How Did Paul Commend His Ministry?

TODAY’S READING: 2 CORINTHIANS 5-9

“But as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left, through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” – 2 Corinthians 6:4-10

On the surface, this passage appears as a long laundry list of things that Paul gives to commend the ministry of himself and his co-workers. But, the English translation misses out on a deeper, richer meaning because it fails to translate all the prepositions and conjunctions in the same way throughout the passage. For, if the prepositions¬† and conjunctions were translated the same way, then we would see that seemingly random laundry list of things that commend Paul’s ministry are actually presented in a very thoughtful and meaningful way.

Let me show you.

“But as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in calamities, in beatings, in imprisonments, in riots, in labors, in sleepless nights, in hungers, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in truthful speech, in the power of God, by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left, by honor and dishonor, by slander and praise, as impostors and true ones, as being unknown and being well known, as dying and behold we live, as being punished and not being killed, as being grieved but always rejoicing, as poor but making many rich, as having nothing and possessing everything.”

Let’s make of list for each preposition and conjunction.

IN
  1. great endurance
  2. afflictions
  3. hardships
  4. calamities
  5. beatings
  6. imprisonments
  7. riots
  8. labors
  9. sleepless nights
  10. hungers
  11. purity
  12. knowledge
  13. paitence
  14. kindness
  15. the Holy Spirit
  16. genuine love
  17. truthful speech
  18. the power of God
BY
  1. weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left
  2. honor and dishonor
  3. slander and praise
AS
  1. impostors and true ones
  2. being unknown and being well known
  3. dying and behold we live
  4. being punished and not being killed
  5. being grieved but always rejoicing
  6. poor but making many rich
  7. having nothing and possessing everything

In total, Paul lists 28 separate things that commend his ministry. But, he lists them in three separate groups – one of 18, one of three, and one of seven. These numbers are important and specific meanings.

Further, we should note that each list has negative things and positive things that commend Paul’s ministry of salvation. This is very important to notice.

For, what was the one thing Paul was occupied with?

That it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead so that repentance and the forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed to all nations.

Each of the three lists has suffering, death, and rising from the dead, new life, contained within it. Therefore, each of the lists is able to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

Let’s start with the list of ins. There are eighteen ins. The number 18 is most often thought to symbolize bondage. Eighteen is first used in Judges 3:14, which says, “And the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.” So too “the woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years.” (Luke 13:11)

But, the number 18 has another meaning as well. The Hebrew word for life is chai. Its numerical value is 18. In Luke 13:16, Jesus said, “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” Satan may have been bound this woman for 18 years, but in the 18th year Jesus was setting her free, giving her life.

The Hebrew word for life, chai, is spelled with two letters – chet and yod. Chet has a numerical value of 8, and yod has a numerical value of 10.

Did you notice Paul’s list of 18 is broken up into a list of 10 and a list of 8?

Paul lists ten types of suffering.

  1. great endurance
  2. afflictions
  3. hardships
  4. calamities
  5. beatings
  6. imprisonments
  7. riots
  8. labors
  9. sleepless nights
  10. hungers

Then Paul lists eight types of life.

  1. purity
  2. knowledge
  3. paitence
  4. kindness
  5. the Holy Spirit
  6. genuine love
  7. truthful speech
  8. the power of God

The number ten symbolizes orderly perfection or completion. The number eight symbolizes new life. Paul’s sufferings bring orderly perfection or completion that lead to new life just as Jesus suffered and rose from the dead.

Could this be related to what Paul said in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up [completing] what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church”?

Now let’s look at the list of bys. There are three.

  1. weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left
  2. honor and dishonor
  3. slander and praise

Notice that the last two have a positive thing (honor and praise) and a negative thing (dishonor and slander) listed. What is not as obvious is the first one does too. For, in ancient cultures the left hand was associated with evil and death while the right hand was associated with good and life.

Therefore, in each case, on the hand Paul is suffering while on the other hand he has life. So, once agains we see that this list of three demonstrates the one thing Paul was occupied with – that the Christ must suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

The number three symbolizes from death to life. The time between Jesus completed his suffering on the cross and his rising from the dead to life was three days. Throughout the Bible, an incredible number of things happen in three days or on the third day. This is to always remind us that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer but three days later he rose from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

Three is also the number of divine perfection. For us, divine perfection is being conformed to the image of Jesus, who is the image of God.

How are we conformed to the image of Jesus?

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) We are conformed to the image of Jesus as God takes everything, particularly the things we suffer, and works them together for good, for his purpose, to give us life.

Finally, let’s look at the as list. There are seven comparisons in the list.

  1. impostors and true ones
  2. being unknown and being well known
  3. dying and behold we live
  4. being punished and not being killed
  5. being grieved but always rejoicing
  6. poor but making many rich
  7. having nothing and possessing everything

Notice that all seven start with something negative that Paul is seen as.

  1. impostor
  2. being unknown
  3. dying
  4. being punished
  5. being grieved
  6. poor
  7. having nothing

But, while Paul may be seen as those seven negative things, his reality is the even positive things.

  1. true one
  2. being well known
  3. I live
  4. not being killed
  5. always rejoicing
  6. making many rich
  7. possessing everything

Here again we see the thing that Paul was occupied with – that the Christ must suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Paul may be seen as suffering, but the reality for him is life. On the one hand death, but on the other hand life.

Paul has already touched on this very theme twice in 2 Corinthians.

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

The number seven symbolizes spiritual perfection or completion. Though Paul was perceived by others as suffering these things or his reputation suffering these things, Paul moved through each of them to the reality of life. In this way, Paul was spiritually perfected or completed.

There’s one last thing we should note about these three lists of suffering that leads to life that commend Paul’s ministry. In total, Paul lists 28 (18+3+7) things that commend his ministry.

What is significant about the number 28?

According to some, it symbolizes the leading of the Spirit. According to others, it symbolizes eternal life.

We could also think of the number 28 as 7 x 4. Seven is the the number of spiritual completion or perfection as i said above. Four is the number that symbolizes the whole world, all of creation. Therefore, the number 28 could be seen as the spiritual completion or perfection of the world. That was Paul’s hope. That was the reason for his ministry.

Once again, Paul already touched on this theme in 2 Corinthians.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

Paul’s ministry was commendable because he suffered for others to bring life to them, which is exactly what Jesus did. Therefore, Paul could truly say, “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way.”