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"A Passionate Defense"

2 Corinthians 12:11-21

Wednesday AM Bible Study
December 31, 2008

The apostle Paul did something in the previous portions of 2 Corinthians that he found very distasteful to do—that is, 'boast' in his credentials to the Corinthians (11:16-12:10). It was, however, something he felt that he had to do. The false apostles that had made their way into the church were seeking to gain a hearing for false doctrine by calling Paul's authority into question. Now, having finished his undesirable 'boast', Paul becomes very passionate and personal in his appeal to the Corinthians. In making a passionate "defense" of his God-given role to them, he points to the qualities of his ministry that they should have already recognized as clearly manifest to the Corinthians.

What stands out clearly in his 'passionate defense' is Paul's deep, sacrificial love for the church. They certainly weren't lovable. But Paul nevertheless loved them—even as he recounted to them the things they should have already known about him.


A. He asserts, "I have become a fool . . ." (v. 11). Several times in this section (chapters 11-12), Paul makes reference to the "foolishness" he had to engage in to defend his apostolic authority against those who questioned it. It was clearly something he would rather not have had to do; but in order to protect the church from false teachers, it was something he was willing to do. Note how he felt "compelled" to do this. He even says that, far from having to boast, it should have been the Corinthian Christians who should have been commending him and defending him against the false apostles and false teachers! They should have known better!

B. He argues that, for one thing, he was in no way "behind" the "most eminent apostles" (v. 11b); even though he himself was "nothing" (see 1 Corinthians 15:8-9). The term "eminent apostles" should be seen as a sarcastic reference to the false apostles (see 11:4- 6) who were presenting themselves as his betters. He points out what should have been obvious to the Corinthians—that the signs of his apostleship had clearly been manifest in their midsts (v. 12). Note that his apostolic authority was not found strictly in the signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds God did through him (see Acts 5:12; 14:3; Hebrews 2:4). It was found in that these things were also accompanied with "all perseverance" (see also 4:7-14; 11:23-29; as well as Galatians 6:12). The works of miracles was not a sign in itself; but it was found in the miracles being accompanied by perseverance in great suffering for the cause of Christ! He had all that these false apostles boasted in— and even more!

C. In addition, he also mentioned that the church itself, as a result of his ministry was in no way suffering lack because of his ministry (v. 13). The only thing that they "lacked" is that he didn't ask them to support him. Rather, he took support from other churches (see 11:7-12). He says, "Forgive me this wrong!"; as if to add to the sarcasm. It wasn't because they were unworthy of supporting him; but rather because he wanted to 'yank the rug out' of from under the false teachers who were swindling them of their goods.


A. Paul promises to now come to them for the third time (v. 14); and again, in this third visit, he has purposed not to be a burden to them. The reason is because of his parental love for them. He didn't seek "theirs"—that is, he didn't seek to take what belonged to them, as the false apostles had done (see 11:20 and also Galatians 4:17); but rather, sought them—that is, what is good and beneficial to their souls. Just as a father doesn't have his children open a bank account up to save for him, but rather opens an account to save for his children; so also Paul does want them to lay up for him, but that he would lay up for them.

B. He even affirms that he is glad to do this—being willing to "spend and be spent for your souls" (v. 15). Everything about Paul's life demonstrated that he was not involved with them for personal gain. Considering all that he underwent to bring the gospel to them, it must have cost him dearly in terms of a comfortable life—and perhaps even in his health and longevity. But he was glad to make the sacrifice for them (in ways that the false teachers never would have done). The sad note in this is that—as Paul says—the more he loved them, the less it seems that they loved him (a fact which only serves to further underscore the depths of his sacrificial love for them).


A. Verse 16 seems best to see as rhetorical. He is voicing an argument that was being raised by his opponents; some of whom were arguing that, though Paul didn't make an outward show of taking anything from the Corinthians himself, he had done so craftily and by stealth through those he had sent to them. But once again, he points to the evidence. He asks if any of those he had sent had taken advantage of them in any way (v. 17).

B. He not only sent Titus, but also a particular brother with him (see 8:16-24). Much of this letter is occupied with the ministry of these two men, in Paul's behalf, to the Corinthians. But Paul asks the Corinthians to consider that there was nothing that they did to "take advantage" of the Corinthians. In fact, they walked in the same attitude of generosity as Paul did; and had walked in the same manner of conduct as Paul had walked (v. 18). This, no doubt, means that they didn't demand any support from the Corinthians either.


A. Paul was not, as they may have thought, trying to "excuse" himself or "defend" himself before them. As the New International Version has it, "Have you been all along that we have been defending ourselves to you?" Rather, he is speaking in full integrity before God in Christ (v. 19). And in this self-defense, he affirms that he is doing all that he does for the edification (that is, the building-up) of the body of Christ—not for his own benefit.

B. In this spirit, he is willing to write to them in advance and prepare for this third coming. He didn't want to come to them and find them in a way that he didn't wish; or to be found by them in a way that they didn't wish (see 13:1-4). On his part, he feared that he would come and find the Corinthians still characterized by sins that should have been turned away from (v. 20)—such as contentions, jealousies, outburst of wrath, selfish ambition, backbitings, whisperings, conceits and tumults. And on their part, he feared that he might have to come in such a way as to be humbled before them by God. He feared that he will have to mourn (and by implication, deal forcefully with) those who had not repented of the practice of the sins of uncleanness (sinful living), fornication (sexual immorality) and lewdness (publically indecent behavior) (v. 21; see also 1 Corinthians 5).

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What an example of love Paul for the church sets before us! The church is the body of Christ; but it can often be found to be acting very much unlike it is. And yet, Paul loved it and was devoted to it as that for which Jesus purchased with His own precious blood (Acts 20:28). May we, like Paul, sacrificially love it—even when it is, at times, unlovely.

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