A “whispering” campaign is always to be suspect. Paul had his detractors among the Corinthians who suggested that he wasn’t actually an apostle, but a power-hungry impostor who desired to subvert the real work of Christ, which “they,” the real Christians, were promoting. Does that sound familiar?

Paul answered this unkind and unchristian accusation against him. Then these underhanded, unprincipled, back-stabbing “saints” shifted their attack to accuse him of other things. “He defends himself, writing letters of defense for himself. Such a person couldn’t possibly be a true preacher!”

Is a man not to answer unkind insinuations, vicious accusations? Is a person to be silent while “saints” tell lies, promote blatant untruths, and other inaccurate information? Paul had to deal with such questions. All of us must contend with such disturbing accusations!

In Second Corinthians one finds a sense of nobility in an old man responding to the bitter and hateful blows of persistent enemies. We learn Paul does not need our pity or defense. God’s servant needs only Christian grace and kindness. There are some definite things we can learn from Paul and the pain which he experienced in personal and work relationships. Some are wonderfully encouraging; some depressing and discouraging.

First, we learn that malice feeds on itself and can live on nothing but its own vile corruption and meager slop. A contentious spirit will quarrel about anything and everything. A faultfinder will accuse even the best person and the best leader. A person of ill-will does not hesitate to gossip, attack, whisper and criticize, even when the object is a man of God or even the very Son of God Himself. Every era has these carping critics who are fired by hell and motivated by the Devil himself. Every church has them; every denomination is plagued by them. They come dressed as both “liberal” and “conservative.” They are unprincipled, uncaring, unkind, unchristian.

When John came fasting, these religious critics said he had a devil. Then Jesus came eating and drinking, associating with sinners, and they accused Him of being a winebibber, a glutton, a friend of sinners, in other words, a hypocrite. If they did this to Jesus, we shouldn’t be surprised at what these folks say about us.

There are some lessons in these words for us. We would be better to take time to pray. We would be improved in our Christian lives by accepting the challenge of a evil world rather than the hopeless task of keeping one another right. Living the gospel comes hard to those of a Pharisaical tendency. It becomes a depressing task.

May the joy of Jesus Christ so flood our lives that we lose sight of the “speck” in our brother’s eye and find that the “telephone pole” in our own eye is gone. When it is we’ll be able to see one another in a new light and with new appreciation.

As we consider Paul’s conflict and controversies in Acts and Corinthians, we learn encouraging things.

Paul’s unprincipled and hateful opponents viciously attacked him, taking great pains to oppose his work. They pursued him; pressured him; harassed him. He didn’t give up. Neither did he malign them or criticize them. He noted their hatefulness and viciousness, but he did not attack them.

Second, we can take courage in our trials, troubles and pains—Paul survived! Somehow it is easier to bear what we are experiencing when we know that others have walked through similar situations. Take courage! Live in the strength of God’s grace. Walk by His Spirit.

Paul clearly makes the point that his critics weren’t doing such a good job in behalf of the church. It is impossible to build up what you are trying to tear down. You can’t be both for Christ and against Him. You can’t criticize and condemn His church and promote Jesus at the same time. After all, the church is Jesus’ body. Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad” (Matt. 12:30). If we are Christian, supporting the church isn’t an option. It is essential.

Paul said, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. . . We are God’s fellow workers . . .” (1 Cor. 3:5-9). Paul said that the actions of some didn’t pass the smell test and had the stench of death. He said when God speaks He gives life and good scents (2 Corinthians 2:14-17). He contends, “Our sufficiency is of God” (2 Cor. 3:5).

When God is the cement that holds fellowship together, we don’t have to worry about staying together. If He isn’t we ought to thank God the fellowship doesn’t hang together. When all of us find our sufficiency in Christ, we will stay together and together we will glorify Christ with our lives and lips. In this we can find encouragement and inspiration to keep on for Christ and His Kingdom.

There are such words of encouragement from Paul’s conflicts and controversies. He becomes for us a source of real strength and help as we face our own personal troubles. God called him and then blessed him in special ways so that he could become a blessing to us. He was God’s special ambassador. Note in Second Corinthians Paul uses “we” when he talks about being an ambassador. He included us in that statement, as much as he included the Corinthians.

If we are “ambassadors of Christ,” we will not be negative, trouble-making, critical “saints.” We will be positive, affirming “believers” in the work of God in Christ Jesus. Our message is Jesus Christ. “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).

These are such encouraging words from Paul; God’s encouragement to us through a human vessel. It is “treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7). When God’s power is seen in our lives, continuely blessed and encouraged, it is evident that it is from God not us.

The mark of a Christian is how he responds to trials. Sometimes God permits tribulation to test us to see if we are genuine. On our part we can learn that He is genuine in the midst of our troubles.

Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20). That means in trouble, too. Aren’t you glad to have Jesus with you? Rejoice in that! Pray for one another and encourage one another in the midst of trials. That will honor the Lord Jesus and exalt Him before a watching world.

I look forward to hearing from you as to what you think about what is happening in our country nationally and locally.

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— You can send your thoughts to drjerryhopkins@yahoo.com, or by snail mail to Dr. Jerry Hopkins, P. O. Box 1363, Marshall, Texas 75671. Dr. Jerry Hopkins is a historian and retired professor.