Series on II Corinthians, III The Defense of Paul's Apostleship, B Caring, 2 Boasting in Weakness, Text: 11:16-12:10, Title: Tradition and Truth

Introduction

In his poem “The Singer” Calvin Miller pictures Christ as a royal troubadour who comes to Jerusalem. He is the only one who can sing the ancient star song of God. He sings that earthmaker loves neither shrines nor holidays, he loves only men. Life is the song and not the shrine. The high priest, called the grand musician in the poem, says of Jesus, "men of terra, he sings a lie. Earthmaker loves the shrine. He has loved it for a thousand holidays. Eventually the crowd takes up the song of the high priest and grand musician and they sing “keep thy shrine a sacred place for practice of thy timeless lore of ancient holy men who taught us great traditions we adore.”  In the end they are deceived. They substitute the visible for the invisible and tradition for truth. They crucify the Lord, and they reject true freedom. The music of heaven requires a circumcised ear. Jeremiah 7: 1-8 reminds us, The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, “stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who enter in at these gates to worship the Lord!’  Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these.’  For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. These Corinthian people are being deceived, degraded, defrauded, and devoured.   They are dupes of deception in desperate need. So Paul does what he hates, He boasts as a true Apostle only because the deceivers had been carrying on a campaign of boasting. He says in verses 16-21, I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting.  In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.  Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise!  In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face.  To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!. Paul is the delivery man for the only authentic message of life and hope. Paul speaks of three things, his stock, his sufferings, and his strength in the Lord. In each of these we see a parallel with Christ.

I Boasting of his Stock

Paul boasts first of his heritage in verses 21 and 22, What anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about.  Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites?  So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants?  So am I. In Philippians 3:4-6,  Paul despises his heritage. He says, Though I might have confidence in the flesh if anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so. Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel,of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, concerning the law, a pharisee, concerning zeal persecuting the church, concerning righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, I counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all, things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my lord for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him. You cannot reconcile this with false teachers who were evidently Judaizers, that is, people who wanted everyone to become circumcised Jews before they could be Christians. Paul says, so what, as a Hebrew, I am Abraham's descendant, and it doesn’t matter. In relation to Christ my pedigree is immaterial. Matthew begins his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham. He really is the king of Israel, but they rejected him, precisely because he said pedigrees don't matter. What matters is being born again. What matters is repentance and faith in Him. This is the foolish choice the people make. it’s like the fans of the Tampa Bay Bucs, or the Devil Rays or whatever your local teams. We cheer when they’re winning, and boo when they’re losing. The people decided for the shrine of bondage and not for the song of the Savior.

II Boasting of his Sufferings

The peril, the persecution, the pressure set forth by Paul here in the most complete catalog of his sufferings is more than impressive. Verses 23-33 are a staggering statement, Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands. The false teachers suffered little, or nothing. They came in riding on Paul's coat tails and tried to undermine his teaching. Did Paul's sufferings witness to his integrity? Yes, and more, they witnessed to the truth of the gospel he preached. If Jesus was not raised, Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his first letter then our faith is in vain! And, if Jesus was not raised Paul's sufferings are in vain. He says in I Corinthians 15, If the dead are not raised, let us eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. In the same way the sufferings of our precious Savior remind us of the truth of His gospel. Do you know how many religions tell you that your suffering determines your salvation? Try all of them. Islam, Buddhism, liberal Christianity and Romanism, Taoism, Spiritism and the rest. Do you get the picture? Only Christ brings you salvation through His sufferings. Paul suffered, but there is one of whom Isaiah wrote, 53:3-6, He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Who is the servant of the Lord whose sufferings save you if you believe? Jesus is the suffering servant. The crowd who cheered Jesus at his triumphal entry later despised Him. They, like the Corinthians, wanted to go back to the old way of climbing up to heaven. They failed to see that heaven had come down. They opted for the shrine of bondage and not for the song of the Savior. Reformation comes from truth and not from tradition.

III Boasting of his Strength

And so Paul's final boast is most unusual. In 12:1-10 he tells of an ecstatic experience even he himself did not fully understand. I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say. To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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. Paul knew that he had been caught up into the presence of God; that's the third heaven, and that he heard things which could not be uttered. The language of heaven echoed in his ears. The ancient star-song of earthmaker had been sung in his hearing in all its glorious fullness. He had heard a symphony of glory. The surpassing marvel of it was so great that it was not possible for a man to experience that and remain humble and dependent, and so he was afflicted. We do not know the affliction. Many suggestions have been offered. The most frequent are a disease of the eyes and malaria. It matters little. The point is that Paul prayed three times for this thorn in the flesh to be removed and God's answer was My grace is sufficient for thee, my power is made perfect in weakness. Paul the sinner could not handle the revelation! So Paul says I will boast of my weaknesses so that Christ's power may rest on me. This certainly puts to death all those foolish teachers who insist that we should be healed of our earthly ailments without exception. The ailments have another purpose. They also remind us of our Savior. The focus has turned from power to weakness. On Good Friday the focus was on weakness. Where was God? He was on the cross. The world cannot pay a hilarious tribute to Jesus. The only tribute is on your knees. As Calvin Miller writes of the death of the singer, Christ, he defines vengeance for us. "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; a fair, satisfying, and rapid way to a sightless, toothless world." The triumphant Christ is a messenger of vengeance in the minds of the people, but the Christ of Good Friday can never be anything but mercy. In the garden he besought His Father three times according to Matthew 26, Father if it is possible may this cup be taken from me. The answer was my grace is sufficient for thee for my strength is made perfect in weakness, and so he died for our sins and his weakness becomes our salvation.

Conclusion

Do we look at outward power, or like Christ and Paul, do we see that the power of his suffering in weakness is the only thing that can save us. Make the choice. Choose mercy, not vengeance, choose grace not law, choose the song and not the shrine.