Paul’s words of warning are remarkably similar to those of Peter:
“But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves. And many will follow their debauched lifestyles. Because of these false teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation pronounced long ago is not sitting idly by; their destruction is not asleep” —II Peter 2:1-3
“These men are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm, for whom the utter depths of darkness have been reserved. For by speaking high-sounding but empty words they are able to entice, with fleshly desires and with debauchery, people who have just escaped from those who reside in error” —II Peter 2:17-18
Paul’s prophetic words of warning may well have been received by way of revelation, but they also were the result of painful experience. It was during this same period of time that Paul was deeply distressed over the state of the church in Corinth. Already the church was dividing into splinter groups that were based on undue attraction and devotion to a particular leader:
“For members of Chloe’s household have made it clear to me, my brothers and sisters, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each of you is saying,’I am with Paul,’ or ‘I am with Apollos,’ or ‘I am with Cephas’ or ‘I am with Christ’” —I Corinthians 1:11-1229 (see also 3:1-10).
These men who tired to gain a personal following will eventually prove to be false apostles, who are actually messengers of Satan. Their message will turn from a simple gospel focused on Christ and His cross, and their methods will be highly polished techniques of human persuasion and appeal. Paul refused the slick gimmicks of persuasion and stressed a simplicity of message and method which was dependent on the convincing ministry of the Holy Spirit. That’s how people were encouraged to put their trust in God, rather than in mere men:
“For we are not like so many others, hucksters who peddle the word of God for profit, but we are speaking in Christ before God as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God “—II Corinthians 2:17
“Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged. But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God” —II Corinthians 4:1-2
“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God. For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling. My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God” —I Corinthians 2:1-5
As a result, Paul exhorts these elders to watch out for themselves, as well as for the flock of God. Because some of them would be enticed to pervert the gospel in order to create a personal following, they must first “watch out for themselves.” Every time you start a flight on a commercial airline, you are told about the use of the oxygen mask. Adults are told to place the oxygen mask on themselves first, and then to put a mask on any small child with them. The reason they do that is because the person who doesn’t first put the mask on themselves won’t be able to help little children who can’t help themselves. Well that’s what happens in churches, the shepheerds of the flock must first tend to themselves—to their own relationship with Jesus Christ—and then they will be able to shepherd the flock of God.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Story of Acts