Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 11

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Verses 1-33

A Plea for Simplicity

2 Corinthians 11:3

There are some words that have a tragic history. To the hearing ear and to the understanding heart they whisper strange secrets about human progress. Now one of the words that has a pitiful history is that word simple. It has wandered far from the simplicity of Christ. It has so changed its dress, and lost its early character, that we are almost ashamed to keep it company.

I. If we have ever studied history at all, we must have been struck with a certain sweet simplicity about the characters of the very greatest men. There is something of the child about the greatest; a certain freshness, a kind of sweet unconsciousness; a happy taking of themselves on trust; a sort of play-element throughout the drama. And all the time, powerfully, perhaps silently, they were swaying and steering this poor tossed world. Did you never feel that simplicity in Martin Luther? And did it never arrest you in George Washington? It is that simple element that has charmed the world. And I cannot think of any better witness to the abiding charm of true simplicity than the way in which vice has always tried to imitate it.

II. Now the most casual student of the life of Jesus must have noted the simplicity of Christ. (1) Think of His mode of life: was it not simple? It puts our artificial lives to shame. There is a music in it, not like the music of the orchestra, but like the music of the brook under the trees. (2) Think of His teaching: was not that simple too? It puts our sermons and our books to shame. Some cynic once said a very bitter thing about the style of Gibbon the historian. He said that the style of Gibbon was a style in which it was impossible to tell the truth. With the deepest reverence for our ascended Lord, I should venture to say just the opposite of Him the style of Jesus the Teacher was a style in which it was impossible to tell a lie. It was so clear, so pure, so exquisitely truthful. (3) But the simplicity of Christ comes to its crown in the feast of the Lord's Supper. A cup of wine and a piece of broken bread these are the seals and symbols of the Gospel. The cross is, as the greatest only are, in its simplicity sublime. I want you all then to feel again, still more I want you all to practise, the true simplicity that is in Jesus Christ.

G. H. Morrison, Sunrise: Addresses from a City Pulpit, p. 124.

References. XI. 3. Newman Smyth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 120. A. Maclaren, The Wearied Christ, p. 148. F. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 99. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 393. XI. 4. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 116; ibid. vol. vii. p. 107; ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p. 30; ibid. vol. viii. p. 76. XI. 5. Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 303. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 454. XI. 5, 13. Ibid. vol. viii. p. 73. XI. 7. G. W. Brameld, Practical Sermons (2nd Series), p. 163. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 298; ibid. (5th Series), vol. x. p. 196. XI. 9. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 424. XI. 10. Ibid. vol. viii. p. 31. XI. 12. Ibid. vol. i. p. 395.

The Transformation of Evil

2 Corinthians 11:14

If the evil that assails us were as frightful in its aspect as it is in its essence, we should run little danger from its assaults; but too often it besets us in fair forms and in dazzling colours, and herein lies our peril. We now propose to distinguish several ways in which this transfiguration of evil is effected, and to indicate the path of safety amid these dangerous illusions.

I. The transfiguration of evil. (1) Evil is transfigured by imagination. Imagination is ever active in many ways and in many places, lending to evil things a fictitious splendour. Bates found on the Amazon a brilliant spider that spread itself out as a flower, and the insects lighting upon it seeking sweetness, found horrors, torment, death. Such transformations are common in human life; things of poison and blood are everywhere displaying themselves in forms of innocence, in dyes of beauty. (2) Evil is transformed by philosophy. (a) In matters of faith and worship we may be misled by philosophy, (b) In matters of conduct we may be misled by philosophy. (3) Evil is transfigured by society. Through ages society has gained an exquisite skill in enjoying the pleasures of sin whilst still stripping that sin of its grossness. Pride, lust, selfishness, indolence, gluttony, dishonesty, abound in the social circle, but the revolting features of these vices are lost under the paint and powder of fashion, the blandishments of taste, the lustre of gold, the affectations of courtesy, philanthropy, and piety.

II. We indicate the path of safety amid these dangerous illusions. (1) Let us not forget that the chief danger of life lies in this moral illusion. We need ever to be on the watch, seeing that Satan conceals his fell purposes under fair pretences, as the Greek assassins concealed their swords in myrtle branches. (2) Let us be sincere in soul. The single-hearted are clear-eyed, and without blindness, presumption, confusion, haste, they find and keep the pathway of life. (3) Let us respect the written law. The Bible is a wonderful book for destroying the glamour of sin, for exposing its sophistries and lies. Revelation makes palpable the sophistry of sin. Revelation makes palpable the horror of sin. Revelation makes palpable the fruits of sin. (4) Let us constantly behold the vision of God. And we are speaking of no abstract, mystical thing when we speak of the vision of God. We see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and to Jesus Christ must we bring whatever thing or theory may solicit us. In His light we shall know exactly what is true in riches, liberty, greatness, honour, pleasure. Oh, how the false and rotten shrivel in His presence! What a penetrating glance He has! What a revealing touch! What a convicting word! The eye that looks on Him cannot be deceived.

W. L. Watkinson, The Transfigured Sackcloth, p. 67.

References. XI 14. C. D. Bell, The Power of God, p. 227. W. H. Evans, Short Sermons for the Seasons, p. 91. XI. 15. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. pp. 20, 35; ibid. vol. ii. pp. 66, 67, 382. XI. 20. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. x. p. 149. XI. 22, 23. J. Parker, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 131. XI. 23. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 15. XI. 23-27. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 205. 2 Corinthians 11:24-28

Raymond Lull thus reviewed his life: 'Once I was rich; I had a wife and children; I led a worldly life. All these I cheerfully resigned for the sake of promoting the common good and diffusing abroad the holy faith. I learned Arabic; I have gone abroad several times to preach the Gospel to the Saracens; I have, for the sake of the faith, been cast into prison; I have been scourged; I have laboured during forty-five years to win over the shepherds of the Church and the princes of Europe to the common good of Christendom. Now I am old and poor, but I am still intent on the same object, and I will persevere with it until death, if the Lord permit.'

References. XI. 25. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 324; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 41. XI. 26. G. G. Bradley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 1. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 76.

2 Corinthians 11:29

Cardinal Vaughan was only twenty-one when he wrote: 'Unless a priest's heart overflow how can he attend to any other's heart? Unless he be all on fire, how can he inflame the hearts of men? I fear that I am too much wrapped up in myself I am not sufficiently "all to all". I cannot with sincerity exclaim, "Who is weak and I am not weak? Who is scandalised and I am not on fire?..." I do indeed feel these words they go through me, they set me on fire. But when the moment, the cold, un-sought-for moment comes for throwing myself into the weakness of others, for sympathising with them, for going with them, in a word, for assimilating myself to them I do not, I cannot, do it. I am closed up in myself. I am simply Herbert Vaughan. O my sweetest Jesus, I have lost all patience with myself. When shall I put off the old man and clothe myself with the new? When shall I think and act with St Paul?'

The Educative Power of Weakness

2 Corinthians 11:30

I. Why does St. Paul Glory in the Things that Belong to his Weakness? Not, I imagine, in themselves. But he gloried in his weakness, surely, because of the use, when it came to him in its different forms, he put it to. It is because all these things poverty, distress, failure, sickness throw the soul back upon God; they all demand and cry out for faith in God.

II. There are two Ways in which to Bear Trial and Weakness. (1) The one is to let them drive us into ourselves, to dwell on our own sufferings, our own sorrows, the things that we have lost and the shadows that close slowly round us. That is the way to increase unhappiness, not to lighten it. (2) The one way to find happiness, however much you suffer, is always to look out for the good points in other people, always to think the best of them; for after all, if you are honest, you know the worst about yourself. That, indeed, is the second way in which we may bear trial and weakness, the way which St Paul knew when he said that he was 'sorrowing, yet always rejoicing,' that if he gloried, it was his weakness which gave him the cause.

III. There is a Wonderful Power that conies with Weakness and Loss. Your time of weakness may bring you to see clearly what is real goodness, real work, real duty. Only let your true desires be set on character, duty, goodness, and God will bring you to them through the weak things that are temporal to the things of power that are eternal. That is the lesson of the cross.

W. H. Hutton, Church Family Newspaper, vol. XIII. p. 922.

References. XI. 30. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. i. p. 96. XI. 31. J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. i. p. 150. XI. 32. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 118. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 231. XI. 32, 33. Ibid. vol. vii. p. 126. XII. 1-5. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 232. XII. 2. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. v. p. 115. XII. 2-4. W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 13. Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 268; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 387. XII. 2-6. Ibid. vol. iii. p. 340.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.