Those Corinthians were a vain lot. No prouder than us perhaps, but proud nevertheless. They were so vain that St. Paul had to write two long letters to help them overcome their pride and find the core of the Gospel.
When they weren't getting puffed up about whose spiritual gift was more important than whose, orators were holding them spellbound with fine speech.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul sarcastically refers to these Christian Toastmasters who were excellent speechmakers but bereft of knowledge, as "super-apostles."
Paul writes his second letter to the Corinthians in order to win back the trust of the Corinthians who have been bedeviled by the super-apostles. Likely these supposed disciples have been trying to undermine his authority with the Corinthian Christians.
But although the super-apostles are able to weave a colourful speech, Paul has an ace up his sleeve. Their speeches may delight the ears, but Paul can boast that his speeches are lousy and he has suffered a lot.
These seem like odd credentials, but Paul finds an important truth here. If he has been able to convince anyone of the truth of the Gospel, it has not been because of his personal powers of persuasion. Rather, it can only be because of the power of God working through him.
His lack of ability is a clear sign that what he says is true.
Paul prayed that God would take away the thorn in the flesh that he was given. He prayed not once, not twice, but three times. A magical three times! But instead of his prayers coercing God into taking away this infirmity, he got this answer: "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12.9).
The poor puffed-up Corinthians! They thought when they opted for Christianity they were getting a more dazzling religion than the one they had with those sorry old Greek gods.
Instead, the chief Christian apostle is boasting of his weaknesses and telling them the clearest sign of his authority is that he has had countless beatings, been imprisoned several times and has often been near death (11.23-29).
Jesus was the clearest witness of the power of weakness. "Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" (8.9).
Christianity does not promise strength, prosperity and success. When Christianity gets comfortable, it withers and dies. Not only does the Church flourish in hard times, our faith promises the cross.
Momentary afflictions prepare us for eternal glory. Even harassment by self-appointed super-apostles can be an opportunity for God's grace to flourish. "Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day" (4.16).
There is hope in that, not the "hope" of powerful technology or other means of control, but rather the hope of weakness, the hope that God's grace really is sufficient for us.
The gods of technology and prestige and wealth are as empty as those Greek gods of mythology. They are closed in upon themselves and do not offer life.
Hope can only come from the God who is Love, the God who had no need of creation, but chose to create anyway. This God is self-emptying, but also life-giving.
He is so full of love that he sends his Son into our world, to walk among us, to suffer, to die a most unjust death and then to rise to new life.
With that sort of God, why would we settle for limited and limiting gods of our own creation? Why would we not be like this God and empty ourselves to find wealth amidst poverty?
Our power is naught, but God has gone all the way. The life of spiritual poverty is the life that is open to God's grace, that knows God's grace is sufficient because without it, we have nothing anyway.
Did the Corinthians have an inkling of this? Yes, they probably did. But like us, their commitment was half-hearted. It involves risk and great faith to go all the way. Yet, that is where we are all called.
We have to know that God's grace is sufficient and that his power is made perfect in weakness.