2 Corinthians 11:1-15
I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! 2 For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. 5 Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. 6 Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.
7 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. 11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!
12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. 
The “Fool’s Speech” (as it is called) that follows here in 11:1–12:13 may be broken down into three parts: (1) Introduction (11:1–21a), (2) the “Fool’s Speech” proper (11:21b–12:10), and (3) Epilogue (12:11–13). This is Paul’s most sarcastic response yet to those unrepentant leaders he calls “super apostles” and their followers. Paul has reached his limit with these arrogant people who continue refusing repentance in favor of their own popularity and profit as they perverted Paul’s new covenant ministry.
The apostle Paul just completed a strong defense of his Apostolic authority, contrasting the improper boasting of the false apostles with proper Apostolic boasting. He summed this up with a quotation from Jeremiah 9:23-24, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (10:17). Paul saw fleshly, me-centered boasting as the complete antithesis of the gospel of the humble and lowly Lord Jesus Christ. It had no place among professing believers, particularly when gathered together in the gospel community: “17 ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (10:17-18).
The false teachers’ boasting has made such deep inroads into the Corinthian congregation that their anti-gospel teachings have gained a following. Though many in the congregation repented after reading Paul’s “severe letter,” the false teachers and their unrepentant followers remain a source of poison for the gospel community that forces the apostle to boast in his apostolic office. So, Paul is forced to boast “as a fool” and “like a madman” (11:21-23). But first, he must explain why he is undertaking something so distasteful – which he does in verses 1-15.
His hesitancy is easy to spot in his opening request: “I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me!” (v.1). Structurally, this passage is framed by “bear with” (v. 1 [twice], v. 4), used in an ironic sense.  As Bishop Paul Barnett notes:
The irony is clear. He must urge them to “bear with” him, the one who has joined them to their one true husband, Christ, but they “bear well with” one who proclaims, “another Jesus,” an alien. They have positively welcomed those who are intent on destroying Paul’s authority with the Corinthians. They are “bearing with” newcomers who are diverting them away from their one true husband, to whom the apostle has joined them.
JUSTIFIED BOASTING (2-6)
Like a father’s concern for his children, Paul is jealous for the wellbeing of the Corinthian gospel community. “2 For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (v. 2). When the Holy Spirit opened their hearts to Paul’s preaching, the Corinthians were engaged to Christ and, like us, after glorification they will be presented to Christ as his bride. Paul’s purpose was to present the believers of Corinth to the bridegroom at his appearance (4:14; Eph. 5:27). Paul was divinely jealous of the idolatry the false apostles and their followers offered up as worship.
Paul’s metaphor primarily speaks to the theological purity of the gospel community, so that their idolatry implies spiritual prostitution. But it also functions as another subtle reminder of the difference between the already and the not yet. Already they are betrothed to Christ, but they are not yet married to him. They have not received everything that they shall receive when they are presented to him on that great getting up morning at the final judgement. So, Paul sees his apostolic boasting as vital to preserve the integrity of Christ’s bride.
Paul knew a little levin invades the entire lump of dough. As long as the false teachers have a foothold in the gospel community, the purity of the gospel is in danger. His wedding analogy brought to mind the very first human bride being led astray by the serpent-dragon. Look at verses 3 and 4:
3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
Eve was completely deceived by Satan’s cunning (1 Tim. 2:14). He did not overpower her and beat her into submission. The serpent-dragon encircled her soul with ever tightening coils of deception as he promised her things he knew he could not deliver. That is what is happening in Corinth. Promises of personal greatness and power and status are being offered that are utterly opposed to the person and work of the Promised Seed – the crucified, resurrected, ascended, and glorified Lord Jesus Christ. In the second part of verse three, Paul states his true fear:
It is that “[their] minds”—the receptors of the word of God, but corruptible by deceptive words— “may somehow be led astray.”38 But from what did Paul fear their minds might be led astray? In this part of v. 3 we are very close to the heart of Christianity as understood and proclaimed by the apostle Paul. The minds of the Corinthians—and all believers—are to be directed to Christ, minds that in their focus on him—as with the betrothed woman in her time of waiting for her marriage—are to be “sincere” (i.e., undivided—see Eph 6:5; Col 3:22) and “pure.”
The serpent-dragon was so cunning, he had convinced some Corinthians the apostle Paul was the cunning one (12:16). The enemy knows that Christians are susceptible to a system that combines the language of faith with the content of self-interest and flattery. We naturally want to hear how special we are, how wise, and how blessed. We naturally prefer our Christianity to be shaped less by the cross then by triumphalism, or rules, or really nifty circuit speakers and book writers who focus on our subjective experience.
And if this reshaping of scripture appears coated with the luscious icing of orthodoxy, complete with cliches and buzzwords, then it becomes all the more enticing so that we may never detect the enemy’s presence. Slowly we are drawn away from “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” and begin to follow a “different gospel.”
False teachers are savage wolves. But they don’t bare their teeth and snarl. They come smiling and reciting scripture. They appear full of knowledge that promises something more than Christ. R. Kent Hughes notes Paul saw three delusions in their false teachings:
… “another Jesus,” “a different spirit,” and “a different gospel.” In fact, he says sarcastically, “you put up with it readily enough” (v. 4b). The triplet of Jesus, spirit (the Holy Spirit), and gospel all suffered distortion at the hands of the false apostles who conflated the Judaizers’ demands that the Gentiles keep the old covenant with a promise of more of the Spirit and the health and wealth and ecstasies of the heaven now of over-realized eschatology.
The false apostles pictured themselves as already married to Christ with the power to deliver his consummated glory to all who would listen and follow and pay for the privilege. Paul has taught that the Church is betrothed to Christ, but the Great Wedding Supper of the Lamb has not yet come. That meant Paul’s enemies were preaching another Jesus and a false model of the Holy Spirit’s work in the present age. There was a different gospel at work than the one Christ delivered to Paul. The serpent-dragon was feasting on the souls of the deceived.
It only took a few years for many of the professing Christians in Corinth to follow a Jesus, a spirit, and a gospel that never existed. That was the danger then. That is the danger today. False apostles use the name of Jesus as readily as the true apostles did. That means the most important question is whether the Jesus of the Bible is being preached or the Jesus of another gospel. We all naturally want a different Jesus that stamps his approval upon all the schemes and wants of our human wisdom.
The Corinthian congregation had to bear with Paul’s boasting (they bore with false teaching easily enough) because of his Apostolic authority. “5 Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. 6 Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so [unskilled] in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.” He heaps contempt on these false teachers who are telling people that they are superior to the man Christ called to be an Apostle to the Gentiles.
In what did the “super apostles” classify Paul as inferior to them? From his replies scattered throughout the extended passage relating to them (10:12–12:13), we see two claims to superiority over Paul—superiority as a trained speaker (11:5–6), and superiority in “visions and revelations” (12:1; cf. 5:13). They were slick talkers with more secrete knowledge. This is the reason for the boasting Paul is about to undertake.
BOASTING IN FREE MINISTRY (7-12)
Just as in the Greco Roman world of the 1st century, in our day speaking fees are determined by the speaker’s status. Former politicians, famous business executives, and brilliant academic scholars can collect fees well above $100,000 for a single speaking engagement. Such commercialism long ago invaded the Christian speaker and revival circuits, where famous author-speakers set guaranteed minimum attendance requirements and at least five-figure fees in addition to travel expenses – all so they can deliver a polished presentation they give multiple times a year all over the country or the world.
In Paul’s day, as in ours, a cheap fee implied the value of the message. Paul’s refusal to accept money in Corinth meant to them that his teaching was of low quality, that his message wasn’t worth much, that he gave away what no one would pay for, and that he couldn’t really be an apostle. In contrast, the super-apostles charged for their secrete knowledge and their entertainment experience. This causes Paul to bring up the touchy subject in verse 7-9:
7 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way.
The fact was that even though Paul would not presently take any support from the Corinthian church, he did accept support from other churches. In his first letter he defended his right as an apostle to receive support from all the churches to whom he ministered (1 Cor. 9:12-18). But in Corinth, where money and status were such huge idols, Paul determined to demonstrate the upside-down nature of the gospel. He refused any money from the growing, prosperous congregation of Corinth. Instead, he drew his support out of the abject poverty of the Macedonian congregations.
Paul’s rejection of Corinthian money called into question the motivation and integrity of the so called “super apostles.” The true apostle’s practice mirrored that of Christ himself. Jesus preached for free because that was consistent with the free grace of God, as Paul mentioned in chapter eight: “For You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (8:9).
Paul’s opponents must have been very skilled speakers to convince the sophisticated Corinthians of such a ludicrous idea: If Paul really loved you, he would gouge you for speaker’s fees just like we do. Despite their assertions that Apostolic dignity required they be paid lots of money, they knew that the only ones burdening the Corinthians pocketbooks were themselves. Paul would rather give up his apostolic right to financial support than look anything like the false teachers plaguing the church.
But because there are people in the church who believed that if Paul really loved them and had something worthy to say he would charge them for it, he takes an oath. “11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!” Paul calls on God as his witness to prove he genuinely loved the Corinthians. The apostle is confident he is following Christ’s ministry model rather than that of the unbelieving world.
He then asserts: “12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.” Even when Paul returns to Corinth, he will not be swayed to accept money from a church still struggling to understand the upside-down values of Christ’s Kingdom. He will continue to labor at no cost to undermine the false apostles’ claims of equality. Shortly, Paul will begin his foolish boasting to show his authenticity and his opponents’ pretense. But before he does so, he will give his assessment of the false teachers.
BOASTING JUSTIFIED (13-15)
Paul takes off his gloves and throws a haymaker at his critics with his strongest language yet. “13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” The false apostles get no benefit of the doubt from Paul. They are not people who are honestly mistaken in their views, they are voluntarily deceptive and actively disguising themselves (transforming their appearances) to appear like ones sent directly by Christ – yet claiming special words of knowledge beyond Paul’s understanding.
Perhaps the false teachers wore Jewish ornaments or vestments that distinguished them as Levites, priests, or rabbis. No doubt they had perfected some look of authority to accompany their haughty bearing and their mystical teaching. Compared to the plain-looking and plain-speaking Paul, they drew many unsuspecting people in. They knew they were not true apostles. But they were getting attention and making bank.
It’s not unlike many of the young church superstars of today who go on the author-speaker circuit, make some coin, draw some fame, and then burn out and renounce their faith – catapulting them into another book deal and more speaking gigs to explain their new, kinder, gentler religion. In Corinth, the false teachers’ deceit was conscious and intentional and taking its toll on the congregation. These leaders were seducing people to another Jesus and a deadly triumphalism.
Going deeper with his charges, Paul explains: “13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” This is the only time that Satan is described as “an Angel of light,” though the idea is present in the Old Testament, particularly Isaiah 14:12-15:
How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! 13 You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ 
The great serpent-dragon is the arch deceiver. Jesus said of him, “when he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). When Satan’s minions get to work in a congregation, we never smell sulfur, and we never spot the cloven hooves. What we hear is sweetness and we see a congenial bright smile – until the moment he has taken control and destroyed the gospel community.
Paul concludes his warning: “15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” False apostles do not wear warning labels. They come in masks that make them appear to be servants of righteousness. They tempt their listeners with the artificial light of pseudo-righteousness and relative morality. Those under their sway rationalize their way into evil by seeing some good in it or by simply ignoring the plain testimony of scripture itself.
If there was any doubt that these false teachers are more than well-meaning people who merely have a different idea of how this new religion should function, Paul mentions the final judgment again in 15b: “Their end will correspond to their deeds.” A special wrath awaits those who willingly teach “a different gospel” (11:4; Gal. 1:6-7). James warned, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
The Apostle Paul knows his message is harsh. But it is also gracious because, anyone who hears and is moved by the Holy Spirit to repentance will be led to the real Jesus who lived the perfect life we could never live and freely offers his perfect righteousness to anyone willing to abandon their own imperfect attempts to impress God and others.
The real Jesus died the blood-shedding death, paying the wages of sin for his people and exhausting the Father’s wrath against our unholiness. The real Jesus lived, died, rose again from death, and ascended to glory from when he shall return to fully consummate his Kingdom on an earth cleansed from all unrighteousness.
Beware when some smiling, well-dressed preacher or teacher promises God exists to fulfill your hopes and dreams and does not encourage you to take up your cross and follow the real Jesus. As Paul wrote to the Galatians:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 11:1–15.
 Barnett, 494.
 Id., 496.
 Id., 497.
 Id. 502.
 Hughes, R. Kent. 2 Corinthians. Crossway. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 14:12–14.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jas 3:1.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ga 1:6–9.