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Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Corinthians 11:1-6

Paul and the False Apostles

11 I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 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. 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. Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. 6 Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s dislike of boasting unless it be boasting in the Lord.

The last four chapters of 2 Corinthians are about the false teachers in Corinth who are defaming Paul and filling the congregation with bad doctrine. Most of the controversy had ended already, but it wasn’t entirely over, and Paul wanted the Corinthians to stamp it out fully before he returned.

Paul has to defend himself and do what he dislikes most: boast about himself.

He asks the Corinthians to bear with him in ‘a little foolishness’, i.e. personal boasting (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says it was entirely justifiable and necessary (emphases mine):

In his case it was necessary; yet, seeing others might apprehend it to be folly in him, he desires them to bear with it. Note, As much against the grain as it is with a proud man to acknowledge his infirmities, so much is it against the grain with a humble man to speak in his own praise. It is no pleasure to a good man to speak well of himself, yet in some cases it is lawful, namely, when it is for the advantage of others, or for our own necessary vindication; as thus it was here.

John MacArthur says that Paul wants to hammer down on their disloyalty:

He’s saying, then, I want you to tolerate this latest confrontation, I want you to tolerate this foolish boasting in the Lord which is demanded by your foolish disloyalty. And here are four reasons why I want you to tolerate it because what is at stake is your loyalty to God, your loyalty to Christ, your loyalty to the gospel, and your loyalty to the truth. I mean there’s a lot at stake.

He uses the analogy of marriage to express his ‘divine jealousy’ — ‘godly jealousy’ in some translations — because he wanted to present them to Christ as being doctrinally pure, as a virgin would be on her wedding night (verse 2). He says ‘divine jealousy’ because he was jealous and fearful on God’s behalf. They were turning away from scriptural doctrine for another ‘Jesus’, the one promoted by the false teachers who had come from outside Corinth.

MacArthur expands on what Paul meant:

It’s not me that I’m worried about, it’s you that I’m worried about. I’m not concerned about my Christian experience, I’m not concerned about my relationship to the Lord, that’s as it should be. What I am concerned about is yours. I’m grieved that you might get seduced away from me and therefore you draw unto these false teachers, you’re going to wind up with error and iniquity and your own life is going to be a shambles. I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy.

What might appear to them as foolishness is extreme concern motivated by jealousy. He is jealous of the betrayal as a husband would feel for an unfaithful wife who pursued other lovers. It’s not selfish. He’s quick to add, “With a godly jealousy.” Literally, the jealousy of God. He’s saying I am jealous for God. You are being disloyal to God, that’s what he’s saying. This is a righteous indignation. This is a righteous jealousy. The Corinthian defection was disloyal to God.

This, by the way, is a major theme in the Old Testament, as you know, this whole issue of disloyalty to God. In Exodus chapter 20 and verse 5 it says, “The Lord is a jealous God.” Well, what is – what is that context? That’s the context of laying down the law that you shall have no other gods. Why? Because God is a jealous God. Deuteronomy 4:24 says, “The Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” And that is repeated in Deuteronomy 5:9 and 6:15. Deuteronomy 32:16, “They made Him jealous with strange gods.” Joshua 24:19, “He’s a holy God, He’s a jealous God.” Nahum 1:2 says essentially the same thing. Psalm 78:58, “They aroused His jealousy with their graven images.”

Paul was feeling the pain of God’s jealousy. Paul was feeling the pain of God’s own heart.

Paul says he fears the Corinthians will be led away from the truth in the same way as the serpent deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden (verse 3).

MacArthur explains how crafty the serpent — Satan — was with Eve:

Eve was deceived. Let me just tell you something. You all know the story of Adam and Eve, and the serpent in the garden, and all of that. I want you to understand clearly, I do not believe for a moment Eve believed she was sinning. I don’t believe she was overtly, purposely rebelling against God. She was deceived, and deception means she thought she was being given the right information, and that heretofore, she had had the wrong information. She thought she had been deceived, and now things were clarified; and that is always the approach of false teachers.

They come, and they cast the truth as error, and then offer error as the truth. That’s the way it always is. Let’s go back to Genesis 3, and see how Satan did that, in the prototypical illustration of deception. Genesis, chapter 3 – and obviously, we don’t have time to cover everything here – but there are some points that we need to make. “The serpent” – it says in verse 1 – “was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.” The serpent now has a special identity because Satan, who is a spirit being, an angel, has taken up residence in this serpent, and can even speak through the serpent; and so, the serpent comes to the woman.

Finding the woman – because the woman is out from under the headship and protection of her husband, he finds her – isolates her, gets her alone, and in typical fashion, here is the model seduction; here is the model religious seduction. Here’s how it goes. “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” Now, God had said that; clearly, God had said, “Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. Clearly, God had said that; Satan knew God had said that. But he brings it up as if it were unclear.

And the first thing you want to do with the truth is to cast doubt on it, and that’s what all false teaching does. And Satan just says, “You don’t really mean that God said you can’t eat of something in the garden? I mean, you understand now, there’s nothing there but perfection; why does there have to be prohibition? Since there’s no such thing as wrong, how could anybody do it? Surely, you don’t understand what God meant. I mean, you must have missed that, Eve. I mean, God said you shouldn’t eat of some tree in the garden? You couldn’t have heard it right …

“The truth is – let me give you the truth; now – now that you realize you really haven’t understood God, let me tell you the real truth. God knows that in the day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Now, how do we understand this? I’ll tell you how we understand it from Satan’s side. This is right down Satan’s alley. Satan wants Eve. He wants Eve out of God’s hands. He wants to wrench Eve out of the hands of God; and he knows how. All you have to do is get her to take steps to be like God, and she’ll get thrown out of paradise.

How does he know that? That’s exactly what he did. He knows that very well, because when he wanted to exalt himself to be like God, he got thrown out of paradise; now, he wants her out of there, too. From her standpoint, she doesn’t understand the motivation of Satan. He is trying to rip a soul out of the hands of God; He’s trying to damn a soul. But from her viewpoint, it sounds like, “Oh, you mean if I do this, I’ll be like God?” This is the original Gnostic heresy. “I’ll have the elevated knowledge? I’ll have the super-knowledge? I’ll have the transcendent knowledge?

“I’ve been so confused. I thought I understood about that tree, and I thought I understood about the fact that we would die – even though I don’t know what prohibition means, and I don’t know what it means to disobey, and I don’t know what it means to die, because nothing around here dies. I – maybe I have misunderstood it, and now, you’re telling me, if I will do this, I can be like God?” My – if I said that to you as a Christian, “If you do this, you’ll be like God,” you’d say, “I want to do that, because the goal of my life is to be like Him, isn’t it?”

So – so from her standpoint, it sounded perfect, absolutely perfect; and that’s always the way. The false teacher comes, and says, “We’ll show you the true knowledge; we’ll lift you up; we’ll make you like God.” Like the Mormons say, “We’ll make you into gods. We’ll lift you right up, and you’ll forever and eternally rule your own planet, as the god of your own planet.” That’s always what the false teachers say. Well, the woman said, “I better check this tree out.” So, she “saw the tree was good for food, saw that it was delight to the eyes, and it was desirable to make her wise.”

Paul then says that the Corinthians, who had heard the truth about Jesus, put up readily enough with a false teacher, welcoming him to their pulpit (verse 4).

MacArthur says:

he says, “You bear this beautifully.” You took it, you gave him the pulpit, you accepted it. You have already shown an immense and deadly vulnerability. This, by the way, is a pastor’s heart. This is the attitude of true pastoral care.

He points out the use of the word ‘comes’ in that verse. It is the opposite of ‘sends’, as in God’s sending a true preacher:

He starts the sentence by saying “For if one comes and preaches” – and I just stop there long enough to say it could be translated since, because it’s really not hypothetical. One had come, and more than one had come. He’s not talking about a hypothetical situation, really; there was a real situation.

They had come. The false teachers had come. The false apostles had come. They had come on their own. And by the way, it’s important just to note, he says, “For since one comes” is in distinction from one being sent. He who comes is in direct contrast to he who is sent by God, namely an apostle like Paul. They had come on their own, and the Corinthians had given them the pulpit, accepting the preachers, who had come with their lies. They came, and they “preached another Jesus whom we have not preached.” It was not the Jesus Paul had preached.

False teachers always affirm Jesus, but they also always introduce error:

Here came these false teachers, subtle, but it was another Jesus. It always is. You can always tell error because of its Christology. They always corrupt who Christ is. Mormonism believes that Jesus is the spirit child of God, and so are all of us, so he’s one of us. He was – he came in the flesh, but he was a spirit child of God. We’re all spirit children of God, so we’re all creatures; he’s a creature, like us. That’s another Jesus. “That’s not the Jesus,” Paul says, “whom we preach.”

I don’t know what the false apostles said about Jesus; it doesn’t tell us. Really, Paul never does outline error for us; it’s not helpful. They came into the Corinthian church from the outside – just as Satan did into the garden of Eden, which was the paradise of God. And likely, they – they were Palestinian Jews, who allegedly sought to bring the Corinthians under the correct teaching, and they said they came from the Jerusalem church. They were, in a sense, Judaizers, seeking to impose Jewish customs on the believers; but – but different than Judaizers, because they made no issue out of circumcision, and they made no particular issue out of the usual legalism.

Actually, they encouraged – encouraged licentious liberties. They exalted rhetoric. They were heavy into oratory. They were charmed by Greek philosophy and culture. They claimed to be the apostles of Christ, and representatives of the Jerusalem church, and they said that Paul was a fraud. They identified somehow with Jesus – the name Jesus – but it was a different Jesus. We don’t know anything more about the particulars of their religion, and I’m glad Paul didn’t waste any time defining their defect. They had somehow invented another Jesus.

You have to listen so carefully, because Satan is so seductive. They talk about Jesus. They love Jesus. Jesus is the Savior. But it’s not the true Jesus. Secondly, he says, “If one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received.” Now, what Spirit had they received when they believed? The Holy Spirit; at the time a person believes, they receive the Holy Spirit. But the false apostles came with a different spirit.

Paul refers to the false teachers as ‘super-apostles’ — a bit of sarcasm — saying that he is not at all inferior to them (verse 5).

MacArthur discusses the wording:

This is what I call a minimalistic statement. He says, “I consider myself not in the least inferior.” I mean, he is so hesitant to say anything self-promoting, that he says the bare minimum. He’s saying – he’s not saying, “They’re equal to me,” but he’s saying, “I’m at least equal to them.” Again, you see his humility in this …

There he is, sarcastic again – the extra-super guys – “even though” – and here he goes, right back to it – “I’m a nobody.” He felt so comfortable referring to himself in the most base terms; and it was such a foreign thing for have to – for him to have to elevate himself. This is a remarkable man; a remarkable man.

He then says that, even if he is not the most gifted speaker, what he lacks in oratory he more than makes up for in knowledge and says he has made that clear to the Corinthians in all things (verse 6).

The false teachers were no doubt gifted speakers, and the Greeks loved oratory as well as physical presence.

MacArthur says:

The guy wasn’t attractive physically, and he couldn’t speak. Where is the impressive oratory? Where is the compelling rhetoric? Where is the knowledge of Greek philosophy? They were so used to that in their culture; they worshiped eloquence. I mean, they used to go down – you know, you read these stories about the Greek philosophers – they used to go down to the river, and fill their mouth with marbles, and learn how to articulate with all these little round stones in their mouths, teaching themselves how to articulate …

And the word unskilled – are you ready for this? It’s the Greek word idiōtēs; it’s the word for idiot in English. It has a contemptuous edge. “I know, I’m an idiot as an orator,” is what he’s saying. “I know that; rude and crude,” and they said amateurish, untrained, common, unrefined, and ordinary.

That’s what the word means, idiōtēs. He was no orator. He was clear. He was profound. But he didn’t have any of the oratorical finery. It – it was – to him, it wasn’t the technique, it was the truth, that was captivating, right? Only truth and clarity concerned Paul, and the simpler, the better.

Paul’s ministry ended on an unfortunate note, as MacArthur explains:

Churches to whom he had given so much of himself, and even more importantly, to whom he had given the gospel of Jesus Christ – churches where he had preached and evangelized, and where he had founded the church and ordained the elders – have slipped into periods of serious disloyalty, even before the pages of the New Testament are closed. We read the seven letters to the churches in the book of Revelation, and the first century is not even over yet, and five of the seven manifest serious, deep, endemic disloyalty that threatens their future existence.

By the time Paul came to the end of his life, after such a notable career as a preacher and teacher of the truth of God – at times early in his career, even a worker of miracles – it’s almost unbelievable to read the level of disloyalty that occurred at the end of his life. It should have been that as people got to know him better, and as the evidences of his power, and the expression of the Spirit of God through him, began to multiply as he founded church after church after church, and as he wrote letter after letter after letter.

And as the pattern of his godly example became more familiar to everybody in the known Christian world, you would have assumed that by the end of his life, there would be a tremendous crescendo of loyalty to the man, because of all that had gone before in such unflinching and unwavering devotion to Christ. But the sad fact is that when he went to pen the last letter he ever wrote, when he was a prisoner awaiting his imminent execution – that epistle being 2 Timothy – he says to Timothy, in chapter 1 of that epistle, and verse 15, “You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me.”

Disloyalty on such a widespread level that he says, “All that are in Asia have turned away from me.” He names Phygelus and Hermogenes as two illustrations. It’s almost unthinkable. It’s almost inconceivable that there would be such manifest disloyalty to Paul, and consequently to what he taught. At the end of that epistle, the last chapter he ever wrote, chapter 4, he says in verse 9, almost with a melancholy tone, “Make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, for having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.”

One can only imagine the deep hurt and pain that Paul felt at the desertion of Demas. Nothing new, really. Verse 16 of the same chapter, “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me.” I suppose anybody in ministry has to be ready to face disloyalty. I don’t think Paul really felt it so profoundly because it just involved him, but because he understood the implications. Disloyalty to the apostle Paul was tantamount to disloyalty to the one whose ambassador he was.

Disloyalty to the apostle Paul, being ashamed of Paul, was being ashamed of Christ, for Paul was really lost in Christ. Paul, who said, “But for me to live is Christ.” Paul, who said, “I’m crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” Paul was almost indistinguishable from Christ. His words were not his words, they were Christ’s words. His demands were Christ’s demands. His character was Christ’s character coming through. It was he who said, “Be ye followers of me, as I am of Christ.” And a rejection of Paul, disloyalty to Paul, was a tacit disloyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ, and that’s what was so heart-wrenching about it for him.

It wasn’t that he needed to accumulate fans; it was that that was betraying an evident defection from Christ. Sad. As we come to 2 Corinthians, we have to say that such a defection had begun in the Corinthian church. The Corinthian church had manifested signs of disloyalty; serious, deep disloyalty. And this disloyalty so greatly concerned Paul that he wrote this epistle, called 2 Corinthians. And he wrote the epistle to confront the disloyalty in this manner: to confront the disloyalty by affirming and defining, clearly and comprehensively, the integrity of his own ministry.

Returning to 2 Corinthians 11, Paul has much more to say to the Corinthians about himself and the false teachers.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 11:7-11

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