The Cost of Control (Church Wrecking)

The Cost of Control 
Robert Wurtz II

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! But in whatever anyone is bold—I speak foolishly—I am bold also. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? (2 Corinthians 11:20–29 NKJV)

It is hard to read these passages, especially the first few verses, and not think of the countless women around the world who choose to live in dangerously abusive relationships. In fact, the problem has been given the technical term “Battered woman syndrome” or the acronym BWS. Some states are passing legislation that recognize this “mental state” as a possible mitigating circumstance in certain criminal court cases. I wound this definition at  

“Battered woman syndrome (BWS) is a mental disorder that develops in victims of domestic violence as a result of serious, long-term abuse. BWS is dangerous primarily because it leads to “learned helplessness” – or psychological paralysis – where the victim becomes so depressed, defeated, and passive that she believes she is incapable of leaving the abusive situation. Though it may seem like an irrational fear, it feels absolutely real to the victim. Feeling fearful and weak, and sometimes even still holding onto the hope that her abuser will stop hurting her, the victim remains with her abuser, continuing the cycle of domestic violence and strengthening her existing BWS.”

Could it be that people could be subject to such abusive church leadership that they were living with what I might call “spiritual BWS.” We have some clues in our text. Paul told the church at Corinth that they “suffered fools gladly.” That is to say, they tolerate things they shouldn’t. Their leaders were behaving badly and they were letting it go on. Paul then adds, 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. Note the verb with each of the five conditional clauses (enslaves, devours, takes captive, exalteth himself, smites on the face). The climax of insult, smiting on the face (A. T. Robertson). This apparently came to be the Corinthians preferred type of minister! They suffered fools gladly (2 Cor. 11:19). This word “gladly” in Greek is fairly strong and means “with pleasure.” They welcomed those who abused them while at the same time criticizing Paul who truly loved them. They saw him as “weak.” He informed them that he was too weak to make such a display of despicable overbearing authoritarianism. (IVP-NBC 1994)

What were the Corinthian’s criteria for ministry?

1. One who brought the people under bondages to laws and rules that God never intended. This could include man made forms of church government; unbiblical bylaws, etc. These are the laws and rules that give “teeth” to the control mechanisms that enabled heavy-handed “leaders” to exert authority over the congregation. Sadly, the Corinthians enjoyed being under it.

2. One who devoured them. This word is used of the Pharisees who “devoured widows houses” in Matthew 23:14.     These are people whose covetousness and obstructiveness led Jesus to pronounce what A.T. Robertson called a “thunderbolt of wrath” and Francis Wright Beare called a “masterpiece of vituperation” (see NIBC and Robert Mounce on Matthew 23:14). 

3. One who “takes from you.” This is akin to “devour.” False ministers seek the property, not the souls of those of whom they minister. This is why they have little time for people who have little or no resources. They are not satisfied with what may be termed “maintenance” they work to obtain as much as possible from the people (See Barnes on 2 Cor. P.233). Like the sons of Eli they “take” what they want, viewing themselves as worthy of the first fruits and best portions.

4. If the exalt themselves. Simply put, they preferred arrogant ministers to humble ones — a common preference in modern times. They may not say it, but it is evident. 

5. If one strikes you on the face. This could be either literal or figurative. In other words, the Corinthians seemed to prefer being offended in various ways that amounted to a “slap in the face” to being treated with love and decency.

Paul’s Credentials

After listing all the things he had gone through as a minister of the Gospel he concludes with this, Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? Of all of Paul’s “credentials” I suggest that these were the greatest. First, he was touched by the feeling of the saints infirmities. When they were weak — he was weak. When they were hurting — he was hurting. There was no trembling timorous soul, no scrupulous conscience, in all the communities he had founded, whose timidity and weakness did not put a limit to his strength: he condescended to their intelligence, feeding them with milk, and not with meat; he measured his liberty, not in principle, but in practice, by their bondage; his heart thrilled with their fears; in the fullness of his Christ-like strength he lived a hundred feeble lives. (Expositors Commentary) 

Then he adds this final bit… Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? Paul’s love individualized Christian people, and made him one with them. And when spiritual harm came to one of them-when the very least was made to stumble, and was caught in the snare of falsehood or sin-the pain in his heart was like burning fire. The sorrow that pierced the soul of Christ pierced his soul also; the indignation that glowed in the Master’s breast, as He pronounced woe on the man by whom occasions of stumbling come, glowed again in him. This is the fire that Christ came to cast on the earth, and that He longed to see kindled-this prompt intense sympathy with all that is of God in men’s souls, this readiness to be weak with the weak, this pain and indignation when the selfishness or pride of men leads the weak astray, and imperils the work for which Christ died. And this is indeed the Apostle’s last line of defense. Nowhere could boasting be less in place than when a man speaks of the lessons he has learned at the Cross: yet these only give him a title to glory as “a minister of Christ.” (Expositors Commentary) 

A Battered Bride

Paul seemed to be dealing with a “Battered Bride” who had lost her sense of normal and acceptable treatment. They may have even reached the place that it did not trouble them when a saint was stumbled by the actions of the minister or others in the church. He had already addressed the destructive actions of people in his first letter when he wrote, If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:17 ESV)

Under the Old Covenant the outward temple (and tabernacle) was merely a picture of the church — the place where God’s presence was found. Under the New Covenant God makes his home his people individually and the church collectively at any given place like Corinth. It is unconscionable and diabolic to “destroy” a church or a living — breathing temple of God (saint). This verb for destroy is phtheiroœ and it means to corrupt, to deprave, to destroy. This has been an ongoing danger in the churches of God since the beginning. This is why Jesus and Paul warned about it and employed different pictures to make the point. 

It is a gross sin to be what the world would call a “home-wrecker” but a “church-wrecker” is on a different level. When saints are being destroyed along with churches the wrath of God and the saints is kindled. As Paul said, Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? There are actually a few preachers who leave behind them ruin like a tornado in their path. Him shall God destroy (phtherei touton ho theos). There is a solemn repetition of the same verb in the future active indicative. The condition is the first class and is assumed to be true. Then the punishment is certain and equally effective. The church-wrecker God will wreck. What does Paul mean by “will destroy”? Does he mean punishment here or hereafter? May it not be both? (A. T. Robertson)

A cursory reading of the Corinthians letters reveals many disturbing things. We need to ask, why did God record these things? Do we really need to know that the Corinthians leaders were heavy-handed and mistreated the people? Did Paul have to point it out to them or did they already know deep down that it was going on? This is the terrible thing. We have these accounts because of Christ’s concern for his Bride. There is no wonder Paul was burdened with the care of the churches. 

Avoiding Spiritual Malpractice

Avoiding Spiritual Malpractice

Robert Wurtz II

Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:12–13 NKJV)

Our passage follows closely to an entire section on the chastening of the Lord. This is why we have “therefore” to start verse 12. It is as if the writer is drawing a picture of a person who has gone through a round of discipline from the Lord, by the hand of sinners, and is telling those who read to strengthen the one who has been so disciplined, whose hands hang down, and the strengthen their feeble knees. This is medical language. The word “strengthen” in the Greek means “to straighten; or to set dislocated parts of the body.” (Vincent) This is a vivid picture of a person who has been put out-of-sorts by (in this case) the abusive treatment of them at the hands of contradicting sinners. 

Paul was often experiencing such treatment and spoke of it. He wrote:

For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more. (2 Corinthians 7:5–7 NKJV)

Sometimes great men and women in the Bible are portrayed almost like comic book heroes; they never get nervous or concerned; they always have it all together. Nevertheless, we must remember that Paul and his comrades were as human as you are, and as I am. They were touched with the feelings of all of our weaknesses. In fact, Paul suffered things that could kill a person; however, God was always faithful to send someone to encourage him; that is to say, to strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees. Like a doctor arriving on the scene of a serious accident, Titus went to work in the power of the Holy Spirit encouraging these dear men of God who were depressed through their circumstances (Vincent). They suffered these things for the sake of the Gospel; at the same time, they still needed encouragement. Everyone at some point will need to be encouraged. 

Make Strait Paths

It has been said that “the reward of suffering is experience.” I think it can also be said, with all sincerity, that everything we go through is part of our spiritual training. God uses all of our experiences for His glory. Nevertheless, sometimes we are disciplined for our faults, and other times we have done nothing to deserve what is happening (1 Peter 2:20). Both scenarios imply discipline and training. If we have been disciplined for our faults, we need to take steps to make sure we do not repeat the offense that leads to the discipline. The writer to the Hebrews states, make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. This portion of the verse continues the medical motif, stating that the path of our life needs to be clear of anything that could cause further injury. 

Trip Hazard

We have an obligation as Christians to make sure we do not cause a fellow brother or sister to stumble. When we are called along side in a situation, we need to have the mind of a first-responder in an accident. We tend to the immediate need in order to strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees. Afterward, we are to clear the path in such a way that it is no longer a trip hazard. Think of all the times you or I have said, ” move that out of the way before they trip over it. ” When a person struggles to walk, they need assistance until they are “healed.” 

If we fall physically, and put both our shoulder and knee out — we are in bad shape. However, this can happen spiritually; so we need to be watchful of anything that can cause a fellow brother or sister to fall in the way. We must never be the cause of another persons’ spiritual fall. 

Paul was always warning the saints not to do things that would offend a fellow brother or sister in the Lord. He also warned them not to do things that could lead a person into sin. If we know that a brother or sister is weak in an area, we are not to try to exploit their weakness. If a doctor knew his patient had a heart condition and did something to provoke a heart attack — he would be charged with malpractice. How much more cautious ought the saints be when it comes to peoples’ souls? 

Injury and Weakness

How many times have we watched a sporting event and seen an athlete carried off the field? If the injury is serious someone is bound to ask, “Is it career ending.” This is because some things don’t heal very easily. They take time and tremendous care. They require careful doctors and nurses who have a heart to see the person fully recover. 

Nevertheless, our passage is a sobering reminder that even “spiritual injuries” require great care and healing. Once a joint has been dislocated, sprained or torn, it is very difficult to get back to 100%. This is where our need for one another comes in. We need godly saints to come along side and strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.  

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