Crown of Thorns2 Corinthians 11:16-33Theme: Boasting in weakness.This week’s lessons teach us that our weakness reveals God’s strength. LessonIf Paul was boasting of his apostleship, he could have said quite rightly, “Look at all the churches I have founded. Look at all the people who have come to Christ through my ministry. Look at all the difficulties I went through to plant the banner of Christ in foreign soil.” But he did not say that. Instead he pointed out that he was in prison more frequently and flogged more severely. He was exposed to death again and again. He was beaten. He was misused. He was stoned. He was shipwrecked. These are all things we would think of negatively. And yet, these are things Paul endured for the sake of the glory of proclaiming Jesus Christ, his Lord.
All that he endured for the glory of Christ is Paul’s crown. This is what the Lord Jesus Christ himself counts for honor and for what he awards crowns. When I think of that, I cannot help but contrast this list with the list Paul gave in Philippians concerning the kind of things that he was trying to accumulate in his life before he met Christ. He wrote “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Phil. 3:4-6). Before Paul met Christ, those were the things that he boasted about. But after he met Christ and found out what righteousness really is, he counted all those former accomplishments as absolutely nothing. In fact, he counted them as worse than nothing because they were keeping him from Christ. So, he wrote them all off. He counted them refuse for the sheer joy of knowing Jesus.
But now notice, having repudiated those things that he had considered accomplishments and having come to know Jesus Christ, he was so enraptured by the love of Christ that he endured every hardship, suffered every persecution, in order that he might make Jesus Christ known. What he did, he did not for his own glory, but out of love for Christ. After his conversion he not only exceeded the things that were being done by the false apostles, but even exceeded his own former accomplishments.
And so I put it to you in this way: What are you doing? What are you enduring for the sake of Jesus Christ? You and I cannot invent persecutions. We live in an age and a place where those things do not happen very frequently. We are not flogged, or stoned, or shipwrecked–though some Christians in difficult places do endure very similar things. But there is a part of that in which we can participate. Paul talks about his labor, and his toil, and his work. Those are all things that we can do. A word of warning: if you try to do that in order to earn heaven, Jesus Christ will reject all your efforts. But if, out of love for Christ, you labor, and work, and toil, then one day in heaven, there is going to be a great graduation ceremony. Jesus is going to hand out the honorary degrees and he will say, “Well done! Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” And we will join the Apostle Paul and those others who have labored in the Gospel at great personal cost before us.
For what does Jesus Christ award crowns?
What is the only acceptable motive for serving Christ?
ReflectionHave you been called to forego something or someone for the sake of the Gospel? If you aren’t sure, think back on those things God has denied you. If you responded with biblical obedience, did God’s withholding enrich your faith and personal ministry? If so, that is one indicator that you have been given the privilege of suffering for Christ’s sake.
PrayerRead Psalm 73:25-56, then ask God to give you an undivided heart like the psalmist’s.