Gospel Truth v Worldly Deceit (2 Corinthians 11)

2 Corinthians 11: 1-6 and 12-21

I hope you will put up with a little more of my ‘foolishness’. Please bear with me. For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ. But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed.

But I don’t consider myself inferior in any way to these “super apostles” who teach such things. I may be unskilled as a speaker, but I’m not lacking in knowledge. We have made this clear to you in every possible way.

12 But I will continue doing what I have always done. This will undercut those who are looking for an opportunity to boast that their work is just like ours. 13 These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve.

16 Again I say, don’t think that I am a fool to talk like this. But even if you do, listen to me, as you would to a foolish person, while I also boast a little. 17 Such boasting is not from the Lord, but I am acting like a fool. 18 And since others boast about their human achievements, I will, too. 19 After all, you think you are so wise, but you enjoy putting up with fools! 20 You put up with it when someone enslaves you, takes everything you have, takes advantage of you, takes control of everything, and slaps you in the face. 21 I’m ashamed to say that we’ve been too “weak” to do that!

BACKGROUND

Corinth was located on the strip of land connected to the Greek mainland. Its advantageous location allowed it to become a prosperous merchant city.

Prosperity, however, brought with it pagan hedonism (‘the pursuit of pleasure as a way of life’) and Corinth developed a reputation for loose moral behaviour. There were twelve pagan temples in the city!

Paul’s letters to the Christians at Corinth address his concern over the rampant immorality that had begun to infect the whole Corinthian church. There were false prophets claiming to be God’s messengers and (in some cases) making a nice living from doing so!

Paul had already written to to the church at Corinth twice before, though the first letter has been lost

  • In his second letter (that we now refer to as 1 Corinthians), Paul had been quite strong in his criticism of the church, which had clearly upset some people! (The truth can be painful!)
  • However, church leaders were now in the process of sorting out the issues, which encouraged Paul when he wrote again…

A key part of 2 Corinthians is emphasising Paul’s apostleship and God-given authority, as opposed to ‘false apostles’ in the church…

In his letter, Paul uses the word ‘fool’ and ‘foolish and ‘foolishness’ a number of times… Thus, in verse 16 we read… Let no one take me for a fool (NIV) or Don’t think that I am a fool to talk like this (NLT)

Remember the old song: “Don’t laugh at me because I’m a fool!” The song was made famous by a British comedian, Norman Wisdom… but who would treat Paul as a fool!?

He had a brilliant mind; he was an Apostle, chosen by God to be the principal means of communicating the Gospel; courageous beyond belief… (More in a moment)

But sceptics view Bible-believing Christians in much the same way … they are accused of being deluded… living in a fantasy world… believing myths and fairy-tales… in short, fools!

So what’s the reality?

Well, perhaps some Christians are living out a fantasy… or at least presenting the Gospel and Bible events as if they were religious fairy tales… For instance, look how we compromise the Christmas story!

  • It’s essential to make sure that we are thoroughly acquainted with what the Bible actually says and not rely on our memories from Sunday School or even what preachers say!

At the same time, these sceptics need to realise that belief in God and in the claims of Jesus Christ are not the same as wishful thinking or hoping for the best or a lucky dip!

  • It’s based on a deep-seated conviction that you have found the TRUTH that sets you free… It involves faith and does not rely on proof

Secular thinkers demand proof in advance of belief… “Show us the evidence and we will believe”, they demand!

But God says: “Believe first and I’ll confirm it afterwards

This is not, of course, the same as so-called “blind faith”

It is “mind faith”… knowing in our hearts and minds that Jesus is precisely who and what He claims to be… the way, the truth and the life… the light of the world… the Saviour of the world

  • Jesus commented that some people wouldn’t believe even if someone should rise from the dead!

Paul did not mince his words… As we read in verse 16(b) onwards…

But if you do [take me for a fool], then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17 In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18 Since many are boasting in the way the world does; I too, will boast. 19 You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20 In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!

Is Paul being sarcastic? No. He’s merely emphasising the truth by using irony

Just as secularists/atheists mock the Gospel of grace, so we must be prepared to confront the absurdity of their position and of all those that seek to undermine our faith

Secularists scorn Christians because we believe and place our trust in an unseen Deity… Yet modern society today is saturated with superstition and idol worship!

  • So they speak of ‘Lady Luck/ touch wood/ cross your fingers/ take a chance/ hope for the best/ lottery/ good-luck charms… and what horoscopes say!

Christians are sometimes criticised for being narrow-minded, yet those who deride Christianity do all they can to suppress and scorn views that are different from their own… and try to coerce people into accepting their ideas through political means and the use of derision (mockery)

Secular society has presented ‘fundamentalism’ as ‘brain-washing’ or associated with terrorism… yet demonstrate their own version of it by ‘fundamentally’ refusing to contemplate the existence of God and ‘fundamentally’ replacing God’s laws with man-made ones!

  • Such people are enemies of the truth and must be opposed by boldly proclaiming what we know to be true… courteously but without apology.

Christians are accused of being a negative influence in society, ignoring the fact that almost every hospital, school, mental institution, prison reform organisation and charity began (and frequently operates today) as a Christian initiative.

Notice that Paul is not only battling with those outside the church but inside it, too!

  • Corinth was one of those early fellowships embedded in a pagan culture that was struggling to change its thinking, values and behaviour into Christ-like ones.

Paul needed to emphasise his unique credentials… not because he wanted to be thought well of or be a celebrity… but because he wanted the Corinthians to acknowledge him as the Apostle of God (‘a proclaimer of the truth’) and to show up the worldly deceivers for who and what they were

If Paul seems a bit arrogant, it’s important to realise that unless he was accepted as God’s Apostle, the new Christians wouldn’t know WHO or WHAT to believe!

  • It was essential that the early church accepted Paul’s complete teaching (from the Holy Spirit) … and rejected false teachers

In the same way, we must be ready to confront incorrect teaching that leads people away from the full Gospel truth…

  • And also to be wary about the cult of the ‘charismatic leader’ who uses his personality to convince people

In practice, our efforts to preserve and present the truth revealed by God to Paul requires at least three things of us:

(1) That we are clear about what we believe…

I’ve heard people say that all we need to know is:

(a) I am a sinner (b) Christ died for me (c) I must put my trust in Him… end of story!

But it’s not the end of the story! There is so much more to learn and accommodate into our lives.

I’ve heard people say that some Christians are big on the talk but small on the intellect. Is this true?

  • Yet we need to love God with all our minds, as well as the rest of us.

(2) That we acknowledge areas in which there is uncertainty

There is little point in pretending we know everything or that the Bible provides all the answers to all our questions! It patently does not… and is not intended to do so… otherwise, what use is faith?

So we must not be afraid to discuss difficult subjects… and I don’t mean issues such as ‘the timing of the 2nd Coming’!

  • Issues such as the role of women/ war and pacifism/ whether to drink alcohol/ sexuality … and how much of the OT law applies directly to us today (e.g. circumcision)

Gospel truth should be proclaimed in full assurance of faith

  • But also to acknowledge that some things require trust rather than rational explanation
  • And to accept that there are many things that God, in His wisdom, allows or forbids, even when the reason isn’t entirely clear to us

(3) That we walk the talk

  • There’s little point in debating this and that doctrine if our lives contradict our fine words

What impact do our words and actions have on those we meet?

There is a lovely verse in 2 Corinthians 2:14 that speaks about the effect that our lives should have on others…

‘But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.’

What fragrance do you and I leave behind? Does it speak of transformed lives and of a present and eternal hope?  

The genuine Gospel truth!


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