In today's epistle, we find the Word of God taking a very human form. Paul is so frustrated with false teachers in the church that he resorts to name-calling and foolish arguments. At one point, he even says:
So as I said before, please don’t mark me a fool; but if you must, then please accept me even as that and give me a little more room ...What I am saying now is not in character with our Lord but is the bragging of a self-assured fool...I’m speaking in character as a fool...I can’t believe how foolish I sound (vv. 16-17, 21, 23)!"
It makes me laugh, because I know how he feels. (Not at my current ministry location) I've gotten so frustrated at times with false leaders that I probably sounded foolish when I was sounding off against them privately to a trusted friend and confidant. The fact is that pastors love their people so much that it absolutely outrages us when selfish, arrogant, deceptive leaders come into the congregation and turn the people's heads from what is right. Pastors get so upset by it that we may at times even lose our cool as Paul did. In verses 11-15, Paul says:
Why am I doing this? It’s not because I don’t love you—God knows I do—but I will continue doing what I am doing to cut off any opportunity—clearly some are looking for one—for these false emissaries, these low-down, untrustworthy preachers, these posers who act as emissaries of the Anointed, to claim that they work under the same terms that we do. No wonder they are so good at it. Satan himself poses as a messenger of heavenly light, so why should we expect less from his servants—plodding over the earth, pretending to be ministers of righteousness—but in the end, they’ll get what’s coming to them.
Wow! Did Paul just say that? Did he just resort to name-calling, and imply that they're in league with Satan? Yep! When I remember times that my congregations have had their heads turned by false leaders, I wonder if I've used language like Paul. Like Steve Urkel, I put my hands to my mouth and say, "Did I do that?" Why, yes I did! Only because I love my people. Like Paul, I would say,
Please endure a little foolishness on my part; you have come so far with me already. To be completely honest, I am extremely jealous for you; but it’s the same kind of jealousy God has for you. You see, like an attentive father, I have pledged your hand in marriage and promised to present you as a pure virgin to the One who would be your husband, the Anointed One (vv. 1-2).
Paul loves the people so much that he has put up with innumerable trials for their sake. Well, they're not exactly innumerable--he does expound on them at length in this chapter (vv. 23-27). But he says that...
As if these external trials weren’t enough, there is the daily stress I feel and anxiety I carry for all the churches under my care. Who is weak without this arousing my empathy? Who gets hurt and offended without this inciting my burning anger?
Ministry can be the most wonderful, and the most frustrating, thing in the universe. Pastors weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice. We agonize over the self-destructive decisions that some of our congregants make. We celebrate the triumphs, and mourn over the losses our parishioners suffer--sometimes at the hands of others and sometimes by their own doing. We live among them and share their lives--so naturally we get upset when somebody who comes into the church (or is already in the church) begins to lead the people astray. It makes us kinda crazy!
This scripture passage doesn't talk about whatever false doctrine was being spread, or whatever selfish motives the false leaders must have had. That's probably a good thing. Because it leaves things open to interpretation. Clearly, though, there was some deceptive teaching involved. Paul writes:
But now I’m afraid that as that serpent tricked Eve with his wiles, so your hearts and minds will be tricked and you will stray from the single-minded love and pure devotion to Him. So then, if someone comes along and presents you with a Jesus different from the one we told you about, or if you receive a spirit different from the one gifted through our Lord Jesus, or even if you hear a gospel different from the one you heard through us; then you’re ready to go with it (vv. 3-4).
Paul's main concern is that the people live together in peace and righteousness, and that they have a true understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Naturally, he gets upset when someone leads the people astray.
I don't know the church that you're attending--maybe everything is going well there, unlike the church at Corinth. But maybe your pastor has been acting a little nutzo, because he's just so upset about false leaders taking the people down a dangerous path. Forgive the foolish heart of a pastor, who just wants God's people to live together, love one another, and follow Christ in truth. Maybe he's acting upset because he really cares that much.
*Scriptures are taken from The Voice. I chose it specifically because it conveys the very real emotions Paul felt.