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2 Corinthians 11:1.—Small change of rendering, “a bit of foolishness,” because of small variation of reading. “For, on my own principle (2 Corinthians 10:18), it is foolishness.” To appreciate how “foolish” such talking about himself is, look at the (eight) occurrences of the word (or its cognates) here, and in Romans 2:20; Ephesians 5:17; 1 Corinthians 15:36. “Yet only a little bit will I indulge in, and that because I love you.” Choose between (indic.), “I will not say would that; ye do”; and (imper.), “Would that …; yea, I beg of you, do.” No “to God” in Greek.
2 Corinthians 11:2. Godly.—Lit. as margin; as 2 Corinthians 1:12. [Cf. 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 (but not Hebrews 12:28); also cf. Acts 7:20.] Espoused.—Paul is the Friend of the Bridegroom (like the Baptist, John 3:29. The Rabbis called Moses the “Friend” between Israel and God). The Church is to be the Virgin-wife by-and-by. We are here in the interval between the betrothal, which Paul has effected, and the actual bringing of the Bride to her Husband, when his office shall be perfected. [“Between … betrothal and … marriage … the bride-elect lived with her friends, and all communication between herself and her future husband was carried on through the medium of a friend deputed for the purpose, termed the ‘friend of the bridegroom (John 3:29). She was now virtually regarded as the wife of her future husband.… Faithlessness was punishable with death.” (Smith, B. D., s.v. “Marriage.”] Hence Paul’s “jealousy.” He is responsible for bringing to the “one man” Christ an unspotted, “virgin” Church.
2 Corinthians 11:3. The “corrupters” being the bride’s “friends” (ut supr.) or other “suitors,” viz. the rival teachers of Corinth. Same idea of rival aspirants to a damsel’s hand and heart in Galatians 4:17, “They are hot in their courting,” etc.
1. Observe, he is not concerned lest himself, Paul, should be robbed of their love, but that the Husband, Christ, should be.
2. Observe, also, “the purity” (by a better reading) and “unto Christ” not “in.” The virgin simplicity and purity are to be kept inviolate for the sake of the love of the Husband.
3. Observe, the story of Eve and the serpent is (unquestionably) to Paul a real, historical event. Not quoted merely as a scholar might quote an apposite parallel from classical mythology in (say) Ovid or Virgil. That the Holy Spirit likewise sets His attestation upon it, also follows, to all who accept Paul as in these letters the organ of the “Spirit unto the Churches” (Revelation 2:3); Paul is here used by Him to trace in a sample instance the daily, ordinary workings of evil back to him whose first, and too successful, attempt has been the pattern and germ of all since. [“Serpent” only mentioned in Genesis; Wisdom (Wis. 2:24) first makes the serpent the Devil; cf. Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2.]
2 Corinthians 11:4. Observe, “Jesus,” “Spirit” (not “spirit”), “Gospel.” Well.—Ironically (as perhaps Mark 7:9). Conybeare and Howson think, “bear with me.” Observe indicative. Also, no particular person meant.
2 Corinthians 11:5. Very chiefest.—As in 2 Corinthians 12:11. Q.d. “Therefore you should much rather bear with me, for,” etc.
2 Corinthians 11:6.—Very old question, e.g. between Jerome (“Yes”) and Augustine (“No”), whether Paul seriously means this, or is only quoting his enemies. In any case the want of rhetorical grace was a voluntary abnegation [an “emptying of himself”] (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). [Cf. John Wesley: “I could even now write as floridly and rhetorically as the admired Dr. B—; but I dare not; because I seek the honour that cometh of God only.… I dare no more write in a fine style than wear a fine coat” (Works, vi. 186).] Observe the better reading. Knowledge.—The special “gift” (1 Corinthians 1:5; 1 Corinthians 13:2; 1 Corinthians 12:18).
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 11:1-6
We have Paul the Paranymph (the Friend of the Bridegroom).
I. His work.—To deliver, in her virgin purity and simplicity, the betrothed Church to her expectant Lord and Husband. [Cf. “bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).]
1. Marriage, closest of earthly unions, intended by its Great Ordainer to be a permanent, lifelong union, is the suggestive hint in the world of things natural of that closest spiritual union, between Christ and His people, which makes them a Unit, “Christ” (Galatians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 12:12). That revealed, the key is given to the significance and sanctity of marriage. [So, in connection with counsels as to husbands and wives, Ephesians 5:27, Paul says: “To present … to Himself a glorious Church,”—as His “Bride, the Lamb’s Wife” (Revelation 21:9)—“not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, … without blemish.” All the Old Testament figurative language about marriage, adultery, divorce, restoration, as regards God’s people and their relation to Him, is not simply a happy use of a natural fact, but rests on this deep, original, designed fitness in marriage to exhibit the spiritual relations.]
2. What a day of joyous memory to the soul itself, and to the human instrument, is that when he stood by and saw the “love of espousals” (Jeremiah 2:2), when the soul first got to know its Christ, to whom from that hour it was to be united;—the first tender love, so sensitive to anything which would grieve Him; the simplicity of heart, judgment, purpose, desiring nothing but to think what He thought, and desire what He desired, and to please the new, and so dear, Friend in everything; nothing kept back, no after-thoughts, or under thoughts, nothing but a simple, loving, pure opening-up of all the heart and life to the knowledge and guidance of Christ. Then the yet earlier memories of the incidents, the providences, the drawings of the Spirit, the half-understood going-out of the heart, the meeting with Paul or some other,—all leading up to the introduction and espousal. [How Lydia would remember “the first day” (Philippians 1:5).] One of the earthly anniversaries never to fade away into oblivion, but still to be kept most joyously even in eternity!
3. What a day of joyful, holy anticipation that, when for the first time I see, literally and “face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12), the Christ of Whom I have been hearing, thinking, speaking, so long; “Whom not having seen I have loved” (1 Peter 1:8), and Who has loved me so much better than I have deserved, or could ever have expected. How joyous to Him, “satisfied” at last (Isaiah 53:11), to look into the face of His Bride, “resting in His love, rejoicing over her with joy” (Zephaniah 3:17); repaid at last for Gethsemane and Calvary; reaping at last the fruit of the age-long “purpose” of His Father’s heart and His own (Revelation 13:8; Ephesians 3:11); tasting in full draught the cup of “the joy that was set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2), having now all He desired and died for. And how joyous to the Paranymph, glad to stand aside and see Bride and Bridegroom meet, she brought safely at last to her Husband’s home, himself forgotten by them in their mutual joy. [So John Baptist, “This my joy is fulfilled.”] His responsibility is then over; the “care of the Churches” will no longer press, even as a not ungrateful burden. “I present to Thee, Lord, a chaste, virgin Church.” [In all this, “Church,” “Church,” practically means “Christian,” “Christian.” The Church and its history are only multiples of the Christian and his history. Or, conversely, the individual reproduces, in miniature but complete copy, the history of the whole.]
II. His feelings: “jealousy,” “fear.”—
1. Jealousy often has in us an evil connotation and colouring. It is selfish. Pride is touched when the transferred love, won from us by another, tells that we are not first, or counted best. In God (or Christ) it is not “selfish,” except with the “selfishness” of the king who cannot tolerate a rival king in his realm or on his throne. God may, must (as we may not), claim that all the heart shall, unshared, be His. Paul’s jealousy has no selfish tinge. No great matter whether converts transfer their love for him to rival teachers or not, but a great matter whether these rival teachers come courting the Lord’s betrothed One, and steal her love from Him; a great matter if they tamper with the simple, pure, direct love of her heart for Him.
2. The pain to a minister of Christ to see his converts “leave their first love,” become worldly, return to, and guilefully plead for and defend, forms of sin which the healthier love of their betrothal condemned by instinct, because it grieved the Lord,—it is a great pain, not chiefly because his own work seems ending in failure, but because the Lord will be “so disappointed,” and the unfaithful souls are preparing for themselves such eternal loss.
3. Very well to be tolerant, broad, towards other forms of teaching and other types, or Churches, of Christian workers; but there is no virtue in a toleration which can stand by and with silent equanimity see the beautiful promise of early, tender love to Christ spoiled, the simple conscience being sophisticated and entangled in worldly sophistries, the life being “brought again into bondage” to once forsaken sins.
4. Let the soul itself beware of the “corrupting” process (1 Corinthians 15:33). Lend no ear, Eve-like, to the arguments, suggestions, “more liberal” reasonings and practice of the world, or of a worldly Church; the old Serpent is in them all, at his old work, with his old “craftiness.” It is Eden and the Fall in perpetual repetition. The very (necessary) contact with evil and evil men is corrupting, or at least perilous; even mental contact with evil in books is not without danger. The tender susceptibility of conscience is easily impaired; it “takes a fine edge,” and loses it readily. Let a “jealous” guard be kept over the loyalty of the heart to Christ; let the first sign of a waning sense of His being supremely “dear,” be noted, confessed, forgiven. Intercourse with Him, though He be unseen, must be frequent. Only thus can love to Him breathe or live in the corrupt atmosphere; only a vigorous inner life of consecration to Him can throw off the infection around, and live through it unharmed. The sense of duty to Him must be cultivated—“I am reserved for Him”; every disregard of Duty dulls the perception of Duty. Acts make habits of mind and heart [and body]. Every betrothed soul “that hath its hope set upon Him, purifieth itself,” etc. (1 John 3:3). [Cf. 1 John 2:28; 2 Peter 3:14.]
III. His methods.—
1. He is a “preacher.” [1 Corinthians 1:21 not to be used here.]
2. He preaches a Jesus, through Whom his hearers receive a Spirit. [In this case the personal Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 2:12).]
3. His message is a Gospel. It is good news for an outcast world, that God sends His servants to say, “Come to the wedding,” even as guests. Good news that to alienated man it is proclaimed that a [marriage] fellowship with God is again possible, resting on two great facts, resting upon the work of two Divine Persons. Outside us, and abiding here, whether men avail themselves of it or not, is the work of Christ,—the basis of all. Within us, and depending for its actuality and continuity upon our acceptance of it and co-operation with it, are the gift, the indwelling, the work, of the Spirit. No fellowship without the Spirit; no Spirit without Christ; no Gospel without a “Jesus” and a “Holy Ghost.” A “Gospel” which should ignore either Person, or His office and work, would be no Gospel at all. A “Gospel” which should undervalue or understate (say) the doctrine of the Holy Spirit—though, on the other hand, it should “proclaim” the “blood,” the “cross,” the “atonement” of Christ never so loudly and earnestly—would be an imperfect Gospel. There can be “another Gospel” [not “another,” i.e. a companion, parallel, Gospel; it is a “different” Gospel, Galatians 1:6-7, and here, as R.V.], “another Jesus,” “another Spirit.” [This last in 1 Corinthians 2:12—in accordance with that parallelism of phrases and facts which in Scripture obtains between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness—seems almost to imply an action of the Evil One upon the soul, comparable to that of the Holy One upon it.] A “Gospel” which should minify or suppress an Atonement for guilt by a Sacrifice upon the Cross; which should deal with men as though there were no guilt, and no Sacrifice were needed; a “Gospel” whose appeal to men should assume that they can, if they will, rise out of and above their old and evil self, and by self-originated, self-sustained effort can improve some inherent, natural “goodness,” and that they need no external, Divine help and grace; a “Gospel” which should propose to renovate the world, to regenerate the man, by sanitation, art, music, intellectual culture; such—true or false, as their exponents or opponents may deem them—are at all events “different Gospels” from that preached by, and successful in the hands of, Paul and the “Evangelical” preacher. They are proved such experimentally; for they do not bring about any “betrothal” of the soul to Christ. Not the phrase only, but the thing, is scouted by some of the human “Gospels of the age.” There is some help in some of them; much help in a few; but they miss the deepest need of human hearts. They do not take into sufficient account [e.g. in denying a vicarious atonement] some instincts of human hearts which Paul’s—Christ’s—Gospel has been proved to meet. Only one Gospel, yet men scarcely tolerate it; many deceivers and false Gospels, and men “bear them finely”! There may be “a different Christ.” E.g. one something less than Divine as the Father is Divine; one who is the Head, the Crown, the Flower, the mediating Origin of all creaturely existence, nearest the Creator, and yet all the great gulf between Creator and Creature between him and God. Or one who is only “Jesus,” the very flower of the Race, the choicest exponent and embodiment of all that is most lovely and noble in Manhood, a human teacher, who spake indeed “as never man spake” save himself, but yet with a wisdom and knowledge only different in degree—not in kind—from that which “inspires” the highest type of human teachers. Or, still lower, an amiable, well-intentioned, philanthropic, enthusiastic soul, in full communion with nature, who could, and did, make mistakes in conduct and judgment; who could [and perhaps did] sin, at least in spirit and temper; who was hurried into unadvised, unintended courses by the force of circumstances, and played into the hands of enemies who compassed his death. [The growing prevalence of the use of “Jesus” instead of “Christ” is significant. It means (frequently, happily) a clearer, truer realisation of the historical side of the life and work of the Incarnate Redeemer, with the aid of a wealth of geographical, historical, literary, antiquarian knowledge which never was available until to-day, till we see and hear Jesus of Nazareth and His surroundings of persons and circumstances, almost as if we had lived amongst His contemporaries. A good thing, but needing to be watched, lest we see “Jesus” so clearly that we cannot see the “Christ.” The very apostles needed not only that the Spirit should purify their eyes, and enable them to understand the true dignity of their Divine Friend, but also that the embarrassment and obscuration of close everyday intercourse with the man, should be removed by time and absence, and they be left free to see “their Lord and their God.” The change of name often means also a “naturalism” of estimate and of representation of Christ and His work, whose tendency is so to overstate the “emptying” of Philippians 2:7 that human limitations, and even liabilities, leave too little room for the Divine Son in the teaching and the work.] [The believing heart needs to watch against the “corruption” of the “simplicity” of adoring, worshipping belief in a Jesus, Who is Incarnate God as certainly as He was the (to-day more vividly known) Jesus of Nazareth. The closest intercourse between the soul and her Betrothed must be kept up. The “Spirit” must take that Godhead of her Lord which only He can really reveal (1 Corinthians 12:3), and which is a holy “secret” of love between the Lord and the soul (cf. Psalms 25:14); the soul’s life must so rest upon a Divine Christ, that it can bear to know the historic Jesus better, without any peril of knowing the Divine, Redeeming, Incarnate Son of God less well. Hard to balance, to combine, both. But semi-naturalist “Lives of Christ” must not leave us with “another Jesus.”] Paul in Philippians 1:18 is very “liberal,” “broad,” rejoicing that men who would not otherwise do so, are hearing of Christ, and this though the preachers—many of them his opponents the Judaisers—preach an aspect, exhibit a form, of the Gospel which was by no means his own, or that which he thought truest and best. Yet, with perfect consistency, he is very “narrow” and intolerant of another Gospel or another Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11; Galatians 1:6-9; Galatians 5:11-12; and, in effect, here). The same supreme loyalty to Christ, the same ardent devotion to Him, rules in both cases, but is conditioned differently in its resulting expression.
IV. His qualifications.—
1. “Rude in speech.” Some justification for this, though the phrase is the phrase of detraction and depreciation. The portrait drawn by an enemy must have some measure of resemblance. We know that he had deliberately refused to himself even the liberty to employ the aid of rhetoric to win attention and acceptance for his Master and his Message. Others, even his friend Apollos, might, blamelessly, use any rhetorical power, inborn or acquired, laying it under contribution for the service of Christ. Succeed or fail, he would not. [Too much must not be made of any supposed discouragement over a “failure” at Athens, just before coming to Corinth. The address on Mars’ Hill was not without its converts; nor was it specially ornate in form; it was, moreover, just coming to (very Evangelical) talk about Resurrection and Judgment, when it was suddenly broken off by the hearers’ outburst of laughter. It was not that he had tried the rhetorical method at Athens, and had failed to make converts; it was rather the imperviousness of the intellectual mood to serious appeal, manifest in the majority of his Athenian audience, which made so emphatic his determination that at Corinth nothing should even seem to aim at flattering the “intellect” or tickling the “cultured” ear of the Corinthians.] [See further, under 1 Corinthians 2:13; and in Farrar, St. Paul, Appendix, Excursus I., II., III., are very full discussions and quotations of opinion, as to the style of Paul’s writing (and so, probably, of his speaking also).] Ought we to call this “rudeness” rather a disqualification? No. He wished to make souls hear and love not his voice, but the voice of the Bridegroom. [Sometimes a preacher will preach so “well,” that, like John Alden pleading or Miles Standish, the pleader, all unintentionally, wins the ear and heart for himself, and holds them back from the Lord for Whom He pleads. So the “execution” and voice of the singer will sometimes make the very song to be almost unheeded. Cf. Ezekiel 33:32; the prophet’s message went for nothing.] A successful winner of souls may, should, bring every natural or acquired ability into the service of his Master. But always with a most watchful jealousy over himself lest he himself should thus “corrupt” his hearers “from the simplicity and purity,” and really do the work of the Tempter. Always with a completeness of consecration of all gifts to the supreme, sole, glory Christ; and this for some hearers, and with the personal liability of some preachers, may sometimes mean the disuse of some gifts, or their very sparing employment. The glory of success will then be manifestly due, not to the eloquence of the preacher, but to the power of God. [This all more fully under 1 Cor. ut supr.] The man who is willing to be nothing, that the Lord may be everything, is qualified for the work of bringing souls and Christ together. Provided that he be “not rude in knowledge”; for above all in the things of God, the man who is shallow and crude will only be a workman “to be ashamed.” No knowledge ever comes amiss to a preacher; like Sir Walter Scott, he will learn never to talk to any man without picking up something which he may turn to good account; he cannot know too well men and affairs and the world of nature or the arts, if only all his knowledge be laid before Christ as gifts upon the altar. But with or without this he must know “the things of God.” [The preacher who is well-read, well-informed, about everything except the very subjects which are the materials of his “business,” makes a mistake. The Bible is the text-book of his spiritual Medicine; Theology is the Science of his Art of Healing; men are “cases” of heart-sickness, for his physicianly study and help. So far as study and hard work can do it, he should “qualify,” “with honours” if he can, as a soul-physician. Poor talk to hear a preacher cry down “theology”; poor praise that he be better at everything than at soul-saving preaching.] No premium must be put upon coarseness or vulgarity of thought or expression; this is no qualification for a minister of Christ. But want of polish, or defective utterance, is consistent with real ability, deep knowledge, great success. Many of the least “gifted” are the very “little children” to whom is given entrance into, and foremost place in, the kingdom of God (Matthew 18:1-4). With what persuasive power do some, “little qualified,” speak of the blessedness of fellowship with Christ into which they desire to bring other men. How they “know Christ,” with a knowledge, an intimacy, only given to “disciples whom Jesus loves.” Not only is their motto, “This one thing I do,” but, “This one thing I know.” They are not “rude in” the experienced “knowledge” of Divine things. Paul was not. It is no empty boast in 2 Corinthians 11:5. It is no boast, in any sense of self-assertion or exaltation. It is simple fact that, not only in comparison with the “super-eminent” (but “false,” “sham”) “apostles” at Corinth, but in competition with the true apostles of Christ, he has left his mark most deeply on the form of Christian revelation, or is only approached by John. More than any other, did he seem to “know” the mind and will of Christ. And, as always happens, there was a “native,” prearranged fitness in the “vessel,” to receive and convey the truth.
2 Corinthians 11:2. Espoused to Christ.
I. Your privilege;—implies believing union with Christ; special duties and enjoyments; entire consecration as to one husband.
II. Your espousals effected by the grace of God; through the ministry of the Word.
III. Your obligations, to preserve your purity; that we may present you to Christ; for this we are jealous over you.—[J. L.]
[Cautiously, use may be made of the experiences or memories of the days of “engagement,” to make vivid the nature and effects of the love for our absent, but real, Friend. Is there no “engagement ring,” and no “marriage ring,” between Christ and His soul-bride? A first pledge of love and a second given in the beginnings of their closer acquaintance and mutual affection; to be far outdone by another love-token which shall be given when first the Bride steps with Him over the threshold into the heaven which is eternally to be their Home together. How love works:—There is the frequent interchange of messages by letter whilst apart. Each lives in the constant thought of the other; each is prompted to be thinking for, contriving little pleasures for, the other, even in absence. Each is trying to be, and to do, what the other would like. Also ask: “Soul, has thy Lord had to give His Betrothed One a bill of divorcement, for any unfaithfulness to Him?”]
2 Corinthians 11:2. The work of the Ministry needs for its completeness—
I. Winning souls for Christ.—Yet some men, some Churches, do not follow this up by—
II. Keeping and preparing them for Christ.—[As Esther under the care of Hegai, was being got ready for the day of her actual marriage to the King.] By thorough training, educating, in holiness. Watching over them, watching against men, or habits, or books, which would “corrupt.” Never will minister say, or Church, “It is finished,” until—
III. They are presented, none missing, all pure, to Christ. [Concerning some converts, many a minister says: “I am almost thankful to hear they are gone to heaven. I never felt safe about them until now.”]
2 Corinthians 11:3. (Put on the Blackboard for an Address: S[atan]. S[ubtlety]. S[implicity.])
I. An adversary.—Count on him as against you; against all your best interests; against all that is best in your character; against all which makes Christ look with complacency on His Bride that is to be. Practically believe in a devil. A fool’s Paradise for you if you don’t. He comes even into a real Paradise. No place is sacred to him; no state of life, no work, no pleasure. Christian soldier is never doing a “sham fight.” Never can afford to “stand at ease.”
II. Favourite weapon and method.—Not often open attack; but bush-fighting warfare. Secret aim; deadly shots before we know danger near. “Resist the Devil?” Yes, when he gives the chance. But often has done us mischief before we knew of the danger. Hidden behind a plausible suggestion of excuse for doing less for Christ, or behind a plea for breadth; lurking in some natural affection; hidden in the sensuous fiction, which “everybody is reading.” “Having done all” (Ephesians 6:13),—when the open attack has been foiled, the seen danger escaped, the obvious sin refused,—when the battle seems over and the enemy has drawn off, and you, weary, want to rest from the strain of incessant watching,—“stand!” Just then have a care of the subtlety. You have passed safely through the temptation of illness? Take care of the subtle temptations of recovery. Have outlived unpopularity or persecution? Take heed of the subtle temptations of popularity and honour! etc, etc.
III. Your defence, and so his point of attack, will be your simplicity. (See Homiletic Analysis.) “Singleness of purpose, integrity, generosity, impartiality; that openness and sincerity of heart which repudiates duplicity in thought or action. No idea of simplicity in the ordinary use of the word, except … simple concerning evil, simple in respect of any attachment which might seduce them from the singleness of devotion, the undivided homage and affection due to Christ.” (Rev. W. Webster, M. A) A wonderful Ithuriel-spear-like touch has such a simplicity of thought and heart, in detecting sin in practice or proposal, and even such error in doctrine as would affect the glory or work of Christ. The little child has an instinct which unmasks the subtle Tempter. Let there be no touching or looking at the “apple,” lest the heart be drawn aside. In the face of Temptation you are undone if you reason; the swift, simple instinct will guide and save. Subtlety against subtlety,—you will be no match for Satan. Simplicity against subtlety,—you will conquer. Let the oldest Christian, with all the increase of knowledge and experience which years bring, keep the first tenderness of the little child stage; when the new-born love feared to do, or say, anything that would grieve Christ,—in friendships, business, pleasures, books.
2 Corinthians 11:7. Or.—Turning to another topic. Offence.—Lit. “Sin.” Freely.—I.e. “without charge.” Cf. Philippians 4:12.
2 Corinthians 11:8. Other Churches.—E.g. Philippi (Philippians 4:15). But, for another reason, not Thessalonica (2 Thessalonians 3:8-9). Beet suggests that he accepted the second Philippian contribution, which reached him in Thessalonica, expressly with the Grecian journey and its expenses in his view. Robbed.—Cf. Romans 2:22; Acts 19:37. Wages.—A soldier’s “pay,” as Romans 6:23.
2 Corinthians 11:9. Wanted.—I.e. “was in want.” Graphic touch of incidental fact, as to his residence in Corinth. Did not (perhaps his work did not leave him time to) earn enough for his necessities! The man who at that moment was the most important factor in the world’s progress. Burdensome.—See 2 Corinthians 12:13-14 (Separate Homily).
2 Corinthians 11:10.—The very truthfulness of Christ Himself. Like, “I say the truth in Christ” (Romans 9:1). A man who is “in Christ,” who is a member of Christ’s very body,—how shall anything but the true Christ who is in him find expression on his lips?
2 Corinthians 11:11.—Some said, perversely: “Yes; it shows plainly that you do not care for us, as you do for the Philippians.”
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 11:7-11
[Dr. J. Lyth, Homil. Treas., suggests:—]
I. Honest robbery (2 Corinthians 11:8).
II. Honourable poverty (2 Corinthians 11:9).
III. Honourable independence (2 Corinthians 11:7; 2 Corinthians 11:9-10).
1. The labourer is worthy of his “wages.” [Opposite to “gift” Romans 6:0 ult.] A true minister earns his stipend; though the happier, higher theory is that his people see that he wants for nothing, whilst, without interruption or care, he gives all his time and strength to the work of God. But there are always “unreasonable men” (2 Thessalonians 3:2) with whom, whatever he does, whatever course he adopts, the minister always “commits a sin.” If he take, or ask, for support, he is “mercenary” (2 Corinthians 12:17-18). If he do not ask, or refuses, support, he “does not care for” his people, or for their love, and will not let them show it (2 Corinthians 11:11). Again and again he can only carry his case by appeal to a higher court: “God knoweth.” Though, like Paul, he may now and then be compelled to speak out, to explain and defend himself and his conduct,—generally he does most wisely to see that his character is right before God, and to leave God to care for his reputation before men. Paul takes or refuses as may in any given case seem expedient. His is the true unchangeableness [like God’s own]; not that he never varies from one line of action, but that he never varies from the unchanging principles of his conduct.
2. Hence it is quite honest to have accepted the gifts of the Philippians. It is part of the privilege of the ministerial office to live more directly than does any other man, not actually a recipient of charity, upon the love of human hearts. There can be no “business payment” for what the true minister of Christ has done for a convert, or for what he gives to his people in his continuous ministrations. It is no exchange of values, as in business payments or wages. The true minister, nevertheless, does give full value for all he receives. The people, on the other hand, of their free-will and grateful love “minister once and again to his necessity” (Philippians 4:16). If a minister “will not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). But if he do his work, he may take “wages,” that are no wages, but the gifts of love.
3. Especially may he receive what may support him as he strikes out (like Paul setting out for work in Achaia) into regions where his reception and maintenance are doubtful. To shame a people, so well able to fulfil their obligation to the man who has led them to Christ as were the Corinthians, Paul may call it a quasi-sacrilegious “robbery” of the Church treasury at Philippi. But the Philippians love to see, the Corinthians ought to see, that Paul wants for nothing.
II. Honourable poverty.—A man like Paul in want, in a city like Corinth! Yet of all men in the empire then receiving their “wages,” this man—if only the “age” had known—was better worth his “salt,” and his salt-money—his salary—than the emperor, or his soldiers, or the philosophers, or the artists. It is the old paradox of Providence. Tiberius on the throne, feasted to the weariness of satiety; the Son of God hungry in the wilderness! Truly “the world is out of joint.” The Maker of the world, the Ordainer of the fundamental laws of human society, “meant it not so.” “I know how to … be abased; I know how to be … hungry … and to suffer need” (Philippians 4:12). Not every man does. It is a grace. The “poverty” of the ministry may mar a man’s character and impede his usefulness, if he allow it to occasion a perpetual anxiety, if it feed a continual bitterness against God and the Church, if he nurse a continual sense of “humiliation,” at being “poor” amongst the prosperous men in his church, if he be frequently talking of the “sacrifice” he made to enter the Christian ministry. Paul had “learned the secret.” It needs great grace “to be full”; but it needs great grace “to be hungry.” The minister “can do all things”—even wear ministerial poverty “honourably”—“through Christ who strengthened him” (Phil, ut supr.). Yet the beauty and right of such liberality as that of the poor Macedonians, the expression of their sympathy and love, and a precious fruit of their faith, remains equally honourable; whilst the wealthy indifference of Corinth, which should have seen to it that the Apostle had no need to practise the lesson of wearing poverty with honour, remains utterly selfish and blamable.
III. Honourable independence.—
1. “Honourable,” because it better enabled Paul “to do the Corinthians service,” and to silence the cavillers whose suggestions and cavils might impinge upon his character, and, through him representatively, upon that of the ministry generally. “No man shall stop me of this boasting.” “So will I keep myself.”
2. Such “independence” needs watching; needs perpetually bringing into review in the presence of Christ. It easily grows to be really a pride which will not take the gifts of those from whom real, or imaginary, slights may have been received. Very easily does sin creep in and make the boast of “independence” a piece of self-pleasing, and even of simple obstinacy of character.
3. “Independence” is only worth anything to a Christian minister so far as it means, or ministers to, a perfect freedom to speak the message of God in its fulness, without regard to men’s pleasure or displeasure. If, for the glory of Christ and his freedom to be faithful, the minister seek or keep independence, it may be “honourable.” It is then a just matter of “boasting,” and may be worth keeping at any price.
4. If the “truthfulness of Christ,” that perfect simplicity and directness of heart and judgment and will which were part of His perfect holiness, be in a man, it will dignify and sanctify his “independence” of character, opinion, circumstances. If a man’s motives bear bringing under the scrutiny of the eye of “God Who knoweth,” then though they be misjudged, as by somebody they certainly will be, or maliciously misrepresented, he may go on his way unmoved. It is often a good piece of holy strategy, by timely foregoing of rights—catching suggestion even from the very enemy—to destroy the very basis of operations, from which the assault of the unfriendly criticism or judgment is made. Only, once more, neither in the strategy, nor in the success of it, must Self find a foothold. All must be for the sake of Christ and to facilitate, or to remove hindrances to, His work.
2 Corinthians 11:12. Occasion.—General drift clear, particular application difficult, from our ignorance of facts. Hard to reconcile some of the presumed cavils and accusations; which have to be inferred from Paul’s replies. But consistency in perversity is not to be looked for. [Cf. “We have piped; … we have mourned”; q.d. “Whatever we do, there is no pleasing you anyway.”] Last clause plainly means: “That they and we may be made to stand on same footing, as to our worthiness and our rights.” This, however, is ambiguous to us, for lack of the key of actual facts. Found does not mean “found out” in any sense of being “unmasked,” but (as it were, judicially) “found” [cf. the “findings” of a court] in the opinion of others (Galatians 2:17; 1 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Corinthians 15:15; 2 Corinthians 5:3 [?]).
2 Corinthians 11:13.—Contrast with “supereminent app.” (2 Corinthians 11:5), “I say, They are no apostles at all! They say, I am ‘catching you with guile.’ Nay, they are workers full of guile [related word] in all they do.” good.
2 Corinthians 11:14.—The only Jewish parallel adduced is a solitary opinion of a Rabbi that the angel who wrestled with Jacob was a so-transformed evil spirit! Perhaps Job 1:0 may have been in Paul’s mind. Or a perfectly general assertion. Light.—Cf. Epb. 2 Corinthians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5; 1 John 1:5, etc. No marvel.—“If the Prince of Darkness can stride over the vast gulf which separates his real nature from the outward appearance of an angel of light, his agents can step over the narrower chasm which divides them from apostles of Christ.… Beings of darkness and beings of light are opposites, whereas human beings are capable of living and moving in either … darkness or light. They are flexible to either element, although they cannot belong to both at the same time. Satan, who is ‘the ape of God,’ counterfeits the Divine, and his strategy is a terrible caricature of the Almighty’s ordinances.” (Waite, in Speaker’s Commentary.)
2 Corinthians 11:15. Ministers.—Cf. of Paul, 2 Corinthians 11:8. End.—Philippians 3:19.
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 11:12-15
“Like Master, like Servants.”
I. What sternness of denunciation!—
1. Quite alien to the spirit of our time, with its “breadth” of view, its “tolerance” of all shades of opinion and of almost all types of practice, and with its euphemistic condemnation when it does condemn. It means the intensity of conviction; the intolerance of loyalty to “light,” and truth, and Christ; the necessary, inevitable detection and condemnation of falsehood and ignorance by “knowledge.” [See “we know,” four times, in 1 John 5:18-20. “We know … sinneth not” (“What dangerous spiritual presumption!” cries even the half-hearted Church); “We know … we are of God, … world lieth in the Wicked One” (“What wretched narrowness of judgment; how uncharitable!”); “We know … Son of God is come,” etc. (“Yes,” says the agnostic temper of all ages; “you theologians and metaphysicians are dreadfully sure; you ‘know’ this, and that, and the other; we don’t; we neither affirm nor deny”); “We know Him that is true” (“Impossible; God is unknowable; and His Son, if He have one, is unknowable too!”) Nevertheless, John and the Church say, “We know.” Christ and His people say, “We know” (John 3:11; John 9:25).] Need to take care lest our milder words, and “more charitable” judgments, betray a less hearty allegiance to truth and holiness, an enfeebled appreciation of the questions at issue, and of their importance, or even a degree of cool indifference to the fundamental distinctions which underlie the sharply defined judgments of such words as Paul’s. Yet—
II. Any apparent change, any seeming approximation between good and evil, is only upon the surface; the real distinction beneath abides unalterable.—[Remember the distinction between “form” and “fashion” (Trench, Syn., § lxx.); very marked in Romans 12:1-2; Philippians 2:6-8. “Fashion” (the root of word used here; see R.V.) is (Bengel) “habitus, cultus, vestitus, victus, gestus, sermones et actiones”; what offers itself, upon the surface, to observation.] Satan cannot be “transformed into” [A. V., inaccurately]; he can only be “fashioned like.” The deep gulf, the necessary antagonism in their very nature, between “darkness” and “light,” he can never pass, nor does he desire to. At the most, he can only assume some show of “light.” His ministers can only “be fashioned as ministers of righteousness.” The Christian conscience and heart must not allow moral distinctions to be obscured or confused; the instinct of holiness must be kept in full sensitiveness of touch and perception [“quick of scent,” Isaiah 11:2 (literally)]. Such self-fashioning on the part of evil is a tribute to the beauty of “light,” goodness, holiness. It acknowledges, too, that evil is no dress to wear openly, or in which to do “Satan’s” work. Goodness never pretends to be Evil. The Tempter once dared shamelessly to ask Incarnate Purity to fall down—just for a moment—and worship him. Conversely, in the very fact that he must needs borrow the livery of the servants—angelic and human—of that Pure One, to do some at least of his evil work, he is ever bowing before Him, with a very real acknowledgment of supremacy. “Hypocrisy is the homage Vice pays to Virtue.”
III. No practical use in speculating as to what particular case of “transfashioning” on the part of Satan is in Paul’s mind.—The working of the principle of such a change, such an assuming of “goodness,” is common enough, and clear.
1. Bad men, for selfish, or even malicious ends, put on the life, speak the language, do something of the work, of the good. Not many mere, and downright, hypocrites in the world. Far oftener the discrepancy between profession and fact, which, when discovered, is denounced as “hypocrisy,” has been largely mixed with self-deception. Good and evil are sharply distinguishable in their salient, conspicuous examples. Like two neighbouring mountains [as Guesses at Truth suggests] which stand clearly apart so long as attention is only directed to their summits, but are hard to discriminate lower down, where their bases mingle in almost unapportionable stretches of nearly level ground; so on the ordinary level of common life, in the thousand questions of the minute ethics of daily conduct which are perpetually presenting themselves for solution, right and wrong are seldom so sharply divisible but that a man may sometimes find some real difficulty in keeping them apart, and in not transgressing across the boundary-line; whereupon the first step seems to lead on to, or even “to necessitate” another, and that another; till the man is involved in a position which he never meant to reach, and, to the last, may try to persuade himself is not wholly untenable. He is not therefore blameless, or to be simply pitied, but he is hardly the mere hypocrite. Yet there is such a thing as the life which is the calculated, persistent, clever, devilish lie; the garb of righteousness is worn for evil ends, known from the first to be evil, distinctly proposed to himself by the “deceitful worker,” and deliberately followed up to the last. Rare, but not unknown. So in morals, evil is disguised, made to speak fair, plausibly pleaded for, or excused until excuse passes over into defence; until young, inexperienced minds and hearts, without fixed principles, or any definite principles at all, begin to think the sterner judgments “narrow,” “old-fashioned,” “bigoted,” “unfair”; and yield themselves to the blandishments of the “angel of light.” The poets, the novelists, the dramatists, the secular newspapers, greatly help the dangerous disguise of evil. How, for example, has Lust been glorified under the stolen name “Love”! The oft-sung praise of “Wine” has covered with “light” the mere, animal, filthy Drunkenness. Such talking and writing readily catches the public ear in every age. The same principle is at work in the details of individual life. A business opening; a marriage-proposal; a form of relaxation; essentially evil, but so proposed that social advantage, or profit, or pleasure, disguises the true character of the thing; and not until the soul has yielded and the “deceitful work” is done, does the disguise drop off, and the “darkness” stand revealed.
IV. In the special application of the passage we note:
1. “False apostles” are self-constituted, having no real “call” from God; their real and only commission is from Satan, who puts his own stamp upon them, so that they work upon his lines, copying his falsehood of claim, and of methods, and of purpose. They assume an unwarranted position, and have no real authority.
2. “Such,” i.e. they, like these Corinthian examples, are selfish, ambitious of men’s honour, malignant towards the real servants of God, tyrannical in their assumed authority (2 Corinthians 11:20), preach error (2 Corinthians 11:4), are full of party spirit. [“Then none was for a party, but all were for the State,”—for “the Church of Christ.”]
3. Yet their “end” is a certain, swift, just detection and destruction. The “world,” with all its evil, is even now so far God’s world that the issue of its course and history must be a victory and a full vindication of goodness and truth and of God’s Christ. The white robe must be stripped off from the falsehood sooner or later, and evil and evil men stand revealed in all their native “darkness.” The servants share with their Master “fire prepared for him.” Every Church should keep jealous watch over the door into its ministry; and should keep in full working order a door out of the ministry. Every minister of Christ, every worker, of every order and degree, should [not be perpetually scrutinising, suspecting his neighbours, but, better, like the apostles at the Supper-table] be asking, “Lord, is it I?”
2 Corinthians 11:15. “According to their works.”—God’s penalties are inflicted. [In many forms directly and ab extra. Else what is “forgiveness”? The indirect and providential—“natural”—penalties of sin are often only very slowly, and very incompletely, reversed or negatived, even to a pardoned, happy, holy child of God. These are taken up into the sanctified disciplinary life of the pardoned man.] Yet never merely arbitrary in their connection with the sin, but congruous.
I. “In kind.”—This most nearly Paul’s point here. Fruit corresponding to seed sown; prepared for, and growing out of, seed sown.
II. “In measure”: God never will overdo the penalty. No one indiscriminate punishment of sin; as no indiscriminate, undistinguishing reward of righteousness; there are degrees of suffering, as of heavenly joy, though in all cases of equal, eternal duration. [“Many stripes, few stripes.”] May vary from something scarcely more than privation of His favour and presence, up to the most intense suffering of which mind and body in eternity capable. [Doctrine of rewards and penalties must be studied as one indivisible, homogeneous subject with strictly parallel branches, the principles in each strictly analogous to those in the other.]
2 Corinthians 11:16. Again.—After 2 Corinthians 11:1. “You can very well let a foolish fellow like me be in the fashion, and do a bit of boasting.”
2 Corinthians 11:17. After the Lord.—Not to be compared with 1 Corinthians 7:10; 1 Corinthians 7:25. (See Critical Notes and Bible-class Note there.) Compare rather “After Rubens,” “After Reynolds.” Christ is the model. But no boaster ever was, in so doing, copying Christ; his conduct was no picture “after Christ.” In 2 Corinthians 11:10 he is speaking as conformable to, and partaking of, Christ’s own truthfulness. But not the tone, or the mind, of Christ—this self-assertion and laudation.
2 Corinthians 11:19. Bitterly ironical. “Your wisdom is rather set off as by a good foil, in these fools whom you clever Corinthians can patronisingly tolerate.”
2 Corinthians 11:20. Bitterly serious. Bondage.—“Lord it over you;” and more, as in Galatians 2:4 (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:1); Acts 15:10. Taketh.—See Or “take” as in a snare; such a case, e.g., as 1 Corinthians 8:9. Smiteth.—As Paul, Acts 23:2; Christ, John 18:22; 1 Kings 22:24; perhaps as a piece of, assumed, disciplinary power. [As an Irish peasant will bear castigation from his priest, or a low-caste Hindoo a blow from a Brahmin.]
2 Corinthians 11:21. As concerning.—Same word as “after” (2 Corinthians 11:17). “I am speaking after the fashion, in the strain, of your customary ‘reproach’ (disparagement) of me, as though I acknowledged as fact,” etc. [Cf. Philippians 3:4 sqq. for a more extended parallel. “Counted loss;” and yet how, on occasion, he can bring out, and use, and find useful, for his Master’s service, his Roman citizenship, or his Jewish advantages. No “gains” to him, as a sinner needing acceptance, but great, and frequent, “gains” to the Gospel, of which he was the exponent and defender.]
2 Corinthians 11:22. Hebrews.—With a little of the implied contrast to Hellenist Jews (Acts 6:1, etc.). An old style, Conservative Jew [sprung from old style, Conservative Jews (Philippians 3:5)], born in a Greek city indeed, but keeping up the stricter ways of an orthodox Jewish house, not like Hellenists, in practice and in thought assimilating to Gentile laxity, forgetting even their Hebrew, and using a Greek translation of the Word of God. Israelites.—Cf. John 1:45. “So am I,” in a double sense. Seed of Abraham.—Cf. Galatians 3:29. “So am I,” with a new and better right also to the name, as well as that I inherited.
2 Corinthians 11:23. Fool.—As Stronger word than (say) in 2 Corinthians 11:16. Some (e.g. Beet) would press more exactly than others (e.g. Stanley), the word “more.” As if “more than these boasters.” Observe, as to “deaths” [= many occasions, and forms, of imminent peril, when life was “worth no purchase” at all, “as good as a dead man”] there is no comparison expressed. Here he is hors de concours; he has no competitor, or is beyond even apparent competition.
2 Corinthians 11:24.—Deuteronomy 25:3. Thirteen on the breast, thirteen on the right shoulder, thirteen on the left. One omitted, lest the law should be transgressed by mistake and forty exceeded. Picture Paul bound, bent, to a pillar in the synagogue; reader standing by, during the flogging, reading Deuteronomy 28:58-59; Deuteronomy 29:8; Psalms 78:38. The officer wielding a four-tailed whip, two thongs of calf’s skin, two of asses’ skin. (Sometimes such a scourging was fatal.) Five times such a flogging!
2 Corinthians 11:25-27. Rods.—Although a Roman citizen (Acts 16:22; Acts 22:24). Remember we are here only at the date of Acts 19:0; Acts 20:0. All these sufferings lie between Acts 9:19. Up to this point, the only record of imprisonment is Acts 16:24; of beating with rods of lictors—the Roman scourging (ib.); of stoning, Acts 14:19; of perils from Jews, Acts 9:23; Acts 9:29; Acts 13:50; Acts 14:5; Acts 14:19; Acts 17:5; Acts 17:13; Acts 18:12; from Gentiles (= “heathen”), Acts 16:20; Acts 19:23. May illustrate “shipwreck,” “night and a day [lit. “a night-day,” period of twenty-four hours] in deep,” by Acts 27:0, which is later; “perils from … countrymen,” by Acts 23:20-21, later also; “rivers,” by the Calycadnus, not far from Tarsus, a sudden flood in which (“a spate,” such as is common in all such short-coursed mountain streams) swept away Frederick Barbarossa; “watchings” (i.e. sleepless nights), by Acts 16:25; Acts 20:7; Acts 20:11, and (better still) by Acts 20:31; 2 Thessalonians 3:8. [Much of this well given in Stanley.]
2 Corinthians 11:28.—Notice the change of reading; and also choose between
(1) (or A.V.), and
(2) margin. See how this daily interest, a burden, and an inrushing care, led him to incessant prayers for them (Romans 1:9; Philippians 1:4; Colossians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2). [How happy Paul, how happy the Philippians! In their case, every thought for them was a prayer, every thought of them a joy.]
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 11:16-32
I. See Paul descending to the level where his adversaries strut themselves before their admirers, boasting of their credentials and super-apostolic authority; see him snatching up their own style of weapon, and on their own ground, with their own arms, vanquishing them. Then (2 Corinthians 11:30-32) see him flinging away the unaccustomed weapon of parade of his doings, sufferings, services, natural advantages, and taking up a “boast” in which none of them will care to follow him,—his “infirmities.” See how this “glorying” is, as it were, wrung out of him, with many a protest to them and to his own heart that it is “folly,”and that he knows it is. Indeed, his own severest word is that such talk, such enumeration of one’s titles to honour and respect, is “not after the Lord”; it is “after the flesh.” [There is peril in it, to a man himself. In that arena, where such boasting matches come off, there is an unseen Adversary, who may find many an unguarded weakness of the soul laid open to a shaft or a thrust, whilst the Christian champion displays himself. On the morning of Trafalgar Nelson’s captains remonstrated respectfully with him against his determination on that day to put on his many orders—the tokens of his services and successes—fearing, as proved too true, that these would make him an inviting mark for the enemy’s fire.] The very “gentleman” does not willingly do it; and how much less willingly does the Christian. What society stamps as against “good form,” religion stamps as sin,—sin against the Norm and Pattern given in Christ. Social “Modesty” is, in fact, Humility severed from its Christian root-principle. [It lives for a while, as a cut flower may, in strength derived from its root in the time of their union. But only the abiding union with Christ will for any length of time keep either humility or its social analogue, modesty, a living feature of character. In fact, Paul’s phrase finds its true, deep exposition in this:] The traits in a Christian character are the traits of Christ’s character (to use of Him a word which properly belongs only to His human brethren) manifesting themselves in it. They are Christ expressing Himself in the men and women who are members of His Body. Their life, and so their words, are “in Christ.” They should, normally, only speak as He can be conceived to have spoken. A very comprehensive test of—rule for—speech! All glorification of Self, all self-centering of thought and word, is “after the flesh.” The natural heart, unchanged, unrenewed “after” the Pattern of the New Manhood, speaks thus, and betrays its presence in such self-extolling phraseology. It is “folly” before God; He knows how baseless it all is. It is “folly” before man; men “think” the boaster “a fool,” and give him no real respect; not to say that every braggart, by his implied or openly claimed superiority, wounds the self-esteem of his hearers,—the one unpardonable offence to “the flesh”! And yet, the inconsequence of things in the world! The inconsistency of the natural man! Let a man only be confident enough in himself, let him only boast boldly enough, let him only parade his credentials long enough, and the very effrontery has a strange success. They call the man “a fool”; they call themselves “fools” [to themselves; for openly they claim to show “wisdom” in their very ability to estimate such a paragon of excellence; and sometimes in their hearts also they plume themselves on the “wisdom” with which they can see through all his “boasting”!]—for submitting to such a man. But they submit; they “suffer fools finely”! Men accept truth on three grounds,—intuition, or ratiocination, or authority. For most the readiest, commonest, and (to them) most rest-giving, is Authority. All learning begins in accepting, on the authority of the teacher, some necessary basal assertions. These may afterwards be verifiable by our cultivated judgment, or sustainable by our wider knowledge. But unless there be faith in the teacher’s authority, learning is made impossible at the outset. Very many never get beyond this point. Let the Teacher only assert Authority long enough, loudly enough, he will find not a small clientèle who will become his faithful, ready disciples. It is made a reproach to Christians that they are “dogmatic”; in the same (not too accurate) sense, and with the same accidental associations attached to the word, so are many scientific teachers. It is true that, e.g., Sacerdotalism does find that its readiest way to secure acceptance with a large class of minds in a solemn, repeated, emphatic assertion of its claims. It is equally true that persistent, emphatic, widely published, influentially supported assertion is the “reason” for much popular acceptance of non-Christian or even anti-Christian unbelief. There are as many disbelievers on authority as there are believers on authority. There is great convincing power in such verbal “blows on the face” as, “Every qualified person thinks,” etc., “Nobody with the slightest pretension to judge but believes,” etc., “Professor This, Doctor That, assures us,” etc. If religious teachers descend to the arena where such methods obtain of “bringing into bondage” an obedient following, they may not complain if their opponents by the same. me methods obtain their following too. But Paul’s caustic remark remains true. Down beneath the loudest vaunt of “wisdom,” of “culture,” of “independence of thought,” there lie a deep-seated ignorance and self-distrust, which are eager for certainty, and which are only waiting for some loud enough boaster of his authority to claim and to get their eagerly given, all-enduring, very faithful, enslaved obedience (2 Corinthians 11:20).
1. Hear Paul conning over his quarterings of nobility.—For the Jew had been the nobleman amongst the Gentile commoners. [As Brahmin to low-caste or no-caste man, religiously, socially, and by birth, so (in his own esteem) had been the Jew to the Gentile.] Do his adversaries of the Jewish section in the Church boast of their pure blood, “sons of Abraham”? He can show that. Or, of their place in God’s Israel? He has that. Old style, Conservative, Hebrew-speaking Jews—none of your Gentilising sort, loose in thought, too free in practice? So were he and his father before him [“a Hebrew” sprung “of Hebrews”]. If birth in a covenant people—himself wearing the seal of the covenant upon his very body from earliest infancy; if loyal pride in his people and their history; if godly, strict education in the Word and fear of God; could have availed a man anything before God or man;—Paul had them all. What Judaiser amongst them could show a fuller shield of arms than he—if a man is to found upon his quarterings of nobility? [Note how, in Philippians 3:0, he counted, and still counts, all these as “loss.” When it comes to be a question of finding a ground of acceptance as a sinner before God, not one of these, nor all together, is of any value as a set-off against his guilt; they may as well, they must, be written off—“loss.” He must find something else. He takes Christ, and relies wholly on Him. Yet (as in Critical Notes) as between him and men, especially for the Gospel’s sake, he can fetch out and use—what for his own sake he values at nothing—these early points of national prestige. Schiller one day opened a drawer, and carelessly tossed out to a visitor standing by a patent of nobility. “ ‘Von Schiller!’ Did you know I was a nobleman?” said he laughingly. A University man may now and again remind contemptuous opponents that he is a scholar and a gentleman; whilst ordinarily he never invites attention or remark to the point, but quietly goes on with work amongst the poor, to whom he says nothing of his college and his degrees.]
2. In such points he is the equal of the best of them. In work for Christ, and in titles to be counted a fully credentialled apostle, “a minister of Christ,” none of them is his equal. In sufferings for Christ he is alone; there is no competitor, no one to compare with him. Indeed, which of them cares to enter the lists here, and to compete for the honour of being accredited “a minister of Christ,” if these be the marks of an apostle? (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). What an exposition of his own phrase, “our light affliction which is but for a moment”! (2 Corinthians 4:17). If this accumulation of sufferings be “light,” what would “heavy” be! What a pre-eminence amongst the servants of Christ! To have given up what he had, and to bear all this, for the sake of a Master Whom he had barely seen—if there were “folly” in Paul, the world would so reckon this. [Yet (whether he wrote the Hebrews or not), he would have said, “Looking unto Jesus, … Who … endured the cross.” In mere physical suffering, Christ suffered less than Paul, and was never in such perils. Yet how unique are His sufferings in the Word of God. They have a solitary, unshared, unapproached significance. We feel that in studying the sufferings of Paul we are on our level, familiar ground. If in number and aggravation they are more, in kind they are the same, sufferings as other men feel. But we feel that Christ’s are on another level, and of another order.]
3. Yet such a life—this one life—has its uniqueness, in another sense. Take Stanley’s putting of the point: “It represents a life hitherto without precedent in the history of the world. Self-devotion at particular moments, if for some special national cause, had been often seen before; but a self-devotion, involving sacrifices like those here described, and extending through a period of at least fourteen years, and in behalf of no local or family interest, but for the interest of mankind at large, was, up to this time, a thing unknown. The motive of the Apostle may be explained in various ways, and the lives of missionaries and philanthropists may have equalled his in later times; but the facts here recorded remain the same. Paul did all this, and Paul was the first man who did it” (p. 562). Yet see how the very mention of all this is wrung out of the man; and with many a protest against his folly in letting himself down thus.
4. Where had Paul learned this? For “original” as such a life-lesson, a life-example, may be, quâ man and man, our mind goes back inquiring where he had caught his inspiration. He would have said in a moment, “To me to live is Christ.” The scars and manifold physical traces upon him, which these perilous and painful experiences had left, are to him matters of laudable self-gratulation. They are the “marks of the Lord Jesus” upon him (Galatians 6:17), the brand which his Master, Christ, has set upon the very body of his bondman, in token of His ownership. He almost parades them, on occasion, as a veteran may on occasion display his medal and its clasps. In quite as true a sense may we regard the whole style of such a life, its spirit, its purpose and aim,—the first so glorious an exhibition of a lifelong, often thankless and unthanked, self-devotion for the sake of others who had but scanty, or no, claim for it, as a “mark of the Lord Jesus.” Christ has set His seal, His own likeness, upon such a man. [How much of all this is lost to history! Yet the Paul known by Christ knew all these; in Christ’s “Life of Paul, My Apostle” not an item of all these would be omitted. “My times are in Thy” knowledge!]
5. And yet another mark of his Lord comes out: He is daily beset with the caring for the Churches. As is his Master, Whose words these verses, 28, 29, might well be. See what had just now come upon his sensitive spirit, in consequence of the visit of “them of Chloe’s household” (1 Corinthians 1:11). A letter which proposed sundry important questions of practical Christian ethics in which, not Corinth only, but all the Churches, in all the Christian centuries, were vitally interested,—questions which needed careful, complete reply; and still more disquieting verbal reports. These two letters catch and exhibit in permanent photography, all the acute distress of this sympathetic Paul, jealous for the honour of His Master and His Church, anxious about the souls who were his work in the Lord. Multiply such instances; add such cases as the Galatian Epistle may stand for, where his heart longs for friendship, and only finds a fickle affection which once burned hot and eager, but is now as eagerly transferring itself to others who made it their business to decry him and to undo his work (Galatians 1:6; Galatians 4:12-20); an Epistle where he is seen to be above all distressed at hearing of the success of teaching which seemed to him to strike at the very heart of the Gospel, and at the honour of his Christ (ib. 2 Corinthians 1:7-9). Referee, arbitrator, organiser, pastor, financier (chap. 8); “many coming and going,” each with something that needed swift, decisive, just direction or advice; letters to be written, friends to be guided; his work on the spot to be kept going; often in poor health; always environed with, or liable to, such experiences as in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27; much to try patience; more to daunt heart; often much to wound love. No wonder that he speaks of the ceaseless inrush of such cares, with their incessant onset, almost as if every new-comer were an enemy bent upon destroying his peace. [Yet this man—as witness his letters, by their example enforcing his own precept (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) in the first of them—is ever rejoicing. His is a bright life. These things do not obscure or quench the sunshine of the favour of his Master, ever poured into his heart. Grace makes him a victor in, and over, all. Nay, “more than a conqueror” (Romans 8:37).] No man need envy the man in the front, or at the head, of a Church; the focus of all envy, jealousy, grumbling; the first to hear, and to feel, if anything goes wrong. [Also let this human instance be a stepping-stone to a realisation how at every moment everything reaches the Lord of the Church Himself, enthroned above it, watching, watching over, its welfare. Every daily incident, the great crisis, the trivial detail,—they are alike flashed up to Him Who sits at the Centre of Government of the Universe, where all its wires of Intelligence converge at His throne, and whence all its lines of issued Command and despatched Force radiate. What must He know, must hear, see, feel! The unfaithfulness of a Church, the break-down of a member, the battle of the Truth for very life, reaches Him; may we say, hurts Him? Of necessity seeing, knowing, all; unable to exercise the (to us merciful) power of ignoring or forgetting,—the care of all His Churches coming upon Him!]
6. And yet another mark of his Lord.—A tender sympathy for all who are wronged. [Cf. Matthew’s (“targumed”) quotation in 2 Corinthians 8:17 of Isaiah 53:4; “infirmities,” “sicknesses” put instead of “griefs,” “sorrows.” As if Christ, Who Himself only knew death, not sickness, so entered into the suffering of the crowds thronging that night around Him for healing, that He felt their pain as if it had been His own.]
(1) The “weak” are not always in the right, or deserving of unqualified sympathy and defence. Yet the minister of Christ will be ready to give the presumption in their favour, until their unworthiness be proved. He may not entertain an unreasoning, partisan sympathy with any one class [working-men, or any other]; yet if the “weak” have no other champion, they should find one in him.
(2) Nothing should more quickly set his righteous indignation “burning” than that traps should be set, and stumbling-blocks placed, in the way of a brother in Christ, into which or over which, in ignorance or weakness he falls.
(3) The man who cannot “burn” at wrong is strangely deficient in qualification for a minister of Christ. Slow to take fire [not “as the flint bears fire, Which being struck gives out a hasty spark And then grows cold again:” Brutus (of himself), Shakespeare, Julius Cæsar], but burning with sustained intensity of enkindled principle. [See how sternly Christ could feel and speak of the “offender” of even “a little one” (Matthew 18:6).]
(4) Every single soul of his flock will be so dear to a true shepherd that no greater wrong can be done to him and no greater pain given, that nothing more surely will arouse a holy indignation in him, than that its weakness or ignorance or inexperience should be taken advantage of, e.g., by a malicious worldling, or (worse) by an older, wiser, but fallen-hearted fellow-Christian. [Or even that an older Christian, by sheer, self-pleasing laxity should ruin a soul not yet established (Hebrews 12:13).]
2 Corinthians 11:19. A Common Sequence.
I. “Wisdom,” pluming itself that it is so wise.
II. Self-conceit, which leaves the door open for—
III. Humiliating slavery to egregiously foolish touching, to obviously shallow, but very confident, loud-asserting, leaders of opinion or practice. For self-gratification how much will men endure; for, and from, Christ, how little.
2 Corinthians 11:21-31.
I. What sufferings.
II. What devotion.
III. What faith.
IV. What triumph.—[J. L.]
[Notice how he puts a godly ancestry and a place amongst the covenant people of God, in the very forefront. It may be an occasion of everlasting thanksgiving to a man. Or, like a noble name inherited by an unworthy scion of a great house, a shame now, and a source of everlasting shame.]
2 Corinthians 11:31.—Grammar makes certain that the ejaculated benediction belongs to the Father. He who is.—The emphatic Greek recalls the Greek equivalent for Jehovah. Look at the Divine present tense in Romans 9:5, and in John 1:18; John 3:13; John 6:46; John 8:47; Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:8. I lie not.—Choose between
(1) an asseveration in regard to what he intended (but in fact has only begun) further to relate of his life; and
(2) “This purpose” (of boasting about “weakness”) “is from a human point of view so unlikely, that in asserting it Paul appeals to Him Who alone knows his motives” (Beet).
2 Corinthians 11:32. Aretas (i.e. Hareth).—Father-in-law of Herod Antipas; his capital Petra (in Edom). Antipas had put away Aretas’ daughter; when Aretas cut off Herod’s army, Jewish sympathy with Aretas made it a “judgment on him for executing John the Baptist.” Help under Vitellius’ command was sent from Rome to Herod. Just then Tiberius died; Caligula (perhaps) gave Damascus to Aretas, or in the frontier wars Aretas seized it whilst Vitellius was absent, occupied with the changes consequent on Tiberius’ death. Thus the same occupation of Damascus by a pro-Jewish ruler, which favoured, or occasioned, Paul’s persecuting mission to Damascus, gave help to his Jewish enemies when he returned (combine Galatians 1:17 with Acts 9:22 sqq.) a Christian. Governor.—Lit. ethnarch, a mere provincial lieutenant. Farrar says that ethnarch was also a title of Jewish governors, permitted in heathen cities to exercise an authority over the Jewish community; e.g. such an official may have ordered one of Paul’s Jewish “scourgings” at Damascus. No date for Paul’s life can be very exactly fixed by all this (Tiberius died, A.D. 37). There are no Roman coins of Damascus belonging to this period.
2 Corinthians 11:33. Window.—Overhanging the town wall. Basket.—Not same word as in Acts 9:25, where it is that mentioned in the feeding of the four thousand. (Different word, again, for. the “basket” of the five thousand.)
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 11:30-32
An Unwelcome Memory of the Past.
Perhaps this is only the first item in an intended recital of dangerous and humiliating experiences, from which—the whole topic of himself and his doings being distasteful—he turns aside when thus has only begun to touch it. “Damascus!”
1. What a name to him! There are days and places known and famous in heaven, but according to a scale of interest and importance very different from that which regulates the notice given to days, and persons, and places, in the news of the day or the history of the century. [The sites and dates of, e.g., “Decisive Battles of History,” are known there, or are little regarded, according as they bear upon the fate and progress of the kingdom of Christ. That little company travelling to Damascus with Saul; that same Saul in darkness, bewilderment, prayerful repentance; all the struggle in his heart;—these were watched in heaven, as no royal pageant, or even dynastic struggle, nor perhaps, a famous fight or political contest, would be.] There are days and places which even in the eternal retrospect will stand out, never fading into oblivion, even when the most permanent landmarks of earthly history are grown dim, or have disappeared. The soul will never forget where, when, how, it first met Christ. In heaven the interest of the city Damascus is now, and eternally will be, this,—Saul of Tarsus there first bowed the knee to Jesus of Nazareth.
2. Paul never forgot it. Yet another memory is associated with it,—that of his extreme peril and his escape by the wall. Confessedly a little difficult to see why this was so distasteful a memory to him; why this in particular should be accounted one of his “infirmities.” Perhaps the key to his feeling was some detail, some matter of vivid reminiscence, which was clearly present to his own mind as he dictated the sentences to his amanuensis, yet which he forgot to mention, and the omission of which may have been as perplexing to the Corinthians as to us. It was certainly his first taste of the deadly opposition which he was to meet with from his own countrymen and co-religionists, now that he had become a Nazarene. It may be allowable to fill out the brief narrative of Acts 9:20-22 and to conceive of him returning from “Arabia” full of new convictions and knowledge and experience—full of his new Lord—and pleading with the Damascene Jews with an earnestness as full of hope of success as it was full of zeal. [As “young Philip Melancthon” expected that his testimony and his arguments would win “Old Adam” in other men for Christ, right away.] And then to see him in the reaction of comparative “failure”—for to confound men in argument, as he did abundantly, is only one-half of “success”; to see him obliged to go into hiding and to skulk about, until he could one night be dropped stealthily over the wall and fly. “After all, then, Rabban Saul is one thing, and Saul the Nazarene is another. Saul the Nazarene is ‘weak’ like other men; even he is not going to take a world by storm for his new Christ.” The first check to new zeal, the first disappointment and rebuff to the hope of soon bringing others to Christ; to win victories in argument, and then to find that the beaten foe can do mischief, and one must beat hasty retreat;—such are in one’s native “weakness” humiliating lessons to a proud, fervid spirit, a hard breaking-in for some temperaments; perhaps for his. [Especially if we know that our Damascene enemies are triumphing over the flight of the Nazarene champion; and that for years we shall hear the story told again and again, to our scornful disadvantage.] Perhaps his own feeling, more than appears on the surface of the letter here, or some mocking reference to it [if it became a sort of stock story of his opponents, to be told mirthfully to his prejudice] at Corinth, made the very mental recurrence to it, and much more this direct reference to it in writing, a painful thing.
3. Yet Paul will snatch the incident from the very mocking adversary, or from the rebelliously proud heart within him, which does not like even a reference to this. If it be a cross to self, the better, then, to crucify self upon! If his enemies taunt him with the “glorious retreat” he made from Damascus, he will make a “glory” of it. It was a shame put upon him, just because he had become Christ’s. And for that reason only does he refer to it.
4. And he makes oath and says, “Thus and thus did I escape.” There was going to be a sworn list of painful, humiliating reminders that he was only “weakness” before God. But he breaks off; the first incident stands alone; too small a finish for the solemn exordium. A good man speaks truth: (a) Always: “I lie not,” neither habitually, nor in this special instance; (b) As standing before a listening Judge. Israel’s God “shall know.” Every light—every more solemnly serious—word is spoken as in the presence of God. To him the very thought of that God is, in fact, in theology, in habitual memory, bound up with the most loving expression of His true Self,—He is “the God of” His “Lord Jesus Christ.” His name is “Father.” Yet is He a God of truth, Who neither speaks nor tolerates falsehood. To Him lying is awfully great in its sinfulness; it is mean, detestable, mischievous. He searches hearts; He hates falsehood; He will assuredly visit it. The character of the preacher of the Gospel is bound up with the character of the Gospel itself. If the preacher be only a lying braggart, how shall anything he preaches claim acceptance? (c) He can then, when fitting, call God to witness. But Paul passes off; something shunts him on to another line, a “thorn in the flesh,” concerning which the truth of all he says is only too notoriously and (to himself) painfully obvious. [The apologetic value of all such very human turns of thought in these letters is very great. These letters are valueless as bases of Christian Faith unless they be genuine and authentic. In just such traits as these does every competent student discover the indubitable marks of a document of unassailable historical character and value.]
2 Corinthians 11:30. We have more than a revelation of Paul’s personal character here; we also have a revelation of Divine power, bestowed through Christ, acting upon, elevating, that character. His rebuke is chastened; his boasting is mingled with modesty; both show the guiding influence of the Spirit of Christ. Further,
(1) he has been permitted to suffer,
(2) he has thus learnt to sympathise. These are his credentials. So also “as One who suffers and … who can sympathise … our Lord is best known to us.”
I. As One who suffers.—The heart-broken—where not heart-dead—world needs for its Loader One acquainted with grief. “To the Cross, to Gethsemane, to the sacred Face wet with tears and furrowed with agony, the soul turns in its hours of darkness, and never in vain.”
II. In that suffering it sees sympathy.—Not merely suffering for us, but with us. The gracious purpose of the Incarnation. “The Incarnation is that touch of God which makes the whole world kin.” “The gods of classic heathendom knew nothing of sympathy with the wants and woes of man; they stood aloof in sublime indifference; had they possessed some touch of humanity, they might have gained a hold over the affections of the people, which they never possessed. It was left for the Gospel to reveal to us a God who could love with so mighty and yearning a love that it brought Him down … that He might be … of us. It is in this revelation that the Gospel has conquered. Such are the marks of the Lord Jesus; suffering and sympathy. It is of these [?] St. Paul boasts.” Borne as they were in the spirit of his Master, these sufferings had not made him morose or hard. They had nourished a tender, thoughtful care for the sufferings of others, and even for their weaknesses also. “Had so entered into the mind of Christ that he could be tempted in all points even as his brethren were. Could make himself one with the over-scrupulous man, in a matter which to his own spiritual robustness was not of the slightest importance. Could so enter into this man’s weakness that in sympathy with him he was weak also, feeling the grievance almost as if it were his own. Could feel another man’s temptation, and battle with it, as if it attacked him personally. His rivals led men with glib tongues, ready manner, flattering speech; Paul by acts of sympathy, not words. If you are called to suffer for Christ’s sake, remember that the Hand which is laid upon you to sustain you is a Hand that has been itself pierced. Suffering and Sympathy! Such are the Arms of the Cross. On these the Son of Man is stretched out. In these arms He would embrace a fallen humanity.”—From Canon Hutton, “Clerical World,” i. 353.
2 Corinthians 11:19. A Common Sequence.
I. “Wisdom,” pluming itself that it is so wise.
II. Self-conceit, which leaves the door open for—
III. Humiliating slavery to egregiously foolish touching, to obviously shallow, but very confident, loud-asserting, leaders of opinion or practice. For self-gratification how much will men endure; for, and from, Christ, how little.
2 Corinthians 11:21-31.
I. What sufferings.
II. What devotion.
III. What faith.
IV. What triumph.—[J. L.]
[Notice how he puts a godly ancestry and a place amongst the covenant people of God, in the very forefront. It may be an occasion of everlasting thanksgiving to a man. Or, like a noble name inherited by an unworthy scion of a great house, a shame now, and a source of everlasting shame.]
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29