“If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s,
let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s,
so also are we” (2 Cor. 10:7b).
This begins the third and final section of the letter. Paul has already defended his apostolic authority in light of all the charges from his critics (1.12-7.16), he has called upon the Corinthians to help support the poor believers in Jerusalem (8.1-9.15), and now once again, he picks back up the teaching on his absolute authority to speak into the lives of the Corinthian believers (10.1-13.10).
But many did not want to listen to Paul. They had seen and heard him before. He was a big talker in his letters, but wasn’t much in person. Their negative view of Paul was based in part, on a severe letter (2.3-4,9) he had written them (now lost to us) and his changing plans about his intentions to come to visit them a second time (2.1). In addition, when he had come to visit them the first time, he apparently wasn’t all that impressive. That may be. An early second century document that describes Paul’s appearance says that he was, “A man of middling size, and his hair was scanty, and his legs were a little crooked, and his knees were far apart; he had large eyes, and his eyebrows met, and his nose was somewhat long.” Unfortunately, as Daniel Wallace notes, “The Corinthians had had a history of confusing true greatness with oratorical and physical power.”
Appearances and Reality
Recently, I ran across an article in the New Yorker which mentions the world-wide bias toward tall people. The writer notes that
Tall men, a series of studies has shown, benefit from a significant bias. They get married sooner, get promoted quicker, and earn higher wages. According to one recent study, the average six-foot worker earns a hundred and sixty-six thousand dollars more, over a thirty-year period, than his five-foot-five-inch counterpart—about eight hundred dollars more per inch per year. Short men are unlucky in politics (only five of forty-three Presidents have been shorter than average) and unluckier in love. A survey of some six thousand adolescents in the nineteen-sixties showed that the tallest boys were the first to get dates. The only ones more successful were those who got to choose their own clothes.
This incredibly exhaustive study of human height, called Anthropometric History, has found (not surprisingly), that height is based largely on one’s genetics. However, they found one significant difference— that within population groups, your height is also affected by your environment. If Joe is taller than Jack, it’s probably because his parents are taller. But if the average person from North America is taller than the average person from South America, it’s because North Americans live healthier lives. What is true about our physical stature can be true about our spiritual stature. In our height lies our history. Our spiritual health is not dependent on where we’re from or who we know but on how we have lived and the spiritual environment we have chosen over time. The problem lies in how we tend to measure maturity in others. Appearances are not always reality.
Identifying the Vertically Challenged
Most of the time, we bristle at anyone who comes to us with any sort of correcting word who doesn’t look the part. Yet, Paul in this letter is now making the point that his authority was God-given and for their spiritual benefit. He will address their supposed “knowledge” with the knowledge of God. He will confront and tear down their distorted views of God deposited by the enemy which were holding them back spiritually. They desperately needed to hear what Paul said! Paul’s impassioned goal is to “build them up in their faith, not tear them down”, regardless what they thought. Paul is going to wage war against the lies they believe and which hinder their effectiveness for Christ.
Because of our pride, we too can rate ourselves higher than God does regarding our own spiritual stature. Like some in the Corinthian church, the dumbest thing we can do is to look at someone else and measure our spiritual maturity by making hasty comparisons with those we judge to be “not on our level”. It’s deceptively easy to give ourselves a “7” and a fellow believer a “5” on our 1-to-10 scale. God’s sense of humor in correcting us can be arresting. Outward appearances don’t always show what’s in the heart. God will use those who seem insignificant, weak, or even odd to speak the truth to us. The very thing we need to hear may come from a bald-headed, bowlegged short man with a big nose, and an unbroken eyebrow that lays across his forehead like a dead caterpillar. As Paul says, “It is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” Don’t just look at the package, my friends. You really don’t know what God has put inside.