Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 11

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Verses 1-4

Simplicity and Purity to Christ

Paul continues to unmask the false apostles who spread lies about him. May be you are thinking now whether it is necessary that we know so much detail about Paul’s defense. Yes, this knowledge of his defense is very important for our times. Indeed there are still people today who argue that we do not need to attach authority to what Paul wrote. They also assert quietly that Paul at certain instances was totally wrong and did not keep himself abreast of the times. The people who maintain this position present themselves as people who know the Bible well. This includes even theologians.

But criticism of Paul ultimately is criticism of God Himself Who gave the order to Paul to write. So it is good that you get to grips with all his arguments and by doing so you will not get upset when you meet people who have something to find fault with Paul.

The way the apostle speaks to the Corinthians makes it clear how heavily they were influenced by the false apostles. Paul felt compelled to compare his words and deeds with those of the false apostles who were so promising to the Corinthians. These comparisons must open the eyes of the Corinthians to the duplicity of the false apostles who professed to have come with a message from God.

2 Corinthians 11:1. He first asks if they are willing to endure a little folly from him, for it is foolish to talk about oneself. At the end of the previous chapter he said that it was important that God recommended someone instead of one recommending himself. But note well that what he does happens out of necessity. He pleads to bear with him, for he must say a few things which may not be pleasant.

2 Corinthians 11:2. He does so because he is “jealous”. The word jealousy is used in the good sense here. Normally one thinks jealousy is something wrong and something negative. When your friend has something which you do not have, you can easily feel a sense of jealousy rising in you. With Paul it is about a jealousy which God also has. There can be nothing wrong in it; it is a jealousy that has to do with love.

Through his ministry Paul had related the believers in Corinth with Christ. He compares this to an engagement. When young people get engaged a connection which goes far beyond friendship is established. You can have many friends but only one fiancé or fiancée. Certainly the person whom you are engaged to would relate only to you. None of you will have a similar connection with anybody else and if it happened, then that would strain the relationship and things would be very difficult for both concerned. Then the partners will be jealous also. You want the love of your engaged partner wholly for yourself and you are right. This is God’s jealousy which Paul expressed, because the Corinthians had turned away from the Christ Whom Paul had preached and instead listened to what the dissemblers preached.

He compares the Corinthians to “a pure virgin” and this applies to the whole church. A pure virgin has had no marital relationship with a man. If the church forgets her relationship with Christ and connects with the world then that causes great grief to the Lord Jesus.

2 Corinthians 11:3. Paul fears that the church is becoming less and less aware that her love must be directed only to the Lord Jesus, her Bridegroom. The reason is that the church, like Eve, fails to discover the cunningness of satan. You find this illustration Paul cites in Genesis 3. In paradise the serpent came to Eve. The serpent is the devil (Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2). He was very clever in approaching Eve. He does not approach with a coarse lie. No, first he quotes something that God had said. But watch out. He twisted the words of God (cf. Genesis 3:1 and Genesis 2:16).

This is the first mark of the devil. He always quotes from the Word of God in a way that raises doubts. Then he says bluntly that God doesn’t make true what He has said (cp. Genesis 3:4 and Genesis 2:17). Finally he replaces God’s Word with his own lies (Genesis 3:5).

The allurement of this lie is underscored by what Eve sees when she looks at the tree of knowledge of good and evil. She concludes how gorgeous it looks. It is exactly as the serpent said! Can he be wrong then? When it came this far evil was already born. Eve had already forgotten what God had said and her thoughts were tainted by what the serpent said. What should she have done? She should have stuck to what God had said.

But is it any better in the church? Did the church always consult the Word of God when something had to be done or is she misled by rhetoric? I am afraid of the latter. The church has departed from the simplicity and purity to Christ. Her thoughts didn’t remain fixed on Christ alone. Simplicity means that there is only one object on which you are focused.

Purity is abandoned and the church is defiled through its dealings with the world. The church has begun to think and act more and more like the world. The church has begun to be like a commercial enterprise that is governed in the ways of the world. What do you think of the World Council of Churches that has mixed up with all sorts of political issues, sometimes even providing funds for arms purchases? It goes so bad when thoughts are corrupted and Christ is no longer the only object in the heart of the believers.

2 Corinthians 11:4. As for the Corinthians they fell in danger even to the extent of rejecting Paul because he seemed not to be a genuine apostle. What he told them perhaps was too simple and too radical. Do you have to live out and out for Christ only? Is Christ to have the full authority over their lives? The teachers who came after Paul had views that were easier to accept. The other Jesus they preached was better to them. That Jesus was not a demanding one like the One Paul preached. Thus what the Lord Jesus did to them was pushed behind the door.

This “different spirit”, the spirit which these teachers brought to them, they easily accepted because it left them some more room for their own thoughts. The Holy Spirit they received did not give room for this. The Holy Spirit Who would guide them into all truth (John 16:13) was pushed to the background. A “different gospel”, a comfortable gospel that called for no radical conversion, not a thorough self-judgment, was easier to accept than what they heard and accepted from Paul. Paul indeed exposed the utter bankruptcy of man. But wasn’t there still something good in man?

Such arguments as these were accepted by the Corinthians. They proved how much they had opened themselves to the corrupting influences of the false apostles and how those influences had worked in them. Take the lessons to your heart. Keep yourself focused on what God has said in His Word and let your eyes be focused on the Lord Jesus alone.

Now read 2 Corinthians 11:1-4 again.

Reflection: What is the best thing you can do to prevent the serpent from leading you astray?

Verses 5-15

Paul and the False Apostles

2 Corinthians 11:5. Paul was blamed of all sorts of evil. All kinds of nasty gossip about him did the rounds. The false apostles brought bad stories into circulation and they were also well received by the Corinthians. Since their entire Christian life was at stake Paul started his defense. Paul could not let the Corinthians fall prey to the swindlers, for he loved them too much. Therefore he feels compelled to speak about himself and to show the Corinthians the difference between the way he worked among them and the way those abusers lived among them. You realize the irony when he says in 2 Corinthians 11:5 that he can very well measure up to those ‘super’ apostles.

2 Corinthians 11:6. Did they say of him that he was not fluent in his exposition? It could have been true although he does not dispute it. But what he possessed was “knowledge” and that they could not dispute but admit. Had he not told them? In his first letter he wrote to them that they had been made rich in Christ, in whom they possessed all knowledge (1 Corinthians 1:5). How did they reach that standard in their knowledge? Was he not the means for this? They did not owe it to the intruders who wanted to come in between them and him.

2 Corinthians 11:7. There was another difference between him and those fake apostles. He never accepted even a penny as support from the Corinthians while those others did. His way of expressing this should have touched their hearts. It looks as if they considered it a sin that he kept himself independent of them. His so called sin was that he refused to accept any money from them.

He lets them know that in this way he purposely kept himself humble so that they could be exalted. He preached to them free of cost and now they cannot say that he went to them with the intention to earn something. He had in his mind only their wellbeing namely that they would be set free from sin and be brought to the heart of God.

The false apostles found in his selflessness a new argument to slander him. They said that every servant who had self-respect must take money from the church which he served. That Paul accepted no money from them proved that there was something wrong with him. There was certainly something wrong but that was not in Paul but in the Corinthians themselves. If he had taken money they would have had another reason to boast. They could have shown to others how good they were that it was they who helped him do his work. This is what Paul did not want. His concern was that God alone must be glorified.

2 Corinthians 11:8. He accepted money from other churches but these churches, unlike the Corinthians, were spiritually mature. He accepted from them because he was sure of their good motives for their giving. They financially supported the Lord’s work and did not brag about their generosity. These churches gave but they did not lay any claim on Paul. You understand that giving is not only an act but an attitude.

2 Corinthians 11:9. However, here the subject is not primarily about the giver but the receiver. Paul was not someone who took things at face value. During his stay with the Corinthians he had some needs but he never mentioned that to them. This is something that you need to learn from Paul. Supposing you are short on cash, do not try to tell it to others. Tell it to the Lord and He will provide. “For your heavenly Father knows that you need of all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:32-Micah :).

Quite a lot of begging letters are sent from Christian missions or about Christian works. It’s difficult for me to call such letters ‘ornaments of faith’. Such workers are not bothered from where or from whom they receive the money. As for Paul he didn’t work that way.

The wealthy believers among the Corinthians must have been shocked to hear that Paul had suffered need during his stay with them. I imagine that their faces blushed when they read that it was the poor Macedonian believers who supplied his needs. Anyway Paul had deliberately avoided financial support from the Corinthians and would not accept even an interim relief.

2 Corinthians 11:10. He emphasizes his stand in this matter in strong terms saying: “The truth of Christ is in me.” He knew what he said and what he did. He was not easily brought to another way of acting. First he was waiting for a tangible change in the Corinthians. For him the proclamation of Christ was the focal point. Everything was subject to that. If he accepted money from the Corinthians then the danger would be that “this boasting” – that is the proclamation of Christ and nothing else – of him would have stopped.

2 Corinthians 11:11-2 Kings : That again could be misinterpreted. They could say that they in fact were keen to give something but Paul did not allow them; why – because he did not love them? However he does not dispute that here. A skeptic cannot be convinced of the truth. Paul says that God is the Witness of his love towards them. Incessantly he will yield to his beloved children in the faith and refute every argument of the deceivers. These deceivers will be revealed as false apostles, as he is revealed as a true apostle.

2 Corinthians 11:13-2 Chronicles :. And then he says straight away what kind of people they were who wormed their way into the Corinthian church. They were servants of satan. In appearance they were apostles of Christ but in reality satan was their lord. They could speak beautifully with their sugar-coated tongues, but their words were full of deadly poison. This exactly is what satan does. He presents himself as “an angel of light”, but he leads you into darkness.

In the world countless number of young people walk after him with their blind eyes wide open. He promises them a brilliant experience, but he leads them in the way of death. It is not different in Christian territory. He knows how to twist things so that you would be fooled to believe what you deal with Christian matter, though in reality it is something antichristian. Don’t be fooled.

There is a good way to escape his cunningness, and that is by engaging yourself with Christ and with God’s Word. Fake is determined by comparing it with what is genuine. Those who deal with currency notes easily find out the fake currency by their profound study of the genuine. They need not study and compare all kinds of fake currencies, for they are many and different. Banknote forgers always try other ways. This is a good comparison to discover whether what is coming to you is counterfeit or genuine. That is what Paul does here. He shows what a true apostle does. This we will see in a clear way when he speaks about his suffering as an apostle.

2 Corinthians 11:15. What satan does is also evident in his servants. You need not wonder about that. They pose as champions of righteousness but pull you from the true goal of life. The true goal is to glorify Christ in all areas of your life.

People who conscientiously strive to hinder this goal will have an end in accordance with their work. After they have carried out the work of satan to its completion they will share their end result with satan and follow him into hell.

Now read 2 Corinthians 11:5-15 again.

Reflection: What do you learn from Paul’s attitude to false accusations?

Verses 16-23

Paul, a Fool and Speaking Foolishly

2 Corinthians 11:16. The apostle had to say that he was constrained to talk about himself again and again. His heart was full of Christ and he only wanted to talk about Him. But since his apostleship has come under attack now and thus indirectly his Patron and the gospel which he preached to the Corinthians and by which they came to the faith, he now had to defend his apostleship. He loved Christ and the believers in Corinth so much that he could not bear to see the servants of satan do their pernicious work among them.

They should not think that he was a fool. If they thought so then let them take him for granted. He wanted to boast a little and list off just a few things which showed them the kind of servant that he was. Again: he did it reluctantly.

2 Corinthians 11:17-Psalms :. He knew full well that the Lord would not like such kind of boasting. But he also knew that the Lord considered that he did it for their sake. It is like a recalcitrant child which needed a rebuke. It is not a pleasure to do it but it is necessary.

The Corinthians bore well with every kind of foolish people like the false apostles who boasted about anything and everything. They considered themselves wise and thought that they could judge what these people brought. Well, if they were really wise they would also be able to judge what he as the true apostle had to say.

2 Corinthians 11:20. Paul lists off all that they put up with from the false apostles. They allowed them to “enslave” them. They had let themselves be taken captive by these fraudsters in their thoughts, probably because they again preached the law as a rule of life. This was in contrast to the liberty in Christ that Paul had preached to them and by which he had bound them to Christ and not to himself.

They would even put up with anyone who ‘devoured’ and ‘took advantage’ of them. The false apostles had demanded that the Corinthians must contribute towards their livelihood. They had gained entry into the houses and once they gained the acceptance of the inmates they took money from them. This is in contrast to the attitude of Paul who never wanted to accept any money from them.

Those people placed themselves above the Corinthians and assumed a glamorous status. The Corinthians had to listen to what they had to say. This is in contrast to the humble attitude that characterized Paul when he was with them. Probably those people did not spare them even from physical violence. It seems the term “hits you in the face” at least means that. It can also mean that they used a hurting and mocking language to humiliate the Corinthians. This is in contrast to the loving attitude of Paul who spoke of himself as a father and dealt with them so (1 Corinthians 4:15).

2 Corinthians 11:21. ‘I know well’, says the Apostle, ‘that my behavior brings “shame” on me and that I’ve been too “weak” in the way I handled.’ But he considered it a privilege, for that was the way he wanted to serve them.

It is strange that believers can accept a lot from false teachers and how little they can accept from the real servants of God! It seems that believers quickly want to hold fast to things which are wrong. When falsehood is exposed they are not grateful for it. There are still others who let your conscience remain undisturbed. They ask a lot and persuade you to consider it as payment for their services. The believers in turn persuade themselves to believe that they have fulfilled their obligations and therefore they are free to live their life according as they like to. Please note that he is talking about believers and not about unbelievers. This must speak to you and me.

The characteristics of the false apostles Paul presents here to the Corinthians are found in the many cult leaders who are found in the Christian field today. Cult leaders are often leaders with charisma who have the answers for all things from the Bible. They are present in any community of believers regardless of denomination. From the Bible they take up any particular truth and mix it up with error so cleverly that error is made attractive and therefore the more deadly.

The reason why they get easy access to many believers is that the believers do not study the Bible themselves. Countless Christians have left the job to their leaders. This happens nearly in every faith community. This is a grievous evil through which the false servants can easily do their deadly work and lead many ignorant believers astray from the truth. Therefore the exhortation: Listen to what Paul says, for he tells the truth.

To underscore this Paul now tells his experiences in the service of his Lord. Against this the false apostles would have no answer. Before he begins he again expresses his aversion about telling these experiences. He uses the words “foolish” and “foolishness” to let the Corinthians feel how far they had gone away from the truth that he had to do that. The other side of the coin is that God uses the Corinthian situation to give you a glimpse of what this man went through during the course of his service for the Lord.

Did the false teachers venture to talk about themselves? Well, he also had the courage to do so although it is foolish and unwise to talk about oneself. He could compete with them!

2 Corinthians 11:22. Did they brag about their Jewish ancestry? He could also. (You can derive from this that these false apostles probably had a Jewish background. Note my comment on the expression “if anyone enslaves you” in 2 Corinthians 11:20.) With the term “Hebrews” he refers to a nation that remains separated from other peoples while going through this world. “Israelites” denotes a people belonging to God. “Descendants of Abraham” denotes a people to whom God has given the promises. These descriptions are used to identify his lineage and his background. In all these he did not lag behind others in anyway.

2 Corinthians 11:23. What follows now is an impressive example of his devotion in the service of Christ. It is no longer about the nice talks, but about what we are willing to do for the Lord. Did they dare to call themselves “servants of Christ”? He will report about his service for Christ. Then they must come to the conviction that in this service he was head and shoulders above those other ones.

He felt like “insane”, he felt a great reluctance to speak like this, but he had no other alternative. The Corinthians had to be convinced that the people who had infiltrated them were not the true ministers of Christ.

Their relationship with Paul was at stake and thereby their relationship with Christ. When they said ‘good bye’ to Paul and swapped him with the false apostles they also did the same with Christ Whom he preached to them. He had to speak this way for the sake of Christ’s honor and for the sake of the certainty of the faith of the Corinthians.

Paul launches out. He presents an impressive list. Without any exaggeration he lists off all that he did, faced, and felt. It is not a success story or boasting. They are just sober facts about the life of a servant who put his heart and soul into the task that the Lord Jesus had given him.

If you thought that serving the Lord is a cake walk, then you will be disappointed. You can see here that it is associated with anxiety and resistance. This is not mentioned in this section of the Bible to discourage you but to show you how much a man who loves his Lord must endure. Several of the different experiences Paul mentions can be found in the book of Acts. The Lord is still the same and He wants to help you through all your sufferings for Him, although in most cases it will not be as hard as what Paul delineates here. In some cases, however, it will be so.

Let us take the first point: “In far more labors.” You can imitate this. Paul had a very special service and what he had been through, and what he accomplished, nobody else did, but still it remains true that you can also devote yourself fully to what the Lord wants you to do.

Then he talks about his circumstances. He often sat in jail. They were not luxury apartments which people call, at least in the western world, prison today. They were often dark dungeons, underground passages, swarming with vermin, damp and musty smelling. The treatment one received there was not polite. He had never landed there because he committed a crime; it was always as a result of the hatred of the Jews, because he had preached about Jesus in that particular place.

He was not spared from physical violence. He received a lot of punches. This was quite an experience beyond description. But he could not be crushed. He continued the work with renewed zeal and enthusiasm. It is remarkable that he never used the special power of the Spirit that was in him to save himself from any difficult situation; in this he faithfully imitated the Lord Jesus.

“In danger of death” means that the dangers of death were nothing unusual for him. This might sound simple but think how he might have felt when his life was at stake. It was not disease that was going to kill him but hostile people who were thirsting for his blood.

Now read 2 Corinthians 11:16-23 again.

Reflection: When should you speak for yourself and when should you not?

Verses 24-33

Paul’s Sufferings

2 Corinthians 11:24. The Jews had given him no less than five times “thirty nine [lashes]” (lit. “forty [stripes] minus one”). The law actually sanctioned forty blows (Deuteronomy 25:3). To be careful not to exceed the sanctioned number by a counting error they stopped with thirty-nine blows. Imagine the kind of experience this might have been. It was not a pleasant experience when it happened for the first time. But at each subsequent time he knew what awaited him.

2 Corinthians 11:25. Scourging by rods his back was torn open three times. ‘Only’ “once” he “was stoned”. Normally this happens only once; that is the reason why his enemies drew him out of the city supposing he had been dead (Acts 14:19).

Three times he was passenger on a ship that suffered shipwreck. He drifted on the sea for twenty-four hours before he was rescued.

2 Corinthians 11:26. He was constantly travelling to places to preach the gospel. Travelling those days was a dangerous thing. There were no modern road networks with bridges and tunnels as we see today. It was a real risk to cross fast flowing “rivers”.

Added to these were dangers from the side of men: of “robbers”, “countrymen” (Jews) and “the Gentiles” (heathens). The “city” offered no protection, nor did “the wilderness” and nor did “the sea”. Nowhere was he safe, nowhere had he a place of rest.

2 Corinthians 11:27. And if he thought he could take some free breathing space in the church, then there were the false brethren, pretending to be members of the church, but who in reality twisted the truth of God.

The great apostle was not called to a life of ease. His calling meant
1. back breaking work (“in labor and hardship”),
2. always watching out (“through many sleeplessness nights”),
3. very little to eat and to drink (“in hunger and thirst”),
4. many times to abstain voluntarily from food (“often without food” or “in fastings often”),
5. enduring freezing temperatures and have very little warm clothing (“in cold and exposure”).

That Paul did not act as a stoic in these hardships is evident from 2 Timothy 4 where he asks Timothy to bring him his cloak (2 Timothy 4:13). In my opinion he would not have requested for the cloak if he could warm himself up comfortably under the sun.

2 Corinthians 11:28. What probably pained him the most was his “daily pressure … [of] concern for all the churches”. You read that it was “on” him. Wherever he preached the gospel churches were established. That was a joyful matter, but it did not stop with that. It is important that the believers in these new churches grew in the grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and that they were not slack in knowing the mind of God for their life. The enemy, the devil, did (and does) everything, as is his wont, to bring things into believers’ life to make them backslide into acts which bring dishonor to the Lord’s Name. Paul was very concerned about this.

2 Corinthians 11:29. This list shows that when we deal with Paul we do not deal with him as with a ‘muscleman’ but as with someone very weak. No one can survive such hardships with one’s own strength. Is there anyone who underwent more hardships to prove that he supersedes Paul in his weakness? There is only One Who surpasses Paul in weakness and that is the Lord Jesus. “He was crucified because of weakness” (2 Corinthians 13:4).

The awful experiences of Paul would have served other people to fall and they would have given up following the Lord Jesus Christ. But Paul’s burning love for Christ kept him alive on his feet.

2 Corinthians 11:30. Does this magnify Paul? No, he rejects all honor for himself. If he boasts at all he boasts in his infirmities. Through all his experiences he felt the infirmities deeper and deeper.

2 Corinthians 11:31. He repelled all accusation of ambition or self-exaltation or selfishness with a powerful appeal to “the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever”. God knows that Paul is not lying and right through all the sufferings that came upon him Paul praises Him.

2 Corinthians 11:32-Micah :. Oh yes, there is something else which comes to his mind, and this makes him still weaker and smaller than what he was hitherto. Once he escaped from his enemies in a very humiliating and awkward way. How nice if it were such a miracle that his enemies were struck with blindness or got paralyzed or deceived or cleverly hoodwinked. No such thing.

Once when he was in a city under siege by his enemies who desired to arrest him, he was let down in a basket through a window in the wall. Can you imagine the great apostle hanging in a basket? That was not a great escape which impressed people nor did it create a sensation. Yes, this was the apostle Paul.

Now read 2 Corinthians 11:24-33 again.

Reflection: What are your weaknesses in the light of what Paul portrays here (it need not be the same as his).

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 2 Corinthians 11". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.