2 Corinthians 10 – Handling Criticism
Read 2 Corinthians 10
At last the perfect pastor has been found! He is a church leader that will please everyone! He preaches exactly 20 minutes and then sits down. He condemns sin but never steps on anybody’s toes. He works from 8 in the morning until 10 at night doing everything from preaching sermons to cleaning. He makes $500 a week and gives $100 of that to the church. He drives a late model car, buys lots of books, wears fine clothes and has a very nice family. He’s 36 years old and has been preaching for 40 years. He’s tall on the short side and heavyset in a thin sort of way. His eyes are either blue or brown – to fit the occasion. He wears his hair parted in the middle – left side dark and straight, right side brown and wavy. He has a burning desire to work with the youth and spends all his time with the senior citizens. He smiles all the time while keeping a straight face because he has a keen sense of humour which finds him keeping seriously dedicated. He makes 15 calls a day on church members, spends all his time evangelising non-members and is always found in his office studying when he’s needed. Unfortunately he burned himself out and died at the age of 32!
Someone has said, “you can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time but you can’t please all the people all of the time!” This is the first rule a pastor must learn. Douglas Kelly wryly comments, “along with most ministerial salaries comes the added bonus of free criticism.” Some of it may be legitimate and helpful and should therefore be heeded. But much of it may be undeserved and untrue but nevertheless hurtful. It comes in a variety of packages but usually has the same intent. How should we respond to such without becoming touchy or demoralised?
The apostle Paul writes here in prospect of his third visit, but mindful of the “painful” second visit. He’s addressing criticisms and complaints about him that are flying around Corinth. The culprits behind these accusations seem to be some bigwigs who have come from Jerusalem boasting spiritual pedigree, who are either jealous or suspicious of Paul, and have gained considerable influence in Corinth. They criticise Paul’s appearance – he’s weak and unimpressive (2 Corinthians 10:1; 10); his voice – is contemptible (2 Corinthians 10:10); his manner (he’s like a rottweiler on paper but a poodle in person); his spiritual credentials – he’s unspiritual (2 Corinthians 10:2b); and even his motives (he’s in it for the money, 2 Corinthians 11). I’m reminded of a series of cartoons under the caption, “Why I don’t go to Church”, which the late J.P. Struthers of Greenock included in his “Morning Watch.” Many of the excuses had something to do with the irritating mannerisms of the minister! Of course it was all a smoke screen. Fact is there are very few people who will be honest enough to say; “I don’t like your message. I don’t want to submit to God. What you’re saying is in the Bible, but I don’t want it because I don’t want God’s authority over my life.” Instead of attacking the message, the messenger is the next best thing!
How does Paul respond? How would you respond? Hand in your resignation on the spot? Go in to a spiritual tantrum? Say nothing? George Whitfield on one occasion received a particularly scathing letter of criticism. He replied,
I thank you heartily for your letter. As for what you and my other enemies are saying against me, I know worse things about myself than you will ever say about me. With Love in Christ, George Whitfield.
It’s important for us to notice that Paul’s response to criticism here is not motivated by any personal pique – otherwise it could safely be ignored. Spurgeon told his students that it was useful for pastors to have one blind eye, and one deaf ear! But what ‘fires’ him up (and note how he uses military imagery here) is his concern for the Corinthian church and the very Gospel itself. That’s worth defending!
He is a Man who is Captive to Christ
2 Corinthians 10:1, 5
WWJD? Or more correctly we should ask, “What would Jesus have me do?” This is the question we should always ask ourselves in every argument and in every attack. That’s why he states, “I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.”
We, like Paul, should want our behaviour to be Christlike. If our behaviour – even how we respond to criticism – is so Christlike, then the criticism will be unbelievable. Our every thought is to be captive to Christ. He is the Captain of our salvation. Meekness and gentleness were typical of Christ. When Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah, he declared that the Servant of the Lord, “will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Isaiah 42:2-3).
Derek Prime comments,
While always pursuing truth and righteousness, our Lord was never loud, aggressive or threatening, even when wrongly accused or maligned. Meekness and gentleness characterised his earthly life and ministry. As we grow in our knowledge of Him, these characteristics will similarly mark us. They are essential in any pastoral care we exercise.
He is a Man who has Confidence in His Spiritual Arsenal
2 Corinthians 10:4-5
There is a war going on all around us. It’s a battle for hearts and minds and souls. We are pitched against the old serpent with his poisonous venom. But with the weapons of the Gospel we have the authority to crush Satan underfoot. We have the Word of God (which is like a rock, a hammer and a sword); we have prayer and faith and the truth of the Gospel, all empowered by the Holy Spirit, which are powerful and effective. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. We can attack the stronghold of the human heart though it is the most fiercely guarded piece of ground in the universe. The message of the Gospel is able to demolish those strongholds, which resist Christ’s rule so that every thought is brought captive to Christ. The Gospel applied is able to demolish the twin towers of human opinion and philosophy – just as the tower of Babel was demolished. Goliath may have sneered at David with his sling. The world may scoff at our message and method.
But, “has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world … God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.”
We may have to think and alter strategy from time to time, but we never have to change weapons.
He is a Man who has Assurance of His Relationship with Christ
2 Corinthians 10:7
He’s assured that he belongs to Christ. He’s assured that he has been called and set apart for the work of gospel ministry. Such a conviction is a great asset when criticism and opposition come as they inevitably do. There is great benefit in being able to reflect on the fact that as a minister, you did not take this upon yourself. Rather God called you, and gifted you, and entrusted you with a specific and powerful message, and this call and these gifts have been recognised and endorsed by the church. We believe not only in the perseverance of the saints but of the pastors too!
He is a Man who is not Interested in His Personal Kingdom
2 Corinthians 10:8, 12
One of the distinguishing marks between Paul and his critics is that Paul used his authority to build up the church, while the critics used the church to build up their authority. This is still a useful guide to distinguish the true from the false. The false shepherd is seeking to build a church around himself and make a name for himself. The true shepherd seeks to build a kingdom for God. The false shepherds are in a competition – comparing themselves with themselves and among themselves. They are building little kingdoms that will not last. The true shepherd is building a lasting kingdom. Paul knows the truth of the dictum, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what done for Christ will last.” The story is told of one young musician whose concert was being poorly received by the critics. The famous Finnish composer Jean Sibellius consoled him by patting him on the shoulder and saying, “Remember, son, there is no city in the world where they have a statue to a critic.”
He is a Man not Given to Boasting about Himself
2 Corinthians 10:13-18
There is a legitimate boasting – and Paul exercises a little of that here. He rightly takes pleasure in the church plant in Corinth. Corinth was his parish and he wanted to see it consolidated. He wanted to see their faith continue to grow. He saw Corinth also as a stepping stone to take the gospel to regions beyond. These were his twin planks – building up and building out – to the glory of God. These other men however who had crept in were not builders but pests and parasites – who needed to be opposed.
They have received their reward – the praise of men. The only reward however that matters is the Lord’s commendation. If we should boast, let’s not boast in our work for the Lord – but in the Lord of our work.