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XXV

FOOLISH BOASTING

"Or did I commit a sin in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I preached to you the Gospel of God for nought? I robbed other Churches, taking wages of them that I might minister unto you; and when I was present with you and was in want, I was not a burden on any man; for the brethren, when they came from Macedonia, supplied the measure of my want; and in everything I kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself. As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this glorying in the regions of Achaia. Wherefore? because I love you not? God knoweth. But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire an occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light. It is no great thing therefore if his ministers also fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.

"I say again, Let no man think me foolish; but if ye do, yet as foolish receive me, that I also may glory a little. That which I speak, I speak not after the Lord, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of glorying. Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also. For ye bear with the foolish gladly, being wise yourselves. For ye bear with a man, if he bringeth you into bondage, if he devoureth you, if he taketh you captive, if he exalteth himself, if he smiteth you on the face. I speak by way of disparagement, as though we had been weak. Yet whereinsoever any is bold (I speak in foolishness), I am bold also. Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as one beside himself) I more; in labours more abundantly, in prisons more abundantly, in stripes above measure, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the326 deep; in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from my countrymen, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in labour and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, anxiety for all the Churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is made to stumble, and I burn not?"—2 Cor. xi. 7-29 (R.V.).

The connexion of ver. 7 with what precedes is not at once clear. The Apostle has expressed his conviction that he is in nothing inferior to "the superlative apostles" so greatly honoured by the Corinthians. Why, then, is he so differently treated? A rudeness in speech he is willing to concede, but that can hardly be the explanation, considering his fulness of knowledge. Then another idea strikes him, and he puts it, interrogatively, as an alternative. Can it be that he did wrong—humbling himself that they might be exalted—in preaching to them the Gospel of God for nought, i.e. in declining to accept support from them while he evangelised in Corinth? Do they appreciate the interlopers more highly than Paul, because they exact a price for their gospel, while he preached his for nothing? This, of course, is bitterly ironical; but it is not gratuitous. The background of fact which prompted the Apostle's question was no doubt this—that his adversaries had misinterpreted his conduct. A true apostle, they said, has a right to be maintained by the Church; the Lord Himself has ordained that they who preach the Gospel should live by the Gospel; but he claims no maintenance, and by that very fact betrays a bad conscience. He dare not make the claim which every true apostle makes without the least misgiving.

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It would be hard to imagine anything more malignant in its wickedness than this. Paul's refusal to claim support from those to whom he preached is one of the most purely and characteristically Christian of all his actions. He felt himself, by the grace of Christ, a debtor to all men; he owed them the Gospel; it was as if he were defrauding them if he did not tell them of the love of God in His Son. He felt himself in immense sympathy with the spirit of the Gospel; it was the free gift of God to the world, and as far as it depended on him its absolute freeness would not be obscured by the merest suspicion of a price to be paid. He knew that in foregoing his maintenance he was resigning a right secured to him by Christ (1 Cor. ix. 14), humbling himself, as he puts it here, that others might be spiritually exalted; but he had the joy of preaching the Gospel in the spirit of the Gospel—of entering, in Christ's service, into the self-sacrificing joy of his Lord; and he valued this above all earthly reward. To accuse such a man, on such grounds, of having a bad conscience, and of being afraid to live by his work, because he knew it was not what it pretended to be, was to sound the depths of baseness. It gave Paul in some measure the Master's experience, when the Pharisees said, "He casteth out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils." It is really the prince of the devils, the accuser of the brethren, who speaks in all such malignant insinuations; it is the most diabolical thing any one can do—the nearest approach to sinning against the Holy Ghost—when he sets himself to find out bad motives for good actions.

As we shall see further on, Paul's enemies made more specific charges: they hinted that he made his own out of the Corinthians indirectly, and that he328 could indemnify himself, for this abstinence, from the collection (chaps. xii. 16-18, chap. viii. and ix.). Perhaps this is why he describes his actual conduct at Corinth in such vigorous language (vv. 7-11), before saying anything at all of his motives. "I preached to you the Gospel of God," he says, "for nothing." He calls it "the Gospel of God" with intentional fulness and solemnity; the genuine Gospel, he means—not another, which is no gospel at all, but a subversion of the truth. He robbed other Churches, and took wages from them, in order to minister to the Corinthians. There is a mingling of ideas in the strong words here used. The English reader thinks of Paul's doing less than justice to other Churches that he might do more than justice to the Corinthians; but though this is true, it is not all. Both "robbed" (ἐσύλησα) and "wages" (ὀψώνιον), as Bengel has pointed out, are military words, and it is difficult to resist the impression that Paul used them as such; he did not come to Corinth to be dependent on any one, but in the course of a triumphant progress, in which he devoted the spoils of his earlier victories for Christ to a new campaign in Achaia.9393   This (observe the aorist λαβών) implies that he brought some money with him from Macedonia to Corinth. Nay, even when he was with them and was "in want" (what a ray of light that one word ὑστερηθείς lets into his circumstances!), he did not throw himself like a benumbing weight on any one; what his own labours failed to supply, the brethren (perhaps Silas and Timothy) made good when they came from Macedonia. This has been his practice, and will continue to be so. He swears by the truth of Christ that is in him, that no man shall ever stop his mouth, so far as boasting of this independence329 is concerned, in the regions of Achaia. Why? His tender heart dismisses the one painful supposition which could possibly arise. "Because I love you not? God knoweth." Love is wounded when its proffered gifts are rejected with scorn, and when their rejection means that it is rejected; but that was not the situation here. Paul can appeal to Him who knows the heart in proof of the sincerity with which he loves the Corinthians.

His fixed purpose to be indebted to no one in Achaia has another object in view. What that is he explains in the twelfth verse. Strange to say, this verse, like ver. 4, has received two precisely opposite interpretations. (1) Some start with the idea that Paul's adversaries at Corinth were persons who took no support from the Church, and boasted of their disinterestedness in this respect. The "occasion" which they desired was an occasion of any sort for disparaging and discrediting Paul; and they felt they would have such an occasion if Paul accepted support from the Church, and so put himself in a position of inferiority to them. But Paul persists in his self-denying policy, with the object of depriving them of the opportunity they seek, and at the same time of proving them—in this very point of disinterestedness—to be in exactly the same position as himself. But surely, throughout both Epistles, a contrast is implied, in this very point, between Paul and his opponents: the tacit assumption is always that his line of conduct is singular, and is not to be made a rule. And in the face of ver. 20 it is too much to assume that it was the rule of his Judaising opponents in Corinth. (2) Others start with the idea, which seems to me indubitably right, that these opponents did accept support330 from the Church. But even on this assumption opinions diverge. (a) Some argue that Paul pursued his policy of abstinence partly to deprive them of any opportunity of disparaging him, and partly to compel them to adopt it themselves ("that they may be found even as we").9494   That is, the two ἵνα are co-ordinate. I can hardly imagine this being taken seriously. Why should Paul have wanted to lift these preachers of a false gospel to a level with himself in point of generosity? To coerce them into a reluctant self-denial could be no possible object to him either of wish or hope. Hence there seems only (b) the other alternative open, which makes the last clause—"that wherein they boast, they may be found even as we"—depend, not upon "what I do, that I will do," but upon "them that desire occasion."9595   That is, the ἵνα are not co-ordinate, but the second is subordinate to τῶν θελόντων ἀφορμήν. What the adversaries desired was, not occasion to disparage Paul in general, but occasion of being on an equality with him in the matter in which they gloried—viz., their apostolic claims. They felt the advantage which Paul's disinterestedness gave him with the Corinthians; they had not themselves the generosity needed to imitate it; it was not enough to assail it with covert slanders (chap. xii. 16-18), or to say that he was afraid to claim an apostle's due; it would have been all they wanted had he resigned it. Then they could have said that in that in which they boasted—apostolic dignity—they were precisely on a level with him. But not to mention the spiritual motives for his conduct, which have been already explained, and were independent of all relation to his opponents, Paul was too capable a strategist to surrender such a position to the enemy.331 It would never be by action of his that he and they found themselves on the same ground.

At the very mention of such an equality his heart rises within him. "Found even as we! Why, such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ." Here, at last, the irony is cast aside, and Paul calls a spade a spade. The conception of apostleship in the New Testament is not that dogmatic traditional one, which limits the name to the Twelve, or to the Twelve and the Apostle of the Gentiles; as we see from passages like chap. viii. 23, Acts xiv. 4, 14, it had a much larger application. What Paul means when he calls his opponents false apostles is not that persons in their position could have no right to the name; but that persons with their character, their aims, and their methods, would only deceive others when they used it. It ought to cover something quite different from what it actually did cover in them. He explains himself further when he calls them "deceitful workers." That they were active he does not deny; but the true end of their activity was not declared. As far as the word itself goes, the "deceit" which they used may have been intended to cloak either their personal or their proselytising views. After what we have read in chap. x. 12-18, the latter seems preferable. The Judaising preachers had shown their hand in Galatia, demanding openly that Paul's converts should be circumcised, and keep the law of Moses as a whole; but their experience there had made them cautious, and when they came to Corinth they proceeded more diplomatically. They tried to sap the Pauline Gospel, partly by preaching "another Jesus," partly by calling in question the legitimacy of Paul's vocation. They said nothing332 openly of what was the inevitable and intended issue of all this—the bringing of spiritual Gentile Christendom under the old Jewish yoke. But it is this which goes to the Apostle's soul; he can be nothing but irreconcilably hostile to men who have assumed the guise of apostles of Christ, in order that they may with greater security subvert Christ's characteristic work. Paul dwells on the deceitfulness of their conduct as its most offensive feature; yet he does not wonder at it, for even Satan, he says, fashions himself into an angel of light. It is no great thing, then, if his servants also fashion themselves as servants of righteousness.

We can only tell in a general way what Paul meant when he spoke of Satan, the prince of darkness, transfiguring himself so as to appear a heavenly angel. He may have had some Jewish legend in his mind, some story of a famous temptation, unknown to us, or he may only have intended to represent to the imagination, with the utmost possible vividness, one of the familiar laws in our moral experience, a law which was strikingly illustrated by the conduct of his adversaries at Corinth. Evil, we all know, could never tempt us if we saw it simply as it is; disguise is essential to its power; it appeals to man through ideas and hopes which he cannot but regard as good. So it was in the very first temptation. An act which in its essential character was neither more nor less than one of direct disobedience to God was represented by the tempter, not in that character, but as the means by which man was to obtain possession of a tree good for food (sensual satisfaction), and pleasant to the eyes (æsthetic satisfaction), and desirable to make one wise (intellectual satisfaction). All these satisfactions,333 which in themselves are undeniably good, were the cloak under which the tempter hid his true features. He was a murderer from the beginning, and entered Eden to ruin man, but he presented himself as one offering to man a vast enlargement of life and joy. This is the nature of all temptations; to disguise himself, to look as like a good angel as he can, is the first necessity, and therefore the first invention, of the devil. And all who do his work, the Apostle says, naturally imitate his devices. The soul of man is born for good, and will not listen at all to any voice which does not profess at least to speak for good: this is why the devil is a liar from the beginning, and the father of lies. Lying in word and deed is the one weapon with which he can assail the simplicity of man.

But how does this apply to the Judaisers in Corinth? To Paul, we must understand, they were men affecting to serve Christ, but really impelled by personal, or at the utmost by partisan, feelings. Their true object was to win an ascendency for themselves, or for their party, in the Church; but they made their way into it as evangelists and apostles. Nominally, they were ministers of Christ; really, they ministered to their own vanity, and to the bigotry and prejudices of their race. They professed to be furthering the cause of righteousness,9696   There has been some discussion as to the precise force of δικαιοσύνη ("righteousness") in this place. It seems to me most natural to take it, without suspicion, in a perfectly simple sense: a minister of righteousness is the truly good character which these bad men affect. To suppose a covert sneer at their "legalism," or that they had pointed to such matters as are discussed in 1 Cor. v., viii., and x., as indicating the need of a gospel which would pay more attention to righteousness than Paul's, is surely too clever. but in sober truth the only cause which334 was the better for them was that of their own private importance; the result of their ministry was, not that bad men became good, but that they themselves felt entitled to give themselves airs. Over against all this unreality Paul remembers the righteous judgment of God. "Whose end," he concludes abruptly, "shall be according to their works."

The most serious aspect of such a situation as this is seen when we consider that men may fill it unconsciously: they may devote themselves to a cause which looks like the cause of Christ, or the cause of righteousness; and at bottom it may not be Christ or righteousness at all which is the animating principle in their hearts. It is some hidden regard to themselves, or to a party with which they are identified. Even when they labour, and possibly suffer, it is this, and not loyalty to Christ, which sustains them. It may be in defence of orthodoxy, or in furtherance of liberalism, that a man puts himself forward in the Church, and in either case he will figure to those who agree with him as a servant of righteousness; but equally in either case the secret spring of his action may be pride, the desire to assert a superiority, to consolidate a party which is his larger self, to secure an area in which he may rule. He may spend energy and talent on the work; but if this is the ultimate motive of it, it is the work of the devil, and not of God. Even if the doctrine he defends is the true one—even if the policy he maintains is the right one—the services he may accidentally render are far outweighed by the domestication in the Church of a spirit so alien to the Lord's. It is diabolical, not divine; the Gospel is profaned by contact with it; the Church is prostituted when it serves as an arena for its exercise; when it comes forward in the interest335 of righteousness, it is Satan fashioning himself into an angel of light.

At this point Paul returns to the idea which has been in his mind since chap. x. 7—the idea of boasting, or rather glorying. He does not like the thing itself, and just as little does he like the mask of a fool, under which he is to play the part: he is conscious that neither suits him. Hence he clears the ground once more, before he commits himself. "Again, I say, let no man think that I am foolish; but if that favour cannot be granted, then even as a foolish person receive me, that I also may boast a little." There is a fine satirical reflection in the "also." If he does make a fool of himself by boasting, he is only doing what the others do, whom the Corinthians receive with open arms. But it strikes his conscience suddenly that there is a higher rule for the conduct of a Christian man than the example of his rivals, or the patience of his friends. The tenderness of Paul's spirit comes out in the next words: "What I speak, I speak not after the Lord, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of glorying." The Lord never boasted; nothing could be conceived less like Him, less after His mind; and Paul will have it distinctly understood that His character is not compromised by any extravagance of which His servant may here make himself guilty. As a rule, the Apostle did speak "after the Lord"; his habitual consciousness was that of one who had "the mind of Christ," and who felt that Christ's character was, in a sense, in his keeping. That ought to be the rule for all Christians; we should never find ourselves in situations in which the Christian character, with all its responsibilities, affecting both ourselves and Him, cannot be maintained. With Christ and His interests removed from the scene, Paul at length feels himself336 free to measure himself against his rivals. "Since many glory after the flesh, I also will glory." The flesh means everything except the spirit. Where Christ and the Gospel are concerned, it is, according to Paul, an absolute irrelevance, a thing to be simply left out of account; but since they persist in dragging it in, he will meet them on their own ground. What that is, first comes out clearly in ver. 22: but the Apostle delays again to urge his plea for tolerance. "Ye suffer the foolish gladly, being wise yourselves." It answers best to the vehemence of the whole passage to take the first clause here—"Ye suffer the foolish gladly"—as grim earnest, the reference being to the other boasters, Paul's rivals; and only the second clause ironically. Then ver. 20 would give the proof of this: "Ye bear with the foolish gladly ... for ye bear with a man if he enslaves you, if he devours you, if he takes you captive, if he exalts himself over you, if he strikes you on the face." We must suppose that this strong language describes the overbearing and violent behaviour of the Judaists in Corinth. We do not need to take it literally, but neither may we suppose that Paul spoke at random: he is virtually contrasting his own conduct and that of the people in question, and the nature of the contrast must be on the whole correctly indicated. He himself had been accused of weakness; and he frankly admits that, if comparison has to be made with a line of action like this, the accusation is just. "I speak by way of disparagement, as though we had been weak." This rendering of the Revised Version fairly conveys the meaning. It might be expressed in a paraphrase, as follows: "In saying what I have said of the behaviour of my rivals, I have been speaking to my own disparagement, the idea involved3379797   This is the force of the ὡς: it leaves it open whether the idea has reality answering to it or not. being that I" (notice the emphatic ἡμεῖς) "have been weak. Weak, no doubt, I was, if violent action like theirs is the true measure of strength: nevertheless, whereinsoever any is bold (I speak in foolishness), I am bold also. On whatever ground they claim to exercise such extraordinary powers, that ground I can maintain as well as they."

Here, finally, the boasting does begin. "Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I." This is the sum and substance of what is meant by their glorying after the flesh: they prided themselves on their birth, and claimed authority on the strength of it. They may have appealed, not only to the election of Israel as the Old Testament represents it, but to words of Jesus, like "Salvation is of the Jews." The three names for what is in reality one thing convey the impression of the immense importance which was assigned to it. "Hebrews" seems the least significant; it is merely the national name, with whatever historical glories attached to it in Hebrew minds. "Israelites" is a sacred name; it is identified with the prerogatives of the theocratic people: Paul himself, when his heart swells with patriotic emotion, begins the enumeration of the privileges belonging to his kinsmen after the flesh—"they, who are Israelites." "Seed of Abraham," again, is for the Apostle, and probably for these rivals of his, equivalent to "heirs of the promises"; it describes the Jewish people as more directly and immediately interested—nay, as alone directly and immediately interested—in the salvation of God. No one338 could read Rom. ix. 4 f. without feeling that pride of race—pride in his people, and in their special relation to God and special place in the history of redemption—was among the strongest passions in the Apostle's heart; and we can understand the indignation and scorn with which he regarded men who tracked him over Asia and Europe, assailed his authority, and sought to undermine his work, on the ground that he was faithless to the lawful prerogatives of Israel. There was not an Israelite in the world prouder of his birth, with a more magnificent sense of his country's glories, than the Apostle of the Gentiles: and it provoked him beyond endurance to see the things in which he gloried debased, as they were debased, by his rivals—made the symbols of a paltry vanity which he despised, made barriers to the universal love of God by which all the families of the earth were to be blessed. Driven to extremity, he could only outlaw such opponents from the Christian community, and transfer the prerogatives of Israel to the Church. "We," he taught his Gentile converts to say—"we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. iii. 3).

Here he does not linger long over what is merely external. It is a deeper question that he asks in ver. 23, "Are they ministers of Christ?" and he feels like a man beside himself, clean out of his senses (παραφρονῶν)—so unsuitable is the subject for boasting—as he answers, "I more." Many interpret this as if it meant, "I am more than a servant of Christ," and then ask wonderingly, "What more?" but surely the natural meaning is, "I am a servant too, in a higher degree." The proof of this is given in that tale of sufferings which bursts irrepressibly from the Apostle's heart,339 and sweeps us in its course like a torrent. If he thought of his rivals when he began, and was instituting a serious comparison when he wrote "in labours more abundantly [than they]," they must soon have escaped from his mind. It is his own life as a minister of Christ on which he dwells; and after the first words, if a comparison is to be made, he leaves the making of it to others. But comparison, in fact, was out of the question: the sufferings of the Apostle in doing service to Christ were unparalleled and alone. The few lines which he devotes to them are the most vivid light we have on the apostolic age and the apostolic career. They show how fragmentary, or at all events how select, is the narrative in the Book of Acts. Thus of the incidents mentioned in ver. 25 we learn but little from St. Luke. Of the five times nine-and-thirty stripes, he mentions none; of the three beatings with rods, only one; of the three shipwrecks, none (for Acts xxvii. is later), and nothing of the twenty-four hours in the deep. It is not necessary to comment on details, but one cannot resist the impression of triumph with which Paul recounts the "perils" he had faced; so many they were, so various, and so terrible, yet in the Lord's service he has come safely through them all. It is a commentary from his own hand on his own word—"as dying, and, behold, we live!" In the retrospect all these perils show, not only that he is a true servant of Christ, entering into the fellowship of his Master's sufferings to bring blessing to men, but that he is owned by Christ as such: the Lord has delivered him from deaths so great; yes, and will deliver him; and his hope is set on Him for every deliverance he may need (chap. i. 10).

But, after all, these perils are but outward, and the340 very enumeration of them shows that they are things of the past. In all their kinds and degrees—violence, privation, exposure, fear—they are a historical testimony to the devotion with which Paul has served Christ. He bore in his body the marks which they had left, and to him they were the marks of Jesus; they identified him as Christ's slave. But not to mention incidental matters,9898   This, which is the second alternative given in the margin of the Revised Version, seems to me the true meaning of χωρὶς τῶν παρεκτός. there is another testimony to his ministry which is ever with him—a burden as crushing as these bodily sufferings, and far more constant in its pressure: "that which cometh upon me daily, anxiety for all the Churches." Short of this, anything of which man can boast may be, at least in a qualified sense, "after the flesh"; but in this identification of himself with Christ's cause in the world—this bearing of others' burdens on his spirit—there is that fulfilment of Christ's law which alone and finally legitimates a Christian ministry. Nor was it merely in an official sense that Paul was interested in the affairs of the Church. When the Church is once planted in the world, it has a side which is of the world, a side which may be administered without a very heavy expenditure of Christian feeling: this, it is safe to say, is simply out of sight. Paul's anxiety for the Churches is defined in all its scope and intensity in the passionate words of the twenty-ninth verse: "Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I burn not?" His love individualised Christian people, and made him one with them. There was no trembling timorous soul, no scrupulous conscience, in all the communities he had founded, whose timidity and weakness did not put a limit to his strength: he condescended341 to their intelligence, feeding them with milk, and not with meat; he measured his liberty, not in principle but in practice, by their bondage; his heart thrilled with their fears; in the fulness of his Christ-like strength he lived a hundred feeble lives. And when spiritual harm came to one of them—when the very least was made to stumble, and was caught in the snare of falsehood or sin—the pain in his heart was like burning fire. The sorrow that pierced the soul of Christ pierced his soul also; the indignation that glowed in the Master's breast, as He pronounced woe on the man by whom occasions of stumbling come, glowed again in him. This is the fire that Christ came to cast on the earth, and that He longed to see kindled—this prompt intense sympathy with all that is of God in men's souls, this readiness to be weak with the weak, this pain and indignation when the selfishness or pride of men leads the weak astray, and imperils the work for which Christ died. And this is indeed the Apostle's last line of defence. Nowhere could boasting be less in place than when a man speaks of the lessons he has learned at the Cross: yet these only give him a title to glory as "a minister of Christ." If glorying here is inadmissible, it is because glorying in every sense is "folly."


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