Have you ever felt as if you were swimming upstream against a current of paperwork?When I plunged into the seminary application river, I expected an invigorating swim. Instead, I was swept away by the details that flooded my mind as I sought to enhance my rÃ©sumÃ©. Two weeks later, I finally managed to wade ashore, soaking wet, but triumphantly clinging to a single sheet listing all my shining achievements and spiritual victories. Yet before I had fully savored the moment of accomplishment, the Holy Spirit quietly reminded me of the utter frailty of my good deeds in comparison to the Saviorâ€™s cross. Suddenly, my mindset was turned upside-down, and the paper that listed my triumphs crumpled into a soggy mess.
The Gospels describe Jesus overturning the common everyday expectations of His world. The Kingdom of God belongs to the poor and persecuted, not the rich and coddled; the meek inherit the earth, not the strong and pushy. Those who are crying out for justice will be satisfied; those laughing at othersâ€™ expense will soon cry.
Even today, Jesusâ€™ upside-down kingdom still flips our way of thinking. And that is why, as I perused my sparkling rÃ©sumÃ©, I couldnâ€™t help but wonder if maybe I had gone about citing my accomplishments the wrong way. Followers of Jesus boast not in their strengths, but in their weaknesses.
So, I asked myselfâ€¦ what if I sent in a different rÃ©sumÃ© â€“ one that better reflected the upside down way of life that Jesus lived and preached? What if I crossed out all my spiritual accomplishments and instead listed my failures, my hurts, doubts and times of disillusion? Would I still make it into seminary? Probably not. After all, my rÃ©sumÃ© is just one in a hundred – each representing a serious student competing to gain admission to seminary. If Iâ€™m going to get in, my accomplishments have to stand out.
But in 2 Corinthians 11, Paul fills out a rÃ©sumÃ© that completely goes against what anyone would expect. Would he have made it into seminary?
In Paulâ€™s day, when Roman armies attacked a city, the soldiers either forced the gate or used ladders to hurdle the wall. Of course, the enemy threw down anything and everything (rocks, boiling oil, etc) to prevent the invaders from gaining victory. Just making it over the wall and into the city demonstrated a truly heroic feat. The first soldier to accomplish this death-defying act of bravery would receive the corona muralis (â€œthe crown of the wallâ€).
In Paulâ€™s upside-down rÃ©sumÃ©, we read about the time he managed to go over the city wall. Except that in his case, he wasnâ€™t victoriously entering the city to claim it for the King. Rather, he was fleeing the city, under the cover of darkness, by being lowered over the wall in a basket. Here is the great Apostle Paul, frightened and cowering in a basket, hoping to escape the city before being caught and executed.
Paulâ€™s self-written letter of recommendation continues, but he doesnâ€™t boast of his accomplishments. He cites beatings, shipwrecks, public humiliation, imprisonment, and the time God seemingly abandoned him to drift in the sea for a whole day and night. He speaks of the dangers posed by fellow Jews, Christian hypocrites and common thieves. He mentions exhaustion, hunger and poverty. Is this the victorious Christian life that God promised? Where is his list of achievements? Where is his sense of pride of all that God has done through him?
If his letter of recommendation is going to convince the Corinthians that he is a true apostle and that the â€œsparklingâ€ apostles who are disturbing the church are indeed false, then he better come up with a more impressive rÃ©sumÃ© than this! After all, if heâ€™s going to assert his apostolic authority, he had better prove to his people that heâ€™s a true apostle.
And somehow, thatâ€™s the whole point. Paul (tongue-in-cheek, of course) lists his weaknesses, hardships and failures in order to prove that he is a true apostle and the â€œsuper-apostlesâ€ handing out letters of recommendation shinier than his are in fact the fakes. Being a follower of Jesus and a citizen of His upside-down kingdom means that what would normally be held up as worthy of praise and proof of authority is struck down, and what would normally be considered shameful and proof of failure is put up in its place.
I doubt Jeremiah would have made it into seminary. After all, he preached for a whole generation and never saw a single convert. What about Elijah? Oh yes, he had that shining moment on Mount Carmel, but that was right before he fled into the desert grouchy, depressed, and suicidal. Would Moses have made it in? Background checks would have ousted his chances because of manslaughter. Surely Job would have been accepted into seminary. His story is the picture-perfect â€œHe has made me gladâ€ example of the Christian life, isnâ€™t it? (Well, at least he might have qualified for a low or no-income scholarship.) I doubt the admission staff would have even considered Timothy the Timid or Joseph the Jailbird.
And then thereâ€™s Jesus. The self-proclaimed Messiah of Israel faced temptation in the wilderness, agonized over His future while suffering in the garden, and burst into tears before making His grand entrance into Jerusalem. The King of Israel received a crown all right, – one full of thorns that only added to the agony and shame of Roman crucifixion, the most embarrassing and revolting form of execution ever devised.
Ultimately, it is the cross that turns the worldâ€™s wisdom upside-down. We Christians hold up that ancient form of torture as our most beloved symbol of victory. It was in His excruciating death that Jesus was reconciling the world to God. It was in the suffering and lashes of Roman whips that Paul was putting on display Godâ€™s Gospel for the world to see. It is in our weaknesses that Godâ€™s strength becomes crystal clear.
Followers of Christ cannot prove their authenticity by listing merits down a page and hoping to be accepted by fellow believers. The marks of our Savior were nail scars in his hands and feet. The mark of the apostle was the whip-induced tearing of the flesh on the back. The mark of Jesusâ€™ follower is the suffering one endures after taking up the cross and following.
Why should we forget that following Christ means going His way? The crown that interested Paul wasnâ€™t the â€œcrown of the wallâ€ awarded by the Roman generals, but the crown of Christ, the reward from the crucified and risen Lord of the world. Somehow, it is through our suffering, our shame, our weakness and seeming failures that God makes visible the image of His Son.
I looked down at all the paperwork on my desk. My rÃ©sumÃ© seemed superficial and self-centered compared to Paulâ€™s. Maybe thatâ€™s because I have too often failed to live in such a way that my actions would stand the worldâ€™s wisdom and thought processes on their head – the Kingdom way â€“ the upside down, or should I say, right-side-up way that Jesus lived. I want to be like Paul, not so concerned about showing off my earthly crowns of success and ready instead to wear the crown of thorns that truly models the life of my Savior.
Posted By Trevin Wax
written by Trevin Wax Â© 2007 Kingdom People blog, an abbreviated version of this article was first published in Southern Seminary newspaper The Towers, July 24, 2006.