Dr. Fred Antonelli and Pastor Michael Cheshire wrote about my story in Relevant Magazine and Christianity Today, respectively. Both articles were followed by comments that were interesting, revealing, encouraging, and some a little disappointing. I appreciated the comments that taught that the Gospel could be applied to my life and that God’s resurrection in my life was verifiable and authentic. I noticed that those who thought sin should dictate over my life never based their arguments on quotes from any of my sermons over the last 30 years, my 9 published books, or the hundreds of thousands of pamphlets I’ve distributed. My blogs, personal appearances, websites, family relationships, or social media posts were not used as evidence against me. Instead they quoted media accounts, rumors, cited feelings and misused Scripture. Some claimed things they thought they heard me say but, in the comments I read, they were mistaken. What many were saying, without realizing it, was that I should not be obedient to God, his Word, or my spiritual authorities, but instead be ruled by their ideas about me.
I recently taught though 2 Corinthians at St. James Church. My teaching preference is to walk our congregation through a verse-by-verse exegetical study of specific books of the Bible, one at a time. I’ve done this for many years. I believe understanding and applying Scripture is enhanced by understanding the cultural, historical, and social issues that prompted the writing of any specific portion of Scripture. Often this process makes the biblical text come alive and creates a depth of comprehension. Because we start with the actual intent of the author and the cultural mindset of the hearer, we are then able to extrapolate how the Bible text applies to our lives as 21st Century New Testament believers. One of the sources I enjoy reading in preparation to teach the Pauline Epistles is William Barclay. Though non-technical, his insights have been helpful to me.
I thought about Barclay’s comments on 2 Corinthians when reading the comments following Dr. Antonelli’s and Pastor Cheshire’s articles. Barclay claims some portions of 2 Corinthians were Paul’s response to a series of accusations from the church. In his comments on 2 Corinthians 1:12-14, Barclay says Paul was responding to three charges. 1) They said “there was more to Paul’s conduct than met the eye.” Modern church leaders sometimes make this same claim against those they wish to disparage by saying, “If you only knew what I know.” This vilification isn’t specific enough for anyone to hold the accuser accountable, but effectively clouds the reputation of the slandered person. 2) Paul also had to respond to the charge that he had hidden motives. When I hear someone raising suspicions about another person by presuming to know their motives, I become highly skeptical of the accuser, not the accused. 3) Paul didn’t say what he meant, there were hidden meanings in his words, the Corinthian church charged. They were essentially saying Paul lied.
If these accusations would have been leveled against him in this generation, Paul’s ministry might not have survived. Our scandal hungry 24-hour news cycles and social media excesses would have left critics exactly where I found them in the comment section: confident in their opinions but unknowingly confused about the facts. Because Paul defended himself, we have read Paul’s response and NOT the accusations against him, we consider these indictments ludicrous and laud him for his courage. He’s exonerated in our minds. It’s interesting that he had to strongly defend himself to the Corinthians.
Barclay says Paul was responding to more slander in 2 Corinthians 1:15-22. Barclay wrote, “His (Paul’s) enemies had promptly accused him of being the kind of man who made frivolous promises with a fickle intention and could not be pinned down to a definite yes or no. That was bad enough, but they went on to argue, ‘If we cannot trust Paul’s everyday promises, how can we trust the things he told us about God?'”
Barclay says, “There are some people whose eyes are always focused to find fault, whose tongues are always tuned to criticize, in whose voice there is always a rasp and an edge. . . If we are constantly critical and fault-finding, if we are habitually angry and harsh, if we rebuke far more than we praise, the plain fact is that even our severity loses its effect.”
Slander is murder. Gossip is sin. Though I do not claim innocence, one of my many regrets is that I submitted to the requirement that I not grant any public interviews while under the Overseers and New Life contracts following my 2006 scandal. This left me and my family vulnerable, powerless, and defenseless, the church victimized, and the public misinformed and confused. That’s in the past. Because of this and other regrets, I have gained a new appreciation for the application of the Gospel. I have concluded that throwing stones is not beneficial for the one throwing the stones, the one being stoned, or the kingdom of God in general. Throwing stones does not work and is not helpful. The new and better way revealed in the New Testament, which is based on faith in the cross appropriating grace for all of us, is God’s way of dealing with our sin.
In 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, Paul wrote, “I am not overstating it when I say that the man who caused all the trouble hurt all of you more than he hurt me. Most of you opposed him, and that was punishment enough. Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement. So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him.” Paul argues that this needs to be done so “that Satan will not outsmart us” (2 Corinthians 2:11). Of course quoting this verse seems self-serving since I am the sinner, but I hope it is as true for me as it is for you and everyone else.
We can all thank God that Paul defended himself. As a result, we’ve all benefitted from Paul’s inspired letters.
In that light, I suggest you read these articles and then the comments. Don’t judge or condemn the people who expressed their views. Stick to working with ideas. These articles and the comments following can serve as a mirror that motivates us to choose the cross, to be a friend of the gospel in others, and to fully embrace the application of the New Testament. Links below: