While doing more in-depth research into CoC debates from the 1800’s, it has been amazing to find such striking parallels that are so reminiscent of what the Apostle Paul dealt with concerning the Corinthians and the false apostles who had infiltrated their church.
But unlike Paul, who showed up those false pretenders with a holy triumph, Protestant preachers in the 1800’s, who had formerly been stewards of the true gospel, had already begun to compromise. Because, the Stone/Campbell “restorationists” were vicious, vile and vindictive wolves in sheep’s clothing who stopped at nothing to try to completely destroy the lives of those who exposed their heresies. As a result, many bulked under the pressure.
As an ex-member of the CoC, who has since been rescued by Christ, I’ve also had to come face-to-face with some very heart-breaking persecutions. For whenever an unusually illustrious and zealous testimony is given to exalt Christ and to dethrone false, self-righteous pretenders; many dangers, toils and snares will be encountered.
But by God’s grace, His Word has encouraged and comforted me, by reminding me that Apostle Paul’s remarkable perseverance was a force to be reckoned with, for he did not cease to provoke the whole world against himself, by carrying on fearlessly with the Lord’s work, even when the ungodly were incensed against him. Although the wicked attacked him with great force and fury, he continued in the cause of Christ with a fresh and unusual zeal, for God was with him.
Apostle Paul even boasted in his infirmities and persecutions, because they were a badge of honor for His Savior, and a heavenly proof of his holy calling. But he was careful to give all the glory to God, and he wouldn’t have boasted in his personal struggles at all if he hadn’t been so forced into it by slanderous, false charges that were being leveled against him by those who masqueraded as servants of Christ; those who tried their best to turn his godly intentions into a fault. Appropriately, such wild and incredibly absurd accusations caused Paul to burn with righteous indignation (2 Cor. 11:29-30).
Apostle Paul’s forceful language may have seemed harsh, but it expressed the godly concern that he had for the Corinthians and it demonstrated the seriousness of the situation. With a touch of scathing sarcasm, Paul begged their forgiveness for a falsely perceived “wrong” (2 Cor. 12:13). Because, he knew that even his weaknesses and persecutions were a testimony to the glorious grace of God in Christ toward sinners like himself (1 Cor. 4:9-13).
So there was no excuse for the Corinthians to fall for such wicked and jealous wannabe’s who were hell-bent on trying to destroy his credibility, in an attempt to cover up their own evil agenda to pervert the truth so that they could gain a worldly following.
According to Jesus, His followers will be hated by the world…
“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also” (Jn. 15:18-20).
In 2 Corinthians Paul was being forced to defend his undying love, generosity and sacrificial service in the cause of Christ, for it was all being turned into a reproach by false, ungodly, hollow pretenders of piety. Although he sought the salvation of the Corinthians soul, and not their wealth, the false apostles were obviously projecting their own covetousness practices on to him, in order to try to take the heat off of themselves, for Paul felt the need to defend himself in that particular area.
It seems that the false apostles may have even believed their own lies, for their minds may have been so exercised in covetous practices that they had begun to believe that everyone else thought the same wicked way that they did. And so, they may have even thought that they were in a competition with Paul for the Corinthians money. Whatever their ungodly motives were, they were attempting to reconstruct the Corinthians reality in order to accommodate their own sinister agenda. They were evil infiltrators who worked for the cause of Satan.
“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Cor. 11:13-15).
Paul had proven himself to be a servant of Christ for years, and was never covetous toward the Corinthians. And yet, they were so quick to turn on him. Paul initially spared them from a more severe rebuke, even though they deserved it, for he decided to wait a long time before coming to them, in order to give them more time to come to their senses and repent.
But they were under so much undue influence by the false pretenders that the Corinthians even became willing to deprive themselves of Paul’s presence, love and care; the very one who truly loved them and truly loved God; in exchange for those who were only out for themselves and for the vile and vain imaginations that they were so obsessed with (2 Cor. 10:5).
These idolaters pulled out all the stops to try to take the focus off of their own sinister schemes, so that the Corinthians would be stirred up into a pathological paranoia against Paul, for then the wicked wolves would be able to take them over. By employing such a sly deflection, they were succeeding in turning the Corinthians so against Paul that they were on the verge of turning from the true gospel that he had so graciously and freely given to them.
Even though he had a biblical right to compensation for his sacrificial and extensive labor of love in the gospel, they were not appreciative of the fact that he denied himself for their sakes and for the sake of the gospel. Paul was so hurt by their ingratitude that he said the more he loved them the less he was loved in return (2 Cor. 12:15). They were not truly loving him because true love thinks no evil and is not easily provoked, yet they were willing to think the worst of him at the drop of a hat (2 Cor. 13).
But Paul, on the other hand, had patiently endured their cruel treatment, time and time again. He was obviously NOT easily provoked at all, because he had been treated so very bad for so very long. And yet, he refused to take offense… UNTIL.. it came down to the purity of the true gospel. Only then did he have to step up to the plate and take a strong stand against the false apostles wicked schemes and the Corinthians unfair inclination to think the worst of him; the very one who had given them the true gospel in the first place.
Yet they were becoming so obstinate that they were even willing to disbelieve everything that he had to say. This is how influential and damaging wolves in sheep’s clothing can be. According to his ill-intentioned opponents, Paul was a deceitful hypocrite. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! They were trying to lay claim to what they had no right to (2 Cor. 11:22:29). For one, they were not willing to be reduced to nothing for the sake of Christ. Instead, they weighed themselves in the false balance of public opinion; aligning themselves with the worldly majority.
Due to their self-seeking dishonesty, Paul was compelled by necessity to expose their underlying evil. They were false apostles who had set themselves up as judges against Paul. But he made it clear that he didn’t have to prove anything to them, because he knew that his teachings were approved by God and that theirs were NOT (1 Cor. 4:3-5). However, Paul was so outraged that the Corinthians could ever even believe their ridiculous lies, so he had to reluctantly defend himself to the Corinthians, for the sake of the true gospel and for the sake of their eternal souls (2 Cor. 12:16-19).
Paul even risked his personal reputation, by being willing to appear disqualified just so they would hopefully turn from their sin. He even risked being considered a hell-bound reprobate, in order to try to get through to them with the truth. He knew they were under an insane delusion that would only get worse if they didn’t repent. Their excessive tolerance of false apostles deserved blame, for Christ was being offended. But, he still had high hopes for them. So if they disappointed his confidence in them to come to their senses and repent, it would have been even more cruel of them (2 Cor. 13:6-7).
Because of false brethren, Paul had to endure all kinds of personal attacks that were being leveled against him, just so he could continue to try to convince the Corinthians that he cared for their soul, not their material things, which he counted as dung compared to the glorious gospel that he lived and died for. But when Paul tried to spare them from being taken in by wolves, they wanted to hug their chains even tighter, and even tried to use his severe admonishment as an excuse to disparage his writings. Their misplaced approval encouraged the false apostles to up their game in trying to turn his godly intentions into a fault.
Although Paul still considered himself to be the “chief of sinners,” he was fully persuaded beyond the shadow of a doubt that his cause was right (1 Tim. 1:15). So much so, that he even called upon God as a witness upon his soul, for he had a clear conscience concerning the cause of Christ that he lived and died for (2 Cor. 11:31). He even gave up any right to the support that he was biblically entitled to, for they would have tried to use it against him. He humbled himself as a mere slave, just so the Corinthians could be lifted out of sin and idolatry.
Although their evil suspicions were causing them to see his writings and weaknesses as something that was hateful, he was still willing to be considered a fool for Christ in their eyes, by standing even more firm in his God-given convictions, to the point that he was willing to be just as “weighty and powerful” in person if it had to come to that, in order to try to recall them back to a right mind (2 Cor. 10:8-11).
Instead of apologizing for his harsh rebukes, he stood his ground and made it clear that he would continue to rebuke with all authority, even more severely if need be, if it would snap them out of their spiritual insanity. But he practically begged them not to force him to have to display even more of his boldness in a face-to-face confrontation, for that was NOT his natural disposition (2 Cor. 10:2).
Like Paul, we are to initially appeal to people by the meekness and gentleness of Christ. But when gentleness and mildness proves to have no effect, as a last ditch effort we must be willing to go the extra mile to rebuke those who are aligning themselves with the wicked, for anything less would no longer be meekness at all, but cowardice.
Obviously many were offended by Paul’s writings, because he exalted Christ and dethroned the prideful from their high-horse of hypocrisy. Such a bold and biblical stance will never be accepted by the worldly majority. But God gave him the grace to turn their false charges into an advantage, in order to prove that just because he was a humble servant of Christ and prone to weaknesses, there was no reason for them to doubt the truth that he was standing for, because Christians have this treasure in earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7).
Christ’s kingdom is established by bringing low everything in the world that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. And nothing is more opposed to God’s free grace than man’s falsely perceived “free-will.” False pretenders who have no root in themselves are eventually overcome by evil, but those who have Jesus’ perfect righteousness credited to their account through saving faith, by a sovereign act of God’s free grace, are able to overcome evil with good, so that they can rejoice in their afflictions for Christ.
This is how Paul won the hearts of the Corinthians back to their Savior. May God also grant His people today the strength to endure the same unfair and evil treatment that Paul endured for the cause of Christ, so that we too will be… a force to be reckoned with.
Copyright ©2020 by Lee Anne Ferguson.