Loving Others as one loves one’s self It was because Paul was under this continued strain of excitement in Ephesus and anxiety from Galatia and especially from Corinth that many academics even conclude that his strength totally succumbed and fled. Some even suggest that he was seized with an attack of sickness, which threatened to terminate his life (2 Corinthians 1:8-9; 4:7-18; 5:1-4). I really am not sure where to go with that one. I simply do not accept it. However, altogether with what we know, it can be clearly seen from our wise and lofty lookout post of the twenty first century that the fate of his mission and of Gentile Christianity as a whole, trembled in the balance at various times, and possibly this was the moment that would break the power of Judaist thoughts, or be broken by them once and for all.
Never had he felt himself so helpless, so beaten down and discomfited as on that melancholy journey from Ephesus to Troas, and if he was physically debilitated (at least we know for sure that he must have been greatly weakened), he did not know whether Titus or the angel of death would reach him first. It’s all there in Second Corinthians for us to read and study, pondering in awe and wonder as to how Paul overcame it.
We need to grasp how extraordinarily introverted and directionless was the situation in Corinth. We have to see that no matter how thankful we are to God for the Corinthian letters in scripture, there are some things in life that will simply not be corrected by a letter or letters, no matter how inspired and anointed those letters may be. Human interaction and face to face relationship is a secret of the kingdom. That is why Christ came and dwelt amongst us. We are saved and kept by relationship with Jesus. The church is sustained and progressed by warm relationships within with each other, and Christ-like relationships reaching to those without, as well as an ever growing relationship with God.
Corinth was a city that was rampant with evil. It is a well-known fact that in New Testament times, to “live like a Corinthian,” was a euphemism for bad living in all streams of sin and evil. Paul spent eighteen months amongst the people there, missioning for Jesus Christ. Some professors of New Testament history reckon that the Corinthian church was numerically one of, if not the largest city church of all, spread all over the metropolis in many and various homes. Remember that Paul’s mission in Ephesus impacted a whole province, and although there might have been more converts, they were not all based in the city of Ephesus. The Corinthian campaign was “merely” city wide. I believe this whole story about Corinth is an issue of incredible importance in aiding us to understand Paul at the peak of his ministry.
What we are about to discuss in our next blog shows us the humanity, the sensitivity, the vulnerability and the utter fragility of Paul’s human nature. The revelation of his human openness and weakness was not only concurrent with the awesome demonstration of power and authority that he ministered in whilst at Ephesus, but it is seen to be one of the very constituent ingredients of that manifestation of power.
We are searching for the secrets of a ministry of the miraculous. What we negotiate here is unpalatable to many, but an absolute requirement I believe in getting to grips with the nature and practice of this Christ-like apostle. We need to make this part of our grasp of what we know to be one of the mightiest men of God that ever lived.
What’s the ultimate point of all this story about Corinth, and its impact in respect of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus? Simple! No matter how big, how important, how powerful and how Godly a man or woman may be, it is fundamental to relate to all people as equal to one’s self, in fact to defer to others as better than one’s self (Ephesians 5:21. Philippians 2:3), and to strive to maintain loving, warm relationships based on reality and motivated by a desire to be Christ-like. This is why Corinth and its problems troubled Paul’s sense of peace. It is absolutely imperative to not talk down to anybody, and, if anything, it is more helpful to talk up to people, which is what Paul does in Second Corinthians in particular. The troublesome, nastiness of all the things that went on in the Corinthian church could have been castigated by Paul, and even cast them away as having received the grace of God in vain, and thus to let them wallow in their own mire, “handing them over to Satan.” But Paul saw them as Christ saw them.
Love does not keep records of wrongs committed against it. Paul’s defence of his character and integrity was made by mimicking the foolishness of false apostles who considered themselves, and convinced the church at Corinth that they were even “super-apostles.” We will go further with this in our next blog.