You can serve people, but you don’t need to be smiling. You can speak truth to people, and you don’t need to tiptoe around their feelings. You can love them deeply, and you can be totally justified in showing that you feel exasperated, even irritated and at your wits’ end. In this explosive chapter, Paul shows the Corinthians just how frustrated he is with this worldly church. And this is just the beginning.
But Paul refuses to resort to the world’s weapons in his ministry. No rhetorical razzmatazz or mind-games in his ministry. He has the Gospel, the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, and they are more than enough for achieving God’s work (vv.4-5). And for a worldly church, fixated with the impressive, and dismissing the authentic, Paul warns that he means to come to punish disobedience (v.6).
Paul gets little pleasure from talking about himself, but he needs to underline that he has been given authority by Christ (v.8). Then, with more than a tone of gentle mockery, he doesn’t “dare” to rank himself with the so-called leaders the Corinthians make so much of (v.12).
Although Paul is speaking into the tensions of his relationship with the Corinthians, the parallels are obvious wherever there are churches and leaders. Leaders are tempted to appear impressive. They long to seem omni-competent, omniscient, and omni- everything else. And church people are tempted to demand an excellence from leaders which is totally unrealistic, and unhelpful. The Corinthian mistake was to believe that their so-called “super apostles” really were dazzling stars which they pretended to be. No wonder, then, that when the real leader Paul did show up, complete with his failures and shortcomings, and excelling only in mere love, they failed to recognise his credentials. God give us grace to accept those who minister the Word of God to us, and serve us in Christ’s love. We might just need them.
A Prayer to Pray
Lord, our world demands show and spectacle, but teach me to be a sceptic. Teach me to look beyond appearances, and to know when I’m putting on masks to impress, or maybe to mislead. Form me to be a man of humble love, striving to serve others, but not faking it when I get it wrong. Give me grace to point to the Perfect man, Jesus, and to be content to be a servant in His Name. Amen.