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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 11:16-21; The Character of False Teachers

11/15_2 Corinthians 11:16-21; The Character of False Teachers; Audio available at:

Paul is confronting the false apostles head on. And he is confronting the church for following them. He’s said (11:4) that they proclaim another Jesus, a different spirit, a different gospel, and the church is bearing with it well! He labels the so-called super-apostles as false apostles, deceitful workers, servants of Satan who disguise themselves as genuine but their works and their future judgment expose them as false. He warns the church that he fears for them, that they are in danger of being deceived by Satan to forfeit a simple relationship with Jesus for a counterfeit.

But some in this church have already been taken. They believe everything the false teachers tell them, which means that they question Paul’s authenticity and doubt his integrity. Paul is willing to ‘become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some’ (1Cor.9:22).

A Lamb in Wolves Clothing

The wisdom of Proverbs says:

Proverbs 26:4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. 5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.

Paul is willing to be thought a fool if that is what it takes to get their attention, to point out their folly and call them back to single-hearted devotion to the real Jesus. The Corinthians are wise in their own eyes, and need a little humbling.

He said in verse 1 of this chapter:

2 Corinthians 11:1 I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me!

And then (11:7-15) he boasted about humbling himself by serving them free of charge. Here in verse 16, he comes back to ask permission to do some foolish boasting.

2 Corinthians 11:16 I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. 17 What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. 19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that.

Paul is willing to be considered a fool for Christ’s sake (1Cor.4:10), to let them think they are wise, if that is what it takes to reach them.

Paul has just exposed the false teachers for who they are, wolves in sheep’s clothing. Paul is now willing to be a lamb in wolves clothing if they will put up with him that way, but he lifts up the disguise and tells them in advance that is what he is doing.

According to the Flesh, Not the Lord

Paul is about to launch into what he considers foolish boasting, and he makes it clear that what he says, he says ‘not according to the Lord’, because many are boasting according to the flesh. Back in 1:17 they were accusing Paul of making his plans according to the flesh, and in 10:2 some suspect him of walking according to the flesh. But, he says

2 Corinthians 10:3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

Here he contrasts boasting according to the flesh with speaking according to the Lord. More often (Rom.8:4-5, 12-13; Gal.4:23, 29) Paul juxtaposes living or walking according to the flesh with living or walking according to the Spirit. But here he contrasts speaking in line with the way the Lord would speak against boasting after the manner of the flesh, after a merely human, worldly pattern. This is the way unbelieving people boast, and it is foolish. It is not the way Jesus taught me to speak. “Our Lord was no boaster, and his Spirit does not lead any one to boast” [Hodge, p.266]. Carson writes: “Although no one ever made higher claims for himself than did Jesus, he uttered those claims not as a mortal vainly striving for equality with God, but as the self-emptied Son bent on the business of bringing salvation to condemned sinners” (Carson, p.109-110]. Jesus taught us wisdom that is not of this world, indeed contrary to the principles of this world.

In chapter 10, Paul refused to boast beyond limits, but only in what the Lord had assigned to him. He says

2 Corinthians 10:17 “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (cf. 1Cor.1:31)

Citing Jeremiah 9

Jeremiah 9:23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

Speaking according to the Lord is boasting in the Lord. Alone. He is about to boast in verse 22 in his own ethnic heritage, language, culture and religious upbringing. But this is foolish fleshly boasting, and he wants us all to know that it is not speaking as the Lord would speak. It is not boasting only in the cross. It is according to the flesh, and it is folly.

Bearing With Abusive Leadership

Verses 19-20 are in several ways parallel to verse 4. He frames both sections with an ‘if’; if one comes, if someone does these things, as is actually happening, you put up with it. You bear it well, even gladly.

Verse 4 exposes the false teaching of the false apostles. He pulls back the disguise and shows them that they come preaching another Jesus, not the Jesus the apostles proclaimed, a different spirit, one you did not receive, a different gospel which you did not accept.

Verse 19 is a slap in the face, saying sarcastically that you are so wise that you gladly bear with fools. And in verse 20 he exposes the corrosive character of the false apostles. You put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone devours, if someone takes, if someone self-exalts, if someone strikes your face. This is the abuse they were gladly bearing with.

Notice, Paul is not directly rebuking the false apostles. He is rebuking the church for embracing and following and supporting bad leaders. Bad leaders can’t lead if no one will follow them, if no one will support them. He already said in verse 15 ‘Their end will correspond to their deeds’, both the end of the false teachers and those who follow them. God will judge the false apostles. But the Corinthians should know better than to follow them. They should recognize them by their fruits, and their character is rotten to the core. They are enslaving you, devouring, taking, self-exalting, striking you the face. And you are putting up with it!

Enslaving You

No one can serve two masters (Mt.6:24). Paul says in Romans 6 that you are slaves to the one you obey. He said:

2 Corinthians 1:24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.

Paul stands in stark contrast to these servants of Satan who are taking them captive to serve themselves. Paul will not bully or domineer them, but instead he pursues their genuine joy as he has betrothed them to one husband, to Christ (11:2). He said:

2 Corinthians 4:5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

Where the false teachers fight for the position of lord over them, Paul is glad to humble himself to serve them for the Lord’s sake.


False teachers devour. Fire devours. The satanic birds in Jesus’ parable devour the gospel seed so it can’t take root (Lk.8:5) The hypocritical scribes and Pharisees devour widow’s houses (Lk.20:47), and the prodigal son devoured his father’s property with prostitutes (Lk.15:30). The false teachers make a practice of parasitic violence and exploitation. Sam Storms writes:

“True, godly, Spirit-filled leaders don’t exist for you to serve them. They exist to serve you! This was the precedent set by Jesus who said of himself that he ‘came not to be served but to serve’ (Matt.28:20). Leaders aren’t placed in the body of Christ so that their reputation, lifestyle, and bank account can increase at the expense of those who are led. Leaders lead so that those led might be ever more conformed to the image of Christ. And if such comes only at great cost to those in authority, so be it, for Jesus served his own by giving ‘his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt.28:20).” [Storms, p.164];


False teachers take advantage. To take or to receive is a very common word used in lots of positive and neutral contexts. But it can also be used in negative contexts for a violent seizing, as in Jesus’ parable of the tenants who took the master’s servants

Mattthew 21:35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.

And when he sent his own son,

Matthew 21:39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Here it is used in the context of the false apostles seizing or laying hands on or taking advantage of. Paul used this word in verse 8 of robbing other churches by taking support from them. In 12:16 it is translated ‘got the better of you’; he is accused of cunning, taking them by deceit.

2 Corinthians 12:16 But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit.


The false apostles lift themselves up. They put on airs, they arrogantly boast. In the last chapter (10:5) Paul said he wages spiritual warfare tearing down every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.

Isaiah 2:11 The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day. 12 For the LORD of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low;

Striking You in the Face

Paul says they even go so far as to strike you in the face. Jesus used this word when one of the officers of the high priest struck him with his hand (Jn.18:23), and those holding Jesus in Jewish custody were mocking and beating him (Lk.22:63).

Most today take this as “almost certainly metaphorical language to refer to any kind of humiliating treatment” [Carson, p.111]. Except we know ‘religious leaders of the day at times punished offenders by slapping them’ [Guthrie, BECNT p.541] (cf. Acts 23:2).

And we see today’s false teachers who have people come forward so they can strike them on the face or push them to knock them down, allegedly ‘slaying them with the spirit’.

This puts what Paul said back in chapter 7 in context;

2 Corinthians 7:2 Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.

You gladly bear with fools who enslave you, who devour, who seize, who self-exalt, who strike you in the face. This is a ‘stunning disclosure of the aggressive authoritarianism and overbearing leadership tactics of the intruders.’ [Storms, p.163]

Shame and Weakness

2 Corinthians 11:16 I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. 17 What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. 19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

Paul has exposed the corrupt character of the false apostles. The Corinthians should be ashamed that they had been duped and taken advantage of, abused and shamefully treated. But Paul takes the shame on himself. It is his to his shame, he says sarcastically, that he was too weak to take advantage of them in that way. He was too weak to bully them, to lord it over them, to forcefully domineer. He was weak with the meekness and gentleness, the humility of Christ (10:1). He shows by his example that weakness is the way.

Matthew 20:28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Paul is weak, and he will go on to boast in his weakness, because it is the path of following Jesus.

Fool’s Boldness

2 Corinthians 11:21 …But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that.

Even in Paul’s weakness and dishonor, he is bold. In whatever someone is bold he is also bold. And he qualifies this; he is speaking foolishness. He said back in

2 Corinthians 10:2 I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh.

Paul is weak, he begs that he will not have to show the boldness he fears he will have to show when he visits. He says in 10:12

2 Corinthians 10:12 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.

He isn’t bold enough, he doesn’t dare to measure himself by others. Those who do, he says, are without understanding. Here he foolishly dares to boast of whatever another dares to boast of. He is willing to put on the wolf’s clothing in order to show that he is not in the least inferior (11:5), yet in his heart he is harmless as a dove (Mt.10:16).

Paul puts on the wolf’s clothing to caricature the wolves, to expose their character and wake up the sheep to set them free from their clutches.

Matthew 7:15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.


Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

November 18, 2020 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment