Life lessons are hard. Being a called of God leader in His church is harder still. Paul is discovering what this means and is learning how to respond by God’s Spirit. It was James who wrote, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Not only are we under the scrutiny of God, our authority who demands His Truth alone be said, but by those who want to destroy the Truth with their own opinions. As leaders, we humans are compared to, in competition with, every word graded, along with actions evaluated with every breath we take. We must stand firm on God’s Word, be gentle in our persuasion of telling the Truth and be led by God’s Holy Spirit. We must pause, pray and think before answering criticisms.
That being said, you can do everything according to God’s plan and still be attacked by the very people in which you are leading to God. Paul, the great apostle, who took physical beatings for telling the Good News to whom God sent him, now is taking on the complaints of the church, made up of imperfect people who want to add “God-stuff” to their lives without turning from worldview thinking and philosophies. Paul, be led by the Spirit, responds with how to live sold out to God, in Jesus Name, for the glory of God. Paul is criticized. Yes, church, it happened then, it still happens now. Paul teaches leaders how to respond.
The Spirit led Paul to use a wise approach as he wrote to the Corinthians. He was writing to a divided church (1 Cor. 1:11), a church that was resisting his authority, and a church that was being seduced by false teachers. So, first he explained his ministry so that they would no longer doubt his sincerity. He then encouraged them to share in the offering, for he knew that this challenge would help them grow in their spiritual lives. Grace giving and grace living go together.
CORINTHIANS—CALLED AND SENT
2 Corinthians 10, The Message
Tearing Down Barriers
1-2 And now a personal but most urgent matter; I write in the gentle but firm spirit of Christ. I hear that I’m being painted as cringing and wishy-washy when I’m with you, but harsh and demanding when at a safe distance writing letters. Please don’t force me to take a hard line when I’m present with you. Don’t think that I’ll hesitate a single minute to stand up to those who say I’m an unprincipled opportunist. Then they’ll have to eat their words.
3-6 The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.
7-8 You stare and stare at the obvious, but you can’t see the forest for the trees. If you’re looking for a clear example of someone on Christ’s side, why do you so quickly cut me out? Believe me, I am quite sure of my standing with Christ. You may think I overstate the authority he gave me, but I’m not backing off. Every bit of my commitment is for the purpose of building you up, after all, not tearing you down.
9-11 And what’s this talk about me bullying you with my letters? “His letters are brawny and potent, but in person he’s a weakling and mumbles when he talks.” Such talk won’t survive scrutiny. What we write when away, we do when present. We’re the exact same people, absent or present, in letter or in person.
12 We’re not, understand, putting ourselves in a league with those who boast that they’re our superiors. We wouldn’t dare do that. But in all this comparing and grading and competing, they quite miss the point.
13-14 We aren’t making outrageous claims here. We’re sticking to the limits of what God has set for us. But there can be no question that those limits reach to and include you. We’re not moving into someone else’s “territory.” We were already there with you, weren’t we? We were the first ones to get there with the Message of Christ, right? So how can there be any question of overstepping our bounds by writing or visiting you?
15-18 We’re not barging in on the rightful work of others, interfering with their ministries, demanding a place in the sun with them. What we’re hoping for is that as your lives grow in faith, you’ll play a part within our expanding work. And we’ll all still be within the limits God sets as we proclaim the Message in countries beyond Corinth. But we have no intention of moving in on what others have done and taking credit for it. “If you want to claim credit, claim it for God.” What you say about yourself means nothing in God’s work. It’s what God says about you that makes the difference.
WHAT WE LEARN—
Whenever I receive a critical email or text message, I have learned to set it aside in a special file until I feel I am really ready to answer it. On a few occasions, I have replied to letters too quickly, and I have regretted it. By waiting, I give myself time to think and pray, to read between the lines, and to prepare a reply that would do the most good and the least damage.
Before responding, think of how God responds to us. “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” to us. (Psalm 86:15).
“I write in the gentle but firm spirit of Christ.” Pause, pray, listen, respond via the Spirit.
Strap on powerful tools given to us by God for building, not tearing down—”building lives of obedience into maturity.”
Don’t miss the point of ministry! Stop comparing, competing and grading each other. Do what God wants and leave the growth and evaluation to Him.
Be committed and motivated by God for His work. “What we’re hoping for is that as your lives grow in faith, you’ll play a part within our expanding work.”
To God be the glory. Always. And forevermore!
It’s what God says about you that makes the difference.
The most freeing realization came to me one day when I read, “God doesn’t need you to do His work.” God invites us to his work. Jesus, Son of God, invited ordinary people to join Him in the work God sent Him to do as the example of how we should think about God’s work.
Example: Jesus could have waved his hand over the 5000 plus hungry men and women gathered on a hillside and pronounced them no longer hungry with mere words. But He didn’t. He involved his disciples. He asked them, “what do you have?”, which made them pause and think. He directed them at each step after He blessed what they presented to Him. Then it was a process of pass the fish and bread, eat your fill, collect the leftovers in 12 baskets, one for each of the Twelve disciples, (no coincidence here!), so they could feel the weight of the abundant leftovers! Jesus did not need them to do God’s work of filling and feeding, but invited the disciples to join Him so they could realize who gets all the credit, glory, honor and praise for the work.
Stop to remember—Jesus had to reprimand his disciples for comparison and competitions about who is the greatest frequently. Paul had to stand firm and remind the church as well. Ah, now we get. Right?
We are all in this together, led by Your Holy Spirit living in us. We make mistakes, we have setbacks, and we are critical of each other. But then we remember what you say as you correct our course once more. It’s Your Work. You are the One and Only God who is for us not against us. You sent your Son to save us from all our sins, once and for all. We are not perfect, no one is, but through admittance and repentance, we are perfectly forgiven by you. Oh Lord, what a wonderful Savior you are indeed! When criticized in the work, may we be motivated by your Truth and persuaded by your love in response. Help us to stand firm on the foundation of you, dear Jesus, who is the only Way, the Truth which leads to Life eternal.
In Jesus Name, For Your Glory, Amen