December 30 I Wednesday
“I do not think I am in the least inferior to those ‘super-apostles.’ I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge...” —2 Corinthians 11:5-6
Ancient Greek culture developed a very high regard for success. Greek poets and playwrights are still celebrated today for the cultural impact they have. The Greeks founded the Olympic Games and fathered the philosophical era with great minds like that of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus and others. Other Greek thinkers established a group called “Sophists,” who trained men specifically in projecting a high-powered image of success, strength and confidence.
It is not surprising that an obsession with exuding success and confidence crept into the early Corinthian church. Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians to address attacks that Corinthian believers were making on his motives and authority. They knew Paul could write weighty and forceful letters, but they complained that Paul himself was unimpressive and did not speak well. They were of the opinion that a true apostle should be confident and well spoken, perhaps even charging money for their ministerial duties to show they were professionals. They also thought an apostle should not suffer. It would be humiliating to go through the hurts and pains of other people, and their belief was that part of godliness should transcend suffering.
Paul’s model was not the scale of Greek culture or measuring apostleship by worldly success. Paul’s model was Jesus Christ, who was rejected by Jewish hierarchy because He did not conform to their expectations of a Messiah. Jesus was discredited for associating with sinners and tax collectors, but He did not measure success by who His listeners were, the size of the crowd, the power of His arguments or revenue His ministry brought. Jesus was successful because He was obedient to His Father and reached people with the truth.
It is easy to get caught up in faulty measures of success. Churches today can focus more on offering totals and attendance tallies than on whether they are preaching the Word of God and training disciples. Many Christians are turned off when they hear Jesus’s or Paul’s teaching on the cost of discipleship, drawn instead to a prosperity gospel that says believing in Jesus will bring abundant health, wealth and blessings.
Paul affirms troubles and sufferings not only as part of life, but, far from being disqualifications, they are actually credentials for apostleship. That is why he writes, “...I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Rather than being exempted from sufferings, Paul says we are equipped to go into them, and because of them, we come to know God in a much deeper way than if life was always on the easy plain.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive me for times when I have measured my success by worldly standards. Keep me focused on You, concerned with Your agenda and not on the expectations of others. Thank You, Lord.