16 I repeat, let no one think that I am a fool; but if you do, then accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. 17 What I am saying in regard to this boastful confidence, I am saying not with the Lord’s authority, but as a fool; 18 since many boast according to human standards, I will also boast. 19 For you gladly put up with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you put up with it when someone makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or gives you a slap in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. 24 Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. 28 And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant? 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.2 Corinthians 11:16-30
Sometimes I suffer from insomnia, and it is miserable. Try as I might, I can’t go to sleep. What makes this worse is that I’m tired, and I don’t feel like I can do anything constructive, so I just end up turning on the TV.
Nowadays, it’s not so bad with all the on-demand options. However, ten years ago, such nights were a miserable affair because of those terrible infomercials. Countless minutes and hours of people trying to sell me things I don’t need, and probably don’t work. Countless billions have been spent over the decades on this worthless junk.
I mention this because infomercial makers love health and beauty products. For the low, low price of 5 easy payments of $19.99, they promise, you too could have healthier, beautiful skin. Have you seen the latest jazzercise exercise DVD? What about the ab-blaster? ThighMaster? Rear-end eraser? You name it, and someone has a contraption and a hokey promise to make to you if only you have the money.
I know all of this is laughable. But they wouldn’t keep making those commercials and contraptions if people weren’t buying it, hook, line, and sinker.
The simple truth is that this late-night phenomenon is yet another example of our society preying on our insecurities. We all want to be svelte and beautiful. We all want to be respected, honored, even loved. We all want status. We all want some power we can exercise over our own lives. We all want to be seen in the best light. Our greatest insecurity is to be thought of poorly because that means we are vulnerable to others as they judge us. We hate weakness, and we especially loathe it in ourselves.
Here, Paul speaks to us directly. Paul continues to defend himself against the super apostles who claim power and authority for themselves, and do so by running Paul down and questioning his apostolic authority. They call Paul weak, unrefined, a lousy public speaker, and not fit for such a fine community of means like Corinth. Paul’s too rough around the edges. If you want to be the right kind of community, the super apostles tell the folks in Corinth, you need the right kind of public faces to represent you if you want to maintain your status and dignity. Public recognition and praise is the currency of the culture.
To all of this, Paul takes up the mantle of being labeled a fool. In fact, if being a fool suggests weakness while their supposed authority due to their refinement suggest power, then Paul readily embraces the title. They are boasting by human standards, he says in verse 18. And if by power you mean taking advantage of others, he goes on in verse 19, then please, call me weak, he insists in verse 21.
In fact, he goes on to show the best contrast between himself and them in verses 21 through 28. He is a Hebrew of the Hebrews, an Israelite and heir of Abraham of the first order, but he has also suffered greatly for the Gospel. The marks of his power and authority are the lashes he has received, the scorn that has been poured upon him, and the dangers and near-death experiences he has weathered. And all of it for the sake for that sake of his “faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” as he tells another community in Galatians 2:20.
Once more, Paul turns power and the marks of true authority on their head, shown fully in verse 30: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” This isn’t about self-flagellation, or that somehow being Christian means torturing yourself to death. No, it is about a 180-degree reversal of our definitions of power, authority, strength, beauty, truth, and the list goes on. And this reversal comes through the Lord Jesus, the Son of God who was enthroned on a tree outside the city, reviled and held in contempt for the sake of the love he had for the world, for us.
Here is your beauty, Paul is saying. Here is refinement. Here is true power, and it involves giving up our standard measures.
Here’s where the rubber hits the road for us. We live in a society that thrives on telling us we don’t measure up. We live in a state of constant insecurity in ourselves, and ultimately who God made us to be. We never measure up, and so many of us are caught up in the rat race of trying to latch on to some promise that with enough effort and enough cash, there is something about ourselves in which we can boast.
For Christians, however, we boast in our weakness. It’s not that weakness is anything in itself, but because weakness displays the Lord Jesus within us who laid his power and majesty aside so we that might find life. In fact, you might say that it is in our greatest deficiencies, God has determined to display the life changing truth that God’s power is and will be perfected by inverting that to which our idolatrous hearts lash themselves.