2 Corinthians 11:16-30 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
16 I repeat: no one should consider me a fool. But if [you do], at least accept me as a fool, so I too may boast a little. 1718 Since many boast from a human perspective, I will also boast. 19 For you gladly put up with fools since you are so smart! 20 In fact, you put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone devours you, if someone captures you, if someone dominates you, or if someone hits you in the face. 21 I say this to [our] shame: we have been weak. What I say in this matter of boasting, I don’t speak as the Lord would, but foolishly.
But in whatever anyone dares [to boast]—I am talking foolishly—I also dare:
22 Are they Hebrews? So am I.
Are they Israelites? So am I.
Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I.
23 Are they servants of Christ?
I’m talking like a madman—I’m a better one:
with far more labors, many more imprisonments,
far worse beatings, near death many times.
24 Five times I received from the Jews 40 lashes minus one.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods.
Once I was stoned.
Three times I was shipwrecked.
I have spent a night and a day in the depths of the sea.
26 On frequent journeys, [I faced]
dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers,
dangers from my own people, dangers from the Gentiles,
dangers in the city, dangers in the open country,
dangers on the sea, and dangers among false brothers;
27 labor and hardship,
many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst,
often without food, cold, and lacking clothing.
28 Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? 30 If boasting is necessary, I will boast about my weaknesses.31 The eternally blessed One, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, knows I am not lying. 32 In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of the Damascenes in order to arrest me, 33 so I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.
Here Paul revisits a familiar argument that he has used several times in this letter. But here he brings is to a conclusion, stating it in full. It goes something like this: Those who have followed me have tried to distinguish themselves by their own credentials, listing for you the reasons why they are better than me. If that is the measure, then let me tell you, I can name more reasons why you should believe in me because I have a better background, more experience now, have suffered more and have gone through more distress than all of them put together. But all of those things are not reason for me to brag. That is foolishness, to think that all of my accomplishments or difficulties qualify me more than another to preach, teach, live the Christian life. Even with all that I have been through that is not what makes me who I am.
In the same way, today, we must not be fooled into thinking that we somehow deserve or earn either eternal life or eternal merit. All that happens in our lives is not because of who we are but because of who God is. It is foolish to think that you are your own person, or that you have greatness that meets the measure of God.
Paul is not telling them of his trials so that they may feel sorry for him but so that he may show them the folly of the entire exercise. His position in Christ is not because of his actions, but because of what has happened in his life by Christ.
Do you ever fall into the trap of wanting to list for others, or even yourself, your Christian accomplishments? Do you ever sit back to rest on your laurels, not going forward in your walk with Christ because you’ve already done so much?