This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2006 vol. 163 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
2 Corinthians: Power in WeaknessCrossway, Wheaton, IL February 2, 2006
This book is the sixteenth offering by Hughes in the “Preaching the Word” series, written primarily for expository preachers. Senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and author of more than twenty-five books, Hughes’s contribution on 2 Corinthians is significant, because he deals with some of the strongest opposition to Paul’s ministry, especially the apostle’s life of pain and suffering. He demonstrates that Paul’s assertions are still relevant today, challenging readers to stand for Christ in the midst of suffering and opposition from those who preach a health and wealth, power and prosperity gospel. “The ministry of the Spirit is not one of splash and flash but of meekness and weakness. The gospel does not need front pages of any paper. And when it brags, it brags in its weakness—and God’s power” (p. 20).
In chapter 1, in which Hughes emphasizes power in weakness, he defines “my grace” (12:9) as “the ongoing covenant love of God” and “peace” as “his well-being that always accompanies his grace” (p. 20). This definition of grace correlates with the Hebrew word ds#j#, or God’s loyal covenant love. An understanding of this term, in light of God’s relationship to believers undergoing suffering, is enlightening. Chapter 2 highlights Paul’s words about comfort. “Affliction is [an] essential . . . key to Paul’s effectiveness in ministry, and affliction is the key to effective ministry today” (p. 24). This kind of statement is “counter-cultural” and “even runs counter to so much ‘Christian’ thinking that regards affliction as evidence of personal sin and deficient faith, and sleekness and ease as palpable evidence of divine blessing” (ibid.). This thinking is nothing new. It was the theology of the “opposition” to Paul’s gospel ministry in Corinth.
Chapter 3 presents one of Hughes’s most important contributions. It is the concept of “affliction — death — resurrection as the central law of life and ministry” (p. 32). Affliction moves believers to the end of themselves (“death”) and then thrusts them upward to resurrection. Life is therefore an application of affliction, death, and resurrection (4:11). “And though we may not want to hear it, the suffering of pastors and missionaries is essential to mediating the gospel to God’s people . . . . Today the church needs pastors and missionary leaders who share the afflictions of Christ” not “CEOs and managers” (p. 35). In chapter 4 Hughes discusses integrity in ministry, and in chapter 8 he discusses God’s sufficiency for ministry.
Other interesting sections include an exposition in his chapter 11 on the “paradoxes of power” (4:7–12), and “triumphant paradoxes” or “blizzard[s] of trouble” (chap. 17; 6:3–13). A positive look at the judgment seat of Christ is brief, though thought-provoking (pp. 103–10). In chapter 18 Hughes offers a strong warning to the church about destruction from within, in chapter 19 he considers comfort for depression in the ministry, and in chapters 20–22 he provides helpful insights on giving.
In 2 Corinthians 10–13 Paul turned to his opponents, and Hughes deals with Paul’s effectual warfare (pp. 183–84), boasting in the Lord (chap. 24), the true marks of an apostle in opposition to the “super-apostles” who were not Christians (chap. 25), and Paul’s defense of true boasting through pain, suffering, and hardship (chaps. 26–28).
Hughes considers 12:9–10 the “summit of the epistle, the lofty peak from which the whole is viewed in true proportion” (p. 213). Once again the theme of the paradox of power—“for when I am weak, then I am strong” is emphasized.
This commentary is an excellent example of biblical exposition. It includes numerous illustrations, quotations, and examples that are most useful and applicable. For believers who are hurting, Hughes’s observations about suffering are extremely valuable.
—Larry J. Waters