THE UPSIDE-DOWN KINGDOM
Lord, I remain nothing more than Your humble servant.
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)
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Praise God that Jesus is the “Lamb… at the center of the throne” (Rev. 5:6). He is the great King who was “crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power” (2 Cor. 13:4).
As noted in the Introduction to these notes, “strength in weakness” is an overarching theme of the letter—it certainly marches to the fore in today’s reading. Paul’s opponents, it seems, have been boasting about their background, their culture and their polished rhetoric. The apostle could easily do the same. Yet when he does boast, he focuses on his weaknesses, pointing out with considerable detail the various ways he has suffered as an apostle (23–29). His words are deeply moving. Truly, Paul has shown himself a consummate servant of Christ (23). His example encourages us to leave our comfort zones and take risks as we follow Jesus today.
Verses 32 and 33 can appear puzzling at first. Paul’s successful escape from Damascus doesn’t seem to fit with his boasting about weakness. But understanding the Roman background helps us. When an army laid siege to a city, the first soldier to go over the wall and enter the city (assuming he survived) claimed the Corona Muralis, or “wall crown.” This was perhaps the greatest military honor a Roman soldier could attain (see Tom Wright, Paul: A Biography, 314). Astonishingly, Paul takes this image of heroism and reverses it. He is not the first in, but effectively the first out, fleeing over the wall to escape arrest. For people of the day, this would have smacked of one thing: weakness. Paul, however, is unashamed to boast in this “foolish” (17) upside-down fashion.
Sadly, in church and wider society today, we tend to boast about our strengths (as we see them). In churches this sometimes reveals itself as a celebrity culture in showy, self-promoting ministries. We serve Jesus, however, whose own crown was made of thorns. We are called to follow him. Paul shows us the way.
Have we been sucked into playing power games, in the church or wider society? God calls us to repentance, to take up our cross daily and to follow his Son.
Lord, teach us to recognize the value of turning weakness to our advantage by trusting You to right the wrongs we face.