Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Corinthians 10:13-18

13 But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. 15 We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, 16 so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence. 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 (I)whom the Lord commends.

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In last week’s reading, Paul began dismantling what the false teachers in Corinth said about him and reasserted his apostolic authority.

In today’s verses, he criticises the false teachers’ pride and boastfulness. These men were out to destroy the church in Corinth.

Paul wanted to leave the church in Corinth in a holy place and move to other places in order to plant more churches.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

In 1 Corinthians, he’s fighting against the iniquity in the congregation. In 2 Corinthians, he’s fighting against the false teachers who’ve invaded from the outside. He has to stay long enough with that church to fight those battles. Once that church is strong, you move to the next place, leaving it in the hands of strong men. He is saying, then, look God not only called me to you but my dream and my vision and my goal is to get you strong so you can launch me to the next mission field. And spiritual chaos, at this point, hindered that advancement.

But when Corinth was firm and strong, then Paul could advance. I want to go further. I want to preach the gospel to the regions beyond. In Acts, I think it’s chapter 19, verse 21, a verse you might want to note with reference to this as a comparative Scripture, 19:21, “Now, after these things were finished, Paul purposed in his spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia saying, ‘After I’ve been there I must also see Rome.’” Rome was in his heart, that great immense city, that capital of the ancient world. He wanted to go there to preach the gospel and from there to be launched to Spain.

Paul says that, unlike the false teachers, he would not boast beyond his limits but only within those that God gave him (verse 13).

Matthew Henry’s commentary elaborates further:

His meaning is, either that he would not boast of more gifts or graces, or power and authority, than God had really bestowed on him; or, rather, that he would not act beyond his commission as to persons or things, nor go beyond the line prescribed to him, which he plainly intimates the false apostles did, while they boasted of other men’s labors. The apostle’s resolution was to keep within his own province, and that compass of ground which God had marked out for him. His commission as an apostle was to preach the gospel every where, especially among the Gentiles, and he was not confined to one place; yet he observed the directions of Providence, and the Holy Spirit, as to the particular places whither he went or where he did abide.

Paul says that he did not reach beyond his boundaries in going to Corinth and reminds the congregation that he was the first to preach the Gospel to them (verse 14).

MacArthur says that Paul wrote that to counter what the false teachers were saying, that he had overstepped his boundaries:

Now, obviously, Paul is reflecting on the fact that the false apostles had accused him of coming into territory he was not assigned to, coming into territory he had no right to, no authorization for. They were saying Corinth is our place, not Paul’s. And they needed to get rid of this usurper, Paul, and listen – the people need to listen to them, the false teachers. But Paul responds by saying, “We were the first to come, even as far as you in the gospel of Christ. I came first preaching the gospel. I was there first.” In 1 Corinthians 3, he put it this way, “I planted, Apollos watered.”

In 1 Corinthians 3:10, he put it this way, “I laid the foundation and others are building on it.” Paul says, “I’m not exaggerating my claims. We were first. We preached the gospel.” You can read Acts 16, you can read Acts 18, and it’ll tell you the story of when he came to Corinth and how he preached the gospel there and how the people believed and the church was founded. And he stayed twenty months or so. He had been God’s tool to evangelize Corinth. Listen now, the false teachers were parasites. They were terrorists. They were invaders. He was there first by God’s design with the truth.

Paul tells the Corinthians that he was not going to boast beyond his limits about what others had achieved, something the false teachers were doing. Paul says that his hope was for the Corinthians’ faith to be increased so that more converts could be made in the surrounding areas in Achaia — the province where Corinth was located (verses 15, 16).

Henry says:

He declares his success in observing this rule. His hope was that their faith was increased, and that others beyond them, even in the remoter parts of Achaia, would embrace the gospel also; and in all this he exceeded not his commission, nor acted in another man’s line.

MacArthur says that the first part of the verse is sarcastic:

… he says in verse 15, “Not boasting beyond our measure; that is, in other men’s labors,” dripping sarcasm there, “but with the hope that as your faith grows” – and at this particular point in time that wasn’t the case. They were definitely in the spiritual neutral zone. But the hope of Paul was that they would get strong in the faith, get mature, overcome the current issue, the wicked one who was assaulting them with unsound doctrine, and they would get back to sound doctrine, holy living, become stronger, the present crisis would end, the church would take a firm stand on apostolic doctrine, full obedience to Christ.

He says, “I want that to happen so that we shall be within our sphere enlarged even more by you.” What does he mean by that? Well, once you’re strong then I’m going to go even beyond you, I’m going to enlarge the field within the sphere that God has given to me. He is saying as you become stronger, I’m going to move beyond you. It’s a very, very good strategy.

Paul says that if anyone is going to boast, let him boast in the Lord (verse 17), meaning that He alone deserves credit for all good things.

Henry gives us a practical application of that verse:

If we are able to fix good rules for our conduct, or act by them, or have any good success in so doing, the praise and glory of all are owing unto God. Ministers in particular must be careful not to glory in their performances, but must give God the glory of their work, and the success thereof.

Paul ends the chapter by criticising the self-aggrandisement of the false teachers and says that true commendation comes only from the Lord Himself (verse 18).

Henry says:

Of all flattery, self-flattery is the worst, and self-applause is seldom any better than self-flattery and self-deceit. At the best, self-commendation is no praise, and it is oftentimes as foolish and vain as it is proud; therefore, instead of praising or commending ourselves, we should strive to approve ourselves to God, and his approbation will be our best commendation.

MacArthur points out that Paul was quoting Jeremiah 9:24:

False teachers seek their own glory, self-promotion, self-exaltation, fame, notoriety. Paul says if you’re going to boast, boast in the Lord. By the way, that’s a direct quote out of Jeremiah 9:24. Right out of Jeremiah 9:24. Paul often gives evidence of his familiarity with the Old Testament, his Jewish training coming through. Listen to what Jeremiah 9:23 and 24 says, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches.

“‘But let him who boasts, boast of this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for I delight in these things,’ declares the Lord.” And Paul reminds us all that if we’re going to boast, we boast in Him. And that takes us back to the definition I gave you at the beginning. Humility is the conviction that you are utterly and completely unworthy of the goodness, mercy, and grace of God and incapable of anything of value apart from that. Humility recognizes unworthiness and the worthiness of God alone. He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord.

Paul has much more to say about the false teachers, as he ramps up his criticism of their tactics.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 11:1-6