Lord, thank you for the example of the saints who have gone before us, and help me to aspire to their love and faithfulness.
Read 2 CORINTHIANS 11:16-33
Paul Boasts About His Sufferings
16 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. 17 In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18 Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19 You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20 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. 21 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. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 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. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 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, 26 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. 27 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. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.’1
This a remarkable passage, containing sarcasm directed at the Corinthians (vs 19,20) and irony directed at Paul’s own self. He is driven to something he knows it is folly to do – boasting. In addition, he can distinguish between what he is doing and what Jesus would never do (v 17). He is riled! What follows is a resume like no other and, as far as the world is concerned, one not likely to land him a job. In short, Paul portrays himself as a loser for Christ’s sake.
Consider this catalog of rejection, torture, punishment, and degradation. This makes sense of how Paul can say, ‘I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions’2 and ‘We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus’.3 How many are entitled to say this? Apparently, when the heroes of old boasted of their achievements, the greatest accolade to have received after storming a castle wall in battle was the ‘Corona Muralis’, the equivalent of the Victoria Cross or the Medal of Honor.4 Paul’s travels, too, had included a wall, but he was heading in the wrong direction (vs 32,33)! This is self-deprecating boasting, but it adds to Paul’s moral authority. We may struggle to fit all his sufferings into the narratives of the Acts of the Apostles. Either the author (assume Luke) did not know about them all or Paul wasn’t telling, except here.
Paul is often caricatured as a stern, intolerant and unyielding puritan. He had his moments. Now, however, we can see him, probably more than any figure of the ancient world other than Jesus, as loving, passionate, generous, faithful, stupendously brave, and utterly devoted to Christ. How much is there here to imitate, by grace? Was he a loser or a winner?5
It is better to fail in an enterprise that will ultimately succeed than to succeed in an enterprise that will ultimately fail.
Lord, in whatever situation I find myself, hope or threat, I will draw on your grace and strength.
1 Phil 3:8 2 Col 1:24 3 2 Cor 4:10 4 See Tom Wright, Paul: A Biography, SPCK, 2018, 314–315 5 Phil 1:21
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