It is a challenge to comprehend the trials and anxieties that beset Paul during his stay at Ephesus, without mentally perceiving the gravity of the causes for concern that he was carrying. He must have been tortured by what can only be referred to as surreal aberrations of those people he himself had brought to Christ and taught in Corinth. Let anybody with a heart for, or experience in pastoring, grasp the state of things that must have torn Paul’s heart in two. Imagine if you can, how punch upon punch must have buffeted his mind and thrown him into a deep morass of wonderment as from time to time he had news of darkness added to bleakness, as rumour and fact, verbal report then written epistle informed him how thickly and tenaciously the demonic tares of false concepts, ungodly living together with a growing mistrust of Paul, were growing together with the wonderful seed he had planted in Galatia as well as Corinth. He must have thought at times that his battle to keep Christians worldwide free from Jewish legalism was a lost war. This must have been a greater suffering than any prison or stoning he ever encountered.
Apollos, novice as he was, must have returned from Corinth with news that introduced Paul to the trouble spots in Corinth. Or was the rhetorician so flattered with his warm reception as a speaker that he didn’t see what was going on? Timothy had been and would also have kept his “Father in the Lord,” abreast of the situation. Titus now had finally made ground with them. Paul had, at the end of his stay in Ephesus, been away from Corinth for about 4 years. Perhaps their longing for him, his words and his fatherly character, were so strong it led them to speak of him unjustly in his prolonged absence – a sort of inverted expression of love for the apostle, a kind of spoilt child response to Mum and Dad not giving them what they wanted. Quintessential immaturity! “Why, oh, why can’t you, dear Paul, come again and stay with us? You must be bad because you are staying away!”
So serious was this infestation of wild misconduct and misunderstanding in the Corinthian church that various men of God had been sent by Paul to resolve issues, and bring reconciliation in all the relationships concerned. Apollos went of his own desire (Acts does not tell us that it was Paul that sent him), and by all reports was greatly received as some kind of master of the preached word. He was a new and clearly expressive teacher of the scriptures. Timothy and then later Titus were also sent to not only pour oil on the troubled waters at Corinth, but to also set broken limbs of fellowship, as well as amputate cancerous teachings and practices. Ultimately Paul would have to go himself. I believe he knew this all along. But he was set not to visit them until after certain of these issues had been resolved amongst them.
From everything we read of Paul’s life, and within every extrapolation we can make from his letters, the church at Corinth was the most labour intensive, high maintenance, problematic group of people that the apostle ever came in contact with. If he did have a physical, mental or emotional infirmity around this period, as some academics suggest, it would be absolutely understandable. Corinth would have been a graveyard to most pastors. And then to read 2 Corinthians 1 where he tells us that at one point he had given up on the chance of living through the hardships that Ephesus brought upon him, we cannot but wonder how he did not suffer a complete collapse. Perhaps he did.
This was clearly some of, if not, the darkest hours in the Apostle’s history since the days he spent in blindness at Damascus (2 Corinthians 7:5). Corinth must have appeared to Paul, to be in full revolt against him. I have pastored with two or three separate yet simultaneous dissidents in a church, and as pastor, thought I was ready for the mental hospital with the stories that were told of me and the abuse that was thrown at me. But the letter we refer to as First Corinthians answers a whole truckload of issues that if they were contemporaneous with the churches of the majority of pastors in the world today, would surely lead to ministerial resignations or emotional breakdowns around the globe. Paul writes of this period that he was, “pressed out of measure, above strength.” Paul – I understand my brother, howbeit in the very slightest and minute degree what you must have gone through.