What was the worst danger to Paul? (Hint: It wasn’t robbers, shipwreck or stoning)

Look at the list of devastating experiences Paul said he had endured for the Gospel:

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers (2 Corinthians 11:24-27a)

I’ve lived on a sailboat and traveled 12,000 miles on it. It was the scariest thought that over any of those nautical miles, one slip of the foot or one swipe of the boom or one misjudgment and a coral reef would rip the bottom of your boat open like a jagged can opener, and you could be in the shark infested waters in a split second. That never did happen to us, but it did to Paul. There he was in stormy waves, legs dangling enticingly below the surface of the water, freezing salt-soaked hands clinging to scraps of wood for a day and a night. /Shudder/

I’ve never been robbed and beaten but I know those are terrible things. People who have been robbed or assaulted recall that there remains in them a feeling of violation and threat for many months or years afterward.

And stoning? Being pelted with rocks by an angry mob, any one rock would crush your head? Awful.

Paul’s sufferings as an Apostle for the name of the Lord are well documented. Through all he rejoiced. That’s one lesson. God’s grace was sufficient for him. That’s another lesson.

But did you notice one of the hardships Paul chose to include? This is today’s lesson.

“danger from false brothers”.

Can it be true that Paul equates shipwreck, robbery, beating, city danger, (which included riot, theft, and beatings,) and wilderness danger (which included robbery, bears, venomous snakes, torrential rain, and blizzards), hefty dangers to be sure, with the danger of false brethren??

Yes. Is there any worse danger than a danger to the soul?

False brethren are divisive, sly, and greedy. (Romans 16:17, Matthew 7:15, 2 Peter 2:1-3). They upset whole families, corrupt, poison, and are leaven that spoils the whole lump. (Titus 1:11, 2 Timothy 2:17, (Galatians 5:9). They are hypocrites, liars, and have seared consciences. (1 Timothy 4:2).

Far from the tolerant or even dismissive attitudes many people have today about the danger of false teachers, false doctrine, and false brothers, they present just as much if not more of a major danger as the other hazards Paul lists. They creep in unnoticed (Jude 1:4). That’s one reason why it’s important even as a layman, to hone your discernment skills, and if you’ve been given discernment as a gift, to be extra vigilant so as to ensure that on one “creeps in unnoticed.”

John MacArthur writes of the false brethren noted in the verse, from his commentary,

But the most insidious danger of all was the false brethren, who posed as believers and then tried to destroy Paul’s ministry. The false apostles at Corinth were prime examples of such treacherous pseudo-brethren, as were the Judaizers (Gal. 2:4). Because of the danger posed by false believers, Paul warned  the elders of the Ephesian church, “From among your own selves men will be speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:30).

Barnes wrote in his notes, that the danger from false brethren was “the crowning danger and trial to Paul, as it is to all others.”

We should think well of our church family and not look at each person suspiciously or askance. However, false believers DO exist. Remember that Paul considered false believers one of his greatest trials and dangers. False believers pose a serious threat, and we should take Paul’s admonition seriously.

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Further reading

Ligonier:  “If true faith is the instrument by which the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, how do we know that we have true faith? How do we know that we are not only professing faith but also possessing it?” Read Faith and Fruit