“For such men are pseudo-apostles, deceitful workers,
masquerading as apostles of Christ.
And no wonder, for Satan disguises himself as a messenger of light.
Therefore, it is no great thing if his ministers also disguise themselves
as ministers of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works.”
Paul was not just hurling insults at people he did not like when he called them ministers of Satan. Rather, he was warning his children in the Lord of men who had rejected the truth and were misleading them. Nor was Paul condemning those men merely because they did not understand the true doctrine. Paul was very patient and loving with the ignorant, as were those who worked with him. For example, when Paul’s fellow-workers, Aquila and Priscilla, heard Apollos teaching the wrong thing, they took him aside and “explained to him the way of God more perfectly” (Acts 18:26). Ministers of Satan are those who have heard the truth and rejected it, teaching their own doctrines instead.
Ministers of Satan minister to people things that are from the realm over which Satan has control – this world. Satan is god of this world (2Cor. 4:4), and his ministers minister using worldly things such as worldly water for baptism, worldly food for communion ceremonies, worldly uniforms for worship, etc. All such fleshly things are from this world, and Satan is this world’s god.
Ministers of Christ minister things from heaven, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. No man can be a minister of Christ without the holy Ghost, because the holy Ghost brings from heaven the power and revelation necessary to preach the gospel. True men of God “preach the gospel by the holy Spirit sent from heaven” (1Pet. 1:12), and there are precious few of them. They may be like Apollos, and not yet see things perfectly, but they will continue to grow in knowledge until they do. They are living up to all the truth they have been given, and because their conscience is clear, Jesus will continue to feed them the knowledge of God.
As a young man, Paul did great evil to the body of Christ, but he was able to do it with a clear conscience (2Tim. 1:3) because that was all the knowledge he had, and he thought he was pleasing God. But when Jesus touched his heart, he ceased to do evil and began to learn to do good. He told Timothy, “I received mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief ” (1Tim. 1:13). Ministers of Satan, on the other hand, teach false doctrine in spite of having been shown the truth. Their conscience is not clear. Apollos was never a minister of Satan, even though he was teaching things that were not exactly right. His conscience, like young Paul’s, was clear, and he, too, obtained mercy because of it. If Apollos had rejected the more perfect way when he heard it, however, he would have become a minister of Satan, teaching false doctrine out of self-will.
If Jesus condemned everyone who thinks wrong things about God, nobody would ever come to the knowledge of God. All of us have had wrong ideas. That is not even the issue. The issue is this: How many of us will give up those wrong ideas when Jesus shows us the truth? There are many ministers who are teaching wrong things with a clear conscience. I have been among them. Maybe I still am; God knows. But the critical question is this: Will those ministers continue in a clear conscience when they hear more truth? Will they continue to grow in grace and knowledge, or will they reject the truth and cling to what they have always been told? God is incredibly patient and kind to us who are ignorant. Pray that He will grant us the grace to humble ourselves to His truth when we hear it.