LESSON EIGHT: 2 CORINTHIANS 10:1-11:33
ENCOURAGEMENT FOR LEADERS
Paul now makes another radical jump in topics. Because of the tone of this section, some have speculated that these last chapters are the “severe letter” that was lost. It is more likely, however, that now that the majority of the church has been reconciled to him he is addressing the minority who were “holdouts,” still influenced by the false apostles who had infiltrated the church. Transitions to uncomfortable subjects are always difficult and we often leave them to the end.
Paul had a very real concern that the church be protected from being deceived into following a false gospel. To reject Paul’s apostolic authority was essentially to reject Christ.
That Paul was speaking to those rebelling against him is made clear by 10:2. That he is trying to wake them up to the false message of false apostles, who claimed to be true followers of Christ, is indicated by 11:13. It is likely that these are Judaizers, people who claimed that to be accepted by God one must not only follow Christ, but must also follow all of the Mosaic Law and Jewish traditions. (11:22, 23)
The teaching that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is not enough to pay for our sins but we must also do good works to be accepted by God is one that is very seductive. In various forms, this false idea has continued throughout the centuries to today. Not only do some Christian religions demand good works or religious rituals along with faith, the failure of true Christians to articulate the gospel clearly has led to confusion in many people groups.
I recently received this excerpt in a letter from global workers: “There seems to be a general sense of apathy among the believers… The works-based religion that spread through this region years ago left a destructive path of confusion. As a result, it is sometimes difficult for the believers to let go of old thinking habits. And for unbelievers, they don’t see any problem with combining all these different beliefs.”
DAY ONE: NECESSITY OF SPIRITUAL WARFARE
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 10:1-6
The battle against Satan, the father of lies, and his deceptive, false gospel is a war. This war must be won! The consequences are eternal! Paul is not afraid to wage war, is doing so in this letter and will do so in person if necessary. (10:1-2)
A. SPIRITUAL WEAPONS
Whose standards are we to live by? The “standards of the world” which the false apostles use but Paul rejects will be implied as Paul goes through his defense. The false apostles look and sound good on the outside. They are professional, polished speakers. They are proud of who they are and enjoy comparing themselves to others less skilled. They demand financial support for their services. They profess to follow Christ but actually teach a false gospel.
Rather than be dominated by human motives and emotions, Paul tries to be submissive to and guided by the Holy Spirit in everything, including spiritual warfare. The most important battles are not physical ones but the ones for hearts and minds. Paul was prepared to use spiritual weapons against the disobedient when he came.
- Among the weapons of the world are intimidation, manipulation, coercion, violence. What are some others you can think of? Do you use any of these?
- Ephesians 6:10-18 is a key passage on spiritual warfare. From this passage, why do we need God’s armor? Is there any piece which you have neglected to use?
- From 10:4 and the Ephesians passage, what power do spiritual weapons have which you and I do not have on our own?
- What are strongholds? What strongholds might there be in your life which need to be breached?
- Read 2 Timothy 2:15, Hebrews 4:12, and James 1:22. Do you spend enough time with God’s Word, not only reading but also meditating, memorizing and applying it, so that it first changes you, and then so you are equipped to use it as described in 10:5? (When interacting with others, remember to do so with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15)
B. THOUGHT LIFE
- The place where this spiritual battle begins is in our minds. What does 10:5b say? How does one do this in practical ways? Is this a one-time thing, or a repeated act of self-discipline?
- There is a term, “garbage in, garbage out” which can be applied here. What do you fill your mind with?
- How does Romans 12:2 help you understand the critical nature of your thought life?
There is a very real spiritual war going on in our day, too. Among our more subtle enemies are busyness and complacency. Are they effective against you? What plan will you put in place to combat the spiritual enemies Satan is using against you? Journal your plan and start today.
DAY TWO: FALSE BOASTING OF FALSE APOSTLES
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 10:7-18
We only get to hear one side of this defense, but it appears Paul is answering charges critics have raised against him.
A. APPEARANCE VS. REALITY
What characteristics should a Christian leader have and how can a church evaluate that?
It is very easy to be taken in by external appearances. In fact that is one superficial reason why many choose the candidate they vote for in presidential and other elections, and sadly why some people choose which church to attend: he looks good, he has a nice voice, he tells interesting stories, etc.
A book called The Acts of Paul and Thecla, from about 200 AD, described Paul as “a man of little stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows meeting, and with nose somewhat hooked…” 1 Paul’s physical appearance was definitely not the reason people sat under his teaching!
- The first criteria for a Christian leader is implied in 10:7. Is this person who professes to be a Christian truly a Christ-follower? How can we tell? We can’t see into a person’s heart. Jesus warned about false prophets and gave us a guideline we can use: “… by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15-20) Paul had lived in Corinth for 1 ½ years, ample time for the church to test the reality of his profession of faith. And they themselves were Paul’s fruit, proving his ministry was done in the power and authority of Christ. (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)
- For what purpose did God give Paul authority? (10:8)
- Paul also had the right to exercise his authority over the Corinthians as he was the one who first brought the gospel to them. (10:14-15) What were his two goals now? (10:15-16)
- Who did the false apostles compare themselves to? What were the results in their own minds? (10:12)
- If we compare ourselves to the Lord Jesus, can we boast about ourselves like the false apostles did? Who is the only one we can boast about? (10:17)
- Whose commendation matters in the end? (10:18)
God does not demand our service. He asks us to volunteer. He also does not expect us to serve without receiving rewards. The cost may be high. It may mean giving all we are and all we have. But the rewards are “out of this world!” (10:18; Romans 8:17)
DAY THREE: DECEIT OF FALSE GOSPEL
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 11:1-6
If Paul hates having to defend himself in this boastful way, why is he continuing to do so – for several chapters even? This can be explained by his profound love for Christ and his love for the Corinthians.
A. GODLY JEALOUSY
The second trait of a good Christian leader is godly jealousy for his flock. In the old Jewish marriage tradition, the friend of the bridegroom was charged with a number of duties, the most important to insure that the bride was chaste on the wedding day.
- What was Paul’s role regarding the Corinthian church? (11:2)
- What was Paul afraid of? (11:3)
- How was this beginning to happen? (11:4)
B. PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE
- What is more important than eloquence in a leader? (11:6)
- Is this a knowledge about Christ or a more intimate personal knowledge from having loved, trusted and obeyed Him and proven Him to be faithful?
- Today might this knowledge also include knowing and applying Scripture to his or her own life? It is easy to be satisfied with head knowledge. What does James 1:22-25 say?
- Remembering that not all the people you work with have the background in Scripture you do, how careful are you to not only teach true truth, but also to be discerning regarding books you recommend, leaders you endorse, video clips you show? This is part of what Godly jealousy looks like – protecting the young or vulnerable who might not be able to recognize lies or half-truths.
- Do you consistently train others to find answers to questions of faith and practice from the Bible? Do you encourage them to compare other philosophies and practices to the Bible and defer to Scriptural truth when there is a difference in belief or application?
DAY FOUR: TRUE GOSPEL OFFERED WITHOUT COST
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 11:7-15
Much like some televangelists of today, the false apostles of Paul’s day had found a way to make a nice living. In Paul’s day, it was expected that a teacher would be handsomely paid. The fact that Paul didn’t receive generous financial support gave these false apostles a reason to charge that he wasn’t a true apostle and that his teaching wasn’t worth anything after all. (It could also be that Paul’s refusal to charge for teaching exposed the self-centered nature of their greediness for handsome wages.) A third trait of a Christian leader is that his or her primary motive for service is not financial gain, but love for Christ.
A. PAUL’S SELF SUPPORT
- Why do you think Paul refused to ask for reimbursement from the Corinthians? Find at least three reasons.
- From whom did Paul accept financial assistance? Was he being inconsistent?
Paul’s standard practice was to not accept money from those he was ministering to while he was with them. This kept him from coming under obligation to anyone. He was free as a result to be honest in his messages, whether encouraging, correcting or condemning. There could be no charges of favoritism or bribery.
After Paul left an area, if that group chose of their own free will to send him a gift, he could receive it thankfully, as there were no real or perceived strings attached at that point.
B. FALSE APOSTLES
- What serious charge does Paul make against the false apostles who had infiltrated the Corinthian church? (11:13-15)
- Could that charge be made against any leaders today?
- We are to be discerning regarding who we follow and very careful regarding who we recommend to others. Who is the final judge?
Paul’s model of self-support is one that most who work globally follow today. It takes a large group of supporters to make this possible. In a very real sense, they are partners with you. How careful are you to keep them “in the loop” regarding your service?
Satan masquerades as an angel of light so Satan’s servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. They can easily deceive the spiritually naïve! They will get what they deserve in the end, but we must guard our “flock” from being deceived by them now. Faithfulness in prayer, teaching and modeling is critical!
DAY FIVE: COST OF BRINGING GOSPEL
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 11:16-33
This letter was written at about the chapter break between Acts 19 and 20. Comparing this list of suffering to what we read in Acts, we observe that only a fraction of what Paul suffered is recorded there. Notice that Paul’s persecution came from both Jewish and Gentile hands. In addition, he often suffered when traveling.
Some of the Corinthians were offended by Paul’s weakness and suffering. Didn’t God reward His favorites with health and wealth, and therefore wasn’t the purpose of a religious leader to teach and model the way to the “good life?” Thinking that no true apostle would undergo so much suffering, they wondered if the hardships Paul had undergone were evidence that God was displeased with him.
Perhaps they didn’t remember that Jesus Himself said there was a high cost to discipleship. Read Matthew 16:24-26, Luke 14:26-27 and John 12:24-26.
Paul did not enjoy boasting, but as the Corinthians seemed to require more evidence, he proceeded. A fourth characteristic of a Christian leader is that he or she loves Christ supremely, loves people secondly, and is therefore willing to suffer if necessary in order to bring them together.
- What religious credentials did Paul have? (11:22-23a)
- Make three lists, one for persecutions, one for hardships, and one for hard work and concern. Place each mention of suffering from 11:23-33 onto one of the lists. Which have you also experienced?
- What boasting was Paul willing to do? (11:30) Why?
- Why do you think he included the episode in Damascus in this list? (11:32-33)
Read the following verses in relation to weakness. Then journal your thoughts on how God has used, or might be glorified by using your own personal weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 4:7; 12:9)
Don’t worry about any potential future suffering God might allow you to face. God is sovereign over that! Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, had a favorite saying: “Fear not tomorrow, God is already there.”
- God doesn’t require the same level of sacrifice from everyone. What has He asked of you up to this point? Are you trusting Him with your future, regardless of what it brings?
- What thoughts do you need to bring captive to Christ? Would it help to have an accountability partner? If that is not possible, then use your journal to record and track your thoughts.
- What is your ultimate goal in ministry? How does that affect your attitude, choices, in the “small things” of your life?
We are in a spiritual battle for the souls of people! It matters how we engage in this battle. Preparation for Christ’s ambassadors begins by taking “every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” We don’t depend on our own resources. Only the spiritual weapons God gives us have power in this type of warfare. We jealousy protect those under our influence from being deceived by other gospels or philosophies, being careful to clearly teach the whole gospel. We offer the gospel free of charge as did our Lord. Any cost in bringing it to others is one we bear ourselves as did our Lord. He is the one who rewards us for our faithfulness to Him. It is love for God who first loved us supremely that motivates and empowers us.
1. Barclay, William, The New Daily Study Bible: The Letters to the Corinthians. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), p. 288.
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