Jars of Clay: Spiritual Warfare 2 – Deception

jars - calendar2 Corinthians 11.1-21a

1. The danger the Corinthians and we are in (11:1-6).

There are those who risk falling prey to Satan’s temptation, even as Eve did in the garden (11:3;  1 Tim 2:14). Just as the devil deceived Eve by calling into question the sufficiency of God’s provisions (Gen 3:1-13), so too he is seeking to undermine the Corinthians’ and our devotion to Christ by enticing them and us with "another Jesus". 

It is as if the Christ of Paul’s gospel is not enough. Satan tempts God’s people by presenting a substitute saviour: In the garden it was the false promise that they could provide for themselves without consequence, in Corinth it was the promise that the real "Christ" would provide for them health and wealth.

Therefore Paul portrays them and us:

    1. as the counterpart to rebellious Israel under the law In verse 2 (i.e., replicating the "fall" of Israel (3:14))

    2. as the counterpart to Eve at creation in verse 3 (i.e., reproducing the "fall" of humanity (4:4)).

The reference to the Fall reveals just how serious the danger facing the Corinthians really is. It is a warning that, in reality, his opponents are "servants of Satan" who are seeking to destroy the Corinthians’ marriage with Christ in the same way that Satan spoiled Eve’s relationship with God (cf. 11:14-15).

As in the garden, the goal of their deception is to create a new way of thinking among the Corinthians that no longer agrees with God’s will. 

But those who are truly God’s people will resist this satanic temptation to idolatry and strife (2:11; 6:14-7:1; 16:17-20).  In this way they show themselves to be "new creatures" in Christ, who are being transformed by God’s glory in their midst (2 Cor. 3:18; 5 17). Their lives will be characterised by sincerity and purity toward Christ (for sincerity is evidence of grace of God in one’s life (1:12, 2 17, 6:6)).

2. The ways of deception

1. Preaching another "Jesus," a "different Spirit”, and "a different gospel", and an emphasis on the miraculous (11:5).

2. The Deceiver maintains that the Spirit of God, if truly present, delivers one from suffering.

3. The cross is merely a matter of history, having been replaced by the resurrected Lord. That the deceivers preach "another Jesus" is clearly revealed in their refusal to take up their cross on behalf of the Corinthians (4:5).

4. Deceivers "masquerade as apostles of Christ" (11:13). This is no innocent misunderstanding on their part. The verb translated "masquerading" signifies the idea "to change the form of … to change or disguise oneself into or as something."    These people disguise themselves as "apostles of Christ" even though they serve Satan.  As prisoners of Satan’s deceit, these opponents preach a "different Jesus."

5. As a result, just as God made Paul competent to be a "servant" (diakonos) of the new covenant "ministry [diakonia] of righteousness" (3:6, 9), so too Satan’s "servants" are masquerading as "servants [diakonoi] of righteousness" (11:15).

6.  Their deceptive, satanic claim is that Christ’s life and death are not sufficient to bring about the righteousness of God, but must be supplemented with the stipulations of the old covenant.

7. Satan’s "servants’ (11:15), in the end, sell the "Self’ or some trinket of this world as more reliable, sufficient, and satisfying than knowing and living for God.

3. How to avoid deception?

Danger 1: We long for immediate gratification and personal autonomy rather than finding our delight in learning to depend on God in the midst of suffering and affliction, weakness and woe.

Danger 2: Church leaders are drawn to models of power and prestige.

Danger 3: We gravitate to promises of health and wealth and to messages that puff us up rather than glorify God. In a word, to become "worldly."

David Wells:

This "world" …. is organised around the self in substitution for God. It is life characterised by self-righteousness, self-centeredness, self-satisfaction, self-aggrandisement, and self-promotion, with a corresponding distaste for the self-denial proper to union with Christ."

Is the focus on the growth of God’s glory? Our single-minded focus in worship must be on recognising, reflecting, declaring, and celebrating the glory of God! In the first century the cross was simply too repugnant to exploited for personal gain.

a. Avoid worldly methods

More and more, modern management strategies, personal and church growth techniques, and therapeutic messages are infiltrating into every area of life.  These Self-saturated approaches make it increasingly difficult to boast in God alone as the one whose goal it is to glorify himself by working in and through “jars of clay”.

As it was for Paul, today too the pressure on churches to be successful according to the standards of contemporary culture is intense. And as it did for Paul, today too this pressure comes not from the world but from the worldliness within the church. The temptation is to respond by boasting in one’s strength.

Paul did not disagree because the deceivers were immoral; he rejected them because their technique was based on a purely human dynamic which produced human results. If Paul was so exercised about avoiding methods which engendered merely human results, so should we?

We cannot assume that as long as we avoid immoral, unfair, or fraudulent methods, we are free to use whatever other means will "work."

b.  Avoid consumerism

Wells: 

The reason churches today are so quick to adopt the strategies and worldview embodied in modern marketing, with little if any regard for truth as her primary message, is because they have been convinced that "the church must define its services in terms of contemporary needs just as any secular business must. Allowing the consumer to be sovereign in this way in fact sanctions a bad habit. It encourages us to indulge in constant internal inventory in the church no less than in the marketplace, to ask ourselves perpetually whether the "products" we are being offered meet our present "felt needs."

In this sort of environment, market research has found that there is scarcely any consumer loyalty to particular products and brands anymore. The consumer, like the marketeer, is now making fresh calculations all the time.

What is going to happen when churches meet all of the felt needs of their consumers and then realise that they have failed to meet the genuine need for meaning? Meaning is provided by the functioning of truth—specifically biblical truth—in the life of the congregation.

A business is in the market simply to sell its products – it doesn’t ask consumers to surrender themselves to the product.  Businesses offer goods and services to make life easier or more pleasant – the Bible points the way to Life itself, and the way will not always be easy or pleasant.

c. Is there integrity in the teacher?

Our public manner inevitably reveals our private character (1:12-14). The heart of the issue is that the gospel we believe will invariably be expressed in the image we portray, and vice versa, so that the integrity of the gospel and its messenger must be our primary concern.

A right heart produces appropriate habits. Biblical view is that Spirit of God is experienced in and through the suffering of this age.  For Paul, the cross is still central to the gospel. He carries in his body the death of Jesus (cf. 4:7-12).

Ultimately, however, Paul is not concerned with himself at all. Paul’s simple language, his willing self-support, and his daily suffering for his churches all indicate that his ministry in Corinth, unlike that of his opponents, was aimed at benefitting the Corinthians, not himself. (11:7; cf. 4:5; 8:9).   The counterpart to Paul’s weakness is his strong anger over the danger of someone falling away from Christ (11:29). 

Hence, to wrap up his boasting in his weakness as the consequence of his calling to be an apostle, Paul provides one final and especially poignant example of his suffering (11:30-33). Like his suffering in Asia recounted in 1:8, his opponents may well have used this incident against him as an example of his cowardice. But from Paul’s perspective, his narrow escape in Damascus, like his despairing even of life (1:8-11), serves to highlight God’s deliverance and sustenance.

d. Is the language simple?

Paul’s opponents criticised him for failing to reflect the sophisticated style and flashy rhetorical forms that were characteristic of professional entertainers and orators in first-century culture.

He intentionally remained an "amateur" when it came to public speaking because he viewed his calling to be proclamation, not persuasion. He did whatever it took not to be confused with an entertainer or professional speaker.

Paul’s concern was the possibility of obtaining false, human-centred results … (1 Cor. 2:5)".  Our efforts are neither results-driven nor audience-driven,- they are obedience-driven.

e. Is the teaching from the right perspective?

By boasting, Paul’s opponents are the real fools. In turn, by accepting such boasting, the Corinthians are being led astray from their devotion to Christ as the ultimate and all-sufficient provision from God! (11:3).

Driven by his experience "in Christ" and by the content of the gospel itself, Paul’s boasting in his weakness is not simply a parody of his opponents. It is a positive expression of his calling. This priority of theology over practice is crucial for evaluating the content and validity of boasting today, whether in our personal lives and churches or in the quality of our ministries and ministers.

We can boast only in what God has done in and through us, giving credit to God for all that we are and do, since everything is a gift from him. The principle of Jeremiah 9:23-24 provides the key both to the positive practice and content of Paul’s boast and to the contours of our own.

23 This is what the LORD says:

   “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
   or the strong boast of their strength
   or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
   that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
   justice and righteousness on earth,
   for in these I delight,”
            declares the LORD.

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