Some in the Corinthian church had set themselves against Paul the apostle. They were trying to draw away disciples after themselves, and the only way to do that was to turn the Christians against Paul however they could. They had accused him of not being a real apostle. They had claimed he was teaching a gospel that was different than the other apostles. They said that because he had worked making tents to support himself that he must not really be blessed by God as a minister of Christ. They had even gone so far as to belittle him for his personal appearance and speech. We pick up in verse 7 of chapter 10 of 2Corinthians...
The reason these false teachers in Corinth were so effective was because people have a tendency to look at outward appearances to make judgments. We look at someone's stature, listen to their speech, and assess their situation.
Someone's stature determines how we receive and react to a person. A tall person commands attention and respect, a short person receives little of either. A broad-shouldered man is viewed as being strong in physique and character, while a thin man with no chin is viewed as weak in character. We're all guilty of making these instant assumptions. Even a godly man like the prophet Samuel made this mistake. God sent Samuel to Jesse's house to anoint the next king of Israel. Jesse had eight sons, the eldest named Eliab. Jesse called the oldest seven sons in to see Samuel, leaving young David to watch the sheep.
1Sam. 16:6-7 Then it came about when they entered, that he looked at Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORD'S anointed is before Him." But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
When we look at people as they are outwardly, we are being fleshly, not godly. Historically, we read that Paul was short, bow-backed, infected eyes an unusually large nose, and one thick eyebrow across his forehead. But he was one of the mightiest men of God that ever walked the earth.
The same thing goes for the way someone speaks. You've heard Raul Ries with his heavy Hispanic accent on the radio. He'd never get a job as an anchor for NBC Nightly News, yet the message of the gospel of Christ and purity of Bible teaching is powerful. Someone can have Bronx, Hispanic, California Surfer or Southern Hillbilly sounding speech, and still present the Word of God powerfully. Paul was no great orator, but he brought the word of God to the people in a powerful way.
Situations are also judged in the flesh by us. We see that someone is in a financial bind, or having trouble in their job or family life and think, "They must certainly be being judged by God." or "This is the fruit of ungodliness in their lives."
But as we've seen time and again, situations and circumstances are not a good measure of God's blessing or cursing. Why is it that we continue to believe that God makes good things happen to "good" people, and bad things happen to "sinners"? Yes, God judges sin, and He also rewards righteousness. But most of life's circumstances cannot be interpreted as rewards or judgments. In fact, Jesus said,
Matt. 5:45 ...He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Very often, wicked people prosper, and good people suffer. You can't figure out what's going on by looking at life's circumstances and situations. Not in your life, not in someone else's. Sure, Paul had physical problems, and he had to work to support his ministry. But God had still abundantly blessed and validated his ministry.
Paul's adversaries had compared themselves to Paul. "Look how much better I am. Look at how more righteous I am. Look at how much taller and stronger I am. Listen to what a much better teacher I am."
Paul says, "We're not going to do that. Because comparing one man to another man doesn't do any good or make any sense in the kingdom of God." It only leads to boasting and an unsubstantiated sense of pride.
There is only one comparison that any of us need to make. Comparing ourselves to Jesus Christ. When we make that comparison, we will be brought to an understanding of humility. I will never be stronger, more righteous, or a better teacher than Jesus. He is the only One I need to compare myself to and try to attain to.
As the gospel spread throughout the world, there were those who went and preached in areas that had never heard the gospel, and there were those who went and tried to build on other mens' foundations. These guys had moved in on Paul's foundation, and were boasting about a work which they had not even started.
Paul would never do that. He told the Romans,
Rom. 15:20-21 And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man's foundation; but as it is written, THEY WHO HAD NO NEWS OF HIM SHALL SEE, AND THEY WHO HAVE NOT HEARD SHALL UNDERSTAND."
Paul talks in verse 15 about as the Corinthians faith grows, their sphere, their circle of influence for Christ, will also be enlarged. Until they grew and matured, their sphere would be small.
Right now, our sphere of influence for Christ affects Cheyenne, Wyoming. We have seen that sphere extended into Laramie by bringing them a Friday night Bible study. But it is not yet what you would call a largely influential force in the city. That's because I am only one man. But as you all are taught in the Word of God and submit to Jesus Christ in your lives, you can enlarge that sphere of Christ's influence. You can go and start Bible Studies, ministries, and churches in Laramie, Rock Springs, Casper, and Scotts Bluff. Every one of these cities needs a church that will teach the whole counsel of God, worship the Lord, and bring the gospel to the unbelievers there. As your faith grows, the sphere that God has apportioned to us will grow.
Paul says, "I betrothed you to Christ, presenting you as a virgin bride." The church is the bride of Christ, looking forward to a glorious wedding. In the last chapters of the book of Revelation, we see that wedding fulfilled. The bride will become the wife of the Lamb. A great multitude says,
Rev. 19:7-9 "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready." And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. And he said to me, "Write, 'Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.'"...
Now in the Jewish culture, virginity at marriage was and is an all-important standard. Women were put to death if it discovered that they were not pure on the wedding night.
Paul is concerned. The Corinthians are betrothed, engaged, to Jesus Christ. Yet they are coming dangerously close to the adultery of following after another gospel.
Back in this time, a friend of the groom was assigned to supervise and guard the bride during the year-long betrothal, to insure her virginity until the wedding night. Paul is putting himself in that place - trying to protect the bride of Christ from those false teachers that wanted to defile her.
Paul presented Christianity so simply: be devoted to Christ and be pure. But these teachers came in with these complex teachings and were leading the people astray.
The same thing happens today. Wolves in sheep's clothing come in and deceive people with their complexity:
Teachings about how you have to have the name of Christ in your church, otherwise you're not really a church.
Teachings about how if you don't read only the King James Bible you're going to hell because all the other Bible translations are demonically-inspired.
Teachings about how you have to keep the Saturday Sabbath to be saved.
Teachings about how if you're not baptized by a minster of our certain denomination, you're not really saved.
Complexities, word games, and mind manipulations to make you followers of them rather than followers of Christ.
When someone comes to you and teaches a Jesus, a Spirit, or a gospel that is different than the exact teaching of the Bible, they are using the same techniques as satan did in the garden - distorting the Word of God until it's not the Word of God.
In Galatians, Paul addressed the same situation.
Gal. 1:6-9 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.
Those who teach a different gospel are damned, cursed, anathema. When you distort the gospel of Christ, when you present a Jesus that is not Jesus, you are blaspheming God. Groups that teach a different gospel, presenting a different Jesus are proclaimed to be blasphemers who will suffer the wrath of God in more fury than the heathen.
This is serious business. The apostle John told us,
2John 10-11 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.
This is why I no longer invite Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses into my home. I'll talk to them outside if they'll listen - but they're just trying to proseletize me into their cults. Both groups claim to be Christians - so why do they try to convert Christians? They are wolves seeking to devour you. Twisting the Scriptures to distort the gospel and mutate Christ into someone that He is not.
You may say that is very closed-minded. It absolutely is. Jesus never told us to have an open mind to blasphemy. These "missionaries" are messengers of satan himself. Bringing blasphemy door to door.
2Tim. 3:6-8 For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. And just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected as regards the faith.
They enter into your house and capture you. Do not let them in. They will teach you a lot, but you'll never find the truth. They oppose the true teachings of God, they are rejected by God.
Paul defends his own ministry to, and love for, the Corinthians. True, he wasn't a great speaker, but he knew God and the Word of God. True, he did work outside of the ministry, but that was to preach the gospel without charge, that the door would be opened for many of them to receive Christ. He loved these people beyond measure, and yet they were being led astray by these false teachers.
Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. If he showed up at our church with hideous, grotesque features, a red tail and a pitchfork, nobody would be deceived by him. He obviously knows that, so he appears instead in the form of something beautiful.
Now, his servants appear the same way. They look like your average "righteous" person. In the form of someone who wants to assist in the ministry. As some dear brother who claims to be a Bible student that wants to explain some of these difficult passages of Scripture. As someone who says, "I'm a Christian - there's just a couple of things that you need clarity in." That's why they are called "wolves in sheep's clothing." They look just like sheep! Jesus warned:
Matt. 7:15-20 "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits."
These "ministers of righteousness" can be detected by their fruit. They may pass off their sheep disguise to others, but we need to be discerning. What is the fruit of their "ministry" to others? What is happening to the people that follow them?
Are the people growing in the Word of God? Or do they expound on complicated explanations - showing you that what you believe is wrong?
Are they walking in the freedom they have in Christ? Or are they being put under bondage of religious regulations that oppress their joy and peace?
Are they becoming loving, ministering, graceful believers? Or are they becoming argumentative, critical, judgmental, holier-than-thou jerks?
So what can we do? Inspect the fruit, use discernment, and be careful. Jesus said,
Matt. 10:16 "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves.