Credit where credit’s due – or the Limits of boasting
Text: Jer.9:24a "let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me,"
After England’s early exit from the Rugby World Cup in the Autumn of 2015 the head coach was ignominiously sacked and replaced by an Australian. Now just a few months on England have won the Six Nations Tournament and it has been very tempting for the media to put it all down to the new manager’s different approach. He however didn’t see things quite like that and said his predecessor deserved credit for doing a "great job" in developing the team.
That was somewhat refreshing and contrasts quite significantly from the political world where men try to take to themselves all the credit for anything good while blaming someone else for everything bad. If you listen to political sound-
However boasting is by no means limited to the political or sporting realms of life. The inappropriate boasting of self-
As Paul continues his letter to the church in Corinth the whole matter of boasting now comes very much to the fore. In 2Cor.10-
When boasting abounds it is easy to lose sight of reality – we listen to the bluster and the claims and focus on all the wrong things, forgetting to test it all by the facts.
That is what Paul fears that the Corinthians have been doing. They have been listening to the claims of some who would be leaders. However they haven’t assessed those claims properly and consequently have failed to discern just how outrageous they are. They haven’t realised how destructive the implications that were snidely being made, actually were.
There probably weren’t many of these folk but they were vocal had a high opinion of themselves. They wanted everyone else to think they were important too.
It doesn’t take many to cause trouble in a church you know – all that is needed is "a little leaven" and the whole lump is affected.
I can’t tell you whether these folk were simply misguided, silly and sinful Christians or whether they were Satanic agents who were deliberately trying to undermine the gospel work that had begun. What I can tell you is that these folk weren’t functioning as godly shepherds of God’s people. No, they were much more like "wolves in sheep’s clothing" and they were busily devouring his flock.
We should take great care here especially if we find ourselves becoming critical of everyone apart from ourselves and our own immediate circle. We might be less interested in the cause of Christ than we might like to think and too concerned about our own perceived importance.
Those in Corinth who didn’t think much of Paul were continually running the apostle down. They focused on their own credentials while at the same time suggesting that Paul didn’t really have any. They weren’t genuinely concerned so much for the church as for their own reputation. It is time for Paul to counter the destructive influence they were having upon the church in Corinth.
Open your eyes! Consider the facts – he says to the Corinthians.
If others are convinced that they belong to Christ surely they ought to recognise that Paul does too. Doesn’t he have divine credentials to back up his claim. Judge with right judgment!
Paul admits that he does boast. Yet his boasting is not at all like the self-
So what makes Paul’s boasting different ? What makes it acceptable?
Normal human boasting says "Look at me and what I can do/have done. Paul’s boasting is very different; it says "Look at what Christ has made of me by his grace." If Paul has any authority it has comes from Christ. If he has any gifts to exercise he derives them all from Christ.
What is it that drives this apostle of Jesus Christ as he exercises his gifts and ministers? It certainly isn’t the building of a private empire for himself. Paul labours to serve the interests and growth of the church of Jesus Christ.
1Cor.15:10 "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me."
This kind of boasting is acceptable to God because by it he alone gets the glory!
The first "boast" to which Paul now turns is that he has used his authority as a tool for "building up the church" and not for destroying it. By implication he is saying that the self-
Paul had been involved right at the outset with the founding of the church in Corinth – the work was part of his apostolic missionary call. However he had not stayed permanently in the city but moved on to continue his missionary activities.
During Paul’s absence a number of folk had arrived claiming to be specially gifted Christians and for one reason or another they didn’t think much of Paul as an apostle. They spread their negative assessment of the apostle suggesting that Paul was failing in his pastoral responsibilities towards the church. He didn’t lead in an authoritative manner, he changed his plans and didn’t visit as promised, and he also wrote insensitive or harsh letters. Maybe he wasn’t completely hopeless but he wasn’t far off and certainly he was nowhere near the standard to which they had attained.
Open your eyes! Think!
As Christians we are not in danger when we start to think rather we are in danger when we don’t!
Yes, Paul had founded the church but he had not given up on it. He did visit, he did write letters, he did sent friends and missionary colleagues, and he did intend to visit again. In fact Paul quite simply couldn’t yet move on because there was more work that needed to be done in the church in Corinth. We will see more of this in a moment.
But before we do, let’s do a bit more thinking...
One of the things that ought to strike us as we think about the way in which Paul regularly ministered is his team-
Paul’s reluctance has nothing to do with him thinking he is the only one who can do any good to the church in Corinth because he has not behaved like that elsewhere. The answer lies in the fact that the new-
This attitude can, sadly, still trouble churches and other Christian organisations in our own day. How easy it can be, and how tempting as well, to take the credit for something that someone has done. We can give way to this temptation actively or passively. We can talk as though everything is due to us and our abilities and efforts. Or we can simply be quiet when others speak as though we had done it when we know that we are only building on the foundations of others who laboured before us.
Of course, if I want to build my own reputation I will want to appear better than this person or better than that; and the easiest way of doing so is to make them look small and insignificant. And that was the game that was being played out in Corinth.
Paul still refuses to flatter his detractors by playing this game with them. He won’t compare himself with them – with irony declaring he simply isn’t in the same league as they are. After all they have friends who speak so well of them and of their abilities. Paul won’t stoop to look for such letters of support – in reality he doesn’t need to because his ministry itself carries the marks of divine approval and a ministry that has that needs nothing else!
What we need in our churches today are not men who desire to be esteemed by their peers; what we need is men who have their ministries divinely approved. Paul wasn’t interested in extending his reputation by rubbishing the good work of others – his ministry was to build, not to destroy; he wanted to introduce people to Jesus Christ, he wanted to gently demonstrate grace not wield power. And God blessed his ministry. May that be repeated again and again throughout the land!
Paul recognises that there must be limits put upon his boasting. While he is perhaps happy to boast a little too much about what Christ has done through him for building up the church he will not boast of things he hasn’t done as though he had done them. Paul repeats this twice in vv.13+15:
v.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."
v.15 "We do not boast beyond limit in the labours of others."
There is nothing wrong with gospel partnership and the sharing of roles – Paul was very happy about this as is clear from what he had to say when he wrote:
1Cor.3:6 "I planted, Apollos watered,"
But he will not approve of one trying to take the credit for the work done by another. And in any case "it is God who gives the increase"!
Paul’s particular ministry however was that of a pioneer missionary and he was always wanting to break new ground and to preach Christ where he had not been preached before.
In his pioneering work he was led by the Spirit and had managed to get as far as Corinth. However he did not yet feel to move on in any decisive manner. He was all too aware that the church in Corinth still needed to grow, still needed to be brought to a greater level of maturity.
This is a further indication of Paul’s pastoral concerns for the church in Corinth – how could any right-
Paul is prepared to boast about what the Lord had enabled him to do so far in Corinth but he couldn’t yet boast of a completed work. Paul longed for the Corinthians to increase in faith and as they do so to become more and more open to him, and to his ministry.
Are you concerned to keep on making progress? Are you keen to see our church make progress? If your answers are "yes" what steps are you taking so that progress might be made? A commitment to pray perhaps. A commitment to try to bring someone along? A commitment to talk to someone about Jesus? A commitment to give a book or a tract away? A commitment to help with distributing invites? So many things, so many things...
Only when sufficient progress has been made and the church in Corinth is ready to act as a staging post sending Paul off to further fields of missionary service will Paul feel free to leave and move on. And he emphasises once again that his aim is pioneer mission – he doesn’t want to build a reputation by building on the foundations that someone else has laid.
Boasting? Can we boast? Yes, we can, if our boast is in the Lord. Let us make sure that this is what we do. Let us make sure that we look for his commendation, the stamp of his approval and the sign of his blessing, and not for the plaudits of mere men.