(2 Corinthians 11:16-33)
In this particular passage Paul gives the Corinthian church a listing of his 'spiritual credentials' to show that if faith were about boasting, he would be far better qualified than his contemporaries. And, while he could choose to claim such superiority, he knows that faith is not about such things - and our boasting is pointless and futile. Thus, he chooses another path to defend himself against those who challenge his ministry.
It should again be noted that Paul is being charged on several levels as a sub-standard minister by many of the other workers in and around the Corinthian church. Perhaps as is so often the case today, those who were challenging Paul were doing so on the poor theory that because of his hardships his message and ministry must have been flawed. The failure of this evaluation is that it imposes worldly values upon a heavenly activity; such methodology measures success by means which are external to the gospel. Paul seems to evaluate his own ministry from a different perspective . . . and if he is forced to defend himself against such opposition he will challenge them to match his sufferings.
Paul's own list of sufferings is much more than many ministers (both ancient and contemporary) encounter. Perhaps this is because so many ministers do not thoroughly engage the world enough to have opposition.
In the end, however, Paul reserves his greatest concern for those who are under his spiritual care (v 28), a stark reminder that ministry is not about us as ministers. What a far cry from so many modern pastors, teachers and leaders who begrudgingly take upon their roles and who secretly (and some not-so-secretly) despise the very people for whom they are responsible! That Paul is willing to look past his own sacrifices for the sake of the gospel and still place others in his view of concern is remarkable. He chooses not to blame the congregations that are associated with his sufferings but rather counts the communal hardships as validation of his work. Far too long has modern evangelicalism allowed pastors and leaders to come with an attitude of 'I-really-really-hate-doing-ministry-but-I've-been-called-so-there's-nothing-else-I-can-do-about-it.'
The choices before Paul are clear: to abandon his mission (or perhaps continue through spite) or to see his circumstances through the eyes of the kingdom. He goes with the latter and is thus able to boast in his weakness and suffering. Yes, this is to say that is is not in his own strength, but through his weakness that the work of the gospel continues. And it is through his sufferings that his message is vindicated and his resolve emboldened. Our models of ministry and evaluation would do well to revisit guidelines on handling suffering.