In his second letter to the Corinthian church Paul defends his credentials as an apostle and a messenger sent from God. The new Corinthian Jesus-followers look at him and find it hard to believe he is who he says he is. They thought, writes N.T. Wright, that “an apostle needs to be a showy leader, a flowery and entertaining speaker, with personal charm and flattery, like the kind they were used to in their culture. What Paul ultimately wants to say to them is that all these things are nothing… compared with the lifestyle which embodies the gospel of Jesus.” (N. T.Wright, Paul For Everyone: 2 Corinthians, 32-33)
Paul, by his own estimation, is unimpressive. Paul writes: I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. (2 Cor. 12:11)
How can someone who is a "nothing" not be inferior to everyone? The answer is that Paul's "nothingness" is a "holy nothingness," a "sacred insufficiency." This brand of nothingness is a necessary precondition for divine everythingness.
Paul views himself as unqualified, in himself, to minister in Jesus' name. But Christ, in Paul, is sufficient. Paul writes: Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. (2 Cor. 3:5) Christ, he writes, has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant. (2 Cor. 3:6)
The reality of the "new covenant" is that God has placed his desires, not on tablets of stone (the old covenant), but within the hearts of all who embrace Christ. Now, amazingly, Christ-followers "partake of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). As Paul writes in 2 Cor. 5:17: if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
All this is in fulfillment of the God's promise of a new covenant, as expressed in Ezekiel 36:26: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. God's Holy Spirit, in us, is the reason we have confidence and are "sufficient."
In Paul we see this pattern:
- I am nothing
- This drives me to rely on God
- I can do all thing in Christ, who dwells in me and strengthens me
I love how Oswald Chambers expresses this truth: “God can achieve his purpose either through the absence of human power and resources, or the abandonment of reliance on them. All through history God has chosen and used nobodies, because their unusual dependence on him made possible the unique display of his power and grace. He chose and used somebodies only when they renounced dependence on their natural abilities and resources.”
I must become a nobody so that Christ can become Somebody in me.