THE BATTLE FOR CHURCH LEADERSHIP IN CORINTH
Chapter 11 – PAUL vs THE SUPER-APOSTLES
Chapter 11 continues the final arc of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. In this arc, chapters 10 to 13, Paul addresses the rebellious Christians in Corinth who refuse to respect his leadership and prefer the super-apostles instead.
In this chapter, Paul continues to defend his ministry and apostolic credentials to the rebellious Corinthians. But this time, he made a little step further by comparing himself with the super-apostles, especially in the areas of skills, background, and motives in doing ministry.
I.) THE DIVINE JEALOUSY (v1-4)
“I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.”
Paul begins by introducing the concept of “Divine Jealousy” (also known as “Godly Jealousy”). Now, what is this?
Before we define it, let us first remember what God told us about envy and jealousy. Across the Bible, God is clear that envy and jealousy is sin (Exod. 20:17; Prov. 14:30; Gal. 5:19-21; James 3:14-16).
“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” – James 3:14-16
So how come there’s a thing as Godly Jealousy?
First, this jealousy is not the same as ours. Our jealousy is driven by selfishness while god’s jealousy is driven by love. When we are envious of others, it is because we also want the same for ourselves. But as stated, godly jealousy is different. The best way to describe is through this: GOD IS JEALOUS FOR US, NOT OF US. He is jealous for us because He is concerned for us.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…” – Exodus 20:4-5a
“Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” – Deuteronomy 4:23-24
Whenever we disobey God and turn to idols, we are also stepping away from His blessings and guidance. And because of that, we also put ourselves in danger. Surely, God doesn’t want this to happen. This is why He becomes jealous.
This is also Paul’s concern. According to him, he feels “divine jealousy” for them because when they turned to the super-apostles, they also stepped away from his godly guidance and teachings, thereby putting themselves in danger.
According to Paul, the super-apostles are deceiving them in the same way that the serpent deceived Adam and Eve (Gen. 3). Specifically, they are proclaiming a different gospel which echoes Paul’s warning to the Galatians (Gal. 1:8-9).
He, on the other hand, as their faithful and sincere leader, acts as a guardian who protects them from such deceptions. Paul wants to present them as a “pure virgin to Christ” which means he wants to preserve their holiness and integrity as Christians.
II.) PAUL’S HUMILITY IN MINISTRY (v7-11)
“Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!”
In this passage, Paul continues to defend his sincerity in serving the Corinthians. Paul’s main point in this passage is that his service was free and sincere (v7) (It is also suspected that by saying this, Paul is contrasting himself with the super-apostles who could be charging the Corinthians for their services). Paul emphasized that when he was with them, he didn’t even ask for financial support and “robbed” other churches instead (particularly Macedonia). By robbed Paul meant that instead of asking the Corinthians for support during his ministry with them, he asked other churches instead. It appears that this shouldn’t be the case, but Paul did it anyway to prove his sincerity in serving the Corinthians.
But now, is Paul saying this to shame or insult them? Paul says no. On the contrary, Paul is saying this to prove how much he loves them (v11).
III.) PAUL vs THE SUPER-APOSTLES (v5-6,12-15)
“Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.” – (v5-6)
“And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.”
In this part, Paul starts to compare himself with the super-apostles particularly in the areas of skills, background, and motivation.
First, Paul starts by asserting that he is not “inferior” to the super-apostles (as many of them probably think). Paul admits that the super-apostles are excellent speakers and knowledgeable about the Scriptures (v6). However, he also reveals that they are false and deceitful leaders. They are “disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” and are really “servants of Satan” (v15). In verses 19 and 20, Paul revealed that the super-apostles abuse and hurt the Corinthians, and they are fine with it!
“For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 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.” – (v19-20)
This is Paul’s case against the super-apostles. Underneath their impressive outward appearances and speaking skills, they are full of evil intentions against the Corinthians.
IV.) PAUL’S SUFFERINGS AS AN APOSTLE (v16-29)
“I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 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. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!
But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?”
After revealing the super-apostles’ true colors, Paul now reveals his own. In this section, Paul recalled his sufferings to prove his sincerity and love for the Corinthians.
Paul first welcomed that by doing this, the Corinthians might think of him as a “fool.” This is probably a form of sarcasm on Paul’s part to make them realize their foolishness when they submitted to the abusive leadership of the super-apostles. Then Paul continues to compare himself with the super-apostles. He claims that they might be from the same ethnicity (Jewish) but only Paul is the true servant of Christ. Like Christ, Paul also accepted sufferings to bring safety and deliverance to others.
In the following verses, Paul recalls his sufferings in great detail. To summarize, Paul’s sufferings are very intense and out-of-the-ordinary. Ordinary citizens, even soldiers, do not experience these kinds of sufferings. These are truly unusual and too much for anyone to bear. But as Paul revealed, these are the sufferings that a true servant of God has to go through. Servants of God experience this because they are on the mission to deliver to the world the most important message of all: THE GOSPEL.
V.) THE BOASTING OF OUR WEAKNESSES FOR THE GLORY OF GOD (v30-33)
“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.”
Therefore, Paul said, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” The reason for this is to glorify God. As stated, these sufferings are too extreme and too unusual for anyone to experience. But by doing so and surviving so, it only shows that someone is protecting, strengthening, and guiding them. In other words, it glorifies God. Paul recalled one of his earliest sufferings which was the attempt on his life while he was in Damascus (Acts 9:23-25). He recalled this because he probably wants to point out that his ministry began with persecution and suffering and it will probably continue until the end of his life. Regardless, this further proves that Paul is not lying. He is a true servant of God.
God Bless!! 🙂