The situation needed to be pretty dire in order to get Paul to talk about himself in a boastful way (even if the boasting was sarcastic), and we see in this passage just how dire it was. The Corinthians had been infiltrated by emissaries of Satan, the Lord of Lies himself, and some of the believers there were still under the influence of those lies.
“Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ . . . As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this boasting in the regions of Achaia. Wherefore? because I love you not? God knoweth. But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Cor. 11:1–15).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
So Paul is going to boast, knowing it to be folly, and he wants them to bear with him in it (v. 1). The reason it is justified is because of Paul’s godly jealousy over their spiritual chastity (v. 2)—he wants them to be kept pure for Christ. His concern is that as the serpent beguiled Eve through nuance, they too may have been corrupted and turned away from the simplicity found in Christ (v. 3). He then moves into sarcasm. If someone shows up with a different Jesus, or a different Spirit, or a different gospel, they put up with it readily enough (v. 4). Paul does not believe himself to be inferior to any of these (false) but important apostles (v. 5). Though he was unpolished in speech, his knowledge was fine—as the Corinthians well knew (v. 6). Did Paul wreck his testimony by charging them no money (v. 7)? Other churches supported him to minister at Corinth (v. 8). Was that the problem? And when he was present there in Achaia, the Macedonians supported him (v. 9). He swears by the truth of Christ, nobody is going to be able to stop this boast of his in Achaia (v. 10). Is this because he doesn’t love the Corinthians? God knows the answer to that (v. 11). Paul will continue to do this in order to undercut the boast of the false apostles that they work on the same terms as Paul. They don’t (v. 12). These men are false apostles, deceitful laborers, dressing up as apostles of Christ (v. 13). This is no wonder because Satan himself appears as an angel of light (v. v. 14). Consequently, it is no big deal when Satan’s ministers wear the livery of ministers of righteousness (v. 15). But their end will be according to their actual works, not their pretended works (v. 15).
THE MISLEADING CARICATURES
The devil should not be thought of by us as having horns and a pitchfork. We wrestle against the prince of the powers of the air, and not against a cartoon villain. When the Lord Jesus was tempted by the devil himself, one of the temptations occurred when the devil showed Him all the kingdoms of men and their glory (Matt. 4:8). Put another way, Jesus was tempted to become a Satan-worshiper—but not the kind that plays around with severed goat heads, pentagrams, candles and spells. The temptation had to do with cathedrals, and moon landings, and empires.
Paul says in this passage that Satan looks like the opposite of what he actually is. It therefore follows that his ministers look the same—shiny and bright on the outside, and inside filled with bones and rotting flesh. Nobody will knock on your front door with grotesque literature and say, “Hello. I am representing the prince of darkness and have come to lead you stray.” So we must beware the allure of self-righteous respectability. And beware of anything that removes the offense of the cross.
THE SUPPORT OF MINISTRIES
We are taught in multiple places of Scripture that a laborer is worthy of his hire, and men who make their vocation from the proclamation of the gospel have every right to expect to be supported from that work. But, as we learn here, they also have the right, for tactical and strategic reasons, for reasons of the testimony, to refuse to take any money from people they are currently ministering to. You can see the pattern here. Paul says that he was supported by the Macedonians in order to minister at Corinth (2 Cor. 11:9), and he would be more than happy to receive the support of the Corinthians when he began ministering in the regions beyond them (2 Cor. 10:15-16). This was not morally necessarily, but it was tactically necessary. And why? Because there were liars on the loose.
SIMPLICITY IN CHRIST
When it comes to faithfulness and loyalty, life is pretty straightforward. If we maintain the kind of godly jealousy that Paul exhibits here, we are enabled by the grace of God to keep it that way.
Paul compares Christians being lured away from the simplicity of Christ to the temptation that our first mother was enticed by. That temptation began with little shadings, a little blurring. The serpent asked, “Did God really say you couldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?” (Gen. 3:1) In her reply, Eve said that they weren’t even to touch it, which was her addition (Gen. 3:3). Then the serpent came up to his direct challenge. You will surely not die (Gen. 3:4). What begins with a small lie can end with a great fall.
What is the simplicity of Christ that we preach? The message is straightforward. We preach the person and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We declare who He was—the very Son of God—and we declare what He did—He took our sins upon himself, endured the wrath of God for them, and sank down into death. Three days later, He came back from the grave, having left all of our sins behind Him, remaining in death forever.