2 Corinthians 10:1-18

When authenticity is questioned (Boasting)



Why do you do as you are told – I presume you do sometimes.


Why do you drive at the speed limit on certain roads – because it’s the law – or because there are speed cameras – do you slow down when you see a police car on a motorway? At work or at school – why do you get there for 9 in the morning, and wait until you are allowed to leave at the end of the day?


Why do footballers – generally – leave the field when they get a red card?


Why do we do as we are told? 


Perhaps it’s because we recognise that society depends on obeying people in authority – otherwise we’d end up with anarchy, so although sometimes we don’t understand why laws are made, we keep them. Or perhaps it’s because we know there are penalties for speeding, or not turning up to work or school or college – or for some of the things we might do whilst we are there.


We recognise that there are people who have authority over us – people who can – legitimately – tell us what to do.  We may not like it, but we recognise their authority. We know there are penalties for disobedience.  We know there are people who can tell us what to do.


But what about a situation where there are competing authorities?  How do we recognise authentic authority?  Tonight’s passage from 2 Corinthians – its on page 1164 of the bibles in the chairs – is concerned with authentic authority.


The apostle Paul is defending his ministry to the Corinthians – what gives him the right to tell them what to do?  What makes his authority authentic?

We’ll look together at these verses from 2 Corinthians 10, as we see what makes Paul’s ministry authentic – what makes something authentic.


And how we can learn from his example.



1. Authentic Authority is Godly, not worldly (v1-6)


The first thing we learn this evening about authentic authority is that it follows God’s pattern not the worlds.  Look at verses 1 and 2.


2 Corinthians 10:1 By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you-- I, Paul, who am "timid" when face to face with you, but "bold" when away!  2 I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world.


This first verse of chapter ten starts a new section of Corinthians – we’ve had Paul’s teaching about love and discipline and hoping in Christ in the first part of the letter – dealing with the issues raised by his previous letters.  Then we’ve just had his teaching on money, when he encourages the Corinthians to finish the collection they promised for the believers in Jerusalem.


Now we get to the final section of the letter – where Paul is looking forward to coming to see the Corinthians again.  So he makes this appeal to them – so that when he comes, he won’t have to be bold in how he speaks.


a. Following Christ’s example (v1-2)


Paul’s appeal is by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.  Paul models his appeal – models his use of his authority – after Christ.


We’re used to the idea of Christ being meek and gentle – perhaps we hardly noticed these words as we read through this passage.  But don’t forget that Christ is the one who will return to judge the whole world – and the one who has authority over the whole creation now. Jesus Christ does not exercise his authority with meekness and gentleness because he has to – but because he chooses to.  Look at Matthew 11:28-30:


28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."


Jesus encourages us to come to him for rest.  His yoke is light – because Jesus is gentle and humble with us.  He treats us with meekness.  Now we tend to think of meekness as weakness – but the word is more about an attitude of leadership.  Christ leads us gently.  He has the right to judge us – but he is patient, encouraging repentance.


Paul wishes to follow Christ’s example.  He has written bold letters to the Corinthians – letters which we know from chapter 7 have hurt him to write – so that when he comes to see them he can be conciliatory, and meek and gentle – because they have taken on board what he says in the letter.  Paul had the authority to tell the Corinthians what to do – he was an apostle – but he chooses as far as possible not to use that authority – but to encourage and persuade.


Jesus’ example can be hard for us to follow here.  We spend our lives trying to get authority – so that we can use it for the good of others of course – and so having put all the effort in, it seems stupid not to use the power we’ve got.  But Jesus calls us to live differently.


b. Using God’s weapons. (v3-6)


3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.


We live in the world – it would be hard to live anywhere else.  But that doesn’t mean we behave in a worldly manner.  The world has developed effective weapons for winning contests – for having authority recognised.  Brute force.  Great speakers who can whip a crowd into a frenzy.  Subtle propaganda over a long period of time.  But we don’t fight with those weapons.


4 On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.


Paul pictures a siege here – he talks in this verse of divine power to demolish strongholds, and taking captives – he has in mind those times when an army took a city, by breaking down the walls, taking captives and punishing those who were disobedient.  But this siege is not the conventional brutal attack.  The strongholds Paul wants to break down are arguments – those pretensions which set themselves up against the knowledge of God.


And Paul wants to take thought captive – to Christ.  He wants to free thoughts from the devil – the ruler of the world – and make thoughts captive to Christ – so that in captivity to Christ they will be free.  And disobedience will be punished – only once obedience is complete.  It’s like capturing a town that has been ruled by a tyrant, and restoring law and order, and then once that has happened, dealing with those who are disobedient – with the cooperation of the whole city. 


This is a different kind of siege, a different kind of attack.  This is a siege of the mind and the heart – through argument and persuasion.  Paul doesn’t say – do as I say because I say it – but seeks to persuade the Corinthians, so that they understand what he is asking them to do.  He has the authority to tell them what to do – but he wants them to recognise the truth, and act accordingly.


We’re all much more likely to follow rules is we can see the sense in them.  Don’t drive too fast – it’s dangerous – we can understand that.


Paul wants to persuade the Corinthians – not through propaganda or skilful speech – but with the power of the knowledge of God – with the truth.


We can be tempted to enforce our will on others – and to feel that the end justifies the means – that as long as the right outcome is achieved, how we get there is less important.  But Paul encourages us to think about how we go about ‘waging war’ – how we get people to recognise the truth – even when we have authority we seek to persuade, not to enforce our will.


Because Paul has a goal in mind in what he says to the Corinthians.


2. Authentic authority Builds up, it doesn’t tear down (v7-11)


Paul’s goal is not to win – but to help the Corinthians.  Look at verse 7


7 You are looking only on the surface of things. If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as he.


This verse tells us, in a nutshell, how bad things had got between some of the Corinthians and Paul.  He has to remind some of them that he is as much a follower of Christ as they.  The Corinthians seem to have become impressed by people who were impressive.  Paul wasn’t so impressive – so some of them started to think less of him – even to the point where they thought he wasn’t as good a follow of Christ as these more impressive people.  Paul reminds them that he is a follower of Christ as much as they – after all, he bought the gospel to them.


Then we get to the subject of boasting:


8 For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it.


The Corinthians have accused Paul of boasting in his authority.  Paul points out that his authority is authentic and legitimate – but his authority is used for building up, not tearing down.  Paul does not want to be hard in person – but he may have to:


 9 I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters.  10 For some say, "His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing."  11 Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.


Paul may have to be forceful when he comes.  So far, he has managed to keep forcefulness to his letters – but he may have to be forceful when he comes.


Notice here that the Corinthians are confusing what Paul has to say with how he says it.  Paul wasn’t a great speaker – he didn’t have the speaking gifts of many of the orators who were so popular in Corinth.  But he was a good writer – he wrote skilful and persuasive letters.  The Corinthians found his letters impressive – and his presence unimpressive, but Paul wants to realise that what is most important is what he has to say to the Corinthians, not how he says it.  So far, Paul ahs been able to avoid a direct personal confrontation with the Corinthians – but he warns them that this might now have to happen, when he next comes.


Paul is misunderstood by the Corinthians.  So he explains his motives – he isn’t about making an impressive display, of showing how powerful he is – but about building the Corinthians up, not putting them down.  This means that he will use a strategy that will help the Corinthians – and not focus on demonstrating our authority.  Paul has authority to serve the Corinthians – the Lord gave him authority not so that he could enjoy dominating them, but so that he could serve them – build them up in the faith.


It’s a question we can all ask ourselves when we’re in an authority position.  How does what I’m doing or saying build this person up?  This doesn’t mean not saying hard things – as Paul’s example shows us.  It doesn’t mean ignoring problems, and pretending everything is fine.  But it does mean being concerned for the person or people involved – what will be best for them?


So when we criticise or have difficult things to say to other people – people here – what motivates us?  Are we most concerned with being shown to be right – or with how we can help the other person change behaviours?  Is our desire to tear down – or to build up?  Because there are different types of power – different ways of doing things.  See where you find yourself here.







3. Authentic authority is approved by God, not self-approved (v13-18)


Paul’s use of power and authority is modelled on that of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He seeks the good of those he has authority over – he serves them – and he wants to persuade them of the truth as far as possible.  These characterisitics show that his power is authentic.  It is motivated by love, not malice, by concern for people not concern for his own advancement.  And in this final section of chapter 10 we see where he looks, and where we should look for commendation.   Look at verse 12.


12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.


Paul is being ironic here.  He won’t compare himself to the ones who commend themselves – the false apostles.  Why?  Because their way of commending themselves, and comparing themselves to others is to work on their own estimation – what they think of themselves.  When you put it as Paul puts it in verse 12 it sounds obvious – it doesn’t make any sense to decide your good based on what you think – or based on what a group of similar people might say.


Every Monday morning Leeds united could decide that they are the best football team in the world.  They know the players they’ve got – the fans – how everything they’ve got is better than anybody else has.  But if they looked outside themselves, they would soon realise this isn’t true – if they looked at the league table and found themselves bottom, or looked at the bank balances and found themselves heavily in debt.  We shouldn’t rely on ourselves – or our own group – to decide whether we measure up.


Paul goes on.


13 We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you.  14 We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ.  15 Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others.


Paul again reminds them that he was given a mission from God, to minister to the Gentiles, and that they were one of the churches he planted.  He is not boasting in work done by others.  Really, Paul is not boasting at all.  He has authority from God – he was the one who planted the church in Corinth – he is the one who has given of himself to make that church grow.  He is not boasting about anything.  But some of the Corinthians think he is boasting – and so he talks in their language – and explains that he is working in the field, the ministry which God has given him.


And his heart is still set on mission:


15 Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, 16 so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in another man's territory.


Paul wants to continue to take the gospel to others – not to hang around in Corinth to lord it over the Corinthians – as the super apostles are doing.  He’s not interested in that.  He wants to get on with the work God has planned for him.  And he wants the Corinthians to do the same.  Look at verse 17:


17 But, "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."  


We read the passage from Jeremiah 9 tonight.  It’s a strong warning.  Don’t boast in riches – boast in the Lord – for the Lord is coming as judge.  The future is bleak for those who commend themselves, who use power for themselves – to show how strong they are.


18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.


God does not approve those who commend themselves – he approves those who he commends.  Authentic authority is not about what others see – it’s about what the Lord sees.  Paul faced misunderstanding, objections, opposition and suffering – because he sought what was best for the Corinthians, not what looked best for him.  He provides a model for us. Paul demonstrated that his authority was authentic – it came from God. 





Let us follow his example.

James Hughes
14th March 2004