Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

December 23, 2014

Tom Lowe



The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians


            IV.    Authority of Paul’s Ministry. (10:1–13:10).                         

                       B.    The Boast of the Apostle. (11:1–12:10).  


Lesson IV.B.1:The Basis for His Boast. (11:1–15).


2nd Corinthians 11:1-15 (NKJV)


1 Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly—and indeed you do bear with me.

2 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.

3 But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

4 For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!

5 For I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles.

6 Even though I am untrained in speech, yet I am not in knowledge. But we have been thoroughly manifested among you in all things.

7 Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge?

8 I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you.

9 And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself.

10 As the truth of Christ is in me, no one shall stop me from this boasting in the regions of Achaia.

11 Why? Because I do not love you? God knows!

12 But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast.

13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.

14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.

15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.




Paul writes very intimately and very personally in this chapter.  Paul reminds these folk that they are joined to the living Christ, and He expresses His deep concern for them.


Because the Corinthians were easily impressed by resumes (11:21-23), articulate and persuasive speeches (11:6), and demonstrations of spiritual power (12:12), they had been duped by a group of false teachers.  By consistently criticizing and accusing Paul, this group of upstart teachers had undermined Paul’s authority in Corinth.  Paul felt obligated to respond to their criticisms, point by point (11:21).  He had founded the church and had the responsibility to keep it on the right course—“Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15).




1 Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly—and indeed you do bear with me.


All through this section Paul has to adopt methods which are completely distasteful to him.  He has to stress his own authority, to boast about himself and to keep comparing himself with those who are seeking to seduce the Corinthian church; and he does not like it.  He apologizes every time he has to speak in such a way, for he was not a man to stand on his dignity.  But Paul knew that it was not really his dignity and honor that were at stake, but the dignity and the honor of Jesus Christ.  The Greek word translated here as “folly” implies foolishness; the Greek for “foolishness” includes the idea of perversity and wickedness.


Paul asked the Corinthian believers to be patient and “bear with him” as he spoke of his apostolic credentials.  He felt foolish reciting his credentials because it was through his evangelistic efforts that he had founded the Corinthian church.  There shouldn’t be any reason for the Corinthians to question him; he was their father in the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 4:15).  But because the Corinthians had been mesmerized by the rhetoric of these false teachers, dazzled by their claims to ecstatic spiritual experiences, and duped by their logic, Paul was forced to talk like a fool, to remind them of what he had done for the cause of Christ.  It was against his principles to do this, for all honor, glory, and even boasts belonged to Go—“But, "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord" (10:17).  Yet Paul was in a dilemma.  If he didn’t speak up, the false teachers in Corinth might continue to lead the Corinthian believers astray.  Paul had hoped that the believer’s would discern the emptiness of these false teachers boasts, but they had not.  As a spokesman for the truth, therefore, Paul couldn’t stay silent; he had to speak up.  In this case, speaking up for the truth meant defending his own credentials.  If his own ministry was discredited, the gospel he preached would also be discredited.


After reading this passage, you may have the same question that I had, “if I were a Christian minister, how would I go about convincing the people in my congregation that I really loved them?  This was the problem Paul faced as he wrote this epistle.  If he reminded the people of the work he did among them, they would only reply, “Paul is bragging!” if he said nothing about his ministry in Corinth, the Judaizers would say, “See, we told you Paul didn’t accomplish anything!”


So what did Paul do?  He was led by the Spirit of God to use a beautiful image—a comparison–-that was certain to reach the hearts of the believers at Corinth.  He compared himself to a “spiritual father” caring for his family.  He had used this image before to remind the Corinthians that, as a “father” he had begotten them through the gospel, and that he could discipline them if he felt it was necessary (1 Corinthians 4:14-21).  They were his beloved spiritual children and he wanted the very best for them.


Paul gave them three evidences of his fatherly love for them:

  1. His jealousy over the Church (1-6, 13-15).
  2. His generosity to the Church (7-12)
  3. His anxiety for the Church (16-33)—will be covered in the next lesson, “The Proof of His Boast.”



2 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.


Paul was anxious that the Corinthian church’s love should be reserved for Christ alone, just as a “chaste virgin” saves her love for her groom.  Notice, he does not say “chaste virgins”; for he does not mean the individual members, but the whole body of believers combined constitute the bride.  But In the first century, an engagement was a serious commitment, similar to a contract.  If the bride was not a virgin on the wedding day, it was considered a breach of the engagement contract.  Ensuring the bride’s purity and virginity until the wedding day was partially her father’s responsibility.  As for the Corinthian church, Paul felt responsible for seeing that the betrothed virgin is still pure when the marriage takes place, that is, that the Corinthians are not seduced by persons who will lead them away from their confessed faith in Christ.  His jealousy for them was like that which God also has.  The word “jealousy” does not mean a blind or unworthy passion, but a justified concern for the honor and purity of the church at Corinth.  “Godly jealousy”—literally, “jealousy of God” (see 2 Corinthians 1:12, “godly sincerity,” literally, “sincerity of God”).


Paul had already described himself as the Corinthians’ spiritual father (see 1 Corinthians 4:15).  This passage depicts his concern for the Corinthians as a father’s concern for the purity of his daughter.  Paul had already promised the Corinthians as a pure bride to one husband, Christ.  He was anticipating that wonderful day when he would present them proudly to Jesus.  That day when Christ returns will be like a great wedding feast, an image that Jesus himself had used for his Second Coming (see Matthew 25:1-11).  To guarantee that he would not be embarrassed at Christ return, Paul took the necessary steps to encourage the Corinthians not to stray from their pure devotion to Christ—“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” (11:3).  He was willing to indulge in some foolish boasting in order to make the Corinthians come back to their senses and ignore the diversion of these false teachers, who had invaded Corinth preaching a different Jesus (11:4), and who were inspired by Satan.


Thus, the jealousy that motivated Paul wasn’t a jealousy for his own reputation or his own power.  This can be clearly seen in Paul’s words: He boasted in his weakness, trials, and difficulties, instead of in his strength, accomplishments, and successes (see especially 11:30-33).  This jealousy was a godly jealousy for the Corinthians: that they might wholeheartedly follow Christ, their Savior (11:3-4).  Although Paul welcomed any godly teacher, such as Apollos, to instruct the Corinthians in the essentials of the Christian faith (see his praise of Apollo’s work in 1 Corinthians 3:6), he opposed any teacher who preached a different Christ or a different gospel, as the false teachers in Corinth had been doing.


True love is never envious (jealous), but it has a right to be jealous over those who are loved.  A husband is jealous over his wife and rightfully resents and resists any rivalry that threatens their love for each other.  A true patriot has every right to be jealous over his freedom and will fight to protect it.  Likewise, a father (or a mother) is jealous over his or her children and seeks to protect them from anything that will harm them.


Paul saw the local church as a bride, engaged to be married to Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 5:22 and Romans 7:4).  That marriage will not take place until Jesus Christ has come for His bride (Revelations 19:1-9).  The “espousal” (engagement) took place at conversion; the “presentation” will be consummated at the Second Coming (Ephesians 5:26-27; Revelations 21:2, 9; 22:17). Meanwhile, the church—and this means individual Christians—must keep herself pure as she prepares to meet her Beloved.


Jealousy: Paul was jealous for the Corinthian church (11:2).  Jealousy is not always wrong.  Righteous jealousy is an overwhelming desire for another’s well-being, based on sincere love, not on self-gratification.  Jealousy is portrayed in the Old Testament when God refuses to let his rebellious people self-destruct.  It is the jealous love that Paul attributed to God in Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our lord.” With this kind of jealous fervor, Paul watched over those with whom God had entrusted him.


3 But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

Eve represents innocence and purity. This passage compares the serpent’s temptation to the temptation of the false teachers’ enticing message.  The Corinthians had begun their Christian walk with a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  But false teachers were luring Corinthian believers away from the truth.  Paul didn’t want the believers’ single-minded love for Christ to be corrupted.  The Greek word Paul used for “corrupted” (“led astray”) actually means “to rule one.” The Corinthians’ weren’t merely wondering slightly from the path; they were ruining their purity.


Although some commentators see an allusion in this passage to the sexual immorality that may have persisted in the Corinthian church (see 1 Corinthians 6:9–20), the focus here is on the Corinthians’ thoughts.  Sin begins with thoughts.  The serpent first tried to convince Eve that God’s law was not the best for her, that the advantages of disobeying God outweighed the advantages of obeying Him.  The serpent’s deception was primarily directed against what Eve thought about God and his instructions (Genesis 3:1-6).  Satan knew that once the mind was convinced, actions would soon follow.  Eve was persuaded by Satan’s lies and subsequently reached out to pluck the forbidden fruit.  In the same way, the false teachers were Satan’s servants, misleading the Corinthians and causing them to abandon their wholehearted devotion to Christ (see 11:14-15).  Paul knew that thoughts are the primary battleground for spiritual warfare (see 10:5).  That is why he took these false teachers so seriously.  Paul equated the false teachers’ success with Satan’s victory in the spiritual war that was being waged in the Corinthian church.


Just as Eve lost her focus by listening to the serpent, believers too can lose their focus by letting their lives become crowded and confused.  The focus here is on the mind, for Satan is a liar and tries to get us to listen to his lies, ponder them, and then believe them.  This is what he did with Eve. First, he questioned God’s word (“yea, hath God said?”, then he denied God’s word (“Ye shall not surely die!”), and then he substituted his own lie (“Ye shall be as gods”) (see Genesis 3:1, 4-5). Eve was not true to God.  And like eve, the thoughts of the Corinthians were in danger of being corrupted, that is, led astray, from the simplicity, the singleness of devotion that a true betrothed virgin shows, “and the purity,” the chaste conduct, that they ought to show “toward Christ.”


The word that has been translated here as “simplicity” means “sincerity, singleness of devotion.” A divided heart leads to a defiled life and a destroyed relationship.



4 For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!

The phrase, “he who comes” (to preach so false a message) either designates the outstanding leader among the false apostles, or is a generic reference to all of this group of intruders.  The false teachers who had come to Corinth had distorted the truth about Jesus and ended up preaching a different Jesus, a different spirit than the Holy Spirit, and a different gospel than God’s way of salvation.


Exactly how the false teaching was different from the gospel Paul preached has intrigued Biblical scholars for centuries.  Because Paul spent most of his time in this letter defending his authority instead of addressing any doctrinal errors, 2 Corinthians offers few clues.


Some commentators have suggested that this “different gospel” was the legalism preached by Judaizers to the Galatians (see Galatians 3:1-6).  Galatians 1:6-9 describes this legalist teaching as a different gospel.  As evidence for this view, these commentators point to how Paul carefully differentiated the new covenant from the old, the gospel of Christ from the message of Moses (see Galatians 3:7-18).  The false teachers in Corinth were certainly Jews who were bragging about their Jewish heritage[t1] —“Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham's descendants? So am I” (11:22).  Moreover, Paul called them “servants of righteousness” (11:15), an apt term for the legalistic Jews who were enslaving Gentiles with a righteousness that was obtained from the law.  Thus, according to this view, the “other Jesus” that the false teachers preached was a Jesus who taught obedience to Jewish laws as the way to salvation.


But many commentators don’t believe that Paul’s opponents in Corinth were legalists because Paul didn’t discuss the law in 2 Corinthians.  Instead of discussing the law, Paul reinforced over and over that his credentials as an apostle came directly from Christ.  And as prove of his authority, Christ had demonstrated his power through Paul’s weakness (3:1-5; 4:8-12; 6:3-10; 11:16-33).  Apparently the false teachers were boasting of their superior credentials (3:1; 11:22), their speaking abilities (10:10; 11:6), and their ecstatic spiritual experiences (12:1, 12).  They had begun to compare their ministry to Paul’s, belittling his abilities and credentials in order to highlight their own competence.


The Greeks were known for the way they valued polished oratory and intellect (see 1 Corinthians 1:22, where Paul described the Greek infatuation with their own wisdom.). It could be conjectured that the false teachers who had come to Corinth from Judea (11:22) were thoroughly familiar with Greek ways.  They knew Greek customs and the Greek language so well that they could present themselves to Corinthians as polished Greek orators.  Although they were Jewish, they imitated the Greek teachers who traveled throughout the Mediterranean world, trying to impress their audience and earn money by doing so.  In fact, Paul had accused them in 2:17 of being peddlers of God’s Word.  Thus the false teachers were teaching “another Jesus,” one who, like them, was a powerful speaker and a wonder worker—not the suffering and crucified Jesus whom Paul preached (see 1 Corinthians 1:23; Philippians 2:5-11).  But they preached a different Jesus—one who was merely a descendent of David and the head of the Jewish race, or one who was merely a teacher, or a social reformer, or the best of our human kind, but is not the Jesus of the Christian faith.  Any sentimental picture of Him would rob the gospel of its meaning and its power.  Other results would follow.  A different Jesus would create a different spirit in the church; that is, in Corinth the Judaizers rejected Christian freedom and sought to restore the shackles of Jewish legalism.


Satan has a counterfeit gospel (Galatians 1:6-12) that involves a different savior and a different spirit.  Unfortunately, the Corinthians had “welcomed” this “new gospel,” which was a mixture of Law and grace and NOT a true gospel at all.  There is only one gospel and, therefore, there can be only one Savior (1 Corinthians 15:1).  When you trust the Savior, you receive the Holy Spirit of God within, and there is only one Holy Spirit.


Because of the sparse amount of evidence in 2 Corinthians, the exact form of the ‘false teachers’ erroneous teaching cannot be known.  But whether it was a heresy dealing with the Jewish law or a heresy dealing with Greek wisdom and knowledge (see 1 Corinthians 1:21-25), clearly the teaching was a “different gospel” and a “different spirit” than what Paul preached.  The false teachers were distracting the Corinthians from the grace of God, the only thing that could save them (see Paul’s emphasis on grace in 1:12; 6:1; 9:8; 12:9).  These false teachers’ rhetoric, reasoning, and boasting were drawing attention to themselves instead of pointing the Corinthians to God.


We still face the problem today of the preaching of another Jesus, another spirit, another gospel.  Some time ago there was a musical production called “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” which denies His deity and presents a “Jesus” who never lived.  It is the “Jesus” of liberalism dressed in a new wardrobe.  And the Jesus of liberalism never existed.  If they deny the virgin birth of Jesus, they are talking about some other Jesus, not the Jesus Christ of the Bible.  If they do not believe that He performed miracles, they have a different Jesus in mind, because the Jesus in the gospels is the One who performed miracles.  He is the One who died for the sins of the world, which they deny.  They denied that He was raised from the dead bodily.  They deny that He is the God-Man.  Yet one of the oldest creeds declares that He is very God and very God and very man of very man.  If that is denied, then a different Jesus is being presented. 



5 For I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent[1] apostles.

6 Even though I am untrained in speech, yet I am not in knowledge. But we have been thoroughly manifested among you in all things.

Paul, a brilliant thinker, was not trained in Greek rhetoric.  He probably wasn’t a spellbinding speaker.  Although Paul’s preaching ministry was effective (see Acts 17), he had not been trained in the Greek schools of oratory and speechmaking, as the false teachers evidently had been.  In fact, Paul avoided fine sounding arguments and lofty ideas in order to preach the simple gospel message (see 1 Corinthians 1:17).  Some of the Corinthians had begun to think that Paul’s plain speaking style indicated a simple-mindedness.  But, in spite of all the negative things they said about him, Paul knows that the power of God’s Spirit works through his unpretentious speech; so he is content.  And he is not unskilled in . . .  “knowledge,” that is, the knowledge that counts, the knowledge of the saving truth of the gospel, which the intruders would pervert.


When confronted with these accusations, Paul replied that he didn’t study Greek rhetoric in order to compete with these trained orators.  Instead, he explained to the Corinthians that the gospel was a scandal, a stumbling-block—“but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). It wouldn’t fit into their preconceived notions of excellence.  It was pure folly to the wise of this world.  God made the gospel simple because He loves to circumvent the powerful in order to show how much He can accomplish with those who are weak, powerless, inarticulate, and foolish.  Paul couldn’t compete with the polished orators at Corinth, and he didn’t want to.  Their message would be applauded, while his simple message would be scorned (see the response of the Greek philosophers in Acts 17:32).  But it didn’t matter how the world responded to the gospel.  No matter what their response, the gospel Paul preached was still the message of God’s salvation, a message that the Holy Spirit would use to save people from their sins and transform their lives (see Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 2:1-8).


Despite what his accusers (those “eminent-apostles”) said, Paul claimed that he did possess “knowledge,” but it wasn’t the knowledge of the world and its ways.  It was knowledge of the gospel and how someone can become saved (Ephesians 3:3-6).  Paul had made every effort to preach this message in a clear and straight-forward way (see 1:12-14; 1 Corinthians 2:4-5).  He didn’t want to use sophisticated rhetoric or intricate arguments in order to persuade people.  He simply wanted to preach the gospel.  But the fact remains, however unskilled he may be in technical oratory, he knows what he is talking about and they do not.  Paul’s opponents might have all the resources of oratory and he might be unskilled in speech; but he knew what he was talking about because he knew the real Christ.


The Corinthians vacillated in their devotion to the Lord because of the threefold appeal of the false apostles.  First, these false teachers apparently associated themselves and their mission with the original apostles.  The designation “eminent-apostles” was used by the false apostles of themselves, or was Paul’s ironical portrayal of their adulation of the Twelve (or of Peter, James, and John; Galatians 2:9).  The false apostles hoped to derive authority by claiming to be associated with the Twelve.  Without demeaning the Twelve, Paul affirmed his own status as an apostle of similar rank: “I am not in the least inferior” (2 Corinthians 12:11).  His basis for this claim would follow shortly (11:22-12:10). 


His apostleship was not a matter of show but of substance.  What Paul said was more important than how he said it.  The Corinthians could not deny the content of his message and it’s transforming consequences (1 Corinthians 4:15; 9: 1-2).


SELF-ASSESSMENT.  Paul conceded that he was not a trained speaker (11: 5-6).  But that acknowledgment didn’t undermine his message.  He knew that what mattered most was the knowledge he had to share, not the package–not his ability to speak brilliantly.  Teaching the proof of the gospel was far more important.  God’s Word stands on its own merit and is not dependent on imperfect human beings to create the hearing of it.


7 Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge?

“Did I commit sin” suggests the seriousness of the charge made against Paul.  The Corinthians were “exalted” from the depths of pagan darkness to the heights of fellowship with God (see Ephesians 2:1; 1 Peter 2:9-10).


The Corinthians evaluated a speaker by how much money he demanded from his audience.  A good speaker would charge a large sum; a fair preacher would be cheaper; a poor speaker would speak for free.  Since Paul hadn’t asked for money when he preached in Corinth, some were accusing him of being an amateur speaker.


In 1 Corinthians Paul had made it clear that he could have demanded a wage or financial support, but he had chosen to forego any payment in order to offer the gospel free of charge.  Jesus himself had taught that godly ministers could expect to be supported by the people to whom they minister (Matthew 10:10).


The reason why Paul hadn’t asked for support when he first came to Corinth was because he thought he would be misunderstood.  Many teachers traveled the Roman Empire hoping to make a good profit from their own speaking abilities (2:17), and Paul thought that he might appear like one of them.  Moreover, a preacher or teacher who received substantial support from any one person was expected to show gratitude to the person.  Usually this amounted to preaching only what a patron approved.  Paul may have been wary of taking money from a person because he thought he would be identified as a spokesman for one group or another.  Paul was extremely careful to protect his freedom to preach the unadulterated gospel message and let it speak for itself.


Instead of asking for a fee, as a professional speaker would do, Paul supported himself by manual labor, working as a tent maker with Priscilla and Aquila (see acts 18:1-3).  Prominent Greeks considered manual labor beneath them. In Greco-Roman society, it was more honorable for a traveling teacher to beg than it was for him to stoop to demeaning manual labor.  In contrast, the Jews respected manual labor.  In fact, Jewish rabbis, teachers of the law, were required to support themselves with some kind of trade.  Thus, when Paul supported himself as a tent maker he was following his rabbinical training.  The sophisticated teachers at Corinth attacked Paul for doing this, trying to discredit his ministry by drawing attention to this fact.  How could Paul, a mere lower-class worker, teach them?



8 I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you.

9 And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself.

Paul’s language in these verses brings to mind a military metaphor.  The Greek word for “taking wages” was used in the first century for a soldiers pay.  The Greek word for “robbed” is a military term that depicts how a first-century soldier would “stripped bare” his enemies.  Thus, Paul was saying that in order to serve the Corinthians he had, in effect, plundered the churches in Macedonia for his wages.  This strong language may reflect the accusation of Paul’s critics.


Although Paul had never taken any money from the Corinthians for his ministry (and was being criticized for that, 11:7), his critics were (amazingly and somewhat ironically) also accusing him of trying to rob the Corinthian church with the “ruse” of the Jerusalem collection (see 8:16-21; 12:16-18).  Paul must have anticipated some of these problems, for from the start he had refused to collect any money for the collection himself.  Instead, he had told the Corinthians to appoint people to collect the money and deliver it.  Paul wouldn’t handle any of the money (see 8:18-21; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3).  He wouldn’t make himself a burden to the Corinthians, no matter what the situation was, whether he needed support or not. 


Paul used a bit of irony in this verse: “Yes, I have been a ‘robber.’ I ‘robbed’ other churches so I would not have to ‘rob’ you!” And now the Judaizers were really robbing them.




10 As the truth of Christ is in me, no one shall stop me from this boasting in the regions of Achaia.

11 Why? Because I do not love you? God knows!

Paul knew that the fact he hadn’t taken any money from the Corinthians was the strongest rebuttal to the false teachers, for their whole purpose in preaching was to gather a following who would support them (see 2:17).  More than likely, they were the ones who had slowed the collection for the Jerusalem Christians in order to divert the funds to themselves.  Paul hoped that his consistent integrity with money would be one of the indicators that he was a preacher of the truth, while his opponents were greedy peddlers of falsehoods (2:17).  So, with good conscience he can say that the “truth of Christ” is in him.  This is a solemn assurance that what he now says is dependable. “As the truth of Christ is in me” is almost like saying “I swear by the truth of Christ which is in me; it controls my speech so that you can depend on what I now say.”


Refusal to accept help might suggest a cold, unfriendly spirit.  So Paul explains that the reason he will never accept help from the Corinthians is not that he does not love them.  To the question he answers: “God knows!”  God knows whether I love you, that is, He knows that I really do. Paul calls on God to witness that he loves the Corinthians’ even while they impute wrong motives to him (see 2 Corinthians 12:15). Why did Paul refuse support?  Why did he boast of his own integrity?  Why did he oppose the false teachers?  It may have been because of his deep love for the Corinthians.  As the founder of the church of Corinth, Paul was concerned for the Corinthians’ spiritual welfare.  He desired their spiritual purity (1:6, 23; 2:10).  However, his main reason may have been his desire to emulate Christ who became poor even as He enriched others—For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).



12 But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast.

In order to set the record straight, Paul wouldn’t stop boasting that he had preached the gospel free of charge (see 6:10; 7:2; 11:27; 12:16-18; 1 Corinthians 9:3-18).  The false teachers want Paul to accept support too. Then he and they will be in the same position.  Paul had already explained his policy in a previous letter (1 Corinthians 9).  He had pointed out that he was a true apostle because he had seen the risen Christ and had been commissioned by him.  Eventually, the Corinthians would wake up to the fact that these false teachers, unlike Paul, were more interested in the money of the Corinthians than in their spiritual welfare.


Although Paul was being forced to boast foolishly about his own ministry, it was his consistent honesty and integrity—the way he had conducted himself around the Corinthians—that would silence his critics and answer their charges against him.  These new preachers wanted to be recognized as “super-apostles” (11:5); but in reality, they would not be considered Paul’s equals.  They were not willing to suffer, as Jesus had, to present the gospel free of charge.



13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.

Paul reserved some of the harshest language for those who were boasting about their ministry among the Corinthians: They were “false apostles” and “deceitful workers.”  They called themselves apostles, but had no right to the name.  How could Paul be so confident that these teachers were disguising themselves as apostles?  There were three signs he could look for.


One of the first signs that a teacher is false is that that teacher tries to discredit true Christian teachers and preachers.  That was what was occurring at Corinth: Paul’s credentials, authority, and speaking abilities were being questioned by these self-serving teachers (11:5-6).  By discrediting Paul’s authority, these teachers were trying to build up their own following in the congregation Paul had founded (10:13-18).


A second sign of a false teacher is that teacher’s self-serving methods.  The teachers at Corinth were boasting of their own credentials, comparing themselves to Paul (3:1; 10:12).  Their methods (their loud boasts) should have been a clue that these preachers were not looking out for the Corinthians’ spiritual welfare but instead for their own financial welfare. They wanted to consolidate power over the congregation, and the way they handled their authority revealed their greedy goals (2:17).  They were very overbearing (11:20).


A third sign that these teachers were false and deceitful is that their self-serving methods were causing divisions and conflict in the church.  Paul would warn the Romans about such people, those who love to divide (see Romans 16:17).  Instead of building the Corinthians up in the faith as Paul hoped to do (13:10), these teachers were tearing the church down in order to put together their own following (10:12-18).  They were NOT building on the solid foundation; the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-13).


The final sign that these were false teachers is the message they preached. The conflict they caused in the church, their self-serving methods, and their criticism of God’s teachers should have prompted the Corinthians to inspect the message thoroughly.  A careful analysis would have revealed that it was “different” from the true gospel that Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Apollos had preached (11:4-5).


The Corinthian believers should have tested the teachers to see whether they believed Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 4:1-2).  The Corinthians had failed to do this and had even let these teachers wreak havoc in their congregation.  Paul was disappointed with the Corinthians’ lack of discernment (11:4, 19-20), and he felt compelled to expose the teachers for who they were; false apostles.


It is still true that many masquerade as Christians, some consciously but still more unconsciously.  Their Christianity is a superficial dress in which there is no reality.



14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.

Paul wasn’t amazed that false teachers were disguising themselves as preachers of God, for “Satan himself” had deceived God’s people in similar ways.


Paul had already warned the Corinthians to NOT give Satan any chance to tempt them or disrupt their congregation (see the 2:11; 1 Corinthians 7:5).  Here, Paul compared the false teachers’ deception with Satan’s actions.  Paul used the word transform in referring to their work.  This Greek word simply means “to disguise, to masquerade.” There is a change on the outside, but there is no change on the inside.  Satan’s workers, like Satan himself, never appear in their true character; they always wear a disguise and hide behind a mask.  Like whitewashed tombs they may have looked righteous but inside there was only death and decay (Matthew 23: 27-28), foreshadowing their doom (end; 1 Corinthians 3:17).


People have the idea that Satan has cloven feet and horns.  This kind of erroneous idea comes from the Greek god Pan of Greek mythology, who was portrayed as half animal and was worshipped as Dionysus.  Likening Satan to Pan certainly is not the scriptural point of view.  Satan himself is an “angel of light.”  If he would make himself visible to you, you would see a being of breathtaking beauty.  Paul draws from that the conclusion in verse 15.


Although the Old Testament doesn’t describe Satan as an angel of light, Jewish writings do.  Paul may have been thinking of the stories in the life of Adam and Eve and the Apocalypse of Moses when he wrote this verse.  For instance, the Life of Adam and Eve describes Satan as taking on the appearance of an angel who pretends to console Eve as she grieves.  Nothing could be more deceitful than Satan, the prince of darkness (Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 1:13), disguising himself as an angel of light.  In the same way, false teachers, claiming to represent the truth, are extremely deceptive.



15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.

The frightening statement here is that Satan has “ministers.”  It makes your hair stand on end.  As Satan is transformed into an angel of light, so his ministers are transformed as the “ministers of righteousness.”  They are very attractive.  All of Satan’s ministers glorify themselves.  This is one way you can tell whether a man is preaching the simplicity of the Word of God or whether he is preaching some other Jesus or some other gospel.


Although these false teachers claimed to be servants of God’s righteousness, they were servants of Satan, the god of this age (4:4).  Their actions betrayed them.  Instead of bringing glory to God, they were boasting of their own achievements (10:17–18).  Instead of preaching in response to God’s call (compare 2:17 with 4:1-2, 5; 5:20), they were preaching for money.  Instead of guarding the spiritual welfare of their followers, they were consolidating power over their followers (compare 1:23-24; 10:8; 11:21 with 11:18-20).  Instead of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ clearly (11:6-7), they were preaching a twisted gospel of another Jesus (11:4).  Paul proved his love for the church by protecting it from the attacks of false teachers; and yet the members of the church “fell for” the Judaizers and let them come again.  The Corinthians had “left their first love” and were no longer giving single-hearted devotion to Jesus Christ.  It was not only that they had turned against Paul, but they had turned away from Christ; and that was far more serious.  In the end their fraud would be exposed for what it was; a ruse to divert Christians from their devotion to God.  And they will get what their actions deserve–God’s judgment.  “Are they servants of Christ? . . . I am more” (11:23).  This was Paul’s ultimate rebuttal.


If the greedy teachers of Corinth question Paul’s authority, he questioned their devotion to Christ.  They were enjoying the luxuries of one of the most prominent cities in the Roman Empire, while Paul, as he noted in this passage, was enduring all kinds of hardships to preach the gospel to those who hadn’t heard it.  These teachers have been careful to collect correct references, respected credentials, and impeccable recommendations; but they, unlike Paul, had failed to offer their entire lives in service of Christ, wherever that brought them.  Paul’s long list of hardships he had endured couldn’t be matched by any of those teachers who were criticizing him.


These Satanic ministers partake of their father’s predestinated damnation (Matthew 7:22–23; 25:41; Revelations 20:10, 15).  How do such men, still with us today, disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness?

  1. By rejecting God’s righteousness while insisting on the merit of man’s righteousness.
  2. By denying the fatal effects of sin on man’s original righteousness while insisting that man’s nature is still basically righteous.
  3. By nullifying the imputed righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21) while insisting that his death still has some moral effect on mankind.
  4. By questioning the absolute righteousness of Christ while insisting that His life, though imperfect, is still worthy of our imitation.


Who were these false apostles?  Numerous suggestions have been made, ranging from Hellenistic charismatics to Palestinian Gnostics.  Several factors suggest, however, that they were Palestinian Jews, members of the Jerusalem church who were false brothers (Galatians 2:4) in Paul’s estimation.  They carried letters of commendation from the church (2 Corinthians 3:1), possibly under the auspices of the Jerusalem Council, to assess compliance with the Jerusalem Decree (see Acts 15:20-21).  That there were self-appointed delegations to enforce Mosaic ordinances before this is certain (Acts 15:24), and it is possible that the false apostles in Corinth were mavericks of this sort.  Paul did not contest their appeal to the authority of the “eminent-apostles.” But he did refute the value of such an appeal and the notion that apostolic authority was a matter of human association rather than divine accreditation. 





[1]The most “eminent apostles”—James, Peter, and John, the witnesses of Christ’s transfiguration and agony in Gethsemane, are not the ones meant here.  Rather, “those pretend apostles,” those who are apostles in their own esteem; this sense is proved by the fact that the context contains no comparison between Paul and the apostles, but only between him and the false teachers. 


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