2 Corinthians is working its way up my list for low-key-favorite-go-to-epistle.
Paul has the right mix of confidence in God and humility in himself throughout the book. He reveals his human weakness and his spiritual strength like few of his other letters. When we think of Paul, we think of a guy who lived sold out for Christ, who did it the right way. Indeed, his labor was not in vain, but it was not without cost either. While he saw miracles and planted churches all over Asia Minor, he endured hardship and grief, pain and suffering. He believed correctly, taught thoroughly, yet maturity for those he taught was, at times, frustratingly slow.
One of the issues Paul addresses in 2 Corinthians is that the church is weak, and through their weakness, they allowed false teachers to lead them astray from the gospel of Jesus Christ. After pouring himself out in service to them, they continue in their weakness of mind and lag in their commitment to Christ. This is a frustration that is a constant companion to everyone who ministers or disciples others.
That moment when the full force of the gospel hits us, and we are changed, we when become new, there is a simplicity and a purity and goodness to life as we had not before experienced. But life in this sinful world can be complicated, perplexing, and confusing. Satan has many means by which he attempts to steal, kill, and destroy that pure passion for Christ that soaks and saturates us when we are filled with faith. We look around at the broken world, we start living more by sight and less by faith. We grasp for straws and can latch on some false teaching that might make sense of this twisted world we live in. That is one reason why it is necessary for us to push every thought and feeling we have, however genuine or pleasing it might seem, through the filter of Scripture and discard what does not align.
False teachers infiltrated the church of Corinth and began to hollow out the substance of the gospel and Paul’s labor. These false teachers puffed themselves up and tarnished Paul’s reputation and authority. They took his words and twisted them. They complicated his message and made it into something it was not.
We get a clear glimpse into Paul’s heart. Paul’s genuine affection for the Corinthians comes through. He is worried about them. Worried about the trajectory of their faith and the seeming fragility of their commitment. His concern and desire in chapter 11 verse 3 is this, “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” He is worried that they are drifting away from the gospel with which that had been entrusted. He is concerned these false teachers were distracting them from their devotion to Christ.
Do you ever feel like the gospel message gets twisted and turned and distorted into something it is not?
With 24 hour news and the noise of the internet, it is a challenge for us not to dread the direction our culture is heading. Paul reminds us this feeling is not particular to our age or our culture. Paul also makes it clear, by his numerous letters to the Corinthian church, that problems shouldn’t be ignored or glossed over. Correction is necessary, and church leaders ought to take this responsibility more seriously. Earlier in 10:8 Paul indicates his authority (over the Corinthian church) is given by God and for the purpose of building them up and not for destroying them.
In all of our fretting, in all of our worrying, in all of our hand-wringing over the distancing of our culture from biblical principles, let us not purpose in our hearts to tear down those who are new or weak in the faith. Let us determine to build them up in Christ. Yes, right theology is a component of that, but the substance of maturity in faith is devotion to Christ, simple and pure.
If we want to bring change to our culture and our world, it is not by screaming louder and tearing down the bad stuff that false teachers have built up. That stuff will not stand the test of time. It will prove itself false with the changing of the winds. Paul simply reminds the Corinthians what is realer than real. He reminds them of the joy of their salvation. He does it with words and letters to them, and also with a zeal that is result of the simplicity and purity of his devotion to Christ. An example we would do well to follow with those to whom we serve and minister.
While culture and everything that surrounds us in this fallen world is layered and complex and overwhelming, our devotion to Christ can cut through it all. The simplicity and purity of our devotion to Christ is be sweeter than anything this sour world can throw at us.