Grace is accessible to all humans. It is unnecessary to boast about God’s grace, as if inaccessible to other humans. We live in a world that assumes that success is about achieving admirable things, in comparison with other fellow humans. Paul’s ingenuity, in his figurative speech, sounded contemptuously in violation of the principle of humility. However, Paul was using his communication to stress a point on the matter of faith and personal dependence on God. He aimed at his audience, still struggling with worldliness, rather than Godliness.
“Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:6-10 NIV).
Boasting is anathema to salvation, regardless of whichever form it is being practised. The boastfulness of Paul is sarcastically portraying the nature of grace as adopted by himself. It is true that ordinary people have a tendency to idolize those used by God. Paul’s statement is an invective diatribe against boastfulness. But he uses this to describe the state of humility that he was subjected to. The messenger of Satan served to keep him within the bounds of humility, with the benefits of grace, accessible to all humans.
However, humility is strangely an unfamiliar territory to those of this world. Repentance invites humility, before discarding boastfulness. The greatest state of humility, for truly converted Christians, is death. Hence, Paul stated that death was to be regarded as gain (Philippians 1:21). Those of this world resent death, reducing them to depression, after the demise of their loved ones. They are basically unaware that living in a physical body is a death sentence, pronounced in Genesis 2:17.
There is no difference between Paul and any of the truly converted Christians of our time. It may be a question of how humble those Christians would be. Paul insisted that it was no longer him that lived, but Christ that lived in him (Galatians 2:20). It is frighteningly fearful to observe some people, calling themselves, “Christians” but boastfully considering themselves as better than their counterparts. Christ cannot live in an individual who feels comfortable in a physical body.
Humility is necessary to keep God’s people in line. There is no hope for proud people to ever be in God’s Kingdom. This is why Jesus insisted that His followers were to be glad and exceedingly joyful, only when persecuted, rather than when treated well. (Matthew 5:10-12). There is maximum danger in being accorded with praises by those of this world. But there is hope when being treated contemptuously by those of this world.
The messenger of Satan may have been a person who kept highlighting Paul’s weaknesses. Making him feel embarrassed in his Christian endeavours. There are people who enjoy humiliating God’s people, rather than adulating them. The insults and persecution, coming from those of this world, should be treated as blessings, more than praises should be treated as blessings.
The advantages of being called in this life, cannot be enjoyed in this life. This is similar to the freedom fighters, going through persecution, hoping to be rewarded with political posts, when freedom has been achieved. Sadly, though, not all freedom fighters get rewarded adequately. In recent times we have observed the esteemed Zimbabwean war veterans being dragged to the courts of law, for demanding fair pensions.
Some of them may, actually, be in worse-off conditions than was the case under Smith’s regime. Their experiences provide insight into the insignificance of life in physical condition. Solomon stated that existing in this life was like chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 2:17). Several people appreciate that living in this world carries no meaningful purpose, though still cherishing living beyond a century.
Solomon stated that whatever any person values in this physical life would be as meaningless as chasing after the wind. But, regardless of how pointedly one can state such truisms, one would never be understood by some people. Those are the people that Jesus said would be seeing, but unable to perceive. Hearing, but unable to understand (Mark 4: 12). This remains true, even after approximately 2 000 years, since Jesus uttered these words.
The most important question carries the reason why people are unable to perceive even though seeing. Or able to hear but unable to understand. The simplest answer to that question is that eternity does not apply to the physical world. Those of the physical world understand only the language that identifies with a finite existence. Those who understand the principle of eternity, have no problem understanding infinity, yet also understanding the finite universe.
The parables sought to engage those of this world, to understand from their worldly standpoint. Everything that Jesus taught had a Heavenly meaning but in the context of the physical world. This is what made it impossible for the worldly audience to perceive or understand what He taught. For their perception and understanding, they needed to surrender their worldly connection.
Surrendering requires the attitude that Paul implied. The boastful ones are in the condition of spiritual weakness, rather than strength. To be spiritually strong, they require humility as the starting point. People can argue about any ism, advancing the philosophy of equality. Such communication seeks to address injustices but fails to achieve whatever would be desired.
Addressing injustices could alleviate problems. But there will always be some gap, allowing the unjust people to maximize profiteering. The tag of war is between self-centeredness and altruism. As advancing the idea of maximizing the value of other humans, altruism does not focus on ownership. Existence in self-centeredness focuses on ownership, at the expense of other fellow human beings.
It is possible to achieve better living standards in this world. History carries admirable civilizations but at the expense of other unfortunate human beings. The Greeks had an impact on the value of education and knowledge; paving the way for the Roman Empire, stretching over centuries. I suppose the Romans enjoyed an easy lifestyle.
The Jews lived under the Roman Empire, having to pay taxes. The Jews could not have enjoyed that lifestyle. One of the reasons why the Jews could not find value in Jesus is that Jesus did not criticize the Roman kingdom. To them, the Messiah ought to have helped them conquer the oppressive Roman Empire. They needed freedom, particularly, from the burdensome taxes.
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:15-21 NIV).
Jesus must have been mistaken for someone supporting an oppressive system of governance. The Herodians had been supportive of the governing system. By bringing these along, the Pharisees sought to trap Jesus into saying something that would trigger the assumption that He was a revolutionary.
Of course, Jesus was a revolutionary. But His idea of a revolution had nothing to do with worldly transformation. For instance, a Jewish revolutionary would seek to replace the existing governing system, with the one favoured by the Jews. But, even the Jewish governing system could not last long. This is just as the Roman Empire that stood then, no longer exists, today.
The condition of living in this world subscribes to the norm that anything receiving requires a giver. During the Roman Empire, the Jews gave taxes, while the Romans were beneficiaries of Jewish tax payments. The Romans were receivers while the Jews were forced to give, to buy their freedom within the Roman Empire.
If the Jews were to regain freedom, the reverse would be true, giving comfort to the Jews, instead. The Romans would then give taxes where the Jews would be the recipients. There cannot be lasting solutions, under such conditions. It is a question of rising and falling kingdoms. Generations change, where new rulers come with different ideas. This is what has caused political instabilities, throughout the ages.
Jesus brought something that looked beyond temporary solutions. True Christianity regards principles of giving as superior to the principles of receiving. When Jesus said, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” He meant that what belonged to Caesar was of this world, as compared to Godly principle, sustained in giving.
God’s Kingdom cannot be conflated with that of this world, as it is based on the Law of giving. It generates interest in giving, more than it assumes benefits in receiving. Such a way of life is not readily accepted in this world, assuming that receiving gives comfort. This is crystallized in what Jesus taught to His disciples:
“And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:40-42 NIV).
Careful analysis reveals richness with goodwill, rather than retribution. Imagine what goes on in the mind of a person who, when expecting revenge, receives more than bargained for? What is extremely amazing with humans is that even the considered most evil characters, feel obliged to reciprocate for the goodwill.
A human being is basically good because a human being is God’s image. The one aiming at suing you expects resistance, but finds himself receiving more than bargained for. This world views such a suing person as having benefitted more. But something unseen, in that same person, compels him to feel degraded.
Indeed, the suing person would be degraded. Material things are inferior to Spiritual things. The unseen condition of humanity is enriched by the aspect of giving, more than the consideration of receiving. In the eyes of the world, a person who receives is viewed as smarter than the one who gives. But such a receiver is spiritually most degraded. He may die a miserable person if failing to manage his degradation.
When Paul talks about boasting in weakness, he is basking in the confidence of knowing that material things are useless. This includes the physical nature. This is why true Christians assume dying to be gainful, while those of this world consider death to be a loss. Without Christ, there is no benefit in physical nature.
When focusing on the accumulation of wealth the person degrades himself. As a nation, Zimbabwe degraded itself by assuming that there was a gain in acquiring farms from white farmers. The governing authorities now use sanctions as scapegoats. But unable to evade the degradation the country has fallen into.
The greedy ones who accumulated more than necessary may have realized the stupidity of their actions. Zimbabwe is now a laughing stock of the world. Those people may be driving Lamborghinis on potholed highways, but, inwardly ashamed of interacting with their poverty-stricken countrymen.
There is visible satisfaction in materially accumulated wealth, leading to boastful interaction with other people. But there is also invisible satisfaction in spiritually accumulated wealth, causing humiliation by the rich of this world. It is now the inner being to decide between the two choices. The only sad reminder is that the wealth of this world ends at the person’s physical demise.
Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from the current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing relief to those having witnessed the strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. In a simple conversational tone, most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long-awaited providential oasis of hope.
The Print copy is now available at Amazon.com for $13.99
Also available as an e-copy at Lulu.com for $6.99