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The title of today’s sermon is ‘the things I pride.’ While preparing for this sermon I thought about the things I was proud of and I hope you won’t be offended as I go on and brag.
I’ve been told that my audio and my visual were pretty good. In other words, I’ve heard that I had a good voice, an effective one that can deliver a sermon very well and good appearances to go along.
I am also really good at sports. When I was young, I ran, played volleyball, Tae Kwon Do and Judo. Moreover, I am confident that I am a quick learner when it comes to new sports.
I have heard that the most ideal course of study for a pastor is majoring in either philosophy or psychology in undergrad then going into theology in grad school. And I went through this course without running into any obstacles.
After I became a pastor… At the first church I was at, I was mostly with the youth groups - ranging from kindergarten to the older youths, allowing me to get an overall sense of the various ages. The second church I was at was mostly comprised of seniors, allowing me to gain experience with social welfares and systems. I also went to about 10 short term mission trips with the youth and gained experience in that realm as well. Furthermore, since the third church I was at was comprised of immigrants, I can almost say that there is not an area that I haven’t had an experience in.
Additionally I have a great personality. I am not easily angered, nor greedy. I can be patient until we are unanimous. I was given the gift of tongue 30 years ago and gift of words 20 years ago and have had many spiritual experiences throughout my life time.
Wouldn’t you agree that these things are all worthy of being proud of?
However, as we all know, Paul, too, was someone who could be proud of a lot of things. In fact, even more so than I.
When we look at Philippians chapter 3 verses 5 and 6 it says, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” The fact that he was circumcised on the eighth day shows that Paul’s family was stable. At the time, many families were unable to have their children circumcised on the eighth day due to situational issues. Furthermore, the tribe of Benjamin is regarded as the best tribe as it was the first to enter Canaan and thus being a member of that tribe meant that you were the representative Israeli.
Moreover Acts chapter 22 verse 25 says that Paul was a citizen of Rome, meaning that the family was both recognized and respected by the government of Rome, also indicating the fact that the family was quite healthy.
Verse 3 of the same chapter reads, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.” ‘Tarsus’ is the capital of Cilicia, in today’s Turkey. The city was comparable to Athens in that it was the cultural Mecca.
Additionally, being brought up under Gamaliel means that he had received a complete rabbi education. The fact that Paul was able to create a tent supports the fact that he was a rabbi in that at the time, the rabbis weren’t paid to teach the laws of god and thus had to learn in order to take care of their basic needs. As Gamaliel fits under the Hillel sector, we can say that Paul had received a reformed education.
Paul also had special abilities. “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them” (Acts 19:11-12). Paul didn’t even have to touch them with his own hands, the evil spirits left even when his handkerchief or apron touched them.
Verse 2 of today’s scripture talks about a person who was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. The Jews used to think that heaven was divided in seven different parts and the third heaven was where the ‘good’ spirits went to after death. Thus, the line can be interpreted in two ways – where one focuses on the fact that Paul had actually seen a place where God is, witnessed the existence of God, and the other focuses on the fact that it was the third heaven, one that only opens to the good people. Either way, Paul has witnessed heaven, isn’t this something to be proud of?
 In Acts chapter 26, verse 19, “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven,” the ‘visions’ in this verse is the same word that Paul used. In another words the experience might have felt supernatural and like a miracle.
 If we talk about such ‘vision’ it may sound whimsical… but actually that is not the fact. If we look at something that we cannot see, it may be similar to a dream; which is entirely different from a delusion. It is also different from personal goals and greed in the context that the vision God gave is not something you should obtain by hurting another. Anyways, Apostle Paul did not talk about his dream or his desire, it was the vision of Jesus Christ that he saw and spread.
 Also, ‘revelation’ has a similar meaning of ‘peeling veil.’ It is common to separate revelations into ‘special revelations’ and ‘normal revelations.’ ‘Normal revelations’ is universally spread to mankind by nature so it is also known as ‘natural revelation.’ Like how an artist’s thoughts reflect on their masterpiece; God’s creation, nature, reflects on God’s existence and principle.
On the other hand, ‘special revelations’ is when mankind started to corrupt, the normal revelations became distorted and unclear; therefore, for our redemption and salvation, ‘special revelations’ was emplaced. Through the prophets of the Old Testament, through the special events and behaviours in history of Israel, and through Jesus Christ we are given life- which is the reason of special revelations.
 The book that Pastor Lee JaeChul wrote, references to Proverbs chapter 29, verse 18, “where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.” He wrote ‘having no vision means to be hidden from God’s eyes. Moreover, these people will act according to what they see, do as they please, and do what they desire. This will result in the loss of motivation in one’s life. Whether these people, who have no vision, are pastors; a member of the church; or anyone else, will lose their motivation. Furthermore, all Christians must have a vision.’
Apostle Paul experienced ‘visions and revelations;’ moreover, he is boasting about his ‘experience.’ We also must experience this vision and revelation… because without a vision we will have no motive.
But, when we look at today’s scripture we can see that Paul’s boasting doesn’t end here. In fact, he says that these are not truly worthy of boasting. It says in verse 5, “I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.” Paul can boast and he has many things he could boast about, but he has chosen not to.
This is because boasting can be misunderstood. It is explained in verse 6, “But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say.” Paul will stop boasting about himself because people might praise and glorify Paul when they hear that he had experience visions and revelations.    
This shows how great Paul really was. I think I would have been very tempted to tell people and boast, so that they might overestimate my value.
In any case, Paul stops his boasting and begins a new topic. He says he will boast about “a thorn in my flesh”, (verse 7)or  Satan.
As I have mentioned, the word ‘thorn’ here doesn’t mean a small prickle that we might find on our fingertips, but rather it means ‘fragment’, ‘post’ or ‘handicap’. In other words, this ‘thorn’ is something that is large enough for anyone to see. So, many scholars interpret this as a physical ailment such as eye disease or epilepsy, or lust.
But, Paul is saying that this is what he can boast about. Why? It says in verse 9, “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.”
What does this mean? Weakness is not something to boast about, but because this shortcoming allows for Christ’s power to come through Paul will boast about it.
Paul had a weakness that anyone could see. Such a big thorn. But, he was also a man that did great things and performed miracles. So, if Paul didn’t have this weakness, people might have started to worship him. He was a man with great abilities and powers, but he was also just a man who could not remove his own ‘thorns’. In other words, he had both greatness and weakness in one body.
So, it was Paul’s weaknesses and not his talents that made way for Christ’s power to take control. Paul says that what makes him shine is not his pride, but his weakness because he knows that Jesus will use that weakness to show himself – and it is in this that Paul truly prides in.
     As a result, Paul is telling people that true boasting doesn’t make the self stand out, but it is what makes Jesus stand out.
With this new perspective I realized how foolish it was to have pride in the things I mentioned in the beginning. It also made me think about what we can truly boast about.
There is an Indian fable about 4 people who were travelling together. 3 of the travelers were incredibly bright and had amazing powers. The other 1 was completely average. The average traveler had to endure scorn and ridicule from the others. When they arrived at the forest, they saw a dead lion. The 3 smart men concluded that they could revive the lion by combining their knowledge and talents. But, the average man told the others, “please don’t bring the dead lion to life since it will eat us when it is revived.” Despite the man’s warning, the 3 smart men began their work. Just before the lion came back to life, the average man warned once more. But, the others didn’t listen. Rather, they scorned him for being scared. Then, the average man climbed up a tree and continued to watch the 3 men work. These men finally succeeded in reviving the lion. But, when the lion came back to life, it ate the 3 men to fill his empty stomach.
Beloved brothers and sisters, what do you have to boast about? Paul says in Philippians 3:8, “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” Paul considered all his experiences and knowledge rubbish compared to him knowing Jesus Christ.
In verse 10 of today’s scripture, it says, “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.”
     True boasting…what is worthy of pride comes from the way Christ’s love and power is revealed despite our weaknesses – and this is what Paul was proud of.
Brothers and sisters, I pray that this will be our own source of pride as well.