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Proofs of Paul's Love

I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way. Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way and will continue to do so. As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine. Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!

And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!

Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands. (2 Corinthians 11)

When we began this series at the beginning of 2022, I entitled it “To Corinth with Love” very much on purpose. In a way, Paul’s two letters to the Church at Corinth are evidence of his love affair with them. It is a love affair with problems, as is every love affair. But this chapter, 2 Corinthians 11, drives home the point, just as we are approaching the end of Paul’s correspondence. Paul speaks of his love quite plainly here when he says: “As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine.Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!”

As we read this chapter, I see three proofs of Paul’s love for the Church at Corinth. Let’s look at them one by one… 




In verse 2 Paul says, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.”


Normally, we think of jealousy as a bad thing. But here it is a good thing. The word in Greek is ζηλόω (zēlóō). It is an onomatopoetic word, which means that the word imitates the sound of what it is talking about, like the word “cuckoo”. In this case, this word literally speaks of something that is so hot, it is bubbling over. So, the sound of the word imitates the sound it is talking about.  ζηλόω is meant to sound like boiling water. So, figuratively, this word means “to burn with zeal” (J. Thayer); “to be deeply committed to something, with the implication of accompanying desire – ‘to be earnest, to set one’s heart on, to be completely intent upon’”.


What is Paul zealous for with a godly jealousy? He deeply desires to present the Church at Corinth to their one true husband, Christ, as a pure virgin. 


Now, let’s unpack this idea. Paul is building here on a metaphor common in the Hebrew Scriptures which views God as the husband of Israel (Isaiah 54:5; 62:5). Here, Paul is taking that image and applying it to Christ and the Church. The Church, as Paul suggests elsewhere, is the Bride of Christ (Romans 7:4; Ephesians 5:22 ff.). And Paul wants the Church at Corinth to be a pure bride. To understand this imagery, one must know something about ancient Jewish marriage customs. William Barclay explains…


At a Jewish wedding there were two people called the friends of the bridegroom, one representing the bridegroom and one the bride. They had many duties. They acted as liaisons between the bride and the bridegroom; they carried the invitations to the guests; but they had one particular responsibility, that of guaranteeing the chastity of the bride. That is what is in Paul’s thought here. In the marriage of Jesus Christ and the Corinthian Church he is the friend of the bridegroom. It is his responsibility to guarantee the chastity of the bride, and he will do all he can to keep the Corinthian Church pure and a fit bride for Jesus Christ.


But there is a problem. Paul is afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, so also the Corinthians may be led astray from a pure and sincere devotion to Christ. Again, Barclay explains very helpfully what may be in the back of Paul’s mind here:


There was a Jewish legend current in Paul’s time that, in the Garden of Eden, Satan had actually seduced Eve and that Cain was the child of their union. Paul is thinking of that old legend when he fears that the Corinthian Church is being seduced from Christ.


So, that is the image that was in Paul’s mind. But what was actually going on in Corinth? Well, as we have talked about before in our study of the Corinthian correspondence, some false teachers had come to Corinth and were leading the Corinthians astray. We do not know exactly what these false teachers were saying. Based upon verse 22, we know these false teachers were Jews like Paul. So it may be that they were teaching a form of legalism that Paul fought elsewhere. Perhaps they were teaching the Corinthians, who were Gentiles, that they needed to become Jews and follow all the Jewish laws, including circumcision, in order to follow Christ properly. The Galatians were similarly led astray by false teaching, and in Galatians 1:6-8 Paul says to them…


I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!


That is strong language indeed. Paul uses no less strong language in 2 Corinthians than he does in Galatians. He calls the Corinthians’ favorite teachers: false apostles and deceitful workers. He says that these false teachers are masquerading as apostles of Christ. Paul even goes so far as to call these teachers servants of Satan. But we must remember why Paul uses this strong language. It is because there is so much at stake. The eternal destiny of the Corinthians is on the line. That is why Paul is so zealous. And that zeal, or jealousy, is a sign of his love.



The second proof of Paul’s love that we see here is his generosity. We have seen repeatedly how the Corinthians must have been comparing Paul to other traveling teachers whom they thought superior. Paul takes up the comparison and says…


I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way. Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge?


Paul was generous towards the Corinthians in that he did not take any financial support from them when he was initially in their presence ministering the Gospel to them. When he first went to Corinth he depended upon his own work as a tentmaker to support himself. He did not want anything to distract the Corinthians away from Jesus in any way. He did not want them to be able to say, “Oh, Paul is in it just for the money.”


Now, apparently, the Corinthians were turning the argument completely around. They were accustomed to other traveling teachers being paid for their teaching. Now they seem to be suggesting that Paul is inferior to these “super-apostles” because he does not take payment for his teaching. The Corinthians thought of the false apostles as professionals, and they thought of Paul as an amateur.


Paul obviously wants to draw a strong contrast between these false apostles and himself. Again, William Barclay helpfully explains…


He [Paul] is quite untrained in speaking. The word he uses is idiotes. This word began by meaning a private individual who took no part in public life. It went on to mean someone with no technical training, what we would call a layman. Paul says that these false but arrogant apostles may be far better equipped orators than he is; they may be professionals and he the mere amateur in words; they may be the men with the academic qualifications and he the mere layman. But the fact remains, however unskilled he may be in technical oratory, he knows what he is talking about and they do not.


The story is told of a priest who was celebrating his 50th anniversary of ordination. For this occasion, the priest had invited his personal friend, an actor, to come and recite Psalm 23. The actor agreed to do this on the condition that the priest would also recite it after him.  

At the appointed time, the actor stood and proclaimed the popular psalm with such oratorical skill that the congregation applauded thunderously. Then the humble pastor stood up and began to recite, from memory, his favorite Psalm. When he finished, there was an awed silence. Many in the congregation were moved to tears. 


In the quiet, the actor’s friend sitting next to him leaned over and whispered, “I don’t get it. What was the difference between your recitation and that of the old pastor?” 


And the actor replied, “I know the Psalm; he knows the Shepherd.”


Well, the false teachers may have known something of the Scriptures. But the thing about Paul was that he knew the Lord who inspired the Scriptures. And out of his love for the Lord and the Lord’s people, Paul gave of his time, his talent, and his treasure generously.




The third proof of Paul’s love that we see in this chapter is his concern for the Church. The Corinthians were boasting of all the fine qualifications of their other favorite preachers. Paul chose to boast instead of his weakness, and the things he suffered for the Gospel. 


It is an amazing list of suffering that he gives to us… multiple imprisonments, flogging, exposure to death, lashes, beatings, stoning, three shipwrecks, danger from bandits, sleeplessness, hunger, nakedness. And Paul ends with the story of being lowered in a basket over the wall in Damascus. Paul’s Damascus story is the very opposite of what some Roman soldiers were rewarded for doing. The corona muralis (the crown of the wall) was awarded to the Roman soldier who, during a siege, was the first one over the wall of the enemy city. Well, Paul has his upside-down corona muralis. And that’s the point, Paul’s list of boasting is completely upside-down from the way the world thinks. The world boasts of achievements. Paul boasts of his weakness.


After listing all these weaknesses, Paul concludes with these words: “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” 


Perhaps the greatest thing Paul suffered was the burden of his concern for the little fledgling groups of Christians he had planted all over the Roman Empire. Would the movement survive? There was no guarantee it would. After all, each church he planted had maybe a dozen or so members to start. Could anyone have imagined how this tiny group of Jesus followers would take the Roman Empire by storm? I am sure Paul was trusting in the Holy Spirit to carry the work forward. But still he was concerned.


The word in Greek is μέριμνα and it means to be drawn in different directions, separated from the whole. It refers to the dividing and fracturing of a person’s being into parts. This word can also be translated as “anxiety” or “worry”. 


All the other things Paul suffered were external and occasional. By contrast, the burden Paul felt for all the churches he founded was internal and constant.


Henry Ward Beecher once said, “We never know the love of our parents for us till we have become parents.” That is so true! 


I remember when Becky and I had our first child. It was so hard to move him from the bassinet in our bedroom to the crib in his own room. How could we be sure that he was going to make it through the night alright? We would tiptoe into the nursery and just listen to him while he was sleeping. “Is he still breathing?” We would lean over with our ears as close as possible, but at the same time trying not to wake him up.


Paul had for the churches the same kind of concern a parent has for their newborn child. He was constantly concerned that the baby churches he gave birth to were still breathing! Myers, in his poem entitled St. Paul speaks of … “Desperate tides of the whole great world’s anguish/Forced thro’ the channels of a single heart.” That was Paul!


I cannot read 2 Corinthians 11 without admiring Paul’s courage and devotion. Paul was willing to suffer whatever was necessary for the Gospel to get to people. As he says in Acts 20:24, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”


Paul proved his love for the Church at Corinth by his jealousy, his generosity, and his concern. What about us? Are we zealous for the Church? Are we generous in supporting the Lord’s work? Do we have any concern for the Church? I believe God wants us to be zealous, generous, and concerned for the Church just as Paul was. The love of Christ demonstrated in the cross merits our greatest devotion…


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