2 Corinthians 12:11-21
Turn with me in your Bibles to 2 Corinthians 12 please. Last Sunday we covered one of the high points of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (there are actually a ton of high points in this letter)… but the Lord made this amazing statement to Paul as he sought Him for the removal of an apparently very painful thorn from his flesh. Paul said it was was “a messenger of Satan to buffet me” and he “pleaded with the Lord three times” that He would take it away. Jesus evidently told him (and we don’t know if it was spoken to him audibly or if it was that “still, small voice”” but He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (vs.9)
And with that answer Paul realized what we might call the secret to effective ministry… it’s a paradox really… but it is “strength in weakness.” So profound and powerful did Paul find the Lord’s response to his desire that he was not ashamed to make his personal weakness his greatest boast…. because the outcome of such a boast is glory to God! As he said earlier in chapter 10, “he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” (10:17) and from Paul’s perspective there was no more effective way to testify of God’s power in his life and ministry than by boasting of his own weakness.
As much as he despised boasting, he says in verse 11, “I have become a fool in boasting; you have compelled me. For I ought to have been commended by you…” …” and beginning here in verse 11 through the end of this chapter, Paul says some things to truly authenticate his apostolic ministry. As a minister of the Gospel, Paul is divinely laid hold of by God and possessed with what we’ll call pastoral concerns… they are qualities that characterize his ministry. We already seen several qualities like humility and integrity displayed.
This is not one of the more unfamiliar passages of this letter but certainly it is no less important as Paul begins to wrap this letter up. Follow along with me as we begin in verse 11 and read through to the end of the chapter.
11 I have become a fool in boasting; you have compelled me. For I ought to have been commended by you; for in nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles, though I am nothing.
12 Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.
13 For what is it in which you were inferior to other churches, except that I myself was not burdensome to you? Forgive me this wrong!
14 Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.
15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved.
16 But be that as it may, I did not burden you. Nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you by cunning!
17 Did I take advantage of you by any of those whom I sent to you?
18 I urged Titus, and sent our brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? Did we not walk in the same steps?
19 Again, do you think that we excuse ourselves to you? We speak before God in Christ. But we do all things, beloved, for your edification.
20 For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults;
21 lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced.
Paul first of all identifies his ministry as one that has been divinely confirmed by God. In contrast with the false teachers that had done so much to undermine Paul’s ministry he wants them to realize that his ministry in Christ’s name is authentic.
1. Authenticity (vs.11,12)
For I ought to have been commended by you; for in nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles, though I am nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.
Everything that could possibly be demanded of a true apostle characterized his ministry in Corinth… and the Corinthians should have confirmed that… but they didn’t. So he reminds them that the “signs of an apostle” were done among them. The verb “were accomplished” is in the passive voice which emphasizes that it was God’s power working through Paul. Ironically he is also claiming to be “a nobody” in contrast to the fake apostles because the signs God did through Paul were done in the context of extreme suffering and endurance. Really one of the things he’s been confirming is what he told them in his first letter,
God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Cor.1:28-30)
These other jokers would never have admitted weakness but Paul’s statements reveal that they are the ones who are actually inferior because God had performed no signs through them. The obvious implication is that any kind of sign that might have been performed by the false teachers was done in the power of Satan. Let’s not forget that as a pretender he is capable of putting on a show. And it is these other differences that confirm the source.
Paul’s signs, wonders and mighty deeds were accompanied by humility, whereas anything the false teachers did was backed up with prided. Several writers suggested that these signs Paul was talking about were God’s way of authenticating the message. The wonders evoked awe while the mighty deeds were manifestations of divine power.
Beside the humility there was also faithfulness that distinguished Paul from the false teachers as genuine.
2. Faithfulness (vs.12)
with all perseverance
Remember Paul continued ministering despite the persecution and hardships that plagued him. Calvin wrote, “Such heroic virtue is like a heavenly seal by which the Lord marks out His apostle.” You see, it wasn’t just the signs that made Paul stand out from the rest as a true apostle, it was also the fact that he continued to do them amidst great opposition and stress.
These other so called “apostles” were in this for their own personal benefit and if they couldn’t get anything out of it for themselves, they would have moved on… but Paul’s call to ministry is why he remained faithful. He was in this for the Lord and for God’s people. Remember earlier in chapter 1 he wrote to them, “Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.” (2 Cor.1:6)
Thirdly, Paul was distinguished by his
3. Sensitivity (vs.13,14a)
For what is it in which you were inferior to other churches, except that I myself was not burdensome to you? Forgive me this wrong! Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you;
One of the obvious characteristics of the Corinthians church was their spiritual immaturity. That was one of the things the false teachers capitalized on. They look for weak, immature and gullible believers to deceive. When he wrote his last letter to Timothy he warned in 2 Tim.3:1-7
1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:
2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good,
4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!
6 For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts,
7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Paul was sensitive to their spiritual immaturity. That’s why he refused to be a burden to them financially. He uses a little sarcasm again when he said, “Forgive me this wrong!” but he didn’t want to give any reason for these weaker brothers to turn away from him.
One author wrote,
Paul’s focusing on the signs (evidences) of an apostle rather than on the rights of an apostle is helpful for all servants of the Lord to observe. We, too, should concentrate on demonstrating the proofs of our ambassadorship in our works, especially our perseverance, rather than expecting those we serve to follow us because we claim our rights. We need to earn the respect of those we serve with our works rather than demanding it because of our position.
Then in the latter part of verse 14 and verse 15 Paul expresses his
4. Love (14b,15)
for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. Paul comes right out and tells them the reason he endures all this hardship and expends his heart and energy is because he loves them. He has the sense of responsibility that a parent has for a child so he will do what is necessary to take care of them.
Paul comes right out and tells them the reason he endures all this hardship and expends his heart and energy is because he loves them. He has the sense of responsibility that a parent has for a child so he will do what is necessary to take care of them.
Here is one of the hallmarks of a true minister of God… that he loves the people and is willing to make personal sacrifices for them, even when that love and affection may not be returned. I’m sure it broke his heart that his love wasn’t returned but even then, he was deterred from going all out, pouring himself into every effort to bring the Corinthians closer to the Lord. True ministry selflessly seeks the spiritual welfare of others and will “gladly spend and be spent.”
There is a realization that Jesus Christ is worth investing every once of soul and energy into. C.T. Studd, the pioneer missionary who spent his life reaching people in the Congo said, “If Jesus Christ be God, and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.”
Then in verses 16-18 Paul identifies some of his partners in ministry. Paul used teamwork in ministry.
5. Teamwork (vs.16-18)
But be that as it may, I did not burden you. Nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you by cunning! Did I take advantage of you by any of those whom I sent to you? I urged Titus, and sent our brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? Did we not walk in the same steps?
Paul realized that any work for God was not intended to be done alone. He enlisted like-minded partners to help him… being careful that he wasn’t sending men who would take advantage of them. The task was great and it is always bigger than one person.
Any ministry accomplished needs like-minded servants working together. Remember in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he told them about the body of Christ and spiritual gifts. Each member of the body has a specific function for ministry and God raised up certain men to help Paul in his ministry.
The ministry of Lakeland Bible Church is not my work… it’s ours. God has brought us together to accomplish His work through us. Paul couldn’t do it himself… he needed faithful men to participate in the work. And every faithful man of God needs the commitment and involvement of others to do the work of the ministry.
Verse 19 reveals why.
6. Edifying (vs.19)
Again, do you think that we excuse ourselves to you? We speak before God in Christ. But we do all things, beloved, for your edification.
Paul’s energy was invested in the Corinthians for the purpose of building them up in the faith. That word “edification” is one of the most important words of the Christian faith. It has the idea of strengthening and building up. Everything Paul did… everything he wrote, even the stuff that was confrontational and even sarcastic… was with the express intent to build believers up in the faith.
Any venture within the church should have as one of its intended goals to build up the body of Christ.
Then in the last two verses of chapter 12, Paul shows us that in the interest of edifying the church, he must also be concerned with righteousness in the church.
7. Righteousness (vs.20,21)
For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults; lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced.
Paul doesn’t want to have to deal with sin when he comes but he says if he has to he will. It isn’t that he is being self righteous… he doesn’t get any satisfaction from having to deal with sin. He says he’ll mourn for those who commits any of these sins and does not repent. He grieves for those who are ensnared by sin
One of the most difficult tasks in ministry is when sin has to be confronted… but it has to be done because the Bible likens sin to yeast and if it isn’t dealt with appropriately it will begin to spread. One of the tasks of a minister is to convey the dangerous and grievous nature of sin. It’s not something we can sweep under the rug… it’s not something to laugh about… and it is not something to tolerate as if we can live in peaceful coexistence with it.
God wants a holy people… He wants His ministers and His people to reflect His righteous character.
The first trait… authenticity, is uniquely applied to Paul’s role as an apostle. He was confirmed by God with “signs, wonders and mighty deeds.” And while God’s servants may not confirmed as authentic in the exact same manner today, He is concerned that His servants are authentic… that we be true to Him.