Passages like this really endear me both to the Bible and to the Apostle Paul. There is no sugar coating this one or making it look better than it really is. Paul is hurt, angry, and defensive. In other words, a real flesh and blood person like you and like me.
I especially love that last line—“Indeed, I would rather die than that—no one will deprive me of my ground for boasting!” Notice the personal pronoun—“my… boasting”. Paul has come a long way in his walk with Jesus Christ, but he’s still got further to go. At his best, Paul considers all earthly reasons for boasting “rubbish” compared with the great joy of knowing Jesus Christ (see Philippians 3:1-14). But like the rest of us, Paul is not always at his best.
There’s a tragedy here, played out over and over again in the church today as it was back then. Christians don’t always bring out the best in each other. We don’t always appreciate one another or encourage one another or affirm the things we are doing right in our obsession with what “others” are doing wrong. And that is always a sad, sad thing.
But there it is, right on the pages of Holy Scripture, set stark and unadorned before us.
The good news is that imperfect though Paul may be, God is still using him. The point of his words—that he has made sacrifices for the cause of the Gospel and so should we—rings just as true today as they did then.
Yes, on one hand this passage saddens me. But on the other hand I’m encouraged by it as well. There may still be hope for me yet.