I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!
But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. – 2 Corinthians 11:16-28 ESV
Paul is about to do something that everything in his being wants to resist. He is about to boast. And he feels like a fool for doing so. But he feels compelled to do so in order to wake up the Corinthians and to get them to see the stupidity of their logic. Paul’s adversaries are constantly boasting of their own reputations and qualifications. They have set themselves up as somehow superior to Paul. So, against his better judgment, Paul decides to play their game of one-upmanship. He begs the Corinthians to “accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little” (2 Corinthians 11:16 ESV). And he sarcastically explains that, “Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast” (2 Corinthians 11:18 ESV). He accuses the Corinthians of being “so wise”, and yet allowing themselves to be enslaved, devoured, taken advantage of, easily impressed, and humiliated, like being slapped in the face in public.
And since they seem to be attracted by the boasting of his adversaries, Paul decides to play their game, all the while admitting, “I am speaking as a fool” (2 Corinthians 11:21 ESV). Paul is much more comfortable and at home with his weaknesses. He sees them as assets, not liabilities. In the very next chapter, Paul will write, “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT). But at this point in the letter, he is attempting to show the Corinthians the foolishness of their obsession with qualifications and outward appearances. So he gives them a rather exhaustive outline of his credentials, matching his critics line by line. These “false apostles” bragged of being pure-blooded, Aramaic, speaking Hebrews. Well, so was Paul. They boasted of being Israelites, part of the chosen people of God. So was Paul. They claimed they could trace their roots all the way back to Abraham. So could Paul. And they had presented themselves as servants of Christ. But Paul flatly asserts that he is a better one, and then goes on to explain why – all the while admitting that his words sounded like those of someone who has lost his mind.
Paul says, “I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again” (2 Corinthians 11:23 NLT). Then he gives specific details regarding his claims, explaining that he has been lashed, beaten, shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead, faced threats from rivers, robbers, the Jews, and even the Gentiles. He has been in danger in cities, the wilderness, at sea, and now, from these false “brothers”. He knows what it feels like to work hard, experience sleepless nights, go without food and water, nearly freeze to death, and face the daily pressure that came with being responsible for all the churches he had helped to start. And all of this was due to his commitment to his calling as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He suffered because he was faithful to his commission, given to him directly by Jesus. If the Corinthians were looking for someone who had the proper qualifications for being an apostle, they need look no further than Paul. He had the scars to prove it. His resume, while not pretty, was a powerful statement of his calling and commitment. When many other men would have given up and walked away, Paul had continued to stay the course, fight the good fight, and run the race – all the way to the end.
While Paul hates the fact that he is having to boast, he is doing so for a good reason. He wants the Corinthians to wake up and smell the coffee. In their “wisdom” they were bearing with fools. They were listening to these false apostles and giving their words credence, all based on nothing more than their self-proclaimed qualifications. These men had no track record of service to the Lord. They had played no part in bringing the gospel to the Corinthians and, if anything, were actually undermining all the work that Paul had poured into them. They were preaching a different gospel, another Jesus and offering a different Spirit than the one the Corinthians had received at salvation. This was dangerous stuff. Paul knew that their work among the Corinthians would be deadly, if not stopped in its tracks. So he resorted to boasting. He lowered himself to their level, only in order to expose them for what they really were: charlatans and liars. Paul cared for the Corinthians. He was willing to die for them, in necessary. He would gladly take a bullet, or a stone, for them. And he was not above being seen as a fool if it helped them see the folly of their ways.