19 For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise! 20 For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face. 21 To our shame I say that we were too weak for that! But in whatever anyone is bold—I speak foolishly—I am bold also.
Verses 19 through 21a Paul scathingly mocks Corinthians’ wisdom. Paul leaves his argument against the false apostles for a moment to address the church at Corinth. His tone is ironical and scathing.
For you put up with fools gladly,
This phrase expresses sarcasm. The church “gladly” imbibed false teaching. They could not discern between truth and error.
since you yourselves are wise!
The wisdom of the Corinthian church was in doubt, but Paul asserts that in a sarcastic way. They were foolish to believe false teachers. Ironically, they considered themselves wise.
For you put up with it
Paul now gives five examples of how false teachers maltreated the church.
if one brings you into bondage,
The false apostles brought the church “into bondage.” They were legalists, and legalism brings people into slavery (Ga 2:4).
if one devours [exploit] you,
The false teachers exploited the Corinthians for their own ends. They may have bullied the church into giving them significant amounts of money.
if one takes from you,
The phonies took advantage of the Corinthians’ good will. They plundered the church’s resources.
if one exalts himself,
False teachers exalted themselves by putting on airs. False apostles dominated the Corinthians.
if one strikes you on the face.
Accepting the heretical teaching is like someone hitting them in the face. This is to be insulted.
To our shame I say that we were too weak for that!
The phrase here is a tongue-in-cheek expression. Paul speaks as if his team experiences disparagement. Paul’s team was too weak for deceptive methods. They served genuinely. They would not stoop to the level of imposing the five maltreatments on the Corinthians.
But in whatever anyone is bold—I speak foolishly—I am bold also.
Since the false apostles were bold, Paul will speak foolishly in the following verses (11:22ff) by being assertive. He outstripped his enemies on their terms.
Tolerance can enslave.
Sometimes we have to answer a fool according to his folly, lest he becomes wise in his own eyes (Prov 26:5). At times it is necessary to communicate on the level to the crowd to whom you are speaking. When the church tolerates error, it is necessary to show them the waywardness of their ideas by drawing out conclusions based on false doctrine.
The church today needs to see their so-called vaunted tolerance has enslaved them to a severe folly. What Christians deem wisdom in unlimited tolerance is sheer foolishness. What the church believes to be wise and discerning has reduced them to fools. Certain believers have become blind to their lack of discernment (1 Co 4:10). This tolerance led the church into slavery, a slavery that diminished God’s grace (Ga 2:4; 5:1).