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Have you ever tried to come across as someone you are not?
I think most, if not all of us, have to some degree.
We may boast of achievements, possessions, or abilities that really don’t line up with reality.
I remember my first professional job out of college and trying to convey the confidence of someone who knew what they were doing – all the while knowing that I was just making it up as I went along.
The mantra I hear today is “fake it until you make it” – which is a good description of the false personas that we sometimes create and use to advance our position.
A few years ago, I read a crazy statistic that was published in Inc. magazine:
According to HireRight's 2017 employment screening benchmark report, 85 percent of employers caught applicants fibbing on their résumés or applications, up from just 66 percent five years earlier.
That is a disturbing trend and makes me wonder – what is that percentage today – 5 years later?
85 percent of job applicants lying on the resumes – why would they do that?
Because of the widespread perception that to get ahead in the world, you must present yourself as being someone you are not.
A little lie here and there is simply a means to an end.
So people boast – they tell of all the great things they have done – even if it means stretching the truth.
And to really improve you standing, you may need to knock down those around you who are competing for the same goal.
This is nothing new.
Boasting and stretching the truth have been around as long as humans have walked the earth.
The Bible provides us with a prime example of this reality in the ancient city of Corinth.
In the time of the Apostle Paul the city of Corinth was a geopolitical center in the Roman world – it was a center of trade with two bustling ports, and a city known for its arts, culture and various pagan temples.
How one presented himself or herself was important if you were going to secure your spot in society.
Excessive boasting was an accepted practice in Roman culture – their society was structured around a system of honor and patronage.
The wealthiest would gain honor by being a patron of those of lower status – they would make a big show of giving generously, sponsoring the arts and building projects, supporting candidates for office or the priesthood, and in return, the clients, those who depended on patronage, would do whatever the patron asked them to do – which included speaking highly of them in public.
Boasting of the good you were doing, and having others boast about you, helped secure your place in society.
Your actions were not nearly as important as other people’s perception of you.
What was disappointing to the Apostle Paul was that there were those in Corinth who claimed to be followers of Jesus and who were going around boasting about themselves.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we find that there was a group of church leaders who had come to Corinth presenting themselves as apostles and who were building themselves up while at the same time attempting to undercut Paul’s leadership.
And sadly, some in the church were willing to not only tolerate their boasting, but were starting to accept what they heard without defending the apostle who had labored hard on their behalf.
By reading between the lines of Paul’s letters, especially in chaps 10-12, we form a pretty clear picture of the kind of boasting these adversaries of Paul claimed in order to win over the people.
• Their speech was polished and they were well educated – so since they were highly intellectual and such gifted speakers – God must have sent them.
• They claimed to have received visions and revelations from God.
• They made it clear to all whom they met that they were of pure Palestinian descent – they were native Jews, descendants of Abraham and Moses
• And they claimed to preach the true gospel of Jesus Christ – a gospel contrary to the one Paul preached.
The fact that the church was willing to be so easily swayed bothered Paul; listen to his complaint against the Corinthians in
2 Cor.
Now it was not enough to win over followers, they also needed to undercut Paul’s influence.
They were meticulous in spreading misinformation and sowing seeds of doubt about Paul, calling into question his authority.
They were as skilled as some of today’s politicians who run negative attack ads.
We’ve all witnessed this kind of dirty campaigning.
A delegate votes against a really bad bill that contains harmful legislation, but one line in the bill would have provided some funding for schools.
So what does the opponent say “Delegate Johnson voted against funding schools!”
This is the same kind of attack Paul was facing.
As we read Paul’s response to this smear campaign, it is obvious that he was accused of being a double minded – one who would say one thing and do another.
He was accused of being one who oversaw his church with a heavy hand and held people back in their spiritual development.
They even pointed out that Paul carried no letters of reference with him (inferring he lacked the credentials for the job) – like some piece of paper is worth more than the fruit his ministry was producing.
Don’t we see the same tactics used today?
Listen to Paul’s response in 2 Cor.
Paul is making the case that proof of his apostleship is found in the transformed lives of men and women who heard him share the gospel and responded in faith.
His adversaries went on to claim that the letters Paul wrote were hard to read and understand.
In 2 Cor.
Now that is some dirty politicking!
So, how does our model disciple this week (and for the next two weeks) handle those who would attack his character and build themselves up as perfect?
He takes a brilliant and unusual approach.
Paul decides to play their game, but with a twist.
He will boast of himself, but not of his strengths and accomplishments, instead, he will boast of his weakness and the hardships he has endured.
Because Paul knew that it was in his weakness that God’s glory shined most brightly – and that was proof enough.
Now Paul’s “boasting” goes on for several chapters, and he keeps referring to himself as a fool for doing so, but he is going to play their game.
Listen to 2 Cor 11:21-30
2 Corinthians 11:21–30 (ESV)
To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!
But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that.
Are they Hebrews?
So am I. Are they Israelites?
So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham?
So am I. Are they servants of Christ?
I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.
Three times I was beaten with rods.
Once I was stoned.
Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
Who is weak, and I am not weak?
Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
Paul dismantles the arguments of his opponents not by recounting a list of his triumphs and strengths, but by listing out his defeats, his hardships, his weaknesses.
He does not wear a mask, he exposes his life to the reader and says “this is me, this is my life in Christ”, never claiming to be superior, just obedient to the will of God, and it is in this authentic, vulnerable position that Paul relates with the people and they are able to see God at work through him.
Now Paul could have boasted in his great intellect, or his specific calling from the Lord, or his great influence – but he knew that would not bring God glory.
In fact, as we heard in our scripture reading this morning, Paul shares that to keep him from becoming spiritually conceited, he received from God a “thorn in his flesh”.
God permitted an agent of some kind, a messenger of Satan, to cause discomfort, for the beneficial purpose of keeping Paul humble and dependent on the Lord.
And here is, to me, evidence of the divine inspiration of the scriptures.
Paul does not name his thorn.
This thing that tormented him – this thing that Paul asked three times for the Lord to remove – only to receive the response “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” – this constant irritant – Paul never identifies it.
And by not identifying his thorn, we are then invited to fill in the blank with our own thorn.
What is the thorn in your life as you walk this journey of faith?
What is it that should keep you from boasting – that continues to humble you and keep you fully dependent on God’s strength?
• Is it a recurring temptation?
• Is it a medical condition?
• Is it some kind of disability?
• Some difficult circumstance?
God says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”
The Apostle Paul models discipleship for us by showing us that we do not need to put on a mask.
If what you present to the world each day is not a true reflection of who you are and what is going on in your life – then you are wearing a mask.
You are lying to others and you are lying to yourself.
God’s desire is for you to be the flawed person you are filled with His presence and radiating His power, not some false image of you.
A true disciple of Christ does not need to act perfect, or boast about how great their life is.
It is when we are vulnerable that we help others realize their need to be in relationship with God as well – to be made whole.
And since we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, we do not tear down others to make ourselves look better.
That is why gossiping and spreading rumors within the church is not to be tolerated – that is not the work of the Spirit of God – that is the work of the enemy.
God says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”
What if being weak, being vulnerable, being authentic was the true way of living a perfect life?
What if to experience all that God has planned for you simply required depending fully on Him and finding joy in him – not on your circumstance.
What if true influence and impact in this world comes from complete surrender to God?
I want to wrap up by pointing to another individual whose life prove that this way is true.
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