I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!
And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. – 2 Corinthians 11:8-15 ESV
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul had also been forced to argue in defense of his apostleship. He had found himself under attack once again by individuals who had raised questions about the validity of his claim to being an apostle. And he had strongly defended himself. “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 9:1-2 ESV). They were all the evidence he needed to prove that he had been sent by the Lord. He was a proven messenger of Jesus Christ. And yet, while living among the Corinthians Paul had chosen not to take advantage of the rights of an apostle. He had reminded them, “the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14 ESV). Yet had not asked them to fund his stay or help him in any way financially. But he had argued for his right to do so.
This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? – 1 Corinthians 9:3-7 ESV
In the book of Acts, Luke records how Paul sustained himself while living in Corinth:
After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. – Acts 18:1-3 ESV
Paul had paid his own way. And he had been aided by others, who had willingly chosen to help fund his work in Corinth. He had not burdened the Corinthians by asking them to provide for any of his ministry among them. Which is what led Paul to say:
I “robbed” other churches by accepting their contributions so I could serve you at no cost. And when I was with you and didn’t have enough to live on, I did not become a financial burden to anyone. For the brothers who came from Macedonia brought me all that I needed. I have never been a burden to you, and I never will be. – 2 Corinthians 11:8-9 NLT
Paul’s claim to have “robbed” the other churches by taking their aid was based on his not having ministered to them in return. He took their money, but used it to fund his ministry elsewhere, something they perfectly understood and of which they approved. But it obviously bothered Paul. He felt an obligation to return their generosity by ministering to them as well. But he was grateful that their gift had allowed him to stop working and concentrate all his efforts on sharing the gospel while in Corinth.
It seems that Paul’s critics were accusing him of duplicity. He had at one time refused to accept support, but then had accepted the gift from the Macedonians. They promoted this as a sign of Paul’s hypocrisy. And yet, these false teachers were had evidently been accepting support for themselves. Paul was not going to apologize for his actions. In fact, he said, “what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do” (2 Corinthians 11:12 ESV). He would not stoop to their level. And he would not allow them compare themselves to him. He had already accused them of preaching a different gospel and a different Jesus. And Paul pulled no punches, accusing these men of being “false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13 ESV). Paul had taken the gloves off, claiming these men to be in league with Satan himself. This was not a gentlemanly debate, but all-out war. Paul was not just defending his ministry, but the integrity of the gospel itself. And like a shepherd, he was protecting his flock by fending off the attacks of a dangerous predator. But what made these men particularly deadly was that they were like sheep in wolves clothing. They were cunningly deceptive and had won the confidence of the Corinthians by appearing as something other than what they really were. Jesus had warned about these kinds of men.
Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. – Matthew 7:15-20 NLT
These men had disguised themselves as “servants of righteousness”, but their intent was to do harm to God’s people. Their messages sounded safe and in line with what Paul had taught, but there were dangerously subtle differences that were based on carefully crafted mixture of truth and falsehood. They were teaching Jesus, but a slightly variant version of Jesus. They were teaching grace alone, but with a dose of good deeds mixed in. There will always be those who sneak their way into the church, disguising themselves as servants of righteousness, but who are actually servants of Satan. Their words are deceptive. Their outward appearance is convincing. But their fruit is deadly. The book of Jude describes them in stark, but realistic terms:
…they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness. – Jude 1:12-13 NLT
Be on the alert for them. Don’t be deceived by them. And have nothing to do with them. Their deeds are deadly.