Ministry, Mentoring, and Second Corinthians

Some people wrongly think of the Apostle Paul as a real hardnose – a rigid and feisty guy. They want to contrast him to Jesus: Paul was doctrinaire and unbending while Jesus was gracious and loving, they claim. But all this is simply a misrepresentation of who Paul really was.

And to make this a bit personal, some people might think I am a bit like this as well: hard, stern, all black and white, no-nonsense, etc. Well, yeah, maybe in part. But those who actually know me realise that there is a bit more to me than that.

paul 2Indeed, I can relate to Paul on this to a fair degree. In one of his defences of his ministry he says this: “I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. For some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing’” (2 Cor. 10:9-10).

I think that might not be a bad summary of me at times! Some folks think I might be some heavy duty sort of guy, but in person they may discover something a bit different. I say all this because I want to highlight some great truths in one of Paul’s great letters, 2 Corinthians.

I love this epistle because it really reveals to us the heart of Paul. In this moving epistle he lays bare his heart and soul to the Corinthians. It is the most personal and autobiographical of all Paul’s extant writings. We learn so much about Paul the person and Paul the pastor in this letter.

In it he spends a lot of time defending himself and his ministry. To be honest in earlier times that put me off a bit. But now it is probably my favourite book in all of the New Testament. One of the other reasons I like it so much is it says much on the topic of suffering. I have long said the Christian church is in desperate need of a theology of suffering. We have too long ignored and overlooked this key biblical theme.

I recall once speaking to a pastor, saying if he was interested, I had a sermon on the book of Job and some lessons on suffering. His response was simply to laugh, as if he had no idea why anyone would need to hear something like this! Um, earth calling pastor! As if suffering is not a universal concern.

But a major appeal of this book is the way we get to enter into the world of Paul and see his heart for the church. On a number of occasions he lists his hardships and boasts of his sufferings. And this is all for the sake of the gospel of course, and for the recipients of the gospel.

One amazing list of Paul’s sufferings and trials comes in 2 Cor. 11:16-29. It is quite a list: all the things he endured for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of groups of believers such as those in Corinth. After defending his apostleship he especially gets into a pretty harrowing list of sufferings in verses 24-27:

Five times I received from the Jews the 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. 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.

That is a very impressive list. But he is not finished yet. He tops it all off with something he considers to be even more weighty and burdensome. As he says in v. 28: “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”

This may have been the hardest thing to bear of all: his continuous concerns and cares for the believers: how they were doing, how they were growing, their trials, their discipleship, their faith. Many of these churches he of course had planted himself, and as a parent loves her children, Paul loved these people and cared for them deeply.

As Paul Barnett notes, “The location of this verse at the end of the list of privations suggests that his concern for the churches was the source of his deepest suffering.” His inner concerns for his beloved people at Corinth and elsewhere outweigh all his physical sufferings. David Garland says this about Paul:

He skips over all the other dangers and problems caused by preaching the gospel and his grinding poverty that he could also have mentioned. There is still more to tell, but Paul drops it to turn his attention to the psychological stress of worrying about the churches in his care. They place a daily pressure on him….
Paul could not help but worry that his charges would not stand firm, and their failure would kill him inside. He tells the Galatians, already bewitched by Judaizers, that he is “again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!” (Gal 4:19-20)….
Paul does not exaggerate when he says that he prays constantly for his churches (Phil 1:3–4; Col 1:9; 1 Thess 1:2–3). Having founded a congregation, he did not forget it as he moved on to other territory but continued to feel responsibility for them. This sense of responsibility for the spiritual welfare of his churches stoked his anxiety for them.

Scott Hafemann’s comments are also worth sharing here:

This too is part of Paul’s apostolic suffering, since the pressure he feels is brought about by his identification with the weak and by his indignation over those who lead others into sin (v. 29). Normally such concern or anxiety is considered negative, since it expresses a lack of confidence in God’s care and a lack of satisfaction in God’s provision (cf. Matt 6:25-34; Mark 4:19; 1 Cor 7:32-34; Phil 4:6; 1 Pet 5:7). In these cases, however, the anxiety is directed toward oneself. Paul’s anxiety, in contrast, is not for himself, but for the welfare of others as an expression of his love (cf. 1 Cor 12:25; Phil 2:20). The Corinthians must have realized that in this context he was talking about them. The apostle is emphatic in stressing that his continual concern over the Corinthians, a recurrent theme throughout the letter, is more difficult than any of his physical sufferings (cf. 2 Cor 1:6; 2:4; 2:12-13; 4:12, 15; 7:3, 5; 11:2; 12:20-21; 13:9). Paul’s greatest boast is his constant worry over their welfare.
Paul’s main point is clear. Contrary to what his opponents maintain, of Paul is “weak” not because his own inadequacies, but because of his willingness to identify with those to whom he has been sent with the gospel (11:29).

His burden for those in his care provides a sterling example for all of us. Do we have the same concern for the spiritual welfare of others entrusted to our care, or for our circles of friends and colleagues? Are there people in our lives who we are discipling, teaching, mentoring or at least regularly praying for?

It is not just pastors and other leaders who should share the burden of caring for and tending the flock of God. We all have a vital role to play here. We have so much we can do for one another. Are we doing it? Or is our time filled with trivial pursuits, entertainment and diversions?

If you have not been through Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians of late, it may well be worthwhile reading it again, carefully and prayerfully. Let the heart of Paul become an example and encouragement to yourself.

[1367 words]

4 Replies to “Ministry, Mentoring, and Second Corinthians”

  1. In the words of the wonderfully written Matthew Henry’s commentary – “He chiefly insists upon this, that he had been an extraordinary sufferer for Christ; and this was what he gloried in, or rather he gloried in the grace of God that had enabled him to be more abundant in labours, and to endure very great sufferings, such as stripes above measure, frequent imprisonments, and often the dangers of death, 2 Cor. 11:23. Note, When the apostle would prove himself an extraordinary minister, he proves that he had been an extraordinary sufferer. Paul was the apostle of the Gentiles, and for that reason was hated of the Jews. They did all they could against him; and among the Gentiles also he met with hard usage. Bonds and imprisonments were familiar to him; never was the most notorious malefactor more frequently in the hands of public justice than Paul was for righteousness’ sake. The jail and the whipping-post, and all other hard usages of those who are accounted the worst of men, were what he was accustomed to. As to the Jews, whenever he fell into their hands, they never spared him. Five times he fell under their lash, and received forty stripes save one, 2 Cor. 11:24. Forty stripes was the utmost their law allowed (Deut. 25:3), but it was usual with them, that they might not exceed, to abate one at least of that number. And to have the abatement of one only was all the favour that ever Paul received from them. The Gentiles were not tied up to that moderation, and among them he was thrice beaten with rods, of which we may suppose once was at Philippi, Acts 16:22. Once he was stoned in a popular tumult, and was taken up for dead, Acts 14:19. He says that thrice he suffered shipwreck; and we may believe him, though the sacred history gives a relation but of one. A night and a day he had been in the deep (2 Cor. 11:25), in some deep dungeon or other, shut up as a prisoner. Thus he was all his days a constant confessor; perhaps scarcely a year of his life, after his conversion, passed without suffering some hardship or other for his religion; yet this was not all, for, wherever he went, he went in perils; he was exposed to perils of all sorts. If he journeyed by land, or voyaged by sea, he was in perils of robbers, or enemies of some sort; the Jews, his own countrymen, sought to kill him, or do him a mischief; the heathen, to whom he was sent, were not more kind to him, for among them he was in peril. If he was in the city, or in the wilderness, still he was in peril. He was in peril not only among avowed enemies, but among those also who called themselves brethren, but were false brethren, 2 Cor. 11:26. Besides all this, he had great weariness and painfulness in his ministerial labours, and these are things that will come into account shortly, and people will be reckoned with for all the care and pains of their ministers concerning them. Paul was a stranger to wealth and plenty, power and pleasure, preferment and ease; he was in watchings often, and exposed to hunger and thirst; in fastings often, it may be out of necessity; and endured cold and nakedness, 2 Cor. 11:27. Thus was he, who was one of the greatest blessings of the age, used as if he had been the burden of the earth, and the plague of his generation. And yet this is not all; for, as an apostle, the care of all the churches lay on him, 2 Cor. 11:28. He mentions this last, as if this lay the heaviest upon him, and as if he could better bear all the persecutions of his enemies than the scandals that were to be found in the churches he had the oversight of. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not? 2 Cor. 11:29. There was not a weak Christian with whom he did not sympathize, nor any one scandalized, but he was affected therewith. See what little reason we have to be in love with the pomp and plenty of this world, when this blessed apostle, one of the best of men that ever lived, excepting Jesus Christ, felt so much hardship in it. Nor was he ashamed of all this, but, on the contrary, it was what he accounted his honour; and therefore, much against the grain as it was with him to glory, yet, says he, if I must needs glory, if my adversaries will oblige me to it in my own necessary vindication, I will glory in these my infirmities, 2 Cor. 11:30. Note, Sufferings for righteousness’ sake will, the most of any thing, redound to our honour.

    And regarding suffering, I think it goes with the territory of a true Christian –1 Peter 4 -12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:

    13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.

    14 If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.

    15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.

    16 Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

  2. This letter alone should silence those who scoff at the Christian’s weakness and apparent need for a crutch in life. They themselves are so tough of course having no need of any spiritual support to face after-life issues. If only they would use a bit of common sense and ask one simple question. Why do Christians opt to go through hell on earth rather then give up their faith?

    Paul is an inspiration and a man I’d like to sit with in Jesus’ kingdom. To think, after all God accomplished through him, he does not even get to sit on one of the 24 thrones in heaven.

  3. Personally Paul is my favourite Apostle of ancient times. I kind of like the boots and all Apostles and Prophets. I have never really got into anything all mushy.

  4. Great write up and very true, fact is, im covered in scars..and daily more are added. The more we give, the less we are loved, the more we hold out, the higher the bounty satan puts on our heads…but when your down and out and whipped, bow the knee and know that heaven is allowing you to learn to be just like the Saviour.

    Many people read the Bible and even preach it hard, yet when it happens, they marvel and change their doctrines lol. Every day I stay in my lane I am looking more like Paul and Jesus personally, I have less friends, less good things said about me, less of everything that this world can give, but I have more of heaven, and learn to be as one who we read about in the pages of the Bible, one who stands alone, but defiant in the face of great cost.

    We are indeed in the very last of the last days and very few lay the scriptures so dearly up in their heart anymore. Suffering for His names sake helps us to remember….this world is not our home, and the day of vengeance is not far away.

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