March 31, 2020

We Use Different Tools

Mosaic of the Apostle Paul, Ravenna

A Letter for the Church Today (2)
A Study of 2 Corinthians 10-13

Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.

• 2Cor 10:3-5, NRSV

• • •

I am not a “handy” person. It’s not that I’m incapable (or so I imagine), but rather that I’ve never taken the time to learn and practice the art of making or fixing things. As a result, I have also never invested a lot of money in tools beyond the basic items needed for general tasks. On several occasions, this has caused me headaches, because a project presented itself that required something beyond a basic tool. When possible, I procured what was needed, but at other times I made the foolish mistake of trying to make do with the wrong instruments. The outcome usually wasn’t pretty. Something that could have been made or fixed easily (and correctly) with the proper tool ended up being butchered by a “hack job.”

In 2Corinthians 10-13, Paul is warning the Corinthian church that some “hack” Christian leaders whom he calls “super-apostles” (11:5) are working on them. He is frightened for their spiritual well being, “afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, [their] thoughts [would] be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (11:3).

Every generation is troubled by preachers and teachers who take advantage of the opportunities for corruption that church culture affords. In this part of his epistle, Paul reminds us that both leaders and congregations are responsible to settle for nothing less than true pastoral leadership.

…individual Christians and local churches alike must take responsibility for the styles of leadership they follow. If it is true that Christian leaders are responsible before God for the teaching they provide, the models they display, and the directions they take, it is no less true that Christians and Christian assemblies are responsible for choosing what and whom they will emulate. The problems at Corinth depicted in 2Corinthians 10-13 would never have arisen if the Corinthian church had handled the intruders in a mature and biblical fashion in the first place. That they failed to do so reflects their spiritual immaturity, their unsettling inability to perceive that the norms of their own society were deeply pagan and not to be nurtured in the church.

• D.A. Carson, A Model of Christian Maturity: An Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10-13

Carson notes that there were three inappropriate cultural models that shaped the approach of these “super-apostles”:

  • Judaizing Christianity, which sought to prove its spiritual superiority by emphasizing its Jewish covenant status,
  • Hellenistic Philosophy, which emphasized forms of polished rhetoric and skillful oratorical presentation, and the ability to attract big audiences and command high fees for imparted wisdom,
  • Visionary Enthusiasm, which stressed a leader’s esoteric spiritual visions and experiences.

Paul confronts these “super-apostles” who are troubling the Corinthians by “leading” them with the wrong tools. In 2Cor 10:1-6, he notes that these teachers have accused him of “acting according to human standards.” In other words, they have dismissed the Apostle and his approach as inferior and common, not up to their spiritual standards.

Paul responds by saying, “Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds.” In other words, yes, we’re common human beings alright, but it’s not human standards that define our ministry. We no longer conduct ourselves “according to the flesh” — the ways of the world system are not the ways by which we operate any longer.

Christian leaders are called to use different tools.

Is it necessary to list the ways in which the American church has become enthralled with the “tools of the flesh”? Much of contemporary church culture glories in its spectacular worship “shows,” polished preachers, professional corporate organization, along with emphases on spiritual enthusiasm, prosperity teaching, “vision” and unmediated spiritual experience, as well as triumphalistic attitudes and approaches in “culture war” confrontations. We tend to like big, loud, and impressive.

In contrast, note what Paul writes in this passage: “I myself, Paul, appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ…” (2Cor 10:1)

In contrast to the prevailing methods of the “super-apostles” of his day, and the “mega-church” culture of ours, note the concepts and words in this first sentence that describe the tools Paul uses as a true pastoral leader:

  • Personal Touch (“I myself, Paul…”): Paul believed in personal communication, not just public teaching and reliance upon rhetoric. One senses he would have felt uncomfortable on a big stage or seeing his face on a big screen. He could talk to crowds, of course, but the evidence suggests he did best in face-to-face situations when possible. His letters are remarkably personal, and when he was really concerned about his friends and could not visit them personally, he sent coworkers to represent him.
  • Respectful Appeal: The “super-apostles” had commanding presence and used their credentials to put themselves in positions of power over others. Paul, on the other hand, sought to influence by lovingly appealing to the hearts and minds of his fellow believers. He eschewed control and treated his brothers and sisters with dignity, recognizing their ability to respond to God’s Spirit and make decisions themselves.
  • The Meekness and Gentleness of Christ: One is immediately reminded of Matthew 11:28-30 — “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Like his Master, Paul humbled himself to serve rather than exalting himself to lord it over his friends. Don Carson writes: “Meekness and gentleness…taken together, suggest that the person characterized by such virtues will be generous in his estimates of others, slow to take offense, well able to bear reproach, consistently above self-interest.”

With those kinds of tools, one can build a church.

Try to use the inadequate tools of “the flesh,” and you’ll have a hack job on your hands.

 

Comments

  1. Highwayman says

    Thank you, Mike – I really appreciate this study, as I did the first one of the series, last week.

    “…The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John 1 v.17).

    We need both. Grace without truth is useless and unhelpful, but truth without grace is hurtful and damaging. Paul knew this; unfortunately a lot of modern preachers don’t.

    I’ve seen some videos recently where there’s very little evidence of any of the three tools you mention, so even where the message has had some basically sound content I’ve switched off.

    When people can’t hear what we say because they’re deafened by what we are, we’re wasting our breath.

  2. “With those kinds of tools, one can build a church. Try to use the inadequate tools of “the flesh,” and you’ll have a hack job on your hands.”

    I agree SO much with this post, almost to the point of tears! In your closing thoughts, I agree that there are many “hack jobs”. But I must confess a doubt to you, and anyone else who is reading: I sometimes wonder if a church can be built the right way. In our community, the local mega-church has literally drained away hundreds of people from smaller, pastoral churches because that is what people seem to prefer. Gospel centeredness is truly a foreign concept that church members (in large and small bodies) cannot seem to grasp and ultimately reject.

    Sorry, I’m just venting. I hope my community is an isolated case, but I fear it is not. May the Lord open our eyes.

    Thank you for your faithfulness to Jesus.

  3. “The problems at Corinth depicted in 2Corinthians 10-13 would never have arisen if the Corinthian church had handled the intruders in a mature and biblical fashion in the first place. That they failed to do so reflects their spiritual immaturity, their unsettling inability to perceive that the norms of their own society were deeply pagan…”

    This is probably nit-picking, but this quote by Carson bothered me a little. Along the same lines that it bothers me to hear ‘a true Christian reads her Bible daily’ and think ‘must have been impossible to be a ‘real Christian’ before Guetenburg’ (read sarcasm there please) – the same with ‘they failed to be spiritually mature and do things Biblically’ when they were all young in the faith and had no guidelines to follow. Isn’t this one of the reasons we have letters like this canonize in scripture, so that we have a model of ‘here are the possible pitfalls and how to address them when they arrise’? I absolutely do agree that since we have access to such teaching we are more accountable to ‘know better’ and take responsibility as individuals as to who we follow and what we accept as ‘spiritual’. But for the Corinithian church, I keep thinking about what a friend of mine says ‘when we know better, we do better’ – I’m not sure they were in a position to ‘know better’ at that point.

    • I don’t think you are nit-picking, and you have an important point. I think Carson’s big point is valid — congregations of believers are responsible to align with good leaders. That’s why Paul is writing to the church, after all.

      However, I still think the weight of responsibility is on those who take up leadership. And, as Paul will say later in this passage, leaders can be quite deceptive and persuasive that they are “God’s anointed.” It may take some hard lessons along the way to help us grow up and realize this.

      • Very much agree regarding leadership. And to a large degree the decernment needed by those who follow and have any spiritual maturity to build upon. I’m currently reading The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. It definitely addresses those deceptive, persuasive and down-right false teachers and how to recognize the pattern…..and avoid it of course.

    • Thanks, the same quote hit me. They didn’t act “biblically”? More worship of the “Book” than the “Man” rearing its ugly head again.

      CHRISTIANITY IS MORE THAN JUST “THE BIBLE”.

  4. Thanks for this post. Two themes that strike me from this post, and from the immediately preceding one about verses to be taught, are the need for leaders (and all believers) to have a true and deeply ingrained humility and an attitude of stewardship that is lived out in word and deed. These things are so hard to find in individuals; we are so often captives to pride and position and possession.

    Stewardship in particular seems very rare. Even when they know the right words and concepts of stewardship, leaders often seem to behave as if the church they are trusted to lead belongs to them and is led by them, rather than something to be led in trust and stewardship as part of the larger church with Christ as the head.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    And all three of these wrong approaches have present-day forms:

    * Judaizing Christianity, which sought to prove its spiritual superiority by emphasizing its Jewish covenant status,

    Change “Jewish” to “American”…

    * Hellenistic Philosophy, which emphasized forms of polished rhetoric and skillful oratorical presentation, and the ability to attract big audiences and command high fees for imparted wisdom,

    i.e. Osteen, Driscoll, Grinning Ed, and ALL those Megachurch CELEBRITIES…

    * Visionary Enthusiasm, which stressed a leader’s esoteric spiritual visions and experiences.

    i.e. Tatted Todd, Driscoll (again), IHOP (not the pancakes), all those Spiritual Warfare types…

  6. Great post!
    Using the wrong tools can definitely lead to some “hack jobs” as you say. But I fear that if we get too attached to using the wrong tools, that will ultimately lead to a complete shift in the tasks we set out to accomplish — and, in the end, we might end up doing a good job at the wrong things.
    And what begins as well-meaning Christians using worldly tools to build up Christ’s church might end with a corporate/media empire with Jesus’ name attached for product endorsement.