[13] For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. [14] And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. [15] So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

2 Corinthians 11:13-15

Consider, you are about to go on a journey and say goodbye to your friends who are elders of the church both you and they love. You look them in the eye and say,

[29] I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; [30] and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.

Acts 20:29-30

These were the words of Paul to the elders at Ephesus. Think on this for a moment, from within the church fierce wolves will emerge, they will feed lies, deceive and undermine the stability of the church. We read in both of Paul’s letters to Timothy of the presence and destructive influence of false teachers in the church at Ephesus but don’t think for a moment that the scenario that played itself out in the first century church cannot occur in our churches today. That we will not have to contend with people who can sway people’s hearts and minds, disguised as so called apostles of Christ (vs13).

The problem then and today is the use of the right language “Jesus” the “gospel” and the “Spirit”. They appear to sound good and godly and yet what they say can take on a different shape, sound different and smell different. It’s close but the result is they feed on the confidence of God’s people rather than strengthening them. There is disunity rather than unity.

You or I initially would not at first meeting usually see them as “of or from Satan” as their disguise is so convincing.

D. A. Carson describing these verses says,

“There is an entire network of leaders, nicely installed in the church, who actively work against the gospel in the name of the gospel, seduce the people to another Jesus in the name of Jesus, and in the name of their greater Christian maturity instill a deadly triumphalism that renders impossible ‘sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

These men in the church in Ephesus, claim to be genuine apostles (vs 13) who serve Christ and want to impose their beliefs on the flock.

Paul labels them “false apostles”, impostors, intruders, interlopers who consciously serve themselves and unwittingly do the Devil’s dirty work.

That is strong stuff, but for Paul the church is to be protected.

They preached “another Jesus” and a “different spirit” and a gospel “different” from the one Paul proclaimed (2 Corinthians 11:4). They projected a distorted view of Christ and used cunning and deceit to achieve their goals (vs 13). They did not release the flock but brought bondage, heaviness and used abusive tactics to influence (vs 20).

They peddled the gospel for personal gain (2 Corinthians 2:17). It was all about them. They dismissed and belittled the work of Paul (2 Corinthians 10:14-16) and worked hard behind the scenes to gain the ear and loyalty of the flock “deceitful workmen” (vs 13). They deliberately misrepresented themselves, as well as their motivation and goals, and ultimately led people away from Paul, the truth of the sufficiency of Christ, the work of the Spirit and the effectiveness of the gospel. They sowed uncertainty.

Here comes the hard truth! Wether they knew it or not they were being manipulated by Satan who was disguising himself in their words and motives as an angel of light (vs 14). That’s hard to consider!

How do such men gain a foothold in the life of the church in our day? What has opened the door to their presence and insidious influence?

D. A. Carson uses the term “tolerance”.

“The appeal to limitless toleration – not just toleration of the other chap’s right to be wrong, but toleration pushed so far one can never say that anything or anyone is wrong – presupposes the greatest evil is to hold a strong conviction that certain things are true and their contraries are false. Worse, this presupposition operates because of an antecedent presupposition: confident knowledge in religious matters is impossible. But if we hold that God has revealed himself to men, supremely in the person of his Son, but also in the words and propositions of Scripture, then however many interpretative difficulties may still afflict us, we have no right to treat as optional anything God has said. Indeed, never to say any opinion is wrong presupposes one opinion is right – viz., the one saying no opinion is wrong. Either this is illogical, or the proponent of this view really means the one certainly correct opinion is that no other opinion should ever be dismissed as wrong. But how has he or she attained such certain knowledge? Few opinions are less liberal and tolerant than the form of liberalism fiercely intolerant of everything but itself”

This leads us to consider the nature of temptation and sin and how Satan’s work in the human heart unfolds. Let me quote D A Carson at length. His words are worthy of your close attention:

“Most believers are not enticed into sin by the prospect of committing great evil. Far from it; they rationalize their way into committing evil by seeing in it some kind of good, or at very least by blocking out the evil dimensions. They cheat on their income tax, not because stealing and lying are gross sins, but because (they tell themselves) there is so much government waste, because government takes more than its share, because everybody is doing it, and because no one will ever know. They gossip about neighbours and friends, not out of conscious disobedience to God, but because they feel they are passing on truth, the result of mature discernment. They nurture bitterness and hate against a spouse or a fellow believer, not because they hunger to ignore the unambiguous warnings in Scripture against bitterness and hate, but because they are persuaded their emotions are not evil after all, but simply justifiable instances of righteous indignation.

Exactly the same warped motives often prevail in their doctrinal judgments. Christians will be seduced into thinking there is no hell, not because they choose to be selective about what teachings of Jesus they will accept, but because they have heard some extrapolations on the theme of God’s love that not only go beyond the biblical text but also deny some other part of Scripture. They will offer generous support of heretical teachers who appear on television, not because they love heresy, but because the scoundrels on the screen talk fluently of joy, peace, triumph, experience, and of some sort of Jesus – and who can be against such things?”

Sin is subtle. So, too, is Satan. But as Paul said before, “we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11). Though he may come to us as “an angel of light” (vs 14) and his workers as “servants of righteousness” (vs 15), we have the mind of Christ. We have his Word. We have the Holy Spirit. We maybe as church leaders need to be a bit more protective of the flock in our care. We maybe as church leaders need to be a bit braver that we are, I am not talking about heavy authority or false calls to loyalty but a care for the flock that will stop the wolves getting amongst the sheep.

Lord, grant us insight, wisdom and the discernment to judge rightly.