Verse: 2 Corinthians 11:21-33
21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! 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?
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.
32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me,
33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.
Earlier in the chapter, Paul recounted how false apostles to the Corinthian church have acted, and how they have treated the Corinthian Christians. He expresses his disappointment that the Corinthians seem to prefer that treatment (likely because their society valued bravado and shows of power over humility and weakness). Growing frustrated now, Paul begins to sarcastically compare himself to these false prophets, effectively telling the church, “You like what you’ve been hearing from them? Okay, listen to this!” But he even reminds them multiple times that he is not serious about what he says: “…I am speaking as a fool…”; “…I am talking like a madman…”.
As someone like me, with a natural bent toward sarcasm, I would love the takeaway here to be “it’s okay to make fun of people in the name of Christ!”. But alas, I think we have to examine both what Paul is actually saying and what he wants us to learn.
From verses 23-28, Paul lists many of the abuses and sufferings he has endured in the name of Christ. He says these things not to brag (though in a tongue-in-cheek way, he says that’s exactly what he’s doing), but rather to drive home two points:
1) If you are going to be a witness to the true gospel of Christ, you are going to have to endure hardships and that endurance is one of the most important parts of your testimony.
2) Don’t allow being treated that way to cause you to treat those to whom you are witnessing in the same manner, the way that the false prophets were treating the Corinthians.
Paul says in verse 30 that if the Corinthians prefer to hear boasting, then he will boast. But not in the way they are used to. Instead, he will highlight all of the things that seem to show he is weak. (Hint: This is foreshadowing of something he will tell them in the next chapter.) And this is what makes Christians unique…we are not called to overpower the world, or to show our superiority. But rather, we are called to show that we are willing to admit our weakness, and therefore our need for a Savior.
God, please help me to live for you in such a way that I’m required to endure hardships in your name. Give me your strength to carry on, because I know mine will not be enough. Help me to love others enough to serve them no matter what they think of me, and allow me to seem small, so that you can seem bigger to them. Amen.