Paul still finds himself having to defend his honor against many who have tried to discredit him for his meek and mild in-person manner – a stark contrast to the bold and brash man behind the written word. He owns his manner, willingly accepting the criticisms – but only if they can be backed up by the facts. The facts of the matter are that Paul has endured terrible suffering on behalf of Christ – imprisonment, floggings, beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, and more. Ultimately Paul is vindicated by his actions. Only a true believer and follower of Christ would endure as much as he has for Christ’s sake. Liars and imposters would certainly have given up the charade long ago. What he does and how he behaves speak louder than his words or how he speaks them.
For much of my life my words and my actions were inconsistent with my true self. I was very eager to please and mastered the craft of becoming exactly who I thought you wanted me to be. I wasn’t trying to lie or be fake. I just didn’t want others to think I was disagreeable. If people asked what I thought of this outfit or that performance, I always used the kindest words, even if I didn’t really think so. I once had a boss that asked me if I might enjoy a research project. Yes, of course, I would love to do a research project – if that’s what she wanted me to do. The problem was I hated research. No, the bigger problem was that I had no idea how to do a research project! This was before the internet gave us instant access to anything we want to know. I stood in the lobby of a nearby library and had a panic attack because I so desperately didn’t want to fail, but knew that failure was inevitable. It was a terrible experience. But still not as awful (I thought) as having to admit I didn’t really want to do it and had no idea how to do it.
It took a long time to realize that living to please was not only exhausting, but impossible. I remember the first time I really took a chance with my honest opinion. A colleague had put on a weekend event designed to educate attendees about the problem of racism. I didn’t disagree with what was taught. But never were we given any ideas for how to change it. I left with an overwhelming sense of helplessness that we were facing a problem too big to fix. I felt beaten and accused, guilty, and stuck. Later that week the host of the event asked if I liked it. I started to say, “Yes, yeah, um… no.” Shaking on the inside, I told her my honest feedback on why I didn’t like it. I saw in her face a genuine interest in what I had to say, and I believe she gained a respect for me that day that I don’t believe I’d ever earned before. It made me realize that my values, my words, and my actions really had to be in sync. As I learned to align my insides with my outsides, I started to live as Christ would have me live. It’s not always easy, but putting myself out there to live as Christ lived is a gift.
2 Corinthians 11:16-33
I repeat, let no one think that I am a fool; but if you do, then accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying in regard to this boastful confidence, I am saying not with the Lord’s authority, but as a fool; since many boast according to human standards, I will also boast. For you gladly put up with fools, being wise yourselves! For you put up with it when someone makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or gives you a slap in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone 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 descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus (blessed be he forever!) knows that I do not lie. In 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 from his hands.