Contrasting Paul’s Ministry vs. the Modern Church
[2nd Corinthians chapter 11, verses 1-15]
As we saw from last week’s study on chapter 10, the apostle Paul was admonishing the early church about being too proud of themselves and the accomplishments of their ministries, writing that “if anyone boasts, let him boast in the Lord”. Today as we begin 2nd Corinthians chapter 11, Paul continues with this same train of thought, contrasting his ministry to that of his contemporaries. As he does so, we find some interesting parallels between his writing and the state of the modern church. Having pointed that out, let’s begin this week’s study at verse 1:
“I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that. I am jealous of you with a Godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may some how be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those ‘super-apostles’. I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way.” (2 Corinthians 11, verses 1-6, NIV)
It is pretty obvious from this passage of Scripture that there were already churches in existence that were preaching and teaching their own versions of the true Gospel, presumably in competition with each other rather than undertaking the harvest of souls in unity with common purposes and unified goals in mind. Here we have written documentation of the start-up of denominations, and ultimately of religious cults, each one competing for members for primarily financial reasons. But Paul wrote, “I promised you to one husband, to Christ…”. Jesus, and He alone, is the head of the greater Church. This means that anyone who is a pastor like I am – whether it’s a Web church like this or ‘brick and mortar’ is besides the point – needs to keep in mind that it’s not our church, it’s His. Moreover, Jesus taught that the Law of Moses – the first 5 books of the Old Testament – was going to be replaced by the New, which is the sacrifice and rebirth of Jesus Christ for all our sins. The Old Law, Jesus said, “was written on tablets of stone”, while the new one would be “written on tablets of human hearts”. Prior to Christ, the Temple where Jesus taught was the church. But after Christ, the church exists within us, and we carry it around with us everywhere we go. As we do so, we do it as much for our own benefit as we do for others so we can be living examples of what it means to live as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ, and Him alone.
Yet Paul documents his concern that these early churches would somehow be “led astray”. The advice Paul gave the early church regarding this matter is even more relevant today than it was when these words were first written 2,000 years ago. If, upon hearing the gospel being preached or taught, some “new teaching” is encountered that does not agree with us either mentally or spiritually, then do not follow that pastor, teacher or evangelist. At the very least, we should test their spirits to see if they are from God. This is exactly what Paul was writing in the vernacular of his day. He then goes on to imply that just because the church leader is a “trained speaker”, does not make what he or she is saying correct. This is ever so true in the modern church today, and I will write more about that in a minute, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. So before I comment any further, let’s continue beginning at verse 7.
“Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the Gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so. As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions if Achaia will stop this boasting of mine. Why? Because I do not love you? God knows that I do! And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” (2nd Corinthians 11, verses 7-15, NIV)
The first sentence, which comprises verse 7, should give us all pause when we contrast what Paul wrote to the practices of the modern Church, regardless of denomination (or not). Paul preached free of charge!! So when he preached, he didn’t pass around a collection basket, right? Evidently not. In fact, Paul mentions receiving financial assistance from a church in Macedonia, presumably a neighboring state or territory, because he received none from the church at Corinth. So we have a first generation apostle who preaches and teaches the Word while apparently never asking for money. And yet most, if not all, of his daily needs were met. How often do we see that in the modern church? Almost never, as a few minutes of viewing Christian television or an hour spent in worship at any given church on Sunday morning will attest to. You can’t help but notice that there is no love lost between Paul and the cult churches of his day, since he calls such pastors and teachers “false apostles” and “deceitful workmen”. When I ask myself who this reminds me of in the present, I immediately think about all the preachers who insist on one tenth our incomes (which for me, as a retiree who ministers and blogs without compensation, would be a financial disaster) It reminds me of a preacher I once met while out in West Texas (I will decline to name the city) who, upon learning that I am disabled (I suffer from PTSD plus a lot of other stuff), offered to ”heal” me in exchange for a $1,000.00 donation to his church. I respectfully declined.
Paul does not mince any words regarding these bogus apostles when he writes, “I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about.” I gather from this that – aside from the competition between churches that Paul mentioned in verses 4 and 5 above – there were pride issues that infected some of these early churches as well. It’s as if Paul makes a point of saying, “I refuse to play the childish games these other pseudo-churches are playing”. It’s possible that there was a little of “my church/religion is better than yours” types of games going on between some of those congregations, and Paul was exercising his leadership authority by telling them that they needed to quit all that immature behavior and start acting like adults. There are no small number of religious people today who are guilty of this very thing, and I think that – with the impending return of Jesus for His people – it would be the very thing that would compel all of us to get our act together and get ready for Messiah’s return. That, for today’s purposes, is “job one” for every human being, not just every Christian. In the past, competition used to be a good thing, but it has become outmoded and counterproductive here in the early 21st century. There are simply too many people, meaning we had better learn how to share instead of the worn-out practice of winning the prize and then keeping it all to ourselves. Cooperation must therefore replace competition as the new social and church model of today. “Love your neighbor as yourself”. This is what Jesus would do, it’s what He taught, and we would all do well to do the same.