2 Corinthians 11
Paul’s hard-knock ministry
Paul gets jealous1 I’m about to say some things that are going to sound a little crazy. I’m asking you to please hear me out. 2 I’m jealous when it comes to you. It’s okay, God’s behind this jealousy. Think of it this way. You’re a virgin bride, and I promised you to the Messiah. 3 But I’m afraid that what happened to Eve will happen to you. The snake tricked her. He lured her away from God. Well, I’m afraid you could get tricked into breaking the sacred commitment you’ve made to the Messiah.
4 People come to town offering you a different kind of Jesus, a different spirit, and an entirely different religious message. What do you do? You welcome it.
Those “super apostles” are frauds5 Listen, those so-called “super apostles” are no bosses of mine. 6 I might sound like an amateur public speaker, compared to them. But I’m no amateur when it comes to the knowledge I have. You know what I’m talking about because we’ve already made it perfectly clear to you.
7 I preached the good news to you without charging a thing. When I did that, I made myself seem less important and you more important. Was that wrong? 8 I accepted donations from other churches to help cover my expenses while ministering to you. 9 When I visited you and needed help, I didn’t ask for donations. Believers came from Macedonia. They gave me what I needed. I wasn’t a burden to any of you. I’m going to keep it that way.
10 I’ll promise you this. As surely as I know the truth about the Messiah, I’m going to keep bragging about preaching for free. No one in all of Achaia is going to stop me. 11 Why would I do this? Is it because I don’t love you? God knows I do love you.
12 I’m going to continue refusing your contributions so I can pull the rug out from under those braggers who say they are doing the same work I’m doing. 13 Those men are frauds. They’re fake apostles—liars who only pretend they’re messengers of the Messiah. 14 Satan does the same thing. He tries to pass himself off as an angel. 15 So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that these people who serve Satan try to pass themselves off as good souls. They’re going to get what’s coming to them.
Paul’s bragging rights16 As I said, I know that what I’m telling you sounds crazy. But I hope you know I’m no fool. Even if you think I am, please hear me out as I brag a little. 17 When I brag like this, I'm not doing something the Lord would do. I’m doing what a fool would do. 18 Other folks brag about what they’ve done. I’m going to brag, too. 19 I’m sure you’ll be okay with it. You’ve already shown that you’re smart enough to welcome fools.
20 You put up with people like that who enslave you with rules, exploit you, and use you. You let them go unchallenged when they pretend to be someone they’re not. You even let them slap you in the face. 21 I’m ashamed to admit that I’m too weak-minded of a person to treat you like that. Still, I’m going to match them brag for brag, though I know it’s a dumb idea to do that. 22 Are those people Hebrews? Big deal, so am I. Are they Israelites? Me, too. Are they in Abraham’s family? I’ve got that covered. 23 Are they working for the Messiah? Well, I’m working harder. And, yes, I know I sound like an idiot. But I do more kinds of jobs. I’ve spent more time in prison. And I’ve been beaten so many times that I’ve lost count. Some of those beatings nearly killed me.
Beaten, stoned, shipwrecked24 On five different occasions the Jews gave me their max beating: 40 lashes minus1. 25 I got beaten with a rod three times. I got stoned once. Shipwrecked three times. I managed to survive 24 hours adrift at sea. 26 I’ve traveled plenty. And I’ve faced plenty of danger along the way. Oceans. Rivers. Robbers. Jews. Non-Jews. City folk. Country folk. Fake Christians. 27 I’ve worked long and hard. I’ve worked all night long, through hunger and thirst—often without any food at all. I’ve been cold, without nearly enough clothes to keep me warm.
28 On top of all this, I carry a heavy burden. It’s my constant concern for all the churches. 29 When our folks get spiritually weak, don’t you think I feel it? When they get tricked into doing something wrong, don’t you think I get mad? 30 If I have to brag, I’m going to brag about events that show how frail I am. 31 God knows I’m not lying. He’s the Father of our leader Jesus. And he’s the one who deserves praise now and forever.
Paul in a basket, to go32 When I was in Damascus, the governor during the reign of King Aretas put guards around the city so they could arrest me when I left. 33 I escaped only because some people put me in a basket and lowered me out of a window in the city wall.
11:9. Macedonia was a Roman province in what is now northern Greece and the Republic of Macedonia. Thessalonica, a city in Macedonia, was about 300 miles (480 km) north of Corinth, by land, and about 400 miles (645 km) mainly by sea. The trip by land, at 20 miles a day, may have taken around 15 days. By sea, sailing at about 4-5 knots, it could have taken about four days.
Paul may be referring to Jesus meeting him while Paul traveled to Damascus to arrest Jewish Christians (Acts 9:5).
Achaia was a Roman province in what is now southern Greece. Corinth and Athens were both in that province.
Bible experts say this is a difficult verse to translate. But many say it looks as though Paul’s critics are taking money for preaching. At the same time, they are presenting themselves as full-fledged apostles. So, Paul is essentially saying if they are apostles like him they should do what he does and refuse to take money from the people.
Jewish law limited the number of lashes: “Never give more than forty lashes” (Deuteronomy 25:3 New Living Translation). Jews typically limited the lashes to 39, to make sure they didn’t miscount and break the Jewish law by going over 40.
Romans often beat law-breakers with rods. He may have gotten beatings like that in some of the predominantly Roman cities he visited. This happened at least once in the city of Philippi. City officials ordered the clothes ripped off of Paul and Silas and “ordered them beaten with rods” (Acts 16:22).
Paul was stoned nearly to death in the city of Lystra. “A mob snatched Paul, stoned him, and dragged him out of town. They thought he was dead so they left him there” (Acts 14:19).
Paul traveled an estimated 10,000 miles (16,000 km) during his three missionary trips and his voyage to Rome for trial.
Paul says he’s going to say some things that are going to sound “a little crazy” (11:1). Then he goes off on a bragging run, which could very well sound inappropriate and unbecoming. Why do you think he does that?
When Paul compares himself to his critics, he says “I preach the good news to you without charging a thing” (11:7). Many Bible experts say they think Paul’s critics were preaching for profit by charging instruction fees. What difference do you think that might have made to the Christians in Corinth?
Paul not only refused to take donations from the Christians in Corinth, he covered his expenses with the help of churches in the northland region of Macedonia. That was a Roman province considered relatively poor to the province of Achaia, where the cities of Corinth and Athens were located. How do you think it may have made the Christians in Corinth feel that the Macedonians covered their ministry expenses?
Paul not only brags about preaching for free in the city of Corinth. He says “I’m going to keep bragging about preaching for free. No one in all of Achaia is going to stop me” (11:10). That could seem a little mean-spirited. Why do you think he would say something like this?
Paul puts together an impressive list of suffering he has endured during his traveling ministry (11:24-28). Which ones do you think would have impressed the Corinthian Christians most?
- beaten five times with 39 lashes by Jews
- beaten with a rod three times
- stoned nearly to death
- shipwrecked three times
- adrift in the open sea 24 hours
- working all night
- working while hungry, thirsty, and cold
- constantly worried about the churches
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul complains that the Corinthian folks welcomed intruders who came preaching a twisted-sister version of Jesus, a spirit different than the Holy Spirit, and a different religion entirely. What kind of intrusions do you think threaten the Christian way of life today?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul says it’s no surprise that the fake apostles try to pass themselves off as something good and godly. “Satan does the same thing. He tries to pass himself off as an angel” (11:14). What would be some examples of behavior that we get tricked into doing—dumb ideas that might feel right at the moment, but that we generally regret later?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul tells the Corinthian people “When our folks get spiritually weak, don’t you think I feel it?” (11:29). When someone we know makes a bad decision because of the weakness they have, how does that seem to affect people who care about them?