2 Corinthians 11:30. If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
Boasting was a huge part of the Roman culture. In this patron-client society, the patrons would boast of all their huge donations, building projects or elections won. Generals and war heroes would boast of their great feats and victories. Boasting was creeping into the church of Corinth from the culture of Corinth. The faker “Super Apostles” in Corinth were boasters. They boasted in all of their amazing spiritual works and experiences.
And so Paul plays along.
But Paul isn’t a very good boaster from a Roman point of view. He boasts about all of the things that no one would ever even mention, much less boast about. It’s a kind of “anti-boast”:
2 Corinthians 11:21-29. But whatever anyone else 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 offspring of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
It may be sarcastic, but it’s also very serious. Paul is reversing all their cultural values: I will boast in the things that show my weakness.
The need for this is still true today isn’t it? I rarely hear Christians express their weakness. Other peoples’ weakness? Sure. Even some physical weaknesses. But what about spiritual weakness? Have you been to a prayer meeting lately? How often do people speak of their discouragements? Their despair? Their fears? Their failures? Their trials in ministry? Their weakness? Especially in a context where admitting these things would make you look like a fool or a madman. Everything he lists here should disqualify him from ministry.
Here’s what he should have said: “I have traveled more miles, planted more churches, converted more people, I have written more books, I have dominated more councils, I have walked with God and seen visions and done great miracles (D.A. Carson).”
But Paul’s list of weaknesses is actually what he believed qualified him. He believed that his suffering verified his authenticity. How so? Because he is a servant of the cross. He is living the crucified life. He is placing the cross before glory. His suffering actually proved his deep love for the church. THAT is the proof of his Apostleship, not visions or mystic experiences.
Now, before we go out and start talking about all the terrible things that have happened to us, all our ministry failures and trials, and before we post them all over social media, let’s pause. The point of Paul’s “anti-boast” in 2 Corinthians 11 is not for us to start glamorizing hardships or advertising our own suffering. Paul is in a unique position of having to defend his Apostleship against a group that wants to overturn his gospel of the cross. Most likely that is not your specific situation.
So what does “boasting in our weakness” look like for us? It looks like giving God all credit for anything that is accomplished for his kingdom. It looks like learning to depend on grace alone and admitting your need for that grace at all times. It looks like always placing the glory of God in the face of the crucified Christ (4:6) next to our weakness – allowing our weakness to never exalt us (modern cultural phenomenon) and rather to exalt the crucified Christ. It looks like never measuring success in terms of numbers, or dollars, or projects, and rather measuring it in terms of the proclamation of the gospel of grace. These are what “to live is Christ” looks like. These are finding grace in weakness.
Have you found grace in weakness? Do you boast in your weakness, not to gain attention, but to point to the love and grace of God? How does union with Christ allow us to accept our weaknesses and use them to exalt Christ?