Paul, the Bold2 Corinthians 10:1-18Theme: Strength under pressure.This week’s lessons teach us how to handle criticism in a God-honoring way.
LessonPaul’s critics were apparently people who had come in from outside, the same way Paul had come originally. These were the people who were stirring up trouble. Paul writes about them in quite a different way than he writes about the Corinthian church itself. He has very hard words for these people who were disrupting the church. Secondly, they came with great boasts of authority, presenting themselves as “super apostles” and claiming to have greater revelation and far more authority than even Paul.
We have to be aware and warned of anybody who acts that way in the Church of Jesus Christ. There is a genuine authority. God gives authority in the church through a plurality of leadership, through elders being established in local churches. I think that is a biblical pattern. When anybody comes, whether it is within the eldership or without, claiming to be a prophet or to have a special revelation, that is something we must always be warned against. God speaks through the Scriptures. That is the ultimate authority. And there is a need for a plurality of eldership as, together, we analyze this and try to exercise it.
But here were people who were operating in quite a different way. They were also what we would call “libertines,” of a popular philosophy of the day. They said that what matters is what one believes, not what one does. As long as one believes the right things, as long as one has the right knowledge, as long as one receives the right kind of doctrines (those they were seeking to impart), one can pretty much do what one pleases, because, after all, it is grace that matters rather than law.
They were probably also Gnostics. The Gnostics were people who believed that salvation comes through knowledge rather than something achieved in any tangible way through the work of Jesus Christ. They also seemed to have been money-minded because as Paul says in these letters, they seemed to be after the Corinthians for what they could get out of them.
I mention these things because each one of those traits is visible in people within the Church of Christ today – people who come with this superior claim to authority, people who are libertines, people who are money-minded, people who are gnostic in their basic theology. Back in Paul’s day, these people were just as prevalent. As they confronted the authority of the Apostle Paul, the founder of the Corinthian church, they did everything in their power to undermine him by criticizing him and saying things that we think are hardly worthy of being mentioned. And yet, it is those things that hurt and are dangerous.
They said, first of all, that Paul was not impressive. The critics said that Paul was just a short little man, not at all the kind of person they should expect to be a leader. The Greeks glorified the human body. They carved these magnificent statues, which we still see in our museums, statues that I suppose portray the human form in as glorious a perfection as has ever been done in Western history or anywhere else in the world for that matter. They appreciated somebody who looked good, who was strong and well proportioned, was handsome, and had bearing. And here was Paul, a little man. Even his name meant “little”; Paulus in Latin means “little.” So they told the Corinthians not to pay any attention to him.
We wonder who would pay attention to a slander like that. A man’s appearance is not what counts. It is what he is inside. But if we look at television, and the newspapers, and the politicians, and the people of importance, it is not very far from our culture, is it? What the critics were saying was the same sort of thing American culture is saying: “Why should you pay attention to anybody who does not look like a movie star?”
What is the biblical pattern for authority in the church?
What manner of talk should we find suspicious?
What do libertines believe?
Describe Paul’s critics.
For what was Paul criticized?
ReflectionFor what are people most admired in Western culture? For what characteristics are our leaders chosen?