The Strength of Weakness - Part 2

by Wayne Barber

Suffering is a means to bring us to weakness, to the end of ourselves. What is so amazing is the way God chooses to bring it about in our lives. He uses people and the pain they cause more often than not to bring us to weakness.  It was not just the false teachers that caused Paul so much pain, but it was really the believers of Corinth who listened to them.  Paul identifies the false teachers as being Jewish when he says "Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I" (2 Cor. 11:22). Evidently, they were the legalists" that followed Paul wherever he went and put those who were under grace back under law. 

After exposing their deceit in  verse 23, he begins to unveil what he feels uncomfortable in doing but knows that there is no other course to take because of the seriousness of the problem in Corinth.  He wants them to know of his own suffering for the sake of Christ which was from persecution, even from believers:  "In far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death" (v. 23). "Labors" translates kpos which refers to hard work; to the point of total exhaustion! It's not the actual exertion but the weariness that occurs because of the exertion. Paul had labored to the point of being worn out but never burnt out, because of Christ-energy within! 

Clement of Rome says in his writings that Paul was imprisoned seven times. We only have record of five of those imprisonments. We know from Acts that he was imprisoned in Philippi; we know he was put in jail in Jerusalem; we know he was imprisoned in Caesarea; and we know that he was imprisoned twice in Rome. But neither Luke nor Paul tells us of them all.  They were all because of Christ. He was "beaten times without number," which is a great translation of huperballnto\s, meaning to excel beyond!

The scope of Paul's suffering and pain involved being weary to the point of exhaustion; being thrown in jail many times; beaten so many times he couldn't count them; and facing death was a constant companion. You can hear the pain in his voice as he realizes that the Corinthians were tolerating those who taught that the Law was the way of salvation and he had suffered to the point of death so many times, caused by most of these same people! That's a slap in the face, isn't it? Are you sensing Paul's pain as the tolerance of the Corinthians for false teaching was driving him to the end of himself?

In verse 24 Paul gets more specific: "Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes." Neither the Book of Acts nor any of the epistles record all these. But the seriousness of these beatings needs to be understood.  "Thirty nine lashes" was a beating described in the Jewish "misnah" which formed the basic part of their Talmud or book of instructions.  It said that the maximum stripes a person could be beaten was forty, as specified in Deuteronomy 25:2-3. The Jews fixed the maximum at 39, to make sure the Law was not exceeded. Again, we note that it was the false teachers tolerated by the Corinthians who were responsible for Paul's beatings.

In  verse 25 Paul says "Three times I was beaten with rods." This refers to a Roman form of punishment. But Paul was a Roman citizen and should have been exempt from this kind of punishment! Just as in our times, officials in government were not always careful to uphold the law. Recall how outrageously he was treated by the Romans in Philippi (1 Thess. 2:2).

Paul next says "Once I was stoned." We do have a record of this in connection with Paul's visit to Lystra. After a failed first attempt (Acts 14:5-6), the Jews succeeded in verse 19: "But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead." Stoning was usually a capital sentence that was cast upon an apostate, or a blasphemer, or an adulterer!

Next Paul says "three times I was shipwrecked."  Again, we don't know of these three because they were before the one we do have a detailed account of in Acts 27. Paul recalls one instance of "a night and a day I have spent in the deep!"

 Mark it down: Paul suffered many times simply because he allowed Christ to live in and through him. As we journey along this series, who or what is in your life that causes you pain and suffering? Have you come to the end of yourself? If you have, there is good news ahead.

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