Ted Williams was a decorated Korean War fighter pilot but is known mostly as baseball’s greatest hitter.
He trained pilots in WWII and when he was called up from the reserves to active duty to go to Korea, he hired a lawyer to fight it…he also called a young John Kennedy to try and help him get out of going to war.
He lost his fight and was forced to go to Korea and it embittered him for the rest of his life.
My point is not that he was wrong to feel like he had already served and didn’t want to go to war, lots of people don’t want to war and I don’t blame them…but it was why he was so angry that is interesting to me.
His lifelong controlling passion was to hit baseballs…the dream, that drove him day and night…was that when he walked down the street people would say, “There goes baseball’s greatest hitter.”
Going to war cost him some statistics…and that is what made him furious
But even still…he achieved his dream…he became the best in the world at hitting a ball with a bat.
One year doing the seeming baseball impossible…hitting the ball 4 out of every 10 times it was thrown to him.
One biographer said after watching him at bat…“If I had met Jesus Christ himself, I couldn’t have been more overwhelmed, it was like being in the presence of a deity.
But, of course, like all humans heroes, baseball deity or not…in due time, 2002, he died.
And his body was frozen in a procedure called cryogenics.
This is where the corpse or just a head is frozen at extremely low temperatures…with the hope that in the future science will be advanced enough to be able to revive the person…bring them back to life.
His daughter said that being an atheist, with no religion to provide comfort…Ted placed his faith in science and in the slight possibility of a future where he could be reunited with his family.
He is dead…he accomplished his one controlling life ambition…he was really good at hitting balls with a bat.
But he was by his own admission a terrible father and husband
His daughter said he lived with a nearly constant under current of rage…most of the time, she said, his anger was over things he had absolutely no control over.
He was a baseball god…who could in his best year…hit the ball 40% of the time…but he could not control the outcomes of his own life…and it infuriated him.
Baseball has it’s statistics…you can keep score in a game pretty simply…which team has the most runs…it’s just numbers, usually single digits…3-1.
But in individual careers…the statistics can be quite complex.
But it is those Individual statistics that measure one player against others.
Ted’s statistics, I guess, qualify him as the head “hitting” god in the baseball pantheon.
But he was grown man playing in a costume (uniform), with toys (balls and bats), on a playground (a field).
I’m being a bit sarcastic…but factually, it’s accurate.
Being an entertainer, which is what an athlete is, is a legit profession…but a terrible obsession.
And being impressed with one’s “statistics”…comparing myself with others…trying to be great in this or that…or frustrated because someone else has better “stats” than I do…is childish…and insane thinking for an adult.
And there are plenty of ways to measure a life against another…money, accolades, degrees, bible knowledge, career progression, “likes”, looks, family accomplishments…you name it, we can measure it.
And if we can measure it…we can use it to compare one to another.
I could easily judge Ted’s life and say… “you accomplished your dream, and so what?”
Your baseball stats are impressive…so what?
But what is my life’s dream…really, what is it…not what do I say it is…but what is it as revealed by how I my live…what values shape me?
We are in 2 Cor. 11 today.
Paul is going to pull out his stat sheet in this chapter and compare it to those of others.
But he is no Ted Williams.
He admits that in doing this, he is engaging in sheer folly.
In his admission of this being fool’s talk…we know that he is highlighting folly, not embracing it.
He is using sarcasm, or irony…as a teaching device to help the church see more clearly what to believe, value, and do.
In verses 11:1-6 he indicates why he is going to give his “stats”
He is concerned that they might still be susceptible to being led astray from sincere devotion to the Christ preached in the gospel by those who seem more impressive than Paul.
Paul has been defending his own apostleship not so that people will say “There goes the world’s greatest apostle.”
That would be utter nonsense to him…he defends his credentials in his letters because he wants them to place their confidence in the truth of the gospel.
He is the credible(reliable) messenger with an incredible(reliable) message.
But he is afraid that their minds would yet be misled, again, into believing something other than the actual gospel by what he called, sarcastically, the “super apostles”.
These super apostles paraded their stats to improve their status…but their lives and their message were far from the truth.
Paul specifically talks about the danger of the Corinthian’s “thoughts” being led astray by these thought bandits.
In the last chapter, 10, he wrote of taking “thoughts” captive and making them obedient to Christ.
Meaning…measuring thoughts by the truth of the gospel.
If a thought tried to take root that was out of line with the truth…then it was to be compelled to surrender to the truth.
ID ideas: “Halt, who goes there?”
It matters, a lot, what you actually believe…what thoughts you allow to nest in your brain.
A great little book was recently released entitled “Before you lose your faith: Deconstructing doubt in the church.”
The book addresses the phenomenon they call “deconstruction” they define this as dissecting and often rejecting the faith you grew up with.
The authors, in a number of pointed essays, essentially challenge people to “deconstruct their doubt.”
Apply the same level of scrutiny to their “new faith” that they did to their old one.
And all beliefs, including atheism are a “faith”
The book reveals that people are most often not rejecting beliefs they have now decided are not true…because now they have now opened their eyes and began to think for themselves…
But they are rejecting beliefs that never were fully true, or were not fully thought through and personalized.
Every person has a worldview and a worldview is first a set of beliefs…truth claims.
And reality is what it is and only one set of truth claims…is in fact true.
Paul without hesitation says the “Gospel of Jesus is the very truth of God.”
But we are not just biological computers holding data…we are persons…with hearts, passions, lives…
These Beliefs shape the values that shape the behaviors…that become a life.
In 7-15 he defends his commitment to not take any financial support from the Corinthians.
This had to be addressed for several reasons…both are a part of comparing his credentials to those of the “super apostles”
- Among the Greeks it was regarded as degrading for a philosopher or teacher to engage in manual labor to supply his needs.
Paul worked as a tentmaker to provide for his own needs…he knew this was a struggle for them.
The super apostles…no doubt, did no manual labor…they were above it.
Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? 7
He didn’t actually think manual labor was “lowering” himself…again he is using sarcasm to make his point.
- He DID take financial support from the churches of Macedonia in northern Greece but not from the Corinthians.
I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. 8
Again…using some sarcasm… like the word “robbed”…to drive home his point.
So, he is answering two of their questions:
Does Paul care about us?
Can he be trusted…is he a legit teacher?
He assures him that he loves them…verse 11 “God knows I love you.”
But then why not take their help?
He wanted to completely separate himself from the “false apostles”…the masqueraders, the pretenders…who had their own agenda apart from the true gospel.
He was the complete opposite of a mercenary…he was not an “apostle” for hire.
He took support from the Macedonians, but not in Corinth.
Now, Paul is almost ready to read his career stats…his reasons for belonging in the Apostles Hall of Fame…the greatest of all time.
But first…he tells them again why he is engaging in this fool’s talk: 16-33
16 I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17 In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18 Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19 You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20 In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!
Paul uses fools talk to make his point because the Corinthians were so gullible in believing folly.
He says “In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.”
If they are going to listen to the foolish boasting of others…then listen to his…he has better stats than they do.
Verse 21 is dripping with irony.
He is too “weak” to try and “bully” them.
They have to be thinking by now… “wait a minute, Paul did serve us and those other guys…they were bullies and arrogant…”
“They actually were kind of jerks…why were we so impressed with them?”
Because they were cool and convincing…and you used the standards of the world to measure them by.
Whatever standard of measurement a family or church or business or community uses to define what is good…what is cool…what is to be aspired to…is exactly the kind of culture they will produce.
When that standard looks like arrogance and self-promotion or any other form of folly…then that is exactly what will be produced and what the culture will become.
Another baseball deity, Mickey Mantle…also lived a terrible personal life off the field.
He came to Christ near the end of his life and said that the personal stories he had told over and over through the years for laughs and in order to look impressive…were not funny anymore.
Christ had changed his mind…and his values (what is impressive, what’s cool…what’s funny)…had changed as well.
Christ grew him up…and he was embarrassed by the immature way he had moved through life…his belief set changed…and his heart followed…his values.
In the next section Paul responds to his opponents claims to impeccable Jewish ancestry and to their being superior servants of Christ as opposed to Paul.
Remember, he is engaging in comparing stat sheets to demonstrate how foolish it is to do so…but also…to make a point.
If you actually want to compare stats…to decide on who is a reliable messenger of God…my stats, he wrote, are beyond comparison.
What anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I.
Hebrew, Israelite, Abraham’s descendants…seems to be redundant but it may be that he is highlighting his own pedigree ethnically, socially, and theologically.
Bottom line…no one has better Jewish stats than Paul does.
Now as to his service of Christ…none of them compares here, not even close.
23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more.
This is difficult for Paul to write this way, but necessary.
“I can’t believe I have to say this; it’s crazy.”
But they needed to hear it…
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 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. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
Roman officials throughout the empire were expected to celebrate their own achievements.
When they finished their terms of office (public service), they would often carve, in stone, their list of accomplishments.
Some of these monuments have survived…though, of course, the ones honored on the monuments, have not.
Caesar Augustus left his achievements in huge letters on monuments all around the empire.
And if you were a veteran of the Roman military, like Augustus was…you would also list your campaigns fought, wounds (purple hearts), decorations received.
This was all indicative of how the Corinthians had been trained to think…and it was what they had come to believe was most valuable.
Stats…stats to show what matters the most…stats to prove I am better, I am important, I matter.
Stats carved in stone…but who cares…it is all quite ridiculous.
What matters most at the end matters most now…and believe me, stats…even those carved in stone will not matter most at the end.
But this was how their heads and hearts had been trained…and it would take time for the truth to retrain them.
They saw this celebrity worship all around them…and they, like the modern church…applied it even in the church.
This is the kind of person they wanted their own Apostle, Paul, to be.
They wanted him to be cool…like the “super apostles” were cool.
Instead, they had been ashamed of his shabby presence, his awkward speaking, his blunt style…he even worked with his hands!
But far from trying to compete with the world’s standards…Paul is mocking them here
His “boast list” doesn’t have the right stuff on it.
He lists all things he is supposed to be ashamed of by the Corinthian standards…stuff that shows he is not chasing cool.
He even admits to the fact that he cares so much for them…that their struggles cause him to suffer
Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn
As I read and watch biographies of “great” people…it is most common for them to be portrayed as beyond the influence of others.
They are rocks, islands, they are untouched by what others think of them…they are their own man or woman.
Yet ironically, most often, they are childish in how much what others think of them actually impacts their moods and actions.
Ted Williams, Earnest Hemingway…are examples of men who are held up as these rugged individualists…but their moods and behaviors were nearly totally shaped by what they thought others thought of them.
And they both held lifelong grudges against those who dared doubt their greatness
Paul is not childish, like these men were.
Connected at the heart to those he loves…but free from what others think of him in determining how he lives.
Paul writes…unashamedly…I suffer when you struggle…what happens to you matters so much to you it impacts my very heart and soul.
Again, demonstrating openness in what is often seen as weakness.
Then, finally, his crowning accomplishment is a direct slap in the face of one of his culture’s greatest boasts.
For a Roman soldier, the greatest of all honors, like our own “Medal of Honor”…was called the “Corona muralis”, the “Wall Crown.”
In the siege of a city, ladders were put up to get over the wall.
It was dangerous…crazy dangerous.
If you have seen movies where this is portrayed you at least have a visual of how this usually turned out for the first soldiers to reach the top of the ladder
But in the Roman military this first courageous person over the wall would claim the “Wall Crown.”
Paul, knows about all this…so do the Corinthians.
They would understand that he is intentionally boasting of all the wrong things…when he writes this…
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands
Instead of being the first one over the wall, getting the “Wall crown” “corona moralis”…
He tells us of his first brush with persecution, and likely his most humiliating one.
“In order to escape death, I had to be lowered over the wall like a basket of merchandise.”
Hidden, hiding, and then running away for Jesus…he is lowered from the wall.
Wall shame…not wall crown.
Not cool…a grown man, a renowned teacher…scrunched up in a basket…hiding.
But then again, he wasn’t trying to be cool.
He was trying to demonstrate that the values of the Kingdom are very different from those of the culture that swirled around them.
He will continue this fool’s talk in the next chapter…but we will stop there.
Let’s finish with some application:
- We must continually take our thoughts captive to Christ
*This is where the battle for our lives begins…our ideas…our core beliefs.
To use a different analogy (if you don’t like the war imagery)…this is where seeds that become the fruit of our lives are planted.
We eat from the kind of garden that we allow to grow in our minds.
We have been given by God, great power and therefore great responsibility over what thoughts, ideas, beliefs…we allow to dominate our minds…to take root in our minds.
Paul is determined that they get truth right…because everything follows from there.
Not to freak out over every theological nuance…not to look for heresy under every bush.
But to generously and joyfully embrace the foundational truths of the gospel
Some say there is no true truth or that if there is we cannot know it.
But everyone lives as if some things are true(real) and some things are not.
Everyone is living out of their belief system…even those who say they have none.
We are confident that we can know truth…(because God has spoken)
Sure, we can get it wrong…but we can, by his mercy, get it right…and we want to get it right.
So, we study God…because he has allowed himself to be studied.
But we are to study like the lover studies his beloved…in order to know how to better love.
The truth of God is not something to fight over…or kill for…it is something to live in.
It is not something to be angry or combative about…but it is something to work hard at.
Again, not to become merely be one who studies God…but to be one who better loves God.
Which brings us to the next point of application.
- We must let the truth of the gospel shape our hearts.
Ted Williams believed that if others would think of him as the greatest hitter…then it would satisfy his deepest heart’s yearning.
His dad had not part in his life, and his mom was so busy trying to save the world that she lost her own sons.
So, Ted grew up trying to fill a hole in his heart.
But baseball couldn’t do it…
And it made him angry and bitter and foolish…when he achieved his life goal and it didn’t work…the hole had grown larger.
This is bound to happen when our controlling passion cannot not satisfy our own heart’s longing.
He was after baseball data…measurable outcomes…because he had a deep longing in his heart.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to know the truth of God so they could live in a life giving relationship with God.
Look at how he ties head and heart together at the beginning of this chapter.
But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
“Cunning” is the skill of using deceit to achieve your own ends.
Satan used deceit (twisting what God had said) to turn Eve’s mind…which turned her heart.
He used the skill of deceit (regarding truth) to achieve his goal…turn her heart away from God.
Paul wants the Corinthians to be believe truth…not so they will be better theologians or win more arguments.
So, they will live with sincere and pure devotion to Christ…loving, life giving relationship with God.
Doubt your doubt…the gospel is truth
It’s truth, not just here in our church, but in the Middle East, where it originated…and in the global south and east where it is growing exponentially.
It is truth in church, and in boardrooms, hospital rooms, bedrooms, classrooms, battlefields, graveyards, NASA, the Pentagon.
It is the very truth of God…the one true truth.
Wrap your heart around this truth…so that what God values…more and more shapes what you value most.
What shapes our values shapes our behaviors…this becomes our life.
Heads…hearts…habits…become a life full of God.