2 Corinthians 10:7-18
St Paul here begins to reveal not only his authority, but also the dangers that so many of the apostles had contended with; infiltration, false apostleship, and false teaching. He tells them here, “you look at the things that are before your face.” That is to say that they are basing their beliefs on those things which are right in front of them, those teachers who are readily present. Those teachers that had come into the Church and claimed to have the authority to teach them, they judged based on the appearance of piety and holiness that was presented to them. “If any man trusts that he is in Christ,” an indictment of these teachers, who though they may have been sincere in heart, had in reality deviated from the true teachings of the apostles and of Christ, “let him again consider this, that just as he is in Christ, so we are Christ’s.” Those teachers that had come in perhaps sincerely believed that they were doing Christ’s work, perhaps even moreso than the apostles themselves were. And Paul reminds them here that just because they believe that they are Christ’s doesn’t mean that the apostles weren’t. Rather, they should be laboring for the same cause. But, some teachers had coming in claiming that they had this special, hidden knowledge about God that only they knew, and so they sought to usurp his authority. Thus here we see Paul out of necessity exalting himself, though seeking to do so in a manner which is not offensive by it’s egoism. He manages to do so in a manner which establishes his authority, but is by no means boastful in himself. However, he also recognizes the necessity to do so because the boastfulness of his enemies must be revealed to be not only empty, but destructive to those who believe in them.
See, it’s this boastful gnosticism that says, “this is what God says, but here’s what he really means.” And, unfortunately, it is a system of teaching which has never fully gone away, we still see the remnant of it daily in our lives. It’s this system where certain people have proclaimed that they alone understand the Scripture and that anyone who doesn’t agree with their point of view is, at best, “unqualified,” and at worst heretical. And we see this all the time in our generation, teachers who take even the “red letters” and interpret them to fit into their own agenda, instead of reading the words of God and doing them. And the true danger with this comes when you reject the authority and Holy Tradition of the Church. It becomes dangerous because once you remove that foundation, then suddenly each person’s individual bias has the authority to change foundational dogmatic principles. Suddenly, “feed the poor” becomes “feed the poor in spirit, nourish them by teaching them Scripture, but don’t actually give them food,” and “love your neighbor” becomes “pray for your neighbor, but never open your door for them.” I’ve heard a sermon teaching on the parable of the widow’s mite that taught that Jesus wasn’t happy that she had given away her two pennies because He had given that to her to survive; and on the parable of the Good Samaritan that explained that the parable had literally nothing to do with helping those in need. I’ve heard lessons which proclaimed that we should forgive, but that it’s not necessary to salvation and to make forgiveness a requirement of being saved is a heretical works based system, in spite of Jesus direct teaching that “if you do not forgive another, neither will your Father in heaven forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14-15). These are just a few examples of the exact thing that Paul is warning us against here.
Paul goes on to state that though his letters are powerful, they have declared his body to be weak and his words contemptible. And that makes perfect sense considering what he has previously stated, because we know that they were already twisting his written words (2 Peter 3:16), whereas his verbal teaching would have him there to explain it. Therefore it makes sense that they would encourage people to obey his letters but ignore what he verbally gave them, because they wouldn’t be able to twist his teachings if he were there to defend them. And he responds here by stating that not merely his written words, but also his verbal teachings and actions have the same authority. Basically we see the same lesson from him here that we see in his letter to the Thessalonians, to “cling to the traditions which have been handed down, by word (verbal teaching and tradition) and by epistle (written word). He recognizes and espouses the need for each of these to maintain the integrity of the doctrines which the Church is teaching. Relying solely on either leaves too much room for corruption to enter in. Rather, the words of Scripture and the lessons therein must never be tampered with or corrupted, and that adhering to established Holy Tradition is the best way to ensure that never happens.
We see these teachers that he is warning about had gone into the churches that he had established and claimed responsibility for raising up those churches. And in so claiming that, they also claimed that they had knowledge equal to if not exceeding that of Paul. They disregarded his teachings completely or twisted them to mean whatever they so chose. They would interpret the Scriptures as they saw fit, rather than, like the Eunuch, seeking the interpretation of the Church to help them to understand them. And he says that having removed the foundation of the Church and it’s Tradition, they “measured themselves by themselves and compared themselves among themselves.” See, once they removed the Traditions that they had received, there was no longer any truth to measure their own opinions against, thus they measured themselves based on what they already believed. In so doing, they managed to create themselves to be their own authority.
My brethern, we must be ever so careful. This very mindset is so prevalent in our generation. Paul here warns us of the danger of rejecting Holy Tradition. When we reject the teachings of the Church, then we no longer have a foundation by which to measure the teachings that we receive. We have the Scripture, but if we accept only that, then we are doomed to fail because of the myriad of interpretation that is allowable if there is no true foundation to test it against. Likewise, if we reject Scripture and accept only Tradition, then there again is no foundation to test the Tradition against to see if it is Scriptural. It is only through acknowledging both that we are able to ascertain the truth; the words of Holy Scripture through the lens of Holy Tradition. The fathers handed down to us the Holy Tradition for the purpose of making it harder for false teaching to infiltrate the Church. Much of the Tradition that we have comes from councils which were convened for the purpose of striking down multiple heresies. If we reject that teaching, that Tradition, our own history; then we leave ourselves defenseless against those same heresies. Let us instead cling to those traditions and allow the God’s Church to truly be the “foundation and pillar of truth” in our lives (2 Timothy 3:15).
Christ is in our midst.