Summary: Paul vs.super-apostles, the Corinthians vs other churches, and us vs. the Corinthians
The Comparison Game
Let's play the Comparison Game!
Which is better?
Coke? or Pepsie?
I.U.? or U of L?
Kentucky? or Duke?
Our first contestant today is the Apostle Paul. Paul is a Hebrew of Hebrews, an Israelite, a descendent of Abraham. He has been in prison several times, beaten, flogged, and shipwrecked... Paul, it's good to have you with us today! Are you ready for your first question?
Here it is: COMPARED TO THE "SUPER-APOSTLES", HOW DO YOU RATE YOURSELF?
Paul's Answer: "I am not inferior to the 'super-apostles,' even though I am nothing." (2 Cor 12:11)
Not inferior? Paul, does that mean you are superior to these so called "super-apostles"? Does it mean that you are equivalent? How can you not be inferior and be nothing at the same time?
Paul describes himself as the "least of the apostles" (1 Cor 15:9) and the "worst of sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15) - yet maintains that he is not inferior to these super-apostles. Could it be that he is not inferior because they are "nothing" too? Is it not true that we are all nothing part from Christ (John 15:5). It seems that Paul knew exactly what he was, and who he was. AND he knew who's he was. The only thing Paul could or would boast about is what Christ was doing through him and in him. Paul had no inferiority complex, nor was he proud or arrogant thinking more of himself than he ought (Romans 12:3).
Next question. This one is for the Church of Corinth. Corinth was the Las Vegas of it's day. It was the Sodom and Gamorrah of the ancient world. Corinth - are you ready for your question?
Here it is: COMPARED TO OTHER CHURCHES, HOW DO YOU SEE YOURSELF?
Their Answer: "...inferior to the other churches..." (2 Cor 12:13)
Can you hear them whine - "I wish we were like other churches." "I wish we had a nicer building." "I wish we had dynamic programs." "I wish we were a mega-church."
From Paul's question, "How were you inferior..." we can see that the Corinthians were struggling with an inferiority complex. And by studying the last few chapters of 2 Corinthians, we can see why. Their problem was not their building, not their programs. Their problem was Paul. What the Corinthians wanted was a "Super-Apostle". One that was a good public speaker. Paul referenced their complaint in 2 Cor 10:10, "His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing." Rhetoric was important to the Greeks. They LOVED rhetoric. This was what they did for entertainment 2000 years ago. They didn't care about substance, but style! They didn't want depth, they wanted something that would tickle their ears! Paul was boring in comparison to these great "super-apostles."
They also wanted miracles! Paul defends himself: "The things that mark an apostle--signs, wonders, and miracles--were done among you with great perserverance." (2 Cor 12:12) Everywhere Paul went, miracles accompanied him. In Cyprus, he blinded a sorcerer named Elymas (Acts 13:6-12); in Iconium he did miraclous signs and wonders (Acts 14:3); in Philippi, he performed an excorism (Acts 16:16-18); in Ephesus, he healed the sick (Acts 19:11-12); in Troas, he raised Eutycus from the dead! And... kept preaching! (Acts 20:9-12) Paul was never one to wow the crowds with spiritual magic shows. He did miracles - but he hardly ever talks about them to the Corinthians, or in any of his letters. (Even here in 2 Cor 12, Paul is careful to say that miracles accompanied him. It was God who performed the miracles - not Paul.)
The purpose of the miracles was to give credibility to his message. And his message is the grace and redemption that comes through Christ. Paul wanted his audience to see Jesus - not miracles. Paul understood that the Holy Spirit was NOT a tool in his hands - but that he was a tool in the hands of the Holt Spirit. But it seems that the Church of Corinth didn't quite understand all of this. They wanted "Super-Apostles" who did miracle shows at their weekly services. (WARNING: Paul warns in 2 Thessalonians that "the coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. - 2 Thess 2:9-10. LESSON: Seek the Truth, not the miracles.)
Paul's implication in 2 Corinthians 12:13 is, "The Church of Corinth is NOT inferior!" The Church of Corinth is the Bride of Christ. The Church of Corinth is a part of the Body of Christ. (This is not the first time Paul has had to remind them of this. Remember in 1 Cor 12, Paul wrote, "If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' it would not cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' it would not cease to be a part of the body... You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." (1 Cor 12:15-27))