Second Sunday Before Lent: Paul's Glory In His Labor and Suffering
Sermons of Martin Luther-Baker-OUT OF PRINT
Text: 2 Cor 11,19-33; 12, 1-9. 19 For ye bear with the foolish gladly,
being wise yourselves. 20 For ye bear with a man, if he bringeth you into
bondage, if he devoureth you, if he taketh you captive, if he exalteth
himself, if he smiteth you on the face. 21 I speak by way of disparagement,
as though we had been weak. Yet whereinsoever any is bold (I speak in foolishness),
I am bold also. 22 Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am
I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. 23 Are they ministers of Christ?
(I speak as one beside himself) I more; in labors more abundantly, in prisons
more abundantly, in stripes above measure, in deaths oft. 24 Of the Jews
five times received I forty stripes save one. 25 Thrice was I beaten with
rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day
have I been in the deep; 26 in journeyings often, in perils of rivers,
in perils of robbers, in perils from my countrymen, in perils from the
Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils
in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in labor and travail, in
matchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
28 Besides those things that are without, there is that which presseth
upon me daily, anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not
weak? who is caused to stumble, and I burn not? 30 If I must needs glory,
I will glory of the things that concern my weakness. 31 The God and Father
of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed for evermore knoweth that I lie not.
32 In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king guarded the city of the
Damascenes in order to take me: 33 and through a window was I let down
in a basket by the wall, and escaped his hands. 1 I must needs glory, though
it is not expedient; but I will come to visions and revelations of the
Lord. 2 know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago (whether in the body,
I know not; or whether out of the body, I know not; God knoweth), such
a one caught up even to the third heaven. 3 And I know such a man (whether
in the body, or apart from the body, I know not; God knoweth), 4 how that
he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is
not lawful for a man to utter. 5 On behalf of such a one will I glory:
but on mine own behalf I will not glory, save in my weakness. 6 For if
I should desire to glory, I shall not be foolish; for I shall speak the
truth: but I forbear, lest any man should account of me above that which
he seeth me to be, or heareth from me. 7 And by reason of the exceeding
greatness of the revelations, that I should not be exalted overmuch, there
was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me,
that I should not be exalted overmuch. 8 Concerning. this thing I besought
the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he bath said unto
me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness.
Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power
of Christ may rest upon me.
PAUL'S GLORY IN HIS LABOR AND SUFFERING.
1. They who praise themselves are fools according to the views and speech
of the world. The saying is, "Self praise is unsavory." It is
forbidden by Solomon in Proverbs 27, 2: "Let another man praise thee,
and not shine own mouth." And Christ says (Jn 8, 54), "If I glorify
myself, my glory is nothing." Paul acknowledges that he had to become
a fool, something for which he had no desire, by reason of the necessity
laid upon him to praise himself. The false apostles, as false spirits habitually
do, delivered great, fine, splendid speeches to the multitude, in their
vainglorious attempt to raise themselves above Paul, thereby to make contemptible
and insignificant that apostle and his doctrine.
2. Paul was little concerned that he personally should be lightly esteemed
and the false apostles highly honored, but he could not bear to have the
Gospel perish in that way and his Corinthian converts seduced. Therefore
he exerts himself to the utmost, at the risk of becoming a fool by his
boasting. But he, in his strong spiritual wisdom, glories in a masterly
manner, and skillfully puts to shame the boasts of the false apostles.
First, he shows them he can glory in the very things wherein they glory,
and in even more. At the same time he declares himself a fool for glorying.
He might have said: "Foolish, indeed, are they, and boorish creatures,
who glory in themselves. They should feel shame to the very depth of their
heart. No true' sane man boasts of what he is. The wicked and the frivolous
do that." But the apostle's attack is not quite so severe and harsh.
He addresses them civilly and delicately in that he makes himself appear
a fool, as if to say: "Look! how becoming self-praise is in myself,
although I have grounds for my glorying. But how much more disgraceful
for you to boast when perhaps none of your claims are true." So Paul
wears the foolscap, that those coarse fools might have a mirror in which
to behold their real selves. This is wisely making foolishness minister
to the good of the neighbor and to the honor of the Gospel. To the just,
even folly is wisdom, just as all things are pure and holy unto him.
3. Second, Paul deals the false apostles a stout blow when he shows
them to be ignorant of the grounds in which a true Christian seeks his
glory. For, as he teaches them, a Christian glories in the things whereof
other men are ashamed in the cross and in his sufferings. This is the true
art of glorying. To this he refers when he says (Gal 6, 14), "Far
be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."
But the false apostles are careful to avoid glorying thus; for they flee
with alacrity from reproach and affliction, rather seeking a life of ease
and honor. They ever would have prominence over their fellows, be superior
to and unlike others certain indication that they lack the right spirit
and are not of God. Christ testifies (Jn 5, 44), "How can ye believe,
who receive glory one of another, and the glory that cometh from the only
God ye seek not?"
4. The main point of this lesson is that in a preacher or a teacher
no vice is more injurious and venomous than vainglory. It is true, however,
that avarice also is an evil characteristic of false teachers, being found
hand in hand with vainglory. For the sake of profit, for the purpose of
gain, the false teachers aspire to prominence, to honor and position. With
them, nothing but current coin will pass, and what does not pay dividend
is unprofitable. Any other vice is more endurable in a preacher than these
two, though none is compatible with goodness, blamelessness and perfection
being required in the ministry according to Paul, Titus 1, 7. This is not
surprising, for the two vices under consideration are essentially and directly
opposed to the nature of the ministry. The ministry is ordained to have
as its aim the glory of God and its promotion. Psalm 19, 1 affirms, "The
heavens declare the glory of God." And ministers must, for God's glory,
suffer reproach and shame. Jeremiah complains (ch. 20, 8), "The word
of Jehovah is made a reproach unto me, and a derision, all the day."
The world will not endure the Word. For him who in preaching seeks his
own honor, it is impossible to remain in the right path and preach the
pure Gospel. Consequently he avoids striving for God's honor; he must preach
what pleases the people, what brings honor to himself and magnifies his
skill and wisdom.
5. Avarice, too, is, according to its very nature, opposed to the interests
of the ministry. Just as the ministry is to be devoted to God's honor at
the expense of our own, so is it to be devoted to the interests of our
neighbor and not to our own. Otherwise it is an injury rather than a benefit.
With the false teacher seeking only his own good, it is impossible for
him to preach the truth. He is compelled to speak what is pleasing to men
in order to gratify his appetites. Therefore Paul (Rom 16, 18) says of
such preachers that they serve their own bellies. And in many places the
Scriptures reprove avarice. Let him, then, who would be a preacher guard
vigilantly against vainglory and avarice. But, should he feel himself in
the clutch of these sins, let him avoid the ministry. For under such conditions
he will accomplish no good; he will only dishonor God, seduce souls and
be a thief and robber in the acquisition of property. With this explanation,
the lesson is now easily understood, but we will consider a few points."
"For ye bear with the foolish gladly, being wise yourselves."
6. Paul commends the Corinthians for their patience and wisdom in six
points: as wise men, they cheerfully endure the foolish; they bear with
those who bring them into bondage and oppress them; with those who devour
them; with those who take from them [or take them captive]; with those
who exalt themselves; with those who smite them in the face. But his commendation
is meant to pave the way for his folly to prepare them to suffer him the
more readily. He would say, "Since you suffer so much from them who
injure you and you are wise in that I trust you will bear with me who have
wrought you only good, when I act the fool for a little; particularly when
my object in it is your good to preserve the Gospel among you in opposition
to the false apostles." Note how tenderly and patiently he deals with
the Corinthians when he might have severely reproved them for tolerating
the false apostles. He commends them as does a father a timid child, and
yet, while commending them he censures both them and their false teachers.
He handles them as tenderly as if he held a raw egg in his hand, in order
not to distract or terrify them.
7. Paul delivers a masterly stroke when with the same words he praises
the Corinthians and rebukes them and their false apostles. His commendation
of their patience is in reality reproof, blows and wounds for the false
teachers. He would say:
"I have preached the Gospel to you at my own expense and jeopardy.
By my labor have ye attained to its blessing. Ye have done nothing for
me in return, and I have been no tax upon you. Now, upon my departure,
others come and exploit you, and seek honor and profit from my labor. They
would be your masters and I am to be ignored. They boast as if the accomplishment
were all theirs. Of these ye must be disciples and pupils. Their preaching
ye must accept, while my Gospel must become odious. My case is that of
the bee who labors to make honey and then the idle drones and the earthworms
come and consume the sweet not of their making. In me is illustrated Christ's
proverb (In 4, 37), 'one soweth, and another reapeth.' Continually one
enters into the fruits of another's labor. One must toil and incur danger,
while another reaps the benefit in security. 8. "Ye can suffer these
false apostles, though they be fools and teach only foolishness. In this
ye display wisdom and patience. But ye do not so suffer me, who taught
you true wisdom. Nor do ye permit me much enjoyment of my labor. Further,
ye can permit them to make servants of you, to be your lords and to order
you to do their bidding. And ye obey. But I who have made myself your servant,
I who have served you without profit to myself, that ye might be lords
with Christ, must now be ignored and all my labors be lost. They rule you
at their pleasure, and their pleasure is all they consult. You suffer yourselves
to be devoured. That is, your property is consumed; for ye bestow it upon
them abundantly, as Psalm 14, 4 has it, 'Who eat up my people.' Upon such
as these ye can shower goods and gifts, and can permit them to devour you
as they please. But I have never enjoyed aught of your property. All my
service has been without recompense, that ye might become rich in Christ.
"Again, ye suffer the false teachers to take from you beyond your
consent; to exalt themselves above you, to esteem themselves better than
you and me, and to exercise their arrogance upon you. But ye deal not so
with me, who have sacrificed my own substance, and have taken from others,
that I might bring the Gospel to you; who have not exalted myself above
any, but have yielded to all and served them. The false apostles permit
you to serve them; in fact, lie and trample you beneath their feet. They
even smite you in the face; that is, they reproach you publicly, put you
to shame, and abuse you with rude and insolent words. They act as if ye
were beasts of burden and they your real masters. All this ye suffer. But
my patience with you, my parental tenderness, past and present, is remembered
no more. Paul is now represented as having wrought no good at Corinth."
PAUL'S DESCRIPTION OF FALSE TEACHERS.
9. Note the master hand wherewith Paul portrays the character of false
teachers, showing how they betray their avarice and ambition. First, they
permit true teachers to lay the foundation and perform the labor; then
they come and desire to do the work over, to reap the honors and the benefits.
They bring about that the name and the work of the true teachers receive
no regard and credit; what they themselves have brought that is the thing.
They make the poor, simple-minded people to stare open-mouthed while they
win them with flowery words and seduce them with fair speeches, as mentioned
in Romans 16, 18. These are the idle drones that consume the honey they
will not and cannot make. That this was the condition of affairs at Corinth
is very clear from this epistle indeed, from both epistles. Paul continually
refers to others having followed him and built upon the foundation he has
laid. Messengers of the devil, he terms them.
10. And such false teachers have the good fortune that all their folly
is tolerated, even though the people realize how these act the fool, and
rather rudely at that. They have success with it all, and people bear with
them. But no patience is to be exercised toward true teachers! Their words
and their works are watched with the intent of entrapping them, as complained
of in Psalm 17, 9 and elsewhere. When only apparently a mote is found,
it is exaggerated to a very great beam. No toleration is granted. There
is only judgment, condemnation and scorn. Hence the office of preaching
is a grievous one. He who has not for his sole motive the benefit of his
neighbor and the glory of God, cannot continue therein. The true teacher
must labor, and permit others to have the honor and profit of his efforts,
while he receives injury and derision for his reward. Here the saying holds
true: "To love without guerdon, nor wearying of the burden."
Only the Spirit of God can inspire such love. To flesh and blood it is
impossible. Paul here scores the false prophets when he says, "Ye
suffer fools gladly"; in other words, "I know the false preachers
often act as fools, nor can they help it, because their teaching is false;
yet ye excuse them."
11. In the second place such teachers are disposed to bring the people
into downright bondage and to bind their conscience by forcing laws upon
them and teaching workrighteousness. The effect is that fear impels them
to do what has been pounded into them, as if they were bondslaves, while
their teachers command fear and attention. But the true teachers, they
who give us freedom of conscience and create us lords, we soon forget,
even despise. The dominion of false teachers is willingly tolerated and
patiently endured; indeed, it is given high repute. All those conditions
are punishments sent by God upon them who do not receive the Gospel with
love and gratitude. Christ says (In 5, 43): "I am come in my Father's
name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him
ye shall receive." The Pope, with his spiritual office, became our
lord, and we became his captives, through his doctrine of human works.
And our present-day schismatics pursue the same object with their fanciful
doctrine concerning their works.
12. In the third place, false teachers flay their disciples to the bone,
and cut them out of house and home, but even this is taken and endured.
Such, I opine, has been our experience under the Papacy. But true preachers
are even denied their bread. Yet this all perfectly squares with justice!
For, since men fail to give unto those from whom they receive the Word
of God, and permit the latter to serve them at their own expense. it is
but fair they should give the more unto preachers of lies, whose instruction
redounds to their injury. What is withheld from Christ must be given in
tenfold proportion to the devil. They who refuse to give the servant of
the truth a single thread, must be oppressed by liars.
13. Fourth, false apostles forcibly take more than is given them. They
seize whatever and whenever they can, thus enhancing their insatiable avarice.
This, too, is excused in them. Thus, the great establishments of the Pope
did not suffice for him; with various artifices, bulls, laws and indulgences,
he has brought under his power land and people and all they possess, exhausting
the world by usury. And so it should be, for this state of affairs was
richly deserved by men for despising the Gospel and its preachers.
14. Fifth, these deceitful teachers, not satisfied with having acquired
our property, must exalt themselves above us and lord it over us. Not only
do they possess all property, but they must for that very reason become
our superiors; must have precedence and receive honor. We bow our knees
before them, worship them and kiss their feet. And we suffer it all, yes,
with fearful reverence regard it just and right. And it is just and right,
for why did we not honor the Gospel by accepting and preserving it?
15. Sixth, our false apostles justly reward us by smiting us in the
face. That is, they consider us inferior to dogs; they abuse us, and treat
us as foot-rags. I venture to say we became sensible of such treatment
when, under the Papacy, we were readily put in the van, cursed, condemned
and delivered to the devil. We endured it all, suffered most patiently,
and yielded up property, honor, body and soul, Fault in a sincere teacher,
however, could by no means be tolerated. Very well, then; God is just,
and it is his judgment that we must honor the messengers of Satan a thousand
times more than his own, and do and suffer everything. "I speak by
way of disparagement [speak as concerning reproach], as thought we had
16. There are two ways of interpreting this sentence: First, as meaning:
"I speak as one of the weak whose folly you must endure; day have
seen no cause to swerve. The other interpretation is: "I speak as
one reproached after the manner of the weak." Or, more fully expressed:
"I can speak in two ways of myself and my class: First, with honor,
because of our strength in the sight of God and the spiritually-minded,
worthy of honor, noble; not weak but strong, able. But I will not at present
employ this way, for we are now despised; we are not known as honorable.
And all because of the false prophets. I will, then, present myself in
the other light, as I am regarded despised, held in reproach and disrespect,
weak and incapable. But even this condition shall be an occasion of glory
for me; my reproach and weakness is more honorable than their honor, power
and strength. What would my glory be should my actual strength inspire
my speech! "Weakness," according to Paul's own later interpretation,
implies being regarded worthless, unfit, a failure. The apostle's meaning,
then, is: "I, too, will be one of the boasting fools. You will excuse
it in me for I speak from the standpoint of my critics, that of a man contemptible,
foolish, incompetent. Before God, however, I feel that I am a quite different
17. And recollect, Paul says, "Because ye are wise, ye suffer fools
gladly," implying that one fool cannot tolerate another. The saying
is, "Two fools in one house will not do." Reason and wisdom are
required, to bear with another's infirmities and to excuse them.
"Yet whereinsoever any is bold."
18. That is, in whatever the false apostles can boast, I can likewise
glory. Here we are shown what is the ground of the false apostles' boasting:
their outward respectability being of Abraham's seed, children of Israel,
Christ's preachers. Therein they think to far excel the Corinthians, claiming
their doctrine and works to be of greater weight because they have Moses
and the prophets for their teachers. But they failed to perceive that their
boast is of mere externals, that render no one righteous or better before
God. The majority of the Hebrews, of the Israelites, of the seed of Abraham,
and of the preachers of Christ are lost. Names are of no consequence; they
only make a fine show and serve to seduce the simple-minded. Paul boasts
of his origin and yet derides his boasting, calling it fool's work. His
object is to destroy the boasting of the false prophets, that the people
might not be deceived.
19. Note how, even in Paul's time, great men erred concerning the true
sense of the Gospel, and many noble preachers would have estimated Christian
life by a merely external appearance and name. The true spiritual preachers
must have been few. Should it be strange, then, that in our time sincere
preachers are not numerous, and that the majority of ministers riot in
what they themselves seem and do? It cannot and shall not be otherwise.
The thievish drones, which are prone to riot, let them riot! We will resist
to the utmost of our power, commending the matter to God, who doubtless
will grant us sufficient honor and profit, both temporally and eternally,
though we must labor gratuitously, accepting injury and derision as our
reward. Our adversaries will not long continue their persecutions, for,
as Paul says just preceding our lesson, they will eventually receive their
20. Again, Paul boasts of certain temporal afflictions wherein he excels
the false apostles, who suffer nothing, for the sake of either the word
or of souls, but only boast of name and person. Among the afflictions he
mentions, he names having been a night and a day in the deep. Some refer
this allusion to the voyage of which Luke writes (Acts 27, 20-21), when
for fourteen days Paul and his companions ate nothing and saw never a star,
being day and night continually covered by the surges and waves of the
sea. Others think Paul was, like Jonah, personally sunk into the deep sea,
though but for a day and a night. Such is the clear meaning of the text.
Yet others interpret it as having reference to a prison or dungeon, because
the Greek text makes no mention of the sea simply "the deep."
"Who is weak, and I am not weak?"
21. Of external afflictions affecting not his own person, but distressing
others, Paul mentions two: he is weak if another is weak, and burns if
another is offended. Thereby he plainly portrays the ardor of his heart
how full of love he is; the defects and sorrows of others pain him as his
own. By "weakness," I imagine, he means, not bodily infirmity,
but weakness of faith. He refers to those who, young in the faith, have
a tender and frail conscience, thereby betokening immaturity and feebleness
of faith. He says (Rom 14, 2), "He that is weak eateth herbs";
and in First Corinthians 8, 12, that we sin against Christ if we wound
a weak conscience. These weak ones Paul does not reject. He receives them
and conducts himself as if he, too, were weak. He asserts (1 Car 9, 22),
"To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak."
22. This interpretation of the sentence is borne out in his allusion
to "that which presseth upon me daily, anxiety for all the churches."
Paul would say: "I exert myself, I have a continual care, I urge and
admonish constantly, that offenses and false doctrine may not invade and
destroy my planting; may not violate and ruin the weak consciences. As
seen in his epistle to the Corinthians, directed against the false apostles,
and in that to the Thessalonians,. such is his vigilant anxiety to guard
them from the tempter that he sends them a special messenger, and he exultingly
declares it is life to him to learn of their steadfastness.
23. Likewise, by the assertion that he burns, we are to understand that
he is exceedingly grieved and pained if one is offended; that is, if through
misleading doctrines or examples one in any wise falls from the faith.
Of the offense to faith, he says much in Romans 14. Not desiring to be
offended with the offended, as he became weak with the weak, he says: "I
burn and sorrow for them."
"I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago."
2A Of the translation of Paul into the third heaven many have written,
perplexing themselves over what constituted the first, second and third
heavens, and the paradise. Paul himself, who had the experience, does not
tell, and declares no man can tell, for none may utter the words he heard.
Therefore, we must humbly acknowledge we do not know the nature of these
things. And it matters not. Paul does not boast of his experience for the
purpose of imparting knowledge to us or of enabling us to duplicate it.
The purpose of his boasting is simply to stop the mouths of the fanatics
and to show how paltry was their glory in comparison with his own. Certain
it is, however, that Paul was ravished from this life into a life ineffable;
otherwise his expression would be meaningless.
PAUL'S THORN IN THE FLESH AND HUMILITY.
"There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan."
25. And must this mighty apostle, O merciful God, be subject to trials
lest he exalt himself because of his great revelations? Then how should
others, how should such infirm beings as we, be free from self-exaltation?
Many teachers have explained Paul's thorn to be the temptations of the
flesh. The Latin text is responsible for this interpretation; it reads,
"stimulus carnis,"a spear, or thorn for the flesh. Yet that rendering
does not do justice to the words. Paul is not in the habit of terming temptations
of the flesh "thorns." The thorn stands rather for something
painful and afflicting. In "a thorn of the flesh" the thought
is not of an instrumentality whereby the flesh stings, but of something
that stings the flesh. The Greek text impels us to the thought of a thorn
for the flesh, or a thorn upon or in the flesh. The idea is much like that
in the German proverb, '`The clog is bound to the dog's neck." We
may imagine Paul expressing himself: "As a clog to a dog's neck, as
a ring in a bear's nose, a bit in a horse's mouth or a gag in the mouth
of a swine, in order to restrain them from running, biting and general
mischief, so is my thorn a clog to my body lest I exalt myself."
26. But Paul himself explains the nature of the clog, or thorn. He calls
it "a messenger of Satan," a devil, to "buffet" him,
or to flay and jog him. Hence a spiritual trial cannot be meant. The explanation
appeals to me that the persecutions and sufferings the apostle recounts
above constitute the devil's flaying. Thus his meaning would be: "I
have received great revelations, for which reason the clog is bound to
the dog; that is, the many dangers and misfortunes with which the angel
of the devil buffets and humiliates my body will make me forget to exalt
myself. They are the thorn in my flesh, or upon my body; for God will not
permit it to come upon my soul."
27. Yet the text seems to imply some peculiar work of the devil upon
Paul's body, for it says the thorn, or clog, is the messenger Satan employs
to beat his body; and also that the apostle diligently but unavailingly
thrice besought the Lord to remove it. I do not imagine him praying for
the cessation of persecutions in a spirit of unwillingness to suffer them.
But since he does not specify the affliction, we must let it remain a secret
one, a distress known only to himself. It is enough for us to know that
while God had given him great revelations, revelations beyond human ken,
he also bound the clog to him gave him a thorn for his body to prevent
his exaltation of himself; and that the knowledge of the buffetings and
flaying caused by this clog, or devil, are likewise beyond human ken.
"My power is made perfect in weakness."
28. It is a strange sort of strength which is weak and by its weakness
grows stronger. Who ever heard of weak strength? or more absurd still,
that strength is increased by weakness? Paul would here make a distinction
between human strength and divine. Human strength increases with enhancement
and decreases with enfeeblement. But God's power his Word in us rises in
proportion to the pressure it receives. It is characteristic of God the
Creator that he creates all things from naught, and again reduces to naught
all created things. Human power cannot do this. The power of God is the
true palm-wood which buoys itself in proportion as it is burdened and weighted.
29. Note here, "weakness" is not to be understood in a spiritual sense, as on a previous occasion, but externally; as not illness alone, but every sort of evil, misfortune, suffering and persecution calculated to buffet and humble the body. The power of Christ, in connection with which spiritual weakness cannot exist, is invoked against this weakness likewise. He says, "Most gladly will I glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." And his weaknesses he immediately explains as infirmities, injuries, necessities, persecutions and distresses. The thought, then, is: Christ is not mighty within us, his word and his faith are not strong in us, unless our bodies suffer affliction. The false apostles, however, take excellent care to escape suffering.