Paul’s Foolish Boasting, part 1
Prov 26:5 says, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.”
Sometimes, when interacting with fools, it’s appropriate to use methods that you would not otherwise use. It is at times appropriate to use stern, severe, even harsh language when dealing with theological error and false teachers.
As we get closer to the end of 2 Corinthians, Paul gets more animated and emotional in his writing style. His exasperation with the people of the church is showing through in this section. I get the sense that he’s really frustrated with the fact that the people of the church are putting up with these false teachers. So he uses some rather severe language here in an effort to show how foolish it is to follow the false teachers instead of remaining faithful to the Gospel and to him.
Note how many times he uses the word “fool” or “foolish” in this passage—5 times in vss. 16-21. Paul admits a couple of times here that he’s speaking foolishly, but he feels like he has to lower himself to the level of fools in order to get through to his readers. Read 11:1—this section is a continuation of “a little folly.” He recognizes that it’s foolish to brag or to compare himself to others, but he had to show the difference between himself and the false teachers.
In fact, he admits (.17) that he’s speaking foolishly and “not according to the Lord.” That is, he knows that he’s not following Jesus’ example of meekness or gentleness (cf. 10:1). He’s defending himself in a way that Jesus never did—“according to the flesh” (.18). Some of his statements here are downright sarcastic if not insulting, so this is rather pointed language. If the Corinthians want to compare him to the false teachers, then Paul will do likewise—he’ll compare himself to them. He’ll show that the false teachers have nothing to brag about compared to the things he could brag about.
All these statements by Paul show that he’s a true apostle and more worthy of loyalty than the false teachers are. He’s trying to show that he has more credibility than the false teachers; he has better credentials; he’s done much more than they have. Whatever claims they can make, Paul’s claims are much greater. So he’s trying to show the vast difference between himself and them in an effort to get the Corinthian church to listen to him rather than to the false teachers.
We, like the Corinthians, should be able to see the difference between a true servant of God and a charlatan—a fraud, a phony. Our loyalties must lie with those who are true servants of God, not with false teachers. We must remain faithfully committed to the Gospel and to those who proclaim it truthfully. And we must not tolerate fools and their errors and abusive behavior.
The passage contains two main parts. First, we see the foolishness of the church, primarily the fact that they tolerate the errors and abuses of the false teachers. And then in the second part, Paul engages in a little foolish boasting about his own heritage and experiences in serving Christ.