The Servants of Satan
Text and Exposition
12“But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.”
12 Ὃ δὲ ποιῶ, καὶ ποιήσω, ἵνα ἐκκόψω τὴν ἀφορμὴν τῶν θελόντων ἀφορμήν, ἵνα ἐν ᾧ καυχῶνται εὑρεθῶσιν καθὼς καὶ ἡμεῖς. 13 οἱ γὰρ τοιοῦτοι ψευδαπόστολοι, ἐργάται δόλιοι, μετασχηματιζόμενοι εἰς ἀποστόλους Χριστοῦ. 14 καὶ οὐ θαῦμα· αὐτὸς γὰρ ὁ Σατανᾶς μετασχηματίζεται εἰς ἄγγελον φωτός. 15 οὐ μέγα οὖν εἰ καὶ οἱ διάκονοι αὐτοῦ μετασχηματίζονται ὡς διάκονοι δικαιοσύνης· ὧν τὸ τέλος ἔσται κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτῶν.
“At this point in the letter Paul makes the threat in Corinth clear and that he is dealing with false apostles who preach a different gospel. Such men seek to compromise the whole Christian message by preaching a different Jesus and operating under a different spirit which Paul had never preached and the church had never received. Paul begins by cutting off any opportunity which might give the false teachers a way to align their ministry with Paul’s. This is why Paul still refuses to receive support so that they would not be justified in the type of support they were looking for. Paul’s description of the false teachers shows the pretentious nature of their false religion— everything they profess to be does not comport with reality. Ultimately, these false teachers are in league with Satan their father who himself is the master of deception and counterfeit religion. Paul would have the church learn the truth about such men that their tactics, though they should come as no surprise, are nevertheless diabolical and deserving of destruction.”
In this context, Paul sets his opponents as far apart from his own ministry as possible. Earlier in the letter Paul had established himself as an “ambassador for Christ” (5.20) and as possessing God’s own jealousy for the church (11.2); here Paul expands upon his earlier description of the false teachers who have an analogous relationship with the serpent and his deception (11.3). Paul makes that comparison explicit by showing their hidden sinister roots. Their aim, their deception and their condemnation all reflect their association with the great deceiver himself, Satan.
1.) THEIR SELF PROMOTING AIMS
12“But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting.”
Verse 12 represent an important link and transition from the context of vv.7-11. While in vv.7-11 Paul’s focus was primarily reflexive and concerning himself; verse 12 gives a further explanation of his boasting only this time Paul explains how it will result in “cutting off” (ἐκκόπτω) and thus circumventing his opponent’s aims. Paul means to disrupt the opponent’s goals by cutting off “opportunity” (τὴν ἀφορμὴν) for them to perpetuate their agenda. But what is that agenda in Corinth? It may be twofold and one is more significant than the other.
1.1, False teachers always attempt to attach themselves to the truth
As Paul argued in v.3, the false teachers are crafty and like Satan, they use legitimate language and orthodox terms they try to align themselves with accepted truth in order to sneak in their heresies and distort the gospel. Paul who has extensive experience dealing with false teachers even when God was using him substantially (cf. 1 Cor. 16.9).
In Galatia, the Judaizers were using similar language as Paul— speaking of the importance of “righteousness”, “justification”, “covenant promises”, “Abraham”, and “Law”; however, their use of these terms were twisted and led to their own destruction (cf. 2 Pet. 3.16). In the present context, the heretics are looking to be associated with Paul’s dealings with the church. Paul’s sacrifice is ultimately in view here.
Here Paul exposes their selfish aims, “desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting” (τῶν θελόντων ἀφορμήν, ἵνα ἐν ᾧ καυχῶνται εὑρεθῶσιν καθὼς καὶ ἡμεῖς). If he changed his policy of not receiving support, they would claim equality with Paul and vindicate their equality with the apostolic order (cf. Gal. 2.12; Acts 8.21). Yet, Paul refuses to allow that to take place so he cuts off their “opportunity” to do so. This then became another incentive for Paul to refuse support— in order that his opponent’s greed may become evident, “But what I am doing I will continue to do” (Ὃ δὲ ποιῶ, καὶ ποιήσω).
1.2, False teachers always have deeper motives than they espouse
Paul continues to refuse support so that his opponents would not accomplish their ultimate goal of being “regarded” (εὑρίσκω) “just as” (καθὼς) Paul was yet according to their boast, “the matter about which they are boasting” (ἐν ᾧ καυχῶνται). The false teachers are looking to be justified and to be vindicated as being as authoritative as Paul by sharing his lifestyle or better yet, his style of ministry (see, BDAG). If Paul would receive support, they would claim, ‘see, we are doing exactly what Paul is doing in seeking your [Corinthians] financial support.’ But their support was nothing like Paul’s support from other churches. Paul was supported for gospel ministry they were support due to greed (11.20). Paul was never motivated by greed:
1 Thessalonians 2:5 5 “For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness”—
False teachers always attempt to align themselves with true ministries, true messages, and apostolic orthodoxy before they inevitably deny it. The period of history known as The Restoration Movement in the 19th century is a mass scale example of how this happens. Under the leadership of Barton Stone and later the Cambellite brothers, Alexander and Thomas— The Restoration Movement saw a simple and yet deadly progression. First, their was a claim of being connected with and indeed restoring the apostolic order the primitive church. Second, there was deviation from the orthodox teaching on baptism (i.e. essential for salvation). And third, the movement was shattered into various fragments and groups like the Church of Christ, Seven Day Adventists, Christian Science, and even Mormonism. There was a claim to orthodoxy and then a complete abandoning of the gospel of free grace. The same can be said of the false teachers in Corinth. They were attempting to connect themselves with the apostles before they stood against their gospel.
2.) THEIR SATANIC DECEPTION
13“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”
By refusing to compromise concerning his financial independence, Paul shows himself to be the slave of all men (1 Cor. 9.19; 4.5) while the false teachers are not the Corinthian’s slaves but their enslavers (11.20). And the whole reason for this is due to their selfish ambitions. Unlike Paul, the false teachers were seeking what was “theirs” i.e. the material goods that the Corinthians could provide them with (12.14). At this point Paul powerfully renounces his opponents as, “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (ψευδαπόστολοι, ἐργάται δόλιοι, μετασχηματιζόμενοι εἰς ἀποστόλους Χριστοῦ).
Each of the terms Paul uses are meant not only to accurately describe the false teachers but also to show that they are diametrically opposed to his ministry and completely detached from reality. They were claiming to be “apostles of Christ” (ἀποστόλους Χριστοῦ) when in reality they were “false apostles” (ψευδαπόστολοι); they were claiming to be more honorable and truthful than Paul (10.2, 10; 11.4) when in reality they were “deceitful workers” (ἐργάται δόλιοι); and in v.15 they were also deceptively pawning themselves off as “servants of righteousness” (διάκονοι δικαιοσύνης), (3.9) when in reality they were serving Satan, “his servants” (οἱ διάκονοι αὐτοῦ). This is why Paul had to take such a hard stand against them. Every aspect of their ministry was a lie. People who follow false teachers today commit the very same error as the Corinthians. They think they are following true teachers; some even still calling themselves apostles and prophets. But the truth of the matter is that they are driven by a satanic deception which undergirds all of their doctrine and all of their practice. Jesus had this stern warning for the church concerning false teachers:
Matthew 7:15–20 15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 “So then, you will know them by their fruits.”
The essence of the deception is found in the word, “disguising” (μετασχηματίζω). This deception consists of two important “disguises”; first, they try to appear to have the proper authority, “disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (μετασχηματιζόμενοι εἰς ἀποστόλους Χριστοῦ); second, in v.15 they try to appear to have the proper morality, “disguise themselves as servants of righteousness,” (μετασχηματίζονται ὡς διάκονοι δικαιοσύνης). This word, “to disguise” comes from ancient Greek word meaning to transform, to change and go from one form to another like a chameleon. In this context the BDAG translates it as, “to feign to be what one is not.” Ultimately it speaks of the pretentious posture of the false teachers who know that in order to gain a hearing from the Corinthians they must establish a link between themselves and Christ. If that can be foisted upon the hearers, then their allegiance can follow. One thing the Ephesian church is praised for is their resistance to false teachers who masquerade as the real thing:
Revelation 2:2 2 “‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.”
It can be quite wearisome to combat false teachers especially in a pluralistic society where frowning on anyone’s beliefs is becoming totally uncivilized— this is the spirit of the age (Eph. 2.2). The more of culture creeps into the Christian church the more political correctness comes with it and the more political correctness comes with it the more the lines of truth are blurred the less truth people are willing to stand up for. But even in a pretentious age such as ours today, those who pretend to be orthodox but are in fact not orthodox must always be confronted and refuted. The reason for this is because of the true origin of all doctrinal deception, namely Satan and his influence (cf. Acts 13.6ff.). Paul is not at all surprised that the false teachers are operating along such deceptive lines, “No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” (καὶ οὐ θαῦμα· αὐτὸς γὰρ ὁ Σατανᾶς μετασχηματίζεται εἰς ἄγγελον φωτός).
This description of Satan is unique to all of antiquity before Paul. It is however the most fitting description of these false teacher’s actions for they too were trying to pawn themselves off as “light bearers” when in reality the prince of darkness was fueling their ambitions and filling their minds with his lies so that they would not see the true light of the gospel:
2 Corinthians 4:3–4 3 “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Although the false teachers laid claim to Christ saying that they were “apostles of Christ” (ἀποστόλους Χριστοῦ), thereby appearing to have the proper authority, they were actually antichrist since they were actually preaching a false Christ, a false gospel, and imparting a false spirit (11.4). This is the ultimate identity of all false teachers:
1 John 4:1–6 1 “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”
3.) THEIR CONDUCT AND THEIR CONDEMNATION
15“Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.”
The false teachers not only share the same lies they share the same judgment. As we consider the influence of false teachers, Paul tells us that we should in no way be surprised. Paul tells the Corinthians, “it is not surprising” (οὐ θαῦμα) when false teachers masquerade as the opposite of what they really are. Here the false teachers are disguising (μετασχηματίζω) themselves as “servants of righteousness” (διάκονοι δικαιοσύνης). All false teachers claim to be agents of good. Some claim to provide strong family values like the Mormons, some promise community and religious structure like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, still others promise strong moral and cultural practices and rituals like the Muslims. At the end of the day they offer people ethical norms devoid of real righteousness (cf. 2 Tim. 3.5).
The aim of the false teacher is to get people to believe the have the proper morality along with the proper authority. So then, they must present themselves as agents of Christ working for religious good in hopes that people will believe their lies and submit to their doctrines. Leading people astray is the worst possible thing anyone can do. This is why the condemnation fits (κατὰ) the conduct or the “deeds” (τὰ ἔργα) of these “deceitful workers” (ἐργάται δόλιοι). This is how all judgment works. In Scripture judgment is always according to one’s deeds and therefore perfectly just. This is precisely what is always said of false teachers:
Romans 3:8 8 “And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.”
Philippians 3:19 19 “whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.”
2 Timothy 4:14 14 “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds.”
The deeds of a heretic are diabolical because they are sharing in the activity of Satan to oppose Christ and His church. Paul had already taught the Corinthians about the danger of building the church on a faulty theological foundation (1 Cor. 3.10-15) but also of the consequences that are in store for those who would “destroy” God’s church:
1 Corinthians 3:16–17 16 “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.”
Nothing will tear down the church quicker and more severely than doctrinal compromise. A church that has suffered a scandal can survive, but a church that has lost the gospel cannot. The church is compared to a temple and like a temple the church has certain pillars that cannot be compromised if the church is going to stand. Paul has identified “such men” (οἱ... τοιοῦτοι) in Corinth as false, deceitful, working in disguise, and servants of Satan for preaching a different gospel (11.4). And that should be the litmus test for the church today.