When we think of underdogs, biblical heroes like David, Gideon, and Moses come to mind. We do not normally think of the apostle Paul as an underdog.
Paul was esteemed in the early church. His authority was respected. The churches he had established rejoiced in his apostolic ministry, except at Corinth where self-designated “super apostles” accused Paul of being “weak” and “his speech of no account” (2 Corinthians 10:10, ESV). These detractors disputed Paul’s authority and managed to turn the Corinthian church against him.
Like Paul, we can be strong in some aspects of life and an “underdog” in others. In certain situations or relationships, we can be weak and feel inadequate.
At these points, Paul’s response to disrespect at Corinth is helpful.
Paul defends his apostleship in an unexpected way. He alludes to his credentials, but does not cite them (2 Corinthians 10:22). Nor does he enumerate his accomplishments. Instead, Paul lists hardships that reveal his weakness (2 Corinthians 11:23-30).
Paul takes the accusation of weakness and flips it into decisive proof of his apostleship. His weakness, Paul contends, is the core argument for the authenticity of his apostolic calling.
What is the logic in this?!
Paul frames his defense with this question and assertion: “Are they servants of Christ? I am more” (2 Corinthians 11:23). Jesus Christ is the measure of authentic apostleship; and because his experience is like that of Jesus, Paul insists, he is a true apostle.
The overarching theme of the New Testament is the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The defeat of execution is, at one and the same time, a cosmic triumph (Philippians 2:8-11). For Jesus, and for all who follow him, weakness and strength come together for the salvation of the world.
Paul puts this conundrum into a single sentence as a life aim: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death" (Philippians 3:10).
A wood block on my desk reminds me: “Faith makes things possible, not easy.” Victories do not necessarily come without hardship, but against overwhelming odds, underdogs can triumph!
You may want to read three more underdog stories. When we face challenges beyond our capabilities, it good to remember biblical heroes who prevailed against great odds. Moses, Gideon, and David all knew that God works in ways that confound our expectations.