Growing up, if you spent any length of time around my family you would learn one thing fairly quickly, we are unyieldingly competitive. You could not measure the amount of blood, sweat, and mostly tears, my family shed in the name of winning in our home. It was not until I went to college that I realized that the competitive drive I had affected more than just games. I remember at the end of my first semester in college feeling so frustrated and defeated because I was not the best. It was not just when I was on the ultimate frisbee team or in playing basketball with the guys on my dorm floor, but also in my relationship with Christ.
I remember sitting and having conversations with people in the student dining room or in my room and trying to assert my dominance as a Christian, trying to prove why I was a big fish in the pond of Christ-followers. I remember feeling so crushed when I realized how little I knew. Eventually, my frustration got the best of me, and because I was so busy comparing my own spiritual life to the lives of those around me I gave up trying to deepen my walk with Christ. Eventually, one of my professors really convicted me and I learned of this passage in 2 Corinthians chapter 11:21b-28, “But whatever anyone else dares to boast of – I am speaking as a fool – I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one – I am talking like a madman – with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”
Paul saw the Church in Corinth was playing the comparison game, and he wanted to show them why it was unimportant. He takes a second and essentially says “It is foolishness to play this game, but if you want to play I will win every time.” He wanted to show them how little value a competitive spiritual life has to offer. Someone else is always going to have the “greater” testimony, and so you will always be left feeling cheated and defeated. To feel that way about your walk with Christ is foolishness. It is so easy in our culture to hear stories and see others, and it lends itself to comparison, both outwardly and inwardly. Often times, rather than being caught up in the pride of being the best, we become depressed and paralyzed at the thought of being less than. That is not what Christ has for us.
How does Paul follow this up? In verse 30, he says, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” He is saying, I endure all these things in the name of Christ, but what I really boast in is my weakness. Though you see all this strength as I am enduring hardships that make me such a “great Christian,” honestly, I am just a loser, and at my loss and weakness, you all see Christ’s strength win the day. We cannot let ourselves be consumed by competition to prove our “spiritual strength” but rather we should accept our weakness that we may be strengthened by Christ. We want to be the losers so that His win can be made evident and put on display. Sometimes it is better to lose.