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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 11

Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentMahan's Commentary

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Verses 1-8

The simplicity that is in Christ

2 Corinthians 11:1-8

In this chapter Paul continues to expose the false teachers in the churches who sought to lessen his influence and who were preaching another gospel. He calls them false apostles, deceitful workers and ministers of Satan. In denouncing these false apostles, he feels it necessary to defend his apostleship and his ministry among the Corinthians and to call their attention to his dedication to the gospel of Christ and his own sufferings in the service of Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:1 . Matthew Henry wrote, ‘As much against the grain as it is with a proud man to acknowledge his infirmities, so much is it against the grain with a humble man to speak in his own praise.’ What Paul here calls ‘my folly’ is his effort to speak in his own defense and his own commendation. This is foolishness unless a man has a good reason. Paul knew that he had a good reason, which was to preserve these believers from being corrupted by false preachers who had crept in among them. He knew that he was the Lord's messenger to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16), and he knew the tragic results if these men were successful in discrediting him, so he begs them to bear with him as he speaks of himself and the ministry God has given him.

2 Corinthians 11:2 . Jealousy is a feeling within a person which demands exclusive loyalty and resents a rival or competitor for the affections or attention. Paul's jealousy toward the Corinthians was not so much on his account nor with a selfish motive, for he called it a ‘Godly jealousy.’ He was instrumental in bringing them to Christ, to believe on him and to be joined with him in union as a husband and wife are one (Ephesians 5:23-25). He desired to present them to Christ, and only to Christ, as a chaste virgin comes to her husband, single in their love to him, sincere and upright in their worship of him and faithful, not having their minds and hearts distracted in any way from him by these false teachers of law and self-righteousness (Galatians 6:12-14).

2 Corinthians 11:3 . This godly jealousy in Paul was a mixture of love and fear. He loved them, deeply desired their eternal good and feared lest they should be corrupted by these deceivers. Satan used the serpent to seduce Eve from her obedience to God (Genesis 3:1-6). He was crafty, skilful and deceptive, as are those men who do his bidding under the guise of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Believers are complete in Christ, who, of God, is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption. Satan's one goal is to corrupt the mind and turn the heart away from this singleness or simplicity of Christ. It matters not to him if it be law, morality, tradition, ceremony, or whatever (good or bad), just so as there is a rival for Christ's pre-eminence and his sufficiency. Christ plus anything in redemption is not the gospel of God's glory and grace (Colossians 2:9-10) but is another gospel (Galatians 1:6-7). The foundation of great Reformation was the Scriptures alone, grace alone and Christ alone. Nothing needs to, or should be added to these (Romans 5:1-2; 2 Corinthians 5:21). In Christ believers are perfectly justified and righteous before the Father.

2 Corinthians 11:4 . Some interpret this to mean that ‘If some particular preacher comes to you preaching another Jesus, another spirit, or another gospel which is more for the glory of God and the comfort of believers than the Christ, the Spirit, and the gospel which Paul preached, you might well follow and honour him.’ I cannot imagine Paul even supposing such a ridiculous thing, since there is one Lord, one Spirit and one gospel. But Paul was troubled became he knew that these false apostles were preaching another Jesus, another spirit and another gospel, which was a mixture of works and grace and of law and faith, and he was greatly concerned lest the people hear these men and be persuaded by them to turn from the simplicity of Christ (1 Timothy 2:5; Ephesians 4:4-6). How prone the flesh is to listen to the wrong voice and reject the true messenger? (John 5:43.)

2 Corinthians 11:5 . ‘You would do well to bear with me, for I am not one degree inferior to those who were apostles before me (2 Corinthians 12:11), such as Peter, James and John.’ This he says in answer to those who questioned his apostleship, since he was not with the original twelve (Galatians 1:17; Romans 11:13), and also to show how foolish the Corinthians were to prefer these false preachers before him.

2 Corinthians 11:6 . The apostle Paul was intelligent, highly educated, skilful and at home among kings or common people (Acts 22:3; Acts 26:24). However, he did not in his public ministry use philosophy, human wisdom, flowery words and oratory, but spoke in the plain, popular style of the common people to whom he ministered (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). Though I seem to some to be simple in my speech (2 Corinthians 10:10), yet I am well taught in the knowledge of Christ and his word’ (Galatians 1:11-12). Too often flowery words and sermons are used to cover a deficiency in the knowledge of Christ. Even our blessed Lord spoke to the people in parables, stories and illustrations which they understood in their heads, if not in their hearts. ‘God has been pleased to own my ministry among you,’ he declared, ‘and clearly reveal to you, by your own conversion and growth in grace, that he sent me, and my gospel is his gospel.’

2 Corinthians 11:7-8 . It seems that some in this church highly valued the false apostles, who compromised the gospel, flaunted themselves in pride and authority and made merchandise of the people, and they treated with contempt this true servant of Christ, who had freely and humbly preached the gospel to them. He asks, ‘Where did I offend you? Was it because I came to you in fear and trembling, without pride and arrogance, using a popular tongue suited to the common people, working with my own hands as a tent-maker, that I might not be a burden to you? Rather than being offended, you ought to be grateful. I took wages of other churches and accepted more than their share of my support to preach to you’ (1 Corinthians 9:13-15). What fools we are to judge things spiritual by outward appearance and claims of men! (2 Corinthians 10:7; 2 Corinthians 10:18.)

Verses 9-21

Speaking in defense of the ministry of God's servant

2 Corinthians 11:9-21

2 Corinthians 11:9 . There are always those who are eager to charge the ministry or churches with covetousness, greed and ‘being in religion for what they can get out of it materially.’ When Paul ministered in Corinth for nearly two years, he deliberately took nothing from them in order to dispel any doubts concerning his one objective to preach the gospel for the glory of God and the salvation of sinners. He made tents for a living (Acts 18:1-3) and received help from the brethren in Macedonia. He had never been a burden to them and resolved never to be.

2 Corinthians 11:10-12 . Mature ‘believers are taught by the Spirit and the word of God that those who study, preach and labour in the gospel are to live by the gospel and are to be supported comfortably by those to whom they minister’ (1 Corinthians 9:11-14; Galatians 6:6). Paul was determined to take nothing from the Corinthians, but to labour at his own expense, as he did in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:5-9). He informed them of the reason for this conduct and the reason why he boasted openly of the fact that he preached without change to them. It was not because he did not love them, nor was unwilling to receive tokens of their love and friendship, but it was to avoid giving his enemies occasion to accuse him of preaching to enrich himself. This put the false apostles, whether rich or poor, on the spot. They claimed to be equal or superior to Paul, so, in the light of his willingness to be abased or to abound, to labour with his hands and to take nothing from men, let us see if they will work on the same terms that Paul worked - only for the glory of God and the eternal good of men.

2 Corinthians 11:13 . Unfortunately, there have always been and are now many ‘false apostles’ (Matthew 7:15-16; 2 Peter 2:0:l-3; 1 John 4:1), who pretend to be sent of God, but are not. They are ‘deceitful workers,’ who not only lie about their call and serve themselves and not Christ, but they handle the word of God deceitfully (2 Corinthians 4:2). They never were apostles of Christ; they only pretend to be.

2 Corinthians 11:14 . This is no marvel nor strange thing; for Satan himself, in order to deceive men, appears as a messenger of light, truth and righteousness. Pretending friendship, he designs ruin; under a cloak of religion and morality, he promotes evil; under a show of partial truth, he introduces great error, idolatry and superstition. Too many people look for Satan only in bars, nightclubs and dens of open evil. This is more of his deception. He does his most effective work in the pulpit, in religion, promoting self-righteousness, tradition and substituting any hope other than Christ's righteousness and effectual sin-offering, which is the sinner's only hope (Hebrews 10:14-18).

2 Corinthians 11:15 . Since Satan, in order to receive men, pretends to be what he is not, so those who are his ministers, who seek their own profit and not the glory of God or men's salvation, will pretend to be what they are not. They pretend to be ministers of righteousness, but if you examine carefully, you will find that the righteousness they preach is not the righteousness of Christ but the righteousness of law, human works and deeds of religion (Matthew 5:20; Romans 3:19-23; Romans 10:0:l-4). Their end will correspond with their deeds, or their reward at last will be according to their works.

2 Corinthians 11:16-17 . Referring back to what he said in 2 Corinthians 11:1, Paul expresses the hope that no man would think him to be unwise and guilty of foolishness in commending himself and his ministry to them and vindicating himself against the false apostles. If they did not think him to be a fool, then he asked them to bear with him in this folly; for he felt it necessary for the sake of the gospel and for the good of the church not to allow these insinuations against him to go unchallenged. He did not have a special command of God to defend or commend himself. God's servants are taught to be humble and to commit their ways unto the Lord, but Paul felt that the glory of God and the best interests of the church would be served by his speaking plainly about his credentials, even if some thought it to be foolish boasting.

2 Corinthians 11:18 . It is a fact that most men glory with respect to things external, such as their birth and families, their riches and possessions, their beauty and strength, or their education and influence. The apostle says, ‘I will glory also, not in these things, but in the grace of God in me and the power and gifts of God upon me’ (Jeremiah 9:23-24; Philippians 3:4-9). Paul detested this sort of thing, for he kept saying, ‘I speak as a fool’ (2 Corinthians 11:21; 2 Corinthians 11:23), but he felt it necessary to call attention to his integrity in the word and put to silence these false preachers.

2 Corinthians 11:19-20 . ‘Notwithstanding all of your so-called wisdom’ (1 Corinthians 4:9-10) (the Corinthians prided themselves on both their natural and spiritual wisdom), ‘you gladly bear with these false preachers, these proud boasters who bring you again under the bondage of the law and works, who exploit you, who take your money and possessions, who proudly exalt themselves over you and who belittle you like a slap in the face’ (Galatians 2:4; Galatians 4:9). All of this was taken in good part by many so that they rejected Paul and came under the influence of these false preachers.

2 Corinthians 11:21 . Paul says, ‘I reply to the reproaches they bring against me, claiming that I am weak and contemptible, for indeed I am less than the least of all, the chief of sinners, but not in my doctrine or in the ministry I have among you, for where any man may be bold, I am bold! I speak foolishly as does anyone who speaks to his own praise, but I must tell you the truth that you may know God has sent me.’

Verses 22-33

If I must needs glory

2 Corinthians 11:22-33

For the glory of God, for the sake of the gospel, for the good of the church at Corinth and to expose the false prophets for what they were, Paul continues to vindicate himself and to defend his ministry and his message of justification by faith (Romans 3:28). They said that he was weak and contemptible, that his speech was rude and they urged the people to reject Paul and follow them. So Paul was forced to expose them (vs.12-15) and defend himself (vs.16-18).

2 Corinthians 11:22 . ‘Are they Hebrews? So am I.’ Evidently these false preachers were Jews who sought to bring into this Gentile church their traditions and impose on the Corinthians the ceremonies and requirements of the law (Colossians 2:16-17; Galatians 3:1-3; Galatians 5:1-6; Romans 10:4). They boasted that they should be heard because they were Hebrews, descendants from Jacob (Israelites) and sons of Abraham (John 8:33). Paul declared that his credentials in this regard matched theirs (Philippians 3:3-7).

2 Corinthians 11:23 . ‘Are they ministers of Christ?’ Paul might have denied that they were true ministers of Christ, since they did not preach Christ, they put down the true apostle to the Gentiles and they sought their own things, not the things of Christ nor the good of the church. This a minister sent by Christ would not do! But Paul chose not to do battle with them on this point (by pointing out their inconsistencies and errors) but rather to show in himself the spirit, sufferings, motives and dedication to Christ and the church which are characteristic of a genuine apostle and preacher. He regretted having to commend himself (‘I speak as a fool’), feeling that it would be misunderstood (2 Corinthians 11:16; Proverbs 27:1-2), but there was a reason for it - to stop the mouths of these vain boasters. He was more than a minister of the gospel; he was an apostle who labored more and suffered more then even the other eleven apostles. Therefore, he was far superior to these who found fault with him.

1. ‘In labors more abundant.’ He traveled more, preached and wrote more, established more churches and even worked with his own hands. He was a tireless evangelist.

2. ‘In stripes above measure.’ He suffered more for the gospel (being beaten, whipped and unmercifully afflicted) than any other.

3. ‘In prisons more frequent.’ Who spent more time in prison for the sake of the gospel than Paul? Certainly not these false apostles!

4. ‘In deaths oft.’ He was always in danger of death. The afflictions, evils and dangers to which he was constantly exposed threatened death (2 Corinthians 1:8-10).

2 Corinthians 11:24-27 . In proof of his love for Christ, his dedication to the gospel of God's glory and grace and the fact that God had counted him faithful in the ministry of the word, the apostle reveals some of the things he had suffered for the testimony of God. Paul was the apostle of the Gentiles and for that reason was hated of the Jews and among the Gentiles he also met with great persecution. Five times he was whipped by the Jews (Deuteronomy 25:1-3); three times he was beaten with rods (Acts 16:19-23); once he was stoned (Acts 14:19); three times he suffered shipwreck (we read of only one - Acts 27:18-44). ‘A night and a day I have been in the deep’ may refer (as some say) to a dungeon, but most likely it refers to being adrift on the sea after a shipwreck. If he journeyed by land or by sea, he was always in danger, for it seemed that everyone wanted to silence his voice. Satan used every means, from bandits to false brethren in the church, to add to the toil and hardship of Paul. He suffered hunger, thirst, cold, exposure and lack of clothing. When we are tempted to complain of our lot in life, it would do well for us to review these verses and consider how little we have suffered for what we believe (Hebrews 12:4).

2 Corinthians 11:28 . Besides those afflictions and trials which were brought upon his flesh and body (his outward man) by people who had no relation to Christ or to the church (1 Corinthians 5:12-13), the apostle was burdened in heart and mind with the care of all the churches. He was not an ordinary pastor with the responsibility of preaching to and overseeing one church, but he was the Lord's apostle in these earliest days of the conversion of pagan Gentiles, who had to be taught the ways of Christ, and the conversion of traditional, legalistic Jews, who had to be taught that Christ was the fulfillment and the end of the Mosaic law. Not having the completed New Testament as their rule and guide, all of these early churches looked to Paul and the inspired apostles for guidance, instruction and correction.

2 Corinthians 11:29 . ‘Who is weak that I do not feel his weakness?’ There was not a weak believer struggling with problems of foods, days, inner conflicts, or temptation, with whom Paul did not sympathize (Romans 12:15). There was not an offended believer, hurt and wounded by what he did or said or by the words and actions of someone else, that did not cause Paul pain and grief until the cause of the offence was removed. This oneness with, and compassion and sympathy for, members of the body of Christ are not only the minister's responsibility, but should be the feeling of all believers (1 Corinthians 12:25-26).

2 Corinthians 11:30-31 . What Paul says in those verses is that if he must commend himself and if it becomes necessary for him to prove his apostleship and the integrity of his ministry, he will do so, not by pointing to his unusual gifts, such as the different languages he spoke, miracles he had performed, churches he had established, or the great numbers of people who had been saved by his gospel, but he chose to glory in the things he had suffered for his faithfulness to the gospel and to glory in his genuine love and concern for the people of God. He calls on God as his witness that he speaks the truth (Romans 1:9; Romans 9:1-3).

2 Corinthians 11:32-33 . He mentions one incident in the past in which he was in great danger, but God delivered him. This was his first great difficulty and the rest of his life was more of the same (Acts 9:21-25).

Bibliographical Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11". Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hms/2-corinthians-11.html. 2013.
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