This is a portion of Second Corinthians that puzzles commentators. The first portion comes in two parts, the first dealing with a special vision, a revelation that Paul received. That is puzzling for all sorts of reasons. One cause of puzzlement is that he apparently refers to himself abstractly, in the third person. He wrote, "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven" (2 Cor. 12:2).

Last week we studied the second half of 2 Corinthians 11, in which the Apostle Paul boasts of his sufferings. He did so reluctantly but comprehensively in order to defend his apostleship with the Corinthians, which was, at the same time, a defense of the Gospel. It was because of his concern for them and his concern for the Gospel that he did what was obviously distasteful to him.

If Paul was boasting of his apostleship, he could have said quite rightly, "Look at all the churches I have founded. Look at all the people who have come to Christ through my ministry. Look at all the difficulties I went through to plant the banner of Christ in foreign soil." But he did not say that. Instead he pointed out that he was in prison more frequently and flogged more severely. He was exposed to death again and again. He was beaten. He was misused. He was stoned. He was shipwrecked. These are all things we would think of negatively. And yet, these are things Paul endured for the sake of the glory of proclaiming Jesus Christ, his Lord.

The Lord, when he first called Paul and gave him instructions in Damascus shortly after his conversion, had said, "I will show him how much he must suffer for my name" (Acts 9:16). In 2 Cor. 11:28, Paul adds, "Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches." In addition to the physical pressures, he endured what we would call mental pressures or psychological pressures as well.

It is helpful for us, perhaps, to divide Paul’s experiences into categories. I see a number of them. He speaks first of his ancestry. These false apostles had come to Corinth and boasted that they were Jews, true Israelites, members of the covenant people, children of Abraham. But Paul defended himself by writing, "What anyone else dares to boast about - I am speaking as a fool - I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham's descendants? So am I" (2 Cor. 11:21-22). When he begins to talk of his apostleship, he mentions his ancestry first of all.