Second Corinthians 11:1–15 . . .
Following False Prophets
Apostle Paul highlights in the final chapters of Second Corinthians, perhaps, the most powerful tool the devil has to undermine the church body, yesterday's and today's: Infiltration. It can destroy a church when its leaders veer from the truth and gradually teach a deviate gospel.
In chapter 10, we discovered effective weapons to use to counteract evil strongholds and arguments in our midst, and we've learned about the personal credentials needed to effectively win the battle. Today, in chapter 11, we'll look at the tactics that Paul uses to counteract counterfeit teachings in Corinth's church. Because we're to use those same tactics today, let's see how Paul used them. The first note that he strikes (vv. 1–3) reveals to the Corinthians the "jealousy of his heart." Jealousy is an angry, strong, powerful emotion that refuses to tolerate a rival. Yet amazingly, God declares, first in Exodus, then throughout Scripture, "I the Lord your God am a jealous God." Paul says that he feels a "godly jealousy" for the Corinthians, indicating that jealousy can be both good and bad: Bad jealousy is always selfish and vicious in its cruelty; it wants to control and dominate others; good, godly jealousy, which Paul felt for the Corinthians, arises from a deep passion for the welfare of others.
Paul likens his godly jealousy to that of a father who's betrothed his daughter to a young bridegroom. Most fathers long to present their daughter as a chaste and lovely virgin. This is a surprising analogy to use about these Corinthians, since we'd read in First Corinthians chapter 6, that some of them had been adulterers, immoral people, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, robbers, and cut-throats. "And that is what some of you were," he said (v. 6:11a). Yet now he writes, "I might present you as a pure virgin to him."
But now Paul sees a threat to this, causing him to fear (v. 3): basically, that one might be led astray from the simplicity that's in Christ. We learn of the simplicity everywhere in the Word of God; it comes with the daily companionship of the Lord Jesus. Our danger today is that we "get involved in things about Christ" and "fail to live in a relationship with Christ." That's why Paul is jealous to maintain "that simplicity that they have daily in Christ." Namely that, we ought only to reflect on these words: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." That's the "simplicity that's in Christ."
It's easy for us in the midst of Christian activities, ministry efforts, missions, Bible studies, and so on, to lose "the simplicity that's in Christ" in the pressures of daily living, becoming so busy, worried, and anxious about ourselves that we fail to appreciate that Christ is with us and he's more than adequate. The Corinthians were assaulted by teachers who espoused attractive things while distracting them from that central point. Involved with fascinating philosophies on the Word of God that went off on rabbit trails, they became challenged by certain ego-appealing experiences, which, if grasped, would make them seem wonderfully God-possessed; in reality, however, their experiences with false teaching sent them farther away from that essential simplicity.
Notice how Paul puts it in v. 4. In effect, Paul's saying: If you accept without questioning all the things that these people are teaching you, how much more ought you to listen to me? I've taught you the truth. You've submitted to those teachers for a while; now submit and listen to me! In vv. 5 and 6, Paul brings into focus a tactic he seldom uses in his letters: "Irony." Unlike "sarcasm," irony isn't designed to hurt; it's designed to help. Irony consists of playing back words to people, enabling them to hear those words in a different way so that they might discover how foolish they've been. Using the language of his Corinthian adversaries, Paul's saying, They call me unskilled in speaking; maybe they're right, but what's important isn't style, it's content. Look at what we've told you. What do those men know? They merely titillate your senses, capturing you with flowery words.
Paul knew and spoke the truth. His writings have for twenty centuries revealed truth found in God's Word. There's no apostle who writes more penetratingly, perceptively, aware of the nature of reality and of human life than Paul. His writings are marvelous studies on human psychology and basic sociology, because he had such a vast knowledge given to him.
Apostle Paul again uses irony (vv. 7–12) as he deals with a new charge: He didn't love the Corinthians enough to let them support him. What he's saying in those six verses is clear. He'd taught these people the principle that "he who preaches the gospel has a right to live by the gospel." Yet the strange thing was that when he came to Corinth, he wouldn't accept support from anyone. While there, he made tents to support himself, however, he was in need, he says, barely making it financially. Yet he still wouldn't accept support from them. The false teachers in Corinth were saying, The reason Paul isn't supported by you is because he's an amateur apostle, not a professional like us. He can't get anybody to support him because nobody believes him or trusts him enough. But Paul responds: I wanted to show you how free of charge the gospel is. It's good news that God doesn't ask anything back from you; he offers it freely in Christ. I determined that I wouldn't be a burden to any of you when I came.
From this you can see what Paul's practice was. He'd never accept support from people to whom he preached the gospel for the first time; he accepted support from only those whom he'd already led to Christ. Furthermore, Paul says, I don't intend to change, because I don't intend to let these false teachers claim that they work as we work. They're leeches who don't teach you the truth. In his last three verses (vv. 13–15), he strips off the facade that the false teachers were trying to hide behind. He warns his friends: They're impostors masquerading as apostles of Christ. They weren't sent by Christ; they're not teaching what Christ has told us to teach. They're like their invisible master, Satan, who comes to us deceptively as an angel of light. Paul says that their end is inevitable, "Their end will be what their actions deserve." In other words, they'll fall victim to their own lies.
So, to avoid being trapped today by Satan and his false teachers: remain close to the Shepherd; retain the simplicity that's in Christ; be familiar with and follow God's Word; and walk closely with the Son of God every day.
- Q. 1 Why do you think Paul refused to be supported by the Corinthians, yet accepted help from the Macedonian churches?
- Q. 2 How is Paul's servant-attitude becoming distorted by the false apostles?
- Q. 3 What's Paul's final conclusion about these teachers (vv. 13–15)?
2 Corinthians 11:1–15
New International Version (NIV)
[You can view it in a different version by clicking here; you can also listen to chapter 11.]
Paul and the False Apostles
11 I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! 2I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. 3But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
5I do not think I am in the least inferior to those "super-apostles." 6I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way. 7Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? 8I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. 9And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so. 10As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine. 11Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!
12And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. 13For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.