It’s Adam Phillips with you today as we reflect on 2 Corinthians 10-13 for a few minutes.
We Americans like things BIG. Big box stores, huge houses with three car garages and the extra RV garage door, extra wide-screen TVs, super-sized Big Mac meals, and big trucks. It’s not just true about the stuff we like. It’s also about the people we appreciate most. We love larger-than-life people and leaders—men and women who are decisive, strong, powerful, robust, and know it.
According to Paul, this isn’t a new phenomenon. In the Christian world, people have always gravitated toward bigness and power like a moth to a porch light. The church in Corinth knew Paul well and was significantly indebted to him, but they were ready to level-up to some leaders that were, well, more impressive to the human senses.
Paul dubs these guys “the Super Apostles.” Or as Eugene Peterson describes them, “big shot Apostles.” Teachers that claimed to be God’s gift to them—wise, eloquent, influential—mover and shaker types.
Unfortunately, we don’t have Youtube videos of Paul preaching, or picture of him in an ancient book. But based on what he writes about himself, he wasn’t too impressive to the human eye. He wasn’t a great speaker and walked with a limp. According to one ancient writing that isn’t in the Bible and may or may not be totally accurate, Paul was small, lacked some hair, had crooked legs, and a unibrow. These Super Apostles were much more pleasing to the human senses. They led with the “best foot forward”—through pride and self-sufficiency.
Paul reminds the Corinthians—and us—of something key: true power is Jesus Christ. Who, if you remember, wasn’t impressive to the human senses, either. The greatest most powerful thing Jesus ever did was the most weak and shameful to the human eye: hanging dead on a cross. He was crucified in weakness but lives by the power of God (2 Cor 13.4). Jesus Christ is true power, and we experience true power by being connected to this Jesus. The way we experience this connection is through our own weakness. In the places where we are desperate, insufficient, needy, and weak.
To emphasize his point, Paul reminds the Corinthians that he’s got plenty to boast about in the realm of power if he wanted to…and he kind of does just to make the point. He tells them that he, you know, got caught up into the third heaven–i.e. to the heavenly host, paradise—and saw and heard things that he can’t even utter. Paul could humble brag all day and attract people to himself, but he doesn’t. He chooses to emphasize his weakness, his struggles, his powerlessness.
Why? Because that’s where Paul knows and experiences true, authentic power in Christ. He learned this directly from Jesus, who gave Paul a thorn in the side so he’d remember that Jesus’ power is made perfect/complete in Paul’s weakness, not his wins and accolades.
What can we learn from this? Let’s start with ourselves.
In contrast to surrounding culture, our weaknesses are the places we come to know Christ’s presence and power in our life. “Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 cor 12.9-10).
Let our boast be in Christ. Not in you and me and all that we’re doing and accomplishing, even if it’s through Christ. Let our boast be in all that Christ is doing in spite of us. I’ll never forget the wisdom a pastor-mentor gave me in my first year as a pastor. In your worst sermon, Jesus is working through you. In your best sermon, Jesus’ is working in spite of you. Pure gold.
What can we learn about the type of Christian leaders to follow and imitate, whether we find them on Twitter, podcasts, or your local church?
A good leader wouldn’t dare usurp Jesus by pointing you to himself/herself, because they know they’d be leading you to a broken cistern. They invite you to look at Jesus. And not in some sneaky way to ultimately talk about how awesome Jesus has made them or the great things they’re doing in Jesus’ name. Whatever they offer of themselves is how they’re continuing to experience Jesus’ power through their ongoing weaknesses and failures—the portal to knowing and experiencing Jesus.
Big, powerful, and influential isn’t bad. It’s just about how we define those things and who look to. Jesus is plenty big, strong, powerful, influential, and attractive–so let’s look to him.