11 I have become a fool in boasting; you have compelled me. For I ought to have been commended by you; for in nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles, though I am nothing.
12 Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.
13 For what is it in which you were inferior to other churches, except that I myself was not burdensome to you? Forgive me this wrong!
14 Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.
15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved.
16 But be that as it may, I did not burden you. Nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you by cunning!
17 Did I take advantage of you by any of those whom I sent to you?
18 I urged Titus, and sent our brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? Did we not walk in the same steps?
I have become foolish and am so now [boasting thus]. As for you, you drove me to it. For as for myself, I ought to have been by you commended, which obligation on your part you have not fulfilled. [Had you done so, you would have saved me from boasting], for in not even one particular was I behind the superfine apostles although I am nothing. Indeed, the miracles of the apostles, the purpose of which is to furnish credentials of that office, were fully performed among you in all patience, both by means of attesting miracles and miracles of a startling, imposing, amazement-wakening character, and miracles that demonstrate God’s power.
For what is there in which you were treated in an inferior manner to the rest of the assemblies except that, as for myself, I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong. Look! This is a third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you, for I am not seeking your possessions but you. For the children are under to moral obligation to be accumulating material resources for the parents, but the parents for the children. But as for myself, I will most gladly spend and be wholly spent for the sake of your souls. Assuming for the moment that I love you more abundantly [than I love other assemblies I have founded], am I being loved less [than I am being loved by other assemblies]? [Is that the way you are requiting my love?] But let it be so. [Let the former matter be dismissed.] As for myself, I did not saddle you with a burden. Nevertheless, [you say that] being crafty, I caught you [for my own enrichment from the collection for the poor saints] by means of a tricky bait. Of those whom I have sent to you, there was not one through whom I took advantage of you, was there? I exhorted Titus, and with him I sent the brother. Titus did not take advantage of you in anything, did he? Did we not order our behavior by means of the same Spirit, and in the same footsteps? — Wuest, pages 436-437.
perseverance (v.12) = steadfastness, constancy, endurance — unswerving from one’s deliberate purpose, even in the face of trials and suffering.
the third time I am ready to come to you (v.14) — This may refer to actual visits—Paul’s first visit is recorded in Acts 18:1. His second visit may have occurred on the journey from Ephesus to Macedonia (2 Corinthians 1:16), or be unrecorded. Or, he may mean that he had intended to visit them twice before but had been disappointed (1 Corinthians 16:5; 2 Corinthians 1:15-16). The second view seems more likely to be the correct one.
The apostle once more (v.11) returns—and for the last time—to the subject of his credentials as a true apostle. They might esteem him to be “nothing,” but he was, on the contrary, in nothing behind those very preeminent and self-made apostles of whom they were so proud. — Williams, page 908
The duty of parents to provide for their children has here (v.14) Scriptural authority.
To spend; to spend gladly; to spend very gladly; to be spent; to love more abundantly though to be less loved—such a depth of affection is impossible to fallen man (v.15). Its existence proves the fact and power of the New Birth, and was an overwhelming testimony to the apostle’s claims.
Paul with indignation (vs. 17-18) exclaims: “Did I get money from you either directly or through Titus and his companions?” The accusation was that his refusing money was a trick, for that he extracted it through second parties. How very painful it must have been to a noble heart like that of Paul’s to have been compelled to discuss the motives which govern the false and selfish hearts of unconverted men! But love must bear such things; it must think for others, though it cannot think with them.
“Spirit” and “steps” (v.18), i.e., the inward motives and the outward actions. — Williams, page 908.
Paul had become a fool in glorying, but they had put him in such a position that he had to defend his apostleship or let God’s message of grace be rendered null and void. He ought to have been commended by them. They should have been proud of him, for in nothing had he been behind the greatest leaders at Jerusalem: in learning, in the working of signs, wonders and mighty deeds, in the evidences of his God-given apostleship; in nothing. And they should have recognized this. He was modest enough to add to his defense, “though I be nothing.” He understood that it was only by grace that “Saul, the sinner,” had become “Paul, the Apostle” (See Romans 1:5, 12:3; 15:15; 1 Corinthians 15:10).
But had he made of them an inferior church? In no way, except that he had labored among them without salary and, with a tinge of sarcasm he asks them: “Forgive me this wrong.”
And now the apostle is considering coming to them for the third time, and they must expect the same from him, for he never had sought theirs (i.e., what was theirs) but them. How earnestly he had desired to “present [them] as a chaste virgin to Christ.” He wanted them for Christ. And then, as to personal finances. “The children,” he says, “ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.” This was his conviction. He would gladly “spend and be spent” for them. But what had been the results of this care for them? Sadly, he had had to add the words, “… though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved” (v.15).
His “Be it so” (v.16) shows that the apostle accepted their unloving attitude as a matter of fact. He was not made bitter by it. But he presses home to them the fact that “I did not burden you.” This was important to his defense. As to the rest of the verse, Paul was most certainly not a crafty person. Indeed, it was his deep desire, “by manifestation of the truth,” to commend [himself] to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2). The thought is, and he says it rather humorously, that in this case, being crafty, he had caught them with guile. — Stam, pages 227-228.