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

December 31, 2014

Tom Lowe

 

 

The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians

 


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

                       B.    The Boast of the Apostle. (11:1–12:10).      

Lesson IV.B.2:The Proof of His Boast. (11:16-33).

 

2nd Corinthians 11:16-33 (NKJV)

 

16 I say again, let no one think me a fool. If otherwise, at least receive me as a fool, that I also may boast a little.

17 What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as it were, foolishly, in this confidence of boasting.

18 Seeing that many boast according to the flesh, I also will boast.

19 For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise!

20 For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face.

21 To our shame, I say that we were too weak for that! But in whatever anyone is bold—I speak foolishly—I am bold also.

22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I.

23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.

24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.

25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;

26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;

27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—

28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.

29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?

30 If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.

31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.

32 In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desiring to arrest me;

33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.

 

 

Introduction

 

Like most people, the Corinthians were slow to absorb the truth that divine standards differ radically from those of the world.  Paul had tried to make this clear in his former letter concerning the message of the Cross; the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). If, however, the Corinthians persisted in looking at things from the world’s point of view, he would accommodate himself to their perspective.  But he would still try to lead them to realize that divine accreditation should be seen not against the backdrop of human greatness but human weakness.  The marks of an apostle were the marks of Christ, including weakness and suffering (2 Corinthians 13:4; Isaiah 53:3-4; Mark 9:12).  In this passage Paul described his frailties and with touching irony said, in essence, “These are the credentials of an apostle” (1 Corinthians 4: 9-13).

 

When you read this wonderful passage, you will see what little reason we have to love the prestige and plenty of this world, when this blessed apostle experienced so much hardship in it.  All our diligence and services appear unworthy of notice when compared with his, and our difficulties, trials, and hardships are barely noticeable. It could lead us to ask whether or not we are really followers of Christ.  Here we may study patience, courage, and firm trust in God.  Here we may learn to think less of ourselves; and we should strictly speak the truth at all times as if we were in God’s presence; and should give all the Glory to God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed for evermore.

 

 

 

 

Commentary

 

 

16 I say again, let no one think me a fool. If otherwise, at least receive me as a fool, that I also may boast a little.KJV

17 What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as it were, foolishly, in this confidence of boasting.KJV

18 Seeing that many boast according to the flesh, I also will boast.KJV

 

Paul makes it clear that he doesn’t want to “boast.”  Experience had taught him that bragging about one’s own accomplishments leads to destruction (Psalm 12:13; Proverbs 16:18).  Boasting takes away from God the honor that is due Him (see Psalm 96:8; 97:6).  Only God, who is the source of all wisdom, skill, and strength, can accept glory and praise (Psalm 44:8; 1 Corinthians 1:31). 

 

But when he was faced with the persistent faultfinding of his critics, Paul felt compelled to list his accomplishments for the Corinthians.  He wasn’t primarily concerned with his own reputation but, instead, with the spiritual warfare of the Corinthian believers.  The apostle knew that by rejecting him in favor of the false apostles, the Corinthians would be rejecting the true gospel for a false one.  So by establishing himself and his ministry as genuine, Paul was defending the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  If his critics’ attacks went unanswered, the believers might turn away from Christ (11:3-4, 12).  Paul had to speak up in order to quiet the gossip and slander circulating in the Corinthian church.  In verse 17, Paul was not denying the inspiration of his words; rather, he was admitting that, by boasting, he was being very unlike the Lord Jesus [“By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am ‘timid’ when face to face with you, but ‘bold’ when away!” (2 Corinthians 10:1).].  However, he had to do it to prove his love for the Corinthians and protect them from those who would lead them astray.

 

Notice the word “also” in the latter part of verse 16 but; “that I also may boast a little.” This word has real significance.  The false teachers were doing plenty of boasting.  Paul says, in effect, “even ‘if’ you have to look back on me as “a fool,” which I am not, even then “receive me” so that I may do a little boasting like those other men do.”

 

Defending oneself against false accusations, however, isn’t always the Christian response to slander.  Jesus himself remained silent in the face of His accusers [“But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. . .” (Mark 14: 61)], and sometimes Christians have to remain silent in the face of outlandish accusations in order to advance the cause of Christ.  In this case, Paul thought a hearty defense of his actions would be appropriate.

 

Even though Paul knew he had to defend himself, he was extremely careful.  He cautiously explained to the Corinthians that although he was not a fool, he was going to act like a fool in order to silence those false teachers who were boasting in the same way the world does (see 11:1-5).  The word “fool” is from the adjective meaning ignorant; also “mindless”—acting “without thinking or intelligence.” It was only because the Corinthians were still evaluating people as the world does—according to appearances—that these “Jewish” false teachers had come down from Jerusalem and gained a foothold in the congregation in the first place (see 5:16-17; 10:7).From the very beginning, the false teachers were not ashamed to “boast,” and the Corinthians were not afraid to accept their boasting.  “Since boasting is the ‘in thing’ in your fellowship,” Paul seemed to be saying, “then I will boast.” Paul may have had the principle of Proverbs 26:5 in mind: “answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” Even if they think he is a fool for boasting of his record, he asked them to tolerate him; “at least, receive me as a fool.” No matter what they think of him for doing it, he must “boast a little” to make them consider facts whose significance they have failed to appreciate.

 

  They boast “according to the flesh,” that is, of their Jewish decent, achievements, accolades, and positions of authority.  So he said, “I too will boast along the same line, concerning my birth, position, sufferings, and achievements.”  His regret is that he must boast of such external and personal things instead of boasting in the “Lord,” that is, concerning what God through Christ has graciously done for him. The phrase, “What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord”; literally “not after the Lord,” meaning that boasting was NOT a method He would have adopted [“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)].  The Lord Jesus never boasted.

 

But Paul wanted to make it clear to the Corinthians that such boasting wasn’t the proper behavior for the minister of the Lord.  In effect, he was turning the tables on his critics by boasting of his weaknesses instead of his strengths (11:30).  He simply refused to enter into a boasting contest with his opponents (10:12).  By freely admitting his weaknesses, Paul hoped to stop the foolish boasting and the competitive spirit that prevailed in the Corinthian congregation.

 

 

19 For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise!KJV

 

The Corinthians considered themselves too “wise” to be taken in by foolishness.  But that was exactly what was happening, as Paul goes on to explain.  With biting sarcasm, Paul reprimanded the Corinthians for putting up with these arrogant false teachers, whom he calls “fools.”  Apparently, the Corinthians, like their nearby neighbors the Athenians, tried to keep up on all the new ideas in the Roman Empire.  Therefore, they thought they were being “wise” when they welcomed itinerate teachers and listened to their new ideas.  If these teachers were godly, like Apollos, Paul applauded this generous hospitality.  The most recent teachers, however, were introducing a different gospel and were discrediting Paul in the process (11:4).  They claimed to have a Gospel and an authority far beyond his. Even though this was happening, the Corinthians continued to listen to them.

 

Though Paul may have been accused of “lording it over” the Corinthians (1:24), the false apostles were the ones they should fear.  In the name of Christ they would exploit and enslave the Corinthians to gratify themselves. Jesus accused the legalistic Pharisees of the same destructive practice [Jesus said, “They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely." (Mark 12:40).].

 

The word “gladly” is used here to mean willingly.  They willingly received the teaching of the false teachers, even though they advocated a different gospel and a different Jesus.

 

 

20 You put up with it when they make you their slaves, take everything you have, take advantage of you, put on airs, and slap you in the face.NLT

 

Five verbs, increasing in intensity, express the indignities which the bootlicking Corinthians willingly endured at the hands of the false prophets—These men: (1) degraded them—“make you their slaves”; (2) stole from them—“take everything you have”; (3) defraud them—“take advantage of you”; (4) put them down—“put on airs”; (5)insulted them—“slapped you in the face.” The Corinthians’ continued to listen to the false teachers even when it became clear that they were trying to enslave them.  Paul went on to explain the nature of this enslavement.

 

“They make you their slaves,” said Paul, meaning that the false apostles had robbed the Corinthians of their freedom in Christ [“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).].  “Take everything” is a translation of a Greek verb commonly used to describe how animals “devour” their prey.  The false teachers devour the saints, in the sense that they made heavy financial demands on them.  They did not serve them for the sake of love, but was interested in the monetary return.  “Take advantage” is from a Greek verb used to describe how a hunter “catches” animals with a trap or with bait.  The imagery of a hunter and prey suggest that the false teachers’ primary sin was their motives.  They were traveling preachers looking for a gullible group of people to support them.  They were literally preying on the Corinthians, trying to exploit the relationship for all that it was worth.  Ironically, the Corinthians thought they were wise for welcoming these teachers when, in reality, these itinerate teachers were making the Corinthians into fools.

 

The oppressive methods used by these false teachers should have tipped off the Corinthians to their questionable motives.  With arrogant boasts, they paraded their credentials and achievements.  “Put on airs” is literally “to lift up” high.  Paul used the same word to describe anything that was exalted above the knowledge of God [“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)].  The false teachers were exalting themselves with their hollow boasts against not only Paul’s authority among the Corinthians but also against God Himself.  By criticizing others, they always tried to make themselves appear greater in the sight of men.

 

Finally, Paul described these false teachers as slapping the Corinthians “in the face.”  In the first century, it was common for religious authorities to “slap . . . the face” of a person who blasphemed [“At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth.” (Acts 23:2)].  Apparently, these false teachers had concentrated their power in Corinth, so much so that they had the audacity to slap those who opposed them.  This may describe insulting behavior, or it may well be meant quite literally.  The Corinthians had come to the peculiar stage of seeing in the very insolence of the Jewish teachers a guarantee of their apostolic authority.

 

 

21 To our shame, I say that we were too weak for that! But in whatever anyone is bold—I speak foolishly—I am bold also.

 

Paul ended this exposé of the physical and spiritual actions of the Judaizers by bringing in some more “inspired irony”: “To our shame, I say that we were too weak for that!” The Corinthians thought that Paul’s meekness was weakness, when it was really strength.  And they thought that the Judaizers arrogance was power.  How ignorant the saints can sometimes be. Paul was probably quoting what his critics said about him when he wrote that he was “too weak” to take advantage of the Corinthians, to take their money, and to physically discipline them.  Even though Paul would refrain from doing that, he was going to dare to boast, just as his opponents did.  Once again, Paul issued a disclaimer.  He felt foolish talking as he did, listing his accomplishments. 

 

“Anyone” here means any one of the “false apostles” whose actions have been described in verse 20.

 

 

22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I.

 

These statements address the charges Paul’s opponents had leveled against him point by point. First of all, these traveling preachers from Judea were bragging about being “Hebrews” and “Israelites”—God’s chosen people.  They had made three claims about themselves which Paul asserts that he can equal.  First, they claim to be “Hebrews.”  “Hebrews” means Jews who speak Aramaic (Acts 6:1; Philippians 3:5).  His opponents evidently spoke both Aramaic and Greek, just as Paul did.  “Israelites” describes Jews as members God’s covenant people (see Romans 11:1).  Paul had been born in Tarsus; and thus, in his opponents’ eyes, he had a questionable heritage.  Quite likely Paul’s opponents had been saying, “This Paul is a citizen of Tarsus.  He is not like us, a pure-bred Palestinian but one of these Greekling Jews.” Was Paul a pure Jew?  Did he consider Judea his home?  Did he understand the Hebrew language?  Paul unequivocally said yes.  He was also one of the descendants of “Abraham” (“seed of Abraham”) and heirs of the promise [“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:29)].  He was descended from the tribe of Benjamin and thus was an Israelite.  He had been circumscribed eight days after he was born—a physical signs of his Israelite heritage.  More importantly, Paul was Abraham’s descendant by faith (Romans 4:16).  From a human viewpoint Paul’s credentials were impeccable (Philippians 3:4-6).  He had been trained by one of the most respected Pharisees of that day, Gamaliel.  As a Pharisees, he had spent hours poring over the Hebrew Bible and had been scrupulously careful to observe Jewish law (Philippians 3:4-6).  No one could question Paul’s credentials as a Jew and as an expert in the Hebrew Scriptures. Second, they claimed to be Israelites.  The word described a Jew as a man who was a member of God’s chosen people.  No doubt these hostile Jews were saying, “This Paul never lived in Palestine he has slipped away from the chosen people, living in Greek surroundings in Cilicia.” Paul said, “No!  I am as pure an Israelite as any man.  My linage is the linage of the people of God.” They cannot claim superiority on that point.  Apparently, these false teachers labored under the delusion that their family tree gave them favor in the sight of God.  They did not realize that God’s ancient people, Israel, had now been set aside by God because of their rejection of the Messiah.  They did not realize that as far as God was concerned, there was now no difference between Jews and Gentiles: all were sinners, and all needed to be saved through faith in Christ alone. They also claimed to be descendants of Abraham.  By that they meant that they were Abraham’s direct descendants and therefore heirs to the great promise that God had made to him (Genesis 12:1-3).  No doubt they claimed that this Paul was not as pure a descent as they were.  “No!” says Paul.  “I am of as pure a descent as any man” (Philippians 3:5, 6).  They had no claim to superiority here either.  When it came to their Jewish heritage, the false teachers were equal to Paul; but when it came to ministry for Christ, it was Paul who was the “super-apostle” and not the Judaizers.  Beginning in verse 23, Paul lists those things he had endured for the cause of Christ and the care of the churches.

 

It is usually believed that the questions asked and answered by Paul described himself and the false apostles.  It is possible, however, that Paul is comparing himself with the so-called “super-apostles” (v. 5), the Twelve, to whom the false apostles appealed as their source of authority and with whom they identified.

 

 

23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.NIV

 

Although Paul had conceded to his opponents their Jewish heritage, he would not agree with them that they were “servants of Christ.” “Servants" here seems to mean apostles; such as his foes at Corinth evidently claimed to be (vs. 5, 13).  Even if Paul must now boast in order to bring the Corinthians to their senses, it is extremely distasteful to him, and he thinks it is hardly justified even by necessity.  Paul had already described these people as false apostles. These teachers were not from Christ, as they claimed.  To prove his point, Paul listed all the trials he suffered for Christ.  Could his opponents, who boasted in achievements, accomplishments, and credentials, produce an even more extensive list of sufferings and persecution endured for Christ’s name?  Were they willing to follow Jesus’ way to the cross, his life of suffering?  Were they willing to take up their crosses daily for Christ (Matthew 10:38)? [“and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.]

 

Paul had demonstrated his willingness to endure suffering for his Lord, just as Jesus had called him to do. (See Jesus’ words in Acts 9:15-16) Paul had endured the hardship of imprisonment, including floggings [“The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks” (Acts 16: 22-24).].  His imprisonments included one time at Philippi (Acts 16:23), the only known instance before the writing of Second Corinthians; but now we learn that this was only one of many imprisonments, and that Paul was no stranger to the dungeon.  He had faced “death” on a number of occasions (see Acts 14:19, when Paul was stoned by a crowd).  In fact, at the beginning of this letter, Paul explained that he had come dangerously close to “death” in his recent travels in Asia Minor (1:9).  “Exposed to death again and again,” brings to mind the numerous narrow escapes from deadly danger, such as the one mentioned in 1:8-9 (see 4:8-11). Since this letter was written during Paul’s third missionary journey (Acts 18:23-21:17), his trials weren’t over.  He would experience further difficulties and humiliations for the cause of Christ (see acts 21:30-33; 22: 24-30).  Paul was sacrificing his life for the gospel, something the false teachers would never do. But why would he do such a thing?  Because he was a minister of Christ, and therefore His servant “in devotion, labor, and suffering.” The Apostle Paul could never forget he was a follower of the suffering Savior.  He realized that the servant is NOT above his master, and that an apostle could not expect better treatment in the world than his Master had received.  Paul reckoned that the more faithfully he served Christ and reproduced the Savior, the more abundantly he would suffer at the hands of men.  To him, suffering was the mark or badge of Christ’s servants.

 

Few of the sufferings listed by the apostle are mentioned in Acts, a reminder that we know very little about Paul’s life.

 

 

24 Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.NRSV

 

Paul knew from the outset of his ministry that he would suffer for Jesus’ sake (Acts 9:15-16), and God reaffirmed this to him as his ministry continued [“I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.” (Acts 20:23).].  He who caused others to suffer for their faith, himself had to suffer for his faith.  To utterly silence his opponents, Paul listed in detail what he had endured for the cause of the gospel.

 

We have no other record of these five beatings by Jewish authorities.  Since they were received in the service of Christ, they evidently happened in Gentile lands where Paul preached.  This indicates that Jews had some power of discipline over their people in such areas.

 

According to the Jewish law, “forty lashes” was the maximum the Jews would prescribe (Deuteronomy 25:3).  The rabbis, however, would only allow thirty-nine, so that if the flogger miscounted he wouldn’t accidentally sin by administering more than “forty.”  This was done because the regulation for scourging[t1]  said that in the case where the number exceeded 40 the scourger himself was subject to scourging.  Scourging was so severe that it was liable to kill a man.  These beatings were carried out in the synagogues and were for either moral or religious offences.  The “lashes” were made of several strips of leather, sometimes with bones or metal tied to the ends to inflict more pain.  The Jews had a method in those days of delivering 39 stripes, and to prevent killing the person—they would apply 13 stripes on one side, 13 stripes on the other side, and 13 stripes on the back.  Paul had had this kind of torture five times.  In Paul’s case, the punishment would have been for preaching the gospel, what Jews commonly considered blasphemy.  None of these beatings are recorded in Acts, but the adamant opposition of the Jews to the gospel message is recorded (Acts 13:45, 50; 14:2; 18:6, 12).

 

 

25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning.NRSV

 

Only the Romans could administer beatings with rods.  Yet Paul “was beaten with rods” at Philippi (Acts 16:22).  Apparently, government officials had beaten him on two other occasions (these were recorded in the book of Acts, however).  The attendants of the magistrates were called the lictors and they were equipped with rods of birch (flexible sticks tied together) with which the guilty criminal was punished.  Three times that had happened to Paul.  It should never have happened to him at all, because under Roman law, it was a crime to scourge a Roman citizen.  But, when the mob was violent and the magistrate was weak, Paul, Roman citizen though he was, had suffered this.  Finally, at Lystra, Paul had survived a “stoning” (Acts 14:8-20).

 

Why Paul did not protest these beatings earlier than this is not known; he did protest, however, the day after the beating at Philippi (Acts 16:37).  The three beatings by Roman officials indicate that the relation of the church to the empire was more of a problem than Acts admits.

 

Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea;NRSV

 

Sea travel was not as safe as it is today.  Paul had been “shipwrecked” three times, and he would face another accident on his voyage to Rome (Acts 27).  By this time, Paul had probably made at least eight or nine voyages; thus, given the danger of first-century sea travel, he could have certainly experience that many disasters at sea.  At least one of the shipwrecks was so severe that Paul spent an entire day floating on the wreckage, waiting to be rescued.  The fact that Paul survived 24 hours “adrift” at sea would have been considered miraculous in the first century, a sign of God’s hand on his life.

 

Almost any traveler in that day could have experience some of these hardships; yet we cannot help but believe that they were caused by the evil one (Satan) in an attempt to hinder the work of the Lord. 

 

None of the shipwrecks mentioned here is recorded for us.  (The shipwreck in Acts 27 on the way to Rome occurred later in Paul’s history.)

 

 

26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters;NRSV

 

The sea did not present the only “danger” Paul faced on the many “journeys” he took in order to present the gospel all over the Mediterranean world.  “Bandits” were a constant problem in the ancient world.  The rocky road from Jerusalem to Jericho was one of the many roads considered especially dangerous.  That is why Jesus set his parable of the Good Samaritan on that road (Luke 10:30-37).  The Corinthians, too, would have known of the dangers from “bandits,” for the road that stretched from their city to Athens was known to harbor bandits, especially in the “wilderness” areas.  It was said, “Any day a robber might cut your throat.” It was extremely common for a traveler to be caught and killed for ransom.

 

If you turn to the maps at the back of most Bibles, you will usually find one labeled “The Missionary Journeys of St. Paul.” As you follow the lines showing the general routes he traveled, and realize how primitive transportation facilities were in those days, you will realize a little more the “danger” involved with traveling in Paul’s day.

 

In addition, Paul’s “own people,” the Jews, were trying to orchestrate his downfall.  When Paul first visited Corinth, the Jews had dragged him before the governor of Achaia in order to stop him from preaching (Acts 18:12-17).  The “Gentiles” also had opposed Paul in Philippi and in Ephesus (Acts 16:19-24; 19: 23-31).  These dangerous situations each occurred in a “city.”

 

Paul’s list of dangers climaxes in “false brothers and sisters,” and his point is adamantly clear—even within the churches, such as Corinth, he faced the danger of attack instigated by or at the hands of “false brothers.” Since he had bravely faced all sorts of dangers for Christ, he certainly would have enough courage to face those false teachers who were discrediting his authority and his name in Corinth.  On past visits, Paul had not been as aggressive with those who oppose him (see 10:1).  He was planning to confront his critics on his next visit (13:1-5).

 

Because he was constantly on the move, Paul was exposed to the perils of travel. The Judaizers visited the safe places; Paul journeyed to the difficult places.  But Paul was no ordinary traveler; he was a marked man.  He had enemies among both the Jews and the “Gentiles,” and some would like to have killed him.

 

How many of us today could say that we have been through even the smallest part of anything like that?  We sit in the lap of luxury.  We live in an affluent society.  We know practically nothing of hardship for the sake of Jesus Christ.

 

 

27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.NIV

 

Paul had begun his resume by recounting the persecution and danger he had faced involuntarily as a preacher of the gospel (11:22-26).  Here Paul started recounting the hardships he had willingly endured in order to further the cause of Christ.  To serve Christ meant not only to meet danger but also to endure the severe wear and tear of daily hardships.  By “labored and toiled” (the phrase is also found in 1 Thessalonians 2:9 and 2 Thessalonians 3:8) Paul describes his heavy load of preaching, teaching, and manual labor.

 

In order to place his ministry beyond reproach, Paul had supported himself by working at a manual trade.  Life as an itinerate laborer in the first century was difficult.  As an outsider, Paul would have been given the most strenuous and difficult work (see 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8).  At Corinth, he had “labored and toiled” as a tent maker (Acts 18:1-3).  It was only in his spare time that he preached and taught.  Because Paul wasn’t able to dedicate himself completely to the ministry, he had willingly gone “without sleep.” Because of the low wages of itinerate laborers and the hardships of first-century travel, Paul wouldn’t have been a stranger to “hunger, thirst,” and “cold.” But Paul had endured all these hardships cheerfully to preach the gospel, to tell men and women all over the Roman Empire that Jesus could save them from their sins.  The “hunger” and “thirst” as well as the frequent fasting (“often gone without food”) may have been suffered, at least in part, while Paul was in prison, but they no doubt included self-enforced privation while on grueling journeys, due to unavoidable lack of food.

 

Paul knew that these things he mentioned are not the things that count in the Christian’s estimate of worth.  It is not what we suffer, but how we bear it, and for what we suffer, that makes our sufferings a badge of honor. Above all, it is the depth and quality of our love for man and God which counts [“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3).].  Paul therefore sweeps all his sufferings aside and reveals his love.  When we remember that he who endured all this was a man constantly suffering from poor health (2 Corinthians 4:7-12; 12:7-10; Galatians 4:13, 14), such heroic self-devotion seems almost superhuman.

 

 

28 Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of how the churches are getting along. NLT

 

Verse 28 is the key to this long section. It could be paraphrased: “Yes, I have been through many trials, but the greatest trial of all, the heaviest burden of all, is my concern for the churches!” The word “burden” means “pressure, stress, anxiety.” The other experiences were external (“without”), but the burden of the churches was internal and constant.   Not only had Paul faced occasional beatings, dangers, and all kinds of hardships, every day he thought about the spiritual health of the churches he had founded.  There were so many pitfalls and traps into which a young congregation could fall.  Persecution could force the church to compromise its theology; quarreling and inner strife could distract the church from its purpose; false teachers could deceive the church.  Paul was concerned that the churches wouldn’t persevere in the faith.  One indication of his “burden” was his dedication and persistence in praying for them.  Many of his New Testament letters indicate that he was praying for those to whom he was writing (see 13:7-9; Romans 1:10; Philippians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).  Paul never forgets the churches he has founded.  He thinks of them, prays for them, sends messengers and letters to them, and because they are so wavering and imperfect, he continually feels anxiety for their welfare.  The word “all” includes the church at Corinth, but is a reminder that he has many more churches demanding his thought and care (see 2:12-13; 7:5).  He was not a hireling shepherd, but a true under-shepherd of the Lord Jesus.

 

Paul even wrote down several of his prayers (see Ephesians 1:16-18; 3:14-19; Colossians 1:3-14).  Paul’s prayers reveal his concerns.  His primary concern was that the churches be firmly rooted in Jesus Christ, not wavering from the faith (Ephesians 1:16-17).  He also wanted them to experience all of the benefits of being a child of God—the wisdom, knowledge, and power available through the Spirit that lives within them [“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:16-18).].  Moreover, he wanted them to live up to their calling as Christians, producing good works so that Jesus would be honored (13:7-9; Colossians 1:10).  Presumably, Paul was praying the same way for the Corinthians. 

 

While any other traveler could have suffered the same external hardships, Paul endured them because of his love for Christ and the church.  His greatest burden however, was not around him, but within him; the care of all the churches.  Why did he care so much?  The answer is in the next verse.

 

It is difficult to comprehend the pain Paul must have felt from these physical afflictions and deprivations.  But the spiritual struggles of his ministry were an even greater burden.

 

 

29 Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger? NLT

 

This verse is closely linked with the previous verse.  In verse 28 the apostle was saying he carried about daily the care of all the churches.  Here he explains what he means.

 

By “weakness” Paul means his own physical weakness and the weakness which he felt in sympathy with others who were weak. If Paul heard of any individual who was facing strong temptation and trial, but was “weak” in the faith, he sympathized with that person.  It caused him to “burn” with indignation, or with a sense of shame and distress, whenever one of his spiritual children “is led astray.” What happens to his converts concerns him.  David compared his state of sin under God’s hand to “the heat of summer” (Psalms 32:4), a likely inspiration for the equally vivid “burning” Paul felt at the knowledge of a brother led astray.  He is not a callous itinerate orator.  He has the heart of a Christian pastor. 

 

He encouraged stronger believers to help weaker ones [“And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).]. If any individual strayed from the faith, Paul commonly placed the blame on Satan and his evil schemes.  Paul’s concern for the faith of those “led astray” can be seen clearly in 2:5-11, where he encouraged the Corinthians to restore the offender as soon as possible.  Why did Paul care so much for the Corinthians?  Because he identified with the believers.  Whatever happened to “his children” touched his own heart and he could not abandon them.

 

Paul is sure God knew that when he boasted of his “weakness” he was stating the truth.  All he does is done in the knowledge that God is looking on.  All he says is said in the knowledge that God is listening.  That conviction would go far to make dishonest deeds and words next to impossible.  At the very mention of Jesus Christ he is filled with adoring gratitude; the thought that he is looking on and listening will rule out many an evil thing.

 

 

30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. NRSV

 

Although the Corinthians had forced Paul to defend his own integrity and his apostolic authority, this letter focuses on Paul’s “weaknesses.”  Paul paraded his sufferings, trials, and weaknesses before his opponents.  Paul spoke frequently of being “weak” and of having “weakness[es].”  Yet to Paul this was “boasting,” not a contrived or ironical account.  Paul’s “boast” was that his life was like that of Christ’s.  As Jesus had been “a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3), so had Paul (2 Corinthians’ 11:23-27).  As Jesus “took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4) so, in a different sense, had Paul (2 Corinthians 11:28-29).  Paul’s “boast” was that he was like the suffering Servant.  It was certainly a grand claim though hardly perceived as such by false apostles and worldly Corinthian believers (1 Corinthians 3:3). He didn’t boast in his accomplishments, as they did; thereby, he defused some of their criticism.  If they were accusing him of being incompetent, Paul freely admitted that no one was competent to preach the gospel; his confidence came from Christ [“Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (1 Corinthians 3:4-6).].  Paul’s resume was a list of failures—nothing in comparison to the list of accomplishments of his opponents (4:7-10; 6:3-10; 11:22-29).

 

How could Paul expect to reassert his authority with such self-debasement?  He knew that his authority didn’t rest in his abilities but in his appointment.  Christ had called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 1:1, 5; 11:13).  The only way Paul could show his authority was to point out how God had worked through his weaknesses.  These were the telltale signs of God’s work in his life.  

 

Any one of the severe sufferings Paul had described in the preceding verses might kill an average person.  But Paul—one man—endured them all.

 

 

31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. NIV

 

Paul had already called on God as a witness to his truthfulness three other times in this letter: when he asserted his integrity in his recent travel plans (1:18), when he denied taking any money from the Corinthians (11:10), and when he asserted his genuine love for them (11:11).  Paul didn’t hesitate to use oaths when he believed something he was saying would be doubted (see also Galatians 1:20).  Here Paul may have thought that the Corinthians would doubt either the following action-filled story about his escape from Damascus (11:32-33) or the recounting of his vision of the third heaven (12:1-5).

 

 

32 When I was in Damascus, the governor under King Aretas kept guards at the city gates to catch me. NLT

 

Most likely, the Roman Emperor Caligula (a.d.  37-41) had given “King Aretus” IV, the king of the Nabateans from 9 b.c. to a.d. 40, the authority to appoint a “governor” to oversee the Nabatean population in Damascus.  The Greek word translated “governor” is “Ethnarch”; a Jewish officer to whom heathen rulers gave authority over Jews in large cities where they were numerous.  The Jews in Damascus had been able to enlist this governor to help them try to “catch” Paul (see Acts 9:22-25).  The incident recorded here and in verse 33 (which, on the surface, looks like an anticlimax) harmonizes beautifully (1) with the account in Acts 9: 23-25, (2) with the known facts of ancient history (Aretas was father-in-law to Herod Antipas), and (3) with the providence of God.  Paul remembered this incident at the beginning of his ministry (see the Galatians 1:17) as the dramatic event that set the pattern of his life for all the years that follow.

 

Paul climaxed this narration of his sufferings by telling of his humiliating experience at Damascus, when he—the great apostle—was smuggled out of the city in a basket let down over the wall! (v. 33). Would any of the Judaizers ever tell a story like that?  Of course not! Even when Paul did narrate his sufferings, he was careful that Christ was glorified, and not Paul.  Paul mentioned his escape from “Damascus,” an event which occurred early in his life as a Christian (Acts 9:19-25), as a typical experience in his work as an apostle.  It epitomized the transformation that had taken place in his relationship with God, and sharply contrasted his state with that of the false apostles.  Like them, he carried commendatory letters from Jerusalem to Damascus (Acts 9:2), but when he was en route God struck him down and he encountered the risen Christ.  He had left for Damascus with great human authority and zeal (Acts 9:1); he departed humbly conscious of his own weakness.

 

 

33 But I was lowered in a basket through a window in the city wall, and that's how I got away! NLT

 

The way the passage builds-up to this story indicates that Paul saw this as a pivotal event.  Although Paul would run from his persecutors on other occasions (14:5-6; 17:10, 14), this was the first time he was forced to do so.  Paul had come to Damascus with his head held high.  The high priest had given him the authority to arrest Christians in that city.  After his conversion, Paul was forced to sneak out of the city under the cover of darkness.  He couldn’t even walk through the city gates (v. 32), much less command the authority and respect of the city’s Elders (compare Acts 9:1-2 with 9:23-25).

 

Paul was able to leave Damascus when some friends helped him to escape through a window in the city wall.  The wall of Damascus was wide enough to drive a carriage along it.  Many of the houses overhung it and it must have been from one of these that Paul was let down.  Why does he so directly and definitely mention this incident?  It is most likely because it irked him.  Paul was the kind of man who would find this stealthy exit from Damascus worse than a scourging.  He must have hated with all his great heart to run away like a fugitive in the night.  His bitterest humiliation was to fail to look his enemies in the face.  It was a most humiliating experience for a proud Pharisee; but it was an act of God’s deliverance.

 

Although Christ had predicted that Paul would suffer much for Him [“But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name" (Acts 9:15-16).], this was probably the first time Paul had realized to what extent he would have to suffer.  Hunted as a common criminal, he couldn’t stand up to his accusers and defend himself with integrity.  Instead, he had to run away.  For Paul, fleeing would have been considered a coward’s reaction.  This was probably one of the weakest moments he had experienced in his life, and admitting this to his opponents in Corinth would have been extremely difficult for him to write. For any man to boast of such a humiliating experience is so contrary to human nature that Paul called on God to attest the truthfulness of what he said (v. 31).

 

 

Dear reader, don’t brag about what you suffer for Christ.  Read this over again.  We must all bow our heads in shame and say, “Oh, Lord Jesus, help me to be true to You.  Help me to be faithful to You.”

 

 

 

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