2 Corinthians 11:16-33
If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am. – 2 Corinthians 11:30 NLT
Over the last two to three weeks, I have had two of my cars break down and require major, unexpected repairs. My father had to be admitted to the hospital on two separate occasions during that same time period. While he was there, the AC at his house went out requiring the replacement of the outside condenser unit. At the same time, the dishwasher and garbage disposal at my home both decided to call it quits. Then one of the cars I had just gotten out of the shop broke down on me as I was heading from the hospital back up to the church to teach a Bible study. It was the transmission this time. To say the least, it was not a fun few weeks. But as all this was taking place and I was reading through the letters of Paul, the thought dawned on me that I would have a hard time comparing war stories with the apostle Paul. If I tried to compare my difficulties with his, it would be like toddler trying to take on Mike Tyson. Talk about a mismatch.
In reading through 2nd Corinthians, we’ve reached an interesting place in the letter where we find Paul literally bragging about himself. It’s a somewhat awkward read and seems a bit unexpected from someone of Paul’s spiritual caliber. But there’s a method to Paul’s madness. He isn’t really bragging, but simply trying to make a point. There are those in Corinth who have questioned his authority as an apostle and his credibility as a teacher. A group of self-proclaimed apostles have shown up who are trying to discredit Paul, in order to elevate themselves in the minds of the people. As a result, they boast about their human achievements, wearing their curriculum vitae on their chest like a badge of honor. So Paul decides to fight fire with fire. He admits that he feels like a fool doing it, but if these men want to get into a battle based on comparative worth and worth, Paul is more than willing to oblige them. These people were putting high stock in their “Jewishness.” They were Hebrews and wanted everyone to know it. They believed their ethnicity gave them a leg up and made them more “Christian” than the Gentiles. But Paul assures his readers that he too is a Hebrew and an Israelite. He too is a card-carrying member chosen race and a descendant of Abraham. He is also a servant of Christ, just as they claim to be. In fact, he argues that he is a harder working servant of Christ and then he proceeds to give ample proof of his claim. What comes next is Paul’s laundry list of trials, troubles, difficulties and circumstantial setbacks. He had been imprisoned, beaten, whipped, shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead, gone without food and water, and nearly froze to death. On top of all that, Paul had the constant pressing responsibility for the spiritual well-being of all the churches he had helped start.
Paul was not some fly-by-night, headline-grabbing, attention-seeking, self-serving and self-proclaimed spokesman for God. He was the divinely appointed messenger of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. He had been called and commissioned by Jesus Christ Himself. But if they wanted to get into a war of one-up-man-ship, Paul was more than willing to oblige them. He admits that his boasting “is not from the Lord” (2 Corinthians 11:17 NLT), but he is doing it to validate his message and defend his authority as a spokesman for God. But one of the interesting things about Paul’s boasting is that he only boasted about his weaknesses, humiliations and sufferings. He wasn’t bragging about his intellectual prowess or oratorial skills. Paul boasted that he had suffered as a result of his ministry. He was not a success in the eyes of many because his life didn’t seem to have the trappings of success. Paul made it clear that if he was going to boast at all, it would be about all those things that reveal his own weakness and his need for God’s strength. Paul didn’t pat himself on the back for having accomplished great things for God. He simply listed all the things that had happened to him as he faithfully served God. The very fact that Paul was still at it, in spite of all that happened, was more than enough proof of God’s sustaining power and Paul’s divine authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ. God was at work in the midst of all the troubles. He was using Paul in spite of his weakness and countless obstacles. That was all the proof Paul needed. And it was all the proof he was going to give. Paul’s life was like that of Christ Himself. He suffered willingly and obediently. He sacrificed his comfort for the cause of the Gospel. He had learned to rely on God’s strength instead of his own. His life was marked by weakness and apparent failure, yet God was at work in him and through him. The Christian life is not a contest or cause for comparison. Our lives should reflect Christ and reveal the power of God at work in and around us. We should be able to boast about what God is doing in our lives. Our greatest testimony is a life of complete reliance on God. Nothing else compares.
Father, I want to continue to learn to boast about those things that reveal my weakness and Your strength. Don’t allow me to become too full of myself and in love with my own accomplishments. I am nothing without You. But I can do all things because of You. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men