Notes on 2 Corinthians 11:1-15

2 Corinthians 11:1‑15  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 10
The apostle loved to spend himself in the service of Christ or the saints, and begrudged a word about himself even when the occasion demanded it, at least when it might look like self-defense. His wisdom as his joy was to testify of Christ. To speak of himself even as His servant he counts “folly,” however needful. But it is part of the enemy's tactics to undermine and lower, and destroy if possible a true servant of the Lord, no less than to cry up those that serve their own belly and by their fair speech and speciousness deceive the hearts of the guileless. For can anything be more calculated to frustrate testimony to Christ than to blacken the bearer of it in his motives, ways, and aims? Hence, as thus the object of unceasing detraction to the saints at Corinth by self-seeking men who were really Satan's instruments in dishonoring Christ and corrupting the church, the apostle addresses himself, however reluctantly, to the necessary task of vindicating His name assailed in his own person and ministry.
“Would that ye might bear1 with me in some little2 folly;3 but even bear with me. For I am jealous as to you with a jealousy of God; for I betrothed you to one husband to present a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear lest by any means, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craft,4 your thoughts should be corrupted from the simplicity5 that is towards Christ. For if indeed he that cometh preacheth another Jesus whom we preached not, or ye receive a different Spirit whom ye received not, or a different gospel which ye accepted not, ye might well bear with [it]. For I reckon that I am in nothing come short of those surpassingly apostles; but if even ordinary in speech, yet not in knowledge, but in every [way we were] made manifest [or, manifested it]6 in all things towards you. What! did I commit sin in humbling myself that ye might be exalted, because I gratuitously announced the gospel of God to you? Other churches I spoiled, receiving hire for service towards you. And when present with you and in want, I have not been a burden to any one (for my want the brethren on coming from Macedonia supplied); and in everything unburdensome to you I kept and will keep myself. There is Christ's truth in me that this boasting shall not be stopped7 unto me in the quarters of Achaia. Wherefore? Because I love you not? God knoweth. But what I do I will also do that I may cut off the occasion of those desiring an occasion, that wherein they boast they may be found even as we. For such [are] false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ: and no wonder,8 for Satan himself transformeth himself into an angel of light: [it is] no great thing then if his servants also transform themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works.” (Vers. 1-15.)
He apologizes first of all for having to speak, not of Christ only, but of himself. Yet if any one might be jealous over the Corinthian saints, he surely who betrothed them (such is his expressive figure) to one husband, to present in them a chaste maiden to Christ. Such is the destiny of the saints; they are loved, washed, sanctified, justified, in view of this intimate relationship to Christ, which was most real and sure to the apostle, not so to those who lowered the standard of future hope and present separateness and conscious nearness in love and holiness to Christ by allowance of ease in this life, and of association with the world in its objects and ways, its philosophy or even religion. It is not only that here have we no continuing city and seek the coming one, but that we are now espoused to one husband even Christ, and are called to judge not conduct only but unsuitable thoughts and feelings. And as Paul had thus espoused the saints at Corinth, could he be otherwise than jealous at the creeping in of so much that was inconsistent with presenting them a chaste virgin to Christ?
For it was not merely failure through unwatchfulness: false principles were being instilled, and some relished the poison. So he continues, “I fear lest by any means, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craft, your thoughts should be corrupted from the simplicity that is towards Christ.” In proportion as Christ is a living person to the soul, the reality of Satan's counter-working will be owned. Insensibility to the wiles of the enemy as a true and active adversary to be resisted is the awful indication of an unbelief common and growing in Christendom. How many Christians there are who think and talk slightingly enough of the Corinthian saints, yet more lax still, not in ways only, but in faith! Satan is to them scarce more than an abstraction, an ideal expression of the power of evil. So far were those addressed, poor as they might be spiritually, from such incredulity, that the apostle could refer without hesitation to the serpent beguiling Eve. The history of the fall in Genesis was as yet indisputable truth to all who called on the name of the Lord; even the manner of the tempter's approach proved no difficulty, as it has to many a soul since, and this to their no small loss. Scripture recorded the simple, sober, solemn truth, which all heathenism attests in a traditional form more or less molded into fable. And the latent enemy who employed the serpent is active still as ever, and now under Christianity in corrupting the thoughts of saints from the simplicity of the truth as to the Christ. For the merely professing mass the end will be the apostasy, and the man of sin revealed, whose coming is after the working of Satan in all power and signs and wonders of falsehood, and in all deceit of unrighteousness to them that perish.
And what had they got to warrant slight or alienation? “For if indeed he that cometh preacheth another (ἄλλον) Jesus whom we preached not, or ye receive a different (ἕτερον) Spirit which ye received not, or a different gospel which ye accepted not, ye might well bear with [it].” For none of these blessings were they indebted to any but the apostle; yet him they had lightly esteemed whilst ready to honor the self-exalting men who had set up to teach on his foundation, crying up the twelve only to depreciate Paul. “For I reckon that I am in nothing come short of those surpassingly apostles; but if even ordinary in speech, yet not in knowledge, but in every way we manifested [it, or, were made manifest] in all things towards you.” They had all had the amplest experience of the apostle in everything; and as in power so in knowledge, they knew that he was behind none, however defective in the rhetoric of the schools which the Greek mind overvalued.
But low-minded men misunderstand and despise that lowliness and love of which they are themselves incapable; and some there were at Corinth who cringed to position and means as they were insensible to the apostle's grace in working with his own hands, or at least receiving no aid from rich Corinth. “Did I commit sin in humbling myself that ye might be exalted, because I gratuitously announced the gospel of God to you? Other churches I spoiled, receiving hire for service towards you. And when present with you and in want, I have not been a burden to any one (for my want the brethren on coming from Macedonia supplied); and in everything unburdensome to you I kept and will keep myself.” Ready to evangelize at all cost to himself everywhere, the apostle in some places felt free and happy to receive, not only from individuals but from assemblies, going on with God in grace and humility: when the world's spirit prevailed, he was reserved and would receive nothing. The general principle remained intact: “the laborer is worthy of his hire;” “the Lord hath ordained that those that preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” But the apostle whilst laying down what is right could and did go beyond it in grace, not using it for himself but for Christ wherever His glory called for it. From the poor Macedonian brethren he received; from the wealthy Corinthians nothing. O what a contrast is this day in Christendom Not did he thus speak to draw out their liberality in future, for as he had kept himself, so would he in future. “There is Christ's truth in me that this boasting shall not be stopped unto me in the quarters of Achaia.” Was he disappointed and bitter now? “Wherefore? Because I love you not? God knoweth.” It was indeed to deny his uniform life in Corinth and since.
His true motive he explains. “But what I do I will also do that I may cut off the occasion of those desiring an occasion that wherein they boast they may be found even as we"-a cheap boast where men have plenty and need no self-denying devotedness. “For such [are] false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.” The beginning of those evil ways was then at work which soon formed a clerical class, dispensing even with the claims to gift from Christ under the fabulous pretension to apostolic succession. Such men then opposed the apostle in person, as now they oppose his doctrine. Is this wonderful, when, as the apostle reminds us, “Satan himself transformeth himself into an angel of light? It is no great thing therefore if his servants also transform themselves as servants of righteousness,” though he solemnly adds, their “end shall be according to their works.”