The Expository Files


Building Up

2 Corinthians 11:3-8

The apostle Paul had an interesting relationship with the church in Corinth. He made two trips that we know of with certainty and at least one other seems likely (2 Cor 12:14; 13:1,2). The first of these visits extended for about 18 months – a length of time in one place exceeded only by his second visit to Ephesus (Acts 18:11; 20:31).

Yet there appears to have been more opposition to Paul within the local church than any other place he visited. This opposition accused Paul of cowardice, along with many other charges. In Paul’s second letter, he makes a passionate defense – but not of himself. He defends his apostleship (2 Cor 11-12:13), which is the visible authority of Jesus Christ among them (11:4-6). If they rejected Paul as an apostle, they also rejected Jesus as their Lord.

I want to take a closer look at Paul’s response to the charge of cowardice. Few things can fire up someone more than being publicly called a coward. Yet, Paul’s reply is unexpectedly muted, even begging them not to force his hand to boldness (12:2). Paul leaves no doubt that he speaks with the authority of Jesus Christ, whether in letter or in person (2 Cor 11:3-8,11). Yet, he recognizes the intent of that authority is not to tear down all opponents, but instead to build them up (v.8).

This gives us some insight into the patience of Paul in dealing with the Corinthians. Although he never minimizes their sins, he demonstrates amazing forbearance in dealing with this troubled church. How many preachers and elders would want to work with such a group? Oh, I’m sure that there are a few that would be happy to go for a while to “read them the riot act”. But, how many would be willing to patiently work with them as Paul did?

It really should not surprise us, because that is the attitude we see in our Lord. Toward the end of His ministry, as the opposition of the Jewish leadership became more hypocritical (John 12:42,43), Jesus proclaimed the importance of believing in Him (vs.44-46). He recognized that some of them would not keep (obey) His word, yet He testifies that He did not come to judge (condemn) them, but to save them (vs.47,48). There is a time for judgment; it is the last day. And those who continue to reject His word will be condemned at that time by that word. But Jesus also recognized that this time is a time of salvation (building up), not of condemnation (destroying). Paul could see – as a disciple of Jesus – that his duty is the same. From some of what I have heard in debate and read in mailing lists and journals, I wonder how well we understand this concept. We must defend the authority of Jesus and His word to our dying breath. We must shine the light of the gospel in every corner of this world to expose every sin that hides in the darkness. We cannot have harmony with those who will not walk with Christ (2 Cor 6:14-18). But, we cannot forget the message of the gospel, and the attitude of disciples who proclaim it, is to build up and save, not to condemn and destroy.

By Eddie Pagan
From Expository Files 17.10; October 2010