There’s a world of difference between playing the fool and being played for one.
The rise of the Internet and communication technology in recent decades has ushered us with lightning speed into a whole new world. As TV’s Adrian Monk might have said, it’s a blessing and a curse. And part of the latter is the seemingly unstoppable proliferation of spam, scam, and flim-flam. Caveat emptor: let the buyer beware.
As we’ve seen in previous posts, from the standpoint of biblical wisdom boasting in one’s worldly qualifications and accomplishments is foolishness. Sure, the emperor did it. Paul’s opponents did it. But Paul himself would not.
Unless he had to in order to make a point.
It made him uncomfortable to take this tack with the Corinthians. But he had to make them understand that for all their self-confident spirituality and knowledge, they were being played:
I repeat, no one should take me for a fool. But if you do, then allow me to be a fool so that I can brag like a fool for a bit. I’m not saying what I’m saying because the Lord tells me to. I’m saying it like I’m a fool. I’m putting my confidence in this business of bragging. Since so many people are bragging based on human standards, that is how I’m going to brag too. Because you, who are so wise, are happy to put up with fools. You put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone places themselves over you, or if someone hits you in the face. I’m ashamed to say that we have been weak in comparison! (2 Cor 11:16-21a, CEB)
You can almost imagine Paul squirming as he writes, lest he be misunderstood as an actual braggart: “allow me to be a fool… I’m saying it like a fool.” Later, he’ll actually pause and say, “I’m speaking like a crazy person” (vs. 23).
But he decides to play the fool in order to show the Corinthians how foolish they themselves are being. You’re so wise! he needles them sarcastically. But in the Lord’s eyes, the people you’re so impressed with, the people who have you questioning me and the gospel, are fools because they boast by human standards. And you’re foolish for putting up with them. Why should you? They’re exploiting you, don’t you see? They’re lording their spirituality over you and insulting you. I guess if we had their kind of strength and confidence, we’d treat you the same way. Too bad for us and you!
Again, caveat emptor. Paul is confident that the Holy Spirit is at work in the congregation — and yet, they’re all too ready to be taken in by people who want to sell them a spiritual bill of goods.
Can we be so sure that we haven’t been similarly deceived? We may need to reevaluate whom we count as wise.