11. Paul's Defense of His Ministry (2 Corinthians 10-11)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (39:32)

Imagine how frustrating it would be if you had founded a congregation and then had to watch from afar as imposters and charlatans destroyed what you had spent years building. What would you feel like?

A Change in Tone

Up through 2 Corinthians 9, Paul has kept a fairly upbeat attitude, especially in 7:11-16 where he described the Corinthians' positive reaction to his "severe letter" and to Titus' visit.  But in chapters 10-13, he seems to take the gloves off and lambasts his opponents who are ruining the church.

This is certainly a change in tone! As we discussed in the Introduction, some feel that this change indicates the inclusion of another letter at this point. But I think it is more likely that Paul has just received additional communication concerning the Corinthians and feels he needs to change his tone.

I've chosen to tackle two chapters in this one lesson, since much of the material is polemic, rather than teaching. We'll go through much of it rapidly, but slow down when we come to some of Paul's spiritual insights.

Paul's Boldness (10:1-2)

Does it require arrogance to correct someone? Of course not! Parents have to correct children all the time and do so without the ugliness of pride. But Paul wants to make sure that his readers don't mistake sternness for pride, so he begins with humility.

"1 By the meekness[361] and gentleness[362] of Christ, I appeal to you "“ I, Paul, who am β€˜timid'[363] when face to face with you, but β€˜bold' when away! 2 I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world." (10:1-2)

If you catch a hint of irony here, you're right. The NIV version includes the words "timid" and "bold" in quotes, since they represent a misunderstanding by the Corinthians of Paul's true character. Paul warns them that they will see this boldness face-to-face unless there is repentance and change. He uses three words, one after another, to underscore his determination:

  1. "Bold" (NIV), is tharreō, "to have certainty in a matter, be confident, be courageous."[364]
  2. "Confidence" (KJV) is pepoithēsis, "a state of certainty about something to the extent of placing reliance on, trust, confidence."[365]
  3. "Daring" (KJV) is tolmaō, "to show boldness or resolution in the face of danger, opposition, or a problem, dare, bring oneself to do something," here "bring oneself to, presume."[366]

At this point in the letter, Paul begins to establish that he is coming to Corinth and that they need to prepare for his coming. This warning is repeated several more times as well (10:6; 12:14, 20, 21; 13:1, 2, 10).

Watch Paul's power-in-weakness approach. Though they imagine that he is soft-spoken and not trained in rhetoric, Paul warns that when he comes he will do whatever it takes and use all his apostolic authority to set things in order and protect the church.

Spiritual Warfare (10:3-6)

Now we come to a passage that discusses warfare, both spiritual and verbal:

"3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete." (10:3-6)

Paul uses the vocabulary of armed conflict. The words "wage war" (NIV, NRSV), "war" (KJV) is strateuō, which has the basic meaning of "serve in the army, undertake a campaign." Here it carries the figurative meaning, "to engage in a conflict, wage battle, fight."[367] The related noun strateia, "military engagement," is used in verse 4.[368] Paul's opponents may have expected him to be powerless to stop them, but Paul is declaring all-out war with victory for the truth as the only possible outcome.

The weapons he will use are not human[369] weapons,[370] says Paul, but spiritual weapons endued with divine power.[371]

Now he uses the language of siege-warfare, coming against a fortress, destroying its defenses, breaching its walls, and taking its citizens captive.

  • "Strongholds" is ochyrōma, "a strong military installation, fortress,"[372] a high, walled city that is prepared to outlast and defend itself from any attacker.
  • "Pulling down" (KJV) "demolish" (NIV), "destroy" (NRSV), is kathairesis, "causing destruction by tearing down."[373] It refers to how fortress walls are literally pulled down with ropes and cables so that conquering troops can enter the city and then prevent that city from defending itself in the future.

The strongholds that will fall here, however, are not physical, but logical and spiritual.

  • "Arguments" (NIV, NRSV), "imaginations" (KJV) is logismos, "the product of a cognitive process, calculation, reasoning, reflection, thought," here perhaps, "sophistries."[374]  Paul's opponents have their plausible reasons why they are right and Paul should be discredited, but these arguments will not stand the light of day when he arrives.
  • "Pretension" (NIV), "proud obstacle" (NRSV), "high thing" (KJV)[375] describes the proud arrogance of Paul's opponents. These pretenders have exalted[376] themselves and their teachings, but they will not last long.

The siege will end with the rebellion being destroyed.

  • "Take captive" (NIV, NRSV), "bringing into captivity" (KJV) is aichmalōtizō, "to cause someone to become a prisoner of war, take captive," here used figuratively.[377]
  • "Obedience/obedient" (KJV, NIV), "to obey" (NRSV) is hypakoē, "a state of being in compliance, obedience" (one listens and follows instructions).[378] Rather than being rebellious, the offenders will submit again to God's Word.
  • "Punish" (NIV, NRSV), "revenge" (KJV) is ekdikeō, "grant justice," here in the negative sense, "to inflict appropriate penalty for wrong done, punish, take vengeance for."[379] Sometimes we shy away from punishment out of fear that we will be vindictive. But where clear rebellion isn't followed by true justice, it sends a message that you can get away with trashing apostolic authority and setting up your own authority in its place. That God will bring final justice is the message of the Bible, especially Revelation. Earlier, the Corinthian church had punished offenders (1 Corinthians 5:1-5; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11). This will be no different.

Paul has set his opponents "“ and the church "“ on notice that he will return and deal swiftly and decisively with any disorder.

Is this passage about the force of Paul's mind and logic to cut his opponents' position to pieces? I don't think so. I think he is talking about a spiritual stronghold that stands behind his opponents' pretensions. He is relying on "divine power" to do the job, not his own sharp mind. He is seeking spiritual victory that will set the church free and make it healthy. Any discerning pastor knows that this happens through much prayer, not through human brilliance and a forceful personality.

Q1. (2 Corinthians 10:3-6) Why does Paul liken his dealing with his opponents in Corinth with reducing a city wall by siege and then taking its citizens captive? Is Paul talking about a victory by the use of incisive logic or is there a spiritual stronghold here, one that derives its power from Satan's kingdom?

Paul's Apostolic Authority (10:7-8)

Paul is talking about his apostolic authority, a spiritual gift and ministry, as he makes clear in the next verses.

"7 You are looking only on the surface of things. If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as he. 8 For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up[380] rather than pulling you down,[381] I will not be ashamed of it." (10:7-8)

In the American church we have passed through an era where spiritual leaders down-played their authority. Pastors were taught to be facilitators, not leaders. But we must not be ashamed of spiritual authority. It is God's authority channeled through human vessels to guide and protect his church.

Forceful by Letter and in Person (10:9-12)

Paul states again that what he expresses in his letters he will execute when he is present.

"9 I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. 10 For some say, β€˜His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.' 11 Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present." (10:9-11)

Now he warns against his opponents who are trying to put themselves on the same level of authority as the founding apostle of the church. Such comparisons are false and foolish!

"We do not dare to classify or compare[382] ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise." (10:12)

Paul's Field of Ministry (10:13-15a)

Paul's opponents had boasted of their great authority, but they were out of line. They were boasting about the field of labor that God has assigned Paul.

"13 We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits,[383] but will confine our boasting to the field[384] God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you. 14 We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. 15 Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others." (10:13-15a)

His opponents' boasts are petty. What's more, Paul's field of ministry extended far beyond Corinth.

"15b Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, 16 so that we can preach the gospel in the regions[385] beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in another man's territory. 17 But, β€˜Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.' 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends." (10:15b-18)

Led Astray from Pure Devotion to Christ (11:1-3)

Now, Paul turns to another subject, one that must pain him greatly. His opponents have hurt this precious congregation and diverted their love for Christ.

"1 I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that.
2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ." (11:1-3)

The word "jealous" here isn't like that of a jilted lover. Rather, the Greek word zēloō means, "be positively and intensely interested in something, strive, desire, exert oneself earnestly, be dedicated," here, "be deeply interested in someone, court someone's favor, make much of," with implication of desiring the other to be on one's own side.[386]

Paul is deeply committed to the Corinthians. He has to stand by and watch from afar as his opponents ruin the strong foundation he has laid in Corinth for Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-16).

Paul illustrates his concern with two contrasting images:

  1. A pure virgin being presented to a husband.
  2. Eve being seduced by the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

Two words describe the actions of his opponents:

  1. "Cunning" (NIV, NRSV), "beguiled" (KJV) is exapataō, "to cause someone to accept false ideas about something, deceive, cheat, someone."[387]
  2. "Led astray" (NIV, NRSV), "corrupted" (KJV) is phtheirō, literally, "destroy, ruin, corrupt, spoil," such as, to seduce a virgin. Figuratively, this word means, "to cause deterioration of the inner life, ruin, corrupt."[388] 

Then he uses two words to describe the desired state of the church, the Bride of Christ:

  1. "Sincere" (NIV, NRSV) is haplotēs, "simplicity, sincerity, uprightness, frankness."[389]
  2. "Pure devotion" (NIV, NRSV), hagnotēs, "purity, sincerity."[390]

Do these words represent your relationship to Christ and that of your congregation?

Gullible and Easily Deceived (11:4-5)

Paul is grieved that the congregation is so easily duped by pretenders. His words are heavy with irony.

"4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with[391] it easily enough. 5 But I do not think I am in the least inferior[392] to those β€˜super-apostles. [393]β€˜" (11:4-5)

Paul had written similarly to the Galatian church:

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ." (Galatians 1:6-7)

These so-called "super-apostles" in Corinth were distorting the gospel and deceiving the people. Though they claimed to be as good or better than Paul, they were in fact false prophets and pompous charlatans!

Q2. (2 Corinthians 11:1-5) What does it feel like when a congregation loses its pure devotion to Jesus Christ, and instead takes on other motivations for its religious observance? In what ways is this like the church at Ephesus losing its "first love" (Revelation 2:4)? How can this purity of devotion be restored?

Was Paul an Untrained Speaker? (11:6)

"I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way." (11:6)

Several times Paul has acknowledged what his opponents accuse him of, of not being a trained speaker (1 Corinthians 1:21; 2:1-4; 2 Corinthians 10:1, 10). Was he boring? We do know that a young man fell asleep during one of his messages and fell out of a third-story window (Acts 20:7-12). But let's give Paul the benefit of the doubt! This was during a late-night service, far past the young man's bedtime.

Paul certainly is able to put words together in a clear, convincing manner. However, by Greek standards, he is "untrained" (NRSV), "rude" (KJV). The word is idiōtēs (from which we get our word "idiot"), "a person who is relatively unskilled or inexperienced in some activity or field of knowledge, layperson, amateur" in contrast to an expert or specialist of any kind.[394]

In ancient Greece, rhetoric was a high art form, the art and study of the use of language with persuasive effect. Aristotle (384-322 BC) systematized what was known about rhetoric in his time. The three persuasive audience appeals were logos (appeal to reason), pathos (appeal to emotions), and ethos (appeal to character). There were five canons of rhetoric: invention or discovery, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.

Paul was a highly trained rabbi, schooled in Jerusalem under the great Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). He knew the Scriptures backward and forward. He had a sharp and creative mind. He was a skilled communicator so far as Jewish hearers were concerned. But he was not trained in Greek rhetoric, and so his sermons sounded rude and unskilled to his hearers in Corinth. Once he had told them:

"My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)

However, while Paul didn't possess rhetorical skills, he possessed something far more important "“ he knew what he was talking about and he knew the One he proclaimed.

"I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge." (11:6)

Paul's Refusal to Ask for Support (11:7-9)

Now Paul turns to another topic raised by the presence of these pseudo-apostles who dominated the Corinthian church. They apparently demanded money from the people and exploited them, in contrast to Paul and his associates (11:19; 12:17-18). Since Paul had never been paid by the church for his ministry in Corinth, they may have felt that, if he were a real teacher, he wouldn't have lowered himself to do manual labor to support himself. Perhaps they resented his careful financial independence of them. Perhaps Paul is trying to contrast his own scrupulousness concerning being a financial burden with the exploitation practiced by the false apostles. In any case, he explains himself.

"7 Was it a sin for me to lower[395] myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so." (11:7-9)

Paul obviously felt that to expect payment might "hinder" (1 Corinthians 9:12b) the furtherance of the gospel in Corinth.[396] He was concerned that he would be a "burden" on them (2 Corinthians 11:9). This word, katanarkaō, meant, properly, "to cause to grow numb or torpid, inactive," to the detriment of one. Here it means, "to weigh heavily upon, be burdensome to."[397] Paul was willing to do anything to further the gospel "“ in this case, not require the Corinthians to support him.

He was able to do this for two reasons: First, because the Macedonian churches "“ in particular, Philippi "“ provided him support[398] and supplied[399] his needs.

"Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need." (Philippians 4:15-16)

Second, Paul worked as a tentmaker in Corinth, where he met Priscilla and Aquilla (Acts 18:2-3). Furthermore, he worked not only in Corinth, but in Ephesus (Acts 20:34), Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8), and perhaps elsewhere, too.

Paul took a particular pride in being able to preach the gospel "free of charge" (NIV, NRSV), "freely" (KJV), without any payment.[400] In 1 Corinthians he had explained to them his motivations "“ perhaps it had been a sore spot[401] then, too.

"... We put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.... I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast.... If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it." (1 Corinthians 9:12b, 15b, 17-18)

Full-time Christian Ministry vs. Bi-Vocational Ministry

  In our day, the "best" calling according to many seems to be to what is termed "full-time Christian ministry," that is, doing Christian work full-time, rather than part-time. But Paul, though he vigorously argued for the right to receive compensation for ministry (1 Corinthians 9:3-14), chose not to take advantage of this right. He did "secular" work deliberately, rather than spend full-time in ministry. Was he somehow a lesser Christian worker because of it? No!

I really believe that some of the great heroes of the Christian faith in our time are bi-vocational pastors, who work full-time and then take on the labors of pastoral ministry or missionary service, not because they are paid for it, but because they are called to it. It is not a way of making a living for them; it is a way of life.

Certainly, getting a regular paycheck from a church or parachurch organization enables a person to devote more time and focus to ministry. And in many situations, that full-time commitment is needed to help the church or mission.

But paid ministry comes with a cost. In the case of parish ministry, it makes the pastor dependent upon keeping the congregation happy so he can continue to receive a check and support his family. Sometimes, the only right thing to do is to stand your ground for what God has shown you and resist the pressure from wealthy members who insist on their way because they are paying the bills.

One modern response to these pressures is for a pastor or missionary to go out and obtain pledges for support from friends and other churches. But this comes with the high cost of spending time in the home country raising funds when the most pressing need is for a genuine vacation or to be on the field ministering.

"Tent-making" (so-called from Paul's example) is a viable alternative strategy to receiving a salary from the church or raising one's own support. The downside is that a tentmaker-pastor can work literally "night and day" (1 Thessalonians 2:9), taking away valuable time required to care for the needs of a family, so that the family suffers the loss of time with a parent or spouse. No wonder Paul was single during his missionary journeys!

Dear friends, we're in no position to judge a person's dedication to or effectiveness in ministry by whether they're full-time or bi-vocational or not paid at all. God is the One who sends workers into his harvest field. The final reward for these faithful workers at the end of the harvest, however "“ including your work for him "“ will be unimaginably great!

Q3. (2 Corinthians 11:7-9) Why do you think Paul refused to require the Corinthians to support him? How did this help his ministry? How did it contribute to them taking him for granted? How can we honor Christian workers, clergy and lay, who give of their time sacrificially to minister for Christ? How will Christ honor them?

Undermining the Claims of False Apostles (11:10-14)

By defending his lack of exploitation of the Corinthians, Paul sought to expose his opponents' motivations for what they were.

"10 As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine. 11 Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! 12 And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about." (11:10-11)

Now Paul makes his strongest charges against his opponents.

"13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve." (11:13-14)

He charges them with:

  1. Being false,[402] that is, bogus,
  2. Being deceitful,[403] that is, violating trust in an effort to deceive,
  3. Putting on a disguise[404] in order to pretend, and
  4. Being Satan's servants.

Finally, he declares that they will be judged for this self-serving deception. Strong language indeed!

Foolish Boasting (11:16-21)

Paul is about to share more of what he has given to serve Christ as an apostle, and so demonstrate the difference between a true apostle and a charlatan. So he spends a few sentences explaining the situation "“ with great irony:

"16 I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17 In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18 Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19 You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20 In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that! What anyone else dares to boast about "“ I am speaking as a fool "“ I also dare to boast about." (11:16-21)

Now we get to see the character of Paul's opponents who:

  1. Enslave,[405]
  2. Exploit,[406]
  3. Take advantage of,[407]
  4. Push themselves forward,[408] and
  5. Insult the Corinthians, that is, slap them in the face.

Paul's Jewish Heritage (11:22)

"22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham's descendants? So am I." (11:22)

From Paul's comments here we deduce that Paul's opponents are Jewish, perhaps come from Jerusalem with purported authority from the church there. We're not sure. Paul had defended himself from Jewish false teachers before in Philippi, a leading church in Macedonia, where he described himself as:

"... Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless." (Philippians 3:5-6)

The Jewish heritage of these "super-apostles" might have impressed the Gentile Corinthians who revered the Old Testament Scriptures, but Paul reminds the church that his pedigree is just as strong.

Paul's Sufferings (11:23-25)

Now Paul continues:

"23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.

24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea." (11:23-25)

Most of what we know about Paul's trials we learn from the Book of Acts. But that record only touches the highlights, not every time Paul had been arrested and punished.

 I wonder what kind of shape his body was in after all this? He was:

  • "Flogged" (NIV, cf. NRSV) in verse 23 is literally "stripes" (KJV), the noun plēgē, "a sudden hard stroke with some instrument, blow, stroke," including the blow of a whip.[409]
  • "Beaten with rods" is rhabdizō, of the punishment known formally in Latin legal terminology as admonitio as distinct from catigatio (a lashing) and verberatio (flogging with chains).[410] We know Paul was beaten with rods in Philippi (Acts 16:22).
  • Stoned. We know that Paul was stoned and left for dead in Lystra on his first missionary journey (Acts 14:19).
  • Shipwrecked. Acts only informs us of one shipwreck near Malta when Paul was being transported in chains to Rome (Acts 27), but that took place after 2 Corinthians was written. Paul was no stranger to the hazards of traveling by ship.

Dangers from Travel (11:26)

Travel in Paul's day was risky at best, but Paul was an inveterate traveler.

"I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger[411] from rivers, in danger from bandits,[412] in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers." (11:26)

If you've ever travelled in your own country, you know to be on the lookout for pickpockets, thieves, and kidnappers. It was far more dangerous to be in a foreign city or out on the roads far from civilization, where bandits or highwaymen made a living swooping down on lonely travelers, beating them up, and taking all they had "“ like the man the Good Samaritan aided.

Beyond the dangers from a hostile environment, Paul faced danger as a foreigner, but also danger from people who he should have been able to trust. Why did he put up with all this, and then continue to travel from one city to another?

Deprivation and Stress (11:27-28)

Then Paul recounts the typical stresses of his life.

"I have labored[413] and toiled[414] and have often gone without sleep;[415] I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure[416] of my concern[417] for all the churches." (11:27-28)

This last year has been hard for me "“ perhaps the hardest year of my ministry in some ways. God brought me through partly because in reading this passage I could see the example of a man so dedicated to his mission that he refused to quit. Nothing, absolutely nothing could deter him from fulfilling his mission. He was willing to face any challenge, any hardship for the sake of the gospel.

When I look at my own struggles, they pale in comparison to what Paul was willing to go through. It has hardened my resolve, it has toughened me for the mission, it has helped me grow up. Christ taught Paul and is teaching me and you about enduring through suffering. When Ananias argued with the Lord about going to Saul's quarters after Saul's encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, God told Ananias:

"Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." (Acts 9:15-16)

Dear friend, has suffering caused you to quit what you were doing for the Lord? Have you been hurt by church people and now you don't even go to church? Are you gun-shy, unable to be a part of Christ's church because what you've experienced to the degree that the Lord can't use you? God is speaking to you to learn that He works through your weakness if you don't quit. Friend, it may be time to get back on the horse that threw you "“ bruises and all. Let Christ heal you, but don't quit on him.

Q4. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28) How do Paul's sufferings help authenticate his claim to be an apostle? What do these sufferings tell us about Paul's commitment? How does this account inspire you "“ or convict you? How will you be different from having pondered it?

Boasting in Weakness (11:29-30)

Paul says to the Corinthians: I've been faithful, even though it has been difficult. These are some of the marks of a true apostle!

 "29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness." (11:29-30)

I share your weakness, my Corinthian brothers and sisters, says Paul. When someone is led by false teachers into sin, it pains me "“ I've given so much to see them come to Christ and be set free from their bondages. We'll hear more of Paul's boasting in his weaknesses when we come to 2 Corinthians 12 in the next lesson.

Paul's Escape from Damascus (11:31-33)

This section concludes with Paul's account of a harrowing escape that took place right at the beginning of his ministry. It is also told in Acts 9:22-25.

"31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands." (11:31-33)

By telling this story, Paul is saying that God is faithful. Even in the most difficult situations, God is able to help us go on. Sometimes it is terribly difficult to go on. Sometimes we feel like Paul felt in Asia:

2 Corinthians: Discipleship Lessons, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Also available in e-book and paperback

"We were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again." (1:8-10)

Look up, dear friend. He will rescue you again, set you on your feet, and make you ready to serve him once more.


Father, sometimes ministry "“ and life itself "“ seems so hard. Sometimes we don't know if we can bear any more. Thank you for your faithfulness, O Rescuer and Savior and Healer! Dear Lord, some of my brothers and sisters have suffered wounds in your service. Some of them are entrapped in bitterness, wrapped in self-pity, and blame you. Lord, reconcile them again to yourself and heal them, for Jesus' sake. Show them your love once again. Renew their calling in their ears once again, as you did for Peter so long ago when you called him back to feed your sheep.[418] In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"For the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments 5 and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)

"Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness." (2 Corinthians 10:14b-15a)

End Notes

[361] "Meekness" is prautēs, "the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one's self-importance, gentleness, humility, courtesy, considerateness, meekness," in the older favorable sense (BDAG 862).

[362] "Gentleness" is epieikeia, "the quality of making allowances despite facts that might suggest reason for a different reaction, clemency, gentleness, graciousness, courtesy, indulgence, tolerance" (BDAG 372).

[363] "Timid" (NIV), "humble" (NRSV), "base" (KJV) is tapeinos, "low," here, "pertaining to being servile in manner, pliant, subservient, abject," a negative quality in a judgment pronounced by Paul's opponents upon him (BDAG 989, 2).

[364] Tharreō, BDAG 444.

[365] Pepoithēsis, BDAG 796, 1b. The word doesn't appear separately in the NIV and NRSV translations, but underlies them.

[366] Tolmaō, BDAG 1010, 1aβ.

[367] Strateuō, BDAG 947, 2.

[368] "Warfare" (NRSV, KJV) is strateia, "military engagement, expedition, campaign" (BDAG 947).

[369] "Human" (NIV, NRSV), "carnal" (KJV) is sarx in the sense of "earthly, mediocre, merely human, worldly" (BDAG 914, 2).

[370] "Weapons" is hoplon, which we saw in 6:7. Originally, "tool," then, "an instrument designed to make ready for military engagement, weapon." (BDAG 716, 2b). Also at Romans 13:12; 2 Corinthians 6:7.

[371] "Divine power" (NIV, NRSV) is literally, "mighty through God" (KJV), using the adjective dynatos, "able, capable, powerful," of beings and their attributes" (BDAG 264, 1bβ).

[372] Ochyrōma, BDAG 746. The word derives from ochuroō, "to fortify."

[373] Kathairesis, BDAG 487, 1. "Demolish" (NIV), "destroy" (NRSV), "casting down" (KJV) is kathaireō, "to destroy by tearing down, tear down, destroy, overpower" (BDAG 488, 2).

[374] Logismos, BDAG 598, 1.

[375] Hypsōma, "height," here figuratively, "that which postures arrogantly, arrogance" (BDAG 1046, 2).

[376] "Sets itself up" (NIV), "raised up" (NRSV), "exalteth itself" (KJV) is epairō, "lift up, hold up," then by extension, "to offer resistance to, be in opposition, rise up" (BDAG 357, 2).

[377] Aichmalōtizō, BDAG 31, 1b.

[378] Hypakoē, BDAG 1028, 1b.

[379] Ekdikeō, BDAG 300, 2.

[380] "Building up" (NIV, NRSV), "edification" (KJV) is oikodomē, "the process of building, building, construction," here figurative of spiritual strengthening, "edifying, edification, building up" (BDAG 696, 1bα).

[381] "Pulling down" (NIV), "destruction" (KJV) is kathairesis, which we saw in verse 4.

[382] "Compare" is synkrinō, "to draw a conclusion by comparing, compare" (BDAG 953, 2a).

[383] "Beyond limits" (NIV) in verses 13 and 15 is ametros, "immeasurable," here, "boast beyond limits, illimitably" (BDAG 53).

[384] "Field" (NIV, NRSV), "measure" (KJV) is metron, "measure," here figuratively, "according to the measure of the limit ( = within the limits) which God has apportioned us (as a measure)" (BDAG 644, 2b).

[385] "Regions" (NIV, KJV), "lands" (NRSV) in verse 16 is not in the text, but implied by the context.

[386] Zēloō, BDAG 427, 1b. Zelos, "intense positive interest in something, zeal, ardor," marked by a sense of dedication (BDAG 427, 1).

[387] Exapataō, BDAG 345.

[388] Phtheirō, BDAG 1054, 2b.

[389] Haplotēs, BDAG 104, 1. We've seen this word previously in 1:12; 8:2; 9:11, 13.

[390] Hagnotēs, BDAG 13, also found in 6:6. This word is not contained in some ancient Greek manuscripts. The longer reading used in the NIV and RSV translations has strong manuscript support (p46 Aleph* B G 33 syr cop etc.), but the shorter reading (KJV) is also strong, so the United Bible Societies Committee enclosed the longer reading in brackets with a {C} rating "“ "considerable degree of doubt" (Metzger, p. 583-584).

[391] "Put up with" (NIV), "submit to" (NRSV), "bear with" (KJV) is anechō, "to regard with tolerance, endure, bear with, put up with" (BDAG 78, 1).

[392] "Be inferior" (NIV, NRSV), "be behind" (KJV) is hystereō, "to be behind," here, "to be lower in status, be less than, inferior to" (BDAG 1043, 4).

[393] "Super-" (NIV, NRSV), "very chiefest" (KJV) is hyperlian, "exceedingly, beyond measure" (BDAG 1033).

[394] Idiōtēs, BDAG 468, 1.

[395] "Lower" (NIV), "humbling" (NRSV), "abasing" (KJV) is tapeinoō, "to cause someone to lose prestige or status, humble, humiliate, abase" (BDAG 990, 2a).

[396] "Hinder" (NIV, KJV), "put an obstacle" (NRSV) is enkopē, "that which holds back the progress of something, hindrance" (BDAG 274).

[397] Katanarkaō, Thayer, 334; BDAG 522.

[398] "Support" (NIV, NRSV), "wages" (KJV) is opsōnion, "pay, wages" (BDAG 747, 1b).

[399] "Supplied" is prosanaplēroō, "to fill up or replenish besides, supply" (BDAG 876), also at 9:12.

[400] Dōrean, "pertaining to being freely given, as a gift, without payment, gratis" (BDAG 266, 1).

[401] 1 Corinthians 9:3.

[402] "False apostles" is pseudapostolos, "one who claims to be an apostle without the divine commission necessary for the work, false / spurious / bogus apostle" (BDAG 1096).

[403] "Deceitful" is dolios, "pertaining to violation of trust in effort to deceive, deceitful, treacherous" (BDAG 256).

[404] "Masquerading" (NIV), "disguising" (NRSV), "transforming" (KJV) is metaschēmatizō, "to feign to be what one is not, change / disguise oneself" (BDAG 643, 2), verses 13, 14, and 15.

[405] "Enslaves" (NIV), "makes slaves of" (NRSV), "bring into bondage" (KJV) is katadouloō, "enslave, reduce to slavery" (BDAG 516).

[406] "Exploits" (NIV), "preys upon" (NRSV), "devour" (KJV) is katesthiō, literally, "to eat up ravenously, eat up, consume, devour, swallow," figuratively here, "to exploit, rob" (BDAG 532, 2e).

[407] "Takes advantage of" (NIV, NRSV), "take of" (KJV) is lambanō, "take," here "if someone puts something over on you, takes advantage of you" (BDAG 583, 3).

[408] "Pushes himself forward" (NIV), "puts on airs" (NRSV), "exalt himself" (KJV) is epairō, "lift up," here, "to suggest that one is better than one really is, be presumptuous, put on airs," (BDAG 357, 3).

[409] Plēgē, BDAG 825, 1.

[410] Rhabdizō, BDAG 902.

[411] "Danger" (NIV), "perils" (KJV) is kindynos, "danger, risk" (BDAG 544).

[412] "Bandits" (NIV, NRSV), "robbers" (KJV) is lēstēs, "robber, highwayman, bandit" (BDAG 594, 1).

[413] "Labored" (NIV), "toil" (NRSV), "weariness" (KJV) is kopos, which can have two meanings determined by context: (1) "a state of discomfort or distress, trouble, difficulty," a transferred sense of kopos = "beating" and (2) "activity that is burdensome, work, labor, toil" (BDAG 559).

[414] "Toiled" (NIV), "hardship" (NRSV), "painfulness" (KJV) is mochthos, "labor, exertion, hardship" (BDAG 660).

[415] "Gone without sleep" (NIV), "sleepless nights" (NRSV), "watchings" (KJV) is agrypnia, "the state of remaining awake because one is unable to go to sleep, sleeplessness" (BDAG 16, 1).

[416] "Pressure" (NIV, NRSV) is epistasis, "responsibility for a matter, pressure, care" (BDAG 380, 1). From epistatēs, "overseer, master."

[417] "Concern" (NIV), "anxiety" (NRSV), "care" (KJV) is merimna, "anxiety, worry, care" (BDAG 632).

[418] John 21:15-19.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

Sign up now!To be notified about future articles, stories, and Bible studies, why don't you subscribe to our free newsletter,The Joyful Heart, by placing your e-mail address in the box below. We respect your privacy and never sell, rent, or loan our lists. Please don't subscribe your friends; let them decide for themselves.
Country(2-letter abbreviation, such as US)
Preferred FormatHTML (recommended) Plain text