Michael Jordan is hands down the greatest basketball player to ever live. Need some proof? 30.1 points per game, 6 time NBA champion, 6 time NBA Finals MVP, 5 time NBA MVP, 14 time NBA all-star, 3 time NBA all-star MVP, 10 time NBA First Team, NBA Defensive Player of the Year, 9 time NBA All-Defensive First Team, NBA Rookie of the Year, 10 time NBA Scoring Champion, 2 time gold medal winner, NCAA champion at the University of North Carolina. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg—I could go on with his list of accomplishments if you want me to.
Michael Jackson is the best performer of all time. Need me to support my statement? Ok, I’ll start with some of the major awards—26 American Music Awards, 13 Grammy Awards, 31 Guinness World Records, 75 MTV Awards, 86 Billboard Awards, and so on and so on. In total, Jackson won 748 major awards throughout his lifetime as a performer. And oh, did I mention that the “King of Pop” has not just one but two stars in the Hollywood Walk of Fame?
Jerry Rice is undoubtedly the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) when it comes to football. He is the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. He was rated as the #1 player of all time by NFL.com. He is a 3 time Super Bowl champion, a Super Bowl MVP, a 10 time First Team All-Pro, Pro Bowl MVP, 2 time Offensive Player of the Year, a member of the 1980’s and 1990’s All-Decade Team, and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
If you want to prove your worth or value to someone, you point them back to your resume of accomplishments. If you are looking for a new job, you may point back to your company-leading sales records. If you’re trying to get into a prestigious graduate school, you may point at your impressive undergraduate GPA. And if you’re trying to get the last piece of cake at a family gathering, you may point at your “World’s Greatest Granddad” mug.
When we are trying to prove a point or get somebody’s attention, our accomplishments are the greatest defense lawyer we could hire.
The apostle Paul found himself in one of those types of situations where he needed to prove his worth in 2 Corinthians 10-11. Apparently there was already some division in the early church among its leaders (I know, conflict in the church? Crazy!). Certain men were trying to elevate themselves up the ranks of the young church’s leadership—they called themselves “Super Apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5). And like any modern day Politian, in order to elevate their own stock they were quick to criticize the character of others—particularly Paul’s.
These “Super Apostles” said that Paul was, “…timid when face to face…” (2 Corinthians 10:1, NIV) and, “…[Paul’s] letters were weighty and forceful, but in person he [was] unimpressive and his speaking amount[ed] to nothing” (2 Corinthians 10:10, NIV). This is the context that Paul found himself in in 2 Corinthians 10-11 when he decided it was time to speak up for himself and defend his ministry. In fact, if you look at the heading above this passage in 2 Corinthians 10, you will notice that it is even titled, “Paul’s Defense of His Ministry.”
So what’s Paul going to point to as he makes his defense of his legitimacy as an apostle? Well, before we talk about what Paul used as his primary evidence, let me ask you a question, what would you point to if you were in Paul’s shoes? Maybe you would brag about being taught by Gamaliel (Acts 5:34)—one of the most respected teachers of his day. Maybe you would brag about your former high ranking position in the prestigious and well-respected religious group known as the Pharisees. Or maybe you would start rattling off all the Scripture you had memorized to prove your point.
But in an unforeseen twist, none of those are the paths that Paul chose to take when defending his ministry in front of the naysayers. Instead, when proving his worth to these “Super Apostles,” Paul rhetorically asked, “Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served Him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27, NLT).
At first glance it is a little strange that Paul chose to use his struggles as his primary evidence of the strength of his relationship with Christ, wouldn’t you agree? We tend to equate a strong relationship with Christ with a blessed, easy, and pain-free life. But right here in 2 Corinthians 11, Paul seems to argue the exact opposite. It is often not in our victories and comfort that God is most clearly revealed to the world around us, but rather when He carries us through storms and struggles.
Just look at Paul’s list above, how could anyone survive such persecution and continue to preach the very message that got them in trouble in the first place without the supernatural peace of Christ guarding their heart and mind (Philippians 4:6-7)? How could anyone get up after beating after beating and continue to offer forgiveness to the very people who struck them across their back without a divine calling to do so? And why would anyone give up a life of comfort and ease like Paul did to follow some Carpenter from the little town of Bethlehem unless you truly believed that there was something different about this Guy?
Paul realized something that we should all take to heart—our maturity in Christ is not proven by how much we know or how in love with God we are when times are good. Instead, the strength of our devotion to Christ is proven when times are tough, when the stack of bills outweigh the stack of cash, and when life leaves us beaten and bruised. It’s in those times of desperation when you discover who truly loves God and who was just following Jesus to see what they could get out of Him.
Don’t be ashamed of the scars life hands you, they are your resume of your devotion to God.
Grant Gaines is the Dean of Men at the Kanakuk Institute and a proud Texan from the University of Arkansas.