A Brief Introduction to Ministry: Stressful Conditions (2 Corinthians 6:3-5)

Lesson series 2001
Tags: 2 Corinthians; Ministry; Paul; Adversity
Excerpted from Paul on Ministry: Lessons from 2 Corinthians
Related Resources: Leadership Principles in 2 Corinthians


  1. To help participants recognize the stressful conditions that accompany ministry.
  2. To motivate participants who are called to ministry to prepare for the difficulties they will face in it.
  3. To motivate participants who are not called to ministry to help their spiritual leaders through the stresses of their work.

Text (NKJV)

3 We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed.
4 But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses,
5 in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings;


2 Corinthians 6:3-10 summarizes the basic facts about what it means to be a minister. Perhaps no other passage in the New Testament captures the essence of ministry so precisely and concisely. Briefly, yet powerfully, it describes the conditions of, resources for, and outcomes of ministry. Since each word in this passage conveys deep meaning, we will study it in three lessons.

Verses 3 and 4 introduce the discussion, informing us that the subject to be addressed is the conduct of the minister. Verse 4 states that one’s ministry is proven “in much patience.” The Greek word rendered “patience” is hupomone, which denotes steadfastness, constancy, endurance, patience, or perseverance. It is also used in 2 Corinthians 1:6, where it is translated “enduring.”

After introducing the idea of endurance as a key to ministry, Paul sets forth nine stressful conditions that demand such endurance. F. F. Bruce described the order of these conditions: “Nine forms of suffering are arranged in three sets of three: (a) general suffering (afflictions, hardships, calamities), (b) suffering endured at the hands of men (beatings, imprisonments, riotous onsets), (c) sufferings endured by way of self-discipline (labours, wakeful nights, fastings)” (212).


  • Comes from Greek thlipsis--pressure, oppression, affliction, tribulation, distress
  • Also used in 2 Cor 1:4, 8; 2:4; 4:17; 7:4
  • Also translated “afflictions” (KJV, NASB) and “troubles” (NIV)


  • Comes from Greek anangke--necessity, calamity, distress
  • Also used in 2 Cor 12:10
  • Also translated “necessities” (KJV) and “hardships” (NASB, NIV)


  • Comes from Greek stenochoria--narrowness of place, dire calamity, extreme affliction
  • Also used in 2 Cor 12:10
  • Consistently translated “distresses” (KJV, NASB, NIV)


  • Comes from Greek plege--blow, stripe, wound, public calamity, heavy affliction, plague
  • Also used in 2 Cor 11:23
  • Translated “stripes” (KJV) and “beatings” (NASB, NIV)


  • Comes from Greek phulake--guard, watch, prison
  • Also used in 2 Cor 11:23
  • Consistently translated “imprisonments” (KJV, NASB, NIV)


  • Comes from Greek akatastasia--instability, disorder, disturbance, confusion
  • Also used in 2 Cor 12:20
  • Translated “tumults” (KJV, NASB) and “riots” (NIV)


  • Comes from Greek kopos--beating, labor, trouble
  • Also used in 2 Cor 11:23, 27
  • Translated “labors” (KJV, NASB) and “hard work” (NIV)


  • Comes from Greek agrupnia--sleeplessness, watching
  • Also used in 2 Cor 11:27
  • Translated “watchings” (KJV), “sleeplessness” (NASB), and “sleepless nights” (NIV)


  • Comes from Greek nesteia--fasting, fast
  • Also used in 2 Cor 11:27
  • Translated “fastings” (KJV) and “hunger” (NASB, NIV)


2 Corinthians 6:3-5 shows us that the minister’s life is no bed of roses. From every direction he faces pressures. This theme saturates 2 Corinthians. Two passages that exhibit strong parallels are 11:23-28 and 12:10.

How should we respond to all of this? Obviously, those among us who have been called to ministry can learn some very valuable lessons from Paul’s testimony. We should expect to face adversity throughout the course of our service to the Lord. Indeed, we should prepare spiritually and emotionally for such difficulty.

There are also lessons here for those of us who have not acknowledged a call to ministry. Most of the original readers of this letter were ordinary church members. We should learn that as we serve within the body of Christ we will face stressful conditions. In addition, we should be sensitive to the unique pressures that impact those who provide spiritual leadership in the church. Understanding the nature of their work should motivate us to pray for, encourage, and be less critical of them.