When there is a refusal to trust, listen and submit, the ordained pastor of Christ’s church is put into a very unfortunate situation since what those committing such crimes are now guilty of, is insurrection or the unforgiveable sin.
This was the situation in the Corinthian church at the time of Paul’s second letter and why he writes what he does in the verses before us today. Some in that congregation had begun to question the legitimacy of his authority and the soundness of his counsel (or words) – and as a result, were now apostate. They had (by their questioning and rejection) crossed the line into the unforgiveable sin. Though we cannot be sure, the genesis of the current insurrection may be the loss of their former pastor to sexual immorality. Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 5 seems to point not only in this direction, but to Paul as the ordained elder now taking the position of oversight in relation to the congregation (1Co 5:1-5). This understanding is also supported by the fact that Paul does not mention or imply the existence of ordained men in either letter, whereas in re: to the other churches, such evidence is found.
Given this situation, it is understandable that some in the Corinthian church may have felt a lack of trust for Paul. It is not however excusable. At least not to God. First and foremost because He commands differently (i.e. that we trust His ordained pastors) and secondly because it is extremely poor logic. Just because there has been failure in one pastor, doesn’t mean that all have failed. Those taking such a position (therefore) must be held accountable. These are people who cannot be spared. Paul’s purpose then in writing these verses is to remind them what God says about Christ’s ordained shepherds as the means to moving others outside the blast radius and keep them from making the same fatal mistake.
What we must never forget about Christ’s ordained shepherds:
- It wb an eternally costly mistake to question or reject their spiritual authority or counsel w/o the necessary biblical evidence.
(1-2) = Though we don’t how many, there were at least “some” who questioned (or were “suspect” of) Paul’s actual authority – or the competency of his counsel. In their minds, Paul’s authority or competency was no more than the rest of the congregation. He (like them) was “walking (or operating only) according to the flesh” (i.e. possessing no real spiritual power). Their support for such thinking came (at least in part) from how he presented himself when he was “away” versus when they were “face to face”. What exactly they were saying can be found in verse (10). This (then) is the reason for his sarcasm in verse (1).
Such sarcasm (however) moves quickly in the direction of a serious plea and threat. Notice again (2)
“boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some” = What is Paul talking about by these words? What is the bold and confident act he plans on showing against the “some” who were questioning/rejecting his authority and competency? It is the declaration of their apostasy.
Why? B/C by their actions, they had committed the unforgiveable sin of insurrection. Hence the reason for his follow-up words in (13:1-2) Notice two things:
1) if anything is to be regarded as truth in re: to a person [including pastors], it “must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (iow: if you are going to accuse them or their counsel of lacking the necessary authority or competency to obey it/them, you must be able to adequately demonstrate that thru proper and sufficient evidence – 1Ti 5:19; otherwise,
2) those w/o such evidence will not be “spare[d]” – meaning in re: to salvation (“not spare” [οὐ φείδομαι] = not salvage/save [from eternal destruction]; Rom 11:21; 2Pe 2:4). Those who in Corinth who had questioned and rejected Paul’s authority and counsel (thru accusing him of “walking according to the flesh”) had crossed the line into insurrection and (as result) were beyond salvaging or saving (they could not be spared). This (btw) was not Paul’s goal in shepherding – or the primary reason he believed he possessed such authority (10:8). The ideal was people’s restoration- not their destruction. This was what he prayed for (13:9 “Your restoration is what we pray for”). Paul’s heart was not that people be guilty of insurrection and possess no hope – but reality was, “some” chose to go that route (Notice I said, they “chose to go that route”. IOW: they are the ones responsible for taking steps in the wrong direction – no one else). As a result, when Paul came to Corinth (and dealt w/these individuals) they would not be spared but rather removed permanently from the covenant community and the hope of heaven. The had committed the unforgiveable sin.
The biblical texts which establish this doctrine: (Deu 17:8-13 w/Num 15:29-31 [“presumptuously”…”w/a high hand” = Same word. Refers to someone who thinks they know more – or possess more authority than God’s ordained leader and so rebels thru condemning and disobeying their counsel. It was a crime that would cause that person to be “utterly cut off” – i.e. immediately in a state of sin that is unforgiveable. They are immediately apostate/eternally damned [they are cut off forever];
Mat 12:22-32, 22-24 w/31-32 = NOT recognizing the mantle of the Holy Spirit’s authority which Jesus possessed [and He passed onto His church’s leaders – Joh 21:21-23], thru condemnation or disobedience was a crime unforgiveable the moment it was officially committed, since it was not against the man [in this case, Jesus the person] but the God’s authority [the authority of the Holy Spirit] and therefore a direct attack on God). This (btw) is the reason Paul responds the way he does in (Act 23:1-5).
*That Paul himself possessed this kind of authority (or that ordained pastors have authority to dispense salvation or declare it permanently removed) is attested to in 2Corinthians (2Co 1:21-22 “anointed” = ordained [or deputized] w/God’s authority and/or power; 2Co 3:1-3). Notice also, Paul’s view of himself as it re: to competency – or possessing the kind of knowledge necessary to instruct and judge God’s people (11:6 = Paul was trained as a Pharisee – the highest level of theological training available in the ancient world. They were considered experts in God’s Law and many had memorized the entire OT.
Based on 2Co 12:1-5 and Gal 1:21-2:1, Paul may have also spent considerable time away being trained by Jesus in heaven. No training can compare to that today, but those ordained properly [those who possess not only deep theological training and study in the biblical languages, but also have successfully passed an ordination exam – where their knowledge of the Bible and theology are rigorously tested] –(those men) are far from inadequate. And can demonstrate it (just as Paul did). Not only that (but more importantly as it re: to all ordained men), there is the help of the Holy Spirit (who guides them into all truth as Jesus promised in Joh 16:13). Hardly then, are these just ordinary men – or men NO DIFFERENT in authority or competency from those in the congregation. Hence the reason Paul can say what he does to Titus (an ordained man) in (Tit 2:15).
- Their job is to use their divinely granted power to attack the deeply embedded idolatry found in the lives of God’s people.
(3-5) “strongholds” = Since —as Paul makes clear in next statement, these “strongholds” are made up of “arguments and every lofty opinion raised up against the knowledge of God”, what he means by this term are those forms of idolatry that have become commonplace (or common practice) in our lives –those false beliefs about God (or following God) that are so deeply embedded that they have become our conviction and the foundational way of practicing our lives. IOW: we believe them or the lifestyle we have created in support of them to be biblical (and therefore worthy of our defense). This understanding is supported also by the meaning of the word itself (ὀχύρωμα = Fortress or foundation where one builds their life and stand’s their ground; the place of their defense). They are however (again) idolatry. They are beliefs and behaviors that DO NOT line up with what it means to live in obedience to Christ. And Paul says it is the ordained pastor’s job to “destroy” such “strongholds”. They are called to “warfare” and given “divine power” for this very reason (4).
This (again) is their job: to attack and confront such idolatrous beliefs and behaviors and demand that these people’s thinking be conformed to Christ (i.e. to what agrees w/His Word or way of thinking and living). People however do not like it when what they have believed to be true – or embraced as acceptable behavior, is attacked as idolatrous or wrong. This (then) is its connection to prior point (or why some had gone down the path of insurrection or committing the unforgiveable sin). Like the Pharisees, who did it in re: to Jesus, the “some” in Corinth found it easier to “discredit the witness” – or question and condemn Paul (God’s ordained pastor) than actually confessing such idolatry and change (support for this is also found in the letter – see 12:20-21 = Paul had exposed areas of sin in his prior visit and called them to repent or change their behavior accordingly. They however were choosing to ignore his prescription. Hence again the reason for 13:1-2 – and not being spared when Paul came again).
This response (btw) sb expected (i.e. people rejecting the authority and counsel of their pastors when called to turn from deeply embedded idolatry and sin in their lives).
This Paul makes clear in his 2nd letter to Timothy (2Ti 4:2-4 “in season and out of season”) = Truths not popular or readily accepted by those who hear it; “reprove, rebuke and exhort” = All actions associated w/teaching that is intending to destroy idolatrous/sinful thinking and lifestyles; “people (however) will not endure (such) sound teaching but “turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” = They will reject it and seek instead to find those who will support their idolatry as [somehow] acceptable or compatible to living in obedience to Christ [they will reject/find fault in God’s ordained pastors (those confronting their idolatry) for illegitimate teachers ready to itch their ears and “suit their passions”]. IOW: many will choose apostasy over change. See also (2Ti 3:1-5) “unappeasable” = Unable to be brought into submission to Christ and His Word). The thing (once more) NOT to miss about those who end up on this permanently damning path = They willingly (and knowingly) choose to do so.
- They are also duty bound to immediately declare as apostate any person who demonstrates a clear and conscious condemnation or rejection of their authority and/or counsel.
(6) “punish every disobedience” = Given the context, the “disobedience” or insubordination Paul is referring to is (once more) all acts of insurrection/insubordination being committed by “some” in the Corinthian church. Paul was always ready when it came to carrying out this other God-given job (“being ready” = Present Active Participle; immediately ready). Never are God’s ordained pastors to be slack or afraid to fulfill their duty in this respect. Which means that such actions are never to be tolerated – even in the least bit. When someone crosses the line, the ordained pastor is to immediately deal w/it. What however needs to be established before that takes place, is that their “obedience is complete” = That the “obedience” being required of them was properly and thoroughly communicated such that no excuses in regard to understanding could be made; that they possessed a “complete” understanding of what was being required of them by the ordained pastor. This is what Paul is getting at by this phrase. And notice, it is the (indeed) the condition necessary to their punishment (“being ready to punish…when you obedience is complete”). So then, though God’s ordain pastors must never hesitate to declare someone apostate who has committed the unforgiveable sin, they must (first) make sure they clearly understood what was required of them. Which is the same thing as saying this: that these individuals demonstrated a clear and conscious condemnation or rejection of those calling them to such obedience or the specific counsel given. And based on Paul’s words in this text (as well as what we saw in the last chapter), this was true for some in the Corinthian congregation. They knew who and what they were rejecting – which meant that when Paul came, justice wb swift (no hesitation).
CLOSING CONTEMPLATION/CHALLENGE: 1) Have you forgotten what God says about His ordained shepherds?, 2) Where are you currently standing? In the blast radius of those who have crossed over the unforgiveable line – or someone who joyfully accepts the authority and job God has given to His ordained shepherds?