By Mike Willis
From the time that my mother taught the book of Acts to the children’s class at church, I have been impressed with the Apostle Paul. I can distinctly remember how close to tears I came when I learned that he was beheaded by Nero. Most of us have been impressed by the life and work of this godly man.
However, Paul’s life was not without his critics. Had we lived in Paul’s time, some of us might not have appreciated him so much as we appreciate him today. Wherever he preached, trouble and confusion followed close behind. Paul was right in the middle of the conflict that occurred in the church over whether or not Gentiles should be compelled to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved (Acts 15; Gal. 2). When the church at Corinth had trouble, Paul was right in the middle of it, writing letters and making visits to correct the problems there (1-2 Corinthians). A riot broke out in Ephesus because he was converting so many people to Christ that the local merchants thought their business of making images to Diana would be destroyed (Acts 19). Indeed, Paul was a controversial per-son in his day. We may honor his name today, but some among us would not welcome such a man into the pulpit of our local church.
Criticisms Against Paul
Paul established the church in Corinth and worked with it for eighteen months (Acts 18:11). When trouble came to the church while he was preaching in Ephesus, he wrote 1 Corinthians to address the problems there. Sometime during his stay in Ephesus, he made a trip to Corinth to help solve their problems (2 Cor. 12:14; 13:1). After this second trip, men began working in Corinth to destroy Paul’s reputation. Second Corinthians records much of this conflict. Here are some of the criticisms that were made about Paul’s work:
1. He is fickle. This charge is implied in the statement in 2 Corinthians 1:17 “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 here should be yea yea, and nay nay?” Because Paul changed his plans about when he would come to Corinth, those who were trying to undermine his work charged him with fickleness, attributing motives for changing his plans that were untrue. He changed his plans to “spare them” (2 Cor. 1:23) and to avoid a second visit that would be painful and full of sorrow (2 Cor. 2:1-4).
2. His bodily presence is weak. Many of us admire men with a personal charisma that draws others to them. But this was not Paul’s character. His “Charges Against Paul” continued from page 2 bodily presence was weak. His critics said he was “base” and “weak” when present (2 Cor. 10:1; 13:1).
3. He writes terrifying letters. In contrast to his bodily presence, Paul’s letters were “bold” (2 Cor. 10:1). They charged that he “terrified” them with his letters, “for his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor. 10:10).
4. He is not a good speaker. Some found Paul’s pulpit preaching lacking. They said that “his speech is contemptible” (2 Cor. 10:10) and that “he is rude in speech” (2 Cor. 13:6). Apparently, Paul’s opponents were not impressed by his pulpit delivery and used that to undermine his work at Corinth.
5. He doesn’t accept support. One of the things that Paul was criticized for at Corinth was his refusal to accept sup-port from the church at Corinth. Paul was not against preachers being supported from the church treasury, for he had argued for this right in 1 Corinthians 9:1-15. While he labored in Corinth, he supported himself by tent making (see Acts 18:3) and received financial support from other churches on sporadic occasions (2 Cor. 11:8; Phil. 4:15-16). Instead of appreciating Paul’s sacrificing so that the gospel might be preached among them, the Corinthians condemned Paul for not taking support from them. The exact nature of this criticism is not known. Some think that it came because itinerant philosophers were usually supported by their disciples. Others think that Paul’s refusal of support from Corinth was interpreted as an indication that Paul thought himself lesser than the Jerusalem apostles. However, it was interpreted, there can be no doubt that he was criticized for not taking their support (2 Cot 11:7-9; 12:13-15; etc.).
6 He used others to take money from the Corinthians. When his opponents could not criticize Paul for taking money, they charged that the funds raised by Titus for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem was really Paul’s craftiness in deceitfully taking the Corinthians’ money for himself (2 Cot 13:16).
7. Paul is beside himself. Some appear to have made the charge that Paul was so caught up in what he was doing that he was a “zealot” who had lost all balance that he is “beside” himself (2 Cor. 5:13).
He was dishonored, had evil reports spoken about him, and was charged with being a deceiver (2 Cor. 6:13). Some charged that he had wronged, corrupted, and defrauded brethren (2 Cor. 7:2). They charged that he “walked ac-cording to the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:2).
Paul’s Self Defense
Paul found repugnant his having to defend himself. He said, “I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you” (2 Cor. 12:11). In his self-defense, he repeatedly described his relating his conduct as “speaking like a fool” (2 Cor. 11:16-17, 21, 23; 12:6, 11). He was embarrassed that he had to write about what he had done to demonstrate to the Corinthians that he was an apostle of the Lord Jesus and had conducted himself honorably. The Corinthians had known Paul long enough that he did not need an epistle from or to them (2 Cor. 3:1-2). Why should he have to defend himself to them? Nevertheless, he was compelled to do so because his opponents were undermining his work.
Why Were These Men Attacking Paul?
What was at stake in Corinth that Paul felt the need to address the charges against him? There was much more involved than false charges being made against an innocent man. The false charges were motivated by a rejection of the Lord’s gospel and the preaching of another gospel. Paul’s opponents at Corinth were Judaizers (see 2 Cor. 11:22). The doctrine that was at stake was that discussed in the Jerusalem conference (Acts 15; Gal. 2) and in the books of Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews. That issue was this: “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). The reason that these false apostles in Corinth attacked and undermined Paul’s reputation was because they rejected the gospel that he preached! Because they did not believe that a person could be saved by faith in Christ Jesus without keeping the Law of Moses, they at-tacked the man who was preaching salvation by faith in Christ. Paul charged that they preached “another Jesus,” received “another spirit,” and preached “another gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4). They were “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:20). Whatever charges these false teachers had to make to undermine his influence they were willing to make be-cause they hated the gospel message that he preached. The issue was not the moral character of Paul but which gospel would prevail!
The ministers of Jesus Christ are the objects of slanderous, personal attacks from time to time. This has been true since the days of the apostles and continues to be true to-day. Those associated with Guardian of Truth have been maliciously attacked just the same as Paul. We have been charged with showing respect of persons by covering up known sins of those associated with us, lying, keeping files on brethren for malicious purposes, writing a creed, acting like buzzards, and many other slanderous words. Those who speak such slander assure us of their unfeigned love. But, what lies behind these charges? Is it a genuine concern for the souls of men who have stumbled into sin, who are leading others to commit the same kinds of sins, and are defending those sins as righteous deeds? Not at all. Rather, the charges are being made by malicious men because they reject the gospel which is being preached. There are men who want fellowship broadened to include men who preach a different gospel. Specifically the issue is focusing at this moment in time on receiving those who are teaching a contrary doctrine on divorce and remarriage. Some who teach the truth on divorce and remarriage wish to extend the right hands of fellowship to those who teach error on the subject. The reason that they make personal attacks is because they reject the gospel that is being preached the gospel that says that those who preach false doctrines on divorce and remarriage should not be fellowshipped (Matt. 19:9; 2 John 9-11). To undermine the gospel, they attack the messenger, just like the Judaizers attacked Paul.
What Should We Do?
We should do exactly what Paul did. Paul was resolved to continue preaching what he believed whether or not the false teachers in Corinth ever respected him. He was deter-mined that “every word should be established at the mouth of two or three witnesses” (2 Cor. 13:1). Those who were guilty of sin would not be spared (2 Cor. 13:2). Unless the Corinthians repented of their sins and changed their ways, there was going to be a great confrontation when Paul arrived.
Paul did not say, “We should allow local church autonomy to prevail. If there are churches who believe that one should be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses to be saved, let them preach that message. They probably will not be able to fellowship some whom the rest of us could fellowship. Other local churches will preach salvation by grace through faith and receive into their fellowship Gentiles who have not been circumcised and do not keep the Law of Moses. We will just have to respect local church autonomy and agree to disagree.” That ploy to extend fellowship to those who were teaching another gospel did not work in Paul’s day, so why should we allow it to work in our own time?
Do not be distracted by malicious slanderers who try to divert men’s attention from the gospel by attacking the messengers. Cling to the gospel message and those who faithfully preach and live it!
Guardian of Truth XLI: 3 p. 2
February 6, 1997