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A. Back to 2Corinthians. We only have 11-13 left, and we should be able to finish by Mothers Day.
B. In his second missionary journey, Paul spent a year and a half in Corinth, getting the church going and teaching the largely Gentile congregation about the gospel of Christ.
1. While on his third journey, he got wind of problems having arisen in the Corinthian church, and through a series of visits and at least four letters, tried to address them.
2. The problems arose as a result of some false apostles who infiltrated the church and began to undermine Paul’s leadership and his gospel there.
C. 2Corinthians 11:1–4 I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! 2 For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his 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 if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
D. V.1 I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me!
1. Since Paul doesn’t go back to boasting until after this morning’s passage, we’re not going to talk about v.1 till next week.
2. What Paul does do in v.2-4 is explain why he feels compelled to boast.
II. Let’s talk about five important lessons we can learn from v.2-4:
A. There is a danger that God’s people might be led astray, just as Eve was led astray by the serpent.
1. We’re warned about this often in the NT (e.g. Acts 20:29–30; 1Timothy 4:1–5).
2. This was Paul’s concern about what was happening to the Corinthians.
3. We see this in v.3: “I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”
4. A healthy relationship with Christ is characterized by single-mindedness, purity of heart, as opposed to double-mindedness. No man serve two masters (Matt.6:24), although we want to.
5. Now, we all know that people can go astray. But the interesting thing here is that the Corinthians are being led astray not by immorality but by false ideas.
6. People can be seduced by teachings, by arguments. I’ve seen it so many times in my life.
7. Some ideas have allure. Some deceptions really appeal to us.
a. We must realize that there are some things which feel good to believe.
8. Now what appeals to me might not be what appeals to you. Satan knows us all, and he knows our vulnerabilities. He knows the very ideas which will most appeal to us.
a. He doesn’t care what he convinces us of, just as long as it pulls us away from Christ, or onto a different Christ.
9. We will experience temptations for the rest of our lives. And some of those temptations will be to believe things not because the Bible teaches them, but because they are pleasurable to believe.
10. The fact is, tempting ideas usually fly under the radar. We don’t perceive that Satan is at work in this way trying to trip us up. If we’re not alert to this, we’ll be caught off-guard.
11. It’s so easy to just believe what we prefer, rather than doing the hard work of studying God’s word and resisting our impulses and fighting to be objective.
a. Much of what the Bible says flies in the face of what – in our flesh – we would prefer to be true.
b. How precious it is when a person really wants the Lord’s will – more than he wants his own.
B. One of Satan’s most effective tools to lead people astray is counterfeit Jesuses, counterfeit gospels.
1. V.3 tells us that Satan is the great deceiver; v.4 tells us that he is also the great counterfeiter:
2. V.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 if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.”
3. According to Paul here, the false apostles in Corinth were actually preaching “another Jesus” and “a different gospel.”
4. Similarity to the truth is not enough. Counterfeit money has a lot of similarity to real money.
5. And the similarity actually makes it more dangerous. If someone tried to give us Monopoly money, we wouldn’t fall for it – because it’s so different from real money. But we might get fooled by something that is very similar to the real thing.
6. Think about Satan’s strategy: he’s not going to get very far with most Christians by preaching against Jesus. But if he promotes a slightly different Jesus, then THAT can be effective.
7. And Paul tells the Corinthians that they fell for a counterfeit Jesus and a counterfeit gospel.
8. Just because the teaching had vast similarities with true Christianity doesn’t mean that it is true Christianity; it doesn’t mean it is the true same Jesus and the true gospel.
a. Keeping the name doesn’t make Him the same Jesus.
b. Keeping some of His teachings doesn’t make it the same truth.
c. Using the same words doesn’t make it the same gospel.
9. But you can have so much success by preaching a gospel which is twisted just enough to conform to the fleshly preferences of your hearers. And it’s happening all over the place.
10. And if we’re not alert to this danger, we’ll fall for it too. Probably some of us already have.
C. When false gospels are preached and false Jesuses are being introduced, it is time for intolerance.
1. In John 17:21 Jesus prayed that His people might be one as He and the Father are one.
a. And Paul emphasized the importance of unity numerous times in his epistles, calling us to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)
b. Any Biblical Christian must have a zeal for unity in the body of Christ.
2. In 1Cor.3, Paul makes it clear that there are divisions in the Christian church which are petty, irresponsible, and fleshly: There is jealousy and strife among you... For one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos.” (1Cor.3:3-11)
a. In Phil.1:15-18 Paul even rejoices when they preach to spite him –because the gospel is preached.
3. But here in 2Corinthians 11, Paul makes it clear that there are other divisions in the church which are necessary, important and crucial. For some are preaching another Jesus.
a. We can see this in how Paul mocks their tolerance of false teaching: “If someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.”
b. He’s rebuking them for being so open-minded, so accepting, so tolerant of such twisted teaching, so gullible regarding Satan’s deceptions: “You put up with it readily.”
4. There is a time to be acceptant and tolerant, but there is also a time to be rejectant and intolerant.
a. Actually, virtually everyone agrees that there’s a time for tolerance and a time for intolerance.
b. There’s just a lot of disagreement about when those times are.
c. Paul says that when approached by those who preach a different Jesus, the Corinthians clicked into open-minded mode. But sometimes open-mindedness and toleration are sinful.
5. Paul puts it even stronger in Galatians 1:8–9.“Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
a. In no uncertain terms he tells them not to listen, not to accept, not to put up with a false gospel.
6. Now when it comes to how to evaluate other supposed Christians or Christian churches, we must be careful. There are two dangers: we can reject those we should accept and we can accept those we should reject. Both are very serious mistakes. You can err in either direction.
a. There are some who treat every disagreement as a heresy.
b. There are also those who treat every group which identifies as Christian as legitimate.
c. The big question we must always ask is: Does this group preach the gospel of Christ or not? Do they preach the Bible’s Jesus — not just who He was, not just what He did, but in the manner of life He calls us to live.
d. Which churches maintain the gospel soundly?
e. Which churches so corrupt the gospel that it has become a different gospel?
7. But everybody claims they have the true gospel. How do we know what is the true gospel?
a. 2Cor.11:4 “if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed”
b. So, the true gospel is the gospel that Paul and the other apostles preached.
c. But we don’t have the apostles here. How do we know what their gospel is?
d. Galatians 1:8 Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
e. “Even if we” –Paul had preaching the gospel to them; now he was expecting them to remember it.
f. The gospel of the apostles is contained in the NT. If we are going to avoid false gospels, we have to know the true gospel as it is declared and explained in the NT.
8. Why is it so important to discern who is preaching the true Christ and who the false?
a. Because the real Jesus is so important. If the real Jesus was just nice and helpful, then it wouldn’t be that big of a deal to have a counterfeit who was less nice and less helpful.
b. But the fact is, the real Jesus is everything, and so the false Jesuses are fatally destructive.
c. The real Jesus is life, so a false Jesus is no life.
d. Apart from the real Jesus, we cannot be saved; apart from the real Jesus we can do nothing.
e. We must have the real Jesus, and so dicerning between real and false is crucial.
D. False Jesuses are not only discernible by false doctrines but by sinful attitudes.
1. What was the false teaching of the false apostles in Corinth? What distortions were they communicating to seduce the congregation in Corinth? This is an interesting question.
2. The fact is, Paul gives us little indication of the specific false teachings of these false apostles.
3. But maybe this actually is to our advantage, because while there is only one true Jesus, there are thousands of false Jesuses. While there is only true gospel, there are thousands of false gospels. And while there is only one Holy Spirit, there are thousands of evil spirits.
4. Instead of detailing their doctrinal errors, Paul emphasizes their bad fruit.
a. He refers to their swagger, their arrogance, their being full of themselves, their love of power, their distaste for humility, their rejection of sacrifice and service – which is the way of Christ.
b. The gospel of Paul’s adversaries was indeed a gospel which gave them permission to slander him, to humiliate and exploit others, to confidently boast in their religious achievements and mystical experiences.
5. And the Corinthians were so susceptible to this deception, for they had a number of vulnerabilities this kind of attitude exploited:
a. 1Cor.3:1-4 makes it clear that the Corinthians also were very fleshly in their thinking.
b. We can tell from 1Cor.1:12 that they were prone to gravitate to and become enamored with dynamic leaders. They loved greatness and power.
c. They were preoccupied with the spectacular gifts of the HS, instead of the most edifying ones (1Cor.12-14).
d. They were given to “quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder,” as well as “impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality” (2Cor.12:20-21).
6. You see, hoaxes happen. And they are effective in sweeping many off their feet — BECAUSE THEY APPEAL TO PREJUDICES / IDOLATRIES PEOPLE HAVE.
a. The Corinthian believers were vulnerable to a version of Christianity that allows one to use spiritual authority to lord it over others,
b. A version of Christianity which allows self-boasting and self-promotion,
c. A version of Christianity which permits disdaining and demeaning others,
d. A version of Christianity which makes a place for a sense of superiority – looking down on others because of their inferior intellect, or experience, or personality, or social status,
e. A version of Christianity which is conducive to self-seeking instead of self-denying,
f. A version of the gospel which fuels the pride instead of slaying it.
7. This gospel was not a gospel which taught them to live by the pattern of the cross. It was just the kind of gospel the Corinthians were vulnerable to. And that’s why it was so effective.
E. The job of a Christian leader is to work to protect the purity of God’s people.
1. V.2 “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.”
2. The church is engaged to Christ. At His return, there will be a great wedding. But for now we are betrothed to Him. We have pledged our faithfulness to Him – and so we must be faithful.
3. We have been betrothed to one husband, and that means that all other potential husbands are off-limits. We must remain as pure virgins, devoted exclusively to Christ until He returns.
4. Even though this does show that virginity before marriage is indeed the will of the Lord, the issue here in these verses isn’t sexual immorality. The issue is spiritual adultery.
5. When it came to engagement in the OT, the father of the bride was responsible to protect the virginity of his daughter (Deut.22:13-21). This responsibility is what Paul is feeling & expressing.
6. It’s what Paul is talking about later in this chapter, in 2Cor.11:28-29: “Apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?”
7. In much of this letter, Paul is agonizing over the spiritual struggles and spiritual growth of the Corinthians. And think about Paul’s reaction to the reports of trouble in the Corinthian church.
a. He dropped everything. He traveled back and forth, he visited several times, he wrote at least four letters, he prayed fervently. He did everything in his power to address the issues.
b. In Galatians 4:19 he actually uses the image of childbirth: “My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!”
c. Here again, Paul distinguishes himself from the false apostles, acting in love and sacrificial service to build them not to himself but to Christ.
8. Paul’s zeal here has some similarities with his zeal before he met Christ.
a. Galatians 1:13-14 “You have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.”
b. The zeal was still there, though now for Christ instead of against Him.
c. But his tools were also very different. He no longer uses violence. He uses words: he exhorts them and pleads with them. And he uses deeds of service.
d. As the preface of the PCA BCO says, “All church power...is only ministerial and declarative since the Holy Scriptures are the only rule of faith and practice.”
e. Speaking the truth in love: that’s our tool (Eph.4:15).
9. This may be the special burden of a parent/shepherd, but it’s really a burden for us all toward those we love. We all ought to have a sense of jealousy over one another, especially when someone is straying, or has a wandering eye, spiritually-speaking.
10. It’s not enough to worry only about our own souls. We are in this together. We need each other.
11. Hebrews 3:13 “Exhort one another every day...that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
12. This means several things: knowing how dangerous it is to stray from Christ, and loving people enough to not just let them go.
13. My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19–20)