Paul’s Apostolic Ministry
In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul says, “…I will boast in my weakness… that the power of Christ may dwell in me…when I am weak, then I am strong.” It is possible to develop two arguments. One of the arguments is that in 2 Corinthians Paul makes reference of himself while excluding his readers. An alternative argument can be that Paul uses his personal experiences in terms of his interactions with God to communicate on matters regarding the life of Christian. Those who operate on the basis that the extensive use of personal examples by Paul in 2 Corinthians is not applicable to the readers hold these perceptions on two reasons. The first reason is the common belief that an Apostle only deals with the immediate situations while defending himself. Others operate on the argument that as an apostle, Paul was using examples that were only exceptional to him.
Elaborate writings in 2 Corinthians 11-12 provide an understanding of the rhetorical objective as propounded by Paul. This is based on the existing evidence that his aims and objectives were broader than the self-defense. In 2 Corinthians Paul asks questions concerning self-defense. He says, “Do you think all this time we have been defending to you? Before God, we speak in Christ. Everything…is for building you up.” This evidence is a demonstration that the use of personal examples and experiences is to fulfill the apostolic objective of building up the Corinthians. In the process of defending himself, Paul encourages the community of Corinth to engage in introspection and self-correction regarding their understanding of elements of poor and weakness.
Through the examination of chapter 11 and 12, the paper will probe the basis of all that Paul says concerning himself. This will be based on the analysis of the extent to which these experiences are a foundation of his ministry as an apostle and the degree by which other believers can share in the experiences. This article will also provide an understanding of the techniques Paul uses in defending his ministry and the relevance of personal examples and experiences in teaching the Corinthians how power and weakness cohere in the life of a Christian in the process of leadership. The use of “I” in 2 Corinthians 11-12 targets the lives of believers in Corinth.
In chapter 11 of the book of 2 Corinthians, Paul provides a description of his discomfort by taking up the picture of himself and his ministry as the father of the bride. The bride is a representation of the congregation that he has engaged to Jesus Christ, the husband. This is an expression of not only his faithfulness and purity but also a communication of the hope that the Corinthians will be united in Christ. Paul compares this union to marriage. Paul’s hope for the Corinthians in verse 2 of chapter 11 is not an exhibition of his explicit preoccupation with matters of personal life but an expression of his apostolic and fatherly concern for the Corinthians. In 2 Corinthians 11:3, Paul expresses his worry concerning the congregation of believers in Corinth. His main worry is that they are being seduced and just like Eve in the Garden of Eden, they have been corrupted and are moving away from the right path of sincere devotion. This creates the assumption that the misguided perspectives that the congregations in Corinth are adopting pose the threat of harming their relationship with Christ.
In 11:4, Paul provides a literal perspective of his understanding of matters related to the lives of the Corinthians. He rebukes them for readily accepting a different Jesus presented by false prophets. Paul eludes this conversation by denying the reader an understanding of the differences between his teachings and those of his opponents. This is because in the subsequent verses, 11:6-12, Paul describes his style of ministry and his dealings with money through the affirmation that he embraced humility to ensure that the congregation n Corinth was exalted. The exclusion of theological debates in 2 Corinthians 11 and 12 provides the suggestion that the misguided thought provided by the adversaries of Paul were more evident n their practices than in their teachings. Instead of arguing form the theological teachings of his opponents, Paul says in 11:20 “you put up with it…if someone makes slaves of you…consumes you…takes advantage of you…is arrogant…or slaps you in the face.”
In chapter 11, Paul paints a picture of abuse of power. This is because his adversaries present a different Christ, Spirit, and gospel that characterize their actions. According to Matera, the best strategy in understanding the mission of Paul would not be to delve much focus on the accusation that the adversaries preach a different Jesus. This is because of the failure by Paul to characterize their theology. Inasmuch as Matera is correct in observing that it is relatively impossible to know the theory of Paul’s adversaries into details, the underestimation of the significance of Paul’s characterization of his adversaries should be limited. This is because the use of terms such as “deceitful” and “false” is applicable to their approach to ministry, which Paul considers as destructive theology (11:13-15). The dominance of the language of boasting, which include the allegations by Paul in 11: 8 that most of the people boast in accordance with the desires of the flesh, is a display of the concerns of the Apostles regarding the position of the confidence exhibited by his adversaries. In addition, it also entails the effects of their confidence on the growth and development of the church in Corinth.
While taking his cue to boast from his opponents, he lays much of the focus on weaknesses as a technique of challenging the ideals held by the Corinthians. In the process of communication on the standards of legitimacy that defines his critics, Paul says that he has the ability to boast but he chooses to abstain from such behavior. There is some level of significance in the transition from 11:22 to 11:23. This is because in verse 22, Paul is considered to be in the same position as his opponents however upon mentioning Christ, and that he is more dedicated in his ministry compared to others, he stands out as a real servant in the execution of his duties as commanded by Christ. From verse 23, Paul talks of the hardships that have characterized his work as an apostle of Christ. Inasmuch as the portrayal may be considered as characterized with persistence and weakness, the interpretations by Paul in verse 30,” I will boast…of things that demonstrate my weakness” provides an understanding of the essence of self-acceptance in the process of serving Christ. The danger that his heart experiences in the process of carrying out the responsibilities in his ministry defines his weakness. Paul’s list of challenges as described in11:23-33 provides a benchmark for those in the apostolic ministry. Furthermore, it is also a representation of motivation of the community of believers. According to Paul, the process of executing the Christian role is often accompanies by suffering. Such suffering affirms the union and the confidence that Paul has in terms of their ability to overcome. Through his hardships, Paul demonstrates his Union with Christ as a minister in the apostolic ministry.
His role as a servant of Christ was to ensure that he identifies his strengths and weaknesses. Through such identification he has the ability to ask help form Christ who will deliver him from his weaknesses by providing the Holy Spirit as a guide throughout all the hardships that an apostle may face in the ministry. His catalogue of hardships as exemplified in 11:23:33 sets a benchmark for all the ministers serving Christ.
Furthermore, his example is also representative of all that he has encouraged to Corinthian community to embrace. In 2 Corinthians 1: 5-7 Paul’s asserts that suffering comes to believers and those serving Christ because of the union they share with Jesus. Christ affirms his confidence by sending tem the Holy Spirit to help them during the hardships. Paul also affirms his confidence in the believers in Corinth as a minister identified with Jesus based on his suffering. It is possible to argue that Paul views himself as a representative of Christ through the power given to him to preach his gospel for the whole world to accept and embrace Christ as the savior and the only source of redemption form sin. The messages from his adversaries preach a different version of the gospel, which is bound to mislead the church in Corinth into accepting and acknowledging teachings that are in contravention with the desires of Christ, who through suffering endeavors to identify and develop the church in Corinth.
At the onset of chapter 12 of 2 Corinthians, hesitantly boasts of a euphoric vision. He takes advantage of the situation through a demonstration that this is the experiences which he wishes not to boast about.in 12:5 he asserts that “with respect to myself…I will not boast…except in weakness.”  The phrase, “except in weakness” can be perceived in the form of criticism. This because it is possible to draw the conclusion that Paul is referring to weight nature of his words and letters which emanate from a weak body. Inasmuch as his opponents attempt some form of defamation on his weakness, the main objective of Paul while writing to the Corinthians is to teach them on an alternative approach that they can use to construe weakness and power. In 12:17-10, Paul writes to the Corinthians with the objective of passing the information that due to certain ambiguities, it may be unwise to form dogmatic conclusions concerning curtains particulars. However, the phrase “thorn in the flesh” which Paul uses o refers to different afflictions that believers face, was results do the activities of Satan. Paul asserts that through his providence God allows the existence of evil as a way of ensuring that Paul does not get exalted above measure. The presence of the thorn was a way through which God would have wanted Paul to recognize his grace, which had proved sufficient in the midst of the weaknesses expressed by Paul. Inasmuch as god does not the repeated pleadings by Paul to let him depart from evil, there is no indication that God is displaced with the intentions by Paul to depart from his suffering. Instead, the response given by Jesus in verse 9, “My grace is sufficient…” is an indication of unrelenting efforts by God to respond to the needs of man irrespective of how he prays. 
According to Schutz, the issue that Paul, the Corinthians, and his adversities need to address is based on the choice of accepted norms. Paul is compelled to meet these adversaries on their own grounds due to the absence of commonly accepted basis of authority. Paul does not provide the theoretical foundation of his position considering that he does not move to the offensive. The frequent use of the word “I” in verse 7 and 9 is an indication that Paul is not only relaying an event but also provides an in-depth look into his reflection. He contemplates the relevance of the thorn in his life. He derives essential teachings from the thorn on behalf of the Corinthians. In verse 7, he explains that he was given the thorn as a way of ensuring that he does not possess the sense of an exalted self. The frequent occurrence of the word “I” from verses1-10 provide the interpretation that an unchecked understanding of the word may lead to boasting. This is as demonstrated in 11:20 where Paul complained that the believers in Corinth were tolerating his opponents despite their arrogance.
The use of the word “I” in his apostolic ministry provides the suggestion that the story he tell in 12:1-10 is not exclusively about him. Misplaced confidence, which manifests in self-exaltation, is the adversary of believers who participate in the ministry of Christ. The objective of his apostolic ministry was to ensure that the purity of the union between believers and Christ was guarded as demonstrated in 2 Corinthians 11:2-3. The letter he wrote to the Corinthians is a demonstration of his extensive concern with matters related to boasting. According to Paul, the decision by Corinthians to accept leaders who rode in the wave of power was a platform of proving essential information on how strength and weakness cohere in leadership and in the life of a Christian. The story of the thorn is told for the sake of the audience, apologetic as well as pedagogical purposes. Instead of removing the thorns sin response to the repeated prayers by Paul (12:8), Christ replies with information that his grace was sufficient for the salvation of Paul (12:9). While narrating the answer provided by the Christ and his reactions to the response, there are numerous clues that Paul uses this information as a platform of teaching the believers in Corinth an approach to embracing power and weakness, which is applicable to both the Corinthians and himself.
An effective understanding of the affliction of Paul in 12:7-10 presents an exemplary way that Paul uses to answer his adversaries and teach the Corinthians. He uses his apologetic writing in instructing and building the Corinthians. The reply provided by Christ and the reaction of Paul can be considered as an establishment of a normative pattern that christens can use in holding weakness and power together in their lives and in the ministry. Circumstances of weakness expose believers to the power of Christ since it gives them an opportunity of participating in his death and resurrection. The phrase” when I am weak, then I am strong” provides Corinthians with an understanding of the relevance of embracing and anticipating the presence of God in weakness. According to Paul, embracing power in weakness is therefore the only way through which apostles and believers can participate in the power and grace of Christ.
In his description of the thorns, Paul does not provide an exact identity of their nature making it appear as a general concept. It is possible to argue that through this assertion, Paul provided an uncommon but favorable opportunity for all the readers of the bible to become interpreters. Inasmuch as the congregation in Corinth may have known what the thorns were, Paul fails to provide an exact name of the thorns as a way of enabling more believers to find its meaning in their own lives. This is based on the understanding that every believer face unique challenges and weaknesses hence the need to define the thorns in the context of personal weaknesses and challenges.
In the subsequent verses of chapter 12, Paul introduces the Corinthians to his line of thought in an explicit way. This is demonstrated by the shift from his self-portrayal as way of clarifying that how words were more about them. In 12:14, he suggests that his issues are not only with his opponent outside the congregations at Corinth. His concern is for the believers in the church at Corinth. He writes the letter in preparation for his arrival. The letter is also a substitute o his presence whose role is to ensure that necessary changes such as their interpretation of financial practices are altered to adhere to the acceptable standards among believers.
While speaking in the context of communicating his intentions, Paul asks, “Have you been thinking…that we were defending ourselves to you?” 12:19. Paul affirms that in the presence of God and in accordance to the demands of his ministry when was speaking as a representative of Christ. He says,” Beloved, everything is for building you up.” Within this assertion, it is possible to develop the arguments that Paul’s defense was not for his own sake but for. The use of the “I” language in 2 Corinthian 11-12 is aimed at admonishing, guiding and building the congregation to embrace and act in accordance with the desires of Christ. The word “I” is therefore integral to his writing objectives considering the claim that he exercises his authority as an apostle of Christ whose role is to spread the message of Jesus and use it in building the community of believers.
The use of personal examples of his experiences as techniques of building the congregation in Corinth also plays the role of a corrective contrast to the arrogance that defines the behavior of the congregation. While addressing the church play asserts that he fears finding rivalries, jealousy, disturbances, outbursts, slander, arrogance and gossip as part of the behavior among believers in Corinth (12:20). There also exists the possibility that Paul interprets these behaviors as the fruits of the congregation’s acceptance of his adversaries whose role is to lead them away from the truth of Jesus Christ through the corruption of the initial union between the believers and Christ. Paul uses himself as an example of an individual who readily recognizes his weaknesses, is willing to response, and accepts the grace of Christ, which is sufficient, compared to the power of any adversary.
While communication on his role as an apostle and is love for the church at Corinth considering that he has even sent some of his representatives, Titus and an unnamed apostle to communicate the message of Christ. Paul reject accusations that Titus and the unnamed apostle came to collect money, which Paul was keeping for himself. Instead, Paul accuses the congregation at Corinth of malice and failing to adhere to the teachings. Paul accuses them of neglecting the truth and embracing false teachings. Corinthian in the view of Paul were negligent of the true gospel. He considers it his responsibility to tell them of the activities that they must do to redeem themselves before Christ. Repentance and embracing the gospel is the main objective that Paul seeks to preach to the disrupted community of Corinthians. He reminds them in 12:16-18 of the honesty and the dedication of the apostles in communication the truth and honesty. In verse 21, Paul confirms that there are those who had sinned against God and had refused to repent. The role of an apostle as expected by Christ is to preach his word and finding ways of uniting the church despite the efforts by false prophets to spread false teachings to Christians. Other than rebuking, the sinful activities of Corinthians, Paul affirm his role as an apostle to preach the teachings of Christ in the face of ungodly behavior.
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