The great American poet Henry David Thoreau said “If I seem to boast more than is becoming, my excuse is that I brag for humanity rather than for myself.” I like that.
The truth is most of us who were raised with an expectation of decorum, dignity, and virtue were raised to avoid boasting as it was unbecoming of a humble man. And, usually, that is true. Boastful people tend to be those folks who are all talk and no action and they inflate their accomplishments to boost their egos. Certainly not the character of a humble man who realizes that his very life is a gift and the purpose of life is to be grateful.
And yet, there is a boasting that actually leads to humility and gratitude.
Let’s look at our lesson today in 2 Corinthians 11:21-33; 12:1-9. Here’s the portion we will focus on today:
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed for ever, knows that I do not lie. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped his hands.
I must boast; there is nothing to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows — and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I wish to boast, I shall not be a fool, for I shall be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
St. Paul is attempting to give these immature Corinthians the spiritual tools to grow up in their faith so that they will become “like Jesus Christ.” And the path to this maturity runs through the humility of boasting about your own weakness!
Paul uses an event in his own spiritual life that illustrates the power of realizing your confession of your weaknesses invites the grace of God to heal you and lift you up. He tells the Corinthians about “a man” who had an incredible vision of eternity. Of course, this “man” is Paul himself but he’s illustrating the way to be humble in your boasting! He speaks of himself in the third person to draw attention to the revelation of truth rather than the fact that it was he who had the vision. Paul’s boasting is about the gift of God and the grace of God Who uses a former persecutor of the Church and a man who used to be proud of his place in the nation of Israel as a leader and a judge. In another place, Paul calls all his accomplishments before he came to Christ as “dung.”
You see, it is only in boasting about how much God has provided that puts my weakness in perspective and allows God’s grace to protect me from pride and despondency! If I am bragging on how good God has been to me with all my weaknesses, I am free from thinking I did this all by myself AND I’m free from seeing my weaknesses as faults that I can never overcome!
Today, what do you boast about? You will grow in your faith when you learn the power of looking directly at your weaknesses and offering them to God for His grace and strength to forgive you and heal you so that you know that all your life is a gift that is meant for you to gratefully live Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, I confess my weaknesses, but I also rejoice in my weaknesses because when I recognize them I can embrace repentance which brings Your grace to heal me and make me like Christ. Help me, Lord, to see the confession of my weaknesses, my faults, and my mistakes as the wonderful opening of the door of repentance, Your grace, and mercy, and the power of the Holy Spirit to make me like Jesus Christ! Amen.