False Paradigms of Success
In the latter part of 2 Corinthians, Paul writes to warn the church in Corinth against false teachers who could lead them away from Christ. He cranks up his rhetorical style to a level found nowhere else in his letters, highlighting the tell-tale markings of these false teachers by the way they boast about their superiority to Paul. Although Paul is exposing false apostles, the giveaways he points to reveal a lot about the world’s false values of success, because they are overwhelmingly worldly values that have been allowed to infiltrate the church.
Over the course of chapters 11 and 12, Paul uses the word “boast” 14 times to highlight
- the false measures of success accredited to the false teachers,
- how he could outrank them on each of these false measures, and
- what he sees as real merit for a follower of Jesus.
Paul’s attack identifies those who attach an unhealthy significance to money (11:7-15), power (11:16-21), reputation (11:21-33) and experience—particularly spiritual experience (12:1-10). Any of these can be God-given, but none are godly measures of success. Looking around the world, it’s easy find to christian leaders who have been seduced by these false measures of success.
Equally though, when looking at Christians in the workplace it is easy to see the same powers at work: money, power, reputation and experience being used to justify who we are and how we live because the world tells us that these are the things that count. All have capacity to inflate our self-esteem, to become our source of security and identity, and that is the problem… “I have cash therefore I am…”, “I have power, therefore I am important”, “I have reputation, so know your place”, “I have experience, which you don’t have”. Do you see what I mean?
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with money, authority, reputation or experience. But none of them should be the foundation on which we build our life, our identity or our significance.
Paul knows the potential each of these gifts has to make us push Jesus from the centre and replace him with our self-satisfied ego. So Paul, instead, talks about himself repeatedly as a “fool”, and states nine times that the only thing he can boast of is his “weakness” because the Lord said to him “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (12:9). Paul rejoices in his apparent foolishness and weakness because these things cannot detract from God; in fact, they only accentuate God’s glory.
In Jeremiah 9:23 the prophet says:
“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast of his might,
nor the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts, boast in this,
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
As you start this new year, weigh up what in your life has the capacity to replace Jesus as your source of security or your foundation for identity. What about this for a New Year’s resolution: to understand and know the Lord better in 2022, and to pursue love, justice and righteousness, because these are what our Lord delights in.
Cover photo: Razvan Chisu on Unsplash
"Counterfeit Gods" by Tim Keller (book review)
"Prosperity? Seeking the True Gospel", TGC publication (book review)
"Church Poker: How to Choose a Church – or at Least Spot a Bad One!" (article)