but this will not be the case in His second coming in relationship to His enemies. Likewise, Paul deals meekly and gently with the Corinthians in his letters, but when he returns he will take whatever measures are required to straighten out those matters the Corinthians have not dealt with in his absence. If the Corinthians deal with these things before he comes, he will not have to come in this “take charge,” “throw the rascals out” manner. Paul can come to them in meekness and gentleness, or he can come to them “with a rod” (1 Corinthians 4:21). The choice is theirs.
I entitled the series taught on 1 Corinthians, “True Spirituality” for good reason. Paul’s Corinthian opponents think of themselves as super-spiritual (see 1 Corinthians 4:7-8; 12:1ff.; 14:37-38). They are so arrogant and self-deceived that they regard Paul as unspiritual, as he indicates in our text:
2 I ask that when I am present I may not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:2).
The “super-spirituality” of some of the Corinthians is the exact opposite of “true spirituality.” But they are so arrogant and self-deceived they do not see it. And so some Corinthians are proud because of their divisions, when they should be ashamed (see 1 Corinthians 1:10ff.). Some Corinthians are proud of the fact that they embraced a man as a part of their fellowship, even when his immorality shocked the pagan Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5, esp. v. 2). Some feel super-spiritual for participating in pagan idol-worship meals, looking down upon those brethren who will not do so as though they are “weak” (1 Corinthians 8-10). Some Corinthians take pride in persuasive techniques, in merchandising methods which are inappropriate for the gospel, and in their prosperity and popularity, while looking down upon Paul and the other authentic apostles as shameful (1 Corinthians 4). The list could go on and on.
Paul wants the Corinthians to know that he does not apologize that his life is much more earthly than some of his critics’ lifestyle, and that his spirituality is evident in his view of what spiritual warfare is really about, and how it is waged. This will be the next point of contrast between the Corinthian cultists and the authentic apostles.
Paul does not spell out all of the ways his critics err in their view of the spiritual war, but I believe there are indications. It is obvious that certain spiritual gifts have been wrongly elevated above other gifts (1 Corinthians 12). The spectacular gifts are valued more highly than the apparently mundane gifts, but Paul challenges this way of ranking the gifts. Tongues are valued more than prophecy, and it seems that speaking gifts are valued more than serving gifts. I imagine then that the spiritual warfare of Paul’s opponents focuses more on the spectacular elements (such as casting out demons, a “ministry” which even an unbeliever can perform—see Matthew 7:15-23), than on the spiritual disciplines of godliness.
Paul sees spiritual warfare in more earthy terms. In 1 Timothy 4, he identifies false teaching concerning marriage and meats as the “doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1-5). In our text, Paul sees the spiritual warfare as being waged against two great evils: (1) any doctrinal departure from the revealed Word of God, especially regarding the nature and character of God Himself and (2) any practice which is disobedient to the commands of Christ.
3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, 6 and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete (2 Corinthians 10:3-6, NASB).
There are those who explain their spirituality by saying something like: “Oh, we don’t worship doctrine, we worship Jesus.” That sounds really spiritual, but Paul would not buy it for a moment. “Just what Jesus do you worship?,” Paul would ask. “Is your Jesus born of a virgin, truly God and truly man, the sinless Son of God, whose shed blood is sufficient to save lost sinners?” It is doctrine that defines the “Jesus” whom we trust for the forgiveness of sins and for eternal life. A doctrine is simply a definition; doctrine defines what we are talking about, what we believe in.
First and foremost, for Paul, for the other authentic apostles, and for orthodox evangelicals down through church history, the only authoritative source of doctrine is the Word of God. Paul tells us that when he wages spiritual warfare, it is against any doctrine which goes beyond that which the Bible reveals, or which goes against the Word of God. The “super-spiritual” false apostles of Corinth find Paul’s gospel too simplistic, too foolish, and not intellectually appealing. They promote a new gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4). Paul informs us that spiritual warfare is a battle for the truth of God’s Word, against the heady philosophies and theories and speculations of the false apostles. The battle for truth at Corinth is the same as the battle for truth elsewhere (see Matthew 7:15-23; Acts 20:28-32; 1 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 4:17-24; Colossians 2:8; 3:16; 1 Timothy 1:5-7; 4:1-5; 6:3-5, 20-21; 2 Timothy 2:14-17, 23-26; 4:1-4; Titus 1:10-14; 3:9-11; Hebrews 13:9; 2 Peter 2:1-2; 3:1-4, 14-18; Jude 1:3-4, 16-22). There were those who came with more “spiritual” teachings, based upon a distortion or a denial of the Scriptures, or upon theory and speculation with little or no biblical basis. Paul sees the spiritual warfare as a battle for the truth. His weapons are the Word of God and the Spirit of God. He denounces any claim to spiritual truth not founded on the Word of God, and particularly that which distorts or denies the biblical teaching concerning the knowledge of God (verse 5).
For Paul and the apostles, the source of revelation is very restrictive. God spoke finally and fully through His Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). Our Lord spoke only that which the Father gave Him to speak (John 3:32; 5:30-40; 8:25-29, 40). And the things which Jesus spoke to the disciples, He sent the Holy Spirit to bring to the disciples’ minds and understanding after His departure (John 14:25-31; 16:1-15; 1 Corinthians 2:6-16). And the disciples (the apostles) were commissioned by God to communicate these truths to us through the written Word of God (2 Timothy 3:14-17; Hebrews 2:1-4; 2 Peter 2:1-12-21). No wonder Paul and his colleagues in the gospel ministry are so concerned with preserving and promoting the Word of God as it had been conveyed through the Scriptures.
Paul is not just concerned about preserving and promoting the truths of Scripture as a basis for doctrine, but as the basis for practice as well. And so Paul says secondly that the spiritual warfare is conducted in terms of obedience to the Word of God. Paul writes that he seeks to bring “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (verse 5). I take it that Paul means this: the final test of truth is whether it results in obeying Christ’s commands. If you remember the Great Commission, Jesus said to His disciples:
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, NASB).
I have heard a lot of very carefully reasoned expositions and explanations of certain biblical texts, which result in saying Jesus did not mean for us to do what He seems clearly to have commanded us to do. The only truth Paul wants anything to do with is that truth which prompts men to obey our Lord’s commands. Truth which turns us from that which is clearly and emphatically taught about God in the Bible, or that which turns us from obedience to the commands of Scripture is best considered falsehood. For Paul, this is what the Christian’s spiritual warfare is all about.
I want to pause here to press home the words of Paul as they apply to hermeneutics (a fancy word for the science of interpreting Scripture). Paul touches on areas where all Christians are vulnerable and where many doctrinal deviations and heresies begin. The Bible is our text, our only source of doctrine and instruction. Doctrines that do not come from the Scriptures must be seen as dubious at best, and dangerous and even damning at worst. We should be very careful that our process of interpreting the Scriptures is not overly dependent on inference and human reasoning rather than upon clear, categorical declarations and propositions. The more inferential our interpretation is, the more dangerous it is. The more we have to see between the lines, the more suspect it should be to us. The more heady and philosophical we become in our handling of Scripture, the more we are depending upon our own reasoning and not on revelation. As I understand Ephesians 4:17-24, our natural bent is to deny or to debate God’s Word and His way of thinking. We are to saturate our minds with the truths of the Word of God, and then we shall have our thinking transformed, so that we begin to think God’s thoughts after Him. When we come to the Scriptures through the grid of our natural minds, we tend to distort the truth, in accordance with the fallen mindset of this world. But when we immerse our minds in the Scriptures, our thinking is transformed, so that we begin to think as God does.
In some Christian circles, the more “spiritual” an interpretation of Scripture sounds, the more “spiritual” it is assumed to be. Thus, the interpreter appears to be “spiritual” as well. But “spiritual” interpretation is just a nice term for fanciful, fictional, allegorical interpretation. Let us beware of twisting the Scriptures, to cause them to conform to what we have always been inclined to want or to think. As Paul has written in 1 Corinthians 2, the things of God are foreign to us. Our natural minds would not and could not grasp the thoughts of God. The Holy Spirit enables us to think God’s thoughts. But God’s spiritual thoughts must not be equated with spiritualized, mystical thinking. Often, those interpretations represented as “spiritual” may indeed be “spiritual,” but from the wrong “spirit.” One of the characteristics of false teaching is that it is speculative (see Romans 1:21; 1 Timothy 1:4; 2 Timothy 2:23; 4:4; Titus 1:14). Orthodoxy is precise, declarative, and definitive.
Have you ever noticed that cult leaders attract a following because they have some “new” insight into truth, insight which all others have missed? Does this not tell you something? If what I or anyone else teaches as the truth is new and novel, you should raise serious questions of how such a “truth” could have been overlooked by so many for so long, if indeed it is so clear and so vital.
Paul tells us that a crucial test of truth is whether it produces or promotes obedience to the clear commands of our Lord. Does our interpretation of the Word of God result in our obedience or in our disobedience? I have heard some very fancy reasoning, whose end result is that we do not need to do what God has commanded, or that we really need to do something He has not commanded. The spiritual warfare Paul fought was one aimed at learning, practicing, declaring, and defending the truths clearly, emphatically, and repeatedly taught in the Bible. Let us be people of the Word, as Paul urges, and in so doing, fight the good fight of faith.
If the test of truth is that it must square with the Scriptures and promote obedience to the commands of our God, then these tests also distinguish authentic apostles from counterfeit apostles, and true teachers of the Word of God from the false teachers. It is the Scriptures which judge men, and not men who judge the Scriptures.
In our passage, Paul points out how his cultist opponents differ from him in the way they judge spirituality or success. He first writes in verse 7: “You are looking at things as they are outwardly.”58 Then in verse 10, he gives us the words of his opponents who criticize his personal appearance and preaching style: “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive, and his speech contemptible.” Finally in verse 12, Paul criticizes his opponents for measuring themselves against themselves.
Paul is criticized by his opponents because he refers too often to his apostolic authority (verse 8). In fact, Paul’s authority was given to him for the edification (building up) of the churches and not for doing them harm. The most important thing Paul says about his authority is its source: “which the Lord gave …” (verse 8). Paul’s authority came from God and not from men. His critics could not make the same claim. They promote themselves and commend themselves, or as rendered loosely from above, they “write their own press releases.” They promote themselves by frequently making comparisons with others. This is why Paul tells us that the authentic apostles would not “class or compare themselves with some of those who commend themselves.” The counterfeit apostles “measure themselves by themselves,” and “compare themselves with themselves.” These men seek to elevate themselves by misrepresenting their own accomplishments and minimizing the accomplishments of others. No wonder there are cliques in Corinth with all this competition taking place! Paul’s ministry is not self-promoting but self-sacrificing, and his goal is not the building up of his own reputation, image, and power, but the building up of the church.
How foolish (note, “they are without understanding” in verse 12) and evil this competitive spirit is to the church. These men must have spoken mainly in the first person singular (“I,” “my”), but Paul often speaks in the first person plural (“we,” “our”). These men are not team players, because they dare not give anyone credit for anything. (Can you imagine a Democratic politician giving his Republican opponent credit for anything in an election year? Or vice-versa?) Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3 now make even more sense to me:
4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? 5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building (1 Corinthians 3:4-9).
The cooperative (body) model of ministry is vastly different from the competitive (Corinthian) model of ministry. Paul’s ministry is of the cooperative type.
The false apostles are not team players at all, but exclusivists. They cannot even give credit to their fellow false apostles with whom they are in competition. On the one hand, these fellows represent themselves as being “like,” or as being “one of,” the apostles. They claim apostolic authority for themselves and want to be regarded as the authentic apostles (see 11:12). But conversely, they do not really wish to share authority with Paul and his colleagues, and so they continually criticize and attempt to discredit them, as we see in our text and throughout the Corinthian epistles.
It is amazing to see how far they are willing to go with this. I can see them criticizing Paul for his humble lifestyle, for his suffering and afflictions, and even for his appearance and preaching style. But it is very difficult to see how they can work up the courage to accuse Paul of being “unspiritual” (10:2). It is even more difficult for me to grasp how they can insinuate that Paul is not even saved, and yet this appears to be his meaning in verse 7:59
7 You are looking at things as they are outwardly. If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we.
The cultist never thinks inclusively; he always thinks exclusively. The cultist mindset looks down on others as being less spiritual. Then, almost inevitably, they become exclusive. If you are not a member of the church of ________, then you are not saved. Unless you have been baptized by ________, you are not a genuine Christian. Unless you are a member of this man’s organization … Unless you have spoken in tongues, you cannot be …
Having said this, I want you to know that I am not in any way suggesting that all church members are saved and going to heaven. What I am saying is that the cultist is unwilling to accept anyone as a believer, based upon their profession of faith in Christ, alone. The cultist tends to say that you can be saved by faith in Jesus Christ, and _________. The Judaizers in the New Testament granted that a Gentile could be saved by faith in Christ (see Acts 11:18), but they also insisted that these Gentiles, in order to be saved, must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses (Acts 15:1-5). The “Christian cultist,” that person who is a cultist and claims to be a Christian, grants that people are saved by trusting in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, but they also want to add something else, like baptism or belonging to a certain church, or following a certain leader. All others are less spiritual or not saved at all, they say, or at least lead us to infer.
There is a bit of the cultist in every one of us. In our church, we attempt to follow the Scriptures very closely. We might even suppose that we follow the Scriptures more closely than some other churches do. I hope this is true, and that we do take the Scriptures very seriously. But there is a way in which this can lead to pride, so that we begin to look upon those in other churches (even Bible churches) as less spiritual. This is essentially a cultic mindset, rooted in pride, and it must be rooted out.
Our convictions are also our distinctions. They make us unique and cause us to stand out from other believers. We need to have convictions as a church which set us apart, but we need to be careful that we do not think this sets us above others, just because it sets us apart from others. Let us remember that it is in the fundamentals that we agree with our fellow-believers, and it is in the incidentals (usually) that we differ. But churches can become competitive, just as seminaries and Christian organizations can do. When we find ourselves competing, we will soon see that we are holding up our convictions as those distinctions which make us better than others. Then comes pride and the cultic mindset. Let us beware of this devastating mindset of the cultist.
There is a sense in which the cultists are not truly evangelistic, in that many of their “converts” are not pagans who have never heard of or named the name of Christ, but those who have, and may continue to, profess Christ as Savior and Lord. I have heard, for example, that Southern Baptists are the most likely converts to Mormonism. This is certainly not a criticism of Southern Baptists, but a simple pointing out of what allegedly is a statistical reality.
The Corinthian “false apostles” are not suffering as Paul is, as we can see by reading 1 Corinthians 4 and elsewhere. They are “present” in Corinth while Paul is absent. Why is this so? The answer is not that difficult. They stayed in Corinth, laying claim to the converts of Paul’s ministry, while Paul was out on the cutting edges of civilization, attempting to win more pagans to Christ. The “false apostles” are where it is comfortable, where they can live off the fat of the land. Paul is out on the frontiers, paying the price for preaching the gospel. The cults often prey upon those who have already professed faith in Christ. They are not “winning converts” as much as they are perverting the gospel and turning believers from the truth they first learned. They are “sheep stealers” (see John 10:1-18), who seek to turn men from following Christ to following themselves (see Acts 20:30).
The cultists of Corinth seek to make personal followers of those who are saved through Paul’s ministry and who have come to trust and follow Christ. They take credit for Paul’s ministry. They boast in things for which they should never take credit. They boast in that which God has done. They boast in what God has done through others than themselves. They boast in the labors of others. Paul reminds the Corinthians of his labor among them, and that many of them are his children in the faith. He also indicates that he and his colleagues continue to minister to them, and as they continue to grow, there will be even further reason for them to be “enlarged” by these Corinthians.
Paul’s desire is not to rest on his laurels, but to press on, preaching to those even more distant. He hopes that the Corinthians will help send him on his way to do this, and thus become partners with him in this ministry. Paul, like our Lord, is not a sheep-thief, trying to steal the fruit of another man’s labors. He is a good shepherd, laying down his life for the sheep.
The Corinthian cultists are those who take credit for ministry that is not their own. They even compete with one another and criticize Paul and his fellow-apostles. They appraise spirituality and success by external appearances. They take pride in that for which they should not take credit. In the end, it is apparent that they are more interested in gaining the approval of men than of God. Paul concludes this chapter by setting this matter straight: “But HE WHO BOASTS, LET HIM BOAST IN THE LORD. For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:17-18, NASB).
In order to think of himself (or herself) as superior to others, the cultist must compare himself with others in a way that makes him look superior. In the end, Paul’s opponents are boasting. Paul reminds all who minister that their ministry is God-given, just as the fruit of their ministry is God’s work (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; 12:1-11). If there is any boasting to be done, let it be boasting in God and what He has done through us (and often in spite of us). If there is any approval, any commendation to be sought, let it be His commendation. Let us labor so that He will say to us in that day, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
Our text is about leadership. The leadership problem in the church at Corinth is precisely the same problem our Lord addresses constantly with His disciples in the Gospels.
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Him with her sons, bowing down, and making a request of Him. 21 And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left.” 22 But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” 24 And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to Himself, and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:20-28).
It is the same problem Peter addresses in his first epistle:
1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Peter 5:1-4).
The interesting thing about the way Paul addresses this problem with leadership at Corinth is that he does not really address the leaders, but the church as a whole. The introductions of both 1 and 2 Corinthians have no reference to the leaders of the church, as we find, for example, in Philippians 1:1. Paul cannot call upon the leaders at Corinth to deal with the problem because they are the problem. The solution is to remove these leaders, and we can hardly expect that they will remove themselves.
The leadership problem in the Corinthian church is very serious. Paul begins dealing with this problem very cautiously in 1 Corinthians, giving his adversaries every benefit of the doubt, but in 2 Corinthians 11, the veil is lifted, and Paul’s verdict is declared: these leaders may not be Christians at all, and they certainly are not authentic apostles. These are “messengers of Satan,” who have introduced a “different gospel.” It is now time for the Corinthians to deal with this problem decisively, or Paul will be forced to do so when he arrives. Better for them that they deal with it than that Paul does.
Just how should the Corinthians deal with this problem? Do you notice that Paul does not name those who should act, nor does he precisely prescribe the process by which the problem should be solved? Why not? I think the answer is illustrative of Paul’s (biblical) leadership style, as contrasted with an authoritarian leadership style. Many Christians want “a strong leader, who will tell them what is right and what is wrong,” and who will “tell them exactly what they should do.” Did you notice that Paul has not done this? Paul sets down biblical truths (such as the doctrine of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15) and biblical principles (such as those governing the eating of meats offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 8-10). He purposely avoids naming the names of those who are cultists in Corinth. He wants the Corinthians to discern this, based upon the truths he has set down. He wants to see who will stand up to these false apostles and how they will deal with ridding the church of them.
I believe Paul expects that the leadership crisis in Corinth is the occasion where godly leaders will emerge. This seems to be the inference of Paul’s earlier words:
1 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. 3 But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. 4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. 5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. 6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. 7 For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:1-7)
17 But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you (1 Corinthians 11:17-19).
15 Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints), 16 that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors (1 Corinthians 16:15-16).
Authoritarian leadership must always “take the bull by the horns,” and “handle things personally.” Paul sets down the biblical doctrines and principles which apply to the situation, points out some of the problems, and looks to the Corinthians to make matters right. And as they do, godly leadership will emerge and be recognized for what it is.
If I understand the spiritual gifts correctly, the gifts are not given to the church so that others can avoid their obligations in this area. Those who have the gift of giving are not placed in the church so they can give and the rest of us can take (or at least avoid giving ourselves); those gifted to give are given to help us learn to give more and to give better. Those gifted to teach should not only teach us to learn, but should teach us to teach better. And those gifted to lead should not take over, expecting us only to follow. Gifted leaders lead in a way which makes all of us better leaders, in our homes, in our jobs, and in our church. Paul is this kind of leader. His leadership promotes the leadership of others. Paul is not just out to undermine his critics; he is out to expose false apostles and to encourage godly leaders in the Corinthian church to step forward and deal with these “wolves” themselves. This is biblical leadership—not only leading, but building leadership.
A word should be said here about ecclesiology (a fancy theologian’s term for the doctrine of the church). The structure of the church has a significant impact on this matter of cultic leadership. A church with a “top down” structure is most vulnerable to authoritarian leaders. One man is at the top, determining and declaring what is true and what is not, what is best and what is not, who the other leaders will be and who they will not be. When this man is godly, things may go well. The problem is that his power may go to his head, and he may become authoritarian. And when this man passes off the scene, he may be replaced by an ungodly leader. And since the “top down,” “one man at the helm” church is accustomed to having the “man at the top” determine truth and error, good ministry and poor ministry, the whole church blindly follows him into error.
The church at Corinth is not this kind of a church. In fact, none of the New Testament churches are structured this way. They are not led by one man, whom they call their pastor; they are led and governed by a group of men called elders (see Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23; 20:17; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 5:17-19; Titus 1:5-9; Philippians 1:1). This plurality of leadership tends to keep authority and power from being centralized in just one man. The open, somewhat free-form format of the church meeting, described in 1 Corinthians 14, does give self-seeking and self-asserting men a forum, but it is expected that the rest of the church will keep such men in check, correcting and even removing them when necessary.
We at Community Bible Chapel have endeavored over the years to imitate and emulate the New Testament church, as we see it defined and described in Acts and the Epistles. We do so because we believe that we should follow God’s instructions regarding His church, and also because we believe that the New Testament structure of the church is that which best avoids the glorification of men and most promotes and enhances the glory of God.
We all fail. There is a little of the cultist in every one of us. We believe that when the church functions as a body, one member will not be exalted above the others. We believe that even those who have dynamic gifts should recognize their needs and deficiencies, and depend upon the rest of the body of Christ to minister to them. And when we fail, as we surely will, we look to God to raise up those who see our error, and who will, with meekness and gentleness, point this out. It may well be that, in the context of our problems and failures, God will raise up new leaders who will further enhance our worship, our witness, and our ministry.
Let me close by once again pointing out that Paul holds the entire church accountable for recognizing false teaching, false apostles, and error. He holds the whole church responsible for dealing with such problems and making things right. Allow me to suggest a couple of ways that you, as an individual member of this body, may contribute to this great task.
If Paul is not impressive in his personal appearance or in his speaking style, we would surely agree that the church should listen to him anyway, even though it may take more effort on the listener’s part. If the cultists of Corinth are good looking, smooth and winsome in their teaching style, we should all realize that the Corinthians should not listen to their teaching, no matter how much human appeal they have in their teaching. Are we not sometimes inclined to assume that those with the “gift of gab” have the “gift of teaching”? Based upon our text, I must wonder why we make such an assumption. A gifted teacher is one who communicates the truth in a way that brings glory to God and edification to the church. We must be a little careful in assuming that “a good teacher” and “a gifted teacher” are one and the same. Is this how some of the Corinthian cultists rose to prominence and power? Neither the style of the teacher nor the size of the audience may be indicative of spiritual gift. We need to think on this matter.
When a man speaks in the meeting of the church at Community Bible Chapel, it may be for a number of reasons, and not all of these reasons are always good ones. The way we respond to those who speak (and thereby exercise leadership) plays a crucial role in the development of Christian leaders and in the development of cultic leaders. Let us be careful that in attempting to “encourage” those who speak that we do not flatter them. Let us not say we are blessed when we are not. Let us not accept error when it is taught. Those who speak should be encouraged for speaking the truth and for promoting godliness and worship. Those who speak too often should be cautioned, perhaps even rebuked. Those who speak in error should be corrected. At times, those who speak error publicly must be corrected publicly. This is the way to encourage godly leadership and to deal with self-assertive leadership. And this is not just the job of the elders and deacons. It is the responsibility of every believer.
When we seek to identify and develop new leaders, let us beware of seeking out or appealing to those who “desire to lead.” Ambition and compulsion are not traits which characterize godly leaders. If you want to find a good Christian leader, find a good Christian follower, one who is both willing and able to serve. These are the kind of people who, when asked, will submit to serving God by leading, but who do not have to lead to feel significant. The church has too many folks who want to lead, and too few folks who want to serve. Those who should lead are those who can and will serve, who do not need to lead in order to feel significant or successful. Let us not seek to create new leaders by appealing to those motivations which characterize the cultist. Let us not appeal to their pride (“I don’t know anybody as good as you are …”) or to the lust for power or position, but to obedience in serving our Lord.
In the end, we are to lead like Jesus led and continues to lead His church, with meekness and gentleness. We will never learn to lead better than by dwelling on Him who is our Leader, Jesus Christ. Let us follow Him, and as we do, challenge others to follow Him as well. We are not to seek our own followers, but to challenge others to follow Him. Let us, like Paul, exemplify the Lord Jesus Christ in all of our leadership, and let us, like Paul, speak out against that leadership which lures men from following Christ, rather than submitting to Him and serving Him.
55 I would not even dare to call this a paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 10. It is my attempt to capture, for my own study and benefit, the flow of the argument of this chapter, as I currently understand it. If this effort helps you better understand the text, then it has been worth it. In any case, once you have read this synopsis, I would spend the rest of my time studying a good, literal translation. You may find that writing your own paraphrase helps you to understand a passage by summing it up in your own words. Try it.
57 While I am a strong advocate and defender of the NASB, I do not think the word “ask” is the best choice of terms to translate the original term. The term Paul uses is listed 22 times in the New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance. It is rendered “ask” only once, and that in our text. Elsewhere, it is rendered “beg” six times and is used of prayer eight times. It is a term which exemplifies Paul’s meekness and gentleness.
58 There are different ways to render this sentence, as other translations (and the marginal note in the NASB) indicate. It seems to me that the rendering of the NASB is best and most consistent with other statements elsewhere, such as in 5:16.
59 Some, perhaps even most, students of the New Testament would not go as far as I have, in concluding that Paul’s salvation is being brought into question. Nevertheless, this appears to be what the text says, and it is really quite true to life, as my comments above suggest.