II Corinthians 11:1–21. Paul Must Play the Fool to Save His Rebellious Church

Key Notes: Covetousness, envy and jealousy. God is jealous. The false prophets. Fools. Does God stoop? The jilted lover.

IICor. 11–13 is difficult because of its emotional load. Paul is compelled to “pull out all the stops” in his spiritual wrestling with the Corinthians. Some of us can recall similar emotions when rejected in a love-relationship. I was inconsolable at 16 when the girl I was interested in turned away from me. Violent emotions are often displayed in the courtroom when a couple is divorcing. Paul is using all kinds of tactics to prevent a rupture between himself and the church he has so much invested in. Paul calls himself a fool.

The outline of chapter 11:
                  A fool to be jealous? 1–3
                  A fool with simple speech? 4–6
                  Foolish to work without pay? 7–11
                  Foolish to love them? 11
                  Intolerant of evil-doers? 12–15
                  A fool among fools. 16–21

11:1–3 Paul’s first thought is for the sanctity and purity of the church. He does not want the pure teaching of Christ to be contaminated with outmoded Judaic teachings. They have had enough trouble struggling with paganism. He likens the situation to a father who has arranged a marriage for his daughter and is concerned that she remain a virgin, pure for the wedding day. He does not want them to be attached unfavorably  to unbelievers. IICor.6:14

The idea that the Christian life is like a marriage between Christ and His people is well-grounded in Scripture. Isaiah said “Your Maker is your husband.” (Isa.54:5). Paul uses Christ and the Church to instruct married couples (Eph.5:21–33) about their responsibilities. As Eve was deceived by the Serpent, so Corinth may be seduced from a simple (Gr. “haplous”, single-minded) devotion to Christ. The Serpent expanded and reinterpreted what God had said. The Jewish (11:22) “truth squad” that was infiltrating Corinth would make a similar “improvement” on Paul’s teaching.

The word Paul uses for “foolish” is Greek "a-phron", meaning not wise, not considerate, not using your head. It is different from Greek "moros", which more often has the sense of morally stupid.
The word for “jealous” is Greek "zylo", from which we get zeal. Both zeal and jealousy are appropriate words for his godly emotional state.

Jealousy is usually classed with envy and covetousness as a bad emotion. Although the three words overlap, it is useful to think of them as three different kinds of desire.
*Covetousness is intense desire for someone else’s property. Ex.20:17
*Envy is desire for, or discontent with, someone else’s good fortune or position in life.
*Jealousy is desire for exclusive rights to another’s affections.
Covetousness is uniformly bad. Envy usually is. Jealousy in many cases is good.

God is a jealous God. (Ex.20:5; 34:14). (There are at least ten other OT references. )
God claims exclusive rights to our affections.
“You shall have no other gods before me.”(Ex.20:3)
“…and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut.6:6)
Not to love God is have some other god before Him--to disobey the first and great commandment—and that is the greatest sin.

11:5–7 Greeks put a high value on the esthetics and techniques of speech and they were always interested in “some new thing”. (Acts 17:21). Paul’s speech was “unskilled” or ordinary. That word comes from the Greek “idiotes”, an ordinary person with not special education,  a stay-at-home. (We get our English word “idiot” from it, but that was not the original meaning). Paul, coming from Hebrew tradition, did not have notable oratorical training,  but his speeches before Agrippa, etc. in Acts are very persuasive. Peter and John were also called “idiotes”, common,  unlearned men and their power came because they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13). But when fake apostles come with smooth speech, the Corinthians happily accept
                  another Jesus than the one Paul preached,
                  another spirit than the one (Holy Spirit) they received,
                  a different gospel than the one they accepted.

11:7–11 Again Paul defends his tent-making. He did not want to be a burden because he loves them. He swears to it: “God knows I do.” He knows he is entitled to be supported. (ICor. 9:1–14). Apparently he accepted money from the churches only after he had left them. In that way, the gift was not a wage but a love-offering. Philippians 4:10–20 expresses Paul’s thanks for such an offering. “Robbing other churches” is an ironic expression. Unfortunately, a leader who is not paid may be thought inferior, an amateur.

11:12–15 If we are in doubt about them, Paul labels the infiltrators  as
                  false apostles
                  deceitful workers
                  servants of Satan
                  not servants of righteousness
                  doomed.
Even Satan can appear like an angel, with power and glory.

11;16–21  There are three kinds of fools here.
                  Paul, who is doing everything possible to protect the church. 11:16
                  The false apostles (11:19) who think they are doing God’s will.
                  The Corinthians (11:20) for listening to them instead of to Paul.
The Corinthians tolerate the new workers enslaving them, taking advantage of them, flaunting, and insulting them. Paul never did that. He was too weak for that –-again an ironic expression.

Other comments.

Satan may appear as an angel of light. Several of the pseudo-Christian religions that are popular in America were founded by people who had visions or saw angels.
“If even an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be anathema.” (Gal.1:8).

What did the false apostles say? We do not for certain. One of the early Christian heretical groups were the Ebionites. They were Jews who did not completely leave Judaism  but were attracted to Jesus. Eusebius, one of our best early church historians,  described them.

*Some accepted Jesus as the prophet, or as a second Moses, keeping the Law perfectly.
*Some accepted His miraculous conception while others thought Joseph was the father.
*They denied His preexistence. He was the Anointed One by His baptism.
*They believed Christianity was obedience to a moral code.
*They were ascetic, intentionally poor, often vegetarian.

People with such views may have been competing with Paul for the attention of the Corinthians. We do not know if these false apostles could be labeled.

Paul’s foolishness, his condescension, is embarrassing and usually ignored. He stoops like a jester, playing the fool to make his point and win his audience. In the medieval court, the kings would hire a jester to make fun, but no king would likely make jokes on himself.

Is Paul following some spiritual principle that we do not know about? Does God stoop?
God in the OT is a Monarch. Monarchs do not stoop, but we do see patience, condescension and overlooking on God’s part.
*His patience ”waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark”. (IPet.3:20).
*His condescension is seen in choosing Israel, one of the smallest nations. Deut. 7:7
*“The times of ignorance God overlooked….” (Acts.17:30). He proves His righteousness to an unbelieving human race by the Atonement (Rom.3:26). But He does not stoop except perhaps to Israel that was behaving like a prostitute. (Hos. 11:1–9). We must look elsewhere.

Jesus also condescended. He came from the realms of glory to be born of a woman, live into a peasant home, live a penniless life and die a horrible death. He reached down from heaven to the depths of hell to save us. But he never played the fool—although some may argue that His condescension was the ultimate foolishness. “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness.” (ICor.1:10)

Paul stoops to play the fool. He has already endured unbelievable physical suffering (IICor.11:23–20) for the churches. Here he goes to the emotional depths for a church he loves. He is following Christ—“filling up the measure of Christ’s suffering for His Body, the Church.” (Col.1:23). Like the jilted lover, he will do whatever possible to win Corinth back to Christ. He apologizes, but he really cannot help himself. It is humiliating for a man with a big ego. And all for love. If only we cared for the souls of others half so much.