June 16, 2010 David Balzer

2 Corinthians 10-11: Whose Approval Matters?

Whose APPROVAL matters to you? Whose OPINION counts?  Bosses? Parents? Lecturers or teachers? Your husband or wife? The Fashion experts from “What NOT to wear? The fitness experts from “The biggest Loser”? The dietary experts on “You are what you eat”?

For lots of us/ the opinion of others plays a big part in the decisions we make. And what we think about ourselves.

And it’s an important question if you’re a minister of a church. Because there’s all sorts of contradictory opinions about what you should be doing. Whose approval matters THEN?

Some people will say that it’s the opinions of THE CONGREGATION which matter. THEY’RE the consumers – YOU’RE the service-provider. What’s important is the approval of the ones who pay the bills.

As long as the congregation think you’re doing a good job. That’s what’s important! But is that RIGHT?

I’ve been involved in churches where the minister is accused of ALL SORTS OF THINGS.

Some say, he doesn’t spend enough time VISITING. That he’s not PASTORAL enough. Others say his SERMONS are poor. So he needs to spend more time PREPARING.

Some say the sermons are too theoretical and theological. So he needs to lighten them up – make them more relevant. Others say he’s too contemporary in his preaching. And he needs to stick more closely to the Bible.

Still others say he’s too TRADITIONAL. Too slow to introduce change. While others say he’s a young upstart whose changing all the things they know and love about church.

Or church goes too LONG. Or it’s too SHORT. Or the music is too OLD-FASHIONED, or TOO MODERN.

Being pulled in a 100 different directions. It’s enough to drive a man to a breakdown. … And the unfortunate thing is/ that’s what happens to many ministers. The expectations of PEOPLE weigh so heavily on their shoulders that they keep trying to satisfy HUMAN expectation – to find human APPROVAL – which they can’t possibly do. Until it all comes crashing in around them.

We need to be drawn back to the example of Paul. All sorts of people, with all sorts of expectations. And yet there’s only ONE OPINION that REALLY matters. Look at v18.

(2 Cor 10:18 NIV)  For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, BUT THE ONE WHOM THE LORD COMMENDS.

Commendation from OTHERS means nothing. And SELF-congratulation is meaningless TOO. What counts is GOD’S APPROVAL. The only reward worth winning. The only claim worth boasting about.

The Opponents

It’s just as well Paul thinks that way, because if he took to heart the gossip that’s flying about, he’d be a broken man.

We’ve mentioned before the SUPER-Apostles. All MOUTH and TALK. All SHOW and APPEARANCES. The “Anthony Mundines” of the Early Church.

They had the References, the polished speeches. Slick performances. Hefty appearance fees.

And yet for all their impressiveness, Paul calls them FOOLS. Unwise. Look down to v12 of Ch 10. Halfway through.

(2 Cor 10:12 NIV)  … When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are NOT WISE.

So busy comparing themselves to each other, looking at how they measure up, checking out what others are thinking. That they reckon they’re SOMEBODIES/ when they’re NOBODIES.

A of years ago Lachlan and Daniel and Elyse did Little Athletics. And one Friday night I broke a record. I was helping out at the 11 year s shot-put. And the Club record was marked out. 18.94 m.

And after the s had finished, I had a go. Using their little shotput. About the size of an orange. Psyched myself up. A few deep breaths. Visualised the target. Did some stretches. Stepped into the circle. And when no one was looking, I gave it everything I had.

And I broke the record. Yaa!

Now, I’d be A COMPLETE FOOL to make a big deal about it. Because I’m comparing myself to things which don’t count.

And it’s the same with Paul’s opponents. Worried about where they were on the Corinth TOP 40 of orators. Checking their ranking on the MOST POPULAR SERMON DOWNLOADS. Measuring who had more letters after their name, and degrees on their wall.

So busy looking AROUND/ that they never looked UP.

And so, God’s measuring sticks never got a look in. The things GOD reckons are important – their commitment to the gospel, their conformity to the character and sufferings of Christ, their faithfulness, their love, their prayfulness– they didn’t rate a mention.

2. Their opinion of Paul

And their checklist of what was important had implications for what they thought about PAUL, TOO.

And by reading between the lines, we can paint a fairly accurate picture of the sorts of things they were accusing Paul of.

In general terms, they saw Paul as a FAILURE. By any measuring stick they used, Paul fell short. Look at what he says in v2. Talking about what he’ll do when he arrives.


Their measuring stick was THE WORLD. For them/ success in MINISTRY was measured in the same way success was measured by EVERYONE ELSE. In terms of POWER, and PRESTIGE, and INFLUENCE, and MONEY, and FAME. Size and influence and growth. THEY’RE the measures of success. Of competency. Of effectiveness.

But Paul doesn’t buy into any of it. It’s not even the same unit of measurement. Arguing about pounds and shillings, stones and ounces, feet and inches. When Paul’s using metres and kilograms and dollars.

Because ministry’s measured by A DIFFERENT STANDARD.

So what are the SPECIFICS of their criticisms?

Paul’s in a very difficult position. Because whichever way he answers the critics, he’ll be seen in a bad light.

On the one hand, they say he’s TOO AUTHORITATIVE. They say he’s BOLD when he WRITES. But IN PERSON, he goes SOFT.

That’s there in v1. He’s quoting their accusations.

(2 Cor 10:1 NIV)  By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you–I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” when away!

And again down in v10

(2 Cor 10:10 NIV)  For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.”

That’s the first accusation. That he wields his authority, but doesn’t have the right to do so.

On the OTHER hand, they accuse him of being unqualified, unprofessional, and AMATEUR. Look down to Ch 11 v5. He’s answering two MORE charges; he’s unskilled, and amateur.

(2 Cor 11:5-8 NIV)  But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” {6} I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way.

(that’s the second charge – he’s unqualified. Here’s the third)

{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? {8} I robbed other churches by receiving support from them SO AS TO SERVE YOU.

So what’s Paul to do? If he talks himself DOWN/ to prove he’s NOT arrogant or authoritative. Then they’ll feel they’ve proved the SECOND point. That he’s , with no leadership ability.

But if he responds to the charge of being unqualified/ by listing his credentials and experience, they’ll respond by saying that he’s proud, and aloof. And that he’s just proved the FIRST charge – that he’s AUTHORITATIVE.

He’s in a no win situation.

He’s been painted into a corner, and he must tread very carefully to avoid getting covered with mess.

3. Paul’s opinion of Paul

a) Why bother?

So, How does Paul respond? What’s Paul’s opinion of himself?

What makes these chapters a bit difficult to unravel/ is that Paul uses IRONY to make his points. Taking on the taunts of his accusers, but meaning the exact OPPOSITE.

And as a result, we get quite a strange looking list of descriptions as we work through the passage. Insults that Paul accepts. Quite happily. But which he turns around. And uses to describe what TRUE ministry looks like. Ministry that’s approved by God.

Look at the list there on your outline.

Jealous, Brawling, Boasting, , Weak

Not exactly the list you’d choose when you’re writing a wish list for a new pastor! And yet, it’s exactly the way Paul describes himself.

But before we look at each, briefly. There’s really a question that needs thinking about. “Why does he BOTHER defending himself?” If he’s not interested in comparison, why try and measure up? If it’s only God’s measurement that’s important, why worry about them?

Isn’t he just dignifying the insults by responding? Why not just let the words wash over him.

Because of the effect it has on the CORINTHIANS.

b) Jealous (11:1-4, 12-15)

And you can see his see his motive from the first label on the list. His opponents have written up the sticky nametag, and Paul is happy to slap it on to his chest. JEALOUS. Paul is JEALOUS for the Corinthians.

Not a particularly ATTRACTIVE trait NORMALLY. But remember that God himself says HE’S jealous. Jealous for his glory. Jealous for the affections of his people.

It seems to me/ that Jealousy is SIN when it springs from SELFISHNESS. One dictionary defined jealousy as being WATCHFULLY TENACIOUS OF SOMEONE’S RIGHTS. And that’s normally your OWN rights. And yet Paul’s jealousy isn’t selfishness. Because he’s looking out for the CORINTHIANS. He’s watchfully tenacious for THEIR rights. Look at it with me. Into Ch 11 v2.

(2 Cor 11:2-3 NIV)  I am jealous for 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. {3} But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

Godly jealousy is concerned for OTHERS. The Corinthians had been following Paul, but they’re drifting away from what Paul taught. And they’re drifting into DANGER. He goes on.

(2 Cor 11:4 NIV)  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.

It’s the false teachers. The super-apostles. And because they’re leading his children away from Christ, Paul uses the strongest language he can muster. Down in v 13.

(2 Cor 11:13-15 NIV)  For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. {14} And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. {15} It is not surprising, then, if HIS SERVANTS masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

Paul goes in so hard because the very salvation of the Corinthians is at stake. That’s jealousy. And funnily enough, it’s something God approves of. Watchfully guarding the rights of the people God’s put in your care.

b) Brawling

Next, brawling. In Ch 10 v 2, they accuse him of not measuring up to the standards of the world.

Paul answers, that, in v3, below the surface, the reality is MUCH different. He might LOOK like every other person. Going about his daily affairs. Working at what he thinks is important.

He might LIVE in the world, but his battle doesn’t use the WEAPONS of the world. Look at v3.

(2 Cor 10:3-4 NIV)  For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. {4} The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.

God’s way of doing business is about MAKING WAR. But it’s WAR using GOD’S tools, not men’s. And they’re FAR more powerful.

A bit like the movie Men in Black. Walking around earth, using weapons from other planets. They don’t look like much, but they’re weapons more powerful than most people could even imagine.

Same with Paul. He doesn’t look much. But his weapons have DIVINE power. Power that demolishes strongholds.

WORLDLY leaders BULLY, and disagree, and push THEIR point. They have to WIN ARGUMENTS to WIN. And build THEIR empire. And TE. And rule by FORCE OF PERSONALITY. They assemble allies. And build authority bases. They play politics.

I’m sure you’ve all seen leaders like THAT. Unfortunately sometimes even in CHURCHES.

But the GODLY leader doesn’t look like that. Or BEHAVE like that. Because his WEAPONS are DIFFERENT from the weapons of the world. And they’re much more POWERFUL. Even though they don’t LOOK much. Because he’s not living by the standards of this world.

So, whether you’re a leader or not. WE don’t live by the standards of this world. Or fight with ITS weapons.

When God’s Spirit is working in people, and through us. Then we can TRUST HIM with it. His plans. His purposes. His timing. His priorities.

And so we don’t NEED to treat people the way the WORLD does. We can treat them with patience and love and concern and godliness and generosity and service. Which isn’t really how the WORLD describes a WINNER.

The reality is our weapons don’t LOOK like much, but they’re much more powerful. Look at how Paul uses the weapons. V5

(2 Cor 10:5-6 NIV)  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. {6} And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

This isn’t WIMPY Paul. This is COMMANDO Paul.

Sure, he’s happy enough to be seen as brawling, and argumentative. But look at what he’s fighting for – take every thought captive, and make it obedient to Christ! In fact, it’s the meaning of LIFE. It’s why God created this whole world. That every thought would be taken captive and made obedient to Christ.

There’s no greater prize than that! That’s a purpose – a goal – worth giving YOUR LIFE to.

We might feel like there’s not much in our arsenal, but witnessing to our friends, fumbling and bumbling our way through, inviting them to events, teaching Scripture, letter-boxing. Might seem pretty impotent against money and University degrees and government legislation. And electronic media.

But Paul says THESE VERY WEAPONS have DIVINE power to demolish strongholds. Arguments, and pretensions. To take every thought captive. So stick at it. Even when you feel like you’re insignificant and losing the battle. Because it’s God’s approval that matters.

c. Boasting

Let’s look at the next accusation. Boasting.

The normal way of doing business for these slick performers was to talk up your own importance. Get your mate to write you a glowing reference. And then you’d do the same for him. Make it really obvious what a high opinion you had of yourself.

Don Carson writes, quoting an ancient source, “Sophisticated haughtiness became a virtue, self-admiration a strength. The orator Polemon “used to talk to CITIES as a SUPERIOR, to KINGS as NOT INFERIOR, and to GODS as AN EQUAL” (p18)

And this is the culture in which Paul works. Ministering as a SERVANT of Christ. With humility. In weakness. And foolishness. Preaching a CROSS. A sign of shame and rejection.

But Paul’s opponents saw humility as WEAKNESS. And so Paul must defend himself. Defend his motives. Without the pride of boasting. Without being unnecessarily authoritative. Look at v7

(2 Cor 10:7-8 NIV)  …If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should consider again that WE BELONG TO CHRIST JUST AS MUCH AS HE. {8} For even if I BOAST somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for BUILDING YOU UP rather than pulling you down, I WILL NOT BE ASHAMED OF IT.

See how his authority differs from the super-apostles? It’s for BUILDING THEM UP. That’s the authority of a SHEPHERD, not a despot, or a dictator, or an empire-builder, or someone feathering his own nest, or a self-obsessed attention-seeker.

And he’ll boast about THAT sort of authority. That BUILDS UP OTHERS.

And the theme of boasting continues. He’ll do a little boasting, too. But not like the opposition. V13.

(2 Cor 10:13 NIV)  We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you.

The only thing Paul will boast of/ is his part in GOD’S PLAN. And that’s got nothing to do with him. Down to v17.

(2 Cor 10:17 NIV)  But, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

And if you flip over to Ch 11 v16. Paul boasts a little more. Down in v18

(2 Cor 11:18-19 NIV)  Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. {19} You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise!

Cut me a little slack, says Paul. Let me tell you the sorts of things I’ll boast about. THEY boast about appearance fees, and full audiences, and rankings, and popularity. Here’s my list. V21.

(2 Cor 11:21-22 NIV)  …What anyone else dares to boast about–I am speaking as a fool–I also dare to boast about. {22} Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I.

All things THE OTHERS would probably tick off as well. But Paul’s just getting warmed-up. V23.

(2 Cor 11:23-25 NIV)  Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to again and again. {24} Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. {25} Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,

And so on. And so on. THIS is TRUE ministry. THIS is Christ-like ministry.

Because its goal is the safety of the churches. That’s Paul’s number one concern. V28.

(2 Cor 11:28 NIV)  Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

Is that something YOU can boast of? The extent you’ll go to/ to show your concern for the church? How important to you is this group of God’s people? How does that SHOW itself in your life? Does it keep you awake at night?

Boast of your overwhelming concern for the church. That’s an attitude GOD approves of.

d. (11:5-11)

Next up, the charge of being an AMATEUR. Ch 11 v7.

(2 Cor 11:7-8 NIV)  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? {8} I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as TO SERVE YOU.

See, when Paul was in Corinth, he DELIBERATELY wouldn’t accept any payment from them. He either worked for a living, or accepted gifts from OTHER churches.

And while the OTHER teachers ranked themselves by popularity, and appearances fees. Paul would have NONE OF IT.

And he did it/ so there’d be no BARRIERS to the gospel. The MESSAGE was far more important than MONEY. The CORINTHIANS are far more important than Paul.

How does YOUR life show that building up OTHERS is more important than your comfort? How do you show that our MESSAGE is more important than YOUR MONEY?

THAT’S an attitude GOD approves of.

e. Weak (11:30-33)

Finally, Paul proudly calls himself WEAK. BOASTS of it. Over at the end of Ch 11. And we’ll look at that in more details next time. But let’s just catch a glimpse. Verse 30.

(2 Cor 11:30 NIV)  If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my WEAKNESS.

What sort of leader admits to WEAKNESS? What sort of Apostle is PROUD of it? Paul is.

He even admits that, rather than stand and risk arrest, he ran away. Let down over the city wall in a basket. The very opposite of the brave soldier whose first to SCALE the wall going IN. Paul’s the first to go DOWN the Wall, getting AWAY.

God’s upside-down way of doing things is that he loves the humble and weak. Because they KNOW they NEED him. And he OPPOSES the proud. Because they reckon they can do it on their own.

And Paul’s happy to recognise HIS weakness. But God’s STRENGTH.

He’ll BOAST of it, because he’s not going to enter the contest. The prancing, and measuring, and chest-puffing. It’s all about SURFACE, Human-centred measurement. And it’s MEANINGLESS.

4. Whose Approval Matters? (10:17-18)

Because in the end, there’s only ONE opinion that matters. God’s. Ch 10 v18

(2 Cor 10:18 NIV)  For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

Seek God’s commendation. It’s all that matters. And His priorities, and opinions, and emphases, are NOTHING like those of the world.

Make it your goal in the coming year to seek GOD’S approval in what you do. Make 2008 a year of changing priorities. Taking tough stands when it comes to your time and your interests and your motivations. So that in real, concrete ways you turn away from what OTHERS think of you. And turn TOWARDS what GOD thinks.

Listen to what Paul writes to one of his young companions about this. In his second letter to Timothy. Ch 2 v18.

(2 Tim 2:15 NIV)  Do your best to present yourself to/ God as one APPROVED, a workman WHO DOES NOT NEED TO BE ASHAMED/ and who correctly handles the word of truth.

Work for God’s approval. It might be QUIET, and you might not hear it for DECADES. But it will be worth the wait.

(Mat 25:21 NIV)  ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

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