In our destructive self-awareness we assume that we need to fulfil a great range of criteria in order to be accepted not only by God but also by our fellow humans and fellow Christians. In fact, we may well be humble enough to recognize that grace is our only hope in the presence of God, but we continue to feel an urgent and compelling need to meet a list of criteria which will satisfy the perceptions and expectations of others.

And we are not being paranoid in this urgency, we are being realistic, for it is quite obvious that people, including other Christians, accept, reject and acknowledge us on the basis of who we are and what we do.

Yet the Gospel calls us away from this tyrannical domination of the opinions of others and into the glorious freedom of grace.

This tension between the need to impress others and the freedom of grace is demonstrated in the testimony of Paul in 2Corinthians chapters 11 and 12.

Because of the presence of false apostles and the apparent preference that believers were giving to these men because of observable criteria, Paul felt constrained to remind the Corinthian believers that he himself filled these criteria and more; that in terms of external religious criteria he actually surpassed these false apostles; that he had more to boast about, if he were so foolish, than they did.

Yet, he said, all of these impressive attributes and experiences on which he might base his significance, and because of which he might claim recognition and respect, are irrelevant. Even physical health and strength are irrelevant. Anything which might be considered by men to be the cause or the evidence of God’s blessing or presence is irrelevant.

At the bottom line it does not matter what our physical, national or religious credentials are [2 Corinthians 11:22]. It does not matter how much we have served the Lord [11:23a]. It doesn’t matter how much hardship and suffering we have encountered in serving the Lord [11:23b-33]. It does not matter what spiritual experiences we have had [12:1-6]. It does not matter whether we are physically strong or physically sick or diseased [12:7-10].

Even physical weakness, despised and misinterpreted by men, is not an evidence of God’s withdrawal or God’s judgement. Rather, it is in the context of weakness that the presence and the power of God are most clearly seen.

Only one thing is relevant. On this one thing should we ground our hope and our security before God and before men: this thing is grace.

In the presence of the many things in which Paul might boast, and in the presence of the weakness because of which he might feel rejected or despised, the word of God sounded: ‘My grace is sufficient for you’ [12:9]. Do not be confident and courageous because of your perceived or obvious strengths. Do not be cowed or confounded because of your perceived or obvious weaknesses.

God’s grace is sufficient. God’s grace is all we need. Before God. And before men.

May we all live in the liberty of this grace, and allow to each other this same liberty.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2010