Real Power Through Real Weakness (2 Corinthians 11:16-13:14)

"I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses..." (2 Cor 12:9). "I will boast of the things that show my weakness" (2 Cor 11:30).

: The backdrop of 2 Corinthians is the devastating assault on the Corinthian church by the "super-apostles," who virtually accused Paul of everything bad/evil under the sun. This devastated Paul, who found comfort and the power of God in his utter helplessness. Thus, the theme of 2 Corinthians is "Out of weakness comes strength" (God's Power Expressed Through Man's Weakness). This is one of Christianity's countless confounding paradoxes.

What's the Problem with Paradoxes? The problem with a paradox is that Christians understand it and agree with it in principle, but practically it seems impossible to truly put it into practice. Thus, though you like the paradox, you do not experience it as a reality, because you are unable to live it out. How does strength come out of weakness?

Some Paradoxes: Here are some of the paradoxes that are common in Christianity:

  • If you die, you live. If you try to live, you die.
  • If you work hard, you will live easy. If you live easy, your life will be hard.
  • If you live poorly, you're rich. If you try to be rich, you're poor, no matter how much you have.
  • If you limit yourself, you're free. But if you live without limits, you're a slave.
  • If you listen, you're heard. If you demand to be heard, no one listens to you.
  • If you give up control, you have authority. If you're authoritarian, you loose control.
  • If you're humble, you're exalted. If you want to be exalted, you're humbled.
  • If you expose your weakness, you experience power. If you conceal your weakness, you loose your power, even if you have might.
Paul concludes 2 Corinthians by gladly boasting about his weaknesses, so that God's power may be manifest through his weakness in the following ways:
  1. Weakness as a Fool Through Suffering (2 Cor 11:16-33).
  2. Weakness Through a Thorn/Stake (2 Cor 12:1-10).
  3. Weakness in Love for the Church (2 Cor 12:11-21).
  4. Final Warning: Examine yourself (2 Cor 13:1-14).
2 Corinthians is Paul's 4th letter to the church at Corinth. The 1st letter is lost (1 Cor 5:9), and the 3rd letter, known as the "severe letter" (2 Cor 2:3-4), is also lost. What we have is Paul's 2nd and 4th letter, which is known to us as 1 and 2 Corinthians.

Understanding 2 Corinthians requires a knowledge of the context and circumstances as to why Paul wrote it. Paul was being severely criticized by some who regarded themselves highly (2 Cor 10:12) as elite and special "super-apostles" (2 Cor 11:5; 2 Cor 12:11). They undermined Paul's credibility not only as an apostle and a Christian, but also as a human being. So Paul wrote this letter to encourage them (chap 1-9) and to defend himself by "boasting" about his credentials, and about what God has done through him and revealed to him (chap 10-13).

Paul was clearly against boasting (2 Cor 12:1). Yet he boasted, not because he wanted to defend himself, but because he wanted to build up the gullible Christians (2 Cor 10:8, 12:19) who were being swayed by the defective teachings of the super-apostles (2 Cor 11:4).


  1. Weakness as a Fool: Why might Paul have repeated the word "fool(s)" or "foolish(ness)" 11 times (1 Cor 1:18,20,21,23,25,27; 2:14; 3:18,18; 4:10; 15:36) + 8 times (2 Cor 11:1,16,17,19,21; 12:6,11)? How did Paul show his "foolishness" (2 Cor 11:16-33)?
  2. Weakness through a Thorn: Why did Paul write in the 3rd person (2 Cor 12:1-6)? Is it good to boast (2 Cor 12:1,5-6)? What did God want to teach Paul through his thorn/stake (2 Cor 12:7-10)?
  3. Weakness in Love for the Church: How did Paul not burden them (2 Cor 12:11-18; 11:7-11)? Why did Paul defend himself (2 Cor 12:19-21; 10:8)?
  4. Final warnings: Why should we examine ourselves (2 Cor 13:1-10)? What can we learn from Paul's final greetings and his Trinitarian blessing (2 Cor 13:11-14; Mt 28:19; 2 Thes 2:13-14; Rev 1:4-5)?
The Message of 2 Corinthians, Paul Barnett, The Bible Speaks Today, 1988.
2 Corinthians, John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary, 2003.


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