Ever find words escaping your mouth instigated by some moron picking on you? That’s Paul in this section of his letter (2 Corinthians 11:1-33), only his unexpected words were Holy Spirit-inspired.
THE STAKES: A DIFFERENT JESUS
“I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that. I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough” (11:1-4).
Paul’s doesn’t boast to defend his reputation. Rather, like a father who wants his daughter pure for marriage, Paul has promised the Corinthians to Christ, their “husband”. But he’s afraid they’re replaying Eve–“ . . . just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”
FOOLISH BOAST: “I’M NOT INFERIOR TO THE ‘SUPER APOSTLES’”
“But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way. Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so. As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine. Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!” (11:5-11).
Greek culture esteemed eloquent speakers. Paul wasn’t. Furthermore, no speaker worth listening to preached free. He accepted support from the Macedonian churches (his enemies may have called it “robbery”) so as not to burden the Corinthians. Preaching freely to the Corinthians is his ongoing love-boast before God.
MASQUERADING AS CHRIST’S APOSTLES
“And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (11:12-15).
Paul’s opponents argued they preached in Corinth on the same terms as he did. But, as long as Paul didn’t accept money, they had no ground to stand on. Therefore, Paul openly charges that Christ hasn’t commissioned them. They work to mislead their hearers, disguising themselves as Christ’s apostles. Like Satan, whom they serve, they “masquerade as servants of righteousness.” They’ll suffer the deserved fate in the end.
Paul’s indictment is obviously strong. What are these men teaching that evoked such judgment? Almost certainly some sort of lawkeeping-for-righteousness, which is probably one reason why Paul claimed Christ’s New Covenant-glory far outshone that of the Old (3:7-11). When they preached Old Covenant they dishonored the sufficiency of Christ.
BOASTING LIKE A FOOL
“I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that! What anyone else dares to boast about– I am speaking as a fool– I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” (11:16-30).
Paul says he will boast the way his opponents do. His next words drip with uncharacteristic sarcasm: “I know how happy you are to put up with fools, being so wise yourselves; and how you will still go on putting up with a man who enslaves you, eats up all you possess, keeps you under his orders and sets himself above you, or even slaps you in the face” (NLT).
He goes on to boast of how hard he works, how much he suffers to preach the gospel and how much he feels the pain of others. What he endures is almost beyond belief. Either Paul is lying or divinely called.
BOASTING OF WEAKNESS
“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands” (11:30-33).
“ . . . lowered in a basket” is the ultimate indignity, the escape-route of a common criminal. Why include this? Paul is boasting “of the things that show my weakness.” Yes his foregoing list reveals his hard work and his suffering. But it shows his weakness. Beatings, shipwrecks, in danger and all the rest isn’t the picture of a man supernaturally immune from suffering. He’s weak. And only God’s grace in the person of the Holy Spirit enabled him to press on. Like Jesus Christ, his Lord, Paul suffered to bring the life-saving gospel to lost sinners.
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Were Paul or any of the Lord’s other apostles alive today would we recognize them as apostles? Would they measure up to 21st century Western world expectations? Would their weaknesses repel us? Would we crave instead camera-pleasing men who could captivate us with a turn of the tongue? Or would we see Jesus in their sufferings? Would their scars remind us of him?
And would their hardships endured to get us the gospel remind us of its worth and confirm their authenticity? Would we say, “If he suffered so much to preach the gospel in Christ’s name, he must be divinely sent and it must be true?” Or would we say, “If this gospel might make me look like a loser in the world I want no part of it”?
See if this song shows the right perspective . . .