It is worth noting from the beginning, that this event is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels. The Disciples were up-in-arms about who was going to be the greatest. Our Lord settles the dispute by redefining greatness in the kingdom of God. The unsaved understand greatness as it relates to one person’s ability to control people. That is to say, the kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they who exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. The essence of control is not necessarily ordering every aspect of a person’s life. Control becomes enslavement when a person is not allowed to be released from the control. In other words, when submission moves from voluntary to some form of coercion, we are “exercising dominion” and thus behaving like unbelievers.
What the Lord Jesus is talking about is common among unbelievers. From the workplace to inner-city gangs, “rulers” refuse to surrender lordship over people that were once a part of them. For example, I have worked for companies that absolutely refused to allow an employee to leave on good terms. As soon as they indicate they have other prospects, the employee is derided and sometimes fired on the spot. At the very least it has been my experience that people who leave certain companies are not allowed to leave on peaceful terms. The employer does everything in their power to destroy the person or mean-mouth them in some way. If you find an employer that is “happy for you” and “wishes you the best” you have found a rare thing. Typically they view your leaving as an act of betrayal. I could list countless examples of people who worked hard for their company for many years, and when it came time to leave they hardly received a good-bye. It is pathetic how some employers treat people that want to leave their company.
Inner-city gangs are even worse. Some gangs are impossible to leave without being beaten-up or killed. I have read stories of gang members that committed felonies just to get sent to prison so they could escape the gang life. Why? They were allowed to join, but they were not allowed to leave. This is the essence of slavery. You can’t leave when you get ready. This is what shackles were designed for; to restrict a person’s freedom.
Seeing that many boast according to the flesh, I also will boast. For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise! For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face. To our shame I say that we were too weak for that!” (2 Corinthians 11:18–21a NKJV)
Paul seems to be describing a slave-driver, not a shepherd. The people were being brought into bondage and even struck in the face (as it were). You will remember that a large percentage of people living in the Roman Empire in those days were slaves. The people understood very well what Paul was saying. Some of them may have been slaves themselves and experienced this treatment. Nevertheless, he told them in effect, “We were too weak to treat you that way!” We didn’t order you around and control you. We didn’t treat you like you just joined the Mafia or something. For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise! They were wise in their own eyes and could not see the bondage they were in. They were being treated like animals by their leaders. I don’t know who they thought they were, but Paul referred to them as “fools.” (Gk. apron)
Not everyone “suffers fools gladly.” I have been reading a book entitled, Charismatic Captivation, by Dr. Stephen Lambert. He is obviously hostile to much that goes on today within the churches of God. Nevertheless, he brings to the table many valid points that are worth considering. His concern is for people who are trapped in a manipulative environment. The horror stories abound. Some people have come under such stress in these environments that they had nervous breakdowns. Others have quit church all together to flee from these type abuses. It has given rise to some degree to what has come to be known as “The Out of Church Christians” movement. Some people just cannot take the psychological and spiritual abuse. In Paul’s words, they can’t take another strike on the face.
When men build their own kingdoms to rule in, they don’t take too well to giving up their subjects. Jesus told us in advance, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so. In other words, don’t get it in your head that you’re going to get a position in the kingdom of God so you can control people. You are not the Lord’s over God’s heritage.
Sadly, in modern times, whole books have been written trying to break this cycle that has crept into some churches. For example, sometimes people feel the Lord leading them to leave and work in a different part of the field — only to have the leadership act just like the head of an inner-city gang. They may not kill them literally, but they kill them emotionally and spiritually. “We’ll let them leave, but not until we get through destroying their credibility and causing a big fuss.” No, they never say that. They just do it. How? Make them feel like they are missing God’s will by leaving. Understand I am not referring to people who are angry and are leaving on a whim. I am referring to people believing they are hearing from God and leaving to work in another field. They should get the right hand of fellowship — but instead they get a backhand. What is wrong? Men are building their own kingdoms; and when God puts in for a transfer these heavy handed shepherds try to block it. Selah.
Caught in a Web
I recall as a young child going on a field trip to the local museum. Since it was close to the school, the class lined up and the teacher led us on foot down the sidewalk. On the way home we passed by an old garage near the road. Strung across the front was a giant web with a large garden spider in the center. Lord only knows how many victims it has captured that day before my Vietnamese classmate pulled out his black glove and placed the spider in a little box. I have often thought of that spider; hanging there waiting for an unsuspecting victim. Well, not anymore.
As deadly as that garden spider was to those creatures that flew into his web, so too is a spirit within the churches of God that behaves in the way Jesus described in Luke 22:24–26; Matthew 20:25–28, and Mark 10:41–45. The people at Corinth may have suffered fools gladly, but God does not. Lording over God’s heritage, control mongering, and a host of other adjectives and adverbs cannot do justice to the destructiveness of such behavior. The only solution is to cast off such attitudes and repent. Pray that God will heal the people who have been hurt by it.