[11] I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. [12] The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. [13] For in what were you less favoured than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!

2 Corinthians 12:11-13

Having taken so much criticism about his credentials as an apostle, Paul now comes out fighting. “You forced me into boasting.”

“You made me look a fool.” The fact is he never wanted to speak and act like this. “You know me and my ways, yet when my opposers spoke in Corinth, maligning my character and undermining my authority, you not only kept your mouths shut, you actually agreed with them!”

So what were the charges against Paul?

  1. Some were alleging that he was inferior to these so-called “super apostles” and had failed to provide evidence of his apostolic calling.
  2. As a result of his ministry the Corinthians were actually worse off than before.

Paul replies with a brief explanation as to why he was, in no respect, inferior to these super-apostles. He explains that the true signs were performed amongst them. He sets the base line for true apostleship “I am nothing” (vs 12). Meaning whatever accomplishments you compel me to mention or remind you of, it was nothing of me, it was all God’s work through me.

But what then are the true signs of an apostle? Are they just powerful signs and wonders, mighty works, miracles? As the ESV more accurately translates, Paul asserts that the signs of a true apostle were performed among you “with [or accompanied by] signs and wonders and mighty works.” It is true that the apostles of Christ ministered with signs and wonders but is also true that non apostles also ministered with signs and wonders and there are various references to the fact (Stephen, Philip, Ananias, Agabus and many more). Paul does list amongst the gifts distributed to the body “workers of miracles (1 Corinthians 12:10, so non apostles.

The words signs, wonders and mighty works are found in serval places in the New Testament. In our passage and also Acts 2:22, Romans 5:19, 2 Thessalonians 2:9 and Hebrews 2:4. I guess the best way to distinguish them is to say that a sign authenticates and points to something spiritually significant beyond themselves. A wonder or “a marvel” stirs awe and amazement. Mighty works or “powers” display the omnipotence of God.

My point being yes we find apostles ministering in signs, wonders and mighty works but they are not exclusive to an apostle. We can rightfully say that signs, wonders and mighty works were a feature of an apostolic ministry but they are not the only feature. In Paul’s case, he reminds the Corinthians that signs, wonders and mighty works accompanied his ministry in their midst. Meaning not only did they see them but many of them had benefited from them. What Paul does not do in this passage is give us a broader view of the signs of a true apostle. We have to search the New Testament for that.

We see success in ministry (1 Corinthians 9:1-2, 2 Corinthians 3:1-3). Paul often appealed to the reality of their salvation through his ministry as evidence of his apostolic calling.

We have said signs, wonders, and mighty works, we probably don’t need to discuss that any further.

We find extreme sufferings. (Colossians 1:24, 2 Corinthians 4:7-15, 2 Corinthians 11:23-33).

A Christ-like life and humility (2 Corinthians 1:12, 2 Corinthians 2:17, 2 Corinthians 3:4-6, there are many more verses).

An insight into divine mysteries (Ephesians 3:16, 1 Timothy 3:16, Romans 11:25-32, 2 Corinthians 12:1-4).

Clear authority and power (Acts 5:1-11, 1 Corinthians 4:18-21, 2 Corinthians 10:8, 1 Timothy 1:20).

A God-orchestrated stigma (1 Corinthians 4:9-13, 2 Corinthians 6:3-10, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10).

It’s true that the above list does not make you an apostle and there are people who are not apostolic who also characterise these things. Also Paul’s argument here in this passage is not apostolic vs non apostolic but true apostles vs false apostles. The appeal from Paul to the church in Corinth is to contrast between genuine Christian apostles through whom the Holy Spirit worked and non-Christian pretenders to the apostolic office, through whom the Holy Spirit did not work at all.

What we can say however is that the Corinthians evidently wanted miracles without suffering and triumphs without trials. But Paul makes it clear that the true apostle, as well as the miracles that accompanied his ministry in Corinth, were not a stage performance but set in the context of endurance of extreme suffering (2 Corinthians 11:23-33).

Paul says that the signs of a true apostle were “performed” or were “produced” among you. The meaning errs towards a show today or performance but in reality it means that God performed or produced the signs through Paul.

[18] For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed,

Romans 15:18

The second accusation was that as a result of Paul’s ministry the Corinthians were actually worse off than before. (Laughable really).

Verse 13 For in what were you less favoured than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you?

What had Paul done wrong? If you read though the verses then the only conclusion you can find is that the only “sign” or “mark” of a “so called” apostle that was missing in Corinth was his determination to work and not be a financial burden to them! “ So my refusal to take your money, and my determination to work hard for your sakes, is interpreted by you as proof that I regard you as less important and less valuable than other churches. Incredible, come on!”

D A Carson

A mark or characteristic must be present in some sense; but a right need not be, since it might be cheerfully abandoned for some purpose of strategy, generosity, [or] goodness. The Corinthians’ error lay in transforming an apostolic right that Paul chose to forego into a necessary mark or qualification of apostolic office. Their error was a particular form of majoring in the minors

Once again we see the destructive consequences of a worldly view of church, even today apostles are in danger of viewing themselves as CEO’s as are the people in the pew. What rings out so loudly and clearly are these words “I myself did not burden you.” The church was not there to promote Paul and Paul was not a burden to the church. How much should an apostle cost? When standards of success or authenticity are derived from the world and its warped perspective, the church will lose its way. Things such as suffering, weakness, humility, and holiness may not put your name in the headlines or on the blog priority list (I know this) but they are the signs of true apostles, and as apostles their sole aim is to magnify Christ and diminish self.