By Mike Willis
The book of 2 Corinthians exposes Paul’s pain as a result of those who were attacking him and undermining his influence. Many charges were made against Paul which hurt him. He was heartbroken that men said these abusive things about him and even more distraught that some at Corinth actually believed them.
Consider some of the charges Paul’s enemies made to undermine his influence and destroy his reputation:
1. Paul was fickle. Because Paul changed his plans about when he would come to Corinth, his enemies charged that his word could not be trusted. Paul responded, “When I therefore was thus minded, did I use lightness? Or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea yea, and nay nay?” (1:17) He told them that all of his plans were subject to the providence of God. How does one answer such foolish charges against him?
2. Paul wrote weighty letters, but his bodily presence was weak. His enemies had seen the letters Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Not only had Paul written 1 Corinthians, there is evidence in the Corinthian correspondence of other letters that are not extant. We do not know the tone or length of Paul’s letters, but his enemies maliciously charged that Paul “terrified” the Corinthians by his letters (8:9), described his letters as “weighty,” and contrasted them to Paul’s personal presence which they described as “weak.” Paul wrote, “For his letters, say they are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech is contemptible.” He used their words to describe himself when he said that he was “in presence base among you, but being absent am bold toward you” (10:1). How does a man answer these charges? Does he deny that his letters were weighty? Does he boldly assert that his personal presence was as strong as the next man’s? There really is little that a person can do to answer such malice.
3. Paul was rude in speech. Paul alluded to this charge in 11:6 “But though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge.” Paul was schooled and educated; nevertheless, he determined that in his preaching he would not resort to “excellency of speech or of wisdom” in declaring the wisdom of God. Therefore, his speech and his wisdom were not with enticing words of man’s wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power (1 Cor. 2:1-5). As a result, his enemies charged that he was “rude” in speech. But how does one answer such foolish charges?
4. Paul was not an apostle because he did not take support when preaching at Corinth. While preaching in Corinth, Paul labored with his own hands to support himself and to help those with him. Later, he did receive some “outside support” while there (2 Cor. 11:8). Rather than seeing Paul’s nobility in this conduct, his enemies charged that he had committed an offence against the Corinthians by not accepting support while laboring among them (2 Cor. 11:7-9). How does a man answer such foolish charges? Paul assured them that he did not forego their support because he did not love them, but the only proof he cited was “God knoweth” (2 Cor. 11:11).
These charges caused Paul pain and grief. On several occasions his suffering is reflected in his emotional out-bursts in 2 Corinthians.
O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels (2 Cor. 6:11-12).
Receive us; we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man. I speak not this to condemn you: for I have said before, that ye are in our hearts to die and live with you (2 Cor. 7:2-3).
Paul was hurt by what his enemies said about him and how those whom he had served were being turned against him by their malicious words.
What Was Behind These Attacks?
These attacks were not motivated merely by personal jealousy. Paul’s enemies were attacking Paul because what they were teaching was different from what Paul was teaching. Consequently, Paul’s defense was not the jealous guarding of his personal reputation; rather, it was a repudiation of the false gospel that the enemies were teaching. He wrote:
For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye received another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him (2 Cor. 11:1-4).
Paul called attention to the fact that the Corinthians received the false teachers but were closing their hearts to the one who taught the gospel in its purity. Even today, some who besmirch the names of faithful gospel preachers are ready to receive, commend, and endorse those who teach another Jesus, receive another Spirit, and teach another gospel.
Paul asserted that these men were false apostles and false teachers.
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.
Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works (11:13-15).
The Corinthians tolerated abusive treatment from these men. Paul described how the false teachers treated the Corinthians in these words: “For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face. ..” (2 Cor. 11:19-20).
We might profit from this record of the abusive treatment of Paul’s person by learning to look behind the personal charges that are made to what is animating them. Sometimes when gospel preachers are castigated as guardians of the party, guardians of the orthodoxy, watch dogs, legalists, writing long letters, and similar personal epithets, these are smokescreens used by the enemies of righteousness to distract the minds of men from the issues of truth which are at stake. Sometimes faithful brethren believe these malicious charges, just as some at Corinth believed the malicious words against the Apostle Paul. Men who have the truth do not need to resort to malicious charges to defend what they preach. They can simply cite book, chapter and verse to prove that the things that they teach are so. When men cease giving book, chapter, and verse answers and start ranting and raving against those who call for Bible authority, this is reason to re-examine the message that is being taught by those bent on under-mining the influence of men who call for Bible authority.
Our age is no more immune to malicious attacks against the servants of God than was the apostolic age. We grieve to witness faithful servants of Christ maligned and can only offer to them this comfort: others before us have suffered the same malicious attacks. Peter wrote, “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Pet. 3:13-15). He exhorted that we imitate the example of our suffering Savior who “did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet. 2:22-22).
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 20, p. 2
October 20, 1994