In the last section of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul changes his tone from the theme of the earlier part of the letter, as he seeks to confront the ‘Super Apostles’, who were tarnishing all the good work done by him in the province of Achaia. He withdraws his claim of not indulging in self-adulation and boasts about his achievements and sufferings as a badge of honour, thus validating his servanthood in Christ. Some believe that there was a considerable gap in Paul’s writing of this part of the letter. During that time he may have received disturbing news from the believers in Corinth that made him address the accusations being levied on him and prevent the false apostles from nullifying the good work that was done through him in the city of Corinth.
By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away!2 Corinthians 10:1 (NIV)
Paul himself admitted that he could not compete with the best orators of the land as his speech lacked the eloquence possessed by the ‘Super Apostles’. The authority that Paul imposed through his letters, somehow did not transfer into his sermon when he would meet his audience during his visits.
This supposed lacking of Paul, provided fodder for his instigators, as they criticised him for not having the backbone to confront and discipline the offenders in person. Paul assured them that when he would come this time, he will deal harshly with the people, who in spite of his warning continued to indulge in the ways of the world.
And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete2 Corinthians 10:6 (NIV)
Before we can take heed to rebuke and repent from our ways, we must have a transformation from within. A hard heart will never accept disciplinary reproach and satan will use our egos to build defensive walls around us to keep out the word of God and its power from our lives. The Corinth congregation first needs to understand the intent of Paul’s rebuke, apply it in their lives and correct their ways before they can recognise the weeds that have been planted by satan within them (Matthew 13:24–43). If they are truly obedient to his word, the church of Corinth will not be filled by false prophets and will be quick to cast out such elements from their fellowship.
Appearances are Deceptive
Paul warned his doubters not to judge him or his companions by outward appearances or by the standards of this world. He goes on to boast about the authority given to him by God to build up the church of Christ. A departure from his previous stance of not boasting, Paul indulges in self-adulation, not to embellish his accomplishments but to reveal the misuse of authority by others.
You are judging by appearances. If anyone is confident that they belong to Christ, they should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as they do. So even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it.2 Corinthians 10:7-8 (NIV)
Paul takes a subtle dig at the super-apostles who were misusing their authority to tear down the confidence of the believers and misleading them on a path away from God. The Corinthians fell for their words of grandeur and perhaps even powerful works. They started believing the false teachers and went back to their old sinful ways. To them, Paul wrote boasting about the powerful works God had done through them while transforming the lives of people wherever they visited.
For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.2 Corinthians 10:18 (NIV)
Though his opposers had letters of recommendation and the stamp of approval of the high command at Jerusalem, Paul claims to supersede their credentials as he had letters of recommendation from Christ. The work that had been done through him in the lives of the Corinth was proof that God was working through Paul.
We look for approval from our peers and people in power but God wants us to rely only on His leading. Whoever is our role model, be it our senior pastors, a theologically empowered preacher or a vibrant youth leader, we must remember that they are only human beings driven by their own selfish desires just like us. Only God cares for us all the time without any selfish motives. We don’t need commendation from anyone but should only desire for Christ’s stamp of approval.
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.2 Corinthians 11:2 (NIV)
Paul claims to have godly jealousy and a possessive nature towards the congregation in Corinth. He feels that the false teachers have corrupted the church and he will not be able to present his converts as pure virgins before Christ. We don’t need to present anyone to Christ as He himself is our advocate and presents us as unblemished children before His Father.
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. 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 Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.2 Corinthians 11:3-4 (NIV)
In a way, us being easy prey for the false preachers shows how much we regard Christ in our lives. If we have built up a superficial relationship with Christ, based on promise verses or a quick flip-through of the Bible before we get busy with our work or even a short prayer of protection on our way out the house, we will never understand the will of God for our lives. We will search here and there and find comfort in the fellowship of believers but we ourselves will never know the truth. If we are not able to discern God’s Word from satan’s misdirection, then our faith is not built on the rock but on shaky grounds.
I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. 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.2 Corinthians 11:8-9 (NIV)
Paul is proud of the fact that he was not helped financially by the Corinthians. It shows the toll that their relationship had taken for Paul to be relieved and even proud that he had not taken monetary assistance from the church at Corinth, to have this as a talking point to brag about. This is similar to Abram not taking any proceeds of war from the king of Sodom (Genesis 14:22-23) lest the king might later take credit for the works God was about to accomplish in his life. Similarly, Paul was glad that he did not give the Corinthians (who were so easily fooled by the false preachers), a chance to credit themselves with Paul’s successful mission and discredit the grace of God that had led him through the perilous times.
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. For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.2 Corinthians 11:12-15 (NIV)
Even when tempting Jesus, satan did not lie but pushed the truth in trying to convince the Son of God to fall into his trap. The deception that he concocted in the Garden, is the same that he tries to perfect even today. That is how he tries to deceive each one of us, giving us partial truths and logical reasoning that lead us to believe that he has good intentions and is a messenger from God.
In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face.2 Corinthians 11:20 (NIV)
The reason why we fall for his age-old deceptive techniques is because mankind always looks at the superficial level and judges by the standards of this world. The outward signs that people look for in a preacher are usually what deceives them to fall into satan’s trap. Sometimes even the preachers themselves do not know that they are leading their sheep on the wrong path as satan masquerades as an angel of light. They do not know what God wants from them and end up serving for satan’s cause.
Our Sufferings – A Badge of Honour
The false preachers claimed that they were the authorised missionaries who were sent to Corinth. Paul sees it fit to remind the people of his credentials, a descendant of Abraham, a Hebrew and a servant for Christ. He had been flogged more times than anyone of them. Time and again, his life was in danger. He was despised by the Jews, the Gentiles and the Roman Government. He was beaten by every weapon of man and nature. Shipwrecked a couple of times and gone several days without having anything to eat or drink. In the city of Damascus, he was almost arrested had it not been for the believers who lowered him in a basket across the boundary walls.
But above all that, he claimed the thing that troubled him the most was the burden he had for the churches where he ministered. In justifying his authority, Paul regressed on his claims of not being boastful about his accomplishments but in his anger narrated all the trouble that he had gone through for the sake of the Gospel. Sometimes satan will tempt us by telling us that we are the most sincere workers of Christ and that we should be proud of what we have done for the extension of His Kingdom. Even this is a trap where we become boastful of the things God has been doing in us and in the end take away His glory for ourselves.
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.2 Corinthians 11:30-31 (NIV)
It is our tendency to hide our flaws from this world and highlight our strengths. We want to protect ourselves from the prying eyes of this world and not open ourselves to their judgement. In our attempts to depict a perfect picture of our lives to the world, we are masking the grace of God that is working in our lives.
We are called to shine the spotlight on Jesus by proclaiming the impact He has on our lives instead we are lighting the lamp and covering it with our insecurities. The more we take ourselves out of this world, the more we will understand our greater purpose. Remember that if Jesus had cared about the judgement of this world, we all would be facing the harshest of Judgment.
- 10:6 – Why would Paul punish disobedience in the congregation after they were obedient?
- 11:4 – Is falling for false preachers a sign of weak faith?
- 11:14 – “…satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” – How do people fall for this trap by satan through the false preachers?
- 11:30 – Why do we boast about only our strengths and perseverance and not about the times we fail?