What Do You Boast In?

ii corinthians jars of clay
The Voice of Hope
What Do You Boast In?
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What Do You Boast In?

II Corinthians 10:7-18

              In Philippians 2:5 to 8 we read, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider [His equality with God something to be held on to], but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

              None of us can fully imagine what it meant for Jesus to humble Himself. He exchanged His state of heavenly perfection with its divine privileges for the form of a human being and took on the characteristics of an obedient servant. He did it willingly, motivated by His love for you and me. It’s this mindset that we’re to adopt in our relationships with each other.

              As I’m sure you know, the mindset of humility is not natural. No, we are all infected with the same sin that got Satan kicked out of heaven – pride. God hates it, He resists it, and he will judge those who embrace it! Why, because, at its root, pride is an attempt to place ourselves on the throne instead of God.

              The Scriptures inform us that pride often leads to boasting. Boasting is “a statement expressing excessive pride in ourselves, praising ourselves extravagantly in speech.” James cautions us not to boast about what we hope to achieve because our human existence is so tenuous that it’s compared to water vapor! We must admit we don’t know what tomorrow will bring and we don’t even have a promise that we’ll be here tomorrow.

              So, is all boasting wrong? Stay with me because we will answer that question from our Scripture text today. The text is Second Corinthians 10:7 to 18. This is the Word of God to us.   

           As we read Paul’s writings, they reveal to us a godly man with a humble spirit. Repeatedly he urges followers of Christ to protect, promote, and pursue a spirit of humility. But in this section of verses I just read, Paul uses the word, boast, 13 times. It seems clear that he felt compelled to defend his apostolic authority to his critics. He does so with the greatest reluctance.

            To answer the question, “what do you boast in” we will look at three STANDARDS of judging that Paul highlights in this text.

The First STANDARD of Judging is,

            By Appearance

            We’ve all used this standard and we know how inaccurate it can be. Most of us have at one time or another made a judgment about a person or situation based solely on appearances, and later come to regret that decision. To my shame, I’ve done it too often.  

            The opening phrase of verse seven can be taken two possible ways; “are you looking only at appearances?” Or “you are looking only at appearances.” The unstated implication is that they should be looking deeper, looking beneath just the surface. As we work through this text, we’ll see how the rebellious faction at Corinth was guilty of judging by appearances.

            I find it interesting, and also in character, that Paul doesn’t question his opponent’s claim to belong to Christ. He restricts himself to his own calling. He didn’t say, “if you were genuine followers of Christ, you wouldn’t be speaking this way about me.” He didn’t go there. Remember, back in verse one of this chapter Paul implores his readers with the meekness and gentleness of Christ. His response is an important example for us as we deal with difficult situations.

            The Judaizers at Corinth had persuaded themselves that they belonged to Christ by virtue of their appearance. If they had paid closer attention to their own Hebrew Scriptures, they would’ve recalled First Samuel 16:7, where God told Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

            Their criticism of Paul was that his physical appearance is weak and his rhetoric amounts to nothing. In a sense, Paul had already admitted this when he wrote in his first letter, “my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” Paul was human, he had feelings, so this criticism must have stung. No one likes to have their physical appearance or intellect denigrated publicly.

            As I reflected on verse 10, I saw similarities between the Corinthians’ description of Paul and the description of Christ in Isaiah 53:2, “He has no [stately] form or splendor; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. Earlier, in chapter 42:2, Isaiah wrote of Jesus’ speech, “He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.” For both Jesus and Paul, the power of their words wasn’t in their physical appearance, their rhetoric, or their oratory skills – it was in the authority with which they spoke.

            And yet, Paul didn’t use his apostolic authority as a cudgel to beat people into submission. Look at verse 8. Paul writes “even if I should boast about belonging to Christ and about the authority He has given to me, I will do it for your edification and not for your destruction. I will never be ashamed of my boast in Christ.” If Paul were to focus on appearances, as his critics did, he would’ve responded much differently to them.

            In fact, he could have had harsh words for the ringleader in Corinth, but he refuses to name him and shame him. And Paul reassures his critics that when he was with them, his acts were precisely the same as the recommendations and commands in his letters. When someone judges by appearances, the outcome is often character assassination. Paul wasn’t going there.

            But he also wants to avoid the trap that is being set for him. Look at verse 12. There is both wordplay and sarcasm in this verse. First, Paul says “we dare not classify ourselves…” The idea here is “to judge among, to judge one as worthy to be numbered among [the group]. He continues, “we dare not compare ourselves with those who commend themselves…” The meaning of this second phrase is to combine or decide, or to “pair and compare.”

            Paul sarcastically implies that the Judaizers set themselves up as the standard of orthodoxy and then boasted of the same. They measured themselves by [or within] themselves. Naturally, they always measured up to the standard, while Paul never does. They had a mutual admiration society! Paul says that people who function in this way are without understanding. In other words, they are oblivious to the picture their lives present to those watching them.

            If you and I are honest with ourselves, we must admit to the same tendency to judge by appearances. I believe this tendency is universal to humanity. We often think that our beliefs and practices are the standards by which all other people should be measured. But is that really the case? If we refuse to look outside of our “group,” and learn from other genuine Believers, then we too are without understanding as Paul writes.

            The bottom line is if you want to boast about something, don’t boast in appearances. God has a higher standard of judgment than that.  

The Next STANDARD of Judging is,

            By Achievement

            Most of us have used this standard too. We hesitate to admit to boasting, but we do try to make sure people notice our accomplishments or our skill set. Achievements in business, sports, academia and even ministry often become the basis for prideful boasting. Many of these entities I mentioned have associations that make achievements and excellence a high priority; public recognition and acclaim are part of the reward.

            Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not opposed to excellence and achievement in our service to the Lord. But I do oppose using pride as motivation. As humans, we’re very susceptible to pride and if we indulge in it, it will destroy us. As Believers, we are called to excel and achieve because we serve Christ. Any good that results from what we do is because He is working in us.  

            Paul says in verse 13, “we will not boast about the things in which we have no experience. We will confine ourselves to the sphere of influence God has apportioned to us, a sphere that reaches even to you.” Paul and his team were the first to bring the Gospel to Macedonia and Achaia. So, he was not going outside of his jurisdiction by shepherding the church at Corinth.

            The same can’t be said for the Judaizers. These teachers were from Jerusalem and had invaded Paul’s sphere of service. They were attempting to occupy the ground that he had won successfully for the Lord and the church. I don’t think Paul would’ve objected if these men had come behind him with supporting counsel and confirming testimony. Instead, they were trying to undermine what he had done.

            In these verses, Paul speaks of territory as being marked out with a “measuring rod.” The imagery is that of surveying a district and assigning different parcels of ground to different people. He saw how God “allotted” a certain region to him and he was content to function in that place. In much of our world today, the goal of many people is to strive always for bigger and better. We see this in the mega-church movement with its celebrity leaders. In their minds, size proves success and achievement. Paul had the desire to see the Gospel go everywhere but he understood the importance of God’s boundaries. So, his boasting of his labor in Corinth was not boasting beyond measure.  

            In this text, there is one achievement I see that Paul greatly longed to see become reality. It’s in verse 15. He wanted the Corinthian Believers to reach a level of maturity in Christ that would demand less of his time and attention. He wanted them to grow spiritually to the point where they could address and solve their own internal issues with the power of the Holy Spirit. In turn, that would give him greater freedom to preach in areas where the Gospel hadn’t yet gone. And they would have been able, legitimately, to boast about what the Lord was doing among them. As a minister of the Gospel that’s an achievement I long to see as well.  

The Final STANDARD of Judging is,

            By Assignment

            Paul wanted to preach the Gospel in regions beyond Corinth, even to Rome, but he wouldn’t intrude into the sphere of someone else’s ministry. “…another man’s line of things” is the same as the word previously translated as rule. He would, as we might say, “stay in his own lane.” Paul wasn’t going to boast about the work already done on another person’s territory.

            And then in verse 17, Paul escapes the oppressive, negative subject of the earlier verses and moves into the freeing, positive subject of standing, ultimately, in God’s presence. He quotes Jeremiah chapter nine; “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches;but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me…”

            Why is this so important? Well, look at the final verse. For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.” Self-promotion and self-approval are meaningless in the long run. True servants of God present the facts as they are and then allow God to sort out the details and the rewards. And Jesus said, “not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

            If you are a Christ-follower, then you have an assignment from the Lord. While we proclaim the same message, your assignment isn’t the same as mine, nor is mine the same as yours. But both of them are equally important. I don’t want to waste my time trying to take your assignment because I’m probably not qualified for it.

            When you and I stand before our King, whether we were tall or short, handsome, homely, slim, or stout, outward appearances like that won’t mean a thing. No matter how we try to put ourselves in a good light, to cultivate a culturally acceptable appearance, it won’t matter. He knows who we really are because He knows what’s in our hearts.

            The same is true for our fleshly achievements. We can have trophies, we can have accolades, we can have the honor of our peers, and we can have the praise of men, but those things will all pass away. What I want, and I trust you do too, is the approval and commendation of my King. His approval is worth more than anything the world can offer to you and me now.  

            And finally, like Paul, I want to understand what my assignment is and then do it, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the best of my ability.

            So, I end with the same question I asked at the beginning, “What do you boast in?”

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