Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

February 2, 2015

Tom Lowe

 

The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians

                   

            IV.    Authority of Paul’s Ministry. (10:1–13:10).                         

                       C.    The Credentials of the Apostle. (12:11–18).                                                     

Lesson IV.C.2:His performance as a true apostle. (12:12–13.)                            

 

 

Introduction

 

This passage, in which Paul is coming near to the end of his defense, reads like the words of a man who has put out some tremendous effort and is now worn out.  It almost seems like Paul is limp with the effort that he has made.

Once again he speaks with disgust of this whole shameful business of self-justification; but the thing has got to be addressed.  It might be a small thing for Paul to be discredited be discredited, but for his gospel to be rendered ineffective is something that cannot be allowed. This is the subject of Paul’s remarks in this short section.

 

 

 

2nd Corinthians 12:12-13; NKJV

 

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!

 

 

 

Commentary

 

12 Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.

When Paul was in Corinth, he had acted according to his calling as an apostle of Christ.  He had been careful to be completely honest in all his dealings so that no one could impugn his name.  He had faithfully preached the gospel (5:11, 19-21; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 9:16-18), and his preaching in Corinth had been accompanied by “signs and wonders and mighty deeds.”  These do not refer to three kinds of miracles, but to a different aspect of all miracles.  First, writes Calvin, “he calls them signs, because they are not empty shows, but are appointed for the instruction of mankind—wonders, because they ought by their novelty, to arouse men, and strike them with astonishment—and powers or “mighty deeds,” because they are more signal tokens of Divine power, than what we behold in the ordinary course of nature.”    Paul, on the other hand used the Greek word dunamis for “mighty deeds.” This word refers to the great acts of God; it is from this word that we get the English word “dynamite.”  The Greek word for “wonders” was typically used for phenomena that startles or arouses fear, while the Greek word “semeion” translated “signs” here, refers to miraculous signs (the insignia of apostleship); “signs and wonders and mighty deeds” are all manifestations of the power of Christ through Paul’s labors, not the least of which was changed lives (3:2; 1 Corinthians 9:1), including his own—“set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (1:22).  Even the “all perseverance” (“constant fortitude,” 11:23—12:10) with which he conducted his ministry in the face of opposition and hardship is just as much an indication of his genuineness as the more unusual “mighty deeds.” John’s Gospel describes Jesus’ miracles with this Greek word on a number of occasions (John 4:54; 6:14; 12:18).  Jesus’s ministry, like Paul’s, was authenticated by all kinds of miracles—“Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know” (Acts 2:22). The ability to perform such acts characterized the ministry of Jesus.  Christ describe his own works as signs because they revealed His grace, not because they were exhibitions of mere power.  Jesus granted to His disciples the same ability to perform such acts—“And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. (Matthew 10:1).  It was continued in the ministry of men of the Early Church (Acts 3:1-9; 5:15-16; 8:13; 9:32-34).  From this list Paul was not excluded—“And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: so that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them. (Acts 19:11-12), but as he wrote later to the Romans: “I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that . . . I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:18-19; see also Hebrews 2:4).

In the true apostle the divine power of Jesus was at work.  Paul sought in these signs the mark of the authenticity of his apostleship.  He viewed them, not as the miracles of a man full of supernatural power, but as proof of the power of Christ graciously manifesting itself through his weakness.  Sufferings and the insignia of an apostle belong together.

Paul had performed miracles in almost every city he had visited—from Lystra (Acts 14:8-10) to Ephesus (Acts 19:11-12).  Through these signs, the Spirit of God had clearly demonstrated to the Corinthians Paul’s apostolic authority, the truthfulness of the gospel message he preached, and spells out why he was “not at all inferior to these “super-apostles” (Romans 15:17-19; 1 Corinthians 2:4).  In fact, he implies that his opponents have not been able to match what the Corinthians have seen done in his ministry.  Yet he does not say that he did the “mighty deeds.” Since they were done only by the power of God, he says rather that they “were accomplished among you” by the power of God working in him; the apostle regarded himself only as the instrument of the power of God. “With all perseverance” (or endurance, patience, fortitude) implies that the “signs” happened repeatedly, in spite of the physical exhaustion or outward difficulties or lack of understanding that accompanied them.  It means the power to hold on amid discouragement, failure, or persecution.  Moreover, this verse implies clearly that other true apostles were doing similar “mighty deeds.” Mighty deeds may denote works of healing.  There is no doubt that in the early church physical healing often accompanied spiritual healing.  But the greatest of all mighty deeds is the change which the gospel works in the heart.  This is the miracle which human power cannot accomplish, though many claimed that all we need his education, improved material conditions, or the application of psychological knowledge.  These are essential in the deliverance of men from the power of evil.  But in themselves they cannot produce the inner change which is described as “a new creation” (5:17).  All of these occurred under Paul’s ministry in Corinth, and he could appeal to their experience.

There were certain sign gifts which were given to the apostles to authenticate their message.  They had the gift of healing.  They could raise the dead and speak in tongues, which does not mean unknown tongues but languages and dialects.  Paul had gone through the Galatian country, and there must have been fifty dialects and languages in that area.  Paul could speak them all.  Had he studied them?  No.  In that early day it was necessary to get the Word of God out to the Roman Empire in a hurry, and so the apostles were equipped with these gifts.  Today missionaries and translators must spend years learning the language they will use. 

Though no miraculous signs or wonders done in Corinth were recorded in the Acts account of Paul’s ministry in that city, such miracles certainly occurred (“Signs of an apostle were accomplished among you.”).  Paul also performed miracles before and after the Corinthian Ministry.  A demon was cast out of the servant girl in Philippi (Acts 16:18), and Paul’s ministry in Emphasis was marked by numerous miracles (Acts 19:11).  Of course the greatest miracle was a church in Corinth planted by Paul but given life by God (1 Corinthians 3:6).  All these evidences pointed to Paul as a true apostle and to his opponents as “false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:13).  They could identify him as an apostle because he had the gifts of an apostle.

Effectiveness is the proof of reality.  The reality of the Church is not seen in the splendor of its buildings or the elaborateness of its worship or the wealth of its giving or even the size of its congregation; it is seen in changed lives, and, if there are no changed lives, the essential element of reality is missing.  The one standard by which Paul would have his apostleship judged was his ability to bring the life-changing grace of Jesus Christ to men.  Changed lives ought to reveal qualities which make people wonder and open the way for a spiritual interpretation of life. 

So, was Paul inferior to these “super-apostles”?  In no way!  The Corinthians had seen Paul in action; in fact, they owed their very souls to him.  He had done among them the miraculous signs that proved his apostleship (Hebrews 2:1-4).  He had persevered in his ministry at Corinth in spite of external persecution and internal problems.

 

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!

Evidently the Corinthians had an inferiority complex because Paul did not burden them financially.  With a final touch of his irony Paul asks the Corinthians what more they could have wanted of him.  In view of the signs that had attested the apostolicity of his ministry in their midst, in what way had he treated them as “inferior to other churches?”  The only practice Paul refrained from doing that these “super-apostles” did was charging money for his teaching.  Building on the Greek notion that manual labor was beneath teachers and preachers, these false teachers had asserted that one of the signs of an apostle was demanding payment for his services.  The fact that Paul had spent long hours sewing tents together disqualified him as an apostle in the eyes of these false teachers.  In 1 Corinthians, Paul had explained that earning a living as a preacher was the right of every apostle (see 1 Corinthians 9:11-12), but Paul hadn’t taken advantage of this rite because he didn’t want to owe anything to any one person.  He wanted the freedom to preach the gospel to everyone—no matter if they were Jew or Greek, slave or free (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).  One of the most difficult things for Paul to endure was the way the Corinthians distorted his motives for taking no support from them.  All he knows to say is, “forgive me this wrong!” The irony is sharp, but certainly affectionate, like that of “a father sweet-talking his children into a right frame of mind.” This is a way of saying that if there has been any difference in the way he treated them, it is that he has favored them.

Paul’s message was not just another teaching that could be bought and sold in the marketplace of ideas.  It was the truth; it was free.  Paul’s policy of preaching free of charge served him well when problems arose in the Corinthian congregation.  It was the one behavior that Paul’s opponents could not imitate, for the whole purpose of their ministry was to take people’s money.  By consistently pointing out this difference between himself and his critics, Paul hoped the Corinthians would finally wake up to the scam (2:17; 11:7-12).  Paul’s rhetorical question in this verse is sarcastic.  The Corinthian church was better off than other churches, because Paul hadn’t asked for their financial support.  We see in Paul a true minister of Christ: (1) his certain yet paradoxical power, and (2) his despairing yet infinite patience.

 


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