A Contentious Ministry (2 Corinthians 10-11)

Have you ever been called a name? You know, the names that are intended to make you angry — and they do!

  • A child on the playground gets called chicken.
  • A young teenager is dared to do something foolish, and mocked if he does not accept the challenge.
  • A man is called a wimp for not being a hard-driving boss to his employees at work.
  • A woman is called a doormat for being submissive toward her husband.

The Apostle Paul experienced name-calling in his ministry. In an unusual open door for the gospel, he won people to Jesus Christ in Corinth, the ancient city of seaports, philosophies, and sexual perversion. Not exactly the kind of place you would think would be receptive to the gospel but some were — God’s word is powerful and relevant (Isaiah 55:11). Paul’s ministry was focused on preaching the gospel primarily to the Gentiles where the name of Christ had not yet been proclaimed (Gal. 2:7-9; Rom. 15:20). Since the Corinthians responded to Paul’s message, he had a ministry there to build up the body of new believers and establish the church.

Greedy, pompous, false apostles arrived later to take over this group. They saw an opportunity to make money off the rich Corinthians. To do this, they had to divide the body of believers who were loyal to Paul. Unable to criticize Paul’s fruit in the church, they attacked Paul’s message and his motives. This was spiritual warfare of the first degree. They laughed at Paul, calling him the modern equivalent of a wimp who was nothing more than a little man full of hot air:

For some say, “Don’t worry about Paul. His letters are demanding and forceful, but in person he is weak, and his speeches are really bad!” (2 Corinthians 10:10, NLT)

How do you deal with such criticism? What if it involves your Christian witness and ministry to others? When you do anything in Christ’s name, you involve yourself in a spiritual war that has been going on since before dirt (literally!).

Scripture Passage:

Main Point

Criticism is a spiritual battle that can truly harm your Christian witness and ministry. When it comes, deal with it from your position of strength — your strength is in truth. The most important weapon in God’s arsenal for spiritual battles is truth, so use it!

  1. You are in the battle — a spiritual war — so prepare yourself.
  2. Truth is your primary weapon in spiritual battles.
  3. Spiritual war can have awful physical consequences but don’t fight people — fight with spiritual weapons.
  4. Be not deceived by religious behavior; look to the truth proclaimed about God and His salvation.


1. You are in the battle — a spiritual war — so prepare yourself.

Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ– who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you. But I beg you that when I am present I may not be bold with that confidence by which I intend to be bold against some, who think of us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. (2 Corinthians 10:1-3, NKJV)

Every Christian is involved, knowingly or unknowingly, in a spiritual battle. Standing on the winning side of truth, you must confidently engage the world with the word of God to win hearts and lives to Jesus Christ. Quite often, you must use the truth to defend yourself and your ministry from those who would pervert it to suit their own purposes — usually to exalt themselves at your expense. Any ministry in Christ’s name involves spiritual warfare, a battle between light and darkness.War with 2 sides shooting at each other
Paul noted that though he was flesh and blood like those who criticized him, he did not war against them in the flesh (2 Cor. 10:3). It would have been natural for Paul to want verbally or even physically attack the false teachers. But the battle is really spiritual in nature. We want to win people to Christ, not beat them up! As he said to the Ephesian church:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, NKJV)

On December 8, 1941, the United States thought it was not involved in World War II. One day later, this country could no longer deny that it was in the war. Pearl Harbor had been demolished. The aerial and naval strength was greatly diminished. Japan had forced our hand.

Likewise, you are in the spiritual war whether you want to play or not. So, “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Pet 5:8, NKJV)  If it sounds like I’m trying to scare you, I am — scare you into realizing this vital truth. You had best get prepared for this battle. There are many who rebel against God and resist the Holy Spirit’s influence in their lives at every turn; they will find out about you. At work, in the neighborhood, at the grocery store, or at school the honorable name of Christ will be your commendation to some and a great big target to others. Acting naively about this battle will likely result in your witness being compromised by lies and ugly rumors. What can you do? First of all, be strong:

  • In the presence of God: “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut 31:6, NKJV)
  • In the power of God: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” (Eph 6:10, NKJV)
  • In the grace of God: “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim 2:1, NKJV)
  • In the love of God: “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.” (1 Cor 16:13-14, NKJV)

2. Truth is your primary weapon in spiritual battles.

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5, NKJV)

What kind of warfare are we waging? Here, Paul speaks of those weapons that are powerful for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every thought that stands in opposition to God (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Certainly we understand arguments against God. Evolution is a blatant argument against a Creator which is not only propagated in schools but in movies, newspapers, and televisions every day. So is apathy regarding God. Christians face a variety of arguments and thoughts that rebel against God and His revealed will.

Strongholds, though, are those places in our minds and hearts that are established patterns or convictions or memories to which we are enslaved. In his tremendously successful book, The Search for Significance, Dr. Robert McGee talks about four common strongholds that rule the lives of so many people. These strongholds are the false beliefs that:

  • I must meet certain standards in order to feel good about myself (the performance trap).
  • I must be approved (accepted) by certain others to feel good about myself (the approval addict).
  • Those who fail are unworthy of love and deserve to be punished (the blame game).
  • I am what I am. I cannot change. I am hopeless (shame). *1

Here are the spiritual battles that each of us is susceptible to believe. Typically it is rooted in how our parents or friends treated us growing up. It could also be a spouse. It might be your boss at work. A particularly painful event in one’s life could also trigger such a battle. Dr. McGee’s conclusion about these false beliefs is the same one the Apostle Paul demonstrates in our Scripture passage: God’s truth. This is the primary weapon of our spiritual warfare.

Paul’s accusers were undermining his ministry by undermining Paul’s character and calling. Paul did not believe their lies for a moment. “For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the LORD commends.” (2 Corinthians 10:18, NKJV)  He did not blame the false apostles, though he pointed out the foolishness of their arguments (2 Cor. 10:12; 11:4-5) and conducted his ministry without their financial support so that the truth would strip their lies of any foundation (2 Cor. 11:9-12).

Spiritual war requires spiritual weapons of which truth is the primary one in the arsenal (the nuke!). Believing and affirming the truth to oneself helps you. Believing and proclaiming the truth helps others. Interestingly, any Christian can wield the spiritual weapons for they are “mighty in God” (2 Cor. 10:4) not in our own power or ability. As the commentator Barnes pointed out:

They are not such as are employed by conquerors; nor are they such as people in general rely on to advance their cause. We do not depend on eloquence, or talent, or learning, or wealth, or beauty, or any of the external aids on which the people of this world rely. They are not such as derive advantage from any power inherent in themselves. Their strength is derived from God alone. (2 Corinthians 10:4 from Barnes’ Notes)

Other weapons in are arsenal are covered in Ephesians 6:10-18 (spiritual armor of which the first one mentioned is truth) and in James 4:6-8 (humility before God). These are worthy of separate study.

The main point is that each of us must take care to believe the truth about God, about ourselves, and about our world. As Paul dealt with criticism through proclaiming the truth, so we must respond to criticism or any other spiritual battle with the truth. The fatalism of the old saying is “the chips fall where they may” but hold on to the truth that victory is ours in Jesus Christ our LORD (Rom. 7:25; Col. 2:15).

3. Spiritual war can have awful physical consequences but don’t fight people — fight with spiritual weapons.

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:4, NKJV)

Paul enjoyed quite a reputation among the false apostles of various cults. They liked him so much they stoned him, beat him, whipped him, imprisoned him (2 Cor. 11:23-26). The spiritual battles Paul fought had serious physical consequences. Yet he did not strike back with his fists but with the spiritual weapons of Almighty God. You, Christian, are not to fist fight against people who hurt you. Instead, fight for truth! This is the spiritual battle that you will win.

Job found out that spiritual battles can have awful physical consequences. Satan accused him of being a weak believer (Job 1:9-11) and God allowed Job to be tested severely. Job lost all his cattle, sheep, camels, servants, home, sons, and daughters (Job 1:14-19). Yet “In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong” ( Job 1:22, NKJV). Satan attacked again and took away Job’s health, giving him boils from head to toe. Even his wife turned against Job. “But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10, NKJV). Then Job’s three friends — so called — came to help him. They ended up denouncing Job; they blamed Job for a secret sin as the reason he was being tormented. In the end, God had this to say about Job’s friends and His servant, Job:

7 And so it was, after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, that the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has. 8 “Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and My servant Job shall pray for you. For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.” (Job 42:7-8, NKJV)

Throughout the spiritual battle (of which Job was unaware) with very real physical consequences Job kept his faith in God by using that spiritual weapon of truth. He did not strike out against his friends with fists but with truth. You and I need to be careful when raging spiritual battles take place. Realize that people who lash out against you because of your stand for Jesus Christ are simply pawns on the devil’s chessboard. But God never changes (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8); neither does His word (Isa. 40:8; Matt. 5:18).

Know that the battle we wage is not against people but a battle for truth. Knowing the truth frees us to love people in spite of the problems they create for us (hurtful words, disappointing actions) and the circumstances of life that just do not go our way (personal setbacks, broken relationships, political roadblocks). So, love people with the truth, given in love. In this way, you will win the spiritual battle every time. Whether they accept God’s truth or not, the victory is yours in Jesus Christ who, after all, is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6, NKJV)

4. Be not deceived by religious behavior; look to the truth proclaimed about God and His salvation.

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works. (2 Cor 11:13-15, NKJV)

It was in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3), the paradise created by God for the first man and woman, where Satan deceived Eve disguised as a serpent. At that time before the fall, the serpent was not a dangerous animal. Certainly, Eve had no reservations about speaking with the serpent. Satan had successfully appeared in a non-threatening form so as to lure Eve with his tempting lies. Had Satan appeared in red tights with red horns on his head, Eve would have either run or laughed — she would not have listened. Appearing in any form which provides the opportunity to deceive is Satan’s ploy. Consider how he uses:

  • Nice family-centered commercials sponsored by a self-proclaimed Christian church which actually believes in many gods and that you can also become god (The Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saints also known as the Mormon Church).
  • Televangelists who are more interested in your money than your soul (this would be a long list if enumerated).
  • Spiritually-focused books which suggest you can relate to God without believing in His Son, Jesus Christ (another long list).
  • Preachers whose personal moral failures were exposed, yet they continue in a leadership position preaching righteousness (and cry in every sermon).

The false apostles in Corinth were in the ministry for the money they could gain while at the same time accusing Paul of being in it for the money! A point of warning is in order here — be careful who or what ministry you support with financial gifts. Make sure both their ministry purpose and strategy are consistent with God’s will. In this environment, Paul chose to accept NO support from the Corinthians (though it was the richest church financially) so that he could avoid even the perception that he was after their money. Paul made it clear he was after their heart and soul for Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 6:1,11; 7:2-3; 11:2; 12:14-19).

Satan or his demons can use people or deceive people to act like godly individuals (at least around church settings) in order ultimately to turn people away from God and the truth of the gospel. They can do this through:

  • Cloaking all things in religious terms or viewpoints.
  • Using very strong emotional appeal in their messages and entertaining services to open the hearts of those they will deceive.
  • A strong emphasis on family or social work.

None of these things by themselves are bad. But each can be a tool of the devil if a different god is declared, or a different gospel of salvation is proclaimed other than salvation:

  • By the grace of God alone
  • Through faith alone
  • In the LORD Jesus Christ alone

Paul makes it clear that the deceivers will get their just reward for wickedness — their “end will be according to their works.” (2 Cor. 11:15, NKJV)  Churches and individual Christians should also be careful about involvement in political or social work through the church banner or “in the name of God” because:

  • Valuable time may be taken away from truly redemptive work needed in a lost world to which the church is called.
  • Such work may require you to compromise or at a minimum silence your beliefs about important issues such as the sanctity of life, sacredness of marriage, or abstinence from drugs and intoxicating substances.
  • Your reputation may be tarnished by association with groups that give the enemy cause for accusations, tearing down your name and with it the name of Christ.

Be very thoughtful about such involvement when there is no redemptive purpose. If the gospel of Jesus Christ is not preached, the work can be good work but not the best work that God has in mind for His church. I am not proposing that Christians avoid political or social work. I am saying that when the church is involved in such activity without there being a clear redemptive purpose (evangelizing a lost world), it can distort, confuse, or outright contradict God’s direction for the church. Good deeds alone still leave a lost sinner on his way to Hell. Be sure that your religious activities in concert with others — church, para-church, or community groups — is consistent with the gospel and the revealed truth of God’s word.

Reflect on YOUR life

As you can see, even godly men and women will be persecuted in this manner in this world (Matthew 5:10; John 16:33). This sort of thing happens frequently to people — one person lifts himself up by putting others down. Yet Jesus said to REJOICE when you are falsely accused for you share not only the experience of His prophets and apostles but their reward as well (Matthew 5:11-12).


End Notes

*1 McGee, Robert S., Dr. The Search for Significance. Houston, Texas: Rapha Publishing. Copyright 1985, 1990. p.40.