As Paul proceeds through to the close of his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, he extols a rather lengthy ‘apologia’. It is a defense of his ministry in light of the challenges he faces more from those inside the faith they share than outside it. But as he moves toward this impassioned close he prefaces it by saying that everything he says and does has one goal. To win people over to faith in Christ.
He encapsulates this message owning that when he is away from the believers he can be a bully and when he is with them he is humble with the patience and peace of Christ.
In the final chapters of the 2nd letter to the Corinthians Paul says what he has said before, just more nuanced. And more Pauline lengthy. More Pauline boastful. More Pauline profound. And yet beneath all the bravado is a humility heard when he finally says God’s grace is enough. We can see that it is God’s grace in Paul that sees him through. Keeps him going. He goes on without giving up, bolstered by God’s grace, and Paul’s love for the people he has brought to faith in Christ. He knows that they are vulnerable at the outset. It’s a vulnerability he carries within him as well. By opening himself up to his own vulnerability, he is also opening himself up to further intimacy with those to whom he went to preach Christ risen. That is partly why he rises to a level of so-called bullying. He wants to encourage them in the face of their questions, doubts and the challenges they will face from non-believers. Beyond that to clear away the obstacles to further intimacy with God in Christ. He will do whatever needs to be done, expend himself in any way so the Goods News lives and flourishes in his newly formed believers. He does this with a demanding urgency believing that they too will soon experience the risen Lord who he believe will come again in his and their lifetimes.
Perhaps the crux of the matter is this: On the one hand Paul is affectionate and passionately cares for his converts when he is with them. However, when out of their sight, in the letters he addresses to them, he rises to his full powers when confronted with those who do not yet reflect the Christ life. He arms himself with a righteousness, (which is his own sense of being saved by Christ, where it is done on earth as it is in heaven) knowing himself to be one with Christ and with the absolutely certainty of the Christ he preaches, especially when faced with the challenges that met him as he brought the ideas and reality of the new faith, the new way of being one with God, to nonbelievers.
Challenges even from other apostles. The dilemma of those who are posing to preach Christ but have other agendas in mind. It is not just an lst century Palestinian problem. Then there are those who apparently have also hurled at him the charge that he did not go around with Jesus himself. Did not know Jesus in the flesh. Perhaps his message is skewed as well. Paul continues with an unrivaled confidence. Because he says over and over it is not from himself but from God that his mission comes. For that reason Paul often acquiesced for the sake of the gospel and for fellowship within the one message and one body in Christ which is so all important to him. Even to remain in fellowship with the other apostles costs him dearly.
But perhaps that too is part of the plan as well. Paul knew and experienced Jesus Christ in another way. It appears perhaps in a more intimate way. Perhaps even in a more profound way, because he experienced the risen Lord. Paul, why are you persecuting me? This certainty, this passion, the strength of his belief and experience will father the faith that will come to be known as Christianity.
Before the gospels were written, Paul preached Christ to others personally. He did not compose a story of the Christ-event. The gospels are very important. They are significant chronicles of the Jesus who walked Judea and through them can walk into our hearts and lives. Paul encountered the risen Lord. He went to the people. He knew Christ in a singular way without having the experience of Jesus of Nazareth. And it is in this way that we too know and come to the risen Lord as well.