We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes 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. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere 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 someone else’s territory. 17 But, “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 10:13-18 NIV)
I love competition. I love many forms of entertainment, but the kind that gets me fully engaged is the seventh game of a seven-game series. This is an indication that the teams are well matched and now it has come down to one final game to decide who will be the champion. Every play and every decision could make the difference. Some players rise to the occasion and some players choke. It is fascinating drama, and it is what athletes live for, the opportunity to compete to prove they are the best.
Competition is not always a good thing. There are places where competition damages relationships and distracts from the mission. I find this especially true in the church. Competition between leaders indicates a lack of agreement on the direction of the church and forces members of the congregation to choose who to follow.
The people in the church in Corinth had been placed in just such a dilemma. Paul had left to plant churches in other places and the leaders he had left behind were attempting to take the church in a direction that Paul knew was not God’s will for the church. Paul has two options at this point. He could ignore the issue and refuse to join in the competition. This is not a real option because Paul loves these people too much. Paul’s other option for attempting the correct this situation is to write a letter, but what tone will the letter take.
This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, 24 but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24 NIV)
Paul reaches back into the Old Testament and finds his direction there. He is going to engage in the competition, and he is going to boast. He is going to boast about the work that God has done in and through him. At first reading it might seem that Paul is struggling with pride and arrogance. I choose to read this and the next few chapters as solid proof that Paul loves God and people. He cares so deeply about the Corinthians that he is willing to appear foolish if by doing so the Corinthians will see the truth and return to following Jesus.
I love compliments. I love them so much I am tempted to fish for them. When pride has me in its grip, I will fall into the temptation Paul ends this chapter with and look for ways to convince myself and others that I have done something good. Humility in me is more than satisfied to know that I have done my best and that God approves.
John Wooden was one of the greatest basketball coaches to ever live. His teams set records that will probably never be broken. I think his definition of success aligns with what Paul is saying here:
“Success is peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” – John Wooden
I find this definition helpful, but my real desire is to hear these words someday:
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ (Matthew 25:23 NIV)