The world today is full of religious pretenders. The church of Jesus Christ has been infected with preachers and teachers that have perverted the gospel and have used the Word of God for their own personal gain. They have twisted God’s truth and sickened the church with their poisonous doctrines… they have exalted themselves and become megalomaniacs (if you’re wondering what that means the dictionary defines it as “A psychopathological condition characterized by delusional fantasies of wealth, power, or omnipotence”). They have perpetrated their personal indulgences and self-aggrandizement on sincere but gullible believers who have bought into their heresies and made wealthy icons of these so-called men and women of God in an age where technology and methodology have created superstar status for preachers.
But you know… this isn’t really a new problem for the church. It didn’t take Satan long to figure out that the power of the gospel of light is an unstoppable force against his kingdom of darkness… so if he were to have any success in impeding the power of God’s Word and weakening the church he would have to somehow corrupt the truth… and he would have to send his emissaries to infiltrate the church as leaders, preachers and teachers to do his dirty work. Both the Old and New Testaments have much to say about false teachers but consider some of these warnings from the New Testament.
The apostle Paul warned the elders from the church in Ephesus
I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. (Acts 20:26-30)
He told the Philippians,
For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame–who set their mind on earthly things…” (Phil.3:18,19)
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. (2 Pet.2:1)
Even Jesus warned his followers
“Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many… many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.” (Matt.24:5,11)
These are the kinds of people who had influenced the church in Corinth. Later on in chapter 11 he says,
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works. (2 Cor.11:13-15)
And not only did these men distort the truth of the gospel… they would also attack the integrity and sincerity of the true messengers of God as part of their strategy. And so, as we have already mentioned, Paul found it necessary to defend himself. After pouring out his heart, expressing his concerns for the welfare of the Corinthian believers in the first nine chapters, in chapters 10-13 he changes his tone and turns his attention toward these false teachers. He uses strong language to refute these men and make a defense of his ministry and apostleship. Our text this morning is a key element in his defense. Turn with me in your Bibles to 2 Cor.10:7-18.
7 Do you look at things according to the outward appearance? If anyone is convinced in himself that he is Christ’s, let him again consider this in himself, that just as he is Christ’s, even so we are Christ’s.*
8 For even if I should boast somewhat more about our authority, which the Lord gave us* for edification and not for your destruction, I shall not be ashamed–
9 lest I seem to terrify you by letters.
10 “For his letters,” they say, “are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.”
11 Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when we are absent, such we will also be in deed when we are present.
12 For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
13 We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us–a sphere which especially includes you.
14 For we are not overextending ourselves (as though our authority did not extend to you), for it was to you that we came with the gospel of Christ;
15 not boasting of things beyond measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but having hope, that as your faith is increased, we shall be greatly enlarged by you in our sphere,
16 to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man’s sphere of accomplishment.
17 But “he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”*
18 For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.
Kent Hughes, Senior Pastor Emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, made an observation in his commentary about what was happening that easily applies today when he writes:
Many Christian leaders have been so taken with the styles of leadership they see in politics and the entertainment industry that they unthinkingly have transferred these secular ways into the church. In Paul’s day, his enemies in Corinth had so effectively read their Greco-Roman culture back into their Christianity that they interpreted the gospel in terms of their values. They boasted in the preacher’s presence and bearing; they boasted in rhetorical eloquence; they flashed their resumes and endorsements and letters of commendation; they bragged of their large honoraria; they boasted of their connectedness that inferred greatness by association; and, they compared themselves with one another.
As a group, Paul’s enemies had become boastful and dismissive of Paul’s authority because Paul displayed none of the values that they so treasured. So here Paul answers them with a defense of his authority and a charge to embrace a ministry that boasts only in the Lord.
Paul begins this section by saying, , “Do you look at things according to the outward appearance?” In the original Greek this is really an imperative so the NASV puts this as a statement rather than a question so it reads, “You are looking at things as they are outwardly.He’s basically saying to them, “Can’t you see the obvious?” “Look at what’s in your face…” It is an imperative, meaning it is a command to weigh the evidence… consider the facts… don’t be fooled. If they were able to discern the truth they would realize that Paul gave plenty of evidence that he was a true apostle and genuine man of God… and his adversaries were the real deceivers.
When it comes to discerning truth from error, it seems that the church today has also lost its ability… because we are conforming to the world in such a way that we neglect or reject God-centered objective truth in exchange for a subjective, man-centered, what feels good, what I want kind of message. When I see some of the stuff that’s on Christian TV and see some of the books that are being devoured by Christians… I can’t help but wonder how could so many people be so gullible? Of course I understand the basic reason is that these teachers and their messages appeal to our human nature… to our flesh. It’s a “what’s in it for me” message that’s made to sound biblical but is, in fact, a perversion of truth.
So what Paul does now is lay out the evidence before them and us… explaining what’s he’s all about and in doing so, reveals some of the traits of a genuine man of God. We would do well to listen and learn so that we won’t be so easily deceived by the variety of false messages being offered today. What are some of the traits of a genuine man of God? How can you tell if someone is really speaking for God?
The first thing he tells us is that a genuine man of God has a close relationship with Christ.
1. He has a genuine relationship with Christ
If anyone is convinced in himself that he is Christ’s, let him again consider this in himself, that just as he is Christ’s, even so we are Christ’s.
These false teachers claimed to represent Christ but they also represented themselves as having an elitist knowledge of Christ. In other words, they elevated themselves above Paul and everyone else. Maybe they were part of the faction mentioned in 1 Cor.1:12 that claimed, “I am of Christ” which implied if you weren’t part of their crowd, you were inferior in your experience. I’ve heard several preachers claim that if we weren’t preaching the “full gospel” meaning tongues, signs and wonders then we are preaching an inferior message. I remember someone once telling me that I needed what one other popular preacher had but my response to her was, “I don’t need what he has because I have Jesus and when you have Jesus you have everything you need!”
When Paul says, “If anyone is convinced in himself” it’s possible he is singling out someone specifically… maybe the most vocal of the bunch. But notice he says the confidence is “in himself” as if there were a smug kind of arrogance about their claim but in truth, it’s just their personal opinion. But while they are making this inflated claim about their own spirituality and authority from Christ, they had to ridicule and discredit Paul, essentially denying that he even had a relationship with Christ… much less authority
I love what John MacArthur said about this. He said,
They remind me of false teachers I see sometimes on television who claim to have divine power, who claim divine authority from Christ to heal people, to cast out demons, to knock people down backwards, to bring revelation from God, to have words of wisdom, words of knowledge, to see the future, predict the future, to look into a camera and read people’s minds and read diseases, and they claim to have this power. They claim to have it from God. They’re always out of town, you know, they never come near you where you can see their life and follow it. You never get very close. They keep their distance. And whoever questions their genuineness and authority is attacked, and sometimes when they attack back, if you question them, they will say of you, “Well you’re not truly of God, you’re not of Christ, in fact, you’re probably not even a Christian.” Typically what they said of Paul.
Now its interesting that Paul doesn’t deny their claims, at least not yet anyway. That will come a little later in this letter. He just simply says, “we are Christ’s” too. He’s saying that when you look deeper, Paul’s relationship with Christ is much more evident. The character and manner in which he lives and performs his ministry is much more consistent with one who truly knows Christ. They’ve seen him and they’ve seen the fruit of his life and ministry. The point is that true men of God actually walk with Christ. It’s not just something they talk about. You can’t really miss it… They walk with Christ and their intimacy with Him is clearly seen in their lives and in the impact they make where they serve.
The second trait Paul identifies is that a genuine man of God will focus on building up believers
2. He focuses on building up believers
For even if I should boast somewhat more about our authority, which the Lord gave us for edification and not for your destruction, I shall not be ashamed–
Paul couldn’t neglect defending his authority as an apostle but he didn’t like having to talk about it… He only did so because the false teachers made it an issue and brought it into question. Warren Wiersbe said the difference between Paul and the false teachers was that “Paul used his authority to build up the church while the false teachers used the church to build up their authority.” That’s a great way to put it.
Paul says, “Look at the evidence… what do you see?” Paul asserted his apostolic authority to preach the gospel… he planted churches… he taught them the Word of God and established and trained leaders… he collected money for the church in Jerusalem. He says, , “So even if I have to boast about my authority, I won’t be ashamed because everything I did was to build up Christ’s church… not tear it down,” implying that his enemies were using their self-appointed authority for the church’s destruction. They brought division and confusion and corruption and in some cases, even the death of a church. Their heresies appealed to the flesh and encouraged selfish and sinful behavior. Their malicious intent and efforts to destroy Paul’s ministry was a clear proof that they were hurting the church because it brought division to the body.
In verse 9 Paul says that a genuine man of God is compassionate towards God’s people.
3. He is compassionate towards God’s people.
lest I seem to terrify you by letters.
Remember there was a strong letter Paul mentioned in chapter 2 but he said there, “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.” He wasn’t being abusive or unduly harsh with his authority… but there were serious sin issues that he had to confront. His goal was not to terrify them into obeying him but to bring them to repentance and restore their fellowship with him and the Lord so they could enjoy the fullness and blessings of living to please the Lord. He genuinely cared for the welfare of these people and wanted God’s very best for them. Unfortunately, sometimes that requires confrontation and rebuke…
The false teachers on the other hand were quite indifferent toward people because they were more concerned for themselves. Jesus identified the difference between the two as the good shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep and the hireling who is not concerned for the flock.
Next Paul says,
4. He is not out to impress or please men (vs.10,11)
“For his letters,” they say, “are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when we are absent, such we will also be in deed when we are present.
One of the accusations against Paul was that he was a coward… that in his letters he could be powerful and strong but his presence is weak and his speech was contemptible. One ancient description of Paul’s physical appearance reads, “A man of middling size, and his hair was scanty, and his legs were a little crooked, and his knees were projecting (or far apart); and he had large eyes, and his eyebrows met, and his nose was somewhat long.” In other words, Paul was not a very impressive looking individual… He was no Brad Pitt. Translate that to the evangelical world we might say he was no Joel Osteen. I know some of you don’t think he’s that attractive either but when you compare him with the appearance of some of the other contemporary preachers, he might be as good as any.
Paul wasn’t polished… he wasn’t out to impress people or wow them with eloquent oratory skills. The false teachers valued their eloquence as an art… and it wasn’t that Paul had a poor command of language… it was just that his focus was on the content of the message and not the delivery. His focus was substance over style while many today are more interested in style rather than substance. Unfortunately in many of our churches today, it doesn’t really matter much what you say… as long as you say it with passion and style. There is more of a tendency to measure preaching by the preacher’s eloquence and enthusiasm rather than the careful and accurate exegesis and sound doctrine.
Paul was what he was… he refused to use manipulative tactics or try to be something he wasn’t. His style was simple truth spoken from his heart… but His opponents felt that true Christian leadership should be impressive and eloquent…
One preacher described the difference, which applies today also by saying,
They provided religious entertainment for the comfort of the congregation. They go away with warm fuzzy feelings that God loves them and all is right in the world, The true man of God does not stoop to this level. He clearly articulates the whole counsel of God. He confronts and corrects as well as encourages and edifies. He is not concerned with popularity but with fidelity to the message. He believes what he preaches and his message is always sincere.
The last trait of a genuine man of God is that
5. He is humble (vs.12-18)
There’s too much in these verses to unfold in the time we have left so I am going to save the remainder of the text for another message. But just to say humility is one of the most important qualities of a true man of God. Quickly, just to point out the main points as we close and we’ll cover these next time.
a. He refuses to compare himself with others (vs.12)
b. He refuses to build himself up (vs.13)
c. He refuses to take credit for what others do (vs.14-16)
d. He boasts in the Lord (vs.17)
e. He seeks only the Lord’s approval (vs.18)
My friends, we don’t want to be too critical or cynical of those who say they speak for God… or of any believer for that matter… but we are instructed in Scripture to be discerning… to be observant… to be fruit inspectors, if you will. Understand that a genuine man of God will have the proof to back up his ministry and character. Paul’s ambition was, above all else, to please the Lord. In 1 Cor.4:3-5 he wrote,
3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.
4 For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.
5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.
Beloved, be discerning about who you watch… about who you listen to… and especially about who you support. Don’t be gullible like some of the Corinthians and so many others are today. God has His servants and their lives will give clear evidence that they are faithful to God and His Word… it will be obvious that they are passionate about His people being transformed into the image of Christ and about changing the world through the proclamation of truth. They’re not interested in gaining a following but rather, in being faithful to the call of God and to the Word of God.
For the true man of God, his song is,
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
God’s men will be like Jesus… genuine, humble, and faithful to the truth. But that isn’t just for those in ministry… that is His desire for all who follow Him.