In these verses the apostle addresses himself to the Corinthians two ways:—
I. He blames them for what was faulty in them; namely, that they had not stood up in his defence as they ought to have done, and so made it the more needful for him to insist so much on his own vindication. They in manner compelled him to commend himself, who ought to have been commended of them 2 Cor. 12:11. And had they, or some among them, not failed on their part, it would have been less needful for him to have said so much on his own behalf. He tells them further that they in particular had good reason to speak well of him, as being in nothing behind the very chief apostles, because he had given them full proof and evidence of his apostleship; for the signs of an apostle were wrought among them in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. Note, 1. It is a debt we owe to good men to stand up in the defence of their reputation; and we are under special obligations to those we have received benefit by, especially spiritual benefit, to own them as instruments in God’s hand of good to us, and to vindicate them when they are calumniated by others. 2. How much soever we are, or ought to be, esteemed by others, we ought always to think humbly of ourselves. See an example of this in this great apostle, who thought himself to be nothing, though in truth he was not behind the greatest apostles—so far was he from seeking praise from men, though he tells them their duty to vindicate his reputation—so far was he from applauding himself, when he was forced to insist upon his own necessary self-defence.
II. He gives a large account of his behaviour and kind intentions towards them, in which we may observe the character of a faithful minister of the gospel. 1. He was not willing to be burdensome to them, nor did he seek theirs, but them. He says (2 Cor. 12:13) he had not been burdensome to them, for the time past, and tells them (2 Cor. 12:14) he would not be burdensome to them for the time to come, when he should come to them. He spared their purses, and did not covet their money: I seek not yours but you. He sought not to enrich himself, but to save their souls: he did not desire to make a property of them to himself, but to gain them over to Christ, whose servant he was. Note, Those who aim at clothing themselves with the fleece of the flock, and take no care of the sheep, are hirelings, and not good shepherds. 2. He would gladly spend and be spent for them (2 Cor. 12:15); that is, he was willing to take pains and to suffer loss for their good. He would spend his time, his parts, his strength, his interest, his all, to do them service; nay, so spend as to be spent, and be like a candle, which consumes itself to give light to others. 3. He did not abate in his love to them, notwithstanding their unkindness and ingratitude to him; and therefore was contented and glad to take pains with them, though the more abundantly he loved them the less he was loved, 2 Cor. 12:15. This is applicable to other relations: if others be wanting in their duty to us it does not follow therefore that we may neglect our duty to them. 4. He was careful not only that he himself should not be burdensome, but that none he employed should. This seems to be the meaning of what we read, 2 Cor. 12:16-18. If it should be objected by any that though he did not himself burden them, yet, being crafty, he caught them with guile, that is, he sent those among them who pillaged them, and afterwards he shared with them in the profit: “This was not so,” says the apostle; “I did not make a gain of you myself, nor by any of those whom I sent; nor did Titus, nor any others—We walked by the same spirit and in the same steps.” They all agreed in this matter to do them all the good they could, without being burdensome to them, to promote the gospel among them and make it as easy to them as possible. Or, this may be read with an interrogation, as utterly disclaiming any guile in himself and others towards them. 5. He was a man who did all things for edifying, 2 Cor. 12:19. This was his great aim and design, to do good, to lay the foundation well, and then with care and diligence to build the superstructure. 6. He would not shrink from his duty for fear of displeasing them, though he was so careful to make himself easy to them. Therefore he was resolved to be faithful in reproving sin, though he was therein found to be such as they would not, 2 Cor. 12:20. The apostle here mentions several sins that are too commonly found among professors of religion, and are very reprovable: debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults; and, though those who are guilty of these sins can hardly bear to be reproved for them, yet faithful ministers must not fear offending the guilty by sharp reproofs, as they are needful, in public and in private. 7. He was grieved at the apprehension that he should find scandalous sins among them not duly repented of. This, he tells them, would be the cause of great humiliation and lamentation. Note, (1.) The falls and miscarriages of professors cannot but be a humbling consideration to a good minister; and God sometimes takes this way to humble those who might be under temptation to be lifted up: I fear lest my God will humble me among you. (2.) We have reason to bewail those who sin and do not repent, to bewail many that have sinned, and have not repented, 2 Cor. 12:21. If these have not, as yet, grace to mourn and lament their own case, their case is the more lamentable; and those who love God, and love them, should mourn for them.