Teaching series from 2 Corinthians

How to Fall Prey to Spiritual Deception

2 Corinthians 11:1-21

Teaching t05797


Read vs 1-3. The Corinthian Christians are being spiritually deceived, and Paul is motivated by godly jealousy to intervene.

We are in the same situation today--spiritual deception is just as real, and spiritual intervention is just as important.

Because of Paul's ironic/sarcastic tone, we have to interpret much of what follows in almost the opposite way that he states it. His "compliments" identify where they are going wrong, and his "apologies" identify his own spiritual authenticity.

Assume everyone who speaks positively about Jesus is from God.

Read vs 4. Paul "congratulates" the Corinthians for their spiritual open-mindedness. They are ready and willing to assume that anyone who spoke positively about Jesus was from God. In a religiously pluralistic culture like theirs (and ours), the enlightened perspective is to be basically positive about anything spiritual.

Paul, however, views this as a recipe for spiritual disaster. Why? Because the spiritual realm, just like the economic realm, is not all good. Just as there are financial scam artists and con-men, there are also spiritual scam artists and con-men. We don't call someone who assumes the honesty of every phone solicitor "enlightened"--we call them "gullible!" And Paul's "congratulations" to the Corinthians is really a criticism of their spiritual gullibility.

Read vs 13. He says these men are fakes--their whole message is a counterfeit of the real thing. Their Jesus isn't the Savior whose death paid for all sin--it is a Jesus who is merely a moral example. Their "spirit" isn't the Holy Spirit who ushers us into a relationship of personal freedom with God--it is the spirit of fear and bondage. And therefore, their gospel isn't the good news of God's complete forgiveness and a personal relationship with God--it is one more man-centered works religion.

In fact, there is a spiritual scam artist who energizes all human religious con-men. Read vs. 14,15. Do you think Satan is going to send you someone who says, "Hi! I'm from the Devil and I've come to ruin your life . . . ?" No, he's going to send you someone who says, "Hi! I'm from God/Jesus and I'm here to bring you spiritual insight that will make you happy forever . . . " Because there is a real spiritual Deceiver, we should expect spiritual counterfeits.

"That sounds awfully judgmental! Where does he get off saying something like that?" He gets it directly from Jesus himself! Read Matt. 24. And just like he said, the last two thousand years has witnessed one Christian counterfeit after another (EARLY LEGALISM & GNOSTICISM >> ESTABLISHED CULTS, 1960'S OUTBREAK, NEW AGE JESUS, etc.).

This raises the question of how we may discern spiritual counterfeits from the real thing . . .

Pay primary attention to the subjective impact of the messenger.

Read vs 5,6. Why did the Corinthian Christians buy this false spiritual currency? They couldn't claim biblical ignorance (like the RUSSIAN Christians) because they received personal instruction from the apostle Paul. Paul gives us a hint here. Their culture, like ours, valued style over substance, form over content. "Image is everything." What people valued was someone who looked impressive and who was skilled in Greek rhetoric (posture; intonation; etc.). If they were moved emotionally, they were ready to "buy."

Here's a great way to fall prey to spiritual deception: pay primary attention to the subjective impact of the messenger. When Christians accept this dictum, they are sitting ducks. Whoever has the most personal charisma, whoever claims to be able to do miracles, whoever has the ability to whip us the most emotion, etc. must be from God.

EXAMPLE: Rodney Howard-Browne & "Toronto Blessing"

You can see that Paul has a different criterion for spiritual authenticity. He readily acknowledges that he wasn't a "medium master"--but he says that's not the most important thing. Rather, "knowledge" is what counts most in spiritual things. By "knowledge," Paul is referring not to IQ or academic degrees, but to knowledge of God's revealed Word.

If you want to avoid spiritual deception, pay primary attention to the objective content of the message. This is what the Bible tells us over and over again:

  • Read 1 John 4:1-3. No matter how charismatic the speaker, what he says about Jesus is the issue.
  • Read Deut. 13:1-3. No matter how supernatural the experience was, the message must agree with God's revealed Word.
  • Read Gal. 1:8. No matter how famous or impressive the messenger, it is false unless it agrees with the apostolic gospel.

QUALIFICATION: I'm not saying that the most boring medium is best, or that all subjective spiritual experience is wrong. I'm just saying that when it comes to discerning spiritual truth from error, this is the wrong measure.

Accept spiritualized justifications of financial greed.

Read vs 7. Paul "apologizes" for not charging the Corinthians money for ministering to them. He does the same thing in 12:13 (read). What's the point here, and what does it have to do with spiritual deception?

Traveling teachers in the Roman world were a lot like people on the college/political lecture circuits today--their value and legitimacy was gauged by their speaking fee. The false apostles brought this mentality over into the Christian community. They charged heavily for their services, and they said this was the proof of their spiritual value. Since Paul never presented them a bill and performed manual labor while in Corinth, this was proof that he knew he was a "minor leaguer." They even implied that his unwillingness to charge them (he received money from other churches) revealed that he did not love them! This whole elaborate explanation was obviously nothing more than an excuse to get rich off them.

So if you want to fall prey to spiritual deception, be sure to accept spiritualized justifications of financial greed. Nothing has changed here. Religion is still big business. We still have all kinds of people running around in the name of Christ claiming that true spirituality results in financial prosperity (POSITIVE CONFESSIONALISTS), and all kinds of gullible Christians who are prepared to pay.

On the other hand, if you want to avoid spiritual deception, look for evidence of financial integrity and sacrifice.

Paul again is our model. As an apostle, he had the right to receive their financial support (1 Cor. 9:4-14). But when he realized that this might jeopardize their spiritual welfare, he had the integrity to waive that right.

  • Read vs 8,9. He wasn't against receiving money from those who had already benefited form his ministry, but he never received money on his first visit because he wanted to model the free-ness of God's grace. He also did it to model financially responsible living (2 Thess. 3:6ff.).
  • Read vs 10-12. He was also prepared to go on working manually and suffering want rather than forfeit the moral high-ground to religious flakes like these guys.
  • Fruitful Christian workers should normally be paid so they're able to live at a reasonable level (read 1 Tim. 5:17,18). But they should be above reproach and free from the love of money (read 1 Tim. 3:3), which includes generosity in financial giving and the integrity to make spiritual decisions that are free from considerations of personal financial advantage.

Look for leaders who want to run your life and make all your decisions for you.

Paul pays the Corinthians one last "compliment" in vs. 19,20 (read). The false apostles were tyrants who used their authority to throw their weight around (EXAMPLES). For some reason, the Corinthian Christians submitted to this tyranny.

If you want to fall prey to spiritual deception, look for leaders who want to run your life and make all your decisions for you. There are always people around who are ready to do this in the name of spiritual authority. Life becomes relatively simple--just obey whatever the leader tells you to do, and you are spiritual. Of course, this mentality always stunts spiritual growth, and often leads to disaster (JONESTOWN; BRANCH DAVIDIANS).

Paul "apologizes" that he hasn't measured up in this area, either (read vs 21a). He knew that Jesus had given him great authority--but that he was to use that authority to serve them (4:5) and to help them mature (10:8). He used his authority to provide positive direction for the church, and he was prepared to use it in a disciplinary way when biblical absolutes were at stake (1 Cor. 5).

But Paul knew that his authority was limited to the above spheres, and there is no evidence that he used it to tell people what to do elsewhere. The other reason he refrained from this is that spiritual maturity involves voluntary submission to God's will, and the wisdom to make good decisions. This, along with the fact that they will answer to God and not us, requires giving people freedom to choose, and urging them to seek out the Lord rather than just do what we say.

So if you want to avoid spiritual deception, look for leaders who promote freedom and maturity within biblical parameters.


Those of us who are successfully avoiding spiritual deception have a responsibility to provide authentic spiritual direction for others! Be like Paul--be able to exemplify these qualities!