Jump Start # 2451
2 Corinthians 11:6 “But even if I am unskilled in speech, yet I am not so in knowledge; in fact, in every way we have made this evident to you in all things.”
The book of Second Corinthians is tough to read. It’s not hard to understand, but it’s hard to take, especially if you try to look at things from Paul’s perspective. Cheap shots, accusations and throwing darts fill nearly every page. From a preacher’s standpoint, these critics knew where to hit and hurt someone. Our verse reminds us of that. They said Paul was “unskilled in speech.” Putting this on the street, what they said was, “Paul, you can’t preach.” Or, more bluntly, “You are a sorry preacher.” You can nearly hear someone saying, “You ought to go back and make tents.” In the chapter before, it was, “his speech contemptible” and his presence “unimpressive.” “You are dull,” is what they were saying. Boy, they knew how to smack a guy. They hit right were it hurts!
Talking about others in a negative way, especially with the design to hurt one’s feelings is something that is still carried on today. The national political scene is filled with this every day. Cheap shots and character attacks fill the nightly news. They say this about the president. He says this about them. Back and forth. Lower and lower our elected officials seem to sink. They act like middle school kids who do not like each other. But this same critical spirit is what makes so many work places toxic. There are some that can never be pleased and they will let everyone around them know about it. But it doesn’t stop there. Reality TV, which seems to be the flavor of the month these days, is not about kindness, compliments and getting along. No one would watch that. It’s about trash talking, cheap shots and putting others down. A lot of screaming, shouting and finger pointing. And, that’s just from the previews. And when families sit around and watch these kind of shows for entertainment, is it any wonder that this same negative spirit spills over into our homes. And, yet, it doesn’t stop there. This same mean spirit finds it’s way into the church house. We judge each other by what we are wearing, where we are sitting, how we sing and where we park our car. Nothing ever seems right to some folks. And, for Paul, the apostle, this is where he was getting hurt. Among brethren you expect some kindness, benefit of the doubt and acceptance. Not these Corinthians. They were hammering away at Paul. Cheap shots here. Chipping away at his credibility there.
Now, some thoughts:
First, critical spirits discourage. It was working on Paul. He was feeling beat up. When brethren keep criticizing elders, or the preacher, in time, they will have enough and simply quit. Back seat driving, arm chair quarterback are terms we use to justify pointing out mistakes and failures of others. There are helpful ways to give pointers, constructive criticism and show others better ways of doing things. The goal is to make better not destroy. The purpose is to keep them going, not to get them to quit. When our motives are not right, then our attitudes will not be right and then our methods will not be right. What we accomplish is hurting someone’s feelings and opening the gates for a real dog fight.
Second, stop expecting perfection in others unless you expect it in yourself. Someone messes up. Someone gets things out of order. Someone forgets something. You can blast them to the moon and in so doing, they will never ever try again, or you can remember that you’ve made mistakes. You’ve said things wrong. You forgot names. You fumbled the ball a few times. Far too often we expect others, including our kids to be perfect and we give ourselves a pass. Kids will spill milk. Kids will forget things. Kids can be spacy. But do you remember when you were a kid? Probably not too much different. Elders will make mistakes. The preacher will make mistakes. The song leader will make mistakes. Get over it. The church isn’t perfect, only Jesus is. If it were, they wouldn’t allow you and I to come in because we’d mess things up. We are not perfect.
Third, it’s easy to point out mistakes when we ourselves could never do what others are doing. I wonder just how many sermons the Corinthians had preached. So, Paul wasn’t the smoothest public speaker. Was he preaching the truth? Was he doing what God wanted? A guy who gives one Wednesday night invitation about once a year is not really in the position to give the preacher tips on how to preach. But we do similar things all the time in other areas. Every sports game on TV, we criticize the pitcher in baseball, the quarterback in football and the guard in basketball. Yet, many of us couldn’t even make our high school team. Most of us have never coached beyond a group of little kids on a Saturday morning. And, yet we think we know how to coach, how to pitch, how to run a play and how to guard a player. Put us in those games and what a joke we’d become. The players on the other side would run past us so fast we wouldn’t know what to do.
Maybe the Corinthians were comparing Paul to Apollos. Apollos was fervent in speech. However, preaching isn’t a debate contest. It’s not about who is better than others. My dearest friends preach. They preach well. One of my sons preaches. People tell me all the time, “He’s better than you are.” I know that. I don’t know if they say that to make be feel proud of him or to hurt my feelings. We are on the same team. I want all preachers to do their best. We are all different. We bring our personalities and talents into a sermon. Some can make us laugh. Some can make us cry. But at the end, what they all should do is take us to Christ.
I’ve known preachers who were told to hit the road because some in the church didn’t like the way they preached. Be careful with this. Many smooth talkers aren’t telling the truth. Many can hold your attention, but they don’t really say anything. I expect if the Corinthians could have fired Paul, they would have. And, their reason would have been very simple, “We don’t like the way you preach.”
Preaching is a funny thing. There are sermons that I have preached that I have hated. I’m thinking get through this, finish this and then throw this sermon away. But afterwards, someone comes and says that sermon changed their life. Or, one will say, “that’s my favorite sermon of all time.” I’m thinking, “No way.” And, then there are sermons that I really like and no one says a thing about them. It’s funny how all of this is. The point of a sermon is not to make you feel good, but to bring you to the Lord. It may step on toes. It may make you uncomfortable. It may challenge you. It may bother you. But if it brings you to the Lord, then it has been a success. A sermon is more than presentation. It’s about content and persuading the heart of the audience.
Those poor Corinthians didn’t realize what a treat it was to have Paul among them. I wonder if we would have like Paul’s preaching? Some, sadly, probably wouldn’t.