"The Ministry of Paul.
Its relation to dispensational truth.
No. 3. His Commission.
By Charles H. Welch
"I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name's sake" (Acts ix. 16).
In our last study of the ministry of Paul we finished at the clause which spoke of his testimony to the children of Israel. We would now seek to understand the second clause -- the suffering for the sake of Christ's name. There is no word "great" in the passage, the expression is rather "how much," or "how many things," he must suffer. The word "must" is important. "It is necessary," "it must needs be" is the meaning (cf. John iii. 7, 14, 30). There was a Divine necessity that Paul should suffer as well as preach, and he himself in his last epistle has written that all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
The epistle that gives us an insight into the heart of the apostle more than any other is the second epistle to Corinthians. The predominant note of this epistle is affliction or tribulation. In 1st Corinthians the apostle sought by the application of sound doctrine and sanctified argument to bring back the wayward Corinthians to the path of virtue; in 2nd Corinthians we find him maintaining with all the zeal of his nature his apostolic claims, so that this epistle becomes the most striking instance of what is the case more or less with all his writings, "a new philosophy of life poured forth, not through systematic treatises, but through occasional bursts of human feelings." We shall find that the sufferings of Paul, as recorded in 2nd Corinthians, arose from several causes, among them that embittering source of affliction -- misrepresentation.
Everything he did seemed to afford but fresh opportunity for the calumniator. Judaistic feeling ran very high at Corinth. Cephas was exalted at the expense of Paul. They said among themselves, "His letters are weighty and powerful, but his church as Peter had done in connection with Ananias and Sapphira? The fact that he refrained from receiving financial help was misinterpreted bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible" (2 Cor. x. 1O). Why did not this Paul rectify the wrongs of the. What depth of feeling must there be in his words, "I will very gladly spend and be spent for you, though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. But be it so. I did not burden you, nevertheless being crafty, I caught you with guile" (2 Cor. xii. 15, 16). This insinuation he immediately repudiates, "Did I make a gain of you?"
Again, his apostolic authority was questioned. This was a matter of great delicacy and yet of superabounding importance. As we read, for example, the two opening chapters of Galatians, we realize as never before that the defence of Paul's claims to apostleship was nothing less than a defence of "the truth of the gospel." The "certain men which came down from Judaea" could possibly produce their "letters of commendation," and "remember with advantage" before the Corinthians their personal acquaintances among the "pillars at Jerusalem." This Paul could not and would not do. He had not been appointed by the twelve. He had not received his authority from Jerusalem. The difficulty of proving his claim, to such a nature as Paul's, must indeed have been great. He tells them that they compel him to be a fool in his boasting:-
"Are we beginning again to commend ourselves? or have we need, like some, of commendatory letters unto you, or from you?" (2 Cor.iii.1).
"We commend not ourselves unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that you may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance and not in heart. For whether we have been beside ourselves (they had said that he was demented), it hath been for God, or whether we are sober-minded (they had complained of the severe tone in his letters), it is for you, for the love of Christ constraineth us" ( 2 Cor. v. 12-14).
"Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, . . . be trying yourselves whether ye are in faith, be putting yourselves to the test! or do ye not recognize yourselves (this uncharitable attitude had destroyed their vision), seeing that Jesus Christ is in you, unless perhaps ye fail in the testing. I hope however that ye shall come to know that we fail not in the testing" (2 Cor. xiii. 3-6).
The way in which the other apostles were magnified to the detriment of Paul and his authority may be gathered from the strange colloquialism, ton huperlian apostolon, "the extra-super apostles" (2 Cor. xi. 5). The indignation of this sarcastic title is levelled not at the twelve, but at those who sought to gain authority and to displace Paul by emphasizing the claims of the twelve at Jerusalem. The apostle, with many interjected disparagements of the cause of apparent boastfulness, lays before the Corinthians at least six different points wherein he compared favourably with the twelve, viz., in knowledge (xi. 5, 6), self-denial (7-21), privileges of birth and race (22), labours and sufferings (23-33), the pre-eminent character of his revelation (xii. 1-10), and the signs of his apostleship (11, 12). They are arranged as follows:-
A | xi. 5, 6. Not one whit behind the extra-super apostles in knowledge.
B | xi. 7-21. Contrast with the false apostles and messengers of Satan.
C | xi. 22. Favourable comparison with their higher claims (birth and race).
C | xi. 23-33. Favourable comparison by reason of superabounding sufferings.
B | xii. 1-11-. Vision of such magnitude, that a messenger of Satan is sent to buffet him.
A | xii.-11, 12. Not one whit behind the extra-super apostles in miraculous signs.
One writer has said that 2nd Corinthians is the least systematic of all Paul's writings, yet, upon examination, the most impassioned and personal sections bear witness to that "inspiration of God" which lifts them above the words of man to the authoratative "thus saith the Lord."
Examining the structure more closely we find:-
A (2 Cor. xi. 5, 6).--The apostle concedes that the other apostles may be his superiors in eloquence, but he yielded no point with regard to his knowledge. "And even if uncultured in my discourse, certainly not in my knowledge."
B (2 Cor. xi. 7-21).--Other churches he had taken from readily (it wounded his sensitive nature to have to do it), but though he was in positive want among them he was not burdensome to anyone. "And in everything without burden unto you I kept myself--and will keep." This boast he declares no one shall silence, not because he loved them not (God knew), but that he may cut off any handle or occasion from those who seek it.
The false apostles had pointed out the fact that they did not require support, and the apostle declares that so far as that is concerned, they meet on equal terms. How loathsome to such a high spirit as Paul must all this self- vindication have appeared. "What I am saying, not according to the Lord am I saying, but as to foolishness, in this my boastful confidence! Since many are boasting after the flesh, I also will boast" (xi. 17, 18). He continues by saying that since the Corinthians were so discreet, they would surely tolerate this boasting of a mere fool, since they tolerated such as enslaved them, or devoured them, or took them in, or who assumed the most arrogant pretensions, or who even smote them! "By way of disparagement I am speaking; it shows how weak and foolish I was in not adopting similar tactics. Yet, when one comes to compare their foolish claims with mine (continues the apostle), I can meet them. Whereas in whatsoever any one dareth (in foolishness I speak), I also dare."
C (2 Cor. xi. 22).--So far as birth and race privileges were concerned, Paul was their equal:-
"Are they Hebrews? I also.
Are they Israelite? I also.
Are they seed of Abraham? I also."
C (2 Cor. xi. 23-33).-When it came however to that ministry which resulted from grace rather than race, the apostle could say, "I something more." Then follows one of the most wonderful biographies ever written. The sufferings of the martyrs with all their harrowing details cannot compare with the sufferings of this chosen vessel. Besides, we know that this list is but a fragment; how much and how many things he suffered, "that day" alone will disclose:-
"In labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned. Thrice I suffered shipwreck (this is before Acts xxvii). A night and a day I have ben in the deep. In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers in perils of mine own Countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren. In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches" (2 Cor. xi. 23- 28).
What depths are here! It seems that the apostle would have these Corinthians see that the anxiety for the churches, and for their's among them, was harder to bear than the perils and dangers which were without. He seems to have had this external and internal trouble before him when he wrote:-
"For, even when we came into Macedonia, no relief at all had our flesh, but in every way were we in tribulation, without were fightings, within were fears, but He who encourageth them that are brought low encouraged us, even God, by the presence of Titus" (2 Cor. vii. 5, 6).
"If to boast is needful," adds the apostle, "in the things that concern my weakness will I boast," and then he recounts his ignominious escape from Damascus. This event seems to have impressed itself upon his mind, for he gives this special prominence, after mentioning the long list of perils and sufferings encountered afterwards.
B (2 Cor. xii. 1-11).--The apostle now turns to the visions and revelations which he received, and here, once again, suffering was an inevitable result:-
"On behalf of myself will I not boast, save in my weakness . . . but I forbear, lest anyone should reckon unto me above what he beholdeth me to be, or heareth from me, even by the exceeding greatness of the revelations. Wherefore, lest I should be unduly lifted up, there was given to me a stake in the flesh, a messenger of Satan that he might buffet me ... most gladly, therefore, will I boast in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may spread a tent over me. Wherefore, I take pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions, in pressure of circumstances, for Christ's sake, for when I am weak, then am I strong. I have become foolish, ye compelled me. I, in fact, ought by you to have been commended" (2 Cor. ii, 5-11).
A (2 Cor. xii.-11, 12).--
"For not a whit have I become behind the extra-super apostles; even if I am nothing ... the signs indeed of an apostle are wrought among you in all patience, both in signs, and wonders, and in mighty works" (2 Cor. xii, 11, 12).
In connection with his claim to be "an ambassador for Christ," we find the same undercurrent of opposition:-
"In everything commending ourselves as God's ministers, in much endurance, in tribulations, in necessities, in pressure of circumstances, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in toilings, in spells of sleeplessness, in fastings, in sanctity, in knowledge, in long suffering, in kindness, in holy spirit, in love unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God, through the armour of righteousness on the right hand and left, through glory and dishonour, through ill report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true, as being ignored, and yet recognized, as dying, and behold we live; as being chastened, yet not being slain, as grieving, yet ever rejoicing, as destitute, yet making many rich, as having nothing, yet as having all things in full possession" (2 Cor. vi 4-10).
The apostle appeals to this outburst of feeling to show how indeed his mouth and his heart are opened and enlarged towards them, and urges them to give up the narrow jealousies, "straitened in their hearts' affections" (2 Cor. vi. 12), to dissolve their unseemly unity with darkness and infidels, and perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord, let them "receive us, for no one have we wronged, no one have we corrupted, no one have we defrauded." All such are black calumnies, not repeated here to condemn, "for I have already told you that ye are in our heart to live and die together" (2 Cor. vi. 13- vii. 3).
Ever before the apostle is the desire to vindicate the sacred office which he held, and the truth committed unto him, yet at the same time to count himself as nothing. He was a chosen vessel, but an earthen vessel too. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves." Weak in themselves, yet strong in the Lord, on every side:-
"pressed hard, but not crushed,
perplexed, but not in despair,
persecuted, but not abandoned,
flung down, but not destroyed."
We may now be better able to appreciate the opening of this second epistle, with its emphasis upon tribulation and consolation:-
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and God of all Consolation, Who consoleth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to console those who are in any tribulation by the consolation wherewith we ourselves are consoled by God" (2 Cor. i. 3, 4).
"For we do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, as to our tribulation which happened in Asia, that exceedingly beyond power were we weighed down, so that we despaired even of life. But we ourselves, within ourselves, have had the sentence of death, that we might rest our confidence not upon ourselves, but upon God Who raiseth the dead" (2 Cor. i. 8, 9).
Here is the key to the problem of Paul's sufferings, all were to direct his attention and hope to resurrection. Resurrection and its power are prominent in such a passage as Phil. iii.10,11:-
"That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death, if by any means I may attain unto the out-resurrection out from among the dead."
Here, it will be observed, resurrection power and resurrection hope stand on either side of the sufferings. It is the same in 2 Cor. iv. 17-v.1
"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding age-abiding weight in glory, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at those things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are age-abiding; for we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved; we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, age-abiding in the heavens."
"Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal body" (2 Cor. iv. 10).
The sufferings of Paul, moreover, had close connection with His peculiar ministry of the dispensation of the mystery:-
"Whereunto I am appointed a preacher .... for which cause I also suffer" (2 Tim. i. 11, 12).
"Remember .... my gospel, wherein I suffer" (2 Tim. ii. 8, 9).
His sufferings, moreover, had a special connection with the church of the one body and the present dispensation:-
"Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus, with age-abiding glory" (2 Tim. ii. 10).
"Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body's sake, which is the church, whereof I was made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which was given me to you-ward to fill up the word of God, even the mystery which hath been hid since the ages and since the generations" (Col. i. 24-26).
One word more. The suffering apostle, though neglected, forsaken and forgotten, and having to write in his old age the sad facts that all in Asia had left him, and that all men had forsaken him (2 Tim. i. 15; iv. 16), desiring Timothy to bring his rough sleeveless traveling cloak (2 Tim. iv. 13), realized that the last drops of his heart's blood were soon to be poured out as a libation (2 Tim. iv. 6), yet above it all his eyes beheld the "crown of righteousness." He had written, "If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him" (2 Tim. ii. 12); now the race was nearly finished, the fight nearly over, the glorious "henceforth" gilded his last moments, and his hopes were centerd in "His appearing" (2 Tim iv. 8).
May we who believe the same precious truth be made willing to endure, in some degree, the "afflictions of the gospel," realizing that they are after all but "light," and "but for a moment," in comparison with the age-abiding weight of glory.