Read - 2 Corinthians 11v16-33
Message - Scott Woodburn
"Paul is a fool, a fraud, a charlatan, a poor preacher, ugly and sleekit!" or so the false apostles would have you believe. But would a fraud put up with all the nonsense thrown at Paul? Would a fraud seek a life of constant danger?
Paul is no fool (v16a) but if the Corinthians insist that he is, then he has something to say (v16b). Speaking as one called a fool (v17) and according to the flesh (v18), Paul will speak. The Corinthians full of "wisdom" gladly bear with real fools (v19). These fools seeks to enslave the Corinthians, to devour them, to take advantage of them and even to strike them in the face (v20). Not so with Paul. He ministered in weakness by the grace of God and yet this weakness was used by his opponents to damage him. Ironically, this weakness meant that Paul would never have acted as the false apostles (v21).
What follows is testimony of Paul's troubles as an apostle. We shouldn't read these verses as Paul saying "Look at me! Look at me!" Instead he speaks as the "fool" the false apostles think him to be (v21b) and as he does so, he shows just how false these false apostles are. They like to boast of themselves. "Look at my achievements!" they say. "Look what I have endured!" they shout, but none of them come close to the real apostle.
Paul was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, lost at sea, constantly traveling, rarely sleeping, hungry, thirsty, cold and with constant anxiety for all the churches of Jesus Christ (v22-29). He had even escaped from Damascus by being lowered down a wall in a basket (v32-33). There's nothing luxurious about any of this. Would Paul have put up with it if he'd been a fraud? Of course not! Would you allow yourself to be beaten for a lie? Would you endure constant sleepless nights just so you could pull the wool over the eyes of the Corinthians? No! The false apostles want to boast and speak of their own greatness. Paul can take on the mantle of a fool and boast truthfully that his life as an apostle was incredibly hard. As the false apostles feathered their own nests, Paul was sleeping rough and watching his back. God was his witness that everything he said was true (v31).
But Paul doesn't engage in this debate to show off, he has deliberately spoken like a fool to show who the real fools are. If he has to boast at all, he will boast of his weakness (v30). His opponents saw Paul's weakness as a clear sign of his uselessness. Paul on the other hand understood that he could do nothing in his own strength. John the Baptist once remarked that in his life he needed to decrease with an increase of Christ (John 3v30). This is what the false apostles didn't understand. Less of Paul and more of Christ wasn't a useless ministry but instead the only ministry.
Paul's life wasn't spent in constant sunshine. There were incredibly difficult days for him and certainly more to come. Yet not one minute of it was outside of God's providential care. I heard a wonderful sermon recently on Joseph in prison. He correctly interpreted the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners and told one of them "remember me when it is well with you" (Genesis 40v14) The man in question got out of prison and promptly forgot all about Joseph. However the days of lockdown were not wasted in Joseph's life, nor Paul's days of trouble and certainly not your current storm. We may not look like much, there may not seem to be much victory but the Lord does not forget his people. Not once. Not ever. Not one dark cloud is in vain.
The false apostles have long been forgotten, their names lost and their influence gone but Paul's Spirit inspired apostolic teaching, sown in much weakness, remains. Brothers and sisters, keep going, keep going, keep going. In Christ your labour isn't in vain and He still speaks to His children saying "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15v5)
Q26 How doth Christ execute the office of a king? Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.