22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they ministers of Christ? I’m speaking like a crazy person. What I’ve done goes well beyond what they’ve done. I’ve worked much harder. I’ve been imprisoned much more often. I’ve been beaten more times than I can count. I’ve faced death many times. 24 I received the “forty lashes minus one” from the Jews five times. 25 I was beaten with rods three times. I was stoned once. I was shipwrecked three times. I spent a day and a night on the open sea. 26 I’ve been on many journeys. I faced dangers from rivers, robbers, my people, and Gentiles. I faced dangers in the city, in the desert, on the sea, and from false brothers and sisters. 27 I faced these dangers with hard work and heavy labor, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, and in the cold without enough clothes.
28 Besides all the other things I could mention, there’s my daily stress because I’m concerned about all the churches. 29 Who is weak without me being weak? Who is led astray without me being furious about it? 30 If it’s necessary to brag, I’ll brag about my weaknesses. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, the one who is blessed forever, knows that I’m not lying.
Was Paul crazy? I’m sure some would say yes. And here, even he admits that he’s talking like a madman (v. 23).
It’s clear he worked tirelessly to share the good news of Jesus. And when I consider what he did for the Church, I can say this: I don’t think I would have been willing to endure what Paul endured for the sake of the gospel.
Much of 2 Corinthians is Paul taking a posture of self-defense against those who were critical of him and his ministry. Clearly, he felt the need to defend the work he had done against those he called the “super-apostles” (11:5), attempting in the process to restore his relationship and credibility with a church he founded.
The history of the letter we know as 2 Corinthians is murky – most scholars believe it is a pastiche of several letters, but there is near-unanimous agreement that all of them are from Paul. Unfortunately, likely because of its history, the letter as we know it incorporates several abrupt changes in tone that make Paul sound a bit, well, unhinged.
Still, it provides readers with some of the clearest insights about what Paul endured to become the most prolific church planter in history. It wasn’t just the risk of people rejecting the message: every pastor experiences that. It wasn’t just the steady drumbeat of anxiety for the welfare of those he was called to pastor: that’s also very familiar. For Paul, the risks he took were much more dramatic: imprisonments, beatings, hunger, dangerous journeys by sea and by land, and ultimately execution after being sentenced in a Roman court.
Where does courage end and craziness begin? I’m not sure. I have long believed that there’s a certain amount of fanaticism required in the early stages of any movement. It’s only once things are established and secure that we have the luxury of moderation and balance. Those who feel called by God to do a new thing often find themselves consumed by their work. It takes tremendous courage, and a tremendous amount of sacrifice, to offer oneself without reserve to that kind of a calling.
Perhpas that’s why truly revolutionary figures like Paul are so rare. Most of us are not willing to risk that much. But for Paul, the risk was worth the reward: to bring people the promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ.
By Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
If you were to visit a financial planner, at some point you’d be asked the question: “What level of risk are you comfortable with?” How you answered the question would determine how you’d proceed with making investments for your future. When it comes to faith, and pursuing the things that God may be calling you to do, what level of risk are you willing to take? Courage comes when you believe the risk is worth the reward.
Prayer: God, thank you for the courage that drives us forward. Thank you for Paul’s courage to share the gospel. Help us to find that place where we, like Paul, can embrace your calling to be faithful in sharing your love in the world. Amen.