Paul had a longstanding problem with the brethren in Corinth. Many of their leaders were affluent, politically connected, powerful, influential; leaders in their community. And some were so caught up in their wealth and power that they had concluded that their status was a sign of God’s approval and blessing.
Of course, that meant that Paul’s claim to apostleship was questionable. He wasn’t one of the original 12. And he was in trouble all of the time. Beaten repeatedly, imprisoned countless times, shipwrecked, hated, kicked out of city after city, synagogue after synagogue…a sure
sign that he was not being blessed by God. In their view, his claim to apostleship was laughable because he was in trouble all of the time. This is not how God’s leaders should live! In 2 Corinthians 11:16-29–with just a hint of sarcasm–he even lists the things he had been through for the cause of Christ:
I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!
Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
Paul’s argument, at this point in his letter to the church in Corinth is just the opposite. Rather than being a sign of God’s condemnation, Paul stresses that these challenges indicate, indeed, God’s approval and blessing!
His suffering is a sign of God’s blessing!
Drawing his point to a close, instead of bragging of his authority, power and might as an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul boasts about his weakness because of the opportunity it presents for the Lord to show His glory! As we just read: “I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”
When were you weak, Paul?
Saul walked with kings and princes, priests and scribes, religious rulers and scholars. Now we find him being smuggled out of the city at night like a criminal. More than that, they put him into a common basket, tied a rope around the handles and slowly lowered him through a window on the wall of the city to the ground below where wall residents would throw their garbage, refuse, waste…alone, in the still of the night, afraid someone might see him. From there he goes to Jerusalem to receive some validation from the apostles and most run away because of his former reputation. Had it not been for the benevolence of Barnabas who brought Paul to see Peter and James vouching for the genuineness of his conversion, only God knows how Paul’s story might otherwise have ended.
Like people, churches go through normal life cycles. They birth, they thrive, they live and, if something doesn’t happen to arrest the natural course, they die. Marriages and families go through these seasons of life as well.
Just as Paul points to a humiliating, weak time in his life as he followed Christ, so also churches can point back to points of listing. And families can also point to times in their life when life was really, really tough. I’ll bet you have had some moments in life when you just wanted to give up, walk away, close the doors and never look back. It’s just the cycle of life. It doesn’t matter whether or not you like it or wished things had turned out differently…it is what it is.
Here is the good news. Our God is the God of the new. “I make all things new!” He tells us. Paul is making the point that it is in our weakness that God’s glory can shine! It is in our depression and discouragement that we have an opportunity to live by His strength, His resurrection power, His ingenuity, His grace, His mercy, His love. It is in those dark times that He can shine a light upon His path to glory!
How do we do that? We call out to Him! We confess our sin and our brokenness! We mourn over the sin that surrounds us! We submit to His will and not our own and we begin the journey again of hungering and thirsting for His righteousness! We cry out for His mercy so we can learn to be merciful to the hopeless and the helpless in the midst of our own pain. We check our agendas at the door and we love freely, without preconditions, unconditionally, just like He does. We enter into His peace so we can give it to others and we stand up for what is right and what is good because everything good comes from Him, even in the midst of our suffering and pain. There is our validation! In the words of Paul, when I depend upon Him when I am weak, He makes me strong, even for those times when I am called upon to suffer for Him.
There is no way to lose when we acknowledge our weakness and we cry out to Him to make us strong. That is what the gospel is about. That is a message the world needs to hear. That is why we reach outside of our walls: there is a whole world out there that needs to hear the good news: Jesus doesn’t condemn! Jesus saves!
The world without Him is already condemned (John 3:18)!
It is Jesus Who saves!
No matter what, the message is still true: Jesus Saves!
In part 4 we will talk another time Paul experienced weakness which he described as a “thorn in the flesh.”