The biggest problem in my life and ministry is me. And one of my biggest problem among many is my gravitation toward self-defense or self-justification. I have an inner defense attorney from the firm of Flesh & Associates who is always there challenging the case in my favor. Well, not exactly for my favor. I am grateful for the Spirits work in me in this area, but I still have a long way to go.
When was the last time you defended yourself? Why did you feel the need to do it? Often times one is feels the need to defend themselves when confronted or attempting to protect an opinion or reputation.
Ironically, in 2 Corinthians 10-11, Paul is in the middle of defending himself and his ministry. Why does Paul feel the need to defend himself? What could be such a big deal that he feels the need to protect his reputation? Well, some in Corinth are discrediting him as an apostle. They say he is tough on paper, but in person he appears weak and doesn’t speak quite like the pros. Paul not only defends his ministry, but in doing so he defends the gospel message. It’s a big deal because he is protecting the reputation of Christ.
To defend himself Paul does a little boasting (v.1). Doesn’t that sound backward for Paul? Shouldn’t he turn the other cheek or be more humble? Instead Paul sees it is necessary to exercise “a little foolishness.”
Why is boasting foolish? It is foolish because no one likes listening to a boaster. Boasters are so full of themselves (show Packer shirt). If we do like people who boast, how much does God like it?
- “Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches,” (Jeremiah 9:23)
- “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” (Proverbs 27:1)
- “Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give.” (Proverbs 25:14)
- “These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.” (Jude 1:16)
- “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” …For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:11-12, 14b)
God doesn’t like boasters. So why is Paul stooping to that level? Now to be fair, boasting was anathema to Paul too, but he engages in it to show the church just how foolish it is and how foolish his opponents are. Here are three justified boasts of Paul.
1. As a father of the Bride, he is jealous for the church’s purity (vs.2-4).
What is the responsibility of the father of the bride? One of the most emotional moments for me when I married Sarah was the moment when the doors in the back of the church opened and my wife dressed in a white dressed walked down between our friends and family who were standing all looking at her. I was speechless. As so was her father. He was walking his daughter to me. For 27 years, he had been teaching her, giving her counsel and presented her to me as a pure bride.
How does Paul take his responsibility seriously as father of the church at Corinth? Paul, knew just how vulnerable the church was (vs.2-4). Like a faithful father he has boasted in his daughter and wants to keep the her pure and protect her from other lovers (deceivers) and present her not to just any man but the Son of Man, the Blessed Bride Groom.
Paul was properly jealous about this. He had paternal jealously handed down from another Father. It is said that “Human jealousy is a vice, but to share divine jealousy is a virtue.” Our God is a jealous God. He is jealous for the truth. He doesn’t like people adding or subtracting things from the message of Jesus, the work of the Spirit, or the Gospel. If God and Paul are jealous for these things, so must we.
2. As a faithful apostle, he compares himself to the super-apostles (vs. 5-15).
Here Paul takes the opportunity to boast in his authority. Remember, it is not his own authority, but an authority given to him from Jesus. And some were challenging his authority. Paul sarcastically refers to them as Super-apostles (v.5) because they made themselves bigger than Paul. We don’t know much about these super-apostles other than that they were skilled speakers and were paid well for their skills. I am sure they also had capes and sidekicks too.
How does Paul compare himself to the super-apostles? (v.6) First, he admits he is not a skilled speak. He doesn’t wow the crowds like the Greco-Roman speakers who were suave, spoke with a swagger, yet were synthetic. Second, he admits he excels in knowledge. In other words he says the main criteria you need to be a good preacher is a knowledge of God. This knowledge made him a powerful and persuasive preacher.
Third, Paul explains that he came to Corinth free of charge (vs.7-11). Paul didn’t take speakers fees like the skilled speakers or professional philosophers. Not that this is wrong, but it can be a temptation. Paul instead says he received support from Philippi and other churches in Macedonia so he didn’t have to burden to the church in Corinth. People misinterpreted this as if Paul was not charging for his services as a self-admission that he was a low caliber speaker and his message wasn’t worth much. That he gave away the gospel because no one would pay to he it, when he gave it freely as proof he loved them.
Paul will switch his tone from sarcastic to serious as he now calls these super-apostles false prophets, deceitful workers (vs.12-15). Why would he use such harsh terms? These super-apostles are changing Jesus, the Spirits work and the gospel message for their profit. That gives Paul grounds to boast. What Paul boasts in is the faithful, self-sacrificing efforts made on behalf of the gospel ministry in Corinth to the degree that his example serves to expose false apostles as what they really are, ministers of Satan.
This passage challenges all who take money and serve the name of Jesus. I must ask myself the question, do I consider the financial gain before you consider the glory of the Name? This is a real temptation. Remember, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (cf. 8:9).
3. As a follower of Christ, he has counted the cost and carries his cross (16-33)
Paul boasts to prove a point to boasters, “Look, isn’t boasting really foolish?” If Paul must be forced to boast, it will not be in the things that are impressive from a human standpoint. Rather, he will boast in those things that put him in such a vulnerable situation that he has to depend utterly upon God. He takes great lengths to share all that happened to him for the sake of the name of Christ (vs.16-33).
Paul answers the question, When is foolish boasting acceptable? “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (10:17; cf. Jer. 9:23-24). Nothing, absolutely nothing trumps the Lord. It doesn’t matter what I say about myself, it’s what I say about God. It’s the essence of backward boasting. I am nothing. God is everything. When the foolish boasting is in favor of Jesus and the gospel message it is sometimes acceptable.
How might this chapter be applicable to your life and ministry? Can you embrace your weaknesses? Will you boast in your weaknesses? The answer to that question has everything to do with the authenticity of the gospel and the church and its mission.