Unmasking the enemy

Frauds. Enemies who pretend to be your friends so they can take advantage of you. People who want to make a buck off you by exploiting your naïveté. That’s how Paul thinks of his opponents in Corinth.

And that’s the nice way of saying it.

He writes:

But I’m going to continue to do what I’m doing. I want to contradict the claims of the people who want to be treated like they are the same as us because of what they brag about. Such people are false apostles and dishonest workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. It is no great surprise then that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. (2 Cor 11:12-15, CEB)

From the beginning of his ministry in Corinth, Paul broke with cultural custom by not accepting any money from the Corinthians. At first, this left him open to his opponents’ criticism that with Paul, “you get what you pay for.”

But in hindsight, his policy proved positively prescient. Now that most of the Corinthians had repented of their early disloyalty to Paul they would hopefully be able to think more clearly. Hmm… Paul has never taken money from us, but these people do; in fact, they’re proud of it. Who really has the ulterior motive here?

Thus Paul upped the ante: These people are only masquerading as apostles. They pretend to be your friends, worthy of your allegiance. But don’t fall for it. That’s Satan’s strategy, and by preaching a false gospel they prove themselves to be his servants. They’ll get what they deserve in the end.

Jesus himself warned his disciples that false messiahs and prophets would appear, performing signs and wonders with the goal of leading God’s chosen people astray (Matt 24:24). In Corinth, apparently, fake apostles were advocating a “gospel” that was more attractive than the one preached by Paul.

Reading between the lines of Paul’s letters, the deceptive message was probably something like this: Jesus died so you could have everything God wants for you, right now. There’s nothing to wait for. And Jesus suffered so you don’t have to. Just do these few religious things, and all of his spiritual blessings can be yours today, including health, wealth, and awesome spiritual power.

Maybe that kind of pitch sounds vaguely familiar? (Just call this toll-free number; operators are standing by. Have your Visa or MasterCard ready.)

And Paul is still not done pressing the argument yet. For if we don’t cling tightly to the gospel of a crucified Messiah, we might fall for anything that promises something more convenient. More on that in an upcoming post.