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Why Foreign Missions? 20n Paul's Mission or Affliction Catalogues: The Content of the Gospel and the Character of Mission

Why Foreign Missions?  20n Paul's Mission or Affliction Catalogues: The Content of the Gospel and the Character of Mission[1]

Paul characterises his mission several times in 'mission catalogues': 1 Cor. 4.9-13; 2 Cor. 4.8f; 6.3-10; 11.23-33; 12.10; Rom. 8.35; Phl. 4.11-13; 2 Tim. 3.10-11.  These passages have several things in common and, in particular, they describe the hardships that he faces because of his mission work.  So, from these texts we can discover something of Paul's view of suffering and self-denial, particularly as it relates to Christian mission.  While parallels may be found in other literature of the time both rhetorically and in substance, these passages offer a different view of suffering.  For Paul, suffering is negative, and yet in the apostle's weaknesses the positive side of the situation emerges, for God's strength is manifest through them.[2]  And such a theology accounts for the earnest efforts that characterize Paul's mission; the mission's intensity derives from accepting whatever hardship or suffering may arise, knowing that this is not defeat but, on the one hand, a proof that the distress of the end-times is now upon the righteous and, on the other, that God's purpose and power are revealed in this human weakness.

In these mission catalogues may be found Paul's earnest disposition in service of the mission.  This earnestness not only may be found in what is described, but also in the rhetorical features of the catalogues.  The lists share the rhetorical schemes of anaphora (repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive clauses) and/or asyndeton (omission of conjunctions between a series of related clauses).  Also, the lists contain various sorts of contrasts: contrasts between Paul and the Corinthians (1 Cor. 4.10-13) or false brothers (2 Cor. 11.23-33; 2 Tim. 3.10); contrasts between the way in which he is treated and the way in which he responds (1 Cor. 4.12-13; 2 Cor. 4.8-10), contrasts between circumstances experienced (2 Cor. 6.8; Phl. 4.12), contrasts between the appearance and reality of the situation (2 Cor. 6.8-10), and the contrast or paradox of conquering through or delighting in negative situations (Rom. 8.35; 2 Cor. 11.21, 30; 12.10; cf. 2 Cor. 4.7, 10).  In such ways, Paul piles up examples of the character of his mission, contrasting it with the philosophy and behaviour of others, and thereby emphasises his zealousness for it whatever the personal cost.

The words themselves should also be noted in these lists.  First, they show Paul's suffering in the mission.  Paul uses the following words for the treatment that he and those with him receive from others as they minister:

Kolafi,zw (beat)
1 Cor. 4.11
Loidore,w (revile)
1 Cor. 4.12
Diw,kw / Diwgmo,j (persecute)
1 Cor. 4.12; 2 Cor. 4.9; 2 Cor. 12.10; Rom. 8.35; 2 Tim. 3.11
Dusfhme,w / Dusfhmi,a (defame)
1 Cor. 4.13; 2 Cor. 6.8
w`j perikaqa,rmata peri,yhma (offscouring/scapegoat)
1 Cor. 4.13
Qli,bw / qli/yij (afflict, affliction)
2 Cor. 4.8; 6.4; cf. Rom. 8.35
Kataba,llw (struck down)
2 Cor. 4.9
vAna,gkh (distress)
1 Cor. 6.4; 2 Cor. 12.10 (cf. 1 Cor. 7.26)
Stenocwri,a (difficulty)
2 Cor. 6.4; 12.10; cf. Rom. 8.35
Plhgh, (blow)
2 Cor. 6.5; 11.23
Fulakh, (prison)
2 Cor. 6.5; 11.23
VAkatastasi,a (disturbance)
2 Cor. 6.5
VAtimi,a (dishonour)
2 Cor. 6.8
Qa,natoj (death)
2 Cor. 11.24; cf. 6.9
[Ubrij (mistreatment)
2 Cor. 12.10
Paideu,w (punish)
2 Cor. 6.9
Pa,qhma (suffering)
2 Tim. 3.11

In addition, Paul has been whipped, beaten with a rod, stoned, and is also in danger of false brothers (2 Cor. 11.24-26).

Second, these lists describe Paul's self-denial and hard labours in service of the mission.  Note the words he uses to show this:

Peina,w (hunger)
1 Cor. 4.11; Phl. 4.12
Limo,j (hunger)
2 Cor. 11.27; cf. Rom. 8.35
Diya,w / Di,yoj (thirst)
1 Cor. 4.11; 2 Cor. 11.27
Gumniteu,w Gumno,thj (naked)
1 Cor. 4.11; 2 Cor. 11.27; cf. Rom. 8.35
VAstate,w (homeless)
1 Cor. 4.11
Koria,w / Ko,roj (labour)
1 Cor. 4.12; 2 Cor. 6.5; 11.23
VAgrupni,a (sleepless)
2 Cor. 6.5; 11.27
Nhstei,a (hunger)
2 Cor. 6.5; 11.27
Mo,cqoj (exertion, strenuous labour)
2 Cor. 11.27
Yu/coj (cold)
2 Cor. 11.27
Tapeino,w (humble)
Phl. 4.12
Ptwco,j (poor)
2 Cor. 6.10

To these, Paul adds the daily pressure and anxiety that he bears for all the churches (2 Cor. 11.28), times of uncertainty (2 Cor. 4.8), as well as numerous travelling dangers (cf. especially 2 Cor. 11.25-26).

To be sure, the apostle's life is different from the average believer: he, as an apostle, is engaged in the mission in greater earnest.  Apostles are those condemned to die, to be or become a spectacle for angels and humans alike in the contest between Gospel and world (1 Cor. 4.9).  Paul's self-denial for the sake of the mission is even greater than that of other apostles: not marrying and not receiving financial assistance from his churches while ministering among them, and in becoming a Jew to the Jews and a Gentile to the Gentiles for the sake of the mission (1 Cor. 9.19-23).[3]  He can typify his life as that of the athlete in earnest training and performance (1 Cor. 9.24-27; Phl. 3.13-14; 2 Tim. 4.7).  This present life has purpose only insofar as it involves fruitful labour (Phl. 1.20-26).  Whereas the Philippian church's sacrifice is their faith, Paul's is the very outpouring of his life upon their sacrifice (Phl. 2.17).

This point is also made by Scott Hafemann, who first insists that Paul’s weakness in Galatians 4 is not the circumstance leading him to spend time in Galatia and so establish the church there but ‘the very basis upon which Paul preached everywhere he was sent by God.'[4]  ‘Paul’s suffering was the divinely ordained means by which the gospel itself was made clear to the Galatians.’[5]  Paul must have taught the Galatians the OT curse tradition found in Dt. 27.15-26; 28.16-19, which links sin and suffering, as a way to understand Christ’s suffering for sin (Gal. 3.10, referring to Dt. 27.26; 28.15), but it also explains Paul’s ‘willingness to suffer for the gospel as a display of the sufferings of Christ (4.13-14).’[6]  ‘Paul’s suffering was the instrument by which he ‘publicly portrayed’ the crucified Christ ‘before [the Galatians] eyes’ (Gal.3.1).’[7]
Similarly, in 1 Cor. 4.6-16; 2 Cor. 1.3-11; 2.14-17; 4.7-12; 6.3-10 and 12.1-10, Paul

portrays his apostolic suffering as the revelatory vehicle through which the knowledge of God as made manifest in the cross of Christ and in the power of the Spirit is being disclosed….  In these passages Paul’s suffering, as the corollary to his message of the cross, is the very instrument God uses to display his resurrection power (cf. too 1 Cor. 2.2-5; 1 Th. 1.5).  This revelation takes place either by God’s rescuing Paul from adversity when it was too much to bear, as in 2 Corinthians 1.8-11 and Philippians 2.25-30, or by the even more glorious means of God’s strengthening Paul in the midst of adversity that he may endure his suffering with thanksgiving to the glory of God (cf. 2 Cor. 4.7-12; 5.3-10; 12.9; 2 Tim. 2.10).[8]

Thus Paul’s life of suffering is an embodiment of the Gospel.  2 Cor. 4.7: the Gospel is carried about in his body, a jar of clay.  Paul, like Christ in his suffering and dying for others, dies every day (1 Cor. 15.31) ‘as a means by which the significance of the cross is made real to those to whom the gospel is preached (Gal. 4.13-14).’[9]  1 Cor. 1.17-18 and 2.14-16 show Paul’s suffering parallel’s the cross of Christ: the manner of Paul’s life parallels the content of his message (the cross of Christ).  Paul’s love in suffering for the Galatians, and their love for him, is an example of Gal. 5.5f—faith working itself out in love.

I.                    The Churches' Suffering

The churches also know this life of suffering and self-denial in their own experience; the distinction between the believer and the apostle is not qualitative but quantitative.  This can be shown in several ways.[10]

A.      First, the mission catalogues not only typify Paul's mission; they also goad the believers into imitating Paul's way in Christ.  In 1 Cor. 4.1-13, Paul may speak of the extremes of the apostolic way of life, but he does so to exhort the Corinthians to recognise that this is the way of life for believers, over against their pretensions of already reigning.  The same is true for 1 Cor. 9, where Paul's mention of the extremes he endures for the Gospel function as an example for the Corinthians in their treatment of one another (cf. 10.31-11.1).  Two of the missionary catalogues in 2 Corinthians (11.23-33; 12.10) contrast the character of Paul's apostleship with others in a way which suggests that two different understandings of the Gospel are at stake (note 11.4), one glorying in oneself, the other glorying in God, whose power is made perfect in weakness (12.9).  The Corinthians, awed by the super-apostles, are again exhorted to view life in Christ as Paul does.  Since Paul's understanding of the Gospel defines the character of his mission, the Corinthians too should see that the Gospel should define their way of life.  So, for example, Paul counters the strength of the super-apostles with the meekness and gentleness of Christ (10.1) and his own weaknesses.  Finally, in Phl. 4.9, Paul exhorts the Philippian believers to emulate all that they have seen in and heard from him.  In the very next verse, which begins a new paragraph, Paul speaks of how he has learned contentment in every situation, positive or negative, for in Christ, who strengthens him, he can do all things.  This personal lesson for Paul is equally a truth of Christian life for all.
B.      Second, points that Paul makes in these mission catalogues are elsewhere commended to believers.  The mission is characterised by a concern to respond to persecution with what is good (1 Cor. 4.12f): there is no place for violence.  Believers are exhorted along the same lines in Rom. 12.14-21.  The mission entails a contrast between appearances and reality that rests on an eschatological and spiritual conviction.  Thus it may be seen by some as entailing deception, insignificance, death, punishment, sorrow, and poverty (2 Cor. 6.8-10).  Yet, from a spiritual perspective, it entails looking beyond appearances and to the time of the great reversal of this life, God's final judgment.  From the spiritual perspective, the mission entails integrity, fame, life, survival, rejoicing, making many 'wealthy,' and being 'wealthy' oneself.  This view of life also underlies Paul's ethical exhortation to the Philippians: those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ have their minds set on earthly things, but the commonwealth of believers is in heaven (3.18-21).  Finally, if Paul works hard so as not to be dependent on the support of those hearing the proclamation of the Gospel (1 Cor. 4.12), he also can exhort the Thessalonian believers to work for a living and not be dependent on others (1 Th. 3.11f; 2 Th. 3.6-12) and thieves to work with their own hands so that they can give to those in need (Eph. 4.28).
C.      Third, while the mission catalogues characterise Paul's mission as entailing suffering and self-denial, elsewhere in the epistles the churches are said to participate in this experience of life.  Some passages in Paul suggest or explicitly state that tribulation is part of the normal experience of believers: 1 Th. 1.6; 2.14; 2 Th. 1.4-6; 2 Cor. 1.3-11; Rom. 12.12; Phl. 1.27-30 2 Tim. 3.10-12.  1 Th. 3.1-5 shows Paul's concern for the newly begun church at Thessalonica, and the reason for his great concern is that they are experiencing persecution.  This passage also reveals that Paul understood that this was the lot of all Christians, so much so that he used to prepare the new believers by telling them that life in Christ means opposition from the world:

… that no one be moved by these afflictions.  You yourselves know that this is to be our lot. For when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction; just as it has come to pass, and as you know (1 Th. 3.3f; RSV).

The antecedent to 'we' in 'we were to suffer affliction' is not only Paul and his fellow labourers but also all believers in Christ.  Affliction characterizes the present time. Whether or not there are periodic intensifications of tribulation or a final, major period of tribulation, the time of tribulation is present and overlaps with the time of the Church’s mission.  As Wolfgang Schrage says, the time between Christ's death and resurrection, on the one hand, and His Parousia, on the other, is both a time of suffering and service.  Indeed, suffering derives primarily from service in the mission in which the churches engaged until Christ's Parousia.[11]

II.                  The Meaning of Suffering and Self-Denial in Paul

Something further might be said about how Paul interprets this suffering and self-denial for believers.  The point just made, that believers will suffer in this time of tribulation and mission, is supported theologically in two ways.  Eschatologically, as has been noted, the time of distress has arrived.  A second reason is that believers really and truly enter the Story of Jesus: believers experience persecution because their Lord did.  Paul has the same theology of Jn. 15.20 (NRSV):
Remember the word that I said to you, 'Servants are not greater than their master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.
As we see from Col. 1.24; Phl. 3.10; Rom. 8.17 and Gal. 6.17, Paul believes that believers experience the same sufferings of their Lord.  Schrage concludes:[12]

It is the Crucified One himself who involves the Christians in following in the train of his sufferings and includes them, whose subject he has become (according to Gal. 2.20) in his fate.  Thus Jesus’ suffering and dying is not only a saving event that occurred extra nos, but it is also realized through the Christians’ own ‘sufferings of Christ,’ which thus becomes transparent to Jesus’ suffering and dying.  Therefore, even down to the present time, a constitutive reflection of the preaching of the cross is always the weakness and folly, the lowliness and affliction of the community (cf. 1 Cor. 1.26ff; 2 Cor. 1.6, et passim) not only of the apostles (cf. 2 Cor. 11.23ff; 1 Cor. 2.2, et passim).

James D. G. Dunn believes that Paul's understanding of suffering is related to the process of salvation (with reference in particular to 2 Cor. 4.11-12, 16-17).  However, I would argue, these verses may more naturally to be read as a reference to physical death versus spiritual transformation, rather than 'the believer's divided state.'[13]  Dunn further avers that 'continuing human weakness was an integral part of the process of salvation.’[14]  If we ignore Dunn's dubitable arguments about 'divided states' and a 'process of salvation', we can nevertheless appreciate a different spiritual interpretation of suffering to which he draws due attention in Paul: suffering as part of life in Christ. With reference to 2 Cor. 12.9-10, Dunn states that

To make too much of [out of the body experiences and similar shows of power] actually constituted a perversion of the gospel.  The corollary … is clear: it was precisely not experiences of power leaving behind bodily weakness which Paul saw as the mark of grace, but experiences of power in and through bodily weakness….  Human weakness was not a denial of divine power, but an unavoidable and even necessary complement to divine power in the overlap of the ages.[15]

Thus Paul's understanding of the 'Gospel' and his understanding of eschatology--the overlap of the ages--accounts for his views on suffering.

Moreover, since the Gospel is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul's understanding of the believer's life in Christ accounts for his views on Christian suffering.  Dunn notes that 'both the death and the life to be experienced by the believer are Christ's.'[16]  This point relates to the argument of Morna Hooker that Paul's interpretation of Christ's work was more than that of a substitutionary atonement for sin: it entails participation in the life, death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus.[17]  Morna Hooker's discussion of the Gospel in Paul emphasises the idea of participation in Christ, that is, a reciprocity in which Jesus stands in our place and we in His.  This goes beyond the idea of substitution (though there is no reason to choose only one perspective): Christ does not simply die instead of us; His death means our death, His life our life.  For example, 1 Th. 4.9-10 reads, ‘For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.’

Hooker finds this notion of participation in the other Pauline letters.  Her discussion of Galatians is over several pages (31-34), but the following point illustrates her interpretation.  She believes that Gal. 3.14 should be read with respect to the thinking found in 1 Th. 5.10.  In these passages we see that

Christ died, in order that we might live with him; if blessing comes to us, it is because we are in him; if we receive the Spirit, it is because we share in his life--and [in Gal. 4] … the Spirit we receive is in fact the Spirit of the Son.  It is not, then, a case of Christ and the believer changing places, but of the believer sharing in Christ's life.  If Christ has been vindicated and raised from the dead, the same must be true of those who are united with him.[18]

Morna Hooker points to similar thinking in Gal. 2.20; 1 Cor. 1.30 with 6.11 (what Christ is we become); 2 Cor. 5.14 (where the Greek 'hyper' means 'as representative,' not 'instead of'); 5.21; 8.9; Rom. 5.6, 8, 12-21; 6; 8.1-17; Phl. 2.1-11; 3.7-11, 21.  In addition to these verses are those in which Paul describes his own suffering: e.g., Gal. 6.17; 2 Cor. 1.3-7; 4.7-12; 6.4-10; etc.

James Dunn makes the same kind of point in his reading of Rom. 6.5, which he paraphrases as follows:

For if we have become knit together (symphytos) with the very likeness (homoioma) of his death, we shall certainly also [be knit together with the very likeness] of his resurrection.[19]

He further emphasises the importance of the Greek perfect tense in this verse:

The force of the perfect is to indicate a past event establishing a state which continues to persist in the present.  What Paul means then, is that the believer is and continues to be in a state of having been fused with the very likeness of Christ's death.[20] 

Paul makes this point explicit in Rom. 8.17-18: 'and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ-- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.'  Thus Paul understands his sufferings as the 'overflow' of Christ's sufferings (2 Cor. 1.5a).[21]  One might compare 2 Cor. 4.10; 13.4; Col. 1.24.  Dunn explains this last verse as follows:[22]

…it is best understood simply as a spelling out of what was implicit in the perfect tenses of Rom. 6.5 and Gal. 2.19 and 6.14 (also 2 Cor. 4.10).  That is, there is a sense in which Christ's passion is incomplete.  Since Christ's death is the means by which the sinful flesh is killed off, it is incomplete till the whole entail of sinful flesh is brought to an end.  Since Christ's death is the means by which death is conquered, it is incomplete until the final destruction of the last enemy (1 Cor. 15.26).  Since believers share in Christ's sufferings, in a sense Christ's sufferings are incomplete until the last suffering of the last Christian.  This is of a piece with the later idea of a total sum of suffering which must be endured before the end comes [see note 106, p. 486: Mk. 13.8; Jn. 16.21; Rev. 6.9-11; 4 Ezra 4.33-43], the birth pangs of the messianic age (an image which Paul already echoes in Gal. 4.19).  The transition from old age to new age is long-drawn-out and those in transit from one to the other are caught 'with Christ' in the overlap.

A final verse to which Dunn draws attention is Phl. 3.10-11 ('fellowship of his sufferings').  Again, Dunn's interpretation is incisive:[23]

What is particularly notable is the way Paul speaks of Christ's sufferings after he speaks of his resurrection.  The process of sanctification does not consist in an initial dying with Christ followed in the course of that process by an experience of Christ's resurrection power.  Paul's doctrine of salvation is quite different.  The resurrection power of Christ manifests itself, and inseparably so, as also a sharing in Christ's sufferings.  The process of salvation is a process of growing conformity to Christ's death.

In this regard, Dunn's argument demonstrates that Christ's death for Paul was more than a salvific event; it became a metaphor or paradigm for Christian existence.  But it is not so in any isolated way: Christ's preexistence, incarnation, life, death, resurrection, exaltation, and second coming link these events into a complete narrative, the Gospel or good news of Jesus Christ.  This narrative renders the character, Jesus Christ, in a consistent way that becomes paradigmatic for Christian existence and ministry.  So, for example, if we follow G. Hawthorne's argument on how to render the participle in Phl. 2.6, we might see that Jesus' preexistent character and life were consistent with his incarnation and death--he is the paradigm for humility that willingly suffers.  Hawthorne suggests that we translate the adverbial participle as causal, not concessive: 'Because (not ‘although’) he was in the form of God….'  He further argues that the passage states that Jesus understood divine character to involve outpouring rather than snatching, demonstrated in his incarnation and death.[24]  Similarly, 2 Cor. 10.1 refers to Jesus' meekness and gentleness.  This may entail a reference to the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, but it surely also entails the fact that Paul was aware of Jesus’ character during his earthly ministry.  The incarnation (a doctrine that assumes Jesus’ preexistence) in 2 Cor. 8.9 also indicates Paul’s awareness of Jesus' character showing forth in the Gospel itself: ‘For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.’

Also, by virtue of participating in Christ, believers are said to enter into the same experience of persecution that Paul knows simply by virtue of having believed in Christ.  For example, according to 1 Th. 2.14-16, the Thessalonian believers experience the same persecution which Paul experienced while at Thessalonica and which the Judean churches experienced from the Jews.[25]  The Philippian church also enters into Paul's conflict with opponents to the Gospel, and therefore are said to suffer for Christ (Phl. 1.29f).  Similarly, the Corinthians endure the same sufferings which Paul and Timothy endure, sharing in the sufferings of Christ (2 Cor. 1.5f).  The idea that the suffering of believers can be equated with Christ's suffering is also found in Acts (in 9.4, the risen Christ asks Paul, 'Why do you persecute me?'), and in 1 Peter (4.13: 'But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed').

Wolfgang Schrage outlines a similar understanding of sharing in Jesus' suffering after his resurrection, describing this as 'Conformity to Christ’s Suffering'.  Through Christ’s eschatological suffering and dying he also places his followers in the ‘fellowship of his sufferings.’  The ‘sufferings of Christ’ of the Christians signify not only their belonging to Him, but also 'the eschatological efficacy and impact of his death.’[26]  See 2 Cor. 4.8-9.  Fellowship with Christ draws Christians to participate in his sufferings (2 Cor. 1.5; Phl. 3.10) (182).  Jesus’ death is not ‘a datum that has been superseded by the resurrection, but a present, powerful reality (2 Cor. 4.12).'[27]  Schrage continues,

It is the Crucified One himself who involves the Christians in following in the train of his sufferings and includes them, whose subject he has become (according to Gal. 2.20) in his fate.  Thus Jesus’ suffering and dying is not only a saving event that occurred extra nos, but it is also realized through the Christians’ own ‘sufferings of Christ,’ which thus becomes transparent to Jesus’ suffering and dying.  Therefore, even down to the present time, a constitutive reflection of the preaching of the cross is always the weakness and folly, the lowliness and affliction of the community (cf. 1 Cor. 1.26ff; 2 Cor. 1.6, et passim) not only of the apostles (cf. 2 Cor. 11.23ff; 1 Cor. 2.2, et passim).[28]

This further means that Jesus' suffering and dying are a moral example that can be imitated (Rom. 15.3; 8.17; Phl. 3.10), even though Jesus' death is more than ethical and more than exemplary in its salvific efficacy.

Therefore, suffering is a characteristic of life in Christ, but not any kind of suffering is intended.  To be sure, believers experience the suffering and trials of this world just as anyone else does, for creation itself groans as in the pains of childbirth until the day of liberation comes (Rom. 8.18-27).  Yet there is a specific suffering that believers experience, namely suffering with Christ the persecution of the world.  This point has also been made by Wolfgang Schrage, who finds six meanings or interpretations of suffering in Paul's letters.  We have already noted the first: (1) fellowship with Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 4.10; Phl. 3.10).[29]  As believers are baptised into Christ, they become participants in His death and resurrection, knowing His suffering and triumph.  This is no story by which everyone's existence may be described; for Paul, this is a result of living and believing the apocalyptic Story of the Gospel, suffering for his witnessing about Jesus and hoping to partake of His Lord's resurrection life both now (Rom. 6.10f) and more literally in the future resurrection (1 Cor. 15.17-19).

Schrage’s other meanings of suffering are as follows:

(2) 'This conjunction of affliction and comfort in fellowship with Christ means a constant dependence upon
God and looking away from one's self' (2 Cor. 1.9, 11; 4.15; Rom. 8.37; Phl. 4.13) (my italics);
(3) suffering is a sign of this present age and points the believer to the future (Rom. 8.18; 1 Cor. 4.8);
                (4) suffering is seen as a testing which exercises faith (Rom. 5.3f; 8.25; 12.12; 2
Tim. 2.12; 1 Th. 1.6; 5.16);
                (5) suffering points believers to the future end of suffering in the world, Christian
hope being grounded in Christ's triumph over death (2 Cor. 4.10, 14; 13.4; Phl. 3.10, 21; Rom. 8.17, 23);
                (6) suffering becomes a witness to others.  It is a witness in that as Paul
experiences suffering for the Corinthians, they experience life at work in them (2 Cor. 4.12; 6.10). It is a witness in that others are encouraged to proclaim the Gospel through Paul's imprisonment (Phl. 1.12).  It is a witness in that it directs attention away from one's self to Christ's power (2 Cor. 12.9).  It is a witness in that it confirms the trustworthiness of Paul's mission (Gal. 6.17).  And it is a witness in that in following this hard way of having fellowship in the sufferings of Christ, believers become examples for each other (1 Th. 1.6f; 2.14f; 2 Th. 1.4).[30]

Some additional comments, based on Schrage's excellent observations just noted, can be offered to show how missional suffering and ethics are related.  First, from Schrage's second point, all that is accomplished in the mission is the Lord's doing.  This calls for complete dependence upon Him and leaves no room for boasting.  Indeed, everything in the believer's life must be seen as from God (1 Cor. 4.7).  This view distinguishes Paul from the error of certain Corinthian believers, who already think themselves to be reigning with Christ (1 Cor. 4.8), and from those false apostles who boast in themselves (2 Cor. 11.12ff).  The missionary's struggles continually put him or her in touch with the fact that any advancement in the task is due to the Lord's sovereign work (cf. 2 Cor. 1.9; 4.9).[31]

From Schrage's fourth point, note Rom. 5.3f, which correlates suffering with certain virtues:

3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (NRSV).

This involves no rejoicing in suffering per se (Paul is no ascetic) but in the results that suffering might work in the believer, as well as in the fact that the happy ending of suffering is already known by those who have peace with God through Christ Jesus.  Thus Christian character can find joy in suffering.  Christians can also have joy because of they find hope in the midst of suffering for their faith: their participation in the story or Good News of Jesus allows them to stand full of hope in the face of suffering.  They experience joy also because they discover another virtue that leads to this hope, namely the virtues of endurance (or patience: u`pomonh,). Thus suffering works Christian character.  Endurance is of great value in Paul's ethic, since he again and again calls believers to stand fast in their faith and to watch.  Precisely this virtue is commended to the Philippians in Paul's own example in Phl. 3.12ff, and they are told how to stand firm in 4.1-7 by being in agreement with each other (vv. 2-3), and by rejoicing, forbearing (evpiei,keia, Phl. 4.5; cf. 2 Cor. 10.1; 1 Tim. 3.3; Tit. 3.2), and making their needs known to God with thanksgiving.  Confident in the Lord's nearness and aware that God's peace will keep them, they can rejoice in the Lord.

Paul's word for 'character' in Rom. 5.4 is dokimh,, and it may mean 'testing' or 'the quality of being approved,' hence 'character'.[32]  Suffering is itself a testing that calls for forbearance and leads to approval for those who pass the test.  Such a person is said to have character.[33]  The one who stands in the time of testing is a person of hope.  This statement leads Paul back to the Gospel Story once again.  The foundation of hope for the believer is in God's outpouring of love into their hearing through the Holy Spirit, Who has been given them, and this is so because, while they were yet weak and in sin, Christ died on their behalf (Rom. 5.5ff).

These virtues of boasting only in the Lord, of cheer, endurance, character, and hope in the face of suffering, are virtues for every believer generally.  Yet they are given specific application by Paul to suffering and self-denial in service of the mission.  These virtues associated with the suffering and self-denial in the mission are related to still other virtues: the mission is, of course, more than suffering and self-denial.[34]  But the above discussion demonstrates how it is that Paul was able to locate Christian suffering in a larger narrative that could offer accounts of what otherwise would have seen and experienced as tragedy and catastrophe.


To sum up, Paul understands his own apostolic calling to involve a suffering that might be termed a 'performance' of the Gospel that is consistent with the content of the Gospel.  Yet suffering is not alone apostolic.  The churches Paul founded suffer and are persecuted just as is he.  The reason can be stated succinctly by means of Paul's phrase 'in Christ': to be in Christ does not mean simply that we receive the benefits of His work but that we further participate in His narrative, which includes suffering.  There is an end to this, as we learn in Paul's mini-Apocalypse in 1 Cor. 15.24-28, when Christ's Lordship extends over even death.  Suffering, then, remains a characteristic of this evil age, not some ascetic tool to achieve spiritual depth.  It is tied primarily to the mission in a wicked world: whether by proclamation or a challenging and witnessing lifestyle, the mission of the Church will be opposed.  Amazingly, however, Christian witness is strengthened in such situations, since the content of the Gospel is all about redemptive suffering and provides an occasion for Christian virtues to develop and further bear witness to the Gospel.  This being so, suffering service is rather the means of Christian mission than, as is so often thought, strong leadership or well-crafted rhetoric.

[1] This post is a development of the argument in my dissertation, ‘Gospel of Mission in Paul’s Ethics’ (unpublished PhD dissertation, Duke University, 1989) that the narrative of Jesus Christ—the Gospel—is embodied by Paul in his mission and presents all believers with virtues by which they are, as Christians, to live.  Paul lives the story of the Gospel, he does not just proclaim it, and believers are to enter into it as well.
[2] A good discussion of the Graeco-Roman and Jewish literary parallels to these hardship lists may be found in Victor Paul Furnish, 2 Corinthians, pp. 277-283.  Furnish also highlights the contrast with these parallels in Paul's finding God's strength in weakness.  See Plutarch, Mor. 326D-333C; 361E-362A; 1057D-E; Epictetus, Diss. 2.19.12-32; 4.7.13-15; Seneca Ep. Mor. 85.26-27.  Some see the Graeco-Roman context as primary for Paul, thus understanding Paul's catalogues of affliction in terms of an ideal sage demonstrating his perseverance in the face of suffering (so J. T. Fitzgerald, Cracks in an Earthen Vessel: An Examination of the Catalogues of Hardships in the Corinthian Correspondence (SBLDS 99; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988).  Others see the Judeo-Christian context as primary, noting the importance of Ps. 115.1 LXX in 2 Cor. 4.13, Is. 49.8 in 2 Cor. 6.2, of Jewish traditions of the suffering of the righteous (e.g., Daniel, 1 and 2 Maccabees), and Jesus' own suffering, which features in Paul's own interpretation of his suffering (cf. K. T. Kleinknecht, Der leidende Gerechtfertigte.  Die alttestamentlich-jüdische Tradition vom 'leidenden Gerechten' und ihre Rezeption bei Paulus (WUNT 2.13; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1984).  For a critique of the Stoic parallels, see Scott Hafemann, 'Suffering,' Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), p. 921.
[3] Cf. 2 Tim. 2.10: 10: 'Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory' (NRSV).

[4] Scott Hafemann, ‘The Role of Suffering in the Mission of Paul,’ in The Gospel to the Nations:Perspectives on Paul’s Mission, eds. Peter Bolt and Mark Thompson (Leicester: IVP Apollos Press, 2000), p. 131ff.

[5] Scott Hafemann, ‘The Role of Suffering,’ p. 134.
[6] Scott Hafemann, ‘The Role of Suffering,’ p. 135.
[7] Scott Hafemann, ‘The Role of Suffering,’ p. 136.
[8] Scott Hafemann, ‘The Role of Suffering,’ p. 136.
[9] Scott Hafemann, ‘The Role of Suffering,’ p. 137-8.
[10] Cf. Wolfgang Schrage, 'Leid, Kreuz und Eschaton: Die Peristatsenkataloge als Merkmale paulinischer theologia crucis und Eschatologie,' Evangelische Theologie 34 (1974), pp. 159f.
[11] Schrage, 'Leid, Kreuz und Eschaton,' p. 158.
[12] E. S. Gerstenberger and W. Schrage, Suffering, Biblical Encounters Series, trans. J. Steely (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), p. 183.
[13] James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), p. 482.
[14] James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, p. 483.
[15] James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, pp. 483-4.
[16] James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, p. 484.
[17] Morna Hooker, Not Ashamed of the Gospel: New Testament Interpretations of the Death of Christ, Didsbury Lectures (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1994), pp. 20-46.
[18] Hooker, Not Ashamed of the Gospel, p. 33.
[19] Dunn, Theology of Paul, p. 484.
[20] Dunn, Theology of Paul, p. 484.  He emphasises the point by noting Gal. 6.14's similar use of the perfect tense: 'the world has been crucified to me and I to the world'.
[21] Dunn, Theology of Paul, p. 485.
[22] Dunn, Theology of Paul, p. 486.
[23] Dunn, Theology of Paul, p. 487.
[24] G. Hawthorne, Philippians, Word Biblical Commentary 43 (Waco, TX: Word Pub., 1983), pp. 81ff.
[25] The authenticity of these verses has been a subject of debate among exegetes, but the arguments for seeing them as pseudonymous are without textual support and lean heavily on thinking that Paul could never have made such 'anti-Semitic' statements.  For a defense of the authenticity of these verses and the argument that Paul is not 'anti-Semitic,' see W. D. Davies, 'Paul and the People of Israel,' Jewish and Pauline Studies (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), pp. 124ff, 134ff.
[26] E. S. Gerstenberger and Wolfgang Schrage, Suffering, p. 182.
[27] Gerstenberger and Schrage, Suffering, 182.
[28] Gerstenberger and Schrage, Suffering, 183.
[29] Gerstenberger and Schrage, Suffering, pp. 207-209.
[30] W. Schrage, Suffering, pp. 205ff.
[31] Cf. W. Schrage, 'Leid, Kreuz und Eschaton,' p. 152.
[32] BAG, p. 202.
[33] Paul uses dokimh, in the sense of 'character' also in 2 Cor. 2.9 and Phl. 2.22.  Elsewhere it is used in the sense of the 'testing' of character: 2 Cor. 8.2; 9.13; 13.3.
[34] A full discussion of the virtues associated with the mission was given in my dissertation, Gospel and Mission in Paul's Ethics, ch. 5.