In this final section of II Corinthians, Paul will drive home his point on two issues:
- The validity of his own Apostleship.
- The danger presented by the false teachers.
He will do this by explaining why he is a true Apostle in comparison to the false teachers causing trouble in Corinth, after which we will see him actually exercising his Apostolic authority over this church.
Paul Defends His Apostleship
Until now, Paul has been dealing with the problems and questions that the Corinthians had concerning his visits with them. At this point, however, he will go to the heart of the matter which is the challenge being made to the legitimacy of his Apostleship by those who were claiming a superior position to his in the church.
How to Measure an Apostle — II Corinthians 10:1-18
Paul describes the four criteria that determine genuine Apostleship:
1. Spiritual power
1Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! 2I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh. 3For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, 6and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.
They confused his gentle attitude with weakness, but did not realize the power he exercised as an Apostle in the spiritual realm. To destroy the work of Satan required true spiritual power, which he possessed. He warns them that he will exercise this power for those who continue in disobedience when he arrives. An example of this power was demonstrated when he struck blind the false prophet, Bar-Jesus, who tried to undermine his work while he was preaching on the island of Cyprus (Acts 13:11).
2. Position in relationship to Christ
7You are looking at things as they are outwardly. If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ's, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ's, so also are we. 8For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame, 9for I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters.
Paul says that as a Christian and an Apostle he is also "in Christ" or united to Christ as they were. In addition to being related to Christ as they are, he has also received authority for building up the church. The point here is that this "authority" is directly from Christ. He also uses the idea of authority to string together the next idea.
3. Deeds through Christ
10For they say, "His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible." 11Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present.
An Apostle is measured by what he does. His authority gives him the right and power to do what he has done (or threatening to do) among them. He is not using this to frighten them but rather to remind them that he can "do" what he writes about in his letters and was not, as the trouble-makers were saying of him, "all talk."
4. Ministry for Christ
12For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding. 13But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you.
Paul speaks for all Apostles when he argues: we do not just talk about ourselves and measure ourselves by our own words. We measure ourselves by what we have done in the service of Christ. You, the Corinthian church, are an example of our ministry. We measure our work by you and what we have accomplished in you.
14For we are not overextending ourselves, as if we did not reach to you, for we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ; 15not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men's labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you, 16so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another.
He continues by saying: unlike the false teachers who are taking credit for you (who are really the result of our work), we hope that one day you will grow to the point where you will support us to go plant another church in an area where the gospel has not been preached before. This was something that these false teachers did not do in Corinth and had no plans of doing in the future. True Apostles are instructed to go out and preach the gospel, not steal other men's work (Matthew 28:18-20).
17But he who boasts is to boast in the Lord. 18For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends.
Paul uses a quote from Jeremiah to summarize his feelings about his own role as an Apostle. This role, he says, has been received from the Lord, authorized by the Lord, empowered by the Lord and done for the Lord. If there is any praise, therefore, it should go to the Lord. If anyone is praising himself, it is a sign that he is a false Apostle.
Condemnation of False Apostles — II Corinthians 11:1-15
Here Paul speaks plainly of the character and motives of those who claimed to be "superior" Apostles in the Corinthian church.
They are being seduced by false teachers
1I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but indeed you are bearing with me. 2For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. 3But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. 4For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.
He uses the imagery of marriage to tell them that they are being seduced into unfaithfulness to their original husband, Jesus, in order to follow another. He wonders at how easily they are being led astray by a different lord, different spirit and different gospel. He is jealous that they are leaving the true faith given to them by a true Apostle, and so easily following others to a false end.
The accusations against Paul were false
5For I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles. 6But even if I am unskilled in speech, yet I am not so in knowledge; in fact, in every way we have made this evident to you in all things.
They were charging that Paul was inferior. In this passage the word "eminent" did not refer to Peter and the other legitimate Apostles, but to those who were describing themselves as eminent or superior to Paul at Corinth. Paul responds to their charge by saying that he may have been soft spoken and not trained in the tactics of oral debate, but his knowledge (concerning the things of God) spoke for itself since they had been the main benefactors of his teaching.
7Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you without charge? 8I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you; 9and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so. 10As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be stopped in the regions of Achaia. 11Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!
12But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting.
His accusers also base their charges against him on the fact that he did not take any money for his teaching. Paul acknowledges that he indeed preached to them for free, and would continue to do so in order to prove his sincerity and to give no one the chance to accuse him of preaching for profit.
13For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.
He calls the teachers what they are: false messengers, deceitful workers (hypocrites), actors pretending to be Apostles. He compares their strategy and eventual judgment to that of Satan.
The Mark of a True Apostle — II Corinthians 11:16-12:13
16Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, so that I also may boast a little. 17What I am saying, I am not saying as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting. 18Since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also. 19For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly. 20For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face. 21To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison. But in whatever respect anyone else is bold—I speak in foolishness—I am just as bold myself. 22Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. 23Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. 29Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?
30If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. 31The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, 33and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands.
He has done this before in chapter 4, but this time he goes into detail about the things he has suffered because he is an Apostle. The false teachers boast in their intelligence and their position, but Paul boasts in the things he has suffered on account of the gospel. The implication is, of course, that he has paid the price for serving as an Apostle and they have not.
1Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. 3And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— 4was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. 5On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses. 6For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me.
7Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! 8Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
What they cannot claim is to have spoken with Christ and to have been in His presence. As a true Apostle, Paul has spoken with the Lord and here talks about a heavenly experience reminiscent of the visions described by the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel in the Old Testament, and the Apostle John in the New Testament (Revelation). Paul is too humble to boast about this and gives a rare glimpse into his personal sufferings and how he coped, but the point is that only an Apostle could truly speak of such things. He shows his genuine Apostolic character in that he does not use these things to boast (as they would), he uses them to give glory to God.
11I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody. 12The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles. 13For in what respect were you treated as inferior to the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not become a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!
The marks of Apostleship, according to Paul, are suffering, communion with Christ and displayed power. Anybody can say they have seen Christ, but only the ones who can actually perform the signs and wonders can confirm their words with actions. He also reminds and chastises them for not recognizing these signs. Instead of defending himself before them, as he is doing now, he should have been praised and encouraged by them, especially since they received so many blessings from him.
Paul Exercises His Apostleship — II Corinthians 12:14-13:10
In this last section he brushes aside these false teachers and takes his rightful place as an Apostle, and exercises his authority among them.
14Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you; for children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? 16But be that as it may, I did not burden you myself; nevertheless, crafty fellow that I am, I took you in by deceit. 17Certainly I have not taken advantage of you through any of those whom I have sent to you, have I? 18I urged Titus to go, and I sent the brother with him. Titus did not take any advantage of you, did he? Did we not conduct ourselves in the same spirit and walk in the same steps?
He is going to come to them again out of love, and they are not to worry, it will not cost them anything for himself or his fellow ministers who never took advantage of them either.
19All this time you have been thinking that we are defending ourselves to you. Actually, it is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ; and all for your upbuilding, beloved. 20For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances; 21I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced.
He hopes they will be ready for his arrival and have repented of their sins. He is not defending himself here, he is building up their faith before God.
1This is the third time I am coming to you. Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses. 2I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again I will not spare anyone,
Paul warns them that he will punish the sinners, all of them.
3since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me, and who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you. 4For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we will live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you.
They confuse his mild appearance with lack of power. He says that Christ also seemed weak because of His crucifixion, but was empowered by God to resurrect from the dead. Paul says that in the same way he will also be empowered by God when he will be among them for the purpose of disciplining in Christ.
5Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? 6But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test.
When he examines himself, he sees the power of Christ working in him. He asks if this is what they also see when they examine themselves.
7Now we pray to God that you do no wrong; not that we ourselves may appear approved, but that you may do what is right, even though we may appear unapproved. 8For we can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth. 9For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete. 10For this reason I am writing these things while absent, so that when present I need not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down.
He wants them to do what is right and obey him, not to prove that he is right, but to demonstrate maturity (completeness), and avoid punishment. It is their choice, his visit can be one of blessing or one of punishment.
Salutations — II Corinthians 13:11-14
11Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13All the saints greet you.
14The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.
The chapter finishes with a series of positive encouragements:
- Rejoice, be mature, be united, be encouraged, be at peace and enjoy God's love.
- Offer each other the sign of Christian brotherhood in these times (the holy kiss).
- He adds a greeting from other churches.
- He offers a blessing that includes the entire Godhead.
Key Lessons and Ideas From II Corinthians
Here are seven lessons on leadership from II Corinthians:
1. Apostleship was Real Work
Paul's ministry included: care for the poor (special collection), teaching (writing epistles), training workers (Titus), dispute resolution (Corinth), peaching and church planting. Church leadership demands a commitment to work hard in many areas, therefore the role of leader should not be taken lightly. Much will be required of their time and energy.
2. Apostles were Appointed
The false apostles were self-appointed and this alone should have disqualified them from a leadership role. In the church, leaders are appointed to their task by someone in authority in cooperation with the members. Paul goes into detail about the qualifications necessary for the roles of elders and deacons, as well as preachers in his epistles to Timothy and Titus.
3. Apostles Suffered
Paul repeated this often, that his dues for Apostleship were paid through the sufferings he encountered. Church leaders cannot avoid times of suffering on account of their work. It is part of the experience of leadership.
4. Apostles Acted Like Apostles
Apostolic conduct was unmistakable in its sincerity, holiness and humility. Spiritual leaders must be Christlike in character and conduct since this gives their teaching and leadership moral authority.
5. Apostolic Ministry was Evident
To his accusers Paul simply offered his work as a response and defense. Leaders' actions must speak louder than their words. Good leaders in the church, as in most endeavors, lead by example. A church cannot grow beyond its leadership.
6. Apostles Love the Church
Paul was continually helping the church, not only in spiritual matters, but also in benevolent ones as well (e.g. special collection for the poor in Jerusalem). Leaders lead by supporting and nourishing the weak members. I have noticed that in the modern church we rely too much on the preacher to provide pastoral care of the members when their actual role should be preaching the gospel, teaching the Bible, church planting and church organization. The task of caring for the flock rightly belongs to the shepherds/elders. Unfortunately, many times these leaders are more focused on budget matters than the needs of the saints.
When preachers are preaching and teaching the Word, and deacons are caring for the physical needs of the members and the physical place where the church meets, the leaders can then carry out their rightful task of shepherding the flock and guarding it against false teachers and teachings (Acts 20:17; 25-31).
7. Apostles have Authority
In the end, Paul warns them to obey his words because he had the power to back up his authority in Christ. Leaders in the church today do not have miraculous powers but they do have the authority to lead, to discipline, to appoint and to encourage. The church will not grow if leaders do not exercise their legitimate authority and the congregation does not submit to their leadership (Hebrews 13:17).
In closing this study of II Corinthians, I pray for all those who serve as leaders of congregations everywhere. My prayer for you is that you will take to heart the example and admonitions that Paul, a true and blessed leader of our Lord's church, has left for us in these letters inspired and preserved by the Spirit of God for our edification and instruction.