As we are coming near to the end of this epistle, we see here a good summary of Paul’s idea of what constitutes the apostolic insignia. There are three elements that can be seen here. The first would be apostolic signs, works of power and authority. The second would be apostolic sacrifice, where Paul was willing to spend himself for the Corinthians. And the third element would be his apostolic fears—his concern for their spiritual well-being.
“I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong. Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not 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 you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile. Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you? I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother. Did Titus make a gain of you? walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps? Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying. For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults: And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed” (2 Corinthians 12:11–21).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
It was acting the part of a fool for Paul to commend himself to them, because by rights they should have been his letter of commendation (2 Cor. 3:2) (v. 11). And although Paul is a zero, at least he was ahead of his adversaries (v. 11). Paul reminds of the miracles he did in their midst, true marks of a true apostle, and the fact that he did them in true perseverance (v. 12)—these are the signs. And how had he wronged them? Was it the fact that he had not taken any support from them? If so, please let me apologize (v. 13). Paul then reminds them again of his sacrifices for them. He is their father, and parents lay up for their kids (v. 14). He would gladly lay out for them (v. 15)—but the more he loves, the less he is loved in return. He then steps into what the false apostles would say. “Sure, Paul took no money, but that is because he is so slick” (v. 16). But Paul retorts—did I take anything from you through my messengers (v. 17)? He sent Titus and the respected brother (v. 18). Did they take anything? Not a bit of it (v. 18). Paul is not defending himself; he is defending the ministry of their edification (v. 19)—he swears it. We then come to the third mark of his apostolic insignia—his fear that they have fallen backward into all manner of quarrelsome tumults (v. 20). Notice that if Paul has to exercise church discipline, which he is willing to do, this would simultaneously be an act of authority, and an additional humiliation (v. 21). But then notice what Paul tags as the underlying cause of all the quarrels of v. 20—it is sexual sin. He mentions uncleanness, fornication, and lasciviousness (v. 21).
SIGNS, WONDERS, AND MIGHTY WORKS
This passage contains a passing comment that helps us sort through whether or not miraculous gifts are still extant in the church. And please note the question is not whether God still has the power to work miracles—of course He does. The issue is whether He vests that power in certain individuals—it is the difference between healing and the gift of healing. Paul says here that the power to work miracles in this way were authenticating marks of a true apostle. And if someone is a true apostle (in the Peter, James, John, and Paul sense), then they have the authority to speak for God, and to write Scripture. But since the canon of Scripture is closed, that means no more authentication as though it were not closed.
A MAINSPRING OF QUARRELS AND TUMULTS
Paul does something very curious as he expresses his fears about all the Corinthian disputes. Remember that these disputes could have been about anything—doctrinal, financial, privilege and honor, and so on. He mentions “debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, and tumults.” That about covers the waterfront. But when Paul comes to address it, he flips over the flat rock in the garden and discovers the problem is in another area entirely. The Samaritan woman wanted to talk which was the true mountain of God, and so the Lord brought up how many men she had been with (John 4 ).
TO SPEND AND BE SPENT
Paul’s love for the Corinthians was truly a Christ-like love. Remember what he had told us about what Christ had done, back a few chapters.
“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Here Paul, following in the Lord’s footsteps, says that he would gladly “spend and be spent” for them (v. 15). The life of Christ was a life of giving, not taking. “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45). The gospel message of this Christ must therefore walk in that same path. The ministry of grace is all about giving, not taking.
“Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” (2 Corinthians 9:15).