1 I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! 2 I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough. 5 I think that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. 6 I may be untrained in speech, but not in knowledge; certainly in every way and in all things we have made this evident to you. 7 Did I commit a sin by humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I proclaimed God’s good news to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for my needs were supplied by the friends who came from Macedonia. So I refrained and will continue to refrain from burdening you in any way. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boast of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. 11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! 12 And what I do I will also continue to do, in order to deny an opportunity to those who want an opportunity to be recognized as our equals in what they boast about. 13 For such boasters are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds.2 Corinthians 11:1-15
As we begin wrapping up this lengthy study in 2 Corinthians, we need to recognize that the last few chapters of 2 Corinthians are very difficult. Throughout the remainder of the letter, Paul will continue to sharpen his rhetoric as he takes his accusers to task.
As we’ve seen, in these community of house churches in Corinth, there are pockets of resistance from teachers who continue to publicly and privately challenge his authority. They tend to do so on a variety of grounds ranging from his refinement of speech and how he presents himself, to how faithful he is to the Law. Here in chapter 11, Paul kicks his rhetoric into overdrive.
His motivations are laid out in verses 1-4. Paul help found many of these churches, nurturing these infants in Christ from their birth in the faith and beyond. Here, he compares his role to that of a doting father presenting his daughter in marriage to Christ. His fear is that the community has compromised itself on their wedding night, echoing the story of Israel’s unchastity on the night of its own wedding to the Lord at the foot of Mt. Sinai. There, Israel made a golden idol for themselves to worship. Like the story of the man and woman in the garden, the allure of the serpent is powerful, pulling people all sorts of directions as they are enticed to take on the role of determining the good from evil for themselves.
In the case of the Corinthian community, the temptation of the evil one is two-fold. On one side, the super apostles, or teachers who are puffing up their own standing as experts on all thing Jewish and Christian, are calling Paul’s apostolic credentials into question. On the other side, Paul’s lack of refinement in speech and affect is off-putting to many in this wealthy and educated community who expect Paul to meet their external standards. Both are united in a common cause of extolling the community to reflect a host of values and markers that, for Paul, have to do with all sorts of thing other than Jesus Christ.
Paul continues his self-defense, pointing out that what marked his ministry is extreme humility, even to the point of debasing himself and his own standing, and the lack of burden he placed on the community. In contrast, these teachers of a “different gospel” (v.4) are marked by their constant boast in their knowledge, standing, and overall refinement. They are popular. They are polished. They attract the crowd. They have this reference or that, further bolstering their boast in themselves.
And it is here that Paul stops pulling punches. He straight up calls them false apostles, deceitful workers, disguised as Christian apostles and teachers, but who are anything but genuine. In verse 14, Paul puts it plainly: even Satan presents well, and seems like an angel of light to the undiscerning. If the evil one is capable of such feats, fooling all but the most wary, then it is no surprise that his operatives have the same capability.
Here, I think, Paul’s urgency in 2nd Corinthians sharply intersects with the need of our own day. The Christian community around the world is awash in falsehood. Shiny ministries, powerful ministries, wealthy ministries, polished ministries, ministries and ministers with great ratings abound, teaching all sorts of things. Strangely, the more money, wealth we invest in particular personalities, the shinier they become. In some of these cases, you are hard pressed to hear Scripture read in a service. Disguises abound. A great rule of thumb, to be somewhat absurd, is that if your pastor is asking you to support the purchase of a jet, then you might need to seek spiritual counsel and leadership elsewhere.
Here, even I and the church I serve, and all those who labor in Christ’s name, ought to beware. Though on much smaller scales, we ask for monetary support to keep the ministry of the community going. The line separating faithful support of God’s work through pastors, teachers, missionaries, and evangelists from outright appeals to support the institution of a church, denomination, or a particular way of doing ministry is sometimes blurry. We ought always be cautious, even wary of the role we allow money, wealth, refinement, and how we present to drive the focus of our ministries.
That said, the way Paul crafts his argument gives us what we need to discern the false from the true, and expose those disguised as representatives of Christ. In fact, our primary tool of discernment is deceptively simple: it is none other than Jesus Christ himself. To the degree our churches and its ministers seek to reflect the self-giving love of Christ, we are faithful representatives of Jesus. All that we say and do ought to be motivated out of love for others, to see them grow and flourish in their faith in the Lord Jesus. This is the marker Paul offers the community time and again in relation to himself. He has given of himself, even to the point of loss, all for the privilege of sharing the good news that Jesus is Lord.
And if this is true of genuine preachers and teachers, it must also be true of Jesus’ followers. Our lives ought not be marked by obsession with status, position, religiosity, outward show. It is in the everyday humbleness of the gifts we bring in service to our brothers and sisters that Christ is revealed. There is no room for disguises if we are too busy offering our hands and lives in self-giving love.