Dear radio friends,
The apostle Paul was afraid. “I fear,” he says. He was afraid for the church. Paul did not scare easily. God had given unto him unusual measures of courage. After reading the list of his sufferings recorded in II Corinthians 11, we would think that we would find him intimidated, shriveled in a corner, receding from public ministry, writing his memoirs. Rather, all of these sufferings only made him fight more doggedly, run his course with greater determination, preach and teach with greater zeal. No, he did not scare easily. But he was afraid.
Of what? Was it persecution? Was he afraid that the church would be swallowed up by the sword? That the gospel light would be put out by the world’s anger? That Satan’s fires of burning at the stake or crucifixion would silence the Christians? No. Paul did not fear persecution for the church. Although he did not enjoy seeing it, he knew that it must come. And he knew that all of the world’s anger, hatred, ridicule, death, imprisonment, beatings could not topple the church. So what was he afraid of?
It was false doctrine. He was afraid that the minds of the church and of Christians would be corrupted by false teaching. II Corinthians 11:3, “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” The inspired apostle Paul feared false teaching in the guise of the truth brought into the church by clever, suave men or women. He feared that more than anything. He believed that while the club could not beat the truth out of the church, and seduction could not cause the church to leave the truth in Christ, nevertheless, false doctrine, apart from the grace of God, could readily lead the church astray. He was afraid of weak faith, shallow experience, scanty knowledge, dim hope, and low standards of holiness.
His fear was rooted in love. The figure of speech that he is using in II Corinthians 11:3 is that of marriage. He sees that the church stands in the marriage covenant with God. That means that God is jealous and loves His church. And Paul says that he shares this feeling of God: “I am jealous over you with godly jealousy,” he says. He knows that Jesus Christ’s purpose is to present the church as a bride adorned for her husband. Out of love for the church he feared that the church might yield to the seduction of false teaching. Therefore, he wanted the church to be preserved in the simplicity of Christ, in affection and devotion to God in the truth.
Do you share his fear? Do you share his love? Do you share his desire that the church be kept as a chaste bride in truth unto Christ?
What should we fear? Paul says, “I fear, lest by any means … your minds should be corrupted.” Paul feared a corrupting of our minds. The word “corrupted” there refers to tainted or soiled. We speak of a dirty mind given over to lust that cannot think pure thoughts, or of a vindictive, vengeful mind, a mind that dwells on bitterness and hurts and is obsessed with revenge. Man worships his mind. He believes that it is the objective standard of right and wrong, that reason will prevail. The Bible tells us that the human mind, by nature, is not reliable, but it is the place where every evil can live and grow. “For the carnal mind,” Romans 8:7, “is enmity against God.” You mind is not only a sponge which soaks up knowledge. But your mind is dyed, stained, corrupted, so that your thought processes, of yourself, are not what they should be. You do not think the thoughts of God after Him. But your mind can be corrupted and turned out of the way of the truth.
Now Paul obviously means the corruption of our mind by false and unbiblical doctrine and religion. He is not referring here to the corruption of the mind by vice or lust, greed or vengeance, but by false doctrine. In verse 4, he says, “For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” Paul is referring to the fact that the Corinthians seemed especially liable to receive any type of false doctrine or false teaching so long as it came packaged the right way. Paul feared lest their minds should imbibe erroneous and unsound biblical doctrine. “I fear, lest you take up doctrines which are not true, which are perverse, twisted, and corrupted. I fear that your mind at that time will become corrupted and defiled and twisted.”
That is very frightening, because a corrupted mind leads to a disaffected heart. The figure that is employed in the apostle’s language is that of marriage – when a husband’s or wife’s mind becomes corrupted, then the heart is disaffected, soiled. Paul compares false doctrine in the church to what happens in a marriage. Perhaps through hurts or weakness in your mate, you think of someone else. Someone else is so understanding, so sympathetic, so much fun. Someone else can fulfill all of my needs. He is my soul-mate, he makes me feel so wonderful! Then in your thoughts, which are corrupted, you become disaffected toward your husband or toward your wife. And you go after that other person and you despise your husband or your wife. That is what happens spiritually in the church of Jesus Christ by false doctrine. False doctrine is seduction of the heart of the child of God from God in Christ. God is our only husband. Christ is our husband and king.
God is not tolerant of false doctrine. God rejoices when the church confesses “this we believe.” Will a man share the affections of his wife? Those who would bring error say, “It’s a little thing. Doctrine is hair-splitting. That authority of the Scripture – don’t you find that rather binding upon you? Oh, we pay tribute to the truth, too. But we promote free thought. We want an exchange of ideas and feelings. Are not our insights interesting to you? The doctrine of creation – isn’t that a bit simplistic? Six twenty-four hour days?” They tell us that what we see in the creation does not fit what the Bible tells us about creation. What the Bible tells us about creation does not fit what we see under our microscopes. And they try to woo you and corrupt your mind in order that your heart becomes disaffected from Christ.
That is the ploy of false doctrine. Satan engages in this in the church world today. I am not referring now to many heresies which are condemned by the church, not the least of which is a denial of the truth of creation in six twenty-four hour days. And I am not referring to those heresies which have been condemned throughout the history of the church, for which the creeds have been written and in which the church, through the creeds, makes the confession of infallibility of Scripture and of sovereign predestination, creation, limited atonement, and all the rest. But I am referring to the fact that Satan corrupts the thinking of the church with the religion of the world. Every society sets up what will be acceptable to them of the church’s teaching. It is called today “politically correct,” “socially acceptable.” Then we have to have a gender-inclusive Bible, we must be non-exclusive and all-inclusive, we must be multi-cultural, and sexually tolerant. So we are told today that God is needed to forgive sins but we must not make demands upon people’s lives or make them feel bad abouttheir sins. We must say that God is simply there to forgive them when they are ready. We must say that man has the right to decide if God’s Word makes sense. After all, look at modern science and technology. We are told that there are different standards for truth. Pragmatism, does it work? Self-determinism, what do you think? Choices, but not sins. And we are told that God exists for man, that God is at man’s disposal, that first we have to prove God can be of use before we can expect men to believe in Him.
Now I stated those errors in a manner that exposes them for what they are. They are nothing less than the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. But do not think that this does not tempt us. And do not think that any church escapes these things, not even the purest of churches. Tolerance of sin in our own lives; irritation with the authority of God in our home, church, and school; lack of reverence for the holy God – all of these things can be found in our life. That is why we need the preaching of the Word and the preaching of the truth of His Word.
Do you fear these things? Do you fear a corruption of your mind? Or do you think that you are so sophisticated that none of these things can approach you? Do you look at the defense of the truth as something that is merely divisive, something that is merely intellectual? Paul says, “I fear, lest the mind of the church be corrupted by false doctrine.”
Paul had good reason to be afraid of false doctrine, because he understood that the heart of the church could only be kept in fervent love in the way of true doctrine. Paul understood the beguiling influence of false doctrine. He uses the example of the serpent who beguiled Eve. That certainly means that the apostle Paul accepted the history of the Fall in Genesis 3 as historic fact. The apostle Paul did not countenance the idea that Genesis 3 is a myth, fable, or teaching model. If you call Genesis 1-11 unhistorical and a myth, Paul would call you profane! He would call you a false teacher, intent on corrupting the bride of Jesus Christ. He would call you the enemy of the church of Jesus Christ. Not only would Paul call you that, God’s Word calls you that, and God calls you that!
The point is that the fear of the apostle Paul was real. Satan tempted Eve. The woman who was created in righteousness with her husband – Satan persuaded her that to depart from God’s Word, to play fast and loose with the Word of God, to question the Word of God was good. And she swallowed his temptation. The apostle’s fear that we be corrupted through false doctrine is not an imaginary fear but is therefore a very real fear. The point is that God would have us mark the history of the fall of man into sin through the subtlety of the devil, so that there might be fear in the church of Jesus Christ. It is the subtlety that we fear in false doctrine.
Do not expect error to approach you in the garments of error. No, error will approach you in the garments of truth. The wolf will come to you in sheep’s clothing. False doctrine would do little harm if it went around in its true colors. But it does not do that. So there is a young person who is brought up in the truth of the gospel. He is invited to hear a learned teacher of some skeptical opinion. He goes expecting to hear heresy. But he hears none. Oh, perhaps a drop or two of questionable statements. Then that young person begins to wonder whether his former teachers were not uncharitable and narrow. His confidence is shaken. False teaching does not begin by emphasizing the difference but the similarity. It glosses over the difference. But that false teaching, even in its little drops, can burn like an acid and corrupt the thinking of the church.
Paul says, we must reject false doctrine. We must remain in the simplicity that is in Christ. The expression that he uses there, the simplicity that is in Christ, is an expression that is unique and stands alone in the New Testament. It is a word which means “single,” or “unmixed.” It refers to the unmixed, unadulterated, or unaltered doctrine of Christ, what the Bible calls “the truth as it is in Jesus.” It means the singleness of affection toward Christ and the truth in Christ.
What is the remedy, then, to false doctrine? The remedy is that, by God’s grace, we must not depart from the single, unadulterated truth of the Word of God. We must not leave anything out of the truth. We must not add anything to the truth.
That faith which has been delivered to the saints ( Jude 3), the truth which the Spirit has showed to the churches, which is mined from the Word of God and is expressed in our confessions (the Reformed confessions) – we must stand upon that truth. Keep your minds in the truth of the doctrines of Christ. Closely adhere to, follow, those truths. Love those truths. Pray that your thinking be regulated and your life and your actions controlled by the truth.
What a wonderful example we have of this in the Reformed creeds. What a wonderful example, for instance, if you are acquainted with it, in the Heidelberg Catechism, which teaches us all the truth of the Word of God from the theme of our comfort in belonging to Jesus Christ and tells us that we have one mediator and one way to the Father: Jesus Christ alone.
Let us hold fast, unashamedly, to the truths of God’s Word. Let us pray for a discerning mind to recognize the subtleties of false doctrine. And let us see false doctrine for the evil that it is. Let us see it as adultery, as turning away from our only husband Jesus Christ. Let us see it as a home-wrecker and a destroyer of children. Let us see false doctrine for what it is – against God and motivated by the devil to turn the church away from God. Let us see it that way.
Then we have the answer to our fears: Let us look to our husband, to Jesus Christ and to God. A bride looks to her husband in her fear, does she not? So the church looks to Christ when we are afraid of our minds being corrupted in false doctrine. Then we turn to God. We do so by reading the Scriptures from the beginning to the end diligently and asking the Holy Spirit to teach us. We do so by attending a church where the truth of God’s Word is taken seriously; where the minister gets up to preach the Word of God, not to entertain, not to make people laugh, not to change the feelings of God’s people; where the minister is concerned to bring the burden of the Word of God in all of its truth, power, and beauty. Be thoroughly acquainted with the truth of God’s Word. Attend the church of God. Know the confessions of the church. Do not neglect sound doctrine.
And pray, “Lord, keep my mind. Let it not be perverted. Let it not be led astray from Jesus Christ. But keep my mind, my thinking, and my reasoning governed by Thy truth. Preserve me in the simplicity that is in Christ. As a bride who is promised to her husband, so may the church promised to Christ be found faithful to Him; and in the day when He returns may that church be found faithful to His glory and to His appearing.”
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. Bless it to our hearts. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.