Power to Demolish and a Heart to Build Up
Topic: Strongholds Passage: 2 Corinthians 10:1–10:11
Grace Community Church
April 11, 2021
Power to Demolish and a Heart to Build Up
Let’s turn to 2 Cor. 10
We come this morning to the final section of 2 Cor. Chapters 10-13 mark a significant shift in Paul’s tone but probably not in the way we’d expect. After several chapters of Paul defending his ministry against a group of false apostles who were trying to turn the church against him, we saw in chapter 7 that the church loves Paul and is longing to see him, so we’d think Paul would lighten up. Instead this last section gets more intense, more personal and emotionally raw. At times it doesn’t even sound like Paul and we wonder why? What gives?
When I was about 12 years old I owned a German Shepherd we named Bane. Bane was a beautiful dog and he was fanatical about retrieving sticks, balls, stones, anything you threw he’d retrieve it. Our neighbors also had a German Shepherd and for some reason when our two dogs were together the neighbor’s dog kept nipping and biting at Bane. And Bane peacefully bore with it.
But then Bane had enough. I remember it clearly: I had a stick and Bane was focused on my hand waiting for me to throw it and the minute I threw it he was off. But at that same moment the neighbor’s dog lunged at Bane and bit him in the haunches. Bane stopped on a dime and took that dog down by the throat and he wouldn’t let go. I was scared he was going to really hurt or even kill their dog. Nothing I did would make Bane let go, until finally someone yelled get a hose and spray them. As I ran to get a hose, I looked back and Bane, thinking I was leaving, was following me. Thankfully the neighbor’s dog was ok, just cut up a little and very humbled. He had mistaken Bane’s peaceful nature for weakness.
What’s going on in Corinth is that, while the majority of the church loved Paul and supported him, the false apostles were still there and some in the church aligned themselves with them. And these people are constantly nipping and biting at Paul with criticisms.
Starting in chapter 10, Paul has had enough. He does what they don’t expect him to do: he calls their bluff. He confronts them head on. He takes the gloves off. In these last chapters Paul mocks them sarcastically. He warns them, he threatens them, he reluctantly – painfully reluctantly – boasts about how his apostolic ministry is superior to the “super apostles” and his qualifications are superior to their qualifications. He pulls back the covers and reveals that the people they are giving their hearts to are servants of Satan masquerading as servants of Christ.
Let’s pray and then read vv. 1-11
10 By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! 2 I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. 3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.
7 You are judging by appearances. If anyone is confident that they belong to Christ, they should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as they do. 8 So even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. 9 I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. 10 For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.”11 Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present. 2 Cor. 10:1-11 NIV
Constructive criticism is a good thing. Constructive criticism is offered from a caring heart to help someone grow or do something better. These people – what Paul refers to as “some people” in verse two are not offering constructive criticism, they are nipping and biting at Paul with toxic criticism. Toxic criticism isn’t given to help or build up or improve. Toxic criticism is offered to tear down, to destroy, to do damage.
People who spread toxic criticism usually don’t want the object of that criticism to hear it. They spread it to everyone but the object of that criticism.
In verse one, Paul sarcastically repeats one of their criticisms back to them. Maybe he wasn’t meant to hear it, but he knows what they are saying about him.
I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! (vs. 1)
This is a seriously toxic criticism. They’re saying Paul talks big from a safe distance but is a wallflower in person. He’ll say one thing to your face and another thing behind your back.
If it were true, it would do great damage to Paul’s credibility. A leader who says one thing to your face and another thing behind your back can’t be trusted.
The second and third criticisms have to do with his appearance and charisma
7 You are judging by appearances…(or, you are looking at the outward appearance) 10 For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” (vs. 7, 10)
Paul wasn’t an impressive looking guy and he wasn’t a great speaker. He admits in chap 11 he wasn’t a trained speaker. God doesn’t look on the outward but these critics did. They were impressed with presentation and charisma and good looks. And Paul didn’t have all that.
There’s a bit of this in the church today: some of the “celebrity pastors” are good looking, hip dressing, charismatic speakers. That’s all ok, until we equate all that with the blessing and power of God on their lives and ministry. God wants us to measure their ministry by their character not their charisma, by the message’s biblical content not how eloquently it was delivered.
So just a word about criticism. Again, constructive criticism is good. But deep in all of our hearts lies a critical spirit. I know it does in me. And it’s toxic. We think we look bigger if we make someone else look smaller. We become professional critics, thinking it’s our job to look for what’s wrong.
Matt Chandler compared such people to referees who attend church just to throw flags and blow whistles. They aren’t in the game, they aren’t on the field, they are running the side of the field blowing a whistle on anyone who in their estimation steps out of line.
Let’s not be that person. And here’s the thing: a critical spirit distorts our perception of reality. The critics who were nipping and biting at Paul were seeing something very real. The problem was they didn’t recognize it for what it was.
What they thought was weakness and timidity in Paul was actually the reflection of the heart of God in Paul. And Paul finally turns on them and says, “you want bold? I can do bold. You want war? Bring it! But be warned, I don’t do war the way you do, and it’s not going to go well for you.”
Because God’s power was powerfully at work in Paul. And God’s heart was powerfully at work in Paul. What we see in these verses is the willingness to fight and to punish but the desire to heal and build up.
Paul had, as God has, the power to demolish and the heart to build up.
- Divine power to demolish the strongholds that lies create in our minds
2 I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. 3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
AW Tozer once said “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” There is no more powerful influence in our lives than what we think and what we believe.
Jesus said Satan is a liar and the father of lies. Lies are Satan’s greatest weapon against our souls. Lies and untruths and error and distortions of truth build ramparts and fortresses that are not easily torn down.
God gave Paul, and through His Word He has given us, divine power to demolish strongholds by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the word of God. But it has to be, and can only be, built firmly and solidly on the word of God. We know nothing else of eternal significance to our souls to be true but what is in this Bible.
This is such an important time to anchor our lives and what we believe on the Bible. The Bible says one of the primary characteristics of the last days will be a spirit of deception. Deception has always been a big part of history, but it’s going to be worse in the last days– and by worse I mean it’s going to look more attractive because the more attractive a lie is the more deceptive it is. Jesus said if possible even the elect would be deceived. Jesus also said there’d be a great falling away, an apostasy in the church and I think the two are connected. The deception will be so compelling, so attractive, that many will abandon their faith for a beautiful lie.
We’re seeing that today. It’s fashionable for Christians to “deconstruct” their faith, leaving them either with a faith that has no biblical resemblance to Christianity or leaving the faith altogether.
What can we do? We need to be all the more committed to building our lives on the Bible. I was talking some years ago to the mother of a young adult who was drifting away from his Christian faith and embracing various unchristian philosophies, and she decided as an expression of care for him she was also going to untether herself from Christianity in order to be there with him in his drifting search. She felt she could better help him work through his doubts and skepticism if she was drifting alongside him.
The truth is just the opposite. Lies are like towns in a western movie set, all façade and nothing real behind it. No lie can sustain forever. What starts out as a beautiful soul journey into the new and unexplored will grow dark and empty and dead. Satan is the father of lies, he has nothing in the end to offer except deception and death.
Christ is the rock of truth that never changes, never deceives, never drifts. Young people don’t need us to drift with them, they need us to be anchored to Christ and reaching out to them to build their lives on Christ as well.
This Wednesday we start a Bible study called Built on Bible. It’s not going to be the kind of Bible study where we open one book and study it thoroughly. That’s a great way – overall probably the preferable way - to study the Bible and I’m sure at some point we will do that. We do it on Sundays, going through books (like 2 Corinthians).
But we also need to know how the Bible fits together. More systematic theology – what does the Bible altogether say about God? About Jesus? About prophecy? And so on. That’s what this study will focus more on. Wednesday night at 7pm. We won’t be properly set up to carry it on zoom cause that’s different equipment than what we have but we are hoping to livestream it.
We’re going to dive a little deeper into demolishing the strongholds of lies next week. It deserves more time. But there’s one other important thing I want to call to our attention. Paul wages war, but it is a different kind of war with a different kind of heart.
- The heart of God to build up people
10 By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! 2 I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world.
He’s warning the people that he can be bold, but he warns them by the humility and gentleness of Christ. Not exactly the scariest words to begin a threat.
Paul’s heart isn’t to demolish people – even people who are criticizing him. If they continue, there will be serious and regretful consequences, but that’s not what Paul wants.
See, what they mistook for weakness and timidity and hypocrisy was Paul reflecting the patient, longsuffering heart of God.
6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.
In other words, we’ll punish disobedience once you’ve gotten to the place you don’t need to be punished. We’re not eager to punish your disobedience to God, we’re eager to help you become obedient to God! That’s exactly the heart of God! God will punish but that’s not His natural bent. His natural bent is compassion. Patience. Mercy. Help.
God is reluctant to punish, eager to build up!
8 So even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. 9 I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters.
Paul says, I’m not one person when I’m away and another person when I’m with you. I am who I am wherever I am. And who I am is a leader who wants to use the God-given authority of my apostleship for building you up, not tearing you down. That’s what God gave it for.
Critics tear down. Constructive criticism doesn’t but critics – people looking for things to criticize – do. Paul says I want to free you not frighten you. Free to be built up. Free to build up others.
Even critics need to be set free from their critical spirit.
[Let me close with a true story.
David Simmons writes about growing up with a demanding and critical father. Nothing he ever did was good enough. When he was a young boy his dad gave him a bike and demanded he put it together. He struggled with the complicated instructions to the point of tears, before his dad took over saying, I knew you couldn’t do it.
When he played football in high school his dad was so unrelenting with his criticisms that David said most boys got butterflies in their stomach before the game, he got butterflies after the game. No opposing team could be scarier than facing his father’s withering criticisms after the game.
After college, David was chosen as second round pick for the St. Louis Cardinals. First pick was Joe Namath (who later traded to the NY Jets). When he called his dad to tell him the good news, his dad said, “how does it feel to be second?” David grew hateful feelings towards his dad.
Then he came to Christ, and he tried to reach out with the love of Christ. He would visit him and initiate conversations and he began to hear about his dad’s upbringing. His grandfather had been tough lumberjack known for his quick temper. Once he destroyed his truck with a sledgehammer because it wouldn’t start. He often beat his son, David’s dad. And David began to see him in a new and more gracious light. He said, under the circumstances my dad could have been far worse.
He said, by the time his father died, he could honestly say they were friends.]
Paul’s desire in this war, and we will see him appeal over and over, is that his critics – the “some people” in Corinth – will become his friends, and more importantly come back to a gospel faith in Christ. May we also see beyond the surface, even of people who criticize and treat us ill, and see what the power of God could do to them – building them up, not tearing them down!
More in Messy Grace: Second Corinthians
May 2, 2021The Key to Discerning Good and Bad Spiritual Leadership
April 18, 2021Demolishing the Strongholds in our Minds
March 28, 2021Living Larger by Sowing Generously