Sunday, September 4
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Summer Bible Series
2 Corinthians 11

Introduction and offering:

Have you been verbally attacked and felt like you had to defend yourself?

ILL: A few years ago, someone I respect accused me of being disingenuous in something I said in a meeting. I immediately took umbrage and felt the need to defend myself. I had spoken honestly, not insincerely or deceptively. “I was not disingenuous!” I’m kind of prickly when accused of being dishonest! Anybody else?

This is the Summer Bible Series—we are working our way through Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians in the New Testament. Today, we will read chapter 11, in which Paul defends himself. He’s a little prickly too—he gets really sarcastic! But there is a difference: I was defending my reputation, but Paul wasn’t concerned about his reputation, but about the gospel and about the Corinthians’ spiritual welfare. As we read this, you’ll hear the heart of a good pastor who cares deeply for God’s people. And we’ll learn what God wants for you. I’ve broken the chapter into three sections:

Paul’s concern: we’ll learn what Paul motivated Paul to defend himself. The stakes were very high! It was nothing less than their relationship with Jesus! We’ll start and finish here.

Paul’s defense: we’ll learn what Paul was accused of and see his answers.

Paul’s boast: we’ll learn about Paul’s credentials as an apostle of Jesus—it may surprise you!

The Big Idea: I want you to live with a whole-hearted devotion for Jesus.

 

  1. Paul’s concern: their relationship with Jesus. 1-4

2 Corinthians 11

1 I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! 2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

Paul’s concern is that the Corinthians are being led astray from their sincere and pure devotion to Christ, that they are accepting a different Jesus, a different Spirit, a different gospel. This is very serious stuff!

We don’t know much about Paul’s opponents in Corinth. We do know that they were Jewish and were proclaiming a message that sounded Christian, but wasn’t—but we don’t know exactly what it was. We know that they bragged about their qualifications and belittled Paul’s. But most importantly, we know that they were leading people astray from Jesus, and this is what prompted this passionate letter from Paul. Paul’s concern was for their relationship with Jesus!

Paul wrote, “I am jealous and I am afraid.”

“I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy,” literally, with the jealousy of God. Have you ever been jealous?

ILL: I remember when I was first falling in love with Laina. She was beautiful—still is—and attracted lots of young men’s attention! After Bible study at Noel’s house, I would be talking with students, but I always kept an eye on who was talking with Laina. If some young man showed too much attention, I felt jealous, protective—and wanted to wander over and interrupt, and invite that young man to a different Bible study!

Honestly, mine was an immature jealousy. But there is a godly jealousy, a righteous jealousy. Husbands and wives should be jealous if they see their spouse’s affection drifting to someone else. Married couples have promised exclusive affection for each other, and should feel jealous if that is compromised. And that’s exactly the parallel that Paul uses here. He had promised these Christians to one husband: Jesus. And he wanted to present them to Jesus as a pure virgin. Paul was using a very common marriage practice.

In Biblical times, and still in many parts of the world, parents arranged marriages for their children. Once an agreement was struck, it was the responsibility of the bride’s father to ensure his daughter’s moral purity until the wedding. He had promised her husband that she would be a virgin on their wedding night. Paul applies this common practice to the Corinthians. He has led them to Christ, and now is working to ensure that they are faithful to Jesus. He wants them to keep a sincere and pure devotion to Jesus. What is at stake is nothing less than their relationship with Jesus! This is Paul’s concern: they were in danger of losing their relationship with Jesus.

So Paul was jealous; and he was afraid. He was afraid that the Corinthians were in danger of being deceived and “led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” He uses the example of the serpent (Satan) deceiving Eve, and suggests that the Corinthians were being deceived and led astray to “a different Jesus, Spirit and gospel.”

Genesis 3 tells the story of Eve being deceived in the garden by the serpent. Prior to this, Adam and Eve lived in paradise in face-to-face relationship with God. But after Eve was deceived and ate the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve lost their relationship with God and were driven from paradise. Paul was afraid that the Corinthians were in that same dangerous place: afraid that they were being deceived and led astray and would lose their relationship with God.

“Led astray” is a mild translation of the Greek word that means, “to destroy, ruin, corrupt or spoil.” Paul’s opponents were deceiving the Corinthians and could destroy or ruin their devotion to Jesus! We’ll come back to this later—I want you to think about your devotion to Jesus.

Here is what is at stake—it is nothing less than the Corinthians spiritual well-being, their relationship with Jesus. Paul is going to defend himself and will violate his own scruples about boasting. But he is driven to it by his love for them and by the high stakes. Paul’s concern is for their spiritual well-being, not for his personal reputation. Paul’s concern is for their relationship with Jesus.

 

  1. Paul’s defense: don’t be deceived. 5-15

In these verses, Paul defends himself against two charges. Here’s the first.

5 I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” 6 I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way.

The first charge was that Paul was not a good speaker. Rhetoric was an art in the ancient world; people were trained in the art of public speaking, and those who excelled were the rock stars of their day. These eloquent speakers commanded large crowds and huge paydays. Just like musical ability or athletic ability would make someone a marketable superstar in our day, in Paul’s day it was public speaking ability. Evidently, Paul’s opponents were classically trained orators, and Paul was not.

Paul responds by saying, “I may be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge.” At least I know what I’m talking about!

ILL: William Barclay tells a story about a dinner party. After dinner it was agreed that each person should recite something. A well-known actor rose and, with all the resources of his training in dramatic art, elegantly recited the twenty-third psalm and sat down to tremendous applause. A quiet man followed him. He too began to recite the twenty-third psalm and at first there were snickers. But as he went on, the room grew quiet and when he had spoken the last words, there was a stunned, respectful silence. The actor leaned across and said, “Sir, I know the psalm, but you know the shepherd.”[1]

That’s what Paul is saying. “You may be better trained as speakers, but I know what I’m talking about. I know Jesus.” All the style in the world can’t make up for substance. It’s all about knowing Jesus.

Here’s the second charge:

7 Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so. 10 As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine. 11 Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!

In his first letter to the Corinthians (Ch. 9), Paul clearly says that he has a right to financial support from the churches. “Those who preach the gospel make their living by the gospel,” he wrote. And yet he chose to forego that right with the Corinthians and received no support from them. He either worked to support himself (he was a tent-maker or leather-worker), or received support from other churches, so that he could preach the gospel to them “free of charge.”

His opponents were evidently saying that you get what you pay for—that’s Paul’s gospel was worth what he had charged them: nothing. If Paul were a real apostle, he would have charged; the fact that he had preached for free simply indicated that he knew his message wasn’t worth anything.    

Paul responds that this is nonsense. He chose to forego support from the Corinthians to avoid being a burden to them. And he would continue to do so because he loved them. Paul goes on:

12 And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. 13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

Paul was determined to continue preaching the gospel to them for free “in order to cut the ground from under those who want…to be considered equal with us.”   They were boasting that they were the real deal and proved it by being paid. But Paul boasts that even though he has the right to be paid, he is doing it for free out of love and concern for the Corinthians—pulling the rug out from under his opponents.

Should pastors (or apostles or other Christian leaders) be paid? Yes. As I said, Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 9 and other passages. Can they forego this right? Yes, and many do, some voluntarily like Paul, and some of necessity because there isn’t money to pay them. I tip my hat to the many bi-vocational pastors who are working another job and leading a church—that’s tough sledding! I am very grateful to be supported by you; your generosity allows me to give myself fully to being your pastor and leading our church. Thank you for paying me! How much should pastors be paid? A lot! Actually, a good answer would be, enough. Years ago, we decided to pay our staff based on a national survey of pastors’ salaries. We chose to peg our staff salaries right in the middle—not the high or the low, but right in the middle of the range. We usually lag a little behind that. My pastor told me, “I can never pay you what you’re worth.” I certainly believe that about our amazing staff who work hard for you.

So Paul rebuts their charge that he isn’t taking any money because he isn’t worth any, and then he lowers the boom. He calls his opponents, “false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostle of Christ.” False, deceitful, fake! And no wonder, he says, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light, so it’s no surprise that his servants do the same. He calls them “servants of Satan” and promises that their end will be what their actions deserve.

Wow!

The stakes are really high! These weren’t nice people pushing a little different version of Christianity. These were servants of Satan who would destroy the Corinthians’ relationship with Jesus. Paul says, “Don’t be deceived!”

Friends, we are engaged in a spiritual battle. You have a spiritual adversary who wants to deceive you, destroy you and separate you from God. Jesus said that Satan is a liar and the father of lies. He is a deceiver. My pastor taught me that the devil’s only power is deception. He lies, but he knows that the best way to deceive you is to wrap the lie in a little truth. He appears as an angel of light, but he is dark to the core. You need to be wise and discerning, not gullible.

Paul’s concern is their relationship with Jesus.

Paul’s defense is don’t be deceived; these are false apostles. And finally…

 

  1. Paul’s boast: I have worked harder and suffered more. 16-33

Paul reluctantly and apologetically feels forced to take on his opponents on their own terms: boast for boast. The Corinthians were enamored by their bragging, so Paul felt he had to do a little bragging of his own to set the record straight.

16 I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17 In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18 Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19 You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20 In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!

Paul boasts reluctantly. “I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.” David Bickley led us through chapter 10 last week that ends with Paul saying, “If you want to boast, boast in the Lord.” That’s what we’re supposed to do. But Paul feels he has to respond to his opponents who are “boasting in the way the world does” about their own credentials. So Paul apologetically dives in. “You want to boast about your credentials. Ok, I think it’s foolish, but here you go.”

Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I.

Paul starts with his Jewish heritage. They were boasting that they were true Jews, raised in Palestine, and spoke the native Hebrew tongue. Me too. “So am I.” In terms of Jewish heritage, they had nothing on Paul.

23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

Paul was a beast!

Paul is going to brag about his credentials as an apostle. What do you expect him to talk about? All the converts he has, all the churches he has planted, and the affirmation of the other apostles like James, Peter and John. But he mentions none of that and instead talks only about his hardships. He has worked harder and suffered more than anyone.

Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians when he was in Ephesus—that visit is recorded in Acts 20. In other words, all these experiences—5 times receiving the 39 lashes from the Jews, 3 times beaten with rods by the Romans, stoned (with rocks), 3 times shipwrecked—all of this happened before Acts 20, but less than a third of it is recorded in Acts.

Paul was a beast!

I want to say this to everyone—but especially to the men. Men: heads up! Before I became a Christian, I had rejected the Christian faith because I thought it was for wimps, for weak people, for the old and infirmed and dying, for women and children, but not for a tough young stud like me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Following Jesus is the greatest and most challenging adventure in life. Jesus doesn’t ask for much—He asks for everything. If you think it’s easy, if you think it’s for the weak and the soft, you don’t know Jesus who endured the most painful form of execution for you. If you think it’s easy, you don’t know Paul who endured beatings, shipwreck, hunger, thirst and constant danger. Paul was a man’s man; Jesus was a man’s man! Men, the most manly thing you can do, the strongest thing you can do is follow Jesus. I’m challenging you to be a beast for Jesus!

Paul was a beast; I read this and think, “I want to be as tough, as brave, as strong, as heroic as Paul.”

28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

On top of all the physical suffering and hardship, Paul faced the daily pressure of concern for all the churches. Here is the voice of Paul the pastor and church planter who loves these people. Of all that Paul faced, this was the one thing he couldn’t escape. He could get away from the physical hardship and suffering at times, but he could never escape the daily pressure of concern for all the churches. It’s an occupational hazard for pastors. You’re always on. You always care for people. It’s not a 9-5, five days a week deal. I often tell pastors that you have to learn to care for people without carrying them, or it will crush you.

30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.

This chapter finishes with an unexpected story: Paul escapes death by being lowered in a basket from a window in the city wall of Damascus. Paul could have told many stories of heroism, of bravely facing torture or looking death in the eye and not flinching. Instead, he tells a story about running away and living to fight another day. Why? “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” This story of weakness is sandwiched between this amazing list of hardships and Paul’s story of going to heaven and seeing and hearing things “no man is permitted to tell.” So it sets up what comes next: next week we’re going to look at one the most fascinating chapters of Paul’s life and learn about boasting in our weakness.

 

Conclusion:

I want to go back to verses 2-3 to finish.

2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

“I am afraid for you,” Paul said. I am afraid for some of you that you could be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. Could it happen to us? Jesus warned about this. He told a story of a farmer who sowed seed with four different results.

  • Some of it landed on the hard path and the birds ate it before it could sprout. This represents people who hear God’s message, but it never takes root. They never believe.
  • Some of the seed landed on rocky ground where it sprouted and grew quickly, but withered and died in the hot sun. This represents people who hear God’s message, accept it gladly, but when trouble comes, they fall away. They didn’t have the root structure to sustain them in trouble.
  • Some of the seed landed on weedy soil where it sprouted and grew, but then got choked out by the weeds. This represents people who hear God’s message, believe and grow, but get choked out by “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things.”
  • Some of the seed landed on good soil where it sprouted, grew and bore a plentiful harvest.

All four heard the same message, the same gospel. One rejected it outright and never got started. Three accepted it and started, but only one finished well. Two started well but faded—they were led astray from their sincere and pure devotion to Christ. By what?

Those in the rocky soil were led astray by trouble. I’ve seen too many people who don’t have deep roots in Jesus fall away when trouble comes. “Where is God?” they ask. “How could he let this happen to me?” And in frustration they quit. They stop following Jesus. Don’t let that be you!

ILL: I know a man who faced some hardship in his family—it was discouraging, difficult stuff. But instead of turning to Jesus, he ran away from him and today he’s not following. He gave up. He withered.

I know a couple whose feelings got hurt. Someone said or did something that offended them, and they quit. They aren’t going to church anywhere and aren’t following Jesus. Don’t do that. Jesus is too important to just quit because your feelings got hurt.

Here’s the thing: Christianity is a team sport—you can’t do it alone, only together with others. But the others are all people, just like you—we’re all works in progress. That means trouble—guaranteed. You will get offended or hurt at times—guaranteed. But Jesus is too important to just quit. Work it out and keep growing.

Are you facing some hardships, some trouble? Let trouble push you closer to God, not away from Him! Sink your roots deep into Jesus.

Those in the weedy soil were led astray by other things—good things, normal things. They were overwhelmed by life, by worry, by wealth, by desires. Nothing is more important than your relationship with Jesus. Don’t let anything lead you astray from your whole-hearted devotion to Jesus. I have spiritual ADHD. I am constantly distracted by good things: by work, by fun, by shiny stuff. So I’m constantly correcting back to Jesus. This is why our spiritual practices are so important:

  • Come to church every week to worship and learn God’s word.
  • Spend some time alone with God each day in PBJ. Pray, read your Bible, journal. Let God speak to you.

These help me daily and weekly correct back to Jesus, and keep my devotion whole-hearted.

So how is your devotion to Christ? Is it wholehearted? Sincere and pure? Is there something you need to do to make sure that it is?

 

 

[1] Barclay, W. (Ed.). (1975). The letters to the Corinthians (p. 247). Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press.