Well, this morning - and certainly after a bit of break - we return in our study of 2 Corinthians to chapter 10 and verses 7 through 18 under the title, “Recognizing the Man of God.” As I remarked in my last sermon, there is no more noble or cherished Christian virtue than humility. And I gave you in the last study a definition of humility that I want to repeat because I think it’s so foundational. Humility is a true and genuine sense of conviction that one is utterly and completely unworthy of the goodness, mercy, and grace of God and incapable of anything of value apart from those divine gifts.
Let me read it again. Humility is a true and genuine sense of conviction that one is utterly and completely unworthy of the goodness, mercy and grace of God and incapable of anything of value apart from those divine gifts. Now, Scripture gives us a full understanding of the essence or the character of humility. It says a lot about humility. Let me just give you a summary of what the Bible says about this virtue of humility. Humility is the attitude that recognizes one’s spiritual bankruptcy.
Humility is the attitude that thinks lowly and not highly of oneself. Humility is the commitment to fall before the great glory of God in lowliness and submission. Humility is the eagerness to give God all credit for everything that is good and profitable in one’s life. Humility is the spirit of true worship. Humility is the attitude that is convinced no task is beneath me. Humility is the recognition that one is far from what he or she should be.
Humility is a reluctance to boast or brag or promote oneself. Humility is embarrassment when commended. Humility will not conceal any sin or pretend any purity. It knows no hypocrisy. Humility is not concerned with the pride of others since it sees its own pride as worse. Humility is the willingness and eagerness to serve. Humility is content to submit all plans to the will of God.
Now, that’s the sum of what the Bible teaches about humility. To put it in the words of the apostle Paul himself in this very letter, 2 Corinthians, back in chapter 3 and verse 5, it is to recognize that we are not adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves but our adequacy is from God. To say it another way in Pauline terms, it is to have no confidence in the flesh. And again I say nothing is a truer mark of a Christian than humility. And nothing is more characteristic of a true man of a God - a true messenger of Jesus Christ, a true preacher of truth - than humility. On the other hand, nothing is more characteristic of a false teacher than pride.
Now, the church at Corinth had been caught in just such a conflict. They were in the process of trying to sort out who was the true messenger of Christ, who was the true emissary of God, who was the true preacher, who was the true teacher, who was the true apostle. Was it Paul or was it the teachers who had recently come into the church? Paul declared himself to be the apostle of Jesus Christ and the teacher of truth, so did these others, and therein came the conflict. As we have learned in this letter, sadly, the Corinthian church were wooed and deceived by the false teachers into believing that they in fact were true teachers and Paul was the false apostle.
Paul writes 2 Corinthians to reclaim his reputation, to reclaim his apostleship, to reaffirm the integrity of his ministry. He writes this epistle to remove all doubt about his apostleship so that he can continue to teach the truth and they can continue to be the beneficiaries of it.
It is strange that they would believe these lying teachers when they had had almost two years of a personal ministry with the apostle Paul. They had seen his selflessness and his humility for nearly two years - which humility, by the way, is aptly expressed again in this epistle. They should have been able to recognize the proud, self-serving character of the false apostles who came in and produced chaos and disloyalty to Paul, who preached another Jesus and another Spirit and another gospel. But they were sufficiently confused as to precipitate grave concern on Paul’s part and the necessity of penning this letter.
Now, as Paul defends his true apostleship in this epistle, as he endeavors to condemn the false apostles who were trying to destroy the work of God in Corinth, he comes to this section, chapters 10, 11, 12, and 13, and in this section most notably he compares himself with the false apostles. He does it in a number of different and very effective ways. In this particular section, he is concerned to show the distinction between a true servant of God and a false one by looking at the character of their lives. And you will remember as we began some weeks ago in verse 7, Paul said, “Look at what is obvious. Make a comparison of what should be very obvious.”
And what are the criteria by which you can distinguish the true servant of Christ from the false? Number one: His personal relationship to Jesus Christ - and that, he spoke of in verse 7. Number two: His impact on the church - and that, he spoke of in verse 8. False teachers destroy; true messengers of Christ build up. Thirdly: His compassion for people - and that was the object of verse 9. False teachers are involved in using people for self-promotion, self-glory, self-aggrandizement. The apostle Paul sought the benefit of the people. As he indicates in verse 9, no desire to terrify them but a desire to build them up in the faith.
When you want to identify, then, the true preacher of Jesus Christ, you look at his relationship to Christ, his impact on the church for building it up, his compassion for people, and fourthly, his disdain for worldly methods. The true messenger of Christ is concerned about the power of the Spirit and the proclamation of the simple truth of Scripture. False teachers are more concerned with persona, personal image, personal presence, and oratory. They said of Paul - in verse 10 - his personal presence is unimpressive, his speech is downright contemptible.
Paul disdained human eloquence, worldly wisdom, and personal charm, as he noted in his first letter to the Corinthians. He rejected all of that in favor of the power of the Spirit through the simple presentation of divine truth.
And then number five, in giving us criteria to determine who is the true man of God, is to look at his integrity - his integrity. His relation to Christ, his impact on the church, his compassion for people, his disdain for worldly methods, and his integrity. Verse 11 indicates that Paul says what he is in person with them, he is when he is absent from them. There’s no difference. He is the same man. He is a godly man all the time everywhere in every circumstance. That’s what integrity means, one who lives everywhere what he preaches.
Now, that brings us to the sixth point and the one that occupies our thoughts currently. The true messenger of Christ is noted not only by his integrity, fifthly, but sixthly, his devotion to humility. His devotion to humility. And here, Paul makes some very sarcastic, satirical comparisons between himself and the false apostles who are anything but humble. False apostles always being manifest by their pride, most notably the arch-false apostle, antichrist, being defined by his willingness to exalt himself above everyone, including God, as we note in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 and then again in Revelation chapter 13. False apostles are proud; true messengers of Christ are humble.
Starting, then, in verse 12, Paul begins to delineate some of the character of that humility, and he does it in most interesting and simple ways. First of all - and I’ll give you five aspects to this humility. Number one - and just reviewing for a moment - humility manifests itself in an unwillingness to compare himself with others. That is noted in verse 12. “We are not bold” - that is, we would never be as bold as these false apostles - “to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves.” In other words, Paul says, “I’m not going to get into that kind of a game where you compare yourselves with others and you sort of climb on others to elevate yourself. This is not a matter of human comparison.”
He says in verse 12, “They measure themselves by themselves, they compare themselves with themselves.” And all that proves is that they’re fools, they lack understanding. Only a fool would measure himself against a self-created standard and then declare himself to be superior to everybody else. That is utterly subjective, lacks all objectivity. Only fools are so proud as to be themselves the standard of superiority to which all others are inferior. But that’s exactly what the false apostles did. And there’s dripping sarcasm in verse 12.
I would never engage in such idiocy, such folly as to make myself the standard and then declare that everybody falls short of it. I don’t compare myself with others. True humility doesn’t do that. True humility is not in a popularity contest. It isn’t trying to push itself above everyone else; rather, it makes only one comparison. True humility makes a comparison with Christ and finds itself woefully inferior.
So first of all, humility manifests itself in unwillingness to compare himself with others. Secondly, willingness to minister within limits - willingness to minister within limits. And this is a very important issue that intensifies the argument in verse 13. “We will not boast beyond our measure.” The first limit, he says, is we will never claim things that we didn’t really do. We will never boast beyond what is actually true. And “we will stay within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure.”
Paul says, “I will not go beyond what is fact and I will not go beyond the environment to which God has called me.” Remember, I told you last time that false apostles have no limits. If you try to impose limits on them, they become infuriated. They’re driven by megalomania, they want to be as big and as far-reaching as they can be. They want to see their face in as many places as often as possible. If they’re on the television, they want to be on as much as possible, extending this ego-driven need limitlessly. They want to widen their influence, they want to make preposterous and far-reaching claims way beyond reality. There’s no limit to the field of their endeavor and there’s no limit to the claims which they will make to their supposed achievements.
On the other hand, Paul says we will never speak beyond our measure; that is, never say more than is true and accurate. And we will never minister beyond where God has given us the place to minister. False apostles, false teachers, false preachers are notorious for inflating their person, inflating their works, inflating their - overstating their achievements and their importance. Paul is content to limit himself to what God actually has done through him. He says that in Romans 15, “I will only speak of that which Christ has wrought in me and nothing else.” He is content to work only where God sends him to work.
You remember in the book of Acts when he started to go in one direction on one of his missionary journeys? The Spirit stopped him. He went another direction, the Spirit stopped him. Another direction, the Spirit stopped him. And then he waited and the Spirit told him, “Go to Macedonia.” He wanted to go only where God sent him, work only in the field where God placed him, run only in the lane that God had assigned to him in the race, and only claim those things which indeed were true.
He sought no more than what God called him to do and claimed no more than what God had done through him. And that included, you’ll notice at the end of verse 13, “to reach even as far as you.” It was in the design and the plan of God that Paul come to Corinth. Now, you’ve got to understand the background of this. The false apostles were saying, “The man had no authority to come here. The man had no papers from the authorities in Jerusalem. The man overstepped his bounds. This is our territory. This is our area,” is what they must have been claiming. “He had no business coming here, no business being in this place. This is our field of endeavor.”
Paul says, “No, we have operated within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, and it included reaching even as far as you.” It included coming all the way from where he was at the beginning in Antioch, which is north and a little west of Jerusalem, all the way to the city of Corinth. That was within God’s plan. And he wants to remind them of that. They should never have questioned it because if they questioned it, they would have had to question their own salvation and their own existence as a church because they had come to Christ through his preaching and the church had been formed through that ministry.
So just those two in review. Humility is revealed with an unwillingness to compare oneself with others and a willingness to minister within limits. You don’t have to be the pastor of the world. You don’t have to be the greatest, the largest, the widest, the most far-reaching, the most famous, the most widely read, the most notable. That doesn’t matter. All you want to be is the most faithful in the sphere that God has called you to if you’re truly humble.
Now let’s go to a third point. Humility manifests itself in an unwillingness to take credit for others’ labors - an unwillingness to take credit for others’ labors. Now, look what’s going to happen with false teachers. Obviously, they’re not going to be able to accomplish anything. But they’ve got to accumulate some credentials, so they take credit for things they haven’t done. Apparently, what these false teachers had done was come into Corinth and give some litany of achievements which, in fact, they had not done.
They were not hesitant at all to take credit for things they had never achieved. And then they came into the Corinthian church and no doubt were laying claim to spiritual progress going on in that church, which, of course, they could make no contribution to since they themselves were not the instruments of God and not even believers, in the true sense.
Paul says in verse 14, “For we are not overextending ourselves.” My coming to Corinth was not something out of bounds. We are not overextending ourselves. We are not making claims to things that did not happen as if we did not reach to you. When I say God used me in Corinth, I’m not telling a lie. When I say God called me to Corinth, I’m not overstating the case. He did call me there. He did use me there. And then he says at the end of verse 14, “For we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ.” So, therefore, verse 15, we are “not boasting beyond our measure; that is, in other men’s labors.”
Paul says, “I’m not taking credit for something I didn’t do or shouldn’t have done.” It’s a very serious matter here. The statement of verse 13, the end of the verse, that in the sphere which God apportioned to us, we were to come as far as you. That’s not an overstatement. That’s not an overestimation. That is an accurate statement, an accurate assessment of the reality of God’s call. We came and we did what God called us to do and you know it because you’re the fruit of it. We had every right to come to Corinth. We had every right to minister there. That was our place. It had been ordained by God that I would be the instrument of the Spirit of God in that place.
Now, obviously, Paul is reflecting on the fact that the false apostles had accused him of coming into territory he was not assigned to, coming into territory he had no right to, no authorization for. They were saying Corinth is our place, not Paul’s. And they needed to get rid of this usurper, Paul, and listen - the people need to listen to them, the false teachers. But Paul responds by saying, “We were the first to come, even as far as you in the gospel of Christ. I came first preaching the gospel. I was there first.” In 1 Corinthians 3, he put it this way, “I planted, Apollos watered.”
In 1 Corinthians 3:10, he put it this way, “I laid the foundation and others are building on it.” Paul says, “I’m not exaggerating my claims. We were first. We preached the gospel.” You can read Acts 16, you can read Acts 18, and it’ll tell you the story of when he came to Corinth and how he preached the gospel there and how the people believed and the church was founded. And he stayed twenty months or so. He had been God’s tool to evangelize Corinth. Listen now, the false teachers were parasites. They were terrorists. They were invaders. He was there first by God’s design with the truth.
And it was actually those enemies of the gospel who had invaded the territory, and with their self-seeking, self-commending ways had deceived the congregation into thinking that they were the true apostles and thus, they were interfering with the work of God, a very serious interference. Paul was, by the way, deeply concerned about it. In chapter 11 verse 3 he says that “I’m afraid your minds have been led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ because they’ve come and preached” - verse 4 - another Jesus, a different Spirit, and a different gospel.
They preached lies, heresy. They said they had been called, they said they had been authorized, they said that this was their territory, and it was all lies. And again I remind you of something, false teachers and false preachers don’t build ministries, they destroy them. It’s very unusual for false teachers to develop ministry, they usually go in and wreck it. They may do it in a local church, they may do it in a denomination, they may do it in a school.
In my conversations when I was in Scotland with Eric Alexander who was in the Church of Scotland, I learned so many interesting things. The Church of Scotland, of course, goes right back to the Reformation and was born in blood, as it were, as the Protestant Reformers came out from Catholicism and reasserted salvation by grace through faith alone. And it was born in a bloodbath. They fought with their lives for the great truth which we today believe and by which we are saved. The Church of Scotland was born under the preaching of John Knox. In fact, the pulpits in the churches of Scotland are still called the John Knox pulpit.
But here we are, hundreds of years later, and the story of the Church of Scotland is indeed a tragic story. In order to be a minister in the Church of Scotland, you have to attend one of their theological faculties. There are four of them and only four and it is the state church. The four of them are at the University of Glasgow, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Sterling, and St. Andrew’s University - all four theological faculties are rank liberal and would deny the authority of Scripture and just about everything else. In fact, Eric Alexander was telling me about his conversation with a faculty member in the school of divinity who didn’t believe in God, was an atheist.
So what happens? The Church of Scotland, this is pretty typical, just an illustration, starts out in a fury of fire and blood in the Protestant Reformation and eventually the false teachers don’t start their own movement, they infiltrate that one and destroy it. And the question came to Eric, he was reciting this to us because he’s a very prominent man, “How can you stay in the Church of Scotland?” To which he replied to the assembly, “That’s not the question. The question is: How can you who have apostatized stay in the Church of Scotland?”
And the battle there is, do you just let them take it all? That’s pretty typical. Seminaries all across Europe, seminaries all across America started out, tremendous conviction and passion for Christ, and have been literally taken over by the infiltration of the terrorists, the theological terrorists who don’t build anything, they just wreck what God is endeavoring to build. That’s the agenda, usually.
I think about that every time I go out in the parking lot and find another piece of anti-John MacArthur, anti-Grace Community Church propaganda on my windshield. Now, I know you get it from time to time as well, and it gets mailed to students at the college and students at the seminary and all of this. And I’m again reminded of the fact that if these people who want to damn me and damn the ministry that God has built here through the years were true servants of Christ, they wouldn’t be trying to destroy this. They’d be somewhere else, building a ministry under the power of the Spirit of God.
That’s what true teachers do. They don’t just go in a destroying terrorists move to try to undo what God has done. Invaders who come in, spiritual terrorists, with no calling, no giftedness, no truth, and no ministry are destroyers. They want credit for gifts they don’t possess. They want credit for callings they don’t have and work they haven’t done.
The true messenger, very different. Paul says, “Look, I came in the will of God by the power of God with the gifts that God had given to me and I came first because that was God’s plan.” In verse 15, “I am not boasting beyond measure. I’m not going out of bounds,” and again there’s sarcasm here, “like these false teachers who are laying claim to things that are not true. I don’t,” he says, “boast in other men’s labors.” And apparently that’s exactly what the false teachers had done. They had laid claim to things that they had never done.
His rivals, who had no work of themselves, who had no credentials that they themselves could really claim, who had absolutely no spiritual impact on anything, perhaps laid claim to ministry that was known to the Corinthian church as if they themselves had been the instruments of that ministry. Perhaps they claimed to be the true founders of some church somewhere else or some outbreak of the preaching of the gospel with great effect in some other place. And surely they were laying claim to whatever spiritual progress might have been going on in the Corinthian church.
They were eager to take credit for what they had not done because they couldn’t take credit for having done anything because as false teachers, they could not accomplish anything at all in the power of God. Crediting themselves with other men’s achievements, that’s a function of great pride. A truly humble person is even reluctant to take the credit for what has been accomplished through him, let alone taking credit for what hasn’t. They wanted to boast of what they hadn’t done. Paul would never do that. Never.
So he says in verse 15, “Not boasting beyond our measure; that is, in other men’s labors,” dripping sarcasm there, “but with the hope that as your faith grows” - and at this particular point in time that wasn’t the case. They were definitely in the spiritual neutral zone. But the hope of Paul was that they would get strong in the faith, get mature, overcome the current issue, the wicked one who was assaulting them with unsound doctrine, and they would get back to sound doctrine, holy living, become stronger, the present crisis would end, the church would take a firm stand on apostolic doctrine, full obedience to Christ.
He says, “I want that to happen so that we shall be within our sphere enlarged even more by you.” What does he mean by that? Well, once you’re strong then I’m going to go even beyond you, I’m going to enlarge the field within the sphere that God has given to me. He is saying as you become stronger, I’m going to move beyond you. It’s a very, very good strategy. Verse 16, “So as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you.”
Paul wasn’t through. At the end of the book of Romans, he says I want to go to Rome, I want to preach the gospel at Rome, he said in Romans 1. I’m eager to preach it at Rome. And in Romans 15, he says I want to go all the way to Spain. He wanted to carry the gospel as far as God would let him go in the sphere God had apportioned and running in his own lane. And he says to the Corinthians, as soon as you get strong, I’ll move on. Great missionary strategy. Go into a city, plant a church, raise up leaders. Then come the assaults of Satan, the test, and you fight against that.
In 1 Corinthians, he’s fighting against the iniquity in the congregation. In 2 Corinthians, he’s fighting against the false teachers who’ve invaded from the outside. He has to stay long enough with that church to fight those battles. Once that church is strong, you move to the next place, leaving it in the hands of strong men. He is saying, then, look God not only called me to you but my dream and my vision and my goal is to get you strong so you can launch me to the next mission field. And spiritual chaos, at this point, hindered that advancement.
But when Corinth was firm and strong, then Paul could advance. I want to go further. I want to preach the gospel to the regions beyond. In Acts, I think it’s chapter 19, verse 21, a verse you might want to note with reference to this as a comparative Scripture, 19:21, “Now, after these things were finished, Paul purposed in his spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia saying, ‘After I’ve been there I must also see Rome.’” Rome was in his heart, that great immense city, that capital of the ancient world. He wanted to go there to preach the gospel and from there to be launched to Spain.
But no matter where he went, he says in verse 15, no matter where he went, it’ll always be within our sphere. And verse 16, “It will never be to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another.” I’m not going to do what these false teachers have done. I’m not going to come in and tell lies about what supposedly I’ve accomplished. I’m not going to come in and take credit for things that have not been done through me. If they are men of God, he’s saying, let them go to their own place. If they’re men of God, let them go build their own church, let them go build their own ministry.
If they’re men of God, let their own virtuous life and let their spiritual power demonstrate itself in preaching the gospel where Christ is not named, souls being converted and a church being planted. Let them go and train up godly leaders, let them go and plant more churches, if they’re true messengers.
So the mark of a true messenger of Christ is that he works within a sphere that God has given him. He runs in a lane that God has appointed him to, not someone else’s lane, not someone else’s sphere, not someone else’s field. He never takes credit for what God has not done through him. And I remind you again of Romans 15:17 and 18, “In Christ Jesus, I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God, for I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me.” That’s all. Honesty, truthfulness, and unwillingness to take credit for anybody else’s labors.
How do you recognize, then, humility in a man of God? By an unwillingness to compare himself with others, by a willingness to work within a limited sphere, by an unwillingness to take credit for other’s labor, and fourthly, by a willingness to seek only the Lord’s glory - by a willingness to seek only the Lord’s glory. A very essential point and he makes it in verse 17. “But,” he says, “if somebody is going to boast, he who boasts, let him boast in the Lord.” The thought of self-glory is repulsive to Paul, it is heinous. How different from false teachers who, for the sake of their own glory, will tear up the church, tear up the glory of Christ.
False teachers seek their own glory, self-promotion, self-exaltation, fame, notoriety. Paul says if you’re going to boast, boast in the Lord. By the way, that’s a direct quote out of Jeremiah 9:24. Right out of Jeremiah 9:24. Paul often gives evidence of his familiarity with the Old Testament, his Jewish training coming through. Listen to what Jeremiah 9:23 and 24 says, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches.
“‘But let him who boasts, boast of this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for I delight in these things,’ declares the Lord.” And Paul reminds us all that if we’re going to boast, we boast in Him. And that takes us back to the definition I gave you at the beginning. Humility is the conviction that you are utterly and completely unworthy of the goodness, mercy, and grace of God and incapable of anything of value apart from that. Humility recognizes unworthiness and the worthiness of God alone. He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord.
Whatever you do, Paul said to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 10:31, whether you eat or drink, do it all to the glory of God. In 1 Corinthians 1, listen to verse 26, “Consider your calling, brethren, look at yourselves as a congregation, not many wise, according to the flesh,” you’re not a bunch of scholars and intellectuals, “not many mighty,” you’re not a bunch of powerful influential people, “not many noble,” you’re not the wealthy and the elite of the social strata.
In fact, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things that are strong, and God has chosen the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not,” the nobodies, “that He might nullify the things that are” - verse 29 - “that no man should boast before God.” So verse 31 says, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
We can’t boast. We have nothing to boast about. We are not the nobility. We are not the intelligentsia. We are not the mighty and the powerful. We are the weak and the base and the frail and the humble and the nobodies, and that’s the way God wants it because then He gets all the credit. Paul says humble people give all the glory to God. Where you see true humility, you see an unwillingness to take credit for anything and a willingness to give all the glory to God. Psalm 115:1 says, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to thy name give glory.”
False teachers are always proud, self-centered, self-promoting, trying to impress people. That is utterly sinful and has nothing in common with true spirituality.
And one last point, fifthly, humility is revealed in an unwillingness to compare oneself with others, in a willingness to work within limits, in an unwillingness to take credit for others’ labors, in a willingness to seek only the Lord’s glory, and finally, in an unwillingness to pursue anything but eternal commendation. In an unwillingness to pursue anything but eternal commendation. You see, the false teachers want it here and now, they want the accolades, they want the notoriety, they want the fame, they want their face everywhere. That matters big to them. It’s all here and now. They want the money, the power, the prestige, all of it now.
Not true servants of Christ. Look at verse 18, “For not he who commends himself is approved,” and here again is more sarcasm, that’s exactly what they were doing, “not he who commends himself is approved but whom the Lord commends.” Paul’s only concern was eternal commendation. Worldly commendation may come. I suppose in ministry, it’s sort of a mixed bag. There are times when you get condemned by the world around you, and there are times when you get commended by the world around you, and in the end you treat it for what it is.
When you are condemned by the world around you, you accept it because that’s the nature of the message you preach, confronting the ungodliness in the culture. When you are commended by the world around you, you take it for what it’s worth, an act of kindness of their part, and you’re appreciative of it, but you don’t work for those commendations. That’s not what matters. We’re not men-pleasers. Whether the world condemns you or commends you is of no particular significance in the long run. Paul says I’m only concerned about one commendation and that’s the one the Lord gives me.
False teachers are busy commending themselves, portraying themselves as notable people, building themselves up. Paul says I’m concerned only about one commendation and that’s the Lord’s. The verb here is - or the term here is dokimos, dokimazō in the verb form. It means to be tested, to be approved. He said I only want one test, one approval, and that’s from the Lord. The true messenger of Christ serves the Lord and works for an eternal commendation.
That’s what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians when in his earlier inspired letter to the Corinthians, he said this, “To me it’s a very small thing that I should be examined by you or by any human court,” 1 Corinthians 4:3. I don’t really care what the world says about me. That’s - it may be nice, it may not be nice, but in either case, it’s not important. He said here’s what’s important, “When the Lord comes who will bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts, and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”
That’s what mattered to Paul. What mattered was the eternal commendation. And that comes not just for your sermons and not just for your popularity and your leadership but for your character. God knows that. And men don’t always know it.
The church, then, faces a great challenge, beloved, as it always has, and that is to sort out the true preachers from the false. This is nothing new but this is crucial. We must do this. If we don’t do this, the terrorists take over. Witness the educational institutions of our country, once Christian. Witness denominations in our country as in other countries, as I commented about the Church of Scotland, it’s that way everywhere. If you don’t do battle with this, it takes over. It shouldn’t be too difficult to recognize false teachers by their error, their worldliness, their materialism, their fleshly lusts, their pride, their divisiveness, their assault on the truth.
Let me just give you a closing thought. Current conventional church wisdom says all views are equal if people are sincere. Right? That’s in evangelicalism today. And they say if you try to sort out what is really true, you’re divisive. Well, you know what this means? This means there’s no such thing as false teaching. That’s right. There’s no such thing as false teaching.
One writer puts it this way. “Protestantism at its tolerant and vulnerable zenith finally achieved what inquisitors and crusaders could not, the eradication of heresy.” We have eradicated heresy successfully. How? By reclassifying it as optional. This writer says, “No heresy of any kind any longer exists within this pliable, smiling, ecclesial ethos, except perhaps for offenses against inclusivism. After centuries of struggle with the truth, heresy has finally been banished from the church.” Is that a victory? That’s a terrible defeat.
There is heresy, folks, and if we don’t recognize heresy, then we don’t recognize truth. Conventional current evangelical wisdom says that all views have equal value if people are personally attached to them. But that’s the devil’s lie and it’s the folly of believing that kind of thing that has been the destruction of churches in centuries past. It’s not popular to sort out the true from the false, but it is right and it is necessary.
And you better learn to recognize the false messengers and you better be able to tell the true messengers. The true messengers won’t be showmen. They won’t be throwing their egos around. They won’t be intimidating those who seek truth into silence. They won’t be calling for tolerance and acceptance. The true messengers will refuse to talk about themselves. They will hate to see their name in lights. They will draw the example of their life from the meekness of Jesus. They will believe in the pure power of Scripture. They will be consistent in life and teaching.
They will work within very clear-cut spheres of powerful influence, take no credit for other’s works, lay no claims to things they haven’t achieved, seek to give all the credit to the Lord, and be consumed with eternal commendation, not temporal applause. Such are those approved by God.
Corinth should have been able to tell the difference and that’s the sad story, folks, how gullible the church has always been. If the church pastored by the apostle Paul was gullible, I’m very certain that any church pastored by me or anybody else far inferior to Paul has a significant degree of gullibility. We need to be aware and alerted to the recognition of the true preachers as over against the false who come as terrorists to destroy the work of God.
If they were real, you would know it by the virtue of their relationship with Jesus Christ. You would know it because they would disdain worldly methods, because they would have great compassion for people, because they would have integrity, because they would be marked as humble.
Father, we thank you for this passage of Scripture, which is very personal and somewhat technical and yet, Lord, so helpful in giving us what we need to have to evaluate those who claim to represent you. Protect your church, Lord, protect your church from the wolves, false teachers, those in shepherd’s garments who want to destroy. Protect your church from those clouds without water, those seducing, lying teachers, those deceivers.
Oh, Lord, we grieve so much over the destruction that they have caused and we long for triumph for the truth. Raise up many faithful who will wage the war, who will storm the spiritual fortresses, the ideological fortresses set up against the knowledge of Christ and defeat them and take captive the souls of men and women and bring them to Christ and to His Kingdom. Use us in that. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
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