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Friday, June 2, 2017

2 Corinthians (11:21-33) (Lesson 25)

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This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  (1Timothy 2:3-4)

2 Corinthians (11:21-33)                                                      (Lesson 25)

Welcome to HBS.

I’m glad you’re all here again this week to finish up chapter 11 and I pray y’all were able to say you learned at least one new thing after studying last week’s Bible lesson.

We ended our lesson last week at verse 11:20 where Paul used five descriptive terms to explain how the Jewish intruders were taking advantage of the Corinthian saints:  enslaves you, devours you, takes advantage of you, exalts himself, and hits you in the face, which proves it’s possible, “To be so near the forest you can’t see the trees!”

Please open your Bible at 2 Corinthians 11:21.

2 Corinthians 11

21: To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison.  But in whatever respect anyone else is bold – I speak in foolishness – I am just as bold myself.

Here Paul uses biting sarcasm, again.  He has done nothing to be ashamed of by comparison.  Since the false apostles took the liberty to exalt themselves in every circumstance, Paul opts to exercise his option to speak foolishness – I am as bold myself.  He intends to meet his opposition’s attack point for point.  Put another way, “What they dare to boast about I also dare to boast about.

Let’s go to verses 22-33.

Paul’s Credentials

Are they Hebrews?  So am I.  Are they Israelites?  So am I.  Are they descendants of Abraham?  So am I.  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.  Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.  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.  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 have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak?  Who is led into sin without my intense concern?  If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.  The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.  In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands (22-33). 

Although this appears to be an intimidating paragraph in which to study, Paul has essentially given us a list that continues on into chapter 12.  To make it easier to understand we’ll break it down into sections.

Verse 22 is his heritage.  Paul begins with this because the false apostles placed their heritage at the top of their list of credentials.  They extolled the fact that they were born Jews/Hebrews, Israelites, and were sons of Abraham unlike Paul, from the city of Tarsus.  Paul’s response to their allegation was simply, “So am I.  This is in accord with Acts 22:3, where he states, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city (Jerusalem)...”  It also fits Philippians 3:5, where he states he is a “Hebrew of Hebrews.”  Then he said I am an Israelite or one of God’s chosen people.  Furthermore, Paul said, I am one of Abraham’s descendants (Romans 11:1), matching them point for point.  

Verses 23-25 are his service record.  Paul didn’t lose any ground as far as Jewish heritage is concerned so now he turns his attention to his service record.  Here he can confidently claim he surpasses them all.  Are they servants of Christ?  I speak as if insane – I more so.  Put another way, Paul is saying, “I am out of my mind to talk like this,” if his boasting so far has been foolishness (v1), now it enters into the area of sheer madness.  The NIV’s translation “I am out of my mind” is too cautious to be used here.  It doesn’t express Paul’s meaning satisfactorily.  If translated in today’s language one might say, “I am a madman” or “I’ve gone off the deep end.” 

Paul’s first three boasts also appear in 2 Corinthians 6:5:  in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, etc.  Far more labors, a Greek term, Kopos, usually referring to physical labor that causes the individual to collapse into bed at night from utter exhaustion.  Paul used it in 2 Corinthians 10:15 to describe his missionary work.   But here Paul’s saying he worked harder than these false apostles.  They abhorred the very idea of working with their hands, while Paul preferred to work with his hands to avoid being a financial burden on the church at which he was currently ministering and to avoid even the hint of scandal so as not to hinder the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:11-12).  He didn’t want young Believers to think he was taking advantage of them, in anyway. 

In far more imprisonments – First, prisons back then were used to hold an accused person who was awaiting trial rather than to punish someone for breaking the law.  There were no life sentences handed down is what I’m saying.  Second, the book of Acts records several instances where Paul was arrested and spent an unspecified time behind bars.  In 49 AD, during his 2nd missionary journey, Paul and Silas spent an unknown period of time in a Philippian jail cell.  In 58 AD, Paul was arrested by Roman troops to save him from being killed during an uproar.  He was taken to Caesar in Rome where he spent two years in prison.  In 60-61 AD, Paul is taken prisoner to Rome where his case his heard.  He is acquitted in the spring of 63 AD (He was under house arrest).  In 66-67 AD Paul is once again a man in chains in the city of Rome on trial for his life under Nero.  He is martyred in 68 AD.  Altogether, during his ministry our Apostle Paul spent roughly 5 ½ to 6 years as a prisoner or in prison (Acts 16:22-23, 21:15-40, 22 -28).

Beaten times without number – the term used back then was flogging or scourging.  It was a common punishment used by both the Jewish and Roman court systems for a wide range of offenses.  Jesus Christ received this punishment prior to being crucified.  Sometimes it was administered severely, especially if the person using the apparatus attached pieces of metal or bone to the ends of the whip.  Paul’s beatings were severe enough to kill him on many occasions.  This is probably what he meant by this comment:  often in danger of death.  But after all we’ve learned about Paul and his ministry to date is there any doubt he lived a life filled with the danger of death: indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:9). 

Five times I received the thirty-nine lashes – this is really the 40 lashes minus one.  Three times Paul was beaten with rods, and once was stoned (v24-25).  Mosaic Law prescribed a maximum of 40 lashes to be meted out as punishment for an offense (Deuteronomy 25:3).  This number was reduced to 39 to keep the flogger from accidentally miscounting and thus becoming a lawbreaker himself.  In fact, if the person was given “one stripe” too many and died as a result, the scourger was held responsible.  Beaten with rods was strictly a Roman form of punishment.  The Apostle Luke recorded an example of this beating in Acts 16:22-23.  The chief magistrates ordered both Paul and Silas stripped and beaten with rods or billy clubbed with an instrument made from a hard wood. 

Paul’s stoning was in the streets of Lystra.  Jews from Antioch and Iconium had followed him there and “stirred up the crowd against him.  He was stoned, dragged outside the city and left for dead (Acts 14:19).  Stoning was a Jewish form of punishment for capital offenses such as idolatry, blasphemy, adultery, and profaning the Sabbath (Leviticus 20:2, 27, 24:14; Deuteronomy 13:10, 17:5, 22:22-24).

Paul concludes his service record by stating three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.   What specifically Paul refers to here we simply do not know, as these events are not recorded for us in this book.  I’m not disputing his words, and neither should you.  What I will say, once again, is, “This book doesn’t always tell us what we want to know but it tells us what we need to know.”  The other thing is this; the book of Acts is not an complete historical account of church events.  The Apostle Luke didn’t record everything that occurred and how could he.  These shipwrecks happened after this point in history, so always bear in mind the book of Acts is not a complete historical account of the first century church, but a theological account of the gospel shifting from the Law to Grace, from the Jews to the Gentiles. 

There is one instance of a shipwreck involving Paul in Acts 27:14-44, which occurred while he was traveling to Rome, but it’s not one of the instances he reports here.  We do know Paul was a traveling, missionary man and on occasion he took to the sea.  Sea travel was hazardous in that era.  Having served in the U.S.N., I can honestly tell you, even with our modern ships and electronic devices, it’s still a dangerous adventure today.  People and ships still go missing.    

Verses 26-27 are his dangers and deprivations.   This list includes dangers Paul encountered and deprivations he endured while preaching the gospel.  They are the natural enemies such as swollen rivers and raging seas and human enemies like bandits and his own countrymen, who wanted him dead, and the gentiles who just wanted him out of their way.   Incidents involving Paul’s own brethren are recorded throughout the book of Acts by the Apostle Luke.  Not only did he face open hostility from Jewish authorities in virtually every city he visited, but Luke makes sure we’re aware certain Jews followed him from city to city stirring up trouble whenever and wherever they could (Acts 13:50, 14:2, 17:5).  If that didn’t work, these same antagonists would seek the assistance of the local authorities in stopping Paul (Acts 18:12).  Luke recorded Paul faced Gentile opposition twice; in both cases from those whose livelihoods were threatened by his gospel (Acts 16:19-21, 19:23-41). These folks often went out of their way to throw up road blocks (to hinder) Paul’s gospel in every major city. 

Dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren – Dangers in the city - when Paul entered a city such as Derbe, Ephesus, Lystra, Jerusalem, or Philippi the threat of mob activity was definitely a possibility.  Crowd control was always an issue.  Dangers on the sea - the general attitude toward sea travel back then, given the fact that sea vessels carried no life boats or life jackets, was traveling on the Mediterranean Sea was truly hazardous, especially during the winter.  Dangers in the wilderness -   this refers to being exposed to ambushes by bandits, wild beasts, hunger and thirst while traveling abroad, and this is not recorded for us in the book of Acts either.  But I have no doubt Paul experienced all this too.  

Dangers among false brethren – here Paul is referring to those so-called brothers and sisters in the Lord who pretended to be his friends and yet sought every opportunity to stab him in the back, so to speak, whether they were just following the crowd or actually trying to destroy his reputation. 

I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure (v27).  In our modern world, we are isolated from the hardships Paul faced day-in and day-out.  We really have to go out of our way not to find food and drink, to be exposed to the elements, to be wanting for anything, really.  But Paul lived a hard life as God’s missionary, traveling and preaching the gospel because he was called and sent for this purpose and if you want to know the truth, God said he would suffer for the gospel (Acts 9:15-16; Romans 1:1, 5:3; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18; Galatians 2:20).

Verses 28-29 are his pastoral concerns.  Paul said these were daily pressures on me of concern for all the churches (1 Corinthians 7:17).  Since the only means of reliable communication in those days was the pen, or an emissary sent with an oral message, it took weeks or even months to relay messages back and forth.  Therefore, the pressure or concerns for all the churches Paul planted tended to build up over time and Paul carried this weight on his mind, literally, and he shouldered the concerns for all the churches, i.e. the stress daily.   

What were these concerns?  They varied from church to church.  We know the church at Corinth had more than a few concerns.  We know the churches in Macedonia were facing great affliction and persecution.  Naturally, Paul desired, as much as possible, to alleviate their sufferings, as much as any loving parent wanted to see their children rise above theirs.  Paul was also very concerned about the false teachers who would come into the church after he’d left, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them (Acts 20:29-31).  Many of the churches were very young, composed of both Jewish and Gentiles Believers from different walks of life, and with conflicting ideals, but they were all the same in that they were susceptible to temptation and backsliding.   This is probably why Paul’s pastoral concern led him to identify with the weaker brother and sister in the Lord. 

Who is weak without my being weak?  Who is led into sin without my intense concern? (v29)  This statement from Paul brings a similar statement to mind. Please turn with me in your Bible to 1 Corinthians 9:22:  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.   Our Apostle Paul sympathized with all in order to save some.  Like a compassionate friend, Paul was affected when he witnessed other people in distress and he responded.  The word weak refers to any lack of strength, any feebleness, arising from one’s body or mind brought on by illness or persecution and Paul’s statement shows the depth of his emotion, and his heart, and mirrors his statement in Romans 12:15:   Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

Verses 30-33 are his personal testimony and daring escapade in Damascus.  If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness (v30).  Here Paul chooses to remain consistent in playing the fool, by recalling an incident from his past that demonstrates weakness rather than strength.  I’ve never heard anyone boast about their weak moments the opposite of that is more apt to be true.  For instance, when was the last time you heard a wide receiver boast about the time he fumbled the ball on the three-yard line?  When have you ever heard an executive brag about the 8 figure contract he lost his company because he was too hung over to handle the morning presentation properly?  Paul boasted of his weakness in Damascus, he played the false apostles’ game, as it were, in order to win back the confidence of the Corinthian Believers to his leadership and for his gospel.  

He begins with an oath:  The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying (v31).  Why an oath?  The story they are about to read or hear being read in the church may sound contrived, too unbelievable to be true. Luke’s account came about three years after Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1-22).  As Paul relates it, the governor under king Aretas had his soldiers guarding the Damascus city gates in order to arrest him.  But Paul learned of their plot to put him to death.  His disciples took him by night and he escaped by being lowered in a basket from a window in the city wall (v32-33).  In our day this sounds like a scene from a James Bond film and it’s believable because our eyes, ears, and minds have been saturated with scenes like this from the film world, but, not-so-much back in the 1st century.  Paul’s bit of daring-do in Damascus was definitely out of the ordinary, which is why is begins with an oath.   

Here we have an illustration to contrast the difference between Saul of Tarsus and Paul the Apostle.  Saul of Tarsus traveled to Damascus under man’s power and authority, directed against God’s people.  Our Apostle Paul left Damascus humbly in a basket, under God’s authority, seeking to do His will for His people.  Is there a more vivid picture of weakness than being let down in a basket over a wall, under the cover of darkness, powerless, knowing people want to take your life?  Paul’s escape from the dangers of Damascus was his apprenticeship in persecution and suffering, it was God’s way of showing him how he must suffer for My name’s sake (Acts 9:16).

(To be continued)

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