Paul was concerned the Corinthian church was much too willing to allow themselves to be deceived by men who were self promoters. These were men who called themselves apostles, but in fact were not. In truth, they were false apostles!
This brings us to a point worthy of notice. What are characteristics of a false apostle (or prophet, teacher)? Understanding this will help us to make application in today’s religious environment.
To begin, false teachers “wage war” according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:3). In other words, they engage in battle in accordance with a standard that does not belong to God. They use the wrong “sword” by misusing the Lord’s sword (Hebrews 4:12). The last night that Jesus walked on this earth He gave His disciples warning concerning such things as this. He said that many will do what they think pleases the Lord, but their actions are as far from the Lord’s approval as one might get (John 16:2).
Secondly, a false teacher will make comparisons (2 Corinthians 10:12). When one teaches something contrary to the Lord’s revealed will, that person generally makes a comparison along the lines of “I am only teaching what ___________ taught!” This is a comparison in order to gain acceptance.
Third, a false teacher is apt to brag (2 Corinthians 10:13). In one’s desire to be received by others, not only will there be a comparison, but there can be a strengthening of one’s position by promoting one’s own ability.
Fourth, a false teacher preaches a message that is different than what is revealed (2 Corinthians 11:4). Paul was not merely stating the fact of this occurrence he was aggravated that many of the Corinthians were accepting such! Some will take that phrase and tell us we can do what Scripture does not expressly forbid. Thus, an innovative practice is engaged and it is justified because God did not forbid it.
Fifth, a false teacher is a hireling (2 Corinthians 11:7). The emphasis for the false teacher is not on the gospel, but on one’s opportunity to be paid.
Sixth, false teachers promote themselves as if they were speaking by the same authority (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). The emphasis here is not on the self-promoting, but on the authority by which they presume to speak. An authoritative speaker gains an audience. They have, however, a façade. The only way to measure the substance of one’s preaching is to compare it to the Lord’s revealed will (2 Peter 1:3).
Seventh, false teachers believe they are superior (2 Corinthians 12:11). This is often associated with one’s academic accomplishments. When Paul spoke of the “eminent apostles” he was not including the true apostles of the Lord. He was speaking only of those who were self-appointed apostles. Paul was “behind them” in no way at all. In fact, he was more than willing to put forth his credentials in comparison to theirs. Paul did this not to promote himself, but to warn the brethren of the trap Satan had laid for them with regard to such an approach.
Eighth, false teachers try to take advantage of people and situations (2 Corinthians 12:17). It has been well-said by the many who have gone on before that Satan will not make a frontal attack through the “door” of a church, but he will operate with much cunning, seeking to gain entry any way he can. In Luke 4:13, Satan left the Lord for a more opportune time, and he accomplished what he desired by using man to do his bidding.
In conclusion let us note that a false teacher may not have all these characteristics, but you can be sure that some of them will exist. With such an understanding, we serve not only the Lord, but ourselves and the church better. RT