The Apostle Paul’s dedication to the work of God completes the Acts of the Apostles and his faithful letters make up much of our New Testament. His obedience to the Spirit of God left a tremendous impact on the early church, though it came at great personal cost. The final chapters of 2nd Corinthians reveal how deeply the Apostle suffered among the churches, and in Corinth in particular.
Recounting the Scene
Paul first visited Corinth on his second missionary journey. He spent a year and a half preaching the gospel and establishing the local church before sailing to Ephesus. Sadly, the Corinthian believers grew proud and selfish after his departure. They divided into cliques, following preachers and doctrines rather than uniting in the name of Christ (1Co 1:12). Because he wasn’t their favorite, some even questioned Paul’s appointment as a servant of God with authority (1Co 4:1-4). But his heart never left the believers in their plight, and he sent both messengers and letters to strengthen them before returning to visit on his last missionary journey. He wrote an epistle correcting their waywardness and encouraged them back to Christ. At his direction, the local church received missionary visits from Apollos, Timothy and Titus (Act 18:27; 1Co 16:10; 2Co 7:13).
With patience, the Apostle admonished them by the Spirit of God. He agonized over their spiritual well-being and shed tears over their pain (2Co 2:1-4). Thankfully, many of the Christians in Corinth heard and responded to Paul’s first recorded letter and teaching. He warmly expressed his care and happiness at their reconciliation to God in the first nine chapters of his second letter.
Yet for all his efforts, there remained some false teachers and unbelievers in Corinth who challenged the work of God (2Co 11:13). Paul met the agitators with full apostolic authority. He revealed the depth of his love and suffering for the church in Corinth. The words are firm and powerful, expressing his heartfelt desire to see them built up in Christ rather than torn down.
The Reality of Suffering
Paul suffered at the hands of sinners. The proud and religious Jews flogged the gospel preacher, stoned him, and left him for dead. As he journeyed, heathen highwaymen and robbers put him in peril, and Gentile officials tried to silence him in prison. False brothers tried to uproot each doctrinal stake he set in Corinth (2Co 11:26,32).
The Lord Jesus noted, “A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house” (Mat 13:57 KJV). Accordingly, the Apostle suffered at the hands of the saints. Many refused his teaching and discounted the gravity of his claims. The believers mocked his preaching, his appearance and his character (2Co 10:10). They falsely accused him of using his charge for personal gain (1Co 9:1-14).
The raggedness of the road and the stress of guiding wayward sheep weighed heavily on his body and soul. He was shipwrecked, lost at sea, cold, hungry and in need. Enemies pursued him in the city and in the wilds (2Co 11:25-27). A particular infirmity, allowed by grace to mature and humble the Apostle, pained him on the road from assembly to assembly (2Co 12:9).
The Response of the Sufferer
Despite such suffering, nothing dampened Paul’s zeal to see the Jews, blind and bound in religion, won for Christ. His heart softened for the Gentiles, lost and without God in the world (Rom 10:1-4; Act 17:22). The gospel was his charge by divine arrest on the Damascus road, and he faithfully preached the Word with fervor and compassion.
Likewise, opposition and struggle could not deter the Apostle from fostering the believers he loved and dedicated his life to encourage. He planned to visit Corinth a third time, accepting no fellowship gifts of money or material things. He only wanted their hearts and minds for Christ. The prose of 2 Corinthians 12 overflows with compassion: I seek not yours, but you! I spend myself and build you up! I seek only the best for you! I abundantly love you! These exclamations are the words of a man enamored with the people of God.
Finally, as so many in this series of Saints Who Suffered, Paul humbly bowed before his God in infirmity and weakness. In a lesson to each of us, he acknowledged all-sufficient grace and divine strength above his own power. He realized and even rejoiced that humility and weakness enable the superior power of Christ in a believer’s life (2Co 12:9-10).
The Result of the Strife
It seems another life lesson that those who need help the most are the most likely to refuse it. For some, pride stirs resentment and often rejection of those servants of God who desire our souls in love. What the Apostle Paul experienced in Corinth comes home for many Christ-like shepherds and saints in local assemblies today. With hours of tearful prayer, time and resources poured into the gospel, and patient teaching, benevolent men and women of God everywhere do battle daily for their fellow saints. Beloved, who suffers for your soul today?
The evangelist, the shepherd, and those who compassionately suffer for others often do so without thanks or recognition of their labors. How good, then, that such things seem to so rarely cross their minds! Instead, the Apostle Paul spoke of a deeper motivation, one most clearly expressed in Scripture: “Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2Co 4:16-18 HCSB).
Throughout this series of articles, we have sought to teach the truth that suffering is part of our lives because sin is still a part of our persons. Believers, whose sins are forgiven, will not be free from their effect until we’re with our Lord in heaven. The saints we’ve reviewed were not content to sit and wait for their transformation; they felt the Apostle Paul’s “weight of glory” and were lifted to greater heights of service for God. Perhaps their examples will lift us from our own suffering and experience to honor our Lord Jesus as well.