V1616Again 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.. The apostle had to say that he was constrained to talk about himself again and again. His heart was full of Christ and he only wanted to talk about Him. But since his apostleship has come under attack now and thus indirectly his Patron and the gospel which he preached to the Corinthians and by which they came to the faith, he now had to defend his apostleship. He loved Christ and the believers in Corinth so much that he could not bear to see the servants of satan do their pernicious work among them.
They should not think that he was a fool. If they thought so then let them take him for granted. He wanted to boast a little and list off just a few things which showed them the kind of servant that he was. Again: he did it reluctantly.
V17-1917What 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.. He knew full well that the Lord would not like such kind of boasting. But he also knew that the Lord considered that he did it for their sake. It is like a recalcitrant child which needed a rebuke. It is not a pleasure to do it but it is necessary.
The Corinthians bore well with every kind of foolish people like the false apostles who boasted about anything and everything. They considered themselves wise and thought that they could judge what these people brought. Well, if they were really wise they would also be able to judge what he as the true apostle had to say.
V2020For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face.. Paul lists off all that they put up with from the false apostles. They allowed them to “enslave” them. They had let themselves be taken captive by these fraudsters in their thoughts, probably because they again preached the law as a rule of life. This was in contrast to the liberty in Christ that Paul had preached to them and by which he had bound them to Christ and not to himself.
They would even put up with anyone who ‘devoured’ and ‘took advantage’ of them. The false apostles had demanded that the Corinthians must contribute towards their livelihood. They had gained entry into the houses and once they gained the acceptance of the inmates they took money from them. This is in contrast to the attitude of Paul who never wanted to accept any money from them.
Those people placed themselves above the Corinthians and assumed a glamorous status. The Corinthians had to listen to what they had to say. This is in contrast to the humble attitude that characterized Paul when he was with them. Probably those people did not spare them even from physical violence. It seems the term “hits you in the face” at least means that. It can also mean that they used a hurting and mocking language to humiliate the Corinthians. This is in contrast to the loving attitude of Paul who spoke of himself as a father and dealt with them so (1Cor 4:1515For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet [you would] not [have] many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.).
V2121To [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.. ‘I know well’, says the Apostle, ‘that my behavior brings “shame” on me and that I’ve been too “weak” in the way I handled.’ But he considered it a privilege, for that was the way he wanted to serve them.
It is strange that believers can accept a lot from false teachers and how little they can accept from the real servants of God! It seems that believers quickly want to hold fast to things which are wrong. When falsehood is exposed they are not grateful for it. There are still others who let your conscience remain undisturbed. They ask a lot and persuade you to consider it as payment for their services. The believers in turn persuade themselves to believe that they have fulfilled their obligations and therefore they are free to live their life according as they like to. Please note that he is talking about believers and not about unbelievers. This must speak to you and me.
The characteristics of the false apostles Paul presents here to the Corinthians are found in the many cult leaders who are found in the Christian field today. Cult leaders are often leaders with charisma who have the answers for all things from the Bible. They are present in any community of believers regardless of denomination. From the Bible they take up any particular truth and mix it up with error so cleverly that error is made attractive and therefore the more deadly.
The reason why they get easy access to many believers is that the believers do not study the Bible themselves. Countless Christians have left the job to their leaders. This happens nearly in every faith community. This is a grievous evil through which the false servants can easily do their deadly work and lead many ignorant believers astray from the truth. Therefore the exhortation: Listen to what Paul says, for he tells the truth.
To underscore this Paul now tells his experiences in the service of his Lord. Against this the false apostles would have no answer. Before he begins he again expresses his aversion about telling these experiences. He uses the words “foolish” and “foolishness” to let the Corinthians feel how far they had gone away from the truth that he had to do that. The other side of the coin is that God uses the Corinthian situation to give you a glimpse of what this man went through during the course of his service for the Lord.
Did the false teachers venture to talk about themselves? Well, he also had the courage to do so although it is foolish and unwise to talk about oneself. He could compete with them!
V2222Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.. Did they brag about their Jewish ancestry? He could also. (You can derive from this that these false apostles probably had a Jewish background. Note my comment on the expression “if anyone enslaves you” in verse 2020For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face..) With the term “Hebrews” he refers to a nation that remains separated from other peoples while going through this world. “Israelites” denotes a people belonging to God. “Descendants of Abraham” denotes a people to whom God has given the promises. These descriptions are used to identify his lineage and his background. In all these he did not lag behind others in anyway.
V2323Are 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.. What follows now is an impressive example of his devotion in the service of Christ. It is no longer about the nice talks, but about what we are willing to do for the Lord. Did they dare to call themselves “servants of Christ”? He will report about his service for Christ. Then they must come to the conviction that in this service he was head and shoulders above those other ones.
He felt like “insane”, he felt a great reluctance to speak like this, but he had no other alternative. The Corinthians had to be convinced that the people who had infiltrated them were not the true ministers of Christ.
Their relationship with Paul was at stake and thereby their relationship with Christ. When they said ‘good bye’ to Paul and swapped him with the false apostles they also did the same with Christ Whom he preached to them. He had to speak this way for the sake of Christ’s honor and for the sake of the certainty of the faith of the Corinthians.
Paul launches out. He presents an impressive list. Without any exaggeration he lists off all that he did, faced, and felt. It is not a success story or boasting. They are just sober facts about the life of a servant who put his heart and soul into the task that the Lord Jesus had given him.
If you thought that serving the Lord is a cake walk, then you will be disappointed. You can see here that it is associated with anxiety and resistance. This is not mentioned in this section of the Bible to discourage you but to show you how much a man who loves his Lord must endure. Several of the different experiences Paul mentions can be found in the book of Acts. The Lord is still the same and He wants to help you through all your sufferings for Him, although in most cases it will not be as hard as what Paul delineates here. In some cases, however, it will be so.
Let us take the first point: “In far more labors.” You can imitate this. Paul had a very special service and what he had been through, and what he accomplished, nobody else did, but still it remains true that you can also devote yourself fully to what the Lord wants you to do.
Then he talks about his circumstances. He often sat in jail. They were not luxury apartments which people call, at least in the western world, prison today. They were often dark dungeons, underground passages, swarming with vermin, damp and musty smelling. The treatment one received there was not polite. He had never landed there because he committed a crime; it was always as a result of the hatred of the Jews, because he had preached about Jesus in that particular place.
He was not spared from physical violence. He received a lot of punches. This was quite an experience beyond description. But he could not be crushed. He continued the work with renewed zeal and enthusiasm. It is remarkable that he never used the special power of the Spirit that was in him to save himself from any difficult situation; in this he faithfully imitated the Lord Jesus.
“In danger of death” means that the dangers of death were nothing unusual for him. This might sound simple but think how he might have felt when his life was at stake. It was not disease that was going to kill him but hostile people who were thirsting for his blood.
Now read 2 Corinthians 11:16-23 again.
Reflection: When should you speak for yourself and when should you not?