2 Corinthians 1:12-14

2 Corinthians 1:12-14

Grace-influenced Boasting

Is boasting ever morally permitted? Yes? No? Maybe so? There’s a bunch of boasting happening all over the place, isn’t there? And it’s coming not only from the world but also the church. Anyone who’s spent much time on a plane with an evangelist or preacher just might discover how many souls that preacher has saved! Watch any sporting event. You won’t have to look far and wide for boasting. It’s right there in your face during the whole game. Good boasting or bad boasting? Is every boasting good, is it bad, or just indifferent?

In these few verses, there’s a bookend of boasting, and it’s coming from Paul’s pen. Verse 12 begins with a boast, and verse 14 ends with a boast. A bad boast or a beautiful boast? To answer that question, let’s see what Paul’s doing in these few verses. He’s about to move into a lengthy defense of his own apostolicity against the complaints and charges of the Corinthians (1:12-2:13; then in 2:14-4:6; then again in 10:1-12:13). They’re saying that Paul is not acting with straightforwardness or pure motives. He denies both accusations. He says that he has behaved “with simplicity and godly sincerity” (v. 12). Paul wasn’t out to deceive the Corinthians. He was honest with them about what he taught and why. They also accused him of tapping into the world for wisdom, something with which Paul himself charges the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1-2). Now they’re throwing the charge back at Paul. He denies this accusation as well. Paul assured the Corinthians that they themselves read and even understand (to a degree) what Paul wrote to them. They read it. They understand it. No mixed motives here, Paul’s saying. No tricks, just truth.

How can Paul deny their charges? The answer lies in his boast. It’s in Paul’s boast (or, more accurately, in its truth) that their accusations hold no water. Paul says that his boast is the testimony of his conscience (v. 12). He explains what he means by saying that his conduct toward the Corinthians has been simple and sincere. He’s behaved towards them in a manner that glorifies God. Paul, therefore, allows for a certain kind of God-glorifying boast. One commentator, Paul Barnett, helps us by distinguishing between confidence (or justifiable pride) and self-glorification. Paul examines his own heart (1:12), he looks at the consciences of others (4:2), and he reminds himself of the Lord’s presence (4:2) and God’s confirmation of Paul as an apostle (1:1 with 12:12; 10:18). Moreover, Paul looks at the work he’s done in the lives of the Corinthians, and he recognizes that his conduct towards them has been singular and sincere. Because of these truths, Paul’s confident that his conduct has not been unbecoming of an apostle to the Corinthians.

Does this understanding of boasting go against his later comment in 10:17, speaking about boasting only in the Lord? Certainly not. This boast is a grace-influenced boast. This boasting is not an instance of self-exaltation. Paul’s not looking at his life and work and saying to himself, “Look at you go, Paul! You is smart, you is kind, you is important” (for all you lovers of the movie, The Help). Paul’s boast is not in himself. Paul’s good conduct and his wisdom come from God. It’s all by the grace of God alone (v. 12).

Surprisingly, Paul turns his boast on them. In v. 14, he assures the Corinthians that he will boast of them. But the surprise is what he says earlier: they, the Corinthians, will boast of him also. That might be hard for them to swallow, especially since many of them are accusing him of insincerity and underhandedness. But they really owe everything they are and have to Paul, as far as human debtors go. After all, it was Paul who gave them the gospel (1:19). It was through Paul that God reconciled them to himself (5:18ff). It was Paul who raised them as a father does his children (6:13). It is Paul who will present them as pure virgins to their bridegroom, Christ (11:2). God used Paul in many significant ways for the Corinthians. They should be thankful to God for his work in them through Paul. All this is God’s grace. Paul’s boast of them, and their (hopefully!) boast of him will be based on what they see in each other because of God’s grace. And on the last day, they will mutually boast of each other.

Might we boast then? Of course, in a sense. We should boast in what God has done in us. And we should boast in what God has done in others. All that work is a work for our good and comfort, and a work for the good and comfort of others. By boasting in that work, we’re really just boasting in our God. He’s worth boasting about, wouldn’t you say? Are there people in your life about whom you can boast? Are there evidences of God’s grace in your own life of which you can boast to others? If God’s at work in your life, there will be. Thank God for his grace.