When Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, he knew that the church in Corinth had been putting up with some false teachers. These were likely men who had very strong personalities and who claimed to be apostles. But these men taught a false gospel and they used their personalities and positions to gain power over the people.
Look at how Paul speaks of how the church let these men treat them.
2 Corinthians 11:19-21 – 19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!
There was a brutality to these teachers. They abused the people. But, because they were so forceful, the people submitted to their cruelty and tolerated their false gospels.
Paul, for his part, sarcastically apologizes to the church for not treating them this way too. Of course, he does not think that it would have been right to stoop to such sinful methods to get the church to follow him.
What got my attention in this passage is the fact that this is not solely a first century problem. There are churches today that are “led” by “pastors” who lead by brute force and abrasive personality. There are pastors who lack character, who bluster and push, and who mold the congregation into the image they want. There are pastors who love their jobs and the idea of being successful far more than they love the people. There are pastors who will conveniently forget promises they made to one person or group of people in the church. There are pastors who will lie to one group or another in the church to make things happen. There are pastors who will ignore the rules of the church or sometimes even the law to get their way.
But, dear friends, we must not allow such men to lead. We must not allow abusive leadership to dominate our churches. The apostle Paul showed us that godly leadership does not look like such false shepherds. So we do not lead like this and we do not embrace or elevate leaders like this. May we be wise. May we be honest. May we be willing to hold leaders accountable, even if that accountability is uncomfortable for the church.
Of course, as a pastor, I’m not calling for us to ignore the biblical call to respect our authority figures or to submit to leadership. The bible is clear that we are to follow our elders and to make their jobs easier. We are to treat solid Bible teachers as worthy of double-honor according to Hebrews. But, with all that said, we must not allow someone to use the title of pastor or elder as a weapon to abuse the flock. That would never honor Christ.