In a dressed-up culture, confidence becomes a highly valued commodity. Everything from consumer products to psychoanalysis seems designed to help build confidence and bolster ego in an "I'm O.K.; You're O.K." world.
In the midst of this justificatory jockeying for position, the Apostle Paul stuns us all with the one question we don't want to hear, for we are all afraid of where the answer might lead us: "And who is equal to such a task?" (2 Cor. 2:16). Who can really pull this off? Who is made of the stuff that can truly live up to all that we say we are and expect to be? Who can really wear the clothes well?
This is where real Christianity takes on significance. If Christians are merely selling another line of spiritual clothes to cover up human inadequacy and make us feel better about ourselves, then there is no real power in the Gospel. Anyone can go somewhere else and get a better product cover-up.
That's why Paul's question is so important; it's designed to cut through the cosmetics and show who we really are. "And
who is equal to such a task?" This is what Christians need to know before dressing up for anything. It might even be why David removed his robe when he danced before the Lord.
The human tendency is to affirm our confidence, to tell God He can count on us, and like Peter, to say, "Others may fail you, Lord, but I'll never fail you." However, we all know what happened to Peter: he forsook the Lord and three times denied he ever knew Him.
The truth of the matter is we are not equal to the task. Those who try to be have no greater fate than Peter; the rooster crows over all our great claims of what we will do for God. Why? Because if a ministry depends on me, I will tend to present a false image of myself. If I am trying to be equal to the task, I am being dishonest about myself.
First, I force myself to avoid the whole truth about me. I mustn't tell anyone what I'm really feeling toward the brunette in the choir. I must also figure out a way to cover up the stories that are leaking out about my problems at home. I have to act like I believe God is in control of my life, when in fact I feel like it's flying apart.
Second, if I am trying to be equal to the task, I present myself as a finished product. I relegate all my problems and sins to the past, or at least they are freshly conquered. I must show myself equal to the task at all costs even the cost of my own sincerity.
This is why Paul goes on to say, "Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God" (2 Cor. 2:17). Real Christians are marked by sinceritythe whole truth about themselves and the whole truth about God. Real Christians stand before people the way they stand before God transparent and vulnerable. Anything less is a dressed-up Gospel.
Insisting on the presentation of a squeaky-clean image to the world, buying into the world's system for the sake of attracting people to Christ, building spiritual empires around a charismatic personality, requiring people to fit a predetermined spiritual mold, or presenting ourselves as anything more than human beings in the process of being sanctified makes the product we peddle as illusive as worldly success. Sooner or later people will discover we are not what we claim to be. Do we peddle a glittering
spiritual image, or do we present ourselves honestly before God and man?
Then who is equal to such a task? Paul doesn't fully answer that question until the next chapter, but he implies that God is more concerned with our sincerity than He is with our capability. (I have a feeling He'll take care of the second if we'll see to the first.)
Could it be that God can work through my failures? Could it be that God can receive greater glory through my confession than through my cover-up? Could it be that God's power can be perfected in my weakness? Could it be that I am not equal to this task at all, but that He is, if I would only release Him to work through honest confession of my inadequacy?
Could it be that I am both O.K. and not O.K. at the same time? Not O.K. in myself, but O.K. in Christ? I believe this is exactly the point the Apostle is trying to lead us to, for he answers the question by stating, "Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God" (2 Cor. 3:4-6).
There are three important perspectives here that clearly distinguish godly confidence from false dressing up.
1. A different audience. "Such confidence as this is ours . . . before God." Christians stand accountable first to God. Our concern should be with what God thinks rather than what people think. The correct review of our actions is not to be found in the gossip pouring over the back fence; it is found in the Word of God and the witness of the Holy Spirit in a person's heart. Once a person has God clearly in view, the second perspective is inevitable.
2. A different view of self. A recent cartoon in The New Yorker had Christ on the cross looking down on a suited businessman and saying, "If I'm okay and you're okay, what am I doing up here?"
We aren't okay. And the one who makes God his primary audience will constantly be aware of this. There is no way you can stand before God and overlook your human inadequacies.
This is painful but liberating. People who can face and embrace their own inadequacy are the ones who are truly on the road to freedom and confidence.
"Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves . . ." It first reads like an indictment but it is really a parole. We can finally face the truth about ourselves and not be afraid. We knew it all along: behind these flaky veneers of self-confidence, we are all really deathly afraid that we don't have what it takes to live.
Real Christians realize that confidence can never come from anything they are or have talent, personality, background, opportunity for they see themselves in the light of God. In facing themselves in that light, they are left with one glorious conclusion: they must draw from another source of power.
3. A different source. "But our competence comes from God." Facing our own inadequacies leads us to discover His adequacy in us. We've been looking at ourselves all along, and we finally realize we've been looking in the wrong place.
It's as if each one of us possesses a well of human resources and talents. We can operate on our own water supply for some time, but sooner or later we're going to run the pail down the shaft and hear its dead thud at the bottom of the well.
What we do at this point is the crucial issue. We can leave our empty pail at the bottom and offer people a wishing well of dressed-up illusions and facades or we can pull it up empty willing to offer it empty at the top but trusting that somehow He will fill it for us with His living water.
This is true godly confidence, a trust that takes us beyond ourselves, a naked confidence. It's a belief that somewhere, between the deep emptiness of our own human soul and the thirsty needs of the people waiting at the top, a strange and miraculous filling will take place. It's a confidence that operates at the risk of personal humiliation; for it believes that even if God chooses not to fill us, He has something to say through our emptiness. The only ones who ever come up full are the ones who are willing to be presented empty.
Chapter 12 || Table of Contents