Chapters 10-13 of 2 Corinthians presents Paul’s vindication of his apostleship in which he answers the accusations raised by his enemies at Corinth. Within his reply we discover the lies they were telling about Paul: that he was not a true apostle since he lacked the credentials of the Jerusalem church, that his motives were insincere, that his physical presence was weak and therefore he deserved no respect, that his letters were bold but he would never back them up in person, and that his promises could not be depended on. Paul is not so much defending himself in these chapters as his apostolic office and the message he preached, and in reality he was answering Satan himself! (See 11:13-15) There is a holy irony in Paul’s turning his enemies’ accusations on themselves, but also a deeper teaching for each of us concerning the character traits of a true leader and teacher of the Gospel. How well are these traits reflected in our own ministry?
Read verses 1-6
Q: Paul states that he is jealous. What’s the difference between jealousy and envy?
A: Envy is of the flesh and is completely selfish; biblical jealousy is based on love and seeks the welfare of others. The biblical definition of jealousy is taking every measure possible to ensure one’s exclusive devotion and faithfulness to God as in the example of a husband jealous to protect his wife’s exclusive devotion to him alone.
Q: So what is the goal of Paul’s jealousy for the church, the bride of Christ?
Keep the church faithful – “…betrothed…to one husband…” (v.2)
Keep the church pure – “…present you as a pure virgin.” (v.2)
Keep the church free from false doctrine – not “deceived…led astray…” (v.3)
Keep the church from worldly living – “…the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” (v.3)
Point: These are examples of healthy, biblical jealousy in action.
Q: How can an individual or even an entire local church be seduced away from Christ?
A: According to v.3-4 (and again in v.13-15), by following Satan’s false teachers.
Q: What is Satan’s model of deception which his false teachers follow?
A: The deception put forth in the Garden of Eden wherein he got Eve to question and, by her actions, reject God’s Word. (Note: The “serpent” in Scripture always represents Satan using deception, the “dragon” his using persecution.)
Q: How do we see this strategy proved out by his minions?
A: The false teacher “preaches another Jesus” or “a different spirit” or “a different gospel”. (v.4)
Q: So what is the only defense against spiritual adultery?
A: Faithfulness to the Word of God, not just in knowing it, but putting it into practice.
Point: A true leader is characterized by his jealousy over the church.
Application: Why is it important to identify and publicly denounce false teachers? Why is it important to hold others spiritually accountable? Why is it important to measure all things against the Word of God?
Read verses 7-21a
Q: What is the bizarre charge that was apparently being made against Paul by the false teachers?
A: They claimed that one of the proofs that Paul was NOT an authentic apostle was because he would not accept money for his services.
Q: Why do you suppose false teachers would want to attack something as seemingly untouchable as Paul’s refusal to accept payment for ministry?
A: Money and power are always the root causes of the motives for false teachers themselves, so they would want to create a justification for their own greed. But it also betrays their tactic of misrepresenting a true teacher’s motives so as to discredit them, especially the most pure and honest motives.
Q: What is ironic about Paul’s TRUE motives for not accepting payment for his services?
A: He did it to “cut off opportunity” (v.12) for those very false teachers who were engaging in these exact activities Paul is now defending against! Knowing the false teachers’ true motives, Paul proactively refused compensation in order to later show the false teachers for who they really are.
Q: What is the true identity of false apostles/prophets/teachers?
A: They are Satan’s servants.
Q: What is another of their main tactics?
A: Imitation – “…disguising themselves as apostles of Christ…as servants of righteousness…” (v.14-15).
Q: How was it possible for the Corinthians to discern that these were servants of Satan in disguise?
A: They should have known since the lives and ministries of these imitators manifested nothing of the spirit of Christ. Verse 20 is a description of their carnal ministry bringing people into bondage instead of liberty, selfishly devouring the flock for one’s self, and exalting the leader personally instead of the person of Christ.
Point: A true leader is characterized by his generosity to the church.
Application: What is there about the flesh that enjoys bondage, honors, and human schemes instead of the simple love and grace of Christ? Why is it important to measure the lives and messages of leaders against the Word of God? Why is it important to hold even leaders spiritually accountable?
Read verses 21b-33
Q: So what are Paul’s chief credentials confirming his apostolic ministry?
A: The wounds on his body that he received in the course of serving Christ.
From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.
— Galatians 6:17
Q: How is Paul’s boasting probably a stark contrast to that of a false apostle?
A: Whereas false apostles boast of receiving the praise of men, true apostles boast about their weakness and suffering in Christ.
Point: One is trying to show they really don’t need Christ, the other that he can’t possibly function without Christ.
Q: Most of these things aren’t even mentioned in the book of Acts. What seems to be the heavier burden Paul bears than these hardships that have befallen him at various times?
A: His greater burden is “concern for all the churches” (v.28) even to the point of his concern for individual sin.
Point: The spiritual priorities of his office outweigh even the individual burdens of his personal walk. It goes back to the beginning of this chapter where he explains that his first and foremost concern is delivering the church as a faithful and pure bride, living not according to the ways of this world but according to God’s Word alone.
Q: Given the context of comparing and contrasting himself to the false teachers in general, what might be interesting about the way he closes out this section with what happened in Damascus?
A: False teachers would have never humiliated themselves in such a way but would have made the necessary compromises to walk out the front gate. The true leader possesses an integrity false leaders never display.
Point: A true leader is characterized by his sufferings for the church.
The attitudes which Paul had towards the church ought to be in the heart of every pastor and church member today. We should be biblically jealous over our churches and beware lest even a single satanic lie infiltrate the church and lure anyone away from true devotion to Christ. Unless Christians exercise a holy jealousy over the church, it will drift away into sin and deception. This begins by rejecting the attitude “How much can I get?” in favor of “How much can I give?” How much are you willing to sacrifice so that the church might grow for the glory of God?