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Bragging Rights for Losers

The reality television series known as “The Biggest Loser” is in its eighth season. Once again contestants are competing for a cash prize and bragging rights for losing the most weight.

Much of the program’s appeal lies in the personal hopes and struggles of contestants that viewers can identify with. Making winners out of losers has a double meaning that goes far beyond losing unwanted pounds.

The idea of hope for losers touches a nerve in all of us. It’s a theme that helps to explain the popularity of the most published book in the world. In an ultimate and most important way, the Bible offers “bragging rights” even to the biggest losers.

A New Way of Thinking About Ourselves. One of the most unlikely losers of the Bible was the apostle Paul.

By birth, he was a blue-blood member of a distinguished Jewish family (Philippians 3:5). He studied under the renowned rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), and he earned a reputation as a blameless moral advocate for his faith and nation (Philippians 3:6).

Paul would have turned heads in his day. He was a scholar, a patriot, and a spiritual leader honored by his peers and feared by his enemies.

But Paul had an experience that changed the way he saw himself. On the Road to Damascus, while on a mission to hunt down followers of Jesus, he had a life-changing encounter with the resurrected Christ.

Before that moment, he hated those who believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Jewish Messiah (Acts 9:1-7). But after meeting the resurrected Son of God, he realized how wrong he had been and began thinking of himself as the “chief” of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).

From that day forward, Paul considered as “loss” anything that stood in the way of knowing and serving Christ as his Lord (Philippians 3:7-8). In the years that followed, Paul endured additional losses that stripped him of the circumstances many of us think we need to feel strong.

A New Strength in Weakness. After his life-changing encounter with Christ (Acts 9:1-7), Paul faced a series of losses that tested not only his strength but his faith as well.

Until then, he had been a persecutor of the friends and followers of Jesus. Now he became the persecuted. In the years that followed, he endured stonings, beatings, lashings, arrests, and imprisonments, together with the scorn and contempt of the religious community that once honored him (2 Corinthians 11:23-30).

The comforts of life, social respect, and physical strength that Paul lost sometimes seemed more than he could bear. On at least one occasion, he wasn’t sure he was going to survive (2 Corinthians 1:8).

Yet when other church leaders questioned his sincerity, Paul’s walk spoke louder than his talk. When his motives were challenged, he reminded them that he had suffered more for the sake of Christ than they had (2 Corinthians 11:23).

In making such a comparison, however, Paul needed to be careful. He couldn’t reflect well on Christ if he took pride in his own efforts. So to avoid taking credit for what he had endured, Paul was careful to echo the disclaimer he made in his first letter when he wrote, “Yet it was not I but God who was working through me by His grace” (1 Corinthians 15:10 NLT). This time he adds, “If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity” (2 Corinthians 11:30 NKJV).

Paul had learned that if he was going to brag, it would be about his weakness—for it was in the middle of humanly unsolvable problems, and even in the middle of his own unanswered prayers, that he heard the Lord say, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT).

A New Outcome of Caring Rather Than Comparing. When Paul traded pride for grace, he began showing a concern for others that was far better than academic credentials, community honors, and the rugged individualism that he had lost.

As the grace of God worked in him, it produced a love for others.

Longing to see the church marked by mutual care rather than proud comparisons, he wrote, “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 NKJV).

Later Paul explained that whatever we have received has been given to us to enable us to care for one another. He compared the resulting interdependence to the way the parts of our bodies help one another (12:12-21). Mutual care, rather than proud comparisons, enable our bodies to work: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’ ” (12:21 NKJV). By distributing different gifts to each member, God makes all of us dependent on one another (12:22-25).

This may mean that, in God’s eyes, those who seem to have the most influence in life might be dependent on the prayers of those who seem to have the least.

In the grace that gives birth to mutual care and concern, there is no room for bragging rights that are rooted in proud comparisons (2 Corinthians 10:12). Instead, grace teaches us to say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord” (2 Corinthians 10:17 NLT).

As Paul reminds us, this is the grace that we discover only as we “count as loss” anything that would tempt us to put our confidence in ourselves rather than in Christ—in what He has done for us, and in what He, in His grace, wants to do in and through us today.

Father in heaven, please help us to see in the losses of yesterday, and in the weakness of today, new opportunities to boast, not in ourselves but in You, in Your grace, and in Your goodness. —Mart De Haan

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