This is part four of a series of blogs by John Alley, on the topic of the humanity of apostles. These blogs are taken from chapter 10 of the Apostolic Revelation. Part three (the previous part) of this blog series is available here.
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.
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).
Summarising the Characteristics of the False Leader
In summarising the characteristics of the false shepherd that have been given, we note certain common details that seem to be consistently part of the picture.
Firstly, at the root there is always a problem in the heart, from which springs a falseness (or error) in the motives, the morals and/or the message of the false minister. As the falseness or deception grows, it will often encompass all three of these areas. Corruption in the motives of the heart includes pride, greed and the need to control others, among other things. Paul mentioned envy, rivalry, selfish ambition, and insincerity in the hearts of some whose goal was to stir up trouble against Paul himself (Philippians 1:15-17) . Corruption in morality means they are still slaves to sin and their own fleshly desires, and this admits all kinds of secret sin. Error in the message can spring from any number of motives, including the above. This will result in the message of grace being perverted into either license or legalism, either of which by definition is “another gospel” (Galatians 1:6-9, 2 Corinthians 11:4), and ultimately this is a denial of Jesus Christ, as Paul, Jude and Peter each have told us.
Secondly, false ministers are quick to claim leadership for themselves, but equally quick to find fault, and exclude and criticise others. They have been defined by Jude as grumblers and faultfinders, scoffers who cause division, and Peter said they were bold and arrogant.
Thirdly, they are motivated by self-interest rather than love of Christ and the brethren, and this is “the way of Balaam”, whose heart craved the “wages of wickedness”. They use boasting and flattery to establish themselves and achieve their ends.
Fourthly, they despise authority, so they are likely to cynically oppose Christ’s apostles, whom they seek to undermine.
Finally, another commonality is, they are under very serious judgement indeed. They will be repaid with “harm” for what they have done, “their end will be what their actions deserve”, “their destruction has not been sleeping”, and “for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever”. “Woe to them!”
It is possible for a false apostle to function out of a false sense of calling. They may be genuinely mistaken, and therefore sincere. This will sometimes happen when someone has an old denominational mindset, and uses outward immediate success as a measure of their anointing. Others may think they are apostles, and yet be completely deceived, often by their own pride and selfish ambition. I have met people who claim to be building for Christ, but are only building for themselves. One of these was a young man who claimed to be an apostle, but had no understanding of the motives of his own heart. His biggest problem was these same items — uncontrolled pride, strong personal ambition, and the hidden motive of building for oneself. He looked good in the short-term, but has achieved nothing, and will not without a cleansing of the heart.
Another variation in the realm of falseness is that of the ‘hireling’. Jesus said that the hired hand “cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:13). This kind of person is not motivated into the ministry by love for Christ and His people, but by love of self, and desire for the position, salary or other beneficial conditions. A friend told me a story coming from his own ministry. He visited a church to preach one weekend, and while there the Lord gave him a prophetic word for the pastor. In his heart, he decided not to give that minister the word he heard, which was an exhortation to repent of being a hireling. As he was leaving the church after the last meeting, the pastor approached him to say, “I know God has given you a prophetic word for me, and I would like you to tell me what it is.” My friend explained that he did not want to share that word, but the pastor insisted. Therefore, my friend delivered to him a prophetic exhortation to repent of being in the ministry only for the pay and conditions, and change his heart toward the church. At this, the pastor lifted from his shirt pocket his paycheque, and said, “This is the only reason I’m here,” and slipped the cheque back into his pocket.
All false leaders become pawns in the Devil’s hands (2 Timothy 2:26), but some are more specific tools of Satan, actually planted by the enemy in the church. They are hidden representatives of the adversary. Others come into the church by believing the gospel, but have never had the evil motivations removed from their hearts by a full repentance and cleansing of the blood of Christ. An example of this is given in the stories of the early church. Simon, the sorcerer of Samaria, believed and was baptised, and followed the evangelist everywhere. When the power of the Spirit was given to the believers through the laying on of the apostle’s hands, Simon offered Peter money to obtain the power. He had never repented of his hunger for power, and his personal need for the approval and control of others. He received one of the sternest rebukes in all of scripture when Peter answered him, “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin” (Acts 8:20-23).
The apostle Peter saw immediately that Simon was wrongly motivated — “full of bitterness and captive to sin”. Even in response to the rebuke, he appeared more motivated to avoid consequences than to correct his heart. There is an appropriate, important and necessary place for the stern rebuke of wrong motives in the heart, and the church is poorer and more vulnerable when leaders avoid such conflict. Peter himself had tasted the seemingly harsh, but obviously needed and proper, rebuke of Jesus in the period of his own training for the ministry (Mathew 16:23).
Part Five of the blog will be posted next week.