Teaching series from 2 Corinthians

Four Great Ways to Get Spiritually Deceived

2 Corinthians 11:1-21

Teaching t08988


Remind that Paul led these folks to Christ some years earlier. Chapter 11 brings us to one of the key purposes of this letter. Read 11:1-3. The Corinthian Christians are in danger of being spiritually deceived/led astray from their devotion to Christ. (SO TODAY?)

Paul is motivated by godly jealousy to intervene by exposing the deceivers. He decides to do this by using heavy irony and sarcasm--he notifies them and us of this in 11:1. Therefore, we have to interpret much of what follows in almost the opposite way that he states it. His "compliments" and "congratulations" actually identify where they are going wrong, while his "apologies" actually identify his own authenticity as a spiritual leader.

In keeping with Paul's ironic tone, I have entitled this teaching "4 Great Ways to Get Spiritually Deceived." If you want to be led astray spiritually, here are four hot tips.

Assume that everyone who speaks positively of Jesus is from God.

Read 11:4. Paul begins by "congratulating" the Corinthians for their spiritual open-mindedness. The teachers by whom they were being deceived didn't speak negatively about Jesus. They spoke positively about him--but "morphed" him into someone different than the real Jesus. (In this case, a moral teacher who shows us how to earn God's acceptance rather than a Savior who dies to earn God's acceptance for us.) The Corinthians just gulped it down. So here is the first tip: Assume that everyone who speaks positively of Jesus is from God. Beneath this assumption lies a more basic assumption that is common today—that everything spiritual is basically good and benevolent. Different Jesuses are like different varieties of apples at the grocery store—they are different, but they're all good and nutritious.

Paul, however, views this assumption as incredible naiveté and a recipe for spiritual disaster. Read 11:13-15. The spiritual realm is not like apples at a grocery store. It is more like hunting for mushrooms in the wild—the stakes are high on eating mushrooms versus toadstools (which look like mushrooms, but are often fatally poisonous). It is more like the telemarketing world--a mixture of honest businessmen and scam artists. What would you call someone who assumes the honesty and good will of every phone solicitor? Open-minded--or a sucker? "Let the buyer beware" is therefore a good warning unless you want to get taken to the cleaners!

The same thing is true of the spiritual realm, according to Paul. There are malicious spiritual entities as well as benevolent ones. There is a real God, but there is also a real Adversary to God, and one of Satan's favorite ploys is to disguise himself as an angel of light. There are spokesmen for God, but there are also spokesmen for Satan who disguise themselves as servants of God and dish up counterfeit Jesuses in order to deceive the unwary. And the stakes are much higher than telemarketing...

For this reason, Paul's actual advice is expect counterfeit forms of Christianity. And he is echoing Jesus' warning that this would be Satan's favorite strategy throughout the Church Age (read Matt.24:4,5,24,25). And the last 2000 years has witnessed the fulfillment of this prediction through a continuous proliferation of one counterfeit Jesus after another right up to the present day (NEW AGE; JESUS SEMINAR; THERAPEUTIC; MORMON; JEHOVAH'S WITNESS).

This raises an obvious and pressing question: How can we discern counterfeits from the real thing? Paul's answer to this question is contained in his next hot tipon how to get deceived...

Pay primary attention to the experience the messenger gives you.

Read 11:5,6. 11:6 is a mock apology--"I'm sorry that I'm not a great orator." How did the Corinthian Christians get suckered by these false teachers? Their culture valued experience over content. What people wanted was a public speaker who looked impressive and who was skilled in Greek rhetoric (posture; intonation; dramatic pause, musical cadence, etc.). Because the false teachers moved them by this kind of performance, the Corinthians were ready to “buy" their message. By contrast, Paul was unimpressive (read 10:10)--so they were ready to dump him. So here's another hot tip if you want to get spiritually deceived--pay primary attention to the experience the messenger gives you.

We live in a culture that is even more experience-oriented than theirs. Our culture values style over substance (“Image is everything"), form over content, entertainment over information. And Christians are largely conformed to our culture in this area. Whoever is the most spell-binding speaker, whoever claims to be able to do miracles, whoever has the ability to whip up the most emotion, etc. must be from God (EXAMPLES).

You can see that Paul has a different criterion for spiritual authenticity. He was not against healthy spiritual experience--but he says it’s not the acid test for spiritual authenticity. Rather, “knowledge” is what counts most in spiritual authenticity. By “knowledge,” Paul is referring not to IQ or seminary degrees, but to knowledge of God’s revealed Word. If you want to avoid spiritual deception, evaluate the message in light of the Bible. This is what the Bible tells us over and over again:

Misread 1 John 4:1-3. No matter how charismatic the speaker, what he says about Jesus is the issue! (Note the content in the phrase "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh").

Read Deut.13:1-3. No matter how supernatural the experience is, if the message contradicts God’s revealed Word, you should not follow them!

Read Gal. 1:8. No matter how famous or impressive the messenger (including Paul himself), he is false unless his message agrees with the apostolic gospel!

Paul is incredulous. The Corinthian Christians had no excuse, because they had access to Paul's personal instruction. And we have no excuse today, because we have the same access through the Bible. God has given us his Word, and he expects us to learn it well enough to avoid spiritual deception! Jesus praises the Ephesian Christians because they did this (read Rev. 2:2)--can he praise you for the same thing?

Accept spiritual justifications of financial greed.

Read 11:7. Paul “apologizes” for not charging the Corinthians money for ministering to them. He does the same thing in 12:13 (read--"Sorrrrry!"). 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 evidently brought this mentality into the Christian community. They charged heavily for their services, and they said this was the proof of their spiritual value. Since Paul never charged them (and even performed manual labor while in Corinth), this was proof that he was an amateur. 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 bilk them!

So if you want to fall prey to spiritual deception, be sure to accept spiritual 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, and all kinds of gullible Christians who are prepared to pay (usually because they hope to get rich, too).

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 11:8,9. 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 (2Thess.3:6ff.).

Read 11:10-12. 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 (not lavish) level (read 1Tim.5:17,18). But they should be above reproach and free from the love of money (read 1Tim.3:3), which includes generosity in financial giving and the integrity to make spiritual decisions that are free from considerations of personal financial advantage. Authentic churches also practice open financial books and have financial accountability.

Follow leaders who want to run your life.

Paul pays the Corinthians one last “compliment” in 11:19,20 (read). The false apostles were tyrants who used their authority to throw their weight around. For some reason, the Corinthian Christians submitted to this tyranny.

If you want to fall prey to spiritual deception, follow leaders who want to run your life. There are always people around who are ready to do this in the name of spiritual authority (CULT EXAMPLES). Life becomes relatively simple--just obey whatever the leaders tell 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 11:21a). If you want to avoid spiritual deception, his advice is to look for leaders who promote freedom within biblical parameters. He knew that Jesus had given him great authority--but that he was to use that authority to serve them and to help them mature (read 10:8). He also 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. This is because he knew 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.

Let's listen to Barb Smith's account of how she found her way into and out of this kind of spiritual deception...

GOSPEL: Whether you have been imprisoned by spiritual tyranny or not, you can have the same liberation Barb talks about. Come to the real Jesus of the New Testament, receive his gift of forgiveness and his Holy Spirit, and let his Word guide you into the freedom and security of a love relationship with him.