2 Corinthians | 1-4 | 5-8 | 9:1-7 | 9:8-15 | 10:1-6 | 10:7-18 | 11:1-15 | 11:16-33 | 12:1-10 | 12:11-21 | 13 | PDF |

Join us as we study through 2 Corinthians verse by verse. Our discussion questions, verse by verse commentary, and applications can help you or your small group get the most out of this book as you grow in understanding and obedience.

2 Corinthians 12:11-21 Bible Study Lesson – Paul’s Concern For The Corinthians


I. Paul’s pure apostolic conduct (11-12)
II. Paul was not a burden to them (13-18)
III. Paul’s concern for the Corinthians well-being (19-21)

I. Paul’s pure apostolic conduct (11-12)

Discussion Questions

  • In what way had Paul been a “fool?”
  • How had the Corinthians forced Paul to defend himself like this?
  • Who are the “super-apostles” mentioned in verse 11?
  • How had Paul proven himself to be true?
  • Do signs like these always prove the truth of the accompanying message?


Proverbs 11:2 – When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.

1 Peter 5:6 – Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.

Romans 15:19 – By the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. I have been a fool. You forced me to it. – In the past two chapters Paul has mentioned to the Corinthians the folly of self-commendation (2 Corinthians 10:18). People who delight in bragging and glorifying themselves are fools.

Yet at the same time, Paul has felt it necessary to defend himself, calling attention to positive traits in order to build up his credibility. It is clear he takes no joy in doing this. In other circumstances, it would be completely foolish.

However, Paul feels that the Corinthians have “forced” him to act in such a way. They have listened to the boasting of the false apostles and compared them favorably with Paul to his detriment. In order to win them back to the truth Paul condescended to beat them at their own game.

If the Corinthians had shown more discernment, Paul would not have felt it necessary to build himself up in their eyes.

This is another case where Paul lives by his mantra, “all things for the gospel.” In almost all cases, humility and deference advances the gospel more than self-defense. The case at Corinth was, however, an exception to the rule. If Paul’s credibility took a hit then so would the credibility of the gospel. So he goes to great lengths to make sure that doesn’t happen.

2. I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles – Paul uses the term “super-apostles” sarcastically. Perhaps in their own mind they were, but not in reality. Paul considered himself to be “nothing.”

Reflect: How can Paul consider himself to be nothing and yet still defend himself to the Corinthian church repeatedly?

That is a matter of perspective. When measured against God’s standard, Paul fell woefully short. Whatever successes he had could not negate the fact that he supported murder and treachery against believers. As Paul himself said, he was “the chief of sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

But when compared to these false apostles, Paul wasn’t nothing. He and his ministry were superior in every way. Note that Paul wasn’t the one who sought to compare himself to these false apostles (that would be a very low bar). It was the Corinthians. Paul was merely pointing out that if they wanted to compare in that way, he would win hands down.

Again, the motivation for pointing this out was that the Corinthians would not be swayed by the false teachers, but instead would stand on the truth they had heard from him.

3. The signs of a true apostle were performed – The Corinthians had observed signs and wonders performed among them. These signs and wonders were one of the ways that God chose to verify the authority of His select apostles. Such miracles were especially prevalent when the church was in its infancy, just expanding into new regions.

Acts 2:43 – And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.

Throughout the book of Acts you will see miracles. God was authenticating the message of His apostles. The Corinthians themselves had witnessed this. Since those are not recorded in Scripture we are reminded that many of the amazing acts and events of the disciples are not recorded in Scripture.

It is important to be reminded that signs and wonders alone do not by themselves verify someone as being a legitimate servant of the Lord.

Matthew 24:24 – For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

Servants of Satan at times also imitate these miracles. They may do this by his power or through deception. So the message itself should be tested by Scripture.

II. Paul was not a burden to them (13-18)

Discussion Questions

  • What does Paul mean about burdening them?
  • What did he do to make sure that he did not burden them?
  • In verse 14, what motivated Paul to serve them?
  • Who are the children and who are the parents in this example?
  • What principle can parents learn from this illustration?
  • What had Paul spent for their souls?
  • How did Paul hope they would react to his service?
  • What did the Corinthians accuse Paul of?
  • What lessons can we learn here that can be applied to modern day ministry to the body?


Romans 12:1 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Matthew 10:39 – Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Mark 10:45 – For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Galatians 6:2 – Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. I did not burden you – Paul knew the weaknesses in the Corinthian church so he was careful to make sure they had no cause for any accusation against him. Therefore he did not get personal support for them, instead choosing to be a tent-maker to provide for himself (Acts 18:1-4).

Application: Christian workers would be wise to learn from Paul here. We should be all things for the sake of the gospel. Although Scripture is clear that the “worker is worthy of his wages” (1 Timothy 5:18), there are times when it is advisable to forego that “right” when it might prove a stumbling block.

2. I seek not what is yours, but you – Here Paul makes his motivations clear. He didn’t want their money! He wanted their souls for the Lord! Paul’s ministry was not motivated out of a desire for personal gain. He did not enrich himself to a life of luxury by exploiting his relationship with the churches. Rather he sacrificed for them, willingly giving up his claim to the right of support.

One of the biggest problems in the church historically and today is that leaders failed to learn this lesson from Paul. In much of church history, the leaders exploited the common people. They exacted heavy taxes for building great buildings, clothing themselves in fine clothes, and living in mansions. At one time they even charged for absolution from sin (as if this is even possible!)

And this problem still exists today. Some pastors of mega-churches have a fleet of luxury cars and multiple private jets. That is a far cry from Paul’s choice to not be a burden. It is far from the principle “I seek not what is yours, but you.” Such behavior turns many people off from the gospel, and rightly so.

Application: Let us be motivated by loving people. The desire to see their soul in heaven with eternal life is the supreme goal which should drive our ministry. Spend some time in prayer and ask God to give you this supreme love for others. When we love others in that way, we will be filled with compassion for them. We will see them as God’s creation, sheep that need to be led to the Savior, not as stepping stools to be used for our personal gain.

3. Parents are obligated to save up for their children – Paul appeals to a common sense principle to defend his conviction of not burdening the Corinthians. It is a natural thing for parents to support and take care of their children. This is the natural way of the world. Then their children in turn do the same for the next generation.

While this should be obvious, it isn’t obvious to everyone. Unfortunately some parents have missed this principle. Some see their children as an investment in their own security. Such parents may feel that their kids “owe” them a return for all the time and money they have spent on them.

I know of one case where an angry father counted up all the expenses he ever incurred in raising his son and demanded that it be paid back in full. Such an attitude is selfish and unbiblical.

God designed the family in such a way that parents sacrifice for their kids. Godly parents should not count how much that costs. Neither should they make lists of their sacrifices and lord it over their kids, demanding things in return. Our heavenly Father delights in giving good gifts to us and we should do the same for our own children.

Lest a selfish child should look at this passage and use it to defend not taking care of their parents, they should see 1 Timothy 5:8.

1 Timothy 5:8 – But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Thus Paul is not saying that children have no responsibility. He is saying that sacrificing for your children is natural and approved by God.

Application: Parents, sacrifice for your children without grudge. And servants of the gospel should do the same for those they minister to.

4. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? – The Corinthians wrongly took Paul’s sacrifices for granted. It would have been right to show appreciation and respond with love in return.

Application: Children should not take the sacrifices of their parents for granted. They should return the love.

5. You say I was crafty and got the better of you – It should have been obvious that Paul did not seek personal gain from them. But there were ugly rumors circulating that all of his sacrifices on their behalf were sneaky attempts to win their trust so that he could get even more. Apparently his opponents spread slanderous rumors that Paul was sending Titus to take up the collection and that Paul was going to keep it for himself rather than delivering it to the church in Jerusalem.

Such lies were base and repugnant. Paul had proved himself over and over. And the assistants he sent previously had behaved with all integrity. They had not taken advantage of the Corinthians just as Paul did not. Simply put, these allegations were a lie.

Application: We should be careful before we believe rumors. Use discernment and don’t jump to conclusions. Consider who is spreading the rumor, their motivations, and the character of the person being maligned. One important biblical principle is not to listen to an accusation against leaders unless there are two or three witnesses in agreement on the facts of the accusation (1 Timothy 5:19).

III. Paul’s concern for the Corinthians well-being (19-21)

Discussion Questions

  • According to verse 19, why did Paul say he had been defending himself?
  • What does he mean that he was “speaking in Christ?”
  • What was Paul concerned about finding in the church when he returned?
  • How might Paul be humbled before them on a return trip?
  • How did he react to sin?
  • What lessons can we learn here about how believers should respond to sin in the church?


Acts 24:16 – So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 – Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Ephesians 4:29 – Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Romans 14:19 – So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? – Paul suspects that the Corinthians may be tired of him and merely reply, “he is just defending himself again.”

“It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ.”

Paul pre-emptively answers this by noting that all of his words were spoken with God as His witness and motivated by his love for and relationship with Christ. All of the things he has shared with them are in the sight of God to whom he is accountable.

2. All for your upbuilding – God was witness of the things Paul shared. In addition, everything he said was motivated by his love for them and his desire to see them grow in the Lord.

Reflect: What can you learn from Paul’s attitude toward the Corinthians?

Even after their shameful treatment of Paul, he still loved them. In this verse he calls them “beloved.” Few people would have blamed him for saying “good riddance” and just leaving this headache behind. His conscience did not allow that. Everything he did and said was for them.

Application: It should be the desire of every parent, teacher, and minister to be able to truthfully say the same thing, that we are doing “all for your upbuilding.” Evaluate your own relationships. Is your parenting all for the growth of your children? Is your ministry in the church all for the growth of the flock?

3. I fear that I may not find you as I wish – Paul was concerned that when he returned he would find them in the same shameful spiritual condition as the last time. He did not want to see more of the same rampant sin and tolerance for that sin.

4. And that you may find me not as you wish – If their sin continued, then Paul would have to deal with it. This would not be a comfortable meeting. Tough love would require firm discipline. It would not be an enjoyable experience for anyone involved.

Paul sincerely desired that the Corinthian church would respond well to this letter, dealing with the sinner and the false apostles. Otherwise there would be a lot more pain to come on all sides.

Application: Sin is painful. It has serious consequences. The longer it goes on the worse those consequences get and the more it will hurt to root it out. It is always best to “nip it in the bud.” Let us be wary of our own hearts, families, and church. And let us never give sin a foothold from which to multiply.

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