September 28, 2015
Written by Jeff Robinson for "The Gospel Coalition" on September 28th, 2015. See Full Article here.
Every son of Adam, and perhaps especially those who follow the second Adam, knows the cycle of questions well. Do my friends at church think I’m godly? How many people liked my Facebook update this morning? How many of my Twitter followers view me as witty and intelligent from my ability to command 140 characters? Do my children think I’m the greatest parent ever? Do my co-workers admire me? Do most people like me?
How much time and energy does the average Christian expend over his or her lifetime worrying about what others think of them? We ask these questions and wring our hands over how others assess us for one simple reason: we are possessed with an acute fear of man. We fear men because our fallen tendency is to desire to be made much of, to sit on the throne of our lives, to exist at the center of our world.
Boasting in What?
The apostle Paul, however, takes precisely the opposite posture, calling Christians to worry more about God’s assessment of things and less about how others view them. In the midst of warning Galatian believers of other gospels, Paul asks, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).
The apostle had far more to boast about in the sight of man than the average Christian or even the average minister. He was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Phil. 3:5–6). You have credentials? Paul had more.
The ecstatic experience he recounts in 2 Corinthians 12 ups the ante even more. He provides a remarkable account of being caught up into “the third heaven,” essentially claiming he’d been given a glimpse into paradise itself. This vision was staggering, beyond human comprehension. Surely Paul would write a book about it, perhaps make a movie, or at least take to the conference circuit to share details with the world of his trip to heaven.
In his mercy, though, God laid low any notion Paul may have had toward using this experience for his own gain. To keep him humble about the visions, he says God gave him a “thorn in the flesh”—some type of (perhaps physical) malady, though Scripture specify what. And it worked. Paul declares he won’t boast of the visions, only his weakness. Why? False humility? No. Because boasting in weakness makes much of Christ.