Sunday, September 17, 2017

Winning By Losing

“For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.”

This is not the easiest sentence to unpack.

The apostle Paul is contemplating a test of orthodoxy. On one side, the Corinthian church, misled by false apostles and questioning the spiritual authority and current relevance of Paul and his co-workers, through whom they had originally received the gospel. On the other side, we have Paul and his fellow servants of Christ, still preaching the same old things the Corinthians learned way back when.

That might not be as cool as the cutting-edge ramblings of the new kids on the block, but it had the virtue of being the same message Paul and his fellow workers preached everywhere they went.

Truth Up for Grabs

The issue to be decided: Through whom is Christ really speaking? Who is really teaching in accordance with the one and only faith? It’s a significant question in the lives of these conflicted Corinthians. Get that answer wrong, and this church is in serious trouble, left to the leadership of those whom God has not sent.

It’s with this in mind that Paul says, “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.”

Hmm. What does that mean exactly?

Who Is “We”?

William MacDonald takes a shot at dissecting it:
“The we of this verse probably refers to the apostles.”
I’m good with that. Paul has been using “we” consistently throughout the surrounding text to refer to himself and Timothy, who co-wrote the letter. Silvanus was also involved in the establishment of the Corinthian church, as Paul points out earlier in his letter. And Sosthenes was the co-writer of 1 Corinthians. He may also have had something to do with the early work in Corinth and it is probable that when Paul speaks of their establishment, his labors are also in view. So if we read the word “apostles” in this larger sense, that meaning works fine.

Ability and Will

MacDonald continues:
“Paul is saying that all they do must be done with a view to the furtherance of the truth of God, and not with any selfish motives in view. Even in the matter of discipline, no thought of personal vindictiveness must enter. All must be carried out with a view to the glory of God and the good of one’s fellow Christians.”
Here I have to suggest a slight re-think. This is not about what Paul and his associates would like to do, or should do, it’s about what is even possible for them.

The Greek negative here seems consistently to have to do with ability, not just will. It’s “we cannot”, not “we shouldn’t” or “we really try not to as a matter of principle”.

I think what Paul is saying is that even if it turned out the apostles were wrong and the Corinthians right, truth still wins, because truth always wins in the end. Truth cannot be conquered, even by apostles. It may seem to falter, but it prevails because that which is spiritually true is ultimately in accordance with physical and soulish reality. It commends itself as superior to any who truly have the mind of God.

Abandoning the Popularity Contest

In fact, winners and losers are irrelevant. Only truth matters. Paul happily concedes this: “For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for.”

Those who truly serve Jesus Christ are not in a competition to be liked or to be proven correct. They do not jump up and down and scream, “I TOLD you so!” when the evidence demonstrates they had it right. They care only that the truth comes out and is known by all.

They can win by losing if the other guy has it right.

What do you think? Sounds to me like an attitude we would all do well to emulate.


  1. Indeed, but if you say "truth still wins, because truth always wins in the end" it really depends much more by what the "end" represents. It seems pretty obvious to me that it has to be the very end when you finally meet your creator and get the real scoop. Look at Christianity as a prime example demonstrating that truth is very elusive in its entirety and is often much more in the eye of the beholder rather than a solid and verifiable fact.

    1. When I say "truth always wins", I have in mind ultimate, objective reality, not just our very limited apprehension of it.

  2. It is ultimate objective reality time when you do meet your creator.