For an introduction to this series, click here.
Paul's sense of irony comes to the forefront early in this chapter:
"I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles." (11:1-5)
Read on: "Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God's gospel to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way." (11:7-9)
Paul says here that the Corinthians were being led astray by hucksters claiming to be apostles. It seems that even the first century church had similar problems to ours. These teachers (I love the translation "super-apostles!") were claiming to be apostles but were teaching doctrines contrary to the true Gospel. And they were making a tidy profit by deceiving well-meaning people. Paul points out that apparently some people believed that because they had to pay up-front money for these teachers they were getting somebody really good, as opposed to Paul, who came and taught for nothing.
Now I don't begrudge people who make their living through ministry, but there are some evangelists, traveling singers and others who make up-front demands on churches. They demand a certain gift from the church before they come. They want a certain size ad in the local paper promoting the meeting or concert or a certain number of radio spots on a local radio station. They want a certain level of hotel room or whatever. I've never done that, but it seems to me that a love offering and whatever you can make by selling books and tapes should be enough. Whatever happened to trusting in the Lord to provide your needs?
"And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds." (11:12-15)
Paul dispatches with the irony for a second (he will take it right up again later) and comes out and says that these false teachers are messengers of Satan. No doubt there are messengers of Satan out there on Christian radio and TV today, but most of the time, all we as conservative Christians say is, "Well, we have disagreements." Now there are levels of disagreements, and at some point we need to say to tell people this person is wrong and is doing Satan's work by leading people astray.
"What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not with the Lord's authority but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or someone strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!" (11:17-21)
"But whatever anyone else dares to boast of— I am speaking as a fool— I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one— I am talking like a madman— with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches." (11:21-28, ESV)
Apparently these false teachers were Judaizers, those who said people needed to live like Jews in order to be true Christians. Paul points out that they liked to brag about how they were suffering for Jesus, but Paul never bragged about all he had been through, although many of them were aware of his persecutions and troubles.