What Paul’s sufferings reveal about the man

Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
2 Corinthians 11:29 (NIV)

Read: 2 Corinthians 11:16-33

Consider: In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul has been setting out his argument against those he calls ‘super-apostles’.  These were people who set themselves up against God, seeking to supplant those who had faithfully shared the good news of the gospel with the Corinthians.  Paul does not mince his words, but says: For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.  It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness.  Their end will be what their actions deserve (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).  The warning is clear to the Corinthians: beware those who boast about themselves in order to draw attention to themselves.

Some might think that Paul then does something strange when he says: Whatever anyone else dares to boast about – I am speaking as a fool – I also dare to boast about (11:21b).  Paul sets out his ‘credentials’ as someone who has suffered for the sake of the gospel.  Reading through the details of his sufferings (11:21-28), most of us would cringe at the thought of having to endure such treatment.  Additionally, Paul says: Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches (11:28).  Here we have the difference between the ‘super-apostles’ and Paul, While Paul suffered, it was always as a result of his desire to share the good news with others.  This involved the pressure he felt as being responsible for the spiritual health of those with whom he shared Christ.  Paul’s concern for the believers ran deep.  Look at what he says:  Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?  Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (11:29).  While the NIV uses the words ‘inwardly burn’, the ESV renders this ‘indignant’. The Message, although a paraphrase, renders this as: When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones.  When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut.  Paul’s love and concern for the believers means that he identifies totally with them, even to the point of feeling physical discomfort at their spiritual state.

The focus of Paul’s ‘boasting’ becomes clear when he says: If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness (11:30).  When Paul speaks of his sufferings, we are meant to think of the contrast there is between Paul and the ‘super-apostles’.  While Paul suffered for the sake of the gospel, the ‘super-apostles’ would have been at their ease.  While Paul worked to support himself, the ‘super-apostles’ relied upon income from the believers.  While Paul had a deep concern for the spiritual welfare of the believers, the ‘super-apostles’ were only concerned about themselves.  While Paul highlighted his weaknesses (showing his dependence on God), the ‘super-apostles’ spoke of their strengths (showing they did not depend on God).

Today’s reading does not tell us that we will personally suffer for the sake of the gospel, but it does show us through the life and witness of Paul, that if we should suffer we should depend totally on God.  It also reveals to us that we should be deeply concerned for the spiritual welfare of our fellow believers.

Pray:  Father, we know that Paul modelled his life and witness on Christ.  May we also model our lives this way, seeking to glorify you in all we do.  Forgive us when we think we are strong and seek to rely on our own resources, rather than depending on you. May we see your strength being demonstrated through our weakness.   Amen

Every blessing

 

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