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Paul Boasts About His Sufferings February 16, 2012

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 11:16-33.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Corinthians that they should not regard him as a boaster; they should bear with him, though, as he speaks – to a limited extent – of his actions and sufferings. By boasting confidently he is not performing an inherently Christian action, as boasting is foolish. Yet the false teachers boast from unworthy motives, so he will boast from good motives. He ironically notes that the Corinthians – in their wisdom – bear with the false teachers. Indeed, they bear with those who:

  • act like tyrants
  • greedily consume their possessions
  • ensnare them
  • insolently lift themselves up against them
  • slap their faces.

His opponents regard him as being weak.

Now whatever Paul’s opponents want to claim, he will also claim. They boast of belonging to God’s chosen people – yet Paul can make the same claim. Also, they boast of being servants of Christ; Paul knows that he is unworthy to boast of his position in this regard, yet he knows that he is more devoted than they are as a servant of Christ – as seen by his:

  • abundant labors
  • frequent and severe floggings
  • many deaths.

In particular, he was beaten five times by the Jews, where each beating consisted of thirty-nine lashes, and on three occasions the Romans beat him with rods; he was also stoned, shipwrecked three times, and had to spend a 24-hour period on a turbulent open sea. He has been exposed to danger from:

  • swift rivers
  • bandits
  • angry Jews
  • angry Gentiles
  • being in cities
  • being in deserts and mountains
  • being at sea
  • those who falsely claimed to be his brothers in Christ yet wanted to betray him.

He has also:

  • toiled and suffered
  • gone without sleep
  • been forced to go without food
  • been cold and naked.

In addition, he is anxious for the churches that he founded. When their weak faith causes them to act scrupulously, he pities them; when they depart from the truth of the Gospel, he is indignant with those who cause them to fall.

Indeed, Paul only boasts of those things that highlight his weakness. He appeals to the God of the New Testament covenant to confirm the truth of the entire preceding account. He also notes that when he was in Damascus, the ethnarch under King Aretas set a guard at the city gates to arrest him if he tried to leave. Paul concludes by noting that he escaped from Damascus by being lowered in a basket from a window of a house on the city walls.

Thoughts: This is one of those passages in Scripture that simply leave the reader speechless. After reading it I figured that the story of Paul’s life should be the basis of an epic film. Now it turns out that his life story has been told in several movies. Yet I could see Paul’s life playing out on screen in a performance like that of Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur and Kirk Douglas in Spartacus. One can imagine the sufferings that Paul endured filling out a four-hour film as his character interacts with a relatively large cast, including Elymas, Alexander the metalworker and Sosthenes. Now it’s not clear to me as to which classic actor would play Paul in such a film; suggestions are welcome.

In verse 20, we see that the false teachers severely mistreated the Corinthians. Hodge offers some insightful thoughts on this point:

They were lords over God’s heritage (1 Peter 5:3), not only as they tried to reduce the Christians to the bondage of the law, as appears from the letter to the Galatians, but as they exercised a tyrannical authority over the people…These men were tyrants, and therefore they exploited, insulted, and mistreated the people.

This caused me to wonder why the Corinthians would put up with the false teachers if they were acting like tyrants towards them. Moreover, the Corinthians were even treating them like genuine apostles by paying them; recall that they preached for monetary gain. My thought is that since each false teacher – unlike Paul – spoke Greek as a native speaker and was a skilled rhetorician, the Corinthians were sufficiently impressed; thus, they tolerated their imperfections. The Corinthians must have placed an excessive value on verbal fluency and rhetorical skill, as “money talks.”

In verse 26, we see that Paul was in danger from those who falsely claimed to be believers. Hodge offers a thought on this point:

This probably refers to the treachery of those who falsely claimed to be his brothers in Christ and yet tried to deliver him into the power of his enemies.

Given all of the other difficulties – as listed in this passage – that Paul endured, he probably desired genuine Christian fellowship. Most likely he wanted brothers and sisters who could pray with him and encourage him in his ministry. Now some believers fell into this category; for example, perusing Romans 16:1-27 shows that Paul was not entirely alone in his Christian walk. Yet the fact that some “believers” were ready to betray him must have broken his heart. Such experiences probably reminded him that his ultimate hope lay in God alone.

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1. Warning Against False Teachers of the Law | Ringing In - July 25, 2013

[…] As I am not well-versed in the history of the Reformation, I was rather confused by Calvin’s harsh denunciation of “the theologians of the Sorbonne.” After some Googling I came across the following account of Calvin’s 1544 work that refuted several anti-Reformation articles that had been written by the theological faculty of the Sorbonne. Thus, I suspect that Calvin identified quite strongly with Paul as he carried out his leading role in the Reformation. Just as Paul sought to refute the false teachers in Ephesus who were focusing on trivial matters, Calvin sought to refute the French theologians who espoused the principles of the Catholicism. I also suspect that Calvin’s life would be an appropriate subject for an epic film. […]


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