“I have become a fool in boasting; you have compelled me. For I ought to have been commended by you; for in nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles, though I am nothing” (2 Corinthians 12:11).
“‘Now,’ he says, ‘my folly is over. That I should have indulged in it is your fault, not mine.'” (1)
William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It contains one of the best known lines in all his literary works: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts.” (2) Much like the character who spoke these famous lines, the Apostle Paul has also played a part before the Corinthian “audience” over the previous twenty-eight verses of this epistle.
Paul’s role was to play the fool, boasting of his ministry credentials in an effort to counter the influence of the false apostles who had infiltrated the Corinthian fellowship. But 2 Corinthians 12:11 marks the end of that performance. Its clear that Paul was uncomfortable in this role; in fact, he never would have engaged in such a performance if the members of the Corinthian church had not compelled him to do so.
If it were not for the inaction of the Corinthians in defending him, Paul could have spent a larger portion of this letter encouraging the congregation and working to edify them. Instead, he was forced to open himself to a charge of self-promotion in boasting of his credentials- and all because the members of the Corinthian church refused to acknowledge Paul’s apostolic authority despite the evidence he will go on to provide in the following verse.
But just as an actor may return to the stage to offer a fitting conclusion to a dramatic work, Paul will offer a coda to his performance of “The Fool’s Speech” here in 2 Corinthians 11:28: “…I am not at all inferior to these ‘super apostles,’ even though I am nothing at all” (NLT). This sentiment would later be echoed by Martin Luther who is widely quoted as saying, ‘God creates out of nothing. Therefore until man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.”
This doesn’t mean that Paul was lacking in human value but it does imply his recognition of a larger truth, one that he shared with the members of the Philippian church: “…it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
(1) Meyer, Frederick Brotherton. “Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:4”. “F. B. Meyer’s ‘Through the Bible’ Commentary”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbm/2-corinthians-12.html. 1914.
(2) William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II Scene VII