2 Corinthians 11 – A Life on the Line Against Lies

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Today’s Passage: 2 Corinthians 11

The first half of this chapter concerns Paul’s concern for the Corinthian church. Specifically, he doesn’t want them to get suckered in by false teachings and the false teachers who teach them. It’s a problem mentioned obliquely and briefly in previous chapters, but here he brings it to the fore.

Paul fears that false gospels have infiltrated the church through false apostles. He tells the Corinthians: “For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully” (4). And that’s not a compliment to their hospitality! He compares them to a bride that he’s betrothed to Christ; it seems to imply that Paul is their dad in the faith, and God has arranged for them to be married to Christ, but perhaps I’m reading too much into the metaphor there. The point is that they’ve made a commitment to be faithful to their singular husband, and to accept a different gospel and a different Christ (say, one who is not fully god and fully man, or one who is not equal with god, or one who is a purely spiritual being whose corporeal form was an illusion) is infidelity.

Paul denounces those preaching false gospels of false Christs as servants of Satan. He describes them as “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (13), and adds, “No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (14). The Accuser, the serpent in the garden, refuses to give up even though Jesus Christ has brought his heel down on the serpent’s head. He uses people disguised as servants of the real Christ, but these false apostles are actually preaching a counterfeit. So Paul tells the church at Corinth: don’t be deceived! A Christ who did not give himself on the cross for your sins, who is not the authentic divine Son of God, who doesn’t jibe with the gospel we preached to you, is not the real Christ.

Is this just a power play on Paul’s part? Is he grabbing for authority in the church, trying to get a leg up on his opponents? If we assume he is, then his actions make no sense, because the second half of the chapter is a litany of things he’s endured for the sake of the gospel that he preached to the Corinthians. Check the résumé of suffering:

Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? (23-29)

That’s what Paul is willing to endure in order to deliver the good news of Jesus Christ to human beings all throughout the Roman Empire. He’s putting his life on the line for his gospel. Are the false apostles willing to do that for their gospel? That’s the barometer. That’s the litmus test.

Paul’s reminding the Corinthians that he can be trusted–that he doesn’t merely suffer for the gospel, he suffers for them. But beside Paul’s basic point of validating his trustworthiness, his words reinforce to me just how fortunate I am. I haven’t been whipped thirty-nine times for my faith, or confronted the hazards of travel over land and sea, or suffered deprivation of basic biological necessities like food, drink, and sleep. I’ve been spared a lot of pain, here in 21st-century America. And maybe I should step up my pain game, and maybe not, but one thing’s for certain: I’m grateful.


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