Jump Start # 2010
2 Corinthians 10:10 “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive, and his speech contemptible.”
I’ve been working on ‘The Notebook.’ The ‘Notebook’ is what we give to young interns who come to study and be mentored as preachers. It is a collection of articles about preaching. All kinds of stuff and advice. Some from my writings but mostly from others. Just about everything you can think of that has to do with preaching is found in ‘The Notebook.’ What about preachers and money? There are articles about that. What about funerals? Got articles on that. What about writing sermons? Tons on that. How to capture ideas, where to start, how to finish. ‘The Notebook’ is actually three notebooks now. There is so much stuff. There are things that a preacher will use the rest of his career. The Notebook needed some TLC. Articles were out of place and not organized. So, I got it looking good now.
Working on the Notebook brought me to our verse today. There is a section in the Notebook about handling criticism. For the young preacher, the critics are like the lion’s den. Some take pleasure at putting the preacher’s feet to the fire. They turn a study of the Bible, that we commonly call, Bible class, into stump the preacher hour. They like to be cute by asking uncomfortable, controversial and hard questions. They really don’t care what the correct answer is, they enjoy seeing a young preacher squirm under the pressure. Shame on such people. They wouldn’t like it if the roles were changed. Instead of being helpful, they are being hurtful and worse, I wonder what God thinks of their stinky attitude and behavior?
But our verse pulls the curtain back to some of the things Paul faced. His second letter to the Corinthians reveals many problems he faced with critics. Our verse today is one. Paul quotes what they were saying about him. His letters are strong. That probably implies what was said in 1 Corinthians. However, his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.
The NIV uses the expression, “his speaking amounts to nothing.”
Here are some things we learn from this:
First, every public figure has critics. The President has his share. The governor has his. The CEO has his. The school teacher has critics, usually parents. The college professor does. As a new semester approaches, students talk. They will say, “You don’t want that guy for History 101.” Critics. Leading the church as shepherds do, comes with critics. Even the guy who controls the thermostat in the church building has critics. “It’s too cold in here,” is said loudly enough for him to hear, while someone else declares, “I’m burning up.” The preacher has his share of critics as well. The sermon is too long. The sermon didn’t have enough verses. The preacher talks too fast. The preacher looks funny. I don’t like his hair cut. I don’t like his shoes. I don’t like his glasses. You’d think we were picking out a puppy at the pet store.
Second, not every critic is right nor even understands what he is talking about. Just because someone criticizes, doesn’t mean that they are right nor a person ought to change what they are doing. An honest heart will listen to the criticism and then make evaluations. Maybe adjustments need to be made. Maybe it’s just one person and everyone else thinks things are fine. Maybe they are way out in left field and they don’t have a clue what they are talking about. We use the expression, “Back seat driver” and “arm chair quarterback” to describe those who love to criticize but often do not have a clue. There on a Saturday afternoon, a guy watching the game on TV, and starts screaming at the coach and the players for something he sees is wrong. However this same guy who is watching the game, couldn’t make his high school team, never played college ball, and really doesn’t understand the ins and outs of pro sports other than what he sees on TV. From where he sits, on his couch, he knows just what needs to be done to win the game. Does he really?
Third, critics need to understand, unless they give a lot of thought and prayer, which most don’t, before they speak, their words, right or wrong as they may be, can hurt someone deeply. Compliments are quickly forgotten, but the criticisms are remembered, sometimes for a lifetime. This is why there are lists of famous criticisms that were wrong. Walt Disney was told he couldn’t draw. The Beatles were told that guitar music was on the way out. Most famous writers, could paper the walls of their homes with rejection letters from publishers. The critics have led some to quit. In the church, the fear of critics keeps some from serving as elders. The critics have led some young men to give up preaching. Giving tips and pointers, especially from someone who understands and has done what the person is doing, can be very helpful, if given with love and kindness and the intention to make a person better. But too often, critics like to slap cheap shots at a person, and the tone and the manner is destructive. God will remember how we treated others. There may be a long line of folks who are in trouble with Heaven because of their cruel, sharp and ugly comments that they have made to others.
Looking at what the Corinthians were saying, I am thankful that Paul had the backbone, faith and determination to not let them destroy his spirit. ‘His speaking amounts to nothing,’ is what they said. Really?
My first thought is, how many of them ever preached? Paul wasn’t a showman. This wasn’t a stand up comedy routine. What were they expecting, to be entertained?
Next, what Paul was saying, preaching, was the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. Maybe it wasn’t impressive because the Corinthians weren’t interested in spiritual things. Maybe they said these things because Paul was stepping on their toes. Maybe they said these things because they wanted a pat on the back rather than being told that they needed to repent. Preaching God’s word is impressive. It’s impressive to God. That’s why He has always used preachers. Noah was a preacher. The prophets were preachers. The apostles were preachers. Even Jesus was a preacher. Forgiveness from sins is not impressive? Heaven, not impressive? Being adopted by God, not impressive? What’s really not impressive are these Corinthians.
Also, the Corinthians may be been more impressed with the performance than the message. Was he passionate enough? Did his voice tone change? Did he use amazing stories? Did they listen to what Paul said? Did they hear the message? We can be so impressed or turned off because of the package, that we forget the substance within. It’s the message, not the messenger, that God is moved by.
Most today wouldn’t think too much of John the baptist. Look how he dressed. That would be enough of a turn off that people wouldn’t pay attention. Then Paul. He even admitted later, “…even if I am unskilled in speech” (11:6). I wonder how many would listen to him today? Would churches invite him for a meeting or would folks pass on him because, “He’s boring.” We may have become more impressed with the delivery than we are the message. We need to think about that.
Critics. Be careful how you say things. Preacher, keep preaching the best you can. We need you. Don’t let the critics get to you. Take a moment to catch your breath. Say a prayer. Then, get back at it. Preach the word. Preach it in season and out of season. The out of season times may come with criticism, but that’s ok. You are doing God’s work.