Today we will complete Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church. We pick up where we left off yesterday: Paul defending his Apostleship and authority against his detractors within the church. Paul tells them that he is delving into foolishness by even defending himself (11:1), but because he wants the Corinthians to stay true to Christ, into foolishness he will delve (v. 2)! He reminds them what deceit did at the fall (v. 3). Deceit, even when it’s subtle, obscures the truth. So why are they putting up with lies (v. 4)? Paul is not inferior to the “super-apostles” (v. 5). This is a sarcastic reference to those who detracted from Paul’s authority and claimed it for themselves. Paul is also using some holy sarcasm in verse 6. He was in no way unskilled in speaking! Yet even if he were, it is not the rhetorical ability of the speaker, but what he speaks that matters! Paul has only ever plainly spoken the truth.
Paul then asks if they thought less of his message because he didn’t profit off of it (v. 7). He tells them that he did receive from other churches, like those in Macedonia, but not from them (vv. 8-9). This shows his great love for them (vv. 10-11). And he will continue to preach the truth at no cost to them to show his ministry as genuine over against that of the “super-apostles” (v. 12), who are really false apostles (v. 13). He again likens their deceit to Satan’s (v. 14). Of course the lies of Satan are convincing to the undiscerning! They wouldn’t be very good lies if they weren’t! But they are lies nonetheless, and those that teach lies will suffer the same judgment as Satan (v. 15).
Paul continues his “foolishness” (v. 16), since the Corinthians bear with fools (v. 19). A little more holy sarcasm by Paul. He tells them that they are being taken advantage of by these seemingly “strong” false apostles (v. 20). Paul is too “weak” for that (v. 21). But if they can boast, so can he, because his suffering proves that he is following Christ, and the truth (vv. 23-33). They boast in their supposed strength, Paul will boast in his weakness. It seems as if these “super-apostles” preached something similar to a prosperity Gospel, claiming that Paul’s weakness and suffering prove that he is not favored of God, as was not to be listened to.
Paul continues his “foolish boasting” in chapter 12. He received direct revelation from Christ (12:1). He was brought, in a vision, to heaven (vv. 2-4). Paul’s using the third person here and verse 5 are to show that it is not him – but Christ! – that is at work in and through him. While his opponents want to point the Corinthian away from Paul and to themselves, Paul wants to point them away from Paul and to Christ! He says that Christ has intentionally kept him humble so that he would rely on Him and His grace, and never himself (vv. 7-9). So Paul doesn’t deny the claim of weakness on his part – he owns it! Yes, he is weak, but for the sake of Christ who is strong in and through him (v. 10).
So it is his weakness that establishes his authority as opposed to his detractors (v. 11), as do the miracles God performed through him (v. 12). Verse 13 is more sarcasm. And when he comes to them again, he will still not accept payment for his ministry (v. 14) but will rather give to them what he has (v. 15). Why would they believe the lie that he, or any of his companions, took advantage of them (vv. 16-18). Paul then tells them that he is not really defending himself at all. He is saying what he is saying for their sake, not his (v. 19). And he is worried that when he comes to them, this is all going to cause strife between him and them (v. 20) and that he is going to have to discipline them (v. 21).
Therefore, Paul points to Deuteronomy 19:15 to tell them that he will answer only legitimate charges against him (13:1). He again warns them that discipline may be necessary when he comes (v. 2) if what they are looking for is a show of strength (v. 3). Christ is strong through Paul’s weakness, even as He worked His power through His own weakness (v. 4). He therefore calls them all to take a long look at themselves (v. 5). If Christ is indeed in them, they will not fail that test. He prays that they will not fail that test (vv. 6-7). because the truth will always reveal itself (v. 8). Paul prays for their restoration (v. 9), and that is why he has written so harshly to them (v. 10). He wants to come and build them up, not be harsh with them in person.
He ends the letter with a final call for restoration (v. 11). This means no more arguing or division (which is why he wrote his first letter! – see 1 Cor 1:10-11). He wants them all to greet each other for him and the rest of his companions (vv. 12-13). He closes by pointing them to the Triune God ( v. 14). They need to, like Paul, live in reliance on the grace of Jesus Christ. They need to live in the love of the Father (see 1 Cor 13). They need to live as one in the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately, it does not appear as if the church in Corinth ever got it right. The letter to the Corinthians (probably wrongly) attributed to Clement, the bishop of Rome, from the early second century addressed some of the same problems. It seems that the divisiveness only got worse. The writer of that letter wrote:
Your division hath perverted many; it hath brought many to despair, many to doubting, and all of us to sorrow. And your sedition still continueth. Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle. What wrote he first unto you in the beginning of the Gospel? Of a truth he charged you in the Spirit concerning himself and Cephas and Apollos, because that even then ye had made parties. Yet that making of parties brought less sin upon you; for ye were partisans of Apostles that were highly reputed, and of a man approved in their sight. But now mark ye, who they are that have perverted you and diminished the glory of your renowned love for the brotherhood. It is shameful, dearly beloved, yes, utterly shameful and unworthy of your conduct in Christ, that it should be reported that the very steadfast and ancient Church of the Corinthians, for the sake of one or two persons, maketh sedition against its presbyters. And this report hath reached not only us, but them also which differ from us, so that ye even heap blasphemies on the Name of the Lord by reason of your folly, and moreover create peril for yourselves.Joseph Barber Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891), 77.