What do you Boast About?
If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.
2 Corinthians 11:30
What do we look for in a leader? Maybe someone with a forceful and charismatic personality, or someone with a distinguished education who can impress us with their intelligence. Maybe someone who seems able to get along well in the world – well respected, successful, brimming with self-confidence. A leader should be an excellent public speaker, skilled at appeasing every constituency. A leader should look the part: being tall, attractive, and well-dressed doesn’t hurt.
What do we look for in a ‘religious leader’? Do we seek out the same qualities?
The Corinthian Church was seeking in a spiritual leader someone who met all of the criteria of a secular leader. The congregation of recent converts took its inspiration from the social outlook of the day. They soon began to find fault with the apostle Paul. Why?
The Corinthian Church boasted of its success, but Paul boasted in his weakness.
Boasting was a regular feature in the Corinthian Church – a prized activity! The phrase, “I must go on boasting!” (kauchasthai dei) may even have become a slogan of sorts in the church. Boasting in both subtle and not so subtle ways might even have developed ‘spiritual’ overtones: perhaps by hearing about the success of the church, the world will be drawn in!
But this was a problem. It meant the Corinthian Christians had adopted the same values and attitudes as the society around them. They had the same obsession with self-exalting behavior, the same drive to excel over their neighbors, the same regard for arrogance and contempt for humility, and, ultimately, the same compulsion to boast.
Naturally, the church expected its leaders to share in this self-confidence and self-commendation. However, Paul recognized that the Corinthians gravitated towards leaders who made slaves of them, took advantage of them, put on airs, and struck them in the face (2 Cor 11:2o). So, instead, Paul chose to appear weak before them.
Paul responded to the Corinthians by adopting a position which represented the exact antithesis of what they would have desired in a religious leader. While the Corinthians found his position offensive, Paul insisted that it actually worked for their good. Paul was teaching through his own actions what it meant to be a Christian: a follower of Jesus Christ, who emptied himself, though he was the fullness of God.
Paul boasted about his narrow escapes – being lowered through the wall while hiding in a basket – rather than his victories. He boasted in “infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Cor 12:10)
Paul’s glorying in his weakness was deeply ironic. It turned worldly boasting on its head in an almost comical way. At the same time, it was also profoundly straightforward. Paul was pointing people to their new position in Christ, and Christ’s complete sufficiency for them in their weakness. In his emptiness, Paul was filled with Christ’s fullness – ‘for when I am weak, them I am strong.’