"If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness." - 2 Corinthians 11:30
In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul continues to rebut the "super-apostles" who are leading astray the church at Corinth. Paul has "betrothed" the Corinthian believers to Jesus, but false apostles are succeeding somewhat in directing them to a different, legalistic gospel. Paul engages in "foolish boasting" to show he is a real apostle. Some call this chapter "Paul's fool speech." Here's ten life lessons for us to take away.
1. We are to feel a divine jealousy for believers under our care (v. 2). It is sometimes right to feel jealous. A husband who felt no jealousy over his wife who was being approached romantically by another man would not be a good husband but a very bad one. Paul planted the church in Corinth, and he has a right to feel jealous over them, given the presence of the "super-apostles." Paul pictures himself as the father of a virgin bride (1 Co 4:15; 2 Co 12:14). His desire is to keep his daughter, the Corinthian church, pure until her wedding day (2 Co 4:14; Eph 5:27; 1 Jn 3:2-3). We, too, are to have a divine jealousy over those we minister to. It is our job to guard, protect, and warn believers under our care to stay loyal to their fiancee, Jesus.
2. As the church, we are to be a pure virgin to Messiah (v. 2). Jesus' intent is to sanctifying us and cleanse us with his Scripture, so that he might present us to himself in spotless brilliance on our great wedding day (Eph 5:26-27). To maintain our virginity as the church, we must say no to all false suitors. We must practice abstinence. We do this by rejecting any system of belief that differs from the pure word of God. We must think, speak, and act biblically in all aspects of life. That is how we stay true to our fiancee, Jesus.
3. Our thoughts must not be led astray from a pure devotion to Jesus (v. 3). Satan, God’s enemy, is out to deceive us (v. 14), and he is very talented at it. He has been deceiving men and women for thousands of years. In order to spot his lies, we must dedicate ourselves to knowing the Bible backwards and forwards. Scripture is the mind of Messiah (1 Co 2:16). We are to know and understand the Bible as Jesus did.
4. We must not accept another Jesus, a different spirit, or a different gospel (v. 4). It is our job to know the true Jesus, to fellowship with the true Spirit, and to believe the true gospel. There are many false Jesus's and false gospels in the world (Ga 1:8-9). The only way we can know the true Jesus is through Scripture. The only way we can know the true gospel is through Scripture. The gospel is simply this: by grace alone through faith alone (Eph 2:8-9) in Jesus alone (Jn 14:6), we may have our sins forgiven and eternal life with God (Jn 3:16). Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God (Jn 20:31) who died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures and who was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Co 15:3-8).
5. If possible, we are to preach the gospel free of charge (v. 7). When it comes to gospel proclamation, we must avoid any appearance that we are in it for the money. We must not burden those to whom we are ministering. We are to be living demonstrations of God's grace. It is not sinful to accept a salary as a teaching pastor or ministry worker (1 Co 9:14; 1 Ti 5:17-18). However, to the extent we can, we should minister free of charge.
6. We are to beware of false apostles (vv. 12-13). Like Satan, false apostles disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (vv. 12-13). They often know parts of the Bible well and have been trained to say all the right things. But the totality of their claims must be tested against Scripture. Often false apostles require a set of rules or rituals to follow. They also tend to have a set of hidden beliefs to which only the initiated have access. Always they stray from the grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone gospel. We must be vigilant and discerning.
7. We may sometimes have to “boast” as a fool (vv. 16-18). Boasting is not always evil. As a believer, rare are the times we should boast. Matthew Henry said, “As much against the grain as it is with a proud man to acknowledge his infirmities, so much is it against the grain with a humble man to speak of his own praise.” But when the best interests of the church as a whole require us to boast, we should do so, carefully. Sometimes fools must be answered according to their folly (Pr 26:5). Paul’s “foolish” boast is seen in vv. 21-33.
8. We are to reject legalism (vv. 19-20). Certain Judaizers were requiring the Corinthian believers to submit to some aspects of the Mosaic law in order to be true Christians (see Ga 2:4; 5:1). The Corinthians were allowing themselves to be “slapped in the face” by these legalists. As Gentile believers, we are, by grace, full members of God’s family. We are not required to follow a programme of Jewish rule-keeping, like the Hebrew Roots movement.
9. As servants of Messiah, we are to expect labours, imprisonments, beatings, lashings, stonings, shipwrecks, journeys, dangers, toils, hardships, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, cold, exposure, pressure, anxiety, weakness, and close calls (vv. 23-33). Believers in many countries face these things regularly, especially ones who are active fishers of men, harvest workers, and disciple makers. Am I as hungry as Paul was to spread the gospel despite such challenges? In future years, we will face more persecution in the West. Are we ready to stand for Jesus under these pressures? Paul did not give up. We also must not give up. We are called to be real servants of Messiah. We must be prepared to carry our cross as we follow Jesus.
10. We are to boast of the things that show our weakness (v. 30). If circumstances require us to boast (see lesson seven above), it is actually Jesus’ strength in our weakness that we are to boast of. We don’t boast of our own accomplishments but of Jesus’ accomplishments in and through us. Perseverance through hardship especially glorifies God. Ministries in which we are encouraged to share our weaknesses, like Celebrate Recovery or re:generation, are especially effective and God-glorifying. I reckon we should start such a ministry in Dunedin. I will confess I need to be more open about my own personal and ministry weaknesses. Some view me as unapproachable because I come across as arrogant, having it all together, and perhaps judgmental. I don’t feel I am these things, but the fact the perception is there is not good. By more readily sharing my own weaknesses, others gain permission to share their weaknesses, too. If done well, with a focus on Jesus, this is a gain for all.
My favourite lesson from this chapter is lesson ten. I do need to be more open about my personal and ministry weaknesses for the display of Jesus’ strength in and through me. Father, help me to open up on the right occasions to the right people that I may foster a culture of authenticity, humility, and transparency in our local church.
- Jeff Coleman