Summary: Paul wants his readers to move towards perfection. We learn to love one another, to agree with one another, to live in peace with one another
You can almost feel Paul’s frustration as he comes to the end of this letter. He’s done all he could to bring these people to maturity in Christ. He’s begged them, cajoled them, even threatened them and none of it seems to have made any difference. In fact in the end he’s had to resort to utter foolishness to make his point. You can tell how much he hates having to blow his own trumpet. That’s just not his style. But he’ll do whatever’s necessary to get them back on track.
But now he’s come to the end of his tether. He’s had enough. So he finishes his letter with a rebuke. He may be a fool for boasting about his achievements, but they’re even more foolish for accepting the things that his opponents were saying rather than realising just how much he’s done for them. Rather than him having to defend himself to them, they should have been commending him. So he finishes by pointing out to them once again, how his behaviour has been above reproach.
His opponents complained that Paul’s presentation didn’t show enough power or supernatural miracles, but he says, if you think back to when I was with you, I did perform those signs and wonders and mighty works that you’d expect of an apostle. But it wasn’t a flashy performance like these people are expecting. No the context in which he worked was one of the utmost patience. The word is actually perseverance. Paul has spent the last couple of chapters talking about the various trials and tribulations he’s put up with in order to preach the gospel to them. Have a quick look back at ch 11:23-29. "Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman -- I am a better one: with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. 24Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; 27in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. 28And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.
So Paul is answering his own question: "How am I inferior to these ’super-apostles’?" by saying, "in fact I’m superior to them, not because I did more spectacular miracles, but because I kept going in the face of great obstacles and opposition. Even when I was discouraged and under great stress and anxiety, I kept preaching the gospel. I kept bringing people to Christ. I kept on teaching you and encouraging you."
Far from his trials and tribulations being a problem for his claim to be an apostle, his perseverance in the face of those trials is a sure fire proof of the genuineness of his claim.
A few of us were at the cathedral last week for the ordination of Michael and 14 others and at one point in the service they were asked whether they believed that they were truly called to the ministry of priests. Now it was no great problem for each of them to say yes at that point. If they didn’t believe that they would hardly have been there. But the real test will be a few years down the track when they’ve been a Parish minister or a school chaplain for a few years, and they’ve encountered the sorts of problems that will inevitably arise; when they’ve had to face up to opposition from parishioners or school boards or disruptive students; when they’ve had to deal with families grieving over the premature death of a child, or someone dealing with a partner who abandons them for someone else, or someone who’s diagnosed with cancer; not to mention month after month of vestry meetings!
The question then will be, are you able to persevere in your ministry? Are you able to keep going despite your weakness? And the strength of their ministry may well be shown by that ability to persevere, not by the spectacular results that arise or don’t arise from it.
So Paul’s first reminder to them is that he showed his credentials as an apostle in the way he persevered.
He can’t stop himself from lapsing into sarcasm again, can he? "13How have you been worse off than the other churches, except that I myself did not burden you?" What a terrible apostle he must be, not to have made them support him! He obviously didn’t have much experience in the way of the world! Not to mention confidence in his own ministry. And then in v16 he says "Obviously I took you in by deceit. That’s how crafty I am." It’s so stupid to think that his failure to ask for support was a lack rather than a blessing.