7 Look at what is before your eyes. If you are confident that you belong to Christ, remind yourself of this, that just as you belong to Christ, so also do we. 8 Now, even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. 9 I do not want to seem as though I am trying to frighten you with my letters. 10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” 11 Let such people understand that what we say by letter when absent, we will also do when present. 12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense. 13 We, however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep within the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you. 14 For we were not overstepping our limits when we reached you; we were the first to come all the way to you with the good news of Christ. 15 We do not boast beyond limits, that is, in the labors of others; but our hope is that, as your faith increases, our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged, 16 so that we may proclaim the good news in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in someone else’s sphere of action. 17 “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 18 For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.2 Corinthians 10:7-18
We continue this series on 2 Corinthians by looking at how Paul redefines power, and related categories like prestige and success, in light of our faith in Jesus Christ. In the end, our beginning and ending point of comparison is always the one who lowered himself so that we might be raised into fellowship with the Father and the Spirit.
But how do we get there? How do we get out of our old modes of comparing ourselves relative to culture and the bar it sets, and into the new mindset that measures everything in relation to Christ?
In the last lesson, we saw that power and authority are turned on their heads when seen in light of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Our power and our authority are exercised as Christ exercised his own. We are to live in a position of self-giving love. We are to live mutually submitted to one another as Christ submitted himself to our condition.
Paul continues this argument, now directing his indictment against the community, as well as Christian teachers and preachers who have come into the community in Corinth and are now criticizing Paul. We have clues given previously about what these teachers might have been up to. In the letter we call 1st Corinthians, Paul begins his argument by saying that we aren’t supposed to have allegiance to particular teachers or preachers, as if there are flavors of the Christian faith. Instead, Christ and the foolishness of his cross is supposed to carry the day.
Earlier in 2nd Corinthians, especially in chapter one, we see that these teachers are questioning whether Paul was really as faithful and trustworthy as they had expected. Paul hadn’t made it to their community on time. As verses 7-18 here in chapter 10 bear witness, they call Paul’s manner, appearance, stature, and lack of public bearing into question. Verse 10 highlights a line of their attack, with Paul reciting their argument back to them: “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” If Paul looks weak, speaks without the skill and flourish of a great orator, and seems to need a little refinement when it comes to his toga, these teachers are likely arguing that Paul isn’t the great apostle he claims to be.
In the end, whatever the issues between Paul and these other teachers, we can feel confident that they have consistently called Paul’s sincerity and intentions into question on more than one occasion.
And it is here that all the little clues and traps Paul laid earlier in his argument snap into place in what can be seen as a truly brilliant defense. Verses 12 and 13 are the key. Paul and those with him don’t compare themselves to these teachers, though these teachers are constantly sizing themselves up against Paul. Something is wrong here. The teachers and those who heed them in the community have it all mixed up, and aren’t showing good sense. These leads to Paul’s countercharge in verse 17, with Paul stating that he, Timothy, and others aren’t “peddlers of God’s word like so many others.”
No, the true measure of effective apostleship — and by extension, the presence of the Spirit in the community and the teaching worthy of merit — revolves around whether or not the community is growing in its faith in and reliance upon Jesus Christ, not the teacher him or herself. Verse 15 makes it plain: We do not boast beyond limits, that is, in the labors of others; but our hope is that, as your faith increases, our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged.” In other words, as the community grows in the faith in Jesus, it doesn’t constrict boundaries, but instead, opens them up so that more fruitful work can be done in the name of the Lord Jesus. Church ought never be about personalities, or any sort of celebrity.
In the end, as verse 17 reveals, our measuring stick, our point of comparison within the community as teachers of the Gospel, isn’t the size of our congregation, the refinement of our programs, or the slickness of our presentation. Our boast is in Jesus Christ, and him crucified. There is no other point of comparison.
From the lowliest to the greatest; from the least educated, to those with multiple degrees, we are to measure everything by our allegiance to and desire to serve Jesus Christ. Our approval, Paul finishes in verse 18, doesn’t come from winning a “whose got the best church, best preacher, or best music program” contest, it comes from the Lord. God lifts up those who love his name, and there is no other standard under heaven by which we are to measure our lives.
This is critical teaching needed in church circles in 21st century North America. Jesus alone is Lord, and has nothing to do with whatever Christian personality is on the rise. Fads, fame, and fortune are about as anti-Christ as we can get.