2 Corinthians 11
1I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but indeed you are bearing with me.
2For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.
Paul understands the limits of self-commendation (2 Corinthians 10:18), but he is going to set forth his own credentials as an apostle hoping that the Corinthians will see that he speaks the truth. He hopes to point them to the fact that God is behind his ministry and that God approves of his work. He is not interested in trying to brag about himself as if he is better than other men. His purpose is to show that his life is directed by God because of a special call on his life as a minister to the Gentiles (Romans 15:16). He trusts the Corinthians to bear with him as he lays forth the reasons that they must respect his authority and reject the accusations of those who exalt themselves based upon the commendation of men rather than that of God. Paul cares greatly about the purity of the Corinthians because it was he that led them to Christ as the bride of Christ. He wants the Groom to be totally satisfied and fulfilled in His bride, so Paul is very driven to make sure that the Corinthians walk in holiness. This is a godly motive, not a man-centered one.
3But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.
4For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.
The gospel is simple and straightforward (1 Corinthians 15:1-8), and this is what Paul had given to them. But he was afraid that perhaps the devil had deceived some of them as he had deceived Eve, leading them away from the simple and pure gospel to cleverly-devised tales and fables. Paul’s fear is that they will receive a false gospel, a different Jesus, or a different spirit leading to a corrupted lifestyle. He wanted them to be steadfast, holding to precisely the same gospel that he had preached to them. Since the stakes are so high here, he must defend his credibility as an apostle so that the Corinthians can be sure that his gospel is the one and only true gospel.
5For I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles.
6But even if I am unskilled in speech, yet I am not so in knowledge; in fact, in every way we have made this evident to you in all things.
Paul does not consider himself inferior to even the most well-known and well-respected apostles. Some have disrespected him simply because they think he is not a good speaker, which perhaps he wasn’t or perhaps he wasn’t according to their view of what defined good speaking. After all, he had decided not to wax eloquent but to simply declare the gospel so that their faith would not rest on the wisdom of men but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). Perhaps Paul could have impressed with his speech if he had wanted to. He was highly educated and knowledgeable, but he chose not to draw attention to himself but to the gospel message itself. It should have been clear to the Corinthians one way or another that Paul was very knowledgeable about the Word and about mankind in general. He had a lot of wisdom from the Lord, and surely they should have been able to perceive this. This spiritual wisdom is what should be expected of an apostle of God, and Paul certainly was this.
7Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you without charge?
8I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you;
9and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so.
Paul did not sin by not accepting a gift from the Corinthians and by choosing to supply his own need by working (1 Corinthians 9:15). Some might have accused him of being a false teacher simply because he didn’t take money, which the culture would have thought would have made him more credible. Paul, in great humility, didn’t take money so as not to offend anyone or to cause them to think that he might be ministering for the sake of money. Yet the false teachers tried to deceive the people that even Paul’s humility wasn’t humility but incompetence. Paul sacrificed because he loved these believers, and he used support that he received from other churches (e.g. Philippians 4:15-16) to support himself. So there is no credible reason to argue that he was not worth listening to because he didn’t demand money. Even when Paul was with the Corinthians during a time of need, he didn’t seek their support, but he rather took it from other Macedonian believers. In everything he kept himself from being a burden to the church at Corinth, and his intention was to continue to do so. In a culture that exalted the strong, powerful, rich, and well-known, Paul continued to demonstrate that he was willing to become weak for the sake of Christ, even poor and unappreciated, so that the gospel could be unimpeded in its progress. It was not about Paul but about Christ, and Paul did not want to take money in case that message wouldn’t be understood.
10As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be stopped in the regions of Achaia.
11Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!
12But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting.
Paul will continue to declare the gospel of Christ and to exercise his apostolic authority in the churches in Macedonia and Achaia. He will not stop because he loves those whom he is serving, and God knows that also. Paul will continue to speak authoritatively no matter what people might say because he knows it is for the best of those who hear. He must do this because he loves them lest the false teachers exalt themselves such that the people accept their falsities on the same level as Paul’s truths. Paul must condemn them and defend the truth and his right to give it. The false teachers wanted to usurp Paul’s authority, but Paul was going to demand otherwise lest the people get led astray and respect the wrong people.
13For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.
14No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
15Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.
Those who preached a different gospel and attacked Paul’s apostleship and authority were false apostles and deceitful workers, making themselves out to be apostles when they really weren’t. They hadn’t been commissioned and called by God to preach the gospel, and they didn’t even preach the gospel. Yet they tried to deceive the people into following them, which required them to trick the people into not trusting Paul. Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. He doesn’t show people that he is evil, horrific, and trying to destroy them, but he comes in as a gentle wolf in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15), undermining faith without people even realizing what is happening, even in the church. Therefore, the false teachers who serve the devil also follow the devil’s example of deception and act as servants of light when in reality they are servants of darkness. They will be judged according to the evil deeds as will the devil (Revelation 20:10-15).
16Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, so that I also may boast a little.
17What I am saying, I am not saying as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting.
18Since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also.
19For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly.
20For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face.
21To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison But in whatever respect anyone else is bold--I speak in foolishness--I am just as bold myself.
Paul is forced to speak in terms of folly in that he must boast about his authority in Christ in order to refute the self-exaltation of the false teachers. This he does not so as to boast in himself or for vain glory but in order to protect the Corinthians from going after the false teachers. Paul did not enjoy pointing out his qualifications, but it was necessary in this instance for the sake of the preservation of the church at Corinth. The Corinthians trusted in their “wisdom” which wasn’t true wisdom but the wisdom of the world which led them into getting deceived and taken advantage of by the false teachers. They tolerated the foolish teaching and treatment of the false teachers rather than standing up for righteousness and purity in Christ. They allowed themselves to be enslaved by bondage to lies and sin rather than being free in Christ. They allowed themselves to be devoured and destroyed by succumbing to false teaching and its devastating effects. They allowed themselves to be easily deceived and exploited so that the false teachers could gain power and influence. They allowed the false teachers to be exalted in their midst in outright blasphemy against Christ, and they allowed themselves to be utterly humiliated in the process. They yielded themselves to the false power and influence of false teachers who took over control of the church rather than resisting them and defending the truth. They did whatever they said as if they were mindless slaves of these men, and it is even possible that they let themselves get literally struck in the face, though the phrase is more likely figurative and communicating humiliation.
Paul’s “foolishness” by comparison has been weak in that he has not attempted to get the people to follow and exalt him. His purpose has been to preach Christ and to be a servant, not one who lorded his authority over them, mistreating the people and humiliating them. Rather, he tried to edify them and encourage them in Christ. If the Corinthians were going to view this foolishness as “boldness,” then Paul had some “boldness” of his own to offer.
22Are they Hebrews? So am I Are they Israelites? So am I Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.
23Are they servants of Christ?--I speak as if insane--I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.
24Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.
25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.
26I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren;
27I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
28Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.
If the false teachers bragged about being descendants of Abraham, Jews according to the flesh, so was Paul. If they thought they were servants of Christ, which Paul obviously doesn’t believe them to be, so is Paul, in fact, even more so based on criteria that the false teachers would never relate to. Paul had suffered greatly for the sake of the gospel unlike the false teachers. Paul toiled much harder for the gospel than they ever did, he was in prison far more, beaten far more, and often in danger of death. If he was seeking popularity and power, why would he allow these things to happen to him? Clearly, he wasn’t seeking comfort but the truth. Five times he received beatings from the Jews, the customary thirty-nine lashes to go above and beyond the requirements of Deuteronomy 25:1-3. Three times he was beaten with rods, the Roman beating. Once he was stoned, three times he was shipwrecked, and once he was in peril of drowning for a day and a night in the open sea. He has traveled extensively through dangerous terrain, in danger of rivers that could wash him away and robbers who would attack and plunder him. His own Jewish people attacked him often as did the Gentiles. He was in danger in the wilderness, at sea, and from false teachers, as in this case. Sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, exposed to the cold, and the pressure of shepherding the churches were his “bragging” points. If the false teachers wanted him to play the game of “credentials,” then Paul would “win” it by explaining all of his suffering for the sake of the gospel.
29Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?
30If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.
If anybody is weak, Paul was, given how much he sacrificed and suffered. Paul also was a very concerned shepherd in that if anybody was led into sin, Paul would be concerned about it. His life demonstrated his commitment to the churches and to the Lord, and there was no reason to discredit him as not being a person of integrity. The false teachers sought power while Paul sought servanthood and humility. His “weakness” stood in condemnation of their “strength.”
31The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.
32In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me,
33and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands.
Before God, Paul could say this because he knew he was not lying. Even in this foolish emphasis of his own life and suffering, he was sure to bless God and Christ Who alone deserves all praise and blessing forever. Paul’s life was not about Paul but about the Lord. To put the icing on the cake in terms of proving his authenticity and credibility as a humble servant of the Lord, Paul mentioned the time when he was let down over a wall in a basket to preserve his life from the authorities seeking him (Acts 9:23-25). His own countrymen stirred up even the secular authorities to seek the life of Paul. Despite all of this opposition, still Paul loved the church and tried to bring the gospel to them, thereby demonstrating his commitment and the absence of any false motives. Paul believed that recounting how much the world hated him would remind the Corinthians that he was a true apostle of the Christ Whom the world also hated.