Notes on 2 Corinthians 12:11-18

2 Corinthians 12:11‑18  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 8
But was not the apostle speaking of himself, of what grace had given him to suffer? Was it not talking of what he calls weaknesses, insults, necessities, persecutions, and straits for Christ, but on his own part?
“I am become foolish,1 ye compelled me; for I ought to have been commended by you, for in nothing was I behind those surpassingly apostles if also I am nothing. The signs indeed of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, by both signs2 and wonders and powers. For what is there wherein ye were made inferior to the other assemblies, unless that I myself pressed not heavily on you? Forgive me this wrong.” (Vers. 11-18.)
It is not irony, but the genuine and deep feeling of one whose heart burned with a divinely-given sense of what Christ is, and of love to the saints, forced to speak of himself by those who should have been prompt rather to have vindicated him and his service in love. It was the more painful, because he is treating, not of sin in man met by the righteousness of God in Christ, but of utter weakness in the Christian displaced by the strength of Christ. Even the saints in Corinth were as to this on ground like the world, the heathen world around them. They gloried in intellect, in learning, in eloquence briefly in man. They had never applied the cross of Christ practically to judge it, save so far as grace may have begun the work by the first epistle; and we need His glory on high, as this second epistle shows, to deal with fleshly pretensions thoroughly. (Cf. chaps. 4, 5.) The weakness with which some detractors reproached he was so far from denying that he himself insisted on it as the condition of the display of Christ's power.
It was real and culpable ignorance therefore to contrast him with those surpassingly apostles in this respect. Rather was it true that in nothing was he behind them, though as he says he was nothing, and quite content to be so. What his heart yearned for was Christ's glory, Christ's strength, not his own. As later in Phil. 3 his desire was to be found in Him, not having a righteousness of his own, that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith; so here he would not be strong in himself if he could, but weak that he might be strong through Christ. He would glory of a man in Christ, but in himself of nothing but his infirmities.
Natural power indeed is as offensive in the service of Christ as is one's own righteousness in justification: the latter denies Christ for us, the former denies Christ in us, or rather His power resting on us in our own felt weakness, yea, nothingness. Nothing can be more opposed to the feeling and the reasoning of flesh and blood. Human nature dislikes what is humiliating and painful; it loves ease or honor. To go on in difficulties, dependent on nothing but the Lord, is most trying, not delivered but enduring, that He may be glorified and we may prove the sufficiency of His grace. Such is the true pathway of power, and Paul trod it as none other since, in whom the first man is apt to be strong, the confusion or perplexities of others being only the greater where the Second man seems also strong, and the consequence serious for those who accept the activity of the two Adams as the right and desirable thing, to be admired in the Christian and the service of Christ. How different was his experience who took pleasure in all that made him for Christ's sake despised before others, and crushed in himself, when weak then strong!
Yet had he far rather have not said a word of himself, even when speaking only of this suffering trying path, and absolutely silent as to himself, his family, his acquirements, or his doings. It was the Corinthians who compelled him to speak out for their own profit, even though it took the shape of reproof. Neither was Paul behind the apostles, however exalted any might be; and none the less but the more, though (and because) he was nothing; nor were the Corinthians inferior to the assemblies, save in Paul being no burden to them. And as he shows that the apostolic signs were wrought among them in all patience by both signs and wonders and powers, so he asks them to forgive him the wrong of never accepting support or favors from that rich assembly. It is calm, dignified, loving but overwhelming, in its exposure and reprimand of their fleshly conceit, as well as of their readiness to take up insinuations against him whom they ought rather to have defended when impugned.
“Behold, this3 third time I am ready to come unto you, and I will not press heavily, for I seek not yours but you; for the children ought not to lay up for the parents but the parents for the children. And I most gladly will spend and be spent for your souls, if even4 more abundantly loving5 you I am less loved.” ( Vers. 14, 15.)
The servant would still (if now at length he revisited Corinth) cherish the portion of his Master, and give rather than receive: though entitled to live of the gospel and be cared for by the assembly, he would forego his title in the midst of those who might misuse or misunderstand it to Christ's dishonor. He would be like a parent in unselfish affection to his children. He would fare as He whose love was the more as others hated, however pained to find the saints so like the world. How singularly close was Paul's “imitation” of Christ!
“But be it so: I did not myself burden you, but crafty as I am I caught you with guile. Did I make a gain of any of them whom I sent unto you? I exhorted Titus and sent the brother with [him]: did Titus make any gain of you? Walked they not in the same spirit [and] not in the same steps?” (Vers. 16-18.)
Here the apostle obviates the cunningly mischievous insinuation of any who might charge him with reaping advantage indirectly through his friends. Such dishonor he repudiates. Guile like that was far from his soul, though the accusers seemed by no means above it if they suspected him; for what will not malice in the heart dare to think and say? They well knew that Titus and his companion walked in their midst with a self-abnegation kindred to his own. No wonder this unwearied witness of Christ's glory abhorred from the bottom of his heart the sickening compulsion which drew forth such words from his pen; but we should profit by it all no less than those primarily addressed. There are many saints like those in Corinth: where the servant like him who thus pleads for Christ and like Christ?