This seems like a passage that has two key applications – one for pastors and one for congregations.
Paul was a pastor desperately trying to show his church that he loved them. The false teachers and apostles were disparaging Paul. They seemed to be saying Paul was weak and foolish – and that he didn’t love the Corinthians Christians. After all, if Paul loved the Corinthians Christians, he would have accepted financial help from them. This is what teachers did in those days.
I don’t know why Paul didn’t accept the Corinthians’ money while at the same time he was happy to accept the financial help of others – like the Macedonians. Paul doesn’t explain himself in that area. But he makes clear his love for the church in Corinth.
He seems perturbed the church would fall so easily into the hands of preachers who were teaching “another Jesus” and “a different gospel.” These so-called “super-apostles” came in among the Corinthians Christians boasting of their achievements and spirituality and – if we can read between the lines – were a lot like the prosperity gospel preachers of today and were disguised as “servants of righteousness.”
And Paul wanted to win the Corinthian Christians back to Jesus. It was never a matter of winning them back to himself. He admits to being weak, to being a poor speaker, to being in need. He doesn’t boast in himself. But he sees the Corinthians as people who had been “betrothed” to Christ, and they were looking over their shoulders at other options.
Pastors need to read this text and wonder about their own passion for the congregations they serve. Can we honestly assess the spiritual condition of our churches? Are the people moving closer to Christ or being pulled by any unseen (or seen!) forces away from him? And do we have the desire to plead with the church that it cling more closely to Christ?
Meanwhile, congregations – all of us – need to consider what kinds of teachings we are consuming. Are these things false teachings? Are we listening to false prophets and false apostles and people preaching a different Jesus? And do we have the mental fortitude to put our feet down and call those things as they are – “deceitful workmen”?
Paul was nothing but honest here, and we might think some of his language wouldn’t fly in our culture, which prizes tolerance above all else (sort of). Paul was direct, “Their end will correspond with their deeds.”