Suffering As A Servant Of Christ – 2 Corinthians 11:23-33

In 2 Cor 11 Paul catalogs his suffering in this paragraph. Since this book was written while Paul was in Ephesus (Acts 19), we know he will face even greater suffering than this (two separate two-year house arrests and a shipwreck between!)

He says he has worked harder, been in prison more, been beaten countlessly and has been near death many times. Paul uses a series of adverbs (περισσοτέρως twice, ὑπερβαλλόντως once, and πολλάκις once) to overemphasize his difficult life as a servant of Christ. These were not one-time problems he endured for a short time. This is the constant state of his life since he began his ministry!

“Five time lashed 40 less one” is a reference to Jewish punishment. The Greek says, “I received the forty less one,” which is a clear reference to a lashing. Josephus uses the phrase twice in describing the Mosaic Law (Ant. 4:238. 248). This punishment came from the Jews—it was an attempt from synagogues to bring Paul back in line with his heritage. The maximum punishment in the law was 40 lashes (Deut 25:3).

whip_flagSince the Law says more than 40 lashes is degrading to the one giving the punishment, the tradition developed by the first century to stop short of 40 (m.Makkot 3:10 simply recommends a number near forty but less than forty; 3:11 gives some instruction for beating people who are physically unable to take a full flogging). If the punisher “added even a single stripe and the victim died, lo, this one goes into exile on his account” (m.Makkoth 3:14c). In the Mishnah there is a list of offences which could result in a flogging (m.Makkoth 3:1-9). While some of these are moral offences, there are quite a few violations of the Law which can result in a flogging (Including “He who makes a baldness on his head” and tattooing one’s body (m.Makkoth 3:5-6)!

What is significant is Paul received this penalty five times!  Early in his ministry Paul may have been expelled from the synagogue for teaching that Jesus was the Messiah, and certainly if he taught God-fearing Gentiles they could be fully save without keeping the Law. This indicates he still was trying to reach out to the Jews in the synagogues early in his career, as Acts indicates he never really stopped going to the synagogues to reach the “Jew first.”

“Three times beaten with rods” is a reference to Roman punishment. The Greek (ῥαβδίζω) refers only to beating someone with rods, the Latin term fustigatio was distinct from catigatio, lashing, and verberatio, flogging with chains (BDAG). Paul received this treatment in Acts 16:22 for creating a “public disturbance” even though he was a Roman citizen.

“Once stoned and left for dead” refers to Lystra (Acts 14:19). Stoning was a typical way for a Jewish group to execute someone. In Acts 7 Paul himself participates in the stoning of Stephen and he is about to be stoned in Acts 21:30 when he is falsely accused of bringing a Gentile into the Temple courts.

His “frequent journeys” put him in danger typical of travel in the ancient world.  As Barrett says, “Paul does not exaggerate the perils of his day” (298). Despite Pax Romana and the Roman roads connecting major cities, it was extremely dangerous for anyone to travel in a small group.

“Danger from false brothers” refers to people claiming to be Christians who are looking to accuse Paul. This attack comes from inside the family, from people claiming to be Christians who attack Paul’s theology and missionary methods. Perhaps he has in mind here the troubles he has had with people in Galatia and personal attacks leading up to the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15. It is also possible he has in mind the opponents in Corinth who are attacking him without cause.

Perhaps the most suffering Paul faced is from his own churches (v. 28). He has a great deal of anxiety for the churches he founded, trained, and then left to themselves. He describes this as “daily pressure” (ἐπίστασις) and “worry” (μέριμνα). This concern comes from Paul’s deeply felt personal responsibility for his congregations. He is in constant contact with them and is well aware of the pressure they face from the same sources persecuting Paul.

Paul chooses to boast is in his only weakness (v. 29-30). Paul now returns to the problem which began this long section of foolish boasting. The Corinthian Church seems to have require Paul to put his achievements up against his opponents so they might choose who would bring them the most honor if they were to give them patronage. As C. K. Barrett says “Paul has finally worked off his fit of folly and has returned to his normal sound mind” (302); he will not engage in the typical Roman pursuit of honor with his opponents!

16 thoughts on “Suffering As A Servant Of Christ – 2 Corinthians 11:23-33

  1. This post gives a great deal of what it was like to be a servant but explains what they went through and how hard they had it. The suffering that they went through and from this reading it was super tough they were whipped/lashed an amount of 40 times seems a little overboard but times were different. Then it goes through and mentions the suffering of Paul which was brought on by his own churches which Paul seemed to struggle with. My understanding from 2 corinthians 11:23-33 is it seemed like the servant Paul was talking was trying to tak seemed to describe themselves as the strongest servant to choose from because of them being lashed over 5 times, received the rod beating three times and received the stoning three times.

  2. Paul went through many struggles and hardships as he suffered for Christ. The fact that he was beaten so much and so intensely, and yet he still worked to further the gospel, should encourage us as we also are working to improve the gospel. While we may not face the same struggles that Paul did, such as beating and lashings, especially in America, there are other struggles that we face in living out our Christian lives. One big struggle that we face is being seen as different, and as a result of this, being excluded from society. If we truly live out our faith, people will see us as different from them. Some people may get angry at this and could lash out at us for our faith, and they could ridicule us for it. While this is nowhere near the trials that Paul faced, they are still very hard for us today. Being ridiculed for our faith can make us uncomfortable, because we as people like to be involved in society. When they ridicule us and make us feel like we are different or that we don’t fit in, we may try and prove them wrong by conforming to certain aspects of society. However, as Christians, we need to learn to face this. We need to stand strong in our faith, just as Paul did, and continue to persevere to the goal. Paul encourages us to live a life that glorifies God, even in the midst of great trials and tribulations.

  3. Sometimes life isn’t easy, especially as a Christian. In this article it talks about how paul suffered many times throughout his life whether he’s been in prison or he has been beaten almost to death. Another thing paul suffered for was preaching the gospel to others. That was something that was very disliked and he was beaten for. As paul was about serving the Lord pretty much 24/7 so pauls punishments were long lasting. They did not tolerate Paul spreading the gospel. He was expelled for preaching in the synagogue by teaching that if you fear God as a gentile they will be full saved. All these acts got Paul in trouble but Paul is the person we all should strive to be in life.

    Paul was beaten three times with a rod. In Greek terms this meant to be whipped by lashing him with chains. This was a public disturbance said in Acts 16:22. Then the phrase “Once stones and left for dead” This was how the jews punishment most people with a death sentence. Its says Acts 7 that Paul actually joined into the stoning of Stephen right before he was going to get stoned. This was because he was falsely accused of bringing a gentile into the temple courts according to Phil Longs article. Pauls life was very different than the average human in that time. And with the situations he was in God protected him all the way through. There was nothing that Paul didn’t do that wasn’t God honoring.

  4. Let’s face it; if someone knows about suffering other than Jesus Christ himself, it would be Paul. Not only did Paul bring the suffering upon Christians, but he was thrown in prison and beaten several times for his faith. It seemed like everywhere Paul traveled he would run into someone or a group of people that would abuse him ranging from laughing/spitting to martyr him. Although even outside the persecutors who did not believe the message, Paul suffered from within the churches he preached the gospel to. Those who should believe what Paul is warning/preaching to them about reject him because of his past, not looking at the heart of his message. Paul tells the church of Corinth in this passage of scripture that in human weakness God triumphs (11:30; 1 Cor. 1:27). Think about it, how did Jesus Christ die for our sins? On a cross, suffering for each one of us. So God already knows that this life is not easy and that we will be beaten down, but in the end God is lifted high and we are given new life.

    Although today, we are not beaten for our Faith in the United States, I believe it will get to that point. I mean it already is in several countries in the world today. Even in that, we still have our sufferings in life that pull us away from God. My grandparents died within 6 months of each other 2 year ago, that was hard. I have had relationships not work and I am left worrying why? I could go on but you get the point. Although in the present these things may seem impossible to overcome, Jesus Christ already overcame THE impossible; Death. If he can do that, then with the help of the Holy Spirit we can be strengthened through our sufferings.

  5. Serving Christ can be difficult in and of itself but suffering for Him is not something that we want to have to deal with, yet Paul took it to another level. When reading this passage, you see how many times Paul was beaten or torn down because of his faith and constant dedication to serving the Lord. In this week’s video and in the blog post, is says that he had been beaten 5 times by the Jews, 3 times by the Romans, he was shipwrecked and spent days and nights out on the water and beaten numerous times. I don’t think I know anyone who would willingly put their body under so much turmoil if they didn’t truly and faithfully believe what they did. I was recently told about the story of Job and how he lived his life in fear of God, and I believe that Paul lived his life in the same manner. Now I don’t believe that Paul feared God in a way that made him scared of him but rather Paul had so much respect and admiration towards God that he did not care of what others had to say because he knew the truth in God. People who despised God did these terrible things as well as people within the church, who would’ve known, not me. Yet even with these things happening in his life he stills finds a way to lift God up and preach the good news that God has to offer. As we go throughout our day we don’t realize how “easy” we have it as we are not beaten like Paul was for believing what we believe yet when we get made fun of or called names, we ask God why he makes it so difficult for us. I don’t remember where I heard this quote from, but it was that someone always has it worse than you so live your life for those who can’t. Paul lived his life for those that couldn’t handle it and still held his faith in Christ because he knows the truth that Christ took on death even death on the cross, suffering for all those who couldn’t. I believe that Paul’s life as a servant of Christ is the life that we should look up to as believers, maybe not putting our lives on the line for our faith or maybe it is, but being able to understand and believe in something so strong that no matter what happens or who ridicules you, you are able to stand strong and put your faith in the one thing that will never forsake you.

  6. Paul’s suffering as a servant to his faith was like no other. In the passage on Phil Long’s blog post it tells of many instances where he was beaten, lashed, and stoned to be left for dead. Reading about what Paul suffered through was unimaginable for me because we live in a country that for the most part accepts our faith without persecution in the way Paul was persecuted. This suffering as a servant by Paul is a great reflection on Jesus’ example on how we are to live out our lives. Jesus was also a suffering servant. He was lashed, flogged, spit on, and ridiculed for his claims that he was the Messiah. It says in Isaiah 53:5, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” For me personally, I honestly do not know if I could suffer the extremes that Paul and Jesus did for their faith. I know that there are multiple places around the world that still suffer from these extremes and we as Christians in America are extremely blessed to live in a country that protects our faith from persecutions. My father once told me a story about a friend that he went to officer training school with named Difoup. Difoup was a Nigerian pilot and told a story about how he was enrolled in the military to fight off persecution from terrorist organizations in Africa. He had told of many times where he was persecuted, almost to death, for his Christian values. He was talking to my dad and I and asked if we experienced any of suffering for our faith and the honest answer was no. We are too comfortable with our faith in the US, and I think we need to suffer as a servant – whether that be in different countries or doing things that put us out of our comfort zone. The aspect of being comfortable does not grow our faith and can even diminish it. But using Paul and Jesus’ example of suffering for others can allow growth in our spiritual walk. Therefore, Paul was such a dedicated follower of Christ. He went through so much hardship yet remained faithful and God was walking with him through all of it.

  7. Being a servant of Christ is very rarely an easy task, if it was easy we would never be challenged to grow in our own faith. Paul can speak on this topic to great lengths. In 2 Corinthians 11:20-29, you find all the pain and hardships summarized up that Paul went through as an apostle. Paul was faced with many hardships but still remained a servant to the Lord. Paul’s church even was a part of some of his suffering. Professor Long says “This concern comes from Paul’s deeply felt personal responsibility for his congregations” (Long, 2019). Even though the people in the church were skeptical and weary of Paul, he felt sympathy for them. It is very promising that even throughout all of the hard times Paul had gone through, he still was obedient to God. He still pushed to preach the gospel and teach as many people as he could. I feel like in today’s society we all try to pretend to be someone we are not to “fit in”. No matter what Paul did not pretend to be someone he was not. He remained true to himself and God no matter what he was put through. We are so quick to side with people to avoid conflict and shame. This is where being true to yourself and the Lord are lacking. Paul sets us up with a prime example of a good Christian character. We must remain strong in who we are and what relationship we have with God. We are all faced with that “daily pressure” but it is how we respond to it that matters as Christians. Not many people could bear the pain that Paul did to serve God. Paul knew the truth about who God was and he did not lose that thought through all of the torture he faced. All Christians should represent their faith like he did, as in be strong in who you are and what you believe in. Do not let anyone take that away from you.

  8. It would be so easy in todays society to walk away from something or a religion if it challenges you and brings you hardships. Many people and Christians run from their problems or pretend to be someone they are not to avoid conflict. Paul set a prime example of remaining true to himself and God. Even though he was beaten and frowned upon multiple times, he still rose. He overcame the hardships that were thrown his way. Not many people would still stand strong in their faith if they lived a life like Paul’s. It is admirable how faithful he stayed to the Lord during these times.

  9. It is quite remarkable to see how much Paul transformed in the Bible. This article mentions how Paul himself went from participating in the stoning of Stephen, to almost being stoned himself- and being constantly attacked from opposition because of his faith in Christ. I have no doubt that because of his experience and transformation that he went through, he had faith that the people in his congregation (in the Corinthian Church) that he taught could transform as well. However, he knew how difficult it would be for the people, just as it was for him. Paul talks about his suffering, and does not try to make it seem like being a servant of God is an easy thing to do. He does not try to sweet talk the people, he lets them know the honest truth about what it means to be a suffering servant of God.

  10. In this passage, Paul is finally getting into his feels and letting the Corinthians know that, hey, you think you got it bad? Look at my life. I have been to prison (v. 23), close to death on numerous occasions (v. 23), whipped with lashes (v. 24), beaten with rods (v. 25), pelted with stones (v. 25), shipwrecked (v. 25), and much more that he could go on listing. All that can be interpreted from being on one place, but Paul was a moving man and was on the road a lot, which brings up a host of other dangers. Rivers, bandits, fellow Jews, Gentiles, the city, the country, the sea as a whole, and even false believers (v. 26). He has had many days laboring and toiling, many nights without sleep, many days without food and drink, and to the worst of it, being left cold and naked (v. 27). If that was not enough for Paul, he also constantly worried about all the churches he started, visited, started (v. 28). Yet, even though Paul has gone through all of this, he still keeps a positive attitude, saying that he will boast all the more gladly of his weaknesses (v. 30). He knows that God, above all, is to be praised. I would be lying if I said I was as strong of a Christian as Paul, much less mentally and emotionally as strong to go through the things that he had to go through. Paul is, in my opinion, one of the greatest missionaries ever. besides death on a cross, Paul seemed to have suffered more than Jesus. I mean, Jesus had the 40 lashes minus one, but Paul had that five times. It gets a little sketchy when you try to compare a human with Jesus, but there are some aspects of Paul’s life that cannot be taken for granted. He truly suffered as Christ did, and he, compared to most, can say confidently that he knows what it was like to suffer as Christ did. When I graduate college, God willing, I want to eventually go into the missions’ field, and it really scares me the types of real stories that happen to missionaries. I selfishly do not want to die in my 30’s, somewhere in Africa, by a native tribe who rejects the Gospel message. My unselfish desire is that if I were to die in the mission field, it would be in the name of Christ, and it would mean I would be in eternity with him. Again, scary thoughts that I selfishly do not want to think about right now, but like Paul says, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil 1:21).

  11. As much as I try to put myself in Paul’s shoes, I will never be able to have even the slightest idea of all the persecution he faced. It is one thing reading about it, but another living it. It just shows how well we are living in religious freedom. Many times we take for granted that blessing of being able to go to a Christian institute without fear of making it known, but many years ago if anyone knew we would most likely be killed. As time goes on the obstacles change and one of the biggest obstacles we face today is reputation. I think that when people hear the word Christian they assume things that aren’t true and take a posture of shielding themselves. Paul is an excellent example of staying faithful and trusting God’s plan for us. He is a reminder that no matter how impossible and how much suffering we endure on our spiritual journeys, God is powerful and will protect us at all costs. Just as Paul received backlash from the Corinthian Church and was able to calm the waters without having to prove himself the most honorable, we should have faith and do the same in our lives today. If anything we are called to be humble and faithful.

  12. I can not imagine all the suffering that Paul went through. Especially through all of that, he was more concerned about how the churches were doing. He reminds me of a parent who is more concerned for their children than themselves. The Corinthian church was not doing well as they would question Paul’s motives. This happened so as they wanted Paul to boast about his accomplishments. Instead Paul reversed the boasting, alternatively of boasting in the things that are impressive, he went on about what were advertised as weakness (Longenecker and Still, 154). In fact he goes on about that he was a “better servant” because he has suffered (Long, 111). This would have been the first time that I have ever heard of someone boasting about all the sufferings they have gone through to contradict others. I also find it interesting that he calls his sufferings weaknesses when nowadays we see them as obstacles/trials he has overcome and thus became stronger. Like the saying goes “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Otherwise I really admire how after all that he still cares for them and is still willing to put his time and energy into them to keep growing.

  13. Paul was persecuted for his faith, and the Corinthians wanted him to boast in it, and state his achievements up against his opponents, (Long. 2019). Paul was humble in his honor and would not boast within himself but only try to boast in God. As a Christian we will one day be persecuted for our faith, because we are followers of Jesus. Paul endeared beatings and being throw into prison because of his beliefs in God. Although Paul has an interesting story because he persecuted Christians before he came to Christ. He was the one beating and causing churches to suffering because of his disbelief, but then he got saved and excepted Jesus and his heart was changed for the glory of Christ. God calls us to honor Him and suffer for His honor when will have too. For example, there are many Christians around the world that are suffering because of their belief in God. They have secret home churches and hide their Bible in their houses when people come over. They have these churches in houses, apartments of even attics. Jesus suffered before He died on the cross for our sins, He was mocked and whipped. As a follower of Jesus we will be persecuted but it is important that we realize it is only because Jesus died on the cross for our sins. The Corinthians wanted to compare themselves to Paul’s achievements and also wanted to prove to others that they were somehow better than Paul. It is important to realize that as a follower of Jesus we will be persecuted one day.

  14. It is so strange why some branches of Christianity still teach that following Christ will alleviate our shameful, earthly suffering, when Paul so clearly takes great pride in his suffering. To him, it is not shameful to suffer, but he counts it as a privilege because he knows that suffering is the temporal consequence for separating from the secular world. To him, his suffering is not a punishment from God due to his sinfulness or lack of faith, but rather his suffering is encouragement from God that he is on the right track. After all, God is never the direct source of temptation or unjust suffering, so the fact that the divine enemies are so focused on making Paul suffer is a clue that they are scared for the good that Paul is doing in the ancient world. This topic reminds me of verses like Acts 5:41, Hebrews 10:34, James 1:2, and 1 Peter 4:13, which all teach the same message of counting suffering for joy, as it (1) is a natural part of the true believer’s life, and (2) builds up everlasting peace and treasure in heaven which will not fade away like the pleasures of this earth.

    Perhaps an argument against Paul’s actions would be that, even though he was boasting in his sufferings, it was still true boasting as he was using his sufferings to describe how good of an apostle and follower of Christ he was. However, Paul makes it explicitly clear that boasting which puffs up oneself is contrary to the gospel and makes him uncomfortable (Longenecker 151). His boasting is not about how he is so faithful and tough, but it is about how his apostolic authority is truly from God, because no false prophet could continue to see such success after that much opposition and suffering. Additionally, a challenge of Paul’s apostolic authority is ultimately a challenge to God, which Paul must shut down immediately. Paul of course also wants to separate him from the “super apostles” who wish to seek honor and praise for their good works and success, so Paul instead boasts in his sufferings and hardships.

  15. Hearing the amount of suffering and punishment Paul received for being a follower of Christ makes me think that he had to either be a lunatic or he found something worth suffering for. I can’t imagine what it would be like to receive a “40 less one” punishment or to survive a stoning, but these are things that Paul is willing to boast about! This reminds me about the scenarios we think of today where people are asked proclaim Jesus and die or deny him and live. I have no doubt in my mind that Paul would immediately proclaim Jesus and embrace whatever consequence befalls him, yet there are so many Christians today, myself included at times, where we don’t know what we’d say… It’s hard for us to fathom giving up our lives for a belief that we already don’t share as often as we should. I wonder if the Corinthians that he is writing to are struggling with that same feeling? Are they hesitant to proclaim the Gospel because of the potential backlash or punishment they might get in return? I would say that’s a valid reaction, but Paul’s goal here is to show that this is a reality if the truth is what people are after. Paul boasts about the sufferings and experiences he has because of the message behind it: people are receiving the Gospel. He can forget all the regular things that people usually boast about (money, fame, power, ability), and he can focus on the thing that really matters. Paul is trying to raise up a church that forgets the trials and tribulations of this temporary world and focuses on the eternal status of the unbelievers around them.

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