You might recall that I said last week that in the final chapters of this letter Paul is addressing the problem of the false preachers head on. Until now in the letter, they’ve been in the background and some of the things Paul had said earlier in his letter were connected to the false preachers. But now he addresses the problem of the false preachers head on. And we can divide today’s passage into three main parts. First there’s the introduction. That verses 1 to 4. Then he responds to two accusations or complaints that were made against him. That’s verses 5 to 12. And in verses 13 to 15 he unmasks the false teachers and makes clear that rather than being servants of the Lord Jesus, they are in fact servants of Satan.
Verses 1 to 4
Let’s turn to verses 1 to 4, first of all. And in verse 1 Paul asks the Corinthians to put up with a little foolishness. So, he’s asking them to bear with him for a moment or two and to show him a little tolerance. You see, what he’s going to do is he’s going to boast a little. He knows it’s foolish is boast, but he’s asking them: Won’t you put up with my boasting just for a little while? That’s what he’s saying to him. Now, his boasting doesn’t begin until verse 21, where he says: What anyone else dares to boast about … I also dare to boast about. And then he goes on to boast about himself.
But, of course, he regards boasting about himself as foolish, because do you remember what he said at the end of last week’s passage? He said — and he was quoting Jeremiah the prophet — ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord’. And I explained last week that every good thing in our life and every good thing we’ve accomplished is from the Lord and not from us. Your gifts and abilities and skills: where did they come from? They came from the Lord who made you what you are. Or think about your achievements in life. Where did your success come from? It came from the Lord in whom we live and move and have our being. And in case you think you deserve credit for your hard work and effort, you need to remember that the Lord is the one who enabled you to work hard and to make the effort. We have no reason to boast about ourselves, because whatever is good in us is from the Lord.
Paul knew that and so he’s reluctant to boast about himself. He regards such boasting as foolishness. So why is he prepared to engage in a little foolish boasting now? Well, I like how one of the commentators puts it. This is what he said. If Paul stoops to their level — that’s the level of the false preachers who were prepared to boast about themselves — if Paul stoops to their level by boasting, he’s a fool. However, if he doesn’t defend himself, he might lose the people in Corinth to even bigger fools. So, Paul knows it’s foolish for him to boast about himself. However if he doesn’t defend himself by boasting a little, then the believers in Corinth are likely to be led completely astray by the false preachers. In a war, people sometimes have to do things they wouldn’t normally do. And there’s a war going on in Corinth. There’s a spiritual battle being fought. And Paul knows that the only way for him to defeat these false preachers — who are really servants of Satan — is by engaging in a little boasting.
And perhaps you know from experience what he’s talking about. We want to be humble, don’t we? We want to be humble, because that’s the will of the Lord. And so, we don’t want to blow our own trumpet and boast about ourselves. But what do we do when someone criticises us unfairly? What do we do when someone complains? Defending yourself and your reputation and your actions often feels like we’re boasting. So, what do we do? We’re stuck. But on this occasion, Paul has determined that the situation in Corinth is so serious that there’s nothing else for it. He has to boast a little.
And then he goes on to say in verse 2 that he’s jealous for the believers in Corinth with a godly jealousy. We normally think of jealousy as a bad thing. If I’m jealous of you, it might mean I resent you because you have something I wish I could have. And that’s bad. But Paul is referring to a good kind of jealousy. In fact, he refers to it as a godly jealousy. And really he means that he cares deeply for them. You see, Paul regarded himself as their spiritual father, because many of them came to faith through his ministry. And just as any father cares for his daughters and wants what’s best for them, so Paul cares for the church in Corinth and he wants what’s best for them.
And in ancient times, a father would arrange for his daughter to be married. And while his daughter and her future husband were engaged, or betrothed to one another, it was the father’s responsibility to ensure that his daughter remained pure until the wedding took place. And in verse 2 Paul applies that idea to the church in Corinth and to their relationship to Christ. The church in Corinth — and this is true for the whole church which is sometimes called the bride of Christ — the church in Corinth was — in a sense — engaged to Christ. It was betrothed to Christ. And one day, the Lord Jesus Christ is going to come for his bride and they’ll be united together and will be with one another in glory, where they’ll live happily ever after. And it’s Paul’s responsibility as their spiritual father to ensure that in the meantime they remain pure and faithful to Christ. He says at the end of verse 2 that he wants to present them as a pure virgin to Christ. That was the father’s responsibility: to present his daughter as a pure virgin to her husband. And Paul wanted to be able to do the same with the church of Corinth. He wanted to do everything he can to ensure that they remained faithful to Christ their Saviour.
‘But I am afraid’, Paul says in verse 3. Why’s he afraid? It seems to Paul that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning in the Garden of Eden, so your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. In the beginning, Eve loved the Lord her God who made her and who cared for her. But the Devil came along and deceived her so that she turned away from her love for the Lord and her devotion to him. And Paul is afraid that the false teachers in Corinth will have the same effect on the believers in Corinth. They’re going to lead the believers astray so that they will no longer be devoted to Christ their Saviour. Instead of remaining pure and faithful, they’ll be corrupted by these false teachers. And because Paul is jealous for the church in Corinth with a godly jealousy, because he cares deeply for them, he’s prepared to engage in a little foolish boasting in order to convince the believers in Corinth that they should listen to him and not to them.
Up to now the believers in Corinth have put up with the false teachers. That’s Paul point in verse 4. He says to them: You’ve put up with them easily enough, haven’t you? Well, now’s the time to put up with me and my foolish boasting for a little while.
And do you see how Paul describes what the false preachers have been doing? They’ve been preaching a different Jesus so that the Corinthians have received a different spirit and a different gospel. That is, they’ve been preaching a different Jesus from the one Paul preached which means they’re received a different spirit and gospel from what they received from Paul. Now, we don’t know for certain what the false preachers were saying. But the commentators have tried to piece it together from the things Paul says about them. And they suspect that the false preachers preached only about Christ’s glory, and they didn’t say very much about Christ’s suffering. Now Christ is glorious, isn’t he? He’s the glorious Son of God and when he was on the earth he was able to perform might miracles. And then there was that time when he was transfigured and the disciples saw his glory. And perhaps that’s what the false preachers were emphasising in their teaching, instead of doing as Paul did which was to preach Christ crucified who suffered and died for our sins before being raised from the dead. And if it’s the case that they put all the emphasis on the wonder-working Jesus, then perhaps that affected the spirit of their ministry, which was about boasting about themselves and all their accomplishments, whereas Paul was careful to teach believers that it’s very often suffering now and we have to wait until the life to come before we receive the glory. And if they’re preaching a different Jesus and a different spirit, then that would mean they’re preaching a different gospel, because the cross of Christ, the suffering of the Saviour, is at the heart of Paul’s gospel, which is the true gospel.
And, of course, the same thing happens today, because preachers all over the world know that the cross of Christ is offensive to human pride. Preach about the cross and you’re sure to drive people away, because people don’t like to hear that they’re sinners who deserve to be condemned and that their only hope is to trust in the cross of Christ. And since preachers know that the cross of Christ is offensive to human pride, very often preachers are tempted to preach anything else but that.
And we need to be discerning, don’t we? No doubt the false preachers spoke about Jesus and they spoke about the gospel. But what they meant by Jesus was different from what Paul meant by him. And what they meant by the gospel was different from what Paul meant by the gospel. And if you’re listening to a preacher on YouTube or on TV, they might talk about Jesus and they might talk about the gospel. But are they talking about the real Jesus and the real gospel? We have to be discerning, because just as there were false preachers in Paul’s day, so there are false preachers in our day too.
Verses 5 to 12
So, Paul was like an anxious father. He wanted to ensure that the Corinthians remained pure and faithful to Christ, but he was afraid that they were being led astray by the false preachers. In verses 5 to 12, Paul responds to two accusations or complaints which were made against him. We’ve come across one of them before, but the other is new.
The one we’ve come across before is the one Paul mentions in verses 5 and 6 and it’s to do with public speaking. The false teachers, these super-apostles as Paul calls them in verse 5, had no doubt been trained in public speaking and they were impressive speakers. When they got up to speak, they knew what they were doing. Well, says Paul, I may not be a trained speaker. I may not have had the training they have had. I may not be as polished a speaker as them. I may not be as skilled or as eloquent as them. But, of course, remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians about how he deliberately did not use eloquence or lofty speech or worldly wisdom when he came to Corinth. Instead of relying on the wisdom of the world, he was relying on the Holy Spirit to convince the people through his preaching. So, it’s not so much that Paul was ignorant of these things, but that he deliberately did not use them. But while they might criticise his public speaking technique, nevertheless, he says, I do have knowledge. That is, I do have true knowledge of God. So, I know what I’m talking about when I stand up to preach. And he adds:
We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way.
So, whatever you may think of my public speaking, it should be crystal clear to you that I know God and the Scriptures and therefore I’m able to teach you the truth about God. You can’t deny that.
I was listening to Sinclair Ferguson preach on this passage and he talked about watching a televised church service. And many members of the congregation had these massive Bibles on their lap. And I know what he’s talking about because I’ve noticed this too. And they’re all writing away in the margins of their big Bibles, taking notes on what the preacher is saying. And yet, what the preacher is saying has nothing to do with what is in their Bibles. The preacher is an impressive speaker — he’s on TV! — but his knowledge of God and the Scriptures is completely lacking. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Well, o one could say that about Paul.
And then he deals with the second complaint in the next verses and this one is to do with money. According to verse 7, Paul was prepared to preach the gospel in Corinth free of charge. So, while he was prepared to receive financial support from other churches — and he refers to other churches in verse 8 and to Macedonia in verse 9 — nevertheless he wouldn’t accept any payment from Corinth when he was with them. And Paul asks: ‘Was it a sin?’ Now, clearly it wasn’t a sin, but Paul asked if it was a sin because the people in Corinth were clearly not happy about it.
Why weren’t they happy about it? Well, it was normal in Roman society in those days for people to pay speakers. That was just the custom in those days. People expected to pay a speaker; and the speaker expected to be paid. And it bothered the Corinthians that they weren’t able to do what was customary when it came to Paul.
Now, back in 1 Corinthians, Paul made the point that he had the right to receive payment for his ministry, just as any worker has the right to receive payment for their labour. And in 1 Timothy 5, Paul quotes the Lord Jesus who said that the worker deserves his wages. So, a preacher deserves to be paid.
However, Paul also tells us in 1 Corinthians that while he had the right to receive payment, he was prepared to forego that right and preach the gospel for free, because he didn’t want to hinder the gospel in any way. You see, people can be put off the gospel if they think the preacher is only after their money. Isn’t that off-putting? I was reading this past week about the practice in reformed churches in the past to charge a pew rent. So, instead of lifting an offering, which is voluntary, each family had to pay a rent to sit in their pew each week. And there was a report of how a visitor sat down in church one week and someone came up and demanded that the visitor pay the rent. Presumably he didn’t go back.
So, asking for money is off-putting. And then, when a preacher relies on the people for his income, then perhaps he’s tempted to water down what he says so that he doesn’t offend the people who pay him. That’s a danger which preachers must resist, because we shouldn’t let anything keep us from preaching the whole counsel of God.
Well, Paul didn’t want to hinder the gospel in any way. And so, he preached the gospel for free. And according to verse 10, Paul would not let anyone change his mind on this.
And apart from not wanting to hinder the gospel, there was another reason why Paul wouldn’t take any payment for his ministry in Corinth. And it’s there in verse 12. Paul says he wanted to cut the ground from under the false preachers. So, it seems they were saying to the Corinthians that really there’s no difference between them and Paul. We’re just the same. But they were different, because Paul was clearly not in it for the money. Do you remember what Paul said back in chapter 2 about those who peddle the word of God for profit? He was talking about the false preachers who were only in it for what they could get out of it. And presumably they were paid very well in Corinth, because Corinth was a prosperous place. And Paul is saying to his readers: I’m not like them at all. I’m not like them at all. They may be impressive speakers, but I have knowledge of God and the Scriptures and I can teach you the truth. And they’re only in it for the money, but I’m in the ministry because I care for you deeply and I want to ensure that you remain pure and faithful to Christ the Saviour so that one day I’ll be able to present you to him as a pure and faithful bride. So, the false preachers were thinking about what they could get out of the Corinthians, but Paul was thinking about the spiritual well-being and the eternal destiny of the people.
Verses 13 to 15
And so, we come to verses 13 to 15 where Paul unmasks the false preachers. You see, I’m calling them false preachers, but they didn’t call themselves false preachers. When they came to Corinth, they didn’t announce to the congregation that they were false preachers. If they had, then the Corinthians would have shown them the door. And it would make our life a lot easier, if any false preachers told you in advance that that’s what they are. If you’re searching YouTube or watching the God Channel on TV, it would be helpful if a sign came up on the screen to warn you that the content you’re about to watch contains false teaching. Wouldn’t that be helpful?
But the false teachers in Corinth didn’t warn the believers and say that’s what they were. So, Paul has to unmask them. And in verse 13 he tells his readers that they’re false apostles and they’re deceitful workers and they’re masquerading as apostles of Christ. So, Paul pulls off their mask and he exposes them for what they are. And they’re fake. They’re not real.
And Paul goes on to say that this is not surprising, because Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. The commentators refer to passages from ancient books which depict the Devil appearing in disguise to fool the people. And some commentators think the Hebrew word for ‘serpent’ in Genesis 3 indicates that the serpent had a shiny or bright appearance. Maybe that’s why Paul says the Devil can disguise himself as an angel of light. In any case, the point is that if Satan — the Prince of Darkness — is able to masquerade as an angel of light, then his servants are also able to masquerade as servants of righteousness. And so, there they were in Corinth, preaching to the congregation. And perhaps they often mentioned the Lord Jesus in their preaching. And perhaps they often mentioned the gospel in their preaching. And it seemed to the Corinthians that they’re the real thing, they’re true and faithful preachers, sent by God. And they looked impressive, unlike Paul who was small and bald with bandy legs and who was weak and frail and who had been badly beaten. And they sounded impressive, because they had received all the proper training, whereas Paul’s preaching style was pretty pathetic in comparison. They looked impressive and they sounded impressive. So, they must be the real thing. But the truth is that they were servants of Satan, because they were doing what the Devil wanted, which was to confuse the believers in Corinth and to lead them away from Christ.
Here’s the thing. If the believers in Corinth could be fooled, then anyone can be fooled. We sometimes hear about scams and we wonder how could people be so foolish as to fall for them. But lots of people fall for them, because the con-men are so convincing. And these false preachers were so convincing in how they looked and in how they sounded that even the believers in Corinth were fooled. And I say even the believers in Corinth, because think about them for a moment. These are people who were led to the Lord by the Apostle Paul. These are people who sat under his ministry for many months as he taught them the word of the Lord. Imagine having Paul the Apostle as your preacher! What a privilege! And yet, even though they had come to faith through Paul’s ministry and had been taught by him, the believers in Corinth were fooled by these false preachers, who came to them, masquerading as ministers of righteousness.
And so, if they were able to be taken in and led astray by false preachers, then so can any believer. So, we need to be careful. And as I’ve said, false preachers don’t make it easy and announce in advance that they’re false preachers. And they might mention the Lord Jesus a lot and they might mention the gospel a lot. They will look the part and they will sound the part. But when they talk about the Lord Jesus, do they mean what the Bible says about him? And when they talk about the gospel, do they mean what the Bible says about the gospel? Are they preaching the real Jesus Christ, who suffered and died for sinners before rising from the dead? Are they preaching a made up Jesus or are they preaching the true Jesus? We need to be discerning.
And we need to bear in mind that the Devil hates the church and wants to destroy it. Here’s this church in Corinth. The people are meeting together to worship God, because they love him. And the Devil hates it when people worship God and love him. And so, he was able to use these false preachers to try to destroy the church. And so, we need to bear in mind that the Devil hates the church and we’re all involved in a spiritual battle. He will do everything he can to keep sinners from believing. And once a sinner believes, the Devil will do everything he can to distract that believer from a pure devotion to Christ. And he will do everything in his power to lead us astray. And so, we need to stand firm against the Devil and all his wicked schemes.
But just as the Devil will try to lead us astray with false preachers, so the Lord sends us true preachers to teach us about the real Lord Jesus and to teach us the true gospel, which is the good news of how the Son of God loved us and gave up his life on the cross to save us. The Lord sends us true preachers to preach the true gospel message about Jesus Christ. They may not be much to look at. They may not sound very impressive. They may be weak and frail and ordinary, like a jar of clay. But God is able to work powerfully through those weak and frail gospel preachers to convince and convert sinners to a true faith in Christ and to build up believers in holiness and comfort so that, one day, they’ll be presented before Christ the Saviour as a pure and faithful and radiant bride. So, ask the Lord to continue to raise up true gospel preachers and to send them out into all the world to declare the unsearchable riches of Christ.