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Second Corinthians

Discernment

2 Corinthians 11:1-15

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to give advice when you are not involved? I have a teenage son whom I'm trying to encourage to good work habits ("attitude, kid, attitude!") If he got such good advice from a stranger, or from a book, or from the radio, or from TV, he would accept it willingly. If it comes from Dad, what does he know?

 

What's the difference? I'm involved in his life. It is the first rule of the "professional" counselor - never get involved. (Note well: the first rule for the Christian servant is "get involved.") And when you are involved, it is difficult to persuade. This morning, we will see St. Paul doing just that, on a most serious matter. Men have come into the Corinthian church, claiming to be apostles, with a "new" doctrine (actually, the old one of legalism).

 

Before we see what he says and how he says it, note well what he does not say: he does not repeat his experience on the road to Damascus. (Did you like it when dad said, "When I was your age...."). Note too that the focus of this lesson is not how to deliver parental advice - but how to discern among the prophets - and why.

 

 

Paul's Technique

 

{11:1} I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that. {2} 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. {3} 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. {4} 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 gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. {5} But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those "superapostles." {6} I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way.

‑‑ 2 Corinthians 11:16 (NIV)

 

Paul begins with a bit of disarming sarcasm. It's as if he was saying, "Hey, I know this sounds so foolish, but really, we must get back to the fundamentals here. See how low I must stoop to persuade you?" This is necessary to establish his motives. It is important for the Corinthians to see that he is proceeding from Godly motives.

 

The first of these motives is "godly jealousy." It often surprises Christians to hear God described as "jealous." We think of jealousy as a sin (we actually mean envy, in most cases), but the Scripture is clear: God is a jealous God:

 

{4} "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. {5} You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, ‑‑ Exodus 20:45 (NIV)

 

Here, in the second commandment, God portrays himself. It is not really that hard to understand - if you are married. I am a jealous husband; I want my wife all to myself. Please don't tell me that I need to be "open minded" or "liberated" - I am a jealous husband. She is mine, mine, mine! (By the way, she's a jealous wife, too.) I am jealous of anything that comes between us - and I should be.

 

The next of these motives is his promise to God. He wants to present the Corinthians as a pure bride to the bridegroom. One of the powerful images of the church is that of the bride of Christ. It explains God's jealousy in terms I can understand - and it also explains the need for purity. Paul sees himself as the friend of the bridegroom (see John the Baptist, John 3:29(?)) - one of whose functions was to see to it that the purity of the bride was maintained. (A function later performed by big brothers.)

 

Finally, there is his fear of their deception. This is a natural thing for a teacher: picture that you have spent all this time teaching them algebra, and then they go and make a mistake like that.... how do you feel?

 

Paul then (verse 4) identifies their real problem: they're too easy. They'll put up with anything; they're like Dorothy Sayre's mythical St. Lukewarm the Tolerator, who erected a public stewpot for some religious cannibals, and was promptly boiled in it. Turned out he was overcooked, and became St. Lukewarm the Intolerable.

 

Why were they so easy to accept any doctrine? There are a number of possibilities:

a) It could be just plain laziness. Thinking is work; resisting the Devil is work.

b) It could be the temptation of legalism.

c) It could be that the church was, for them as for so many of us, a weekly emotional "high" - and nothing else. What matters the doctrine if my feelings soar?

 

It's useful at this point to recognize some of the techniques used by Satan to deceive such people:

a) The three step method, first noticed with Eve:

i) Question God's word. "Did God really say that?"

ii) Deny God's word. "He couldn't have said that"

iii) Substitute Satan's word. "He must have meant...."

 

b) The thought that "evil is enlightening" How do you know it's bad until you've tried it? ("You will not die, but you will become like God!")

 

c) Confusing eloquence with divine wisdom. If it's well spoken, it must be right (he's so convincing, don't you see.)

 

 

Paul's response to all this (verse 6) is that he is just the opposite. Though he was a very well educated man, he did not come to them in human wisdom, making rabbinical discourse - but in the power of God. You see the point? I didn't use any of these tricks - and you believed the message. Therefore, the message was what convinced you, not me. Why are you changing now for those techniques?

 

 

By their fruits...

 

Paul now shows them what kind of preacher he is. He reminds them of how he came to them - and what he cost them:

 

{7} Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? {8} I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. {9} And 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. {10} As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine. {11} Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! {12} 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. ‑‑ 2 Corinthians 11:712 (NIV)

 

Paul is making the same point that Christ made in the Sermon on the Mount:

 

{15} "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. {16} By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? {17} Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. {18} A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. {19} Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. {20} Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. {21} "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. {22} Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' {23} Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' ‑‑ Matthew 7:1523 (NIV)

 

In essence, his argument is this: look at the fruits I brought, look at what they brought. I didn't charge you for the Gospel - I gave it to you free of charge. If for no other reason than this: the Gospel is always given. It is revealed wisdom, not something that men have found out for themselves. Permit me an example:

In the late nineteenth century, Orville J. Nave spent over 14 years cross indexing the Bible - by topic. He was entitled to the profits of that labor, for it is his. He created the work. But who created the Gospel, the "Good News?" God alone! Therefore, as Paul received it free, he could not charge for it. Derived wisdom may be sold at a profit. Revealed wisdom is priceless, and therefore must be given away.

 

Paul's basic motive is that of love, of course (see verse 11). Love cannot be purchased. Only the counterfeits of love can be purchased - and men rightly refer to this as prostitution, in whatever sense it is used. We speak of an artist prostituting his art in this way: prostitution is selling a substitute for love. (An interesting aside: the old guild system understood this as a craftsman prostituting his craft - a thing still in demand today.)

 

I think it bothered the Corinthian church that Paul had not charged them for the Gospel. There are a number of reasons why:

a) In those days, a brilliant teacher was like a rock star today. He was entertainment, and could command an entertainer's salary (are you listening, Rush Limbaugh?)

b) Perhaps they were jealous of the Philippians - who spent the money and received nothing (as we do when sending a missionary), while they spent nothing and received everything. Perhaps a point of pride?

c) More likely, however, they were influenced by the philosophy of the Cynics. A cynic, said Oscar Wilde, is a "man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." Perhaps they thought they were getting more because they were paying more.

It would be interesting to apply these principals to televangelists today!

 

Paul now comes to the point: he is doing this to remind them, to be sure, but mostly to cut the ground out from under these people. This brings up the point for the Christian: how do we identify such people? Dietrich Bonheoffer, in commenting on the passage from Matthew above, says it this way:

 

Such a pronouncement of Christ's could cause his disciples great anxiety. Who knows his neighbor? Who knows whether the outward appearance of a Christian conceals falsehood and deception underneath? No wonder if mistrust, suspicion and censoriousness crept into the Church. And no wonder if every brother who falls[sic] into sin incurred the uncharitable criticism of his brethren, now that Jesus has said this. All this distrust would ruin the Church but for the word of Jesus which assures us that the bad tree will bring forth bad fruit.. It is bound to give itself away sooner of later. There is no need to go about prying into the hearts of others. All we need do is wait until the tree bears fruit, and we shall not have to wait long.

 

 

 

 

The character of the opposition - and their fate

 

Paul now puts it bluntly: who these men are, and what awaits them:

 

{13} For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. {14} And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. {15} It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. ‑‑ 2 Corinthians 11:1315 (NIV)

 

 

It is, perhaps, surprising to hear such language. We might expect to hear "honestly mistaken" or "mislead." We don't. Such men are deceivers. Please recall that the issues being debated here are not such things as the correct form of communion or how many hymns must be sung in worship and whether or not a piano may be used. The attack here is upon the person and work of Jesus Christ. A man who reverts to legalism, once having tasted grace, is either exceedingly stupid or a deceiver. These men were not stupid.

 

Indeed, they follow Satan himself. If Satan can get you by flesh or the world, he will. If not, he will try for pride. He will appear to be an angel of light - and try to produce, as C.S. Lewis had Screwtape put it, "a spoiled saint, a Pharisee, an inquisitor or a magician...". These deceptions are worth cataloging:

- a spoiled saint - one resting on his laurels?

- a Pharisee - the classic legalist?

- an inquisitor - the one who is righteous, because you're not

- a magician - the "miracle working evangelist"

 

The reward of such men is known: reread Matthew 7:21-23 above.

 

There remains the question of what to do with such men. John, the Apostle of Love, puts the answer this way:

{5} And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. {6} And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. {7} Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. {8} Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. {9} Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. {10} If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. {11} Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. ‑‑ 2 John 1:511 (NIV)

 

There is such a thing as aiding and abetting.

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