Looking at the preceding chapters, it’s apparent that the Corinthians think Paul is weak and unimpressive compared to some other teachers they’ve heard, and they’re tempted to abandon the gospel that Paul taught them in favour of what these more impressive teachers are offering.
In Ch10v10 we read that people were saying of Paul that “His letters are mighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.”
And then in Ch11v3, Paul says “I am afraid that… your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ”, because there are these people who are commending themselves as “super-apostles”, and they’re proclaiming a different gospel to what Paul taught them.
So what does Paul do about this? Does he try to outdo these fake super-apostles by boasting about how great he is, to show that he’s really more impressive than them?
Well, no, in Ch11v30 he says “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”
Why does he do this? Doesn’t it make sense that the Corinthians would listen to the more impressive speakers? Surely for the sake of the gospel he should try to show them that’s he’s stronger than those who are opposing him?
And he talks about all these ways that he’s suffered. He tells the Corinthians about how he’s been beaten nearly to death more times than he could count, he’s been shipwrecked three times, he’s been stoned…
Why would he think it’s going to help the situation to tell the Corinthians about all this? I’m not sure I would hire Paul as a salesman; his customers are tempted to switch to one of his competitors, and this is the best he can come up with to try and convince them to stick with his product? Surely talking about how much he’s suffered is bound to put them off the gospel that he’s offering?
At times I’ve wondered why God allows me to suffer. I mean, my suffering has been nothing compared to what Paul experienced, but there have been times where I’ve felt hurt and miserable and thought “Surely it can’t be glorifying God for me to be in this state? What kind of message does it send to non-believers when, knowing that I’m a Christian, they see me looking unhappy like this?”
Aren’t we supposed to share the gospel (the “good news”) with people? If we don’t appear to be happy, why would people believe us that Christianity is really good news?
Well, this tells us something about the gospel that Paul is proclaiming…
I don’t know about you, but when I read about Paul suffering like this, there’s a part of me that’s a bit surprised. I think something like “Surely God would protect such a faithful Christian as the apostle Paul?”
We would all voice our strong opposition to the prosperity/health+wealth gospel, but I, for one, still have a tendency to slip into thinking “if I serve God better, he’ll keep me comfortable”. This passage totally destroys that kind of thinking.
Paul says himself in Ch11v23 “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one…” and immediately goes on to list all these ways that he suffered, and he really suffered. He’s not whingeing “the atheists said nasty things about me”; Paul nearly died on multiple occasions.
So if we’re looking for a religion that tells us how we can escape suffering, this gospel that Paul proclaims is clearly not it. If we give people the impression that, if they obey the God of the Bible, he’ll keep them comfortable, and give them a nice cosy life, we’re lying to them.
And Matt Chandler thinks this a major reason why many people who’ve grown up in church give up on it later in life. I paraphrased this a bit for the people in my Bible Study because I’m pretty sure 90% of them wouldn’t have had a clue who Run-D.M.C. are, but if you’re reading this on my blog and you don’t know who they are, you can watch this to educate yourself…
Now, I spent my last two studies (1 & 2) in Luke 16 talking mostly about how we should lay up treasure in heaven, and there’s a risk that, if we don’t constantly remind ourselves of the gospel of grace, we’ll white-knuckle-discipline our way to thinking we’ve achieved some righteousness and therefore God owes us something good. And then, if we think God owes us something good, and what we actually get is a thorn in the flesh, what’s quite likely to happen is we’ll get angry at God. So in this study my hope is to make sure that doesn’t happen, by looking at how this passage on the thorn in the flesh clarifies some aspects of the gospel that Paul proclaimed.
Next: “a thorn was given me in the flesh” >>