I always thought it was the late P.T. Barnum that said: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” But I learned that it was actually one of his competitors that said it. But regardless of who said it, it’s definitely a true statement. It was true in Barnum’s day, it is still true today, and it was even true in the apostle Paul’s day. The phrase was used to express how gullible some people can be and how easy it is to exploit them. Sad to say that gullibility seems to have always been a common affliction within the church of Jesus Christ too. That’s one of the problems Paul had to address when he wrote 2 Corinthians… and unfortunately, it’s a pretty serious problem in the church today.
Turn with me in your Bibles to 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. Remember one of Paul’s purposes in writing this letter to the believers in Corinth was to refute false teachers who had come in with their super apostle egos teaching what Paul identified as “another Jesus” in the power of of “a different spirit”, preaching a “different gospel” (2 Cor.11:4). Paul was very concerned because many of the Corinthians were falling for the deceptions of these false apostles.
Last time in verses 1-15 we saw Paul take off the gloves and he begins to really spell things out for them. He said these men are,
“false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.” (2 Cor.11:13-15)
Paul realizes it’s time to expose these people for what they really are… Satan’s emissaries sent to infiltrate Christ’s church to corrupt it from the inside out. If he can’t destroy it by persecution to stop the impact it is making in the world he will try to poison and weaken her from within with false teaching. All through church history Satan has made his impact on the church by using men and women to preach “another Jesus” in the power of a “different spirit” so that what people hear is not only a “different gospel” but it is actually no gospel at all. “Gospel” means “good news” but it can only be good news if it proclaims the true person and work of Jesus Christ… otherwise it is just bad news in disguise. Now let’s pick up in verse 16
16 I say again, let no one think me a fool. If otherwise, at least receive me as a fool, that I also may boast a little.
17 What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as it were, foolishly, in this confidence of boasting.
18 Seeing that many boast according to the flesh, I also will boast.
19 For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise!
20 For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face.
21 To our shame, I say that we were too weak for that! But in whatever anyone is bold–I speak foolishly–I am bold also.
22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I.
23 Are they ministers of Christ?–I speak as a fool–I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.
24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;
26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness–
28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.
29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
30 If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.
31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.
32 In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desiring to arrest me;
33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.
Paul pulls out all the stops to get their attention. He has poured out his heart in this and two other letters concerning how much he loves these believers. In chapter 2 he told them, “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.” (2 Cor.2:4) He was concerned for their holiness… he was concerned for their spiritual growth and the sincerity of their testimonies before a watching world… he was concerned about their faithfulness to the Lord… and he was concerned for those who foolishly and carelessly fell into the web of deceit and false doctrine, subjecting themselves to the abuses and self-claimed authority of these counterfeit apostles.
And since they failed to discern the danger that Paul thinks should have been detected because of the obvious pride and arrogant boasting of these self proclaimed super apostles, Paul decides once again to indulge in the folly of bragging… something that he intensely despises. He hates to brag about his credentials and his achievements because he knew that anything worthwhile attained or achieved in his life and ministry was only due to the grace and power of God. As he said at the end of chapter 10,
“he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” (2 Cor.10:17)
So here’s what Paul seeks to accomplish through our text this morning. First of all
1. He confronts the Corinthians gullibility through his reluctant boasting (vs.16-21)
Essentially Paul sort of sarcastically rebukes them for being suckered in by those who boasted “according to the flesh.” He says, , “OK, now it’s my turn… you’ve listened to these others… “you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are so wise.” Can you hear the sarcasm yet? Well, listen up because here it comes now in verse 20, “For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face.”
They brought them into bondage with a false gospel… they devoured them by taking advantage of them… they abused their self attained authority by taking whatever they could get from them… they demonstrated an air of arrogance and pride, not only claiming to be superior to Paul but also to the Corinthians. They had kind of an elitist attitude toward everyone… possibly they were physically abusive to them but more likely Paul said they struck them in the face to illustrate the disrespect the false teachers had demonstrated toward them.
They did all these things to them and the Corinthians let it happen… so Paul throws another zinger in there and says, “I’m sorry we were too weak to do those things to you.” But what he’s hoping they’ll get is that by talking about his comparative weakness with these wolves in sheep’s clothing in failing to enslave, exploit, abuse, dominate and humiliate them, his actions and attitudes toward them were in fact, a more powerful proof that he really did love them.
You know, it amazes me how gullible people can be when it comes to spiritual leaders. Many a preacher has gotten rich, powerful and prideful in what worldly standards would determine are successful ministries. Let me share with you an example of the nonsense that so many gullible people are falling for. I won’t tell you who I intercepted this from.
These are some scattered excerpts of a letter from a preacher named Don Stewart.
I feel in the Spirit that you have been going through some things and you don’t understand what is happening. I have been directed to write this letter to you to answer some of those questions about why? Why? I received Revelation Knowledge about 7 Generational Blessings God has for you. I have them sealed up and placed in a safe place for you. So be in the Spirit as you read my anointed letter
It’s odd that Paul never wanted to talk about how he received revelation from God. You’ll see that more clearly when we get to chapter 12.
Let me tell you, I held your name in my hand. I received REVELATION KNOWLEDGE with Special Instructions about Reversing the Curse and proclaiming God’s Generational Blessing upon your life.
God is ready to release to you a MONEY MIRACLE and deliver you from the curse that has been passed on down to you. And when God lifts the curse off of your money, MONEY WILL BEGIN TO FLOW LIKE A RIVER TO YOU.
It always seems to be about money, doesn’t it? Now here’s an example of how they like to use Scripture for their own benefit.
The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 4:15: “ye have many teachers, but not many fathers.”
So many people did not have a father who blessed them. God has let me know that I am to be more than a teacher or preacher, but a Spiritual Father who allows my spiritual children to come under my blessing and receive a Spiritual Birthright.
Does that sound arrogant to you? He’s using a verse from Scripture to claim a position of spiritual authority over this person and that he is able to dispense a spiritual birthright. Listen to this.
I’m telling you there’s such a powerful PROPHETIC ANOINTING on me right now and I know that THIS IS YOUR TIME. Just believe God.
Now, here is what you are to do: Put the Number 7 Prayer Cloth in your pillow case tonight and sleep on it.. (Hold up Number 7 Prayer Cloth) Then FIRST THING IN THE MORNING, send it to me. THIS IS IMPORTANT! This will be placed on my Altar for 7 days, in believing God to reverse the curse off your life and bring the blessing.
Here comes the part you’ve been waiting for… it’s offering time!
Now, let me talk to you about your offering. Seven is God’s perfect number … the number or completion. You need to plant a Seed of Faith. Use your faith and sow $17, believing God to Reverse the Curse over the last seven generations. Now, don’t forget: sleep on the Number 7 Prayer Cloth TONIGHT ONLY’ Then, FIRST THING IN THE MORNING, send it to me along with this page. when I receive your Number 7 Prayer Cloth, I will put it on my Altar for seven days and I will send you the 7 Generational Blessings.
Now you know, this would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad and dangerous. It’s amazing though how many people think this guy is a legitimate man of God! This is the kind of junk that just makes me sick… it makes me angry… it makes me sad that some people would believe it.
Anyway, enough of this heretic… let’s get back to what Paul was saying… he was so disturbed by the impact that these false teachers had made that
2. He contrasts himself with the false teachers (vs.22,23)
As the false teachers were bold to attack Paul and take advantage of the Corinthians, Paul says, “Even though I think this is foolish, now I’m going to boldly boast.”
Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I.
Paul had the pedigree… he’s saying, “If you want to be impressed with credentials, then check out my background. Top this if you can!” Obviously they couldn’t. Paul had an impeccable background as far as his Jewishness is concerned.
In Philippians 3 Paul was warning the church there about false teachers too and he told them,
2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!
3 For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh,
4 though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so:
5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee;
In terms of being Jewish, they had nothing on Paul. But in contrast to the false teachers, Paul also said that he counted all these things as rubbish in exchange for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. In other words, a man’s credentials and are not what makes the man… for Paul the substance of his life was not about his credentials and achievements in ministry, as impressive as they were… it’s about gaining and growing in that intimate relationship with Jesus Christ! If these guys want to brag about where they came from and what they’ve done, Paul can match them and even greatly surpass them. But he doesn’t… he’s not done yet but he goes in a different direction.
3. He chronicles his suffering for Christ as the basis for his superiority to the false apostles (vs.24-29)
He adds, “Are they ministers of Christ?–I speak as a fool…” …” If they’re servants of Christ, which was really a repugnant and foolish thought for Paul because he knew what they really were, then Paul says, “I more so… I am a better one.”
Now you might think, knowing what we know about the apostle Paul, he could have started bragging about all of his accomplishments for Christ. No one had accomplished more for Christ than he had. D.A. Carson suggests that Paul’s enemies might have expected him to brag by saying something like this:
I have established more churches; I have preached the gospel in more lands and to more ethnic groups; I have traveled more miles; I have won more converts; I have written more books; I have raised more money; I have dominated more councils; I have walked with God more fervently and seen more visions; I have commanded the greatest crowds and performed the most spectacular miracles.”
Paul could have easily made those claims… that’s the way the false teachers would have done it. They bragged about their eloquence… about their authority… about their credentials… about their achievements… But Paul didn’t say anything about his accomplishments for Christ. Instead he commands their attention toward the things he suffered… toward all the things that made him weak. Listen to what he went through for Christ’s sake:
in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness- (2 Cor.11:23b-29)
I really don’t want to examine every one of Paul’s experiences listed here… but it’s important to note that Paul’s superiority to the false teachers is evident, not by his great achievements but by his great perseverance in suffering for Christ. The contrast could not be any greater between them and him. While they would all brag about their strengths Paul demonstrated his commitment to the gospel and his love for Christ with the things that made him weak… by highlighting the hardships he was willing to endure.
Translate this in the light of what we’re seeing in the 21st century American church today. Men and women preachers filling up huge arenas… amassing huge personal fortunes along the way… surrounded by assistants, business managers and bodyguards… traveling in their private jets, limos and luxury cars… owning multi-million dollar estates… dropping names of the rich and famous like they’re part of their club… convincing people that if they “sow seeds” into their ministries it will yield financial prosperity for them… and all the while they look at all this stuff as if it were the stamp of God’s approval and proof of God’s blessing.
What do you think Paul would say? Never mind Paul… what do you think Jesus would say? They enjoy all the luxuries of life… they claim it is for all God’s children if you have the faith to name it and claim it and of course, “support this ministry with your most generous seed faith offering.”
It was Paul’s willingness to endure hardship that gave credibility to his ministry… not what he could boast about. And just so there’s no misunderstanding, he adds that his greatest weakness was in his pastoral heart, “besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.”
That was his passion… caring for the churches regardless of all his sufferings… he was called to teach them and show them how to be faithful to Christ and in his weakness, he was able to identify with them. He was able to be patient and compassionate and gracious… but if someone caused God’s people to stumble and sin, like these false teachers, Paul would respond on behalf of the church with indignation.
Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
Paul entered their world at great personal cost for the sake of Christ and His church and it stood in stark contrast to his detractors.
How we endure hardship gives a powerful testimony to the validity of our calling… and Paul’s testimony blew away the competition. Finally in verses 30-33
4. He concludes with a testimony of humiliation and weakness (vs.30-33)
He says, “If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.” (vs.30,32)
Paul realized that God’s power was not in his strengths… it was in his weakness. We’ll learn more about that in chapter 12 but all these things he’s mentioned all worked to make him weaker and more and more dependent on Christ. That’s why he chose to boast in his infirmities rather than his accomplishments.
His enemies would call him a liar but he calls on God as his witness to telling the truth and he gives one final testimony about how he had to escape the threat of death in Damascus to show that humiliation and weakness were at the heart of his calling from the very beginning. (Acts 9:23-25) Paul models for us what living for Christ involves… not that we’ll have to go through the same sufferings… but hardship and suffering are instruments in God’s hands to weaken us so that we’ll depend more on Him.
What are you willing to endure for Christ? Do you think that you have to be strong? Think again. You need to be weakened… you need to understand that the arm of flesh will fail you as the old song goes. Hardship makes us weak so we’ll depend on God more.