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It appears that traveling preachers conducted a disinformation campaign against Paul. A common characteristic of people who sow disinformation is to simply ask questions that put doubt in people’s minds.
Satan is the master of disinformation. The first recorded word of Satan was a question, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3.1).
Just as Satan wanted the first couple to mistrust the goodness of God, the false preachers in Corinth wanted the church to doubt Paul’s sincerity and honesty.
Woven through 2 Corinthians are hints of their disinformation campaign.
— Does Paul tell the truth? Does he say, “‘Yes, yes’ and ‘No, no’ at the same time?” (see 2 Corinthians 1.16-22).
— Is Paul using God’s word as a way to enrich himself? Is he just a “peddler” of God’s word? (2 Corinthians 2.17).
— Is Paul approved by the real apostles in Jerusalem or is just out on his own? (2 Corinthians 3.1).
— Does Paul tamper with God’s word and end up changing the unchanging word of God? (2 Corinthians 4.2).
— Paul seems to be weak, doesn’t he? (2 Corinthians 6.4-10).
— Do you think Paul is trying to take advantage of you? (2 Corinthians 7.2).
These questions or something similar were asked of the upstart church in Corinth by people who wanted to discredit Paul and to assume the role he had among the people.
Disinformation campaigns are as old as what Satan did with the first couple in the garden. At their root is a question, “Does God or a leader have your best interests in mind?”
The intent of this kind of behavior is to turn the listener away from actual reality to the point of view of the propagator of disinformation.
How To Combat Disinformation
Amid the striking theology and at times beautiful prose of the letters to the Corinthians, is Paul’s defense against those who desired to discredit him and change his message.
In chapter 10 Paul takes on his opponents head on.
Much of what Paul says in chapter 10 needs to be read in a first century context. I will take Paul’s words verse-by-verse to help us see his words as they would have been understood in A.D. 50 Corinth.
— Verse 1 – I myself, Paul, appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ — I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!
Meekness, humility, and gentleness were not desired qualities in first century leaders.
If Paul’s critics were painting him as meek and gentle, he reminded him that he imitated the character of Jesus. What Paul wrote to the Philippians could easily have been sent to the Corinthians.
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
“Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2.5-8)
As we read these words in 2021, let’s ask ourselves what kind of leader do we want to follow?
— Verses 3-6 – Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards;
For the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds.
We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.
We are ready to punish every disobedience when your obedience is complete.
Paul is ready to go to war with his opponents. They have been building up a wall between himself and the church he started. Now, he must demolish that wall.
In verse 5 Paul states that the people who have been engaged in a disinformation campaign are setting themselves up against the knowledge of God. They are raising obstacles that keep people away from God’s truth.
There are at least two groups in Corinth. Some continue in what Paul has taught them.
Others are disobedient and have taken sides with the disinformation crowd. They have succumbed to questions about Paul’s character and have turned away from Paul and his message.
— Verse 8 – Now, even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it.
The difference between Paul and his opponents was the effect that they had on the church.
Paul’s intention was to build up the church and the effect of the disinformation crowd was to tear down the body of Christ.
— Verses 12-16 – The underlying image in these verses has to do with the problem of trespassing.
Paul’s opponents have trespassed into the territory of his ministry and are comparing him using human standards (verse 12).
The only reason why Paul wanted to protect his “territory,” was because he wanted the Corinthian church to join him in extending the good news of Jesus to other areas (see verses 13-16).
— Verses 17-18 – The contrast between the sowers of disinformation and the work of Paul is presented.
Paul boasts, but he declares: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (Verse 17).
The detractors and their followers need to realize that “It is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends” (Verse 18).
Disinformation in 2021
As people who live in the information age, we need to be aware of how disinformation works. The issue was so problematic for the church in Corinth that it necessitated an entire letter to combat it.
What are some techniques that are used in any disinformation campaign?
(1) Questions Intended to Divide – When we hear a speaker ask divisive questions, “red flags” should arise in our minds.
If the questions are similar to those that were aimed at Paul, they need to be met with scrutiny.
If the questions cause us to wonder if God is good or not, they should be rejected outright.
(2) Gaslighting and Disinformation – Gaslighting is a term that is used today to describe a component of a disinformation campaign.
What is Gaslighting? According to WebMD, gaslighting is as follows:
“Gaslighting is an emotionally-abusive strategy that causes someone to question their feelings, thoughts, and sanity. Someone who employs gaslighting tries to convince the other that their own perception of reality is wrong.
“The purpose of this is to convince the person being gaslit that they can’t trust their own instincts or thoughts.
“A gaslighter may try to convince you that your memories are incorrect, that you overreact to situations, or that something is ‘all in your head.’
“They may then try to convince you that their version of events is the truth. This tactic can be used in both personal and professional relationships to gain control and power” (WebMD Internet Article).
One of the tactics of cult leaders is to use gaslighting with their adherents. It is difficult to follow a cult leader without first denying the reality that is right before your eyes.
The best protection against gaslighting is to have a good understanding of the Bible. In addition, we need a clear picture of God’s character.
Biblical reality and Christ-like character is what is needed in our leaders. If it is lacking, run with both feet from such leaders.
(3) Does it build up or tear down?
The result of Satan’s disinformation question was to tear down the relationship between the first couple and God. The trouble-makers in Corinth were tearing down the church.
Paul’s goal was to build up the church and to extend the reach of the good news of Jesus to other areas of the nation.
When we hear a speaker, we should keep this question in mind. Is the result of the information up-building or divisive?
(4) Who does it exalt?
Paul’s standard was simple. He said, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (Verse 17).
Self-giving love that is displayed by humility and gentleness with regard to God and others is a quality that builds up God’s people and extends the kingdom of God.
Let’s strive for that kind of life and be careful in an age of information (and disinformation).
May We Pray for You?
The Maywood Baptist Church prayer team is honored to pray for you. If you have a prayer request, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or private message me on Facebook. We will pray for you.