Nobody writes letters anymore.  So I expect someone to publish a texting version of the Bible soon.  You know, all lower-case, unorthodox abbreviations and just the bare bones of the 66 books.  2 Corinthians might end with just “see ya” or “later”.

But not in Paul’s version . . .

I’M NOT INFERIOR!

Why would Paul write that?  Because the visiting “super-apostles” claim he is.

I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing (12:11).

Paul continues his “foolish” boasting begun in 11:1 (theoldpreacher.com/plain-foolishness/).  Sam Storms (Pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) well-understands Paul to be saying this . . .

“You have driven me to indulge in what I find detestable. The fact is, I should never have been forced to speak up for myself. You have all the evidence you need to speak commendably on my behalf. I established the church in Corinth. I trained you in spiritual truths. I set an example for you of Christ-like humility and sacrifice. Where have I failed you? Notwithstanding all this, when the interlopers came strutting into Corinth, maligning my character and undermining my authority, you not only kept your mouths shut, you actually agreed with them!”

Corinth is a troubled and troubling church, though not surprisingly.  Corinth is a rebuilt city after war-time destruction, now only 80 years old.  Soldiers and former slaves (“freedmen”) populate it.  Pagan deities rule it.  Immorality corrupts it.  Skilled rhetoricians enthrall it.  Power-demonstrations captivate it.  The newly-planted church divides over its favorite preachers.  And “super-apostles” call Paul a fraud because of his sufferings.  So in the letter’s end, he defends himself.

The things that mark an apostle– signs, wonders and miracles– were done among you with great perseverance (12:12).

Paul insists the Corinthians should have recognized him as a true apostle because of what they’ve seen in him.  And they never should have felt inferior to other churches because he didn’t accept their financial support.

How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong! (12:13).

Paul sarcastically admits he fell short of true apostleship by not taking their money!  “Forgive me for this wrong!”

I WANT YOU, NOT YOUR MONEY!

Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.  So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent you?  I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not act in the same spirit and follow the same course? (12:14-18).

Paul refuses to burden them.  As a father spends everything he has and expends himself for his children, so Paul gives himself to preach the gospel to the Corinthians.  They’re his “children” in the Lord.  Titus, whom Paul sent to deliver the “grievous” letter and to re-start their collection for the poor, similarly refused to take advantage of them.

I’M NOT REALLY DEFENDING MYSELF!

“Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening.  For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.  I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged” (12:19-21).

Do the Corinthians presume Paul is defending himself?  He assures them that he speaks of himself ultimately for their sake.  He doesn’t want them misled from Christ by the “super-apostles”.  And God bears witness to his word.

His third visit to them, though, looms.  It causes him anxiety.  Unrepented sexual sins remain in the church.  In view of Paul’s disciplinary letter (the “lost” one), all kinds of reactionary talk may break loose.  And this may humiliate Paul, the “father” of these Corinthian “children.”

D.A. Carson (theologian and New Testament professor Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) comments:

“Not for [Paul] the haughty sternness of egocentric leaders who can with dry eyes and a high hand discipline members ensnared by sin. Paul is too much aware of the intertwining of responsibilities in the body of Christ. He cannot even distance himself entirely from their sin. He himself feels humbled in the face of it, just as a father feels humbled by his son’s rebellion.”

* * *

I’m amazed at Paul’s patient perseverance!  Over my years of pastoring, some people rejected me.  As much as it depended on me, I tried to make those partings peaceful.  But always my attitude was, “If you don’t want my ministry any more, so be it.”  Never once (that I can remember) did I try to persuade them to stay for fear of false teaching elsewhere.  Did I just presume the Lord would take care of them?  Did I count on their finding one of the “good” churches in the area?  Was I even relieved to see them go under the circumstances?

Peaceful partings depend on members too.  Instead of discussing the problem with the pastor, too often (even with the best intentions) they spread their discontent to other members.  Now four have a problem with the pastor.  Go to the pastor!  Even if the decision’s already made to leave the church, go to the pastor and at least part in peace.  (On the other hand, talking may produce a solution!)

In a country with a church on every corner, a member leaving the one I pastor doesn’t mean he’ll be church-less.  But it may mean he’ll not be getting the whole truth of God’s Word.  Somehow we’ve got to find a way to do rejection better.  More patience.  More love.  More tongue-control.  And more concern for the well-being of the leaving member.  And for the church.  For everyone’s sake.  Including Christ’s.

 

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