Tolerating Fools Gladly

Robert Wurtz II

For you tolerate fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise! For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face. To our shame I say that we were too weak for that! (2 Corinthians 11:19–21b)

Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? (2 Corinthians 11:29 NKJV)

The late great Greek scholar A.T. Robertson explains that Paul was speaking to the Corinthians “with a sarcasm that cut to the bone.” He said (in effect) that they gladly tolerated tyranny, extortion, craftiness, arrogance, violence, and insult. Why did they allow this? We are not told except this simple statement, “(…) you tolerate fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise!” Apparently, they thought it was wisdom to keep on putting up with these type of people. Amazing!

At the time of this epistle, the Pharisees were moving towards the “strangle hold” we know today as Rabbinic Judaism. It is likely that Paul is dealing with Judaizers in this epistle. Matthew Henry passes this comment, “Notwithstanding all your wisdom, you willingly suffer yourselves to be brought into bondage under the Jewish yoke, or suffer others to tyrannize over you; nay, to devour you, or make a prey of you, and take of you hire for their own advantage, and to exalt themselves above you, and lord it over you; nay, even to smite you on the face, or impose upon you to your very faces.” These words leave the impression that the church at Corinth was being treated like children at best or animals at worst. Why was it happening?

Understand that within 30-40 years, the Pharisee’s dream of having total control of the people would be realized. In fact, when Rabbinic Judaism was started at Yavneh (Jamnia CE 70), the Rabbis assumed near total control of the spiritual lives of the Jews. They reserved the right to interpret dreams and could overrule a prophet. Before it was over with, the Rabbis’ reserved the right to overrule God Himself! The basis for their power grab? “It is not in heaven,” they said. That’s right. They said that God passed the authority to them. Really? No kidding. It may seem ridiculous to us as Christians, but it happened and it is still happening. These devilish men found a way to insert themselves between God and people. This is a major reason why so few Jews have come to Christ over the last 2000 years. They are locked up — not in the Judaism of the time of Jesus — but in Rabbinic Judaism. Paul was fighting that controlling spirit in 2 Corinthians.

People can really be gullible. Sometimes men and women who are in reputation for wisdom can behave like the blind fools who deceive them. What did Paul say, For you tolerate fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise! Clearly, he is rebuking them for their capitulation. I would argue that he is even mocking them. I get the impression that he is being as nice as he can be, but their flagrantly inept handling of these trouble-makers made them look foolish and mock-worthy. Perhaps by using such piercing words he could arouse their attention and get them to take the blinders off.

Finally, Paul has to break down and give a list of his experiences to combat the nonsense the deceivers were feeding the people. His life story reads more like a decade’s long nightmare (in one sense). He had been beaten 39 stripes (the same as our Lord before the crucifixion) on five different occasions. Doctors at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota once published an article in JAMA stating that one such beating would have landed a person (clinically) in serious condition. Three times he was beaten with Rods and once stoned almost to death (for starters). He continues, 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. (2 Cor 11:25B-27 ESV)

On top of these and many more things he states, And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:28 ESV) Paul was forever concerned about people (like the man the Corinthians gladly tolerated) coming in and destroying the churches that he had planted. And I suggest this one characteristic surpasses all the rest… that Paul was desperately concerned about the condition of the churches. Some ministers are like the harlot in 1 Kings 3:16 who would rather see the child cut to pieces. They don’t have a motherly concern for the churches like Paul did (1 Thess. 2:7). They will rip and tear until there is nothing left. Yet Paul follows up these thoughts with a great question, “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” (2 Corinthians 11:29 ESV)

Indignant is translated from a Greek word that means to burn. We might say today, he “got heated.” And rightly so. When people are causing others to stumble in the faith because of their foolishness, we should be angry about that. If we’re not, there is something seriously wrong with us. Yet, the Corinthians could seem to care less. What did Paul say, For you tolerate fools gladly. Deceivers and destroyers came in — putting the entire church at risk — and nobody said a word. The Greek word translated as gladly could have been translated as “with pleasure.” They liked it! Is that not astounding? How could that be? Nevertheless, what could Paul do? It was up to the people to stop “gladly tolerating,” “enjoying,” or “finding pleasure” in the trouble makers enough to finally do something. Paul used everything in his power to wake them up — including giving them that long list of trials — and now it would be up to them. At some point, the people would either do something or the church would have been completely destroyed. Tolerate Fools Gladly? Do so and they will destroy the “child.” It’s only a matter of time.

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