“Therefore I take pleasures in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing.” (2 Corinthians 12:10-11)
It’s those last four words that get me. Paul, for all his advancement in the things of Christ chooses to remain humble and keep himself in perspective. Jesus says “for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). Paul take this stark statement of Jesus one further.
When once you cross a certain threshold and truly see the grandeur and splendor and outrageous power of God, coming down from that high is sobering. Paul’s right. Without Jesus, we only have others to compare ourselves to and as such, are subjective and/or intersubjective into nothingness (That’s gentle–we’re nothing, but bear with me.). If that makes sense. And yet Paul was fine with this. Fine with the litotes of of describing himself thus.
“Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, Yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.” (Philemon 1:8-9)
Anyone the world over, whether believer or non, should have some vestige of respect for Paul and what he did. His utter devotion to a cause greater than he. His atavistic asceticism in championing something so against the grain as to be revolutionary. His willingness to be imprisoned and tortured. To be martyred, to lay down his life. These character traits are of supreme value for anyone following after. And with reference to the other apostles to which he compared himself, they had walked with Jesus. Granted, Paul (then Saul) was knocked off his horse by Jesus on the road to Damascus. His interaction carrying the weight of severe conviction for his way of life and an accompanying physical blindness to match his spiritual. The other disciples were handpicked by the Lord to follow after. Paul’s was a touch more dramatic. He had gone through ways of life and living that distilled out into the few and varied letters we have in our New Testament. His life lessons translating into the handbook from which we take much of our Christian mores today. And yet his declaration of nothingness. What is it with him? He is self-effacing but there is something deeper at work. Namely a relationship with Jesus like a deep undercurrent or a transcendent jet stream unaffected by anything on earth.
“Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:13)
When Jesus gets a hold of you and you know Him (and He knows you), you can unequivocally say things like that. You can so carelessly regard your own life as to look like “a fool in glorying”. This isn’t to say you take on a cavalier attitude to the difficulties of modern life or let yourself go without following God’s will for your life. But if you truly want to know and follow Jesus, as did Paul, He becomes your all. To where you’re lost in Him and regard yourself as “nothing”. Nothing wrong with that.
“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1-3)