My church, Forest Avenue Baptist, has been studying the second letter to the Corinthian church for almost four months. This week we will make it our effort to understand the situation Paul was dealing with in that town almost two millennia ago. Paul had encountered some criticism. We all have been criticized. Sometimes it’s constructive, and other times it is not. We must learn to be teachable and to be humble, and Paul certainly was a humble and patient leader.
He had encountered men who called themselves “super-apostles.” They had been very derogatory toward him saying that his public speaking was despicable and amounted to nothing. They had abused the church, brought a false gospel in and had been men of deceit. They had disguised themselves as servants of righteousness, and then began to strip away at the foundation Paul had laid in that church in Corinth.
Halloween is a night of disguises. Each year we have a bunch of folks — church members and members of our community show up here all dressed up for “Trunk-R- Treat.” Sometimes, I don’t even know who is who because of the masks and disguises. But this was no Halloween, and this was no holiday. These were men with selfish, greedy motives, with divisive tongues and disguised as, “servants of righteousness.”
Paul tells the Corinthians that even Satan masquerades as an angel of light, and they should not think it strange that some false apostles had tried to slip in the back door of their church and take things over, disguised as ministers of righteousness. Paul tells them their end will be according to their deeds. Those people who divide and destroy God’s holy church will themselves be divided and destroyed. How then should we apply Paul’s words to our own age?
First, let me say, there is a litmus test to determining the false from the true Christian minister, and for that case, anyone who claims the name “Christian.” That test is found in the fires of the cost of being a Christian. Seventy years ago, culture and Christianity existed sort of side by side, and people would often come to church because in a social way it earned them capital. In other words, people perceived them as “good” because they attended church.
Now the culture is different. There is a social cost to being perceived as a Christian, and specifically as someone who attends church. And, it is not perceived by our culture as positive, but rather negative. Now instead of assuming people are “good” when they attend church, we now assume they are at the very least judgmental, and at worst predatory. There is a social cost for being an active Christian, and the cost is sometimes very high for those who truly believe in the Bible as God’s holy word, and make it the book they live by.
Paul begins to list the cost of his apostleship. These “super-apostles” had already listed their great works and were comparing themselves to Paul, and even slandering him. So Paul begins to share with them something of what it means to bear the cost of Christianity. He says he was imprisoned and beaten, had received the 39 lashes five times, was beaten with rods three times, shipwrecked three times and was stoned.
He had often been near death, been in hunger, thirst, naked, cold, and exposed to the elements. He had spent many sleepless nights in dangerous places. He had seen dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from Gentiles, dangers from Jews, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, and dangers in the sea. Out of everything he faced, he also had the daily burden of the churches he had planted. Yes, he was jealous with a Godly jealousy because he had one over-arching passion to present these churches to Jesus as his spotless bride.
However, wolves had come in to devour them, to mislead them, to divide them, and to ultimately cause them to leave their first love — Jesus Christ. How can you tell when people aren’t really who they say they are? The litmus test is found in how much it costs them to be a Christian. The false ones are there only for what they can gain, but those who truly love Christ and his Church will count the cost, and endure whatever may come for the joy of serving Jesus and his bride.
They will submit their lives to God’s holy word, and will make it a lamp unto their feet, and a light unto their path. They will endure society’s slander of Christianity in the spirit of Christ, who, when reviled, reviled not back. They will take up their cross and follow him no matter the cost.
There is an old hymn by Thomas Shepherd that asks the question, “Must Jesus bear the cross alone?” The cross is the litmus test for Christianity. It was from the beginning, and it will be until the end.
Brian Taylor began his ministry as a young man on the foreign mission field of Togo, West Africa serving with the International Mission Board of the SBC. He spent almost a decade serving as a music and youth minister in the Panhandle of Texas. He loves preaching and pastoring on the southside of Sherman. He has been married to his wife Sarah for 17 years, and they have five children. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.