“Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly—and indeed you do bear with me” (2 Corinthians 11:1).
The New Testament book of Acts provides us with the account of Paul the Apostle’s conversion to Christianity (see Acts chapter nine). Following Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, the Lord sent a man named Ananias to meet with him. As part of that assignment, Ananias received the following information regarding Paul: “…This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15-16 NIV).
Here in 2 Corinthians chapter eleven, Paul will confirm the accuracy of that prophetic statement with an account of the sufferings he experienced over the course of his ministry. Yet despite his characterization of those hardships as a “boast” in 2 Corinthians 11:16, it’s clear that Paul took no pleasure in volunteering this information. Instead, he prefaced it with the following statement: “Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly…”
This helps us understand how the boasting that appears later in this chapter corresponds with the final sentence of the previous chapter: “You may brag about yourself, but the only approval that counts is the Lord’s approval” (CEV). Although Paul recognized the folly of boasting in one’s accomplishments, he did not do so to gain praise or sympathy from the members of the Corinthian fellowship. Instead, he reluctantly engaged in these boasts in order to demonstrate his apostolic authority and establish the credentials that served to authorize his ministry.
One commentator explains this approach in the following manner: “The boasting that Paul is about to engage in stands as an apparent contradiction to what he has said in 10:17–18. Thus, at the outset, he must present the basis for his boast (11:1–15). This he follows with the proof of his boast (vss. 16–33). Then he relates the consequences of his boast (12:1–10).” (1)
Biblical commentators sometimes refer to this portion of 2 Corinthians as “The Fool’s Speech” for Paul will repeatedly characterize his boasting in terms of its foolishness. But as we read through this God-inspired message, we might do well to remember some wisdom from Paul’s earlier letter to the Corinthians: “…the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25 NIV).
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2360). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.