2 Corinthians 10:7-18
7 Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we. 8 For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed. 9 I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. 10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” 11 Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present. 12 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.
13 But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. 15 We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, 16 so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence. 17 “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. 
Ever since Adam plunged the entirety of his offspring into lives of complete self-focus and self-interest, mankind has been consumed with pursuing its own skewed ideas of well-being. Things were no different in the Greco-Roman boom town of Corinth in about 56 A.D. where the cultural focus was heath-and-wealth, status, and entertainment. Corinth’s social climate made the Church of Corinth susceptible to a condition we have called an “over-realized eschatology,” a false notion that the future benefits promised at Christ’s return already belong to the church.
Paul has previously admonished them (1 Cor. 4:8, 10) with sarcasm for their having carried the values of their sinful culture into the gospel community:
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! …10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 
While the Corinthian congregation had a wide variety of people at every place on the socio-economic spectrum, the influencers were those who had all they wanted. They considered themselves “rich,” “kings,” “wise in Christ,” and “honored.” They saw themselves as having already earned all the blessings of the fully-consummated Kingdom through their own cleverness. That led the pretty people of the gospel community to look down on Paul. His less-than-prosperous circumstances, they claimed, resulted from his lack of true spirituality. Paul needed to learn to “name it and claim it” and to yield to the Holy Spirit so that God could pour out all the blessings he longed to give to Paul.
The confusion between the already and the not yet continues to plague the Church through numerous experience-focused spiritual movements. Today, we find it alive and well among the various health-and-wealth preachers that prey upon the fleshly desires of believers and unbelievers alike with promises of being able to live their “best life now.” It’s “narcigesis” not exegesis – interpreting scripture to be about me rather than about Jesus.
Rather than a biblical spiritual life, such teaching encourages the blending of worldly cultural values and desires with the contrasting humble Christ-and-others-focus of true biblical ministry. Christian leaders find it all too easy to give in to the styles of leadership displayed in the political and entertainment industries, they have transferred those flashy fleshly values into the gospel community precisely because such values are expected by church consumers seeking inspirational self-improvement TED talks.
In Paul’s time, his opponents in Corinth had read their Greco-Roman culture into their Christianity, interpreting the gospel in light of their worldly values. They boasted in the presentation and appearance and talent of their preachers. They boasted in rhetorical eloquence. Teachers held up their resumes and endorsements and letters of recommendation. They bragged of their large speaking salaries. They bragged about their connectedness to others, inferring greatness by association. And they compared themselves with one another.
Because the apostle Paul displayed none of those values they treasured, Paul’s enemies had become boastful and dismissive of his Apostolic authority. So, in our section this morning, Paul answers them with another defense of his authority and an admonition to embrace a ministry that boasts only in Messiah Jesus.
PROPER BOASTING (7-11)
First, the apostle invites his readers to observe the obvious as he continues in an aggressive, commanding style: “7 Look at what is before your eyes.” He invites the Corinthians to observe for themselves what they can plainly see about him. They are to look carefully at Paul and his teaching. If they do so, the truth will be staring them in the face.
Specifically, he writes, “If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we” (7b). Paul’s opponents were claiming to be of Christ, but not merely claiming to be Christians. Rather, their assertions were elitist because they believed they belonged to Christ in some special way that “ordinary” believers did not. They knew precisely how to appeal to the human longing to make it into the inner circle of the group.
Likely, they conveyed their perceived special knowledge with a smug tone of voice, a tilt of the head, and smirking expressions: WE are of Christ. They pretended to hold the keys to true enlightenment and real spiritual victory – the “victorious Christian life” – as if Christianity were a pagan mystery cult with levels and degrees where one must perform and pay to gain the secrets the little people can never know.
Paul’s response is, “let him reckon himself that just as he is Christ, so also are we.” In other words, the false teachers could not make their elitist claims of subjective experience and exclude Paul, the apostle who founded and built the Corinthian congregation. Even more, Paul’s claim carried Apostolic precedence. The apostle belonged to Christ before any of the Corinthians, and quite possibly before any of his detractors.
Had he wanted to do so, he could have argued that he was the elite of the elite because he had been blinded by Christ’s glory on the Damascus Road and was later caught up into the highest heaven, as he will later explain in chapter 12. In Paul, what was before the eyes of the Corinthians was true ecstatic experience, true mysticism, and true authority directly from the Lord Jesus Christ.
He goes on, in verse 8, to remind them again that his authority comes directly from Messiah Jesus. “8 For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed.” Paul, being a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ, saw nothing boast-worthy in himself. After all, he has chided these opponents about their bragging. But he’s willing to continue reinforcing the fact that he has been called as an apostle to act in the place of Christ.
Paul’s “boast” was in the authority of the new covenant ministry he had been proclaiming and celebrating from chapter 2 of this letter onward. His words “for building you up” come straight from Jeremiah’s prophecy of the new covenant where the prophet sings God’s promise, “I will watch over them to build and to plant, declares the Lord” (Jer. 31:28b). Paul pictures his new covenant ministry as a building up of the church. If they looked more closely, the Corinthians would understand it was Paul who brought them the gospel, founded the church, and built them up in the faith.
The metaphor of building is a repeated theme of Paul’s throughout his letters. As a minister of the new covenant in fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy, Paul will say in chapter 12 of this letter, “It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved” (12:19b). His “boasting” did not flow from his human pride but out of the overflow of his love and calling as a minister of the new covenant. His boasting is not self-centered but Christ-centered.
It seems, from the Corinthian rebels’ estimation of Paul, that he lacked the classic Greco-Roman physique and appearance so necessary to be seen as a commanding or impressive figure. He was certainly not cut from the statue of a Greek god as far as the pretty people of Corinth were concerned.
But as to his speech, it appears his performance style varied. His eloquence seemed god-like to those who heard him in Lystra (Acts 14:8-12). Yet, his all-night sermon put poor Eutychus to sleep (Acts 20:9). He varied his style according to the context in which he found himself. His methods seem different in Acts 13 (to Jews and God-fearing Gentiles), than in Acts 14 (to blue-collar, polytheistic pagans), and in Acts 17 (to white-collar, pagan philosophers).
The fundamentals of his gospel are clear and consistent, but the manner in which he delivered them varied according to context. In Corinth, Paul did not want to be another traveling paid performer. So he left out the flash and the eloquence he displayed at Lystra in order to give primacy to the message.
It’s certainly true that some of Paul’s letters are harsh in circumstances where he believes the gospel is a stake. To the Corinthians alone he has threatened destruction to the destroyer of God’s people (1 Cor. 3:16-17). He has threatened exclusion from God’s Kingdom to those who persist in unrepentant sin (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Three times he has called for the faithful Corinthians to exercise judgment upon the unrepentant (1 Cor. 5:1-2; 2 Cor. 2:4-11). So, we can be certain that his “severe letter” was quite fiery and withering (2 Cor. 2:4; 7:8).
Paul knew what was being said about him by his opponents, about his looks and his speech and his letters. Basically, they were claiming he was a spineless phony. Titus had no doubt given him a full report upon his return from delivering the “severe letter.” Paul wrote (vv. 9-10), “9 I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. 10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” Paul’s detractors believed true Christian leadership should be impressive, bold, visionary, triumphalist, and entertaining.
So, the apostle puts the rebels on notice. “11 Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present.” Paul’s words and actions were not disjointed and never would be. In truth, Paul’s obnoxious, self-seeking detractors should have been terrified! If Paul comes and finds them unrepentant, he will cut them off from Christ and all his benefits.
Paul knows what a tragic and terrible thing he may have to undertake. Shutting the gates of heaven to an unrepentant believer is a very tragic thing to have to do. This is what Paul meant when he wrote of the “divine power to destroy strongholds” and “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (v 3, 4).
He knows that when Peter declared Jesus to be Messiah, Jesus promised a great power to the future apostle: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  It is a power Paul takes not only to be Peter’s, but also one for all the apostles. It is a power given to all the overseers of a congregation and one that no elder should rush to exercise. Clearly, Paul is hesitant to cut anyone off from Christ’s Kingdom. But he absolutely will do so to preserve the gospel community’s integrity.
Oblivious in the Neverland of their over-realized eschatology and their worldly morality and ethics, Paul’s critics desperately needed to look at the apostolic church planter who stood right before their eyes. They needed to see the plainly obvious. Paul was absolutely and preeminently of Christ. He was the appointed minister of the new covenant sent to establish and build up the Corinthian church. They needed to consider his unflinching apostolic character that allowed no separation of words and deeds. They needed to repent, acknowledge his authority, and make him their boast. But the rebels were too obsessed with their worldly culture and with their own interests. So Paul now goes on another withering offensive against his critics.
AUTHORITATIVE BOASTING (12-17)
Verses 12-17 recall for us the vibe of many major Western cities whose citizens imagine their town (and, by association, themselves) to be the very center of the universe and the font of all the great fashions and ideas of the day. They are on the cutting edge. They are the truly enlightened ones. THEY invent the culture and drive the groupthink. They’re self-congratulatory and self-pleased and absolutely certain they’re better than all the “little people.”
That’s who the false teachers preyed upon – the expansive egos of the citizens of the big, hip, happening city of Corinth who longed to be part of the “in crowd.” They syncretized worldly ego with the church, sprinkling Jesus-language on an upside-down understanding of the new covenant. Paul uses satirical irony against this attitude in verse 12:
12 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.
The apostle assumes a mocking humility to show how unlike his critics he is, since they assume they are superior. They say he is a coward in person. He admits he does not rise to their awesome concepts of courage. He would never dare to place himself on the level of those who proudly sing their own praises and elevate themselves on the basis of sinful human comparisons and relative morality.
The so-called “super apostles” created their own subjective standards of excellence: popular rhetorical skills, high speaker’s fees, ecstatic experiences, commendations, and popularity with the masses. They judged both themselves and Paul accordingly. They rejected the criteria Paul used – allegiance to the truth of the gospel, conformity to Christ’s character, and participation in Christ’s sufferings. To create false criteria was to be “without understanding.” The false teachers boasted in their own stupidity.
The implicit contrast Paul creates is one between proper apostolic boasting and improper worldly boasting. Paul’s proper sphere of boasting was his divinely-assigned area of service:
13 But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. 15 We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others.
Paul confined his boasting to the geography of his ministry (including Corinth). Wherever Paul was called to plant churches and minister was his “area of influence.” He explained this to them in 1 Corinthians 3:10:
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.
The false apostles did not portray themselves as building on Paul’s foundation. They believed that any spiritual vitality in the congregation was a result of their worldly ministry, not Paul’s Christo-centric ministry. These were little men who jockeyed to steal glory from a great one. Paul never stole credit for the labors of other true ministers. He stuck to the God-ordained sphere of his own calling.
Paul wanted to settle the Corinthian controversies, not simply to wring money out of them for the Great Jerusalem Relief Project, but because he hoped to move on and build a new base of support in Rome for his mission to Western Europe (Rom. 15:24). He expressed this hope to the Corinthians:
But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, 16 so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence.
Paul was hoping that the Corinthians growth in faith would show up in their rejection of his detractors (6:14-7:1) and their participation in the Jerusalem collection (8-9). Seeing the church display other-focus and discipline of the rebellious would enable him to go westward with his mission to the Gentiles. He could not go until he saw a stabilized faithful gospel community in Corinth.
Paul said he wanted to “preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence.” This is not a repetition of his rebukes to the false apostles. It is a declaration of his God-given goal. Only the obstinance of the Corinthians is holding up Paul’s future gospel ministry plans. Paul’s only interest in boasting was God. And he was hoping to unleash the power of God in more dark corners of the devil’s domain.
And, as he concludes, he reminds them again of the only proper boast for any member of the gospel community, “17 Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Here he references Jeremiah 9:23-24. It is a prophetic call to acknowledge God in all his gracious works and providence. Paul shortens Jeremiah’s list of all God’s provisions into the simple phrase, “in the Lord.”
In our day, when the styles and assumptions of politics and entertainment have strolled uncritically into the pulpit, so that the congregation boasts in performances and personality and pretense and wealth and success and political righteousness, we desperately need to hear Paul’s admonishment: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
There will be no vain human boasting in Heaven. Not one redeemed and perfected saint will sing his or her own praises in eternity – ever! I think Peter and Paul would wretch to hear modern church people talk about how they can’t wait to meet and talk with these great figures. They gave up their lives to testify only and completely of the person and work of the crucified, resurrected, ascended, and glorified Lord Jesus Christ. They have no further interest in any autobiography, and neither will any of you when you are in the glorious presence of Father, Son, and Spirit.
Here are some heavenly boasts recorded by John the Revelator:
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come! 
Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Throughout the Revelation, there is no self-congratulation, only divine adulation! Here is what matters according to the apostle Paul:
18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. 
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 10:7–18.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 4:8–10.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 16:19.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 4:8.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 4:11.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 5:9–10.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 7:9–10.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 10:18.