A number of times up to this point Paul has been forced to talk about himself in a way that may appear to be foolish boasting. But the Corinthian church had forced Paul to argue on this level since they were following false teachers based on their self-boasting. Despite the risk involved in speaking this way, Paul refused to let the Corinthians believe that his ministry and teaching were inferior to that of the so-called "super apostles".
When Paul says that he is "nothing" in verse 11, this can either be attributed to humility on his part, or the fact that philosophers of this time referred to public speakers as "nobodies". In the latter case, Paul would be acknowledging his socially low status while defending the content of his ministry.(v.11)
Paul reminds the Corinthians of the signs, wonders and miracles done by him in their presence that validate his ministry. The silent implication is that these elements were absent from the false teachers.(v.12) Paul did not act less like an apostle with the Corinthian church in any way except that he did not burden them with an expectation of financial support. Paul is noticeably sarcastic when he says, "Forgive me for this wrong!"(v.13, and see also 11:9)
Paul says that when he comes to visit them again, he will continue to avoid being a financial burden. He wants to emphasize that he is not after their money. He wants the Corinthians themselves. Spiritually, Paul is their father and so views them as dependent on him, rather than the other way around. (v.14)
It's easy to look at relationships in terms of what we can get out of them. But Paul's interaction with others was focused on what he could offer to them. And although Paul valued their love for him, his reasoning was that they would love him more if he loved them more.(v.15)
Even if they did not love or support Paul, however, he refused to be a financial burden to them. Though they have still been at least partially convinced by false teachers that Paul has craftily deceived them. (v.16)
In addition to defending himself, Paul goes on to defend those sent on his behalf. He asks them to evaluate their own memories of those who visited them for Paul, asking themselves if they had been taken advantage of in any way.(v.18)
Although Paul has spent a lot of time defending himself, he says that ultimately he is most concerned with building them up according to the will of Christ. (v.19) He wants to restore his relationship with them so that when he comes they will be on good terms and their time together will not result in "strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance [and] disturbances" in the community. (v.20)
It's important to recognize, as Paul did, that every relationship we have is an opportunity to build someone up in service to the will of Christ. It's not enough to push conflict under the rug and be content with superficial tolerance and politeness. Areas of conflict or misunderstanding need to be addressed so that relationships can become both enjoyable and spiritually productive again.
Paul was concerned that this wouldn't be the case however. He was concerned that God would humble him in their presence, presumably through a difficult experience being with them, and that Paul would be saddened over the ongoing, un-repented sin going on in the Corinthian church community.(v.21)
Relationships are vital to the Christian life. When we cut ourselves off from them, we more easily fall into self-destructive behavior and our spiritual life stagnates or even shrinks. Consider who you can spend more time with that will ultimately result in spiritual growth for both of you.
Next Week- Paul's Ultimatum
Coffee House Question- What tends to prevent you from becoming closer to other Christians? What role might you play in counteracting this?