Summary: Our ability to serve God depends not on our ability but on God’s power.
There was a guy on the news the other day who’s about to become the first Australian to enter some Solo Round the World Sailing Race and he was saying how no-one from Australia had ever attempted this before. He was basically wanting to tell us how great he is. And why not? That’s how you get famous isn’t it? And that’d be nice. So I thought I might try it.
I’d like to tell you how great I am. For example I’d like to tell you what a great guitarist I am. The only trouble is: I saw "This is Your Life" the other night, with Tommy Emmanuel being featured. And they’d invited a number of his protégés on to play with him. And I realised, again, that I’m really just an average guitarist. Well, perhaps I could tell you what a great preacher I am. But then as I was preparing this I happened to look up at the cassette case on the wall with all those sermons by Peter Adam and Don Carson and Dick Lucas and the like. And I realised that I’m really probably just an ordinary preacher. In fact I’d like to be able to tell you all those other areas where I’m great, but I can’t think of any. The fact is, I’m just an ordinary person like anyone else. I’m good at some things and mediocre at others. Now some people would be depressed by that discovery about themselves. How terrible to be average! But it doesn’t depress me because I know that what I’m here to do doesn’t depend on my greatness, or on my ability. It depends on the power of Christ who works within me.
In fact as we discover in the passage we’re looking at from 2 Corinthians, to brag about your particular abilities is just foolishness. Greatness is such a fleeting thing. And it’s a comparative thing isn’t it? I may be great compared with some, but there are plenty of others who make me look ordinary. As soon as I begin to boast in my own strength or ability or power I open myself up to the reality of my own limitations.
This was what Paul realised as he addressed some of the complaints people in Corinth were making about him. Obviously there were some people who had come to Corinth on Paul’s heels, who were bad mouthing him. We saw last week how he pointed out that he was the first to come to them with the gospel. These others had only come later. And their method was to point out all Paul’s weaknesses. 10:10: "His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible."
His problem, as we’ve noticed before, was that he didn’t fit the stereotype of the Greek heroic leader. In fact he seemed just the opposite. He was weak, he suffered from physical ailments of some sort and he couldn’t argue himself out of a paper bag.
At least that’s what his opponents were saying. But he had something to say to them. He says, "OK if you insist on this sort of foolishness then let me humour you. If you want me to act as a fool then that’s what I’ll do. But please don’t take me too seriously. If I’m to be a fool, receive me as one."
Here again we see the similarity between our world and theirs. We were commenting at our lunchtime Bible study on Tuesday the way our culture seems to love those who brag about themselves. Mind you we don’t call it bragging. We call it assertiveness. We call it presenting our credentials; letting others know what our potential is. Putting ourselves in the best light. But in the end it’s mostly just bragging. And that’s just foolishness.
Still, he says, let me indulge your foolishness. Not that this is anything that comes from the Lord though. It’s just foolishness. But then, they’re obviously used to putting up with fools, since these opponents of Paul are so popular. "In fact," he says, "you don’t just put up with these fools, you even let them enslave you, prey upon you, or take advantage of you. Talk about wise!" At this point his irony, his sarcasm reaches a crescendo. He says "To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!" He seems to be saying, "Listen to yourselves. What are you saying? Was I too weak because I didn’t take advantage of you?" There’s a worldly view of leadership that too easily creeps into even the Church. That’s a view that says leadership needs to be authoritarian. It should push people around. And it mustn’t show any signs of weakness or it’s not true leadership. It’s interesting how this kind of foolishness is fed by the audience. You can’t blame people for showing off when we, the onlookers, cheer when they do it!