When was the last time you played the “one up” game? You know, the game you play when you’re with other men and you start to tell stories. One guy starts sharing his story of conquest and achievement, and before you know it, the next guy puffs out his chest and tells a story that’s just a bit bigger than his friend’s. The boasting and bragging inflate with each subsequent story told. If there is an “alpha male” in the group, you can be confident he will bring out the biggest fish of all, thus ending the game with his dramatic achievement.
Paul’s “boastings” here in this passage make you wonder if he is playing that game as well. Pitted against the “super-apostles,” Paul has had to defend his credentials and ministry before the very church that he planted in that city. As the church was seduced away from sound doctrine and living by flashy and false celebrity teachers, Paul sought to correct and restore them to the truth. But that came at a cost. The Corinthians had bought the lie that the super-apostle with the greatest boasts was clearly the one worth following, regardless of what he taught. If Paul wanted to bring the church under his leadership again, he knew he’d have to play the game to engage the Corinthians.
However, unlike the boasting that Paul’s opponents give, Paul flips the script and lays out his weaknesses. Instead of puffing out his chest and talking about how many souls he’s converted, or churches he’s planted, or multitudes he’s spoken to, he lays out his thorns. He “takes pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions” (2 Corinthians 12:10). But why?
Because faithfully following Jesus looks more like a cross than a crown. The power of the gospel is more profoundly displayed in human weakness and suffering than it is in demonstrated power and triumph. The reason for this is so God’s strength will be seen, even in our weakness. It’s so we can’t take any glory for what belongs solely to Him.
Perhaps you’re tempted to boast in your spiritual victories and achievements. Here, at almost the end of this 1 and 2 Corinthians reading plan, you may feel a bit of pride that you’ve read every day and been in prayer. You may want God to notice and affirm your strength of will and dedication to Him.
The good news is that God’s not looking to affirm “one-up men.” His eye is to the weak and the humble. Why? So He gets all the glory for His grace. May we learn this “secret of being content” Paul spoke of, “whether in abundance or in need”—that in Christ Jesus we are able to do all He’s called us to do (Philippians 4:12-13). He alone is the source of our strength. He alone is worthy of our praise. Let us boast in Him.
Written by Jeremy Writebol