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The Reluctant “Fool” (2 Corinthians 11:16-29)

16 Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, that I also may boast a little. 17 That which I am speaking, I am not speaking as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also. 19 For you, being so wise, bear with the foolish gladly. 20 For you bear with anyone if he enslaves you, if he devours you, if he takes advantage of you, if he exalts himself, if he hits you in the face. 21 To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison. But in whatever respect anyone else is bold (I speak in foolishness), I am just as bold myself.

22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. 23 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. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 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.

26 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;

27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? (2 Corinthians 11:16-29)

Introduction

My daughter is about to graduate from college, the last of five daughters to graduate with a teaching degree. The college she attends is out of state, and throughout her training, she vowed never to teach in the state where she attended college. Resumes have been sent to various parts of the country, particularly those areas where the climate and scenery are spectacular and salaries are better.

My daughter is not present today because she has accepted a job offer out of state and has gone to locate a place to live. She will be teaching in the one place she said she would never teach. There is a perfectly good reason for my daughter’s change of mind … a young man, who still has a year of college left, at the same college and in the same state where my daughter was a student. The introduction of one special person radically changed my daughter’s plans, causing her to do something she vowed she would never do.

It is the same with the Apostle Paul, as we shall see in 2 Corinthians 11:16-29. In chapter 10, Paul has just distinguished himself and his colleagues from those who are so bold as to compare themselves with themselves (2 Corinthians 10:12). Now, Paul does precisely that—he compares himself with those who are his critics. He does so in three ways. First, in verses 16-21a, Paul compares authentic apostles with the false apostles in the way they treat those under their authority. In this comparison, the authentic apostles fall far short of the authoritarian, high-handed tactics of their adversaries. Second, in verses 21b-22, Paul compares himself with those who take pride in their Jewishness. In this comparison, Paul comes out their equal. Finally, in verses 23-29, Paul compares his service with that of his opponents in terms of the price he has paid to minister to others. Here, Paul leaves his opponents in the dust. They cannot even begin to compare themselves by his standard of personal sacrifice.

We find here a most revealing comparison, one that Paul does not want to make. Paul’s words are very relevant to us as well, as we shall attempt to demonstrate at the end of this lesson.

Paul’s Reluctance
(11:16-19)

16 Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, that I also may boast a little. 17 That which I am speaking, I am not speaking as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also. 19 For you, being so wise, bear with the foolish gladly.

Paul does not really want to boast, but his Corinthian adversaries have forced him to this point. For a number of the Corinthians, boasting comes easy. But for Paul, only boasting in Christ is easy. Paul now finds himself boasting, and he admits that he does not like it. Boasting does not come naturally to him. But seeing the necessity to do so, to show the folly of those who continually practice boasting, Paul engages in boasting by comparing himself and his colleagues with the false apostles. And when he makes such a comparison, the false apostles come out looking very bad. The first three verses of our passage are Paul’s effort to persuade the reader that he knows what he is doing is foolish, and he really regrets having to employ the method which he uses here. He simply asks the Corinthians to show him the same tolerance they show the false apostles. These foolish folks are tolerated well, and so Paul hopes the Corinthians will tolerate his “foolishness” too.

Paul “Fails” the First Comparison
(11:20-21a)

20 For you bear with anyone if he enslaves you, if he devours you, if he takes advantage of you, if he exalts himself, if he hits you in the face. 21 To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison.

When it comes to their use (or rather abuse) of authority, Paul and the other authentic apostles simply cannot hold a candle to the false apostles. These folks lead the way the Gentiles do, the way Jesus forbade His disciples to do:

25 But Jesus called them to Himself, and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28; see also 1 Peter 5:1-4).

Aside from their love of power, from the feeling of exhilaration that some of the Corinthian false apostles gain from pushing people around, I think I can understand why they feel such an assertive and authoritarian leadership style is required. Listen to these statements recorded in the Book of Proverbs:

17 He who speaks truth tells what is right, But a false witness, deceit. 18 There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing (Proverbs 12:17-18).

23 The poor man utters supplications, But the rich man answers roughly (Proverbs 18:23).

The “poor man” dares not speak harshly to others. He cannot order people to show charity to him; he can only appeal to others for mercy. The rich man does not feel he needs anything from others, but he does feel that others need him, and so he speaks roughly to others. Because these folk judge on the basis of appearances, they speak and lead in a high-handed manner, as though this clearly establishes their superiority over others.

This kind of harshness is found in churches which are regarded as sound and evangelical. This week I downloaded a sermon from the Internet by Ray Stedman on our text in 2 Corinthians. He illustrates exactly the kind of thing Paul condemns:

I attended a service in another state a few years ago where there were probably a thousand people present; most of them were in their 20’s and 30’s. The pastor, who had a reputation as a Bible teacher, was teaching from a certain passage of scripture. I could not quite see what happened, but evidently a young woman sitting in the front rows reached up and patted her hair. This Bible teacher interrupted his discourse and said to her, ‘What are you doing? This is a Bible study, not a beauty parlor. That’s the trouble with you flaky females, and flaky is a good adjective for females,’ he said. He went on and just ripped into her. She sat there, red-faced and embarrassed, but uttered no protest, and no one else did. Then he resumed his study. After a bit he spotted a man in the back row (sitting very close to me actually), who was thumbing through his Bible, checking a reference. The teacher said, ‘There’s a man back there who’s not reading where we are.’ He said, ‘We’re in the New Testament and if you are in this Bible study you will be in the New Testament. If you don’t have time for what we’re studying here you can just get up and leave.’ Again the whole congregation sat there. Nobody said a word. Evidently this was normal fare for them. I was amazed at what arrogance and what insult people would endure when they were under the spell of somebody teaching falsely from the Word of God.69

D. A. Carson, in his excellent little book on 2 Corinthians 10-13, sums up this first comparison between the authentic apostles and the “intruders” (Carson’s term, and I like it):

Failing to discern the profound distinctions between the lordly authority of the intruders and the self-sacrificing devotion and Spirit-entrusted authority of the apostle, they chose exploiters as their leaders and models, and blindly reveled in their own wisdom. Paul does not even want to be compared with such power-hungry exploiters. With biting irony, he contemplates their abuse of power and writes, ‘To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!’70

Finally, a brief word about sarcasm. I think it would be very difficult to deny that Paul uses sarcasm in our text. Like the comparisons Paul makes, this is not his preference. To those who might say that sarcasm is always out of place, I would simply say this:

    1. Paul employs sarcasm in 2 Corinthians.

    2. Paul employs it reluctantly.

    3. Paul employs it sparingly.

There are at least a few times then when those who oppose the gospel should not be taken too seriously and may deserve the use of sarcasm.

Paul’s Second Comparison in Which He Will Not Be Outdone
(11:21b-22)

But in whatever respect anyone else is bold (I speak in foolishness), I am just as bold myself.
Are they Hebrews? So am I.
Are they Israelites? So am I.
Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.

In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul speaks of the factions which exist in the church:

10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:10-12).

From 1 Corinthians 4:6, I knew the real divisions are not led by Paul or Apollos, or Cephas, or Christ, and I assumed that the leaders are men (and perhaps women) with names Paul chose not to reveal, so that the Corinthians would figure this out on their own. I am now inclined to think that at least one group of people in Corinth is led by Judaizers, who prompt their followers to boast, and “I am of Abraham,” and “I am of the Jews.” Another group may have boasted, “I am a servant of Christ.”

One can hardly do anything other than reach the same conclusion as Carson:

The exact shape of the false message the intruders preached is unclear. The best guess, judging from the emphases in the surrounding chapters, is that it was some form of Judaizing … The false apostles made much of their Jewish heritage (2 Cor. 11:22), and to this added a parade of virtues they felt made them superior Christians; or perhaps they even argued that some of these advantages were necessary requirements for true Christianity. Paul detected in their pretensions exactly the same danger that Judaizers with slightly different emphases introduced into the churches of Galatia. The result of their additions is that another Jesus is being preached (11:4; cf. Gal 1:8-9).71

Certain advantages and privileges were associated with being a Jew:

4 Who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen (Romans 9:4-5).

Having said this, being a Jew does not make anyone better than anyone else. At times, some of the Jews forgot or willfully denied this:

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Matthew 3:7-9).

33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You shall become free’?” … 39 They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham” (John 8:33, 39).

The Judaizers recognize rightly that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the great equalizer of men. All men are equally dead in their transgressions and sins, and thus equally deserving of God’s eternal wrath. All those “in Christ” by faith are equally saved. The Judaizers did not like this equality and sought through various means to revise the gospel to accommodate their arrogance. They resist the evangelization of Gentiles (Acts 10-11, 22:22) and insist that those Gentiles who do come to faith in Christ must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses (Acts 15). Their smug sense of superiority to the Gentiles is evident in their actions and words: “We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:15; see also Acts 11:15-18; 22:21-22).72

This line of “superiority thinking” may sell among some Gentiles, but Paul refuses to buy into this, branding it elsewhere as heresy (e.g. Galatians 1). In Philippians 3, Paul reminds us that he himself once boasted that he was a “Jew of the Jews and could thus make the same boast as the Judaizers who are opposing him in Corinth”:

4 Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless (Philippians 3:4-6).

Do some of the false apostles in Corinth take pride in their Jewish origins? Do they think it makes them first-class citizens in the kingdom of God, while Gentiles are second-class? Did they want to be regarded the same as Paul? If so, then they need to remember the verses which immediately follow in Philippians 3:

7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Philippians 3:7-9).

Those things in which the Corinthian Jews seem to boast, Paul has equal grounds to boast. But when Paul is marvelously saved by the grace of God, he comes to see his ethnicity in its proper perspective. He now sees that being a Jew is a privilege which brings great responsibility, but it in no way is intended to elevate Jews above Gentiles or Gentiles above Jews. Ephesians 2 has much to say concerning this matter. If some Corinthian Jews think their Jewishness makes them superior to Gentile saints, they are the fools for thinking in this way.

The Third Comparison: Paul’s Hall of Shame
(11:23-29)

23 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. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 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. 26 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; 27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?

I am reminded of the story of a motorcycle policeman in pursuit of a teenager in a souped-up hot rod. The young man had been driving a little too fast and knew he was in for a ticket. He tried to elude the policeman with no success. Finally, on a straight stretch of road, the young man put the accelerator to the floor. The policeman disappeared from the youngster’s rear view mirror. The young fellow really was not a bad sort, and so he began to wonder if something had happened to the officer. Turning his car around, he went back to look for him. He found the officer sitting beside the road several miles back, a little roughed up, but his motorcycle in shambles. The young man inquired about the officer’s condition and then ventured to ask, “What happened?” “Well,” the officer replied, “I was keeping up with you right along, and then suddenly you left me as if I were standing still. I thought something had gone wrong with my motorcycle, so I got off to see what it was.”

Paul reluctantly plays the fool by comparing himself (and his fellow authentic apostles) with the false apostles. The first leg of the race really makes Paul look “bad.” He and his colleagues cannot even begin to compare with the false apostles in terms of the way they are able to push people around and get away with it. The second leg of the race is an even match. Paul is able to hold his own when it comes to his Jewish credentials. And now, in the third and final leg of the race, Paul leaves his opponents behind, as if they are standing still. The basis for Paul’s comparison in this third leg of the contest is that of servanthood and suffering. Paul gives his readers a most impressive list of his sufferings for the sake of the gospel.

Time does not permit exploring every instance of suffering Paul enumerates for us. Frankly, there is nothing much one could add to what Paul says. Every one of his afflictions is clear and easy to understand. While we may not know exactly when, where, or how these happened in Paul’s life, we do find it rather easy to believe that they did. A few general comments about this section as a whole may be helpful. The following observations come not only from Paul’s words in our passage, but from the broader context of Paul’s words elsewhere in his epistles on the subject of suffering.

First, we must recognize that all of the items Paul lists here are examples of his personal sacrifices and sufferings in the cause of proclaiming and advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ. These are not the success stories his adversaries would include in their press clippings. In fact, these are some of the very things the false apostles point out as good reason to look down upon the authentic apostles. The things Paul’s adversaries consider shameful and discrediting are the very things for which Paul boasts. Here is where Paul really makes his point. His opponents are into the “good life.” They are self-indulgent, and they offer the same lifestyle to those who would follow them. Paul and his colleagues are selfless, paying a very high price for the privilege of proclaiming Christ.

Second, the afflictions Paul enumerates are those he could rather easily avoid if he had chosen to do so. We have seen that Paul’s sufferings and trials are those he receives for preaching the gospel. If Paul had chosen to just back off and play it safe, he would not have suffered as he did. Paul lives the kind of life and engages in the kind of ministry which he knows will bring him adversity. This is made clear to Paul at the very outset, at the time of his conversion:

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).

Third, this list of Paul’s sufferings for the sake of the gospel is much more extensive than the list recorded in the Book of Acts. Did you notice that the Book of Acts is only the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to the sufferings and hardships Paul personally endured? Some of the sufferings and afflictions enumerated here in 2 Corinthians 11 are recorded in Acts, and Paul may have alluded to them earlier in 1 Corinthians 4 or chapters 2, 4 and 6 in 2 Corinthians. But a great number of Paul’s afflictions he mentions in chapter 11 are not mentioned elsewhere. This is the most detailed account of Paul’s sufferings in the Scriptures. If we think of Paul as a great sufferer for Christ because of our reading of the Book of Acts, let us now recognize that Paul suffered far more than Luke tells us in Acts.

Fourth, the sufferings Paul enumerates in 2 Corinthians 11 do not even include all the sufferings recorded in Acts. I have said above that Paul’s sufferings recorded in 2 Corinthians 11 are far more than those described in the entire Book of Acts. Now, I am saying that many of the “sufferings” we might think Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 11 have not yet happened to Paul, as recorded in Acts. By and large, we can safely say that the events in Paul’s life and ministry Luke describes in Acts are depicted chronologically. In Acts 8, we learn that Paul had a part in the stoning of Stephen. In Acts 9, we read of Paul’s conversion. Later in Acts, we see the various missionary journeys of Paul, all in chronological order. If we were to read 2 Corinthians 11 in relation to Paul’s ministry as recorded in Acts, we are only in chapter 20! This means that Paul has not yet been arrested in Jerusalem. It means he has yet to make a defense to his own people (Acts 22), to the Sanhedrin (Acts 23), to Felix (Acts 24), to Festus (Acts 25), to Agrippa (Acts 25 and 26), or to Caesar. Paul has not yet survived the incredible storm at sea (Acts 27). In other words, the list of Paul’s sufferings as enumerated in 2 Corinthians 11 is incomplete, with the worst yet to come in some instances.

Fifth, the sufferings and sacrifices Paul enumerates in 2 Corinthians 11 encompasses the whole spectrum of suffering and hardship. Paul includes hard work (labors), at least two forms of beating, imprisonments, dangerous situations, exposure to the elements, and deprivations (of food, shelter, sleep). In addition to these afflictions of the body, there are the mental and spiritual burdens he bears for the saints. He personally identifies with the weaknesses and sins of the saints who are in all the churches.

Sixth, the sufferings Paul enumerates are those every Christian should expect, although we may experience them to a lesser degree. Paul tells those to whom he preaches the gospel that suffering is a part of the Christian life, and that they should expect it. Suffering is not an anomaly; it is something every Christian should expect. Peace and prosperity are the anomaly.

12 And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).

Seventh, suffering and adversity are an expected part of this life and also a part of the process of our sanctification and ultimate salvation when we enter into the presence of God in His kingdom.

21 And after they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21-22).

Eighth, in spite of the intensity of the sufferings of Paul, he considers them to be “light and momentary.”

16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Ninth, Paul actually rejoices in his sufferings, because these are evidences of his identification with Christ, and a means by which he came to know Christ more intimately.

10 That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10).

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. 25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29 And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me (Colossians 1:24-29).

Conclusion

This text has much to say to us as it did to the Corinthians of old. Let me conclude by suggesting some of the applications this text for us today.

First, this passage says a great deal to Christians about spiritual leadership. Throughout the gospels, we see that the disciples share the same definition of leadership as their culture. They argue among themselves as to who is the greatest (Mark 9:34; Luke 9:46; 22:24). They want to call down fire upon a Samaritan city (Luke 9:54). Peter rebukes our Lord when He talks about His own suffering and death (Matthew 16:21-23). Jesus presents a very different concept of leadership, one which differentiates Christian leaders from Gentile leaders:

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Him with her sons, bowing down, and making a request of Him. 21 And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left.” 22 But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” 24 And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to Himself, and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:20-28).

Spiritual leadership is not manifested by dictatorial autocrats who push their followers around. This is the mark of self-serving leaders.

1 “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the LORD. 2 Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel concerning the shepherds who are tending My people: “You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds,” declares the LORD. 3 “Then I Myself shall gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and shall bring them back to their pasture; and they will be fruitful and multiply. 4 I shall also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the LORD (Jeremiah 23:1-4).

15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits. 21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS’” (Matthew 7:15-23).

7 Jesus therefore said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hireling, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, beholds the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hireling, and is not concerned about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:7-15).

12 But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, 13 suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery and that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; 15 forsaking the right way they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness, 16 but he received a rebuke for his own transgression; for a dumb donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. 17 These are springs without water, and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. 18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 20 For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:12-22).

16 These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage. 17 But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18 that they were saying to you, “In the last time there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” 19 These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit (Jude 1:16-19).

Spiritual leaders are not always marked by success, and they certainly are not characterized by an authoritarian, dictatorial leadership style. Spiritual leaders should be characterized by a spirit of servanthood, a sacrificial spirit which enables them to endure suffering for the cause of the gospel and for the sake of the flock of God, and a stamina or staying power which enables them to endure far more than natural men would tolerate. That is the kind of leader Paul was. That was true of all the authentic apostles. It was not so with the “intruders,” the false apostles who were in Corinth long ago, and who are in churches around the world today. Rather than recognizing such intruders, they should be removed. That is what Paul wants the Corinthian saints to do, and it is what congregations who wish to obey God’s Word should do when their leaders are not authentic, but only authoritarian.

Second, this text exposes a fundamental error which existed in Paul’s day and continues to exist in our own. This error is often the reason Christians are attracted to counterfeit Christian leaders. Donald A. Carson calls this error “triumphalism.”73 Triumphalism is a distortion of Christian doctrine, particularly the doctrine of heaven and future rewards. The Lord Jesus, and then His apostles, taught that those who follow Jesus as His disciples must endure suffering and affliction in this life in order to fully enjoy the blessings of the next. In the fewest words possible, triumphalism wants to immediately enter into the blessings of heaven now, while doing away with pain and suffering in this life. Paul exposes this triumphalism in 1 Corinthians 4:8, where the term “already” is crucial:

8 You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and I would indeed that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you (1 Corinthians 4:8).

The Bible teaches that we must endure the sufferings and groanings of this life in order to enter into our eternal blessings:

16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves. 17 But beware of men; for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues; 18 and you shall even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they deliver you up, do not become anxious about how or what you will speak; for it shall be given you in that hour what you are to speak. 20 For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. 21 And brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. 22 And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. 23 But whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:16-23).

4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. 6 And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. 9 Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. 10 And at that time many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many. 12 And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come” (Matthew 24:4-14).

24 And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. 25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ 26 But not so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. 27 For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:24-27).

19 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me” (John 15:19-21).

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it (Romans 8:18-25).

10 But you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord delivered me! 12 And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived (2 Timothy 3:10-13).

1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 3 For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. 4 And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you; 5 but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God (1 Peter 4:1-6).

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16 but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? 19 Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Peter 4:12-19).

The Scriptures are clear: those who wish to reign with Christ for all eternity must be willing to suffer for Christ in time. There is no setting aside of the sufferings of this life, no shortcut to glory. Triumphalism is a cruel hoax which false leaders “sell” to those gullible enough to believe it. The suffering and sacrifice Christ endured, we must endure for His sake. Paul has shown us the way. Apart from Christ, no one has suffered as much as Paul. He paid the price of spiritual leadership. His opponents did not. Let the Corinthians judge between them, as to who they should heed.

Finally, note that no matter where we find ourselves in the writings of Paul (or anywhere else in the Bible), we are never far from the cross. The cross of Christ was predicted by the Old Testament prophets (e.g. Psalm 22; Isaiah 52:13–53:12). It was foretold by our Lord and then fulfilled by Him (Matthew 16:21; 26:20-32; 27). That cross is the means of our salvation, and it is also the pattern for our own lifestyle:

22 “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.” 23 And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. 25 For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:22-25).

13 “And no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:13-16).

It is that cross, the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, that Paul preaches. It is through the death of Jesus Christ on that cross that our sins are punished, in Him. It is through faith in Christ and His work on the cross on our behalf that we are saved once and for all. It is the message of the cross that Paul preaches and vigorously defends. Those whom Paul labels as “false apostles” he identifies as “enemies of the cross.” And the cross by which we are saved is the prototype of the “cross” we must bear for Christ. This is the message Paul and the apostles all preached:

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void. 18 For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:17-18).

14 But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14).

16 And might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity (Ephesians 2:16).

18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ (Philippians 3:18).

19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven (Colossians 1:19-20).

13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him (Colossians 2:13-15).

2 Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:21-25).

Have you received the gift of the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life through the work of our Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary? If not, why not receive Him by faith today? And if so, let us never wander far from that cross. It is Christ’s work on the cross we commemorate in communion. It is by taking up our cross that we enter into a deeper level of communion with Him. And it is that cross which is the pattern, the paradigm, by which we are to live day by day. After we receive what God has done for us in Christ, on the cross of Calvary, then we are privileged to take up our cross, a cross of suffering and persecution, and follow Him, assured that there will be many blessings for us in our trials and tribulations in this life, and every promised blessing when He returns to establish His kingdom on earth.


69 A quotation by Ray Stedman cited in his sermon on 2 Corinthians 11:16-33 entitled, “The Cost of Love,” p. 2, as downloaded from the Peninsula Bible Church web sight on the Internet.

70 Donald A. Carson, From Triumphalism to Maturity (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), p. 112.

71 Carson, From Triumphalism to Maturity, p. 88.

72 The arrogance which plagues the Jews is just as serious a danger for Gentile saints, as Paul’s words in Romans 11:11-24 indicate.

73 Carson entitles the chapter on 2 Corinthians 11:16-33 “Triumphalistic Qualifications.”

Related Topics: Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Leadership