Big Idea: Stay faithful to Jesus by clinging to the gospel and resisting false teaching.
I love Toronto, but one of the things that drives me crazy is discovering good churches that are no longer churches — or even worse, that have drifted from Christianity.
Take Avenue Road Presbyterian Church. It was obviously on Avenue Road, just north of Davenport. It sat vacant until 1941 when Charles Templeton took possession. He started to rent it for $100 a month, even without a congregation. Just a side note: That’s about $1700 in today’s dollars. If anyone has a lead on a building like that for that price, please let me know!
Under his leadership, the church grew. Templeton went into debt to pay for the construction of balconies to accommodate the growth. When it caught on fire, donations poured in from all over North America. It eventually joined the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and moved to north Toronto to become Bayview Glenn Church.
But two sad things happened.
First: in 1957, Charles Templeton declared himself an agnostic. The guy who started this church left the faith completely. Fifty years later he admitted that he missed Jesus. The man who was one of the greatest preachers in North America at that time left the faith completely.
Second: in the 1970s, the church was sold to a buyer who represented the Hare Krishna group, and the church is now a Hare Krishna temple.
I hate this! I hate whenever I hear that someone who once professed the faith has left it, or that a church that once proclaimed the gospel is no longer there, either because it’s moved or it’s died.
The Pastor’s Job, and Two Dangers
And that’s the danger that Paul addresses in this passage, and the danger we face today. The heart of Paul’s concern is in verses 2 to 4:
For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
There’s so much to unpack here.
First, here’s the goal of any pastor worth his salt. “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” I don’t know if there’s a better description of what a pastor is supposed to do than this verse. The image is of a father presenting his daughter to a husband — but things are in trouble. Things are about to get really, really bad. Just look at the passion that Paul feels for the Corinthians. John Chrysostom, an early church father, wrote this 1500 years ago:
Paul uses a word here which is far stronger than mere love. Jealous souls burn ardently for those whom they love, and jealousy presupposes a strong affection. Then, in order that they should not think that Paul is after power, wealth or honor, he adds that his jealousy is “divine.” For God is said to be jealous, not in a human way but so that everyone may know that he claims sovereign rights over those whom he loves and does what he does for their exclusive benefit. Human jealousy is basically selfish, but divine jealousy is both intense and pure.
Pastors should be concerned for the spiritual condition of the church. Not just concerned. That’s too mild. They should be jealous. My job is to walk you down the aisle to Jesus, and I’m very concerned — jealous even —about what could mess this up.
What could mess it up? Paul mentions two dangers.
First, that they’ll be led astray. “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). Paul’s already talked about this in the previous chapter:
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ… (2 Corinthians 10:4–5)
What does Satan use to draw people away from Jesus? False teaching. Lies about God. It’s what Satan used in the Garden of Eden, and it’s what he continues to use today. Notice what Paul says about the serpent: he uses cunning or trickery. He’s very good at getting us to believe things that are false about God. He’s good at getting us to believe half-truths and lies. Sinclair Ferguson calls this Edenic poison. We drink it, thinking it will be good, and it kills us.
Here’s the other danger: that we’ll be led astray because of certain people. Paul says, “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:4).
This is serious. They are receiving another Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel. The message that Paul preached was simple and threefold:
- Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead
- The Spirit is given to all who believe
- We can receive the gospel — the good news of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God — through simple repentance and faith
That’s the amazing news. But a group entered the Corinthian church and preached another Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel, and the church was willing to go along with it. He calls them super-apostles in the next verse.
The leaders of this church exist to marry you all to Jesus — but the church is always in danger of cheating because it’s led away by our enemy through false teachers.
This is our greatest danger. Our greatest danger as a church probably isn’t that we will not be able to find a new location. Our greatest danger isn’t that we won’t grow as fast as we’d like. Those are dangers, but they’re not our biggest one. Our greatest danger is that we will drift away from Jesus, the Spirit, and the gospel because of false teaching and false teachers. It’s what has destroyed more churches in Toronto than anything else. It will destroy ours if we’re not careful.
So what was the false teaching that the super-apostles brought to the Corinthian church?
We don’t know exactly what they taught, but it seems from the rest of this book that it was some kind of version of the prosperity gospel: very light on humility and suffering, and very big on power and success.
They made two accusations against Paul. First, in verses 5 and 6, that Paul was an inferior public speaker.
Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things. (2 Corinthians 11:6)
Image matters, and Paul didn’t have the image. He wasn’t slick enough. We tend to be very attracted to the slick and polished, and evidently Paul didn’t measure up.
Here’s the second accusation: that Paul never made enough money as a preacher. “I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge” (2 Corinthians 11:7). Paul accepted money from other churches so he could continue his ministry, but he also worked with his hands. He wouldn’t let money get in the way of spreading the gospel.
Among the socially elite, the fact that Paul worked with his hands would have been embarrassing. He was a tradesman, a manual laborer. They didn’t like that. They thought that a successful Christian leader should be a good speaker and should also look very successful.
The same views are around today, and we need to stay on guard. This is false Christianity. We hear it in popular preachers like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyers. It’s dangerous. Sean DeMars, who once got caught up in this false gospel, writes:
Brothers, call it what it is. Pastors, call it what it is. Don’t let even a hint of this junk live in your church. Preach against it, and preach a gospel that shines so bright and burns so hot that any other gospel that tries to approach it burns up upon entry. Don’t treat this like an asymptomatic sniffle in an otherwise healthy body; treat it like the cancer that it is. Preach, teach, counsel, shepherd, and pray a clear and true gospel, and leave no room for anything less glorious or true.
If you meet someone who is lost in this false gospel, please, please, please love them and tell them the truth. Sit them down, buy them lunch, and open up your Bibles. Speak life. Be brave. Odds are, no one has ever loved them enough to tell them the truth about themselves. The truth is that they cannot be saved by a false gospel, and the prosperity gospel is certainly that.
Friends, be on guard against this false gospel. It was a danger in Paul’s day, just as it’s a danger today.
What to Do
Here’s what I want to get across today: Stay faithful to Jesus. Many churches, many believers haven’t. Again, here’s the goal in verse 2: “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” That’s the goal of your life and the goal of this church. It’s what it’s all about.
How do we do that? Two things.
First: cling to Jesus. You see that in verses 2 to 4, don’t you? You’ve been betrothed to Christ. Long after him. Make him your greatest joy. Find all of your satisfaction in him. Cultivate your love for him. Make your life all about him.
That’s why as a church we really want to major on Jesus. Every week we get up, I want the major focus to be on him. It’s why we celebrate communion every week. Keep Jesus front and center in your life, and let’s keep him front and center in this church.
Second: be on guard against false teaching. No other Jesus, no other spirit, no other gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4). We tend to think of false teaching as no big deal. We think that it’s about what we feel rather than what we think. But it’s a very big deal. It will draw us away from Jesus. It’s a cancer that will kill us. Be on guard against false teachings — including, in this case, teachings that say that the Christian life helps us avoid suffering. After all, we’re called to suffer. We’re called to follow a Savior who suffered for us.
Stay faithful to Jesus by clinging to the gospel and resisting false teaching.
If we do this, with God’s help, our church will stay faithful, and I’ll have the joy of presenting you to Jesus. May God keep us faithful until that day.