Pride and Purity, Boasting for the Sake of the Gospel
Text and Exposition
1“I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but indeed you are bearing with me. 2 For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. 3 But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”
Ὄφελον ἀνείχεσθέ μου μικρόν τι ἀφροσύνης· ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀνέχεσθέ μου. 2 ζηλῶ γὰρ ὑμᾶς θεοῦ ζήλῳ, ἡρμοσάμην γὰρ ὑμᾶς ἑνὶ ἀνδρὶ παρθένον ἁγνὴν παραστῆσαι τῷ Χριστῷ· 3 φοβοῦμαι δὲ μή πως, ὡς ὁ ὄφις ἐξηπάτησεν Εὕαν ἐν τῇ πανουργίᾳ αὐτοῦ, φθαρῇ τὰ νοήματα ὑμῶν ἀπὸ τῆς ἁπλότητος [καὶ τῆς ἁγνότητος] τῆς εἰς τὸν Χριστόν.
“Paul’s argument is focused on his apostolic authority, defending his authority began by renouncing the tactics used his opponents; here, Paul condescends to engage his enemies on their own ground by boasting in his authority. Paul calls this a necessary folly for the sake of jolting his readers into reality. Paul’s condescension shows that even at this level Paul had the upper hand— having far greater reason to boast. Sadly, the Corinthians had become impressed by external factors and self aggrandizement which had little to do with personal holiness. Paul knows that he has a much deeper love for the purity of the church than his opponents so he condescends to their tactics, competes for the love of the church all the while looking to combat the schemes of the devil who is working in Corinth through the agency of false teachers. Paul recognizes the warfare he is in as diabolical deception. While Paul’s love for the church is analogous to God’s own jealous nature his opponent’s deceptive words mirror the crafty serpent of old who was cursed for his deception of the human race. With these words, Paul makes the distinction between him and his opponents crystal clear. His motives are godly, their motives are godless.”
There may be nothing more insidious and sinful in God’s eyes than a person who deceives people away from the truth of Jesus Christ. From the earliest times in biblical history there have been those who have sought to lead the faithful astray. Peter mentions this very thing when writing to his audience reminding them that God’s people have always been infected with influence of false teachers:
2 Peter 2:1–3 1 “But false prophets also arose among the people [in OT times], just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”
The earmark of a false teacher is self-seeking, self interest, self aggrandizement; self period. In Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians he has renounced all selfish pride and boasting. Yet, Here Paul will engage in the very thing he seemed to condemn earlier (cf. 10.12) i.e. boasting about himself. Paul’s reason for doing this is not to contradict what he believes, but to demonstrate the absurdity of his opponent’s pride. Paul shows how his pride is rooted in the purity of the church. Paul refers to his exercise in boasting in as “foolishness” (ἀφροσύνη) which bring in a conceptual link with 10.12 and those who are “without understanding” (οὐ συνιᾶσιν). Paul’s “foolishness” is an obvious play on words; it is not a lack of discernment that drives Paul but a love for devotion to Christ that compels him to set out in this way. As he continues to defend his apostleship Paul give us several necessary components in preserving a church’s commitment to the gospel. Paul, condescends to the fool’s logic, competes for the love of the church, and combats the works of the devil.
1. PAUL CONDESCENDS TO THE FOOL’S LOGIC
1“I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but indeed you are bearing with me.
Paul’s condescension to the fool’s logic the fool’s way of thinking and boasting is extended throughout the next several verses (and chapters) and is substantiated with an introductory “for” (γὰρ) at each interval. Here he does so because of his love for the church and its purity (v.2), in verse 4 Paul reminds them that they are already tolerant of his opponent’s boasting, and in verse 5 he shows that he is not inferior to any apostles.
Verse one serves to show us that in the ministry and for the lifeline of the church, sometimes it may take showing the church the absurdity of its ways by condescending to reason in less than ideal ways. In fact, Paul insists that this unfortunate exercise was borne entirely out of necessity and not because it was Paul’s natural desire. Paul says, “I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me” (12.11a). This is the state of the church. If Paul must boast in his credentials it is because the church has compelled him to do so. They are compelling him by listening to that conversation, by looking to external factors (10.7) and the claims of men rather than looking at their heart (5.12) and seeking only God’s approval in everything (10.18). Thus, Paul makes this ironic request, “I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness” (Ὄφελον ἀνείχεσθέ μου μικρόν τι ἀφροσύνης). The “foolishness” that Paul speaks of here is reminiscent to the Proverbial saying about dealing with fools i.e. the unbeliever’s perspective of reality:
Proverbs 26:4–5 4 “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him. 5 Answer a fool as his folly deserves, That he not be wise in his own eyes.”
It is Proverbs 26.5 that Paul is employing here— he is “answering” a fool “as his folly deserves” in order to humble both the confused Corinthians and his opponents. This use of foolishness is defined by Harris as:
“… ἀφροσύνη refers to an act of deliberate folly in pursuing a particular course of action in order to achieve commendable ends, and therefore is neither ignorant stupidity nor crass foolhardiness. In his program of boasting Paul is “foolish,” not because he lacks knowledge (he rejects such a supposition in v. 6), but because he imitates his adversaries by engaging in self-praise and comparisons (cf. 10:12) and by boasting of outward appearances (cf. 5:12).” (Harris; p.733).
If Paul must engage in “a little foolishness” (μικρόν τι ἀφροσύνης), this is how he will do it— by boasting in his many apostolic credentials: he will boast in the superiority of his love for the church (11.2, 11, 28-29; 12.19), apostolic authority (11.12-5), Jewish pedigree (11.22) sacrifice and service for Christ (11.23-33), integrity with finances (11.7-11), supernatural revelations (12.1-6), dependence on Christ for strength (12.7-10), and in apostolic miracles (12.11-12), and in sacrificial service to the church (12.13-18). In fact, Paul has already engaged in this type of “foolishness”, “but indeed you are bearing with me” (ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀνέχεσθέ μου). The little bit of necessary self-commendation he has already engaged in, as in the previous context (10.13-16), was but the beginning— Paul would intensify the rhetoric from this point on. He begins with competing for the affection and allegiance of the church.
2. PAUL COMPETES FOR THE LOVE OF THE CHURCH
2“For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.”
As Paul begins to lay out his concern for the church, he uses two powerful emotions to express his heart for them i.e. jealousy and fear. Paul begins with the marriage metaphor to express his zeal and love for the church. To use Paul’s metaphorical imagery; his love for the church has led him to “madness.” His jealousy for the church has given rise to his request for their tolerance of his audacious “foolishness.” But to make it clear what Paul’s intentions are, he insists that his zeal for them is rooted in a “godly jealousy” (θεοῦ ζήλῳ) and not in any morbid narcissistic self interest. There is an analogy between the way God loves the church and is jealous for the church and the way Paul loves the church and is jealous for the church. To draw out the God-centeredness of Paul’s words here, Murray Harris translates this phrase, “I am jealous for you with a jealousy such as God has” (Harris; p.734). To see this analogy, we should consider both God’s redemptive jealousy and Paul’s eschatological jealousy.
2.1, The redemptive jealousy of God
As an OT scholar, Paul knew all too well of the redemptive jealousy of God concerning His people. The OT background of God’s jealousy is extensive. With this anthropomorphism God reveals something of His Holy character and the intensity of His covenant love. The reason the children would enter into covenant with their wives was so that they would understand something of the covenant love of God and the covenant faithfulness which He demands of His people (cf. Mal. 2.14). To be sure, God is the all-faithful Husbandman who never fails to keep His covenant promises. God’s redemptive jealousy is rooted in the perfections of His own holy fidelity; therefore He says:
Deuteronomy 4:24 24 “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”
Exodus 34:14 14 “—for you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God—”
Deuteronomy 6:14–15 14 “You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, 15 for the Lord your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the Lord your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth.”
Exodus 20:5 5 “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,”
More than simply feeling betrayal on behalf of His faithless people, God’s jealousy is rooted in a love for His own honor and holiness. The restoration of His often wayward people is a result of God’s zeal for His name:
Ezekiel 39:25 25 “Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for My holy name.”
For the church in the New Covenant all of this language transfers over to gospel fidelity. Not only staying orthodox but staying fresh and alive in our love for God and His great redemptive glory. Paul calls this “the worthy life”:
Philippians 1:27a 27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ,”
Ephesians 4:1 1 “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,”
Colossians 1:10 10 “so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;”
2.2, The eschatological jealousy of Paul
Paul’s thought is seamless at this point. His godly jealousy has led him to “folly” for the sake of the church’s purity. His jealousy is that of the match maker or more closely, their father in the faith who was responsible for the church’s betrothal to “one husband” (ἑνὶ ἀνδρὶ) i.e. “Christ” (Χριστός) (see also, MacArthur, 2 Corinthians for the Jewish background or the betrothal period; esp. p.55). His jealousy is also looking at the wedding day as it were when Paul, like a father, would “present” (παρίστημι) the church, like a virgin bride, “to Christ” (τῷ Χριστῷ), like a faithful husband.
Thus, Paul’s jealousy for the church is ultimately an eschatological jealousy (1.14; cf. Eph. 5.27; 1 Thess. 2.19; 3.13). Notice the very crucial Infinitive clause for it completes the aim of the betrothal before it, “so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (παρθένον ἁγνὴν παραστῆσαι τῷ Χριστῷ). In every church Paul was driven by this final “presentation” of the church to the Christ so that his eschatological roots extend down into every area of his ministry affecting everything he did in the ministry. His presentation of the church was a cooperative act and Paul was a fellow worker with Christ who will “present” the church to Himself (Col. 1.22); and it is comprehensive act in that no believer will be left out:
Colossians 1:28 28 “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”
When individuals are asked by their family members to be involved in the ceremonial elements of a wedding it comes as a high honor, yet, there is no higher honor than the father’s role in presenting the bride to the groom. Paul saw his role as their shepherd, apostle to the Gentiles, spiritual father and pastor as one who was granted the greatest of all ecclesiastical privileges. In presenting the church to Christ, Paul was given the honor of participating in the great triumph of redemption itself— the blood bought bride of the Lamb comprised of all the peoples of the world presented before God and before the Lamb to join elect angels, elect elders, and all the myriad of God’s elect in worshiping the Triune God for all eternity (Rev. 5.9-14; 19.1-10). The ultimate consummation which Paul is referring to of this betrothal period is the future glory of the bride-church which will celebrate at last, at the end of the age, the great marriage meal with the Lamb:
Revelation 19:7–9 7 “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” 8 It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. 9 Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ ” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”
3. PAUL COMBATS THE WORKS OF THE DEVIL
3“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”
Finally, Paul’s deep concern for the Corinthians is seen by his willingness to combat the works of the devil. We should be careful to note that Satan need not be addressed directly to see that he was in fact active in Corinth; his activity is chiefly conceived of through the agency of his representatives the “false apostles” who Paul calls “deceitful workers”:
2 Corinthians 11:13–15 13 “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.”
This stands in total contrast to Paul’s identity. As seen by the analogy above, Paul was jealous with a godly jealousy i.e. a jealousy God himself has. Like Phinehas, Paul too was jealous with God’s zeal (Num. 25.11). While his opponents were ultimately representatives of their father the devil, Paul was a son of God and as such he was Christ’s ambassador (5.20).
As much as Paul had a disdain for false teachers, he was not willing to overlook their tactics but instead took them serious. In order to discern what the devil was up to in Corinth Paul was aware of three very import aspects of this spiritual warfare; the threat, the strategy, and the target.
3.1, Knowing the threat
The very first step towards victory in Corinth was awareness of the threat false teaching poses to the church. In a post modern world, it is rare to find churches that are unsympathetic towards false teachers. Knowing the threat is also have a proper appraisal of the threat. The reason Paul feared for the church saying, “I am afraid” (φοβοῦμαι), is because these intruders posed a fatal threat to the church. Their areas of disagreement were not simply stylistic— they were systemic, calling for another gospel altogether!:
2 Corinthians 11:4 4 “For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.”
3.2, Knowing the strategy
Knowing that there is threat against the church is preliminary, knowing the enemy’s strategy is disarming and strategic. As with all false teachers, they work in stealth. It is not as if the Judaizers were calling for abandoning faith in Christ altogether; they were just presenting a “slightly” different way of conceiving of that faith. In fact, they were suggesting that they had a better understanding of the gospel superior to Paul. This is how deception works. It is not that Satan lures you away with “less” but that he promises “more.” Paul’s analogy (ὡς) of how “the serpent deceived Eve” (ὁ ὄφις ἐξηπάτησεν Εὕαν) is a helpful link in understanding the sinister plot of Paul’s opponents in Corinth.
In Genesis the serpent was persuasive because of his “craftiness” (πανουργία). In fact, Satan is introduced as being “more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made” (Gen. 3.1a). His craftiness can be seen by his insidious designs and deception. He tempted Eve so as to pray on the weaker vessel, “he said to the woman” (Gen. 3.1b). He attacked the human race by attacking the mind; knowing that bad theology leads to bad conduct. Having no sinful deeds of which to accuse them or condemn them with, the serpent attacks the mind knowing that if he can get them to change their thought life their deeds would follow. From there the serpent proceeds to undermine the word of God, “has God said”; causing Eve to question God’s prohibition and His promises.
Satan cast doubt on the word of God, not by outright denying that God had spoken but what God had spoken thereby distorting God’s holy command, “Indeed, has God said, “you shall not eat from any tree of the garden?” (Gen. 3.1b). Notice also that already by this time his first objective has been accomplished, infiltration, for now he is dialoguing with the woman. False teachers always begin by opening the door and seeking a plat form from which they can spread their lies (cf. 2 John 10). The serpent also caused Eve to question God’s promises of life and death for earlier God had promised that they would live of the plants He had sanctioned for food (Gen. 1.29-30) and death for transgressing His prohibition concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2.15-17).
In addition to that the serpent also deceived Eve by causing her to question God’s attributes. He brings God’s justice into question by assuring the woman that she would “not die” for breaking God’s laws (Gen. 3.4)— simultaneously undermining the holiness of God since she is being tempted to think that God would only wink at sin. The whole dialogue opens the door for questioning the wisdom of God for making the world the way that it is, “did God really say.” He further questions the attributes of God by casting doubt on His goodness, “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3.5). We should stand in awe at the diabolic scale of Satan’s deception, for in an instant, Satan has become more righteous than God! This is the ultimate blaspheme but then again we should not be surprised when we consider that Satan’s original fantasy was to replace God:
Isaiah 14:12–15 12 “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! 13 “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. 14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ 15 “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, To the recesses of the pit.”
3.3, Knowing the target
The target of false teaching and false teachers is simple— commitment to Christ, “your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” (φθαρῇ τὰ νοήματα ὑμῶν ἀπὸ τῆς ἁπλότητος [καὶ τῆς ἁγνότητος] τῆς εἰς τὸν Χριστόν). Notice the destructive force that here can have on a person and the totality of the effects. First, it begins in the mind, “your minds” (τὰ νοήματα ὑμῶν). Second, the conduct or the lifestyle, to be “led astray” in the mind will always result in being led astray in the body i.e. the deeds of the body (cf. Gal. 5.19-21; Eph. 4.17-24; Col. 3.1-5).
Doctrine always works this way— we live what we think! Eve first consumed the serpent’s lies before she ate the forbidden fruit. Before apostasy is heresy! Scripture depicts Satan not only a shrewd serpent but also a “roaring lion” that prowls and devours (1 Pet. 5.8). But what’s at the top of Satan’s menu? The answer is simple, faith. When Satan set his prowling eyes on Peter, it took the intercessory work of Christ to keep Peter’s faith in tact:
Luke 22:31–32 31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; 32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Finally, when sin and heresy have been conceived; the heart is hardened to Christ. The seat of the emotions has grown cold and though the body is alive, the soul is dead. This is Paul’s greatest fear for a church, and no doubt the individual believer, apostasy. The effect that false teachers have on the believer is that faith loses its proper object, namely “Christ” (τὸν Χριστόν). This is what Satan’s work is all about, leading people astray “from” (ἀπὸ) being “pure” (τῆς ἁπλότητος) and focused with singleness of mind or “purity of devotion” (τῆς ἁγνότητος) to Christ. Ultimately, this “purity” and “devotion” (closely related yet distinct terms) to Christ is manifested by a life of obedience and commitment to “the doctrine of Christ” (2 John 9, NKJV). A person can be devoted to many things, but pure devotion to Christ cannot be second to anything (cf. Mt. 6.24; 16.24; Lk. 14.26-33; 16.13; John 12.25-26).
This text is immeasurably rich. The exegesis is provocative and the theological implications are a virtual prism of biblical truth. If the Corinthians fall prey to heresy, they lose their chastity as Christ’s bride and Paul, like a broken hearted father, will not celebrate with them at the end of the age but only remorse that he labored over them in vain (2 Cor. 6.1; cf. Gal. 4.11; Phil. 2.16). The theological implications regarding the connection between Satan and his “servants” are important for understanding Satan’s schemes against the church. And Satan’s deception is always aimed at taking believers away from living a life of complete and total devotion to Christ the great subject and object of our faith.