A Department of Water Resources representative stops at a Texas ranch and talks with an old rancher. He tells the rancher, “I need to inspect your ranch for your water allocation.” The old man was busy, looks up and says, “Okay, but stay out of that field over there.”
The rep isn’t used to being told what he can’t do, flashes his credentials and says, “Mister, I have the authority of the Federal Government with me. See this card? This card means I am allowed to go wherever I wish on any agricultural land. No questions asked or answered. Have I made myself clear?”
The old rancher nodded, shrugged and goes about his chores. Before long he hears loud screams and spies the Water Rep running for his life and close behind is the rancher’s bull. The bull’s gaining with every step.
The Rep’s wide-eyed and terrified and he has reason to be, so the old man downs his tools, runs to the fence and yells at the top of his lungs…..”Your card! Show him your card!”
I suspect this is the kind of thing Paul would say to those church-troublers that marched into Corinth waving their letters of recommendation in the faces of the people everywhere they went (compare 2 Corinthians 3:1). When they came face to face with Jesus Paul might shout: “Your letters; show Him your letters of recommendation, your diplomas and your name on the honors list!”
Come to think of it, it won’t matter much what we wave in front of us when we come to meet God; not bank-balance, proof of popularity, size of our congregation, list of books written, conferences headlined, the famous names we can drop, the movies we starred in, the records we held—these aren’t the “Open Sesame” into the blessed presence of God. It won’t help a lot either to give a long list of venerable names who hold or held our views—that doesn’t make them wholesome or true. Well, not unless they’re venerable names like Paul.
But Paul is not as fashionable these days as he once was. It’s true, of course, he wasn’t fashionable with everyone back then but check who they were that said he was “wrong!” In 2 Corinthians 11:4-6 he says something like, “You dismiss me when I teach. But let someone else come along bringing a different gospel or a different spirit and you’ll pay attention to him. Well, I may not have the degrees or the flamboyance or charisma or learning of these academics but I know what I know and I know you should know that because I’ve been around you long enough for you to know it. These ‘newcomers’. I’m not one of these. They’ll be gone soon and millions will be reading and living by what God has given to me for endless years to come.”
We truly need to reflect thoughtfully on this entire section–2 Corinthians 11–13. Just read it through at one sitting. Listen to this man and note that he is responding to people who not only doubt his truthfulness but his teaching also. Read all of it and note 13:3-5 where they doubt him and his right to be teaching and the truthfulness of what he taught. “You seek proof of Christ speaking in me? Well, check yourself! If you are in Christ–how did you get there? You, novices that you are, in your wisdom, wisdom you learned from these newcomers, you doubt me and tell me I’m ‘wrong’? Remember how you came to know Him. But on the other hand, if you feel smart enough, certainly smart enough to tell me I’m ‘wrong’ about major doctrines, maybe you ought to doubt the gospel I taught you to bring you into the Lord Jesus.” (You can rest assured that when one of the university professors is being questioned for accuracy/believability by some student that he’ll quickly call on the Paul he trenchantly said was “wrong!”. But the student wouldn’t have Paul as the source of truth and authority—he would have his professor as source; a professor who doesn’t mind claiming he could have taught Paul a thing or two.)
On one occasion Paul strode into Jerusalem with an uncircumcised young Christian called Titus. He called out the leadership there that was saying if people wanted to be blessed in Jesus the Messiah that they would have to become Torah-observant and circumcised into the Judaic faith. That was heresy! (See Acts 15 and Galatians 2—3.) Paul said he wouldn’t give an inch to anybody, pillars of the Church or not! And when later, in Antioch, one of those pillars engaged in hypocrisy regarding the truth of the Gospel and Paul went after him (yes, and his close companion, Barnabas too). “I don’t care who they are,” he said, “if they undermine the truth of the Gospel I’m coming after them.” (Galatians 2:5-6, 11-14) This is the man who bent over backwards, becoming all things to all men that he might save some (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). “I don’t ask their names,” he would say. “I don’t ask where they were schooled or the position they hold or the company they keep. I listen to them teach and preach. If it’s Gospel and truth I’m happy. I don’t even care if they’re gospeling to glorify themselves or to outshine someone else—just so long as they’re gospeling!“ (See Philippians 1:14-18.) All this from “Mr Flexible!” But not when it came to what undermined the Word and Will of God and threatened the Gospel.
It won’t help, if we had and could recite the correct answers to all the theological questions if uncaringly we overwhelm with our new wisdom the people God gave into our care.
Recklessly, because we have become wise we pour out our newly–found wisdom and leave the the “unlearned” looking at one another—confused, wondering and wandering. Ezekiel 34:1-10 is a sobering section with a sobering truth that is as true today as it was when Babylon was hammering down the walls of Jerusalem all those centuries ago.