Paul may have been a touch sarcastic. His opponents in Corinth were tearing him down, saying he was a worldly kind of guy. They might have been saying he was a little too ordinary. The new preachers in town, it seems, were pretty bold about showing off their status in the church and maybe showing off their spiritual gifts.
Paul, meanwhile, was accused of being bold in his letters and weak in his physical presence. From a distance, he could really be an imposing teacher. But in person, not so much. At least this is what some people claimed. “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.”
Therefore, Paul shouldn’t get a hearing in the church. He was all bark and no bite. This is what they were saying.
And so Paul might have been a little sarcastic in this letter to the Corinthians – a mode of communication where Paul was said to be strong. “I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and humbleness of Christ …”
Letters weren’t Paul’s place of meekness or humbleness – at least according to some. But Christ was meek and humble. Not everything ought to be weighed out by appearances. Something deeper may be going on.
And Paul called on Christ’s meekness and humbleness in arguing there was nothing wrong with any meekness or humbleness the Corinthians may perceive in Paul. He wasn’t in a contest with other preachers. Rather, he was in a contest with any “argument” or “lofty opinion” raised against the gospel.
How often do we judge things in the church by appearances? How often do we judge people in the church by appearances? Is there some other criteria on which we ought to base our judgments?
Paul could simply state if the Corinthians needed evidence of Paul’s authority as an apostle, they simply needed to look around them. Paul was the first to come to them with the gospel. The very existence of the church there was a result of God’s work through Paul’s ministry. “Look at what is before your eyes.”
I wonder if at times we don’t know what we are looking at – be it a person or a circumstance or some blessing of God. I wonder if we think we are seeing something other than what we’re seeing. And Paul said, essentially, “Snap out of it! Look at what is before your eyes. It’s so obvious.”
The humble and meek person can be the purest vessel for gospel of Jesus Christ. The difficult circumstances can contain the surest way to Christian maturity. The unlikely places can hold the richest blessings of God.
As you look around you today, what are you looking at? What’s before your eyes? Have you reinterpreted it into something other than it is?
Can we see the blessings of God when they are right in front of us?
Jesus wasn’t much to look at, it seemed. Good things don’t come from Nazareth (John 1:46). The disciples weren’t much to look at either. They were common men (Acts 4:13). The church in Corinth wasn’t an impressive collection of people. There was little wisdom, power, or nobility in that bunch (1 Corinthians 1:26).
And Paul seemed bold when he was away and weak when he was up close. He may not have been the most impressive of preachers (1 Corinthians 2:1).
And yet, sometimes the reality is obvious. Do we know what is before our eyes?
“Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).