Paul’s Defense: His Sufferings

The Corinthians accept those who harm them (II Corinthians 11:16-21)

Paul has a bit more “folly” to present, and he asks the Corinthians to put up with him just a bit longer. They have no reason to think him to actually be foolish, but if some are inclined to call him a fool, at least allow him a little time to make his defense. Paul’s request carries a strong note of satire. The Corinthians have been tolerating false teachers in their midst for a while now, so surely they can give some time to the apostle these false teachers call foolish.

In giving this boast, he isn’t following the example of the Lord, who chose not to defend himself against his detractors (Proverbs 26:4). But in this particular case, Paul sees it as the better route, though it is not one he prefers (Proverbs 26:5). His detractors may call it foolish, but Paul points out that they have been doing a lot of their own boasting about their accomplishments.

The Corinthians, in their wisdom, have been tolerating men who are truly foolish (I Corinthians 4:10). The statement is strong satire because he’s been asking them to put up with his “foolishness,” implying that they were reluctant; yet, they were putting up with true foolishness. The source of this problem was the Corinthians' pride in their cleverness. They don’t see that they are being abused by these false teachers (Galatians 1:6-7; 2:4; 3:1; 4:9; Philippians 3:19).

In statements strongly dripping with irony, Paul admits to his shame of not being strong enough to abuse the Corinthians as the false teachers had done. But if they want to have a battle of boasts, Paul is ready to take them on. The exercise is foolishness, but Paul is willing to engage in a bit more foolishness for the moment.

Paul’s Credentials (II Corinthians 11:22-28)

Here we learn that Paul’s detractors are among the Jews. It is the element seeking to bring Christians under the Law of Moses who find the need to take Paul down. Paul points out that in heritage he and his detractors are no different (Philippians 3:5; Acts 22:3). It was Paul’s knowledge of the Old Law that made him so difficult to fight. The false teachers could not claim any inside knowledge that Paul did not already possess.

The false teachers also claim to be servants of Christ, but here Paul points out that he has a better claim than they. Their claim is merely in word; Paul claims it through a dedicated life. He has worked harder, been beaten more, been in prison more often, and nearly killed more often for the cause of Christ than they could begin to imagine (I Corinthians 15:30-32; II Corinthians 6:4-5). Paul reminds us that he is speaking as a fool, that is he is boasting of what he has done, but not to make personal boasts but to make a point. One gets the impression that the false teachers had called Paul foolish and Paul is taking the opportunity to beat that word upon their heads. What irony it is that such a great office as being an apostle of Christ is evidenced by the ill-treatment of the apostle.

Paul begins to lists specifics. The things mentioned here cannot be verified from Acts or other historical documents, but that merely reminds us that Acts is not a complete history of everything that went on when the church was founded. Like the Gospel accounts, Acts contains highlights to relay a message to later Christians. Yet, nothing that Paul mentions contradicts what is recorded in Acts because it does not claim to be a complete detailed history of the early church. Luke’s account verifies that some of these things did happen.

He received thirty-nine lashes five times from the hands of the Jews – his own countrymen. This would not include any that he received from the Gentiles. The reason for thirty-nine is that the Old Law limited whippings to 40 slashes (Deuteronomy 25:3). To make sure the number wasn’t exceeded through a miscount, the Jews stopped at thirty-nine.

He was beaten with rods three times. One incident is mentioned in Acts 16:22-23. The stoning happened in Lystra (Acts 14:19). The three shipwrecks did not include the one recorded in Acts 27, which occurred after II Corinthians was written.

With so much traveling, Paul frequently faced a variety of dangers. After listing so many sources of dangers, the final one – perils from false brethren – cuts to what is occurring in Corinth (Galatians 2:4).

Paul’s work did not leave him much time for rest or even eating. Paul worked hard (I Thessalonians 2:9; II Thessalonians 3:8). He didn’t have much (I Corinthians 4:11).

But we haven’t actually talked about the actual work Paul did as an apostle. Paul was genuinely concerned for those he worked with (Colossians 2:1). The things that come upon him daily (episustasis) describes the rush of a mob pushing against a person. That is how Paul felt those cares hitting him.

Paul would rather boast in his weakness (II Corinthians 11:29-33)

Who, Paul asks, can claim to be weak and Paul cannot sympathize with him (I Corinthians 9:22). Who is caused to fall and Paul isn’t upset about it? If anything Paul is even more upset than the one who fell. If Paul is to boast in anything, he would rather boast in the things that weaken him. Notice that in everything Paul listed, he did not mention things like how many churches he started, people he baptized, or sermons he gave. Paul’s glory is not in what others gloried in. This especially would seem odd to the Greeks as one popular philosophy, the Stoic philosophy, was to reject any sympathy toward weakness – and here Paul is embracing it.

Paul isn’t putting on a show because of the false teachers, this is exactly what his life is like and who he is. God knows he is telling the truth. He gives an example of a weak point in his life, shortly after becoming a Christian (Acts 9:22-25). The king mentioned, Aretas, was Herod Antipas’ father-in-law, though there was no love between the men because Herod had dumped his first wife, Aretas’ daughter, in order to marry his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias. Aretas, an Arabian king, had taken over Damascus in battling with Herod.

Class Discussion:

  1. Why do you suppose Paul picked his escape from Damascus as an illustration? How did it illustrate the point he was trying to get across?
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