We are all about comparisons. We are in a world that loves to brag and draw attention to itself. We desire for people to see what we are doing. We elevate our accomplishments. We trumpet our achievements. Boasting is a human problem. Boasting is a problem Paul is dealing with in Corinth. In fact, Paul will deal with the problem of boasting from this point in 2 Corinthians 10 through chapter 12. So Paul is going to deal with this self-elevation and self-promotion. What is particularly curious about the way Paul handles this problem that we need to recognize is that his critics are dismissive of him because he does not promote and elevate himself. Since he does not make much of himself, he must not be an apostle of Jesus Christ. Surely an apostle of Jesus Christ would go around proclaiming that he is an apostle of Jesus and call people under his authority. So Paul must deal with this criticism of himself and defend his apostleship, but more importantly, at the same time reveal how this kind of self-image, self-promotion, and self-elevation is sinful and ungodly. As we look at Paul’s response we are going to see how we are to behave as followers of Christ.
All In Christ (10:7)
Paul begins, “Look at what is before your eyes!” (ESV, NRSV) This is a literal rendering of the Greek. Paul is asking them to take a look at the true facts. Some translations like the NASB, NIV, and NKJV think this is likely an idiom and therefore render this as “You are looking at outward appearances” (NET). But the point Paul seems to be saying is that they need to look at what is right in front of their faces. Here is the evidence of the situation. Now verse 7 is the great beginning point to destroying pride and self-promotion: Just as he is Christ’s, so also are we. Where is the room for boasting? We are all in Christ! You think you are something? What you are and what you have is because of Christ and we are in Christ also. How can one Christian elevate himself against another Christian? We are one in Christ and we are equal in Christ. It is amazing how often Christians will think that they are someone because they are “the preacher” or “an elder” or some other description. They think they are the great Bible teacher or some sort of indispensable piece to the church. “The church would just crumble without me here.” What pride and arrogance! What self-promotion! What foolishness! You are in Christ and so am I.
Building Up and Avoiding Self-Assertion (10:8-11)
Further, Paul declares that what they do is “for building you up and not for destroying you” (10:8). Paul says that his apostolic authority is not used for his own personal gain but for building up the Corinthian Christians. By the way, Paul says that the Lord gave them this authority. False Christians bring discord, destruction, disunity, divisions, and problems. Remember that Paul dealt with the divisions in this church in the first four chapters of the first letter to the Corinthians. Paul reminded them:
If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:17 ESV)
Paul does not use his authority to hurt other Christians. He does not use his authority to promote himself or assert himself. He does not use his authority to get his way or to destroy the local church. Paul says that his goal in his letters was not to be frightening. He does not use personal fear. What we are in Christ is not to be used to destroy others or promote self. What we are in Christ is so that we can build each other up. We will never use intimidation or fear to get people to do what we want. This is what false Christians do. They are about themselves and promote themselves, using fear, division, and destruction as their weapons to accomplish their selfish goals. Paul says that his not what he does with his authority nor what he does in his letters. He is not hypocritical in any way. He is the same in person as he is in his letters. He is not duplicitous. He does not act one way with them but write a different way. Remember that the Corinthians were mistaking Paul’s humility and gentleness as a lack of apostolic power. But Paul uses his authority for their good.
Not Comparing With Others (10:12)
The sarcasm in verse 12 is pouring off of the page. We couldn’t possibly compare ourselves with some of these people who claim to be something in the Corinthian church. Paul made this same point in his first letter to them.
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! (1 Corinthians 4:8 ESV)
We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. (1 Corinthians 4:10 ESV)
You all are somebodies and we are nobodies! But listen to the truth Paul declares in verse 12.
But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. (2 Corinthians 10:12 ESV)
To compare ourselves with others means we are completely without understanding. You just do not understand anything about Christ if you are comparing yourself to others. I am sad how often preachers compare themselves with others, as if we are in a competition. I am sad how often Christians compare themselves to other Christians or to the preacher or to the elders. Then there is this envy or jealous or hate that develops because of these silly comparisons. What is the value of comparing ourselves to each other? We are all in Christ. Can your nose compare itself to the mouth? These things cannot be compared.
Further, what good is it to use each other as a standard of measurement? I am a sinner saved by grace like you. So why would you compare yourself to me or I compare myself to you? All this does is try to create a false reality because we want to elevate ourselves and there is no elevation in Christ. But this is where our pride and arrogance comes from. We compare ourselves to each other. Paul says that Christians do not do that.
Proper Boasting and Joy (10:13-16)
Now when you read verses 13-16 you see what a different boasting Paul has in mind when he boasts in contrast to how these critics are boasting. The critics are boasting in themselves. Paul is boasting is the work God is doing through him. Paul glories in the sphere of influence and service God has given to him. Paul reached the Corinthians with the gospel and he takes joy in that for he sees what God has done in this. Paul saw this as a work God had given him to do. This is how we look at our work. What we do here is not about us. We see what we do as the work God has given us to do and we take joy in what God is accomplishing. The growth and strength of this church has nothing to do with me or you but the work God is doing through us. Paul just wants the gospel to keep spreading and he knows that the Corinthians are a part of that continuing work. Paul does not take credit for what others are doing. It seems that these critics were taking credit for the Corinthians’ faith when it was God through Paul’s visits and writings that had brought these Christians to faith. Paul’s hope is that as their faith increases that it gives them greater areas of influence. Paul’s joy is not in himself or promoting himself. Paul’s joy is that he can continue to do God’s work.
Boasting In The Lord (10:17)
This leads Paul to quote Jeremiah 9 to prove that this is the way we ought to look at ourselves and our work. Listen to what Jeremiah declared.
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23–24 ESV)
We boast in what God is doing and I just want to get to know God more. How often Paul said that God was working through him (cf. Acts 14:27; Romans 15:18). Paul said that if he was going to boast, then it would be in the cross of Jesus (Galatians 6:14). Do you remember how Paul thought of himself? Did he think he was great? Did he promote himself? What did Paul say about himself?
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15 ESV)
For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:9 ESV)
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:7 ESV)
Our boast, joy, and delight is in the Lord, not ourselves. We are just amazed that God can do anything with us or anything through us. Let our boast merely be in the work of the Lord.
The Lord’s Commending (10:18)
The approved are not those who commend themselves. The approved are those who are commended by God. All that matters is God’s glory. I do not want glory. I want God glorified. If God is glorified through me, then I recognize that it is not because of me because that is how great God is. This is the message of these final chapters of 2 Corinthians. God must be glorified. I live for God’s commending, not human commending. Friends, this is what eternity is all about.
And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8 ESV)
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11 ESV)
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9–10 ESV)
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:9–12 ESV)
Eternity is boasting in the Lord. Let the one who boasts only boast in the Lord. It is not about me and it is not about you. It is all about God.