the Stone and the Oak

A journey into bible education with the stronghold of the of the oak the accountability of the stone

The human brain contains what is called the comparative frontoparietal network which allows us to take in stimuli and compare, contrast, and categorize as part of our biological makeup. Making quick decisions based on comparison must have been important in agrarian life: pick the clean fruit; leave the bug-ravaged fruit.

In their article “The culture of social comparison,” Baldwin and Mussweiler posit that “comparative thinking can be observed in humans even as early as infanthood. This evidence suggests that comparison is one of the most basic building blocks of human cognition.”

So the mechanism to compare is a key part of being human, and it has a couple of avenues: evaluation or judgment.

Aren’t those the same thing?

There is a slight difference here: evaluation means to assess objectively, whereas “judgments are emotional in nature and often suggest a moral, self-righteous approach” (Jameson).

And in James, amongst other books, it is clear that judgment should be left to God alone: “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4.12, ESV).

But in Paul’s second letter, he experiences both comparison and judgment by those to whom he is addressing the letter—the followers of Christ in Corinth.

In chapter 10, he references one of their criticisms against him:

His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech is of no account

2 Corinthians 10.10, ESV

In this criticism, the Corinthians are suggesting that Paul is not strong enough to lead them, and there is the additional insinuation that he falsely represents himself in his letters.

Ouch. This is quite a harsh judgment upon Paul, who has devoted himself to this population.

HOW DOES PAUL RESPOND TO UNFAIR JUDGMENT?

Paul acknowledges his faults but defends his character

He begins his defense in this way: “Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge.” And he goes on to indicate that he never suggested otherwise: “in every way we have made this plain to you in all things” (11.6-7, ESV).

Paul warns the Corinthians of the “apostles” to which they are comparing him

Paul even refers to these other leaders as as “super-apostles” which makes me think he is offering a tone of sarcasm. He insists “such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles for Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (11.13-14, ESV).

Paul implores his audience to indulge him in a little hypothetical comparison scenario

Paul responds to the comparisons the Corinthians initiated. He is saying, ok, pretend I were someone who boasted, let’s see how I stack up:

Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea [he continues to list the dangers he encountered]… in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on my of my anxiety for all the churches

PAUL ENGAGES IN THE COMPARISON, BUT JESUS HAS A BETTER WAY

Paul continues to make his case for why he is a worthy apostle: “l must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord” (12.1, ESV).

Did you note in this excerpt that Paul acknowledges that boasting gains nothing? If he knew that, why did he do it?

Perhaps he feels so strongly about aiding the population of Corinth that he wants to try and win their trust back in any way possible. Or—and this is not mutually exclusive—perhaps Paul fell victim to the human response to harsh judgment: defense. We spring to defend ourselves in the face of unfair judgment.

But Paul writes of his growing conceit, and how he was humbled:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about (the thorn of the flesh harassing him and checking his conceit), that that it should leave me. 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 9-10, ESV

So from verses 9-10 Paul determines:

  • God’s grace is of so much more value than the opinions of others.
  • Why would we need Him if we were without faults and flaws?
  • We should not boast of our strengths but of our shortcomings because then God is glorified all the more.
  • Weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities— we accept all for the sake of Christ.

WHERE DOES COMPARISON AND JUDGEMENT OCCUR FOR US?

On Social Media

We take the curated, exterior lives of others and compare them to our messy interiors. It’s an exercise in disappointment every time.

I understand that none of us want to highlight the low points and messiness— but at what point does what we put forth present a false version of ourselves? I don’t know about you, but my favorite accounts are the ones with a balance of the beautiful curation paired with the real and the messy.

When I started this account, it was a hard decision for me to go filter-free when I film my face on stories, but I decided that people deserve to see the real me, for better or worse. Don’t get me wrong, I still cringe every time I watch my own stories; vulnerability is not always pleasant.

In the Workplace

Are you in a position working alongside other people in similar positions? I am. Situations like these naturally lend themselves to comparison.

Though we are all made to have certain strengths and weaknesses, when we place two or more things (or people) next to one another, our human brains take note of what distinguishes one from the other.

I am struggling, for instance, with feeling like I have much to offer in the online capacity. As an educator, I have always felt more comfortable with in-person teaching situations, and here I am navigating the tech world as best I can and still feel like I am coming up short at times.

In Family Roles

Do you have a sister or brother to whom you were compared? Or perhaps you compare yourself to a sibling without any exterior influence. Did you marry in to a family and feel compared to the members within? Were you adopted and compare yourself to the biological children of the family?

Though I want to believe that all families were good about reserving comparisons like mine was, I know that just is not true. Many of you probably felt the sting of comparison and judgment just by being who you were designed flawlessly to be.

In Parenting

I remember hearing someone once say: “everyone is an expert in parenting… and then they have children.”

If you are not yet a parent, you do not yet know the world of scrutiny and judgment in which we parents currently exist: people watch how I parent at the grocery store, at a playground, at school drop-off, you name it.

This hyper-scrutiny of parents is relatively new, historically speaking.

Time was, if citizens heard about a child getting injured in an unusual way— falling from the top of a hay bale stack, let’s say—the response was usually sympathetic. “Poor child, poor parents,” was the general response; “I hope they are all ok.”

No longer. Perhaps it is our brazen online culture that seems to enhance unfriendly comments with the security of the screen to mask the commenter— but the reaction to the same situation is to find who to blame and blame them loudly: “Someone should call CPS! Some people should never be allowed to have children!”

Judgments like these take no account for human error—no account for the imperfection that occurs in all of us.

And those of us in the role of parent know that there is no harder or holier work on this earth— parents need grace upon grace upon grace.

And those of us in the role of parent know that there is no harder or holier work on this earth— parents need grace upon grace upon grace.

Speaking for myself and other parents with whom I interact, we do the very best we can with the children given to us and with the resources at hand. And it still isn’t enough. His grace has to take over. And thank goodness “his power is made perfect in weakness.”

LET’S APPLY WHAT PAUL LEARNED TO OURSELVES

His grace is of so much more value than the opinions of others. In the end, it really does not matter what other people think; I can do everything “right” and people will still form their own opinions of me. It is only what God thinks of me that matters.

Why would we need Him if we were without faults and flaws? If we were perfect, we would have no need for God. We are flawed beings—yes, even that seemingly perfect influencer on Instagram is flawed— and God delights in supplicating our needs.

We should not boast of our strengths but of our shortcomings because then God is glorified all the more. How many of us truly boast of— or even reveal—our shortcomings? We seem to think that if we share our weaknesses, we will not be accepted. And yet, the opposite is true.

Brené Brown, in her second Ted Talk, Listening to Shame, asked the audience if they thought the vulnerability they saw on stage at TED was weakness or pure courage? The audience indicated the latter.

But we as humans, and believers, don’t tend to boast of our shortcomings. God is pushing me deeper into this. He called me to share my struggles with anxiety this last March, and I felt as vulnerable and weak as you might imagine. But the response was lovely. Still accepted by my friends, I was able to boast of how God helped me out when I could not help myself.

Those of you who have been with the blog since the beginning probably remember Alexis talking about this very verse in our Sips&Scripts chat. She is a go-getter, and wisely reflected that achievement can often go hand-in-hand with chasing the approval of man and not God.

God cares not for our worldly achievement; he wants us to achieve total reliance on Him.

Weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities— we accept all for the sake of Christ.

All four of Paul’s conclusions are easier said than done—that I recognize. But isn’t Christ worth it? Isn’t he worth enduring all of the above? Isn’t heaven worth it?

It is human to hide weakness, recoil from insults, actively try to avoid hardships, persecutions, and calamities.

But that is why God’s kingdom is upside-down from the impulses of the flesh.


Comparison can be unfair. Judgment can sting. But we are His beloved, no matter what the world might try to say otherwise.

with His love,

Adelaide

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on 2 Corinthians: How to Respond to Comparison and Judgment

  1. Nicole Williams says:

    Your writing pierces and changes my heart. Thank you for sitting in the word and meeting with Jesus. It is powerful.

    Like

    1. Nicole, I am going to treasure this comment for so long! I take special comments that encourage me, and I write them in my planner to look at when I get discouraged. I am going to do that with this one! Thank you, truly.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s