2 Corinthians 11

2 Corinthians 11  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 10
(Vs. 1). If, as the Apostle has just said, it is only he whom the Lord commends that is approved, it must, under ordinary circumstances, be folly to commend oneself. The occasion, however, had arisen when he deemed it necessary to speak of himself. He therefore asks the saints to bear with him in what might appear to be a little folly on his part.
(Vss. 2-4). Accordingly, he first sets forth the motive that actuated him in speaking of himself, as well as the occasion that called for self-vindication. It was no mere vanity of the flesh that loves to exalt itself that moved the Apostle, but godly jealousy for the glory of Christ and the blessing of the saints. Using the figure of a man and his bride, he says, "I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ". He had presented Christ to them as the One who is altogether lovely, and engaged their hearts with Him. His desire now was to present them to Christ in perfect suitability as a chaste virgin. He longed that the saints should be found in holy separation from this defiling world, walking in simple-hearted devotedness to Christ. He foresaw that the enemy was making a subtle attempt to draw them away from Christ, even as in the garden of Eden he beguiled Eve from her allegiance to God. We know that Satan tempted Eve with the acquisition of knowledge. He said, "Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil". Again, he sought to steal the hearts of the Corinthian saints from Christ — the Tree of Life — by tempting them with the tree of knowledge. The Apostle, in his first epistle, admits that they were enriched "in all knowledge", but warns them that knowledge without love "puffeth up" (1 Cor. 1:5; 8:1-35That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; (1 Corinthians 1:5)
1Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. 2And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. 3But if any man love God, the same is known of him. (1 Corinthians 8:1‑3)
). As of old, the enemy approached Eve with the question, "Hath God said?", thus calling in question the word of God; so today he has sought to undermine God's Word by substituting human reason for divine revelation, and has thus corrupted the great Christian profession by presenting "another Jesus", "another Spirit", and "another gospel" than that of God's Word. Thus souls have been drawn away from the truth that is presented in Christ. This surely is the evil root that will lead to the great apostasy. If, then, this was the danger to which the saints at Corinth were exposed, they might well bear with the Apostle, through whom they had received the truth, if he has to speak of himself in defending the saints from false brethren.
(Vss. 5-6). These false teachers were seeking to undermine the Apostle's work by calling in question his apostleship and service. He could truly say, that he "was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles". He might be simple in speech, yet he had no lack of divine knowledge, for in everything he had made manifest the truth to them.
(Vss. 7-10). Was it an offense that, when with them, he had worked with his own hands to meet his needs, so that he might preach the gospel to them freely? He had indeed received help from other assemblies for service rendered to the saints at Corinth; and those who accompanied him from Macedonia had helped to supply his temporal needs. Thus no man could stop him from boasting that he had been no financial burden to those of Achaia.
(Vss. 11-12). But was it because he had no love for them that he refused their temporal aid? Far from it. His motive was to cut off occasion from those who were boasting that, in contrast with the Apostle, they were no burden to the assembly.
(Vss. 13-15). Such were false apostles, deceitful workers; not as Paul, "an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God", but self-appointed apostles, "transforming themselves into the Apostles of Christ". In reality they were the ministers of Satan, who knows how to deceive with a fair appearance by transforming himself into an angel of light. Copying their master, these false men covered up their evil with a show of good works, as if ministers of righteousness. Their end will be according to their works. In the opposition of these ministers of Satan to the true minister of Christ, we see the inception of that vast system of corruption, of which in its end God declares that "in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth" (Rev. 18:2424And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth. (Revelation 18:24)).
(Vss. 16-21). The Apostle had shown that, in contrast with these "false apostles", he had preached "the gospel of God", attached souls to Christ, and had served freely to take occasion from those who were exalting themselves and taking the money of the saints (vs. 20, JND). But there is another way in which the true servant is strikingly contrasted with these false men, namely the reproach and sufferings endured for the Lord's sake in the course of his service. Of these sufferings the Apostle now speaks; but, before doing so, he again expresses his deep reluctance to speak of himself. If he has to do so in order to prove his integrity, he trusts that no man will think him a fool. If, however, they think he is speaking as a fool, let them bear with him for a little. The Apostle realized that boasting of self, in whatever form it might take, whether as to readiness of speech, intellectual powers, independent means, family connections or social position, was far from being of the Lord. But if there were those who gloried according to the flesh, he also could do so, and they would have no ground for complaint, seeing that they readily suffered fools who brought them into bondage to man, preyed upon them, took their money, exalted themselves while insulting others. Not to act as these men had acted might appear to be mere weakness on his part. Howbeit, if they think him weak, he will show them that he can be bold, although he still thinks that to speak of himself is foolishness.
Did his opposers take the low ground of priding themselves on their Jewish extraction, as being Hebrews and of the nation of Israel, claiming descent from Abraham? Well, the Apostle can say as much (vs. 22).
(Vss. 23-29). But passing on to speak of the far higher privilege of being a servant of Christ, he asks, "Are they ministers of Christ?" He may be speaking foolishly, but he has no hesitation in saying that he is a minister of Christ "above measure" more than these men (JND). To prove his words, he brings forward a wonderful summary of his labors and sufferings for Christ's sake. His faithful labors as the servant of Christ had brought him into prison, and face to face with death, and persecution from the Jews. It had necessitated many journeys, with the perils entailed by shipwreck and in passing through water, facing robbers, the hatred of his own countrymen, and the opposition of the heathen. Thus he had faced perils in the city, in the wilderness, and on the sea. Above all, he had to face "perils among false brethren". These perils entailed for him labor and toil, constant watchings, fastings, hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness. Beside all these outward sufferings, he had to endure in his spirit the burden of all the assemblies. Were any weak, he felt for them in their weakness. Were any stumbled, he was deeply moved against those by whom they were stumbled.
(Vss. 30-33). If, however, it is needful for the Apostle to boast, he does not speak of his mighty, miraculous powers or even of the revelations he had received —things in which, as an apostle, he stood alone — but he boasts, rather, of the things that concern his infirmities — things in which it is possible for others to share in their little measure. Of these things he can say that God knows that he speaks the truth. Moreover, how many of these things are of a character about which the natural man would have remained silent. He closes this part of his letter by referring to such an incident, in which, as one has said, "No angelic visitors opened bars and bolts of massive doors, nor blinded the eyes of the garrison". But to effect his escape from his enemies, he had to submit to the indignity of being let down through a window in a basket over the city wall. Thus, if others boasted in their gifts, their knowledge, and excellency of speech, he could glory in his infirmities and weaknesses, which became the occasion of displaying the power of God, who can keep and use His servant in spite of all weakness and in the midst of the most distressing circumstances.
As we read this deeply instructive chapter, we see, on the one hand, a striking picture of a devoted servant of the Lord Jesus, and the suffering that faithful service entails in the world that has rejected Christ — all leading to the day when the saints will be presented to Christ. On the other hand, we see, even in the Apostle's day, the beginning of those evils that have been increasing throughout the history of Christendom, and will end in the corrupt Christian profession being spued out of the mouth of Christ.
Looking a little more closely at these two pictures, let us first notice, in reference to the Apostle, that, in this passage, there is no mention of any miraculous gifts by which the sick were healed, demons cast out, and the dead raised. Again, there is no allusion to apostolic prerogatives, bringing to the saints fresh revelations or foretelling future events. Neither is there any assumption of outstanding abilities that would enable the possessor to speak with great eloquence or to appeal to the emotions and intellect. There is no claim to wealth, social position, high-born relationships or educational advantages, which might influence men and secure position and recognition in this world. Thus there is nothing set before us that is not possible for the humblest servant of the Lord. For this reason, however much we may come short of the standard of service attained by the Apostle, he comes before us, in this passage, as a wonderful example of devoted service, available as a pattern for any servant of the Lord. Looking, then, at the Apostle as a pattern servant, we see, first, that Christ Himself was the great Object of his service. His great desire was to present the saints to Christ. Some may make the salvation of sinners their main object: others, with higher aim, may make the church, that is so dear to Christ, their great object: but those will rise highest in their service who make Christ their first Object. Such, indeed, will not neglect the gospel to sinners or ministry to the saints, but all their service will have in view the gratification of the desire of the heart of Christ to have His own with Him, and like Him, on that great day of the marriage of the Lamb, when He will see of the fruit of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.
Thus with Christ as his great Object, the Apostle had sought to win sinners for Christ by preaching the gospel, as he had done at Corinth and elsewhere (vs. 7). Having been used for the conversion of sinners, with Christ still before him, he sought to attach saints to Christ (vs. 2). Having drawn the saints to Christ, he sought to defend the saints from every form of evil that would beguile them from their allegiance to Christ. Further, we see that, in having Christ before him as his great Object, he was ready, in carrying out his service, to endure suffering, whether from toil and labor, from persecution and imprisonment, from perils and wants, or from cold and nakedness.
Looking at the other side of the picture, we see that, in those early times, there were "false brethren" who not only made a Christian profession, but assumed to be apostles. Such were "false apostles, deceitful workers". Nevertheless, they came to the saints with such a fair show in the flesh that they appeared as angels of light and ministers of righteousness. With satanic subtlety, these men perverted the truth by preaching "another Jesus", "another Spirit", and "another gospel" (vs. 4). Furthermore, the Apostle foresaw that, if the assemblies suffered these evil workers in their midst, the Christian circle would be corrupted from simplicity as to Christ, with the result that the hearts of the saints would be drawn from true allegiance to Christ, and they would become followers of those who, for their own exaltation, were drawing away disciples after themselves (vs. 20). Pretending to be what they were not, they perverted the truth, corrupted the Christian profession, and exalted themselves at the expense of others.
Looking back over the ages, we see that that which had its commencement in the Apostle's day has since developed into a vast system of corruption, which, while claiming apostolic succession, has perverted the truth, exalted and enriched itself at the expense of others, and persecuted the saints.
Here, then, we have the two pictures: one setting forth the true servant for our example; the other the false servants for our warning. We see the service of the true servant leading on to the great day of the marriage of the Lamb when the church, presented under the figure of "the holy city, New Jerusalem", will be seen in glory as "the Lamb's wife". We see, too, the ministers of Satan, working in the midst of Christendom, leading on to that solemn day, when, under the figure of that great city Babylon, the corrupt Christian profession will be dealt with in overwhelming judgment.
Well for us, each one, to challenge our hearts with the question, "Which city, in my life and service, am I helping to build?" Are we in our work and associations helping on the corruptions of Babylon, or have we answered to the Lord's summons, "Come out of her my people", and in separation from the corruptions of Christendom, are we seeking to serve the Lord in view of the Holy City? Many of the saints who travel the road that leads to that blest city may, like the Apostle, have to pass through the fires of martyrdom, and through the waters of death, but it leads at last to the great day of the marriage of the Lamb. In the light of the exceeding and eternal weight of glory of that great day, the Apostle can look upon perils and persecution, toil and labor, suffering and insults, as but light afflictions which are but for a moment (ch. 4:17).
If, we would, in our little measure, follow the example of the Apostle, may it be our first desire that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith. Having Christ before us as our one Object, may we desire to win souls for Christ, attach the hearts of saints to Christ, and seek to defend one another from all that would rob us of the truth and draw our souls from Christ. And if, in any little measure, such service entails suffering and reproach, may we be able to endure, as looking on to the exceeding glory of the great day of the marriage of the Lamb.
Take Thou our hearts, and let them be
Forever closed to all but Thee;
Thy willing servants, let us wear
The seal of love forever there.