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, 26I 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. (2nd Corinthians 11:24-30)
I would say “I’m afraid my last post may have ruffled a few feathers”- but I’m not really afraid, I’m sure. And I wouldn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable or bitter. It’s just that there is a very important lesson to be learned here.
Our comfort, our temporal happiness, is of no value unless it brings glory to God. Our success for the sake of success is useless- but our success for the sake of His honor is everything. Our happiness for the sake of happiness alone is selfish- our joy for the sake of spreading that joy is worthy. Possessions for the sake of status are idolatrous- wealth for the sake of upholding one another brings God glory. And the list goes on and on.
Now, I ask this in all seriousness- who among us is so sure of their own value that they think that the Creator of All would deign to give them something for the sole purpose of their own temporary pleasure? Now that question is double-edged, because I do believe that God takes great pleasure in our happiness. After all, he’s painted sunsets that could shake you to the tips of your toes, he’s made fruit so sweet it makes your blood sing, he gave us SEX- obviously pleasure means something to God. But pleasure for the sake of pleasure alone? It’s empty.
The book of Ecclesiastes gives interesting counsel. It says that all a man’s labors are a “mere chasing after the wind”, they will be destroyed by sun and famine and turn to dust. So what are we to do? Praise God when our cups are full, enjoy our spouses, take pleasure in what little good life has to offer. And in the end, praise God, who pours rain down on both the good and wicked.
So is it all folly or not? I find it interesting that Paul boasts not about his many successes, but that he does so ironically about his many percieved failures. I wouldn’t think that being beaten, shipwrecked, and jailed would be the height of his career. But yet he puts it forward as such- why? Because it is in the fact that he has been beaten so many times and still gone forward, that he has been jailed and released, that he has been on the verge of death and still lived that God is glorified.
Think of Joseph, who was sold into slavery, falsely accused and jailed but through being so he managed to save his people. Or Esther, that symbol of feminine strength, who had to trade her body for the queenship in order to save her people. These are good, god-fearing youth that had to have gone through incredible pain in order to get to the point that they saw God’s will fulfilled. Or Daniel, as another example, whose faithfulness was “rewarded” with a trip to the Lion’s den. Shadrac, Meshac and Abednigo, who were nearly martyred. Or the countless real examples of those who were faithful and died.
Should we curse God?
Heaven forbid it. We should praise him. Why?
Because despite his sending rain on both the good and the evil, he does care about us deeply. Not about our temporary happiness, but about the deep and abiding joy that comes only from knowing that your life will serve a greater purpose. Whether that life be “blessed” or cursed with bad fortune, either way you can live it as such that your life causes people to praise God’s name.
It may not get you a mansion and a porsche and a good performance review from your work- but leave those things for materialistic fools.
If I am to boast, I will boast of my weakness, so people can see God’s work in me that much more clearly.