2 Corinthians 11:5-15 “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. 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 of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine. Why? Because I do not love you? God knows 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.”
Throughout every period of history error rises like a beast from the sea with seven heads, and attacks the church of Jesus Christ. There has never been a golden age in which the church had no need to watch and be on its guard. At the time of the apostles themselves the mighty church of Ephesus was told by Paul, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:29-31). We know that men claiming to be apostles turned up at Ephesus and were tested by the church there and found false (Rev. 2:2). So it happened there, and in the Galatian church, and it occurred also in this vibrant Christian church in Corinth. False teachers seek to deflect examination of their heresies by pleading for love and church unity, claiming that their ideas are also from the Scripture, and quoting “Judge not that ye be not judged.”
In Corinth the heretics were men with a mission, wanting to spread their views throughout all the congregations of Jesus Christ. Wherever they prevailed it was the end of that church, and you can see how successful such men have been in Wales and Europe in the past century. Paul was determined that they would not prevail where he had planted and pastored a congregation. “Remember,” he says to the Ephesians, “that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31). There was not an individual Christian in Ephesus who personally had not been warned by Paul, “Be on your guard,” was his refrain. “All right Paul,” they might have said wearily, “you told us that yesterday.” “But that was 24 hours ago,” Paul would reply.
How important one alert man has been in defining and resisting error and awakening the church to danger. Augustine and Athanasius were such men. So were Knox and Luther in the 16th century. Spurgeon sounded the alarm in London in his day, and through the testimony of John Kennedy of Dingwall the whole of the Scottish Highlands kept the gospel when much of the remainder of that county sank into moderatism. Dr. C.F.W. Walther alerted the American Lutherans, Kuyper awakened the Reformed church in the Netherlands, Machen was the Presbyterian watchman in America at the beginning of the century, while Lloyd-Jones blew a trumpet call in the British Isles as the 20th century ended. We can be sure that whatever this new century has in store for us there will be the constant need of Christians to be on their guard.
Of course the world is full of deceivers. Many vivid words and phrases have been invented to describe them; conmen, carpet-baggers, shysters, swindlers, twisters, confidence tricksters, riggers, fiddlers, mountebanks, pretenders, impostors, snakes in the grass, wily birds, wolves in sheep’s clothing. Consider one of the most famous writers of our day, John le Carre. He tells us that his own father, Ronnie Cornwell, was such a man, so that the theme of deception runs through all le Carre’s novels. He has been writing this week about his father in “The New Yorker”. He says, “At a humble level of life, it’s true, there is a Ronnie prototype in every second street in London, in every country town. He’s the back-slapping, two-fisted tearaway naughty boy with a touch of the blarney, who throws champagne parties for people who aren’t used to being given champagne, opens his garden to the local Baptists, for their fete though he never sets foot inside their church, is honorary president of the boys’ football team and the men’s cricket team and presents them with silver cups for their championships. Until one day it turns out he hasn’t paid the milkman for a year, or the local garage, or the newspaper shop, or the wine shop, or the shop that sold him the silver cups, and maybe he goes bankrupt or goes to jail, and his wife takes the children to live with her mother, and soon she divorces him because she discovers – and her mother knew it all along – that he’s been having affairs with every girl in the neighbourhood and has kids he hasn’t mentioned. And when our naughty boy comes out or gets himself temporarily straight, he lives small for a while and does good works and takes pleasure in simple things, till the sap rises again and he is back to his old games. My father was that fellow, no question, all of the above. But that was only the beginning. The difference was in degree, in style, in scale…” (quoted in The Times, February 15, 2002).
We recognise that picture of many a heartless deceiver who is in the world around us, but the fearful reality is that such men are in the church too. The reason for their existence is not because of poverty, or social deprivation, or lack of education. Many of them are intelligent men who come from decent homes. The reason for the abundance of deceivers is sin within man. There is a conman in the heart of everyone in this very congregation at this moment. The matter before us is not that we have all been victims of the Ronnies of this world, for we have, but that in our hearts we ourselves are conmen, carpet-baggers, shysters, swindlers, twisters, confidence tricksters, riggers, fiddlers, mountebanks, pretenders, impostors, sweet-talkers, snakes in the grass, wily birds and wolves in sheep’s clothing. All those sinners have a niche in every single heart in this distinguished congregation today. So we are not concerned with ‘them’ who are ‘out there’ but ‘us’ who are ‘here’. We are not talking about the faith-healing, health and wealth crooks on religious TV. Every man jack of them is a charlatan, but we are not concerned with their sins today, but our sins, the deceiver in our hearts. How does Paul describe the false Christian here? Are these marks in my life? “Lord, is it I?”
1. THE MARKS OF RELIGIOUS MASQUERADE .
What characterises these men? Consider the following marks:
i] They are deceivers.
See the strong language of Paul: “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.” (vv.13-15). The word ‘apostle’ means a ‘messenger’. Christ had chosen and sent the twelve as his ambassadors into all the world. “As the Father sent me so have I sent you,” he said to them. These were men with extraordinary privileges. They had all seen the risen Christ. They had all been commissioned by the Lord, and the eleven had been Jesus’ companions from his baptism. They had a unique authority. They became the foundations for every New Testament congregation. They were to go preaching and teaching the gospel and making churches out of baptized converts. The congregations were to receive and submit to their words in God’s name. Then, after the churches were planted, these false apostles turned up who claimed that they shared that unique authority. They affirmed that they too had been sent by Christ. It was a total fabrication. They were “masquerading as apostles of Christ,” Paul says.
He also calls them “deceitful workers.” No once could deny that they were committed men. They worked away at spreading their message. They were as zealous as the Pharisees whom Jesus said would travel land and sea to make a convert. You know how the members of the cults frequently give us a sense of shame by the regularity at which they knock on doors and speak to us. Other religious devotees are so faithful in keeping their special days, and repeating prayers at set times round the clock. But the message that these apostles brought was totally deceitful. They claimed that their message came from God, but it didn’t. They said that they had divine authority to disturb the churches, but they hadn’t. They beavered away speaking to anyone who would listen to them, but they were working away deceiving.
There is something Satanic about deceit. This is how the devil began to harass the human race, by deceiving Eve. It is not surprising that these wicked men in Corinth were disguising themselves as apostles of Jesus Christ. Satan is clever enough to dress himself in Christian garb. He appears as an angel of light rather than as the prince of darkness. Satan is a subversive. When they meet him people are struck by this gorgeous and impressive person. That’s the reason so many are deceived. No black horns growing out of his head. No forked tail. He looks as if he has just stepped out of Hollywood. Also how sensible and wise he sounds. He’s got a Ph.D. Satan is a master at creating a good impression, and Satan’s servants are what these men are.
There are preachers and theologians all over the world who will talk about the Bible. They will refer to creation and the fall and to hell and heaven. They will use God-words. They might create a very good impression to the Christians listening, but for those teachers the opening chapters of Genesis and the closing chapters of Revelation are not actual events and places in space and time. For them two real people, Adam and Eve, never lived in paradise. There is no place of woe to avoid at all costs. The modernist will use these words, but for him they are symbols and powerful myths. He too is a false apostle and a deceitful workman. I found it very interesting reading something the late John Gerstner pointed out, how many people have compared Jonathan Edwards to the Italian poet Dante. They will say that the famous sermon of Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” reminds them of Dante’s description of hell in his poem, “Inferno.” But, they say, they can enjoy the “Inferno” but they cannot enjoy Edwards. Why? Dr Gerstner says this: “The answer, I think, is exceeding simple. Critics think, at least, that Dante did not represent or intend to represent truth, but myth. After all, the great poem bears many of the marks of the facetious: Does the author not populate hell with personal enemies? … Surely Dante did not picture an actual hell when he made such representations. And, being relieved at this point, we can rather enjoy the spectacle since we don’t have to take it factually. How different is Edwards as a preacher of the Word; his message is an exposition of Scripture. There are no personal grievances in any part of the sermon. In broad, general, solemn terms he represents the fate of all men who persist in wickedness. One cannot enjoy his account of hell, at least not if one catches the sincere mood of the preacher. One knows that with Edwards this is no myth being expounded” (John H. Gerstner, “The Early Writings”, Volume 2, SDG, 1998, p.25). So these false apostles, first of all, are deceivers, and deception characterises all those who have followed them.
ii] They are smooth talkers.
See what Paul says her, “I may not be a trained speaker” (v.6). Perhaps he is saying in quite a straight-forward way that he is aware that he was not eloquent in public speaking and in this regard was inferior to his opponents, inferring, “But suppose they are smooth talkers – more skillful in presenting their error than I am in presenting the truth. That doesn’t make them right.” Or perhaps Paul is being ironic, putting himself in a supposed inferior position to those silver-tongued men, whereas he knew, and all the Corinthian church knew, that he was a superb preacher compared to those phonies. Whatever is the better interpretation these heretics fancied themselves as speakers. In other words, what was important to them was the tingle factor. They felt they could really preach! They could be catapults and see men go down before them. They itched to preach ‘great sermons’, but great sermons, ninety-nine times in a hundred are nuisances. They are showy. They have been preached many times. A man will gather together all his favourites stories and illustrations and they will attract attention, but they shelter nobody, warm nobody and help nobody. They are too near entertainment. There are times, utterly unexpectedly, when great sermons are given. Then preach them! But they will come of themselves if they are worth anything. These opponents of Paul strived to preach them, and that of itself is almost enough to destroy them. They mounted the pulpit as “a super-apostle.” They thought of their cloaks, their hair, the length of their beards, their posture and gestures. Religious puppets! Of course we abhor the casual master of ceremonies type of minister who strolls into the place where there was once a pulpit, smiling at the band, but we also abhor the vestment-clad, stately, solemn entrance of a man whose whole appearance seems to call upon everyone to see how religious he is, and how intensely he is a priest. Ambition, envy and vanity are demons that love to clothe themselves in rhetorical garments like angels of light.
I want to emphasize this, that God is able to keep his people from smooth talkers. Let me illustrate this to you from an autobiography called “The Hidden Pathway” written by a pastor’s wife named Elsie Dawson. When she was 14 years of age she was away from home working as a companion for two older women. She met a number of people from other places of worship, and when one old man, the brother of one of the ladies she was caring for, and a lodger in the house, discovered that she and her family attended a Calvinistic Baptist church he cavilled at the doctrine of election. He sneered at her, “I suppose you people think that only you will be saved, like your father Philpot and father Gadsby.” She was shocked to hear such scorn, but he continued, “What do you people do with this, ‘Come unto me!’ You read it ever so many times.” So there was the situation, a young servant girl and an old man who should have known better belittling the teaching she had always heard on the sovereignty of God in salvation. But the Lord helped and protected her. It was not the first time for such objections to be dealt with. Of course there is the invitation to sinners to come to him, but there is another solemn word in Scripture that warns any of the dangers of presumption. She writes of her response to him, “Immediately this came to me, and I answered: ‘It does say, doesn’t it? “No man CAN come to me, except the Father … draw him”? And it does say too, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”‘ I was fourteen years old then. The man who taunted me was over sixty, but the Word of God silenced him. After that he would say hurtful things in front of me about ‘our people.’ He never asked me more questions … he absented himself from all public worship” (Elsie Dawson, “The Hidden Pathway”, compiled by G.D.Buss, 2001, Gospel Standard Trust Publications, p.22). God will keep his very weakest lamb from the jaws of the fiercest wolf.
iii] They are covetous.
Paul asks, “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 was not a burden to anyone … I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way” (v. 7, v.9). In other words, Paul is reminding them that they knew who the men were whose messages didn’t come free of charge. Think of the world’s attitudes. We’ll meet many a company which charges more than all its competitors do, and quite deliberately, because of a conviction – often based on research – that because it charges more people will tend to believe they are getting the best. That’s what Paul’s opponents did. If people have paid for something it is galling for them to admit that they’ve been taken for a ride. They want to boast that nothing was spared to get these counsels and that they had their money’s worth. So the false apostles charged a good fee for their talks. “A mere five hundred pounds for a week-end on a Greek mountain. Come and enjoy a mountain top experience!”
For Paul the gospel was very different. For him to live was Christ. In other words, for Paul to live was a Man who didn’t have home, no bank account, no drawers full of clothes, no wardrobes with lightweight dress for humid weather, no snug woolen garments for the winter evenings, no antiques, no mode of transport, no objects of value at all. That was Paul’s model, the perfect man, completely fulfilled, always gracious, never too rushed to have time for people, ever in touch with God. He never coveted Peter’s boat, nor John’s father, nor Matthew’s goods or money. Christ was Paul’s example, so the apostle was often in rags, but he had learned contentment, and he wouldn’t be a burden to anyone.
How could these false apostle be preachers when they didn’t count their blessings and weren’t giving God thanks? They were obsessed with the things they hadn’t got and wanted, because they saw others had them. But we know that money is the purchaser of everything but happiness, and the passport to everywhere but heaven. Covetousness, the Lord has said, is idolatry, and so it completely disqualifies a man from being a minister. The man who always chooses the invitations to preach in the big churches with the large fees, who accepts a call to a church for reason of a larger salary, who marries for money, who strokes the affections of the well-to-do in the congregation and neglects the poor, who is stingy to those who depend on him, and so on … by ways like that all usefulness in the church of Jesus Christ vanishes.
iv] They are ambitious and boastful.
Paul writes that they “want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about” (v.12). Didn’t they have a great view of themselves? Weren’t they walking on ice? We naturally want to pastor growing congregations, that is, churches that grow in the knowledge and love of God and one another. But we have seen most preachers ruined by success. Those men have an attitude which says, “My evaluation of things is so obviously right I have little time for people who disagree with me.” A friend was having dinner with a famous preacher who told him that he was concerned to see another preacher speaking at the annual meetings of a small Calvinistic society. “If he wants to be a leader, he ought to be careful for whom he speaks,” he told my friend. “If he… wants… to… be… a… leader,” my friend thought. These false apostle itched to be leaders equal with the apostle Paul.
William Burns found himself flattered when a woman in Dundee told him that she was as blessed through his ministry as she had been under Robert Murray M’Cheyne. He wrote in his diary that night, “I told her not to cast sparks from hell into my inflammable heart – to give thanks to God, and to beware of commending men.” John Thornton told Charles Simeon that there are three lessons which a minister had to learn: “One, Humility. Two, Humility. Three, Humility.” Those words obviously made an impact on Simeon because later that day he wrote out in large letters in his notebook, “TALK NOT ABOUT MYSELF.”
Consider Paul: he asks these Corinthians, “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow.” (I Cor. 3:5,7). The false apostle had an utterly different attitude to the ministry. He was moved by Paul’s preaching. He experienced some spiritual power as he sat listening to his word. He heard people’s tearful appreciation of what they had heard, that it had changed their lives. “I’ll have some of that,” he said. He wanted the plaudits and the reputation that Paul had, but he did not have Paul’s gifts, or vocation or his doctrine. If we are in God’s will, there is no reason to be ambitious. God made us the people we are, and the place we occupy is where he has placed us. Paul’s ambition was to finish the work God had given him to do, not make shipwreck of his faith, and receive the Lord’s commendation in the great day.
v] They are heading for judgment.
Paul says of them, “Their end will be what their actions deserve” (v.15). The Lord Jesus made spectacularly clear the fact that our lives are going to be judged. He especially warned those who claimed they spoke in the name of God. For example, the Pharisees were particular targets of his wrath. Hew told them, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt. 23:12). They make a convert and he becomes “twice as much a son of hell as you are” (Matt. 23:15). That is what the Lord said to religious teachers. At the beginning of his ministry in the Sermon on the Mount he said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil-doers!'” (Matt. 7:21-23).
Paul tells these Corinthians that they are being influenced by men who face a terrible end. It will be what their actions deserve. Imagine that it might have been possible for the German nation in 1938 to have been shown an exact detailed picture of the situation in their country in 1945, the bunker in Berlin where Hitler lay dead having shot himself, more than a million German men dead, their cities ruined, their country divided in half, the east becoming a puppet state of Russia. Imagine the German nation being shown that in great detail and being told, “Now this, most assuredly, is where you are going to end if you follow Hitler and his gang.” Would you think they would follow Hitler? Some might, but many would draw back. So Paul is telling these Corinthians that the end of these false apostles is going to be commensurate with their heresies. Better to have a millstone tied around one’s neck and be dropped into the sea than cause Christ’s little ones to stumble.
2. THE MARKS OF THE TRUE MAN OF GOD.
i] He has knowledge.
Hear this claim of his: “I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way,” (v.6). And again he asserts, “As surely as the truth of Christ is in me” (v.10). Why should we listen to someone speak? Because he has the truth. What good will it do if a man has eloquence and humour and the most wonderful turn of phrase but he is a heretic speaking error? Paul says, “I have knowledge. Surely the truth of Christ is in me.” He was not a smooth talker, any more than his Saviour. He says, “We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way,” (v.6). Paul had the truth of Christ at his finger-tips. He needed no wad of lecture notes to read to them, in long dense sentences. There was Spirit and there was life in all he said, so that his sermons and letters are ‘perfectly clear’ concerning the way of salvation, ‘in every way.’ Such knowledge is absolutely indispensable for the true man of God.
We must have the truth of Christ in us. I take that in the simplest possible sense, the sense of a literal mental grasp with our minds of the teaching of Holy Scripture. It may seem very elementary and yet it is totally basic. The first thing that believers put on is the girdle of truth. A man of God must have knowledge. He must have a familiarity with the teaching of Scripture. He must understand the system of Christian doctrine.
Now it is all very well to talk of all the perils of a dead orthodoxy, and that is a real peril. Of course there are people and their interest in truth is not interest in the great foundation doctrines but interest in the conundrum of theology. Let’s avoid that. There are others whose interest is in the controversial doctrines that divide believers. They are only interested in the teachings men disagree about and fight over. We must watch that spirit too.
We are bound as Christians to make conscience of growing in our grasp of the contents of the divine revelation. God has taken great pains to give us a word that we can understand, and it is entirely our obligation to take advantage of that revelation, to soak ourselves in it, and to steep ourselves in the truth, so that we are utterly familiar with it. Now every Christian should know, and know intimately and readily the doctrines which relate to the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. He should know of the deity and the humanity of Christ. He should know of the incarnation. He should know of the status of Christ as pre-existent, humiliated, and exalted. He should know of the offices of Christ as our prophet, priest and king. These are not doctrines simply for theologians. They are the stuff of believing meditation. They constitute that great body of truth that sanctifies. My calling is to make it so interesting for you all. Every Christian should know of the great doctrines of propitiation, predestination, justification, adoption, and sanctification. These are not my words, they are words God has chosen. Men in the world know all about taxation, and depreciation, and inflation, and superannuation, and devaluation. Then Christians should certainly know about the great biblical words that God has explained to us. They are for our lasting good.
Why are we concerned that some 20th century translations of the New Testament had omitted the word ‘propitiation’ and replaced it with the word ‘expiation’? You might think these are only words, and I am hair-splitting, and that there is no difference between the meaning of ‘propitiation’ and ‘expiation’? You are wrong. There is a very important difference. That is why it is good to see the reinstatement in the recent English Standard Version of the word ‘propitiation’ in both places where it occurs in the New Testament. “Words,” you say, “you Christians are just arguing about words.” No, there is an important difference between what those two words means. Expiation focuses on man and the guilt of our sin which is indeed expiated by the death of Christ. Propitiation focuses on God and the blood of Christ having appeased once and for all God’s anger towards the guilt of believing sinners.
“The wrath of a sin-hating God
With me can have nothing to do.” (Toplady).
Don’t you know how important words are? There was a hysteria about paedophiles in south Wales last year and the life of a doctor who was a paediatrican was threatened, their house daubed with paint and a window was broken. ‘Paediatrician’, or ‘paedophile’? “No difference,” says the ignorant man. For that doctor such ignorance could be fatal. We must have knowledge if God has revealed it to us.
So Christians should know the truth and should be growing in our love for it, in our emotional responsiveness and sensitivity to it so that when we see the splendour of the person of Christ we are moved to bless and glorify the Lord. The man of God is stirred by these tremendous truths to gratitude and joy and lifelong service. The man of Psalm 1 is described as being delighted with the law of the Lord. He loves his Bible, and we are being tested at that most fundamental of levels. Do we have knowledge? Are we growing in knowledge? There is much more truth to bring out of the Bible than you’ve learned so far. There was once a boy who presented his teacher with an orange. He said to her, “I bring you an orange. It’s been squeezed, but there’s more in it yet.” Some of you have been squeezing out of the Bible its truth for many years, but there’s much more in it yet.
I have recently heard the story of a bright young Mexican lad named Rogilio who was given a Bible by his father as a boy. He showed it proudly to an old priest who said to him, “Read it. It’s the best book in the world.” After his father’s death, Rogilio studied his Book with great delight. He learned to repeat verse after verse of the Scripture and found mysterious pleasure in those phrases.
But one day he made a grave mistake, he took it to the village school to show to his teacher. The teacher exclaimed, “Where did you get that book? It is a Protestant work!” His disapproval was joined by that of a new and younger priest who had replaced the old man, and the two men confiscated and destroyed the boy’s beloved book. After some sorrow at its loss Rogilio drifted into the company of the other lost teenagers of the village. He interest in higher things went and he became content to live for the pleasures of the day.
Some years later Rogilio had drifted to El Paso, Texas. One night, out of curiosity, he and a companion entered a hall where an evangelist was preaching the Gospel. As the two young men were making their way to a vacant bench the evangelist was reading aloud from a large volume. Familiar words fell on the ears of Rogilio. Before his companion could restrain him he hurried to the font before the whole assembly, saying, “Sir, have the kindness to give me back my book! That is my book you are reading from. They took it from me years ago, but that book is actually mine.” It had not occurred to Rogilio that there could be more than one copy. He stretched out his hands confidently, fully expecting to receive his own book again.
The puzzled evangelist stood looking at him and he said, “My friend, please explain, why do you say this book is yours?” “Well, it is mine”, Rogilio answered more calmly, “and I can prove it”. To the astonishment of the little congregation he recited passage after passage that he had memorised in his boyhood. After some further conversation with him, the evangelist did give to Rogilio the book from which he had been reading. Further reading brought life and salvation to his heart; and through belief in him of whom they speak Rogilio is a true child of God. “Search the Scriptures; they are they which testify of me”.
ii] He humbles himself.
Paul asks them, “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?” (v.7). Paul the great philosopher teacher – this mighty intellect – abased himself to making tents day after day to support himself and his friends while he was in Corinth. It is the extraordinary combination of Paul’s claims to have knowledge and be certain that the truth of Christ was in him with his humbling himself to make tents which is the authentic mark of the Christian. You see it in our Lord: “I and the Father are one. He who has seen me has seen the Father” – extraordinary claims, and yet this incarnate deity lowers himself, takes the basin of water and the towel, and he kneels before each of his disciples and washes and dries their feet. He lowers himself to elevate them. That is Golgotha. That is the gospel. We too would “elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you” (v.7)
The Christian it utterly confident about Jesus Christ and his great salvation. I know whom I have believed, he says. I know I have passed from death to life. There is assurance concerning Christ and his promises. There is confidence about the Bible: all scripture is God-breathed. But the Christian is continually humbling himself. That does not make him a weakling. That is the strength of the believer. There was a Christian called Henry Augustus Rowland, professor of physics at Johns Hopkins University, a modest and retiring man, who was once called as an expert witness at a trial. During cross-examination a lawyer demanded, “What are your qualifications as an expert witness in this case?” He replied quietly, “I am the greatest living expert on the subject under discussion.” Later a friend well acquainted with him expressed surprise at the professor’s uncharacteristic answer. Rowland answered, “Well, what did you expect me to do? I was under oath.” He was confident in his knowledge, but meek and humble in his disposition. That is the Christian. That is why we can be engaged in the most earnest theological discussion and disagree vehemently with one another, and yet be personally meek and lowly men. George Whitefield properly disagreed with John Wesley in his rejection of the sovereignty of God in saving sinners. They published the letters they wrote to one another and Whitefield was unyielding in his stand that God takes the initiative in saving all his own people, but when someone asked Whitefield if he thought he would see Wesley in heaven, Whitefield replied, “I fear not, for he will be so near the eternal throne and we, at such a distance, shall hardly get sight of him.”
iii] He is not a burden to others.
That was Paul’s motivation in refusing to take advantage of his right to accept financial support from the Corinthians. “I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so” (v.9). Think of the Christian in old age, and her great fear – it is almost an obsession – about becoming a burden to her family. It is a great and noble attitude. Her children will say, “Mum, you’ll be no burden at all. Come and live with us. We have a room prepared.” But she will say, “No thanks. I can still manage.” Love makes her say it.
So there’s that Christian concern, let everyone carry his own burden. But there is another duty too: the strong ought to bear the burdens of the weak. ‘She ain’t heavy she’s my mother.’ We say, “We want to look after you and do what we can for you. The strong ought to bear the burdens of the weak. You must give us that privilege.” The Corinthian church were weak in taking that initiative. The churches in the north – Paul refers to them as “the brothers who came from Macedonia” (v.9) – were different. They were thoughtful, and they supplied what Paul needed. Caring for him wasn’t a burden to them.
Paul had the right to have a wife, and receive the recognition of an apostle, and be supported full-time in Christian work, but he laid those rights aside. He saw the poverty of many of the Corinthians, and knew how his behaviour was misinterpreted by his enemies. “He’s only here for the money,” they said behind his back. So Paul took nothing at all and survived by making tents, purchasing the skins from the tanners, and cutting and sewing them together with needle and thread, taking them to market and discussing the price with purchasers, and selling them. Then he would buy food and pay his rent for a week or so until the whole process had to be repeated. All this was done not to be a burden to the church. We might have wanted another letter to the Ephesians or to the Romans, but Paul is too occupied making tents in order to survive, and God is saying to the church, “That’s all right, it’s not more revelation from heaven you need, but simply to understand and do what I’ve already given you.”
So the true man of God is anxious that he should not be a burden to the church. Is that what motivates us? “I don’t want my conduct to be a burden to my pastor, to my fellow church members. I don’t want to give them hours of counselling, or sleepless nights, or their having to give some of their hard-earned money to me. I wont cause them any such pain. I’ll give them joy.” We are thinking of leaders in the church. The false apostle is on the make. “What can I get from this group?” is his question. “What can I give them?” is the thought of the true messenger of Christ,
iv] He loves the people of God.
“I do not love you? God knows I do!” (v.11). What does Paul mean by that? It certainly refers to Christian affections. He loves them from a pure heart fervently, and also he was prepared to lay down his life for them. Or we can fill the word ‘love’ with all his own definition from his first letter and chapter 13: he is patient with them, kind, not envious of one of them, not proud when he’s with them, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered with them, keeps no record of wrongs they’ve done, doesn’t delight in any evil he heard in their midst, rejoices in the truth they show, is always protecting and trusting and hoping in them. He keeps persevering in his love for them. When Paul was speaking to them personally or to the whole congregation they felt loved.
It was through this loving apostle that the gospel took root and was planted in Corinth. It was a loving plough that furrowed their hearts, and a loving hand which placed the seed of the Word there, and by the summer power of love Paul nourished and cherished the plant of grace. I do not mean that Paul was a lazy, sunshiny, good-natured man who had no convictions, to whom it didn’t matter which direction the church went as long as there was peace. I don’t believe in any such men. I like a man who’s got snap in every part of him, who knows how to think and speak. But all Paul did he did in love.
If it were teaching the young, comforting the old in their frailty, listening and counselling with all the earthly problems that come to his home then Paul loved those people – God knew he did. Paul went on loving them, his heart went out to them and he yearned from them just as now at the end of February we yearn for the first signs of spring, and the singing of the birds, and the trees putting forth their buds. The preacher longs to see graces appear, and love for Jesus Christ. Paul worked from a sense of obedience to the Lord, and from a sense of duty, but most of all, his love for them made him work. Why do birds sing? Because the song is in them. Why did Paul love? Because the love of Christ was in his heart, and the vent through which it poured was his affection for the body of Christ in Corinth.
There is a unique power in Christian love, because God is love. A 19th century preacher in America tells this story: “I had a man in my parish in Indiana, who was a very ugly-spirited fellow. He had a wife and daughter who were awakened during the revival which was then working; and, while visiting others who needed instruction, I went to see and talk with them.
He heard that I had been in his house, and shortly afterwards I passed down the street in which he lived. He was sitting on the fence; and of all the filth that was ever emptied on a young minister’s head, I received my share. He threw it out, right and left, up and down, and said everything that was calculated to harrow my pride. I was very wholesomely indignant for a young man. I said to myself, “Look here, I will be revenged on you yet.” He told me I should never darken his door again, to which I responded that I never would until I had his invitation to do so.
“Things went on for some time. I met him on the street, bowed to him, spoke well of him, and never repeated his treatment of me to anyone. We constantly crossed each other’s paths, and often visited the same people.
I always spoke kindly of him. Very soon he ran for the office of sheriff; and then I went out into the field and worked for him. I canvassed for votes; I used my personal influence. It was a pretty close election, but he was elected. When he knew I was working for him, I never saw a man so utterly perplexed as he was. He did not know what to make of it. He came to me one day, awkward and stumbling, and undertook to ‘make up,’ as the saying is. He said he would be very glad to have me call and see him. I congratulated him on his election and of course accepted his overtures; and from that time I never had a firmer friend in the world than he was. I could have thrown stones at him from the topmost cliffs of Mount Sinai, and hit him every time; but that would have done him little good. Love killed him.” Love never fails.
It is an indispensable mark of grace to love one’s fellow Christians. One day this teenage girl, Elsie Dawson, of whom I have referred already, was walking on an errand through the large Market Square in Wantage. Her mind happened to turn to her church, and the congregation and the people she loved to meet with each week. Suddenly this verse came to her mind, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” She had made no public profession of faith, and was unsure whether she was a follower of the Lord Jesus or not, but that verse from John’s first letter bore witness to the reality of her love for fellow Christians. She writes, “I inwardly said at once: ‘Oh, but that can’t be enough. Of course I love them! They are all my friends, and ever so many are my own relatives.’ I was still thinking that I did not yet know enough to possibly be one who had passed from death unto life. But that verse had come to me and brought, for a little while, a sweet feeling of hope and love” (op cit p.27). I must ask you all if this is true of you? Do you think of this very congregation, and these very people you meet with week by week, and do you feel affection for them, and that is why you want to be with them Sunday nights as well as Sunday mornings, and in the Prayer Meeting too? It is because you love them. And if I should say, “You don’t love us” Would you hotly reply with Paul here, “I do not love you? God knows I do.” Then have you passed from death unto life? May it be so! Do you long that it shall be so? Do you know anything of the yearnings of this anonymous hymn-writer:
I love to meet among them now,
Before Thy gracious feet to bow,
Though vilest of them all;
But can I bear the piercing thought,
What if my name should be left out,
When Thou for them shalt call?
v] He never stops opposing the false teachers.
You hear that terrible cliche, “Let truth perish as long as love reigns.” That is nowhere found in the Bible. It is the very antithesis of all that is found in the Bible. The Scripture puts the relationship of truth and love like this like this, “Speaking the truth in love.” Don’t forsake truth in the interest of love, because then falsehood reigns. Paul says very sternly, “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” (v.12). The loving apostle yet wants to cut the ground from under those men. His love for the flock of Jesus Christ makes him speak like that.
That is how we can deal with any such delicate and controversial subject that is found in the Bible. Ministers feel that they cannot preach what they feel they ought to preach. There is a mill owner in the congregation, and the men in the church work for him, and that is the hinge on which the whole church turns. Yet it becomes necessary to preach on the duties of employers to employees. Capital is watchful and suspicious. You cannot afford to ignore a verse in the New Testament like, “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven” (Cols. 4:1). You have sold the pulpit to the mill-owner if you neglect that teaching.
You can discuss any Biblical topic from the pulpit if you only love men enough. You can discuss pregnancy outside of marriage, divorce, modesty in appearance, mortifying worldliness, women not called to the office of preacher and so on. Of course there are some who will take offence, but in the main you will hold your own and save others. It is perfectly possible to be sweet-natured and also tenacious in holding to the truth of the Bible. A congregation knows when a minister is afraid of them, just as a horse knows when his driver is afraid of him.
Oppose error and all who teach it, and speak the truth in love. That is the mark of the man of God, but speak very much in love – may it be multiplied a thousand times – if your themes are critical and dangerous. Take responsibility for what you say, because you must take care not only of yourselves but of all men. And whenever some of the congregation behave badly then you will charge yourself with her or his bad behaviour. You will say that it is partly your fault that you did not reach their conscience with your preaching, and vow to be bolder next time.
So we have looked at the false and the true, the exponents of errors and the teacher of truth. Don’t you think Paul was correct when he said, “I do not think I am in the least inferior to those ‘super-apostles'”? (v.5). We look at their lives and message, and we examine his and we cry, “You are not in the least inferior, but far superior, Paul.” He has done what he set out to do, cut the ground from under them (v.12). His whole life is the great definition for us of a Christian. The same grace that transformed this old Pharisee is working in us who believe changing us too, and that grace can also transform you who as yet do not believe. Cry mightily that that grace may come upon you and make you such a person!
17th February 2002 GEOFF THOMAS