2 Corinthians 11 – Paul the “Fool”

Study Date -

Study Type - Message

Fellowship - Calvary Chapel - Leesville

Series - 2 Corinthians 2020

Book - 2 Corinthians

false teachers, fool, Paul, Paul the fool, suffering for the Gospel

Calvary Chapel – Leesville, SC Sunday Morning Service – December 13th, 2020


Recall that Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth had been a scathing rebuke of some of the sins and practices he had heard were taking place in their body. He wrote this second letter after receiving news of them from his emissary Titus who reported that the first letter had worked within their church the very thing he had hoped for – godly repentance. After beginning this letter with a call to reconciliation both within their body and between him and them, Paul went on to write about the gift of support he was gathering from all of the churches in Greece and in Asia Minor to be taken by him to aid the church in Jerusalem which was suffering economically due to their having been cast out of the synagogues as well as being abused and persecuted by the Jewish leadership for their profession of the Truth of Jesus’ Gospel.

Then beginning in the previous chapter, Paul began to warn the Corinthians against false teachers, and against those who were apparently enriching and glorifying themselves through the preaching of a false gospel, while ridiculing and criticizing Paul and his fellow Gospel workers for the true Gospel that they preached.

Paul the “Fool”

Having apparently been called a fool by some of the false teachers he had been railing against, Paul now continues by sarcastically playing the fool in his writing.

1Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly—and indeed you do bear with me. 2For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 3But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!

2 Corinthians 11:1-4 – NKJV

The godly jealousy Paul refers to here is the reflection of God’s own jealousy proclaimed in the second commandment regarding idolatry (Exodus 20:4-6). But Paul isn’t writing here about worshiping carved images per se. He is talking about his deep concern that the Corinthians might be led astray by false teachers to follow a gospel other than the True Gospel Paul had originally taught them. Our great enemy knows that a frontal assault on the Gospel message will trigger suspicion. Instead, he subtly modifies the message until he renders it powerless to save.

For example, he introduces the idea that some sins are acceptable even when others are not. But God clearly considers all sin equally egregious and deserving of death. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, covetousness and drunkenness are listed right alongside thievery and various sexual sins with the warning that any of them leads to death. Satan spreads the lie through his minions disguised as “loving and inclusive” pastors that God will turn a blind eye on some of these sins (specifically in the present-day church – homosexuality, fornication, and adultery), because He is a God of love. Those who would point out the Truth from God’s Word against this lie are reviled as haters, legalists, and bigots.

Another of our enemy’s most common lies which has also become the accepted “gospel” in the modern church is the idea that all paths lead to God (and to eternal life) – denying Jesus’ plain declaration that He is the only means of salvation. The claim by false teachers like Rob Bell is that a “loving” God wouldn’t send people to eternal torture in hell. This idea is appealing to all of us at a gut level. None of us would want to see our loved ones or anyone else suffer such a fate for all eternity. Yet God’s Word clearly declares that many or even most people will receive just that eternal damnation in their sins because they rejected the Truth of the real Gospel of Jesus…

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 – NKJV

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

John 14:6b – NKJV

16For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

John 3:16-19 – NKJV

5For I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles. 6Even though I am untrained in speech, yet I am not in knowledge. But we have been thoroughly manifested among you in all things.

2 Corinthians 11:5-6 – NKJV

Apparently, some in the Corinthian body or perhaps some itinerant “ministers” who had visited Corinth had been disparaging Paul’s bona fides as an apostle. After all, Paul was not present in the upper room with the other apostles on the day of the first Pentecost following Jesus’ ascension when the Spirit of God came down as Jesus had promised and touched them all with tongues of fire. At the time, Paul was called Saul, and instead of preaching the Gospel, he was persecuting the church. Paul did not receive the Spirit and his calling as an apostle until several years later on the Damascus road (Acts 9:1-22). Later, Paul went up to Jerusalem and met with the other apostles. After discerning that Paul had genuinely received the indwelling of God’s Spirit, they accepted him among their number, and sent him out on a number of church planting journeys – one of which included the founding of the church in Corinth.

Some had also apparently been disparaging Paul’s manner of speech in his preaching. Word of this had come to Paul as he mentioned in the previous chapter.

“For his letters,” they say, “are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.”

2 Corinthians 10:10 – NKJV

Paul’s writing is indeed powerful, reflecting the thorough foundation in the Scriptures that Saul – the young Pharisee – had learned as the pupil of one of the most famed Hebrew teachers of that time – Gamaliel. Thousands of years later Paul’s writings retain their God-breathed power to convict unbelievers and edify believers, yet it seems that Paul’s physical presence was not as impressive. Indeed, Paul suffered from some physical infirmity as he calls it later in this chapter in verse 30. Paul wrote more about this in the next chapter saying that God’s strength is made perfect in our weaknesses. God used Paul powerfully during his lifetime in the spreading of His Gospel message throughout the Mediterranean basin, and has used Paul’s writings in the subsequent millennia to carry the Gospel throughout the entire world. Thus as Paul says here in verse 6, God’s Spirit had been manifested through Paul and his fellow ministers during their time in Corinth.

7Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge?

2 Corinthians 11:7 – NKJV

Recall that during his eighteen months in Corinth, Paul had worked at his tent making trade alongside Priscilla and Aquila. All the while, Paul continued to preach the Gospel among them in the synagogues on the sabbath and at every opportunity day-by-day, as he reminds the Corinthians here in verse 7. In this regard, Paul is a model for all Christians. Immediately following Jesus’ ascension, some believers had stopped working at their trades in anticipation of Jesus’ immediate return. Indeed, after teaching His parable of the ten virgins, Jesus Himself exhorted His disciples to always live in anticipation of His return at any time.

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

Matthew 25:13 – NKJV

But this doesn’t imply that we should drop everything and simply wait quietly. God’s Word confirms to us that Jesus is coming back at any time, and afterward He will judge all the living and the dead. But in the meantime, there’s work to be done – work that Jesus Himself commanded along with the magnificent promise that He also will be our co-worker.

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 – NKJV

As with Paul, our earthly careers provide the mechanism by which Christians interact with the broader society, providing the opportunities among the non-believers with whom we come into contact to proclaim the Good News of redemption out of death in sin into eternal life which Jesus provided for us by His sacrificial death on the cross to take the rightful punishment for our sins upon Himself, and by His miraculous resurrection from the dead on the the third day.

8I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you. 9And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself. 10As the truth of Christ is in me, no one shall stop me from this boasting in the regions of Achaia. 11Why? Because I do not love you? God knows!

2 Corinthians 11:8-11 – NKJV

Although in Paul’s time, the entire Mediterranean basin was controlled by the Roman Empire, the government was distributed among local authorities of individual regions. Two of the administrative regions in ancient Greece under the Roman occupation were Macedonia in the north which included the cities of Thessalonica and Philippi where Paul had founded churches, and neighboring Achaia to the south which contained the cities of Athens and Corinth. Rivalry between regions left over from the pre-Roman times when Greece was a conglomerate of independent city-states was keen. Paul often played upon that rivalry, particularly in his efforts to raise financial support for the impoverished and persecuted church in Jerusalem from the churches in Greece and Asia Minor.

Here in this passage, Paul stirs the pot of regional rivalry in a light-hearted and playful manner, boasting of the great devotion of the churches in Macedonia to the church in Achaian Corinth. No doubt the Corinthians were fully aware that Paul also boasted of the great faith and devotion in Corinth to his brothers and sisters in the Macedonian churches.

12But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. 13For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.

2 Corinthians 11:12-15 – NKJV

Paul now turns to the serious matter of false teachings. Almost as soon as Jesus ascended, various factions began to arise among the early church bringing with them myriad false doctrines that distract believers from the simple, perfect Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. One of the earliest of these remains in various forms to this day infiltrating and polluting the Church, that in addition to simple belief in Jesus’ resurrection and the believers’ avowed intention to follow Jesus as LORD, we must also follow the Mosaic Laws – particularly circumcision and dietary restrictions. Paul and Barnabas had been sent out on the missionary journey on which the churches at Thessalonica, Philippi, and Corinth were founded to deliver a message from the council in Jerusalem declaring that believers need not follow the Mosaic Law (Acts 15). Yet this false doctrine persists to the present day in various forms such as the Hebrew Roots Movement.

The Gospel of Jesus is simple. We are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith in Jesus Gospel alone. Belief in and profession of the Truth of the Gospel is altogether sufficient. Addition of anything at all (e.g. some sort of work of our own in which we place our hope) renders the True Gospel completely unable to save us. Our own good works are the result, not the basis of our salvation.

8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:8-10 – NKJV

Jesus redeems us out of death when we first believe the Truth of His sacrificial death on the cross to take the rightful punishment for our sins upon Himself, and His resurrection from death, and then declare with our voices that we will follow Jesus as our LORD from that moment on. In that very instant, God seals our salvation forever by indwelling new believers with His Spirit. It is God’s Spirit, not anything of ourselves which gives us the desire to perform good works in His Name, and empowers us to carry them out.

for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

Philippians 2:13 – NKJV

But our enemy is crafty. He recognizes that a straightforward denial of the simple Gospel Truth would instantly raise suspicions among the community of believers. So instead, He changes the message ever so slightly – de-emphasizing or even denying that all people are wretched sinners in need of a Savior, and distracting potential believers from the simple Truth we find in John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:8 to focus instead on the lie that we must first somehow make ourselves worthy before Jesus will save us. The enemy also exploits our own greed and fear, misquoting scripture out of context to spread the blasphemous “prosperity gospel” message being promulgated by the likes of Robert Tilton, Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar that has gained such popularity in the modern western church . Paul rightly points out in this passage that such men are minions of satan, and warns the Corinthians (and us) that the enemy can indeed empower them to perform seeming miracles in order to lend credence to their false gospel message that is powerless to save.

16I say again, let no one think me a fool. If otherwise, at least receive me as a fool, that I also may boast a little. 17What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as it were, foolishly, in this confidence of boasting. 18Seeing that many boast according to the flesh, I also will boast. 19For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise! 20For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face. 21To our shame I say that we were too weak for that! But in whatever anyone is bold—I speak foolishly—I am bold also. 22Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. 23Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.

2 Corinthians 11:16-23 – NKJV

Ouch! What happened to the kinder, gentler Paul who started out this letter with sweet words of reconciliation? Essentially, Paul is saying that the Corinthians are liable and willing to believe fools and boasters (the false teachers he has just mentioned) no matter what harm they might bring with them. So Paul says that since the “wise” Corinthians are willing to put up with such nonsense, he too will play the fool for them – essentially saying “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

24From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—

2 Corinthians 11:24-27 – NKJV

Paul the fool now boasts a little about the hardships he suffered due to his Gospel witness. Indeed, Paul was eventually executed by the Romans for preaching the Gospel. The details of Paul’s life and ministry including the events he mentions here are found in Acts 9-28 and in his letters to Timothy. Of course time doesn’t allow us to delve into them here. But Paul isn’t just whining about the travails he and his co-workers suffered for the sake of the Gospel. He intended this list as a proof of his true calling to Gospel ministry and his willingness to suffer for the sake of it. Paul’s suffering through the years or his ministry were fulfillment of Jesus’ own prophecy concerning his true disciples.

18“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.

John 15:18-21 – NKJV

ASIDE – The traditional sentence of flogging with a whip made of leather cords embedded with sharp and hard objects was forty lashes. Each lash would leave a stripe on the back of the person being punished. Frequently, the person receiving the flogging didn’t survive it or was permanently disfigured. Hence we have the prophetic word from Isaiah concerning the beating that Jesus endured…

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

Isaiah 53:6 – NKJV

Traditionally, during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry and subsequently, the Jewish leaders who ordered flogging as a punishment for transgressors would order that only thirty-nine lashes were to be administered rather than the full forty as a show of “mercy.” Thus Paul says here in verse 24 that he received forty stripes minus one.

28besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 29Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? 30If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity. 31The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.

2 Corinthians 11:28-31 – NKJV

The physical tribulations that Paul and his fellow ministers suffered for the sake of the Gospel weren’t nearly as troublesome to him as the daily spiritual warfare Paul undertook on behalf of his spiritual children in the churches he had founded. Even after many years and much distance had separated him from the church communities he had helped to found, Paul still cared deeply for all of them and feared for their continued spiritual well-being. The word μέριμνα merimna that Paul uses here – translated in the NKJV as “concern” may also be translated as “anxiety” as it is in the ESV. Paul worried about his spiritual children as any loving parent worries about children far away. Paul considered the spiritual well-being of the flocks he had founded to be his own responsibility even many years later. This is the core value of pastoral ministry, and why Jesus referred to Himself as “the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11-15). Just as Jesus laid down His life for His sheep, so Paul also gave his life in service of the Gospel.

Over the years there has been a great deal of speculation regarding the “infirmity” that Paul writes about in verse 30. The Greek word ἀσθένεια astheneia Paul uses here might mean some particular physical defect. Many have speculated that Paul suffered from poor eyesight. The infirmity Paul writes of here may be associated with the “thorn in the flesh” Paul writes of in the next chapter. But ἀσθένεια astheneia may also refer to a general weakness or incapacity to accomplish some specific purpose. Clearly Paul recognized his own helplessness apart from the Spirit of God to carry out the mission to which he had been called – spreading the Gospel message as widely as he could. Yet Paul says here that he boasts of this weakness, knowing that the work to be done was in God’s will and in God’s power, with Paul being only the helplessly “infirm” tool by whom God had chosen to accomplish His purposes. All who work in Gospel ministry would do well to remember this principle.

“Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,”
Says the LORD of hosts.

Zechariah 4:6b – NKJV

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

John 15:5 – NKJV

32In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desiring to arrest me; 33but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands. [Acts 9:23-25]

2 Corinthians 11:32-33 – NKJV

At first glance, this story doesn’t seem to fit into the context of either the passage preceding or the next chapter. Luke gives us the details in Acts 9:23-25. Perhaps Paul included this story of his rescue by his brothers in Christ from the rulers of Damascus soon after he was saved because it was the first of the many tribulations he suffered for the sake of the Gospel over the years of his ministry that he had just written about.

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