BCP Sexagesima. 2 Corinthians 11:19-31
2Co:11:19: For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. 20: For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face. 21: I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also. 22: Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. 23: Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. 24: Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25: Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26: In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27: In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. 28: Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. 29: Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? 30: If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. 31: The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.
Last summer Nen, Dave Onyett and David Cobbold had to interview a number of people before deciding that God was calling me to become the new rector of Knebworth. I don't know how many people now I am on the third week of my ministry here think that they made a mistake! Imagine that you were involved in the selection process and you have to consider a candidate who is considered by some to be in it for the money, timid when face to face but bold when away, and an unimpressive speaker who is better at writing letters. These were some of the charges brought against the apostle Paul by his opponents who attacked his integrity and authority. He was deeply concerned about the way that these false teachers were leading some of the Corinthian Christians astray, about the immorality of some in the church, and the worsening relationship that he had with the church.
Here, Paul responds to these charges by replying 'tongue in cheek'. The Corinthians considered themselves to be 'wise' or thoughtful. Yet Paul points out that they accept people with little or no thought because they put up with fools and teachers who enslave and take advantage of them. 19: For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. 20: For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face.
Paul says that if they can be bold about these things then he can be bold too ! Rather than being bold about his own conquests, abilities and achievements he list things that are not triumphs but defeats. Not strengths but weaknesses. He doesn't want to establish his superiority, but the protection and provision of God. This shows that lowliness and apparent weakness are assets, rather than disadvantages for a Christian leader.
22: Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.The claims implied here on the part of the false apostles indicate that they were Jews who felt superior to Gentile Christians. They were probably Judaizers, i.e., they wished to impose Old Testament practices and observances as required for Gentile converts. This, of course, was not Paul's position who said that acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Saviour is enough to put people right with God. Paul affirms his credentials by stating that he is a Hebrew, speaking the language and being brought up in this culture. An Israelite, one of God's chosen people. A descendant of Abraham, showing that he was an heir of the covenant made with Abraham.
He then lists what he has gone through. 24: Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25: Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned. 40 lashes were allowed [Deut 25:2-3], therefore, to be safe, only 39 were given [2 Cor 11:24]). The convict who was to be flogged was stripped to the waist and was then given lashes from a three-thonged whip barbed with pieces of lead or bone while either lying on the ground (Deut 25:2) or tied to a pillar in a bent position. Paul was often imprisoned under Roman law and three times beaten with rods (an illegal punishment for a Roman citizen such as Paul).
Stoning was the death penalty for those who blasphemed. There had to be at least two prosecution witnesses who had to knock the blasphemer whom they had testified against off his feet and drop the first, large stone on him/her. If this failed to cause death, the bystanders proceeded to complete the sentence with other stones.
Paul also refers to the dangers of travelling, the opposition of people, and physical deprivation including pain, tiredness, hunger, thirst and nakedness. He also mentions his concern for the churches, not surprising when you read his letters and some of the things that went on.
Paul closely identifies with church
members. 29: Who is weak, and I am not
weak? who is offended, and I burn not?
NIV Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin,
and I do not inwardly burn?
Paul felt the weakness of any Christian who feels weak. His sufferings that he has just listed showed he could identify with weakness from personal experience. If anyone was led into sin, he not only burned with indignation against the person responsible but also experienced the shame of the offense and longed for the restoration of the one who had stumbled.
30: If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. NIV If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
His weakness opens the way for him to experience the abundant power of God's grace. Therefore his boasting, unlike that of the false apostles, is not in what he has done but in what God has done despite his own weakness.
However, we must not confuse weakness with an inability or unwillingness to take a moral stand. In 1 Corinthians 5 he tells the church to expel an immoral brother and in 2 Corinthians 13 he warns that he 'will not spare' those who had sinned and not repented ( 12:20 - 13:2 )
What can we take from this passage ? God can and will work through and despite our weaknesses if we are fully committed to him. Our life and service may not bring the rewards that we might like. We are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus daily. This is a one way journey that will lead to rejection, pain, suffering and death. But it will also lead to resurrection and glory for those who persevere. The seeds planted in the good soil took time and effort to produce a good crop, and so it will take time, effort and perseverance for us to be rooted and grow in God's word.
As we consider all church leaders, let us not judge them by the standards of the world. They may not appear erudite, successful, charming, strong, wealthy, or popular, but this is not how God chooses and equips those whom he calls to serve him.