Paul has been accused of all sorts of things in Corinth. I can fairly say, from the text, that there have been people, false “super-apostles”, who have accused Paul of weakness and inadequacy both real and imagined, and for what reason?
To build themselves up so that they become the “great ones” who should be listened to and followed.
Paul is now doing the very same thing; he’s building himself up so that he will be thought of as a “great one” who should be listened to and followed. The only thing is, he is adopting the tactics of his opponents, i.e. of boasting about himself, but is using a heaping helping of irony and sarcasm in the process, for he is boasting about all of the reasons he is not great: His weakness.
He calls this being “a fool” and says he must be out of his mind to do it.
I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that! (11:16-21a)
So then, who is really the fool; is it Paul or his accusers and those who listen to them?
It sure isn’t Paul, he’s taking all of them out to the woodshed.
In the next paragraph Paul mentions the times he has been arrested, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, hungry, thirsty, cold, naked, destitute, and rejected. To be sure, he lays it on pretty thick. Then he begins to come around to his real point:
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands. (11:30-33)
Paul brags about how weak he is, how humiliated he has been, how inadequate; all in complete contrast to his would-be great accusers. Yet unlike his accusers, Paul has been faithful to the gospel, and his accusers have been faithful to themselves.
If you haven’t read this whole passage in a long time, I would encourage you to do so now; it’s really quite something. Yet Paul isn’t finished just yet; I can’t wait for chapter 12!