2 Cor. 11-13:10 — Suffering For the True Christ

While many false teachers will proclaim that coming to Christ yields prosperity, health, and wealth, the reality of the Kingdom of God is quite contrary to this. The truths of the Bible will enrage many for it is not the message they wish to hear. Further, they may create God into their own image, which produces a non-saving, false gospel. You may even be called to suffer for the sake of Christ. Fear not! Earthly prosperity may bring temporary happiness, but we are not called to be so short-sighted for our treasures are in Heaven in which we may have eternal joy. Whatever may be in store for us is but temporary, and we know the result, so instead, I urge you to rejoice in any temporary sufferings. Your hardships may be a blessing to others that results in their salvation as well. We will examine one of Paul’s many sufferings, but not a physical one. Instead, his apostleship is questioned because of false teachers that infiltrated the Corinthian church. Do not expect a message on theodicy (why God allows suffering), but instead reflect on how we should react when our character is attacked.

Warning Against False Teachers

2 Corinthians 11:1–4 (ESV): “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 starts this portion of his letter by warning the Corinthians against false teachers to set a purpose for what is to follow. He is in fear, and rightfully so that they have fallen to false teachings.

Establishment of Authority & Character

2 Corinthians 11:5–7 (ESV): “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. 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?

Paul acknowledges that he is not as smooth of a speaker as these “super-apostles,” but he is firm in his knowledge and authority to preach. He begins to even attack his own character sarcastically for being too humble that they thought he must be inferior to these snakes.

2 Corinthians 11:8–11 (ESV): “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!

Paul further establishes his character and motive for preaching the gospel. It was for his love of the Corinthians that he preached and spent time with them—not for money.

A Second Motive Revealed

2 Corinthians 11:12–15 (ESV): “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.

Paul reveals a new motive for his concern and preaching—to expel the false teachers in their deceit. A false teacher will not bring a saving gospel to the table, and Paul is aware of this. He likens them to Satan, who also disguised himself as an angel of light! Paul essentially compares the Corinthians with having been fooled by an evil Spirit. Unfortunately, many people today are still fooled by these false teachers for they sound great, but they do not preach a gospel that can save. Paul notes that the deeds of the false teachers will show their true intentions.

Paul Explains Why He is Going to Boast

2 Corinthians 11:16–20 (ESV): “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.

The “super-apostles” have made Paul out to be a fool, but at the same time, they are fools for boasting regarding themselves. In an atypical-Pauline fashion, Paul boasts regarding himself, later, but only to show the foolishness in the self-boasting of the “super-apostles.” While it is extremely distasteful to Paul to do so, it is to establish his authority in terms that they desire for that is why they fell victim to the false teachers in the first place.

2 Corinthians 11:21–33 (ESV): “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? 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.

Paul outlines a list of sufferings he has experienced spreading the gospel. There is not much that one can add to this for it is horrific what he went through in order to share the love of Christ! In all this, he never boasts about these things as achievement, but he only boasts in the blessing that it is to do so for Christ. He does not do this to have an easy life, but to suffer more for Christ! Many people today have become upset at the extravagance of some mega-church preachers, and I do not blame them. If we examine this passage, the “super-apostles” were like the predecessors of these reprehensible so-called preachers, whereas Paul is the predecessor to the missionaries in the field that are being killed for the gospel or the pastor that lives a humble life despite a prosperous church. Look at Billy Graham—he was successful as anyone, but he lived in a simple brick farmhouse. The deeds of the teacher will show the intent of the ministry.

More Boasting – Visions

2 Corinthians 12:1–5 (ESV): “I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses—

Paul’s Real Boast

2 Corinthians 12:5–10 (ESV): “On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul finally provides his real boast. He explains he could boast regarding what he sarcastically boasted about, but he chooses not to. He can do this because those things are true, implying the boasts of the “super-apostles” are mere lies, but he chooses to focus on his weakness. Why? His weakness is his sole boast because it edifies Christ for His strength is shown in Paul’s suffering. He is content with his hardships if it’s for Christ.

Paul’s Plea

2 Corinthians 12:11–21 (ESV): “I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong! Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit. Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps? Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved. For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.

Paul asks the Corinthians questions for them to reflect upon so that they understand his sincerity of concern for them. He establishes that neither he, nor his associates abused them in any way, so why would they speak poorly about them? It’s clear that Paul does not care ultimately about how he is viewed, but he is truly concerned that the Corinthians will fall back into sin because of the false teachers.

2 Corinthians 13:1–10 (ESV): “This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them— since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.

Paul urges the Corinthians to not fall to deception but test it by Biblical standards of witnesses. He announces that he has not given up on them and asks the Corinthians to start acting in a mature manner—testing themselves to see if they are in the true faith. He wants to be with them not to correct them, but to continue to help them grow.

Applications:

  1. Beware of False Teachers – Refer to my previous teachings on this subject
  2. Accept Sufferings for Christ
    1. We may suffer for Christ—there is no guarantee that we will not suffer physical or emotional distress simply because we are Christian. We may actually suffer more, but we will have eternal joy one day.
    2. Be content in your circumstances—if we suffer for Christ, then it is worth it. Do not worry about what others say if you are doing right. People can accuse you of anything, but your actions will be what shows the truth.

People may talk poorly about your character, but do not worry. If your actions prove otherwise, you have done all that you can. Let them speak negatively. Do not sink to their level by making false claims against them. Let the peace of Christ be upon you knowing that in everything that you do, you do it for Christ. Pray for them, and try to correct the issues, but ultimately, if you are doing the right things, then there is nothing to worry about. Expect to have issues, no matter how holy of a life you lead, for Jesus himself was crucified having never sinned. So if you must undergo suffering for Christ, find joy in that you are chosen to suffer for Him, and let the Holy Spirit provide you endurance through it.