by Bill Davis
The apostle Paul says he’s “talking like a madman” in 2 Corinthians 11 as he lists an amazing set of hardships he had faced. But it isn’t the near-death experiences that are the most amazing—it’s the end of his list that really grabs my attention. Allow me a little “madman talk” myself to explain...
Paul was defending his authority to the Corinthian church and challenging the false teachers who were misleading them. He engaged in outward boasting which he noted as “foolish” by focusing on himself in this way to justify his calling. Starting around verse 23, he begins comparing himself to those false so-called apostles with a resumé-like list of hardships he’s endured in ministry:
- full lashings from Jews on 5 occasions
- beaten with rods by Romans on 3 occasions
- endured a stoning
- shipwrecked 3 occasions, once with a full night in the open sea
- dangers from river currents
- dangers from bandits
- dangers from Jews
- dangers from Gentiles
- dangers from false Christians
- dangers in cities and wilderness, dry land and sea
- hard labor and hardship
- sleepless nights
- hunger and thirst, or often without food
- cold and without clothing
Quite a list! Give yourself a moment to soak all those in and truly imagine some of them. A recent article I read (Being a Pastor Isn’t ‘Just a Job’) pointed out Paul’s capstone to the above list in verse 28 by saying, “Not to mention... there is the daily pressure on me: my concern for all the churches.” Paul is putting “daily concern for the church” (i.e., the people) effectively on par with beatings, floggings, shipwrecks, poverty and the rest.
Now, to the best of my knowledge, Abraham, Gami, Mikel, Paul, Will and I—your Pastor/Teachers—have never been shipwrecked. We’ve never been pelted with heavy stones. And while Abraham may have had to face a stiff current during a triathlon swim, I don’t think it compares to a night stranded in the open sea. But one thing I know for a fact: we all, both individually and as a group of elders, carry the joyful burden and pressure of concern for all the church at Kossuth. That caring concern is always at hand.
You are dear to us, and it is a humble privilege to serve this body. It’s a joy to get a front-row (or sometimes behind-the-scenes) view into God’s grace working mightily in the lives of Kossuth. But it’s not without its costs. For example, our “vocational elders”—Abraham, Will, and Gami—at times can go home so emotionally exhausted they have nothing left in the tank for anyone at home. Their desire to always serve makes them both “in” and “on” most of the time, needing to switch gears & contexts regularly, and the natural desire to please so many can be very demanding. Our “non-vocational elders”—Paul, Mikel, and I—have the same on-call desires, sometimes feeling the pressure to maintain an unbalance-able bi-vocation while trying not to cheat our families to make up the difference. We fail a lot at this.
But this is God’s grace to us and, by extension, grace to all of Kossuth. Weak, fallible men like us can be used by God’s Spirit to minister to and equip God’s people to do God’s work for God’s glory. I think that’s a big part of what Peter means when he exhorts elders to be examples. We desperately need the Lord to show up and “accomplish what concerns me” (Psalm 138:8). You do, too.
So this madman will “boast about my weaknesses” (2 Cor 11:30) and invite you to the same. We all face pressures, concerns, and emotional hardship. They are inescapable in this life. Yet, as Paul reminds those same Corinthians earlier in his letter (2 Cor 4), we don’t lose heart because today’s concerns are light and momentary when compared to the eternal glory that awaits. Please know that in the meanwhile, your pastors’ unceasing, joyful burdens for you will continue to beat in our hearts.