Second Corinthians 10:7–18 . . .

Discerning Below the Surface

Have you ever been accused of being a fraud? A fake? A phony? Apostle Paul, in this passage, felt uncomfortable about defending himself to Christians in Corinth. A small band of men from Jerusalem charged the apostle with various things, claiming, for one thing, that he was a self-appointed apostle. Because he wasn't one of the original twelve, perhaps his whole story about having encountered Christ on a Damascus road was made up. Wherever he went, unlike the dozen "super apostles" from Jerusalem, he didn't have the support of churches, needing to make tents for a living. And because his teachings weren't in line with other apostles, they felt that he was a phony who shouldn't be believed.

When you look closely at Paul's answers to those charges, he presents a very clear picture of what a true servant of Christ ought to look and act like. When false teaching appears, when you encounter wrong philosophies and claims to truth that aren't in line with the Scripture, how do you respond? Last week, in the first six verses of Chapter 10, you were shown the weapons you're to employ; not the usual weapons of the world — pressure groups, coercion, manipulation — but the personally powerful spiritual weapons of faith, love, truth, righteousness, prayer, and so on. In this week’s passage, Paul will enlighten you on how to become fully "credentialed" to use those weapons rightfully.

Clearly, the apostle is asking the Corinthians to look closely at the situation, rather than believing hearsay. Sadly, too many Christians turn on the television or tablet and, because some colorful personality is using the Bible and speaking in the name of Christ, blindly follow that person. When asked to send in money, they do so, sometimes sending significant amounts without asking any questions. Some will even forsake worshipping or meeting with other Christians so they can follow those programs. But (in vv. 7–11) Paul says in effect: Look at what's right in front of you! Here are a collection of marks of authentic Christian ministry.

The first credential of a true Christian minister, obviously and fundamentally, is that one must belong to Christ! You can't be a Christian minister without talking a lot about Jesus Christ and sharing the revelation of that awesome relationship you have with him. One sure sign of a phony minister is the lack of saying much about Jesus. Some in Corinth were in fact talking about Christ, possibly claiming that they'd known him in the days of his flesh. Since Paul hadn't, they were claiming superiority over him. But, as Paul told us in 5:17, it's not whether you knew Jesus in the days of his flesh or not, but, "If any man is in Christ he is a new creation: the old has gone; the new has come." So the first requirement of genuine ministry is that you be truly "in Christ," making that evident by what you say. Paul focusses clearly on his own relationship: Obviously he was "in Christ"; the Corinthians ought to be the first to know and believe that.

The second credential (in v. 8) is that of a true authority. Paul speaks of his authority; he wouldn't be exaggerating because his authority is genuine. But by what authority do television teachers, radio broadcasters, and traveling evangelists speak? Paul's saying: What kind of leadership do they display? What's happening to those who listen to these people? What fruit have they born? Are people becoming saved?

Paul's authority is that of a spokesman for Christ. When he speaks of his authority, he doesn't mean that he has the right to tell people what to do. But rather, he says, We're helpers of your joy. We stand alongside you to encourage you, strengthen you, and teach you reality as God sees it, that you might be set free. That's Paul's true authority! It's not to tear down, he says, it's to build up. That's why, when you consider any spiritual leader's ministry, you have to ask yourself, "What's happening to the people listening to him? Are they being set free? Or are they being swindled?

The third credential is highlighted in vv. 12–18. That somewhat extensive paragraph can be summarized by one little phrase in v. 13, "the sphere of service that God himself has assigned to us." After all: It's God who gives each of us our ministry. All of us are to remain active in one or more ministries, as we've been learning through these Corinthian epistles. The Spirit of God has given us, we who belong to Christ, gifts — our tools and equipment — that we're to use in that ministry, which God has given us to minister. Christ has already placed you where he wants you to exercise your ministry: in your home, with your family, among those with whom you work, in your daily walk, or elsewhere. He's given you the equipment, the resources, and the power to minister. Therefore, don't object; don't allow any distractions to get in your way. God made you and Paul his "credentialed ministers."

So how do you spot the phony ministers or teachers around you? Hints: (1) They usually commend themselves; (2) they always visibly boast of their accomplishments; (3) they don't let others speak on their behalf; (3) they aren't concerned about reaching the unreached; (4) they're primarily concerned with having their own group of supporters; (5) they pay no attention to the lost; (6) they manipulate meetings, attractively opening illusive doors instead of encouraging people to use those doors that God always keeps open; and, most of all, (7) when they boast they make it clear that "God is mighty lucky to have them on his side." Warning: Those are the marks of a counterfeit! He or she may not be "a counterfeit Christian." However, he or she promotes his or her "counterfeit ministry."

Lord God: Kindly help me evaluate my own unique ministry in the light of this passage; spur me on to use (not ignore) my Spirit-delivered gifts to fulfill my ministry goals; encourage me to judge myself and my ministry accordingly; and prevent me from entering my ministry in a spiritual beauty contest to see if I've got the best-looking, best-sounding ministry in town. Thank you, Lord, for ministering to me as you do continuously, having the fullest of credentials. Amen.

It Makes You Wonder . . .
  • Q. 1  On a scale of 1 to 10, how well do you demonstrate Christ's gentleness and meekness in leading others?
  • Q. 2  What will you work on this week that demonstrates your interest in building up others?

This Week’s Passage
2 Corinthians 10:7–18

New International Version (NIV)
[You can view it in a different version by clicking here; you can also listen to chapter 10.]

Discerning Below the Surface

7You are judging by appearances. If anyone is confident that they belong to Christ, they should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as they do. 8So even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. 9I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. 10For some say, "His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing." 11Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.

12We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. 13We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. 14We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. 15Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, 16so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in someone else's territory. 17But, "Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord." 18For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.