Paul’s Observations About False Apostles
“And 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 in the things they boast about. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul has a lot to say about boasting. About half of all comments on boasting in the New Testament occur in this one epistle. There is a reason. Paul was countermanding the hollow, evil and arrogant boasting of false apostles, with a little boasting of his own. He felt it necessary to lay down a highly emotive appeal to the believers, to “cut the ground from under” the deceivers, and indeed he felt that the attitudes and foolishness of the believers had compelled his response. “I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing” (2 Corinthians 12:11).
He began his letter with “Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace” (2 Corinthians 1:12). He is reminding them, early in the letter, of his qualification for apostolic ministry – holiness, sincerity, and the grace of God.
This stands in stark comparison with what he will soon have to observe about others.
His direct observations about the false apostles are found in 2 Corinthians 10:12 — 11:20. They commend themselves, and boast beyond proper limits (2:12-13). They bring to the church the risk that the believers may be led astray from sincere and pure devotion to Christ (11: 3). They preach another Jesus, and a different gospel (11: 4). They create the impression that they are “super-apostles” (11: 5) and look for opportunity to be considered equal with the true apostles (11: 12), but they are false, deceitful, merely masquerading as apostles (11: 13). They are servants of Satan, and in the end will be judged (11: 15). They boast in a worldly, or fleshly way to impress the believers (11: 18), and the outcome is that the believers were enslaved, exploited,
and taken advantage of (11:20). False apostles push themselves forward, even to the point of abuse and control (11:20).
The apostle reminded them, ” it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).
The Serious Warnings of Peter and Jude
It will be necessary for you to prayerfully read both 2 Peter 2:1-22, and Jude 3-23 to fully appreciate the seriousness and the extent of these warnings placed in Holy Scripture. These passages are not about false apostles, but about falsehood in leadership generally, and they reveal the serious condemnation and judgement to come that hangs over the heads of some who, outwardly, may look good in the church.
Following is a table outlining most of the ideas in these passages, although this hardly does justice to the power of the scripture itself. What is revealed is the amazing consistency of the biblical authors in their description of false shepherds/ prophets/teachers/apostles. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10 & 11, which we
considered above, give us a remarkably similar picture of the behaviour and heart motivation of the false minister, as that below.
A Comparative Analysis of False Shepherds/Teachers
These descriptions are of church leaders who have insincere, evil motives, and they will suffer a terrible judgement. We must remember that outwardly they will often look benign. Indeed, many will look good, especially on first impressions. It is necessary to understand that whilst we are to know, recognise and honour those that lead us (1 Thessalonians 5:12), we are also instructed not to judge by appearances (John 7:24), and not to know them by natural means (2 Corinthians 5:16), but to know and discern all things by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10-16). We must remember Jesus words. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:15-20).