July 5, 2021
Smoky Mountain District
The Only Credential That Ultimately Matters
2 Corinthians 1121b-31 NRSV
(beginning with “But whatever anyone dares to boast of . . .”
Across the Holston Conference, congregations and church members are meeting their newly appointed pastors this week, and the typical introduction processes include conversations about their qualifications and descriptions of their credentials. Biographical statements highlight the colleges and universities they’ve attended, the degrees they’ve earned, and the pastoral appointments they’ve served.
Committees and boards of ministry have interviewed them. Our bishop has asked them historic questions. The board of ordained ministry has declared that they are “blameless in their life and conduct,” and they have been ordained, elected, approved, commissioned, and appointed. The various structures of the districts and conferences have deemed them qualified and granted them credentials for ministry long before they arrive in their new communities and congregations.
Apart from our life together in the church, the society around us places perhaps an even higher value on credentials and qualifications. Our students seek opportunities and experiences that will look good on college applications. Throughout our working lives, we seek accomplishments and accolades to add to our résumés. We want to hire the most qualified applicants and to elect the most qualified candidates. In some instances, we even seek the animals with the best pedigrees!
In Paul’s New Testament letters, we only get half of the correspondence, so in this case, we don’t know exactly what the Corinthians have communicated to Paul. However, it seems clear enough that other apostles have gotten the Corinthians’ attention and that they have attempted to discredit Paul, apparently by claiming that they are better qualified, more authoritative, simply better apostles. They may even have suggested that Paul is a fool or a madman.
So, in today’s passage, Paul—never known to back away from a challenge or argument—responds to their claims. He begins in verse 22 by reminding us that he will match his Hebrew/Israelite roots against anyone’s. In verses 23 through 27, he enumerates all the ways he has suffered—much more severely than better-qualified apostles—because of his witness and ministry. He concludes in verses 28 & 29 by reminding his audience of the pastoral and almost paternal love he feels toward his fledgling churches and fellow members of the body of Christ.
Listen especially close to his boasts. In verse 21, he boasts of “speaking as a fool,” and later in verse 30, he boasts “of the things that show my weakness.”
With a sense of satire and sarcasm, Paul acknowledges that it seems foolish to most to boast of suffering. Most would consider that failure and weakness rather than strength and success. Then he tells us that’s precisely his point—he boasts of his weaknesses to reveal the ways in which the strength of the Holy Spirit sustains him.
It is the presence and power of God within him—not his pedigree, his experience, or his list of successes or accomplishments—that is Paul’s ultimate credential and qualification as an apostle!
In our lives today and every day, may inspiration be a higher credential than education. May we lean less upon our work experience than upon our experience of the living Lord Jesus Christ. In our faith, witness, and ministry, may our greatest qualification be that we know our own weakness well enough to depend upon the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
Loving God, may we please believe today that we need not impress you to experience your love? May we please live with each other in this Body of Christ in a spirit of cooperation, rather than competition? May we please claim our flaws and weaknesses that we might learn to depend most fully on your power at work within us? We ask gratefully in Jesus’ precious name, Amen.