It’s opening night of the NFL season, so I’m going to have to let some of my male competitive nature show through. Don’t you love it when you beat somebody at their own game? The Vikings came into tonight’s game with a reputation for stellar run defense and the stats to back it up. But in the second half, it was the Saints that pulled off the shutout, and their offense did their damage on the ground. (Hang in there with me, non-football fans.) What about in your own experience? Somebody asks you to play against them, and you get the feeling that what they want is to show off their skills. You accept the invitation and then -- their bravado fades and their game doesn’t match up to yours. Admit it! It feels good to beat somebody at their own game.
Paul continues his response to the ‘super-apostles’ in today’s text. The Corinthians were putting their trust, even their faith, in the likes of blow-hard, media personality orators who weren’t preaching an accurate gospel. But the 'hotshots' had sharp skills and talked a lot of trash. The charisma just oozed out of their pores. Paul says, “If you’ll let me act like a fool for a minute, I’ll do some trash-talkin’ self-promotion of my own. I’ll use the same categories they use on their silver-edged resumes and, guess what? I’ll beat them at their own game!”
And he did. He beat them at the ancestry game. He beat them in the hard work category. He beat them at being beaten; in the suffering at enemy hands category. He beat them at the surviving dangers game. At the deprivation game. At the empathic burden game. Paul says, if those are the categories and the criteria that qualify a ‘great evangelist,’ then I’m the one you should be devoted to. If you should appreciate anybody’s prophecy and hang on somebody’s every word, it should be mine. But like Paul said at the beginning of his recitation, all this is just mimicry of the fools. These aren’t the marks of a true Apostle; the boasting points. The true mark is when God shows up in your weakness.
Serving the Lord is not a game. Leading among God’s people is not a competition or a beauty pageant. Pastoring well is not a numbers game – are bodies, bucks, and buildings really the way we ought to keep score? We Ooh and Aah over the celebrity mega-church pastors, but the mega-churches only account for 1% of all church attendance in America. The average worship service across the nation has 90 people in attendance. Are all those other pastors so incompetent at what they do; such slackers? Or are they fighting the good fight every day against a cunning adversary? Are they straining forward in a race against the wind … uphill? Are they trying to break up fallow ground, boulder after boulder against the blade?
God shows up in places like that, too. He rocks the Houston Astrodome and Dodger Stadium, but He also breaks hearts and changes lives in country churches outside city limits of cities you’ve never heard of. So, hold your head up, sister! Press on, brother! Press on in your weakness and in your anonymity! In consecrated endurance, God will prove strong. The Lord of the universe knows your name.
Pray: Crucified Christ, help me in my weakness. Through my obedience and the sacrifice that looks like losing, win many souls to glory! Let me not boast in anything but You, Jesus. Help me not to be discouraged when I’m not making headlines, or not making cash registers ring. Help me to persist in the path down which You are leading. There is my victory.