Remember, Paul, in the larger context of this letter here, is speaking to believers. This is important, because he is discussing salvation in a way that is largely ignored in Christendom, and seems poorly understood by all except the faithful, and that is sanctification, the act of God imparting His holiness to us through His work and our cooperation.
We should contrast this with justification, the act of God declaring us righteous in the first place. This is why Christ died in our place according to the Gospel. He became human, he lived for between 33 and 34 years as a human, in perfect obedience to God under the Law of Moses, and then deliberately and knowingly gave up that life as a perfect substitutionary sacrifice for us vicariously on the cross. All those big words are chosen and precise in their definition, but the basically mean that Christ died for OUR sins as a substitute (vicariously), atoning for them (propitiation), with God then declaring us righteous in Christ (expiation), which pronounces us as faultless before God (justification). This is a sole work of our triune God, as opposed to sanctification, which God allows His new creations in Christ to learn to CHOOSE to do His will, and instead of simply imputing His righteousness (giving us the righteousness of another, Christ) monergistically (alone by Himself), He imparts His righteousness to our changed natures by teaching us to choose His will and live according to His Word. This is defined as sanctification, the process whereby He makes us holy, and it is said to by synergistic, that is we are allowed by God to participate in the act by our choices, that will move out into our works. However, it is still mostly His work – and none of what we do to become holy is worth two cents if we have not been born again, or saved, or converted, or justified, or redeemed, or regenerated – whatever term you want to choose for justification.
Paul is speaking of sanctification here to believers, and when justification does come up (as it does in 4:15, for example), it is mentioned as happening as a result of Christians that have said yes to sanctification and are choosing to live as God commands. If you read carefully, Paul is using this kind of sanctification as evidence of justification before God and all of His gifts to men, including His own Apostleship. Here is where my review of ground we have already covered begins.
Paul, you will recall, was put out to the extreme, I think to the point where it began to distract him in His service to Christ. After his second visit to Corinth, he was so saddened and deflated that he simply quietly returned to Ephesus. In Ephesus, he wrote the “angry” letter that he sent and then wished he hadn’t. He began to be distracted here, I think – you know, that gnawing thing in your mind and gut that just makes you crazy to know what happened? I wasn’t there, but Paul was one of us – human – and it seems reasonable that he would have human responses.
He was becoming so distracted, he left Ephesus and set out for Troas, where Titus was after his own trip to Corinth. It is entirely reasonable that Paul was after news of what happened with that letter that might have been like a hand grenade in the wrong setting. He didn’t find Titus, so he went looking for him in Macedonia, eventually finding him, and receiving a blessed report that at least a majority of the people there were with Paul and not the false teachers that were calling themselves “super apostles” and attacking Paul’s character.
So what is the first thing Paul chose to confront these “super apostles” with? The idea of suffering, and how that suffering perfects the believer. We talked about how the false teachers were essentially trying to use the gospel as a means of gain, and that’s never good. Paul, on the other hand, would not allow the Corinthians to support him while he was there. We talked about how Paul had gone through real life-threatening trials for the sake of the gospel. Were any of these false apostles ever stoned for preaching his message? Not ever. Paul was. Were any ever beaten with rods for speaking publicly about Christ? No, but Paul was, and he was even given 39 lashes on three different occasions. (One more stoke is a death sentence, if you didn’t know.) Had any of them ever been shipwrecked and lost at sea? Paul was, for a day and a night, for the sake of the work of Jesus on earth. No, beloved, suffering perfects us – if we will cooperate with God and let it.
What we saw was Paul talking about how the Lord had led him in real triumph – but it wasn’t Paul’s triumph, it was Christ’s. He speaks greatly here of his own motives in writing that angry letter, and what that meant to the work, his own state of mind, and the effect it had on the Corinthians. It is a sort of apology in our modern sense, but also an explanation of why he wrote it.
In Chapter 3, we studied the actual connection between the Old and New Testaments, or Covenants. Paul compared them directly. This is a particularly crucial area of study, because if you get the Covenants confused, or worse ignore the one that has gone before, you end up with some really whacked-out ideas on things like tithing, resisting sin, like that. We saw that we live in a new and spiritual reality (more of the now/coming, present/future kingdom stuff we’ve been talking about on and off since we studied Ephesians), and that it is a reality that needs to be intentionally chosen to live in by act of will on our parts. Walking in the Spirit requires that we chooses to set aside all those old acts of the flesh (sins) that will kill us, and instead choose life, being renewed in our minds, and transformed in our characters into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Chapter 4, we saw a need to let God do the work and for us to submit and either cooperate or get out of His way. In his contrasting of the righteous versus the unrighteous, we saw that we can fit into both categories, and in fact that those category differences, the contradictions in our character, not only perfectly describer humanity, but actually give glory to God as we allow Him to work in our lives. We talked about the cost of following God like this, and we saw that it was in fact everything we have and are. Christ exchanged His life for ours. We are no longer our own, and we must live like that matters, by focusing on the unseen, spiritual reality we now find ourselves in. We have not arrived, and we will not arrive until Jesus comes for us personally.
In Chapter 5, we got a look at what our behaviour as servants of God Most High should be, as we looked at the reasoning of Paul and how he was motivated to behave in his own walk and service of Christ the King. I know that this letter to Corinth was Paul’s justification of his ministry to Christ, but the best way I have found to read it is to make personal application, as if I were called to do what Paul was called to do in terms of the gospel. I know I’m not Paul, I’m not an apostle (Capital or Lowercase A), I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet, I’m MAYBE an evangelist, but we are all supposed to be that, and I’m barely a pastor and teacher. I understand that–but did not Paul say we are to be imitators of him as he was an imitator of Christ? He did, back in 1 Corinthians 11:1 (Also 4:6).
With that foundation, Chapter 6 shows us (starting in 5:21) the GOSPEL! Paul does make some contrasts and comparisons as to how the servant of God should conduct his life, but the main thrust I saw in this chapter is the gospel, and our specific response to it. Paul explains that WE are sons and daughters of the living God! As such, we should be responding to the gospel, whether we are already believers or not. After all, the answer to all questions and issues is the risen Lord Jesus Christ, and there really is no other. I’m not saying that to be arrogant so I can feel good about myself. Truthfully, it would make me miserable if any of you ended up in eternal suffering and it was my fault. The time, according to Paul, and according to the Holy Spirit in me, is NOW.
In Chapter 7, Paul is going to get what I used to call in high school [unintelligible] years ago, “Under the Hood.” What we saw was what drives the sanctification of God’s people, given that NOW is the time for salvation, be your need justification or sanctification, and everyone needs both if we are to one day see God. We see this best with Corinth because it was the one church from NT days that just had problems with the influence of the world around them leaking into the church. Remember when we studied 1 Corinthians? The world around them had turned the name of the city into a verb: to Corinthianize–to completely debase or debauch a person, place, or occasion. Scripture is clear that WE need to be Holy, just as our Father in Heaven is holy. Hebrews 12:14 tells us that this holiness is something to be pursued actively and why: “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” That holiness is the evidence to the world that Christ actually keeps His Word and that His sacrifice was sufficient for the sins of all those who will ever believe in Him. That holiness is only found via the Holy Spirit in Christ, and that is what drives the whole thing for the believer.
In Chapter 8, we see the gracious giving spirit that is to characterize all who wish to be in the work of God. In fact, Paul encourages all to abound in that work, specifically of sharing what you have within and even beyond your own ability. Because it is God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit living inside of the believer that is the engine for all of this, we should not be surprised that it is a spirit of generosity and liberality that is displayed by our gracious God through us no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. Ask James Coates and Tim Stephens what that means, the bit about “whatever circumstances.” James Coates has been imprisoned for being a godly pastor. Tim Stephens was imprisoned just because Alberta Health Services and their provincial government want to be able to tell everyone what to wear, where to stand, and what you can and cannot do. And Ontario isn’t much better with one church being fined over $10M! Yes, that’s $10M. You didn’t mishear. Yet, we are to respond to this with an attitude of graciousness and generosity, just like the Lord Jesus did.
In Chapter 9, we can see how that graciousness and generosity will pay dividends to the servants of God who will be willing and faithful to do it. This is NOT saying that if we give, that our “seed giving” will result in a “bigger harvest!” That’s what wolves will tell you to take your money under false pretenses. We will speak directly about that when we get to those verses. So hang in there, Ger has most definitely NOT gone prosperity gospel. Instead, we learn that you should do things because it is what you want, not because someone (including you) coerces you into it via threat or guilt. The lord loves a CHEERFUL giver.
In chapter 10, we saw that it isn’t our own opinion or commendation of ourselves that matters. In fact, our own opinion of ourselves is often (most often, VERY most often) skewed because we cannot make spiritual evaluation of ourselves unless we have been made by Christ to be born again to that new and living hope. It is only His opinion, and His commendation that is worth anything at all. In fact, I remember closing with a message that I do not work for YOU. I work for Him, in the hope that someday, I will be able to hear those wonderful words, “well done” directly from His lips. I haven’t been a good servant to this point, but I am certainly going to attempt to make up for lost time.
Last time, in the first half of chapter 11, Paul entertained the idea of being led astray from what he called the “simplicity” of Christ. We considered that there were more than one narrative of reality that one could give ear to, and why not all narratives are good to believe and follow, because some come from the enemy, that is, an evil that is so polluted and whose only goal is to see our destruction, that would be counter to any benefit we would receive. We even briefly considered how this has been going on in the church through this “ecumenical” movement that tries to tell us that all belief is the same. The belief may be the same, but in what source of faith? I cited some personal examples of this, also.
That brings us to this study, where we are looking at the second half of 2 Corinthians 11, from verses 16 through 33. I broke this text into paragraphs as follows:
KV29: Paul’s Mission in One Simple Statement
Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?
16-21a: Let’s Play the Fool’s Game for a Moment
21b-29: But Let Paul Pick the Standards of the Game
30-33: In All This, We Still Saw God’s Provision
Here is where Paul establishes once and for all the goalposts that the false teachers are forever trying to move as they redefine the words of the gospel, attack Paul’s character and abilities, and claim to score victory over the truth. To me, this text is like Paul saying, “Uh…not so fast, buddy…” In this text, Paul is showing the way we should think about this kind of attack on truth, and this kind of character assassination attempt.
Paul actually condescends to play their game for a moment, but only in a limited sense. He has to tell us he’s doing it for his own clarity, in fact. If he didn’t do this, we might think it okay to play the same game they do, and if we let the enemy choose the battlefield, we could be handing them the victory. Instead, Paul very carefully stays in reality, but plays their game by momentarily adopting their terms and methods. You’ll see what I mean when I get into the verses.
I actually recognize the techniques from some debating I did in high school [unintelligible] years ago. Paul is performing a technique we used to call playing your opponent’s game with your facts. I wish people would do that in the political arena. We’d have far fewer idiots in parliament. Anyway, let’s get into the text.
KV29: Paul’s Mission in One Simple Statement
Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?
Paul said over and over again, that he had a twofold mission from the Lord, and that was to spread the gospel “to the ends of the earth,” and to build up the church (as opposed to tearing it down), but also to keep it and teach it to be holy (the very act of building up the church). I should be careful to define “church” here, because otherwise people might mistake it to be the building on the corner with the parking lot that only fills up one day a week, or humans that are organized into a moral social club. I have heard people say that the church is not the building, it is the people in it, and they are right–but not always. There are guys like these false teachers that are false believers, the Scriptures tell us, that have crept in unawares, to spy out our liberty and figure out ways to bring us again into bondage. We could debate whether they know they are false believers, but I don’t think that would be a worthwhile exercise, even if you have a specific case in mind, and we can all come up with those, because we all pay attention to the Beloved of our Master, Christ. It is our pleasure to serve Him by caring for her.
Paul felt this. He expressed it best in verse 29 in the text: “Who is weak without my being weak?” Paul was right there with them. He knew his own insufficiency and inadequacy, and he was able to take his experiences and help others with how the Lord had helped him. “Who is led into sin without my intense concern?” Paul’s mission included presenting the Beloved Bride of Christ to Him on that day as holy, pure, and blameless, unspotted by sin or the world. When sin arose, it had to be dealt with, certainly, and put out of their midst. People get this wrong to…it isn’t our job to kick sinners out of the church. It is our job to kick UNREPENTANT sinners out of the church, and that isn’t permanent, that individual can always repent and turn to Christ. When sin came up in Corinth, Paul knew what to do, and we studied that in 1 Corinthians, and earlier in this letter. That statement boiled his mission of evangelism and discipleship down into one single verse. But why is he talking about this here? What I see is that this is where Paul turns the tables on his detractors, the “super apostles.” Let’s get into the text.
16-21a: Let’s Play the Fool’s Game for a Moment
When Paul says “foolish” or “foolishness” here, the Greek word is some version of aphron, to be without reason, to have a lack of mental stability or sober thought. To be reckless in mental discipline. They just didn’t think about it. Did you catch that? They said stuff they didn’t think about. The BLUSTERED. How’s that saying from the farm go? If you cannot beat them with facts, then baffle them with…hoya. The stuff that comes out the back-end of a bull. Skubalon, in Greek. With a general definition now set, we can get into the text.
16: Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, so that I also may boast a little.
- Let me see if I can paraphrase Paul accurately here in modern parlance. “I will say it again, I am no fool. But let us take up the game they are playing for a moment so that I can show you just how moronic their arguments are.” [No, Paul did not say moros here, but he did use the word. Perhaps you will recognize it from Romans 1:22–“Professing themselves to be wise, they became morainos. It’s a form of the word moros, that we translate directly as moron.] That is my own addition, but I have not done so without reason or in ignorance, nor have I taken it out of context. Paul is going to do a little “bragging,” but pay attention to what he does here. It’s a good lesson in rhetorical debate among other things.
17: What I am saying, I am not saying as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting.
- Paul is laying down his apostolic mantle for a moment. I mean, not really, but he’s going to speak as one of his opponents. That’s the thing to see and emphasize here. Other things to see include that Paul says the Lord is not speaking here. And yet, here it is in the holy writ. So, yes, God the Holy Spirit IS speaking. And Paul, whether he is aware of it or not, and I am not persuaded he was, this is not the only time he seems unaware of this, Paul is writing Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
- There are two ways to take that. Either the Holy Spirit agreed and was inspiring these words in Paul, or the next verses of Scripture are not inspired. And if that’s the case, then why are they still here? You know what I think. You have to make up your own mind from your own work though. Don’t disagree for no reason, state them fully and properly. Otherwise, you’re no better than the morons that Paul is discussing.
18: Since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also.
- “Boast” is the Greek word kauchomai, meaning to take pride in–and believers will already spot the flaw in the enemy’s reasoning. Pride is the original sin of Lucifer that caused him to fall from heaven, and will cause him finally to be utterly cast out. But wait–is that what Paul is going to do? Yes, apparently. But my guess is (and it isn’t much of a guess, because it is written down if we were to skip ahead a few verses) is isn’t going to boast like they are, in the flesh [Gk., sarx, (lit.) the body, (fig.) the sinful nature]. He’s going to “boast,” but he’s going to use reality and fact, unlike these false teachers.
19: For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly.
- Now, Paul isn’t insulting the Corinthians here, but the tone is similar. He’s calling out a shortcoming. It’s like me sarcastically saying in Paul’s words, “You’re SO wise…” when I mean the exact opposite, really. It’s not a lie, because the intent isn’t to deceive, it’s to point out the lie they believe about themselves. And what is Paul pointing out?
- In their [sarcasm here] wisdom, they will gladly put up with that. “Tolerate” is a good word here in terms of translation apparently. The word means to bear up against or under, as in longsuffering. You put up with it. Paul here is saying [sarcastically], “Oh you Corinthians, you’re so WISE…you just have to put up with me while I play the same game they do.” Because that’s what Paul is hitting at here.
20: For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face.
- This is how I KNOW Paul was employing sarcasm, by the way. “Let me list all of the moronic stuff you put up with from these fools,” says Paul. You put up with being made slaves [katadouloo]–literally being made slaves–to these super apostles. You have to pay their way! You have to give them your seed money now so that you will reap a great spiritual harvest! Sound familiar? It should. Don’t keep believing these kinds of charlatans.
- “Anyone that devours you” is a phrase that refers to the consuming of something by eating. I don’t think Paul is referring to their cannibalism here, Beloved. I think he is referring to their time and their resources. You know who these people are. They impose on your time. They borrow money and don’t pay it back, sometimes in significant amounts. They keep you away from your family until the wee hours. Like that–all so that you can do things for them. Yes, this is the symptom of a false brother, right here in the words of Paul.
- Anyone taking advantage of you in a situation…but I’m not talking about the guy you give a ride to church, or help by being a transport for taking him shopping because he doesn’t have a car. I’m talking about them taking advantage of you and your good will. You agree to take them shopping, and then they buy $500 worth of groceries and manipulate you into paying for it kind of thing.
- Anyone who exalts himself. I don’t think I need to point this type out to our regulars. You know the type, and if you and I hang around together, you may have a specific individual in mind. He doesn’t ever say anything particularly bad, but whenever such an individual gives and announcement or is called on for some kind of report, it’s all a big commercial for themselves, a chance to point out how humble they are as they serve Christ–and are very PROUD of that…. ::sigh::
- And here is the kicker–anyone hitting you in the face. Such individuals have abusive habits that they cannot help but inflict upon you as they pretend to be afflicted and hard done by, and maybe even try to make that your fault in that phony narrative we talked about last study. That’s officially called gaslighting, by the way. This is how I know Paul is being sarcastic. NO ONE here would take this, would they? And yet we have at times…
21a: To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison.
- Paul’s sarcasm here is kind of reaching a bit of a high point. Wow, These guys put me to shame in all of this. I must have seemed like real weak sauce in comparison to these grandiose…morons. Because Paul has not forgotten about whom or to whom he is speaking.
This at first seems to be a strange place to make a thought unit division, right? But consider that the letter itself was likely written on papyrus in ink with no spaces between words, with no punctuation, and heck, no lowercase letters! The things we call chapters didn’t exist before the 1300s, and the verses about 300 years after that, and these conventions were only introduced so that commentators could be as accurate as possible when referring to specific texts. I don’t even remember if I ever learned the names of the people involved in this, or if some at least were even known. And this is exacltly where to me the thought division occurs, and not to me only, but also to the translators of the NASB and the ESV at least. So we’ll move to the next paragraph so you can see the change in flow.
21b-29: But Let Paul Pick the Standards of the Game
Back to the matter and text at hand. You may have noticed all of the COVID-19 fears on the rise again because of this “new” strain from India (oops, I might not be supposed to say that) called the Delta variant. I found out recently that we’re up to Lambda. The Greek letters are something I have become more familiar with, but the majority of the population is not, so it sounds scary. Let me put that narrative into a bit of context with a question. Please, if you answer it, do not do so out loud. Did you know that there is no definitive test to distinguish between strains of COVID-19? And their mortality rate is no worse than any of the other ones. So why are we doing this again?
This is a technique in debate or rhetoric debate as well, and it belongs also to the skubalon category. It is a logical fallacy called “moving the goalposts.” Remember when you were a kid playing soccer? You would kick the ball at where the coat on the ground marked the goal post, only to find that the goal keeper had made the goal smaller for himself? THAT’S moving the goalposts. If a definition has an established acceptance, you cannot just change the definition and not tell anyone unless you are deliberately (and immorally) trying to cause confusion. A modern example of this is Critical Race Theory, but I don’t want to start a conversation about it.
This is why the speaker or author must carefully define his terms in any discussion, and then stick by them no matter whether he wins or loses the debate. Word have meanings, and although they may change over time, that isn’t an excuse to murder language. Paul is about to set some standards and then enter the debate in a way that will end the debate.
21b: But in whatever respect anyone else is bold—I speak in foolishness—I am just as bold myself.
- Paul is saying by way of reminder here that he is still speaking as a moron. It’s worth noting because of the rarity value it has. Wherever anyone else is being bold and brash in their idiocy, Paul will be just as bold in his own idiocy, and that is the meaning here. There is nothing deep or hard to understand in this, Paul is engaging the “enemy,” those “super apostles” in a verbal battle, and they already have chosen the field to give themselves the best advantage. I don’t think they counted on Paul knowing the rules of warfare, and apparently, they were…suitably unprepared for what is coming. I personally find this gratifying and humorous.
- You get a sense from this second part of the verse that an attack is imminent! And boy, is it!
22: Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.
- Paul may in fact be giving us a look at who his attackers actually were here. Yes, that means there is a LOT of information. I’ll try to note it, but I don’t always get it all, and that’s why we do this daily as Bereans, Beloved. It seems that Paul’s enemies here were from the Hebrew contingent, and there may have been a legalistic bent to them. I wonder if Paul had thoughts of the Galatians in his mind about this time, years later.
- Look at what Paul does to address his opponent’s arguments here. We can learn a little about rhetoric and debate here from Paul as an example, although that is not our purpose. Paul went point for point and stated agreement where it was appropriate, but ALWAYS stated facts and truth. Look at the construction of this.
- “Are they Hebrews? So am I.” Oh, they claim this? Well, I can claim that too. He does it three times, and each time he is saying something slightly different. “Hebrew” is a linguistic and intellectual tradition, and one of long honour. Hebrews were known as world-class philosophers. “Israelite” is a national tradition, and it meant a lot to those that could claim it. God gave the Jews a kingdom, and they were still His chosen people. “Descendants of Abraham” is a tradition of faith, and many did not understand it the way Paul did (the right way, as per Galatians and Romans). Each of these things, Paul addressed because these were what some of his detractors were attacking him with, and this is important, were trying to steal the ground out from under him to replace him.
23: Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.
- Here’s where things start to get kind of interesting to me. Week after week, I go over this at the beginning, and this is WHY. Because it is true, and it is how Paul is actually KNOWN to be a servant of Christ. And Paul still finds it necessary to point out that he is still peaking moronic drivel! Why? Because NONE of these things are things anyone in their right mind would brag about!
- Do these guys claim to serve Christ? You know they must have. “I more so,” Paul said. And then he plants HIS goalposts in CEMENT so they CANNOT be moved. The first thing he says? “In far more labours.” They cannot outwork ME! I’ve travelled the world for this, said Paul, and they came from Judea. Have they ever been to Cypress? How about Galatia? Ephesus? Philippi? I’ve been to all those places and more, and they know me by face and name, not just reputation. And here is where for the false teachers, Paul goes off the rails. For us who follow Christ, we nod in agreement, and tearfully worship because of the commitment that Paul had to our Lord Jesus!
- “In far more imprisonments.” had any of these “super apostles” ever been to jail for preaching Christ? I don’t actually know, but I’m betting the answer is NO, or we would have read something about that. However, Paul HAD been, and on multiple occasions because he angered the wrong people with the gospel.
- “Beaten times without number.” Um…I hope you have never been beat, and if you have been, you’ll know what I say is true. You NEVER forget. Oh, you can get past it and become functional after, Paul certainly did, I know I have at least in some measure, my new friend Steve in Florida has, but we all remember, and contrary to that 1960s song, it does not “feel like a kiss” when somebody hits you. You NEVER forget, though you forgive, and you learn to move on. It isn’t easy, but you learn it, or you get stuck in untenable situations in your life. You learn to move on. Paul learned that lesson. And he apparently learned it so well that he lost count! “Without number.” The “super apostles” had likely never been in danger of a beating like that…ever.
- “Often in danger of death.” I don’t think I have ever been in danger of death for my gospel activities, Beloved. I have been in danger of death, but not because of Christ! I’m not anxious to go there either, but Paul had been, and he found a way forward in the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. I bet the super apostles had no idea what this meant.
24: Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.
- You know, I think this is a prophecy of Jesus in Mark 13:9. “But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them.” I wonder if the Lord Jesus Christ had Paul in mind when He spoke that.
- One of my commentaries in my software package puts it this way, and I share it as useful knowledge: “‘Flogged in the synagogues’ refers to the floggings that could be administered to Jews who were found guilty of serious breaches of conduct. The floggings were to consist of thirty-nine blows with a whip across the back, based on Deut. 25:1–3 (which calls for forty lashes, thirty-nine being given in practice so as to avoid exceeding the prescribed number); the Apostle Paul mentions receiving such floggings five times (this verse). Such punishments could be given only to Jews who were willing to submit to them to maintain membership in the Jewish community.” One more was considered a death sentence. I know I try to do that bit I find funny by wondering aloud who the guy was that figured out that 39 was where you had to stop, but in reality, if you got more than 40 lashes, it wasn’t the beating or the blood loss that killed you, it was the stoning after that, and if you were still breathing, God help you, because they burned you after that.
- Paul went through that FIVE TIMES. I think that not one of these fake super apostles ever was treated like that. And Paul did this, as Jesus said, as a testimony to the Jews that beat him for serving Christ. Not just once, but FIVE TIMES! If you can’t say amen, say ouch! Or say ouch and then say amen. Either way, that’s because he was doulos Iesou Christou, and no other reason. These super apostles were only serving themselves.
25: Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.
- Three times beaten with rods. Again, none of the super apostles had ever suffered in their efforts to make money from the saints by lying to them. And if they were in danger of getting caught, I bet you could have coloured them gone.
- Once I was stoned. That happened at Lystra. You know who else was from Lystra and may have watched this from the sidelines? Timothy! He could actually witness to that. And we can read about that in Acts 14:19–“But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.” The city referred to here is found in verse 8 of that passage, and it names Lystra. In fact, it may be (from the time frame) that Paul actually DID die and then was raised, and he will talk about this in the next chapter, and we will look at that then, but in that text, he says he didn’t know.
- Three times he was shipwrecked! Beloved, I’ve been in a canoe that tipped over. That was on a lake and in 5 feet of water. All I got was wet. And annoyed at my buddy Donnie because he kept tipping us over on purpose. But my feet could touch the bottom, so I was never in danger. A whole ship in a storm adds a whole other dimension to that.
- A day and a night in the deep! Beloved, I can swim passing fair. I’m not the strongest swimmer, but I can stay afloat for a while. But a day and a night? Good thing it was the Med in summer. And that adds predatory fish to the equations, and my head refuses to go past that!
- ALL of that is drastic stuff that I bet NONE of these moronic “super apostles” EVER went even close to undergoing. Paul was constantly exposed to this because this is where his service to Christ brought him. Where has it brought you and I? And do we trust Him if it takes us to places where we have no ability or provision? If you’re a false believer like these morons, I bet not.
- Now, I will pause for a moment to address the guys in the back row of the internet suggesting that I shouldn’t call people morons. I will address these guys the way Paul did. And HE called them fool, idiots, and morons, based on their WILLING lack of understanding of the issues at stake or their WILLING participation in the harm and destruction of the very bride of Christ. If you want to verbally spar over my word choice, your criticism is misdirected. Address it to God in prayer, and we’ll see what HE says about it. Moving on.
26: I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren;
- I can hear the rapid-fire cadence that Paul’s voice must have taken on as he dictated this letter to the scribe. Frequent plodder miles must have been a thing, right? Think about it. Frequent journeys. Dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers. Dangers from my countrymen, dangers from my non-countrymen (the Gentiles). Dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea.
- Up to this point, it is all about the physical dangers of the mileage Paul was putting on. Then he takes what I consider to be a critical turn, because I have faced and still face these kinds of dangers right here and right now. Dangers among false brethren. The Greek word, I took a guess at it before I looked at the interlinear. I was spot on. Pseudadelphos. Literally false sibling. [Pseudo, false; Adelphos, same womb]. What is that for a Christian? It’s actually worse than it sounds. Let me try to explain.
- As Christians, we are literally closer than natural siblings. I have more in common with Alex, for example, than I do with my own three little sisters, and we share the same parents. Now, I love all my sisters, so don’t take that the wrong way. False Christians, are those that either pretend they are Christians deliberately to hurt Christians, or they think they are Christians but are really just false converts, and of they two, the second is MORE dangerous. The False Christians usually give themselves away somehow if you are discerning (a gift of the Holy Spirit). The others believe…but not in the real Jesus Christ. They believe in some concocted version of the real thing, and because of their faith, they speak the same language you do, but about the wrong things or in the wrong way. They can often get into trouble if they’re put in positions of leadership in the church, but even that isn’t a reliable symptom, because there are people that have natural leadership, or other gifts. You don’t know them until your blood is on their sword, and it may not even be intentional on their part. Yeah, dangers from false siblings in Christ. It’s a thing.
27: I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
- Actually, I kind of feel Paul here. I understand the idea of labour in Christ, and know about the hardships that one can face in doing that. BereanNation.com is an example of that. Actually, it’s a microcosm, but I’ll just stay away from that. I have lost sleep over some of what we do, sometimes for prayer, sometimes because I’m torturing my brain to try to come up with a solution. Hunger and thirst. THAT I GET. I grew up on a farm, yes, but if we had a bad year, there wasn’t enough to eat always. And anyone that tells you you’re going to get rich if you own a farm is flat-out lying to you. You need a HUGE infusion of capital…you know what, I’m going to stop there. This isn’t about agricultural economics. In cold and exposure. Um…kid from up north. I have been through the ice at -40℃ (or Fahrenheit, that’s where the scales happen to meet). THAT I understand, because I had to walk home a mile after I dragged myself out of the very COLD water. I was a big ice cube by the time I got home. Having said that, I bet that doesn’t hold a candle to the stories Paul can tell. I’m hoping to hear a few on that day.
28: Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.
- And as if that weren’t enough, he had all the stuff that dealt with building and caring for the church as a corporate body, and each individual believer, who is precious in God’s sight. I won’t say a great deal here, but I am at least beginning to understand what that means as a pastor. I just care, where I never really did before. I mean I did, but not to this kind of depth. Not just “does he have a roof over his head,” which I admit is important, but “how is his walk with Christ?” Because THAT is mission-critical. It is the reason a Pastor exists–the care of the souls God places in his charge. If you’re here this evening, that’s you, Beloved. Do I mess up? For sure. Do I always get it right? No, I don’t. But I will have to give an account for you, and I want to give a good one. You can help me by actually being serious in your walk with Christ and your life in general. I’m not saying never crack a joke, but hey, life isn’t all laughs. Are you reading the word daily? Are you praying to God through Christ daily? Are you fellowshipping with other believers? Are they fellowshipping with you, and how? Are you at least learning to worship God? Are you passing on what you know to others? Are you in a spiritual condition to be a good example of a believer to others? The list goes on, I’m sure you get the idea. And when you do these things, like Paul said in chapter 10–be a cheerful giver. Do it because you want to, not because some guy is twisting your arm, not even me. I won’t do that if I can avoid it.
29: Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?
- This is more of that pastoral burden that the Lord gave Paul. Brothers, I know you. Sisters, I know you. I know where you have weakness, because we have talked about it, and prayed about it. I have my own issues, and some of you know some of them. I am affected by that, and I pray for you, and if I can give you encouragement, please let me.
- And your sins…I know some of yours. I pray for you. I know you know that. Sin is terrible. I know, I’ve suffered enough because of my own. But let me encourage you all with this verse because this is a great opportunity–“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” That’s Philippians 1:6. It is true we have not arrived–but God has us on our way, and will get us there Himself. He started it in us, and He is going to finish it! If just takes some time in the between times.
Beloved, Paul served our King and Christ. These fake apostles did not. On the day of Jesus Christ, an event still in the future (or the world would be on fire now), there will be a reckoning, and Paul will shine. These other individuals if they did not repent before their lives ended will burn away like chaff. Where we stand of that day will be reflected in how WE serve our King, or follow our own desires. All of these things that Paul went through were proof that he was a devoted servant of the king. May we be the same. And that brings us to the last thought unit in the chapter.
30-33: In All This, We Still Saw God’s Provision
I’ve already been hitting on how God is doing a good work in us, and Paul is going to reinforce that message to the believers that are listening to this. He will do so by reiterating a right view of the truth, and even cite a personal example. Let’s read.
30: If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.
- There is a lot here also. The first thing to note is that we can gather from the word use in the verse that Paul’s preference would be to NOT boast. But sometimes, he has to, so he chooses what he will boast about! That, according to Paul, will be what pertains to his weakness! What were some of those? Well, he was guy that had poor eyesight, as an example. Galatians 6:11–“See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.” My mother’s mother was blinded in her late 50s by a stroke. Those of you who have seen her paintings know what that may have done to her, as she was decidedly better than Hunter Biden. [chuckle]. But she still wrote me letters. She wasn’t totally blind, she had center vision, meaning that she could see colours, and she looked at things like they were down a long tunnel. The letters she wrote to me were VERY LARGE on the page, so that SHE could see them as she wrote.
- Okay, okay, I see you waving your hand in the back row, young person. No, she didn’t use speech to text, because that technology wasn’t in existence at that time. It wasn’t for Paul either. Paul also may have needed a walking stick to hold himself up at times because of all the physical beatings he had taken. We talked about that. Those were things that gave him or certainly encouraged weakness in Paul…but he bragged about this because it made him more reliant on the God of Heaven.
31: The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.
- This is I think another thing Paul had to address with these “super apostles.” They flat-out called him a liar. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being called a liar. It is an affront to my character. It literally hurts like a physical blow. And yet, I have told lies. That isn’t a newsflash, we all have. Sometimes to ourselves! Paul was the same way–and then the Lord saved him.
- It still wounds my pride to be called a liar, but I have to say, when you no longer care what men think of you, it makes more of a heavenly difference. You are concerned that HE knows you are not a liar, regardless of what men say about you. And see what Paul’s appeal is: The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever. You remember that “audience of One” I sometimes talk about? That would be Him. Paul (and by extension me) cared what He thought, and wasn’t concerned with what others thought because it was inconsequential in the scheme of things. You don’t like what I say? Well, I’m sorry that you are offended by my words, but your opinions about this are irrelevant in light of who they were spoken to please. That was Paul’s attitude, because Paul knew whose hand he was really in.
32: In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me,
- Paul here gives an example of the Lord’s protection and provision of himself. It seemed that the governor of Syria had it in for Paul, or maybe it was King Aretas himself, but at any rate, they knew Paul was in Damascus. (You can read WHY he was there in Acts 9. Yes, it was that trip.) They were guarding the city gates so that he could not escape the city while they searched it to seize him, with the intent of putting him to death. Paul knew it. I don’t know if he was afraid, but I would assume he was.
- I say this because we tend to allow fear to paralyze us and to keep us from acting on what we know the Lord wants. “Lord, I can’t preach Christ to HIM, I’ll be thrown in prison or worse…” That is the level of reality that Paul and his compatriots were facing, and it seems like we are headed back there at the moment. And yet they esca[ed. Not by their own cunning, either.
33: and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands.
- It seems what we have come to see as “providence,” the incidental supply of what it is we need at the time we need it in this case. There was a window in the wall that apparently the city guard did not think of. It just happened to have a large basket and quantity of rope nearby. Really? Beloved, who thinks up this stuff? Apparently smugglers or illegal traders–but also God. And He “smuggled” Paul right out of Damascus, right past the guard.
- This past Sunday, if you missed it, we watched Paul the Apostle, and it had this scene in it. I personally thought it was amusing. All you MASH fans will remember Sgt. Rizzo, the guy in charge of the motor pool, right? The actor that played him, G. W. Bailey, played Barnabas in this movie. It was pretty tense, with Barnabas, Ananias, and a girl invented as a plot device were holding the basket with Paul in it in mid-air in the dark and the guards with torches march right underneath him.
- But Paul got away, let’s not quibble about the details we don’t know. Paul got away, preserved by God through His servants and His providence.
Beloved, we can and should recognize Paul’s commitment to our master. He fled Damascus, and then went on to write 13 (or 14 depending on your view of Hebrews) letters that form nearly half of the Christian New Testament. God chose Paul to do that. And Beloved, God even gave him his commitment that he do those things. He has done the same with us in whatever measure He has seen fit to give, for reasons that are all His own, and we cannot legitimately argue against that. People still try, and that just proves it isn’t really an intellectual issue, doesn’t it?
More than that, our Lord wishes that we follow in those great and large footprints that the Apostle himself left. So here we are at yet another Bible Study on yet another Thursday Night, faced with all of the weight of our lack of decision and effort, right? I mean, I’m right there with you. I wish it was possible to convey in English how overwhelmed I am at times with the idea that I am a servant of the living God. I choose this life of slavery to Him, not for the sae of the rewards that will doubtless someday come, but because of the great debt I owe Him. He died in my place. I was not able, I was not willing, I was not knowledgeable, I was not in any way prepared to leave everything and follow Christ. And yet looking back on when Christ found me, I really didn’t have anything. And everything I have now, He gave me–and I fail every day at taking care of that stewardship. There are times that I don’t even know where to start.
But praise the Lord! He ALWAYS manages to fill up my day with service to Him, even if that service is taking care of myself after a bout of illness, or after my family and their various situations. I know what Paul means when he says in this chapter “pressures within and without.” It is literally my home address. But those weaknesses in my life is where God stands and God provides, Beloved. And more than that, He causes ME to stand, even when my initial feelings tell me to run in the opposite direction screaming! And that happens more than I let on because of my own broken past. Yes, my favorite character is indeed Mr. Spock. But that, my friends, is an act.
Maybe you’re sitting there in your own situation feeling like I’ve just described. Well, there is hope in Christ for you too. If you want it. Just repent of your sins and turn to Christ in Faith. If you want to. If you don’t, hey, that’s your call. I won’t be twisting any arms over that. I’m not one of these so-called modern evangelists with their manipulation techniques. But I will tell you that it’s your choice. You can choose life, or you can crawl away and die in whatever hole you choose. And beloved, that really is the choice. But why would you do that when Jesus became a man for the single purpose of saving all those who will ever believe in Him from that fate? The choice is yours, as they say.
And that’s what I saw in the chapter.