“Since it’s common for people to brag, I’ll do it too. You’re wise, so you’ll gladly put up with fools. When someone makes you slaves, consumes your wealth, seizes your property, orders you around, or slaps your faces, you put up with it. I’m ashamed to admit it, but Timothy and I don’t have the strength to do those things to you. Whatever other people dare to brag about, I, like a fool, can also brag about” (2 Corinthians 11:18-21 GW)
As uncomfortable as it may be to consider it, it appears that there some among the false apostles in Corinth who were physically abusive towards the members of the church: “When someone… slaps your faces, you put up with it.”
In a manner reminiscent of the high priest who once ordered Paul the Apostle to be struck on the mouth for making an allegedly inappropriate comment, its possible that such behavior carried over to the first century church as well. Perhaps this is why “striking” is found among the list of disqualifications for pastoral leaders in the New Testament epistle of Titus (1:7)
With the possible exception of a cultic organization, a spiritual leader who slapped the face of a congregant would likely face a civil lawsuit in many countries throughout the world today. This may explain why we do not see many examples of such behavior today. However, this type of mindset might lead to other forms of humiliation and are therefore inappropriate for God-honoring leaders.
So having completed this list of identifying qualities, the Apostle Paul continued to wield the literary tool of sarcasm to help focus his readers’ attention: “To our shame I say that we were too weak for that!” In other words, Paul (and those who served with him) were too “weak” to bully the Corinthians and treat them in such a tyrannical manner. One commentator summarizes this idea with the following observation…
“If arrogance, greed, deceit, tyranny, oppression and the robbery of Christians of their wealth are marks of true Christian oversight, Paul was willing to admit that in those categories he had indeed fallen somewhat behind the super-apostles who were plundering the church of God at Corinth. This is sarcastic irony.” (1)
Finally, the overall characteristics given to us here in 2 Corinthians 11:18-21 are consistent with various forms of abusive leadership. A church or religious institution marked by these qualities is not one that adheres to a Biblical leadership model- and we should not be so foolish as to continue in a spiritual organization that is distinguished by these features.
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11:21”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament“. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/2-corinthians-11.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.