So we are drawing to the close of Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians (though some people think it is actually portions of two different letters) and Paul is ratcheting up his rhetoric in the face of his competition: the super-apostles. Whether the problem is that those super-apostles are there, on the ground, or that the super-apostles just seems so, well, super, strong, without flaw, awe-inspiring, charismatic, inspiring -- or, perhaps, all of the above, I don't know. But his reputation among the Corinthians suffers by comparison. He doesn't speak as well as they do. He doesn't cut as fine a swatch as they do. He does not have the mega-churches or large crowds that they do.
So, what does Paul really have to brag about?
Plenty, as it turns out.
He can brag about the hardships and persecution that he has endured. (and he does.) He can brag about how much he loves them (and he does). He can brag about his credentials as a good Jew (he does mention that). He can brag about Jesus (this is always Paul's point: if you are going to brag, brag about Jeus!). And, he can brag about his weaknesses.
Which he does -- because, as Paul writes, when he is weak, God's grace shines even more brightly.
Oh, Paul backtracks a little; he talks about his own and others' visions and revelations, as if to say, "if that's what is important to you, I've had them too." But then he goes on to say, "being caught up into the 7th heaven is not what is most important. God's grace is what is most important."
So he talks about his "thorn in the flesh". No one knows what it is. A long time ago, I heard some say they thought it was a speech impediment, like a stutter. More recently some interpreters have opined that Paul struggled with homosexual urges. Both interpretations are interesting, but actually, we don't know what Paul's thorn in the flesh was. All we know is that he heard God say that he would not remove the thorn, saying, "My strength is made perfect in weakness."
So, Paul boasts about his weakness.
When I think hard about this, it's about the most amazing thing. Do I want to boast about my weaknesses? Do I even want anyone to know what they are? What does it mean to let God use the holes in our lives, and not just our successes? What does it mean to boast in God's grace? Really? Seriously?