We have been studying the Second Letter of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians. As we near the end of the letter Paul defends himself against false teachers, the very ones who were slandering him and creating trouble between him and the Corinthian believers.
When reading sections like this it is easy to feel there is nothing here for us. However, we can learn a great deal about Paul, about God, and about truth and falsehood. This morning it this on the surface irrelevant passage we will look for some principles and understanding that can help us in our daily lives.
I hope you will put up with a little more of my foolishness. Please bear with me. 2 For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ. 3 But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. 4 You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed.
A Godly Jealousy
When Paul talks about his jealousy and the jealousy of God it confuses us. We normally thing of jealousy as something suffocating and bad. Yet even in the Ten Commandments as God talks about the evil of idolatry we read,
5 You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.
In Exodus 34:14 we read a similar verse,
You must worship no other gods, for the Lord, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you.
In this case, God is actually called “Jealous”.
In the prophecy of Nahum (1:2-3) we read,
2 The Lord is a jealous God,
filled with vengeance and rage.
He takes revenge on all who oppose him
and continues to rage against his enemies!
3 The Lord is slow to get angry, but his power is great,
and he never lets the guilty go unpunished.
He displays his power in the whirlwind and the storm.
The billowing clouds are the dust beneath his feet.
These are just a few of the many verses that say the same thing. If God is Holy and good and is also jealous then jealousy must be some kind of jealousy that is good.
Jealousy really just shows you care about something passionately and don’t want to see it destroyed. You are protective. We see this in parenting. What mother is not jealous for her children? She will fight for them when she feels they are in danger or being treated badly. A husband will stand up for his wife and hopefully visa versa. We protect and we fiercely defend those whom we love. That is good jealousy.
Jealous is bad only when it becomes selfish; when we are more concerned about ourselves than the other person. It is actually nice to know someone you love is jealous about you. It shows they care. Paul says this is the way he feels about the Corinthians. It is the same kind of Jealousy that God has toward his people. God cares about His relationship with His people and wants to defend it from those who would destroy it.
What Was Feeding Paul’s Jealousy?
The thing that made Paul jealous was the fact that the Corinthians seemed to be drifting away from the truth. He likened their experience to what was happening in the temptation to Eve back in the garden.
Back in the Garden Satan deceived Eve. He spoke the truth . . . but not quite. For example God said, “Don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or you will die”. Satan said, “Did not God say don’t eat from or even touch it or you will die? It wasn’t a big change in what God said but it was significant. It was significant because it allowed Satan to make God look unreasonable and petty.
Next, Satan attacked God’s integrity. He said, “You won’t die! God know that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God. Eve fell for the ruse and sin and all its companions entered our world.
D. A. Carson applies the text:
From the time of the Fall to the present day, men and women have frequently succumbed to the deceptive devices of the devil. Christians are especially open to the kind of cunning deceit that combines the language of faith and religion with the content of self-interest and flattery. We like to be told how special we are, how wise, how blessed.… We like to have our Christianity shaped less by the cross than by triumphalism or rules or charismatic leaders or subjective experience. And if this shaping can be coated with assurances of orthodoxy, complete with cliché, we may not detect the presence of the arch-deceiver, nor see that we are being weaned away from “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” to a “different gospel.”
This is what was going on in Corinth. The false teachers were not coming in making blatant changes to the gospel message. That would have been too obvious. They were subtle, they used Scripture passages taken out of context or changed only a “little”. Paul said,
You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed.
Paul says the church was gullible. It was gullible because they were theologically lazy. They had stopped evaluating what others were teaching. They no longer measured truth by the gospel they had been taught.
It is like a parent taking their child to a big park in Chicago and then not paying any attention while the child is playing! That is dangerous and irresponsible. There are bad people in the world. Children get hurt. Children can easily wander off.
Paul says at first the Corinthians didn’t even recognize that they were following a different Jesus or a different kind of Spirit or a different gospel.
It is a different Jesus who shrugs at sin, or is “god” in the sense that all of us will one day be god, or who sinned like us. It is a different Jesus if His death was a result of circumstances rather than as a sacrifice for sin or if He did not rise from the dead. The true Jesus is uniquely God who became man, lived a sinless life, died willingly in our place and rose triumphantly from the grave. He is sufficient to save any and all who come to Him.
It is a different spirit if this spirit draws more attention to himself than to Jesus (John 16:14). It is a different spirit if it leads us to go against what the Bible tells us. It is a different spirit if it caters to our will and our desires rather than working to conform our will and our desires to God’s. It is an easy thing to confuse our desires or Satan’s distortions with what we think is coming from the Holy Spirit.
It is a different gospel if people are told they must or can earn their way into God’s Kingdom. It is a different gospel if it discriminates by race, sex, or age. The true Gospel calls all people to repentance and to put their trust in Christ. It does not negotiate regarding sin. It calls us to turn to Christ for forgiveness and the power to change.
There are false teachers all around us. They represent different religions, hybrids of Christianity and new age mysticism, and even unintentional error. Like Paul, we should be jealous for the purity of the Gospel. Unfortunately, there are many who talk about following Jesus who are not following the Christ of Scripture. There are many who call themselves spiritual who know nothing of the true faith of Christianity. If we are not discerning, we will be deceived.
A Question of Authority
5 But I don’t consider myself inferior in any way to these “super apostles” who teach such things. 6 I may be unskilled as a speaker, but I’m not lacking in knowledge. We have made this clear to you in every possible way.
Paul once again turns to sarcasm. These false teachers claimed an authority that was equal to Paul. Paul calls them “super-apostles” (since that is basically the way they were presenting themselves). These teachers were implying that their teaching was superior to that of Paul.
Paul concedes that maybe he is not the kind of speaker other Greeks might have been. However, Paul says, that doesn’t mean they are telling the truth and he is not. It is true that a good teacher must be able to speak in a way that communicates with the listener but merely sounding or speaking well doesn’t mean you are actually saying anything worth hearing.
Have you ever been in one of those situations? It could have been a classroom, or a seminar, a church service (someplace other than here, of course), or even a meeting of friends. Someone speaks. They speak well and are quite engaging but suddenly you realize that all they are doing is talking . . . but they are not actually saying anything.
Paul argues that comparing the teachers with Paul’s teaching should show the Corinthians the superiority of Paul’s teaching. He pointed to the truth; they pointed to themselves. True Christian teaching draws the body of Christ together. It draws us to Jesus and not to organizations.
Paul’s Methods Misunderstood
7 Was I wrong when I humbled myself and honored you by preaching God’s Good News to you without expecting anything in return? 8 I “robbed” other churches by accepting their contributions so I could serve you at no cost. 9 And when I was with you and didn’t have enough to live on, I did not become a financial burden to anyone. For the brothers who came from Macedonia brought me all that I needed. I have never been a burden to you, and I never will be. 10 As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, no one in all of Greece will ever stop me from boasting about this. 11 Why? Because I don’t love you? God knows that I do.
The next criticism seems to be that Paul must not be a very good speaker because he was speaking free of charge! Apparently the Greek culture is similar to ours: the speaking fee goes up with the perceived value of the speaker.
We have seen this with concerts. The more popular a band or individual is, the more it will cost to get them for a concert. Retired Presidents or executives can command tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to give one speech! The argument (or at least the implication) is that since Paul was speaking for free he must be “minor league” speaker!
Again Paul asks if it was a mistake to preach the gospel free of charge. Paul’s situation was not any different from the way Missionaries work today. They don’t go into a community and preach the gospel for a fee. They preach the gospel without any talk of money. They are supported by believers and churches who care about missionary outreach. Eventually it is hoped that those who are brought to faith will form churches that will be self-sustaining. Then hopefully they will likewise pay the blessing forward.
Paul did not take any money because he loved the Corinthians and wanted them to know the power of Christ in their lives. He did not want money to be a barrier or be seen as the motive for his message. By implication Paul suggests maybe the hotshot “super-apostles” are more concerned about what they can make than with the Corinthians themselves.
The Truth About the False Apostles
12 But I will continue doing what I have always done. This will undercut those who are looking for an opportunity to boast that their work is just like ours. 13 These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve.
Paul pulls no punches in verses 12-15. Paul calls these teachers “false apostles”, “deceitful workers” and those “who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ” and “as servants of righteousness”. It sounds like Paul didn’t like these guys!
The thing that makes these teachers so deadly is that they are deceitful. They advertise themselves as those who preach the gospel “more effectively”. They say they have “more insight”. They talk good, have a smooth presentation, and are great at the art of sales. Paul says these false teachers are following the pattern of Satan. Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. He makes temptation look enticing, He packages error so that it “sounds good or reasonable”. It is the old “bait and switch” he promises us happiness and switches it with slavery.
Paul gives a warning: “In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve.” Jesus warned “But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). Paul says God will not tolerate false teaching forever.
So, having looked at all these things, what is it that we should do? I would hope that our response would be: How can I be sure a) I am not teaching what is incorrect and b) I am not being seduced by false teaching?
We must remember to never underestimate the skill and cunning of the Adversary, Satan. He has great experience (and success) in making error look like truth and truth look like error.
We must also face the fact that we all tend to filter what we read and hear through our own bias and experience. Have you ever heard anyone say, “This may be what this verse means to you but it means something different to me?” I hope you will never say anything like this. When you hear this you should be alert for error! There is only one “meaning” of the text. The question is: “What was the author trying to say and how was it heard by the people to whom it was written?” That is what the text means!
We can apply the truth of a passage to many different situations. You can apply the truth that we should “speak the truth in love” to the way we correct someone, or to how we speak with our children or even how we should approach an unbeliever. Again, you can apply a text many ways but the meaning of the text is that which the author intended. We are not free to make the Bible say whatever we want it to say!
So here are some simple principles for staying on the path of truth.
- Know the Truth. This is the simplest solution. The best way to recognize a counterfeit is to be so familiar with the real thing that you can easily spot a difference. This involves Reading the Bible for yourself. I encourage you to participate in Bible Studies and Sunday School classes that allow you to learn how to read and understand the Bible.
- Check every teaching out with the full teaching of Scripture. If an interpretation of a text runs contrary to other parts of the Bible then it is wrong. The Bible is consistent within itself. Of course, this is difficult to do unless you are familiar with the Bible.
- Beware of “New Understandings”. Any time you hear someone say, “I have a fresh read on this passage” beware. If a person is truly saying, I have reached a conclusion that is different from historical Christian teaching you should see red flags waving wildly. The idea that after 2000 years of Christians we can now finally understand the passage correctly because this person found the secret, is highly unlikely if not downright ridiculous and arrogant.
- Ask Questions. It is important not simply to be a sponge to Christian teaching. You must interact with the Word of God and those who teach the Word.
It may seem like this is much ado about nothing. However, the reason we read so much about defending the truth and combating false teaching in the Bible is because it is the truth alone that can set us free. It is only the true Christ and the true Gospel that can lead us into God’s Kingdom here and in Heaven. If the Devil can get us to move away from the truth . . . he has us right where he wants us.
 Hughes, R. K. (2006). 2 Corinthians: power in weakness (p. 195). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.