This writer finds Paul’s actions and priorities at this point of time utterly revelatory. I see Paul as the ultimate role model for all Christians, and especially ministers. This priority choice, this value judgement, as far as this writer is concerned, is a game changer, if not a total paradigm transformer. He left the huge move of God in Ephesus hastily and “in a fragile state” for the same reason he left Troas hastily and “in a fragile state.” I understand how it is to some people almost unforgiveable to even suggest Paul was beaten down with any issue, but the scriptures explain it so plainly. Anxiety concerning the church in Corinth had him utterly distracted.
There is a need to state what we know, and what is conjecture concerning Paul’s condition as he left Ephesus for Troas, and Troas for Macedonia.
The book of Acts informs us that Paul had three years in Ephesus, he decided that he was going to leave, and then after a riot by the silversmiths – a riot in which Paul himself was not harmed or manhandled – he suddenly decided to leave. We would be left to conclude that he decided to leave because of the riot, if it wasn’t for Second Corinthians. We are there informed that something terrible happened to Paul (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). What took place was so terrible that it nearly killed him, and it was so prolonged that he actually concluded that he would not survive the situation. What was it?
Scholars generally assume it was harsh physical manhandling, torture even, as well as chained imprisonment in Ephesus. We also have intelligence from Second Corinthians that tells us that simultaneous to whatever was threatening his life, the church in Corinth was, to put it in blunt twenty first century street language, “driving him nuts.”
Some psychologists interpret the language that Paul uses in Second Corinthians as evidence of a breakdown. Was that what Corinth did to him? Was it the hardship and affliction of persecution? Or was it the imprisonment that we believe he endured in Ephesus, an imprisonment not mentioned in Acts or Corinthians, but is concluded by close examination of some of the “prison epistles” of Paul that are not consistent with his prison experience in Rome? Or was it a compendium of Corinth, persecution and prison that nearly broke the great apostle? I believe the latter is more than likely.
From Ephesus to Troas! From Troas to Macedonia! And we are not told how many other cities, towns or villages Paul alighted on in Macedonia, only to anxiously move on while he was looking for Titus. In what town Paul actually met his loyal and greatly trusted friend, we are not told, but somewhere in Macedonia, Paul turned a corner – and there he was. Titus was happily greeted and Paul was greatly relieved of his painful tension of mind by news and intelligence from the Corinthian Christians, news which, although chequered, was, in the main, favourable. We know it was chequered, because of what he wrote in 2 Corinthians.
From Titus, Paul learnt that his change of plan about visiting the troublesome group of saints had given them grounds for unfavourable criticism, and injurious remarks about his character (2 Corinthians 1:17). Titus had been well received on the whole, yet even with his experience, was filled with fear and trembling with the church there (2 Corinthians 7:13-15). Titus was to return to Corinth, leaving Paul yet again, carrying the scroll of what we refer to as Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 8:6). From this letter we learn that, whatever may have been the nature of his condition when he left Asia, whether it was grievous injury from beatings or violence against his person, external persecution, inward anxiety caused by his persecutors, as well as the Corinthian church, or all of these three – his stay in Macedonia had suffered from the same overwhelming distress which had marked the close of his residence in Ephesus, and the brevity of his stay in Troas (2 Corinthians 7:5-7). Paul himself describes his condition as one of mental and physical prostration. “Our flesh had no rest, but we are troubled on every side, from fightings without, and fears within”(2 Corinthians 7:5). This was a long trip, the details of which we are not told. We can only conjecture that it is during this trip that Paul went up to Illyricum – that is today’s Albania (Romans 15:19).
Part Five Next Week