“And since others boast about their human achievements, I will, too. After all, you think you are so wise, but you enjoy putting up with fools! You put up with it when someone enslaves you, takes everything you have, takes advantage of you, takes control of everything, and slaps you in the face. I’m ashamed to say that we’ve been too ‘weak’ to do that! But whatever they dare to boast about—I’m talking like a fool again—I dare to boast about it, too” (2 Corinthians 11:18-21 NLT).
In admonishing the members of the Corinthian church for putting up with the foolishness promoted by the false teachers of their day, Paul the Apostle provides us with a valuable list of characteristics we can use to identify those who act in a similar manner. The next item featured in the passage quoted above is this: “…you bear it if someone… takes advantage of you” (ESV).
When we think of someone who “takes advantage” of another person, we often think of someone who exploits those who are lacking in knowledge or experience. But notice that Paul was not warning the Corinthians that these false apostles were taking advantage of them. Instead, he reprimanded the Corinthians for allowing them to do so.
So why would the members of the Corinthian fellowship put up with those who sought to take advantage of them? Well, perhaps these spiritual hucksters were peddling a watered down spiritual message that served to appease the members of the church. For some, the opportunity to hear a “feel-good” sermon with no accompanying exhortation to align their thinking and behavior with God’s will may have been worth the price.
Another possibility is that these false apostles promoted themselves as the exclusive channels of God’s revelation. That would serve to exploit the Corinthians by compelling them to rely solely upon these “apostles” for guidance and direction from God. This approach continues to be reflected today in the teachings of those who claim that their teaching and study materials are required for anyone who wishes to obtain true spiritual enlightenment.
Unfortunately, this situation has not changed very much in the twenty centuries since this letter to the Corinthians was originally written. Therefore, its important to be alert to those who might seek to take financial, emotional, or spiritual advantage of their followers today. One effective means of identifying such individuals involves watching for demonstrations of arrogance (NET), dominance (HCSB), or presumption (AMP) in their messages. A leader who exalts him or herself in such a manner is someone who is surely inviting God’s discipline.