Apostleship Established by Christian Conduct
2 Corinthians 11
2 Corinthians 11
2 Corinthians 11. In ch.10 Paul defended his apostleship on the grounds of his effectiveness in ministry. But in ch.11 he establishes it by his Christian conduct. This is important from a practical standpoint. How we serve is every bit as important as what we do. We find three things primarily that marked the conduct of the apostle Paul: (1) he always directed the hearts of the saints to Christ, (2) he was never a burden to the saints, and (3) he was willing to suffer for the truth.
Always Directed their Hearts to Christ (a Husband) (11:1-6)
¶ Would that ye would bear with me in a little folly; but indeed bear with me. v.1 In the next two chapters Paul continues the defense of his apostleship. The seriousness of the danger from false apostles in Corinth called for Paul to get very personal is his defense. He had just said “But he that boasts, let him boast in the Lord” (2 Cor. 10:17). The only One Christians should boast in is the Lord. But now the Corinthians had compelled Paul to speak of himself, which Paul acknowledged was “a little folly (foolishness)“. He apologizes for having to speak this way. It is not seemly for a servant of the Lord to do so, but it was needful for the Corinthians, and needful for us as well.
2 For I am jealous as to you with a jealousy which is of God; for I have espoused you unto one man, to present you a chaste virgin to Christ. v.2 Often we think of jealousy as a manifestation of the flesh, but there is such a thing as godly jealousy. In fact, when warning Israel of the sin of idolatry, Jehovah declared “For thou shalt worship no other god: for Jehovah, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). Jealousy in this sense is a protectiveness, defensiveness, and vigilance over what rightfully belongs to you. Envy is different; wanting what rightfully belongs to another. God is jealous of our affections, of our praise, and of our worship. Paul was jealous over the Corinthians as well. Paul could say, “I have espoused you unto one man, to present you a chaste virgin to Christ”. He was the one what had brought the gospel to Corinth, and was like one who orchestrates the espousal of man and woman, and takes a special interest in the success of that engagement. Although the expression seems to fall short of the universal Church, yet in a sense, espousal presents the relation of the Church to Christ at this time. The dowry or down-payment has been given, which is the Holy Spirit, who is “the earnest of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:13-14). Even though we have never met our Bridegroom, we know His love, His voice, His very thoughts through the Holy Spirit. The next thing we are waiting for is our Heavenly Bridegroom to take us home to the Father’s house, followed by the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9). But the point here is that Paul had been faithful with the Corinthians, and always directed their hearts to Christ. Paul’s desire was that the saints would be preserved spiritually for Christ like a “chaste virgin” for her wedding day. A chaste virgin is characterized by both affection and fidelity.
3 But I fear lest by any means, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craft, so your thoughts should be corrupted from simplicity as to the Christ. v.3 The false teachers in Corinth were seeking to do the opposite, to detach the hearts of God’s people from Christ, just as the serpent cast doubt on the goodness of God. To bring in anything in addition to the Word of God is to have our thoughts corrupted. The enemy of our soul is always looking to cast doubt on the simple declarations of God. He will use “any means” to lead us away from the truth. “Hath God said?” is the age old technique of Satan. Before this, the matter of the forbidden fruit was very simple. Satan seeks to complicate it. The command from God to man was simple, but Satan’s line of attack was to fabricate some hidden plot of God withholding good from man, a higher knowledge to be desired, and it served to complicate and confuse the matter. Satan planted a seed of doubt in Eve’s mind as to the goodness of God, and deceived her. As soon as Eve began to distrust God, she became open to deception. Like Eve, the Corinthians had become open to deception as well.
4 For if indeed he that comes preaches another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or ye get a different Spirit, which ye have not got, or a different glad tidings, which ye have not received, ye might well bear with it. v.4 The exact meaning of v.4 is not entirely clear. The last part of the verse could be taken two ways. If the teachers had been able (“if indeed”) to bring another Jesus, a different Spirit, and a different gospel, there would at least have been some logical reasoning for the Corinthians to bear with the teachers that had come among them; “ye might well bear with it”. But since there is only one Jesus, one Spirit, and one gospel, there was no excuse for receiving these men… especially since it came at the rejection of Paul, who had presented the one true Jesus, Spirit, and gospel to them. An alternative meaning could be that Paul was fearful that the Corinthians had been so deceived that, if someone came preaching false doctrine concerning the very foundations of Christianity, that the assembly might be likely to tolerate it; “ye might well bear with it”. In either case, what identifies a false apostle is that they bring false doctrine, and a twisted version of true Christianity.
- Another Jesus. To present a corrupted view of the Person of Christ is to present another Jesus. Jesus is the Lord’s manhood name… perhaps this specifically was a corruption of the truth of Christ’s manhood.
- A different Spirit. To come under the power of evil spirits, in contrast to the Spirit of God. “Neither give heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim 4:1).
- A different gospel. To preach a gospel of works rather than grace, or even works mixed with grace, is to preach another gospel, which is really “not another” (Gal. 1:6-7) because salvation by works is not possible.
The assembly is to have zero-tolerance for evil doctrine, yet these false apostles had found a place of acceptance among the Corinthians.
5 For I reckon that in nothing I am behind those who are in surpassing degree apostles. v.5 Paul words this carefully. He did not say that he was ahead of the other apostles. He puts it another way, that he was not behind the greatest of the twelve, such as Peter, James, and John. In the book of Galatians, Paul expands on this very point from a doctrinal standpoint; his knowledge of Christian doctrine was not behind the chiefest of the twelve. Here in 2 Corinthians, he demonstrates the same fact, but more from the perspective of moral power.
6 But if I am a simple person in speech, yet not in knowledge, but in everything making the truth manifest in all things to you. v.6 Paul was not known for great eloquence, like the false apostles in Corinth prided themselves. He was simple in speech, which his detractors were quick to point out. But he was not simple in the knowledge of the things of God. Paul used simple, understandable language to present the full knowledge (“in all things”) of God. We can learn something important from this. Do we listen to someone just because they are a good speaker? What do they say? Does it agree with the Word of God? Does it tend to occupy the hearer with Christ, or with the speaker? These are searching questions. Not only was Paul’s speech full of the knowledge of God, but his moral character made the truth manifested; “making the truth manifest in all things to you”. The true ministers of Christ must have these two components: clarity in doctrine, and sound moral character.
Never was a Financial Burden to the Corinthians (11:7-15)
7 Have I committed sin, abasing myself in order that “ye” might be exalted, because I gratuitously announced to you the glad tidings of God? v.7 The carnal class in Corinth were accustomed to measure the greatness of a minister by the size of his paycheck. The fact that Paul had not taken money from the Corinthians was used by his detractors as a reason to look down upon him. They viewed it as an acknowledgement that he wasn’t an apostle. Paul says in incredulity, “Have I committed sin?” In no way. The very opposite was true. Paul did not take money from the wealthy Corinthians because he wanted them to be established in grace… he wanted them to have the truth with no strings attached.
8 I spoiled other assemblies, receiving hire for ministry towards you. 9 And being present with you and lacking, I did not lazily burden any one, (for the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied what I lacked,) and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will keep myself. vv.8-9 When Paul was living in Corinth, he lived with Aquila and Priscilla, and worked as a tent-maker to provide for himself. In spite of this, Paul was “lacking”; i.e. he had real financial needs. Rather than burden the Corinthians, Paul received fellowship from the poor brethren in Macedonia. We read of the Philippians, who were from Macedonia, sending fellowship regularly to Paul, when no other assemblies were doing so (Phil. 4:15). Even before Paul had traveled a small distance (in Thessalonica), the Philippians had sent fellowship two times to meet his needs (Phil. 4:16). He speaks of this as “spoiled other assemblies”. Addressing the hearts of the brethren in Corinth, Paul explains that, through their support, other assemblies had hired Paul to minister to the Corinthians. Paul had never been a burden to the Corinthians, and he would continue that way.
10 The truth of Christ is in me that this boasting shall not be stopped as to me in the regions of Achaia. v.10 Paul had maintained a consistent track record of ministering without burdening the believers in Achaia. He would do everything in his power to keep the truth “free of charge”, as was his practice with regions that were new to the faith.
11 Why? because I do not love you? God knows. 12 But what I do, I will also do, that I may cut off the opportunity of those wishing for an opportunity, that wherein they boast they may be found even as we. vv.11-12 It was generally considered an honor to give to the apostles. Paul hadn’t denied them this privilege because he didn’t love them, but rather because he did love them! He wanted to “cut off the opportunity” of his detractors who would try to disparage his character by making him out to be a parasite, living off the wealthy Corinthians. In reality, Paul’s detractors were the ones living lavishly at the Corinthians’ expense. By refusing to burden the Corinthians, Paul guarded against the false claims of the Judaizers, who were boasting of being apostles, “even as we”. In vv.13-15 Paul reveals the true identity of these ones… they were the complete opposite of true apostles.
13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14 And it is not wonderful, for Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15 It is no great thing therefore if his ministers also transform themselves as ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. vv.13-15 The true identity of the Judaizers is exposed: they were servants of Satan. They were not true apostles (sent ones) of Christ, but “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ”. The Corinthians had been fooled by the guise. Paul explains that their master (Satan) was accustomed to transforming himself from the devil to “an angel of light”; i.e. he is able to make himself outwardly appear holy for the purpose of deceiving the unsuspecting. Likewise, Satan’s servants are able to transform themselves into “ministers of righteousness” while having a pernicious agenda. Evil often comes in disguised as righteousness. It is easier for evil to masquerade as light than as love. Why is that? Because love is a source that flows from the heart of God. True divine love cannot be feigned.
Judaizing teachers are mentioned in many of the Epistles: they had made inroads among the Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:22), the Philippians (Phil. 3:2), the Colossians (Col. 2:18), but nowhere with as much success as among the Galatian assemblies. The tendency towards natural religion has been the bane of Christianity. They were those of whom Paul wrote, "desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm" (1 Tim. 1:7). They were of Jewish ethnicity, but had come under the umbrella of Christianity. They found some benefit to being among Christians. Their primary motive was to gain a following after themselves, and perhaps to profit financially. They claimed to be closely connected to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, but they could not prove their genealogy as Paul could (Phil. 3). Paul was raised up as a suited vessel to deal with the Judaizers, because he himself had been one!
He had Suffered for the Truth (11:16-33)
¶ 16 Again I say, Let not any one think me to be a fool; but if otherwise, receive me then even as a fool, that “I” also may boast myself some little. 17 What I speak I do not speak according to the Lord, but as in folly, in this confidence of boasting. vv.16-17 It was not Paul’s desire, nor was it his custom, to boast of himself. Even though he had much to boast of, it wasn’t direct occupation with Christ, and therefore it was distasteful to him. In v.16 he says “Let not any one think me to be a fool”; in other words, please don’t think I’m really a boaster. But then he says “receive me then even as a fool”. If the assembly had gotten down to the level of judging a man by his boasting, then Paul was willing to boast himself “some little”. Yet boasting of any kind is foolish, and Paul wouldn’t forget it, even if they compelled him to boast a little.
18 Since many boast according to flesh, “I” also will boast. 19 For ye bear fools readily, being wise. 20 For ye bear if any one bring you into bondage, if any one devour you, if any one get your money, if any one exalt himself, if any one beat you on the face. vv.18-19 Again, if the Corinthians were willing to bear with fools, Paul would also boast, behaving himself as a fool for their profit. Paul says they were “‘wise”, speaking with pointed irony. They thought they were wise, but they were really putting up with those who would take advantage of them. What the Corinthians were tolerating from the false apostles was:
- They robbed the saints of their liberty in Christ; “if any one bring you into bondage”.
- They took control of the assembly; “if any one devour you”
- They commandeered their wealth; “if any one get your money”
- They put themselves above the rest; “if any one exalt himself”
- They sought their harm and not their good; “if any one beat you on the face” (not literal). How long does a person put up with another beating on their face? Not long, if they have any sense. The Corinthians appeared to be deceived by these false apostles.
A Twofold Boast. The false apostles boasted in two things: (v.22) of their being Jews, and (v.23) of their claim to be servants of Christ. As to the first claim, Paul shows that he was equal as a Jew (“I also”), and therefore the false apostles had no advantage over him. As to the second claim, Paul shows that he was more (“above measure so”). There was really no comparison when it came to service for Christ.
21 I speak as to dishonour, as though “we” had been weak; but wherein any one is daring, (I speak in folly,) “I” also am daring. 22 Are they Hebrews? “I” also. Are they Israelites? “I” also. Are they seed of Abraham? “I” also. vv.21-22 In contrast to the false apostles, Paul had been among them as “weak”. That is, he hadn’t brought them into bondage, or took control of the assembly, or exalted himself. But his detractors had used this very thing to reproach him before the Corinthians! Since Paul’s humility, which was the greatest proof of his ministry, had been discounted, he now turns a different direction: to boast in that which the flesh could admire (v.22). They boasted in being Jews. The three names given rise successively in honor:
- “Hebrews” – A name often used in derision (Exo. 2:6; 1 Sam. 13:3; 1 Sam. 14:11), taken from Abraham’s ancestor Eber.
- “Israelites” – Connected with Jacob’s new name, meaning “a prince with God”. Abraham’s grandson.
- “The seed of Abraham” – The closest earthly connection to the great patriarch himself.
In each of the claims, Paul could claim as much. Actually, if he had not left these things behind, he would have even more to boast of. “If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee” (Phil. 3:4-5). But Paul had left those things behind, counting them loss for Christ.
23a Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as being beside myself) “I” above measure so; v.23a Suffering for Christ. Paul’s apostleship was proven by a long record of what he had suffered for Christ. These were not things that the false apostles could boast in, or would want to boast in. These sufferings set Paul completely apart from all those who pretended to be the servants of Christ. The Lord had told Ananias concerning Paul, “I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). These sufferings did not cause Paul to become hard and bitter, but they were something he actually rejoiced in, as he could later write, “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church” (Col. 1:24). In the following verses, Paul lists twenty-five things that he suffered, presenting a life of devotion to the service of Christ. What an example for us! Like David’s lion and bear, these things would have remained unspoken otherwise. He didn’t boast in miracles, number of converts, etc. but in the infirmity and dependence on the Lord.
23b (1) in labours exceedingly abundant, (2) in stripes to excess, (3) in prisons exceedingly abundant, (4) in deaths oft. 24 (5) From the Jews five times have I received forty stripes, save one. 25(6) Thrice have I been scourged [‘beaten with rods’]1, (7) once I have been stoned, vv.23-25a Suffering Persecution for Christ. Firstly, Paul speaks of that which he suffered directly at the hands of the enemies of Christ.
- He endured forced “labor”, on many occasions.
- “Stripes” refers to the effect of being lashed repeatedly with a whip that would leave deep gashes called “stripes” on the victim.
- “Prisons” is self explanatory (2 Cor. 6:5); but we have a recorded example of Paul’s character in prison (Acts 16:16-25).
- The expression “deaths” might be difficult to understand, but it really refers to near-death experiences, such as what Paul experienced in the uproar at Ephesus (Acts 19). Paul reveals the severity of that trial in 2 Cor. 1:8; “we were excessively pressed beyond our power, so as to despair even of living”. That was only one occasion, but Paul had endured such things often.
- The legal limit on scourging in the Roman Empire was thirty-nine “stripes”. The Jews had tortured Paul right up to the legal limit no less than five times. None of the occasions where Paul was scourged by the Jews are mentioned in Acts.
- Paul had been beaten “with rods” three times, but only one of those beatings is mentioned in Acts (see Acts 16:23, critical translation).
- The one “stoning” at Lystra is related in Acts 14:19. Again, the stoning was at the hands of the Jews. In fact, the bulk of what Paul suffered was at the hand of the Judaizers… perhaps colleagues of the very men who were vying for power in Corinth.
25b (8) three times I have suffered shipwreck, (9) a night and day I passed in the deep: 26 (10) in journeyings often, (11) in perils of rivers, (12) in perils of robbers, (13) in perils from my own race, (14) in perils from the nations, (15) in perils in the city, (16) in perils in the desert, (17) in perils on the sea, (18) in perils among false brethren; vv.25b-26 The Cost of Traveling with the Gospel. Secondly, Paul speaks of the danger he faced in bringing the gospel to the Gentiles.
- At the time of this epistle, Paul had already survived “shipwreck” three times. This does not include the shipwreck of Acts 27!
- Connected with one of his shipwrecks, Paul had spend a day and a night “in the deep”; i.e. stranded in the sea. There is hardly an experience more dangerous than being lost at sea, especially in those early days.
- “Journeyings” refers to the stress and hardship of long journeys, often by foot. It is difficult for us in the 21st century to understand the great risk involved with journeys in the ancient world. Disease, disaster, and thieves made traveling in those days extremely dangerous. See Paul’s Journeys.
- “Perils of rivers” refers to the danger of crossing rivers, which are prone to flooding and fast currents.
- “Perils of robbers” refers to the danger of being attacked while on the highways. This was especially serious when Paul was carrying funds from one assembly to another.
- “Perils from my own race” refers to the constant attacks on his person from the Jews. They hated the truth of the mystery, which Paul preached boldly.
- “Perils from the nations” refers to the danger of violence from the Gentiles who were steeped in idolatry. A good example is the men of Philippi, who “seeing that the hope of their gains was gone, having seized Paul and Silas, dragged them into the market before the magistrates, etc.” (Acts 16:19).
- “Perils in the city” refers to the danger of riots and mob-mentality that could quickly turn against Paul at a moment’s notice. Examples would be the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19) and the riot in Jerusalem (Acts 21).
- “Perils in the desert” refers to the danger of dehydration and starvation in desolate places. Paul’s journey’s often required him to cross difficult terrain.
- “Perils on the sea” refers to the dangers of sea-voyage generally. Not only shipwreck, but rat-borne disease and pirate attacks.
- “Perils among false brethren” is perhaps the most insidious danger of all. There were many who made a profession of Christianity, but were really tares planted by the enemy, interested only in making a profit from the believers. Some of these “false brethren” were the very ones Paul was writing against in Corinth!
27 (19) in labour and toil, (20) in watchings often, (21) in hunger and thirst, (22) in fastings often, (23) in cold and nakedness. v.27 Personal Discomforts. Thirdly, Paul speaks of those personal discomforts that constantly accompany the path of service.
- “Labour and toil” refers to the personal cost of a life of devotion to Christ. It was hard work.
- “Watchings” refer to sleepless nights, whether because of danger, such as in the stocks in Philippi (Acts 16), or because of staying up all night in prayer.
- “Hunger and thirst” refers to going without food and drink involuntarily. This may have occurred in prison, at sea, or on long journeys.
- “Fastings” refers to going without food or other natural things voluntarily to be devoted to the Lord in prayer (Matt. 6:16-18). This is not general hunger and thirst as distinguished in this verse. Paul’s constant life of devotion to Christ often resulted in his choosing to neglect natural things, that he might stay close to the Lord.
- “Cold and nakedness” are the results of being in harsh climates with inadequate clothing.
28 (24) Besides those things that are without, the crowd of cares pressing on me daily, the burden of all the assemblies. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is stumbled, and I burn not? vv.28-29 Suffering in Sympathy with the Saints.
- Perhaps the greatest burden of all was “the burden of all the assemblies”. Every true servant of Christ will know what this means. The well-being of Christ’s flock consumes those who serve Him. A great example was the Corinthians. The saints’ problems were Paul’s problems. They kept Paul awake at night, on his knees in a great “conflict” of prayer (Col. 2:1). It wasn’t just one assembly… it was all of them. Particularly, the spiritual problems burdened Paul. Spiritual “weakness” on their part was felt by the apostle. When a brother was stumbled by false teaching, Paul would “burn” with righteous indignation, similar to how a parent burns when someone hurts their child.
30 If it is needful to boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus knows — he who is blessed for ever — that I do not lie. vv.30-31 Paul chose carefully what to boast in. He did not chose to boast in his great accomplishments in the service of Christ, nor of the miracles which he did. Those are things that the flesh can glory in. Rather, he chose to “boast in the things which concern my infirmity”… things which do not attract the praise of men. There is a practical lesson in this for any who publicly minister the Word. As a general guideline, talk about yourself rarely, if ever. And if you do talk about yourself, don’t tell stories that make you look good, or would attract the praise of men. It would be better to share an experience where you learned something the hard way, rather than pat yourself on the back, so to speak. And secondly, tell the truth (v.31). Paul was not exaggerating or embellishing these events. They actually happened, and Paul could relate them in good faith. Do not lead people to believe something wrong to accomplish your agenda. We should always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!
32 (25) In Damascus the ethnarch of Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes shut up, wishing to take me; 33 and through a window in a basket I was let down by the wall, and escaped his hands. v.32 Humiliation before men.
- When Paul had to be let down “through a window in a basket”, it was a very humbling experience (Acts 9:25). Consider how Paul rode into the city of Damascus, with letter from the high priest, intending to lead Christians into prison. He was the leader of the legalists, the chief of sinners. He entered Damascus in great fleshly glory… but he left in great humiliation. Sometimes our brethren are used to humble us. In ch.11 Paul is let down in a basket, but in ch.12 he is caught up to the third heaven!