2 Corinthians 11Observe here, 1. That which the apostle calls his folly is his speaking so much in his own commendation and praise, because ordinarily self-commendation has a very great shew of folly in it, though not always. As if he had said, "I would you could bear with me a little, in that, which looks like a foolish boasting in me, namely, my glorying in my performances, in my services and sufferings, amongst you; and indeed, you must bear with me herein."
Where note, That although the apostle lay under a necessity to commend himself for the vindication of his office, which made him free from folly in this matter; yet because, generally speaking, self-commendation usually proceeds from folly and vanity, and such as did not know the necessity which lay upon St. Paul thus to speak, would be apt to impute folly to him for thus speaking, he therefore calls it folly himself first, and tells the Corinthians, they did and must bear with it.
Observe, 2. The reason assigned, which constrained the apostle thus to do it, was his holy jealousy for them. He had, by preaching of the gospel, brought them to know and believe in Christ, and so, by converting them to the Christian faith, had espoused them to Christ: He earnestly therefore desired that he might present them a pure and chaste virgin; that is, a spotless church unto Christ. As the Jews say, that Moses espoused Israel to God in Mount Sinai, when he made them enter into covenant with him there; so says the apostle here, by converting you to the Christian faith, I have espoused you to one husband, even Christ.
Our apostle having in the foregoing verses, with a rhetorical insinuation, begged their pardon and their patience, whilst by a just and necessary commendation of himself, he vindicated his person and office from contempt: and having shewn, that what he did and said, was the fruit and effect of a pious jealousy, or holy love, mixed with fear: accordingly, he tells them very plainly in this verse, that he was really afraid of them, lest as Eve was seduced by the subtilty of the devil, so their minds should be corrupted by false apostles, and seduced from the pure doctrine of the gospel: For as the noblest and most generous wine is adulterated by mingling it with water, so is the doctrine of the gospel corrupted, by mixing with it either philosophical speculations, or Jewish traditions, or any sort of human inventions. Well therefore might the apostle say, I fear less your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
As if the apostle had said, "It is one Christ, one Spirit, one gospel, and not many which we have preached, and you have received; now, if your new teachers, the false apostles, have another Christ to set forth, more excellent gifts of the Spirit to boast of, another gospel to preach unto you, which I never preached amongst you, let them be heard and received:" But this being impossible, they might well bear with him in his modest boasting and glorying in what he had done and suffered amongst them, by whose ministry they were at first converted to Christianity.
Observe here, 1. The great modesty of the apostle in this expression; I suppose I was not a wit behind the chiefest apostles. He might have said he was equal with them, and in some sense superior to them, even the most eminent of them, Peter, James, and John. Indeed the apostleship, as an office, was of equal honour in all the apostles; but even amongst them, some had more excellent gifts, and greater enlargements, and did more signal services than others. Thus one of those stars differed from another in brightness and glory.
But, observe, 2. Before whom it is that St. Paul thus compares himself with the chiefest apostles: it was not before the true, but the false apostles, that he makes this modest boast. He did not contend with any of the apostles of Christ for the upper hand, nor say, I am not behind any of you, or I am better than any of you; but he only gives check to those false apostles who undervalued him, and poured contempt upon him. He who said at another time, I am not worthy to be called an apostle, says here, I am not behind the chiefest apostle.
From whence we learn, That the ministers of Christ may stand upon terms of credit with those that vilify their persons, disparage their function, and discredit that honourable work which God hath called them unto. Though all ambitious contending with others is odious, yet no man ought to betray either the truth of God or his own integrity, lest he should be counted contentious. He purchases the opinion of an humble and peaceable minister too dear; who either pays the faith of God for it, or his own credit: something of reputation being absolutely necessary in a minister, to render his labours successful.
Observe, 3. The objection which the false apostles, those proud boasters of their eloquence, made against St. Paul, namely, that he was rude in speech. That the apostle had some imperfection in his speech or utterance, is the opinion of many. Others affirm, that he was an eloquent preacher, from Acts 19:12 where he is compared to Mercurius for it; but he did not think fit, in his ministry, to use the Grecian flaunting way in ostentation thereof, that so the power of the gospel might not seem to be placed in human wisdom. "However, says the apostle, though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge; if my language has nothing extraordinary in it, yet sure nothing can be objected against my skill in the mysteries of salvation. But I need not tell you of this, who have had the proof of it in my ministry amongst yourselves."
Note, we hear, The manner and methods of St. Paul's preaching; it was grave and serious, pious and ardent, plain and profitable. No doubt he could have acted the orator in the pulpit, as well as most: But he chose rather to speak close and home to the consciences of men, in a plain and familiar style, delivering all his evangelical and apostolical precepts so plainly, that the weakest capacities might understand and receive them. Plain truths, without any art or varnish, may be conveyed with more warmth and vigour to the conscience, than all the charms of human eloquence from the most fluent and popular tongue.
Observe here, 1. That St. Paul, in his former epistle to the Corinthians, abundantly proved the lawfulness of his taking maintenance from those to whom he preached the gospel: Yet here he tells the Corinthians, he preached freely to them, without putting them to any charge, though at the same time, he had subsistence from the brethren of Macedonia.
From whence learn, That one church ought to contribute towards the furtherance of the gospel in and amongst other churches. Here the brethren in Macedonia supplied the apostle with maintenance, whilst he preached to the church at Corinth.
Observe, 2. The reason why St. Paul did preach the gospel without receiving any thing for the same at Corinth; namely, to cut off occasion from the false apostles, who sought occasion to traduce and slander him, as a poor indigent fellow that preached for bread, and gloried that he preached freely.
Where note, That it is probable, that these false apostles were some rich men, who took no pay of the churches for what they did, but preached, or rather deceived freely, and would have reproached the apostle as a mercenary preacher, had he taken any thing.
From the whole, learn, 1. That it is agreeable to the mind of Christ, that the ministers and dispensers of his gospel should be maintained. A maintenance for the ministry, is certainly of divine right.
Learn, 2. That the apostles themselves did not all work, at least, not at all times, for their livelihood, but, generally speaking, did always receive maintenance from the churches: ver, 8, I robbed other churches, taking wages of them. We do not find the eleven apostles, after the Holy Ghost came upon them, wrought afterwards with their hands for their livelihood, but gave themselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word, Acts 4:4.
Learn, 3. That though St. Paul did labour with his own hands at Corinth, and refused maintenance, for the reason forementioned, yet his example doth not enjoin us to work for our subsistence, with the labour of our hands, nor forbid us to take maintenance, when the churches we serve are able to maintain us. St. Paul tells us, when he wrought with his hands, he had then a power to leave working, 1Cor 9:6. He had a right to a maintenance from the church at Corinth, though, upon prudential consideration, he did forbear it, and no law of Christ restrained him from it.
Learn, 4. That there have been persons, all along, from the first planting and preaching of the gospel, who have sought occasion, and taken all occasions, though very unjustly, to charge the ministers of Christ with covetousness, worldly mindedness, and with preaching for filthy lucre sake. It was St. Paul's own case here; and therefore, says he, will I glory in this, that at Corinth, and all Achaia, I have preached freely, to cut off occasion from them that desire occasion, to charge me with covetousness and worldly-mindedness, which he would by no means give them an handle for. And thus it continues to this day: Let a minister be never so laborious in his office, or inoffensive in his life, if he expects but a moderate part of what is his just due, there are those that will cheat him of one half of his right, and them charge him with covetousness for demanding the other.
Observe, lastly, The description and character here given by St. Paul of the false apostles, They transform themselves into the apostles of Christ. that is, they pretend themselves to be Christ's apostles, and act as if they were such indeed; they take up the doctrine of Christ in some things which the holy apostles taught, but it was that they might weaken the estimation of the true apostles in the hearts of the Corinthians, and set up themselves there.-
These false apostles was Judaizing Christians, who mingled Judaism with Christianity, and endeavoured to bring the Corinthians under the bondage of the ceremonial law. Behold here the first heresy with which the wisdom of God was pleased to exercise the church, even in the apostles' days, that no church, and no age of the church, might pass without some temptation and trial; they transform themselves into the apostles of Christ, even as Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Then is Satan an angel of light, when he suggests good for evil ends, and under specious pretences of bringing glory to God, doth tempt persons to transgress the will of God.
Thus the false apostles would preach error with as great zeal and industry, as the apostles of Christ did preach truth, and use their utmost arguments, persuasions, and motives, for embracing of error, which the holy apostles did for the entertainment of truth, seeming to do the same things that the true ministers of Christ did. It is very possible for men to be really Satan's instruments, animated and taught by him to do his work, against the interest of Christ and his truth, and yet, at the same time, pretend to excel and go beyond Christ's faithful ministers in preaching truth and holiness. So that the highest pretences to truth, orthodoxness, free grace, purity, and unity, are no sufficient evidences of a true ministry. Satan and his ministers, who love to transform themselves sometimes into angels of light, may pretend to all these, and are, notwithstanding, the sworn enemies of Christ and his kingdom.
Here our apostle returns again to his own just and necessary vindication of himself; he acknowledges it unbecoming and unseemly in itself to boast much: and that boasting is the usual mark of a fool; but it is no folly when the interest of God and souls require it: It was only seemingly, and not really, his folly; though it had the appearance of folly, in ostentation; yet with respect to the scope, the aim, and end, and design of it, it was needful and necessary,
But yet he tells them, that what he had before spoke, and was now farther about to speak, he spake not after the Lord: that is, as if the Lord commanded any such boasting and glorying in ourselves, as for ourselves. He did not pretend to have any special command from God, to enlarge so copiously in his own commendation: for the Spirit of God no where advises us to commend ourselves, or to glory either in the sufferings we have undergone, or the services we have done: Yet what the apostle here said and did, though not after the Lord, yet was it not contrary to the Lord, or to the direction of his word, which no-where commands us to conceal what grace God has wrought in us, or the good done by us, upon a fitting occasion, and with a sincere design, that he, and not ourselves, may have the praise and glory of it.
Here our apostle, with some kind of salt and smartness, reflects upon the Corinthians (whom ironically he calls wise men) for suffering themselves to be imposed upon by their false teachers, to be tyrannized over, to be spunged upon and exhausted, to be brought again into bondage to Jewish ceremonies, to be smitten on the face; that is, to be upbraided to their very faces, because they had subjected themselves to so mean and weak a person as Paul, a tentmaker. However, he assures them, that in any thing according to the flesh, wherein the false apostles could glory, he could glory also.
Here note, That by glorying after the flesh, is meant glorying in any external privileges and outward advantages, particularly in glorying that they were the seed of Abraham according to the flesh; for the Jews had a very high opinion of themselves, as being the seed of Abraham, and the only people of God, by visible profession, at that time in the world; having contemptible thoughts of all others, whom they called the profane, and the people of the earth, likening them to dogs.
Now the apostle tells the Corinthians plainly, That although there is nothing after the flesh which deserves greatly to be gloried in, yet seeing that the false apostles did pride themselves in these things, he could boast of the same carnal privileges with them, and glory after the flesh as well as themselves; and accordingly, thus he speaks in the following verses:
That is, I have suffered more for Christ, by stripes, by imprisonments, by daily dying, that any of them have done.
Here note, That these false teachers, the Judaizing doctors, were most certainly of the Jewish race; and that they were not only converted to, but did preach up the faith of Christ; but withal, the necessity of circumcision, and the observation of the Jewish rites. These teachers went from Judea, and gave great disturbance to all Christian churches; as Corinth, Galatia, and Philippi: And we often find St. Paul complaining of them, by the name of those of the circumcision; because they required of such as did embrace Christianity, to submit to circumcision and the Jewish law.
The law in Deut 25:3 allowed forty stripes to be given to them that were worthy to be beaten, but forbade them to exceed that number: But it being their custom to beat them with a whip that had three cords, they must either stop at thirty-nine, or exceed and go to forty-two.
Here observe, That the apostle contending with these false teachers, proves the truth of his ministry and apostleship; not, as elsewhere, from the miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost, which did accompany his preaching, but from his sufferings, as being the things which these false apostles could not pretend unto, and so could not glory that they were like unto him in them.
Behold what a catalogue the apostle here gives of his sufferings and services: He was scourged by the Jews with whips, beaten by the Gentiles with rods, stoned by the rabble, thrice suffered shipwreck, a night and a day tossed to and fro upon the sea, and in great danger of perishing; in journeyings often from one country to another, to preach, plant, and propagate the gospel; in perils at sea and land, by pirates and robbers; in perils by his countrymen the Jews; in perils in the cities, Damascus, Ephesus, and Jerusalem; in perils in wildernesses and deserts; in perils amongst false brethren, men of the Christian profession; in weariness and painfulness, by travelling from place to place; in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, that is, in necessitated hunger often, and in voluntary fastings frequent, for spiritual purposes; in cold and nakedness, that is, very poor and thin in clothing.
Lord! what tongue can utter, or what heart can conceive, the pains which the apostle took, or the hazards which he run, in preaching the gospel to a lost world? And yet the good man heartily thanks our Lord Jesus Christ for all that, who had counted him faithful, and put him into the ministry. Verily none of the ministers of Christ have any reason or cause to repent of the the choice of their office, whatever services they undertake, or whatever sufferings or reproaches it either hath or may expose them to. Alas! what is all that we feel, to what this apostle underwent? And what is all that he underwent for Christ, compared with that transcendent reward which is in the hand of Christ, both for him and us.
The apostle's burden of outward troubles was discovered before: His burden of inward care is declared now. Besides, those things which were afflicting to him from without, the care and business of all the new-planted churches was daily upon his heart and hand; besides all his bodily labours by journeying and travelling incessantly from place to place, his solicitous care and thoughtfulness of mind, for the prosperity and happiness of all the churches of Christ, both near and afar off, was great and pressing; the holy man felt as much by sympathy as he did by sense. Many were the personal troubles which he had felt, but more were the churches troubles of which he had feeling; concerning which, he thus expresses himself in the next verse:
That is, "What particular church, or what particular Christian in any of the churches of Christ, is weak in faith, or wavering in their profession: Where is the person that is assaulted with inward temptations, or outward troubles, and I do not sympathize with him, yea, burn with holy zeal and fervent desire for his settlement and establishing?" Sympathy among all the members, but especially in and among the ministers of Christ, is a great Christian duty: They ought to have a tender compassion to the whole flock, and also a quick sense both of the sins and the sufferings of every particular and individual member and part thereof.
As Christ, our head, is afflicted in all his church's afflictions, so ought we, as his ministers and members, to be afflicted in the afflictions of our fellow-brethren. He that has no cross of his own, must take up and bear his brother's: yea, he that has many of his own, must yet bear a part of all his brethren's crosses. Good men ever have been and are men of tender and compassionate dispositions, ready to mourn over, and lament for, both the sins and sufferings of others, from the overflowing of a Christ-like spirit in them. True goodness evermore promotes compassion.
By infirmities here, we are to understand sufferings, reproaches, and disgraces, afflictions and persecutions, for the sake of the gospel.
Where note, That the apostle chose rather to glory in what Christ had enabled him to suffer, than what he enabled him to do for him; he had wrought divers tongues, had done very great and eminent services for Christ; but not a word of these, because these indeed were evidences of the power of God in him, and of the favour of God towards him, but no demonstrations of any inherent grace or goodness in him; whereas his patient bearing of such sharp, long, and continual undeniable proofs of extraordinary measures of faith, and patience, of holy self-denial, and eminent love to God, and consequently were a truer and greater cause of boasting than extraordinary gifts and miraculous operations.
Observe here, How the apostle, in a most awful and solemn manner, appeals to the all-knowing and heart-searching God, that the foregoing account of his sufferings for Christ and his gospel was the exact truth and no lie. He calls God to bear witness to the certainty of all that he had said of him the Father of our Lord Jesus, who is blessed for evermore, affords an undeniable argument to prove the Godhead of Christ; this doxology, blessed for evermore, being a term of honour usually annexed by the Jews at the naming of God.
The apostle concludes this chapter, containing a relation of his sufferings, with a remarkable deliverance which God gave him from danger and death, at the city of Damascus, soon after his conversion, of which mention is made, Acts 9:24-25.
The Jews, whom he confuted and confounded with his arguments at Damascus, sought to kill him; to effect which, they had by some means or other, brought over Aretas, who was king, under the Roman emperor, at Damascus, and he engages with the Jews in persecuting the holy and innocent apostle. He shuts up the gates of the city, keeps his soldiers in arms, and uses all possible means to prevent the apostle's escape.
But what saith the Psalmist? Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain, Ps 127:1 either to keep out those whom he will have in, or to keep in those whom he will have out. All the wall shall be an open gate to those whom Divine Providence will have to escape; as here to St. Paul, being let down over the wall by a rope in a basket. Neither was it any evidence of cowardice that the apostle now fled, nor in the least degree sinful; our Lord having given us a particular license in the case, saying, When they persecute you in one city, fly to another. Besides, the persecution now raised was directly levelled against the apostle in particular.
It was therefore piously done in the disciples, and prudently done in himself, to attend the means of his own preservation. As the husbandman doth not commit all his corn to the oven, but saves some for seed; so doth God in persecution. All are not martyrs; and none shall be so presently: they must first finish their course of obedience before they finish their course with joy.
Happy soul, that can say with this great and good man, I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith, I am ready to be offered up: henceforth is laid up for me a crown of glory, which fadeth not away. Amen.
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