Paul asks us to excuse him while he speaks as a fool, but he does not consistently get into that character. He keeps breaking voice to remind us that he is being sarcastic—because he really doesn’t want us to think that he is actually taking any glory for himself. There are parallel lines of boasting here. In the first instance, he indicates that he fully able to meet the false apostles on their own ground. But secondly, he itemizes all the ways in which he trounces them with accomplishments that they never aspired to at all—to their shame. “As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ” (Galatians 6:12).
“I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little. That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting. Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also. For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face . . . If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands” (2 Corinthians 11:16–33).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
No one should take Paul for a fool, but he begs leave to act like one for a minute (v. 16). He is not following the explicit example of Christ, but rather as an artificial boast (v. 17). Since everybody around here is plumping their resume, Paul has decided to do the same (v. 18). Since the Corinthians tolerate fools so readily, perhaps this will get them to tolerate Paul (v. 19). If a teacher abuses them, the Corinthians eat it up. Maybe Paul should slap them in the face to win their affections (v. 20). Paul is embarrassed that he was too weak an apostle to treat them like that (v. 21). But where they are bold enough to brag, Paul can keep pace with them (v. 21). In all their checklist shine, Paul is their equal (v. 22). But then Paul gets onto his alternative resume, listing the things they would never think to put on theirs (v. 23). Paul gotten beaten, jailed, and threatened many more times than they have (v. 23). He then decides to itemize. He was flogged by the Jews, 195 strokes (v. 24), three times beaten with rods (v. 25), stoned once, three shipwrecks, and adrift at sea once (v. 25). He was always on the road, and endangered by water, robbers, Jews, Gentiles, in the city, in the country, at sea, and among false brothers (v. 26). Then came the afflictions that were the result of his own vigilance—his watch-care, fasting, and going without normal comforts (v. 27). On top of everything else, Paul had the constant pastoral anxiety of how his children in Christ were doing (vv. 28-29). Being a pastor means watching people make bad choices for a living. So if Paul is forced into a boasting glory, he is going to do it with regard to all his scars and frailties (v. 30). Paul may have experienced them as infirmities, but for us, we should regard him as one of the toughest men who ever lived. Paul then takes a solemn oath as he signs the bottom of his resume (v. 31)—God is witness. And then he says, P.S. I almost forgot the time that the ethnarch at Damascus had a garrison hunting for Paul (v. 32). But Paul successfully evaded arrest as he was lowered from the city wall in a basket (v. 33). For the sake of convenience, we will call this his Romans 13 basket.
SURFACE VIRTUES AND ACTUAL VIRTUES
When Paul says that he can stay with the false apostles on their own ground, step-for-step, he is talking about things that nobody should ever be proud of. “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Paul was a Hebrew too. He was an Israelite also. He was a son of Abraham. This was like being proud of having two kidneys and ten toes.
When it came to Paul’s endurance for the gospel, boasting in that kind of thing at least makes some kind of sense on the surface because it involved choices he continuously would make. But even here, there is no room for boasting. “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Paul is in the same bind that Jeremiah was. Whenever he spoke in the name of the Lord, abuse was heaped on him. So he would resolve to shut up. But when he did that, God’s Word was a burning fire in his bones (Jer. 20:9). Not possibleto shut up.
And this is why Paul would regularly ask his people to pray for his deliverance and/or boldness, that he would maintain his courage when it came to preaching the gospel (Rom. 15:30-32; 2 Cor. 1:10-11; Eph. 6:18-20; Phil. 1:19; Col. 4:2-4; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1-2). Paul was not overcoming stage fright, or wrestling with his butterflies. He was wrestling with principalities and powers.
A BASIC REMINDER
A few times in this litany of affliction, Paul mentions dangers from the side, as it were—shipwreck, or from robbers. Robbers are actual bad guys. But the overwhelming number of strokes applied to the back of the man who wrote Romans 13 were applied to him by the established and respected authorities. Paul was not, shall we say, on their good side. When it came to dealing with him, the authorities found him angular. What was it to be lowered in a basket from the city walls, when the governor there had search parties out looking for you, and had check points at the gates to keep you from leaving? It is called evading arrest. It is called running a road block. It is called not turning yourself in at the police station. And it is also called fully consistent with Romans 13.
We are Christians, and this means that we confess that Christ is Lord. This confession entails the corollary that Caesar is not Lord. Caesar is to be respected and honored as Caesar, but never as Lord. Sooner die than confess him as Lord. Christ is the one who rose from the dead, and so all eyes turn to Him. Christ is the risen Lord.