A Texan went to Australia for a holiday. While he was there, he took a tour with a local guide. Driving around the countryside the guide pointed out a large wheat field. “In Texas, we have wheat fields twice as large!” the Texan said. Then they drove past a herd of cattle. “Our long horns are at least twice that large in Texas!” the American boasted. So the tour guide took him to see some kangaroos. “What on earth are those?” the Texan shouted. “What?” the tour guide asked. “Don’t you have grasshoppers in Texas?”
2 Corinthians 10 12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. 13 We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. 14 We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. 15 Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, 16 so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in someone else’s territory. 17 But, ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’ 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.
Ministers and missionaries face a particular challenge when they come to defend their ministries. In every other walk of life people can list their achievements. They can reel off their qualifications and point to their accomplishments. People can ask for references and testimonials and let others extol their virtues. But Paul is very clear that apostles, ministers, missionaries and Christian workers cannot do those things.
Proverbs commands 27 2 Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.
Earlier in 2 Corinthians Paul has reminded the Church in Corinth that THEY are the ones who should be supporting and recommending him!
2 Corinthians 3 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 3 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.
4 Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
So it should be the Corinthians themselves defending Paul’s ministry, not challenging him. But instead he is having to explain himself to them. But it would not be right for him to reel off all the things he has done in his missionary journeys. He can’t even talk about his ministry among the Corinthians themselves. Paul can’t talk about what he has done at all – only what God has accomplished through him.
17 But, ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’ 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.
God’s commendation is the only thing that matters. Paul is quoting Jeremiah 9 23 This is what the LORD says:
‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.
Those who serve the Lord may never boast about what they have accomplished. Because they know they have never accomplished anything. They can only talk about what God has done.
‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’
Standing at the door at the end of the service, a lady came up and said, “Lovely service Vicar.” The minister modestly replied, “It wasn’t me – it was the Lord.”
“Oh, no,” said the lady. “It wasn’t that good”
‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’
So when Paul comes to defend his ministry to the Corinthians, his hands are tied. It is not appropriate for him to talk about anything he has achieved. He can only talk about what God has done through him, and even despite him.
We have thought before about the opposition that Paul experienced from a particular individual and a group within the church at Corinth. But it seems that there is another problem there. Another group are criticising Paul. He labels them the “super-apostles.” And this is what he says about them.
11 I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! 2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the snake’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 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 Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
5 I do not think I am in the least inferior to those ‘super-apostles’.
Some people have thought that these “super-apostles” might have been some of the Twelve Apostles coming down from Jerusalem to Corinth. But from what Paul goes on to say about them it is clear that could not have been the case. Acts 15 makes clear that the relationship between Paul and those of the Twelve Apostles who were still alive remained very good. Paul would never have been this rude about any of Jesus’s original Apostles. So it is clear that he is using this title “super-apostles” ironically. This group of people in Corinth may have thought they were the bees knees but actually the opposite was the truth. They had fooled the Corinthians into thinking that they were actually apostles but in reality they weren’t really any kind of apostle at all.
Instead these “super-apostles” were leading the Church in Corinth astray, as Eve herself was by the devil in the Garden of Eden.
11 2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the snake’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
“Did God really say …. ?”
There are so many areas in which people today are twisting the Word of God. Over the Bible teaching on judgment and on hell. Did God really say? Over the Bible’s teaching on sexual ethics. God didn’t really say that, did he?
These super-apostles were actually preaching a different gospel
11 . 4 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 Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough
There is no shortage of preachers twisting the gospel today. Distorting the word of God. Preaching versions of the good news which are as false as they are empty. We can’t know precisely which heresies the self-styled “super-apostles” were preaching, although we can do some detective work. In particular it seems that they were criticizing Paul because he supported himself during his time in Corinth, rather than expecting the Corinthians to give him hospitality and pay all his bills.
6 I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way. 7 Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so.
Paul went to great lengths not to be a burden to the Corinthians
Acts 18:1 After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3 and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. 4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
Rather than being a burden on the Corinthians, Paul earned his keep and paid his own way, or else relied on support sent from the Macedonian churches. Sadly so many celebrity preachers and evangelists today seem to be distracted by the pursuit of wealth and riches, popularity and success. It seems that these false “super-apostles” were falling into the same temptations almost two thousand years ago. They were criticising Paul for having preached the gospel at his own expense, relying on the support of the Macedonians instead of receiving financial support from the Corinthians
So Paul goes on to be even more direct in his criticisms. These people are not “super-apostles at all. They are false apostles
10 As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine. 11 Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!
12 And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. 13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
False apostles and deceitful workers. Just as the devil is a liar and the father of lies, sometimes people doing the devil’s work can appear to be all goodness and light. We need to be discerning. These “super-apostles” may have appeared to be the first century best thing since sliced bread to the immature Christians in Corinth. But in fact they were leading the church astray.
Paul will go on to defend his apostleship and his ministry on four grounds which we will consider in detail next weeks Later on in chapter 11 he will talk about everything he has suffered for Christ. It may well be that the false apostles’ false gospel had focussed on the victory of Christ to the exclusion of the sufferings of the suffering servant. Paul was the true follower of the Servant King. Then in chapter 12 Paul will talk about the visions he experienced from God. He will talk about his thorn in the flesh and how God’s power has been made perfect in his human weaknesses. Again, although we cannot be sure, it may well be that the false gospel of the false apostles had no room for weakness in the lives of believers. If so that would suggest errors very similar to the false gospel of health, wealth and prosperity which we hear so much of today.
And then Paul will return to comparing himself directly with the “super-apostles” in one very revealing sentence.
2 Corinthians 12 11 I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the ‘super-apostles’, even though I am nothing. 12 I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. 13 How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!
Signs wonders and miracles. These, says Paul, are included in the marks of a true apostle. And they were evidenced in Paul’s own ministry time and time again.
In Iconium Acts 14 3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders.
In Lystra Acts 14 8 In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, ‘Stand up on your feet!’ At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
In Ephesus Acts 19 11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
In Acts 20 in Troas Paul even brought Eutychus back from the dead.
12 I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles.
The marks of a true apostle. Not boasting of their own accomplishments. Faithfully preaching the gospel as Christ commands all his followers to do. Not sponging off gullible Christians as some celebrity evangelists and preachers do today exploiting their followers. Not deceitful workers, masquerading as angels of light. True apostles follow Jesus the suffering servant and only boast about their sufferings and their weaknesses. And the Holy Spirit works through such true apostles in signs and wonders and miracles even today.
We need to beware of false apostles as much as ever. The “super-apostles” of the internet and the stadium rallies. Preaching all kinds of false gospels. By their fruits will you know them. Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.