Crown of Thorns2 Corinthians 11:16-33Theme: Boasting in weakness.This week’s lessons teach us that our weakness reveals God’s strength. LessonIt 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.
Secondly, Paul mentions his persecutions: “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” (2 Cor. 11:23). He also wrote about receiving from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times he was beaten with rods. Once he was stoned. Three times he was shipwrecked, and he had spent a night and a day in the open sea.
That is quite a list of persecutions when you think about it. When Paul speaks about the forty lashes minus one, he was speaking about a particular Jewish punishment. The law required that a person not receive more than forty stripes. The Jews paid careful attention to the details of the law so they always gave thirty-nine lashes, one short of the prescribed number in case, by some accident, there was a miscount. In their punishments, the Romans were not so scrupulous.
Paul was also stoned once. That was the usual way of killing a person. We find that incident in the Book of Acts, where they actually dragged Paul outside the city, thinking he was dead. But God ministered to him, perhaps in a supernatural way, because Paul was able to rise up and went on his way again. Paul also mentioned being shipwrecked, something else he endured for the sake of carrying the Gospel to the Gentile world. That is impressive. Also, we know that people sometimes died under the administration of forty lashes, yet here Paul had received those things again and again.
In verse 26 Paul goes on to write about dangers – another seal on his apostleship. He said that he has been in danger from rivers, that is, trying to cross them, which was not an easy thing in a day when there were no bridges. He was also in danger of bandits – the Roman world was full of them, in fact, it was one of the accomplishments of the Roman legions to have reduced the number of bandits significantly. He also faced danger from his own countrymen who tried to kill him and from the Gentiles; from urban dangers, danger in the country, danger at sea, and danger from false brothers. Danger, danger everywhere. Everywhere Paul looked he found himself in danger, which meant that as he labored for Christ he was constantly on the move, never knowing when the next blow would fall or when the next arrest would occur. Paul also labored and toiled and often went without sleep. He had known hunger and thirst. He had been cold and naked. All those things he experienced while carrying out his ministry.
What three categories did Paul choose to boast about?
Why did Paul choose to describe his personal hardships to the Corinthians?
Further StudyRead more about Paul’s experiences in the following Scripture passages: Acts 9:16; 14:19-20; 16:22-24, 26; Philippians 3:4-7.
ReflectionHow does reading about Paul’s troubles help you to persevere in your own work for God?