2 Corinthians 11:1-15 - Congregational Critics Answered with Godly Jealousy
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. 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.2 Corinthians 11:2-3 (NKJV)
A Spiritual Father Pleads for Understanding (Read 11:1-6)
From our previous study we learned that 'not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends' (2 Corinthians 10:18). Self-commendation is unsuitable for a preacher of Christ, and embarrassing for the apostle Paul. With loving concern for the spiritual welfare of his Corinthian children, he begs their indulgence of his apparent 'foolishness' as he sets out to defend his reputation against criticisms being circulated in the congregation.
His motive, simply stated, is spiritual jealousy for them (v.2). So intense is his love for the Corinthian congregation that it burns with godly jealousy, the protective, directive affection of a father' for his daughter. Paul had begotten this spiritual daughter through the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:1f.; 4:15), and had exercised the father's ancient right of betrothing her in marriage to an approved bridegroom: Christ Himself. The wedding day is approaching, but in the meantime, this spiritual father desires to keep his spiritual daughter pure and chaste for presentation to the Groom. (Question 1)
But the apostle has been hearing reports of his 'daughter' playing around with other lovers, seduced away from her affection for her Betrothed. Notice in verse 3 how this paternal apprehension is expressed: '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 fell because she was not wholly devoted to God, and therefore her mind was seduced by the devil's cunning. Paul is implying that these false apostles are servants of Satan — deceitful and cunning in their motives and doctrine. In fact, later in verses 13 and 15, he states the charge explicitly: these false teachers masquerade as if they are from Christ, even as Satan masquerades as an angel of light. (Question 2)
The basic issue is exposed at the end of verse 4: you people are too tolerant! If somebody comes preaching another Jesus, offering another spirit, a different gospel, 'you put up with it easily enough!' Even the heretical Judaizers, who wanted to crawl back to Old Testament ceremonial ritual, used Jesus' name, appealed to the Bible, and claimed certain spiritual realities consistent with the gospel. Nevertheless, theirs was another (that is: different) Jesus.
Commenting on this verse, Donald Carson observes that 'the Christian church needs a little more both of Paul's discernment and intolerance. Like the ancient Corinthians, we too are sometimes deceived. Provided there is fluent talk of Jesus, gospel, truth, Christian living, and spiritual experience, combined with effective, self-confident leadership, we seldom ask if it is the same Jesus as the one presented in the Scriptures, or if the gospel being presented squares with the apostolic gospel.'
Ask yourself: Is it a biblical Jesus who promises heaven, but says nothing of hell? Or is the Jesus who offers people prosperity and health the Jesus of the Bible? Is it a biblical Jesus who needs His sacrifices supplemented by our ceremonies and works in order to redeem?
Another reason why Paul's readers should indulge him as he defends himself is that he is not inferior to those 'super apostles' who are going around the congregation criticizing him (vv.5-6). He might not have employed the flourish of rhetorical style, or the persuasive arguments of philosophy, both so common in those days. Paul's self-defense is simple and straightforward: he had communicated the truth perfectly clearly. You didn't have to guess what he meant, or disagree about where he stood. Everybody in the congregation knew. Underlying his words, we sense an implicit accusation that the Corinthians had fallen for the outward blandishments — the style and pizzazz — of these false teachers.
Financial and Ecclesiastical Parasites (Read 11:7-12)
In the ancient world, traveling teachers were not generally supported by their own manual labor, but by the tuition they charged their students. The more famous the teacher was, the higher tuition he could afford to charge. Much like today's lecture-circuit speakers, the orator's status was judged by the size of his fee!
Although Paul acknowledged the principle that one who preaches the gospel has the right to live by the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:7-12a), he occasionally refused payment so that the message of the gospel (free grace) could be reinforced by the method of its preacher (see 1 Corinthians 9:16-18). So the apostle had refused financial support from the congregation when he labored in Corinth. (Question 3)
The unkind conclusion which the Corinthians drew had been carefully framed by the false teachers. This guy Paul must not be much of an apostle if he gets no money for his work. 'His message is worth what you paid him,' the Corinthians were being told.
Paul responds with three arguments.
First, his refusal of support was self-denial, renouncing his rights for their sake. How can they criticize him for that?! Paul's willingness to support himself by manual labor permitted him to begin immediately building the church in Corinth, rather than having to wait for support from other churches. Moreover, if Paul was wrong for practicing such self-denial, what about Jesus Christ, whose example he was following?! The Corinthians had absorbed, perhaps unwittingly, the poisonous idea that gospel ministry — its methods of financing and persuasion — is really no more than showmanship, people-centered performance for applause. Paul didn't fit their mold, because Christ didn't really fit their expectations!
His second argument explains his strategy. He had depended for his support on other churches, especially from Macedonia (2 Corinthians 11:9a; Acts 18:5; Philippians 4:15). He 'robbed' other churches, so to speak, to support his ministry in Corinth. And his practice would continue (v.9). 'As long as they were going to weigh him by the size of his take, as long as they were utilizing the standards of the world to evaluate message and messenger alike, so long was Paul unwilling to reinforce their pagan approach by receiving anything from their hand' (Carson).
So distorted was their perception of Paul that they needed a virtual oath from his pen that the motive of his self-denial was his love for their welfare. Can't they see the method and motives of Christ Himself in the apostle's conduct toward them? Are they so blind?!
The final explanation for his strategy appears in verse 12. The apostle wishes to cut the ground from under his critics. His ministry is 'free' because its message communicates free grace. Their methods betray their motives: as parasites they live off the church, sucking her blood as they poison her body. They actively work against the gospel in the name of the gospel.
The Real Problem Exposed (Read 11:13-15)
There is an old German proverb that says, 'Tell me with whom you are fighting, and I'll tell you who you are.' A person's intellectual and religious commitment is determined as much by what one opposes as by what he accepts. If fighting for the truth and against heresy embarrasses us, that may be the clearest indication of how far we've left the apostolic gospel.
The appeal to limitless toleration — not just toleration of the other chap's right to be wrong, but toleration pushed so far one can never say that anything or anyone is wrong — presupposes the greatest evil is to hold a strong conviction that certain things are true and their contraries are false.Carson
Behind this view of toleration lies the assumption that certainty in religious matters is impossible. Nobody can really know what the Bible teaches about _________ (you fill in the blank), so for anyone to say that they know is arrogant, authoritarian and intolerant. (Questions 4 and 5)
Until now, the apostle's descriptions of his critics in the congregation have been only indirect. But here, in 11:13-15, the picture is painted in bold color. These false apostles are servants of Satan, and like the devil, disguise themselves as teachers of truth. The way that Satan works is to deceive — that is his stock in trade, his mark of distinction, his modus operandi. And among those who become his victims are they who believe themselves to be sophisticated, who shun 'simple' faith and obedience. (Question 6)
Diabolical — devilish, demonic. That's what these false leaders are. And their end will fit their actions. Just as Paul is finally and eternally answerable to the God who called and sent him to preach, so too are these impostors going to be judged and punished for their church-wrecking and sheep-scattering work. Notice, then, the apostle's subtle irony: these false teachers (Judaizers) who deny the grace of the gospel by insisting on the merit of works, will finally be judged according to their own works! They will reap what they have sown!
Questions for Reflection and Reply
Mention some features of sinful human jealousy that distinguish it from godly jealousy.
Mention some ways that Satan can corrupt our minds. Why are things like music and movies or television so useful in corrupting people's minds?
Should we follow today the apostle's practice of receiving support from other churches while doing missionary work in Corinth? What are some advantages of this approach? Some dangers?
Surely we don't (and can't) know everything with equal certainty. Here are two examples: we don't know very much about what heaven will be like, and opinions differed even among Reformers about remarriage after divorce. How do we know which differences must or may be tolerated, and which ones not? How would you distinguish biblical toleration from unbiblical toleration?
Paul complains that the Corinthian believers were too tolerant. What should they have done instead? Why is it often more difficult to discipline false teachers in the church than other members?
How can we spot someone disguised as a servant of Christ? What should we listen and look for?