Jesus, friend and Lord,
we limit you by our notions;
help us to go wherever your Spirit leads,
knowing that your power alone
keeps us on the road of faith
now and for ever. Amen.
2 Corinthians 12.2–10
When the crucified Jesus is called the ‘image of the invisible God’, the meaning is that this is God, and God is like this. God is not greater than he is in this humiliation. God is not more glorious than he is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than he is in this helplessness. God is not more divine than he is in this humanity. — Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, (SCM Classics), Kindle ed’n, loc. 4577
Success is important, right?
The soccer World Cup is being held in Russia at the moment, and millions throughout the world have been feverishly wishing and praying for their team to win.
It was heart-wrenching to see Australia dip out in the first round of the World Cup without winning a game, though I was happy to see England get into the quarter finals. Maybe one day they’ll learn how to play the game they invented.
Success is rewarded. Failure, not so much.
Paul spent a lot of time reflecting on success and failure. He had many critics—it wasn’t all plain sailing for him. The critics said things like
Paul’s letters are severe and strong, but when he is with us in person, he is weak, and his words are nothing! (2 Corinthians 10.10)
Paul’s critics boasted about their successes. They looked down on others they thought were not as spiritually mature as them. They included the Apostle Paul among that number. They boasted of their wonderful spiritual gifts and they would order other believers about.
Paul had successes, but he didn’t boast about them. He could not boast and proclaim Christ crucified. In 1 Corinthians 2.2, he writes
while I was with you, I made up my mind to forget everything except Jesus Christ and especially his death on the cross.
That’s the Good News Bible, a slightly unmemorable reading; the New Revised Standard Version has
I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
That wording is much more memorable, but I think the Revised English Bible is much more descriptive:
I resolved that while I was with you I would not claim to know anything but Jesus Christ—Christ nailed to the cross.
Paul had one message for the Corinthians: Christ crucified, Christ nailed to the cross.
This message is incompatible with boasting, incompatible with gathering lots of money as a Christian worker, and incompatible with abuse or manipulation of any kind.
However, the message ‘Christ and him crucified’ can live with a lack of success. It can even live with failure.