22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I.
Now we see the subjects whereby Paul will boast. He said that he was a “fool” in doing so (2 Co 11:17). In the following verses, he will compare the qualifications he had against the Judaizers who challenged his eligibility as an apostle. First, he speaks about his lineage in verse 22. The apostle was an authentic Jew. He was more than a Jew raised in Hellenized or Gentile culture. He was indeed born in Tarsus, Asia Minor, but from Jewish heritage.
22 Are they Hebrews? so am I.
Paul was a Jew. He knew Old Testament Scriptures. The term “Hebrews” is an ancestral term. It references Semitic-speaking Jews. He not only spoke Greek but Hebrew. He was born in Gentile Tarsus but reared by Jewish parents.
Are they Israelites? So am I.
Paul was an Israelite, just like the Judaizers. He traced his lineage through the tribe of Benjamin (Ro 11:1; Php 3:4-5). He was a member of God’s chosen people. False apostles had no greater claim than the true apostle.
Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I.
As a “seed of Abraham,” he was circumcised on the eighth day (Php 3:5). Paul’s credentials as a Jew were impeccable. He belonged to God’s chosen people and inherited Abraham’s promises. The Judaizers had nothing on him about being a Jew (Ac 22:3; 26:4-5).
The opponents of Paul adopted Jewish culture as part of their theology. This was a doctrinal error. Nevertheless, the apostle passed three of the background criteria that they trumpeted. He was in no sense less qualified than they were. He was of no less descent than other Jews. The issue was not physical but spiritual assets that counted with God. The Judaizers’ erroneous doctrine carried a legalistic theology, a concept that emphasized what man does rather than what Christ did. Paul counted his Jewish advantages as “loss” (Php 3:3-11).
There are times when we need to present our credentials to our critics.
True character indicts artificial claims. Many people in ministry posture themselves as something special, but they are empty suits. They a lot but deliver little. Christians today need discernment to distinguish between the real and the fake.
23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.
Paul’s rivals asserted themselves to be “ministers of Christ,” but they were frauds. Just because they laid profession to the title of a minister does not mean they held title to the claim. The apostle’s opponents maintained that they had great service to the Lord. The apostle now compares his service to Christ with that of his rivals.
23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool
Paul asked if the Judaizers were ministers of Christ. Rather than speaking about their ministry, he tells of his own, which is a far more significant and sacrificial ministry than theirs. Usually, he would not boast of his ministry, but he had to do it as a “fool” because of the danger they posed to the church.
—I am more:
The apostle has far more outstanding credentials and indications of his ministry than the false apostles. From this statement, he delineates how his ministry was more exceptional than the Judaizers because he faced exceptional hardships in ministry.
in labors more abundant,
“Labors” conveys the idea of work to the point of exhaustion (cf. Ac 20:34–35; 1 Co 4:12; 1 Th 2:9; 2 Th 3:8). Paul was a tentmaker or leatherworker.
in stripes above measure,
The book of Acts mentions only one beating in Philippi (Ac 16:22). Paul, after he wrote 2 Corinthians, went to prison at Philippi (Ac 16:23-40). He could not count the number of times people beat him.
in prisons more frequently,
Paul was a prisoner frequently in Philippi, Jerusalem, Caesarea, and in Rome twice. The book of Acts records one imprisonment (Ac 16:23-40) up to the writing of Second Corinthians. The imprisonments of Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome took place after writing.
in deaths often.
Acts also mentions one of Paul’s brushes with death (Ac 14:19). His sufferings went beyond what is recorded in Scripture, except for the more general references in 2 Corinthians. Much of In intensity or scope, the false apostles did not match Paul’s sufferings in service to his Lord.
Some ministries are man-centered rather than God-centered.
At times, Christian leaders are compelled to defend their credentials. This is especially true when false doctrine threatens the church. There are times when we must make a case with our critics by not appealing to our accomplishments. It would be better to show them how God met us in suffering. Jesus warned believers that they would suffer persecution (Ac 9:15-16; 2 Ti 3:12).
24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
In verses 24-27, Paul lists four kinds of suffering in twelve different events. These are followed by fourteen descriptions of more general suffering he endured.
24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.
Paul received 39 lashes from the Jews in synagogues. Thirty-nine was the maximum a person could endure without causing death in the Old Testament (Deut 25:1-3). Thus, five times he received 39 lashes.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods;
The book of Acts mentions only one beating in Philippi, which was after writing 2 Corinthians (Ac 16:22,23). This beating with rods may be the event of Acts 16:22. Beating a Roman citizen was illegal (Ac 16:37; 22:25-29).
once I was stoned;
Paul was stoned in Lystra, where he was left for dead (Ac 14:19). It was an action of a mob.
three times I was shipwrecked;
We know of Paul’s shipwreck in Acts 27:27-44, but that shipwreck was still a future experience of the apostle. Acts records nine shipwrecks before the writing of 2 Corinthians: 9:30; 11:25–26; 13:4, 13; 14:25–26; 16:11; 17:14–15; 18:18, 21–22).
a night and a day I have been in the deep;
Paul spent 24 hours drifting in the sea.
26 in journeys often,
Paul constantly travelled throughout the Roman Empire, which exposed him to many dangers.
in perils of waters [rivers],
River crossings without bridges were a significant peril in the first century, especially fording them during flooding.
in perils of robbers,
Traveling in the Roman Empire exposed Paul to attempts at robbery.
in perils of my own countrymen,
Jews attacked the apostle because of his ministry (Ac 9:23, 29; 13:45; 14:2, 19; 15:26; 17:5f; 18:1, 12).
in perils of the Gentiles,
Gentiles also put the apostle in danger (Ac 14:19-20; 16:16-40; 19:23-41).
in perils in the city,
This phrase begins the presentation of dangers in geography. First, Paul faced danger in cities.
in perils in the wilderness,
Robbers and wild animals were dangers while Paul travelled through the “wilderness.”
in perils in the sea,
Paul often travelled in dangerous waters at sea.
in perils among false brethren;
Phony Christians put the apostle in danger (Ga 2:4). These people posed as genuine believers (Ac 20:30) but they presented a different gospel.
Suffering makes for a great minister.
Some people suffer greatly for Christ. They also make wonderful servants of God. They can identify better with others who suffer than those who don’t.
27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—
Paul also faced physical privations in ministry. These were due his practice of self-support (Ac 20:31, 34).
27 in weariness and toil,
Even in Corinth Paul worked as a tentmaker. He did this so that he would not be a burden to the new church (1 Th 2:9).
in sleeplessness often,
Paul spent many sleepless nights in ministry. He worked during the day and ministered at night.
in hunger and thirst,
At times Paul faced the bodily need for food and water (2 Th 3:8).
in fastings often,
Paul had already mentioned that he experienced “hunger” in 2 Corinthians 6:5.
in cold and nakedness—
The apostle did not have enough clothing to keep him from the cold.
There is no price too heavy to bear for the Lord.
Those who serve Christ do so without putting priority on money or comfort. No matter what price that suffering may exact from the Christian, he bears the sacrifice to minister for Christ. Paul’s adversaries gloried in their triumphs, but the apostle gloried in his tragedies. He did not seek applause, fame, or riches. His objective was to reach souls for Christ. There was purpose behind his sufferings.
28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
In verses 28 and 29 Paul described his anxiety of working with local churches. These verses are the climax of Paul’s lists of suffering.
28 besides the other things,
Beside all of Paul’s troubles mentioned in earlier verses, he faced difficulties in ministry. His list of suffering was only suggestive, not exhaustive.
what comes upon me daily:
Paul felt pressures every day.
my deep concern [anxiety] for all the churches.
The care of churches was a big problem to Paul because of divisions and doctrinal errors they faced (Ac 20:30). We see this concern in the number of letters Paul wrote to churches, including 1 and 2 Corinthians.
29 Who is weak, and I am not weak?
Paul identified with Christians who were weak. He faced weakness himself. The apostle identified with the weakness of others as if it were his own. For this reason he would never cause anyone to stumble in their faith (1 Co 9:22).
Who is made to stumble, and I [emphatic] do not burn with indignation?
The apostle speaks of his experiences with believers who “stumble” in their Christian lives. This caused him to “burn with indignation” at those who offended the brother. The thought of a believer falling away should cause anger in any Christian leader. The false apostles stumbled some in Corinth.
Those who care about fellow believers never do anything that would cause them to stumble in their faith.
Strong Christians defer to weak believers. They do this because they can identify with weakness (1 Co 8:13; Ro 14:14-21; 15:1-3). Empathy is crucial for ministry. Concern over the welfare of those under a leader’s responsibility is a sign of an authentic leader. Any believer can fall (1 Co 10:12), but immature Christians are particularly vulnerable to falling into a sin pattern.