Well, as you know, we are going through 2 Corinthians chapter 10 right now. And even though it is a communion Sunday, I want to finish this chapter before I have to be away from you, and so I want you to turn to 2 Corinthians chapter 10, and we’re going to take another portion of it for this morning and then finish it up next Lord’s day.
As we come to chapter 10 and verse 7, and flow all the way to the end of the chapter, verse 18, we are in a section that we can call “Recognizing the True Man of God.” Recognizing the true messenger of Jesus Christ. That is a very, very important theme, picking out the voice of the true shepherds from all the wolves pretending to be shepherds, has always been a great challenge for the church.
This matter of discernment is as important today as it has ever been and in some ways, even more difficult. The advancement of all of the media that we have just seen demonstrated has caused false teachers to have a greater platform than they have ever had. While it allows the truth to go far and wide through tape and radio, even television, as well as printed material, it also gives a greater audience to the false teachers. It is crucial in this time to be able to discern the true messenger of Jesus Christ and to protect ourselves and the church and the unsaved from the grievous wolves not sparing the flock and teaching damnable lies.
The apostle Paul, in writing to the Thessalonians said, “Do not despise preaching, prophesying,” meaning preaching, “but examine everything carefully, then hold fast to what is good and stay away from what is evil.” Don’t despise preaching, but examine it. Jesus warned, you remember, in the Sermon on the Mount that there would be wolves in sheep’s clothing. Paul reminded the leaders at Ephesus that after his departure, false teachers would come in, not sparing the flock.
The apostle Paul told Timothy to be aware of the fact that in these latter days since the Messiah has come, demonic doctrine espoused by seducing spirits would find its way through the lips of lying, hypocritical teachers to the destruction of lives. False doctrine would eat like a gangrene, he said, and it would cause the shipwreck of the faith of many.
It is a time to examine everything and everyone carefully. That is a call to discernment. It is especially true in our time because of the proliferation and the widespread opportunity that false teachers have and also because of the reigning attitude of tolerance that questions anyone’s spirituality who is critical of anything. A very dangerous time.
It was a dangerous time in Corinth, also, extremely dangerous because false apostles, false teachers had come into the Corinthian church after Paul left. They wanted to teach their damning lies. But in order to do that, they had to destroy Paul first so the people would lose trust and confidence in him. Calling themselves apostles of Jesus Christ, they came to Corinth, they sought to wreck people’s confidence and trust in Paul and to replace him as the reigning teachers and then they could espouse their demon doctrine.
It is in response to this that Paul writes 2 Corinthians, to set the record straight about who is a true messenger. They had attacked his integrity. They had attacked his virtue. And he writes this great epistle to defend his apostleship. Why? Not for his own sake but so that he could continue to teach them the Word of God and they would receive it for that alone could bring salvation and sanctification.
We have been going through this great epistle, and we have been intersecting and weaving our way in and around this great theme over and over again. We have heard Paul’s defenses on a number of different levels. We come now to chapter 10, to a further defense, in which he compares himself with the false teachers. In fact, he responds directly to their accusations. As I said last week, the first nine chapters are primarily directed at the congregation; chapters 10 to 13, directed at the false apostles. He takes them on - head on - in chapter 10, 11, 12, and 13.
Here again, then, is a very familiar theme of Scripture, the identification of the true teacher from God who speaks for Christ as distinct from the false ones who lie. And as we look at verses 7 through 18, we get a great insight into the kind of principles by which we can measure men to discern whether they are true or false. We need to know these principles. We need to protect ourselves from the subtle evil influence of false teachers. The truth of God is at stake and, therefore, God’s glory is at stake.
So the question we ask as we come to verses 7 to 18 is: How do we recognize a true messenger of Jesus Christ? How do we recognize a true man of God, a true teacher? Paul is asking the Corinthians and us to make a sound judgment based upon clear evidence. In fact, he says that at the beginning, in verse 7, look at it. The New American Standard translates it, “You are looking at things as they are outwardly.” That is what we call in Greek an indicative or a statement of fact. However, it should be preferable to translate the original not as a statement of fact but as a command.
The verb in the indicative and the imperative is identical. There’s no difference in the form, and so only the context and other uses of the verb can tell you how to use it. Paul’s common use of this verb is as an imperative, and the context here leads us to conclude it should be so translated, and it would read rather like this: Look at what is plain to see. Why in the world are you confused about these false teachers? Why are you confused about whether or not I am an apostle of Jesus Christ? Look at what is right in front of your face. Look at what is apparent.
And what should they look for? Here come the marks. Here come the identifying principles of the true messenger. Number one: His personal relationship to Jesus Christ. His personal relationship to Jesus Christ. Verse 7, “If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s, let him consider this again within himself that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we.” And now we deal with one of the accusations the false teachers had made against Paul, and that was this: They said, “We are the true messengers of Christ, we belong to Christ, he does not. We are Christ’s.”
And you notice the source of this. They are confident in themselves. Confident in himself that he is Christ’s. In other words, nothing but his own word, nothing but his own claim, no evidence, no history to back it up, but yet they said, “We are the true apostles, we are the true messengers.” And were they? What were they really saying by this? They were saying, first of all, “We’re the true Christians,” and probably assuming that Paul was not, alluding to the fact that he was not, implying it. Secondly, “We have a unique earthly relationship with Jesus, who commissioned us.”
Thirdly, “We are His apostles,” and fourthly, they were probably saying, “We are the ones with the transcendent, mystical, secret knowledge,” a kind of Gnostic mentality, “we have the elevated knowledge, not this simplistic earthy stuff that you hear from Paul.” And where did they get this conviction? What was there to support it? Verse 7, “They were confident in themselves.” The singular here may refer to the fact that these false apostles had a ringleader, one individual who stood up among all the rest and sort of articulated things on behalf of them all.
And he was the one likely who said we are Christ’s and we say we’re Christ’s and that’s enough. We claim it within ourselves. Now, Paul doesn’t deny their claim. He doesn’t deny it at this point. He will later but he doesn’t here. Just for the sake of argument, he has an interesting approach. He says, “Okay, if by just looking inside they can conclude that they are the true messengers of Christ, the true Christians with the real relationship to Him and the true elevated, transcendent knowledge, then let them think this again within themselves that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we.”
In other words, if this individual stands up and says, “I know I’m Christ’s because I know it inside, then let him think again about something else he has to know inside, and that is if he is Christ’s, so also am I” - and again he uses the editorial “we” to defer from the personal. He doesn’t deny their claim. but he says if they have come to the conclusion in their minds that they are Christ’s, then let them think again who I must be because there is so much evidence. How can they not affirm me?
Paul’s conversion was history, well known, fact, was not just Paul isolated. There were people there, Ananias was there and Barnabas was there early, and the testimony had been repeated many times. And then there was his godly life, which was legendary. And his ability to deal with suffering and pain and persecution and the threat of death, which was constant. And then there was the power that came through his life for the converting of souls. And then there was the truth which he preached. And then there were his great letters. And then there were the churches that he founded.
So while these people are musing within their own minds about who they are, let them think about who I must be - given the evidence. His point is that true men of God, true apostles, genuine preachers of truth have a relationship to Christ that is more than a personal claim. It is manifest. And it is manifest by fruit and impact on souls and cities and nations and churches. There was plenty of information that any thinking person could come to one conclusion, and that was that Paul himself was Christ’s. Far more than anybody else, no matter what they claimed. But it is typical of false teachers, always has been, always will, that they make their claims right out of their own minds, without sustaining and supporting evidence.
So the first characteristic - and we’re just reviewing at this point - of the true messenger of God is his personal relationship to Jesus Christ. It is manifest, it is historical, it is evident. Secondly, and I alluded to this a moment ago with regard to Paul, his impact on the church. If you want to know whether a man is a true messenger of Jesus Christ, look at his impact on the church, verse 8 - still reviewing - “For even if I should boast somewhat further about our authority” - in other words, if I should say more than I like to say, more than I normally say about my apostolic authority, if I should really get carried away about it - “which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I shall not be put to shame.”
I’ll never have to eat crow, I’ll never have to eat my words, I’ll never have to be sorry I said that. No matter how much I boast about my apostleship, I’ll never have to take my words back. Why? Because it is evident to everyone that I have been building up and not destroying. I can’t overstate the case, he’s saying. He was a humble man, a greatly humble man who did not like to say much about his authority and his apostleship unless he was forced. But here he is saying, “No matter what I say, I couldn’t overstate the case because it is so evident that the Lord has used me for building you up.
Historically, irrefutable was Paul’s impact on the Corinthians. How else could they explain their salvation and their church and their sanctification? Listen, false teachers destroy. False teachers destroy. They rarely start churches, they infiltrate them and wreck them. True teachers build up. No boasts that Paul could make about his building ministry would shame him. Look at a man’s impact on the church for its good, for salvation, for sanctification, for spiritual strength, for upbuilding, for power, for ministry.
Then thirdly, the apostle Paul says when assessing who is a messenger of Christ, look at the personal relationship to Christ, look at the impact on the church, and, thirdly, look at his compassion for people. Look at his compassion for people. False teachers are personally absorbed, selfish, overbearing, abusive. They give no thought to people. People mean nothing to them except as means to their own ends. People are used and abused for their own purposes. Not Paul. Verse 9, “I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters.”
Boy, these false teachers picked up on every angle they could pick up on, and they actually said to the Corinthians, “Paul is abusive, he’s an abusive leader, he’s an overbearing leader, he’s an intimidating leader. He browbeats you. He wants to crush you into submission. He’s trying to frighten you to respond to him. He’s using fear tactics, scare tactics.” And believe me, that is somewhat typical of false teachers. These guys didn’t do the typical. They were going to play good guy and make Paul into the bad guy. So they came in playing like they were the good guys, the compassionate, tolerant ones.
Paul has to answer that because they have told the Corinthians that he is one who uses intimidation to manipulate them. He says, “I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters.” See, he had just written what was called “the severe letter,” and it confronted their sin. It was written between 1 and 2 Corinthians. We don’t have it in the New Testament, but he refers to it. He wrote it with tears. He wrote it with anguish of heart. He describes that in chapter 2. He wrote it to confront the sin of their rebellion.
They had believed the false teachers, a mutiny had started. The mutiny had reached large proportions throughout the congregation. They were turning away from Paul. They were turning toward the false teachers. They were believing the false gospel, the false Jesus they were preaching. Paul went there. Somebody in the congregation stood up and literally spoke evil of Paul to his face, right in the congregation, right during the service. And nobody defended Paul, nobody in the church disciplined the man. And Paul went away brokenhearted.
But they said he wanted to terrify them. Interesting verb, ekphobein. Phobeō is the Greek verb to fear, and we get from it phobia. Adding ek on the front intensifies it and it’s a good translation, “to terrify,” that’s what it means. There are some who would want to terrify people into submission, to rule them by fear. Paul says, “No, I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters, that’s not my goal. Strong, yes, because I must confront sin.” He had to be firm, he was firm. And he could be as firm as anybody. And actually, they had responded to that firmness.
Back in chapter 7, verse 9, he says, “I rejoice not that you were made sorrowful but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance.” The letter that he wrote was so firm and so confrontive and stripped them so naked and revealed their sin of rebellion against him and the truth that they actually repented. They responded to his firmness. But his goal was not to terrify them, his goal was to bring them to repentance. He wasn’t trying to control them by fear for the fulfillment of his own purposes, he wanted to bring them to blessing and truth. Believe me, this man loved the Corinthians deeply.
Back in chapter 1 and verse 23, he says, “I call God as witness to my soul” - this is absolutely the truth - “that to spare you, I came no more to Corinth.” The reason I didn’t come and visit you again after that horrible visit was because I didn’t want to come again with a heavy hand. As he said back in 1 Corinthians 4, “I don’t want to come with a rod.” I don’t like that. I don’t like to have to do that. He didn’t want to abuse them. He didn’t even want to speak harshly to them. He would have much rather have come gently to them because of their obedience.
He would confront their sin if he needed, but here he says I’m not coming, not because I’m afraid but because I don’t want to have another confrontation. That’s compassion. Verse 24, “We don’t lord it over your faith, we work alongside you for your joy.” Verse 1 of chapter 2, “I determined this for my own sake, I would not come to you in sorrow again.” I don’t want to come back and have another big sorrowful meeting and another big confrontation. “If I cause you sorrow,” verse 2, “who then makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful.” When I’ve made you sorry, my own heart is broken, and the only thing that’ll make it glad is when you are glad again.
You know his own joy was tied up with them. In chapter 7, he says he was depressed, so depressed he couldn’t preach in Troas, though he had an opened door. What was depressing him? His broken heart over the Corinthian church. He was so heartbroken - and that’s compassion - that he couldn’t preach. Verse 4, he says, “Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears.” Chapter 3, verse 2, “You are our letter in our hearts, known and read by all men, being manifested that you are a letter of Christ” - here’s this wonderful phrase - “cared for by us.”
Paul loved his people. His people were his passion. He would sacrifice everything, even his life, for his people. That’s not true of false teachers. They will sacrifice people for themselves, not themselves for people. Chapter 7, verse 2, he says, “Make room for us in your hearts, we wronged no one, we corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one. I do not speak to condemn you for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together.” That’s empathy, that’s sympathy, that’s compassion. This tender-hearted, loving man loved the Corinthians with everything in his being.
In chapter 11, verse 11, he asks the question, “Why? Because I do not love you?” Is that why I’m saying these things? “God knows I do.” In chapter 12, verse 15, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you the more, am I to be loved the less?” He literally loved those people enough to give up his life.
True men of God have compassion. True teachers, true messengers of Christ care deeply about their people. And that’s what he means when he says I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters. I find no joy in your pain. I find no joy in your fear. I find joy only in your repentance and your gladness.
Now you tell me, what is more true of a false teacher than deep-seated selfishness? Deep-seated indifference to people? Nothing. That’s characteristic of them. People are to be used to fill their coffers and build their empires. But not the true teachers. The true teachers give their life for the people.
Number four, as we put together these principles, the true messenger of Christ is known as one who has an intimate relationship to Jesus Christ which is manifest to all. He is known as one who builds the church. He is known as one who compassionately cares for and loves his people. And the fourth mark is his disdain for fleshly methods. His disdain for fleshly methods. Verse 10, here again he is directly coming back at one of their accusations.
Verse 10 begins with these words: “For they say.” Now, some manuscripts have “he says,” some translate this “it is said,” and some, “as the saying goes.” The best translation is “if he says” or even “for they say.” He could be quoting here the ringleader of this Corinthian conspiracy, just as he might have been quoting him or referring to him back in chapter 7, “If anyone is confident in himself,” and so on. He’s referring to these leaders of the mutiny. And in this case, if the original text is “he says,” he would be directing it right at the ringleader who is very likely the demon-possessed individual who is the thorn in the flesh mentioned in chapter 12, verse 7.
Either this ringleader or these false apostles or even the people who chimed in, whoever says, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.” This is a tragic thing. This is what they are saying about Paul. They found every possible way to try to discredit him. And here was one very clever way. They said this, first of all, “His letters are weighty and strong.” They couldn’t say anything else, that was obvious. That was undeniable to anybody who read them.
And they had, no doubt, read the letter before, 1 Corinthians, which he wrote. It’s not in the Scripture. They had read 1 Corinthians, they read the severe letter between 1 and 2 Corinthians, and when they got this letter, they read it as well, so they were exposed to four of his letters. They may have read some of the other epistles that he wrote. There was no denying the power of his inspired pen. That was unquestionable. The clarity of his writing, the rationality of his writing, the spirituality of his writing, the accuracy of his writing was absolutely unarguable.
The power of the truth came with force and conviction through his letters, and they were right about it, and they didn’t try to deny it because it was obvious. Hard to deny, so they didn’t. They’re subtle. But after that necessary concession to the greatness of his letters, look at what they said: “But his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.” This is a real dig against the apostle’s person. What do they mean by this when they say his personal presence is unimpressive? Are they talking about his looks? Are they saying he’s kind of homely or ugly?
A second century document called “The Acts of Paul and Thecla” says this, it says, quote: “Paul was a man small of stature with a bald head and crooked legs in a good state of body” - that means healthy - “with eyebrows meeting and a nose somewhat hooked.” Now, we don’t know whether that’s accurate or not. If it was written by a friend, you would have thought he might have left out the hooked nose part. And if it was written by an enemy, it might have been something like this or even worse. We don’t know if it was accurate, but that isn’t the issue here anyway.
They’re not talking about what he looked like. Obviously, they don’t think he’s an imposing figure physically. But that’s really not what the idea is. They may have - that may have been implied in it, that he wasn’t anything to look at, but what was beyond that was his presence they were talking about, his persona, his aura, his demeanor. He just lacked the kind of electricity and charisma and personal charm that commanded attention and commanded respect and drew people to him. He didn’t have that.
And they were probably also really eager to criticize him and to prove that they were right about this by referring back to his second visit when he came and he was so devastated by the accusation, so devastated by the mutiny, and so shaken to the core because none of the Corinthians stood with him against the man who accused him publicly, so brokenhearted that he quietly left town, weeping. And that just fueled their fire. They said, “See, there’s the real man, some leader, a cowering, sniveling, wimpy guy who crawls out of town because he’s been offended. He lacks the power of a great leader.”
This is a cutting criticism, and it tells us a little bit about how they handled their leadership. What they intended to say was that he was weak and they were strong. He was indecisive and they were decisive. He was reluctant to take action, and they took action swiftly. He didn’t want to deal with issues, and they deal with issues. In other words, he doesn’t have the persona, he doesn’t have what it takes to take charge, to compel people’s allegiance. He can’t lead a noble movement. He doesn’t draw people to himself. He doesn’t demand their respect. They don’t follow his leadership. He doesn’t have what it takes to wield the sword of leadership with power and authority.
Now, see, in the gentile world that was all a matter of dominance. They took their lead from Caesar. Caesar was a dominating dictator. Jesus refers to this style of leadership in Matthew 20, verse 25. He says, “You know that the leaders of the gentiles lord it over them and their great men exercise authority over them.” Dominant dictatorship. In the pagan world, the leader was somebody who was a dictator, a demagogue, who swept in and the more charm and charisma and the more popular appeal and the more drama was inherent in his personality and the more imposing a human being he was, the easier it was for him to wield the sword of leadership and to grab authority and exercise it.
But here came Paul. Refers to it in chapter 10, verse 1, in the meekness and gentleness of Christ. He doesn’t dominate them. He doesn’t control them with the power of his personality or his intellectual skill or his verbal capacity. And so they begin to pick up on that, and they say, “Where is the impressive persona? Where is the powerful presence? Where is the dominance? Where is the kingliness? Where is the authoritarian character here? He doesn’t have what it takes. He’s a weak person. You need strong leadership. He lacks the invincibility. He lacks the self-confidence. He lacks the visionary dominance that natural leaders have to have.”
And so they attacked his fleshly inadequacies. And then they went on from that to his speech, and they said in verse 10 that his speech is contemptible. What they meant by that is he’s no orator. Where is the compelling oratory? Where is the impressive rhetoric? Boy, they loved eloquence in that culture. They loved it. And they despised his speaking. All he ever talked about was the cross of Jesus Christ. All he ever talked about was Christ and Him crucified. Back in chapter 1, you remember, he says that he comes boasting only in the Lord, at the end of chapter 1, boasting only in the Lord.
And then in chapter 2, verse 1, “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom proclaiming to you the testimony of God.” He says, “I was with you in weakness and fear and trembling.” No human wisdom, no great oratory, no great rhetoric. Humility, weakness, trembling, that was him. Boy, they used that as fuel for their anti-Paul fire. This man is no great speaker. He’s not a dominant dictator. He doesn’t have a flashy personality. He doesn’t have slick self-confidence. He doesn’t have personal charm. He can’t exercise charismatic control.
He’s not at all concerned with eloquence and rhetoric and verbal histrionics, and he won’t manipulate people with words. He fails to fulfill their pattern for a leader. They worshiped - the Greeks worshiped human eloquence. Paul was too plain. He lacked the superficial polish which charms the ear without ever touching the heart. He came in meekness and gentleness. He came in simple words, preaching the cross without eloquence or human wisdom, and they laughed at him.
Watch false teachers. Rhetoric, oratory, slick personalities, fancy lifestyles, dominance, authoritarianism. The church has always had to endure these big, self-appointed stars with their polished tongues who draw people to their slick personalities and move them with their manipulating words. Not Paul and not the true messenger. He opens his mouth, and the Word of God is spoken in clarity and in simplicity.
Fifthly - and we’ll end here this morning. The true man of God is known by his intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, the fact that he builds up the church, that he shows compassion for its people and disdains worldly and fleshly methods, and fifthly, he is consistent in his life or he has integrity, either one. Verse 11, “Let such a person, a person who would criticize me for writing weighty, strong letters, but having no personal presence, let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present.” I am no different when I’m with you or when I’m not with you.
Again, the same old accusation. When he’s here, he’s a weakling and he’s a wimp and he’s a coward and he snivelingly goes out of town, and he gets away and writes back these fiery, weighty, powerful letters. He’s one man when he’s here, and he’s a completely different man when he goes away. The man lacks integrity. There’s no consistency. Paul says any person who makes that kind of accusation, let that person know and realize that what we are in word by letter - namely, weighty and powerful when absent - such persons we are also when present. Paul is no hypocrite. He is no fake. He’s no phony.
He’s the same man whether writing from afar or speaking near. He’s the same man wherever he is. And I warn you about false prophets: they are one man before the crowd, and they are another man in private. Most of the time they are one man before the crowd and another man before the individual. They love the crowd, they disdain the individual. Integrity was Paul’s benchmark, never wavering from what Christ had made him.
What do you look for? A man with a relationship with Christ that is well known, a builder of the church, compassionate to God’s people, disdaining personality, power, and fleshly words, and a man who has utter consistency in his life. Everywhere and at all times, he is the same man of God. There’s one more point - that’s for next time. The sixth point (just so you know what it is) is humility, and it takes up the rest of the chapter. Let’s bow in prayer.
Father, we think of the words of Paul as he wrote to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 2:4. He said, “Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak not as pleasing men but God who examines our hearts.” We thank you for this beloved apostle. He was a God-pleaser, not a man-pleaser. He had an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ that anybody who ever knew him could see and understand. He was so real, so genuine. He came to a church and built it, didn’t destroy it. Showed compassion and love to people, even those who treated him unkindly. Disdained any worldly methodology, and had great integrity. Help us, Lord, to be able to identify your true teachers by the same standards. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.
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