June 16, 2010 David Balzer

2 Corinthians 12:11-13:14: Authority to Build

The nature of LEADERSHIP is something that’s occupied the media quite a bit lately.

There’s the US Presidential race for nomination. There’s Hillary Clinton – possibly the first WOMAN President. And Barak Obama – possibly the first BLACK President. Both are making lots of speeches. With plenty of promises. About how, in America, it’s time for CHANGE. For a new broom to sweep through. To right the wrongs. To strengthen weaknesses. And so on.

And from what I can tell, it seems like Barak is the one who’s the slick and charismatic performer, but who, perhaps, doesn’t have the substance to go with the style, the policy to back up the presentation. Whereas Hillary is probably not as slick, but seems to be very well-thought out on all sorts of policy changes. Even down to boring senseless with a 20 min response/ anyone who asks her a specific policy question.

Time will tell, but it seems to me that Hillary has her nose in front. And the people will RECOGNISE that, and choose the substance over style.

Or there’s Kevin Rudd. From what I can tell one of the reasons Kevin Rudd was successful at the last election was he was SHOWING SOME LEADERSHIP. He had PLANS and IDEAS. He recognised that things needed to change, and he presented an agenda for how to ACHIEVE that.

And the voters seemed to BUY his plan.

ANOTHER example of leadership is ex-President Suharto of Indonesia. He died a of weeks ago. Widely accused of massive corruption and human rights abuses during his dictatorship from 1967 to 1998.

He used HIS authority to FEATHER his OWN NEST. Ripping off millions from the Indonesian people. And build his power base.

But what about CHRISTIAN leadership? What does biblical leadership in CHURCHES look like? And in particular, in its USE OF AUTHORITY? What place, if any, does the Christian leader have TO USE AUTHORITY?

I think there are two dangers we fall into. On ONE side is the danger of HARSH AUTHORITARIANISM. Leaders who use their God-given authority to build personal empires, rather than God’s kingdom. Who manipulate and bully. Rooting out all kinds of evil and wrong thinking and behaviour.

And their churches are closer to CULTS than mainstream Christianity.

Some of the characteristics to look out for. If you’re ticking off too many of these, then warning bells should start going off.

  1. They set themselves up without any ACCOUNTABILITY TO OTHERS.
  2. They place loyalty to the church and leadership on the same level as, or even above, your salvation. Leaving the church is the same as denying your faith.
  3. They don’t encourage questions or suggestions, and expect to be obeyed without having to support their point of view.
  4. They don’t admit their own errors, or refuse to listen to other’s points of view.
  5. They are secretive about decisions and procedures.
  6. They won’t SHARE POWER, or delegate it.

Leaders like this might even be WELL-MEANING. Genuinely thinking they’re doing God’s work. Building God’s church. Protecting her purity.

But it’s not God’s model. And it ultimately leads to the TEARING DOWN of the church, rather than BUILDING UP.

That’s ONE extreme. But the opposite extreme is ALSO dangerous. A danger that maybe 21st century Australian Christians are in. And that is, thinking there’s NO place for authority in the Christian church.

And that sort of thinking can come from MEMBERS of churches, Or even from LEADERS. From members, who are quite happy listening to sermons that instruct the WHOLE church, or give them guidance in a GENERAL sense. But who get very shirty when it’s suggested that THEY PERSONALLY need to change their behaviour.

But church LEADERS can be just as bad. It’s rare for churches to DISCIPLINE their members these days. In fact, most churches aren’t emphasising MEMBERSHIP at all. Because one of things membership involves is an acknowledgement to sit under the AUTHORITY of the leaders of the church – accepting their correction.

I’ll admit – it’s HARD to sit down with someone and tell them that they’re doing the wrong thing. Because the reality is/ leaders do the wrong thing TOO. And so, the temptation for leaders is just to ignore sin. Smooth over differences, and pretend problems aren’t there.

You can see the tendency is something as simple as LEADING A BIBLE STUDY, and this is something I tend to do, that someone gives an answer to a question that’s BLATANTLY WRONG, and the leader doesn’t CORRECT them. Because they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.

But is that Biblical leadership?

Two mistakes. Authoritarian on the one-hand, or hands-off and leaderless on the other. SO, what’s the TRUTH?

One of the places we can get some answers to these questions is here in the final verses of 2 Corinthians. When we look at the flavour of PAUL’S leadership. Paul’s showing his AUTHORITY. He’s TALKING TOUGH. But it’s not like the sort of ABUSE of authority we see in SOME churches.

2. A Building Permit, not a Demolition Order (13:10)

And the long and the short of it is/ that God’s not against Christian leaders showing AUTHORITY. Sheep need to be SHEPHERDED. People need to be LED. That’s God’s DESIGN.

It’s just that the GOAL of the authority needs to be right. God gives leaders ONLY PERMISSION TO BUILD. AUTHORITY TO BUILD-UP. He’s issued a building permit, not a demolition order.

Go right over to the end of his argument. Ch 13 v10. The Corinthians reckon he’s WEAK. No backbone. No authority. But he’s got AUTHORITY ALL RIGHT! From God himself.

But what makes the authority DIFFERENT is the PURPOSE. His GOAL in exerting his authority. Look at 13:10.

(2 Cor 13:10 NIV)  This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority–THE AUTHORITY THE LORD GAVE ME FOR BUILDING YOU UP, NOT FOR TEARING YOU DOWN.

There it is. The point of his tough letters. The AIM of exercising authority. It’s not to build your own empire. To grow your fame, or wealth, or power. It’s not to coerce people into doing what YOU think’s right.


And if a Christian leader uses authority for anything other than BUILDING GOD’S PEOPLE UP, then they’re using the Lord’s name in vain. They’re talking through their hats. And God’s cause is HARMED.

Paul’s AUTHORITY IS used TO BUILD UP. To encourage. So let’s see how he PUTS THAT INTO PRACTICE.

2. Like A Parent With a Child (12:14-18)

Firstly, he shows that LEADERSHIP which BUILDS UP/ IS LIKE A PARENT with A CHILD.

Parents might be MORE POWERFUL. They might have the AUTHORITY. They might TELL their children WHAT TO DO.

But it’s all done for their BENEFIT. So they’ll grow up SAFE, and HEALTHY, and EDUCATED, and WELL-ADJUSTED.

Have you ever had the argument about POCKET MONEY for CHORES with your kids? They think they’ve come up with A BRAINWAVE!

“Dad, I reckon you ought to pay me for the things I do around the house. $10 a month isn’t enough”

Fair enough!

How about $5 for making my bed. $10 for drying-up. $4 for taking out the garbage. $6 for taking the washing in. And $8 for watering the garden.

Anything else? No? Fair enough! That’s $33 a month. But it’s only fair that Mum and I should charge YOU for the things WE do. Let’s say/ Board $20 a month. Food another $20. Transport to sport and school $15. Music lessons $50. Clothes $15. Excursions $10. Entertainment $10.

It doesn’t take long to put a stop to THAT brainwave.

That’s Parents with Children. It’s only that Parents WORK REALLY HARD to provide for their kids. That parents GIVE. And children RECEIVE. Because they’re leaders who SERVE. Who Build up.

And it’s the same with Paul. A parent with a child. Look at chapter 12 verse 14, that’s what he’s saying; NOW I’M READY TO VISIT YOU A THIRD TIME… and I WON’T BE A BURDEN TO YOU, because what I want is NOT YOUR POSSESSIONS, BUT YOU.

Because, after all, he says, kids shouldn’t have to save up for their parents. Parents SAVE UP FOR THEIR KIDS. And Paul says, I’ve been like your dad. Verse 15, he says, So I’ll gladly spend for you everything I have and EXPEND MYSELF AS WELL.

Funny thing is, the Corinthians want to CRITICISE HIM FOR THAT. They take it as some kind of insult. That OTHER churches have been allowed to pay Paul, but they haven’t.  They reckon he’s AMATEUR.

And – laced with irony – he’s apologising to them back in verse 13 for never being a burden to them. FORGIVE ME THIS WRONG.

But he’ll keep doing it. To KEEP SERVING THEM… and not be a BURDEN. Because that’s a parent’s JOB.

And OUR leaders need to be SPENDING THEMSELVES for the building up of their flock. Is that what YOU see your leaders doing? And, if you’re a leader, is that what YOU’RE doing?

You see, being a leader / COSTS. And if it’s not COSTING you, then perhaps you’re not LEADING.

3. Not defending self, but strengthening you (12:19-21)

Look at the next characteristic of Paul’s leadership. He’s more interested in strengthening them. Than defending himself. Have a look at Ch 12 verse 16 to 18. More complaints about Paul. So Paul responds. “Have I tricked you? No. Did I exploit you? No. Have any of the people like Titus who I sent you exploited you? No.”

But do you think I’m DEFENDING MYSELF NOW SO I’LL FEEL BETTER? No again.

That’s what we always want to do, isn’t it. If we’re unfairly criticised. Defend our precious honour. Set the record straight. the blame around. But Paul can genuinely say that’s not his motive at all.

The only thing he wants for them is that they’re NOT LED ASTRAY FROM CHRIST. By the sort of false teaching that’s ing all round Corinth. Look what he says in verse 19. He says, “Have you been thinking all along that we’ve been DEFENDING OURSELVES to you? We’ve been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ, and EVERYTHING WE DO, dear friends, IS FOR YOUR STRENGTHENING.

Not for MY HONOUR, so I’ll feel better. But for YOUR STRENGTHENING. He’s setting the record straight so they WON’T BE LED ASTRAY. Not for his reputation. Or his self-esteem.

See it again? Paul’s authority, his whole emphasis, it isn’t for TEARING THEM DOWN. His only concern is WHAT’S BEST FOR THEM.

A building permit, not a demolition order.

4. Authority (13:1-3)

And that even applies when it’s time to talk tough. To SHOW some AUTHORITY. As any parent sometimes has to.

Paul’s on his way to visit. Visit number 3. And he’s warning them AGAIN. And his message is “Three strikes and you’re out”.

I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent. That’s TWO STRIKES. When I come back I won’t SPARE THOSE WHO SINNED EARLIER, or any of the others, since you’re demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me.

When I come for the third time, he says you’ll see I MEAN BUSINESS. You don’t think CHRIST is speaking through me as his apostle? Well, you’ll find out what CHRIST THINKS OF YOU when I come. The RISEN CHRIST, who he says was crucified in weakness, but now lives by GOD’S POWER.

Now it sounds like Paul’s going to come to some heads together, doesn’t it? I’m not sure what he’s got in mind. But the fact is, Paul has the authority to SPEAK IN THE NAME OF THE RISEN JESUS. The Judge of all Creation. He’s been sent as HIS REPRESENTATIVE.

a) Authority to Serve (13:4)

But even then – and here’s the stunning thing… even with those HARD WORDS. This tough talk. Even though he’s come with as a fully-authorised deputy of the RISEN JESUS. Look at how he finishes the sentence. At the end of verse 4. “Likewise,” he says, “we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him…” – not to crush you. But TO SERVE YOU.

And so, even as he’s REBUKING THEM… it’s not to get even. It’s not to throw his weight around. It’s not to show that he’s important and they’re not. It’s TO SERVE THEM.

Even as he calls them into line on issues like their quarrelling, and their factions, and their immorality, and their ual impurity, it’s not for HIS GOOD. It’s for THEIR GOOD.

b) Examine yourselves (13:5)

And look at how he works that out. How he USES his authority for their good.

Look at the very next sentence. V5. TAKE A GOOD LOOK AT YOURSELVES, he says. Trouble with the Corinthians is, they’ve been so busy CRITICISING PAUL that they haven’t had a good look inside for a while.

I’ve got marginal high pressure. Not high enough for medication. But something I’ve got to KEEP AN EYE ON. And so that means, every so often, measuring my pressure. It’s the way to KEEP HEALTHY.

And Paul’s saying the same thing. Examine yourselves, verse 5, to see whether you’re in the faith. TEST YOURSELVES. Ask yourselves if you’re still trusting Jesus. Ask yourselves if you’re still being motivated by HIS SPIRIT. Have you lost your way? Is it something ELSE which is driving you instead? Pushing you on?

And so, as a leader of this church. It’s MY responsibility to ask YOU the same QUESTION. Examine yourself. Are you truly in the faith? Or are you good at fooling people? Talking the talk?

Because, unfortunately, in most churches, there’ll be people who are good at fooling others. Even themselves. They LOOK like Christians. Talk like Christians. Even WALK like Christians.

But they’re NOT. Examine yourself!

As a LEADER, it’s my responsibility to WARN you of that. And it’s not EASY to WARN people. Because you risk coming across as JUDGMENTAL. A busy-body.

After a marriage break-up I witnessed at another church I was at. I decided that I’d be PRO-ACTIVE in checking how were going with their marriage. Before the problems surfaced.

Nice theory. But hard to put into practice. “So, how’s your marriage going?” is an incredibly hard question to ask. Especially if you want an honest answer.

But I still believe it’s my responsibility to ASK IT. So if I ask it of YOU in the months or years ahead. Don’t bite my head off. Or assume I’ve been eavesdropping. I want you to EXAMINE yourself. To build you up.

And let’s do more of that with EACH OTHER.  Be BRAVE, and SERVANT –HEARTED. And ASK each other, “How’s your spiritual life going? How’s your PRAYER life? How’s your THOUGHT life? What are you STRUGGLING with? What can I PRAY for?” Perhaps even, How’s your marriage?

Let’s be good at ASKING the question. And let’s be good at RECEIVING questions like that. Knowing they’ve come in the spirit of SERVANTHOOD and BUILDING UP, not in condemnation and comparison.

c) Build strength and maturity (13:9,11)

And for Paul. Building up means STRENGTH and MATURITY. Look down to v9.

(2 Cor 13:9 NIV)  We are glad whenever we are weak but YOU ARE STRONG; and our prayer is for YOUR PERFECTION.

And he says it again in v11. “Aim for perfection.”

Perfection. It’s the idea of COMPLETION. RESTORATION. MATURITY.

Darren Cahill never set the world on fire as a tennis player. He made a good living for a while. But never won a major. Reached the US open Semi finals in 1988. Then started coaching in Adelaide. Hardly glorious. But, in 2001, he was at the US Open again. This time as Lleyton Hewitt’s coach.

And after Lleyton’s big win in the final against Pete Sampras, Darren Cahill said this. He said, Lleyton had been the PERFECT PROFESSIONAL – a totally focused tennis player. Planned, prepared, and executed. To PERFECTION.

PERFECTION. “That’s what we’ve been working on trying to get him to do for the last three years, and this is how it’s turned out.”

Which is exactly Paul’s attitude. He’s been working on seeing the CORINTHIANS developing in their faith and their godliness. The Master coach with the master plan. Wanting to see THEIR PERFECTION.

d) Be unified and peaceable (13:11)

And look at what else Paul wants in v11. It’s not just individual. Examining yourself. Working on strength and maturity.

One of the characteristics of a healthy church. Is UNITY and PEACE. V11.

“Listen to my appeal. Be of ONE MIND. Live in PEACE.”

Work hard at unity. Don’t let INSIGNIFICANT things divide you. Forgive. Overlook. Move on. Forget.

It’s for good reason that Jesus says “Blessed are the peacemakers”. Godly leaders risk EVERYTHING to stand in the middle of a fight. And broker a peace. Because they risk becoming a target themselves.

But that’s what GODLY leadership does. Leadership that ABUSES power leads to DIVISION. But godly leadership seeks to UNITE. And build PEACE.

Godly authority is used to BUILD UP. It’s not interested in DEFENDING personal HONOUR OR RIGHTS. Like a PARENT, or a COACH. Doing EVERYTHING … for their strengthening.


Now as I said at the start, there’s a model here for Christian leaders today, isn’t there? And maybe that isn’t the model you’ve experienced. It’s a model that Christian leaders like me are going to FAIL to meet.

But learn the distinctives well. And keep us accountable. When selfish and human-centred reactions and behaviour starts creeping in. TELL US. Call us to account.

That’s the way YOU can be serving US. Calling us to examine ourselves. Growing US to strength and maturity. Home groups are a great place for that- each of our elders are in Home Groups. And that’s as much for OUR support as it is YOURS.

And let me put the leaders on notice. And I include myself at the top of the list. Can I say clearly that our intention as we lead is to SERVE YOU.

That the only authority we have, and the only authority we’ll seek to use, is the authority to BUILD YOU UP and not TEAR YOU DOWN.

That’s the goal.

Paul finishes his letter on a positive note. And we should as well. So let me read his final words from verse 11…

11 Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints send their greetings.

14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen

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