The Experience of Apostleship
Some key points to remember were:
- Corinth was a cosmopolitan city filled with sexual immorality and grand temples dedicated to the worship of pagan deities.
- Paul established the church there and it comprised of both Jews (with their ancient religious background) and Greeks (who had been influenced by pagan religious practices and Greek philosophy).
- Paul's first letter was sent as a response to the problems that this church was having several years after its formation, problems of conduct, attitude and personal conflict which seemed to have been settled by the Apostle's instructions.
- At some point after the first letter from Paul was received, Jewish Christians from Corinth began to attack Paul's motives, question his credentials and criticize his work among these brethren in a bid to establish themselves as the new leaders. They promoted the idea that believers had to be circumcised in order to become true Christians, and this teaching threatened to divide the church.
- The next letter Paul sends to the Corinthians deals with these troublemakers and the charges that they were bringing against him. It is personal and subjective in nature, and deals with the proper conduct of an Apostle rather than the conduct of the church which he addressed in his first letter to them.
Paul's opening statement gives insight into the problems that he was facing, namely the personal attack made and division caused by the challenge concerning his authority as a genuine Apostle.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
- II Corinthians 1:1a
Letters at that time were structured differently than letters today. The signature (yours truly) was usually at the beginning and the salutation (Dear Joe) was at the end. Paul uses the signature to establish his credentials. He introduces himself as, "..an Apostle of Christ." The term apostle in its generic form referred to one who was a "messenger," but it was used here in the more formal way referring to an ambassador or official messenger. Paul's introduction states that he is not just any messenger, he is an ambassador of Jesus. This was significant because in the years following Jesus' resurrection and ascension a person did not refer to himself as an "Apostle" unless he was one of the men specifically chosen by Christ to fulfill this role.
Although he does not say it, Paul establishes the critical difference between himself and the so-called "Apostles" that were causing trouble there: he was appointed by Christ and they were self-appointed. This underscores several important principles concerning legitimate leadership in the church which can be summarized in the following brief manner: no commission without commendation, no position without permission, no office without ordination. For example, in the Old Testament every Jewish person was required to worship, serve and obey God. However, those who did specific tasks (priests, levites, etc.) were appointed to these positions in the beginning by God, and then continued in these roles through genealogical succession (Aaron was first appointed as high priest by God and then his sons served in this role after him, Exodus 28:1-ff).
Similarly, in the New Testament, we learn that Jesus selected the Apostles as His special messengers. Later on we see them appointing deacons and elders for positions of service and leadership in the local church (Acts 6:1-7; Acts 15:1-2). As the church grew and spread throughout the Roman Empire we read that elders in various congregations appointed evangelists (I Timothy 4:14) whose work was to proclaim the gospel and establish new congregations. Part of the evangelist's ministry in organizing new churches was to train and appoint leaders (elders) who would serve in these churches and, as part of their ministry, would themselves appoint new evangelists and deacons thus repeating the cycle of reproducing the church and its leadership from generation to generation.
It is this pattern of church authority and appointed roles that I am referring to when I say that there are no self-appointed preachers, teachers, deacons, elders or missionaries in the church (no commission as evangelist without the commendation of the elders, no position as deacons without the permission of the church, no office of eldership without ordination by other elders or an evangelist). When examining this issue in the Bible we discover that in every case, these men were chosen and trained in some way, and only then appointed/commended/ordained to their work by the leaders in the local congregation.
I've explained all of this to underscore the point that in the first verse of II Corinthians Paul states that it was Christ Himself who had appointed him to his position as an Apostle, but no one had appointed these other leaders to this role. They had simply appointed themselves and, consequently, had no real authority.
and Timothy our brother,
- II Corinthians 1:1b
In his signature Paul includes Timothy, who was originally sent ahead of the first letter to prepare the Corinthians for the arrival of his teaching (I Corinthians 4:17).
To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia
- II Corinthians 1:1c
It is amazing that with all the problems this church had and continued to have, Paul still referred to them as God's church. They were weak, sinful, immature and ungrateful, but still God's people (this should be a reminder to us when we are ready to quit the church because there are one or two people who do not measure up to our standard of holiness).
Paul also includes others (Achaia) in the greeting since he presumes this letter will ultimately have a wider circulation than the church at Corinth.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
- II Corinthians 1:2
He offers a blessing upon them. This was not only a sign of his kindness but also a reminder of his position, since the one in the higher position always blessed the one in the lower position.
The Experience of Apostleship: Suffering - II Corinthians 1:3-11
If you were asked to summarize the experience of being a parent or an engineer or teacher in a single word, what would that word be? For example, if a police officer were answering this question perhaps he would say "service"; for teachers: "dedication"; for sales people: "stress."
Paul is saying in this passage that, in a word, the ministry of Apostleship is: suffering.
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
- II Corinthians 1:3-4
Note that Paul does not complain about the suffering that he has to endure. We know from other passages that he has been whipped, stoned, imprisoned, mobbed and survived several plots to kill him. As a matter of fact, this very letter is written to people who are criticizing him and trying to destroy his work.
He tells his readers that he concentrates on the comfort that God supplies for him throughout these sufferings and not the discomfort itself. The suffering is there as a mainstay of his Apostolic ministry, but it is the comfort of God that Paul focuses upon. He explains that the comfort he receives from God enables him to do two things:
- He can praise and honor God for the comfort that He supplies when suffering is at hand.
- He can empathize. Paul says that he passes on to others, who are suffering, the comfort that God gives to him for his own difficulties.
For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.
- II Corinthians 1:5
He comments on the fact that his trials never outweigh his comfort in Christ. The trials are always there, but so is the comfort of God, and in greater abundance than the suffering.
6But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; 7and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.
- II Corinthians 1:6-7
In these verses he explains how his experience as an Apostle is related to the Corinthians. The purpose of Apostleship was to bring people to Christ, and everything the Apostles experienced was somehow related to his charge. In these verses Paul says that everything in his life serves his ministry, the suffering as well as the comforting. If he suffers, he does so in order to defend or proclaim the faith so people like the Corinthians could receive Christ and His salvation. If he is comforted, then he has something to offer them when they are suffering. His hope is that they remain faithful to Christ despite the trials they experience, and in so doing, share both the sufferings and comforts of Christ like he (Paul) and other Christians do.
8For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; 9indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, 11you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.
- II Corinthians 1:8-11
In this section Paul provides his readers with a concrete example of his suffering and comfort that they can relate to. He describes a time, while far from home, when he was threatened with death (from disease or persecution, we do not know). He sincerely believed that he was close to dying and was losing all hope of recovery. He goes on to say that God saved him, even though he had given up hope. Paul describes the comfort he felt not only for his healing but also for the encouragement he experienced in the knowledge that the brethren were earnestly praying for him. He adds that he was also greatly comforted by the fact that God was honored by the prayers of thanksgiving offered up by those who were grateful that he was saved.
After the description of his experience as an Apostle, Paul will go on to explain why he has written this second letter to them.
The first passage in this letter gives us insight into Paul as an Apostle, and from this we gain a greater understanding of spiritual leadership. Apostles are our pattern for Christian leadership.
This brief passage contains two important lessons for church leaders:
1. Leadership in the church involves suffering.
Whoever is responsible is visible, and whoever is visible is vulnerable. Those who lead in the church (or anywhere for that matter) will often be attacked, under-appreciated and disappointed. Whoever takes on leadership must be prepared to experience suffering because it is part of the job. It seems that for church leaders there is a pool of suffering associated with Christ, and when a man begins to lead in it, he needs to be prepared to share in that suffering.
2. Leadership in the church draws the leader closer to the Lord.
The beneficial effect of suffering, for a church leader, is that it draws him closer to God or it breaks him, one or the other. Paul rejoiced, not in his suffering (he was no masochist), he rejoiced in the comfort he experienced as he drew closer to God because of his suffering. The "comfort" is simply a greater assurance of the Lord's presence. A leader will sense it in his prayer life, study life, ministry life and in his emotional life.
The reward of leadership in the church is not the same as the reward of leadership in the world (privilege, money, power, etc.). The reward of leadership in the church is God Himself, as David, a great leader of God's people wrote, "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup.." (Psalms 16:5). We are all going to heaven, but like Moses or David, the leader gets a glimpse of it first and that glimpse is both his comfort for the trials that come from being at the head of the people and out in front of the curve. It is the motivation to keep leading. You see, leaders have seen the Promised Land and are both rewarded and challenged in suffering because of it.
If this be so, let us always remember to pray for our leaders, both secular and church, for they bear a greater burden than the rest. And let us encourage and cooperate with their efforts, especially in the church, because their work is done out of a love for God and the love of souls, not the love of power or money.
On the other hand, let leaders be aware of their responsibilities and lead with diligence, knowing that along with a great reward, a stricter judgment also awaits.
Finally, let us all submit to our Lord and leader, Jesus Christ, in all that He requires of us, for His yoke easy and His burden light.