Bear With Me A Little In My Folly
The apostle Paul was a polarizing figure. You either really loved him, or you really didn’t. Not only was this the case in his day, it remains the case down to the present.
“Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ . . .” (2 Cor. 11:1-33).
I want to focus on a few phrases from the beginning and end of this chapter, but before doing so, we need to consider the argument of the chapter overall. Paul pleads with the Corinthians to bear with him (v. 1). He confesses to be jealous in a godly way (v. 2), and is afraid of the subtlety of the serpent (v. 3). He is afraid that they might receive another Jesus, Spirit, or gospel (v. 4). He points out how he had not defrauded them financially in any way (vv. 5-10). He confesses his love for the Corinthians (v. 11). He will not suffer in a comparison with his adversaries (v. 12). Satan and his ministers are both angels of light (vv. 13-15). Paul, provoked, says that if it came down to a bragging contest, he would win it (vv. 16-18). Since you are so “wise,” he says, this results in you suffering fools gladly (v. 19). You will not put up with my humility, he says, and you gladly put up with their insolence (v. 20). Paul then proceeds to the bragging contest (vv. 21-27). On top it all, there is then the “care of the churches” (vv. 28-29). So Paul resolves to boast in his infirmities (v. 30). God is his witness (v. 31), and Paul had once had to run a road block (vv. 32-33).
The Simplicity That Is In Christ:
Sin is convoluted. Sin is subtle. Sin works the same way that the serpent’s mind did (v. 3). The contrast here is between subtlety and simplicity—the subtlety of the devil and the simplicity that is in Christ. The Corinthians were in danger of getting tangled up, accepting another Jesus, another Spirit, or another gospel.
Notice that if they were to accept another Jesus, the thing that would differentiate them would not be the name. The same goes for the Spirit and the gospel. Distinctions should be made on the basis of attributes, not names.
An Angel of Light
This point ties in with the previous one. No one from the devil will stand up and say, “Hello, I am from the devil, and I have come to lead you astray.” The announcement at the beginning of the service does not start with “Welcome to Hellsgate Presbyterian . . .” False teachers, deceitful workmen, assume the guise of apostles. This is no wonder, Paul says. The devil sells righteousness, not unrighteousness. And because there is a price on it, according to the gospel of grace, it is really unrighteousness. If Satan is transformed into an angel of light, it is no great thing if his ministers look good too—if they look like ministers of righteousness. Suffering Fools Gladly:
One of the laws of leadership in this fallen world is that people will put up with far more from ungodly leaders than they will from godly leaders. Paul’s complaint against the Corinthians was that they “suffered fools gladly,” meaning that they tolerated them, put up with them, indulged them. This is a problem that is so far advanced in our day that many people will only protest when someone finally deals with the person who is abusing them. For you put up with it (v. 20), he says, if someone brings you into bondage, or devours you, or robs you, or hits you in the face. In the meantime, where Paul had been the photo negative of this, the people chafed under his authority. But it is a sin to suffer fools gladly.
Boasting in the Lord:
In this passage, Paul is boasting “provisionally.” In other words, he is pressured into it, has a gun to his head, doesn’t like it, and is going to get out of that mode as soon as possible. But because his office is being assaulted by means of assaulting his person, he defends his person as a means of defending his office. The issue in his mind is simply defending the gospel of grace.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul had said that if a man gave up his body to be burned, but did it without love, his sacrifice was worthless. Paul knew that a resume according to the flesh was, by itself, worthless. But Paul has given us the context of his behavior here. When the question is raised whether Paul loves the Corinthians, he answers with an abrupt, “God knoweth” (v. 11). The ultimate context of Paul’s sacrifices outlined in vv. 22-27 is that of his love for the people he ministers to. This is seen at the climax of his argument. “Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?” (v. 29). He goes on to reveal his grasp of the doctrine of identification in the gospel. “If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern my infirmities” (v. 30).
So if this were a marketing campaign, we could say that “weakness is the new strength.” But it is not a marketing campaign, and there is nothing new about this glorious principle. The culmination of it is two thousand years old—the death and resurrection of Jesus. And further, we have to distinguish it from cowardice in which “weakness is just the old weakness.”
There is a kind of weakness which triumphs. In the next chapter, Paul tell us this: “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). God tells us that His strength is made perfect in weakness. He does not say that His strength is overwhelmed by our weakness, or that His strength is made unnecessary by our strength. Rather, there is a death and resurrection pattern here. Our weakness supplies the death, and His strength brings life to the dead. It is faithless to insist on death that remains dead, weakness that stays weak. It is equally faithless to attempt to seize resurrection life without actually dying.
And this is our encouragement and hope. Why has God brought so much attention to us? Why has God given us the privilege of the trials we have encountered? For the sake of Christ, it is an honor to be dishonored, a grace to be disgraced. We bring some mangled material to Him, and He takes it from our hands, looks at it and smiles. “Perfect,” He says.