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"Within the Limits of the Sphere"
2 Corinthians 10:12-18
Wednesday AM Bible Study
November 12, 2008
In the first half of this chapter (vv. 1-11), Paul was asserting his apostolic authority. Some false teachers had crept into the church at Corinth and were presenting themselves as more authoritative than Paul; and were calling his qualifications into question. But though Paul was bold to assert himself, he was also careful not to inflate himself beyond what is proper—as those 'false apostles' were doing. In the latter half of this chapter, Paul defines the limits of his authority as being within the sphere of responsibility that he received from the Lord.
This passage has a clearly detectable 'chiastic' structure. Verse 12 answers to verse 18 and deals with the subject of "commendation" or "approval" in ministry. Verse 13 answers to verses 16-17 and deals with the subject of "boasting" about ministry. And verse 14 answers to verse 15 and deals with the subject of "sphere" or "canon" of ministry. In each of these divisions, Paul contrasts himself against the false teachers with respect to the authority he humbly acknowledges that he received from God.
Note in this passage how Paul humbly acknowledges the Lord in asserting . . .
I. THE SOURCE OF HIS COMMENDATION (vv. 12, 18).
A. The false teachers made themselves the source of their own sense of commendation (v. 12). They measured themselves by themselves; and they compared themselves among themselves. They held themselves up against one another; and judged from among themselves who among them stood out as commendable. Paul would not dare to class himself or compare himself among those who did so. Those who do so, he says, are "not wise". They are deceiving themselves.
B. Rather, Paul asserted that true approval doesn't come to those who find ways to commend themselves by looking on the horizontal level. True approval comes from receiving commendation from the vertical level—that is, from God (v. 18).
C. We should remember from this not to judge one another by one another. Rather, we should not judge the servant of Another; but know that to his own Master each one stands or falls (Romans 14:4).
II. THE BASIS OF HIS BOASTING (vv. 13, 16-17).
A. The basis of the boasting of the false teachers was shown in the lengths to which they extended themselves. And in the case of the Corinthians, they dared to make the Corinthian church—which was first ministered to by Paul—the basis of boasting in their own labors. They intruded into the work of another and sought to engage in a hostile take-over. Paul, on the other hand, would not boast in "beyond measure"; but only within the limits of the sphere (or, literally, "the measure of the rule") that God had appointed to him. He was (1) a missionary to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7-8); and (2) limited to not building upon the work of another (Romans 15:17-20). But the Corinthians were definitely within his God-appointed sphere of duty (v. 13).
B. It was his hope, however, that having ministered in his God-appointed sphere, his work would be expanded by the Corinthians "in the regions beyond". Thus, Paul would not— as the false teachers had been doing—boast in another man's sphere of accomplishment (v. 16). Instead, as in the words of Jeremiah 9:24, he would glory in the Lord (v. 17).
C. This reminds us not to measure ourselves according to the work that God has given to someone else to do. We should do that which God has uniquely equipped us to do; and make sure that our boasting is in the Lord—and not in the work of another.
III. THE SPHERE OF HIS MINISTRY (vv. 14-15).
A. The false teachers were "overextending" themselves. They were presuming to think that their "authority" extended to the Corinthians. At the same time, they were accusing Paul of "overextending" himself by claiming spiritual authority over the Corinthians (see Numbers 16:1-4 as an example of this in the life of Moses). Paul argues, however, that he is not wrong in exercising authority over them, because "it was to you that we came with the gospel of Christ" (v. 14). The Corinthian church was a product of God's ministry through him, and within the sphere that God had given him (see Acts 18:9-11).
B. Therefore, Paul could say that he was not "boasting of things beyond measure" (v. 15). He didn't boast in another man's work; but was working within his own God-appointed sphere. What's more, he had hope that as the faith of the Corinthians had increased, so would he be increased in his own God-appointed sphere. Thus, he was jealous of the ministry of the Corinthians. It was the work that God had given him; and he wanted to protect it so that it would be advanced by the Corinthians to regions beyond his God- given sphere.
C. Not only should we dare not intrude into the sphere that God has given to someone else; but we should also be careful to protect and diligently fulfill that sphere of service that He has truly given to us. He does not bless work that we presume to take from those He has appointed to do it. But the more faithful we are in the place that God has given us, the greater He is able to enlarge our work beyond that limited sphere.
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