Summary: Too often, we run from challenges. Yet the people we love to read about in the Bible are impressive because they battled challenges. If God sends you on stony paths, He will provide you with strong shoes.
Opening illustration: A TV program on the History Channel featured the world’s most extreme airports. The one that caught my attention is no longer open, but it is one I had flown into. I agree that Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport was definitely a thrill ride for passengers and surely a challenge for pilots. If you came in from one direction, you had to fly over skyscrapers and then hope the plane stopped before it plunged into the sea. If you came in the other way, it seemed as if you were going to smack into a mountain.
I found it surprising that a pilot who used to take planeloads of people into Kai Tak said, “I miss flying into that airport.” But I think I know what he meant. As a pilot, he relished the challenge. He had a confidence based on his ability and his reliance on those who guided him into the airport.
Too often, we run from challenges. Yet the people we love to read about in the Bible are impressive because they battled challenges. Consider Paul. With the confidence of God’s help, he faced troubles head-on—and conquered them. Christ’s promise to Paul and to us is: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12: 9). Like Paul’s example, in the confidence of God’s care we can say to the next challenge: Bring it on!
Introduction: The proper function of oaths is not to erect special situations in which truth-telling is important, by contrast with other situations in which truth-telling does not matter; rather, they function to enhance the credibility of the speaker before skeptical hearers. Paul’s credibility has been questioned; he takes this oath, appealing to God’s omniscience, to ensure the Corinthians will hear him out and be more inclined to believe him. I am not so sure how the ordinary person might respond to such an oath as Paul has given, but I do believe an oath did have special significance to a Jew. We should remember that the opposition Paul unveils in chapter 11 is clearly Jewish (see 11: 22). You may recall Matthew’s account of our Lord’s trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin. What made Paul such a hero to his fellow-Jews that he could have been awarded a “key to the city” on his entrance into Damascus as the old Saul? And what now turned this hero into a villain, an enemy not only of the Jews, but also of the government and even the king? It is not just that he has been saved, though this is the great turning point in Paul’s life. It is that Paul began preaching Jesus as the Christ rather than blaspheming against Him. Paul’s “weakness” and “foolishness” is the “weakness” and “foolishness” of the gospel by which he was saved and which he now proclaims openly. Paul can rightly “boast” in his “weakness,” because his “weakness” is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the “power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1: 25).
How to respond to challenges?
1. Bring it on (vs. 23-27)
Here in fact God has allowed this invasion of the apostle’s work by these wretched Judaizing men (calling themselves Christians) to be the means of acquainting us with something of the indefatigable labors of the apostle, carried on in a thousand circumstances of which we have no account. In the Acts God has given us the history of the establishment of the assembly in the great principles on which it was founded, and the phases through which it passed on coming out of Judaism. The apostle will have his own reward in the kingdom of glory, not by speaking of it among men. Nevertheless it is profitable for our faith to have some knowledge of Christian devotedness, as it was manifested in the life of the apostle. The folly of the Corinthians has been the means of furnishing us with a little glimpse of it. Troubles and dangers without, incessant anxieties within, a courage that quailed before no peril, a love for poor sinners and for the assembly that nothing chilled — these few lines sketch the picture of a life of such absolute devotedness that it touches the coldest heart; it makes us feel] all our selfishness, and bend the knee before Him who was the living source of the blessed apostle’s devotedness, before Him whose glory inspired it.
The apostle gives an account of his labors and sufferings; not out of pride or vain-glory, but to the honor of God, who enabled him to do and suffer so much for the cause of Christ; and shows wherein he excelled the false apostles, who tried to lessen his character and usefulness. It astonishes us to reflect on this account of his dangers, hardships, and sufferings, and to observe his patience, perseverance, diligence, cheerfulness, and usefulness, in the midst of all these trials. See what little reason we have to love the pomp and plenty of this world, when this blessed apostle felt so much hardship in it. Our utmost diligence and services appear unworthy of notice when compared with his, and our difficulties and trials scarcely can be perceived. It may well lead us to inquire whether or not we really are followers of Christ. Here we may study patience, courage, and firm trust in God. Here we may learn to think less of ourselves; and we should ever strictly keep to truth, as in God’s presence; and should refer all to his glory, as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed for evermore.