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Revisiting Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians became very personal for me recently. Facing opposition in my work context, I devised multiple tactics to combat the opposing force.

Thinking the conflict was personal, I endeavored to work on relationships. This was probably helpful, but to no avail. I went on to tout my past successes and experience in leadership—also to no benefit. In desperation, I moved into people-pleasing mode and just tried to become whatever was needed to succeed in the situation—a soul-robbing, old propensity.

Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians to reaffirm his apostolic calling. From the letter, we learn that his team’s work had been opposed by “super apostles.” They promoted themselves over and against Paul and led the Corinthians astray. These super apostles claimed superiority over Paul because, in their eyes, they were better Hebrews, orators and, in general, stronger, and they came from the Jerusalem church with letters of recommendation. The super apostles focused on the externals of heritage, association, speaking prowess and strength.

Amazingly, Paul didn’t respond with a scathing defense that, point-by-point, demonstrated he was better than the super apostles. To face their critique, he didn’t point toward the externals of his life—Roman citizenship, prestigious education under a prestigious teacher—nor what he had done—the number of people saved, churches planted and leaders developed through his ministry. Rather, he pointed toward the Corinthians’ changed lives wrought by the Spirit:

Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you? You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart (2 Cor. 3:1-3, NKJV).

And he went on to anchor competence not in pedigree, education and talents, but in God:

And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:4-6). 

God enabled Paul and the team, not their letters of recommendation, heritage, experience or talents. The Spirit gives life.

Studying this passage anew, in light of my response to recent opposition, led me to repentance. I realized that, when I faced opposition, my defensiveness focused toward my accomplishments and old habits of people pleasing. I also realized I’m not experiencing the freedom of competence from God. There’s too much striving and driven-ness. Holy Spirit, change me!

Prayer Point

Perhaps, as I do, you struggle with “super apostle” tendencies. Following you’ll find a list of super apostle characteristics.

Super Apostles:

  • Project onto others what they believe “true” ministry is.
  • Claim authority by association (name-dropping).
  • Promote themselves and what they do.
  • Hide their weaknesses.
  • Pretend to be strong.
  • Blame someone or something else if things aren’t going well.
  • Exhibit defensiveness when confronted.
  • Refer to themselves by their titles or what they’ve done.
  • Compare themselves to others.
  • Must look good.
  • Find identity in their ministry.

I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, that, as you find yourself in some of these characteristics, the Holy Spirit leads you to freedom-producing repentance and transformation. Let go of this striving, and embrace God’s competence. It’s freedom.

Share your thoughts. See comments below, and add your own.

has served as vice president for capacity development for Prison Fellowship International, as well as assistant professor of leadership and organization development at Fuller Theological Seminary. She is the author of Made to Flourish (InterVarsity Press, 2015).