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"I am become foolish: ye compelled me; for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing was I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I am nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, by signs and wonders and mighty works. For what is there wherein ye were made inferior to the rest of the Churches, except it be that I myself was not a burden to you? forgive me this wrong.

"Behold, this is the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be a burden to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more abundantly, am I loved the less? But be it so, I did not myself burden you; but, being crafty, I caught you with guile. Did I take advantage of you by any one of them whom I have sent unto you? I exhorted Titus, and I sent the brother with him. Did Titus take any advantage of you? walked we not by the same Spirit? walked we not in the same steps?

"Ye think all this time that we are excusing ourselves unto you. In the sight of God speak we in Christ. But all things, beloved, are for your edifying. For I fear, lest by any means, when I come, I should find you not such as I would, and should myself be found of you such as ye would not; lest by any means there should be strife, jealousy, wraths, factions, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults; lest when I come again, my God should humble me before you, and I should mourn for many of them that have sinned heretofore, and repented not of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they committed."—2 Cor. xii. 11-21 (R.V.).

Expositors differ widely in characterising the three or four brief paragraphs into which this passage may be divided: (1) vv. 11-13; (2) vv. 14, 15, and vv. 16-18; (3) vv. 19-21. What is clear is, that360 we feel in it the ground-swell of the storm that has raged through the last two chapters, and that it is not till the beginning of chap. xiii. that the Apostle finally escapes from this, and takes up an authoritative and decisive attitude to the Corinthians. When he does reach Corinth, it will not be to explain and justify his own conduct, either against rivals or those whom rivals have misled, but to take prompt and vigorous action against disorders in the life of the Church.

(1) A review of what he has just written leads to a burst of indignant remonstrance. "I have become foolish." The emphasis is on the verb, not on the adjective; it is the painful fact that the eleventh chapter of Second Corinthians is a thing that no wise man would have written if he had been left to himself and his wisdom. Paul, who was a wise man, felt this, and it stung him. He resented the compulsion which was put upon him by the ingratitude and faithlessness of the Corinthians. The situation ought to have been exactly reversed. When he was defamed by strangers, then they, who knew him, instead of hearkening to the calumniators, ought to have stood up in his defence. But they basely left him to defend himself, to plead his own cause, to become a fool by "glorying." This kind of compulsion should never be put upon a good man, especially a man to whom, under God, we ourselves have been deeply indebted. The services he has rendered constitute a claim on our loyalty, and it is a duty of affection to guard his character against disparagement and malice.

Paul, in his deep consciousness of being wronged, presses home the charge against the Corinthians. They had every reason, he tells them, to act as his advocates. When he was among them, he was in361 nothing inferior to the "superlative" Apostles—this is his last flout at the Judaist interlopers—nothing though he was. The signs that prove a man to be an apostle were wrought among them (the passive expression keeps his agency in the background) in all patience, by signs and wonders and mighty deeds. Their suspicions of him, their willingness to listen to insinuations against him, after such an experience, were unpardonable. He can only think of one "sign of the apostle" which was not wrought among them by his means, of one point in which he had made them inferior to the other Churches: he had not burdened them with his support. They were the spoilt children of the apostolic family; and he begs them, with bitter irony, to forgive him this wrong. If they had only been converted by a man who stood upon his rights!106106   Αὐτὸς ἐγώ in ver. 13 has a peculiar emphasis, not easily explained. It cannot mean "I did not, though my assistants did," for this is denied in ver. 18. Neither can it mean "I did not, though the Judaists did," for whatever is opposed to αὐτὸς ἐγώ must nevertheless be conceived here as belonging to the same category, which the Judaists did not. Possibly it only separates the person expressly from his works, just recited, and has the same sort of value as in Rom. ix. 3, where it emphasises the person as opposed to the heart and conscience.

"The signs of an apostle" are frequently referred to in Paul's Epistles, and are of various kinds. By far the most important, and the most frequently insisted on, is success in evangelistic work. He who converts men and founds Churches has the supreme and final attestation of apostleship, as Paul conceives it. It is to this he appeals in 1 Cor. ix. 2; 2 Cor. iii. 1-3. In the passage before us Calvin makes "patience" a sign—primum signum nominat patientiam. Patience is certainly a characteristic Christian virtue, and it is magnificently362 exercised in the apostolic life; but it is not peculiarly apostolic. Patience in the passage before us, "every kind of patience," rather brings before our minds the conditions under which Paul did his apostolic work. Discouragements of every description, bad health, suspicion, dislike, contempt, moral apathy and moral licence—the weight of all these pressed upon him heavily, but he bore up under them, and did not suffer them to break his spirit or to arrest his labours. His endurance was a match for them all, and the power of Christ that was in him broke forth in spite of them in apostolic signs. There were conversions, in the first place; but there were also what he calls here "signs [in a narrower sense], and wonders, and mighty deeds." This is an express claim, like that made in Acts xv. 12, Rom. xv. 19, to have wrought what we call miracles. The three words represent miracles under three different aspects: they are "signs" (σημεῖα), as addressed to man's intelligence, and conveying a spiritual meaning; they are "wonders" (τέρατα), as giving a shock to feeling, and moving nature in those depths which sleep through common experience; and they are "mighty works" or "powers" (δυνάμεις), as arguing in him who works them a more than human efficiency. But no doubt the main character they bore in the Apostle's mind was that of χαρίσματα, or gifts of grace, which God ministered to the Church by His Spirit. It is natural for an unbeliever to misunderstand even New Testament miracles, because he wishes to conceive them, as it were, in vacuo, or in relation to the laws of nature; in the New Testament itself they are conceived in relation to the Holy Ghost. Even Jesus is said in the Gospels to have cast out devils by the Spirit of God; and when Paul wrought "signs and wonders363 and powers," it was in carrying out his apostolic work graced by the same Spirit. What things he had done in Corinth we have no means of knowing, but the Corinthians knew; and they knew that these things had no arbitrary or accidental character, but were the tokens of a Christian and an apostle.

(2) In the second paragraph Paul turns abruptly (ἰδοὺ, "behold!") from the past to the future. "This is the third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not burden you." The first clause has the same ambiguity in Greek as in English; it is impossible to tell from the words alone whether he had been already twice, or only once, in Corinth. Other considerations decide, I think, that he had been twice; but of course these cannot affect the construction of this verse: for the third time he is in a state of readiness—this is all the words will yield. But when he makes the new visit, whether it be his third or only his second, one thing he has decided: he will act on the same principle as before, and decline to be a burden to them. He does not speak of it boastfully now, as in chap. xi. 10, for his adversaries have passed out of view, but in one of the most movingly tender passages in the whole Bible. "I will not lie on you like a benumbing weight, for I seek, not yours, but you." It is not his own interest which brings him to Corinth again, but theirs; it is not avarice which impels him, but love. In a sense, indeed, love makes the greater claim of the two; it is far more to demand the heart than to ask for money. Yet the greater claim is the less selfish, indeed is the purely unselfish one; for it can only be really made by one who gives all that he demands. Paul's own heart was pledged to the Corinthians; and when he said "I seek you," he did not mean that he sought364 to make a party of them, or a faction, in the interest of his own ambition, but that the one thing he cared for was the good of their souls. Nor in saying so does he claim to be doing anything unusual or extraordinary. It is only what becomes him as their father in Christ (1 Cor. iv. 15). "I seek you; for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children." Filial duty, of course, is not denied here; Paul is simply bringing himself as the spiritual father of the Corinthians under the general rule of nature that "love descends rather than ascends." If this seems a hard saying to a child's heart, it is at least true that it descends before it ascends. It all begins from God: in a family, it all begins from the parents. The primary duty of love is parental care; and nothing is more unnatural, though at a certain level it is common enough, than the desire of parents to make money out of their children as quickly and as plentifully as possible, without considering the ulterior interests of the children themselves. This kind of selfishness is very transparent, and is very naturally avenged by ingratitude, and the Apostle for his part renounces it. "I," he exclaims, with all the emphasis in his power—"I have more than a natural father's love for you. I will with all gladness spend, yes, and be spent to the uttermost, for your souls! I will give what I have, yes, and all that I am, that you may be profited." And then he checks that rush of affection, and dams up the overflowing passion of his heart in the abrupt poignant question: "If I love you more abundantly, am I loved less?"107107   This is the reading of our Revisers, and of Westcott and Hort's text. In their margin they read: "I will very gladly spend, etc., if loving you [ἀγαπῶν instead of ἀγαπῶ] more abundantly I am loved the less." This reading and punctuation are adopted by a number of scholars, but explained in two ways:—(1) As in the Authorised Version, "though the more abundantly," etc. But εἰ ("if"), which is the true reading (not εἰ καί), cannot be translated "though." (2) By others it is rendered, "I will very gladly spend, etc., if the more abundantly I love you the less I am loved": that is, "if things have come to such a pass between us that the natural relations are utterly inverted, I will make any sacrifice to restore them to a better footing." This is insipid and flat to the last degree: textual and psychological considerations combine to support the Revisers text.


This is not the first passage in the Epistle, nor, near as we are to the end, is it the last, in which Paul shows us the true spirit of the Christian pastor. "Not yours, but you," is the motto of every minister who has learned of Christ; and the noble words of ver. 15, "I will very gladly spend and be spent to the last for your souls," recall more nearly than any other words in Scripture the law by which our Lord Himself lived—not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give life a ransom for many. Here, surely, is a sign of apostleship—an unmistakable mark of the man who is specially called to continue Christ's work. That work cannot be done at all except in the spirit of Him who inaugurated it, and though love like Paul's, and love like Christ's, may be mocked and trampled on, it is the only power which has the right to speak in Christ's name. The joy of sacrifice thrills through the Apostle's words, and it is joy in the Holy Ghost; it is a fellowship with Christ in the very life of His life that lifts Paul, for the moment, to the heavenly places. This is the spirit in which wrong is to be met, and suspicion, calumny, and contempt; it is in this, if at all, that we can be more than conquerors. Nature says, "Stand upon your rights; vindicate your position; insist on having all that you conceive to be your due"; but love366 says, "Spend and be spent, and spare not till all is gone; life itself is not too much to give that love may triumph over wrong."

It is not possible to write long as Paul writes in these two verses (14 and 15). The tension is too great both for him and for his readers. With ἔστω δέ—"But be it so"—he descends from this height. He writes in the first person, but he is plainly repeating what he assumes others will say. "Very well, then, let that pass," is the answer of his enemies to his friends when that passionate protestation is read. "He did not himself prove burdensome to us, but being crafty he brought us into his net by guile. He exploited the Church in his own interest by means of his agents." This charge the Apostle meets with a downright denial; he can appeal to the knowledge which the Corinthians themselves possess of the manner in which his agents have conducted themselves. He had no doubt had occasion, far oftener than we know, to communicate with so important and so restless a Church; and he challenges the Corinthians to say that a single one of those whom he had sent had taken advantage of them. He instances—perhaps as the last of his deputies, who had but just returned from Corinth when he wrote this letter; perhaps as the one on whom scandal had chosen to fasten—his "partner" and "fellow-labourer toward them," Titus; and he refers to an unknown brother who had accompanied him. They cannot mean to say (μήτι) that Titus took advantage of them? "Walked we not in the same Spirit?" A modern reader naturally makes "spirit" subjective, and takes it as equivalent to "the same moral temper or principle"; an early Christian reader would more probably think of the Holy Spirit as that which367 ruled in Paul and Titus alike. In any case the same Spirit led to the same conduct; they walked in the same self-denying path, and scrupulously abstained from burdening the Corinthians for their support.

(3) We feel the meanness of all this, and are glad when the Apostle finally turns his back on it. It is an indignity to be compelled even to allude to such things. And the worst is, that no care a man can take will prevent people from misunderstanding his indignant protest, and from assuming that he is really on his trial before them, and not improbably compromised. Paul's mind is made up to leave the Corinthians no excuse for such misunderstanding and presumption. In ver. 19 he reads their ignoble thought: "Ye have long108108   Πάλαι is the true reading, not πάλιν. Westcott and Hort retain the interrogation. been thinking"—i.e., all through the last two chapters, and, indeed, more or less all through the Epistle; see chap. iii. 1—"that we are making our defence at your bar. Far from it: at God's bar we speak in Christ." He will not endure, with his visit to Corinth close at hand, that there should be any misapprehension as to their relations. His responsibility as a Christian man is not to them, but to God; He is the Master to whom he stands or falls; it is He alone to whom he has to vindicate his life. The Corinthians had been seating themselves in imagination on the tribunal, and they are summarily set on the floor. But Paul does not wish to be rude or unkind. "You are not my judges, certainly," he seems to say, "but all I have said and done, beloved, all I say and do, is for your building up in Christian life. My heart is with you in it all, and I sincerely intend your good."368 We cannot sufficiently admire the combination in the Apostle, or rather the swift alternation, of all those intellectual and emotional qualities that balance each other in a strong living character. He can be at once trenchant and tender; inexorable in the maintenance of a principle, and infinitely sympathetic and considerate in his treatment of persons. We see all his qualities illustrated here.

Their edification is the governing thought on which the last verses of the chapter turn, and on which eventually the whole Epistle rests (see chap. xiii. 10). It is because he is interested in their edification that he thinks with misgiving of the journey in prospect. "I fear lest by any means when I come I find you not such as I would, and on my part be found of you not such as ye would." What these two fears imply is unfolded in due order in the remainder of the letter. The Corinthians, such as Paul would not have them, are depicted in vv. 20 and 21; Paul, in a character in which the Corinthians would prefer not to see him, comes forward in chap, xiii., vv. 1-10. It is with the first only of these two fears, the bad condition of the Corinthian Church, that we are here concerned. This first fear has two grounds. The first is the prevalence of sins which may perhaps be summarised as sins of self-will. Strife, jealousy, passions, factions and low factious arts, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults: such is the catalogue. It illustrates what has been well described as "the carnality of religious contention." Almost all the sins here enumerated are directly connected with the existence of parties and party feeling in the Church. They are of a kind which has disgraced the Church all through its history, and the exceeding sinfulness of which is not yet recognised369 by the great mass of professing Christians. People do not consider that the Church, as a visible society, more or less naturalised in the world, is as capable as any other society of offering a career to ambition, or of furnishing a theatre for the talents and the energies of self-seeking men; and they have a vague idea that the wilfulness, the intriguing and factious arts, the jealousy and conceit of men, are better things when put to the service of the Church than when employed in mere selfishness. But they are not. They are the very same, and they are peculiarly odious when enlisted in His service who was meek and lowly in heart, and who gave Himself for men. Paul's first list of sins is only too life-like, and the fear grounded on it is one which many a modern minister can share. The second list is made up of what might be called, in contrast with sins of self-will, sins of self-indulgence—"uncleanness, fornication, and lasciviousness that they wrought." Both together make up what the Apostle calls the works of the flesh. Both together are the direct opposite of those fruits of the spirit in which the true life of the Church consists. Paul writes as if he were more alarmed about the sins of the latter class. He puts μὴ ("lest") instead of μήπως ("lest by any means": ver. 20), marking thus the climax, and something like the certainty,109109   This is also suggested by the reading ταπεινώσει, which Tischendorf adopts in ver. 21, with B, D, E, F, etc. א, A, K, followed by Westcott and Hort, have ταπεινώσῃ. of his sad apprehension. "I fear," he says, "lest when I come again my God should humble me before you"—or, perhaps "in connexion with you." Nothing could more bow down a true and loving heart like Paul's than to370 see a Church that he had regarded as the seal of his apostleship—a congregation of men "washed, sanctified, and justified"—wallowing again in the mire of sensual sins. He had been proud of them, had boasted of them, had given thanks to God on their behalf: how it must have crushed him to think that his labour on them had come to this! Yet he writes instinctively "my God." This humiliation does not come to him without his Father; there is a divine dispensation in it, as far as he is concerned, and he submits to it as such. He dare not think of it as a personal insult; he dare not think of the sinners as if they had offended against him. He fears he will have to mourn over numbers of those who have before sinned, and who will not have repented110110   It is more natural to construe ἐπὶ τῇ ἀκαθαρσιᾳ κ.τ.λ. with μετανοησάντων than with πενθήσω. of these sensualities before he reaches Corinth. In chap. v. 2 of the First Epistle he sums up his condemnation of the moral laxity of the Church in the presence of such evils in the words: Ye did not mourn. He himself will not be able to avoid mourning: his heart grows heavy within him as he thinks of what he must see before long. This, again, is the spirit of the true pastor. Selfish anger has nothing healing in it, nor has wounded pride; it is not for any man, however good or devoted, to feel that he is entitled to resent it, as a personal wrong, when men fall into sin. He is not entitled to resent it, no matter how much he may have spent, or how freely he may have spent himself, upon them; but he is bound to bewail it. He is bound to recognise in it, so far as he himself is free from responsibility, a dispensation of God intended to make him humble; and in all humility and love he is bound371 to plead with the lapsed, not his own cause, but God's. This is the spirit in which Paul confronts the sad duties awaiting him at Corinth, and in this again we see "the signs of the apostle."

The two catalogues of sins with which this chapter closes remind us, by way of contrast, of the two characteristic graces of Christianity: self-will or party spirit, in all its forms, is opposed to brotherly love, and self-indulgence, in all its forms, to personal purity. There is much in this Epistle which would be called by some people theological and transcendent; but no one knew better than Paul that, though Christianity must be capable of an intellectual construction, it is not an intellectual system in essence, but a new moral life. He was deeply concerned, as we have repeatedly seen, that the Corinthians should think right thoughts about Christ and the Gospel; but he was more than concerned, he was filled with grief, fear, and shame, when he thought of the vices of temper and of sensuality that prevailed among them. These went to the root of Christianity, and if they could not be destroyed it must perish. Let us turn our eyes from them to the purity and love that they obscure, and lift up our hearts to these as the best things to which God has called us in the fellowship of His Son.

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