2Cor.11:16-33 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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2 Corinthians 11:16-33

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Paul Continues in his Efforts to Help the Corinthians

Paul just won’t give up! He loves the Corinthians that much.

I wonder as we think about our own lives who it is we have to thank for not giving up on us. I wonder if we are demonstrating something like Paul’s commitment to others who may, one day, be grateful to us.

Responding to Accusations
We’ve already seen that Paul was exposed to more than his fair share of criticism. We’ve seen how he responded to the charge of being a poor speaker by affirming that he did have knowledge, and matter must always trump form when it comes to gospel communication.

We’ve seen too how Paul responded to his attitude towards finances and how he had determined never to allow his presentation of the free grace of Christ to be made a burden to those to whom he preached. Along the way we saw too that this policy was never intended to imply a lack of love on his part – calling God as his witness, Paul solemnly declared his love for the Corinthians.

But we have not yet exhausted the list of accusations that had been brought against the apostle. We are not to think that these charges had been made in any formal sense but rather by insinuation and suggestion his detractors had sought to diminish Paul’s influence.

It would appear that the general impression that at least some of detractors wished to pass on was that Paul was himself a fool – perhaps in their eyes only a fool could act as Paul did by going against the prevailing standards of the day; after all Paul wouldn’t join in some of their games he would neither rely on letters of recommendation nor would he charge fees for his ministry.

Paul rejected the idea that he actually was a fool but did argue that if he was to be regarded as such he ought at least to be treated in the same way the Corinthians treated other fools. They ought to give him a hearing as he behaved in a way that he himself esteemed to be foolish.

Paul was, for a time, going to play one of the games of the super-apostles. It was not because he wanted to or because he approved of their way of proceeding but he felt compelled to do so; he saw this as a must if he was is to be of help to the endangered Corinthians. These others, these super-apostles, were boasting about themselves, about their abilities and about their experiences – they did so without the slightest hesitancy at all and Paul considered that it was necessary for him to counter them by making boasts of his own – but he cannot do so with any great enthusiasm. Such methods are the actions of fools and Paul pleads for a little indulgence while he acts in foolishness. We can feel something of his reluctance as we read his repeated disclaimers:

v.17 "What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not with the Lord’s authority but as a fool."
v.21 "I am speaking as a fool"
v.23 "I am talking like a madman"

Paul has a difficult task on his hands. How could he best be of help to his friends in Corinth? How did he need to proceed in order that he might bring every thought captive to Christ in the Corinthian situation? You see Paul was ministering as an apostle of Jesus Christ who had been sent on a mission. And Jesus had already told his disciples how they would have to conduct themselves in difficult and trying circumstances:

Mt.10:16  "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."

That is what Paul was doing here.

Did the Corinthians think he was a fool? Then they should treat him as they treated other fools. They should at least give him a hearing and be ready to listen to what he had to say!

v.19 "For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves!"

Paul’s Defence turns to Offense
The Corinthians had obviously come to consider themselves to be wise people and so Paul referred to this "wisdom" of theirs. In doing so Paul was using irony. Irony properly used can be a potent weapon in our armoury. After all, the "wise" decisions the Corinthians had taken landed them in a right mess though they don’t even seem to have realised this.

In their "wisdom" the Corinthians had not merely tolerated people (people that Paul now described as "fools") but they had actually gone much further than that and had warmly welcomed them. They had listened to what the newcomers had had to say and sadly to their own loss had heeded it. Paul is of course referring to the interlopers and he does not stop at calling them fools but continues to indicate the extent of the negative influence that they have had upon the Corinthians without these latter really noticing what was happening.

Paul described the influence of these super-apostles in damning terms. He puts it in impersonal language but it was clear to all who he was talking about.

v.20 "For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face."

What a contrast there is between the message and manner of the super-apostles and the gospel preaching of the apostle Paul!

  • The true gospel sets men free – Paul came as a servant and to serve...

But the false gospel makes men slaves of rules and regulations

  • The true gospel is offered freely by God’s grace – Paul refused to be a burden upon his hearers...

But the false gospel came with financial exploitation and cost

  • The true gospel exalts men and women bringing new status as the children of God – Paul came in the meekness and gentleness of Christ (10:1)...

But the false gospel is awash with pride and control and subordination

  • The true gospel puts up with suffering – see how Paul will go on to describe his own in the following verses...

But the false gospel inflicts suffering in various different forms of abuse and abusive behaviour

It is as if Paul was calling the Corinthians to recognise the enormity of what really was at stake. Why should they pay attention to Paul rather than to the super-apostles? Because these super-apostles had led them up the garden path – Paul can and should be compared with them, he will come out very favourably in the comparison. Yet to enable this comparison to take place Paul must make his boasts – and in doing so he will also move all such boasting onto a new footing, one where no hireling will not comfortable to follow.

Paul began with his racial and religious background – he was a Jew through and through. The fact Paul began with this matter tells us that his detractors were making much of their Jewishness; they were in fact Judaizers and Judaizers were a big problem in the early church. Basically Judaizers wanted to insist upon Jewish rites and practices being given a prominent place in church life. If you were to ask them whether a person had to become Jewish in order to be a good Christian they would have said "Yes, of course".

But Paul knew that to insist upon this would alter the fundamental nature of the gospel. It would no longer be a gospel that was full of God’s grace but it would be substantially altered to leave a place for man’s endeavour all over again. To argue against Judaising influences could appear to be anti-Jewish but Paul was himself a Jew and not at all anti-Jewish! Elsewhere he would go further and identify himself with the strictest of sects within Judaism – he was a success by such standards! But Paul had found Christ and that led him to utterly rejected all those Judaising influences which served only to move Christ away from the very centre of faith.

Having spoken about his Jewish credentials Paul then moved on to speak in a way that sounds awful to our Christian ears – he spoke about service for Christ and openly declared that he was and had been a better servant than them all!

If it sounds wrong to us it sounded wrong to Paul too – he hated speaking like this and was far happier in other letters that he wrote to speak in a very different manner about himself. There he wrote that he was:

  • "the chief of sinners" (1Tim.1:15);

  • "the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle," (1Cor.15:9);

  • "the very least of all the saints," (Eph.3:8).

If you were asked to draw up a list of the credentials whereby you might assess and compare Christian ministers (and by extension all true Christians) I wonder whether your list would look anything like the one that Paul drew up. The first item on Paul’s list was about hard-work and we might well be happy to judge a minister by whether or not he is hard-working but then we might be tempted to ask more questions about his work: how many churches he had planted? how many conversions he had seen under his ministry? how many books he had written? how many conferences had invited him to be their speaker? etc.etc.

But Paul’s list is staggeringly different!

  • How many times have you been in prison for your faith?

  • How many beatings have you received?

  • How often have you been beaten up for Christ’s sake?

  • How many serious travel accidents and incidents have you been involved in?

  • How much danger has come your way in the course of your ministry?

  • How has your health suffered?

  • What shortages have you experienced?

  • How many other people are you really concerned about?

Paul boast was that he could top this list with ease – he was head of every category. It all seems so strange he seems to be highlighting frailty, mishaps and struggles rather than success after success. Wait a bit – that is exactly what he was doing!

Paul in his boasting wanted to speak about the very things that serve to show in the clearest way imaginable his weaknesses and his failures.

Why so?

Because in this way no-one would be tempted to attribute any of the glory to him – how could such a weak failure of a man achieve anything? It must be the work of another! And of course that other is Christ and the glory goes to this One, the One who deserves it!

In the armed forces medals and honours are handed out to service personnel for acts of courage and acts of bravery. We see on our television screens medals being handed out to men and women who have offered outstanding service often at the risk of their own lives and with little if any thought for their own safety – we know about this sort of thing. It was no different in the Roman army which also had its honours to bestow. In the Roman army a special honour was attributed to the first soldier to scale the wall of a besieged city. In contrast to such bravery Paul said his claim to fame, his ‘honour’, was to have been the first down the wall in a basket, apparently running away from danger in the most ignominious manner.

How do you make your boast?
Now if Paul had taken to this boasting about himself under duress how foolish then it would be for a Christian minister (or any other Christian come to that) to eagerly make boasts about his/her own exploits, how foolish for any Christian to speak as though he was something special in himself. How could we possibly want to boast about something that the apostle found distasteful and inappropriate?

Paul didn’t exaggerate when he made his boasts, he wasn’t over-egging the pudding, he was telling the truth – but he didn’t want to do so. That should tell us something. It should encourage us to realise that "the truth" is not a sufficient reason for self-aggrandisement?

Now we may not be quite so crass as to actually make verbal boasts of our own abilities etc. to others but we may quietly try to flatter ourselves in our heart in very similar ways.

To be proud of our racial/religious background may be completely misguided, misdirected. To be proud of our zeal – be it reflected in how many meetings we attend, how many books we read, how many Bibles we’ve got etc. etc. – this too while being true may be totally inappropriate. If Paul was so embarrassed to talk about himself in this way should we really quietly be content and flatter ourselves over very similar matters? I don’t think so.

Paul did on occasion speak about his ministry and what God had accomplished through him – here in this letter he even insisted that it had been he who had got to Corinth first with the gospel but we don’t find him saying so in order to glorify himself. As Paul has already written:

2Cor.10:17-18 ""Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends."

May that be our heartfelt desire too!


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