Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Persecution Within the Community

International Sunday School Lesson
For Week Ending November 30, 2008

Scripture Text: II Corinthians 11:17, 21b-30 (NRSV)

Background Text: II Corinthians 11:16-12:10 (NRSV)

II Corinthians 11:17
(17)What I am saying in regard to this boastful confidence, I am saying not with the Lord’s authority, but as a fool;

II Corinthians 11:21b-30
(21b)But whatever anyone dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that(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 am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death.(24)Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.(25)Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea;(26) on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters;(27) in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.(28)And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. (29)Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant? (30)If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

II Corinthians 12:9-10
(9) but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.(10)Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

My Thoughts by Burgess Walter

I think we need to start this study with verse 1 of the 11th Chapter where Paul says “I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me!” This is probably a good way to start this commentary, and maybe a good way to start any conversation where we are going to share our self analysis of our good qualities and our shortcomings.

Paul seemed to have a tendency to boast, even when he said, “I am the chief of sinners,” he certainly had not met me or some of my best friends. To understand Paul's thinking, we have to know the circumstances and his relationship with the church at Corinth.

The congregation at Corinth was not the vital spiritually growing church that Paul envisioned when he established the church originally. He had spent a lot of time and resources trying to fix some of the problems this congregation presented. He had already sent them a letter, (I Corinthians) and personal visits by two of his best disciples, Timothy and Titus, and Paul had also personally visited them. Still the problem persisted, and the problem also had become very personal for Paul, and his credentials,(11:5) as well as his work ethic,(11:7-9) along with being two faced,(12:12-18) and a poor preacher (11:6). At this point most of us would have shaken the dust, and moved on, but not Paul, he was going to give them another chance, and he was going answer his critics, in the same way they had attacked him. This had become personal, and Paul felt he needed to set the record straight. The great St. Louis Cardinal pitcher of the 30's, Dizzy Dean, used to say, “It ain't braggin' if you can do it”.

We don't know if these troublemakers were Gnostics, Judaizers, or Jewish Christians from Palestine that knew Jesus, and also knew of Paul's work in persecuting the early Christians, the latter seems likely, and they may have formed an alliance with the Gnostics. In any case, Paul was not very confident in the leadership of the church at Corinth. Paul pointed out his own weaknesses so reasonable people could see that it was God working through Paul that enabled Paul to accomplish whatever it was that he accomplished in his ministry. His own litany of ship wrecks, stoning, beatings and other perils were second to none, and his pedigree was equal to any Jew. Paul was comfortable with his own credentials. More importantly he realized his shortcomings when compared to Christ.

In verses 9 and 10 of chapter 12 Paul gives us the answer to many of life's difficulties, “My Grace is sufficient.” If we are able to overcome our adversities on our own, then how is Christ lifted up and glorified? Sometimes we need to accept our fate and circumstance and also accept God's grace and His sufficiency in our life. Paul had been taken to a place where no other man had been. In the third heaven, things were revealed to him and he had an assurance that sustained him through all of the trials and tribulations, likewise we should be able to have that same assurance as we face life's trials and tribulations. I think of the Serenity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference”.

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