Authentic Ministry 23/Second Corinthians
The fundamental difference between Paul and the false apostles that he was combating is that he was surrendered to a standard from outside the world, and they were submitted to a standard that arose from within. And when I use a word like standard, we are referring to both law and gospel. What is the standard for evaluating appropriate behavior? And what is the standard to telling men how they might be saved? Both law and gospel, in order to be law and gospel, have to be extra nos, from outside of us.
“Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ’s, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ’s, even so are we Christ’s. For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed: That I may not seem as if I would terrify you by letters. For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible. Let such an one think this, that, such as we are in word by letters when we are absent, such will we be also in deed when we are present. For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you. For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure, as though we reached not unto you: for we are come as far as to you also in preaching the gospel of Christ: Not boasting of things without our measure, that is, of other men’s labours; but having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly, to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man’s line of things made ready to our hand. But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth” (2 Corinthians 10:7–18).
Summary of the Text
Paul is preparing to mount an attack on these apostles of the superficial (v. 7). If any of these men think they belong to Christ, Paul also does (v. 7). Paul is gearing up for some ironical boasting in the next chapter, and here he says that if he were to boast of his authority, he would not be ashamed. And why? Because his authority gave, and did not grab (v. 8). The point was not to be a literary terrorist (v. 9). He is here referring to the charge that he writes a hot letter, while his pulpit presence was weak, and his eloquence is well beneath the standard (v. 10). Paul has already indicated this next point, but he says it again. On the next visit, the letters and the actions will match (v. 11). Paul has a standard outside himself. Those who measure their yardstick with another yardstick are not wise (v. 12). Or even worse, they are not wise who measure their yardstick by holding it up to a mirror. Paul says that he uses the measure granted by God to him, and to them as well (v. 13). Paul is not getting outside his lane by dealing with the Corinthians, because he was the one who had first shared the gospel with them (v. 14). Paul refuses to encroach on another man’s ministry, but is of course open to mutual edification (v. 15). He is certainly open to having the Corinthians help him in the task of preaching the gospel in regions beyond them (v. 16). The one who glories should do so in the Lord (v. 17). Self-congratulation establishes nothing—only God’s commendation counts for anything (v. 18).
The Problem of Hypocrisy
We live in a subjective age, and so many people are not ashamed to say that their standard is provided by the guidance of their own heart. But the Scriptures reject this as truly foolish.
“He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: But whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.”
Proverbs 28:26 (KJV)
But there are two kinds of fools. There are those who trust in their own hearts, and say that this is what they are in fact doing. Here the folly is out in the middle of the table. The second kind is the one who trusts in his own subjective understanding, but clothes it in the more orthodox language of objective truth. We can see this in the parable that Jesus told about the conceited Pharisee who went down to the Temple to pray. Jesus spoke the parable against those who “trusted in themselves” (Luke 18:9). But the language the Pharisee used was good, solid Reformed stuff. “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are . . .” (Luke 18:11). “Lord, all the credit for me being so wonderful goes to You, and only to You.” Something is still off. And beware. How many of us read that parable and have thanked God that we are not like that Pharisee?
In this passage, Paul was genuinely submitting the whole thing to God. When we pray, we should talk like we mean it.
The Possibility of Failure
One of the best ways to tell if you are using a subjective or objective biblical metric is by whether or not there is any possible scenario where you would receive correction. How good are you are removing the beam from your own eye (Matt. 7:1-5)? How good are you at considering yourself, lest you also be tempted (Gal. 6:1)? How good are you at not judging others with a standard that would also flunk you (Rom. 2:1-3)?
Suppose the existence of an invisible recording device hung around every neck that only recorded moral judgments leveled against others. “She ought not . . . I can’t believe he . . . Those people are awful . . . Did you see what . . .” Suppose God distilled an ethical code from all of those statements, and then judged each person in strict accordance with that standard. All of us would be condemned. We would be in the position of David talking to Nathan about Bathsheba, before David knew they were talking about Bathsheba.
By way of contrast, we know that Paul was the real deal because of statements like this.
“For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”
1 Corinthians 4:4–5 (KJV)
Boasting in the Lord
Here is a matter that requires real spiritual wisdom. The occasions for boasting in the Lord will arise when people think that you had something to do with it. God is being very good to us here in this Moscow project, and there is no way to talk about it without referring to it. But I still wince inside whenever I hear it referred to this way. Even when I refer to it this way. And why? Because we must always boast in the Lord.
But we have to look at it from the other side as well. We cannot boast in the Lord, who dwells in the highest heaven, and who does nothing in particular. It is not boasting in the Lord to talk about the attributes of God in a way that is detached from all human history. God reveals Himself in His great and wonderful works. Miriam was not dancing beside the sea because she had just finished reading a chapter in a theological tome on the divine aseity. She was dancing because Jehovah had bared His strong right arm, and “Pharaoh’s army got drownded.”
And when we ask what this external objective standard is, we must immediately correct ourselves. The question is not what the standard is, but rather who the standard is. And the answer to that question is the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. The central message from Christ is not, “Go over there and do those good deeds. Make sure your motives stay right.” The central message is “come, follow me.”