Let Those Who Boast Do So In The Lord
(2nd Corinthians chapter 10)
For this week’s study we’ll be going over chapter 10 of 2nd Corinthians in our ongoing chronological study of the writings of the apostle Paul. When we concluded chapter 9 last week, Paul wrote about – among other things – how God’s grace and human generosity go hand in hand, calling it an “indescribable gift”. In chapter 10, Paul seems to move on to the topic of differentiating ourselves from the rest of the world as well as defending the Gospel and keeping it separate from the rest of the world by preserving its sanctity. Let’s begin at verse 1.
“By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you – I, Paul, who is ‘timid’ when face to face with you, but ‘bold’ when away! I beg you that when I come I may not be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up after the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.” (2 Corinthians chapter 10, verses 1-6, NIV)
It appears from the first verse that Paul may have had some difficulty speaking in front of groups, particularly during the early years of his ministry, considering his remark about being timid. But I doubt that this lasted for a very long time, and there is no question that toward the end of his ministry he evolved into a bold and accomplished public speaker. But he reasons with the Corinthian church in this letter, comparing his apparent timidity with the gentleness and loving kindness of Christ. Notice that he goes on to point out that the Corinthian church should be living the same way, exemplifying the peace and gentleness of Christ. And if we must defend ourselves – which can and does happen – we will use Spiritual weapons that are infinitely more powerful than any weapon made by man, as Paul wrote: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up after the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” We have the Spiritual power within every one of us to vanquish our enemies without ever having to lay a hand upon them. That is the power of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is what happens to every believer who asks for it. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit gives us supernatural perception and uncanny wisdom, and I’m speaking from experience. It’s not that I think I’m smart and cunning, but rather it’s the Spirit that resides within all who believe that gives genuine followers of Christ these abilities. For anyone reading this who does not currently have these Spiritual attributes, all one has to do is ask for it. “Ask, and you shall receive,” Jesus said. “Knock, and the door will be opened. Seek, and you will find.” Here we are 2,000 years later, and these truths remain the same as they were when first spoken by Jesus Christ. These abilities are available to every one who seeks, who asks God, and who knocks on doors looking for the Spirit of the Lord.
“You are looking only on the surface of things. If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should consider again that we belong to Christ as much as he. For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it. I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. For some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing’. Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.” (2 Corinthians 10; verses 7-11, NIV)
From the looks of these four verses, it appears that there may have been a few people in that congregation who questioned – and possibly even challenged – Paul’s authority within the early church. It is also possible, judging from the way this passage is worded, that there were a small but very vocal minority of people in the Corinthian church who wanted to be in charge of things – not to serve others, but instead launching what amounts to a power grab from within the church for their own enrichment. And so I think that Paul is admonishing such people when he writes, “If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should consider again that we belong to Christ as much as he”. In other words, Paul is referring to his previous writing about equality earlier in this book, a concept and way of living that was similarly preached by Christ. Understand that back in the first century A.D. when this was taking place, the concept of human equality was radical stuff. Jesus preached equality to those who would hear him, and it was one of the reasons He was crucified. When Jesus walked the earth, women and minorities had few if any rights. Men were considered superior to women, many others lived their lives as slaves, never tasting freedom, and people of other races and nationalities were despised. The basic message that Christ was trying to convey to us is that if only we were all equal, there would be nothing left to fight about. It sounds like pretty smart advice to me. Now let’s finish up today’s study, beginning at verse 12.
“We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case had we not come to you, for we did not get as far as you with the Gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in another man’s territory. But, ‘let him who boasts boast in the Lord’ (Jer. 9:24). For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” (2 Corinthians 10, verses 12-18, NIV)
The first couple of verses are clearly describing something that has been going on within the greater Church ever since its inception – preachers and teachers of the Word who “compare themselves with themselves”. I once served as a musician under a pastor who was like that. I didn’t stay there very long either. It is most unfortunate – and for me sometimes infuriating – that there are some pastors who claim to have a special line of communication with God that no one else has. This kind of erroneous and egocentric teaching – which is dangerous because that’s how cults get started – has no business in a real house of worship regardless of denominational affiliation (or not). I would even go so far as to say that any pastor who is operating his/her church in such a manner risks bringing judgment upon themselves for causing their flock to engage in idolatry by worshiping the messenger instead of the message and the One who brought this message of salvation to us. The fact that this is going on within quite a few modern churches is part of what is causing people to leave the church in droves – that and other things like the sexual abuse of young boys within the Catholic church combined with all the financial shenanigans that are ongoing in many churches of all denominations.
Paul then sums up everything and wraps things up for this chapter when he writes, “‘let him who boasts boast in the Lord’ (Jer. 9:24). For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” And how do we tell which ones the Lord commends apart from those whom He does not? To begin with, listen to what they say and teach, and how they say and teach it. Is what is being preached being presented with a legalistic slant? If so, that is contrary to the teachings of Christ. Does the message glorify the messenger or the Savior to whom it is attributed? If the answer is the former rather than the latter, you’re in a cult church. Leave quietly, but get out of there immediately. Finally, does the church teach and preach a gospel that “blesses” material wealth and preaches a “prosperity gospel”? If the church is constantly asking for more money, if it insists on “tithing 10 percent”, or if entering the sanctuary on Sunday morning is like walking into a fashion show, you’re in the wrong church. Paul was saying essentially the same thing when he wrote the verses above, and it is a teaching that I follow constantly in my walk with the Lord. You all would be wise to do the same unless you’re already doing so. In that case, keep up the good work. Until next week, then. Shalom.