2 Corinthians 11:16-33
We are reaching yet another climax in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and this time it has to do with the defense of his apostleship. We have wondered who his opponents might be and in this passage it appears that at least some of them were Judaizers as Paul compares himself to them: “Are they Hebrews? Are they Israelites? Are they offspring of Abraham?” But let us hasten to say that Paul in no way enjoys this; it was his policy not to compare himself with others (10:12; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5), but he has been driven to such “foolishness” by the Corinthians themselves who boast in matter of the flesh, that is, matters concerning ethnicity and human attainment. Paul is concerned with heavenly matters—God’s work in the lives of people as he goes about fulfilling his calling as an apostle by preaching the gospel.
And I suppose we should be grateful that the Corinthians drove Paul to such lengths, for if they hadn’t, we would not have the biographical information Paul gives us here about his sufferings as an apostle: imprisonments, countless beatings, often near death, five times forty lashes less one by the Jews, three times beaten with rods by the Gentiles, once stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19-20), three times shipwrecked, dangers while traveling from literally everyone, enduring hunger, thirst, cold, exposure, and most of all his anxiety for the churches he was nursing to health in the midst of a perverse, pagan, and hostile world. And though such suffering is foreign to American experience, it is all too normal for Christians suffering in Muslim countries (Nigeria, Iraq, and Iran, among others) and Communist nations (North Korea, China, Cuba), and even in much of Western Europe where education is solely a state-run and dominated enterprise, thus indoctrinating every child into a secular and humanist education devoid of Christian values. And America has been moving increasingly in this direction since the 1960s and has only accelerated since 2008.
But how does Paul end this passage after “engaging in a little foolishness”: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” And why would Paul boast in such things? Because as he will tell us later: God’s power is made perfect in our weakness (12:9). In the midst of strife, in the midst of uncertainty, in the midst suffering, God calls us to find our strength in Him and Him alone. Living in America, we’ve never had to do this before, but those days may soon be upon us. May we learn to trust Him in times of weakness since we have often forsaken Him in times of strength.