Paul’s Defense: Who Has the Truth?
Truth isn’t in being different or fancier (II Corinthians 11:1-4)
Paul asks that the Corinthians bear with him in a little bit of mild foolishness. By this, Paul is warning that he is about to engage in a discussion that will involve irony or satire. It also sets a counterpoint for Paul’s later arguments. They had been putting up with false teachers (II Corinthians 11:4, 20), but a true apostle has to ask for a bit of their time and tolerance to make his points. By calling his upcoming points “folly” Paul is alluding to the charge by the false teachers that he isn’t serious enough (II Corinthians 5:13; 11:16). Using irony, he is using the false teachers’ own words against them by putting them on display.
As a side note, the King James Version says “Would to God” in II Corinthians 11:1, which isn’t an accurate translation since “God” does not appear in the Greek text.
Normally we use the word “jealous” in a negative way, but it can be used to describe something that is righteous. “For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5). “Jealous” means wanting to hold on to something that you believe is yours. Jealousy is wrong when what you are trying to hold on to really isn’t yours in the first place. Paul is jealous for the Corinthians on behalf of Christ. He had won them over to Christ and he doesn’t want to have them corrupted by Satan.
- Why is the metaphor of a marriage an apt illustration for the Christian’s relationship to Christ?
- What other passages can you name which use marriage as an illustration for the relationship between God and His people?
Paul has the right to be jealous because efforts are being made in Corinth to pull the church away from the truth. It isn’t that the church would purposely leave the truth, but Paul fears they will be deceived.
One of the traits of the true gospel is its simplicity. The phrasing is that of a single-minded focus on Christ (I Corinthians 1:12-13). Falsehoods tend to be complex and elaborate (Colossians 2:4, 8, 18; I Timothy 1:3; 4:1-4; Galatians 1:6-10; 3:1; Hebrews 13:9).
Paul states that if someone comes teaching a different Christ, a different Spirit, or a different gospel than what he had taught them, he fears they might tolerate it. The statement is slightly ironic since there were some among the Corinthians who could not tolerate Paul, but they seemed willing to tolerate false doctrine.
- Why do man-made religions tend to be complex?
- Was the problem of straying from the truth limited to a few congregations or widespread? Why?
- How can someone teach a different Jesus?
- Why are some attracted to difference?
Truth isn’t in eloquence (II Corinthians 11:5-6)
We tend to think of Paul as one of the primary apostles because he wrote so much of the New Testament. But in Paul’s day, many looked at him as a lesser apostle, if an apostle at all, because he wasn’t among the original twelve. Though late to the scene, Paul emphatically states that he isn’t less than any of the other apostles. Don’t take that as a claim that he was greater than the rest; instead, Paul is only claiming his equality with all the other apostles (I Corinthians 15:10; II Corinthians 12:11). Paul’s point is that he is numbered among the apostles, while his detractors cannot claim even this.
Likely the detractors were continuing the dividing of the church by claiming allegiance to a particular apostle, claiming that one's teaching was more important than another (I Corinthians 1:12-13). Some scholars see this as Paul taunting his detractors as claiming to be above or superior to the apostles; thus, Paul said he wasn’t inferior to these “super-apostles.” None of these views really change how we see what Paul is asserting.
Paul admits that he is not a professional speaker; a fact that he has mentioned several times (I Corinthians 2:1; II Corinthians 10:10). However, a lack of training in speech doesn’t mean a lack of knowledge, but this remains a false assumption among people throughout the ages. Paul’s teachings came from Christ (Galatians 1:11-12; I Corinthians 14:37). He speaks by inspiration the thoughts of God (I Corinthians 2:12-13).
His abilities as an ambassador for Christ was completely shown while he was with them. They knew his knowledge (II Corinthians 4:2; Acts 20:20, 27). They saw God working miracles through him (I Corinthians 2:4; II Corinthians 12:12). They had no reason to doubt his position.
- Why do people tend to flock to churches with more eloquent speakers?
- Suppose a man stuttered. How does that impact the accuracy of what he says? How does it impact how people perceive him?
Truth isn’t in who is behind you (II Corinthians 11:7-12)
In asking the question if he had sinned, we are given a hint as to one of the charges made against Paul by his detractors. It appears that some claimed that Paul wasn't a real apostle because he didn’t take funds from those he taught (I Corinthians 9:12; Acts 18:3). Perhaps the argument was that if he wasn’t paid by them, he couldn’t hold the office of apostle over them.
Paul took the humbler option of supporting himself to give respect to the Corinthians by offering his teaching for free. Could this possibly be wrong? Obviously not. The entire question is given with a strong sense of irony. Instead, Paul points out that he “robbed” other churches while serving them. In particular, the congregations in Macedonia (remember that poor area of the empire?) supplied whatever Paul lacked (Acts 18:5; Philippians 4:14-16).
It wasn’t that Paul had no needs while he was in Corinth. He did not want to burden the Corinthians who were new to the faith. Paul literally said he didn’t want to be dead weight to be carried by the Corinthians. He wasn’t looking for support while doing nothing himself. It is a practice that he plans to continue to follow through life (I Thessalonians 2:5-10). His efforts at supporting himself while preaching in Achaia is something he will always be proud of having done.
In all this, Paul’s not asking the Corinthians for support was not because he disliked them. The truth was quite the opposite. His main reason for not asking for support from the area in which he is teaching is to make it harder for false teachers to come in and demand support from where they teach. No one can claim that Paul is only teaching for the money, but false teachers typically are and it becomes apparent to others when they insist on support without effort on their own part. Paul’s example as an apostle who supports himself, though he did not need to, makes the false teachers, who are only preaching for the money, look petty.
- Why would Paul call receiving support from other churches “robbing” them?
Truth isn’t in the appearance of righteousness (II Corinthians 11:13-15)
Paul’s been fairly polite up until this point in showing errors of those who oppose him, but now he declares who these men are clearly. They are liars, pretending to be apostles and servants of God when they are not. This problem was not limited to Corinthian; it was a widespread problem in the early church (Romans 16:18; Galatians 2:4; Philippians 3:2; Titus 1:10-11; II Peter 2:1; I John 4:1; Revelation 2:2). That they are in disguise should not surprise anyone, Satan himself disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it cannot be surprising that Satan’s followers can infiltrate the church (Matthew 7:15-20; Philippians 3:18-19; II Thessalonians 2:9-12). Of course, such deceit will be exposed in the end when Christ judges the world.
- Why would false teachers want to pretend they are apostles?
- When a person is wicked, why pretend to be good?
- How can the false be distinguished from the genuine?