“For not he who commends himself is approved, but who the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).
This is a principle that is eternal as God is eternal and no amount of mental gymnastics will cause the slightest ripple of variation. The Christians in Corinth were being seduced by men claiming to be prophets of Jesus Christ who were nothing of the sort. They were living the lie for wrong motives. But how could the Christians identify the motives in the many who taught in the name of Jesus Christ? After all, no one wears a sign saying ‘false teacher.’
To give his readers a means of determining motivation in these teachers Paul played the role of one of these “fools.” He makes it clear that he would not present himself in this way other than for this purpose. He writes that he would be a fool to do so (vv 16-21). He then proceeded to write up his commendation in the manner in which he would do if he was one of the false teachers (vv 22-27). In none of these statements is he lying or exaggerating and certainly anyone would see them as giving credibility to his call as an apostle and the authenticity of his teaching. Actually his sufferings for the sake of Jesus Christ would easily have excelled any of the testimonies of the false teachers even if they had been creative.
If someone came to us commending themselves with such a story that could be demonstrated to be true would we not give them credibility? Paul is saying that we would be fools to do so.
The problem is not in the history of the person. The problem is in the reason for recounting the history. Paul wants Christians it understand that it is not the life or sufferings of a person that gives them credibility. This takes us back to chapter ten and verse twelve where Paul writes that people who measure themselves by their own ideas or by comparing themselves with other people “are not wise.”
The motive of the false teachers is to hear the praise of and receive honour from men. This is in direct contrast to that of Paul, “my deep concern for all the churches” (11:28). The false teachers are concerned with their own position and well being but Paul is concerned with the well being of other Christians. They boast in their own strengths and exploits but Paul boasts only in his weaknesses and the work of God in believers.
Paul knew that it was in his weaknesses that the grace of God is revealed more clearly in his life and ministry. The salvation and edification of Christians could be more easily seen to be the grace of God than wrongly attributed to anything in Paul.
When we hear a person commend himself we can be sure that pride is at work and Paul reminds us that Satan is the worker in the back ground (11:14). We should not be so concerned with commendations that come from others. Paul commended Christians to others in his letters.
Let us preach God’s word so as to be approved of Him regardless of what people may think. If we seek the commendation of men we may get it but that is all we will get. If we seek the commendation of the Lord and obtain His approval what more could one want? Let us guard our motives.