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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Commended by God
Text:2 Corinthians 10:12-18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Humility
 
Preached:2018
Added:2020-04-15
Updated:2020-04-15
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


 
Commended by God”
2 Corinthians 10:12-18
 
Have you noticed how often the Bible warns against pride? It warns repeatedly, Old Testament and New, that God opposes the proud but raises up the humble. After all, pride is the sin that caused Satan to fall. He wanted the glory and praise that belongs to God alone. His fall from heaven and the certainty of eternal punishment is but one example of the danger of sinful pride. As Proverbs 18:16 notes, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Pride can even twist the good gifts from God into the wrong use, even the gift of knowledge. As Paul had warned in 1 Corinthians 8:1, “…knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
 
The truth that knowledge, improperly used, can puff up and lead to pride was more than evident in the church at Corinth. The false teachers there had put the apostle Paul on the defense. In verse 10 he describes how they said that his letters were heavy and forceful, but in person he was unimpressive, and they said his speaking ability amounted to nothing.
 
By contrast, the false teachers in Corinth were quick to commend themselves. They were quick to pat themselves on the back. They described themselves as “super apostles” and looked down on the apostle Paul who was God’s apostle – God’s appointed messenger – to them. Paul had to remind them, “It is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (v. 18).
 
The division and the rivalry between the false teachers and the apostle Paul were woven into the fabric of the congregation itself. The divisions in the Corinthian church were so deep that the congregation was divided, not only by false teachers, but also by their comparison of a faithful pastor like Apollos, who was a gifted orator, and the apostle Paul who was also a faithful preacher but not an impressive orator. The division caused Paul to write, in 1 Corinthians 3:5-6: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
 
Because those divisions were so deep, the apostle had to address the problem of division within the congregation on many occasions in both letters. In the passage before us Paul points out the harm that self-commendation – pride – can cause within a church. As he does so, he teaches a number of truths to quell pride in our hearts, including, first, that it is not wise to compare yourself to others. In the last part of verse 12 he writes: "We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves."
 
The false teachers were quick to compare themselves with each other and with the apostle Paul. That is always a dangerous thing to do, not just for false teachers so long ago in Corinth, but it's a dangerous thing for you and me to do today.  And yet it is so very easy, isn't it, to compare ourselves to others so that in our own eyes we look better than we really are!
 
As an example, we might acknowledge a sin problem in our life, but then to lessen the impact of the reality of our sinful condition, we look at someone else who has fallen deeper into that sin. And then we are tempted to congratulate ourselves. We might think, “I have this sin in my life, but at least it's not as bad as so-and-so. Look how they sinned! My sin is nothing compared to theirs!”
 
When we compare ourselves to others, our sinful nature invariably causes us to look down on those who we consider to be greater sinners than ourselves. By looking down on others, we can quickly become proud of ourselves, even as we acknowledge our imperfections and sins. Comparing ourselves to others so often leads to a form of Phariseeism.
      
One of the classic examples of how a comparison with others can instill sinful pride in ourselves is seen in that example Jesus gave in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. In Luke 18:10-12 Jesus describes how “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get...’”
        
In a similar way the false teachers in Corinth compared themselves to each other and to the apostle Paul. As they did so, they commended themselves and fell into that deep trap of Phariseeism. Instead of comparing ourselves to others it is much wiser to do what Galatians 6:4 tells us to do. It says: Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself without comparing himself to someone else.” The pride which that verse speaks of is not a sinful pride, but rather a recognition that God, in His grace, has granted us the privilege of fulfilling His will for our life.
 
That is a second truth that the apostle writes about in this passage, namely, that we can only boast in what God has given us. In verse 13 Paul writes: “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.” When Paul speaks, incidentally, about boasting he is not using the term in a personal way, but rather he is building toward his main point, spoken of in verse 17, that the one who boasts is to boast in the Lord.
 
And in that sense the apostle Paul did boost. He was always quick to boast in the power and grace of God, and he was always thankful that God had given him the privilege of serving in His kingdom. But it wasn't just the apostle Paul who was given the privilege of serving in God's kingdom. Each one of us who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ has a place of service within the kingdom of God. God has given His gifts to each one of us, and He gives us opportunity to use our gifts within his kingdom.
 
It is that field of service that the apostle is writing about in verse 14 to 16. The field assigned to him” – translated “area of influence” in the ESV – entailed bringing the gospel to the Gentiles. And it was in that work that the apostle Paul “boasted.” But again, his boast was not in himself but in the Lord, who graciously called him to be the apostle to the Gentiles.
 
The meaning of the Greek word translated “field” – the field God assigned to us” (v. 13) - refers to a measurement, not only of a field, but of a race. For instance, athletes are given a specific area to run, perhaps a 100 meter run, the challenge of the high hurdles, or a grueling marathon. And it is that concept that Paul is referring to: God has given each one of us a field of service, a race to run, hurdles to conquer – and it is His power not ours, that enables us to run the race – as we fulfill the field of service that God has put before us.
 
If we boast, we don't boast in ourselves; we boast in the Lord who has marked out the race for us to run. And we boast in Him because He gives us the strength and the nourishment to run. We boast in Him because by His Spirit’s power through the word He has inspired, He gives us instructions on how to run, and He gives the endurance to finish the race.
 
It is in that sense that the apostle Paul boasted. Paul’s “boast” was confined to that which God granted him to accomplish, and in the process, he always gave God all the glory. We see that in numerous passages, including Acts 14:26-27 where Luke describes how Paul and Barnabas “sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had now completed. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done through them, and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.”
 
Do you see who the Apostle boasted in?  His boast was always in the Lord for “all that God had done through them.” And he boasted how it was God had “opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.”
 
A third truth of many which this passage describes, is that it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. The false teachers were so quick to take pride in themselves, but the apostle Paul points out that it is not the praise – the commendation – of people that matters. The praise, or commendation, that matters is that which comes from the Lord. It is His commendation, especially as He receives His people, and commends them saying, “Well done good and faithful servant,” that matters.
 
Interestingly enough, the ones we might be quick to praise are not always the ones the Lord would praise. And the ones who we might not think would be commended by the Lord are often greatly commended by Him. Consider again the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 12. The Pharisee, as he viewed himself as being better than others, was so certain that he was right with God. Yet Jesus concluded that parable by commending the tax collector, saying, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
 
It is exactly as verse 18 says: It is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”
 
Through the Lens of the Old Testament
 
As the passage closes, Paul quotes from Jeremiah 9. Jeremiah 9 is an interesting passage, quoted not only here in 2 Corinthians 10:17 but also in 1 Corinthians 1:31. The context of the passage is in Jeremiah 9:23 where we read: “Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches…’”
 
That verse teaches that we are not to boast about things that most people are quick to boast about – wisdom, strength and riches. Consider Solomon. He began his service as king of Israel with great humility. When the Lord told him that He would give him whatever he asked for, he humbly asked for wisdom. The Lord gave him wisdom such as no other king in Israel ever had. That wisdom was of great value to Solomon as long as he humbly used that wisdom to govern Israel and give glory to God for giving him wisdom.
 
But Solomon was led astray. He was especially led astray by his many wives and concubines. And as he was influenced by the false gods that his wives and concubines worshiped, the wisdom that he had received became a stumbling block to him. It was a stumbling block because he was no longer using it for the purpose of glorifying God and wisely governing God's people.
 
The point came in his life where his human wisdom led him to great sorrow.  Ecclesiastes 1:17-18 describes his frustration: Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”
 
Wisdom is a great gift from God. But like all the other gifts that He gives to us, it can become an idol. And when it does, it separates us from the Lord instead of drawing us closer to him.  And that is one reason why we are told not to boast in wisdom.
 
The same is true for strength. Strength is a wonderful gift from God. But when our strength is made into the focal point of pride, then it becomes an impediment. It becomes a weakness. The strongest man in the Bible, Samson, found that out. When he used the strength God gave him to deliver Israel, his strength was blessed. His strength was blessed when he used it within the field of service God had given him – the service of being a judge in Israel who brought judgment on the enemies of God's people. But when he began to boast in his strength he was quickly led astray. Instead of using his strength in service to the Lord, he used it to impress Philistine women. We all know the tragic account of Samson's death.
 
By God's grace Samson is listed in Hebrews 11 as a man of faith, but the tragedy of his earthly life drives home the truth of Jeremiah 9:23: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches...”
 
The third item in the list – “let not the rich man boast in his riches” – describes boasting that is universal. How many people over the centuries have boasted in their riches to their own destruction? There are so many, still today, who have placed all their confidence and faith, not in the Lord, but in their riches.  In that way they are like the rich fool whom Jesus spoke about in Luke 12. The rich man had boasted, “‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’
 
   “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:18-20)
 
Material blessings and riches come from the Lord; He is the giver of every good and perfect gift. All that we have comes from Him. The Holy Spirit asks in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" All that we have, including our worldly wealth, belongs to the Lord, not to us. We are only stewards of the blessings He bestows on us. Thus, He is to receive all the praise.
 
A Proper Boast
 
While Jeremiah 9:23 tells us what not to boast about – human wisdom, strength, and riches, the next verse, Jeremiah 9:24, tells us what to boast about: “But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”
 
When the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write his letters to the Corinthian church, He inspired him to put that quote in a nutshell. He doesn't quote Jeremiah 9:24 word for word, but he does give a complete and accurate summary of it, both in 2 Corinthians 10:17 and in 1 Corinthians 1:31. In both of those texts, he quotes from Jeremiah by writing, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
 
We have seen from 2 Corinthians 10 that the apostle boasted in the Lord as he fulfilled the field of service that God had given him. As he ran the race that was set before him, he boasted in the Lord who gave him the privilege of running, who gave him the strength for the race, and who granted him endurance to the very end.
 
And in 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 the apostle gives three more distinct reasons why the one who boasts, is to boast in the Lord. He writes: “It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’"
 
In God’s wisdom and grace, He has redeemed us through faith in Jesus Christ. It is through faith in Jesus Christ that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us. There is no way that any of us could stand before the Lord in our own righteousness. But if God has graciously given you that gift of saving faith then you stand before the Lord in impeccable righteousness - for you stand before the Lord in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
 
When we realize that in God’s grace and wisdom He has credited the righteousness of His Son to us, then our desire becomes to live a holy, sanctified life. Christ Jesus is not only our source of justification, but He is also our source of sanctification. By the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence, both in convicting us of sin and in assuring us of salvation, we are formed more and more after the likeness of Christ.
 
Although in this life we don’t attain perfect sanctification, we rejoice to know that there is growth in obedience, there is growth in knowledge, there is growth in service – and all these areas of sanctification (holiness) will be perfected at the last day. On that day, when we see Jesus face to face, we will have perfect sanctification – not because of us, but because of Him.
 
And it is because of Christ that we are redeemed. To redeem something is to purchase it. Slaves were redeemed as they were purchased. We were slaves to sin and misery, but we who have saving faith in Christ have been redeemed by Him. As God’s redeemed people we have great reason to joyfully praise our Redeemer. That is, indeed, a main purpose of our redemption – to boast in the Lord by praising Him. As Peter pointed out, in 1 Peter 2:9-10, You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
 
If, by God’s grace, we truly know Jesus Christ as our wisdom from God – if we truly know Him as our righteousness, sanctification and redemption, then we will boast – not in ourselves but in our precious Redeemer and Savior, Jesus Christ.
 
Is that knowledge yours this morning? Do you know with certainty that by God’s grace the righteousness of Jesus Christ is credited – imputed – to you? Is the goal of your life to live a sanctified, holy life to the glory of the One who redeemed you?  And in all the various troubles and trials, temptations and sins in your life, do you rejoice to know that you are redeemed – that the full price for the penalty of your sin has been paid by Jesus Christ?
 
If those truths are engraved deep within your heart and mind, then rejoice and boast, not in yourself, but in the Lord. For it is the Lord who has saved us. As 1 Corinthians 1:30 says, “It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus.” It is speaking about the Father, who by the Spirit’s regenerating power gives us faith in Christ. As Paul wrote in his first letter, "It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:30-31).
 
Your salvation and mine is all of God’s grace, from beginning to end. He alone is worthy of all praise and adoration! Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord – in this life and throughout all eternity! Amen.
 
 
                                     - bulletin outline -
 
 
For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved,
but the one whom the Lord commends. – 2 Corinthians 10:18
 
                              “Commended by God”
                               2 Corinthians 10:12-18
 
I.  The false teachers in Corinth were quick to commend themselves (12a)
     but Paul points out:
     1) It is not wise to compare yourself to others (12b; Galatians 6:4)
 
 
 
 
     2) We can only boast in what God has given us (13). Paul’s “boast”
          was confined to that which God granted him to accomplish (14-16;
          Acts 14:26-27)
 
 
 
 
     3) It is not the person who commends them self who is approved, but
         the one whom the Lord commends (18)
 
 
 
 
II. In verse 17, as well as in 1 Corinthians 1:31, Paul quotes from
    Jeremiah 9, where the Lord teaches:
      1) We are not to boast about wisdom, strength or riches (Jeremiah 9:23)
 
 
 
 
      2) We are to boast in the Lord (Jeremiah 9:24), for He has granted us
           eternal life in Christ, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is,
           our righteousness, holiness and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30-31)
 
 
 
 
 
 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Ted Gray

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