2 Corinthians 11:1 – 15
Don’t be so gullible!
“Don’t be so gullible!”
None of us want to be told, that, do we?
Whether it’s when we were kids, and a friend comes up to us in the school yard, all very earnestly, telling us, “Did you hear, the word ‘gullible’ has been taken out of the dictionary?”
And any response that suggests for a moment that we had been taken in, results in much laughter and mocking from everyone around!
My sister and I were big fans of the Back to the Future movies, having grown up in the 80s, and one of the advantages of making a movie about time travel is that the writers can use the same gags over and over again, even across multiple generations!
And so in the story, the school bully, constantly picks on another character, telling him his shoe’s untied. And every time he looks down at his shoe, the bully smacks him in the face, again, to the amusement of everyone standing around, and he’d tell this poor guy, “don’t be so gullible.”
And because it keeps happening over and over, even though the poor guy is a repeat victim of minor physical assault, you want to grab him and say, “don’t be so gullible!
Why do you keep falling for this every time?”
Don’t be so gullible.
A lack of discernment mean people are led away from Jesus (v 1 – 4)
Well, that is the Apostle Paul’s plea, to the church in Corinth as this section of the letter opens. See the last line of that first paragraph, you put up with it easily enough.
And if we kind of imagine, “I don’t really need to pay too much attention to what I read, or hear, or take in, what books I read, what Christian podcast I listen to,
The Apostle Paul is so worried about the gullibility and lack of discernment among the Christians in Corinth, that he deliberately starts to talk in a way that he’s just said, is no way to talk at all!
See there at the end of chapter 10, For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.
ie don’t boast, don’t commend yourself.
But the stakes are so high,
Who you listen to, and what you take on board matters so much, that Paul decides to act a little foolish.
See verse 1, I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me!
Paul knows it’s completely stupid to commend himself and to boast,
But that’s what the Corinthians are into, that’s the only language they listen to.
This is the way these other Christian ministers in Corinth who Paul, rather tongue-in-cheek, calls, super-apostles, this is how they liked to talk about themselves;, boasting and commending themselves all the time.
You know how if your grandmother wants to talk to you, she needs to learn to text and to WhatsApp, because you don’t visit her and you don’t ring her?
If she wants to talk to you she needs to learn to speak your language?
That’s what Paul’s doing here.
He wants to say “Don’t be so gullible, you’ll be led astray”, or in slightly more precise language;, A lack of discernment mean people are led away from Jesus
Let’s hear what Paul says, verse 2, 2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ
What was the serpent’s technique in the Garden of Eden?
Not initially an outright denial of God’s Word, though that did come later,
But initially a deception, an attempt to undermine God’s goodness;,
Did God really say?,
A hint that God’s withholding something from you,
Sowing the seed of doubt that maybe God doesn’t really have your best interests at heart.
It’s deception, and cunning, that leads to death.
And notice, it’s not just led astray from this particular way of doing things,
It’s not led astray from “thinking the Dundonald way”!
The danger is that people might be, verse 3, led astray from their sincere and pure devotion to Christ
This is people in church,
They turn up to KG,
They read their Bibles,
And yet they might be led astray from, Christ
And maybe we think, yes well, this is never going to be a problem for us, for our church,
We’re not that gullible,
We’re not going to be led astray,
Dundonald has serious Bible teaching,
We’re constantly taught by Richard, and Tom and Santhosh, and, and that Australian guy!
This could never happen to us!
The church founded by the Apostle Paul.
Taught and built up by Apollos.
The recipients, we think of 3 letters from the Apostle Paul prior to this one.
Don’t be so gullible.
But also, get a sense of how God feels about us, about you.
Did you hear Paul’s language in verse 2? 2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy
Because human jealousy tends to be selfish, and about controlling other people, and about what’s best for me, we’re suspicious of jealousy.
Human jealousy minimises a person, treats them like an object,
Like they exist for my benefit.
Think of the jilted ex-boyfriend. He’s jealous for the woman, not because he wants what’s best for her, but because he wants something for himself.
But God unashamedly describes himself in the Bible as a jealous God, because God’s jealously is not the selfish, controlling jealousy that we know, and maybe even have experienced.
God’s jealously is an overflowing of love, that seeks what is best for the other person.
Why is God jealous for the Corinthians, for Christians today?
Why does he not want us to be led astray from, sincere and pure devotion to Christ?
Well, not because he needs us?
Not because he’ll be lonely, if he doesn’t have that church in Wimbledon to keep him company!
No, he’s jealous for us, not wanting us to be led astray from Jesus, because there is no hope apart from Jesus.
God’s jealousy and desire to keep us from falsehood is an over-flowing of his great love for us.
Now, we don’t usually use the word “jealousy”, but why do I want my kids to get into my car but not a stranger’s car?
Well, not because of some petty insecurity that they might like the stranger’s car more than mine, that’s how we usually think of jealousy, but because I love them and I’m concerned for their well-being and safety, so I say “don’t get into a stranger’s car.”
And so here Paul says he’s jealous for the Corinthians, literally “with the jealousy of God.” He feels about people the way God feels about people.
And the language of betrothal there is pretty foreign to us, but imagine tomorrow morning Boris gets on a plane to Washington, and signs a deal to make Britain the 51st US State.
All US law suddenly becomes British law, and he hands over 20 billion pounds, and says “here’s this year’s contribution, I’ll be back in 12 months with the next lot.”
And you think, “No, no no! We’ve just been through all that! You can’t just give us to the Americans!”
To be given to someone you don’t belong to should evoke this kind of response within us,
But the Corinthians are being led away from who they belong to and given to someone else.
And God will not sit idly by, while Satan seeks to snatch God’s people from his hands.
What kind of love would God have, if he was happy for his people just to get sucked in by a clever-sounding message, and led away from Jesus?
Like a parent saying, “OK, if my kids want to go off in a stranger’s car, that’s fine. At least they get some sweets.”
Actually, that sickens us, doesn’t it?
That’s no love at all.
Do you hear that reassurance?
This warning, don’t be so undiscerning that you’re led astray, comes in love.
So, don’t settle for a different Jesus, spirit, or gospel
So, then, don’t settle for a different, Jesus, spirit, or gospel, since this is what will lead you away from Jesus.
Look at verse 4 with me, For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
A different Jesus,
Or a different spirit,
Or a different gospel,
Will lead you away from Christ.
And really, this is why Paul is so worried, notice the very beginning of verse 4 for if someone comes to you, with one of these alternative messages, you put up with it easily enough.
They are not discerning.
For some Christians, the risk is that they’ll put their trust in, verse 4, a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached.
A friend of mine once posted online a screenshot from his Uber app. His driver had arrived, and so the app told him, “Jesus has arrived in a Honda Accord.”
Of course, it wasn’t Jesus, it was a Spanish-speaking guy called Je-sus, but the issue here isn’t that there’s another guy called Jesus, but that Christians are at risk of putting their trust in a made up Jesus.
We know that the false apostles in Corinth liked to focus on Jesus’ power and glory.
For them the Christian life was always about victory and strength, it was never about weakness.
But of course we’ve seen in 2 Corinthians, that the shape of true Christian ministry is the Word of God, in weakness,
And so a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached is probably a message about a Jesus who didn’t suffer,
A Jesus who doesn’t call us to suffer as we follow in his footsteps.
I’m sure they talked lots about Jesus, but not Jesus crucified,
Not Jesus, willingly humiliated, for the sake of sinful people, crucified on a Roman cross.
And yet Paul’s gospel, the one message that brings life and forgiveness, is that of the crucified Jesus.
And any Jesus, who’s not the real deal is, well, is useless.
If your picture of Jesus is not who Jesus is, then your Jesus doesn’t exist!
And you’ll think Jesus has promised things that he hasn’t.
You’ll think you’re living the way Jesus wants you to live, when in actual fact, the real Jesus is over there somewhere calling you to follow him that way!
One of the most desperately sad funerals I’ve ever been to, was for the wife of a pastor I knew, and this pastor and his church were convinced that Jesus promised full and complete healing in this life.
That is they had drifted away from the Jesus of the New Testament, and had followed some other idea of Jesus.
And when this woman got sick they thought Jesus had promised her healing,
So when she died, they were shocked, discouraged, and angry at Jesus who they thought had failed to keep his promise.
In Paul’s words, they’d believed in a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached
Imagine someone saying, “I’m a subject of Her Majesty, the Queen, who gifts a house to everyone in the UK on their 21st birthday.”
What’s the problem with believing in a Queen other than the one who actually exists in history?
You will be disappointed.
A Jesus who offers only health and prosperity, not hardship or weakness, is not the Jesus of history who the Bible reveals,
A Jesus who is capably only of love, and not righteous anger at sin,
A Jesus who overlooks middle class sins of greed and idolatry but focuses in on the sin and failures of people who aren’t like us, is not the Jesus made known in the Bible.
A Jesus like that is just a figment of someone’s imagination.
If we want what Jesus offers, we have to believe in the Jesus Paul preached, the real Jesus.
And then because they’re so gullible and will happily put up with the preaching of a different Jesus, the Corinthians are also willing to receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received.
The second Spirit there has a capital “S”, Paul’s saying you received the Holy Spirit, but just as to think something about Jesus that’s not true is to have a different Jesus,
To wilfully misunderstand the role of the Spirit is to not know the Spirit.
The Corinthians loved the idea of God’s Spirit equipping them for ministry in ways that made them look impressive, and drew attention to themselves.
But the Spirit gives gifts to God’s people, for the building up of the whole church, not for making one person look great.
They’d redefined the role of the Spirit of God, to the point that he was unrecognisable.
See if we start thinking about the gift that I’ve been given, as a way for me to get attention,
For me to be well thought of by others,
Then we’ve re-defined the role of the Spirit so much, he is unrecognisable, and it’s as if I’ve received a different spirit.
That’s the warning for us, isn’t it?
The way we think about the gifts that God has given us, will show us whether we’ve stuck with the message about Jesus handed down from the Apostles, or whether we’ve departed from it.
And a different Jesus, and a different spirit, actually leaves us with a different gospel.
Get these things wrong, and we’re no longer standing in the line of men and women who have believed Jesus’ words.
And without that message, we have nothing to offer people.
And it’s utterly cruel, to say to people, “come and hear about Jesus”, or simply by bearing the name Christian, to implicitly claim that we are his followers and representatives, but then to pull some kind of bait and switch, and when anyone walks through the doors, the Jesus they hear about,
The spirit they see at work,
The gospel they hear, will be, by definition, empty, and powerless.
Churches like ours talk a lot about truth.
We say truth matters.
We say we stand for the truth, and we call out falsehood when we see it.
Just last week Richard, our Senior Pastor, and a number of other Church of England leaders from south London signed a letter commending the CofE bishops for releasing a statement upholding the truth of the Bible’s teaching on marriage.
Why? Because truth matters.
Sadly, only a few days later the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, after copping some opposition in the press, put out a statement apologising for speaking the truth.
But as a church we say the truth matters, and sometimes even, people who don’t really like us, use that as a stick to beat us with;,
“You’re always concerned about the truth”
But truth matters,
Because people matter.
If we discover that we’ve been gullible,
If we’ve ended up with a different Jesus, or a different spirit and a different gospel,
All we can offer people is, a lie.
And people will be disappointed and broken, as they cling to something we no substance.
And they’ll be angry with God, because they’ll think he has broken his promises.
Truth matters, because people matter.
Paul was not inferior to the “super-apostles” (v 5 – 11)
But the gullibility of the Corinthians has led them to conclude that Paul was inferior to these other preachers who were ministering in Corinth, these ones he calls, there in verse 5, “super-apostles”
And the NIV is right to put it in air quotes!
They’re not super!
There are no capes in sight! They just think they’re super!
And Paul wants to point out, “I’m not less than they are.”
Let me read from verse 5, 5 I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” 6 I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way.
Paul is not inferior to the these flashy super-apostles, since true gospel ministry is about the truth in weakness, not rhetorical flourish.
True gospel ministry is about the truth in weakness, not rhetorical flourish
The Greek world idolised the kind of trained speakers who knew all the clever tricks to the audience eating of the palm of their hands.
They liked rhetoric, and eloquence.
And Paul wasn’t like that.
He didn’t use all the clever words and flowery arguments that showed he’d listened to all the right TED Talks and had been at all the right conferences.
And the Corinthians only wanted to listen to someone if they knew everyone else was listening to that person also.
It’s the difference today between being told something by a social media influencer with millions of followers, and being told something by the person handing our flyers in front of Wimbledon station.
Which one makes us want to get on board?
The one that seems popular and impressive.
And that’s the gullibility of the Corinthians.
They’ve been caught up by the fancy talk, and the showmanship of these “super-apostles”, and knowing that Paul didn’t have all that, they’d forgotten what he did have, knowledge.
Knowledge of the real Jesus,
The real Spirit,
The real gospel.
Which, as he says, We have made, perfectly clear to you in every way.
Which is somewhat ironic;,
“We may not have had cleverly constructed arguments, with every point starting with the same letter of the alphabet,
But actually what you heard from us was perfectly clear. You didn’t have any trouble understanding.
We offered you the true gospel of Jesus,
And our ministry among you was the true ministry of those who come in Jesus’ name;, the word of God, brought to you in weakness.
Of course, we want all of our church to be able to explain the good news of Jesus clearly to our friends and family.
And those here who have particular gifts of teaching, we want to work out how to equip you more, to be as effective as possible in that.
But none of that negates the fact that what matters in the ministry of the good news of Jesus, is the true Word of God being passed on in weakness, from ordinary people, to other ordinary people, not relying on clever arguments or manipulating emotions.
We mustn’t despise a ministry that speaks to our heart, in order to chase after something that tickles our ears.
Now, I think at different times probably all of us have been tempted to think, “I wish our church did seem more impressive,
I wish our message was more appealing, and those who lead us more popular with the world around us”,
I don’t think it’s uncommon for Christian people to feel that,
But if we leave that, kind of desire, unchecked, and it overflows into “well, therefore I want a different message,
Or I’m willing to tolerate a different message;,
A different Jesus, or spirit, or gospel, in order to get the upfront presentation that I think should be happening,
Or in order to have the kind of experience I’m looking for,
Or so that I can follow a church leader who’s loved by the world, and who’s every tweet goes viral”,
At that point, we’ve become gullible like the Corinthians, choosing an empty message wrapped up in fancy paper, or in purple lights and a smoke machine, rather than the Word of God in weakness.
The free offering of the gospel was a sign of love, not a sign of inferiority.
And one particular sign of the weakness of Paul’s ministry in Corinth, was that he offered the gospel of Jesus free of charge.
See verse 7, 7 Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge?
In Acts 18, the historian Luke, records that Paul worked making tents to support himself when he first came to Corinth.
And to the sophisticated Corinthians, manual labour was a bad look for a preacher.
Though in truth, the fact that he offered the gospel of Jesus freely to the Corinthians, what they understood to be a mark of inferiority, was actually a sign of love.
See how he goes on? Verse 8, 8 I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed,
Then down in verse 11,
Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!
Unlike these other preachers in Corinth, who were like the televangelists we’re familiar with;, “Ring now, give money,
Get access to the inner circle, the newest teaching, and you can do that if you give in the top bracket”, that was how the “super apostles” worked, but Paul didn’t depend on the Corinthians for his financial support.
And you can imagine the Corinthians thinking, “the “super apostles” want our credit card details before they’ll teach us anything, but Paul offers his message free of charge.
If we have to pay for one, and the other comes free, which one to we think is worth more?
Which piece of jewellery would we think is superior?,
The one in the window of the Pandora store in Oxford Circus, price tag 11 hundred pounds, or the charm that came free in our Christmas cracker?
And you would all be wrong! Because last year a Christmas cracker was released containing a Cartier diamond necklace worth 18 thousand pounds.
If that was in the cracker you were given at Christmas, we’d likely have all misjudged it, because it came at no cost.
Paul’s ministry seems inferior, because they didn’t have to pay for it.
He’s already made it clear in his first letter to the Corinthians, that it’s appropriate for church leaders to be supported by the congregations they minister amongst.
That’s why we as a church pay our staff.
If I for example, don’t have to work at McDonalds flipping burgers 5 days a week, I’ve got more time for gospel ministry here.
But Paul has decided, that in the case of his ministry in Corinth, it will be better for the spread of the gospel, or for the maturity of the Corinthian Christians, if he’s not be supported by them financially.
So he makes tents, selling them on eBay, and is also supported by Christians in other parts of the Roman Empire.
Remember verse 11. Is it because I do not love you?
God knows I do!
It’s because he loves them, that he doesn’t take payment from them.
Of course, when Paul arrived in Corinth there was no church. He was the first one to bring the good news of Jesus to this city,
There were no Christians to pay his bills.
And if he’s depending on the Christians there to pay his bills, he’d just move on from Corinth to somewhere else where there already were Christians. Christians probably, who’d be only too pleased to give generously so that Paul could stay in their town and tell everyone about Jesus.
No, Paul loves the people of Corinth so much, that he stays there, paying his own way in order that they might hear the gospel;, the life-changing and eternity-shaping news that Jesus came as our king,
Died for our sins,
Rose to rule,
And will we return to judge.
Would we love anyone like that?,
Is there anywhere we could point to on a map;, a map of London, or the UK, or the world, we put our finger on it, and we would say, I have such a heart for the people of that postcode,
Of that school,
Or university campus,
Or city, that I would move there, and live at my own expense, to share the good news of Jesus with those people, and see them grow to maturity as his followers.
Of course, the point of this is not to say you have to move to some other town and do unpaid ministry there!
But if this is the one kind of boasting that Paul thinks people need to hear, his convictions about being willing go without, and give up his entitlements, so great is his love for people,
So determined he is that they hear about Jesus and respond,
It should make us ask, do we love anyone enough, that we would give up, what today would be considered our rights,
Or our entitlements,
To be misunderstood,
For our motives to be second-guessed.
See the Corinthians not only think that Paul is a capital L loser, because he’s not as impressive as the “super apostles”, they’re offended because they don’t get to pay him.
But his solution is not to say, “OK, so you can start paying me, and then we’ll be all good.”
He’s still convinced that it’s better for them, if he has no, financial obligation to them.
He’s still going without,
He still looks like a loser,
He still doesn’t have what everyone in his society says he deserves. How does our love for people, show us to be distinct from those who only hold out the good news of Jesus for profit, or influence, or power?
How is our love for people evident in the way we’re visibly distinct from those with a false message?
A different Jesus,
A man-made gospel.
There are leaders like that in churches up and down this country.
They don’t love people, do they?
They’re not giving up,
Suffering, because they love God’s people.
If we love lost people, as Paul loved the Corinthians,
What are we willing to give up?,
To go without?,
To say “no” to what our society tells us “you must have and you deserve”?
Those who offer a different gospel are false apostles, following Satan (v 12 – 15)
And so Paul says this is what I’m going to keep doing, to expose these false apostles for what they are.
See verse 12 I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us
Authentic Christian ministry,
Ministry that brings the Word of God to people out of love, and concern, and a desire to see them built up to maturity in Christ, shows the selfishness of those who speak of Jesus for profit, or power, or influence.
These false apostles want an opportunity to be considered equal with us, Paul says, but to be considered equal to him they’d have to give up their big incomes, and the status and adulation they get from having their names up in lights,
They might actually have to go part time, and get a job, in order to pay their way.
And they’re not willing to do that,
They only care about themselves.
They have a different Jesus,
A different spirit, and a different gospel.
That’s why their whole approach to ministry is different;, Because they don’t know Jesus who came in weakness, and was humiliated for our salvation,
And they certainly don’t follow his example.
They’re not just doing gospel ministry differently,
Their ministry shows that they don’t have the gospel.
And so Paul says, “I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, to show them for what they really are.”
Now, if you’re like me, and you don’t like conflict, we might think, “well, isn’t it a bit harsh of Paul, to be deliberately trying to expose these people.”
But have a listen to what he says, and see if you think maybe such an approach is called for.
Verse 13, 13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness.
Those who hold out a different gospel are false apostles, following Satan.
They want people to think that they’re messengers of Christ, but we’ve already seen they’ve got a made-up Jesus.
And we shouldn’t be surprised that their ministry is ultimately one of deception, since that’s Satan’s primary approach, and they are his servants.
This is not, “how to win friends and influence people,” is it?
Paul probably wouldn’t have been invited back to the Corinth Inter-Faith Symposium.
But Paul wants us to see these teachers today with a different Jesus, spirit, and gospel, for what they are.
Satan doesn’t look like we think Satan ought to look like.
Sin doesn’t look like sin.
It doesn’t look like rebelling against God,
It doesn’t look like becoming a slave,
It looks enjoyable and appealing,
It looks like freedom,
Paul is determined that the truth is heard,
Since the truth matters, because people matter.
In God’s kindness there’s a huge number of people who serve in leadership in different ways across our church family;,
People leading KG and Connect,
CYFA and Pathfinders leaders,
Numbers from here lead in kids ministry in the daytime congregations,
To those of you who lead and teach, let me ask you,
Are you jealous?
Jealous like the parent not wanting their kid getting in a strangers’ car?
Jealous like Paul?
Jealous like God?,
For those you lead?
Or for any of us, regardless of whether we teach or lead, think of the people you’re trying to introduce to Jesus; neighbours, colleagues, classmates,
Are you jealous for them?
Are you determined to guard them from deceitful workers masquerading as messengers of Christ,
Is there are sense that like Paul, you’re presenting them to Jesus, and determined that nothing will get in the way of them meeting him as he really is, as made known in the pages of the Bible?
Are you determined to equip them against gullibility, so they might not be led astray, and away from Jesus?
And will you love them, with the kind of love that will go without, and give up, everything for them,
Will we help each other hold out the truth.
Since truth matters,
Because people matter.