2 Corinthians 10 – 12 is Paul’s focused dedication to defending himself and his ministry.
Throughout the book, Paul has returned often to his own situation: his feeling of impending death in chapter one; his troubled mind over the disappearance of Titus in chapter two; the persecution he has experienced in chapter four; and the great challenges he has faced in serving Jesus in chapter six.
These have been interrupted somewhat by chapters eight and nine as he encourages them to participate in his current project of collecting money for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. He returns to them in greater detail in this section.
A student of mine once commented on this section: “I’m a bit repulsed by Paul’s focus on himself here. He’s bragging, and I don’t think that’s very Christ-like.”
But the student missed the point.
To the Corinthians, Paul was not bragging. He was nuts. What person in their right mind, wanting people to follow him (and even give him money) would boast of these kinds of hardships? They are not at all what we would expect of someone who was “successful” in his career. We are more likely to turn from him than embrace him.
And that’s the problem. The Corinthians, to give it a 21st century spin, are looking for successful ministers in expensive suits traveling first class, being driven about in black Expeditions and inspiring audiences with well told stories that motivate them to “enjoy God’s success . . . as I do.” Men of God, blessed of God, do not have the kind of difficulties Paul does. So they have turned from Paul.
Paul’s point in these sections is that he is successful. The fact that he never asked them for money (as opposed to the “successful” preachers who were always asking for money) should indicate that. The fact that they would never have known the gospel had Paul not brought it to them indicates his success. But more than that, Paul’s apparent earthly failures have allowed God to work marvelously in his life. How else would you explain what he has accomplished (far more than his opponents)?
Paul, astoundingly to the Corinthians, glories in his failures, because it allows God to work and be seen. And that’s why his “boasting” is not boasting at all, but an example worth emulating.