The Late Rounds
I’m feeling a little bit as though the bell has just rung on one of the late rounds of an epic prize-fight. I am feeling a sense of urgency. I am feeling as though a window is narrowing on perhaps your best chance to finally deal with pride. This is not to elevate anything we are doing, completely the contrary. We believe God has authored this series for this time and place to shine a bright light on this terribly destructive force in your life, called pride. We believe this to be a battle; a battle worth fighting, and a battle that needs to be won, because we believe strongly that if you don’t kill pride in your life, it will eventually kill you. It is that serious.
“Your weapon, sir”
There is, perhaps, no better weapon in the battle against pride than a keen awareness and open confession of your weakness. And to illustrate this, I can think of no better example than the Apostle Paul. Paul was the singular person that God chose to take the message of the Good News to the “Gentile world.” Before God called Paul in an incredibly dramatic way, the story of Jesus’ life, death, burial and resurrection was a “possession” of the Jewish people. God chose Paul to be his voice in carrying the redemptive story to every other person and place in the known world. You might think in being chosen so dramatically and for such an expansive purpose, that Paul would have acted like it … but you wouldn’t be more wrong if you did. There was no one who suffered more for the cause of Christ than Paul, and there was no one who was more humble about it. In looking at Paul’s life, and his words to the Corinthian church, we are given no better evidence of the truth that weakness is the strongest weapon we could ever wield in our battle with pride.
“Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy”
Persons of a certain age will remember this line vividly, and it came to mind when I began looking at the way the Corinthian church was talking about Paul. Paul planted many churches, and after some time had passed, sent followers back to those churches to observe them. When the report came back on the church at Corinth, Paul was told that people were saying some pretty critical things about him. There were traveling “super apostles” that had caught the fancy of many churches and caused them to see some pretty stark and disparaging differences between them and Paul. There were three specific things the church in Corinth had to say in criticism of Paul:
- He was not a trained public speaker
- He was timid in person
- He was free of charge
Interestingly, I believe even Paul would agree with some of the criticism the people expressed. The Bible never suggests Paul was a great orator, his deep humility could certainly have been misjudged as timidity, and there’s no record that he ever charged the exorbitant speaking fees that the super apostles did, but make no mistake, Paul was perfect for the job God chose him to do. Paul was relentless in preaching Jesus to anyone who would listen. He didn’t consider himself to be anyone special, but he believed with everything that he was, that Jesus was (and more).
The defense rests
Perhaps there is no better defense that Paul gives than in verses 16-33 of 2 Corinthians chapter 11. I invite you to read his words straight through, and hear the heart of a man who is fully sold out to Jesus, and deeply aware of his own weakness. After an artful opening in which Paul exposes the pride in his critics, he closes with a direct and stirring defense of a life that was spent in preaching Jesus to the world.
Again I say, don’t think that I am a fool to talk like this. But even if you do, listen to me, as you would to a foolish person, while I also boast a little. Such boasting is not from the Lord, but I am acting like a fool. And since others boast about their human achievements, I will, too. After all, you think you are so wise, but you enjoy putting up with fools! You put up with it when someone enslaves you, takes everything you have, takes advantage of you, takes control of everything, and slaps you in the face. I’m ashamed to say that we’ve been too “weak” to do that! But whatever they dare to boast about—I’m talking like a fool again—I dare to boast about it, too. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger? If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am. God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, who is worthy of eternal praise, knows I am not lying. When I was in Damascus, the governor under King Aretas kept guards at the city gates to catch me. I had to be lowered in a basket through a window in the city wall to escape from him.
Become weak, so His strength shows through
The awareness and outward confession of our weakness is our greatest weapon against pride. These words from Paul put a fitting punctuation on that absolute truth.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV)