How often do you think about how you look? Is that thought constantly on your mind? To what degree does the desire to look good impact the decisions you make?
Most people want to look good, to one degree or another. But the truth of the matter is, life doesn't center around how we look. The goal of our lives is to give God glory, not seek it for ourselves.
Look at some of the principles we're shown in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33...
I. Boasting in the flesh is foolish
To what degree would you go to to protect and defend someone you love? Would you risk your well-being? Would you sacrifice your resources? Would you risk your reputation by allowing yourself to look foolish if in so doing, you would help those you cared about? That was the risk Paul was taking by communicating the way he was in these verses. He was so concerned about the Corinthians well-being, that he risked making himself look like a fool so he could show them how foolish it would be to fall prey to the false teaching of those who were trying to lead them astray from following Christ and believing the gospel.
The false teachers were braggers. They boasted in fleshly things. They were like the kind of people that brag about how tall they are or how blue their eyes are, as if anyone has control over something like that. Paul conveys a sense desperation in these verses as he tries to bring the Corinthians back to their senses.
As he opens up this section, he playfully challenges them to accept him as a fool so that he can show them how foolish it is to boast in the things of this world. He also draws a contrast between the kind of bragging a fool chooses to do and the humility of Christ (v. 17). Christ came to this earth to serve others. He came to lift others up. He came to bring life. He didn't come to take advantage of people. He didn't come to crush people with a burden they could not lift. He came to rescue humanity and He did so with a selfless attitude.
But for some reason, we as people tend to forget that. Even Christians can drift from holding on to a clear perspective of Christ's mission. Apparently, that's where some in the Corinthian church were drifting. Instead of walking in the freedom they had through Christ, they were allowing themselves to become mentally enslaved to the worldly ways of thinking that were being promoted by the false teachers that had invaded their community. Paul indicates that they were being devoured, taken advantage of, demeaned, and insulted, yet they seemed to be putting up with it.
Why put up with that? Why elevate teachers that do that? Some were even accusing Paul of being weak because he didn't also do that. But a mindset that's governed by boasting in the flesh is not a mindset that reflects the heart of Christ.
Not long ago, I had a conversation with someone who was boasting about how much he just paid in taxes (with the implication that he had a good year financially and he wanted to make sure I knew that). If our identity and sense of worth is wrapped up in something that can change or be taken away, we're missing the heart of the gospel. In Christ, we are loved, blessed, made holy, adopted, and held securely. That will never change. Our sense of worth should never be tied to something that can be lost.
II. Suffering for Christ's glory has its purpose
Our lives don't always look the way we thought they would or turn out the way we might have at one time expected. All along the way there are surprises. The things or the people we thought we could count on may not come through for us. The planning or the credentials we were banking on might not pan out. And the smooth road we were expecting might be much bumpier than we anticipated.
Paul lived a good life, but it wasn't an easy life. It wasn't smooth. It had a lot of bumps and he details them here. But let's be honest. This was a life that was lived to the fullest.
Paul wasn't on a constant search for comfort and riches. He was on a quest to bring the gospel to as many people as possible and he was willing to suffer to do so. He was also willing to confront false apostles whose real motivation was to consume the best of this world at the expense of others. So he shot down their credentials in this paragraph and illustrated, from his own experience, that Christ's strength is shown to be sufficient in our weaknesses.
The false teachers boasted in their earthly heritage. Paul showed that he was also a Hebrew, Israelite, descendant of Abraham. They boasted in their service, but Paul dramatically displayed that when it came to serving Christ, he took it more seriously. He then went on to detail the many different ways he was persecuted for sharing the gospel. Paul suffered severely during the course of his years of ministry.
What is your opinion on suffering? Are you in the midst of a season of suffering right now? Have you ever asked God to show you the purpose of your suffering?
Our suffering is used by God to produce holiness in our lives, help others come to know Christ, and bring Christ glory. Your suffering and pain has a win/win/win aspect to it. You will grow. Others will benefit. Christ will be glorified.
III. Admitting your weaknesses is wise
What's one of the surest ways to fall into sin and temptation? What's a big contributor to the downfall of many Christians who at one point conveyed an impression that they were strong and had their act together? One of the biggest contributors to that downfall is to pretend that you don't have weaknesses. To pretend like there aren't areas of temptation that you're still struggling with. To convince yourself that you're somehow immune to falling into sin or that some of the things you wrestled with in the past have no chance of surfacing again in this season of your life.
I listened to a very revealing interview the other day. It was an interview of a pastor that was conducted by someone who did not share his faith, but was quite curious about his walk with the Lord and how he knew the Lord was calling him to serve in his role of ministry. He also wanted to know if there was ever a season in his youth were he rebelled against the Lord. The pastor said, "Yes." The interviewer pressed him for details. "Did you get drunk? Did you use drugs?" The pastor said, "No, that wasn't where I was tempted. My weakness was with the women I was in relationships with. I have since sought them out so I could apologize to them for how I treated them, but I'm concerned that if I don't stay open and honest with my wife about that weakness, I could find myself right back in that mess someday."
I found that interview refreshing because that man was willing to humbly admit his struggles and imperfections. He called them out to the light so they couldn't operate in secret. And when we look at Paul's words in this passage, he emphasized his weaknesses as well. While others were boasting about their supposed strengths, Paul displayed that Christ's strength was sufficient for him in the midst of his human weaknesses. Paul even relayed the embarrassing story of having to be let down over a city wall in a basket to try to escape those who were trying to kill him. That's the opposite of trying to convey a tough-guy image.
In the end, we can spend the few brief decades we have on this earth doing one of two things. We can try to make ourselves look good, or we can point people to Christ who actually is good. We can try to pretend like we don't have any weaknesses, or we can display that Christ's strength is sufficient for us in the midst of our human weaknesses. We can carefully craft an image that centers around acting like we've got everything figured out, or we can testify that real wisdom is granted by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ. He's got it all figured out. Life isn't about trusting myself. It's about trusting Him and walking with Him daily.
© John Stange, 2017