By: Garner Fritts
Have you ever met someone who brags all the time and places themselves on a pedestal? They want everyone to know how much they are worth, how intelligent they are, how gifted they are or any other number of human achievements. Some of these braggarts invoke the name of the Lord while promoting themselves. What is even worse, there are many people who admire those types of people and hold them in higher regard than the so called “common folks”. It is repugnant at best and idolatrous at worst. This is exactly what Paul, the apostle had to deal with in the church of Corinth.
This section of the Corinthian letter deals with perhaps the greatest trouble the local assembly had in their midst. The so-called “super apostles” were preaching another gospel that Corinth was readily accepting (v. 4). Paul never identified what this other gospel was, except to state that it was leading the saints away from a “wholehearted devotion to Christ” (v.3). Their corrupting persuasion was so deceptive, Paul likened it to when the serpent beguiled Eve in Eden (v.3) and Satan disguising himself and coming to them as an angel of light (v.14). These false apostles were charging for their ministry (v.7) and abusing the congregation as if they were lowly slaves (v.20). By contrast, Paul accepted nothing from them and treated the Corinthians like brethren. It was perceived as weak and inferior in the sight of the Corinthians and Paul’s spiritual rivals. Paul identified these men as Jews (v.22) who spoke eloquently (v.6), and assumed special privilege that they bragged about (v.12). As they exalted themselves in the name of Christ, they made Paul and his ministry seem secondary to theirs (v. 5).
Paul’s intention in addressing this was twofold. First, he wanted the Corinthian believers to discern the divine authority of his ministry to them. He did this in a sarcastic tone not often found in scripture. Though Paul acknowledged the false leaders might have been better speakers, he was every bit as knowledgeable (v.6). Secondly, Paul wanted the church at Corinth to see the alleged super apostles for what they really were. In doing this, he could correct Corinth’s diluted view of the gospel and divert the glory to where it truly belonged.
Though Paul had previously stated he didn’t want to boast in such a manner, (10:13) he was trying to get the Corinthians’ attention in a way that seemed to resonate with them…self-focused bragging. His version of boasting was not what you would normally expect from someone touting their credentials. He didn’t boast of how many converts he made, how many churches he planted or how many miracle he performed. Paul rattled off a list of things most people who consider failure. He suffered beatings, imprisonment, shipwrecks, etc., (v.23-28). We can allude from this passage that the super apostles were likely boasting of their successes as they belittled their rival. (10:10-12) What was Paul’s point? His sarcastic reaction put the super apostles actions in a new light. Paul exposed it for what it really was…foolishness.
Paul also declared the power revealed in weakness as he finished his thought in the beginning of chapter twelve. He spoke of the mysterious “thorn in the flesh” that he besought the Lord three times to remove (12: 7-9). Some scholars believe Paul’s thorn was weak eyesight and cite a comment he made in one of his epistles as proof (Galatians 4:15). Though no one truly knows what this was, the point was made clear to Corinth. God’s glory and power is revealed in the midst of human weakness (12:10). It places the emphasis on the proper source.
What can we conclude from this particular passage? We have a right to brag, as long as it is focused on the right object. Self-promotion in the name of the Lord is destructive to those who fall in its trap. The Holy Spirit, through Paul, gave us a pattern we can follow. He often bragged on fellow believers and always glorified the God Who made it all possible (Romans 1:8; 2 Corinthians 7:14). We should honor those to whom honor is due, (Romans 13:7), but give glory to the One to Whom it solely belongs (Ephesians 3:20,21). If we are honored, let it be from another and not from us (Proverbs 27:2). We should graciously accept such compliments, knowing and proclaiming that it is only by God’s grace that we can do anything (1 Corinthians 15:10; John 15:5). When we learn to do these things, we will find and grace and power in the midst of our weakness that the world so desperately needs and only Jesus can give.