Suffering for Christ

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Give thanks for Jesus’ suffering for you.

Bible passage

2 Corinthians 11:16–33

Paul boasts about his sufferings

16 I repeat: let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17 In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18 Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19 You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20 In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!

Whatever anyone else dares to boast about – I am speaking as a fool – I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 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. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised for ever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.

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Paul reluctantly answers the boasts of the ‘super-apostles’ with boasts of his own. He does not compete on their terms, although he is more than adequately qualified to do so. If they boasted of their Jewish racial and religious heritage, so could Paul, but he would rather boast of his sufferings. They may think that he is foolish (v 16), but Paul has told them earlier that ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom’ (1 Corinthians 1:25).

We read in Acts of some of the deprivations and sufferings Paul endured for the sake of the gospel, but here he gives more details. Thirty-nine lashes and stoning were Jewish punishments, beating with rods a Roman one (vs 24,25). It seems as if everyone and everything conspires against him, but he sees suffering as a mark of his apostleship.

Most church leaders and pastors can identify with the pressures Paul felt when church members suffered. Paul’s concern for the Corinthians only adds to that (v 28). 

Having to escape his pursuers in a laundry basket (Acts 9:25) could have been humiliating, but a sign of weakness becomes a boast to Paul (vs 30,31). Jesus said: ‘Blessed are you when people hate you … exclude you and insult you … because of the Son of Man … Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets’ (Luke 6:22,26).

Author
Phil Winn

Respond

Pray for the many Christians throughout the world who are suffering for their faith.

Deeper Bible study

‘I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.’1

This a remarkable passage, containing sarcasm directed at the Corinthians (vs 19,20) and irony directed at Paul’s own self. He is driven to something he knows it is folly to do – boasting. In addition, he can distinguish between what he is doing and what Jesus would never do (v 17). He is riled! What follows is a CV like no other and, as far as the world is concerned, one not likely to land him a job. In short, Paul portrays himself as a loser for Christ’s sake.

Consider this catalogue of rejection, torture, punishment and degradation. This makes sense of how Paul can say, ‘I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions’2 and ‘We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus’.3 How many are entitled to say this? Apparently, when the heroes of old boasted of their achievements, the greatest accolade to have received after storming a castle wall in battle, was the ‘Corona Muralis’, the equivalent of the Victoria Cross or the Medal of Honour.4 Paul’s travels, too, had included a wall, but he was heading in the wrong direction (vs 32,33)! This is self-deprecating boasting, but it adds to Paul’s moral authority. We may struggle to fit all his sufferings into the narratives of the Acts of the Apostles. Either the author (assume Luke) did not know about them all or Paul wasn’t telling, except here. 

Paul is often caricatured as a stern, intolerant and unyielding puritan. He had his moments. Now, however, we can see him, probably more than any figure of the ancient world other than Jesus, as loving, passionate, generous, faithful, stupendously brave and utterly devoted to Christ. How much is there here to imitate, by grace? Was he a loser or a winner?5

Reflect: It is better to fail in an enterprise that will ultimately succeed than to succeed in an enterprise that will ultimately fail.

1Phil 3:8  2Col 1:24  32 Cor 4:10  4 See Tom Wright, Paul: A Biography, SPCK, 2018, 314–315  5Phil 1:21

Author
Nigel Wright

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