Relationships: The Improvement Factor

Explore the Bible Series

August 29, 2010


Background Passage: II Corinthians 10:1-13:13

Lesson Passage: II Corinthians 10:1-3, 15-18; 12:14-21




This section of II Corinthians has troubled New Testament scholars because of the abrupt change in the tone of the letter.  In last week’s lesson, we considered Paul’s passionate appeal for reconciliation with the Corinthians and his urgent plea for a generous gift to the suffering saints in Jerusalem.  The tenor is conciliatory, gracious, and compassionate… then we come to Chapter Ten.


Paul’s appeal, beginning in 10:1, becomes sharp and uncompromising, even somewhat abrasive.  As we have observed before, the Corinthians clearly had offended the apostle, and he, in these final chapters, mounted a robust defense of his character and ministry.  The tonal change is so abrupt that some scholars have theorized that these last chapters were not a part of the original epistle; rather, an editor added these chapters at a later date.  In defense of the unity of the epistle I point out that Paul’s offense concerning the Corinthian church constitutes a central, repetitive theme of this entire letter.  These concluding chapters seem in harmony with the profound affront to Paul’s integrity and authority, an affront that Paul confronted with withering argumentation.


Perhaps modern Bible students misconstrue the emotional, psychological life of the Apostle Paul, seeing him as a near-superman who shrugged off the betrayal and opposition of others with little effort.  This epistle, along with the Letter to the Galatians, reflects the humanity of this servant of the Lord.  He was not a superman immune to the unwarranted attacks and criticisms of people who should have loved him.  Look, there is no deeper pain in human experience than the betrayal and treachery of those who should know better and should respond to life’s twists and turns with faithful friendship and love.  These people owed, on the human side of things, their spiritual lives to this dedicated servant of Christ; yet, the Corinthians had turned on their spiritual father with bitter criticism and opposition.  This chain of events profoundly injured Paul, and he responded with an ardent vindication of his life and ministry.


Many years ago, one of my ministerial mentors encouraged me to avoid confronting any affront to my labors, and I wholeheartedly (and mistakenly) embraced this counsel.  Now, however, I understand that some circumstances may require a defense of one’s integrity.  Like no other “profession”, a minister’s character stands at the very heart of his credibility and authority.  Paul understood this principle, and he did not hesitate to offer a robust justification for his labors.  I wish I had learned this principle much earlier in life. 


I will follow a different strategy in composing this “outline.”  Normally, our studies follow an outline format, but, in this case, I will provide, in paragraph form, a summary of Paul’s various arguments.  Also, I will speculate about the nature of the various criticisms leveled at the Apostle Paul, in an effort to understand the arguments Paul makes.


Lesson Outline:


I.       Paul’s Defense of his Demeanor (10:1-18): In his preliminary interactions with the Corinthians he had approached their rebellion with meekness and gentleness, and, as I see the passage, they interpreted his tenderness as weakness. Perhaps they accused him of cowardice since, as they perceived things, Paul evidenced greater boldness in his epistles than he did in his personal interactions with the Corinthians.  Also, they apparently found fault with Paul’s assertions of authority (See v. 7).  The apostle affirmed his apostolic authority, an authority that God had assigned to him. The weapons of his warfare were spiritual, and he entered this battle with the assurance that his authority was legitimate and compelling.  He did not boast beyond his authority and expertise; that is, he took no comfort in eloquence or personal charisma, and he boasted only within the boundaries of his personal commission to preach the gospel in unevangelized areas. 


II.    Paul’s Defense against False Teachers (11:1-33): We don’t know the precise nature of this false teaching, but Paul sarcastically refers to these men as “super-apostles.”  Whatever their errors, Paul believed they preached a different gospel—a different Jesus.  Like the serpent’s allurement of Eve, these men seduced the Corinthians to embrace a false message.  Paul offered several defenses against his accusers.

A.    He had not taken money from the Corinthians; rather, he relied on his own labors and the gifts of other churches to meet his basic needs (See vv. 7-15).  It seems apparent that the false teachers took financial advantage of the Corinthians, but Paul suffered hardship and depended on the generosity of other Christians while he evangelized in Greece.

B.     The false apostles, in contrast, were “deceitful workmen” who came in the guise of true servants of Christ, in much the same way, as Paul claimed, that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (See vv. 14-15). 

C.     Paul’s suffering for the sake of the gospel (See vv. 16-33): This paragraph clearly reveals Paul’s anger at his opponents, and he resort so biting sarcasm to rebut their charges against him.  The false apostles had accused Paul of being an arrogant fool; so, he embraced, in an air of sarcasm, the charges.  Moreover, this section seems to indicate something of the nature of the false teaching in Corinth (See vv. 22-23), some form of Judaistic tendencies.  Paul answered their charges with a brief catalog of his sufferings for the sake of Christ (See vv. 23-33): imprisonments, countless beatings, often near death, lashings, beatings with rods, stoning, shipwreck, danger from rivers and bandits, threats from Jews and Gentiles, physical deprivation, betrayal by false brothers, toil and hardship, and threats from the governor of Damascus.  Paul argued that his sufferings authenticated his gospel labors.


III. Paul’s Exaltation and Humiliation (12:1-21)

A.    Paul’s exalted vision (vv. 1-6): Paul writes in the third person, but most scholars believe he referred to his own experience in these verses.  Clearly, the apostle’s theology included a mystical element that was inexpressible.  He claimed that God elevated him to the abode of the saints, the third heaven, and there he heard and saw things he could not reveal. 

B.     Paul’s grievous humiliation (vv. 7-10): Scholars disagree about the nature of Paul’s suffering.  Some think he endured some physical ailment, while others believe he experienced some demonic assault (a “messenger of Satan”).  Still others have speculated that the apostle’s constant harassment from the Judaizers was the “thorn.”  Whatever the case, Paul pleaded with God to remove this hardship, but the Lord answered his prayers by giving Paul grace to bear the suffering,  Paul realized that God allowed the suffering to promote the apostle’s humility. 

C.     Paul’s deprivation for the sake of the Corinthians (vv. 11-21): For a third time Paul planned to come to Corinth to resolve problems in the church, and, again, he hoped he would not cause any burden to these people.  He was, in light of these sacrifices, astounded that they did not love him.  Furthermore, he grieved that he would, once again, encounter jealousy, hostility, anger, and slander from people who should have loved him.  How sad that Paul dreaded his impending visit with the Corinthians. 


IV. Paul’s Final Warnings for the Corinthians (13:1-14): The apostle obviously anticipated a showdown with his adversaries, and he believed God would vindicate him of all charges.  He also feared that some of the Corinthians had abandoned the faith, and he called on them to examine themselves concerning their spiritual status.  Paul concluded the epistle with an earnest appeal for the Corinthians to live in peace and love.