[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.

2 Corinthians 10:9-12

Over the years I have had several people walk through the door of churches I have led and introduce themselves by immediately telling me what their gift is. A prophet, the gift of discernment, evangelist to name but a view. Not only did they tell me but they also managed to get around the congregation introducing their impressive gift to them.

This was never Paul’s way, just look at this from later on in Chapter 10,

[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.

2 Corinthians 10:17-18

But, Paul did do his fair share of boasting later on in the letter. He points to his Jewish heritage, his apostolic calling, his many experiences in the service of Christ, and much of what he suffered for the sake of the gospel. However, there is an argument to say he was reluctant to share about his life, his calling and service but did so as his opposers pushed him into it.

You can see this as he pleads with the Corinthians to bear with him, “in a little foolishness” (11:1). He is happy to be regarded as “foolish” (11:16) and a “fool” (vs 16 and 17 and 12:6) to protect his flock.

Twice he says, “I am speaking as a fool” (vs 21) and “I am talking like a madman” (vs 23). Yes, says Paul, “I have been a fool” in boasting of such matters, but “you forced me to it” (12:11)!

So, having seen that Paul seems reluctant to cite his qualifications and experiences we note that Paul is very conscious that it is not right for an apostle or any leader, or any Christian for that matter to self promote.

James Denny (Scottish theologian) said this,

“It is not the genuine Paul who figures here; it is Paul playing a part to which he has been compelled against his will, acting in a character which is as remote as possible from his own. It is the character native and proper to the other side; and when Paul . . . assumes it . . . he not only preserves his modesty and his self-respect, but lets his opponents see what he thinks of them. He plays the fool for the occasion, and of set purpose; they do it always, and without knowing it, like men to the manner born.”

One of the charges against Paul was that that he wasn’t up to much, that he was inferior, not eloquent etc. There may be some truth in this. We know that Paul’s letters were theologically deep, morally demanding and for some hard to understand. His personality, on the other hand, lacked the flare and charisma that his opponents insisted were the badges of authenticity. He argued that his authenticity was given to him from Christ alone, so he writes,

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” (vs 12).

Paul’s in a bit of a difficult situation. His opposers have forced him to defend himself, having done so his opposers accuse him of self promotion. It’s hard for Paul as he was being set up.

Paul is being openly sarcastic when he says they set the rules, but don’t live by the rules but not only that he says, these rules are not the rules of scripture.

What’s important for us to take from this passage is the ever-present danger that exists in the Church to measure our “success” and thus our personal “value” by comparing ourselves with others, whether they are in ministry or not. But the only standard that matters is the approval of God. The only commendation that counts is his word of praise.

So many times we can observe the spiritual gifts of others, their personality, their fame, their finances even, their status in the body of Christ, only then to compare it to ourselves and draw the wrong conclusion that we just don’t match up.

We have to be so careful when we compare and contrast ourselves with others as some people will have accomplished more than us and we will resent them for it, or they will have accomplished less and we will congratulate ourselves on being better.

So, humility is helpful, judging ourselves against scripture not people is essential. Conformity to Christ is our aim and character not gifting is our constant guide. Paul was able to rest in these words.

By the grace of God I am what I am. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

The reason he gives for being an apostle is “by the grace of God”. We are all who we are “by the grace of God.” Paul in this verse is very clear,

“and his grace toward me was not in vain” “but the grace of God that is with me.” He knows Gods grace is not without effect, he can see it’s evidence in his life. Also because of this grace he worked hard, he responded, he is not any better or superior, as he is not less or inferior. All is of grace, nothing is deserved, it is all of God. So true!