(2 Cor. 5:17)
Studies in Second Corinthians
Please read Chapter 11
MORE OF PAUL’S “FOOLISHNESS”
May God grant us pious pastors,” prayed the synod president at a convention.
It was a fervent petition. Vivid in his memory must have been the devastation caused by C. F. W. Walther’s old mentor, Martin Stephan. Stephan was the self-appointed “bishop” of the Saxon Lutheran immigrant churches of Perry County, Missouri. He had been drifting away from sound biblical doctrine and was also found to be guilty of gross immorality. He was finally deposed from office. His false teaching about the Church would have been reason enough for this drastic action. But the problem of his immoral behavior was what precipitated it.
The enemies of the gospel often attack the persons who preach it, rather than take on the gospel itself. Like negative campaigning in an election year. Nobody seems to approve of that, but most will agree that it is effective, especially if there is substance to the charges. So Stephan had to go, for “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer (bishop) . . . he must be above reproach . . . . He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap” (1 Tim. 3). In the work of the gospel, scandalous scoundrels do need to be exposed–for the sake of saving truth.
When The Target Is Innocent
In Corinth there were religious scoundrels who were bent on drawing the Christians away from the Lord’s apostle “unto themselves.” They paraded as “super apostles” (v. 5), but Paul declared them to be false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ (v. 13). “And no wonder,” he writes, “for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness” (v. 14).
How did these masked devils do their dirty work? With more subtlety than you would think. Aware that Paul would be held in high regard by the Corinthian Christians, they seemingly avoided a frontal attack. Instead they BOASTED. Boasted that they offered a different and superior Jesus, a superior spirit, a superior gospel (v. 4). They evidently boasted of their oratorial eloquence (v. 6). They even made much of the fact that they exploited the people, demanding a high price for their services (v. 7-9). On the assumption, probably, that “the higher the price tag, the better the product.” Boasting in the manner of the world (v. 18). All of this to demean and diminish the Lord’s appointed apostle and his gospel.
What To Do?
In this case Paul chose to fight fire with fire. The Corinthians were so gullible (v. 4b) that he stooped to conquer. He stepped totally out of character to meet his detractors at their level. The man who prayed that he might never boast except in the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14) asks the Corinthians to let him play the fool and do a little self-confident boasting!
With all the confidence of innocence, Paul dared to boast:
*Though not a trained speaker, he was truly knowledgeable. He knew
whereof he spoke, for he spoke of Christ. That made him not in the
least inferior (v. 6).
* His willingness to refuse support in Corinth was a costly
testimony that “We seek not yours but you.” Of this he would not
stop “boasting” (vv. 7-12).
* He was “too weak” to enslave, exploit, or take advantage of them
as did his detractors (vv. 20-21).
* Inviting a comparison to his foes, he cites his numerous
sufferings for the sake of his gospel. Could any of them say that
they had sustained eight public floggings of 39 lashes? Just to
read the list of his humiliations is to make one hurt all over.
If we wonder why Paul plays the fool so much, let us note how his love burned for those Corinthians, whom he yearned to present as a bride in virginal purity to Christ.
He could not bear the thought that they might be deceived by the serpent’s cunning and led astray from their sincere and pure devotion to Christ (vv. 1-2), or to be exploited (v. 20). He was so close to them that he felt weak when they were weak and longed for their restoration when they fell into temptation (v. 29).
With motives like that one has to say that the battle was nobly fought. Even though Paul’s weapon of warfare was so strange for Paul to use. What he wrote about himself was honest and true. The jury won’t have to stay out long on this case!
Sad thing is, these things ought to have been said by the Corinthians, “opening the mouth for him who cannot speak” in his own defense.
Let us watch for attacks on faithful gospel witnesses, doing what we can to keep the record straight. What is at stake is the life that only the gospel can give!
— Pastor Rollin A. Reim