2 Cor11v1to15: PAUL AND THE FALSE APOSTLES
(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)
In this passage we read of the contrast between Paul and the "super-apostles". Unfortunately our judgment has to depend upon Paul's opinion only. It would be interesting to know for sure what the "super-apostles" had against Paul.
I am going to compare the protagonists. It reminds me somewhat of a boxing contest. In the blue corner is Paul - still the undefeated chief apostle to the Gentiles and in the red corner is the young pretender - the "super-apostles'" number one man.
(B) The "super apostles".
According to Paul these men were guilty of:
The "super-apostles" were not what they purported to be. They were NOT:
(b) Honest servants BUT deceitful workmen.
(c) Guides to right living BUT signposts that pointed men in the wrong direction.
(d) The servants of Christ BUT the lackeys of Satan.
What a terrible indictment. The "super-apostle" who enjoyed such an exalted reputation in Corinth were no more no less than spiritual con artists. In the words of Jesus: Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. Mt7v15.
There remain many false apostles! I am very suspicious of those Christians who found their "own" church. They seem unable to work in a mainstream denomination - of which there are plenty - but are so superior they have to set up their "own" special church. It seems to me that the founders usually do this for their own benefit. They want to be in control! There are others who move into churches with an agenda. Their mission is to purge and cleanse - to drive out the dross! These tools of Satan wreak havoc and wreck churches. However cleverly a raging ego is dressed up it remains a ferocious wolf bent on savaging Christ's sheep.
Paul wrote: But 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. v3.
The "super-apostes" deceived the Christians at Corinth as Satan deceived Eve by using cunning but plausible arguments to ignore God's revealed will. One of the commonest ways this is done is to make something else along with belief in Jesus necessary for salvation and entry into the kingdom of God.
So what are these rivals of Christ? Below is a by no means exhaustive list:
(b) The authority of men. It becomes as important to obey the leadership as to obey Jesus. There is the danger of this in Roman Catholicism where the authority of the church is very much emphasised. Allegiance to Mother Church is no sort of substitute for devotion to Christ. Pastors of some Protestant churches can be over authoritarian insisting on the obedience that is only due to Jesus.
(c) Experiences. There are Christian groups that make certain experiences a touchstone of true and living faith. Some extremists in charismatic churches place as much emphasis on speaking in tongues, trances, visions and healing as belief in Jesus for salvation. I am deeply suspicious of Christians who rely on special revelations to know the will of Christ rather than the gospel record.
(d) Traditions. The Galatian church was being led astray by Judaisers who made the Jewish tradition of circumcision essential for salvation. Today there are churches that separate themselves on the basis of versions of the Bible, style of worship, the hymn book used, dress and the like. Trivia becomes more important than devotion to Jesus!
(e) Doctrine. As soon as a denomination or association of churches publishes a list of doctrines and makes fellowship conditional on accepting the list in its entirety Jesus has a rival. It is no longer enough to believe in Jesus to be accepted into church membership - one has to believe in the doctrines as well. I accept the inspiration of Scripture but I know that belief in the inerrancy of the Bible is not going to save anyone. So why should that be a criteria for receiving someone into the church. This is an insidious evil.
Paul wrote: For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different a gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. v4.
Their presentation of Jesus was distorted because they ignored his suffering, neglected his humiliating death and the necessity of that shed blood for salvation. Christ was not presented as the suffering servant or the Passover Lamb. The false apostles did not share Paul's conviction that men and women had to depend upon the sacrifice Jesus made at Calvary for the forgiveness of their sins and eternal life.
There are many false Jesus's today. Here is a list of the "Theological" Jesus's modern scholarship has produced:
Many Theologians do not accept that the gospels provide a record of the historical Jesus but rather present the Jesus of Faith! It is difficult to know what Theologians base their views upon if the historical accuracy of the gospels is discounted. They certainly ignore the assurance of Luke: Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. Lk1v3.
The list above is very different from the statements Jesus made about himself in John's gospel: I am the light of the world, I am the good shepherd, I am the door, I am the bread from heaven, I am the resurrection and the life, I am the way, the truth and the life, I am the vine.
I think it would be nearer the truth to say that Paul presents the Jesus of Faith
(b) Introduced a different spirit. Paul's ministry led men to believe in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit. Paul fully understood the work of the Spirit. God's Spirit gave assurance of salvation, enlightened the mind, dispensed special gifts, helped believers serve and please Jesus and produced godly traits like: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Gal5v22.
The false apostles introduced different spirits: a partisan spirit, a spirit of rivalry, a critical spirit and a proud spirit. These spirits produced factions, disunity and loveless behaviour.
It is terrible when these spirits dominate church life. They are wrecking spirits - tinged with the malice and spite of Beelzebub himself.
(c) Proclaimed a different gospel. Paul's gospel can be summarised in simple terms like this: The believer in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his sacrificial death at Calvary, new and virtuous life by the gift of the Spirit and resurrection to eternal life at Christ's Second Coming.
The false apostles preached another gospel. We cannot be sure what it was! However it is likely that they stressed other things beside belief in Jesus made men acceptable to God - qualifications, abilities, conduct and traditions. The false apostles undoubtedly placed great store upon their Jewishness, their written testimonials, their oratory and supernatural experiences.
Paul's Jewish opponents lost sight of grace. It is by grace we are saved through faith. Salvation is the gift of God received through faith in Jesus.
Many who call themselves Christians have also lost sight of the supreme importance of grace. One of the chief criticisms I have of Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons is that God's grace is not sufficient. I always ask representatives of these movements why it is not enough that I believe in Jesus. Why do they want me to become a Witness or a Mormon as well? Their usual response is that it is too easy just to believe in Jesus.
Some Roman Catholics and certain legalistic Protestant groups have lost sight of man's utter dependence upon God's grace alone for salvation.
(4) Mischief making. See verses 7 to 12.
The "super-apostles" tried to discredit Paul by highlighting his double standards with regard to accepting financial remuneration. He refused payment from the Corinthians but received it from the Philippians. The false apostles insinuated this was because Paul loved the Philippians more than the Corinthians. Their chief motive for doing this was to draw attention away from their own venality. Paul's service at Corinth was financially disinterested - theirs was financially motivated.
It remains a very common ploy to speak critically or disparagingly of those whose conduct shows us up. It is easy to question the motives of those whose behaviour puts us to shame.
Some examples: We can say of someone who:
(b) Is faithful in church attendance: She hasn't got anything better to do.
(c) Produces brilliant flower arrangements: She's just showing off.
(d) Visits the sick and dying: That is what the pastor is paid for.
(e) Is joyful in worship: Wait until he's got something to worry about.
(C) The true apostle.
Paul's genuine apostleship is distinguished by five qualities:
Paul wrote: I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that. v1.
The little apostle was very embarrassed that he needed to defend and commend himself. It was the last thing he wanted to do. He only did so for the benefit of the church at Corinth. The spiritual health of that fellowship depended upon the members trusting Paul and taking his advice.
I used to give my pupils advice about revising for their exams. It was not in their best interest to take that advice with a pinch of salt. So I would remind them I knew about preparing for exams. I had taken lots myself and had passed them all. I was a veritable expert on how to revise. They should listen to me very carefully - and so on - and so on. I was justified in doing a little boasting if only I could get some of my pupils to heed my advice. Such, too, was Paul's attitude.
Paul wrote: I 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. vs2and3.
Paul was very concerned to preserve the Corinthians pure devotion to Christ. He was like a father who jealousy guards the virtue of his daughter - a daughter he has promised in marriage to a prospective husband - a daughter he wants to ensure remains a pure virgin until the day her marriage is consummated.
It is the mark of a godly church leader that he wants his church members to love Jesus above everything else. He must want it more than:
(b) The success of his ministry.
(c) His reputation within the denomination.
(d) His standing in the world.
(e) Peace and quiet - the untroubled life.
(f) His career in the church.
(g) The exercise of his own authority.
(h) The quality of worship.
Paul asserted: I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way. 2Cor11v6.
It is very important for any subject teacher to have knowledge. The best teachers will know their subject through and through. I was a competent Geography teacher because I had an excellent education in, and understanding of, the subject. It made a big difference.
Paul may have lacked certain crowd-pleasing skills as an orator but his knowledge was unsurpassed. He understood:
(b) The way Christ's death atones for man's sin.
(c) The relationship between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility.
(d) The significance of Christ's bodily resurrection.
(e) The role of the Holy Spirit in transforming, informing, conforming and equipping Christians.
(f) How works, conduct and virtue demonstrate the genuineness of belief and new life in Christ.
(g) The nature of the church.
(h) The reality of, and response to, conflict in the life of the believer.
Paul's depth of knowledge and breadth of experience made him, notwithstanding his lack of oratory, the most compelling of teachers. He had made his outstanding grasp of the key elements of the Christian Faith perfectly clear in every way (v6) to the Corinthians.
Every Bible teacher should be firmly grounded in the great truths of Christianity and able to present them to his hearers with clarity and conviction.
Paul reminded the Corinthians that he, unlike the false prophets, did not minister to them for financial gain. He was not a burden and never intended to be a burden to them. He was doubly determined to continue in this way to show up the venality of the false apostles. Paul wrote: And 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. v12.
The Corinthians were very gullible not to realise the "super-apostles" were in it for the money.
Perhaps we should consider here Paul's inconsistency. He wasn't perfect! Why did he accept financial support from the Philippians but not the Corinthians? The commentators provide many explanations none of which are entirely satisfactory.
I don't believe Paul had any intention of accepting support from any church for the reasons he gives in 1Cor9. See exposition on 1Cor9v1to18. He didn't want to benefit financially from preaching the gospel and he wanted to preserve his freedom, independence and reputation.
However, in Philippi Paul and his team succumbed to the great pressure exerted by Lydia. Paul was virtually shamed into doing what he had decided never to do. Lydia was a very persuasive woman and Paul gave in and accepted her hospitality. See Acts16v15. See Acts16v6to15. So the church at Philippi was granted the privilege of supporting Paul. They knew he had accepted their help and this encouraged them to keep sending him money. Paul was in no position to refuse it without puzzling the Philippians by his inconsistency.
All of this was very difficult for Paul to admit to! I think the apostle was wrong not to accept hospitality from the churches he founded. Jesus was always prepared to receive help - from whatever source. We shouldn't be too independent for the good of others.
Paul was determined to demonstrate his integrity and expose the duplicity of the "super apostles". His love for the Corinthians made him resolute. He would do anything - even commend himself - to preserve the church at Corinth in good health.
Paul shows his determination by using all the literary devices at his disposal. He makes use of:
(b) Righteous indignation. See v7.
(c) A play on the emotions. See v2 and v11.
(d) Earnest warnings. See v3.
(e) Forthright and colourful denunciation. See vs13 to 15.
There are times a Christian leader is justified in using all these devices if he fears his flock is losing its devotion to Jesus. It is a pastor's responsibility to ensure church members never become lukewarm about Jesus. Nothing should arouse a minister more than the need to preserve a Christian's first love.