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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am Svc

Text: 

2 Corinthians 10:7-18

In 1998 the first ever interplanetary weather satellite was launched to study the climate of the planet Mars. It was a joint venture of NASA and Lockheed. However it came too close to the planet and disintegrated. What caused this disaster? Investigations showed that an error was made because NASA had used Metric units (newton) to measure force in all its calculations while its partner, Lockheed had used Imperial units (pound). This error cost a total of US$125 million. This event illustrates the damage caused by using a wrong standard of measurement:

Using a wrong standard of measurement can also produce damaging results in God’s kingdom. One person who bore the brunt of such an error was the Apostle Paul. In our passage we will see how Paul corrected the Corinthians when they applied the wrong standard of measurement to him and to some false teachers.

We have seen that the church at Corinth had many problems mainly because many of its members had brought their former sinful practices and attitudes into the church. This led to divisions, immoral behaviour, and improper worship. All of this was compounded by the arrival of some men from Jerusalem who claimed to be Christians. They were actually false teachers who were trying to influence the members to reject Paul’s teaching. In order to do this, they cast doubts on his integrity and apostleship, and they claimed that Paul was merely a paper tiger – powerful in his writing, but ineffective when he was present.

The Corinthians were too gullible. They accepted what these false teachers said about him. This led Paul to write the last four chapters of this epistle to correct the Corinthians and to defend himself against all that the false teachers had said against him. The situation was highly critical, because once Paul’s integrity and apostleship are undermined, all the teaching the Corinthians had received from him would be in doubt. They would hardly bother to listen to him anymore. And worse still, they would easily be led astray by the false teachers.

You may remember that in last Sunday’s sermon we saw that we are engaged in a spiritual war, and we must therefore be careful of Satan’s devices. Well, one crafty device that Satan uses to destroy the flock is to undermine our view of our shepherds. If he can successfully convince us that they are men of doubtful integrity, or weak ability, or void of spiritual authority, we won’t bother to learn from them anymore, and we may then look for other resources to meet our spiritual needs. Hence what Paul wrote here in defence of his apostleship can help us not to fall into this trap, by showing us the right way to evaluate a minister who shepherds the flock.

Paul begins his defence in verses 7 to 9 by declaring that his authority comes directly from the Lord. Paul had received this apostolic authority when he had a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus. It was given to him for the purpose of edifying believers through preaching and teaching whenever he was present with them, and through writing to them when he was absent.

In verses 10 and 11 Paul dismisses the charge made by the false teachers that he is merely a paper tiger. He states that what he writes to the Corinthians is fully consistent with what he does whenever he is present with them. This statement is easily borne out through all the experiences they had with him from the time he first came to them.

Paul then goes on the offensive in the verse 12. He dissociates himself from the false teachers and their foolish ways – They attempt to boost their public image by commending themselves, by measuring themselves by themselves, and by comparing themselves among themselves. They also claimed glory and authority for themselves that was not theirs to claim.

In contrast to that, Paul only claims what he can rightfully claim. Thus in verses 13-14 he demarcates the allotment in which he exercises spiritual authority. This allotment includes the Corinthians, since it was God who had led Paul to spearhead the work of the Gospel in Macedonia and Corinth and to plant churches there during his second missionary journey, as recorded in Acts chapters 16-18.

In verses 15-16 Paul describes his hope of bringing the Gospel to the regions beyond Corinth, always being careful not to take any credit for what others had done. This would include places such as Rome and Spain. But before doing that he must first ensure that the Corinthians were spiritually strong and well-grounded in their faith.

In verses 17-18 Paul concludes this entire section of his defence by designating all the glory for any work to the Lord alone. This ends the section nicely by returning back to where Paul had started from: The Lord, who was the source of his authority.

Now that we understand what the text means, let us see what we can learn from it. We will discover three useful things to remember whenever we evaluate those who serve God as ministers. These things are general principles which are also useful to evaluate ourselves. The first thing to remember is that…

1. External Appearance is Most Unreliable (vv.7-11)

As v.7 says, “Do ye look on things after the outward appearance?” The Corinthians were deceived by what they saw of the false teachers – especially their outward appearance. At the same time, they were misled by these false teachers to despise what they saw of Paul, as seen in v.10 – “For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.”These verses warn us against making two common mistakes, the first warning is …

Do not be deceived by an impressive appearance. Not everything that looksgood on the outside is good, because looks can easily deceive. One example of this is found in 1 Samuel 16:7. Eliab was so impressive that Samuel thought he must surely be the one chosen as the next king of Israel – “But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” Outward appearance can easily deceive anyone.

Today it is getting a lot harder to tell what is true from what is false. Many people claim to speak for God. But are they really sent by God? Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 7:15 – “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Interestingly, sheepskin was the uniform of the shepherd and also of the prophet in ancient Israel. So these pretenders actually did not come disguised as sheep, but as shepherds so that they may convince the sheep to follow them! Their outward covering makes them look just like real shepherds of the flock.

Many years ago an impressive British preacher came to a church in Singapore and became their regular invited speaker. The members were captivated by his powerful preaching and so they invited their friends to come and listen to him. One of them invited me and I too was impressed by his excellent preaching. But later I was told that he turned against their pastor, took over the leadership and caused that church to split. Then news arrived from his home church in England that he was being disciplined for having an extra-marital affair. And many people then realised that this man was not of God. He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and they had failed to discern it! So let us take heed to the warning against being deceived by impressive appearance. The other warning that we must take heed to is...

Do not despise an unimpressive appearance. The Apostle Paul was evidently not impressive outwardly. Listen to what he wrote to the Corinthians in his first epistle: “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.” (2:3) This weakness may be due to a physical ailment which he called ‘a thorn in the flesh’(12:7). Paul’s appearance would probably not make a good impression on most people. In a second-century work entitled The Acts of Paul and Thecla, Paul is described as small, short, bow-legged, man with eye-brows knit together. A fourth century document describes him as being bald-headed and hook-nosed.

If you were to meet Paul for the very first time perhaps you may exclaim, ‘Is this man really the Apostle Paul? I can’t believe it!’ And if you hear him preach you may be surprised to find that he is not as polished or eloquent as you had imagined. In 2 Corinthians 11:6, Paul himself admitted that he is ‘rude in speech’. This means that he was unskilled in speaking, by the standard of the Corinthians who were used to listening to the stirring orations of their Greek rhetoricians.

 But though Paul’s speech was not impressive, everything he said was reliable, honest and true. It is far more important to be trustworthy, truthful and sincere than to be impressive in word or in writing. So we should never despise any minister of God who doesn’t speak well or write very well. Don’t apply the world’s standards of speaking or writing to them. God often uses the weak and despised, in order to confound the great and mighty (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:27,28).

Our Lord Jesus Himself was despised and rejected of men. He is described in Isaiah 53 as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” (Isaiah 53:3). This really shows how unreliable it is to evaluate anyone by their external appearance. The next thing we should remember in making an evaluation is that…

2. Selfish Boasting is Most Unwise (vv.12-15a)

Look at v.12 – “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” This verse and the verses after it reveal three foolish ways to speak about onself.

Firstly, It is foolish to commend oneself. This is mentioned again in the first part of v.18 – “For not he that commendeth himself is approved…” Self-commendation or boasting is soundly condemned in God’s Word. E.g. Proverbs 27:2 – “Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips.” It is already bad enough to hear people praising themselves in public – many celebrities and politicians may do that. It becomes utterly repulsive when this is done in church where God alone should be praised. No ministry of God should ever be used to exalt oneself or to parade one’s abilities and achievements before others.

Some may ask, “What is wrong with merely stating some facts that are true about myself?” There is nothing wrong, if the facts about myself are mentioned within the right context, like applying for a particular job that has requirements for certain competencies. The problem arises when those facts are mentioned in order to draw attention to myself and to evoke admiration from others. Then it becomes selfish boasting.

A story is told of a frog that was wondering how he could get away from the cold winter climate. Some wild geese suggested that he migrate with them. The problem, though, was that the frog couldn’t fly. “Just leave it to me,” said the frog. “I’ve got a splendid brain.” He thought about it and then asked two geese to help him by picking up a strong reed, each holding one end. The frog planned to hold on to the reed with his mouth.

In due time the geese and the frog started on their journey. Soon they were passing over a village, and the villagers came out to see the unusual sight. Someone cried out, “Who could have come up with such a clever idea?” This made the frog so puffed up with pride that he exclaimed, “I did it!” The moment he opened his mouth he lost his hold and fell to his death.

It is therefore very foolish to boast about oneself. The one who boasts thinks that he knows himself well. But how can anyone really know himself? If he does, he is just like an examiner who grades his own exam paper; or like a high court judge who judges his own crime. The problem with boasting is that it will always be biased in a person’s own favour, since he cannot see his own faults.

For this reason, Paul dissociates himself from those who were boasting about themselves. He said in v.12 – “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves.” The Corinthians already knew how well they have been blessed by Paul’s ministry to them. But some members were more impressed with the foolish boasting of the false teachers. They had been deceived by them and were now in danger of forsaking the truth which Paul had taught them to follow these teachers.

And so for their sake that Paul had to do what he disliked most – to talk about his own accomplishments, and even to share about a spectacular personal vision he had of being caught up to heaven. All these, which take up most of the next 3 chapters, may seem as if Paul was boasting. But it was not done to elevate himself. He did it only because he loved the Corinthians, and it was necessary for their own good to convince every one of them not to believe what his opponents were saying to discredit him.

These false teachers were not only foolish in commending themselves. They were also foolish to…

Compare themselves with others. (v.12b) This is an utterly false standard to use for measuring ourselves because all it does is create delusions of grandeur. Erasmus once said, “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

Isn’t it quite common for someone who is in the wrong to console himself by saying, “Well, at least I am not as bad as this guy and that guy.”? The Pharisees often fooled themselves like this. One of them even prayed in the Temple,  “God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.” (Luke 18:11).

The only true standard we should ever use to measure ourselves with is Christ. He is the only One we should compare ourselves with. Only then will we have a realistic view of ourselves, and realise how far short we really are. This is in line with the purpose of edifying the body of Christ, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13)

However, instead of comparing themselves with Christ, the false teachers at Corinth compared themselves with others who were just as sinful as themselves. Thus they would remain foolish, and would never be able to rise above their own false standard of measurement. The third foolish thing which they did was to…

Claim credit that belongs to others. In v.15 Paul says that he did not ‘boast of things beyond his measure, that is, in other men’s labours.’ That was what the false teachers at Corinth were doing. They were boasting that the Corinthians had made good spiritual progress as a result of their ministry. But this claim was totally unfounded. Everyone knew that Paul was the real spiritual father of the Corinthians. He was the one who had laboured in their midst for 18 months to lay the foundation of their faith. Thus the false teachers were wrong to take credit for what Paul had done.

Please be careful of being deceived by such people. Some have nothing at all to glory in, but resort to using the work of others to boost their esteem before men. Our church office sometimes receives email requests for financial help from people overseas who claim to be doing some Christian work. They give very glowing reports of their ministries hoping to gain our support. But in many cases, diligent inquiry reveals that very little of what they claim is actually true.

We must also beware of those who bask in the glory of others. They love to talk about the great seminaries they got their degrees, the eminent theologians who had taught them, and the godly pastors they are closely associated with. But can all that make them good ministers of Christ? No!

The only Person that a godly minister would want to be very closely associated with is the Lord Jesus Christ. Like Paul, he would regard all his gains, all his awards and all the recognition he receives but loss, so that he may win Christ! This leads us now to the third and final thing for us to remember in evaluating any minister, or even in evaluating ourselves:

3. Christ-centred Character is Most Useful (vv.15b-18)

This is the true measure of a minister – not his external appearance nor anything that he says about himself. Jesus said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”(Matthew 7:20) What kind of fruits would Christ-centred character produce in a minister?

Firstly, A true minister loves the Gospel of Christ. This is clearly seen in the hope that Paul expressed in v.16 – ‘To preach the gospel in the regions beyond Corinth’; His zeal for the Gospel is also expressed in Romans 1:16 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”

A true minister knows that the Lord Jesus has entrusted the Gospel to him. Therefore he wants to teach it and defend it faithfully so that people will have the truth of the Gospel that can save them and edify them. He labours hard and makes all necessary personal sacrifices just to build them up with the Gospel. He prayerfully uses every possible means to communicate it well. A true minister will exert all his energies and resources to make Christ known, so that everyone may grow in their knowledge of Christ, in their faith in Christ and in their love for Christ.

Secondly, a true minister glories only in Christ. This is another fruit that Christ-centred character produces in his life, as can be seen in the words of Paul in v.17 – “But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” A true minister boasts only of what Christ has done for him or through him. Whatever gifts, graces or successes he has, he attributes them all to Christ and gives thanks for them!

His greatest desire is to exalt Christ, not himself. Nothing brings greater joy to him than to see Christ pre-eminent in all things. In this, he has the same spirit as John the Baptist who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) Matthew Henry put it very well, “If our diminution or abasement may but in the least contribute to the advancement of Christ’s name, we must cheerfully submit to it, and be content to be anything, to be nothing, so that Christ may be all.”

A true minister seeks to be meek and gentle, like Christ. He does not want to terrify those he ministers to, or destroy them. To do that would be to abuse his authority, and to become lords instead of shepherds over God’s heritage (1 Peter 5:1). A true minister emulates the humility, meekness and gentleness of Christ Himself even in dealing with those who are against him. As Paul expressed in v.1 –“Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ…”

Thirdly, a true minister seeks to be commended by Christ. This fruit of his Christ-centred character is found in the last part of v.18 – “For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.” Has the Lord ever commended anyone? Yes, He has. When the Lord Jesus was on earth, He commended a Roman centurion for his faith (Matthew 8:10) and a Canaanite woman who sought His help to deliver her demon-possessed daughter (Matthew 15:28).

We should all do our best in the Lord’s service in order to receive His commendation, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant!’ (Matthew 25:21) This is the best commendation that anyone who serves Christ can ever receive! His assessment of us is always accurate, trustworthy and objective. Thus, a true minister does not want men’s approval.

In fact, any minister who wants to be faithful to God must be prepared to receive the very opposite from men: Their disapproval and criticism. This was Paul’s experience in ministering to the Corinthians. If Paul himself received so much criticism for his faithful ministry, how can any minister who serves today expect to receive less? Like Paul, he may be criticised for his appearance or for his preaching and teaching. Every detail of a minister’s life comes under scrutiny. He may be criticised wrongly and judged unfairly by men if the wrong standards are used to evaluate him. But like Paul, he takes comfort in the truth that the Lord knows his heart. As long as the Lord approves, it does not matter whether men approve of him or not.

A young violin student was playing to a full concert hall. In the seats were his fellow students and music teachers, as well as great musicians whose approvals were eagerly sought after by every aspiring violinist. The young student played well and gave his best performance. When he ended his piece, he received applause from the audience and warm smiles of approval. But his eyes were focused only on one old man in the audience – The man who had raised him up from the time he was orphaned and who had provided for all his needs. It was only when the young student saw him beaming with joy and clapping in full approval that he bowed down with tears of gratitude. He had given his best performance for that old man, because his approval was the only approval that mattered to him.

The only approval that should matter to us is the Lord’s, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” The Lord has loved us and given so much to save us unworthy sinners, and to raise us up as His own dear children. We owe Him so much! And now we have the opportunity to please Him with a life of faithful service. Let this become the motivation for all that we do, in whatever role the Lord has given to us in His kingdom – whether in our Sunday School, fellowship group or NBC, whether as a traffic warden, Bible study leader, musician, worship chairman, Elder or Deacon, or as a Minister of the Gospel.

In this sermon our focus has been on those who serve as ministers of God. We have seen that the true measure of a minister is not found in his external appearance or in what he says about himself, but in a character that is centred on Christ. May this help us to evaluate any minister correctly from now on. And may we also cultivate the qualities that will make us more effective in serving the Lord, seeing that it is His approval that should matter most to us. 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11