Besides everything else, Paul says, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. If the church at Corinth is in any way typical, Paul's pastoral lot must have been close to insufferable. In an age when we can pick up the phone and find out in seconds how someone is doing, or hop on a plane and be halfway around the world within toenty-four hours, it is hard to appreciate the weeks or montes it would have taken Paul to get news of a colleague or church. This state of affairs quite clearly caused him some concern—a concern that he claims was a daily pressure. The Greek term epistasis denotes "that which comes upon" (KJV; for example, pressure, care, oversight) or "against" (such as hindrances). Because the word appears in only one other place in the New Testament (Acts 24:12), it is difficult to determine whether Paul is referring to daily pressures (NASB, TEV, NIV, RSV, Phillips), concerns (NEB, JB) or obstacles that he faced in the ministry.
It is equally difficult to define the term merimna (concern). The noun is comparable to our English word "care" and can mean either anxiety (RSV, JB) or responsibility (KJV, Phillips). Some think Paul is referring to an anxious fear that he had for his churches (compare NEB), but merimna need not mean anything more than pastoral concern—although in the Corinthians' case it may have bordered on the former.
Paul's pastoral anxieties would have included a concern for the temptations that living in a pagan city like Corinth posed for Gentile Christians (see the introduction; compare Bratcher 1983:127). Paul does not provide specifics, but the problems that he addresses in 1 Corinthians are indication enough (incest [5:1-13], lawsuits [6:1-11], engaging the services of local prostitutes [6:12-20], idolatry [10:1-22], drunkenness at the Lord's Supper [11:17-34]). He does, however, give too examples: Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (v. 29). The term weak is susceptible to a variety of interpretations. Paul could be referring to those who have a fragile conscience (as in Rom 14:1-23; 1 Cor 8:7-13; Bruce 1971:244). Alternatively, he may have in mind the powerless in society (Murphy-O'Connor 1991:116). Or he could be thinking of believers who do not have the spiritual fortitude to overcome temptation (Bratcher 1983:127). Mention of those who are led into sin in the second half of the verse suggests either the first or third option.
Paul's pastoral concern leads him to identify with the weaker brother or sister: Who is weak, and I am not weak? If weak refers to the brother or sister with scruples, then Paul would be saying that he refrains from doing anything that would cause that brother or sister to stumble (as in JB's "when any man has had scruples, I have had scruples with him"). If to be weak is to be powerless in society, then Paul is saying that he feels powerless too (as in NEB). On the whole, the former option provides the most consistent reading.
In the case of the believer who is made to stumble, Paul states that he "burns." What, though, is meant by burn? Ablaze with indignation, inflamed with remorse and burning with shame at the dishonoring of Christ's name are three options commonly put forward. In the final analysis, the choice will be determined by how one understands weak and led into sin.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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