Boasting is a horrible character trait. It is born out of insecurity and wanting to be one-up on others. The super-apostles that the church in Corinth are in danger of getting corrupted by do it a lot, (10:12-13). So now Paul, with a heavy dose of irony, boasts back; boasts of his weakness and sufferings for them, to show that they are getting hoodwinked away from the real Jesus and the real Gospel. In this passage we see the suffering of Paul – the founder of the church in Corinth as he sees a church perilously close to rejecting him in favour of other teachers who claim to be superior but are corrupting the church with false doctrine. Paul’s “fool’s speech” is a daring counter-cultural exercise. In a culture which, then as today, boasts in achievements, Paul boasts of his weaknesses, which of course God uses to display His strength and to wonderfully transform lives.
His opponents boast of their Jewish heritage, their accomplishments and extraordinary revelations, (11:22,23; 12:1-4). Paul has those in spades too actually!
- Are they Hebrews? So am I
- Are they Israelites? So am I
- Are they offspring of Adam? So am I
- Are they servants of Christ? So am I, but better.
So from this we can see the “super-apostles” are Jewish Christians – presumably going back to the old covenant – written on stone, 3:3, rather than by the Spirit, to a righteousness not based on Christ’s death alone, (3:9; 5:21). They are Judaisers, taking people back under the Law. They may have letters of recommendation, but they are preaching a different gospel and a different Christ. And they are triumphalists.
So Paul sets forth his boasting:
- 40 lashes less one – five times. That’s a synagogue beating that often leads to death. Josephus called it a most disgraceful penalty. Presumably the Jews didn’t like him preaching grace not law!
- Beating with rods – was a Roman thing – we know that happened in Philippi, Acts 16.
- Stonings – ironically Paul was at the stoning of Stephen. It was a punishment for blasphemers among others – the message of Jesus seems blasphemous to many.
- Three shipwrecks – the Acts 27 one happened after the writing of 2 Corinthians. Sailing was pretty risky in those days!
- A night and day in the open sea – this would have been after a shipwreck.
Paul was exposed to death on at least 11 occasions. Paul adds journeying, with all its hassles, to the list – dangers in the city, dangers in the country, dangers at sea and dangers from false brothers. It was tough being a real apostle!
He is a better minister because he follows the example of Christ. The false super-apostles present themselves as superior and Paul as inferior; Paul suffers like Jesus. Interestingly Paul says nothing of his results – the converts, the churches; just the sufferings to prove his calling.
God uses the weak for his glory. May He use us!