2 Corinthians



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Devotions from Second Corinthians



Paul Defends his Apostolic Message and Character

2 Corinthians 11: 1- 33 (NKJV)

Dr. Gordon E. Johnson

Rio Grande Bible Institute


In this last extensive section of 2 Corinthians 10-12, Paul must face his enemies, Satan's emissaries in Corinth. He began with a passionate appeal to his converts: "Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ . . ." However, in this conflict with Satan's forces he rests assured in Christ's victory: "for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds and casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing into captivity every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (10:4,5).  Paul will wage a spiritual warfare from his  place seated in the heavenlies with a triumphant Christ.

Paul Engages Christ's Bride and the Serpent   2 Corinthians 11: 1-6

As Paul must now face the distasteful task, he again appeals to his beloved converts from his deepest motivation for their spiritual wellbeing. Drawing upon his high privilege of having introduced them to their divine Lover, he fears that the primeval serpent is competing for their affections. "For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (v.2). His deepest motivation, then, is their ultimate love relationship with Christ.

Now Paul must deal with his detractors and his beloved children in Christ. He appeals for an unbiased hearing but with most serious overtones of their peril. "For if he who comes preaches another Jesus," we hear another echo of his warning to the Galatians – "let him accursed"

(Galatians 1:6-9). In no way is Paul inferior to these interlopers and he will establish this soon. On the contrary the Corinthians themselves are living proof of his apostolic ministry (vv. 4-6).

Paul Responds to an Implicit Argument against his Apostleship   2 Corinthians 11: 7-15

Apparently from the inference to the question that he refused payment for his services, he was accused by his adversaries of a sin of integrity of character. "Did I commit a sin in abasing myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge?" (v.7). As one reads between the lines he addresses his enemies and indirectly his converts. These interlopers strictly adhered to the pattern of the professional teacher demanding wages for services rendered as proof positive of personal integrity and professional standing.  On that twisted reasoning they have affirmed that Paul was spurious.

Paul answers his detractors in exaggerated terms that he robbed or "plundered" other churches, as a mercenary to make way for their supposed "superior" service – what sharp irony![1] Bishop Moule's paraphrase is striking: "When present with you and at a crisis of money difficulty, I did not burden with appeals a single person. For my deficiency was adequately supplied by my brethren on their coming from Macedonia. And indeed in every respect I watchfully kept myself from burdening you and I will do so still. Sure as Christ's truth is in me"[2]

In Paul's first epistle he vigorously defended his calling and his refusal to take wages as a safeguard against the gainsayers who could accuse him of being a mere mercenary. "For it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void. For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid on me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may no abuse my authority in the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:15-18).  Far from it being a sin, he had served his God in the gospel refusing any payment in return.

Again Paul appeals to his sincere love for them before the Lord himself as his deepest motivation (11:11). Then in the bluntest fashion he labels them for what they are: "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light" (v.13).

Paul's Appeal for a Hearing but at the Level of his Detractors' Charge   2 Corinthians 11:16-21

Paul begins with a heated and ironic appeal to his beloved converts; owever,HoweveHHw we must bear in mind, however, that the real spiritual battle is fought in the heavenlies. Paul had made it crystal clear that "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity of the obedience of Christ" (10:4.5).

In a similar spiritual warfare Daniel's urgent prayer for his beloved people was held up for 21 days (Daniel 10:10-21). It was only after Michael, Israel's protector, came and withstood the angel of Persia that Daniel received the answer. And furthermore, Michael was to leave and withstand the prince of Greece.  We may not know the interworking of such spiritual conflicts but the issue is clear, spiritual warfare is waged on God's terms in heavenly places.

Another Old Testament incident bears witness to the same reality. Amalek came and fought against Israel in Rephidim (Exodus 17:8-16). But Moses with deep insight remained in intercession on the mountain with the rod of God in his hands.  When he tired, Aaron and Hur held up his hands. Meanwhile in the valley below Joshua waged literal warfare. However when the rod of God was held up, victory was immediately reflected in the valley below. What a striking lesson that the battle is won in heavenly places by the authority of the rod of God or the victory of the Cross; it is not principally who prays but the exercise of the authority that the Cross brings to Satan's defeat.

Having said that, there is a legitimate earthly encounter with evil, but the message of the Cross must still govern the words and spirit in which we engage the enemy's spokesman in what is the what and the how of the conflict. Paul introduces this spiritual conflict by appealing to his converts by the "meekness and the gentleness of Christ."  That approach is hardly combative. But it encapsulates the humility that becomes us, Message of the Cross, He makes clear his own self abnegation in not demanding payment for his ministry to forestall any accusation of greed or self interest.

Now is the time to deal practically and forcibly with the issue at hand, in such a way that his interlopers would understand. Paul sets the stage for his defense of his message, first and foremost, and later of his person, the former defense is more important to him that the latter.

In one sense he steps down to their level to meet their charges but makes it crystal clear that he is not speaking as from the Lord. "I say again, let no one think me a fool. If otherwise, at least receive me as a fool, that I also may boast a little. What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting. Seeing that many boast, according to the flesh, I also will boast" (vv.16 -18). 

Paul is prepared to meet his adversaries on their own territory. With irony and a touch of sarcasm Paul recognizes that it is customary to tolerate fools and allow them a wide range of options. Because they are fools, the hearer is not moved by twisted arguments. At least give me that kind of a hearing (vv.19, 20).  Then with a final twist of irony he quotes their distortion: "To our shame, I say that we were too weak for that! But in whatever anyone is bold – I speak foolishly -  I am bold also."

The Unparalleled Litany of Qualifications of the Apostle of Christ   2 Corinthians 11:22-28

Paul begins with his pedigree unmatched by any imposter: "Are they Hebrews? So am I, Are they Israelites? So am I., Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I." Their claimed pedigree may be an inference as to who these interlopers were: judaizers, no doubt, a small group but persistent and insistent. They are false apostles, agents of Satan himself who transforms himself into an angel of light.

Allow me an aside. In this very moment of writing these words, I have been on the telephone resisting the work of Satan in a church where one of my Timothy's is facing a carnal brother who desires to take over his ministry. The enemy attacks the church of our Lord and uses carnal believers as his allies. We often speak theoretically of our victory in Christ, but sadly too often  it is the enemy to whom we yield our members; he wrecks havoc  among God's people. Our  present passage is a current as the news of tomorrow's newspaper. May God deliver us for our own carnality under the guise of the truth!

Paul begins to compare quantitatively his labors with theirs. Again he has said six times that he is talking as a fool, not as from the Lord, and asks to be treated as a fool  It is evident his recounting of his labors is a painful exercise. Five times he uses the equivalent of "more," "often;" then he exceeds them numerically: "of the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one." In all there are eight comparisons in which he surpasses his detractors.

Then follow his travels; seven times in peril and eight times in various states of discomfort: weariness, sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, deprivation, in cold and nakedness. What a recounting of his cost of stewardship! His adversaries waited for their payment; but Paul rather served.

Now comes the ultimate suffering; there can be nothing greater. "Besides the other things, what comes upon me daily, my deep concern for all the churches" (v.28). If he has summed up his labors quantitatively, this verse measures his suffering qualitatively.  This is off the charts! A true pastor's heart suffers as his body never can suffer. We only can enter lightly where Jesus trod. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Matthew 23:37).

Paul Remembers his First Weakness and Indignity   2 Corinthians 11: 29-33

In the presence of the above litany no one can stand; only our Lord's ultimate self sacrifice stands in that other category altogether. Paul asks the question: Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity. (vv.29, 30).

Paul has come full circle. He no longer speaks as a fool to be tolerated by his detractors. He assumes the full responsibility for his weakness in every area of life and ministry. There is no pride here, no excuses given for his past or present. Paul sees himself as dead, buried, and raised to sit in heavenly places. By faith he takes his place unreservedly at the Cross with the Crucified "who was crucified in weakness but raised in the power of God." (2 Corinthians 13:3, 4).  

This is much more than a pious statement. Paul lives at the Cross. "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me, I do not  set aside the grace of God" (Galatians 2:20, 21).

In a rather strange turn of events Paul returns to the very first indignity that God brought into his life. He had just met the Nazarene, the Crucified. His life had been forever transformed there in Damascus; he had boldly preached for the first time that Jesus is the Messiah. At the very outset of his ministry he was introduced to the new style of life and service. The Jews were intent on killing him and in order to escape the ambassador of the Crucified was let down over the wall in a basket. He sees that beginning as the imprimatur or the sealing of God on a life time of suffering, a life time of weakness. Because of the Cross Paul has accepted it from the first day of his escape to the difficult present.

Paul has now returned to the very theme with which he began the epistle. "Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us." (2 Corinthians 1:9, 10).

He will complete the theme magisterially in the chapter that follows in which he will, as always,  lift high the banner of the Cross in the life of the believer.

Yours in the Message of the Cross,

Gordon E. Johnson

Rio Grande Bible Institute

Gejohnson1928@gmail.com  for correspondence    www.kneillfoster.com for complete studies in the two languages.

[1] Handley C. G. Moule, the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (London:Pickering & Inglis) 1962,  p.107.

[2] Ibid, p.107.