Paul goes on in verses 6-12 to deal with too specific areas of inferiority that his rivals have pointed to: his speaking ability and his lack of financial support. I may not be a trained speaker, Paul says, but I do have knowledge (v. 6). The NIV translation loses the force of the conditional. "Even if, as some claim" is the sense. Paul admits the possibility that he may not be as skilled a speaker as others (ei de kai), but he by no means concedes the point to his critics. The Greek idiwtes ("not trained") refers to someone who has no professional knowledge or expertise in a particular area (that is, a layperson). In Paul's case, the charge is that he lacks expertise "in word" (to logo)—that is, in well-fashioned phrases and lofty-sounding language (compare 10:10: "Some say, `. . . in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing'"). One can assume, then, that some of his rivals, in fact, possessed this expertise and used it to their advantage (Plummer 1915:300).
From 1 Corinthians 1—3 it is clear that the Corinthians placed a great deal of importance on oratorical skill. In this respect they are not much different from many churches today that are more interested in the outward wrapping than with what is in the package. In Paul's judgment, however, his knowledge more than compensated for any perceived lack (v. 6). Gnwsis most likely refers to an understanding of the trutes of the gospel and insight into God's purposes, rather than to a "message of knowledge" spoken during worship for the edification of the church (1 Cor 12:8). It may be, though, that Paul is merely saying that he does "know what [he is] talking about" (Phillips) whereas his rivals do not.
The Corinthians themselves had been endowed with knowledge (1 Cor 1:5). So they should have been the first to recognize that Paul possessed it too, especially since he had made this clear to them in every way possible (v. 6). But like so many of us today, the Corinthians got caught up in the outward form and appearance of things and lost sight of what was truly important.
It also rankled the Corinthians that Paul, unlike his rivals, preached the gospel of God free of charge (v. 7). Why did he do it? The intruders claimed it constituted an admission that he was a second-rate apostle. But Paul categorically denies this (I do not think I am in the least inferior, v. 5). In fact, he has already made it plain to the Corinthians that he waived support so as not to hinder reception of the gospel message (1 Cor 9:12). He did not want the gospel associated with a solicitation for money and rejected for that reason. Paul also refused to accept support in order to undercut the opposition (2 Cor 11:12). Like the Sophists of his day, a fair number of itinerant preachers showed more interest in lining their pockets than in proclaiming the truth. In doing so, they were in effect treating God's message like so much cheap merchandise (2:17 TEV).
Paul's response in verses 7-12 is noted for its biting sarcasm. Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel . . . free of charge? (v. 7). Far from seeking to humiliate the Corinthians, he desired in fact to elevate them. With elevate Paul is probably thinking of the privilege of receiving the gospel and sharing in its riches (Bertram 1972:608). This same thought appears in slightly different form in 8:9, where Paul states that "though [Jesus] was rich, yet for [our] sakes he became poor, so that [we] through his poverty might become rich." Alternatively, he may be thinking of how the Corinthians had been elevated from a life of idolatry and sin (Bratcher 1983:117; M. J. Harris 1976:387).
Their elevation was made possible through Paul's own "lowering." Tapeinos means "low in stature or size." Paul may well be thinking of how he supported himself through a manual trade while planting the church at Corinth. It is quite likely that he came to Corinth initially to ply his trade as a tentmaker prior to the Isthmian games (Acts 18:2-3). He drew on the trade that was native to his home province of Cilicia—working with goats'-hair cloth, which was used to make cloaks, curtains, tents and other articles intended to give protection against the damp. The idea that Paul lowered himself by doing this is not his own. It undoubtedly was the estimate of his critics at Corinth. Within Judaism, manual labor was not denigrated. In fact, it was part of Paul's training as a rabbi that he be able to support himself through some form of manual labor. The attitude in Greek society, however, was quite different—especially among the upper classes. For the educated or the person of high social standing to have to do manual work was considered personally demeaning. The distinction between "blue-collar" (manual laborers) and "white-collar" workers in American society reflects much the same prejudice.
At some point Paul received sufficient funds from the Macedonian churches that he was able to drop his trade and give his full attention to evangelism ("when Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching"—Acts 18:5). His reason for accepting their monetary help, he says, was to be better able to serve the Corinthians (2 Cor 11:8). It was his policy not to accept support from the church at which he was currently ministering. But once he left the area, he felt free to receive monetary gifts. Yet in the case of the Corinthian church, he continued to refuse financial assistance even after his departure.
Paul calls the money he received from the Macedonian believers support that he obtained by "robbery." The term opswnion (literally "what is appointed for buying food") was commonly used in the first century of a soldier's pay or a state official's salary (Heidland 1967c:592). Here it refers to wages that would be one's due for services rendered. Paul says, however, that to receive these wages was in effect to "rob" the Macedonian churches. How so? The verb sylao, occurring only here in the New Testament, is a military term that means to "strip bare" or "deprive [a fallen enemy] of arms." Paul is making a bold statement. His ministry at Corinth was at no cost to the Corinthians because he had, as it were, plundered other churches of their funds instead of expecting the Corinthians to support him. What form this plundering took is debated. Quite likely it means that the Macedonian churches could not afford to give what they did but gave regardless.
Paul also reminds the Corinthians of how even after his personal funds were depleted and he began to feel needy, he still did not burden any of them (v. 9). Hystereo (needed something) means "to lack" or "to go short." During his stay in Corinth Paul reached the point of lacking the basic necessities of life—food, clothing and shelter (compare v. 27).
The life of an itinerant laborer was hard. A craftsman who stayed in one place and developed a regular clientele had to work from sunup to sunset every day to make ends meet. To be constantly on the road, as Paul was, meant that each time he went to a new town he had to start afresh. Opposition from competitors only increased his difficulties (Murphy-O'Connor 1991:112). It is not surprising, then, that he should often have been in want. But he was determined not to burden the Corinthians (v. 9). The verb (katanarkao) means to "press" or "weigh heavily" on someone. Rather than place the burden of his daily needs on the shoulders of the Corinthians, the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what [he] needed (v. 9).
Paul resolutely refused to abandon his policy of offering the gospel free of charge: I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so (v. 9). In fact, his adamancy takes the form of an oath: As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody . . . will stop this boasting of mine (v. 10). Paul calls this refusal to accept support from the Corinthians his "boast"—that is, something he can be proud of. His boasting is not limited to Corinth but extends into the regions of Achaia. The Greek term for "region" (klima) normally refers to a district within the province. Here, though, it denotes the province as a whole (Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich 1979). No one in the province of Achaia will be able to stop this boasting (v. 10). The verb phrassw means to "stop up," "bar" or "stifle." The picture is of a dammed river or a roadblock. No matter what tactics Paul's opponents use, they will never be able to effectively blockade his policy of offering the gospel without charge.
Some suggest that verses 8-10 must be viewed against the patron-client relationship that existed in the first century, where to accept money from a donor was to place oneself under the obligation of gratitude to them (Judge 1980:214; Stambaugh 1986:113-27). If this is the primary background, then Paul refused to accept funds from the Corinthians so as not to put himself in a position of indebtedness to the church. This is not to say that Paul did not see himself as a servant of the church. He affirms this quite strongly elsewhere (1 Cor 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6; 6:4). But it is a known fact that a Christian worker's relationship to a local church changes when he or she moves from volunteer to paid staff. The tentmaking pastor, like Paul, has greater freedom to move in the direction God is leading. The salaried worker may feel obligated to follow the lead of the congregation or the denominational hierarchy. Consequently, staff workers can find themselves in situations where pleasing their church and pleasing the Lord are in conflict.
In verse 7 Paul said that his refusal to live at the Corinthians' expense was driven by a desire to elevate the Corinthians. Now in verse 11 he identifies an additional motive: his deep love for the church. Paul's critics claimed just the opposite. His refusal to accept support was evidence to them that he did not love the Corinthians: Why [do I refuse support]? Because I do not love you? (v. 11). Paul's response once again takes the form of an oath as he calls upon God's knowledge of his heart as a witness in this matter: God knows I do! So far from being a sign of indifference, his refusal to accept support is actually evidence of his love for the Corinthians. It is not as if Paul has not made this abundantly clear to the church. His purpose in writing them a severe letter was so that they might know the depth of his love (2:4). Indeed, they have such a place in his heart that he "would live or die with" them (7:3).
But Paul is away from them now. And his rivals are the ones who have the Corinthians' ear. So he determines that he will keep on doing what he is doing—he will continue to boast in the fact that he preaches the gospel free of charge (11:12). On the surface this statement sounds odd. Did Paul not say at the end of chapter 10 that the person who wants to boast should boast in the Lord (10:18)? In Paul's case, though, the intent is not to draw attention to himself but to undercut the boasting of the Corinthian intruders who wanted to be considered his equals in the ministry: I will keep on doing what I am doing, Paul states, in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about (v. 12).
To cut the ground from is literally "to cut off" (ek + kopto). The image is of severing branches from a tree or cutting trees out of a wood. Today we might use the analogy of pulling the rug out from under someone's feet. The ground or rug that Paul aims to deprive his opponents of is an opportunity to be considered equal with him (v. 12). It is the Corinthians' perception that concerns him. The term aphorme (opportunity) was used in Hellenistic Greek of a starting point or base of operations for an expedition, and then more broadly of the resources needed to carry through on an undertaking. Paul's rivals wanted the church to believe that Corinth was within their legitimate sphere of ministry and hence part of their authorized base of financial support. One can easily see why Paul's policy of waiving support would have caused his rivals some consternation. And while they could assert that such support was a sign of apostolic legitimacy (12:11-13) or that Paul's refusal was evidence that he did not care about the Corinthians (11:11), the fact remained that they were a financial burden and he was not (Plummer 1915:308). Sooner or later the Corinthians would come to realize this.