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2 Corinthians 11:16-33
Wednesday AM Bible Study
November 26, 2008
In this portion of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul engages in something very distasteful to himself—that is, boasting in his own fleshly qualificiations. He was not willing to do this; but as he says in 12:11, he was compelled to do so. But what's interesting is that his boasting is not like the boasting that characterized the false teachers he was defending himself against.
As suggested by the kind of boasting Paul engaged in, we can see that the false teachers boasted in such "fleshly" elements as the abundance of their successes, the numbers of their credentials and recognitions, and in the dignity of their manner and appearance. Paul, however, proved that he is the genuine article by boasting in "the things which concern my infirmity" (v. 30)—things that the false teachers would never boast in, but that proved Paul's genuine integrity in the gospel.
It would be hard for any servant of God—even the most seasoned and experience—to read this portion of Paul's letter, and come away feeling like they have ever really done anything for the Lord at all by comparison! Note . . .
I. THE CONSTRAINT PAUL FELT TO BOAST (vv. 16-21.
A. Paul felt compelled to speak foolishly—as those false teachers who boasted in the flesh had done (v. 16). He makes it clear that, in doing so, he does not speak "according to the Lord, but as it were, foolishly" (v. 17). It isn't that what he had to say was not under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Rather, he speaks for the sake of argument—under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and from the Lord—in manner that would not be true of someone who truly did speak from the Lord. He does so in order to show the vanity of the boasters who boasted in the flesh (v. 18).
B. Paul argues that the Corinthians should put up with his doing so, since they clearly "put up with fools" out of a false confidence of wisdom (v. 19). The foolishness of their own tolerance is shown in the fact that they put up with those who mistreat them and hold them under spiritual bondage (v. 20). Paul admits that, to his shame, he and his co-workers never did this; but since they already welcome "fools", he asks that they welcome him for a moment in a bit of foolishness (v. 21).
II. THE CONTENT OF HIS BOASTING (vv. 22-29).
A. In every respect that the false teachers could boast in the flesh, Paul was able to match them point-for-point (v. 22). Particularly, if they boasted in their Jewish heritage, Paul was able to make the same claim—and perhaps even more so (Philippians 3:4-5).
B. But that's where the comparison ends. When it came to being a "minister of Christ", Paul argued that he excelled the false teachers. But not the ways that the false teachers would boast. He boasts in the abundances of suffering (v. 23), in the numbers of trials (vv. 24-25), and in the frequency of perils (vv. 26-27).
C. More than this; Paul adds something that the false teachers could not claim—that he also bore the burden of the churches. In this way; Paul boasts in experiences that a false teacher—who sought glory, fame, comfort and prosperity—would never allow themselves to undergo; and thus, Paul demonstrates that they are not the real thing (vv. 28-29)
III. THE CHARACTER HE DISPLAYS IN HIS BOASTING (vv. 30-33).
A. Paul makes it clear that his boasting in the flesh is not in the outward things that men would applaud. Rather, it's in the things that humble him and brought him down in the eyes of men—but that demonstrate the greatness of the power of God at work in him (see 12:7-10). If he must boast, he says, he would boast in the things that concern his infirmity (v. 30).
B. As if to prove the point, he tells them of the undignified experience he once had (recorded back in Acts 9:20-25) of being let down a wall through a basket in a window, in order to escape arrest (vv. 31-33). This was not something you would want to share if you were all about boasting in the flesh! But it undescorse that the character of Paul's boasting was such that it humbled himself and exalted the Lord.
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God has a way of separating the men from the boys when it comes to His work. Paul once wrote, "For if I still please men, I would not be the bondservant of God" (Gal. 1:10). The proof of Paul's integrity in the gospel was in that he suffered things for preaching that gospel that insincere men would never allow themselves to suffer.
May the world look upon us, and see something of the integrity of our message by the degree to which we are willing to suffer for it.
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