I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that! Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. – 2 Corinthians 11:16-27
Welcome to the second letter to the Corinthians. This appears to be the only water-related verse in 2 Corinthians and there were only two in 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 3:1-9 and 1 Corinthians 10:1-5). So far Paul definitely uses less water imagery and metaphors than much of the old testament and the gospels. His prose is generally pragmatic and to the point.
Paul is letting his ego run wild a bit here to engage in some bombastic boasting. In his defense he does admit that he is indulging in a bit of foolishness, and he makes it clear that this is the way he would talk as a fool, and not the way the Lord would talk. So why the boasting? It seems Paul is trying to make a point about what we should be boasting about should we feel the foolish need to do so.
Apparently the people of Corinth are hearing from other boasters about their credentials and curriculum vitae. It sounds like there are people trying to use their accomplishments and accolades to garner followers, without proper boasting about the One they follow. Paul apparently feels like he is being seen as a fool for his choices and some of the consequences of his actions.
Reading between the lines, it sounds like there are people who think Paul’s approach to sharing the Good News is simply too costly and hard. It also sounds like there are other “boasters” that might be leaving out important details about the sacrifices that will be required to follow the Messiah. Paul wants to make it clear that their will be difficult roads on the journey home.
Paul certainly pulls no punches with describing in detail what he has endured to share the Good News of Christ including floggings, stonings, shipwrecks, and imprisonment. This litany of what could only be described as torture by today’s standards is meant to help those reading this letter to understand to true cost of discipleship and faithfully following Jesus.
The water references come up towards the end of the passage when Paul is describing “shipwrecks”, “danger from rivers”, and “danger at sea” among a long list of other challenges that he has had to face and overcome in sharing the Good News of Christ. His trials and travels, some voluntary and some as a prisoner of Rome, have taught Paul many important lessons. He wants the believers in Corinth to know that this is a feature not a flaw for followers of Christ. It is part of God’s plan for sculpting us into the vessels that he needs us to be.
Some followers have taken this idea to unwise and unhealthy extremes through practices like self flagellation, the practice of flogging oneself with whips or other instruments that inflict pain. This practice, aside from being wrong and misguided in my opinion, completely misses Paul’s point. Pain, suffering, and trials that result from following God and sharing the Good News with others is not something to seek out or avoid. It is simply part of the new wine that Jesus is offering.
Paul has faced many dangers since his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul’s “boasting” about them is really just accurate reporting of events similar to trials that most followers can expect. We may not be flogged or imprisoned for our faith, but it may cost us financially, in our professional lives, or with our families. I think Paul’s main point for his “boasting” is that the reward far outweighs the costs.
Prayer: God help us to accept hardships that may come as a result of our following You.