NOTES II Corinthians
11:16-33 (click here for
Paul has just completed his remarkable discourse on boundaries and has further shown how the false prophets who have infiltrated the church at Corinth are trampling the boundaries of God's appointments. They are trying to claim for themselves the loyalty and zeal which those newly-born Christ-followers have felt for Paul and for the gospel. The impostors are opportunists who prey on the vulnerable and unsuspecting in order to gain for themselves an easy following and financial support.
Up against the power of the false apostles' claims for themselves and the Corinthians' gullibility to their smooth talk, Paul decides to talk to the Corinthians in a way similar to the impostors' boasting in order to get their attention. He's obviously uncomfortable saying these things about himself, and he prefaces his words with a disclaimer: "I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool."
Although this was perhaps the only time Paul compared his words to those of a fool, there were a few other instances in which he differentiated between his words and God's words. In 1 Corinthians 7, the chapter in which Paul discusses various implications of marriage and singleness, he does specify that certain parts of his advice are his own words while other commands are from the Lord. After explaining that married couples are not to "deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer," Paul makes the personal observation in verse 6, "I wish that all men were as I am." (He was unmarried.)
In verse 10 of the same chapter he specifies that the command that a woman must not separate from her husband is from the Lord, not from him. Two verses later, he clarifies that he, not the Lord, is giving the recommendation that a believing spouse should not separate from an unbelieving spouse if the unbeliever is willing to live with the believer. Again in verse 25 he clarifies that he has "no command from the Lord" concerning the unmarried, but he advises "because of the present crisis" that those who are single should remain unmarried although they do not sin if they marry.
We can safely deduce that these recommendations were within the scope of God's will because they did not contradict His clear commands. We can also deduce that Paul's intimate relationship with Jesus gave him wisdom to speak and act within God's will even without a direct command from God. We can similarly deduce that in this passage in 2 Corinthians 11, Paul's boasting is not a display of sinful pride outside God's will. While Paul clearly feels foolish and perhaps self-serving, his detailing his qualifications, his sufferings, and ultimately his remarkable rapture into the presence of God (2 Corinthians 12:1-10) provided a reality check for the Corinthians-and gives us today a clearer understanding of the reason for Paul's depth of knowledge and for his reliability.
Paul makes the point that "many are boasting in the way the world does," so he, too, will boast. By this statement he was saying the false apostles were deceiving the brothers by boasting about things that sounded good to the world but in the eyes of God were meaningless. Worldly boasting includes pride of pedigree. The Jews prided themselves on their lineage from Abraham, and the Judaizing "Christians" also claimed their connection to the patriarch as their recommendation of authenticity. (see v.22; Philippians 3:3,4) The fact that faith in Jesus and being born of the Spirit marked the true children of God had not changed the false apostles' world view. Boasting of things the world values, however, is counterproductive. Paul points out that boasting is not good and, like yeast, works its way through the whole batch of dough. (1 Corinthians 5:6) Boasting takes one's own eyes away from reality and truth and fills one's mind with thoughts of himself. What a Christ-follower accomplishes is a direct result of God's Spirit and power working through him or her, not of his own talent and cleverness or heritage.
Paul acknowledges that worldly boasting is wrong, but because these Corinthians are becoming convinced of the false apostles' "authenticity" because of their boasting, Paul will now recite his "credentials" so they can see that the impostors have no claim to anything Paul himself cannot claim. In fact, they will see that Paul has more trustworthiness than do the silver-tongued deceivers.
Now Paul allows his deep disappointment and irritation with the Corinthians' gullibility and his anger at the false teachers to surface. "You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise!" he says. "In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!" He displays the sort of helpless frustration a father might feel watching his daughter enter a marriage to an abusive husband.
In this passage Paul lists three types of manipulation the Corinthians were accepting from the false teachers: enslavement, exploitation, and physical abuse. Based on verse 22, it seems clear the false apostles were Judaizers infiltrating the ranks of these new believers and trying to persuade them to adopt Jewish rituals as a means of qualifying to be God's children.
In his letter to the Galatians Paul clearly exposed this sort of enslavement for what it was: a bewitchment whose power came not from Jesus but from Satan. (Galatians 3:1) In Galatians 2:4 Paul discusses the "false brothers", Jewish converts who really were not true believers, who "infiltrated [their]ranks to spy on [their] freedomin Christ Jesus and to make [them] slaves." These men had apparently been posing to the Galatian converts as brothers in Christ and then using their position of trust to convince them to become circumcised. Such deception was not tolerable. In Gal. 4:9 Paul further elaborated the nature of Judaizing enslavement. "Now that youare known by God-how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years." Keeping Jewish laws and rituals clearly equaled falling away from trust in Jesus. Now that Jesus had fulfilled the law, returning to that law meant willfully walking into slavery.
"It is for freedom that Christ has set you free," Paul states in Galatians 5:1. "Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Paul is unequivocal in his insistence that the Jewish laws and rituals were NOT for the Gentile converts. To be persuaded to keep them was to allow oneself to be taken into slavery.
Besides tolerating enslavement, the Corinthians were also putting up with exploitation. Jesus himself warned against religious opportunists such as the false teachers in Corinth apparently were.
"Watch out for the teachers of the law," he said. "They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely." (Mark 12:38-40)
Paul also warned against such people. In the last days, he wrote to Timothy, people will be completely self-centered, "lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them."
He didn't stop with a description and a warning against associating with such people. Paul continued by explaining the kind of advantage they take over those whom they bewitch. "They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknolwedge the truththese men oppose the truth-men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected." (2 Timothy 3:2-8)
People such as the Corinthian false teachers use people's deep desire for spiritual life as a means of deceiving them for the teachers' own profit. Such teachers can spot the emotionally and spiritually vulnerable-those who desire peace but are loaded down with guilt and shame and unhealed wounds in their hearts. Such false teachers take advantage of the spiritual immaturity, the loneliness, the vulnerability of their victims. They promise them belonging and righteousness if they follow their own sets of rules and requirements. Further, they flatter their victims and gain their trust so the unsuspecting disciples of these teachers unhesitatingly give them their offerings and gifts. The teachers profit from these gifts, and the victims feel reassured that they are doing what they should in order to be saved.
These false teachers never preach the all-sufficiency of Jesus' death and resurrection. They preach Jesus in some way, but only as a component of salvation, not as the only way, source, and provider of salvation. Those who are sucked into such teachers' mesmerizing influence are enchanted not by the humble servanthood of the Lord Jesus but by the personal charm of their instructors and by the seduction that they themselves can do things that will improve God's opinion of them.
Such false teachers exploit the trust of their followers and, by their flattery and seductive promises, convince them that they alone are worthy of loyalty. They confuse and deceive their victims, and they successfully cause them to abandon their first simple faith and trust in the Lord Jesus. For their own gain, these false teachers pervert the gospel, decieve and use vulnerable people, and put their own souls in jeopardy.
Vulnerable to Abuse
The Corinthians were vulnerable to accepting abuse because they did not center themselves on the word of God and on their intimacy with Jesus. They accepted false teachings because they sounded attractive and because the teachers were charismatic. The Corinthians forfeited their responsibility to examine what they heard.
They were also vulnerable because they hung onto their petty jealousies and quarrels, not allowing God to be sovereign in their hearts. They continued to act "in the flesh" instead of allowing the Spirit to transform them. (1 Corinthians 2:12-13, 3:1-4)
In verse 20 Paul alludes to the fact that the false teachers were even slapping and hitting the Corinthians, apparently to get them to comply with their wishes. These young Christians had apparently adopted the attitude of an abused but enabling wife. Certain of their own shortcomings but blinded to the real cause of their weakness, the Corinthians mistook the arrogance and pride of the false teachers for spiritual authority. The false apostles' demands and rules gave the Corinthian Christians a sense of security in their own spiritual immaturity. Because they refused the self-discipline of submitting their grievances to God instead of creating fights among themselves, because they took their eyes of Jesus and the pure gospel, they fell into deception. They rationalized their predicament.
"These teachers care for us and have great authority," they undoubtedly said among themselves. "They know we are full of selfishness and sin, and we deserve to be punished and corrected." The physical abuse and the finaincial exploitation probably felt fair to the Corinthians. After all, they were new Christians, freshly redeemed from the self-serving, power-hungry world. They knew far more about winning by competition and intimidation than they knew about grace and freedom. Powerful people who provided structure and rules felt comfortable to them-and far more familiar, undoubtedly, than the freedom to live in grace and to be directed by the Holy Spirit.
Whenever we look away from Jesus and begin seeking experiences, micro-managing our circumstances, and refusing to acknowledge the truth about ourselves which the Holy Spirit tries to reveal, we fall prey to deception. We become vulnerable to heresy and to false teachers. We become vulnerable to "another spirit", and we pervert the gospel in our lives.
To "Weak" To Abuse
Paul ends his indictment against the Corinthians' tolerance of evil by comparing himself to those people who were exploiting and hitting the Corinthians. "To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!"
Paul's irony is obvious. His reference to his weakness, however, is not just sarcastic. Paul has claimed consistently that he is weak, and that God has been his strength. In chapter 10:1-2, Paul reminded the Corinthians church, "By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you." In chapter 12 he will discuss his chronic weakness through which God's strength is made perfect. When Paul says he is too weak to hit the Corinthians, he is reminding them that he is not personally charismatic and commanding. His teaching is powerful because God's Spirit speaks through him. By ironically stating that he is too weak to hit them, Paul is implying that while he is not aggressive himself, neither is God, his strength, asking him to abuse them. The fact that the Corinthians are tolerating this kind of treatment is evidence that they are deceived. If they were focussing on Jesus and putting their faith in him, they would not be experiencing these kinds of abuses. Further, if they did experience abuse from their spiritual leaders, they would know that it came from "another spirit," not the Spirit of God, and they would flee.
Question of Identity
After exposing the abuses of the false teachers, Paul continues by comparing his own heritage with theirs. It is in verse 22 that we first clearly understand that the false apostles are supposedly Christian Jews who are still insisting that the way to God is through Judaism. To Jews, the fact of their genetic heritage traceable to Abraham was their most important identity. Their Jewishness is what, in their understanding, made them worthy of acceptance by God. Since God chose and formed Israel, they reason, and since he gave them the promises of slavation and the practices that kept the promises alive, no gentile could hope to have access to God without first converting to Judaism and adopting the Jewish rituals.
Jesus's death and resurrection turned that understanding upside down. In Jesus, not in the Jewish rituals, all the promises of salvation were fulfilled. Through Jesus the curse of sin was broken, and salvation was available for all who believed in Him. Gentiles do not have to become Jews to become God's children; rather, God's children are all Jews and Gentiles who accept the sacrifice of Jesus and become born again.
The Jewish rituals and laws became obsolete in Jesus. No longer do God's people look to the law for guidance in living; rather, they look to Jesus, and in him they find righteousenss and acceptance.
The Judaizers in the first century, however, were Jews who superficially accepted the teachings of Jesus, but they did not let go of their pride in their heritage. They couldn't release the feeling of being special or chosen, and they continued to preach that in order to become God's children, gentiles first had to accept and observe Jewish rituals including circumcision as well as the teachings of Jesus. Such teaching is heresy; one cannot live in both the old covenant and the new covenant at the same time. These Judaizers, however, wrought much havoc in the early churches as they persisted in trying to draw the gentile converts under their spell by promising them "special" status if they adopted Judaism along with Christianity.
Paul explains that the Judaizers, who are actively trying to discredit him, have no claim to special status that he does not have himself. He proceeds, in verse 22, to point out that he is a Jewish as they are, and that he is as much a Christ-follower as they are. Such identity, however, has nothing to do with belonging to God. Being Jewish is not a prerequisite for salvation.
In Philippians 3:1-6 Paul writes to the Philippian church that circumcision, the Jewish sign of entrance into the old covenant, means nothing in the new covenant. In fact, he goes so far as to call the Judaizers who are insisting that the Gentile Christians become circumcized "dogs" and "mutilators of the flesh". He continues by pointing out that his own by-the-book circumcision means nothing and, in fact, went hand-in-hand with arrogance, persecution of Christians, and "legalistic righteousness". Righteousness that comes from Christ, he continues, is the only thing that matters. His circumcision and his Jewishness count for nothing.
In Acts 22:3-5 Paul also recounts his Jewish heritage and education. He confesses that his Jewish zealousness led him to seek out and persecute the Christians who were claiming to be God's children apart from being Jewish.
Amalgamation Not Allowed
At first glance it seems like a reasonable idea: keep the symbols and practices of the old covenant that seem meaningful or symbolic of belonging to God, and embrace the new covenant as well. It appears almost like a marriage: each spouse preserves the most meaningful family traditions from their homes of origin, combining them in new ways to create their own new traditions.
Paul, however, is adamant throughout his epistles that one cannot cling to the practices and beliefs of the past as an "insurance policy" that one will be right with God. When a person realizes that Jesus has saved him and has completely broken the power of sin, when one experiences the new birth and understands that absolutely nothing he or she can do will influence one's acceptance by God, then clinging to the old rituals "just in case" or out of comfort becomes an act of doubt rather than of faith.
Acts 15 records the council at Jerusalem where the apostles declared what the requirements would be for Gentile converts. Many Jewish Christians were trying to insist that new converts had to be circumcised and honor the Mosaic law when they were converted. Peter spoke up and pointed out that God had accepted the gentiles and given them the Holy Spirit just as he had the Jewish believers, and this acceptance had happened withouth those gentiles being circumcised.
"Now then," he said, "why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it si through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are." (Acts 15:10-11)
James then led the brothers in establishing only four things they would require of gentile converts: "abstain from food pollouted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood." (see Acts 20, 28-29) From the beginning of the formation of the church, gentiles had not been required to submit to Jewish law. Accepting Jesus is an act of faith that transcends ethnic practices, and being born again depends on a relationship and openness to Jesus, not on rituals or behaviors.
In his first letter to them, Paul had already reminded the Corinthians that their arguing over practices and loyalties was destructive. "We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews of Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." (1 Corinthians 12:13) Belonging to the body of Christ depends upon nothing except accepting Jesus and being born from above by the Holy Spirit. That new birth, that indwelling Holy Spirit, provides the assurance among believers that they are one in Christ.
Paul is even more vehement in Galatians when he explains how one belongs to Christ. The Galatians were falling under the influence of Judaizers also, and they were becoming convinced that they had to add Jewish requirements and rituals to their lives in order to be God's children. Paul reminds them that they are already sons of God through faith in Christ. In Christ, "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Chruist Jesus. If you belong to christ, then you are Abraham's see, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:26-29)
In this passsage Paul is verifying that God's promises ARE for Abrahams's "seed", but he turns traditional Jewish understanding upside down by explaining that genetics do not determine who inherits God's promises to Abraham; faith in Jesus is what makes a person one of Abraham's seed. No Jewish ritual or practice can make one more worthy; one does not need to become Jewish in order to inherit God's promises.
In Ephesians 2:11-18 Paul further explains that although the Gentiles were scorned by the Jews, called the "uncircumcised", and were therefore separated from God, they have been "brought near" to God "therough the blood of Christ". He explains that by his death Jesus "put to death" the hostility between Jew and Gentile. He created "in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace." He emphasizes this surprising reality by saying, "For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit." No circumcision, no observance or rituals are necessary for Gentiles to qualify to inherit God's promises made to Abraham. Belief in Jesus and acceptance of the new birth is all that matters.
Finally, "here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all," Paul wrote to the Colossian believers. (Colossians 3:11)
The false teachers in Corinth were wreaking havoc with the Corinthians' young faith. In 2 Corinthians Paul is remonstrating with them to return to the truth that they know about Jesus and to believe the truth they know about him. They must ground themselves firmly in Christ, holding to the teaching of the gospel that Paul had given them. By pointing out the abuses they are suffering at the hands of the false apostles, Paul is hoping to wake the Corinthians up to the reality of what is happening to them. They are being seduced by charismatic teachers into adopting pious-appearing works and loyalties in an effort to make themselves worthy of God. It is a denial of the unifying work of Jesus to believe one must observe Jewish laws and rituals in order to be worthy. The new birth and righteousness never depend upon one's performances. They always depend entirely upon one's belief in Jesus and upon His grace and cleansing.
Paul's Personal Suffering
After pointing out that his identity was as impeccable as was the false brothers', Paul again mentions his sufferings.He specifically mentions his five separate floggings of "forty lashes minus one" and also his three beatings by Romans with iron rods. The 39 lashes originated from an old Mosaic law found in Deuteronomy 25:1-3. In this law, Israelites were allowed to bring their disputes to court for a judge to decide the case. If a man was found to be guilty, he was to be flogged with "the number of lashes his crime deserve[d]". A man was never, though, to be flogged more than 40 times. "If he is flogged more than that, your brother will be degraded in your eyes."
Paul's passionate conversioin to Christ must have enraged the Pharisees. He had been one of them, stinting nothing in his persual and persecution of Christians. His belief in and love for Jesus, however, made him boldly edure the humiliation of being flogged by his former colleagues.
While the Jews had a "legal" precedcent for flogging Paul, the Romans' beatings were against the law. Paul's preaching was engraging not only the Jews but also many Gentiles. His call to serve God was causing divisions in households and, in the words of the owner of a slave out of whom Paul and Silas cast a devil, "These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advoacting customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice." (Acts 16:20-21) On five different occasions, Paul was seized and beaten without a trial. The fact those Romans overlooked was that Paul was born a Roman citizen, and it was illegal for a Roman to beat another citizen without a proper trial. (see. Acts 16:37-39, 22:25-29)
Paul continued his list of sufferings by mentioning being stoned, shipwrecked, and suffering danger from rivers and bandits, from his own countryment and from Gentiles, in cities, in the country, and at sea. Finally he mentions that he's been in danger from false brothers. In Galatians 2:4 Paul tells of a specific time false brothers caused problems. In explaining to the Galatians why his teaching is valid, Paul cites the time he presented himself to the brothers at Jerusalem to get their approval of the gospel he was teaching. As evidence that the gospel did not require any Jewish rituals or practices, he mentions that he had Titus, a Greek, with him in Jerusalem.
"Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised," he wrote. He continues by mentioning that the issue of Titus' circumcision came up because "some false brothers had ifiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves."
Apparently some men who claimed to be Christians but were in fact Judaizers spied on Titus, discovered he was not circumcised, and made that fact public, insisting that Paul circumcise him. Neither Paul nor the apostles at Jerusalem gave in to the Judaizers' pressure.
The danger Paul faced from false brothers was of a different sort from physical danger. We expect opposition from unbelievers, and we also expect to encounter spiritual warfare in many guises. Betrayal by someone who claims the name of Christ and professes support and loyalty to the work we are doing, however, cuts deeply and often more painfully than does the struggle to survive in openly hostile circumstances. Such betrayal tempts us to feel doubt and suspicion about anyone who associates with the betrayer, and this effect of broken trust can paralyze us and draw our focus away from Jesus and his power and protection which are ours.
Paul's experience with the false brothers, however was not without precedent. Throughout the story of mankind, God has included events by which he warns us that we can expect deception and betrayal from among those close to us. These stories, however, also carry the reassurance that God protects his purposes and that evil will not win.
Two of the most famous "false brother" stories are separated by millennia. The first happened early in human history. Cain, the oldest son of Adam and Eve, offered a sacrifice to God which God, for reasons we are not told, did not accept. Abel, the younger brother, offered a sacrifice which God accepted. In his fury, Cain killed Abel. God told Cain that Abel's righteous blood cried out from the ground, and he put Cain under a curse. He would forever be a wanderer, and the earth, which he had previously farmed, would no longer yield its crops to him. (see Genesis 4:1-16)
Another famous "false brother" story is Judas' betrayal of Jesus. This betrayal was a symbolic event illustrating the insurmountable hostility between evil and truth which all Christ-followers can expect to experience.Judas, who had lived and traveled and suffered and ministered with Jesus for three and one-half years, betrayed Jesus into the murderous hands of the Pharisees for 30 pieces of silver.
Betrayal by a professed brother in Christ is deeply wounding. In fact, its effects are so severe that Paul lists "false brothers" in his accounting of the life-threatening dangers he faced in his ministry.
Paul's list of suffering and deprivation, which included lack of sleep, food and water, clothing, and shelter, illustrates that God's people are not promised prosperity when they follow Jesus. Early in his ministry Jesus declared, in his Sermon on the Mount, that we are not to worry about how to obtain food, water, or clothing. God knows we need the basics of survival, he said, and rather than worrying about sustaining ourselves, we are to seek the kingdom of God. Then God himself will provide the things we need to live. (see Matthew 6:25-34)
In the same sermon, Jesus also forwarned that just as the prophets were persecuted and riduculed, we who follow Jesus can expect the same thing. We are to consider ourselves blessed, however, when we are insulted and persecuted and when evil rumors are spread falsely about us because of our commitment to Jesus and his truth. We are to be glad and rejoice, because our reward will be great in heaven. (Matthew 5:11-12)
Shortly before his death, Jesus prayed for his disciples and for all those who would come to know Him in the future. He said, "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one." (John 17:15) Paul experienced a confirmation of this prayer when he received a chronic problem he called a thorn in his flesh. He begged God to take it from him, but God's answer to him was, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
We have absolutely no assurance that our lives will be prosperous or comfortable when we follow Jesus. In fact, we can expect opposition, suffering, deprivation, and personal helplessness. What we we are assured, however, is far greater than material comfort. We are assured of God's protection,, provision, and power in our uncertainty. When we live in uncertain circumstances, we have to learn to trust Jesus. We cannot rely on our cleverness or political skills or money or status. When we follow Jesus, we discover that the things that formerly meant security were merely illusions. Reality, true security, is not material. The power of God, the Holy Spirit in us, the protection of our heavenly Father-these things are REAL and are eternal. These are the things Jesus wants us to learn to trust.
God does provide materially for us as well, but his provision becomes part of the eternal miracle of dependence on Him instead of our own manueverings. God faithfully leads us into deeper and deeper dependence on him until we even begin to understand that the things we have are His things-He merely asks us to be their stewards while we use them to do His work. He provides them according to his sovereign will, and often our material provisions are clearly blessings from God for which we can take no credit or claim no ownership.
Identification With the Suffering
Paul ends this accounting of his suffering by declaring that above all else, he carries daily the pressure of his concern for all the churches. He identifies so closely, in fact, that he declares he feels weak when he knows one of them is weak, and when one of them is "led into sin", he inwardly burns. Paul rightly considered himself the spiritual father of those early converts. When they suffered or stumbled, or when others led them astray, he felt a father's defensive reaction.
In this context, the weakness to which Paul refers is the "weakness" of spiritual immaturity. This type of weakness is what Paul describes in Romans 14:1-4 and Romans 15:1-4. It is spiritual vulnerability to certain rituals or behaviors, such as eating meat (Romans 14:2) or keeping days (Romans 14:5). Meat in pagan Rome was often offered to idols before being sold to the public, and converted pagans were often sensitive to the idea of eating meat which had been offered to their former deities. Converted Jews still felt tied to their ceremonial feast days while Gentile converts felt no such affinity. Spiritual weakness does not mean a spiritual flaw; it simply means that in a particular area, one's faith is still young. In order to exercise one's new understanding of faith, he or she must specifically avoid certain practices which subconsciously throw one back into one's old lifestyle.
In Romans 15:1-4, Paul explains that the strong need to understand and "bear with" the needs of the weak. In other words, the freedoms of the strong should not be made normative for all Christ-followers. The sensitivities of the weak should, rather, determine the reactions of the strong instead of the other way around. When a new believer begins practicing his faith by practicing observances (or by abandoning observances) as a way of expressing his new loyalty to Jesus, those who are more mature must nurture and accommondate those observances. Otherwise, as Paul states in 2 Corinthians 11:29, thse young Christian may be led into sin. Whenever a Christian does something that is not an outgrowth of his faith but is rather a defiance of his old life, that act is not an act of faith; it is an act of the flesh. Those who are strong in the faith need to support and encourage those who are immature, encouraging their new forays of faith. In this passage of 2 Corinthians, Paul is openly admitting his anger at those false teachers who had come into Corinth, taken advantage of the Corinthians' vulnerable new (weak) faith, and seduced them into practices and beliefs that were contrary to their understanding of God's will for them.
The false teachers in Corinth had failed to deal with one of the most basic concerns Jesus addressed: admitting and relinquishing sin in their own lives. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus plainly revealed the seriousness of indulging even in sinful thoughts and emotions. In Matthew 5:29-30, in the context of speaking against adultery and redefining it to include secret lust, Jesus admonished his listeners to gouge out an eye or cut off a hand if it leads one into sin. "It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell," he said. Jesus is not teaching that we must mutilate ourselves to avoid sin, because sin really resides in the heart. He is speaking metaphorically, emphasizing that we must deal decisively and permanently with sin in our lives. In other words, when the Holy Spirit reveals something in our lives that God wants gone, we must allow God to strengthen us to turn away from the situations, prompts, or even repetitive thoughts or temptations that seduce us into sin.
If we are to be this obedient to Jesus when he reveals sin in our lives, then our responsibility not to cause others to sin because of our influence must be at least as serious. In Matthew 18:5-9 Jesus warned the disciples about the fate of those who cause others to sin. After stating that people cannot enter heaven unless they become "like little children" (trusting and humble), he continued by saying that anyone who causes one of the "little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." In the context of this verse, Jesus is not referring only to children. He is referring to those who become trusting and humble like children and put their faith in him. God will deal severly with people who deceive humble and trusting believers. The world is wicked, and sin will happen, Jesus acknowledged. "But woe to the man through whom [such things] come!" (Matt. 18:7)
The false teachers at Corinth represent all false prophets and apostles who have deceived people and led them away from the freedom of knowing their certain salvation through faith in Jesus. God will not ignore the massive destruction of hearts and lives that has resulted from false teaching and spiritual abuses through the mellennia. Those that have been responsible for leading others into bondage will be punished. "Darkest blackness" will be their destiny, said both Peter and Jude. (Jude 12, 13; 2 Peter 2:17)
Weakness and Strength
Paul conculdes this passage by stating that he will boast in the things that show his weakness, citing as an example his narrow escape from Damascus where he escaped arrest by being lowered in a basket over the city wall. After detailing the ways in which he was not inferior to the false apostles, Paul still concludes with a statement signifying that all he is and all he does is because of and for the sake of Jesus. His will boast in his weakness because it is at the points of his limitations that God's strength is unmistakable. What Paul accomplished and endured could never have been done in human stregnth. Only God could have created and sustained a ministry such as his.
God is calling us into the light of truth and integrity. He is calling us to exercise discernment in relationship to both those who have authority over us and those over whom we have authority. Just as Paul called the Corinthians to truthfulness and clear-sightedness regarding those false teachers to whom they had given their loyalty, so God is calling us to be discerning about those we follow or admire. Even though deception is perpetrated by a deceiver upon a vulnerable victim, still the deceived is responsible before God for being awake to truth.
As Christ-followers we must submit every teaching we hear to the test of scripture. We cannot allow a convincing speaker to sway our thinking without our personally checking to see whether or not the Bible actually supports what he or she is teaching. Similarly, we cannot merely accept mistreatment from one in authority, tolerating abuse as the Corinthians did because we feel powerless or guilty. We are to test the spirit, the gospel and the Jesus a leader presents, and we are not to accept counterfeits.
We are most vulnerable to deception when we resist knowing the truth about ourselves. When Jesus wipes us clean with his sacrifice and sends his Spirit to live in us, he begins to heal us systematically. Often after we are born again issues come up in our lives that we had previously tried to forget. Unless we are willing to let Jesus bring them to our attention and give us the strength to face our guilt and shame, those pieces of our hearts and minds will never be whole. As long as we refuse to know the truth about our lives, we will live in a limited world. We will be unable to open our hearts to others because we will have to protect the secrets we are keeping either consciously or habitually. As long as we resist discernment about the events in our own experiences, we cannot have acurate discernment into the motives and behaviors of others. We are likely to respond to people with self-serving motives who promise attention and recognition and importance which they can never deliver. In fact, we are likely to give our loyalty to people who are using us without our perceiving that fact at all.
Further, God is calling us to trust him with the weaknesses we know we have. Some of our arfflictions God heals as he heals our hearts, but some, as in the case of Paul, God chooses not to remove, promising instead to cover our weaknesses with his power. God wants us to trust him to work in us in a way that will make us mature and intimate with him. He is asking us to believe that all things do work together for good in the lives of those who trust him. (see Romans 8:28)
Ask God to reveal to you the relationships and situations in your life that are compromised and about which you need discernment. Ask him to bring healing and resolution to the chronic pain in your life. Ask him to fill you with his discernment and to protect you from false doctrines and false people.
Above all, ask God to help you be willing to know the truth both about your own life and about the situations of your life. Let His strength guard your heart and mind as Jesus reveals to you the secrets of yourself, and let his touch bring healing to the shame and guilt and anger that have lived so long under the surface.
Praise God who is the God of health and strength and integration. Praise Jesus who redeems the past. Praise the Holy Spirit who transforms our wounds into into reservoirs of wisdom and authority.
Praise God, Three in One, who makes us one with Him!
Copyright (c) 2003 Graphics Studio, Redlands,
CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted January 19, 2003.