I. Paul compares himself with the false apostles (16-21)
II. Paul’s list of sufferings for Christ (22-33)
I. Paul compares himself with the false apostles (16-21)
- What was Paul doing that was “foolish?”
- Why did he find the need to boast?
- What does he mean that “I say not as the Lord would but as a fool?”
- What do other Scriptures teach about boasting?
- Who are the many who boast according to the flesh in verse 18?
- Who are the fools in verse 19?
- Did Paul really think they were “wise” (verse 19)?
- How did the false teachers treat the Corinthians? How did they respond?
- What does Paul mean in verse 21 that “we were too weak for that?”
- How does Paul make use of sarcasm in this passage?
James 4:16 – As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
Proverbs 27:2 – Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.
Galatians 5:1 – It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 6:14 – But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. Let no one think me foolish – In verse 1, Paul said “I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness.” It indeed seemed foolish for Paul to boast right after he said “let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” and that the “one whom the Lord commends” is approved (2 Corinthians 10:18).
So the Corinthians might well accuse Paul of being foolish for talking in this way. But Paul pushes ahead anyway saying, “even if you do, accept me as a fool.”
In other words, Paul was going to stoop down to the level of the false teachers for a moment. If they could win over the Corinthians by boasting, then Paul would beat them at their own game.
Proverbs 26:4-5 – Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Paul faced the choice presented in Proverbs 26:4-5. There are two ways to deal with a fool. One way is to ignore him, to rise above the fray, to refuse to condescend to his level. The other way is to answer him according to his folly. One way to do this is to use his own logic and arguments against him, to be better at his game than he is.
So Paul decided to take off the gloves, go into the arena and fight it out. In this case choosing the noble way of silence would allow the false teachers to win over the Corinthians. And Paul would not let this happen without a fight.
In chapter 10, we learned that we are in a war. And warriors fight. Sometimes the fight turns dirty, but they don’t give up. Warriors for God have to “destroy strongholds.” That is exactly what Paul was doing.
Reflect: When should you ignore a fool and when should you answer him as his folly deserves?
2. I say not as the Lord would, but as a fool – This type of boasting was not something that the Lord would generally commend. Jesus did not set an example of talking in that way or of defending Himself. Rather, He opened not His mouth even when His accusers slandered him. So Paul did not learn this from Jesus. It seemed ludicrous to him to speak of all his accomplishments when Jesus modeled humility. But Paul would do “all things for the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:23), even this.
3. Since many boast according to the flesh, I will too – The false apostles were convincing the Corinthians through boasting. That was their method and it was evidently effective in swaying the church at Corinth. Therefore in this case, fighting fire with fire was necessary.
4. You gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves –
2 Corinthians 11:4 – For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
The Corinthians readily put up with the false teachers and their foolish boasting. Paul sarcastically says they do so because they are “wise themselves.” The Corinthians were proud of their tolerance and inclusiveness.
Many people today wear tolerance as a mark of pride. They believe that their acceptance of every form of sin (of course they do not call it that) is a virtue signaling their magnanimity. Their tolerance shows that they have reached a heightened plane of spiritual awareness. At least this is true in their minds.
Application: The church should not tolerate false doctrine or false teachers. Jesus commended the church at Ephesus because they did not.
Revelation 2:2 – I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.
Destroy the lofty opinions which are raised up against the knowledge of God. Do not compromise on the truth.
5. Verse 20 – The false teachers did not have the best interests of the Corinthians at heart. They enslaved them to legalism, pushed them into giving financially, and put on airs. And still the body tolerated them.
6. To my shame, we were too weak for that – Paul sarcastically says he regrets not taking advantage of the Corinthians. It is a strong reminder that serving and humility is not to be misunderstood for weakness!
The world may celebrate aggressive, forceful leadership because it looks strong. Believers should see it for what it is.
II. Paul’s list of sufferings for Christ (22-33)
- What qualifications and background did Paul have?
- What motivated Paul to share this list of qualifications and suffering?
- Which of these events are recorded in Scripture?
- Share about the background of one of these afflictions Paul endured.
- How could Paul go through so many sufferings and still seek to serve Christ?
- How has Christ sustained you in the midst of suffering?
- Why do many Christians suffer?
- In view of these sufferings, how does this make you feel about inconveniences you encounter while serving Christ?
- What Bible verse would you use to encourage a fellow believer who is facing persecution?
- How did these things show Paul’s weakness (verse 30)?
- What do we learn about God from all of Paul’s sufferings?
Revelation 2:8-11 – “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’
Romans 8:35 – Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
1 John 3:13 – Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.
James 1:12 – Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Matthew 10:28 – And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. Paul compares himself to the false apostles – He was a Hebrew like them. He was descended from Abraham like them. So he was no less Jewish, but he was a “better” servant of Christ.
Following is a list of the persecutions, afflictions, and difficulties Paul faced as a servant of Christ. Sharing these sufferings was a way to remind the church of his legitimacy as a genuine apostle of Christ.
2. Paul’s suffering for Christ –
John 15:18-19 – If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
Jesus warned his disciples that they were going to face persecution. It should not come as a surprise to believers when this happens. Although most believers will face some type of persecution, Paul clearly faced far more than most.
Twelve times Paul was beaten, stoned, whipped, or shipwrecked. And note that Paul’s ministry wasn’t over. He would still face more persecution in the future including long term imprisonment and martyrdom.
In addition to direct persecution, Paul faced many dangers and inconveniences due to his life of ministry. Just the danger of travel at that time was significant. Both the elements and robbers were a risk. He faced betrayal from within.
And the work never stopped. He paid for it with many sleepless nights, hunger, and thirst. Besides the tangible risks he faced, there was a constant pressure of anxiety weighing on him for the churches. His was a life of constant work and toil on behalf of others, a heavy responsibility, and frequent persecution.
Application: Firstly, we do not need to compare. God does call every believer to the same amount of persecution. Some face more and some face less. God knows why and we don’t. So we should not feel that we are less if we have seldom faced persecution. On the contrary, we should be thankful for that. While it is not a competition, Paul’s life does serve as a positive example for us. He persevered without complaining. We too should not allow pressure from the people around us to derail us from whole-heartedly serving the Lord.
When you face persecution, you have a choice. Please God or man. If you please man and deny Jesus, then He will deny you. You might avoid some trouble in this world. But you will have far greater trouble at the coming judgment. If you choose to please God, then you may suffer. It may come to the point where you face torture or death. But if you keep the faith, then He will welcome you and reward you.
Revelation 2:11 – Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.”
Jesus promises that the one who is faithful to the end will not be touched by hell. Jesus does not always deliver us out of momentary tribulations. But He does deliver us from hell, by paying the price in our place. And He gives the one who overcomes the crown of life.
3. Modern examples of saints facing persecution –
I was watching a movie about Richard Wurmbrand. He is the founder of Voice for the Martyrs. Richard was a pastor in Romania when it was occupied by the Soviet Union. But he kept preaching at his church. And he refused to sanction the state run church. He was imprisoned and tortured for his faith for 14 years.
Day after day he was mistreated by his guards. On one occasion, they opened the door to his cell and found him praying. “What are you praying for? Your God has deserted you,” the guard said. “I am praying for you,” Richard replied. He was faithful unto death.
There are countless stories like Richard Wurmbrand of believers who were supernaturally empowered to overcome horrors. Some were able to sing while burning alive. Some were able to share with their captors who tormented them. Some were able to pray, “father forgive them” like Stephen and Jesus before them.
Most of us don’t face a lot of persecution. Perhaps you face an unkind remark from a co-worker. Maybe your family members are hostile to your faith. But you probably have not been thrown in prison or tortured. And so far none of us here have been martyred.
But Jesus said that “he who is faithful in a little thing is faithful also in much.”
Application: Don’t be complacent. The world is running fast away from God. Persecution is increasing in many places. It may very well be in our lives or our children’s lives that these serious persecutions will become a reality. So now is the time to prepare. Now is the time to be faithful. If you are swayed by the hostile remarks of a family member now, then how can you hope to stand when the persecution increases?
We would not be able to stand by ourselves. The only hope is through Christ. And that means we need to draw close to Christ now. We need to depend on Him day by day, being faithful in the little things each day. We need to come to Him when we face so called “small” temptations so that when they grow more serious we already have this lifestyle.
Where you face major persecution or just a bit in the form of pressure from family or hostility you can overcome it through Christ. He conquered it and He will help you to conquer it as well. The key is that you must depend on Him. Come to Him now. Ask Him for strength to be faithful. And if you are faithful in the midst of the persecution, He will give you the crown of life.
4. If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness – These examples did not prove Paul to be successful in the world’s eyes. Many people would look at this list and think, “What a loser” or “what a waste” or “how foolish.” The world glorifies riches and fame, not sacrifice and suffering.
These things showed that Paul was physically weak. He wasn’t a superhero. He couldn’t just blow super breath and defeat his enemies. Yet this very weakness, highlighted God’s grace, strength, and sufficiency in his life to keep him going.
2 Corinthians 12:9 – And He said to me, “My grace suffices you, for the power is perfected in weakness.”
The world views the meek Christian as week. But God chooses the lowly to show that it is His power, not man’s, who changes lives.
5. Paul let down in a basket – Here Paul recounts the story of one of the earliest persecutions he faced (Acts 9:25). In Acts, the Jews are the described as the persecutors. Here Paul mentions the governor. It is likely that the Jews then stirred up the secular leaders against him.
Picture Paul escaping a city by hiding in a basket that is lowered off the wall. It’s not a very heroic image. But it was the reality of Paul’s life.
God used a “weak” person like Paul, who was always running away to help build the foundation for His church. He receives the glory.
Application: No matter what difficulties we face because of serving God, we should deflect the glory back to Him. What is one way you can depend on God when facing affliction this week?
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