“I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little. That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting. Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also. For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. 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. I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold (I speak foolishly), I am bold also. Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 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; 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; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed (or evermore, knoweth that I lie not. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: and through a window in a basket was 1 let down by the wall, and escaped his hands” (2 Cor. 11:16-33).
I confess to you that when I read words like these, I cannot get away from the thought that in all the nearly fifty years that I have known Christ as my Saviour, and during almost all that time I have been trying to preach His Word, I have just been playing at Christianity. When I think what this dear servant of God of the first century went through for Christ, motivated by a consuming love for the Saviour, I feel that I have a great deal to learn of what it means to be a true minister of the Lord Jesus.
We have already noticed in the study of this letter that there were those who were very jealous of the ministry of the apostle Paul. They would have crowded him out of the various churches had it been possible, they even ignored him in order to prejudice those who had gladly received him as the servant of the Lord. On some occasions, while not exactly stooping to evil-speaking, they had endeavored to insinuate that he had no true ground for counting himself an apostle of Jesus Christ, that after all he was merely an ecclesiastical free lance and that his words should not be accepted, as those of the original twelve apostles, as really inspired of God. It was because of all this, because his own converts were being distressed and upset by such things, that he found it necessary to direct attention to the marks of his apostleship. He seeks to show that God Himself has put His stamp on his ministry by permitting him to suffer for Christ’s sake.
Notice first his boasting. He says in verses 16 to 21: “Let no man think me a fool.” That is, there were those who would imply that he was simply imagining that he had had a divine commission, that he was just a simpleton and did not know the difference between an idle dream and a heavenly vision, between the direct call of God and the moving of his own human spirit. “Let no man think me a fool”—I am not as simple as that; and yet he is saying, If you do, well, then receive me on that ground, and give me a chance to indulge in a little bit of foolishness in talking about myself. He was altogether at home when speaking of Christ, but when he had to speak of himself, it was most distasteful, and he considered it as mere foolishness. Yet it seemed necessary, in order to clear up this particular difficulty. “That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord” (he was not speaking as though by direct command of God but foolishly, as it were,) “in this confidence of boasting.” Others had come to these Corinthians who boasted of their lineage and of their graces and abilities and gifts, and Paul says, “Since you like to hear that kind of thing, I will give you a little of it.” “Ye suffer fools gladly.” In other words, the man who spends time talking about himself is a fool; you have had some of that, and you seemed to enjoy it, and so I am going to give you a little more of it. “Seeing ye yourselves are wise.” That was a bit of irony. You Corinthians are so remarkably wise that you can let some of the rest of us indulge ourselves. “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, if you can stand that, you can stand it if I tell you a little of my personal experiences and of the Lord’s dealings with me.
“I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also.” There were those who had a great deal to say about their credentials. He too had something to say along that line, and so he went on to tell them something about his lineage. Those who came troubling them were as a rule Jews who had made a profession of Christianity, but had never broken with the old system and come out into the full place of the new covenant. They boasted of the fact that they were real Hebrews of Abraham’s seed, and Paul asks what have they to boast of over himself? “Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.” I wonder whether this message is going into the homes of any Jewish families. I am quoting the words of an eminent Hebrew Christian of 1900 years ago, one of the most highly educated Rabbis of his day, a man brought up at the feet of the Rabbi Gamaliel, noted for his sanity and sound orthodoxy. This man, Paul, once called Saul of Tarsus, was of all the Jews of his day the man who had the most bitter hatred against Christianity; but something happened to him that made him the outstanding apostle of the new doctrine of the grace of God, and he is telling us something here of what he endured for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes people say that certain persons change their religion for temporal benefit. It was not a question of changing religion for Paul, but of getting to know the living Christ. And it was not for temporal benefit, for had he remained as he was he would have lived and died as one of the most honored Hebrews of his time. He knew when he confessed Christ Jesus as his Saviour that he would be put out of the synagogue, that his own friends would disown him, look upon him as though dead, and yet he decided to endure it all for Christ’s sake. He says, “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ” (Phil. 3:7). This man was genuine. Something had taken place in his inner life that made him step right out from Judaism and commit himself to the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour.
“Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more.” Do others boast that they are ministers of Christ? I too am a minister of Christ, and my ministry has been a wider one than theirs. He is not saying, “I am a greater minister, a greater teacher, a greater preacher.” What he is saying is this, “I have labored more abundantly than all the rest of them.” He had gone from city to city, from country to country, and from continent to continent, giving the glad, glorious message of the grace of God. None of them had excelled him in this or had come near him in time spent and places visited and multitudes preached to. Then he tells how he has suffered for his ministry: “In stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.” When you turn to the Book of Acts you read once of his being beaten with stripes, but he says, “In stripes above measure.” Just once you read of his being in prison, but he says, “In prisons more frequent.” We do not get the entire record in Acts. “In deaths oft.” He passed through experiences again and again that were harder to bear than dying for Christ would have been.
Then notice the pathos of this, “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.” That was the discipline of the Jewish synagogue. He could have been free of that. When they summoned him for trial on these five occasions, it was by the elders of the synagogue who charged him with teaching things contrary to the law of Moses, and they condemned him to be beaten with forty stripes save one. That was the Jewish way of disciplining those who were adjudged guilty of violation of the law. They were afraid that they might exceed the legal requirements, for God had said that they were not to be unmerciful, and so they gave thirteen stripes on one side, thirteen on the other, and thirteen down the middle of the back. That was the way they beat one who had broken the law of Moses. If Paul had said, You have no authority over me; I am a Christian, and you cannot judge me and pronounce sentence upon me; I will appeal to Rome, he could have been free from all this. He did this when Caesar’s own officers would have violated the law, but when his own brethren, the Jews, pronounced judgment against him, he bowed his head and took it because of his love for them.
He said, “I became a Jew, that I might gain the Jews” (1 Cor. 9:20). If you want to see how much Paul loved the Jews, you can do so there as you see him tied to that post, with his back bare. Notice his quivering flesh as the thongs come down upon him. And he could have been delivered from it all if he had simply said, “I am no longer a Jew; I am a Christian.” But although he was a Christian he could not forget that by birth he was a Jew, and he loved his people. We hear him say on another occasion, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (Rom. 10:1). And so he even bore the synagogue’s discipline in order that he might not be alienated from the people he loved and served and suffered for, “that they might be saved.”
Then he goes on to tell of what he endured from the Gentiles. “Thrice was I beaten with rods.” That was the Roman punishment. “Once was I stoned;” that was at Lystra. “Thrice I suffered shipwreck.” You read of his being shipwrecked once in the book of Acts, but there were two more such experiences. “A night and a day I have been in the deep.” I suppose the vessel had gone to pieces, and he was floating about clinging to a spar. No one was near, but he was looking to God, and in some way deliverance came. All these things failed to quench that burning ardor that sent him through the world for a generation proclaiming salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then there were other perils that he suffered. They were eightfold as given in verse 26. “In perils of robbers,” that was a very real peril in those days when robbers beset every mountain path, and Paul traveled from city to city mostly on foot. “In perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen.” The Jews hated him, and the Gentile world failed to appreciate the fact that he was God’s ambassador to them. “In perils in the city,” among the cultured and refined as well as among the uncouth and the ignorant. “In perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren.” This last is perhaps the saddest of all. Those professing the name of Christ and yet untrue to him, those taking the ground of being servants of God and yet showing themselves false brethren, who would have destroyed his good name if they could.
And then he continues, “In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness.” Whatever have you and I known of suffering anywhere near like this? We have sung sometimes, but I wonder whether we really mean it:
“Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow Thee;
Naked, poor, despised, forsaken,
Thou, from hence, my all shall be;
Perish ev’ry fond ambition,
All I’ve sought, and hoped, and known;
Yet how rich is my condition,
God and heav’n are still my own.”
Do we really mean it when we sing such a song as this? Are we prepared thus to suffer and endure for Christ’s sake? This is first-century Christianity, this is what it cost to be true to God in those early days, and yet how faithful God’s servants were that we might have this wondrous heritage of the truth today.
But there was another thing that weighed upon him, and only one having the oversight in the Church of God could know the meaning of this: “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.” Paul carried the people of God upon his heart. He could not go into a place and labor for a while and then be through with them. They were still on his heart, and if they got into trouble, into difficulty, into dissension, it burdened him, and he took it to God and wrote letters to them and tried to help and bless. And now he says, “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?” That is, if some one who should know better stumbles one of the weakest, it fills me with indignation. So truly was he a father in Christ to the people of God. And he adds, “If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.” If , must boast, I will not boast in what I have done or what I am, but “I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.” Just a poor weak, earthen vessel, and yet God has taken him up and used him to give the message of His glory to a needy world. He could boast in this, that in spite of all his weakness God had seen fit to speak in and through him.
His conclusion is very striking. You might have expected him to tell of some very remarkable experience he had had, in which God showed that, after all, it was His delight to put honor on the man who had stooped so low for the sake of Jesus, but he tells of something that most of us would have left out. “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: and through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.” What a picture! And then think of the dignity of some of us. Just imagine him curled up in a basket and dropped over a wall! That is the last view we have of Paul in this chapter. Some one passing might have looked up and said, “Well, dear me, is that the Rev. Dr. Paul?” No, it is Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, who counted all things but loss for that excellent name, and is ready to be put to shame, is ready to suffer, is ready to endure, in order that Christ may be manifested in him whether by life or by death. May God teach us who love the same Saviour to emulate this His servant in devotedness to Christ, in glorying in infirmities. Surely our Saviour deserves our best and most devoted service.
“Alas, and did my Saviour bleed?
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?”