FOR READERS I have just started a new blog: xtremejesus.co which is intended to contribute to political and social debate from the point of view of the Jesus tradition. Some have found difficulty in accessing the site from their search engines and browsers. At present, Google Chrome gives it easily.
MEANWHILE, this old faithful blog continues to explore Paul’s Corinthian correspondence day by day. At present it is dealing with 2 Corinthians 10-13, which is all we have of Paul’s harsh letter after a visit to Corinth in the wake of 1st Corinthians. I’m assuming that all his Corinthian letters were sent from Ephesos. The news headline is a reminder of the world we live in.
2 CORINTHIANS 12
11-13 I have made a fool of myself in this “boasting” business, but you forced me to do it. If only you had had a better opinion of me it would have been quite unnecessary. For I am not really in the least inferior, nobody as I am, to these extra-special messengers. You have had an exhaustive demonstration of the power God gives to a genuine messenger of his in the miracles, signs and works of spiritual power that you saw with your own eyes. What makes you feel so inferior to other churches? Is it because I have not allowed you to support me financially? My humblest apologies for this great wrong!
What can be your grounds for suspicion of me?
14-15 Now I am all ready to visit you for the third time, and I am still not going to be a burden to you. It is you I want—not your money. Children don’t have to put by their savings for their parents; parents do that for their children. Consequently I will most gladly spend and be spent for your good, even though it means that the more I love you the less you love me.
16-18 “All right then,” I hear you say, “we agree that he himself had none of our money.” But are you thinking that I nevertheless was rogue enough to catch you by some trick? Just think. Did I make any profit out of the messengers I sent you? I asked Titus to go, and sent a brother with him. You don’t think Titus made anything out of you, do you? Yet didn’t I act in the same spirit as he, and take the same line as he did?
Remember what I really am, and whose authority I have
19 Are you thinking that I am trying to justify myself in your eyes? Actually I am speaking in Christ before God himself, and my only reason for so doing is to help you in your spiritual life.
20-21 For I must confess that I am afraid that when I come I shall not perhaps find you as I should like to find you, and that you will not find me coming quite as you would like me to come. I am afraid of finding arguments, jealousy, ill-feeling, divided loyalties, slander, whispering, pride and disharmony. When I come, will God make me feel ashamed of you as I stand among you? Shall I have to grieve over many who have sinned already and are not yet sorry for the impurity, the immorality and the lustfulness of which they are guilty?
Paul insists that he has done his best to be an inconspicuous, hard-working emissary of Jesus, whose only wish is to serve others, but he’s furious that the Corinthians have treated him accordingly! How dare they think that’s all he is! How dare they take him at his word and treat him as “the least of all he emissaries”? There is a sense in which Paul wants to have it both ways: to get credit for his humility while insisting that he’s accorded dignity as the “emissary to Gentiles”. In fact when it appears there are other emissaries to these gentiles, he’s not best pleased.
We can laugh at this, while nevertheless remembering how small and mean are our lives in comparison with this great if sometimes exasperating man. We cannot really doubt that he is fighting for the spiritual welfare of his converts, even if a little self-regard is also evident. He doesn’t need to get involved in this battle, but feels he must stand by the truth of the Messiah nailed to an execution stake, who is God’s good news for all.
He reminds them of some facts:
1. The signs and acts of power they applaud in the new emissaries, were also evident in his work.
2. He did not demand monetary support from them.
3. Neither did Titus, his agent.
He urges them to see that all his dealings with them have been motivated by love and the desire to share the gospel, and that his special charisma as an emissary gives him authority as a source of the truth about Jesus. He speaks of his intended visit and hopes that he won’t have to call them to account for disharmony and immorality as he had done on his previous visit. He comes back to their behaviour: how can these new teachers be any good if their pupils treat each other badly and are permissive about sexual relationships? He has advocated love as the greatest gift in his previous letter, but he wants to insist that love has content, it forbids back-biting and jealousy, it requires order and respect in sexual relationships. Paul’s sense of the nitty-gritty of community life is always sharp. He sometimes flails around a bit, blusters with big words, but his common sense knowledge of what is good for people shines through.