“Would to God ye could hear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him. For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles. But though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge; but we have been thoroughly made manifest among you in all things. Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely? I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service. And when I was present with you, and wanted, 1 was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things 1 have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself. As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this boasting in the regions of Achaia. Wherefore? Because I love you not? God knoweth. But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Cor. 11:1-15).
There is nothing to stir the heart to worship like contemplation of the Word of God. Satan has done his best to rob us of this treasure, but we can thank God that it has been preserved to us all down through the ages. God’s Word is like Himself, it is perfect. We read, “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.”
Now the special verses I want to re-read are 2 and 3: “I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
We have often heard the saying, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” and we need to remember that in these days, when there are so many different forces seeking to destroy our liberty here in America, when Communism is proposing license instead of liberty, and when others would propose a kind of a dictatorship instead of liberty, we ought to be very grateful to God for the privileges we have enjoyed, and as a people we should be watchful and careful lest our liberties be fritted away. But it is just as true that eternal vigilance is the price we must pay for maintaining the truth of God. There are many evil forces at work seeking to turn the Christian away from the revelation that God has given in His Word. We need not be surprised at this, for it has always been so. Just as soon as God began to work in any dispensation, Satan, the adversary, attempted to discredit the truth divinely revealed. In the former dispensation the conflict was between the revelation given through prophets and priests at Sinai and through God’s servants throughout the centuries on the one hand, and idolatry of all kinds on the other. All through the Christian dispensation the conflict has been between a pure, clear, gospel testimony and the different substitutes that the adversary of our souls has presented to men, to turn them away from the simplicity that is in Christ. The apostle Paul had to meet this. We have already seen in these Corinthian letters how his steps were dogged by those who sought to turn his converts away from the message that he brought to them of salvation by grace alone, to something that would obscure the preciousness of that grace. Now in this chapter Paul is obliged to stoop to something that is very dis- tasteful to him, because of the false accusations which were being made to destroy the confidence of the saints in their teacher, in order that they might refuse the teaching. If the devil cannot induce people immediately to give up some line of truth, then he will attack those whom God has sent forth to defend that truth. He tried to make Paul’s converts lose confidence in their teacher, in his spirituality, in his understanding of the truth, in order to discredit his ministry. These men who wickedly opposed Paul’s work ridiculed him and made the most unkind remarks, even in regard to his personal appearance and ability. They charged that he was not fit to be a leader of God’s people, that he was not an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ because he was not one of the original twelve, that he had not received his commission from Christ because it did not come through the twelve. They put him down as a free lance. They would have the people believe he was actuated by selfish motives, that he was endeavoring to make a gain of those to whom he ministered. He indignantly refuted such charges. He disliked doing this; he did not enjoy having to defend himself. The man of God would be content to simply go on preaching the Word of God and never mention himself, but here it became necessary. The Corinthians were losing confidence in their teacher, and if they lost confidence in him, they would lose confidence also in that glorious message which he had been appointed to carry through the world. He speaks of his defence as foolishness. He would rather speak of Christ. The reason he gives is, “I am jealous for you with godly jealousy.” There is a jealousy that is condemnable, the jealousy that one teacher might have of another. Servants of Christ become jealous of each other, and those who help in the Lord’s work become jealous of each other, and Sunday School teachers become jealous of each other. All such jealousy is opposed to the Holy Spirit of God. But there is a jealousy that is pure, that is clean, that is right, and it is the kind of jealousy that God Himself cherishes. He says, “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.” What does He mean? What does Paul mean? He means that he cannot bear to see his brethren turn from God to false gods because he knows that it is to their eternal ruin if they do. His jealousy is not because of self-love, but because of his love for them. What would you think of a husband who says of his wife, “I have absolutely no jealousy when she is petted by another man?” There is a jealousy, you see, that is right, and a true, upright husband wants his wife to be faithful to him, as he feels himself responsible to be true and faithful to her. And so our God desires to see His people true to Him and walking apart from the fellowship of the world. “The friendship of the world is enmity with God.” Paul says to these Corinthians, “I am jealous over you.” He did not want to see them drifting away, turning aside, following things that could not profit, and he did not want them to lose the preciousness of their first love. He wished to see them ever true to Christ. His was a godly jealousy, a jealousy like the jealousy of God. “For I have espoused you to one husband.” They were, as an assembly of God, like an engaged maiden. They had been espoused to one husband, even Christ. The marriage supper and the Lamb were yonder in the glory and they were waiting for His return. Christ is the espoused husband of the Church. He died for us, and we belong to Him, and our hearts must be true to Him. Paul did not want to see them become errant and unfaithful. He wished to be able to say at the judgment-seat of Christ, “Blessed Master, here are those whom I won for Thee, and their hearts have been true to Thee, and now they are here to be eternally united with Thee in the glory.” He was afraid that this might not be. There were agencies at work seeking to hinder this. So he says, “I am afraid lest by any means Satan should beguile you through subtilty.” That is how the devil works. Satan never says, “Good morning, I am the devil! I want to mislead you, I want to seduce you, I want to turn your heart away from God, I want to ruin you for time and eternity.” No, he comes with the fairest pretences and promises, and he endeavors to turn the heart away from Christ by deception. He deceived Eve. He has been deceiving mankind all down through the centuries. “I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” Do you know this? God’s truth is always manifested right on the very surface of His Word. Wherever people have to enter into a long course of argument in order to support a system which they are trying to foist on the saints, it is not the truth of God. Anything not characterized by a holy simplicity is not God’s testimony. And so, young saint, test every teaching by searching the Word, and if you do not find it plainly revealed in the Book, reject all unscriptural reasoning, no matter how learned may be the man who does the reasoning.
And Paul says to these Corinthians, “If these men really came to bring you something better, you might well listen to them.” They came to drag them down to a lower level, to turn their hearts away from Christ and to offer them a substitute, not one which was greater or better or more satisfactory than Christ, but a legal system which could only occupy them with self and fancied human merit. “For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” If one came to you and said, “I have found one better than Christ, better than Jesus,” well, if he really has, you might well bear with him. But you will never find anyone better than Jesus. Jesus is God’s last word to sinners and His last word to saints. I picked up a theological book the other day in which the writer said, “The time has come when we need a new investigation of the problem of Jesus Christ.” Why, my dear friends, Christ is not a problem! Jesus Christ is the solution of every problem; He is the One who makes everything plain and everything clear; the One “in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” Paul says, if one substitutes anything for Christ, turn a deaf ear to him. He says, if you receive another spirit, which you have not received, if anyone can tell you of any spirit greater, mightier or higher than the Holy Spirit of God, who dwells in every believer, then you might well go after him. But you will never find another, for the Holy Spirit is God Himself as truly as the Father is God, and the Son is God. Many spirits are abroad in the world who seek to impose upon men, but the Spirit of God, who dwells in the believer, is the Spirit who delights to glorify the Lord Jesus. Then he adds, “If one come with any other gospel than that which you have received, you might bear with him.” But there is only one gospel. That gospel takes on different phases at different times. It is called “the gospel of the kingdom” when the emphasis is put upon the kingly authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is called “the gospel of the grace of God” when the emphasis is put upon the sinner’s salvation. It is called “the glorious gospel of God,” or “the gospel of the glory of God,” when the emphasis is put upon the place that the Saviour now occupies. When it is called “the everlasting gospel” we think of that message that tells us there is One, and One only, through whom sinners can be reconciled to God, and that is the Lord Jesus. Writing to the Galatians, the apostle says, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” For there is no other gospel of God than the gospel of His Son, telling sinful men of the way whereby they may be justified before His face. If, then, men have nothing else to bring, why should they want to destroy the confidence of the people in God’s truth? This was a stern message which Paul did not like to deliver, but he had to explain things because of the misapprehensions and the unkind and untruthful insinuations that his enemies were instilling into the hearts and minds of his converts. “I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles.” He is not speaking of natural ability. What he means is this: When it comes to service, I suppose that I was not a whit behind any of them. God had put His seal upon his ministry. He had led thousands to the Saviour’s feet, and yet they said he was not an apostle because he did not know Christ when He was here on earth. Paul received his apostleship directly from heaven. It was the risen Christ who appeared to him, “delivering him from the people and the Gentiles” unto whom he was sent. That was Paul’s ordination to the apostleship. These Corinthians were God’s seal upon his work.
“Though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge.” He frankly admits that he has not the gift of eloquence. But no one could declare the truth more plainly than he. “Though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge; but we have been thoroughly made manifest among you in all things.” They knew what his life was like when he lived among them. There was one thing concerning which they found fault with him. He would not take any money from them! That is the last thing anyone would find fault with in a minister in these days! But they said that showed he could not be a real apostle. He had labored in Corinth for a year-and-a-half and he would not let them contribute anything for his support. His enemies said that if he had known that he was a real apostle he would have allowed them to support him, but he did not dare, because he was not sure of his ground. He had to explain. “Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel freely?” He had entered a city which was one of the most voluptuous on the face of the earth. He said, “I will not be dependent on this people for anything.” He went there to preach the gospel, and even after they professed to be the Lord’s he would not let them support him. He must make them feel that everything they received from him was God’s free gift, so that there would not be any idea in their hearts that he was looking for personal gain. How did he live? Well, he says, “I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service.” In other churches they put their contributions together and sent the money down to Corinth and helped to support him, so that he might carry on his evangelistic work without asking anything, lest they should misunderstand his motives. “When I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself.” He made tents to support himself, and when that money was not enough, then the Lord sent it in from brethren from Macedonia, and thus in one way or another he was enabled to be independent of that critical, fault-finding group in Corinth, who might misunderstand his motives if he received their money. It is hard to please some people; you cannot do it. If you talk loudly they do not like it, and if you talk softly they cannot hear. If you preach the gospel, that is too simple, and if you teach the Word it is too deep! And so Paul could not satisfy these people, but he sought to clear himself at any rate of the charge of selfishness in his testimony.
“As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this boasting in the regions of Achaia.” He did not always live like this, but there were special reasons why he should do it in Achaia. Why did he do it? Because he did not love them? God knows. I remember some years ago I was out in Oregon, and there was a sterling old Hollander and his fine family of ten sons and one daughter, who attended nearly all the meetings; and this dear man did not have any assurance of salvation. He was doing his very best to please God. He was trying to keep the law, and he was hoping to get the testimony in some way of his election and know he was saved. I tried to open up the truth of salvation by grace for all who believe. The old man would listen, but he thought it was too easy. I was invited to his home for dinner, and afterwards we sat down over an open Bible, and I tried to show him that he could be saved in a moment by simply trusting in the Lord Jesus, but he was so occupied with hyper-Calvinism that he could not see the simple truth and rest in Christ his Saviour. After four hours I was leaving, and just as I was turning away the dear old man—with his long beard he looked like Paul Krueger—reached in his pocket and offered me a gift of five dollars. I said, “Tell me, are you giving that out of love for Christ, or are you giving it to try to help buy your salvation?” He looked at me a moment or two and he said, “I don’t love Christ, I wish I did.” I said, “Keep your five dollars. I appreciate your kindness in offering it, but I do not want you to get the idea that there is anything meritorious about giving money to a servant of Christ.” They told me afterwards that he went to his room and cried like a child. Two years later I came back, and I shall never forget the night he came up to me and said, “I love the Lord Jesus; I have trusted Him as my Saviour; I know I am His. Will you take the five dollars now?” I took it, and was glad to try to use it for the Lord Jesus Christ. That was Paul’s idea. The Corinthians had the wrong attitude about money. Paul did not want their money for himself. “But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.” I gather from this that these false teachers were quite eager for financial gain. Paul took the opposite attitude. Then again, these false teachers spoke well, they seemed in most things to be very much like real servants of Christ. How do you detect them? By the message they bring. If they do not preach the truth of God they are not Christ’s apostles. But they seem to be nice men; they speak so graciously and eloquently; they are personally so attractive. The apostle says, “No marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.” He does not come to men in the crude way we usually see him pictured, with horns and a tail and hoofs. Why, such a devil would not lead anyone astray! But a devil who comes as an angel of light, with kindly, soft, tender words and dulcet tones—that is the kind of devil that deceives people. And so Paul says, if “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light, it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” Did you notice that expression, “his ministers?” Does Satan have ministers? Does the devil have ministers? Yes, that is what Paul says. A man may be cultured and refined and ordained to the ministerial office and profess to teach the Word of God, but all the time he may be Satan’s appointee. How can we tell Satan’s ministers from Christ’s ministers? In one simple way, Paul says. There need be no difficulty about it. If they are Satan’s they may talk a great deal about human righteousness, but one thing they do not talk about. Satan’s ministers have nothing to say about the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ’s ministers are like the bride in the Song of Solomon. The bridegroom says to her, “Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet.” The true servant of Christ has lips that speak of the blood of Jesus. He points sinners to that atoning blood through which alone guilty men may be saved. No matter how much one may insist on righteousness, personal, civic, or national, if he fails to present to men salvation through the precious, cleansing blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, he is one of Satan’s ministers. For God has no other message for lost men than that which is linked with the work of Calvary’s cross.