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Not as the World Does

Date: Feb. 7, 2021

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

2 Corinthians 10:1-18

Key Verse: 2 Corinthians 10:3

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.

Growing up, I was an unusual child. Now, I wasn’t some outright weirdo, but there was something that was just different about me. I was a picky eater, but not your standard fare, either. Eating a hamburger or ground beef would cause me to throw up every single time. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties when I could successfully eat a hamburger. I disliked ketchup, peanuts, eggs and even cheese on pizza. I would pull all the toppings off and eat the bread and the sauce. I was an intellectual, so I was never interested in a lot of physical activity, but I wasn’t an outright nerd, either. I didn’t like video games, but I liked watching others play. I liked looking through atlases, especially historical ones, where I could see the geopolitical change over time. There were times where I would take a piece of paper and draw my own maps of fictional nations and change them as if history was unfolding on the page. I would cry when emotionally stressed and that earned me a reputation as a crybaby. I am the youngest out of all my cousins and never connected very well with any of them. They all lived in the same town for their entire lives, but my dad was in the army and we moved from place to place. My experiences were different, and my interests were different. Everywhere that I have gone and lived, I have had a sense of feeling different…unusual…odd. It has some benefits like seeing things differently than others, but it is also very isolating, and you can be misunderstood. That’s my own human differences and experiences. It is not that different, though, when the difference is from an ideological source. Christians have a tendency to be misunderstood and seem different. Paul experienced this even inside the church. He was different than people expected, so they took that to mean something, but the truth was different.

In the past few passages, Paul has been encouraging the Corinthians to be freely generous with a gift for those in need in Judea. The had a desire to give, but over the course of time, that desire cooled, so Paul encouraged them to keep it up and finish strong, but he doesn’t want for them to feel pressured to give. Instead, Paul wants them to give generously with joy in their hearts, that the attitude of giving is important. At this part of the letter, Paul switches gears a bit. He doesn’t talk about the offering any more, but returns to a different topic, the defense of his ministry.

Our passage starts out, “By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am ‘timid’ when face to face with you, but ‘bold’ toward you when away!” (1) In this and subsequent passages, Paul is defending himself against a smear campaign from people who came to Corinth. They accuse him of being weak and having no power, that he wasn’t a true apostle. One sign of this, these interlopers argued, was that Paul was very timid when he was with the Corinthians and bold when he was away. Paul wrote assertively when away but spoke in a fashion that was more subdued when in person. As an example, Paul wrote that very harsh letter to the Corinthians, prior to this one, but Paul never spoke to them in person like that. These people who questioned Paul’s authority used this fact as proof that Paul had no true power. These people argued that Paul was weak because he wanted to avoid face-to-face confrontation. More modernly, someone like that would be called a paper tiger, something that seems threatening, but, in reality, is nothing. In this passage, Paul is appealing to the Corinthians to not believe this thinking, but to see the truth of who he is.

He continues, “I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world.” (2) The nature of Paul’s return would be dependent on the nature of the Corinthians’ response to his rebuke. If they obey and follow Christ’s teachings, then he will come with meekness, but if not, then he is prepared to come with more boldness. He is not looking for a fight, but he will not shirk away from one either. When we look at Paul’s letters, he seems like a bold, mighty man of God, but from what we can ascertain from these letters, when he appeared in person, he really wasn’t very impressive. It sounds like the wizard of Oz. When talking to the people, the wizard showed a mighty projected face, but, behind the curtain, was an ordinary man. Some people took this to mean that Paul was cowardly and didn’t embrace the power of the office he supposedly had. These thoughts may have played a hand in the horrible visit he had the last time he was in Corinth. Some scholars think that Paul may have been insulted and humiliated in his last visit to Corinth, and the Corinthians were believing the outsiders’ accusations. It would be like great author or wordsmith who penned a great work of literature but was a giant dweeb. It would be like William Shakespeare having a stutter and tripped over his words as he spoke. You might even start to question if he even wrote the things it was said he wrote. These outsiders, on the other hand, were impressive physically. They were great orators and commanded presence in person. They were the type to pack in the crowds and people wanted to hear them speak, but Paul was just an everyday dude. He didn’t even want to take money from the Corinthians to serve in ministry but insisted that he work to pay his way. He must not be a professional, then.

The standards of the world are the ways that the world works, and those accusing Paul of being weak were also suggesting that Paul was doing things according to his own whims. As we have previously heard earlier in 2 Corinthians, Paul changed his mind about visiting the Corinthians and his detractors used that fact to show that he was wishy-washy. They said that he says one thing but does another. He was duplicitous. They also tried to contend that the offering he was collecting for the church in Judea was, in fact, for him. These accusers said that Paul was acting in his own interests, which is pretty much how the world works. The people who contend that Paul was living by the standards of the world would see how bold he could be.

At this point, Paul expands a bit on that boldness. “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.” (3) Paul lived in the world, as we all do, but he realized that, as Christians, we do not fight the same way that the world does. This is counter to the thought of living by the standards of the world. This is a simple statement that Paul expands upon for the rest of the chapter. He continues, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (4-5) In waging this war, Paul does not use the weapons of the world. When the world fights, it is about who has the biggest and best weapons. When the world fights, it is about who is the loudest. As the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. When the world fights, you have to get as big as you can, like a puffer fish, to scare off any attackers. You have to exude confidence and it doesn’t matter if it is real confidence or a front to the fear inside. But the weapons that we Christians should use are not a front but have true power to disarm the enemy to demolish strongholds and arguments. These weapons disprove false teachings.

Again, Paul is being vague here, but expands upon the thought throughout the passage. For example, in verse 6, “And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.” It is the standard of the world to be swift with punishment without regard to the other people. However, Paul’s supposed timidity is him showing grace to the Corinthians to give them time to return to their obedience to Christ. The interlopers were riling up the church against Paul, using false claims in order to put themselves in positions of power. Paul is stating that he will punish them for their insurrection, but only once the Corinthians come to their senses and see their falseness. He doesn’t want to punish them for being misled, but he will punish those who keep holding on to the falseness.

Paul continues, “You 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.” (7) At the beginning of this verse, we see part of the problem. The Corinthians, like most people, judge based on what they see. They only looked at the surface before making a judgement call. If someone said that they were Christian, then they must be a Christian. If they spoke well, they must know what they are talking about. But someone can speak well without knowing what they are saying. Many actors do that. They are not paid to know the subject on which they are acting, but to only look like they know it. I’ve done it before. I have confidently said something, and people assume that I know what I am talking about, even though I am making up as I go along. This also reminds me of a story in the Bible about Israel’s first king Saul. After Israel conquered the promised land, the Israelites wanted to have a king to be like every other nation. God agreed to give them what they wanted and the man that God chose, was a man named Saul. He was impressive looking: very handsome and a head taller than everyone else. There was no one in the kingdom like him. On the outside, he looked the part, but inside he was as selfish as anyone. Saul proved to be an erratic king plagued with demons and fear. He abandoned God, so God abandoned him and chose a new king in David. David, when he was anointed king, the youngest son of Jesse. He was a boy and not particularly impressive. He was just a kid, but his heart was one that sought and followed God. In that heart, David was impressive.

Paul had a similar heart. He might not have been impressive in person, but that visual was important to build people up. “So 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.” (8) Paul chose to use the authority Christ gave him to build people up and not tear them down. The people accusing Paul were using whatever authority they had to try to tear down Paul. Again, this is one of the ways of the world. All too often, people use any power they have to tear others down to make themselves look better. You can look pretty tall when everyone else is lying in a heap on the ground. This is especially true nowadays, where there is so much rhetoric and finger pointing making sure you know how bad the other side is, and election season ratchets it up ten notches or so. Paul, however, chose to build people up with his authority. Even his harsh words were not intended to bring people down, but to build them back up again.

Paul, once again, turns back to his letters, “I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. For some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.’ Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.” (9-11) Again Paul is addressing his supposed dichotomy of his words in letters and his words in person. He is forceful in the letters, but unimpressive in person. We see it in the letters. He is a firebrand pointing out the rights and wrongs and giving compelling arguments about Christ, but in person he was nothing like that. But Paul was like that on purpose. It wasn’t his personality to be gentle and have humility. When he was first converted to Christianity, Paul got in to frequent fights over belief. So much so that he was to be sent away from Jerusalem for quite a few years. Paul learned that a strong personality in person was detrimental to bringing people to Jesus. He had to use strong words in his letters, or his message would never get across, but in person, Paul had another tool, his actions. He lived out what he taught.

The people accusing Paul liked to share their credentials. They like to remind others of all the good that they did. They wanted everyone to know how great they were. They were the best and most awesome of God’s servants. They gave themselves commendations and liked the honor they gave themselves. But Paul countered, “We 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.” (12) Paul said that when people commend themselves, they are comparing themselves to themselves. Usually, when you measure something, you measure it against some standard so that comparison can be easy. It is why we have units of measure. If I wanted to tell you the length of my fingers, I shouldn’t measure them to themselves. If is say that my index finger is one index finger long and my middle finger is as long as my middle finger, it tells you nothing. It is not a good way to measure. I am not even measuring them against each other. If I did, then I could say that my middle finger is a little longer than my index finger. In the same way, how good I am doing does not exist in a vacuum. It has to be compared against something. I cannot call myself a genius, because that has to be measured against a metric for intelligence.

Paul gives a contrary, “We, 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. We 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. Neither 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, so 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.” (13-16) Paul chose to boast in the work that the Lord was doing through him, but he took no credit in the work done by others. He didn’t commandeer it for himself. He finished his thought with, “But, ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’” (17)

The chapter concludes with a very simple truth, “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” (18) What Paul is saying here is that by giving yourself a pat on the back is not proof that you actually did a good job. The one that you are working for has to tell you that. In this case, you cannot be a good servant of God unless God says so. No matter how much you profess your greatness, if it is not backed up by commendation from the Lord, then it is nothing.

All this comes back to the thought in verse 3, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.” The world likes to build itself up, but we aren’t here to build ourselves up, we are here to build God up. Our goal in life is not to get the greatest number of followers on social media, but to bring people to Jesus. If we try to follow the same methods as the world, then we are not going to bring anyone. We will just be another option, but we have to show that we are different than that. We are not like the world, in a good way. The chapter starts out with humility and gentleness. There is meekness throughout. We are not to be steamrollers, pushing everyone down to make way for our thoughts. We are to prepare peoples’ hearts for the Lord. By being forceful, we endanger making hearts hard. A few years ago, I gave a message and gave a demonstration of a strain-rate sensitive material, Silly Putty. If you push gently on it, it would be infinitely moldable, but, if you hit it hard and fast, it would become hard and act like a rubber ball. If you hit it even harder, it could shatter like glass. It all depended on the rate of which you put your force on it. People’s hearts are the same way. We have to gentle to get them to see, or our efforts will bounce off or even break them.

Being different than the world can be a wonderful thing. We can witness things that no one else can witness, but like Paul we may be misunderstood. Our humility and gentleness can be misconstrued as weakness and cowardice, where it might require the greatest strength. It is easy to let go of your emotions and let them run wild, but it is so much harder to reign them in for a greater purpose. We have a great example in Jesus. In order to defeat the power of the devil and sin, Jesus had to become sin and take all of our punishment on the cross. He had to die so that we could live. From the outside, it looked like defeat. It looked like Satan was winning since God was dying. But he went to the cross willingly, humbly, knowing it was for the salvation of mankind. It was not an easy thing to do, but in his weakness, he showed more strength than anyone else has ever done. There is no denying that the most horrible act in human history was also the greatest act in God’s history. In that moment, the power of Satan and death was broken, and sin could hold no more sway over mankind. We can follow that example in our lives. We can be willing to give everything to help others, especially help others come to know the salvation that Jesus brings.

Again, it can be hard and people and misunderstand what we are doing, but the world will always have trouble understanding what we are doing. We are not out for ourselves, like what most of the world does. Instead, our goal is to please God, not other people. It is the Lord that will commend our work and give us recognition. He will affirm what we are doing. In the meantime, it can feel very lonely. In your classes or work, it can feel very isolating to have a different view on the world. You might be the only one who is seeking to please the Lord and you might be mocked for it, but again, we do not wage war as the world does. It is a battle for the hearts and minds of people, and you cannot change those by force. It is through humility and gentleness that people will be won over. It may look weak, but that weakness will be turned into such great strength through the Lord.

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