12 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.
False teachers had infiltrated the Corinthian church by the time Paul wrote the second letter to the Corinthians. Paul refers to them sardonically as “super-apostles,” not because they really were apostles but because they were self-aggrandizing pretenders. As a true apostle, he wants to show that he operates on a totally different level from the false teachers. They aren’t who they claim to be. They are not like Paul. They are not apostles. They are not faithful preachers of Christ. They may claim to be, but they are none of these things.
13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.
Some commentators think that Paul is speaking here like Jesus spoke to Peter when he told him, “Get behind me Satan” (Matt. 16:23). Ultimately, Peter was a true disciple of Christ and not a servant of Satan. And some interpreters think the same is true of Paul’s words here to the the “super-apostles” who Paul says are “disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” But I’m not convinced by that interpretation because of what Paul says next about them.
14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
It doesn’t seem like this is just a rhetorical flourish to call them Satan’s servants because it says that “their end will correspond to their deeds.” That is a statement about their impending judgment, and Paul is saying that they are going to come up short when Jesus separates the sheep from the goats.
But in either case—whether you take it is real servants of Satan or just believers who are temporarily in error like Peter was—this situation is very grave and serious. No matter who you are, the situation is serious if you put yourself on the side of Satan against Christ. Any person who is contradicting and attacking the apostolic word is putting themselves on the side of Satan against Christ. Any person who is denigrating the word of God and treating it like their plaything and bending it and molding it to fit their own corrupt desires—anyone doing that is setting themselves on the side of Satan against Christ.
But here’s the thing. Paul is trying to get the Corinthians to see—and he’s trying to get us to see—that people who come to a church and do this don’t think of themselves or present themselves as doing the work of Satan. They will often do the work of the Devil in the name of Christ.
False teaching never arrives by announcing itself as doing the work of Satan. No. It always comes in flying under a veneer of righteous Christianity. This is why Jesus warned us in the sermon on the mount:
Matthew 7:15-23 “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… 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. 21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
Notice what Jesus tells us about these false teachers. They look like sheep. They call Jesus “Lord.” They prophesy in Jesus’ name. They cast out demons in Jesus’ name. They perform miracles in Jesus’ name. They think themselves to be bona fide believers. But they aren’t believers. Ultimately, what they believe to be true about themselves is not what defines how God renders judgment on them.
It’s not what a you claim that ultimately reveals who you are. It’s what you do that ultimately reveals who you are. If you are thumbing your nose at Christ and his word while claiming to be a Christian, you aren’t a Christian. You don’t belong to him. There may be the appearance of a sheep on the outside, but the reality is a wolf underneath.