Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

December 17, 2014

Tom Lowe

The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians

 


            IV.    Authority of Paul’s Ministry. (10:1–13:10).                         

                     A.   The Defense of the Apostle. (10:1–18).

 

Lesson IV.A.3:By Divine Commendation. (10:12-18).

 

2nd Corinthians 10:12-18 (NKJV)

 

12 For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.

13 We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us—a sphere which especially includes you.

14 For we are not overextending ourselves (as though our authority did not extend to you), for it was to you that we came with the gospel of Christ;

15 not boasting of things beyond measure, that is, in other men's labors, but having hope, that as your faith is increased, we shall be greatly enlarged by you in our sphere,

16 to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man's sphere of accomplishment.

17 But "he who glories, let him glory in the Lord."

18 For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.

 

 

Introduction

 

In verses 12 to 18, Paul cautions the believers at Corinth not to compare his ministry with that of the Judaizers and false teachers who came along after him.  We are often not what others think we are, not even what we ourselves think we are: for example, in his personal examination of the seven churches named in Revelation 2–3, the Lord Jesus measured them far differently than they measured themselves.  The church that thought it was poor, He considered to be rich; and the church that boasted of its wealth, He declared to be poor. (Revelations 2:8-11; 3:14-22).

 

 

Commentary

 

12 For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.

 

Here Paul went on the offensive.  Although his critics had dared to commend themselves, Paul would not dare compare himself with them or anyone else.  Any ability he possessed was a gift from God; therefore God deserved the full credit for it.  Yet Paul’s opponents in Corinth didn’t shrink from measuring and comparing themselves with one another.  In so doing, they were robbing God of the Glory that was due to Him (10:17).  Instead of waiting for God to commend them, they were lavishly praising themselves.  Because the Corinthians tended to focus on appearances (see 5:12, 16; 10:7), they had been successfully duped by the false teachers slick presentation—“For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face” (11:4, 19-20).  The Judaizers were great at measuring their ministry, because a religion of external activities is much easier to measure than one of internal transformation.  The legalist can measure what he does and what he does not do, but the Lord is the only One who can see spiritual growth in the believer’s heart.  Sometimes those who are growing the most feel like they’re less than the least. Meanwhile, Paul, who appropriately refrained from any boasting, was accused by the Corinthians of being “unimpressive” (10:10).  Although the Corinthians claimed to be wise, they didn’t recognize that the pretentious boasts of Paul’s opponents did not show good sense (10:17-18).  Because of the power these false teachers were consolidating in the congregation, Paul was finally forced to spell it out.  He speaks in irony and mock humility in the presence of such astounding claims as these men make.  These teachers were foolish, loud-mouth braggarts! 

 

In a sense, the Judaizers belonged to a “mutual admiration society” that set up its own standards and measured everybody by them.  Of course, those inside the group were successful; those outside were failures.  Paul was one of the outsiders, so he was considered a failure.  Unfortunately, they did not measure themselves by Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 4:12-16).  If they had, it would’ve made a difference.  These critics are mainly the intruders who have come to Corinth claiming to be apostles (11:13) and to have the right to direct the Corinthian church; evidently they did not hesitate to speak highly of themselves.  This shows that they are without spiritual understanding.

 

Those who compare themselves with others may feel pride because they think they’re better.  We can find in the best of people flaws which feed our self-esteem.  But when measured against God’s standards, it becomes obvious that no one has any basis for pride.  Don’t worry about other people’s accomplishments.  Instead, continually ask: How does my life measure up to what God wants?  How does my life compare to that of Jesus Christ? 

 

 

13 We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us—a sphere which especially includes you.

 

Because the Corinthians had listened to these false teachers, they were forcing Paul to boast in order to silence his critics (see 11:1 – 12:13).  Here Paul explained the grounds on which he was boasting.  To boast in himself and in his own accomplishments would have been entirely inappropriate.  Only God deserved honor for He had given Paul his abilities.

 

What could Paul boast about?  Paul could only boast in God and in the task God had assigned him.  In fact, Paul used a bit of sanctified sarcasm in his defense—“The area God assigned to me included even you Corinthians.” Paul regarded his assignment at Corinth as well-within his proper limits.  It was not the Judaizers who had come to Corinth with the gospel.  They, like the cultist today, arrived on the scene only after the church had already been established (see Romans 15:15-22).  Apparently, Paul saw the false teachers as invading his field—in other words, usurping the responsibilities God had assigned to him.  Paul was expressing his opinion that Corinth was well within the field or territory that God had measured out to him. 

 

The complaint of the Corinthian believers was that Paul would not come to see them. They said he would spend time with others but would not come to Corinth to see them.  Paul tells them that his method is not to come and be a pastor of the church (16).  He had been called to be a missionary.  After he would begin a work, he would travel on.  He was always moving down to the frontier.  He never built on another man’s foundation, and he never went to a place where he was not sent.

 

Paul understood that his task as a messenger of the Gospel demanded humility.  He knew his weaknesses, both physically and rhetorically, and he was quite confident of his strengths.  But even his abilities were gifts of God for which he could not take full credit.  It is senseless to compare one’s self and one’s ministry with what others are achieving.  Each person has been assigned his or her own task and his or her own abilities. Churches and ministers are not competing with each other; they are competing with themselves.  God is not going to measure us on the basis of the gifts and opportunities that He gave to Charles Stanley or one of the other popular preachers around today.  He will measure my work by what he assigned to me.  God requires faithfulness above everything else—“Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).

 

 

14 For we are not overextending ourselves (as though our authority did not extend to you), for it was to you that we came with the gospel of Christ;

 

How did Paul know that God had given him Corinth as part of his responsibility?  It was because Paul and his companions were the first to come all the way to the Corinthians with the Gospel: he was the founder of the Corinthian church and as such could exercise authority over the congregation.  That should have been obvious to the believers in Corinth.  But Paul had another reason for considering the Corinthians well within his limits.  The Holy Spirit had commissioned him as a missionary to the Gentiles—“Then the Lord said to me, 'Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” (Acts 22:21).  The Christian leaders in Jerusalem had confirmed his commission: “They saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews”  (Galatians 2:7). This confirmation by the Jerusalem elders amounted to a division of evangelistic labor: Paul was to preach to the Gentiles while Peter was to preach to the Jews.  Paul had stayed within his limits.  Had these teachers who had come from Judea (see11:22) stayed within their limits?

 

“For we are not overextending ourselves” by coming to Corinth to preach and minister to you; “for it was to you that we came with the Gospel of Christ.” He went to the Corinthians under the guidance and direction of God.  Corinth was included (“extended to you”) in his assigned field of work.

 

Although Paul might have been concerned about these teachers from Judea breaking his agreement with the Jerusalem elders, it is clear that Paul’s primary concern was that these teachers were misleading the believers in Corinth.  Paul had welcomed in the past any teacher of the truth, such as Apollos, to build on a foundation he had laid (see 1 Corinthians 3:5-13).  In the final analysis, however, the Corinthians had only one founder: Paul himself (see 1 Corinthians 4:14-16).  If anyone could claim authority over the Corinthian congregation, he could.  Ironically, it was his authority that was being called into question.

 

 

15 not boasting of things beyond measure, that is, in other men's labors, but having hope, that as your faith is increased, we shall be greatly enlarged by you in our sphere,

 

Paul refused to boast in the fruit of the labors of other of evangelists, as the false teachers were doing with the Corinthians (the fruit of Paul’s hard labor among them).  Paul used a Greek word for “labors” that can denote physically demanding labor.  Paul had indeed supported his own evangelistic efforts in Corinth by making tents out of goat-hair cloth (see Acts 18:1-3).  He didn’t even shrink from persecution at the hands of the Jews (Acts 18:12-17).  The Corinthian church had been established because of Paul’s willingness to suffer hardship. 

 

He hints at his future plans in the latter part of the verse.  They depend, however, on an increase of faith in the Corinthians; that is, before Paul can do anything else, the revolt in Corinth must be settled in a way that shows in the Christians there a growth in Christian faith and understanding.  Paul would not boast about another man’s work, nor would he invade another man’s territory. Whatever work he did, God did through him, and God alone should receive the Glory. “Not boasting of . . . other men's labors” is another dig at the Judaizers who stole other men’s converts and claimed them as their own.  The Judaizers were taking credit at Corinth for what Paul himself had done, and this injustice arouses Paul’s indignation. 

 

 

16 to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man's sphere of accomplishment.

 

Paul added another bit of “holy irony” when he told the Corinthians that the only thing that had kept him from going to “the regions beyond” them was their own lack of faith (v. 15).  Had they been submissive to his leadership and obedient to the Word, he could have reached other lost souls; but they created so many problems for him that he had to take time from missionary evangelism to solve the problems in the church.  “I would have better statistics to report,” he was saying, “but you hindered me.”

 

The Corinthians were prone to glory in men, especially now that the Judaizers had taken over in the church.  When the Corinthians heard the “reports” of what these teachers had done, and when they saw the “letters of recommendation” that they carried, the church was quite carried away with them.  As a result, Paul and his ministry looked small and unsuccessful. 

 

Unlike the traveling preachers who had come to live off the Corinthian congregation (see 2:17), Paul envisioned his evangelistic ministry as expanding into unevangelized regions.  In order to do this, however, the Corinthian’s faith had to increase.  As they matured in the faith, Paul could enlarge his sphere of action.  Paul might have been implying that as the Corinthians matured in their faith, he can spend less time guiding them in their Christian walk.  As mature Christians, they would not only be less dependent on Paul to solve their congregation’s problems, but they would also start supporting Paul as he launched evangelistic missions beyond them into completely unevangelized areas.  From Paul’s letter to the Romans, we know that Paul’s vision included reaching Spain with the Good News.  (See Romans 15:24).  He would never plan on invading regions that had already been evangelized by some other teacher. 

 

 

17 But "he who glories, let him glory in the Lord."

 

The following chapters list some of Paul’s ministerial credentials and accomplishments.  Paul was extremely cautious about boasting about himself; first of all, so that he might not rob the honor that God deserved (11:30-31), and secondly so that he might not be misunderstood as praising himself (see 5:12-13; 10:13; 11:16-18).  The situation in Corinth, however, had forced Paul to set aside his scruples about boasting in order to save the Corinthian church from ruin.  By touting his credentials—the credentials the Corinthian’s should have recognized in the first place—Paul hoped to discredit the false teachers who had infiltrated the church (11:12). He would never plan on invading regions that had already been evangelized by some other teacher. 

 

The final test for a church or ministry is not when the records are published for the annual meeting.  The final test comes at the Judgment Seat of Christ “and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Corinthians 4:5).  If men get the Glory, then God cannot be glorified.  “I am the lord: that is my name: and my Glory will I not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8).  This is not to suggest that well-known ministers with flourishing works are robbing God of Glory.  As we grow and bare “much fruit,” we bring Glory to the Father (John 15:1-8).  But we must be careful that it is “fruit” that comes from spiritual life and not “results” that appear when we manipulate people and manufacture statistics.

 

 

18 For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.

 

Paul paraphrased Jeremiah 9:24 in order to emphasize to the Corinthians that he knew he was treading on shaky ground.  The Old Testament passage was especially relevant because it was and indictment against false teachers who took pride in their wisdom and their speaking abilities (10:9-10): “This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man gloat in his wisdom, or the mighty man in his might, or the rich man in his riches.  Let them boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the LORD who is just and righteous, whose love is unfailing, and that I delight in these things.  I, the LORD, have spoken!” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

 

Only those who seek after God and make it a priority to know and love Him are approved by God.  Only those who bring honor and praise to God, instead of themselves, are those people in whom God delights; and, in the end, only God’s approval counts.  In light of eternity it doesn’t matter how other people judge us.  The light of Christ is the light of reality in which all things appear as they are.  His judgment will surprise both those who are conscious of virtue and those who are not (Matthew 25: 31-46).  What God looks for in us is what He alone can give—a desire for the goodness which is kindled and fed by the love of Christ.

 

Ask yourself this question: “Can the Lord commend my work?” We may commend ourselves or be commended by others, and still not deserve the commendation of God.  How does God approved our work?  By testing it.  The word “approved” in this verse means “to approve by testing.” There is a future testing at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10), but there is also a present testing of the work that we do.  God permits difficulties to come to local churches in order that their work might be tested and approved.  Some of the churches have fallen apart and almost died, because the work was not spiritual.  Other ministries have grown because of the trials and have become purer and stronger; and, through it all, God was glorified.

 

The important thing is that we are where God wants us to be, doing what He wants us to do so that He might be glorified.  Motive is as much a part of God’s measurement of our work as is growth.  If we are seeking to glorify and please God alone, and if we are not afraid of his evaluation of our hearts and lives, then we need not fear the estimates of men or their criticisms.  Paul is telling the Corinthian believers that he is doing what God had called him to do.  He was called to be a missionary, and that is what he is doing.

 

“But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (v. 10:17). 

 

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