NOTES II Corinthians
10:12-18 (click here for
After Paul expounds on the reality of his weapons of "divine power", he emphasizes that the same divine authority is with him in person as well as in his letters. He continues to explain why he is not in the same category as those false teachers who commend themselves. He makes it clear that when people "toot their own horns", they are not wise. People who boast about themselves are merely comparing themselves to each other. One's peers are not the standard of a true follower of Christ. God's approval and blessing is the only standard by which a Christ-follower must live. In reality, comparing oneself with another proves nothing. Only when Christ works through a person does the work yield lasting results, and Christ's work cannot be compared with a person's work. If people compare themselves with each other, they are not surrendering their accomplishments to Jesus. They are continuing to measure their efforts by how "successful" they are in others' eyes instead of allowing God to accomplish whatever purposes his wishes through them by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul calls the Corinthians from their fascination with the false teachers by asking if he needs letters of recommendation to remind them of who he really is. No letter should be necessary, he emphasizes, because "you yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry" (2 Corinthians 3:1-3) The Corinthians have no excuse for doubting or turning on Paul because their relationships with Jesus are the result of Paul's work among them. Through Paul, the messenger, the Holy Spirit transformed them, and they are now members of Christ's body. Paul should not, he emphasizes, have to defend himself to them or plead with the Corinthians to be loyal to him.
What he is, Paul states, is plain to them and to God. (2 Cor. 5:11-12) Yes, he is weak and suffers much from hardships, insults, persecutions, and many kinds of difficulties. Unlike the false teachers who seem to be warmly welcomed into the church, Paul suffers wherever he preaches. But, he clarifies, when he is weak, he is strong because of God's power and strength in him. He regrets that he has had to defend himself so blatantly to the Corinthians, but their criticism of him has pushed him to call them back to truth. In spite of the privations he faces for the sake of Christ, he is not inferior to the "super apostles" who have set themselves up in Corinth as religious leaders determined to divert attention from Paul to themselves. (see 2 Corinthians 12:10-11)
A Proper Perspective
Furthermore, a Christ-follower needs to see his work in its proper perspective. First, the true work of a Christian is actually God's work, the work God puts in front of him or her. It is not one's own work. Second, a Christ-follower cannot infringe on the boundaries of another person's work. Since God appoints each person to the work he wants him or her to do, we must never try to take over another person's responsibility. God's people must trust God for the strength and the creativity to do what He has asked them to do and to support each other without competing.
"We will not boast beyond proper limits," Paul wrote to the Corinthians in the passage above, "but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us." (v. 13-16)
"Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought," Paul wrote to the church in Rome. (Romans 12:3) He continued by saying we are to think of ourselves with "sober judgment" according to "the measure of faith God has given you." As Christ-followers, we cannot feel superior to one another. The power and the faith that we have are gifts from God, and whatever we do, we do because God has given us the power of His Spirit to accomplish that work. There's no room for boasting or jealousy; God is sovereign and appoints His gifts to be distributed according to his sovereign will. He assigns his work to us according to his sovereign plan, and we are to trust him and to support each other as we obey Him.
We are all members of the same body. Each of us has a different function; some are more visible than others. Each of us, however, affects and depends upon the rest of the body. If we suffer, we cause the rest of the body to suffer. If we do not do the work God asks us to do, we cause the rest of the body to suffer. If we struggle with others for position or power or acclaim, we prevent both them and ourselves from properly fulfilling our functions. We accomplish much more when we work together, each of us doing the work God has given us with the power and gifts that the Spirit has granted us. (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-26)
The Right To Boast
Paul feels protective of the Corinthians because he was the one who lived with them and brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to them. Others came later and "watered the seed," but he had lived among them for over a year, and he knew that the Corinthians' becoming Christ-followers was the result of his sacrificial efforts on their behalf. (see 1 Corinthians 3:5-6)
"You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts," he wrote to them. (see 2 Cor. 3:2-6)
Further, Paul asserted in his letter to the Romans that his ambition was to preach the gospel where it was not known so he would "not be building on someone else's foundation." He would not go into another apostles "territory" and attempt to win the hearts of the people and thus cause divisions and jealousy and confusion among the new believers and among the teachers. (see Romans 15:20)
The crisis of loyalty among the Corinthians toward the gospel and to Paul as Christ's messenger emboldened him to state clearly why he felt confident about his work among them. "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power," he wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:4. Paul does not take credit for his own excellent preaching or for the Corinthians' acceptance of the gospel. His words were the work of the Holy Spirit, and his work was entirely the result of God's power in him. He considers himself only a servant who did his assigned task. "I planted the seedGod made it grow." (1 Cor. 3:7-8)
Paul also feels confident because he knows he was honest with the Corinthians. He did not resort to "secret and shameful ways" or to deception. He did not "dilute the word of God" as the false teachers among them had done. (2 Cor. 4:1-2) He knows and asserts that he is merely Christ's ambassador, that God is "reconciling the world to himself in Christ," and all glory and honor are God's. Paul's annoyance with the false teachers is justified. They have taken advantage of the Corinthians' newly softened hearts, their new awareness of Jesus, and they have planted deception and falsehood in the newly converted hearts of these former licentious idolaters.
In this particular passage in 2 Corinthians, Paul brings into focus the issue of boundaries. With the onset of sin, people's respect for each other became compromised, and self-centeredness bred greed and power-lust and arrogance. Without a true spiritual connection with God, human beings will fight for their own dominance and control. They will take from others what is not theirs. They will deceive and seduce unsuspecting people in order to gain a following for themselves.
The Ten Commandments, the heart of the Mosaic law, introduced in a tangible form the reality that without boundaries, mankind cannot live safely with each other or in relationship with God. If a person lives only for oneself, indulging one's own desires no matter what the cost to others, that person lives in chaos. Enduring relationships and trust are not possible.
At Israel's formation God established boundaries for his ragtag, paganized, recently enslaved chosen people. Boundaries are a form of discipline, and without them, people don't have a clear understanding of who they are or what's expected of them.
You will have no gods but me, God said. You will not worship or give yourselves to any idol. You will worship nothing and no one but me. You will not take my name in vain; you will not disrespect me by misrepresenting me to anyone. You will remember my complete care of you by resting every seventh day. You will be successful in spite of resting one in seven, and neither you nor anyone else can ever say your success is because of your hard work. Everyone will know it is because I blessed you. You must honor your parents. You must not kill. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not lie or misrepresent the truth to anyone or about anyone. You must not covet what others have; you must be content with what I provide for you.
The Ten Commandments were clear but broad. In Leviticus God gave Moses more detailed boundaries that fit under the tent of the Commandments. Leviticus 18 outlines seventeen specific sexual liaisons that were strictly forbidden including any with a close relative, one's mother or stepmother, one's sister, half-sister, aunt, sister-in-law, granddaughter, daughter-in-law; with both a woman and her daughter, with a woman having her period, with another man's wife, with another man, or with an animal.
Included in this list is the startling command, "Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God." (Lev. 18:21) Child sacrifices to a demon god were considered as defiling and evil as were perverted and illicit sexual encounters, and vice-versa. In God's eyes, sex that crossed the boundaries of his law was corrupting and destructive. Equally corrupting and destructive was infant sacrifice. Both trampled on another's personal boundaries in a permanent way and compromised one's own integrity.
Leviticus 19 contains a wide-ranging list of further boundaries the Israelites were to observe in their relationships with each other and with their neighboring nations. These laws included commands to respect God ultimately as well as commands to be fair with one's neighbors. "Do not defraud your neighbor." "Do not deceive one another." "Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight." "Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind." "Do not pervert justice." "Do not go about spreading slander." "Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt." "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people."
Boundaries, however, are not an Old Testament phenomenon. They are part of God's divinely ordered plan for being fully alive and productive in him. Early in the book of Matthew Jesus affirmed the general boundaries established in the Ten Commandments, but he took them a step further. Jesus showed that to truly observe boundaries of respect between people, one must be mentally submitted to the honoring of the other person. Jesus showed how boundaries would look in the life of a Christ-follower, not merely in the life of a law-keeper.
You've heard it said, Jesus said in essence in the Sermon on the Mount, that you must not kill. I tell you, however, that you commit murder in your heart if you hate your brother. Do not divorce your wife except for unfaithfulness; if you do, you make her an adulteress. You've heard it said that you're to keep your oaths; I say, don't swear at all. Let your "Yes" be "Yes" and your "No" be "No". Do not judge one another, or you will be judged by the same measurement you use to judge. (see Matthew 5:21-35; 7:1-2)
True respect for another person's personal boundaries includes not only honoring his life and his possessions, but it includes also honoring the other's spirit and reputation. True boundaries mean respect for the other person. Boundaries will guard what is the other's as carefully as they guard what is one's own.
Paul is making the point in this passage that God gives each Christ-follower his own work. The particular job or territory which God assigns to someone is that person's responsibility. Because the work is God's assignment, the person fulfilling the obligation is doing God's work, not his own work. Paul understood that, as a born-again follower of Christ, he did not decide what he was going to do for God and then proceed to "make it happen." Rather, God would reveal to Paul what he was to do and where he was to go. Paul also understood that God assigns His work to all His followers. An apostle's or an evangelist's territory, therefore, was actually part of God's assignment.
The false teachers in Corinth had disregarded God's sovereignty in appointing Paul as the apostle to the Corinthians. They were not merely disrespecting Paul; they were attempting to destroy God's provision for the Corinthian church. The fact that they boldly went into Corinth and deliberately created doubt about Paul in those new Christians' minds indicates that they were not themselves born-again. A person who is truly filled with the Holy Spirit and committed to doing God's work will not tear down what another servant of God has already done. Neither will a true believer try to grab power or influence away from another and take it for himself. Such lust for control and recognition do not spring from the Holy Spirit; they are the "thumb prints" of ego and self-centeredness.
At a personal level the same point applies. A true follower of Christ will respect another person's personal boundaries of space, time, possessions, and relationships. A true Christian will honor the people and the responsibilities God has place in his or her life, and he will honor his fellow believer's relationships and responsibilities as well. He will always protect the other, and he will not envy what God has given the other. (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7) Christ-followers see both themselves and their brothers and sisters as fulfilling God's appointments, and they will honor and guard each other as themselves.
Expanding Faith, Expanding Territory
Paul is hopeful that, as an extension of his ministry among the Corinthians, he will be able to evangelize increasingly broad territory as the Corinthians' impact the pagans around them with the power of their changed lives. He is not looking to go to some other apostle's region and preach, not is he launching into a virgin area and claiming it as his territory. Rather, he is committed to following up with the Corinthians to whom God had assigned him, building and nurturing those who lives the original Corinthian believers have touched.
Wherever the gospel is preached and lives are made new, certain divine phenomena occur which cause the gospel to spread even more. Paul's and the other apostle's desires to expand their God-appointed territories of evangelism resulted from the faith and the love God's Spirit shed abroad in their hearts. Their faith produced work, and their love produced labor. These works and labors were not the result of the apostles' good intentions or diligent personalities. They were inspired by their hope in the Lord Jesus. (see 12 Thessalonians 1:3) His hope in the Lord inspired Paul to continue speaking to the Gentiles about Jesus. His heart was filled with love for his protégés and with longing to see them. Their changed lives were his hope, his joy, and his crown. (2 Thessalonians 3:11-12)
Paul's prayer for the Thessalonian believers reflects his understanding of the the power that drives evangelism: "Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones." (2 Thess. 3:11-13)
When a person's heart is regenerated by the Holy Spirit, God's love and faith grow there. That love and faith produce the ability for one to release his own control and to allow God to love through him or her. Evangelism is not the result of great oratory, charisma, or quota-meeting. It is the result of a person's being willing to love others for God. Without the love of God and the faith of Jesus in the heart, a person cannot effect change in those around him. The gospel spreads wherever Christ-followers are committed to allowing the faith and power of Jesus to change them and to flow from them.
Boasting In the Lord
Paul concludes his discussion of respecting boundaries and not taking credit for what one cannot rightfully claim by quoting Jeremiah: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." Jeremiah quotes God even more specifically; he says the wise man should not boast of his wisdom, the strong of his strength, or the rich man of his riches. If one wants to boast, he should boast that he understands and knows God and that God is the Lord who is kind, just, and righteous. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
David praised God for his sovereignty. "I will extol the Lord," he wrote in Psalm 34:1-3; "his praise is always on my lips." "My soul will boast in the Lord." "Glorify the Lord with me."
In Psalm 44:4-8 David praised God again, declaring him God and King, the one who "decrees victories for Jacob" and put Israel's adversaries to shame. "In you we boast," he concludes.
Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 1 why God is the only one who deserves our boasts and why what we do is never worthy. God shames the foolish things of the world, he writes. He chose the weak things and people of the world to shame the world "so no one may boast." (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, 2:2)
In other words, the people God chooses to do his will are not primarily those who are puffed up with pride and arrogance and education and training. Those people often are enamored with their own learning, and they have no interest in understanding spiritual things. God uses those with hearts open to truth and open to Him. Worldly wisdom looks very different from heavenly wisdom, and God is not primarily recruiting people highly respected by the world. When he recruits people, they often undergo a humbling transformation. They leave behind their arrogance and pride, and they begin to rely on Jesus and the prompting of His Spirit in them. True spiritual wisdom is counterintuitive to the wisdom of the world that advocates pushing oneself forward and claiming power and influence for oneself.
When we know the Lord, we no longer boast about our own achievements. The reality of Jesus and his transforming love and the power of his authority completely eclipse the empty struggle for respect that those without Christ experience. When we know Jesus, we realize that nothing we accomplish is our own. Jesus is accomplishing his purposes through us, and our boasting can never be about the things we do. Rather, we recognize that Jesus has chosen us to be his hands and eyes and feet and mouth, and the God of the universe is ministering to the world through us. Our boasting cannot be about our pride and success. It can only be about the overwhelming love and grace of Jesus.
"It is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends." (v. 18) The Bible is full of explanations about what kind of person God commends and the kind he does not commend. For example, Jesus confronted the Pharisees with the consequences of their unbelief on many occasions. John 5:41-44 records his saying to them, "I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that coms from the only God?"
John 12:42-43 records the sad condition of many Jews who, although convicted by Jesus' teaching, did not follow him because it would cost them their social standing and their position in the synagogue. "Many leaders believed in him," John records, "but because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God." These Pharisees' predicament was exactly that of many today who become convinced of the truth of scripture and the love of Jesus, but they resist embracing the truth because of the potential loss they face. Many of us have come from a church which taught us we were God's chosen people; to leave it would mean being eternally lost. When we discover that we were taught error, we have to decide whether or not we will stay comfortable and not "make waves", or whether we will follow Jesus and leave the church. Leaving means losing most of one's friendships and contacts, even one's job, in many cases. Many people choose to stay and keep quiet about their convictions. They fear the reactions of their peers, and they essentially choose the praise of men over the praise of God. They compromise their integrity to maintain their position within the church.
Romans 2:29 explains that God is looking for people who have "circumcision of the heart" done by the Spirit of God, not done according to the "written code". Such a man's praise is not from men but from God. Paul explained how this "circumcision of the heart" worked out in his life. In his letter to the Galatians he wrote, "Am I trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10) The people whom God commends have decided that commitment to Jesus is of greater value than is social acceptance or popularity. It's even more important than one's family's reactions. Living for God transcends living for success as the world defines success.
Paul further describes his relationship with Christ by describing how his commitment led him to treat those to whom he ministered. In 1 Thessalonians 2:4-8 he states that he wasn't looking for praise from men. He never used flattery or masked greed. He could have been a burden to them, he wrote, but instead he was delighted to share with them not only the gospel of God but life as well.
Hebrews 11:5-6 tells us that Enoch was taken from this life without experiencing death because "he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God." In fact, the entire chapter of Hebrews 11 ends with the statement, "These [the people discussed in chapter 11] were all commended for their faith." Those with faith in Jesus the God-man, the Savior of the world, are those that God commends. Those who are loyal to Jesus no matter what the personal cost to themselves are the ones God commends.
Peter knew intimately the experience of betraying the Son of God and repenting for his egregious sin. In fact, when Peter repented, he realized that Jesus had known in advance that he would betray Him and had, in advance, assured him of forgiveness and told him not to avoid his brothers out of shame and fear. (see Luke 10:31-32) Jesus had actually commissioned Peter in advance to go back to the other apostles and strengthen them. Peter knew deeply the reality of Jesus' recognition of his sin and the profound transformation resulting from Jesus' forgiveness.
This man who understood suffering for sin as compared to suffering for the sake of Christ wrote these words: "For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." (1 Peter 2:19-21)
Peter, like Paul, knew what it was to suffer for the sake of sin. Yet these giants of faith have left us the encouragement that if we are willing to trust Jesus, if we are willing to put our loyalty to Jesus over our concern for ourselves, if we are willing to entrust our futures and our families and our health into Jesus' sovereign will, he will glorify himself through our lives. We will be people whom God commends.
When we know Jesus intimately and trust him with our lives, he can glorify himself through us. We can stop trying to make sure we get the recognition we want and the appointments we deserve. When Jesus becomes our all-in-all, we realize that we work for him, not for a corporation or a human boss. When we are surrendered to him, we discover that our lives are about Jesus shining through us, not about ourselves. Everything we do becomes a way to honor him. When we can boast in the Lord-when we praise him for his work in us and in those around us-we move from living for ourselves to living for Him. When we become able to boast genuinely about about Jesus and his work instead of about our own work, we then are becoming people whom the Lord commends. When we see ourselves as merely characters in God's story, we begin to see that there is nothing worthy of our boasting except God himself.
God is asking you to give up your desire to make a name for yourself. He knows that the emptiness your heart feels naturally cannot be filled by accomplishments or recognition. He also knows that you will not be more satisfied if your are more well-known and acclaimed than others. Jesus is in the business of breaking our pride and demolishing the groundwork of our arrogance. He is asking you to give to him whatever you value the most about yourself. He's asking you to give up your "right" to be known for the accomplishments and abilities that most define you and to surrender them to him. He's asking you to let him define you and to allow him to re-sign you to the work he wants you to do.
God is asking you to surrender the deep feelings you have that you could do another person's job better than he or she is doing it. He's asking you to give up your outrage that your training and expertise may be overlooked while others do the work you may believe should be yours.
When God appoints a person to do a certain job, his reasons and his preparation of that person do not have to make sense to you. As a Christ-follower, God is asking you to respect his assignments and to respect the boundaries of the work he has given each of his people. Just as he appoints those around you to his work, so he also appoints you to his work. God himself takes responsibility for preparing his people for the work hs wishes to do through them, and he asks you to honor those boundaries and to submit to your own.
God desires to be so central in your life that in everything, even in the minutia of life's daily grind, you are aware of his presence and of his sustaining love that will transform your drudgery and demands into offerings of yourself to him. God desires to love those in your life through you, and he desires to transform your words and your deeds into acts of healing and restoration for those whom they touch. The more fully you surrender to his love and grace, the more completely God will be able to reveal himself to others through you.
As Christ-followers we are not called to find great things to do for God. We are to abide in him, resting in his grace, and God himself will bring to us the work he wishes us to do. God will take responsibility for our being able to perform the tasks he brings us, and God will glorify himself through us.
Ask God to reveal to you the areas in your life where you are controlling or arrogant. Ask him to humble you and to help you to fully surrender your heart to him. Ask Jesus to help you to be content and to rejoice in what he gives you. Ask God to grow your faith and to root you deeply in him, glorifying himself through your life.
Praise the Father for redeeming the world and for making us his children.
Praise Jesus for his obedience and trust in the Father that motivated him
to give his life for us. Praise the Holy Spirit for filling us with the
presence of God and performing the work of God through us!
Copyright (c) 2002 Graphics Studio, Redlands,
CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted December 1, 2002.