|St. Paul - By Rembrandt|
TO CHEW ON: "What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as it were, foolishly, in this confidence of boasting." 2 Corinthians 11:17
The background to our reading today is that false apostles have infiltrated the church in Corinth. They are challenging Paul's authority. Sensing that now not all of the Corinthians are confident in him, we see Paul's tone change from encouraging to exasperated.
Paul's very human feelings come through as he sets out to convince them that he loves them and is an authentic apostle. As he considers what he is about to do (boast), he admits that this is not godly behavior - 2 Corinthians 11:17. His hurt feelings come through in sarcasm - 2 Corinthians 11:18,19. He points out the irony of the situation as they are being won over by those who treat them badly, the kind of treatment he would never give them - 2 Corinthians 11:20,21.
I like how the IVP NT Commentary explains Paul's behavior in this passage:
"In this matter of boasting Paul does not want to be taken as talking as the Lord would. The phrase is literally "according to the Lord" (kata kyrion). … The bragging Paul is about to engage in is not something the Lord would approve of; hence he does not presume to speak ex cathedra (as an apostle). Boasting of this sort is not the way of the Lord but rather the way of the world (v. 18). The Greek is literally "according to the flesh" (kata sarka)—a favorite phrase of Paul's (five times in 2 Corinthians). Typically it denotes operating the way the world does or being driven by human standards (compare 2 Corinthians 1:17; 5:16; 10:2, 3). When it comes to human pride, the way of the world is to boast in personal accomplishments. Many brag in this fashion, so Paul will too (2 Corinthians 11:18)."
The temptation to boast is still with us. If anything it's stronger than ever. So, is it okay for us to boast, since Paul did it?
Rather than taking Paul's lapse here as permission for us to do a little boasting of our own from time to time (for whatever reason), I prefer to see it as a caution of how even the most spiritual of us can fall into this kata sarka way of operating. Boasting is something the Bible warns us about in more than one place: Proverbs 25:6,7; 26:27; 27:2; Romans 12:3.
Rather than boast, let's trust: "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up" James 4:10.
PRAYER: Dear God, the temptation to operate in the flesh comes in many forms. Please help me to resist the temptation to boast when it feels urgent and like the most expedient thing to do. Amen.
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.