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THE SECOND EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 12 - Verse 11
Verse 11. I am become a fool in glorying. The meaning of this expression I take to be this: "I have been led along in speaking of myself until I admit I appear foolish in this kind of boasting. It is folly to do it, and I would not have entered on it unless I had been driven to it by my circumstances, and the necessity which was imposed on me of speaking of myself." Paul doubtless desired that what he had said of himself should not be regarded as an example for others to follow. Religion repressed all vain boasting and self-exultation; and to prevent others from falling into a habit of boasting, and then pleading his example as an apology, he is careful to say that he regarded it as folly; and that he would by no means have done it if the circumstances of the case had not constrained him. If any one, therefore, is disposed to imitate Paul in speaking of himself, and what he has done, let him do it only when he is in circumstances like Paul, and when the honour of religion and his usefulness imperiously demand it; and let him not forget that it was the deliberate conviction of Paul that boasting was the characteristic of a fool!
Ye have compelled me. You have made it necessary for me to vindicate my character, and to state the evidence of my Divine commission as an apostle.
For I ought to have been commended of you. By you. Then this boasting, so foolish, would have been unnecessary. What a delicate reproof! All the fault of this foolish boasting was theirs. They knew him intimately. They had derived great benefits from his ministry, and they were bound in gratitude, and from a regard to right and truth, to vindicate him. But they had not done it; and hence, through their fault, he had been compelled to go into this unpleasant vindication of his own character.
For in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles. Neither in the evidences of my call to the apostolic office, 1 Co 9:1, seq.; nor in the endowments of the Spirit; nor in my success; nor in the proofs of a Divine commission in the power of working miracles. See Barnes "2 Co 11:5".
Though I be nothing. This expression was either used in sarcasm or seriously. According to the former supposition it means that he was regarded as nothing; that the false apostles spoke of him as a mere nothing, or as having no claims to the office of an apostle. This is the opinion of Clarke, and many of the recent commentators. Bloomfield inclines to this. According to the latter view, it is an expression of humility on the part of Paul, and is designed to express his deep sense of his unworthiness in view of his past life—a conviction deepened by the exalted privileges conferred on him, and the exalted rank to which he had been raised as an apostle. This was the view of most of the early commentators. Doddridge unites the two. It is not possible to determine with certainty which is the true interpretation; but it seems to me that the latter view best accords with the scope of the passage, and with what we have reason to suppose the apostle would say at this time. It is true that in this discussion (2 Co 10, seq.) there is much that is sarcastic. But in the whole strain of the passage before us he is serious. He is speaking of his sufferings, and of the evidences that he was raised to elevated rank as an apostle, and it is not quite natural to suppose that he would throw in a sarcastic remark just in the midst of this discussion. Besides, this interpretation accords exactly with what he says in 1 Co 15:9, "For I am the least of all the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle." If this be the correct interpretation, then it teaches,
(1.) that the highest attainments in piety are not inconsistent with the deepest sense of our nothingness and unworthiness.
(2.) That the most distinguished favours bestowed on us by God are consistent with the lowest humility.
(3.) That those who are most favoured in the Christian life, and most honoured by God, should not be unwilling to take a low place, and to regard and speak of themselves as nothing. Compared with God, what are they? Nothing. Compared with the angels, what are they? Nothing. As creatures compared with the vast universe, what are we. Nothing: an atom, a speck. Compared with other Christians, the eminent saints who have lived before us, what are we? Compared with what we ought to be, and might be, what are we? Nothing. Let a man look over his past life, and see how vile and unworthy it has been; let him look at God, and see how great and glorious he is; let him look at the vast universe, and see how immense it is; let him think of the angels, and reflect how pure they are; let him think of what he might have been, of how much more he might have done for his Saviour; let him look at his body, and think how frail it is, and how soon it must return to the dust; and no matter how elevated his rank among his fellow-worms, and no matter how much God has favoured him as a Christian or a minister, he will feel, if he feels right, that he is nothing. The most elevated saints are distinguished for the deepest humility; those who are nearest to God feel most their distance; they who are to occupy the highest place in heaven feel most deeply that they axe unworthy of the lowest.
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