In the study of Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians, it is necessary to mention that he was dealing with the problem of gnosticism. Gnosticism was a particular Greek heresy based upon a number of Greek philosophical presuppositions. It paralleled the mystery religions that were also current in the Greek world at that time. The mystery religions had certain kinds of hidden knowledge that were communicated to those within the group. Many of these mystery religions expressed salvation in terms of acquiring this particular knowledge that was secret or special to the religion itself.

This is a portion of Second Corinthians that puzzles commentators. The first portion comes in two parts, the first dealing with a special vision, a revelation that Paul received. That is puzzling for all sorts of reasons. One cause of puzzlement is that he apparently refers to himself abstractly, in the third person. He wrote, "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven" (2 Cor. 12:2).

Last week we studied the second half of 2 Corinthians 11, in which the Apostle Paul boasts of his sufferings. He did so reluctantly but comprehensively in order to defend his apostleship with the Corinthians, which was, at the same time, a defense of the Gospel. It was because of his concern for them and his concern for the Gospel that he did what was obviously distasteful to him.

If Paul was boasting of his apostleship, he could have said quite rightly, "Look at all the churches I have founded. Look at all the people who have come to Christ through my ministry. Look at all the difficulties I went through to plant the banner of Christ in foreign soil." But he did not say that. Instead he pointed out that he was in prison more frequently and flogged more severely. He was exposed to death again and again. He was beaten. He was misused. He was stoned. He was shipwrecked. These are all things we would think of negatively. And yet, these are things Paul endured for the sake of the glory of proclaiming Jesus Christ, his Lord.

The Lord, when he first called Paul and gave him instructions in Damascus shortly after his conversion, had said, "I will show him how much he must suffer for my name" (Acts 9:16). In 2 Cor. 11:28, Paul adds, "Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches." In addition to the physical pressures, he endured what we would call mental pressures or psychological pressures as well.