The Key to Discerning Good and Bad Spiritual Leadership
Topic: Leadership Passage: 2 Corinthians 11:1–11:15
Grace Community Church
May 2, 2021
The Key to Discerning Good and Bad Spiritual Leadership
We’re continuing our series Messy Grace, so let’s turn to 2 Cor. 11 and let’s read verses 1-15.
11 I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! 2 For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 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. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. 5 Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. 6 Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.
7 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God's gospel to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9 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. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. 11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!
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. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 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. 2 Cor. 11:1-15
On May 24, 1869, John Wesley Powell and nine volunteers set off to explore a previously unexplored portion of the Grand Canyon. After 3 exhausting and treacherous months they came face to face with the most violent rapids they had yet encountered with no way to walk around it.
At that point a decision had to be made. Most of the men, led by John Wesley Powell, decided to attempt the violent rapids. A few of the men, assessing the danger of the situation and tired of Powell’s over-confident, even arrogant leadership, decided to call
it quits and hike out of the canyon. That point became known as Separation Canyon.
One of these two groups got out of the Canyon safely. The other group died in the attempt. Just for the fun of it, let’s put ourselves in that canyon and we have to choose to follow one group or the other. Which group you would choose? Would you ride the rapids? Would you climb out of the canyon? Remember, your life depends on getting it right.
Raise your hand if you would have stayed with Powell and attempted the rapids. Raise your hand if you would have chosen to join the group that climbed out of the canyon.
If you chose to ride the violent rapids with Powell, it would have been your last rapids. Not because you died, but because the rapids quickly calmed down and a day later that group of 6 men emerged safely from the Grand Canyon.
If you chose to climb out of the Canyon, you were never seen again.
In 2 Cor. 10-13, Paul brings us along with the Corinthian church to a type of Separation Canyon. There are men who call themselves “super-apostles” who claim to be God’s super-anointed. In outward appearances, they are bigger and better leaders than Paul. They speak more eloquently, sound wiser, look better, and are more confident, stronger leaders. Paul, they say, is weak, vacillating, unimpressive, two-faced, and, to top it off, he’s ugly.
To Paul the need to persuade the church he founded that he’s the true apostle, the good leader, the better choice is embarrassing. While some leaders love to puff up their credentials and promote their resumes, to Paul it’s foolishness to the point of madness.
11 I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me!
It’s foolishness, but it’s got to be done because this is separation canyon. Paul and these super apostles are going in totally different, totally opposite directions so there’s absolutely no way to follow both. It’s a spiritual Separation Canyon and they had to choose. And their eternal destinies depended on making the right choice.
That’s what I want to talk about this morning. Those Separation Canyon moments where someone or something is calling us in a direction that ends in spiritual death. How to discern when a leader or a teaching is leading in a direction that is deceitful and deadly.
The first thing to say is that we don’t want to turn everything into a Separation Canyon. Some Christians do that – they see every difference as a reason to separate. What version of the Bible you use, what your eschatology is (last days beliefs), what you believe about the spiritual gifts, or about worship, or whether you’re Reformed or Arminian. Some Christians make these issues Separation Canyons, ready to separate from Christian love and fellowship over them.
At one point the Corinthians were guilty of that too. They separated over who they thought was the better preacher. “I’m with Paul, I’m with Peter, I’m with Apollo, I’m with Jesus (they’re the super-spiritual ones!).” Paul says, don’t separate over that, we’re all about Jesus.
There are different churches with different doctrinal beliefs and different styles and you know what, that’s ok. The spiritual reality is this: There is only one Church, and all who belong to Christ belong to that one church. We can have a different doctrinal position than the church down the road, but there should be no division or separation between Jesus-loving, gospel preaching churches in terms of love and fellowship. And I’m not talking tolerate each other. I’m talking love and welcome each other!
But the sad truth is, there are spiritual wolves out there. There are leaders and teachings that will lead a soul to hell.
How can we tell the difference? How can we tell the right direction from the wrong direction? How can we tell which spiritual leaders we can trust, and which we can’t?
There’s good news: unlike Separation Canyon, there are clear markers, clear signposts, that enable us to discern with confidence. We don’t have to rely on subjective feelings, murky impressions, or the hope that if the leader or message is packaged well, it must be good.
Verse 3 gives us the clear path, the true north, the morning star which can safely guide our lives: the right and safe direction is the one that leads us to a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
It’s simple. Literally. The word translated sincere means “unfolded”. The KJV translates it as the “simplicity that is in Christ.” The bottom line is simple: a sincere, authentic, genuine, pure love for Jesus and his gospel.
Paul then compares the false apostles and their message to the devil’s message. In the garden the serpent came with a carefully crafted lie that took Eve and then Adam in. “God said you’d die if you ate any fruit? C’mon Eve, it’s more complicated than that. It’s not that simple, there’s more going on here.”
God gave a simple command. The devil added complicated layers. Cunning.
He says, “see, God is really kinda the jealous type, Eve. He knows if you eat that fruit,
you’ll be like Him, able to discern good and evil. God doesn’t want you to be as good as Him, He doesn’t want you to be all that you can be. He said you’d die? You won’t die, you’ll live like you never lived before, eyes wide open!”
It hooked something in Eve’s heart. Then it hooked something in Adam’s heart. Something more complicated than simple obedience to God. And more deadly.
I remember when I was a young Christian going to a bible study in someone’s house, and there was an older woman there who asked me if I ever read underneath the words of the Bible. I told her it was all I could just to read the words of the Bible, much less underneath them, whatever that means. She began to tell us how her eyes were opened to the deeper, mystical meanings of the Bible. It was all very mystical, complicated, deep and super spiritual sounding.
The package was meant to convey that she had a special connection with God and deeper revelations than the average guy. Simple is reading the Bible. Complicated is reading underneath, in between, and through the words. Complicated sounds better. Simple spirituality is unfolded. What you see is what you get, it’s on the table. Complicated spirituality is folded, and refolded, and folded again.
Here’s the danger: with all the folding going on, the Corinthians missed something. These super apostles were leading them away from Jesus and toward hell.
For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. Vs. 4
They are leading the Corinthians away from a simple, pure devotion to Christ to another Jesus, another spirit than the Holy Spirit, another gospel from the one they had accepted with joy. It’s separation canyon, but it’s ultimately not Paul they’re separating the church from, it’s Christ.
That’s why Paul can be so strong in his condemnation of them:
13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 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. Vv. 13-15
They’re eloquent, they speak lofty words with soaring rhetoric. They’re great salesmen. They’ve got the whole package. And those who follow them will die.
Paul, on the other hand, isn’t all that impressive. I mean, he is, but not to those looking at superficial things. He admits in verse 6 that he’s unskilled in speaking. He then goes on to say that he has a lot of knowledge, but he works to make things plain, not complicated.
6 Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.
What motivated Paul’s ministry was their good. He preached the gospel for free – raising support from other churches so he didn’t need to take money from them. Verse 9 is amazing. Look with me at it:
9 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.
When Paul ran out of money, he didn’t burden the Corinthian church – which was the wealthier church – but instead got help from Macedonia which is dirt poor. Why? Because when the false apostles boasted about themselves and how much they can charge for their gift, Paul boasted about serving them for free.
10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. 11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!
At points in our lives, we will stand at a Separation Canyon and need to decide. Maybe you’re looking for a church. Maybe you’re listening to a teaching ministry or reading a book that’s saying things you never heard before. Maybe a movement is urging you to join it.
All of these things can be good. And all of these things can be bad. That charismatic pastor who seems to read your mail Sunday after Sunday can be a vessel of the Lord. That boring pastor who’s sermon is more effective than Sominex at putting you to sleep might be a horrible, even dangerous spiritual leader.
And vice versa! The boring pastor might be a vessel of the Lord, and the charismatic pastor might be a horrible, dangerous spiritual leader.
How do we discern? This way or that way?
Here’s my counsel based on Paul: keep it simple, saint! Does it lead you to a simple, unfolded, pure devotion to Christ. And not some mysterious Jesus no one ever saw in the Bible before. The Jesus of the Bible. The Savior, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Lamb of God, the miracle worker, the healer, the only way to the Father, the only name under heaven by which man can be saved.
The same Jesus, the same Spirit, the same gospel that Paul gave us. That Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John gave us. The Jesus of the holy scriptures. We get to know him, who he really is, as we get to know this Bible.
Keep it simple saint. Is that leader, teaching, movement, friend, or impulse in your heart leading you to unfolded, simple, pure devotion to Jesus?
If they are, hang with them. If they aren’t, it’s Separation Canyon time.
We shared in communion together earlier. Communion is a sacrament that signifies our union with Christ. He’s the one we never, ever, ever want to separate from and we don’t want anyone or anything to come between us and a simple devotion to him.