Have you ever watch the preaching any self-claimed apostles and TV evangelists online? How do you know if they are servants of God or servants of the devil with false teachings? The false apostles have been around since the first century, and Paul had many opponents who claimed to be super-apostles in Corinth.
1) Paul responds to the charge against his authority
2 Corinthians chapter 10 to 12 are Apostle Paul’s defence against his opponents in Corinth. After his last visit to the city, a group of false teachers who Paul described as “super-apostles” have been spoken about him badly behind Paul’s back. And Paul took this issue seriously. The challenge to his apostolic authority was a grave matter. Not only was Paul personally offended, but the rejection of his authority was equivalent to a rejection of Christ.
Paul’s opponents had accused him of being timid when face-to-face, but bold when away. Paul appealed to the Corinthian church by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, but his opponents had accused him of being timid. But Paul preferred to be gentle toward his spiritual children, and he hoped that they would make this possible by not resisting his authority.
Many people in the church might cling to evaluate leaders by the standards of this world. And this problem loomed large in the Corinthian church.
Paul wrote in verse 3 onwards, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. “
We, like Paul, are just weak humans, but we don’t need to use human plans and methods to win our battles. God’s mighty weapons are available to us as we fight against the devil’s “strongholds.” The Christian must choose whose methods to use—God’s or the world’s. Paul assures us that God’s mighty weapons—prayer, faith, hope, love, God’s Word, the Holy Spirit—are powerful and effective. These weapons can break down the proud human arguments against God and the walls that Satan builds to keep people from finding God. When dealing with people’s proud arguments that keep them from a relationship with Christ, we may be tempted to use our own methods. But nothing can break down these barriers like God’s weapons.
Paul then further explains it in verse 5 as warfare against sin and Satan. God must be the commander in chief—even our thoughts must be submitted to his control as we live for him. As Spirit-empowered believers, we must capture every thought and yield it to Christ. When we are being exposed to ideas or opportunities that might lead to wrong desires, you have a choice. You can recognise the danger and turn away, or you can allow unhealthy thoughts to take you captive. You capture your fantasies and desires when you honestly admit them to the Lord and ask him to redirect your thinking. Instead, we can ask God to give us the spirit of discernment to keep our thoughts focused on his truth. God will help us to discern if the teaching of a preacher is correct or not. Today, almost all of us are literate, and many of us at church have received the Holy Spirit by God’s grace. We receive this wisdom of discernment from God by equipping ourselves to the right doctrine and apostolic teachings from the Scripture by the Holy Spirit.
So when we see some preachers who look very successful in the outer appearance, who might be TV evangelists or mega-church founders. However, what should we consider if they are from God or not? Paul told the Corinthians that he wanted them to examine the claim made by others that they belong to Christ. Those who opposed Paul portrayed him as weak and powerless, but Paul reminded the Corinthians that the Lord had given him authority. False teachers were encouraging the believers to ignore Paul, but Paul explained that the advice in his letters was to be taken seriously. He had authority because he and his companions had been the first to bring the Good News to Corinth. Everyone knew that because of this service, the believer’s faith had been built up. Those who are not from Christ would tear down people with their authority. So by their fruits, we would know if the preachers are from God or not.
Back in Paul’s time in the first century, some of his opponents put him down by saying Paul’s letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive, and his speak amounts to nothing. So Paul replies his opponents in verse 12, “ We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. 13 We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you.” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)
We do not evaluate our importance in the church by human standards alone. In modern phrasing, they had become “legends in their own minds”. False teachers were trying to prove their goodness by comparing themselves with others rather than with God’s standards. We should have no basis for pride. Paul said as true servants of Christ; they would not fall into the trap of exaggerating their own importance or power. Instead, they would confine their boasting to what the LORD had established as true for them. In verse 15 to 16, Paul said he wanted the Corinthians’ faith to grow so that his area of activity might greatly expand so that he could preach the Gospel in regions beyond Corinth. And that is the same hope we have to this congregation, that all of you in this young church will be strengthen in faith and grow in the power of the Gospel so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord will be reach to the local community and beyond in global missions in the future.
From Paul’s point of view in verse 17, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 10:17a) which originally comes from Jeremiah 9:23-24. The Scripture warns against boasting in our own wisdom or abilities. All boasting and confidence should be in knowing God, who is supreme. Paul summed up Jeremiah’s perspective by saying that boasting should be in the Lord. All confidence, pride, and boasting should be in light of what God has done. As Christians, we might accomplish much, just as Apostle Paul had, but we should always take pleasure in these accomplishments with the awareness that they are humble servants of the Lord. We who follow Jesus Christ should seek to be those whom the Lord commends—not seeking approval from ourselves or others. And that was Paul’s desire for himself and his hope for the Corinthians. If any one of us are high achievers, let us take note and give the honour to God, do not seek approval from ourselves or others around us. Why? Because when we compare ourselves with others, we may feel proud because we think we are better. But when we measure ourselves against God’s standards, it becomes obvious that we have no basis for pride. Don’t worry about other people’s accomplishments. Instead, ask yourself: How does my life measure up to what God wants? How does my life compare to that of Jesus Christ?
When we do something well, we want to tell others and be recognised. But recognition is dangerous – it can lead to inflated pride. How much better it is to seek the praise of God rather than the praise of people? Then, when we receive praise, we will be free to give God credit. What should you change about the way you live to receive God’s commendation?
2) Godly jealousy, Paul’s credentials and service to Christ
Then in chapter 11, Paul asked the Corinthians to bear with him as he talked more “foolishness”. In other words, Paul felt foolish rehearsing his credentials as a preacher of the Good News. But he thought that he had to do this to silence the false teachers. What Apostle Paul was anxious is that the church’s love should be for Christ alone, just as a pure bride saves her love for the bridegroom only. By being a “pure bride”, the church should be pure in the apostolic teachings and unaffected by false doctrine.
As he wrote in verse 3, “your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3b). Paul did not want any believers to lose their single-minded love for Christ. Keeping Jesus first in our life can be very difficult when we have so many distractions threatening to sidetrack our faith. Just as Eve lost her focus by listening to the serpent, you, too, can lose your focus by letting your life become overcrowded and confused. We need to ask ourselves these questions: Is there anything that weakens our commitment to keeping Jesus first in our lives? How can you minimise the distractions that threaten your devotion to Jesus?
In Paul’s days, the Corinthian believers were falling for smooth talk and messages that sounded good and seemed to make sense. Today many false teachings seem to make sense. Don’t believe someone simply because he or she sounds like an authority or says words you like to hear. Search the Bible and check his or her teachings against God’s Word. The Bible should be your authoritative guide. The false teachers distorted the truth about Jesus. They ended up preaching a different Jesus, a different spirit than the Holy Spirit, and a different way of salvation. Those who teach anything other from what God’s infallible Word says are both mistaken and misleading. Paul was saying these super-apostles were no better than he was. They may have been more eloquent speakers, but they spoke lies and were, in fact, servants of Satan because they preach a different gospel.
Apostle Paul was not trained in the Greek schools of oratory and speechmaking like the false teachers. He believed in a simple presentation of the Good News, so false teachers in Corinth tried to use his speaking performance against him. But Content of the message is far more important than the presentation. A simple, clear presentation of the Gospel that helps listeners understand will be of great value. God’s Word in the Scripture stands on its own merit and is not dependent on imperfect human beings to create its own hearing. Many people feel that if they can’t sing, speak, teach, or preach as well as their idolised heroes, they are insecure about saying or doing anything at church or in ministry. Don’t apologise for your inadequacies. Accept your limitations with the same humility that you accept the strengths God has given you.
Also, Paul asked the Corinthians no fee for his preaching, and the Corinthians may have thought that preachers could be judged by how much money they demanded. As believers of Christ, we must be careful not to assume that every preacher or evangelist who is well known or who demands a large payment would teach the truth. The reality is the opposite; those who charge a lot for preaching are often false teachers who preach what people like to hear. Many false teachers in Paul’s days hoped to make a good profit from preaching, and Paul separated himself from those false teachers to silence those who only claimed to do God’s work.
From time to time in history, Satan and his servants can deceive us by appearing to be attractive, good, and moral. Many unsuspecting people follow smooth-talking, Bible-quoting leaders into cults that alienate them from their families and lead them into the practice of immorality and deceit.
Then in verse 13 onward, Paul explained that these so-called super-apostles were false apostles. They were deceitful and only masquerading as apostles of Christ. Of course, those who followed these false apostles would have insisted that Paul was wrong. So he countered their expected objection by noting that the false apostles’ deceit was no wonder. After all, even Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.
In the same way, these false apostles led many into unrighteousness, as opposed to Paul’s apostolic ministry of righteousness. So Paul stated that these false apostles would ultimately receive what their actions deserved. This statement carried the overtones of the final judgement when Christ return, Paul also had in mind that these opponents would be exposed before the church and removed from their positions when he arrived. God would judge them.
So be careful that we don’t fall victim into the teachings of false teachers. The preachers who charge the most expensive fees might not be God’s servants. Stand firm in the Scripture and read the Bible daily, equipping ourselves with the apostolic teachings in the Scripture so that we can distinguish between if the preachers are teaching the right doctrine of Christ.
3) Paul’s extraordinary experiences of visions and revelations
And because Paul’s opponents were boasting about their qualifications as super-apostles like a fool, Paul would take a moment to act like a fool by doing a little boasting in the way the world does.
First, in 11:21, Paul compared himself with ethnic qualifications. He was a Hebrew, an Israelite and a descendent of Abraham. He was not adopted into Abraham’s family as us the Gentile believers are, but he was the heir of the grace of God promised to Abraham in Genesis.
Secondly, he had rendered great service to Christ. He is even more of a servant than any of the super-apostles, suffered for the Gospel even more than them. Paul worked harder and endangered by bandits; he was in prison for Christ more frequently, he was flogged more severely, exposed to death many times, beaten with rods, shipwrecked, endured day and night in the open sea, constantly moving with hunger and thirst, and endured cold and nakedness in the wild. But even he had and extraordinary service to Christ, in verse 30, Paul considered the more appropriate of boasting is to boast of the things that showed his weakness. Paul thought that boasting about weakness suited him better because it exalted God as the source of his strength. So as he boasts about his weakness, he acknowledged God as the one who sustained him, so God is the one who is to be praised forever. Even the event of his escape from Damascus with his life demonstrated his devoted service to Christ; it also made it clear that God cared for him and deserved all the praise.
Paul also challenged the false apostles’ claims to be superior by reporting about his visions and revelations from the Lord. If he did not receive revelations from God, he could not write so many letters in the New Testament of the Scripture. Paul says in 12:7 that because of these extraordinary revelations from the Lord which he had, God kept him humble. He had seen the third heaven, which is a paradise, the place that the dead in Christ enter, and he had heard things from angels and God that man is not permitted to tell. Paul argued that his authority over the Corinthian church was far beyond any authority claimed by the false apostles. But he insisted that he would not boast of himself except about his weaknesses. He wrote that God had sent him a thorn in his flesh, and a messenger of Satan that brought him torment. This “thorn in his flesh” might mean sickness or troubling demonic activity that had attacked him.
Although we don’t know what is the thorn that God put on him. He asked God three times to remove this thorn from his life, but God told him that divine grace was sufficient for him. Paul received greater grace from God, a stronger character, humility, and an ability to empathise with others. It also benefited those around Paul as they saw God at work in his life. God, according to His sovereign plan, doesn’t heal some believers of their physical sickness. We don’t know why some are spared, and others aren’t. God chooses according to His divine purposes. Our task is to pray, to believe, and to trust. Paul is living proof that holy living and courageous faith do not ensure instant physical healing. When we pray for healing, we must trust our bodies to God’s care. We must recognise that nothing separates us from his love and that our spiritual condition is always more important than our physical condition.
What God wanted Paul to do is to find comfort and security in the grace he had received in Christ. And God desires the same for all of us, to find real comfort and real security in the grace from Jesus Christ in our lives. No matter what type of sufferings we might have in this life, we need to rely on Jesus for comfort and security, so that we can endure any hardship ahead of us. God’s divine power is made perfect in our weaknesses. When God’s people are weak, then God’s strength becomes evident. God’s power is displayed in our weaknesses should give us courage and hope. As we recognise our limitations, we will depend more on God for our effectiveness rather than on our own energy, effort, or talent. Our limitations and weaknesses not only help us to develop Christian character but also deepen our worship because in admitting them, we affirm God’s strength.
When we are strong in abilities or resources, we are tempted to do God’s work on our own, and that can lead to pride. When we are weak, allowing God to fill us with his power, then we are stronger than we could ever be on our own. God does not intend for us to be weak, passive, or ineffective – life provides enough hindrances and setbacks without us creating them. When those obstacles come, we must depend on God. Only his power will make use effective for him and will help us do work that has lasting value.
That is why Paul would rather boast more gladly about his weaknesses so that Christ’s power might rest on him. He has learnt that taking delight in his thorn of fresh can bring the blessings of God upon his life. So he could delight in his weaknesses rather than despise them. No matter they are insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties, they are causes for joy because, in these times of weakness, Paul could endure them firmly in the power of God. Paul was aware that he was nothing in himself, apart from the grace of God. God has shown his signs, wonders and miracles in Paul’s life that marks him as an apostle of Christ, and he had proclaimed the Gospel of Christ faithfully in his life.
And at the end of today’s passage in chapter 12 verse 13, Paul explained that the only thing he did in the other churches that he didn’t do in Corinth was to become a burden – to ask the believers to feed and house him. He actually did more for the Corinthians than for any other church, but still, they misunderstood him.
Throughout his letters to the Corinthians, Paul felt the need to defend his authority as an apostle of Christ. Against the many challenges to his leadership, he insisted that his sacrificial ministry demonstrated that he was a faithful apostle and that he used his authority for the good of the church. In our day the authority of Paul and other New Testament apostles is challenged within the church, much as they were in the first century. Yet, we must listen carefully to Paul’s defence of his ministry. Even when the teachings of the apostles seen difficult or even contrary to what our modern perspective would consider true, we must receive Paul and the other apostles. Their instructions are summarised in the New Testament as the unquestionable authorities under God in all matters of faith and life.
So in the end, we must apply the following in our Christian life:
- We must obey the teachings of the apostles, especially in the Scripture
- We must guard the apostles’ authority in the church.
- We must be watchful for false teaching, holding everything to the standard of the apostolic Word.
Let us pray and give thanks to God.