Now, frankly, this morning’s message would only be preached by somebody who was an expositor because no one would ever select this passage just to preach on it. It’s one of those kinds of passages that you read over and over and say, “Okay, I read that, now what?” There’s not any doctrine here. There’s not anything to comfort your heart. There’s not anything here to instruct your mind about theological matters. It’s just one of those sort of very personal portions of Scripture in which the apostle Paul is speaking about issues that are going on in Corinth.
And I’m quite confident that it is rarely, if ever, preached on by anybody that’s not an expositor and has to preach on it because they’re going through 2 Corinthians. It might be one of those passages that you would take one sort of Sunday, if you had to preach on it, and just preach from verse 7 to 18, the whole thing in one message so you could sort of get rid of it quickly because it on the surface doesn’t seem to bear much.
But I don’t know whether it’s me or the Lord - and I’m not going to presume in either category - sometimes those passages which seem on the surface to have little to offer I find very hard to let go of. I had intended to preach this morning on chapter 10 of 2 Corinthians, verses 7 through 18 - 2 Corinthians 10:7 through 18 - under the title, “Recognizing the Man of God,” and I just felt like I could sort of dispense with all those verses in one morning. However, I only made it through verse 8 and I came out of the first service asking myself why - and I’m sure you’ll come out of this service asking the same thing.
So the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and I don’t know why it is that the Holy Spirit has prompted so many things in my mind, not the least of which I hope is this introduction, but we’re going to take what comes.
Suffice it to say that in our continuing study of 2 Corinthians 10, and we come now to verse 7, we could consider verses 7 through 18 under the category of recognizing the man of God or how to recognize a true messenger from God, how to recognize a true preacher of Christ. And I think all of us know that Christianity is filled with deceived people and there are plenty of popular deceivers around to lure these people. It has always been Satan’s work to assault the truth with error, and he’s been very successful at it.
And as time goes on in these last times - as they are defined by the writers of the New Testament since the coming of Messiah. As time goes on, evil men get worse and worse, false teachers abound who are deceived and deceivers, seducing people, leading them astray, many are turning away from the faith and following after doctrines of demons energized by seducing spirits in the agencies of lying preachers. It’s part of the last days phenomena that there’s an escalating defection from the truth, an accumulating defection, a luring away. First Timothy 4 discusses it. Second Peter 2 discusses it.
And, frankly, no time, no teacher, no preacher, and no church is going to be exempt from the enemy’s attack on the truth. This is Satan’s great work, to destroy the truth, which then damns or which cuts people off from sanctification as God has intended it. We would assume, I suppose, that if anybody was formidable enough not to have to cope with this, if anybody could sort of go through life and ministry rising above this kind of assault, it might have been the apostle Paul.
Since he had no equal as an apostle at the time, he had no equal as a preacher, he had no equal as a teacher, he had no equal as an evangelist, he had no equal as a leader, he had no equal as a church builder, he had no equal as a Christian example, we might have assumed that he wouldn’t experience the endless onslaught of error, but, in fact, he did. He endured relentless conflict with the hypocritical liars who endeavored to destroy the truth with Satan’s lies.
Satan’s emissaries, false teachers calling themselves apostles of Christ had come to the Corinthian church like they came all the time to the churches that Paul had founded. They came into Corinth after the coast was clear, after Paul had left, thinking they would come in there and undo the work of God. Satan wanted to use them to destroy the church, to destroy the gospel, to destroy the souls of men and women. Satan does that by teaching error.
And as we’ve gone through the study of 2 Corinthians, we’ve become very much aware that this is the issue behind this letter. I though it might be interesting this morning to just make one general comment about the nature of the error in Corinth that might be helpful to you. When I’m asked, and I am occasionally asked, what exactly was the heresy that they were teaching, the answer I have to give is “I’m not sure, but it really doesn’t matter.”
In one sense, no heresies really matter as to their nature. And I’ll explain why in a moment. But Paul never specifically identifies the error here, he never specifically defines it in very clear, concise terms in one verse or two. And yet if you just sort of read the epistle, it begins to become apparent what the characteristics were. So let me just sort of put an assembled identity together for you.
First of all, the purveyors of this error were from outside the church. In other words, it wasn’t members of the church, people in the church who had been instructed by the apostle Paul and who had come up understanding the faith as it was articulated by Paul and written by him. These were outsiders who were unknown to the congregation - unknown. That’s very important to the false teachers, obviously, because nobody knows the reality about their life, nobody knows the reality about their fruit, nobody knows the reality about their background. And everybody knows that all experts are from out of town.
So they were unknown and that covered a lot of ground because nobody knew anything about them and they could pass themselves off in any way they wanted. They claimed superior apostolic authority to Paul. That is, they claimed to be the true apostles of Christ’s. In fact, they deserved the terms of Paul who called them sarcastically “super apostles.” They claimed to be the primary ones, the priority ones, the premier apostles. They claimed a superior authority to Paul.
Further, they claimed to be true Jews who represented the religion of Jesus Christ. They claimed that Paul, obviously - obviously he was a Jew, but they claimed that he was not the true Jew who truly represented the true religion of the Messiah. Now, they preached, to borrow the terms of chapter 11 verse 4, another Jesus. They had another twist and slant on Jesus but they said this is the true Jews representing the true religion of the true Jesus. They taught elements of Jewish legalism. Maybe some of the Mosaic ceremonies, maybe circumcision, they were enamored by those externals.
They claimed to be Hebrews. They claimed to be Israelites. They claimed to be descendants of Abraham, as chapter 11, verse 22 indicates. And so they came with these claims, with some form of Judaism. But beyond that, they also mingled with it some mysticism, elements of Gnosticism, elements of a superior knowledge, a higher knowledge, a secret knowledge, which they held in an elevated way, transcending what people normally knew.
So they were outsiders claiming to be apostles with authority, claiming to be true Jews who truly represented the true religion of Jesus Christ. They mingled Jewish legalism with mysticism and Gnosticism, that’s forms of mystical elevated knowledge. And they also brought counterfeit letters of commendation. You remember back in chapter 3, they criticized Paul because he didn’t have any letters, he didn’t have any letters of commendation. They had forged some, whatever the appropriate forging would be, to get them the credibility they needed. They did. And so they came with their commendations.
Furthermore, they adopted the popular sophistry and rhetoric of the culture. They knew the Greeks were literally enamored with rhetoric, that they fell down in a dead faint, as it were, over great oratory. And so they adopted the popular philosophy, sophistry - that’s wisdom - and rhetoric of the culture, which made them very popular to the Greeks. Also, they were Libertines, that is they were antinomian in emphasis, they had little regard for purity - little regard for purity. They were literally committed to immorality and sensuality and apparently led some of the Corinthians to do the same, as chapter 12, verse 21, indicates.
And all of these things I’m telling you can be seen in various parts of this letter. So they were antinomian, libertine, and yet they had ceremonial Judaism, some mysticism mixed in, sophistry, rhetoric to move the people, and they were in it for the money.
Now, having said all of that, let me tell you something that I find very important with regard to error. Error has no singular identity - error has no singular identity. I suppose the average person who looks at philosophy or looks at religion or looks at moral/ethical standards would say there are a lot of options to choose from. There are all kinds of religions and all kinds of ethical codes and all kinds of moral standards. That’s not true. There are only two, the right one and the wrong ones. That’s all, just two. There’s just a lot of wrong ones - just a lot of them.
There’s only one source of truth and that’s the Bible, and everything else is error. But remember this, error - listen carefully - error does not exist for itself, it has no inherent purpose for itself. That is - listen - error is not trying to establish itself, all it’s trying to do is destroy truth. Okay? So error has no purpose for itself, all error wants to do is destroy truth. So error doesn’t care what form it takes.
For example, we could say it this way. Satan and demons do not care what people believe as long as they don’t believe the truth. Right? They don’t care what they believe. They don’t care if they’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, mystics, Gnostics, Buddhists, Hindus, they don’t care what they are as long as they don’t believe the truth. And Satan, in his subtle, devious, fallen wisdom, has concocted enough schemes to interest everybody. And the issue is not to get them all to buy into a single system but to get them all to buy out of a single system. So that’s the reason.
It’s not crucial for us to understand what the error is, and the Bible doesn’t tell us that. I mean we have statements in the book of Revelation about the error of the Nicolaitans, but it never tells us what it is. It doesn’t really matter what it is. If it isn’t the truth, it isn’t existing for itself, it’s only existing to draw people away from the truth.
The demons, again I say, don’t care what people believe as long as it’s not the truth, to put it simply. They don’t care whether people go to the Jewish synagogue on this block or the Buddhist temple. Doesn’t make any difference to Satan. What they don’t want them to do is come to this end of the block. So I don’t know specifically any more to say than that in typical satanic fashion, Satan had concocted a package deal that would suit the sensitivities and sensibilities of the Corinthians.
There were Jewish converts in the church, so there was a little of that Judaizing element. If they were going to be accepted, they would need to be Jews, they would need to claim some connection to Christ, some authority, some letters of commendation from authorities in Jerusalem. If they were going to approach these Greeks in the church, it wouldn’t hurt to have a little sophistry and rhetoric, it wouldn’t hurt to have a heavy dose of mysticism and Gnosticism thrown in there. And if they were going to accommodate these people’s normal fallen impulses, it would be nice if they were libertine.
And throw a little ceremonialism in there so they can crank out some mechanics on Sunday and then go live like they want during the week. I mean, you could invent a popular religion - which is what they did. And they wanted to bring it in not for the purpose of establishing that religion but for the purpose of destroying the truth. Satan, by the way, is completely happy with the variety. It works really well for him because there’s something for every reprobate.
Now, the most efficient way for the false apostles to gain their hearing and do their destructive work, the most efficient way is to destroy Paul. They’re not even going to get an audience, they’re not going to gain the ears of the Corinthian church for their error unless they can cast doubt on the genuineness of Paul and on his personal virtue, his integrity. If the people can be convinced that Paul is a liar and a deceit - and a deceitful man and a fake, then they’re going to lose respect for Paul, and once they’ve lost respect for Paul, these guys can step right into where Paul used to be and let their error fly.
So, as we’ve said all along, they assaulted Paul. And their attack succeeded, as you know. A mutiny resulted and Paul responded with a letter to them, called the severe letter, taken by Titus. We remember that, it was written between 1 and 2 Corinthians, Titus took the severe letter, it confronted the mutiny, it said, “Why are you defecting from me?” It called them back to loyalty to Paul and it worked - it worked. This letter chronicles Titus coming back and saying they repented, they reaffirmed their devotion, they reaffirmed their affection, Paul, they still trust you, they believe you’re a genuine apostle, and they’re going to follow your teaching and leadership.
But that commitment was fragile. After all, Paul had had a commitment from them before that gone torn up rather easily by the false apostles. And why would Paul assume that the false apostles wouldn’t go to work again as soon as some time had passed? So he knew that their commitment was fragile. The false apostles were still there in Corinth and many of their victims were still there in Corinth. The potential for another defection was very real. And so Paul writes this whole epistle to set down in print the evidence of his authority so that no future attack can be made successfully.
Now, the letter of 2 Corinthians falls into two parts. Chapters 1 to 9, Paul talks to the congregation from his heart. He talks to the Corinthians. He reveals his feelings, his heart to them. He defends himself to them, but more than a self-defense to them is this heart cry, pleading for their trust and their confidence. He speaks to the congregation. Then in chapters 10 to 13, he addresses himself to the false apostles and their followers. He is speaking more directly here to the false teachers and those who followed them. Earlier, he had been addressing the church, now he fires directly at the false teachers and those who have joined their mutiny.
In so doing, in chapters 10 to 13, he forms a strong and unarguable defense of his apostleship so that the Corinthians will trust him. And all future people who question that can read this letter and know that this indeed is a man sent from the Lord Jesus Himself.
Now, in the text before us, verses 7 to 18, Paul gives a most interesting defense of his authority as over against the claims of the false apostles. He’s now going to deal directly with the false apostles’ claims in this section. As I said, he’s been dealing with the church, now he deals with them. He deals with the character of their assault. In this particular case, in verses 7 to 18, in so doing he defines for us the marks of a true man of God.
In other words, as I read through this from verse 7 to 18 and studied it and dissected it, it became apparent to me that this can become a standardized test by which anybody could measure someone who claimed to be a messenger of Christ. Here is a rich text for the instruction of believers today, a day when Christianity is awash in a flood of lying teachers. We desperately need to be discerning. We talked about some of them last week with regard to the resurrection, who deny the resurrection, and deny the New Testament, and deny the authenticity of Scripture, and deny the deity of Christ, and call themselves Christian theologians.
And they’re only part of it. There are all kinds of other ones, some of them you see on television, pervert and twist the gospel, misrepresent our Lord and His work. So the question before us is as important as it was before them, and that is how can you tell a true messenger from Christ? How do you know? What criteria? How do you measure them? How can you recognize them? The answer comes in verses 7 through 18.
Let’s look at verse 7, the first part of the verse, and I want to read the opening statement. Paul, in this section, now asks the Corinthians to make a sound judgment based on very clear evidence. Why are they confused? There’s no reason for it. How in the world they could ever believe the lies of these false apostles when they had so much absolutely crystal-clear evidence? So he asks them to make a sound judgment.
Let’s see how he begins in verse 7. “You’re looking at things as they are outwardly.” Now, that Greek phrase could be translated two different ways. The translators of the New American Standard have chosen to translate it as an indicative; that is to say, to translate it as a present fact, you are looking at things as they are outwardly. Your problem is you’re looking at things superficially. Your problem is you’re looking on the surface, it’s a fleshly point of view. Can’t you go a little deeper would be the meaning if it is indeed an indicative.
But it is more likely that the Greek here is an imperative, and an imperative means it is a command. And if it is a command, then you take the same Greek words and you would translate it this way: Look at what is obvious, look at what is right in front of your face, face the facts, look at the evidence, see the reality, see what is right before you, look what’s under your nose, that kind of thing. I would lean toward the fact that it is indeed an imperative for this reason if no other reason, the verb here blepete, a form of blepō, to see, or to look, blepete is often used by Paul and almost always when he uses it, he uses it as an imperative.
He does so in 1 Corinthians 8:9, 10:12, 10:18, 16:10. He does so in Galatians 5:15, Ephesians 5:15, Colossians 2:8, and Colossians 4:17. Most commonly, he uses it in an imperative sense. And so in that sense, it would be translated like this: Look at what is right there before you, look again at the evidence right in front of your nose. How can you go rushing after a false teacher? How can you join this mutiny against me? How can you believe that these are the true apostles of Christ and I’m a false apostle? Look at the facts. That’s what he’s saying.
The Corinthians, by the way, had more than enough evidence to make a right decision. I mean there was absolutely no reason in the world they shouldn’t make a right decision. Back in 1 Corinthians 9, verses 1 and 2, Paul wrote to them, “Am I not free, am I not an apostle, have I not seen Jesus our Lord? You know that.” They all knew the story of his Damascus Road conversion. They knew that he had seen the glorified Christ. They knew that entire account. And then he adds this, “Are you not my work in the Lord?”
How can you explain your salvation and the founding of the church if I’m a false apostle? “If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.” I mean it’s like saying, “How stupid can you be? You mean to tell me now you have concluded that I am a false apostle, and you were saved under my preaching, and under my preaching the church was built? Look what’s right in front of you. Look at yourselves. Look at the community of believers. Take a look. You have enough evidence.”
It’s amazing how gullible and stupid people can be. How could they possibly believe that Paul was a lustful, lying deceiver? And that they had all come to Christ and a church had been founded under that kind of leadership? It’s ridiculous. Look at the facts. And then he goes on to give the marks.
Number one. How can you tell a true messenger? By his relationship to Jesus Christ. First of all, by his relationship to Jesus Christ. The false apostles said they were the emissaries of Jesus Christ and Paul was not. I don’t think they said that the first day they got there, I think they worked up to it. But eventually they said that they were the true apostles with the true authority who preached the truth and Paul was not. They made arrogant, arrogant claims to personal commissions from Jesus Christ that made them superior in intimacy to Christ.
They claimed a superior relationship to Christ, that they knew Christ more deeply, a greater authority from Christ. The problem was - didn’t have any proof of it. They just plopped in from nowhere, these people didn’t know them. Verse 7 refers to this, “If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s” - stop there for a minute. That’s a Greek condition that assumes something is true, so here comes this false teacher, the ringleader, let’s say that because it’s the singular here, the ringleader of this group of false apostles says that he is Christ’s. On what basis? On what basis?
Well, it says in verse 7, “If anyone is confident in himself.” It’s his own personal opinion. Oh, that’s weighty. It’s his own personal conviction, is it? It’s his own personal claim, is it? Yes, that’s all there was. There was just that. There was no record of churches built. There was no record of converts. There was no record of a Damascus Road experience. There was no record of personal communion with Jesus Christ. And no people to testify to the reality of that. There was no Ananias to talk about blindness and being healed of blindness and being sent to preach to the gentiles.
There was no Barnabas going around to say the power of Paul was evident in great miracles and proclamation of the truth. There were no believers here, there, and everywhere in churches who could speak to the validity of that claim. There was nothing but the claim. And so confidently and self-assertively, this guy stands up and says he is Christ’s and you ask him why and he says, “Because I said so.” Confident in himself, claiming for themselves.
Now, what does he mean here when he says that he is Christ’s? Well, first of all, he would mean that he’s a Christian, truly related to Christ. Secondly, it could also mean - and Paul doesn’t distinguish, so we have to take the widest possible look. It could also mean that he had a unique earthly relationship with Jesus Christ. It could also mean that he is Christ’s in the sense maybe that the Christ party, referred to in 1 Corinthians, said “I am of Christ.” He had some personal earthly relationship to Christ. Thirdly, it certainly meant that he had an apostolic commission from Christ.
And fourthly, it probably had a mystical Gnostic tone and meant that he had some elevated secret knowledge of the glorified Christ. We don’t know which of those, but my best guess is, since Paul doesn’t tell us, it’s probably a mix. He would say he’s a Christian, with a very unique and special relationship with Jesus Christ, having received a commission as a true apostle of Jesus Christ, and enjoying some elevated mystical secret knowledge about Christ.
Now, the point is this: They were claiming that for themselves - and here’s the key - and denying that any of it was true regarding Paul. That’s the idea. Whatever they were claiming for themselves, they were disclaiming for Paul. They were supplanting him, so that’s obvious. They were inferring that Paul, since they claimed he was a deceiver with a wicked, hidden life of secret shame, full of lust and sin, a man who preached lies and did it for money, they would be saying Paul’s not a Christian, Paul has no real personal earthly relationship with Jesus Christ, Paul has no commission or apostolic authority, and Paul certainly doesn’t have the elevated secret higher knowledge of the glorified Christ.
In fact, for Paul to claim that against their claims is a form of insanity on his part. In 2 Corinthians 11:23, Paul refers to them, he says, “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I.” Verse 22, “Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ?” And then in parentheses, “I speak as if insane.” Now, the primary issue here, of course, was apostolic authority. They wanted Paul out and them in. They are the true representatives of Jesus Christ and the religion of Jesus with the true authority, and Paul is not. And likely, one of them was a leader who was the superior authority.
They remind me of false teachers I see sometimes on television who claim to have divine power, who claim divine authority from Christ to heal people, to cast out demons, to knock people down backwards, to bring revelation from God, to have words of wisdom, words of knowledge, to see the future, predict the future, to look into a camera and read people’s minds and read diseases, and they claim to have this power. They claim to have it from God. They’re always out of town, you know, they never come near you where you can see their life and follow it. You never get very close. They keep their distance.
And whoever questions their genuineness and authority is attacked. And sometimes when they attack back, if you question them, they will say of you, “Well, you’re not truly of God, you’re not of Christ. In fact, you’re probably not even a Christian.” Typically what they said of Paul.
Now, Paul at this point does not deny their claim, he simply refers to it. “If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s,” he doesn’t deny that. He doesn’t say, “Well, he’s not.” He will say that over in chapter 11, verses 13 to 15, he’ll say that very clearly. But for the sake of argument, he says, “If we’re just going to compare personal claims here, if we’re just going to compare personal claims, if anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s, let him consider this again. Let him rethink this within himself, that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we.”
And “we” refers to him again, he uses the editorial plural because he’s humble, doesn’t like to refer to himself as “I.” The only claim he’s making here is if we’re going to base this on personal conviction, and he says it’s his personal conviction that he is Christ’s, he’s certainly not going to be able to deny my personal conviction, if all we’re doing is comparing personal convictions.
And how could you possibly buy into that? That just because it’s his personal conviction that he’s an apostle and I’m not. That doesn’t make it true, because it’s my personal conviction that I am, so you better tell the guy to rethink that argument, if all we’re going to do is compare personal convictions. Furthermore, you should have the sense to look at the proof. What proof do they have that they are the true messengers of Christ with the truth?
And look at my life, you know my conversion, you know the Damascus Road, you know the commission, it’s known to all of you, it’s been rehearsed and repeated all over the place, both to believers and non-believers, to governors and kings, as well as common men. You know my godly life, I was there. You know my walk with Christ. You know my relationship to Him. You saw how a persecutor and a murderer and a Christian-hater and one who killed the saints and imprisoned the saints became a lover of the saints.
You know how God changed and transformed my life from being aggressive to being compassionate. You know how Christ lives in me. You know my godly example, I was there nearly two years with you. You know my letters, you know my heart, you know my passion, you know my preaching. You heard the gospel. You believed, you were saved. The church was founded. The church was built. Leaders were trained.
So Paul says you better tell the guy to rethink that. If he wants to think that about himself, he’s going to have to acknowledge that it’s got to be the same for me because that’s how I feel about me, only there’s a lot more evidence on my side. Just for the sake of argument, if all we’re going to do is match personal claims, nobody wins - except for the fact that the evidence is on my side. And you know my relationship to Christ. You know I am Christ’s. You know for me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
You know that my heart passion is that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death, you know that. You’ve seen it in my life - fruit, fruit, fruit - impact on souls, impact on you, impact on your spouses, impact on your children, your neighbors.
See, true men of God walk with Christ. It’s not just something they mouth from a distance. It’s not something you never get close enough to see. They walk with Christ, and their intimacy with Him is clearly seen in their lives and in their impact, in their effect. It’s right back to Matthew 7, where Jesus said, “False teachers are going to come in like prophets, they’re going to come like true prophets in sheep’s clothing,” that’s wool, they’ll wear the wool garment of a prophet, “but inwardly they are ravenous wolves, they’re going to come in to destroy you, but they’re going to claim to be true prophets.”
And then Jesus said, “By their” - what? - “fruit, you know them.” Grapes don’t grow on a thorn bush. Grapes don’t grow on weeds, thistles, just look. How do you know the true messenger of God? Look at his life. Look at the people who follow them, what are they like? Look at his fruit. False teachers give the appearance of orthodoxy, all pleasant and positive and seemingly sincere. They wear their ecclesiastical robes, they talk about their biblical knowledge, they spout their evangelical vocabulary, they make their endless claims.
But the badness of their life and the badness of their doctrine will manifest itself in their lives and the lives of their followers, that’s what you look at. You can hide your bad fruit under an ecclesiastical robe only so long. You can hide it under the lights and cameras only so long. So look at the facts. You want to know whether a man is a true messenger of God, look at the facts, look at his relationship to Christ.
Secondly, look at his impact on the church. Look at his impact on the church. And just quickly, because our time is gone, verse 8, “Even if I should boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I shall not be put to shame.” He’s saying very simply this, if I am forced by having to defend myself to boast somewhat further about our authority - in other words, further - what did he mean? If I have to keep boasting about my apostolic authority more, saying more than I care to say - he was reticent and hesitant to say it because of his humility, even though it was true and he had immense authority, immense apostolic authority.
But he didn’t like to talk about it. He said only what needed to be said. But he’s saying if because of this debate and my need to defend myself, I have to say more about my authority than I care to say and more than I’ve already said because you keep asking, if this thing is still a problem and I am forced to say more, and say more, no matter what I say, I will never be put to shame for saying it. You want more about my authority, I’ll say more, and I never have to be ashamed of saying it. Why? Because I’ll never have to eat my words. I will never have to eat my words.
Paul’s claims for his authority were restrained by his humility. But if, for the sake of defending himself, he has to say more, he will say more. And no matter how much more he says, he’ll never go too far. It’ll never be just an empty boast, like the false apostles. It’ll never be just blowing hard. It’ll never just be swelling words, as Peter called them. If he has to say a lot more about his authority, he’ll never have to be ashamed because he has that authority. He’ll never have to be ashamed of his claims. And if they force him to a greater defense, he’ll never be ashamed of that defense.
Why? One great reason, verse 8, “Because the Lord had given him that authority for building you up.” No matter what I say, you have the evidence for it, it built you up. You want to know whether someone is a true messenger? Ask if they built a church. Ask if they built up the church, strengthened the church, made the church spiritually strong, sound, solid, mature, unified. I mean what did they need more than this? I mean they asked the question, “Is Paul the authoritative messenger from Christ?” Well, ask one question: Did he build - Did God use him to build the Corinthian church? True teachers build churches. They build lives.
He had preached the gospel with power. Multitudes had been converted to Christ. Churches were established all over the gentile world. Pastors and elders were trained. Deacons were trained. The gospel was extended by the saints, being sanctified by the Word of God, which Paul was teaching them and writing to them. He doesn’t have to inflate his claim. He doesn’t have to come with those arrogant words of vanity that Peter talks about in 2 Peter 2:18, I think it is. He just says, “The Lord gave me this authority for building you up.”
The word is oikodomēn, for edification. The exercise of true apostleship results in the edification of the church, apostles and prophets, Ephesians 4:11 and 12, given to the church for the edification of the church. So, look, is the church being built and strengthened? Even discipline is for the purpose of edification. In chapter 12 and verse 19, he says at the end of the verse, “All is for your upbuilding, beloved, everything, whether it’s the encouraging teaching or the confrontive discipline.”
On the other hand - here’s the key, verse 8, “On the other hand, the Lord gave me this authority for building you up and not for” - what? - “destroying you.” And who does that? False teachers, they tear up the church. They destroy the church. They bring confusing, divisive, destructive effects. Their influence in the church is contrary to the purposes of Christ who said, “I will build my church.” Believe me, the Lord’s messengers don’t destroy the church. They build it.
First Corinthians 3:17, listen to this, “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him.” We are His temple. You destroy His temple, God will destroy you. Paul could legitimately claim that he was the one with true authority, he had built the church. Here came the false apostles and what were they doing to the church? Destroying it, tearing it up, endangering it.
Paul could do some destroying, folks. Back in verses 3 to 5, he had some weapons to do war. And he smashed down the fortresses. What fortresses? Human ideologies and every lofty idea raised up against the knowledge of God. He came, first of all, to destroy error and then to build the church in the truth. Reminiscent to me of Jeremiah, when Jeremiah got his commission from God. Jeremiah chapter 1, the Lord said to him, “I have appointed you this day over the nations, over the kingdoms, to pluck up, to break down, to destroy and overthrow.”
That’s the first thing you do, you go into the kingdom of darkness, and you tear up and break up that kingdom of darkness, and then he says, “To build and to plant.” Paul had done the destruction. He’d gone into the kingdom of darkness and wreaked havoc, and then he began to build and to plant.
So Paul says on the basis of what God has done through me and through my authority, I shall not be put to shame. No boast would ever come back to embarrass Paul because no matter what he claimed, no matter how extensive his claims, they could all be supported because God had used him to build the church. That’s the evidence of his authority, the evidence of his power. History had already written it. Souls had been saved. Churches had been built.
So how do you know the true man of God? First of all, you know him because an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ is evident in his teaching and evident in his living. Secondly, you know it because he has a positive, building ,fruitful impact on the church, which is unified and strengthened in the truth.
That’s two, three more to go. You’ll have to wait until next time. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank you again for your Word, which in some of its most obscure places yields to us such richness. Thank you for the patience of these dear people who come to hear the truth unmitigated, some ways unadorned, but who know how important it is that they adorn the truth with their lives and thus come unto the hearing of the truth. Bless them, Lord, and grant to them the strength and the power they need to live out the truth. Help us, Lord, to be discerning. Help us to recognize your true messengers. Help your church not to be led astray in deception. We thank you for the testimony of Paul and the testimony of what he wrote. Thank you for this wonderful experience, which he shares with us, which helps us to see the criteria. Show us the true teachers by virtue of their relationship with you, by virtue of their impact on the church, their impact on the souls of men and women in the Kingdom. That’s how we can tell.
Lord, now we ask that each one of us might be rightly related to you in such a way as to bring you pleasure. To that end, we pray. For Christ’s sake. Amen.
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