Chapter 37: “Affliction Worketh in Us a More Exceeding Weight of Glory”

The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, (1979), 300–305


Map Chp. 37

Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthian Saints

Written During His Third Missionary Journey from Macedonia, ca. Winter, A.D. 57 (2 Corinthians)

2 Corinthians

God Cares for the Saints

1:1–24

Saints Love and Forgive One Another

2:1–17

The Gospel Is Greater Than the Law of Moses

3:1–18

The Gospel Light Shines Through the Darkness

4:1–6

Mortal Trials and Eternal Hopes

4:7–18

Saints Seek Tabernacles of Immortal Glory

5:1–11

The Gospel Reconciles Man to God

5:12–21

How God’s Ministers Gain His Approval

6:1–10

Avoid Union with Nonbelievers

6:11–18

Godly Sorrow Leads to Repentance

7:1–16

Saints Impart Substance to Poor

8:1–24

The Blessings of True Charity

9:1–15

Paul Glories in the Lord

10:1–18; 11:1–11

Satan’s False Apostles

11:12–15

Paul’s Sufferings for Christ

11:16–33

The Third Heaven

12:1–6

Strength in Weakness

12:7–10

Signs of an Apostle

12:11–21; 13:1–4

Saints Should Prove Themselves

13:5–14

Interpretive Commentary

Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians

(37-1) 2 Corinthians. Paul Defends the Conduct of His Ministry

Of all of Paul’s known writings, Philippians and Philemon are generally acknowledged to be the most personal. From 2 Corinthians we get a deep insight into Paul’s sensitive nature—how it hurt him to be falsely accused by fair-weather saints who had not borne the heat and the burden of the ministry as he had. We learn much concerning the church of Jesus Christ in the apostolic age and how members struggled with rivalry, jealousy, and fear, but we find little of a deep doctrinal nature. We get occasional out-bursts of human feeling that help to illuminate the character of the man we know as Paul the apostle. Openly accused by some in Corinth who wished to see his influence reduced, Paul vigorously defends his personal character as well as his conduct as an apostle of Jesus Christ.

(37-2) Background Information

Paul wrote at least three letters to the Corinthian saints. The first apparently has been lost to us; we have copies of the second and third letters. These last two are known as First Corinthians and Second Corinthians, respectively. Second Corinthians is a follow-up letter to First Corinthians.

It was from Macedonia, as evidence within the epistle itself suggests, that Paul wrote 2 Corinthians (2 Corinthians 2:13; 7:5–7; 9:2–4). Since Luke places Paul’s visit to Macedonia near the end of Paul’s third missionary journey, the letter was likely written in A.D. 57.

The letter reveals that Paul wrote for at least five reasons: (1) to defend his work in the ministry; (2) to commend the Corinthian saints for their improvements since he last wrote; (3) to defend his personal character and conduct; (4) to encourage a generous financial gift for the impoverished saints of Jerusalem; and (5) to speak of an impending third visit to Corinth.

When the letter was completed, and there is good evidence to suggest that it was written in haste, Paul sent it with Titus on a return journey to Corinth. Titus was accompanied by two companions (2 Corinthians 8:18, 22), one of whom may have been Luke. Paul commends Titus and his party strongly to the Corinthians and urges them to make “proof” of their love and of Paul’s boasting in their behalf by making a generous contribution for the poor and sending it back with Titus (2 Corinthians 8:24; 9:5).

(37-3) 2 Corinthians 1:22. “Who Hath … Given the Earnest of the Spirit in Our Hearts”

Earnest is a technical term which came from the ancient world of finance and means “a guarantee” or “caution money.” It is used in exactly the same sense we use it today in the phrase “earnest money.” It was an initial sum of money given as a guarantee that the remainder owing would later be paid. What Paul suggests is that we have been given the Holy Ghost, an initial payment of blessedness which serves as a guarantee of a much fuller payment in the future if we continue faithful.

(37-4) 2 Corinthians 2:5. What Does Paul Mean When He Says “That I May Not Overcharge You”?

This verse and those that follow it provide an interesting insight into the love and compassion of Paul. We do not know whether the transgressor Paul refers to here is the fornicator mentioned in his first letter (1 Corinthians 5:1) or one of the false teachers in the church who had led a revolt against Paul and his teachings. But it is evident that the church has taken action against the men, and now Paul cautions them against withholding their love from him. In verse 5 he hastens to point out that he was upset with the news of this brother, not because his own feelings were hurt but because the man was doing damage to the entire church in Corinth. Now Paul encourages them to forgive and comfort this man so that he will not be lost from fellowship. (vss. 6–12). This attitude of firmness on adherence to church rules and procedure, but loving forgiveness when the transgressor shows true repentance and corrects the errant behavior, is a mark of the church of Jesus Christ today as well as in former times.

(37-5) 2 Corinthians 2:17. The Vivid Imagery of Paul Talking about Those Who Corrupt

Corrupt here is taken from the Greek word for a peddler. “The term included dealers in victuals and all sorts of wares, but was especially applied to retailers of wine, with whom adulterations and short measures were a matter of course.” (Vincent, Word Studies, 2:813.) This class of merchants had such an unsavory reputation for unscrupulousness and dishonesty in their trading that in some cases they were barred from holding public office. False teachers in the church were of the same mentality, watering down or changing the word of God at will so they could further their own selfish ends. Thus we get a picture of Paul, who is not only capable of slowing great love but is also able to demonstrate great sharpness in condemning those who would bring havoc upon the church.

(37-6) 2 Corinthians 3:6, 14. Is Paul Talking about the Bible When He Refers to the Old and New Testament?

The word testament is a translation of the Latin testamentum, which was the translation of the Greek word for “covenant.” A person’s last will and testament (or death covenant) is an example of the true meaning of the word. However, when new testament and old testament are used, most of us immediately think of the two divisions of the Bible. We should remember that those two divisions were so called because the first continued the writings and records of the people of God under the old covenant (the Mosaic law) and the second, his dealings under the new covenant (the law of Christ). The New Testament, as we know it in the Bible, was not even compiled until long after Paul’s death. So in verse 6, Paul states that they are ministers of the new covenant of Christ, which does away with the old. Even in verse 14, though it is obvious that Paul refers to the scriptural records when he talks of the reading of the old testament, he is not using it in the same sense we think of the Old Testament, but rather in the sense of the Mosaic law, or the old covenant.

(37-7) 2 Corinthians 5:19. The Use of the Word Wit

The word wit is an old English verb which literally means “to know” or “to find out.” When combined with the word to, the expression “to wit” usually means “that is” or “namely.” This is the use made of it here. However, the expression in 2 Corinthians 8:1, “we do you to wit of the grace of God,” means “we want you to know of the grace of God.”

(37-8) 2 Corinthians 6:2. “Now Is the Day of Salvation”

Read Alma 34:31–33.

(37-9) 2 Corinthians 6:12. “Ye Are Not Straitened in Us, but Ye Are Straitened in Your Own Bowels”

As used in scripture, the word bowels very often refers to the center of pity or kindness. When we feel love or compassion for someone or something, we usually experience pain within. “Let thy bowels be full of charity towards all men” (D&C 121:45) means, “Demonstrate a Christlike love for others.” As used here the word bowels is part of a larger expression, “ye are straitened in your own bowels.” It is simply Paul’s way of telling the Corinthians that they had not been restricted by any lack of affection on his part but rather by their own failure to show a proper love and compassion. Similar uses of the word in the New Testament are found in Philippians 1:8; 2:1; Colossians 3:12; and 1 John 3:17.

(37-10) 2 Corinthians 6:14. “Be Ye Not Unequally Yoked Together with Unbelievers”

“What are we to do then; Shall we bring upon ourselves the unhappiness of a divided household? Shall we profit by the voice of experience and marry within our own faith?

“… The obvious answer to everyone is, marry within your own faith. If you are a Presbyterian, marry a Presbyterian. If you are a Catholic, marry a Catholic. If you are of the house of Judah, marry within your own faith. If you are a Mormon, marry a Mormon.” (Mark E. Petersen in CR, Apr. 1958, p. 106.)

(37-11) 2 Corinthians 7:8–10. “For Godly Sorrow Worketh Repentance to Salvation Not to Be Repented Of”

“Often people indicate that they have repented when all they have done is to express regret for a wrong act. But true repentance is marked by that godly sorrow that changes, transforms, and saves. To be sorry is not enough. Perhaps the felon in the penitentiary, coming to realize the high price he must pay for his folly, may wish he had not committed the crime. That is not repentance. The vicious man who is serving a stiff sentence for rape may be very sorry he did the deed, but he is not repentant if his heavy sentence is the only reason for his sorrow. That is the sorrow of the world.

“The truly repentant man is sorry before he is apprehended. He is sorry even if his secret is never known. … Repentance of the godly type means that one comes to recognize the sin and voluntarily and without pressure from outside sources begins his transformation.” (Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 153.)

(37-12) 2 Corinthians 11:24. What Was It Like to Be Scourged by the Jews?

In Deuteronomy 25:1–3, Moses set down the principle that a guilty man could be lashed forty times. The Jewish rabbis had reduced that to thirty-nine, lest there should be a miscount and he be whipped more than forty times. (Moses warned against exceeding that number, and so the extra caution.) By Paul’s time this had developed into a brutally painful punishment meted out with great precision. To anyone familiar with the Jewish scourging, Paul’s claim that he endured such punishment five times is an impressive claim indeed, for often the victim died under the lashing. Farrar has given us a detailed description of the practice.

“Both of [the victim’s] hands were tied to … a stake a cubit and a half high. The public officer then tore down his robe until his breast was laid bare. The executioner stood on a stone behind the criminal. The scourge consisted of two thongs, one of which was composed of four strands of calf-skin, and one of two strands of ass’s-skin, which passed through a hole in a handle. … The prisoner bent to receive the blows, which were inflicted with one hand, but with all the force of the striker, thirteen on the breast, thirteen on the right, and thirteen on the left shoulder. While the punishment was going on, the chief judge read aloud [Deuteronomy 28:58, 59; 24:9; and Psalms 78:38, 39 which dealt with God’s commandments, the punishment for their nonobservance, and the Lord’s compassion on the sinner] … If the punishment was not over by the time that these three passages were read, they were again repeated, and so timed as to end exactly with the punishment itself. Meanwhile a second judge numbered the blows, and a third before each blow exclaimed ‘Hakkehu’ (strike him).” (Farrar, The Life and Works of St. Paul, pp. 715–16.)

One cannot help but wonder why Paul would submit to these at the hands of the Jews when he claimed Roman citizenship on other occasions and escaped this dreadful punishment (Acts 22:24–29). Again we turn to Farrar for a possible answer. He says that once a person was so lashed, he was viewed as being fully restored, having paid completely any debt incurred by his wrongdoing.

Then Farrar adds: “To have refused to undergo it by sheltering himself under the privilege of his Roman citizenship would have been to incur excommunication, and finally to have cut himself off from admission into the synagogue.” (Farrar, St. Paul, p. 717).

As we saw from Acts, Paul’s typical missionary approach was to enter the synagogue and begin preaching. To be cut off from such access would have been a serious curtailment of his efforts. When one contemplates the determination it would take to undergo such a flogging a second time, after suffering it once, one gets some idea of the extent of Paul’s commitment to Christ. Little wonder that he is peeved by the empty boasting and petty criticism of the false teachers at Corinth!

(37-13) 2 Corinthians 12:2–4. “I Knew a Man in Christ … Caught up to the Third Heaven”

The man whom Paul knew was Paul himself. Joseph Smith reports: “Paul ascended into the third heavens, and he could understand the three principal rounds of Jacob’s ladder—the telestial, the terrestrial, and the celestial glories or kingdoms, where Paul saw and heard things which were not lawful for him to utter.” (Teachings, pp. 304–5.)

(37-14) 2 Corinthians 12:7–9. “There Was Given to Me a Thorn in the Flesh”

The word Paul uses here literally means “a Pale” (as in impaled) or “a stake.” It was used to refer to sharpened stakes, to surgical instruments, or to fishhooks. The very term suggests something that was extremely painful and troublesome to Paul. There have been endless debates on what such an infirmity might be, and the suggestions have included a bitter and shrewish wife who turned against Paul at his conversion, epilepsy, a serious eye affliction, malaria, and some spiritual weakness with which he was constantly troubled. There is no way of knowing from the present records what Paul meant. What we can be sure of is that each of us has weaknesses, spiritual as well as physical, which Satan will use to challenge us. Elder Harold B. Lee said: “The Lord has told us in the scriptures that Satan is an enemy of all righteousness; because of that fact, those who are standing in high places in our Father’s kingdom will become the objects of his attacks. You may well expect, as the Apostle Paul understood, that you who preside in the various places in our Father’s kingdom will be subject to the devil’s onslaughts.

“… Sometimes there is given infirmity, difficulty, hardship upon you to try your souls; and the powers of Satan seem to be enrolled against you, watching and trying to break down your powers of resistance: but your weakness, through those infirmities, will give you the power of God that shall rest upon you even as the Apostle Paul was reconciled and comforted by the thought that through his trials the power of God might rest upon him.” (CR, Oct. 1949, 57.)

Points to Ponder

God Has Purpose and Design in the Trials and Tribulations That Come upon His People

(37-15) We Bear Some Afflictions as Punishment for Disobedience

God has purposes in sometimes allowing suffering and affliction to come upon his children. If his children break his laws and go contrary to what they know is right, God may provide punishments, burdens, and trials to teach them that it is not wise to do what they know is wrong.

If men were perfectly obedient to every requirement then it would be possible for them to be sanctified without affliction (compare Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 350). But since “none were ever perfect but Jesus” (Teachings, p. 187), then all must endure affliction of some degree or another.

Read 1 Peter 2:20.

“Peter didn’t want us to take any credit upon ourselves for the suffering we endure because of our own mistakes. He was willing to see us take credit for the suffering we endure because of discipleship, but not because of our own stupidity or our own sin.” (Neal A. Maxwell, “For a Small Moment,” Speeches of the Year, 1974, p. 447.)

Read Revelation 3:19–21.

Did John say that the saints should repent when they are called to suffer? Can you see why this is one of the great purposes of suffering—to cause God’s children to correct their ways, and return and be obedient?

Disobedience is not the only reason for trial and affliction. There is another purpose as well.

Read Malachi 3:2–4.

David watched as the gold ore was unloaded into the crushers—rocks, great hunks of stone—ill shapen, rough—none of it looked a bit like gold. He knew these rocks would be ground and processed and end up in a furnace which blazed with intense heat, breaking down, searching, melting—fire is an agent that cannot be deceived. Impurities and dross in the gold ore would be literally burned away. And when the furnace had been endured, all that would remain of the ore would be the gold itself, pure and beautiful. David could see how very hot and terrible the heat of the furnace must be; and yet it did not harm the gold in any way, but, rather, purified it and made it better.

“… God hath said that He would have a tried people, that He would purge them as gold. …” (Smith, Teachings, p. 135.) What does Malachi say the Lord is like? What are some of the fires that the Lord may allow to come to his people in order to purify and purge them?

It is for God to declare the furnace, and the day and the time; and it is for man to submit and endure, for gold becomes gold by passing through fire and men may become what God has designed they become only by passing through trial.

Now what is trial? You know of Abraham’s trial, and of the suffering strewn in the path of Joseph Smith, of which President Brigham Young recalled:

Joseph could not have been perfected, though he had lived a thousand years, if he had received no persecution. If he had lived a thousand years, and led this people, and preached the Gospel without persecution, he would not have been perfected as well as he was at the age of thirty-nine years. You may calculate, when this people are called to go through scenes of affliction and suffering, are driven from their homes, and cast down, and scattered, and smitten, and peeled, the Almighty is rolling on his work with greater rapidity.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 351.)

But what is trial and affliction? It is as Paul said: stripes, shipwreck, perils, physical wants, and on through the entire tapestry of life and experiences.

Read the following scriptures relating to the experiences of Job and Paul and carefully consider the questions which follow:

Job 2:3

Was there a fault for which Job was being afflicted? Had he done something wrong? (Compare Job 9:17; 16:17.)

Job 23:6, 10–14

What were the purposes of God in allowing Job to suffer as he did? Did Job understand what God was doing with him? Did Job immediately jump down on his knees and beg the Lord to remove the difficulty? Or did he determine that he would get from the burdens all that God wanted him to obtain?

Job 1:12; 2:4–6

Are there limits placed upon the difficulties and burdens that God allows to come to his children? (Compare D&C 122:9; Alma 13:28.)

2 Corinthians 11:24–33

Did Paul know about suffering? Do you think there is any relationship between the affliction that was heaped upon him, and the power of his ministry and the great wisdom that flowed from the pen of his experience? (Compare 1 Nephi 20:10.)

2 Corinthians 12:7–10

Does it appear from these passages that there was a connection between the intensity of Paul’s afflictions and the degree to which the power of Christ could rest upon him?

Now what of you? For surely you have trials. Surely you are no stranger to affliction. Do you bring them upon yourself by disobedience or lack of wisdom?

Read D&C 98:3.

May it be that some trials come to you because God has in his design to refine you and make you pure? Do you pray that God will take from you the very experiences and trials which he has designed to improve you? Do you submit to them (Mosiah 3:19) and learn from them, and trust them as having come from an all wise and loving Father?

Read D&C 58:2–4.

Do you allow trials to work in you a more exceeding weight of glory, as Paul said (2 Corinthians 4:17)? Will you bear well your trials, and learn to examine them? For there will come a day when you will understand.

(37-16) Summary

President John Taylor, who bore in his body bullet wounds from the martyrdom at Carthage, and during whose administration the wrath of a belligerent nation rained down upon the Church with near devastating effect, taught:

“It is necessary that we pass through certain ordeals in order that we may be purified. People sometimes do not comprehend these things. …

“We have learned many things through suffering, we call it suffering; I call it a school of experience. … What are these things for? Why is it that good men should be tried? … that we may learn to place our dependence upon God, and trust in Him, and to observe his laws and keep his commandments. … I have never looked at these things in any other light than trials for the purpose of purifying the Saints of God, that they may be, as the Scriptures say, as gold that has been seven times purified by the fire. [See Psalms 12:6.]” (JD, 23:334–36.)

To the Saints of our generation who are burdened with trials, President Marion G. Romney offers this counsel:

“I say to you and all the rest of us who are being tried in the crucible of adversity and affliction: Take courage; revive your spirits and strengthen your faith. In these lessons so impressively taught in precept and example by our great exemplar, Jesus Christ, and his Prophet of the restoration, Joseph Smith, we have ample inspiration for comfort and for hope.

“If we can bear our afflictions with the understanding, faith, and courage, and in the spirit in which they bore theirs, we shall be strengthened and comforted in many ways. We shall be spared the torment which accompanies the mistaken idea that all suffering comes as chastisement for transgression. We shall be comforted by the knowledge that we are not enduring, nor will we be required to endure, the suffering of the wicked who are to ‘be cast out into outer darkness [where] there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.’ (Al. 40:13.)” (Marion G. Romney in CR, Oct. 1969, p. 59.)