The Second Epistle to the Corinthians
Explanation of the Letter (contd.)
16- St. Paul Responds to his Critics (contd., 10:1 – 13:11)
A- His reasons and proofs in defending his ministry (chapter 11)
As St. Paul continues his defense, he asks those whom he ministers, to bear with him, for he is forced to present arguments in support of his apostleship of Christ, which they are denying. He insists that they accept his defense, even as a fool speaking of himself:
1- He confirms that he loves them (11:11) and is jealous for them with a godly jealousy as they are the subject of his ministry, “I betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (11:2). He is afraid that their mind deviates from the simplicity that is in Christ, as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning in the old time (11:3). He is not less than those who entered among them and think they are above the apostles (11:4, 5). He tells them that he may not be a trained speaker, but he clearly does have knowledge, as witnessed by all (11:6). He tells them that he was not a burden on them concerning his needs, “for what I lacked (needed), the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied” (11:8,9, 12:13,16). So, other Churches have taken care of his needs, “I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you” (11:8, see also Philippians. 4: 10-18). He asks “Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? (11:7).
2- Those pretenders who spoiled the relation between me and you “are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.” And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. St. Paul will cut off their opportunity to falsely claim this, and boast as apostles while they truly are not (11: 12-15).
3- He says: I am obliged to go overboard; and to boast even a little, as people boast, since you are wise, you can bear my foolishness:
These false apostles, “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham (his descendants)? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? – I speak as a fool – I am more (in sufferings for His sake)” (11: 22, 23).
He continues counting his sufferings and sacrifices (the Acts of the Apostles reveals only a few of his sufferings): hardships, beatings, imprisonments, exposures to death, lashes, beaten by a rod, stoning, “Three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have been in the depth (open sea); in journeys often, in perils (danger) of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” Besides everything else, facing daily the pressure of his concern for all churches, “Who is weak, and I am not (do not feel) weak? Who is made to stumble (led into sin), and I do not burn?” (11: 25–29). He remembers his escape some years ago from a plot from the Jews and the governor of Damascus to arrest and kill him right after he believed in Christ, and how the believers have lowered him in a basket from a window in the wall and he escaped. (11: 24-33, see also Acts 9: 23-25).
B- The Glorious Rapture (12: 1 – 6)
St. Paul says that if he has to boast, he will boast concerning his weakness. Although he is saying the truth concerning his boast, he tries to avoid it, so that no one will think of him more than he deserves (11:30, 12:5). In his final talk about the grace of God bestowed on him as a selected apostle, he reveals, in brief, his unique rapture to the third heaven where the paradise is. This occurred early in his ministry, as a heavenly revelation, to strengthen him in his preaching. In this rapture, he has heard inexpressible words. It may be that these words revealed to him hidden secrets of the last days, and the second coming of Christ, which he talked about in other epistles (1Cor. 15, 1Thes. 4, 2Thes. 2). In self denial, he gives his account anonymously, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago – whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows – such a one was caught up to the third heaven” (12:2). He almost apologizes in revealing this secret, saying that he does not like to boast, but the Corinthians in their opposing and disdaining attitude, obliged him to do what he considers foolishness (12:11).
C- The Painful Thorn (12: 7 – 10)
St. Paul quickly mentions the other side of the glory he received, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of revelations (the rapture), a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (12: 7, 8). In his obedience to the divine words, he says, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (12: 9, 10). For the power of God abides on those who acknowledge their weaknesses.
What was this thorn? We do not know precisely. Maybe it was a painful chronic illness, or a skin disease (e.g. ulcers) that disfigured him and made him cover his body with aprons and handkerchiefs, which sick people used to be cured from their illnesses and the evil spirits (Acts 19:12). Maybe it was an incurable disease in his eyes. He points out to this defect in his body in his letter to the Galatians, “And my trial (illness) which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me” (Gal. 4:14, 15).
It could be that this statement shows that the thorn was in his eye. It may also be just an expression of their love to St. Paul, and their readiness to give him any thing that he needs, even to torn out their eyes and give them to him. From another aspect, St. Paul has indicated how hard it was for him to write his letters, “See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!” (Gal. 6:11). He dictated some of his letters, and wrote only with his hand the conclusion of the letter. He says “This salutation by my own hand – Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Amen.” (Col. 4:18, 2Thes. 3:17). This might indicates a limitation in his sight.
D- A Quiet Return to Defend his Apostleship (12: 11 – 21)
“Though I am nothing” (12:11), the signs of apostleship have been accomplished among you “with all perseverance, in signs, and wonders and mighty deeds”. He says in cynicism: How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? “Forgive me this wrong!” (If this was wrong) (12:12, 13). He declares that he is ready to come to them a third time (13: 1) without burdening them, looking for them and not for their possessions. “For the children ought not to lay up (save) for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved (He says it with sorrow)” (12:14, 15).
It is not only me who was not a burden to you but also Titus and his companion whom I have sent, who acted in the same spirit and followed the same course (12: 16-18).
What was the purpose of these words, is it to defend ourselves? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be; and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. “Lest when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication and lewdness which they have practiced” (12:19–21).
E- Warning: (13: 1 – 4)
St. Paul’s tone changes at the end of his epistle. He confirms that as he did in his second visit, when he comes he will not spare those who have sinned, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me, “who is not weak toward (in dealing with) you, but mighty in you. For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you (to serve you).”
F- Examine Yourselves (13: 5 – 10)
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know that Christ Jesus is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified” (13:5, 6). He says in humility and self-denial, “Now I pray to God that you do no evil.” This is not that our ministry may be praised, “but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. And this also we pray, that you may be made complete (perfect)” (13:7–9). I am saying this, so that when I come, I will not use the authority that the Lord has given me for building you up.
17- Conclusion (13: 11 – 14)
The end of this epistle contains the final comforting instructions of St. Paul, to lighten the effect of the previous words: “Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete (perfect). Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints (i.e. all who were with him) greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God (the Father), and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.”
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