2. Paul assured the church at Corinth that when he comes, his personal dealings with them will be as open and faithful as his letter had been (vss. 7-11). His boasting of authority (vs. 8) is rooted in Paul’s being an instrument of the Holy Spirit to write by divine inspiration; hence he teaches infallibly. They must realize this is not for the destruction of the church (a personal victory of Paul at the expense of others), but for their edification (salvation). Hence his conduct upon his arrival in their midst will also be with decisive authority and power not weakness and evasive speech as charged, (vs. 10).
3. The apostle glories in God that He gave him authority to care for the spiritual needs of the churches, (vss. 12-18). The false teachers measured themselves by human standards and confided in human learning, (vs. 12), but Paul measured his word and ministry by God’s revelation and he trusted in that, (vs. 13). Because of this, Paul could not be accused of intruding in territory that was not his. He labored in Corinth because it was Christ’s church. As a missionary apostle, traveling throughout the countries, he exercised his duty to care for the needs of all the churches in Asia Minor, Greece, and even Rome, (vss. 14, 15). His desire is that he may extend beyond Corinth, not to take over some other man’s territory, but to be used by Christ to save the church and so to glory in the Lord Who alone blesses his ministry, (vss. 11-18).
4. Since Paul’s authority was attacked, he now presents reasons why the Corinthian church should rely on him more than on the false teachers (vss. 1-15). He even apologizes and asks them to bear with his “folly” in asserting his qualifications (vs. 1). In verses 16-21 he points out that boasting is not a common way for a servant of Christ to speak, but he must show to them that Christ has used him as His servant.
a. His desire for the church at Corinth to listen to his instruction is rooted in jealous love (the kind that a husband has for his wife — he doesn’t want any other man to flirt with her — so Paul was instrumental in the “engagement” of the church of Corinth to Christ and he desired her to be faithful for that marriage, (vs. 2). He is afraid that the false teachers will tempt the Corinthians to believe the lie, (vs. 3). He has reason for this concern for they already listened to these false teachers, (vs. 4).
b. Paul asserts his position of leadership among the apostles. He was among the chiefest — a reference to men like Peter and James. Rank here is not a personal thing, not even a primacy of office, but of gift and service, (vs. 5). Paul mentions his lack as an orator (one skilled with the use of words as the Greek schools emphasized), but maintains his excellence in knowledge which the church of Corinth knew very well, (vss. 5, 6).
c. He reminds them that his refusal to be financially supported by them was not a rejection of his apostolic office; rather, he did not want to burden them. He took money from other churches and worked with his own hand rather than give the enemy in Corinth occasion to accuse him of preaching for profit. This he intended to continue and he even challenged his opponents to teach without being paid, to show their sincerity, (vss. 7-12).
d. The enemy within the church must be taken seriously. They are not to be considered next to Paul, but against him. They claim to be apostles, which is not true. They are false teachers. Just as Satan tries to come as an angel of light, so they come as false ministers; but God will judge them, (vss. 13-15).
e. Paul declares his good standing with the Jews. He is a Hebrew (emphasizing the national distinction of God’s people), and an Israelite (one in the Kingdom of God), and also of the seed of Abraham (in the covenant line). In all three areas, Paul excelled, (vs. 22).
f. The record of Paul’s suffering for the sake of Christ’s gospel established his sincerity as an apostle. First, he labored harder than any other and was blessed in it, (vs. 23). Second, he was willing to bear stripes. According to verse 24 he was beaten five times by Jews (39 stripes with a leather thong, since the law forbade 40 stripes, Deut. 25:3). In addition he was beaten with rods three times by the Romans, as happened in Philippi. Most of these incidents are not recorded in the Bible. It gives additional information about Paul’s life. He speaks of imprisonment more frequently and death oft — that is, his life was so endangered that he was ready to die almost every day, (see vs. 23). He was shipwrecked three times so that once he even spent a night and day in the water, hanging on to a piece of wreckage. Since this was written prior to his trip to Rome, that shipwreck was in addition to the three mentioned here. He faced the general hazards of travel, water (crossing rivers), robbers, especially in desert regions, mob uprisings by the Jews (his countrymen) and by the heathen Gentiles as well. He had danger in cities and deserts. Worst of all was the treatment he received from false brethren, those who pretended to be followers of the Lord, but turned against him, (vss. 25, 26). He even made specific reference to his escape from Damascus when Aretas was ruler, (vss. 32, 33). All this produced weariness and pain, hunger and fasting (not deliberately for spiritual reasons, but due to lack of food), cold and nakedness, (vs. 27). We read this and we shame our faces for complaining to God for the little we suffer for the sake of Christ. Paul was a missionary who knew all the trials firsthand. In addition he carried the responsibility of all the churches; everyone sought his help. He did not turn away, he suffered with the weak and admonished those who did wrong, (vs. 29). We can understand Paul’s boasting. It is not in himself; God called him to endure and he did by God’s grace. Hence God receives the praise, (vss. 30, 31).
5. If there is any doubt as to Paul’s qualification as an apostle, he adds two more important points, namely, he received a vision from God and he personally triumphed over his own infirmity.
a. Paul’s vision from God (chapter 12:1-6). This is not a reference to his conversion experience (14 years ago would not coincide). It was a special revelation from God to Paul in such a way that Paul did not know if he was bodily taken up to heaven or if it only involved his inner soul. He did realize he was taken up to the “third heaven,” synonymous with Paradise in verse 4, representing the presence of God, see Luke 23:43 andRev. 2:7. The first heaven was made up of clouds, the second heaven was the stars and space, the third heaven was the abode of God. In this vision, God revealed to Paul divine secrets which he was forbidden to tell. Undoubtedly Paul served in a special capacity and needed special assurance of glory which God gave to him. We have the Bible and can receive this assurance from Paul as coming from God. We join Paul in giving glory to God for His faithfulness.
b. God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh to humble him and teach him to depend upon God for all things (vss. 7-10). It is good to learn with Paul the pitfall of boasting. The thorn served him well. It refers to some physical affliction that Paul had. Some suggest it was a deformity in bodily appearance; others suggest it was a speech impediment. It does little good to speculate. One thing is true, Paul felt he could be a better missionary without it, so he prayed God to remove it. He saw in it an attempt of satan to tempt him. He prayed three times, following the example of Jesus in the garden. Yet, the answer came, he would have to bear it, but God’s grace would enable him. In this he could well glory, arise above it and see a good purpose of God in it. It taught him to depend entirely upon God and not to trust in self. How wonderful it is when we can learn to glory in our affliction. The grace of God makes all the difference.
6. Paul’s concluding assurance of his calling as an apostle and that he seeks the good of the Corinthian church, (chapter 12:11-13:14). He points out to the Corinthians that as far as his work is concerned, all the proof of his apostleship is connected with his work: he patiently preached, he did signs and wonders (vss. 11,12). As a church they responded well, only they needed parental attention (vss. 13, 14). This was given them also through Titus, not with guile and deceit as charged, but unto edifying, (vss. 15-l 9). In this way Paul wanted to prevent the need for further correction which might result in open conflict. He would rather see them live a life of obedience, (vss. 20, 21).
They must realize that even though he comes this third time, he will not come, in weakness, he will not spare them if they sin, he will establish right with witnesses, and by doing this remove evil through confession and maintain truth and right, (chapter 13:1-2). Self denial is not weakness. It follows the example of Christ, Who gave Himself to the cross. One who believes in Christ will follow Christ. A reprobate will glory in himself. Paul maintains he is willing to be considered, weak for their strength. Edification is the key word here (vss. 3-10). This section is a beautiful expression of one who truly seeks the welfare of the church even though it means self-denial.
Paul bids farewell by exhorting them to be perfect, united, strong in the Lord in love and peace. This should be expressed by greeting one another with the holy kiss. In such confidence he pronounces upon them the trinitarian blessing from God, Christ and the Holy Spirit, (vss. 11-14).
SUGGEST THOUGHT QUESTIONS
1. What can we learn from Paul as to how to deal with sufferings for the sake of the gospel? Why not give up? Wherein lies the strength to carry on?
2. Summarize the method Paul used in dealing with the corruption in the Corinthian church. And how can we use it today?
3. Consider the different ways that the hope of life after death encouraged Paul to carry on his ministry. Why is this so? How is it true for us today?
4. Evaluate the instruction given on Christian giving. What are the main points? Consider how they relate to our method of giving. Can they be harmonized with church budgets, free will offerings, fund drives, sales, and bazaars, etc.
5. Paul received a vision from God to strengthen him in his ministry. Does God still give such visions today? Give reason.
6. Why is it so important that Paul stressed he was an “ambassador of Christ.” Consider its significance over against the attacks he was withstanding and also his willingness to defend his ministry and not give up.
7. How did Paul’s thorn in the flesh help him rather than hinder him as an apostle? Draw similar comparisons with your own particular sufferings and limitations.