2Cor.11:7-15 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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2 Corinthians 11:7-15

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Paul’s Missionary Finances

Scandals involving money or financial impropriety have been successful in ruining many a good work and sadly even Christian work has not been left untouched.

A work that may have been begun with the best of motives, can be quickly destroyed if irregularities over accounting come to light. Such irregularities may have started innocently enough but an unwise decision here may soon lead on to an illegal one there. Money, or rather the love of money, can trap us before we know what is happening. How careful Christians in particular need to be in the way they handle their finances.

This evening as we continue our studies in 2 Corinthians finances come to the fore once again and they do so in a somewhat unusual manner as Paul continues to defend his apostolic ministry.

An Unusual Problem or Accusation
Paul’s ministry had come under attack from those who saw themselves as "super-apostles". They thought they were wonderful while Paul, frankly, didn’t quite cut it. Their accusations of him were many and varied as they sought to undermine his influence. Amongst these accusations was their dislike of the way in which Paul dealt with money matters and they were not slow to attribute false motives to him as they criticised his behaviour.

The first finance-related problem was a somewhat surprising one: quite simply Paul didn’t charge enough!

Back in the 5 th century BC a group of teachers known as the Sophists put about the idea that not only was teaching a valuable commodity but the better the teaching the higher the price one could expect to pay for it. (You only have to stop for a moment and think for a moment to realise that such thinking has not disappeared from our world.) The flip side of such thinking was that if a man taught for free it could only be because he knew his teaching to be worthless!

And what was Paul doing? He was preaching and proclaiming the gospel to the Corinthians "free of charge" v.7.

Didn’t that justify the low opinion the super-apostles had of the apostle?

In fact it seems as though they even went as far as suggesting that Paul acted wrongly in behaving like this. Their criticisms prompted Paul to pose the Corinthians a question:

v.7 "Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge?"  

Paul alludes to a number of significant facts as he asks this question:

His goal was the exaltation of the Corinthians ie. he wanted to do them good and the good in view is the spiritual good of salvation with all its attendant riches

Paul had to humble himself in order to achieve his goal – he choose to act as though he himself were an unimportant teacher one who couldn’t charge for his services

The content of his preaching was not his own. How could he charge for teaching something that he himself had freely received? After all what he was preaching was not his own teaching it was the "gospel of God" – the good news which was both about God and which had come from God. And didn’t the Lord Jesus charge his apostles not to seek payment for services rendered?

Mt 10:8 "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay."  

Yes, Jesus also taught that a worker was worthy of his hire but he did not put his followers under any obligation to charge for their ministry. Paul was very happy to receive support from Christians to help further his ministry but he was careful in the way he did so.

He wrote about this to the Corinthians and what he said may well have come to them as something of a challenge too. You see Paul was ready to receive money from the churches in Macedonia as he ministered in Corinth. This is how he strikingly put it:

v.8 "I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you."

Now, why did he put it like that? Well, these other churches in Macedonia were much poorer than the inhabitants of cosmopolitan Corinth and yet they were very eager to give and to give generously. The Corinthian’s may have chafed somewhat at being told they were being effectively supported by those poorer than themselves.

Paul insisted his preaching of the gospel would never be open to the accusation of laying a financial burden upon his hearers. He was proud of this and simply wouldn’t back down.

Of course there is a profound principle involved here. Is the gospel free or is it not? How easy it would have been for the Corinthians to imagine that in paying a good price for a teacher they were somehow contributing to their own salvation or securing perhaps the best possible version of it! And how the human heart longs to find some way, any way, no matter how small it is, of making a contribution to his/her own salvation!

Such behaviour as Paul had adopted can of course can be misunderstood and all the more so if someone is present with an interest in criticising.

Why doesn’t Paul accept any financial help from us while he is obviously ready to accept it from others? Well, it’s clear isn’t it? He loves them more than he does us, perhaps he doesn’t love us at all.

You can hear the cogs of doubt turning in their minds – but none of it was true and Paul confronts the question head-on:

v.11 "And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!"

Paul wasn’t averse to taking money from Christians but he didn’t want any hint of sinners paying for their own salvation – his efforts to avoid all such risks by refusing to receive financial support from those to whom he ministered was a demonstration of his love for the Corinthians even though they might not appreciate it as such.

And yet Paul was quite prepared for the Corinthians to give money to help in poor relief and in fact he urged them to be involved in such measures. His settled principle seems to have been that he was ready to receive monies in order to help ministry elsewhere but not in a way that might suggest payment for services rendered.

How do we seek to apply such an approach ourselves?

Well as a church we employ and support a pastor and we take care that we cover his financial needs. This is right and proper as there is not the same risk of gospel confusion. The pastor ministers to and teaches those who are Christians already. Visitors who are not yet Christian believers are not put under any pressure to make financial contributions to the ministry; we don’t, for example, take up a "collection" during the services.

When it comes to evangelistic activity we don’t make charges for entry to our meetings or to any events we might organise. Our evangelistic suppers do not have a fee attached to them for example. We do not want outsiders to imagine that we are after their money or that they could somehow make some sort of financial contribution to their own salvation. The costs of such events are met out of the free will offering of those who are committed to Christ already – these are the ones who are "robbed" that others may benefit.

With good reason the Christian church has been described as an institution that exists for the benefit of those who do not belong to it! There is a good deal of truth in this.

The Contrast with the Super-Apostles
Having explained how he has conducted himself with regard to money in the past, Paul now affirms that he has not the slightest intention of changing his ways now. Instead he explains what effect such a policy will have on others.

It is clear that the super-apostles are in view and that they have been claiming to be involved in the same mission as the apostle Paul. It becomes clear too that they have been claiming to act in the same way as the apostle Paul only, they have let it be understood, they are better at it than him.

It is time for Paul to call their bluff and to flush them out into the open.

Are they really functioning in the same way as the apostle Paul? Then why are they so interested in money and in lining their own pockets? Paul has already alluded to them earlier in this letter as "peddlers of God’s word" (2Cor.2:17), men who ministered not out of sincerity nor out of a genuine mission accorded them by God but motivated by selfish concerns.

Are they really concerned to promote the cause of Christ? If so then what price are they prepared for the privilege? Are they really prepared to do things Paul’s way? Paul was prepared not to make any personal gain at all from his ministry amongst them – are they prepared to do the same?

Of course finance is not the only improper motive that a person can have as he "serves Christ". There are plenty of other ignoble motives: power, influence, reputation – that are also reprehensible. The fact that Paul focuses upon finances here doesn’t mean that to be dominated by these other motives is somehow acceptable – how careful our ministers of the gospel must be.

Paul is about to launch into a section of his letter that he thinks to be utter folly but he considers it at the same time to be necessary because of the gravity of the danger confronting the Corinthians. Paul will compare himself to them – at first he will appear to be fighting them on their own ground but little by little as he advances it will become plain that he is in the process of overturning the whole value system by which they erroneously make their judgements.
The reason why the danger is so serious is because of the true nature of the folk who have been causing the Corinthians so much trouble.

These folk have boasted of doing what Paul does only better but they have not been telling the truth and Paul is ruthless in his exposé of them. How stark is his analysis and how devastating is his critique.

These men have been passing themselves off as the real deal – not only were they suggesting they were Christians they were making out that they were apostles of Christ.

Paul counters such claims frontally:

They are:

  • False apostles

  • Deceitful workmen

  • Disguising themselves as apostles of Christ

The Message, with characteristic vividness, puts it like this:

2Cor.11:13 "They’re a sorry bunch—pseudo-apostles, lying preachers, crooked workers—posing as Christ’s agents but sham to the core."

And these are the people that the Corinthians had, until very recently, been so enamoured with! They hadn’t been sent by Christ but instead they had tried to make out that they were something they weren’t.

Are you shocked or surprised by this?

The apostle Paul wasn’t. He knew that deception and disguise was just the way it was for Satan. It had been that way in the Garden of Eden and down through human history. It was that way in the wilderness when he deceitfully but unsuccessfully tried to offer Jesus victory without the Cross. Yes, Satan is often operating like that, hiding his true identity and aims and trying to pretend he is an angel of light. But he is an angel of light seeking, not to do good but seeking whom he may devour.

Now if Satan is like that it is not to wondered at if his servants behave in the same way. Deception is the name of the game.

It is interesting that Paul pulls no punches. He doesn’t talk about misunderstandings, incompatible personalities or anything like that. These men have laid out their claims and their claims are false and they are to be judged accordingly. If you find yourself in a similar situation with someone making exaggerated and frankly false claims about serving Christ while all along they are showing far more likeness to Satan than to Jesus you are not to accept them either. It is no part of Christian charity to pretend otherwise.

Who knows whether or not the sternness of his words served to wake up these "super-apostles" and bring them to an awareness of their true condition?

But before we leave this section we need to sound something of a caution. Paul’s strong words are reserved for those who had taken it upon themselves to be something important and to adopt for themselves the role of leaders in the church of Christ. Paul was not thinking about simple ignorant people but with people who were actively misleading others. This should caution us not to be too harsh towards everyone with whom we disagree or who hold inaccurate views concerning the Christian faith: there is a great difference between ignorance and wilful deception. There is a great difference between silly sheep and wolves dressed up to look like sheep!

As we note the strength of Paul’s language we should however understand that the issues at stake in the true gospel of Jesus Christ are really very important indeed and we fail to realise that at our peril.


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