Most boys growing up play some variation of “Army”: good guys and bad guys waging war against each other with nothing more than a stick and an active imagination, shooting at the other with machine guns and bazookas, tossing hand grenades, taking cover, dodging missiles and dying dramatic deaths (only to “come alive” after the agreed upon time-out).
For those who have gotten bigger but perhaps not completely grown up, laser tag and paintball provide a high-tech way of simulating real circumstances without the inherent risk of live ammunition. The stories told afterwards however are every bit full of bravado as if life and limb were truly at risk. And yet, true warriors, those who have seen the atrocities of actual combat, seldom feel the need to recount the horrors they have seen or boast of their actions under fire. If and when they do, it makes the boasting of the paintball warrior look absolutely foolish.
In today’s passage, the true warrior Paul is making the false teachers in Corinth look as foolish as the paintball warrior. Any claims they make pale in comparison to those that Paul could make. By beating them at their own game, he establishes his credibility and authority. On top of that, he goes one step further to show how deeply he cares about the gospel by listing the sufferings he has undergone to proclaim it.
But playing games like this is an easy trap to fall into. We often list our actions and accomplishments to boost our reputation and boast of our actions on the laser tag battlefield forgetting it is only a simulation of the real thing. Sometimes we can look silly claiming to be spiritual because we go to church every Sunday or serve on a committee or donate a certain percentage of money. Not that these things are bad but they can easily lead us to think we’re living the real thing when all we may really be doing is shooting paintballs.
There is a real war going on however; a spiritual one that needs true warriors. Let’s not allow the simulation of a battlefield preclude us from action on the real one.