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Lesson 9: Live to Serve Christ through Anything (2 Corinthians 11:1-33)

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If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. (2 Corinthians 11:30-31)

Why is Paul even bothering to write this letter? He loves the Corinthian believers. He spent more than a year and a half of his life there giving birth to the church. He made friends. He poured into them. He loved them. Yet, the relationship has been very rocky.

Even in the mess of this rocky relationship with people he dearly loves, and whom Christ dearly loved, Paul writes to them in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Paul desired to be for them an exemplary role mode, a picture of Christ that makes the heart, mind and ways of Christ visible and tangible. He lives out his life as a servant of God in every way—in good times and in very hard times.

While those influencing his Corinthian family are claiming to be “super-apostles,” they are actually deceivers, masquerading as servants of light but really being used as servants of Satan instead. Paul emerges as the truly Spirit-led apostle. He is the one following Christ.

If people are going to follow us, our primary task is to test whom we are following. We all follow somebody. If you are a Christ follower, the practice of following Him well may be one of the greatest tests of your character. Whom are you following?

Questions To Consider This Week:

  • How do you give your preparations and skills to God and desire that the power of God will shine His light through you—at work, at home, in the neighborhood, in the school, and elsewhere?
  • How do you recognize if someone exercising spiritual authority over you is a true servant of the Lord Jesus and not someone masquerading as a servant of righteousness?
  • When it comes to the troubles and difficulties of life, how can we more consciously focus on what Jesus can do or has done for us rather than focusing on what He has not done?

Day One Study—Get The Big Picture.

Read 2 Corinthians 10:12-11:33, which includes verses from the last lesson. Ask the Lord Jesus to teach you through His Word.

[To print, follow this link (or for the NIV, this one). Use your own method (colored pencils, lines, shapes) to mark: 1) anything that grabs your attention and 2) words you want to understand. Feel free to develop your own method of marking up a passage. Put a star  next to anything you think relates to dependent living.]

1. What grabbed your attention from these verses?

  • 11:1-15
  • 11:16-21
  • 11:22-33

2. What verses or specific words do you want to understand better?

3. What topics are repeated in this passage or continue an earlier discussion in this letter?

4. What verses illustrate or help you understand what dependent living on God looks like?

Respond To The Lord About What He’s Shown You Today.

Day Two Study

Read 2 Corinthians 11:1-15. Ask the Lord Jesus to teach you through His Word.

What Does The Bible Say?

5. Answer the questions below based on what is in the biblical text.

  • What is Paul asking them to do (v. 1)?
  • What is the reason for Paul’s godly jealousy (v. 2)?
  • What is his fear (v. 3)?
  • What 3 distortions of teaching did Paul point out (v. 4)?
  • What is their response to the teaching that might be leading them astray (end of v. 4)?
  • What 3 things does Paul say about himself (vv. 5-6)?
  • What did Paul do while in Corinth that was opposite of expectations (v. 7)?
  • Who took care of his financial needs (vv. 8-9)? See also Acts 18:3-5.
  • What will he continue to do (v. 9)?
  • What does he declare about his feelings for the Corinthians (v. 11)?
  • Why will Paul keep on doing what he is doing (v. 12)?
  • How does Paul describe the slanderers (v. 13)?
  • Who do these pretenders actually represent (vv. 14-15)?
  • Did anything else grab your attention?

What Does It Mean?

Paul’s jealousy was in line with God’s purposes. The false teachers were not only calling his apostolic authority into question. They were also leading the Corinthians astray from pure devotion to Christ. This was serious.

6. Contrast jealousy “of someone” with jealousy “for someone.”

Focus on the Meaning: There is a place for a spiritual father’s / mother’s passionate concern for the exclusive and pure devotion to Christ of their spiritual children, and also a place for anger at potential violators of that purity (11:29). (Dr. Constables Notes on 2 Corinthians 2017 Edition, p. 105)

Think About It: Leaders who can’t be questioned end up doing questionable things. (Jon Acuff)

7. Though not a trained speaker, what Paul said he had knowledge (v. 6)

  • What kind of knowledge does Paul have?
  • Why is this more important than presentation? See 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 and 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.

Think About It: Paul didn’t pretend to be one of those dazzlers the Greeks valued. But, the listeners were stirred by his words and grew in their knowledge of and relationship with God because of his teaching. The world has plenty of dazzlers. What people are longing for is to meet someone with abiding spiritual wisdom and knowledge about what truly matters. It’s okay to have godly dazzlers pointing us to dependence on God as Paul did. That’s what matters.

8. One of the accusations against Paul centered around how he differed from the usual professional speakers who expected the listeners to pay for their “wisdom.” Such money given also gave the audience a measure of control over the speaker (permission) and the speaker control over the audience (influence). Keep in mind that Greek culture considered manual labor such as Paul’s tent making to be “lower class.”

  • Was it wrong for Paul to preach the gospel free of charge?
  • What reason did Paul give for choosing to humbly serve the Corinthians like that?
  • How is what he did an application of Jesus’ words in Mark 10:38-45?

Scriptural Insight: Paul’s principle was to preach and teach without charging those who benefited directly from his ministry. This is a good policy in church planting, but it is not normative for a settled pastoral ministry (1 Corinthians 9:14; 1 Timothy 5:17-18). (Dr. Constables Notes on 2 Corinthians 2017 Edition, p. 108)

9. Recognizing false teachers:

  • Paul brought up 3 distortions of teaching in v. 4 that had happened or was happening to the Corinthians. Read Galatians 1:6-9 where he mentioned something similar. How do you recognize whether someone is teaching a different Jesus, Spirit or gospel?
  • Looking at vv. 13-15, Paul said the false teachers were masquerading as servants of righteousness. What is said about them?

Scriptural Insight: They may have been genuine believers. Indeed they appear to have been (2 Cor. 11:23). Nevertheless in their conduct, they were following the example of Satan. They perverted the thinking of, and misdirected the affections of, the Corinthians. (Dr. Constables Notes on 2 Corinthians 2017 Edition, p. 109)

10. What else did you learn as you studied 2 Corinthians 11:1-15?

What Application Will You Make?

Paul was a successful church planter, a gifted teacher, and excellent writer. Yet, he gave all those strengths to the Lord and still depended on the Lord as he accomplished those tasks.

11. It’s okay to prepare and refine your skills and talents, especially as you want them to be used for God’s purposes. What would it look like for you to give your preparations to God and desire that the power of God will shine His light through you? A good question to ask yourself regarding your strengths is this, “Am I living in self-sufficiency or God-dependency?”

  • At work
  • At home
  • In the church

12. Even if you do everything right, that doesn’t stop people from trying to slander and discredit you. What have you learned from Paul’s letter that will help you deal with false information about you?

13. In what other ways can you apply this lesson to your life?

Respond To The Lord About What He’s Shown You Today.

Day Three Study

Read 2 Corinthians 11:16-21. Ask the Lord Jesus to teach you through His Word.

What Does The Bible Say?

From the Greek: A “fool” in Hellenistic-Roman society was one who had lost the correct measure of himself and the world around them.

14. The Corinthians have been putting up with the teaching of fools, contrary to the solid, biblical truth that Paul taught them. The foolish teachers claimed to be God’s leaders but were more interested in their own position and power. Paul had no choice but to refute them for the sake of the church he loved. He creatively uses sarcasm to make the Corinthians recognize what was happening. He answered the fools “according to their folly” Proverbs 26:5)

  • What does Paul ask of them in v. 16?
  • Many are boasting how (v. 18)?
  • What does he say they are gladly doing (v. 19)?
  • He says they put up with anyone who does what 5 things to them (v. 20)?
  • What did Paul not do to the Corinthians (v. 21 first half of verse)?
  • Did anything else grab your attention?

What Does It Mean?

Remember that the false teachers were masquerading as apostles of Christ and servants of righteousness. Judging by physical appearances, they mostly likely didn’t look like evil people (vv. 13-15). Their teaching and behavior betrayed their motives.

15. Bad teaching and dictatorial behavior (vv. 3-4, 19-20) lead to exploitation—what we might even call cultic behavior, including the kind of treatment listed. Who is vulnerable to that kind of exploitation? Why?

Think About It: According to 1 Corinthians 8:1, knowledge puffs up (makes proud, inflates ego). Depending on one’s own “wisdom” can lead to foolish choices and susceptibility to being ensnared by false teaching. The answer is to know Christ, embrace God’s grace and the truth of His Word, and live confidently in your identity. Then you can say “no” to such foolishness from bad teaching.

16. How was Paul’s approach to ministry with the Corinthians different from that of the false teachers? What Christ-like characteristics did Paul display? Use what you’ve learned so far in 2 Corinthians to get your answer.

17. What else did you learn as you studied 2 Corinthians 11:16-21?

What Application Will You Make?

From the Greek: Back in 2 Corinthians 4:2, Paul said that he did not use deception or distort the Word of God like those who masqueraded as servants of righteousness were doing. The Greek word from which we get “distort” primarily signifies “to ensnare,” especially by mingling the truth of the Word of God with false doctrines or notions, and so handling it “deceitfully.” (Kelly Minter, All Things New, p. 55)

Distortion of God’s Word plays out in many ways. It is especially done to justify some behavior that the false teachers want to engage in themselves. Or, it can happen when a spiritual leader uses a verse to shame, manipulate, or condemn you for something already forgiven by Christ.

18. You may be wondering how you can tell if someone exercising authority over you is a true servant of the Lord Jesus and not someone masquerading as a servant of righteousness and exploiting you.

  • Based upon what you’ve learned in 2 Corinthians 11:1-21, what questions should you ask to determine if this is happening to you?
  • What should / can you do to get freed from this exploitation?

19. Have you fallen victim to a “distortion of the Word of God” in the past? What was taught, and how did you get freed from that?

Scriptural Insight: A common false teaching says that women are more easily deceived than men because of what happened in Genesis 3. That is NOT a biblical truth. Dr. Sandra Glahn, gender studies professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, explains it this way, “What is significant about the man and woman in [Genesis 3] is that they both rebelled. … Being seduced by evil is a human thing, not a woman thing—as Paul mentions when warning the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:3). The Bible does not teach that because Eve was deceived, all women are more easily deceived than men. Nor does the Scripture teach that all women excel at seducing and deceiving (these ideas are contradictions, anyway—one cannot be a master of deception while also being easily duped).” (Sandra Glahn, Biblical Womanhood: What is a Woman? accessed online at

20. In what other ways can you apply this lesson to your life?

Respond To The Lord About What He’s Shown You Today.

Day Four Study

Read 2 Corinthians 11:21-33. Ask the Lord Jesus to teach you through His Word.

Paul’s approach to ministry was to promote Christ, not himself. Because of the false apostles claiming to be servants of Christ yet denying Paul’s authority, Paul felt pressed to talk about his own life choices and experiences, especially hardships. These are evidences of the Lord Jesus’s commendation of his work and vindication of him as an apostle (2 Corinthians 10:18). As you study this passage, recognize that many of these challenges can happen to anyone, not just those being persecuted for their faith.

What Does The Bible Say?

21. Complete the following statements based on what you see in the biblical text. Put a star  next to challenges that any servant of Christ may face in life, including what you might have already experienced.

  • What do you learn about the false apostles (vv. 22-23)?
  • As a servant of Christ, Paul says he has done what (v. 23)?
  • As a servant of Christ, Paul experienced what in v. 24 and how many times?
  • As a servant of Christ, Paul experienced what in v. 25 and how many times?
  • As a servant of Christ, he has been constantly on the move (v. 26) and in danger from/in what?
  • As a servant of Christ, he has also (v. 27) _____________ and gone without _________; he has known ____________ and gone without __________; he has been _____________.
  • As a servant of Christ, what pressure does he face daily (vv. 28-29)?
  • As a servant of Christ, he chooses to boast of what (v. 30)?
  • As a servant of Christ, what does he declare (v. 31)?
  • As a servant of Christ, what happened to him (vv. 32-33)?
  • Did anything else grab your attention?

Historical Insight: Because Paul’s writing of 2 Corinthians fits into Luke’s chronology of his life at Acts 20:2, everything that Paul described here occurred before Acts 20:2 and, therefore, before the end of his third missionary journey, arrest and transport to Rome. Many of these experiences are not even mentioned in Acts.

What Does It Mean?

22. Read 1 Corinthians 4:1, 9-13. What does God put his apostles through to test them?

23. As a servant of Christ,

  • What has Paul risked while serving Christ to the Corinthians and to others?
  • How does Paul’s example fly in the face of those who teach that health, wealth, protection and happiness are the expectations for faithful Christians?

24. Review 2 Corinthians 11:12, 18, and 21. Paul said that since many were boasting according to the flesh, he would do that, too.

  • What is boasting according to the flesh?
  • Considering Paul’s accomplishments, what kind of boasting would you expect him to include in the verses following 11:22?
  • About what does he boast instead in vv. 23-31?
  • Why do you think Paul chose to boast about his weaknesses instead of his strength?

Think About It: Instead of citing successes that he had experienced in his ministry and any accolades he had received from others, Paul listed what some would consider defeats and speaks of these as victories! They were victories because he depended on God, and God had supernaturally sustained His servant through every hardship he experienced. What he listed was, therefore, the greatest possible proof and vindication that Paul was an apostle.

25. Was Paul a fool to serve Christ so relentlessly? Why or why not?

Dependent Living: According to 11:33, Paul was dependent on God to rescue him. God used people to do His work. Paul could do nothing on his own except get in the basket, be quiet, and trust the rope holders. See Acts 9:24-25. God helps those who trust in Him. He uses people as His helpers. You might be that basket provider or the rope holder for someone.

26. What else did you learn as you studied 2 Corinthians 11:21-33?

Think About It: The Christian life is impossible to live without 2 Corinthians. This letter calms us into settled assurance that it is in the adversities of life in this fallen world, not by avoiding adversity, that life with God blossoms. Ease of life results in frothiness of life. The most substantial, radiant men and women we meet are those who bear scars, who have endured dark valleys. … we all walk through pain. In different ways, for different reasons, at different seasons of life, hardship washes over us. How could we possibly remain sane and cheerful without God’s insistence throughout this letter that his deepest consolations are mediated to us in, not after, sorrow? … The way to joy is actually Christ Himself, walking with Him day by day. And the enjoyment of this Friend tends to rise as circumstances around us fall. (Dane C. Ortlund, Why Study the Book of 2 Corinthians? posted online August 2, 2016)

What Application Will You Make?

27. When it comes to the troubles and difficulties of life, how can we more consciously focus on what Jesus can do or has done for us rather than focusing on what He hasn’t done?

28. Paul faced daily pressures of responsibility. What pressures come upon you daily? What is your usual response to them? Based on what you have learned from Paul’s example, how can you handle daily pressures as a servant of Christ should?

29. In what other ways can you apply this lesson to your life?

30. Review the passage for this lesson in “Day One Study.” Add reasons why God wants us to depend on Him more than on ourselves to the chart below. I’ve given a few prompts.


Reasons why God wants us to depend on Him more than on ourselves


To keep us from being led astray by false teaching


To help us recognize error in teaching


To know the truth about God


For financial support that enables us to share Christ and disciple others

Respond To The Lord About What He’s Shown You Today.

Dependent Living: As His child, God transforms your life by teaching you to live dependently on Him in weakness and in strength.

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