2 Corinthians6v3to13: PAUL'S HARDSHIPS

(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

It is worth sticking with the text of this passage and dealing with it thoroughly because every word is significant. 2Cor6v3to18 owes everything to Paul's anxiety that nothing should spoil his ministry; a ministry that can be summed up in four words: Be reconciled to God. 2Cor5v20. So Paul claimed: We put no stumbling-block in anyone's path so that our ministry will not be discredited. 2Cor6v3. Paul did not want to:

  • Hinder men and women from accepting the gospel

  • To do anything that discredited the message he preached.

Paul knew the truth of the saying: What is built up by the lip is often pulled down by the life.

(B) The commendable features of Paul's ministry.

Paul found it necessary to detail the praiseworthy aspects of his ministry because the "super-apostles" from Jerusalem were attempting with some success to undermine his authority in the church at Corinth. So he wrote: Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way. v4.

Paul's commendable characteristics were:

(1) His endurance of trials and suffering.

He showed great endurance in service. Endurance does not just mean putting up with difficulties and accepting them stoically. It means rather, cheerfully and confidently rising to the challenge difficulties pose. It is the attitude of an ocean going yachtsman in a storm who shouts into the wind, "Let it blow." It is the attitude of a experienced rock climber who revels in the challenge of a difficult route. It is the attitude of the skilled plastic surgeon facing a tricky facial reconstruction who says, "Bring it on."

Paul refers to 3 kinds of challenge:

(a) The internal conflicts of the Christian life.

  • TROUBLES: whatever weighs down heavily upon us. When Paul entered Corinth he was burdened with the heavy responsibility of preaching Christ in a thoroughly wicked city. Later the problems that arose amongst the Corinthian Christians oppressed him. Paul could have been overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy and foreboding. Instead he endured - he rose to the challenge.

    Recently I had the problem of making the tombstones in our graveyard secure for health and safety reasons. This was not a popular undertaking. The members didn't think it was really necessary. No-one volunteered to help because interfering with graves is to invite criticism. It was a task I had never done before and one that needed to be properly organised. Like Paul I must say to my credit - because no one else to date has said it - that I cheerfully rose to the challenge and completed the task successfully.

  • HARDSHIPS: ordeals that produce sorrow such as ill-health, bereavement, apostasy, unemployment.

    Paul experienced ill-health. He was very sorry when Demas defected from the Faith and went back into the world. However, Paul rose above his ordeals. He accepted God's answer to his prayer about a thorn in the flesh: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 2Cor12v9. When Demas and others deserted him at his trial the apostle could inform Timothy: But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength. 2Tim4v17.

    Many Christians carry on through hardships. My old friend and fellow elder, Mr Edward Underwood, was church secretary at Brockley Baptist Church for 28 years. During this time he endured hardship - the death of his dear 7-year-old son and some nasty and unnecessary unpleasantness among the members. A lot of Christians would have given up.

  • DISTRESSES: the unhappiness of being boxed in by circumstance with no room for manoeuvre - of feeling trapped with no obvious way out.

    I sometimes feel like this toward the end of a tense game of Scrabble with my opponent Dorothy. I have seven letters to use but there are no openings - nowhere to lay them.

    It is sometimes forgotten that the Jerusalem church packed Paul off to Tarsus because of the trouble he caused. He spent at least 8 years in his home town before Barnabas rescued him and brought him to Antioch. During that time Paul must have felt trapped and thwarted. (See exposition on Acts9v19to31.) However, I am sure the apostle used his time in Tarsus to good effect so that when the opportunity arose he was fully equipped to evangelise the Gentiles.

    Many Christians know the distress of being trapped - in poverty, by family commitments, as the leader of a small and failing fellowship, or in an unrewarding job. My mother felt like this as the wife of a pastor of a small rural church in Suffolk. She was for many years like a fish out of water. Nevertheless my mother endured and eventually found peace and satisfaction in service.

(b) The external tribulations of life.

Paul was the victim of unjust treatment simply for preaching Christ and him crucified. He suffered for being a witness to Jesus' saving work in three ways:

  • IN BEATINGS. Paul and Silas were beaten at Philippi before being imprisoned. They did not spend their time in jail moaning and groaning but praying and singing. Few would find a lacerated, bruised, sore and throbbing back much to sing about!

    There are still parts of the world where Christians are beaten up on a regular basis. There was a report in the February 2011 edition of Evangelicals Now of a young evangelist being beaten with clubs by six Muslim men who then set fire to him. This atrocity took place in the village of Sarghodha in Punjab province. The Rev Wilson Augustine's only crime was to distribute pamphlets and proclaim Christ from door to door.

    I can remember as a small Christian boy getting knocked about at school! I didn't let it get me down! But then I was never set on fire! Christians in the West need to pray that our persecuted brothers and sisters are helped to endure.

  • IMPRISONMENTS. Paul lost his liberty for at least 2 years after his arrest in Jerusalem and his appeal to Caesar. But Paul endured. He witnessed at his trials and to his guards. We know Paul made a big impression on the centurion escorting him to Rome for trial before Caesar. See Acts27v42to44.

    Many Christian activists have lost their liberty during the last 80 years. Chinese House Church leaders were imprisoned for 20 to 30 years. They served their term and went straight back to preaching the gospel.

    Even in Britain Christians are experiencing a loss of liberty. Christians who believe homosexuality is neither normal nor acceptable can no longer run adoption agencies, foster children or work in sex counselling. Christians who want to devote Sunday to worship are unable to participate in most professional sports.

    It is easy to let the growth in secularism and the marginalisation of Christianity get us down. We can become dispirited, woe-begotten and strident. Christians must retain their confidence and rise to the challenge. We must endure - and commend ourselves in every way.

  • RIOTS. Paul was the cause of riots in Antioch, Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth, Ephesus and Jerusalem. These riots showed that the majority were violently opposed to Christianity. But the apostle carried on regardless.

    There have been many occasions when it looked as if a tidal wave of hatred would sweep Christianity away. About the only time this happened was in 17th century Japan. On this occasion the persecution was so violent and utterly ruthless that the only way Christianity could survive was as a branch of Buddhism. But Hitler, Stalin and Mao tse Tung could not eradicate the Faith. In Russia it was kept alive by grandmothers retaining their icons, saying their prayers, reciting the well-loved hymns and retelling the best known Bible stories.

    In Britain we have to endure endless sniping and misrepresentation in the media and the politically correct interventions from the po-faced forerunners of the thought police. But like Paul we must endure - confidently and cheerfully persevere. Christ is still winning hearts and minds. We must earnestly pray that he will win so many that the tide turns against secularism.

(c) The rigors of Christian ministry.

Paul described some of the hardships he suffered as an itinerant evangelist. It was not a comfortable life! He experienced:

  • HARD WORK - toil to the point of exhaustion. Paul worked mending leather goods during the early morning and late afternoon and then taught church members in the heat of the day and late at night. He had a demanding schedule. See exposition on Acts19v8to12.

    I have occasionally worked flat out for most of the day. This was particularly true during my time as a sports organiser at Pioneer Camp. We were up at 6.30am for a prayer meeting at 7.0am and it was all go until about 10pm when the last latrine was emptied. There was a real joy in working hard for the Lord and seeing his Spirit active among young people. There have been periods when school and church commitments have combined to push me to the limits. However, I was always helped through and there is tremendous satisfaction in being of use.

    Many of God's servants have undoubtedly worked hard. Perhaps at times a problem has arisen because one day was not kept for rest and relaxation! On the whole Christian ministers have thrived on hard work.

  • SLEEPLESS NIGHTS. Paul may have had sleepless nights on his travels, at prayer or mulling over the problems arising in the churches. Jesus spent nights in prayer whenever he had a difficult decision to make.

    I have had few sleepless nights! I don't think I could endure too many of them. I had a sleepless night the day I set out in Tom Haver's lorry with Terry Harsant to pick up the Pioneer Camp equipment. We travelled down to Sussex through the night to arrive early so that we could load up and return in the afternoon. Things didn't turn out as we expected. See exposition on Ruth. But as the link shows our day ended in great blessing.

  • HUNGER. Paul is probably not referring to deliberate fasting. I expect there were occasions on his travels when he did not have enough money for food. He may also have been so busy teaching and proclaiming the word from time to time that he didn't even stop to eat.

    Well it is not often I have gone hungry. I did so once as a student on a Geology fieldtrip. I missed dinner to attend church. This impressed my Geology professor! I was happy to have done so. Paul seems to have considered a few hungry days a small price to pay for being Christ's apostle to the Gentiles.

(2) His quality of life.

Paul commended himself to the churches by:

(a) His quality of mind.

  • PURITY or sincerity. Paul had no ulterior motives for declaring the gospel. He just wanted men and women to be reconciled to God. That was his focus.

    That is not always ours in Christian work. Some church leaders will do almost anything to get a good congregation. It is so good for the ego to see the church grow and to preach to a crowd.

    It is not always mine. Sadly I have to admit to mixed motives when it comes to serving Jesus. When I gave school assemblies I wanted to get over Christian truth but I also liked to make the children laugh. If I was the pastor of my church instead of the secretary I would probably make more effort to get people to attend. A website like this one could easily be a last ditch attempt at recognition. I struggle to be pure of heart. See exposition on Mt5v8

  • KNOWLEDGE. Paul is referring to the knowledge of the things that must be done. He had discernment. He knew how to proceed to win as many as possible for Christ. He was prepared to be all things to all men in order to win some. He didn't aim to antagonise unbelievers. To the Jew he became like a Jew, to the Greek he became like a Greek and to the weak he became weak. See 1Cor9v19to23.

    The reason I made my school assemblies entertaining was to get the children to listen. I know an evangelist who organises football evenings around the "box" with cans of beer and packets of crisps just so he can get to know the husbands of the wives who attend his church. Christians will never win Muslims for Christ by denouncing them!

  • PATIENCE with people. Paul had the ability to bear with people when they were wrong. I think he was remarkably forbearing with the Corinthians. He was sharp with them in both his letters but many Christian workers would have abandoned them in disgust.

    Firm but gentle perseverance is invaluable in a schoolteacher. I knew two old English teachers, Ros and Es, who took endless trouble showing pupils how they could improve. Both were much loved.

    It is best if a preacher or teacher can remain good-humoured and explain gently and clearly where members of his congregation are going wrong and thereby, hopefully, avoid antagonising them. This is not always possible and we must never forget that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees vividly, forcefully and bluntly.

    (b) His quality of heart.

    • KINDNESS - a combination of geniality and active benevolence. Paul was a warm-hearted, affectionate man much given to lending a helping hand. One has only to read his letters to Philemon and Timothy to realise that.

      What a life affirming virtue kindness is. I love Charles Dicken's characters the Cheeryble brothers who feature in, 'Nicholas Nickleby'. When Nicholas first encounters Ned Cheeryble he was immediately attracted to him. And there he stood .....with such a pleasant smile playing about his mouth, and such a comical expression of mingled slyness, simplicity, kind-heartedness, and good-humour, lighting up his jolly old face, that Nicholas would have been content to have stood there, and looked at him until evening, and to have forgotten, meanwhile, that there was such a thing as a soured mind or a crabbed countenance to be met with in the whole wide world.

      We have all known Christian leaders of grace and benevolence. Dear old George Bird, minister of Bethesda, Ipswich, was one such. My word, an hour in his company did my mother the power of good. How her eyes sparkled after George had encouraged her with a few kind words.

    • HOLY SPIRIT. Paul's heart was open and receptive to the Spirit's prompting. He didn't have a wilful heart. The apostle had no desire to be his own master. Instead his heart responded quickly and expectantly to the Spirit's teaching.

      It is important to accept advice from a friend. If we don't I am afraid words like pig-headed and obstinate apply. The comment, 'You'll never change him,' is very seldom a compliment!

      The Holy Spirit is our friend and it is foolish to ignore his leading and go our own way. I heard recently of four young people from one church who want to be baptised in the sea. I hope the indwelling Spirit shows them the very real benefits for all concerned of being baptised in their church.

    • SINCERE OR UNFEIGNED LOVE. Agape is the love that seeks the highest good of another. It is a serving love - a love that puts the interests of others first. It is the love that courts unpopularity because it corrects and advises. Paul was always prepared to do this. No one could ever accuse him of not loving the Corinthians and trying to the utmost to check the dangerous tendencies that threatened the unity and health of the fellowship.

      In Britain church leaders are often not prepared to discipline an errant member. It isn't much fun! But if you love someone who is going wrong you should try to put them right.

    (c) His equipment.

    Paul was kitted out for proclaiming the gospel. He possessed some assets:

    • TRUTHFUL SPEECH. Paul declared God's truth - the truth revealed in Christ by the Spirit.

      Truth does have a power in and of itself. In the end it usually triumphs however much it is denied and resisted. This is true in the field of Science. Many new ideas were at first resisted only to be accepted in the end. The idea that disease was produced by germs was bitterly opposed for a time but the truth finally conquered.

      J.B. Philips once famously said that the New Testament has the 'ring of truth'. I suppose the secularist would retort, "He would say that wouldn't he!" But the fact is, individual Scriptures have shown great power through the ages to change lives. That is why Bibles left in public places by the Gideons have brought desperate people new life in Christ.

    • POWER OF GOD. Paul's ministry was backed by the power of God's Spirit. The Spirit convicted men of their need, directed them to the Saviour and changed their lives on the exercise of faith. Paul was not working alone. The growth of the church owed much to human instrumentality but even more to the power of God's Spirit.

    • WITH WEAPONS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IN THE RIGHT HAND AND LEFT. Paul had in the left hand the shield of faith to quench the fiery darts of the wicked one and in the right the sword of the Word with which to attack the enemy. In this he is not alone. Every Christian is similarly armed to fight the foe. The more we use our weapons the more skilled in the battle we shall become.

    (3) His ability to rise above circumstances.

    (a) Paul carried on regardless of what people thought of him or said about him.

    Through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown.

    It is easy to work amongst people who hold us in high esteem. We all work better with folk who know our worth, accept the genuineness of our qualifications, speak well of us and glory in our achievements.

    It is a pleasure to teach in a school where the pupils accept, respect and admire you. That was my experience in the first six years of my career in a boy's grammar school.

    Many pastors - especially in the U.S.A. - are in this position. They scarcely know what Paul endured!

    It is hard to carry on with people who dont know you, doubt your qualifications, speak ill of you and are contemptuous of your achievements. I have been in this situation too! I had a grim three months teaching on a temporary contract at an upper school in Haverhill. What a dispiriting battle that was - but I stuck it out - fighting to the end!!

    I have occasionally preached in a church where the people have been suspicious and unresponsive. It is like running through treacle!

    Paul preached the gospel regardless of what his audience thought about him. He showed immense courage addressing a hostile crowd in Jerusalem until the Commander of the Roman garrison in the city dragged him away fearing for his life. See exposition on Acts22v1to22.

    Many reformers, evangelists and missionaries have been cast in the mould of Paul the apostle to the Gentiles. Men like John Wesley, George Whitfield, William Booth, Adoniram Judson have all been fearless servants of Jesus.

    (b) Paul triumphed against all the odds.

    • He was sometimes close to death but survived. He was stoned at Lystra but recovered.

    • He was beaten up but not killed. God upheld him and sustained him.

    • He was sorrowful as problems arose in the churches with errors creeping in. It almost broke his heart that the Jews rejected the gospel. See Rom9v3. But he rejoiced because Gentiles were being saved in droves. See Rom11v11and12.

      I am sorrowful at the secularism in British society but can rejoice at church growth in Cuba, Brazil, China, Zambia and many other places in the world.

    • He was poor. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul said he went about in rags. See 1Cor4v11. This made a big impression on me when I read it. Fancy a well-known evangelist turning up to your church to preach in rags! Nevertheless the apostle made others rich - he brought many sons to glory. Paul could write to the Ephesians: You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God's people and members of God's household. Eph2v19and20.

    • He had nothing. Paul was just like Jesus. The little apostle had nothing except the clothes that he wore, his cobbler's kit and his parchments. Everything he possessed would fit into a small rucksack.

      Yet Paul claimed: I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. Phil3v8.

      Paul himself was a great sermon which under God shook the world. What Paul was is today one of the mightiest witnesses to Christianity.

      Paul is by no means the only Christian who has suffered much for the sake of the gospel. In his book, 'Tortured for Christ,' Richard Wurmbrand wrote of his experience in a Romanian prison:

      The tortures and brutality continued without interruption. When I lost consciousness or became too dazed to give the torturers any further hopes of confession, I would be returned to my cell. There I would lie, untended and half dead, to regain a little strength so they could work on me again. Many died at this stage, but somehow my strength always managed to return. In the ensuing years, in several different prisons, they broke four vertebrae in my back, and many other bones. They carved me in a dozen places. They burned and cut eighteen holes in my body. When my family and I were ransomed out of Romania and brought to Norway, doctors in Oslo, seeing all this and the scars in my lungs from tuberculosis, declared that my being alive today is a pure miracle! According to their medical books, I should have been dead for years. I know myself that it is a miracle. God is a God of miracles. I believe God performed this wonder so that you could hear my voice crying out on behalf of the Underground Church in persecuted countries. He allowed one to come out alive and cry aloud the message of your suffering, faithful brethren.

    (C) Paul's appeal

    Paul appealed to the Corinthians on the basis of his life and ministry for:

    (1) Openness or frankness. Many Christians are closed books. It is so hard to know what they are thinking. This is not how it should be. People should find it easy to read us. See exposition on 2Cor3v1to3.

    (2) Affection or warmth. We all need some affection from time to time from our fellow Christians. Affection is the humblest of loves but it is both reassuring and comforting. It is very, very sad that Paul should be asking the members of the church at Corinth for a little affection.

    (3) A fair exchange - some reciprocity. Paul longs for the love and concern he has for the Corinthians to be returned. It is a very sad state of affairs when a church leader - a pastor or an elder - gives, gives, gives and gets nothing in response.

    I am blessed in this respect because although my own church probably thinks I am a maverick and unsound in my doctrine they do at least show me some affection! I hope NONE of my readers is reluctant to show affection to their church leader if this is what they feel for him or her.

  • ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net