2 Corinthians 10:7-18 – Boasting in Ministry

In this third part of the letter, Paul confronts the Corinthians regarding the reception of the “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5; 12:11) on the part of some in the congregation. In preparation for his third visit to Corinth, Paul lays the groundwork for a potentially tension-filled encounter. He promises that he will deal with his opponents and punish their disobedience (1 Corinthians 10:6).

But, it seems, his letters don’t frighten some people. Perhaps it is a particular person who is the leader of the group. Paul writes, “he says” (though some translations write “they” [NRSV], the text is singular), and what “he says” is this: “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” In other words, Paul talks a big game when he is writing a letter, but when speaking in person, he is not a formidable person. One can hear the accusations: he has no rhetorical skills, his bodily appearance is unimpressive, he has no credentials, he has had little success, and his ministry is one moment of suffering after another (and where is God’s blessing in that?).

Greco-Roman culture valued a good rhetorician, impressive physical presence, bonified credentials from important people, successful adventures that win renown, and prosperity with reputation and honor. Perhaps the “super-apostles” fit the bill, and their ringleader pressed the comparison between Paul and themselves. Paul was an unfit leader, and the “super-apostles” were the truly authentic leaders to whom the Corinthians should listen rather than Paul.

The apostle’s initial response appeals to the experience of the Corinthians with Paul. If the Corinthians belong to Christ, they know Paul also belongs because it was Paul who planted (fathered, 1 Corinthians 4:15) the church in Corinth. As their father in the faith, he has treated them with grace and patience, but it is about to run out with those who oppose him. Paul will do in person what he writes in absence; Paul will do what he says and act boldly just as his letters speak boldly.

Moreover, his relationship with the Corinthians entails a kind of “authority” rooted in the measure that God gave Paul with regard to his missionary activity. It was an authority for planting and building rather than destroying and tearing down the church. Paul alludes to the prophetic task Jeremiah was given in Jeremiah 1:10 and essentially locates himself in a prophetic tradition. Paul wants to use this authority for positive purposes rather than overthrowing the Corinthians. Yet, Paul will use his authority to address his opponents and deal with them accordingly because they follow a “different Jesus” (2 Corinthians 11:3-4).

The authority Paul names is rooted in the reality that God gave Paul a “field” in which to work; literally, God gave a “measure of the canon.” The term “canon” may refer to a rule or standard of measure, or it may refer to something assigned. Either way, this identifies the authority Paul was given with respect to the Corinthians. Paul has been assigned to work this field. Indeed, Paul was the first to preach the “good news of Christ” to the Corinthians.

This is a boast within limits as Paul does not boast in the labor of others who work their fields. The “super-apostles” have apparently entered Paul’s field to turn over the soil, subvert Paul’s work, and undermine what Paul was building in Corinth. These intruders have overstepped their limitations. Paul has worked within the limits of his commission as an apostle to Corinth, but the “super-apostles” boast is not in the work where they have been commissioned but in the work they have done in other people’s fields. Moreover, they boast in the identity they claim.

Their boast is not “in the Lord,” but in comparing themselves with others in order to exalt their own credentials, work, or identity. They “measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with another.”  When they compare themselves with each other, and particularly when they compare themselves with Paul, they claim a higher role or more significance than Paul. They are rhetoricians, have credentials, claim success, and come with prosperity and reputation (in contrast to the persecuted Paul).

Paul refuses to compare himself in this way with others. Rather, he locates his ministry in the authority and assignment that God has given him. He will boast in this assignment as the one who has preached the gospel in Corinth, and he will boast in the opportunities this affords to spread the gospel to other lands (but not in lands where work is already underway). This is, according to Paul, boasting in the Lord, and it is in line with the quotation from Jeremiah 9:23-24. The only authentic boast is a boast in what the Lord has done. Instead of boasting in our credentials, rhetoric, and success (or wealth in Jeremiah), the faithful boast identifies with the Lord who acts with “steadfast love, justice, and righteousness.”

In recent years, a well-known minister refused to be mentored by another minister whose church was smaller than his. His sense of mutual respect for spiritual guidance, apparently, was based on success, credentials, and prosperity (his salary was a prosperous one). This is a different gospel, a different Spirit, and a different Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). It is the boast of the “super-apostles” in 2 Corinthians. It compares one minister with another minister, one congregation with another congregation, and locates “authority” in cultural standards (whether Greco-Roman or American). This defines success in terms of credentialed people, large and successful organizations, and popular and charismatic personalities (“celebrity pastors,” for example).

Paul refuses to compare himself with others. Rather, he will boast in the measure that God has given him, the suffering he endures for the sake of the gospel, and prioritize the preaching of the good news of Christ above all else. Rhetorical skills, “successful” churches, prosperity and wealth, and credentials are neither evidence of the embodied gospel nor the signs of gospel preaching. Rather, the task of ministry is telling the good news of the gospel in the fields God assigns—without fanfare, trickery, or intimidation. Nothing else really matters in comparison.

One Response to “2 Corinthians 10:7-18 – Boasting in Ministry”

  1.   Kennedy chandi Says:

    Pual boasting,of the will of God being done is the way to go.

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