Mark Dever does a nice job contrasting the “Super Apostles” and their likely credentials in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, and Paul’s “credentials.” Permit me to summarize: The super apostles looked like the real thing. If anyone were to conceive of what an apostle of Jesus might be like, surely these men would come to mind: polished, artful, skilled in rhetoric, educated, and eloquent. This is also how one might imagine a Messiah and Savior of the nations. He would have to be an impressive sort, strong, influential, and in control of every situation. Then you have the apostle Paul. What were his credentials? His suffering and weakness:
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked (11:24-27).
A similiar list is seen in chapter 6:
in troubles, in hardships, in distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger…through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything (6:4-5, 8-10).
Who best represents Christ, asks Dever? Obviously Paul. Why? Because in his sufferings he most identifies with Christ. Paul’s christological understanding of his apostleship really comes through loud and clear in this Epistle. As Christ was, so go his ministers. And, one could certainly add, so goes the Church. The Church in this life, as well as her ministers, will not be impressive and influential in a society that lives in darkness. This is always a good reminder, that we are theologians of the cross, not of glory. We don’t expect the Church or its ministry to be any more outwardly impressive in this world than the Church’s head and the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Outwardly, from a purely worldly point of view, Christ, His Church, and her ministers will be seen as weak and insignificant. By faith, however, we see in that suffering and weakness true strength. “My power is made perfect in weakness.” This theme comes through very powerfully in Dever’s section on 2 Corinthians.