In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren. — 2 Corinthians 11:26
Throughout the years I have lived and worked in the former Soviet Union, I’ve had numerous encounters with false brethren. When I say “false brethren,” I am not only referring to unbelievers who pretend to be believers, but also to real brothers who are “false” in the way they have projected themselves. They portrayed one image when, in fact, they had ulterior motives behind the mask they wore so professionally.
As a result, I have often pondered Paul’s words in Second Corinthians 11:26 when he wrote about “false brethren.” Let’s delve into the phrase “false brethren” today to see what it means.
In Perils Among False Brethren
For the eighth time in this chapter, the apostle Paul uses the word “perils” (the Greek word kindunos, meaning extremely dangerous). This time the danger he describes is connected with “false brethren.”
The Greek word for “false brethren” is pseudadelphos. The first part of the word is pseudes and carries the idea of something that is untrue. It could be translated pretend, phony, fake, or bogus. The second part of the word, adelphos, is simply the word for a brother. Compound these two words together, and they describe phony, fake, bogus, pretend brethren.
Paul remarks about these bogus believers in Galatians 2:4,5: “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.”
These “false brethren” in Jerusalem were in fact genuine brothers who had deceptive motives in their dealings with Paul. They projected one impression, but in reality, their intentions were very different from what they projected. They were “false” because they pretended to be in agreement with Paul’s doctrine. In actuality, they wanted to take Paul’s converts and revert them back to legalism. Paul’s emphasis is not that they were unsaved, but that they were “false” with him.
It is heart-breaking to discover that someone you’ve trusted has been presenting a false image before you in order to gain some advantage over you. If this has happened to you, take heart, for it happened to Jesus too. Judas Iscariot claimed to be a disciple, but in reality, he had a secret agenda. Those who operate with secret agendas and undeclared motives are “false” in the sense that they are feigning to be something they are not. This would qualify them in a certain sense as “false brethren.”
But I want you to also notice the phrase “came in privily” in Galatians 2:4, because it describes how these bogus believers behave. It comes from the Greek word pareisago. This word is a triple compound, comprised of the words para, eis, and ago.
The word para means alongside. It denotes something that is very close, such as in the word parasite. The second part of the word — the word eis — means into and conveys the idea of penetration. Finally, the third part of this compound is the word ago. It simply means I lead.
When all these words are compounded together, the word pareisago (“came in privily”) conveys the idea of smuggling something in undercover. Literally, it is a picture of someone who is leading (ago) something into (eis) the Church alongside of themselves (para). It is the idea of covert activity.
The first part of this compound — the word para — indicates that the deceptive motives of these false brethren are held so secretly that they are able to sneak right into the midst of the Church undetected. By keeping their hidden agenda close to themselves, they are able to worm their way right into the Church leadership. Once they gain position inside a particular group, they start their destructive work from deep within the Church itself.
We know that Paul was constantly accosted by Judaizers, who came to spy out his light in Jesus Christ. It is also known that both the government and the religious leaders of the day would specially train and disguise agents to invade the Church. Using tactics similar to those used by the more recent Soviet KGB, these agents of biblical times would be so well camouflaged that they sounded like believers, looked like believers, and were often perceived to be true brethren in Christ. But in reality, these individuals were imposters who had been sent to discover the location of church meetings. They would inform the local authorities of the location; then the next time the church met, the police would arrest those who had gathered for worship.
Whoever these “false brethren” were, Paul said they were perilous to him. They created a situation that was extremely dangerous and highly volatile.
You can imagine how this situation could have driven Paul into a pattern of fear and suspicion. Paul knew that pretenders were out there, constantly trying to secretly hurt him and those he loved. But instead of becoming suspicious of everyone he met, Paul relied on the Holy Spirit to give him clear discernment so he could recognize who was real and who was not. In the example given in Galatians 2:4 and 5, Paul was able to recognize the deceptive motives of the false brethren and therefore didn’t even give them a single hour of his time.
Living in these types of stressful circumstances, Paul had a choice. He could either back up into insecurity, or he could take hold of the Holy Spirit’s help and press forward toward his goal.
Paul chose the latter. He refused to let these “false brethren” become a stumbling block in his life and ministry. He didn’t stop entering into new relationships just because some of the individuals he met might turn out to be “pretend brothers.” Instead, he trusted the Holy Spirit to help him make right choices. This impasse didn’t stop him from continuing to work closely with people, nor did it stop him from establishing the Church in various locations.
Likewise, you have to determine that regardless of whether people please you or disappoint you, they are not going to stop you from staying on track with the assignment God has given you. You are not going to allow Satan to knock you out of the race through the disappointments you experience with other people. If they prove to be false or you find that their motives were not what they portrayed them to be, you must learn to forgive them, let go of the offense, and turn your eyes to the future.
If you will listen to the Holy Spirit, He will help you develop a better sense of discernment about the people who are trying to get close to you. After all, there is nothing the Holy Spirit doesn’t know. So if you’ll allow Him to lead you in your relationships, you’ll find that your discernment about people will become more and more accurate as you grow in your walk with God.
If you’ve been disappointed and hurt by false brethren in the past, ask the Lord today to help you stop dwelling on it. Let the Lord heal your heart as you choose to forgive that person who deceived you and get back on the path toward God’s destiny for your life!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, I admit that I’ve been misled by certain people on several occasions. It has shown me that I need a better sense of discernment about those I allow to get close to me. Yet at the same time, I don’t want to become hardhearted or callous because of what I’ve been through. So today I choose to turn from bitterness against those who have misled me. I make the decision to forgive them, to release them from the wrong they have done, and to turn my attention toward my future. Holy Spirit, I can only do this with Your help, so I am looking to You to empower me!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that the Holy Spirit is helping me to develop a keener discernment about people. I am able to recognize those who are genuine, and I can detect those who have ulterior, undeclared motives for getting close to me. Because the Holy Spirit sees and knows everything, I rely entirely on Him to lead and direct me in my relationships. As a result of being Spirit-led, I am making fewer mistakes in whom I choose to be my friends and close associates.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. How many times have you been misled into thinking someone was a friend who turned out to be more of an enemy?
2. If this has happened to you on repeated occasions, what does this tell you about your sense of discernment about people? Do you think it may indicate that you need to go slower and be more careful about committing your heart to someone?
3. What steps can you take to improve your sense of discernment and to learn how to be more careful in giving your heart to others?