Thursday, October 11, 2018

Paul's Second Letter To The Church At Corinth. Day 28, The Suffering Paul Has Endured For The Gospel

False teachers who call themselves "super apostles" have been trying to lead the Christians of Corinth astray. These men are putting down the Apostle Paul for being plain in appearance, for not being a trained speaker, for working with his own hands instead of charging admission to his lectures, and for presenting the gospel in plain words rather than in impressive and difficult-to-understand words. In wealthy cities like ancient Corinth, the more difficult a speaker was to understand, the more intelligence he was credited with and the more respect he was given.

But Paul purposely made his message plain so that everyone could understand. "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified...My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power." (1 Corinthians 2:2,4-5) Some of the citizens of Corinth are now making the mistake of allowing their faith to rest on human wisdom.

"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. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 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. To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!" (2 Corinthians 16-21a) Paul takes on a sarcastic tone here. The people have eagerly welcomed teachers who are taking advantage of them. They may feel it's more prestigious to be a follower of an apostle who looks like a prosperous philosopher than to be a follower of the plain little Apostle Paul. He asks, "Could I and the other true apostles have converted you by using the same methods the false apostles use? Could we have frightened or bullied or confused or overwhelmed you into accepting the gospel message? Probably so. These methods seem to work with you. But these are not our methods. We don't have to prove we are true apostles by treating you the way the false teachers have treated you. We prove we are true apostles by being willing to endure hardship in order to minister to you."

As we learned earlier in this second letter to the Corinthians, Paul considers all boasting foolishness unless it's boasting about the Lord. But he's going to present his credentials to the Corinthians anyway, even while at the same time he feels foolish. "Whatever anyone else dares to boast about---I am speaking as a fool---I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham's descendants? So am I. 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." (2 Corinthians 11:21b-23) We learn here that some of these "super apostles" are men of Paul's own nation. This may be one reason the Corinthians were so willing to listen to them, because they are of the same culture as Paul. The Corinthians may have become confused and thought, "Isn't one Jewish Christian apostle the same as another? If so, why not follow a more affluent apostle? Then we can proudly point to him on the street and tell our friends this is our teacher."

But have any of these false apostles really endured any hardship in preaching the gospel and in ministering to the believers? If they have, their suffering doesn't even begin to compare to what Paul has suffered. "Five times I received from the Jews forty lashes minus one. 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, 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." (2 Corinthians 11:24-26) Paul has risked his life for the gospel, not once but many times. A man who is not a true apostle wouldn't endure such things. A man who doesn't love the Lord wouldn't have the strength and courage to keep on preaching a message that might get him killed.

"I have labored 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. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches." (2 Corinthians 11:27-28) He reminds his readers, "While I was in Corinth, I made a living with my own hands so you wouldn't have to support me. I taught the gospel during the day and I worked at night making tents. Sometimes I operated on very sleep or on no sleep at all. There were days when I didn't have enough to eat and my belly growled while I ministered to you. There were days when I taught so long that my throat grew dry and no one offered me any water. I've slept without enough blankets to keep me warm. I've worn raggedy clothes because I couldn't afford new ones. I endured these things because I love the Lord and I love you. I didn't want anything to hinder the gospel, so I did without rather than burden any of you with my daily needs. On top of all this, there is the constant concern in my mind for all the churches everywhere. I have been exhausted in both body and mind for the sake of the gospel. How many of your 'super apostles' can say that?"

Following Jesus is going to cost us something. We may never face the opposition or the hardship that Paul faced, but there will be many times in our lives when we will have to make a choice. Do we love the Lord enough to obey Him, or not? Do we love the Lord enough to give something up for Him, or not? Do we love the Lord enough to swim against the stream, or not? Jesus always made it clear that being His disciple wasn't going to be an easy road to walk. For an example, and to close our session today, let's take a look at this passage from Luke 9:57-58, "As they were walking along the road, a man said to Him, 'I will follow You wherever You go.' Jesus replied, 'Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.'" In other words, to prevent us from making reckless promises that we will not be able to keep, Jesus invites us to count the cost before committing to follow Him. We may have to suffer the loss of something in order to follow Him. It might be popularity or promotion when we don't join in with the sinful culture of our school or workplace. We may not be offered particular opportunities by the world because we are considered "goody two-shows". Following Jesus might mean giving up a bigger salary in the public sector in order to work for the church. It will definitely mean saying no to going to certain places or to doing certain things. Jesus gave up a lot for us, more than we can really understand. Is it asking too much for us to give up things for Him?

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