Theme: Boasting in Suffering
This week’s lessons talk about how God’s grace is sufficient for the individual and personal trials that come from our own weaknesses, limitations, and struggles.
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12:9
How does Paul deal with this problem of the attacks from the “super-apostles”? The way he does it is marvelous and a great example for those who are trying to deal with difficult people as they themselves pursue Christian work.
First, Paul points to what the detractors must have been pointing to as his failures: the beatings he had received, the stoning at Lystra (Acts 14:19), the shipwrecks, the lack of food, clothing and shelter. “Do you want me to boast like these false apostles?” he seems to be saying. “All right, then, I will boast. But not about my special revelations or God’s miraculous interventions in my life. I will boast about my sufferings for his sake. My sufferings are my credentials.”
The text says, “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. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:23-28).
He concludes, “If I must boast, I will boast in the things that show my weakness” (v. 30). What a contrast to the triumphalism of the false apostles as well as the many equally mistaken triumphalists today!
Second, Paul mentions a vision the Lord had given him. He does it with great restraint and apparent uneasiness. We know that Paul had received numerous visions because of Luke’s reporting of them in the book of Acts.1 The remarkable thing, however, is that in his letters Paul almost never speaks of them. He tells us why here: “There is nothing to be gained” (2 Cor. 12:1). Talking about his visions might add to his prestige, but it would have no benefit at all for the Corinthians. The only thing that would benefit them is careful teaching of the Word of God, which is what Paul actually did instead.
Here he is forced to speak about a vision. He does not want to, but he is driven to it by the foolishness of the Corinthian Christians. Earlier, when the false apostles had boasted of their successes, ironically Paul had boasted of his failures. But he cannot do that here. The opposite of having received a vision is not having received a vision, and Paul could not claim that: first, because it would not have been true (he had received them); and second, because it would have played into the hands of his critics.
So he does speak of a vision. He speaks in the third person, referring to himself as “a man in Christ,” whom he knew, a man who was caught up into the third heaven, into Paradise, where he heard inexpressible things that he was not permitted to speak. Obviously, Paul is suggesting that if the false apostles really had been given special revelations by God, they too should have kept silent about them. The very fact that they were speaking about their visions so freely suggests that they were not true visions at all. The way a ministry should be evaluated is not by claims to special revelations, but by faithfulness in preaching and teaching God’s Word and by willingness to endure hardships in order to continue doing it.
By what two ways does Paul counter those who are slandering him?
Though he appears not to want to talk about it, why did Paul believe he needed to speak of a vision he once received?
How should a ministry really be evaluated?
Reflection: Have you ever been wrongly criticized or personally maligned in your service of the Lord? How did you handle it? What lessons does Paul’s own experience teach?
1Acts 9:12; 16:9-10; 18:9-10; 22:17-21; 23:11; 27:23-24.