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Deception Vs. Devotion (2 Corinthians 11:3)

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The Text

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.

The Proposition

Paul was deeply concerned for the Corinthian believers because, as Eve had believed the lies of the serpent, they were believing the lies of the false teachers who were leading them away from single-minded devotion to Christ.

Exegetical Outline

    I. Paul is afraid for the Corinthians in their obedience to the gospel.

    II. Paul explains the manner of the deception with an analogy to the Garden of Eden.

      A. Just as the serpent was a servant of Satan, so are the false apostles.

      B. Satan is crafty and his methods are subtle.

    III. The Reason for Paul’s fear was the doctrine of self-confidence preached and modeled by the false teachers which was contrary to confidence in Christ.

      A. The Corinthians were being deceived by the words and actions of the false teachers.

      B. The model of the false teachers was leading them from their single-minded devotion to Christ

Theological Outline

    I. Every pastor should be concerned that his flock will be enticed away from the truth.

    II. The lies of Satan are extremely deceptive.

      A. The analogy of the garden of Eden shows the deceptive nature of Satan.

      B. The problem in Corinth was intellectualism and performance based Christianity.

    III. The goal of Satan’s deception is to keep people from worshipping God.

      A. There is a spiritual battle raging for control of the believer’s mind.

      B. A doctrine of self-confidence destroys confidence in and devotion to Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:2-3


How many Biblical scholars does it take to screw in a light bulb? . . . Four.

  • One to write a paper on the text of the wrapper. If this happens to be a Mazda bulb rather than a General Electric one, this could take a major portion of someone’s career.
  • One to write an article on the writing found in the small circle at the end of the bulb.
  • One to write a discussion of the relationship between these two texts.
  • And one to write the text for Biblical Archaeology Review article asking its readership what to do with the object.

What is the point? What does this illustrate? It shows how someone can be immersed in intellectualism and miss what is important. You might have noticed that the light bulb never did get changed. Certainly, there is a need for textual criticism in Biblical studies, but it should not become the priority in Bible study.

When we leave class or chapel and head back to the Walvoord Student Center, where do our conversations center? Are we talking about how the message can apply tomorrow or are we dissecting the speaker’s use of Greek or Hebrew syntax? We are developing patterns here at seminary that we will characterize us in later ministry.

There are numerous ways we can be sidetracked from what is important. Today we are going to talk about two of them—Intellectualism and performance based Christianity. The reason we are singling these two out is because they are the problems Paul was dealing with in 2 Corinthians, and we will see they are problems we face today.

So turn to 2 Corinthians 11:3.

The first thing we see is Paul’s distress for the Corinthians. He was afraid for their spiritual welfare.

I. We need to be aware of Satan’s deception

    Context of 2 Cor. 11:3

Paul has been defending himself against false accusations in the preceding section, and he will continue to defend himself in the following section (11:16f). In the midst of his defense, he pauses to explain his motivation for his defensiveness. He uses the image of a father who has a daughter engaged to be married.

Background on betrothal period—Marriage in Paul’s day involved two separate ceremonies. There was the betrothal or engagement ceremony in which the couple was pledged to each other and then usually a year lapsed and the marriage ceremony and consummation took place. In the meantime, the couple was viewed as married, the agreement could only be broken by death or formal written divorce and any infidelity was viewed as adultery.

Since Paul had started the Corinthian church, he felt like a father to them. He was their spiritual father. And just like any father would want to proudly present his daughter as pure to her new husband, Paul wanted to present the Corinthians to Christ as a pure bride who is faithful to her husband. Perhaps he calls it foolishness in vs. 1 because the false teachers (to whom Paul refers in the following verses) are certainly going to scoff when he explains his motivation as pure.

So, verse 2 really sets the stage for verse 3. And although Paul would like to be able to present them as pure to Christ, circumstances seemed to dictate otherwise. He begins verse 3 by saying he is afraid for them.

Transition: What is he afraid of? That leads us to the second point.

He is afraid that they are being deceived, and he describes their danger by comparing it to the familiar account of the serpent’s deception of Eve. Let’s look at the analogy.

II. Beware of Satan’s subtle deception

We are in a spiritual battle, but the lines are not always clearly drawn like they were during WWII or Desert Storm. They are more like Vietnam. You don’t know if the enemy is in front of you or behind you.

    A. The pattern of deception was established in the Garden of Eden

The analogy points us to Satan’s method. We all know the account of how the serpent deceived Eve. He told her lies to get her to doubt God’s word. He twisted the commands of God a little to make it seem unfair. And finally, he flat out denied the punishment. Eve bought the lie and ate the fruit. Eve didn’t understand why God had made the rule. What he told her appealed to her and seemed to make sense.

Transition: How does this compare with the Corinthians’ situation? Let’s look at their situation. What was the deception that they were falling into?

    B. The problem in Corinth was performance based Christianity and intellectualism

If you read through 2 Corinthians, it becomes apparent that the problem was certain false teachers had come along with a new gospel. From the analogy that Paul has just used of the serpent, we know that they were ministers of Satan.

Performance based Christianity—It is not directly stated what they were teaching, but we can be fairly certain from the things which Paul emphasizes throughout the letter. There are many places where Paul emphasizes his weakness, and God’s power. He refused be proud of his accomplishments. He condemns those who are proud and who take pride in appearance. Cf. 1:9, 12; 3:5; 4:5,7,11; 5:7,12; 6:4,11; 10:3f,7,12.

Intellectualism—In our verse Paul warns that their “minds” will be led astray. Also, in 10:5 Paul says he was “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.” Perhaps these false teachers had come along saying that they had the answers to those tough questions. People don’t like uncertainty. That’s why most people prefer an 8-5 job with a steady paycheck over a 100% commission sales job with unlimited potential. There is a lot of uncertainty in a relationship with God. He is infinite. Like Isaiah says, His ways are higher than our ways and we can’t understand the “how” and especially the “why” of things related to God—why people suffer, why there is evil in the world, etc.

These false teachers probably came along and said they had the answers. They may have laid out a set of rules to follow by which they could measure their spirituality. These leaders made the rules and probably followed them best of all and were proud of it.

Illustration: (Performance based Christianity)

I think we can relate to this today. We are all aware of the Lordship Salvation movement. I think the appeal of the Lordship Salvation movement is that it helps people deal with the uncertainty. It gives people a concrete list of things to check off to see if they themselves and others are Christians. Although it ultimately results in uncertainty about one’s own salvation, there is something tangible to hold on to and it seems to offer certainty. It is deceptive.

Illustration: (Intellectualism)

John Gerstner wrote a spiteful book against dispensationalism last year called Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, and in it he makes the statement that “Dispensationalism has no philosophy of its own.” He appeals to a extra-biblical, human wisdom which is superior to the statements of scripture. I have a friend who read this book and became enamored with the debate to the extreme that he has forsaken matters of witnessing or being a good husband and father. He is caught up in the philosophical intellectualism. He thinks he is spiritual, but he has been deceived. He is so close and yet so far from what is important.

Transition: What is important? That leads us to the next point which shows us what Satan’s purpose is for deceiving us.

III. Beware of Satan’s deception, designed to lead us from devotion to Christ (11:3c)

There are a couple of Greek words that are significant in our verse. The first one is a little preposition (a'po/) translated “from” which shows separation and alienation. What were they being separated and alienated from?

I think the key word in the last part of verse 3 is the word translated as “simplicity” in the NASB and KJV and as “sincere” in the RSV and NIV. The Greek word a`plo/uv does mean simple and sincere, but the primary meaning is “single.” I think the idea of singleness of mind is especially appropriate here as Paul is discussing a battle that is going on for control of the mind. He also referred to it in 10:5. Paul also says in our verse, lest “your minds should be led astray…” The battle that is going on is for control of our minds. If Satan can control our minds, everything else will follow.

In contrast, if we are single mindedly focused on Christ, then we will be devoted to Him and want to worship Him and give Him the glory for everything. Although the word “devoted” is not actually in the Greek text, it is a great translation because that is what Paul means by being single-minded.


Central Proposition: Beware of Satan’s deception which is designed to lead us from devotion to Christ.

How does all this apply to us at Dallas Theological Seminary? What danger do we have of losing our devotion to Christ?

As future pastors, we will need to be concerned for our congregations, that they do not become enamored with the controversial issues to the extent that they forsake spirituality.

Finally, like my friend, I think we can easily become caught up in the intellectualism of studying the Word and not let it affect our lives. We can be busy studying Greek, Hebrew, eschatology, etc., and become proud of our knowledge and our ability to do exegesis, and perhaps our ability to teach. We can become dependent on ourselves for life. We can leave God out of the picture.

My challenge to you is to stay focused on and be devoted to Christ. Don’t let studying become an end in itself. Don’t become proud of your knowledge and insights. “Don’t major in the minors.” Recognize that doing so is playing into the hands of Satan.

Related Topics: Introduction to Theology, Teaching the Bible, False Teachers