“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Why did Paul rattle off this list of experiences that by almost any account would make someone conclude that the particular path of life he had chosen was not for them? He was boasting about why he carried the authority to call them to behave in a certain way. If they were going to claim to be followers of Jesus, then he was someone they should listen to in terms of how to do it right.
His contention is that all of these awful experiences are not evidence that he was doing it wrong (as the world might consider them), but rather evidence of his commitment to the path of Christ. All of these things are part and parcel with the life of Christ. Now, while it is at least a bit unusual for someone to face all of these in one lifetime, not facing any kind of persecution for our faith is actually the exception, rather than the rule when it comes to following Jesus.
The thing is, Jesus promised His followers that we would face persecution. We are offering a way of life that is strikingly different from how things normally operate in the world around us no matter what our culture looks like. Much unlike the world’s standards of success, the most successful followers of Jesus are not the ones who have not suffered and struggled and overcome. Rather, they are the ones who have done exactly that. In a movement in which persecution means you’re doing it right, folks who have experienced persecution and kept at it are the ones who have the most authority behind their words.
In this, Paul had a lot of authority and thus should have been the one to whom the Corinthian church was listening rather than one of these other various “super apostles” who were calling them to a slightly different (and more worldly) path than to which Paul had called them. A similar lesson holds true for us today. Given the choice between following the guy who says Christianity is hard and the guy who says Christianity will make your life easier, we should probably go with the former, because the latter guy hasn’t read the Gospels, much less struggled to live out the teachings of Jesus.