Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Apart from other things...

Towards the end of 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul takes to defending his ministry against the charges of the self-exalting Corinthian "super-apostles". These deceivers boasted of their own greatness, so Paul laid some apostolic smack down. He could boast of everything they could, but he could claim an even greater credential - enduring suffering for the sake of the gospel. The false apostles boasted in their awesomeness and general snazziness. The true apostle regarded that as worthless, and boasted instead in his weaknesses that showed the greatness of Christ.

In the midst of this argument, Paul gave his most extensive list of the sufferings he endured in the name of Christ (and more was still to come!) while the super-apostles demanded to be exalted and live in luxury at the Corinthians' expense. While looking at this passage recently, I was struck like never before by the last item:

Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Cor 11:23-28)

"The daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches". I've always considered that as another thing that separates him from the false apostles - I love you and am terribly concerned for you, but they don't really care. And no doubt that's part of it. But now I don't think that gets the entire picture.

What I am more inclined to think now is that the relentless concern for the churches is the greatest suffering he endured. It's not just another addition to the list, it's the pinnacle. His anxiety over the churches is a greater burden to bear than being beaten, whipped, stoned, shipwrecked, and everything else combined.

I believe Paul is getting at that here. Suppose he was given a choice: (a) Demas apostasizes, or (b) Demas remains faithful, but to bring it about Paul must be scourged again. How long do you think he'd have to debate it? 0.000001 nanoseconds? Or is that too long?

I first thought that as I was considering my daughters, and how agonizing it would be to see them reject Christ. I can't imagine anything more painful - I can't imagine there is anything I would not endure if it would bring about their repentance. Of course I know that nothing I do can guarantee it - but if hypothetically the choice was offered, it would be the easiest choice ever.

We all can have this level of concern for people we know. But church leaders - pastors and elders - bear this burden continually, anxious for the well-being of people in their care who are more stubborn and self-destructive than sheep. Let us honor them well and make their job a blessing as much as we possibly can.


DJP said...

Very good word, as usual. Thanks.

Carl C. said...

Wow, I gain more respect for true pastors the more I see the realities of their role opened up and put on display as you have here. Thank you.