Lesson Three – Boasting in II Corinthians

Boasting in II Corinthians


We learned about the Corinthian church’s problems and the possible source of their division in our historical analysis in Part I.  Now we are attempting to know and understand God’s divine answer to this problem from our study of Paul’s letters.  His answer will be the divine principle we take with us.  We can apply these principles to similar problems in the “here and now.”  God’s word is relevant for eternal application.  It has worked, it is working and His word will work for each of us in all situations.

Under the heading of principles of biblical interpretation, there are two sub-headings to consider; exegesis and hermeneutics.  Exegesis is about what happened in the “then and there” scenario.  We did historical analysis to understand the “then and there” situation in our exegetical approach to the letters in Part I.  We are interested in the original context and content; therefore, we do both historical and literary analysis.  We are still doing exegetical work in our literary analysis in Part II.

Divine theology, ethic and practice are what we learn from the study of God’s word.  These are embedded in the Corinthian letters.  We have faith in them and we are graced by them in the “here and now.”  This is the results of “hermeneutics.”  It is about what the scriptures mean to us.  Our decision about what the scriptures mean should be controlled by what they meant to the original recipients.

Another principle of biblical interpretation we need to apply in our study of these letters is this: We follow the style of the writer.  We need to discover how Paul has structured the material in these letters.  When a writer repeats a word or phrase over and over in a letter as Paul has done with “boasting,” we take notice.  Our question is: “How is he making use of this word in relation to his train of thought?”  Is this word influencing the style of the writer in these documents?  How might he be using it to form his structure for the content he is presenting?  We started this investigation about the words boast, boasting, take pride and arrogant in our previous lesson in relation to I Corinthians.  We will continue this same study in II Corinthians in this lesson.  Again, see II Cor. 1:12, 14; 5:12; 7:14; 8:24; 9:2, 4; 10:8, 13-17; 11:10, 12, 16, 18, 21, 30; 12:1, 5.


Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God.  We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.  For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand.  And I hope that, as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.   II Cor. 1:12-14

This is Paul’s opening statement in the body of his last recorded letter to the Corinthians.  Please note he used boast, conscience and wisdom in the foregoing paragraph, or thought.  In letters we read from thought to thought.  There were no paragraph markings in the original letters.  Boast, wisdom and conscience were key words in the first major unit of thought in the body of I Corinthians.  This could be our clue that Paul continued to use boasting as a technical word in II Corinthians as he did in the first five chapters of I Corinthians.  A technical word is a word a writer builds up to mean more than it would mean in its normal usage.

The foregoing scripture is Paul’s opening statement for introducing us to a relationship drama between him and the church.  The content revealing this drama is found in the first seven chapters.  They form the structure for this content.  Paul’s unique style is of great importance to our study and must be perceived in order to follow the drama.  It is within this drama we learn several great lessons about Christian theology, ethic and practice.  This is all we can glean for our “here and now” application.  We will study these in future lessons in this series.  In this lesson our aim is to investigate how the author used boasting as a special word, if indeed, he did.  We will attempt to understand how it was used to strengthen his language to solve the relationship problem between himself and the church.  The healthiness of their fellowship was also a factor in solving the problem of division in the church.  We will look for the connection between boasting and his train of thought – his style.  For instance, the following is how he closed this drama we find in the structure of the first seven chapters:

In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you.  I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me.  But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well.   II Cor. 7:13, 14  

It does appear Paul used boasting to energize his message.  There were two issues that set up the scene for the drama.  One, Paul had delayed his plans to come to Corinth.  He had promised to make this trip before he wrote I Corinthians (I Cor. 4:18).  He renewed the promise at the end of his letter; however, before he wrote II Corinthians he had changed his mind (I Cor. 16:5; II Cor. 2:15-17).  He asked those who were charging him with vacillating, “Did I do it lightly.”  II Cor. 1:17.  Some members of the church accused Paul, along with those who worked in his apostleship, of using worldly wisdom in such matters as scheduling their travel plans.  The second issue and what appears to be the main cause of this drama in the first seven chapters involved church discipline and forgiveness.  We will leave this for a later more detailed study.

Titus did arrive with great news.  Paul wrote, “He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.”  II Cor. 7:7.  Note how Paul added to the drama of Titus’ arrival with his use of “boasting.”

Although this report solved the two foregoing issues, it did not solve the deeper problem of division and immorality in the church (II Cor. 12:21; 13:10).  There was also the matter of the program for collecting supplies for the poor saints in Jerusalem that had gotten derailed, at least in part, because of the foregoing drama (II Cor. 8:1-9:15).

Let us move on to the second section of II Corinthian in our pursuit of how Paul used the words, pride, boast and boastings to add dynamic emotion to his content in this letter.

As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ.  Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so the churches can see it.   II Cor. 8:23, 24 

Paul’s “drum beat” in I Corinthian was “no more boasting about men.”  In this letter he boasted about the testimony of his own conscience (II Cor. 1:12).  He wanted them to boast about his “inner-man” before his opposition who took “pride in what is seen.”  II Cor. 5:12.  He planned to boast about them “in the day of the Lord Jesus.”  II Cor. 1:14.  It is good to boast if we do it according to Jeremiah’s line, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”  I Cor. 1:31.  Paul used this technical word to encourage the church to help other Christians who were in need.

For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action.  But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be.   II Cor. 9:2, 3 

Paul organized three sections to develop the overall structure for the II Corinthian letter.  The content he placed in each section is of a completely different nature; however, the word boasting plays a key role in each section.  First he developed the drama about the love affair between the church and himself.  Next he presented the divine principles for developing love, helping others and praising God.  He embedded this content in the structure of the program for helping the poor saints in Jerusalem
(I Cor. 16:1-4).  Finally, in chapters ten through thirteen we have the “who’s who” section – you, we and they.  The theme is boasting.  Please review Part I Lesson Three.

In chapter ten alone Paul makes use of the words boast and boasting eight times.  Once, he said, “For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it.”  II Cor. 10:8.  In this section Paul “pulls back the curtain” on those who were causing the problem of division in the Corinthian church.  He will, himself, unashamedly boast in the face of the opposition.

Six times he used boasting in relation to the boundaries of his “field of work.”  He had been called to be a co-builder with Jesus to build churches for God.  This inspired aggressive evangelism.  The church had been commissioned to join in this activity (Matt. 28:20).  He said, “Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, so we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you.”  II Cor. 10:15, 16.  He would boast of the successes he had as an evangelist and the successes of the church that was a result of his work.  If a church fails to continue to evangelize it curtails the success of the evangelist who laid the foundation for the Lord’s church.  Finally, after quoting Jeremiah’s line again he gave the divine principle about the subject of boasting.

But, ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’  For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.   II Cor. 10:17, 18   

Paul changed his course in chapter eleven.  He prepared the recipients by starting with “I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness.”  Then he declared, “no one will stop this boasting of mine.”  He was boasting about “not being supported by the Corinthian church,” so he could “cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about.”  II Cor. 11:11, 12.

Paul pressed his foolishness ploy with “Let no one take me for a fool.  But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting.” II Cor. 11:16.  He used this magic word, “boasting” four more times in context with playing the part of a fool and then he used his literary tool, the word boast, to drive his point home.  “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”  II Cor. 11:30.

It seems Paul knew he had to take the drastic step of boasting as a fool to expose those who were “false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles.”  However, after portraying the role of a boastful fool, he suddenly switched to boasting about his weaknesses (II Cor. 12:5, 9).  This surely caught the recipients by surprise.  Who would boast about their weaknesses?  Most would surely think he was a fool; consequently, Paul explained to them what the Lord had told him.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  So Paul said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  II Cor. 12:9.

Paul surely intended for the word “boasting” to carry more weight in his letters than the causal use of the word.  Anyone who reads his letters would surely attach a flag to boasting – even to this day.

His opposition probably did not attempt to top his final boast:

I must go on boasting.  Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord.  I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to heaven.  Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows.   II Cor. 12: 1, 2

Questions for Discussion

  1. We cannot bring the historical aspect of our Bible study to the “here and now.”  List the three things we can learn and bring with us from the “then and there” in our study of these letters.
  2. We have been doing historical and literary analysis because they are valid principles for reading a letter found in the Bible or in our mail box.  List another principle of biblical interpretation we learned in this lesson.
  3. In stories we move from an individual narrative to the next individual narrative as we read.  How do we move through a letter?
  4. Paul used the word “boast” and its synonyms often in his letters.  In what sense might they be called a technical word?
  5. Explain one issue that set up the drama in the first seven chapters of II Corinthians.
  6. How did Titus become a part of this drama?
  7. Paul wanted the church to boast about him.  To whom did he want the members of the church to boast?  About what aspect of him did he want them to boast?
  8. What personal attribute did Paul finally decide to boast about?
  9. When did Paul plan to boast about the church at Corinth?
  10. List the three sections of II Corinthians.  How is the content different?
  11. In what way did Paul make a sudden turn following his tirade about his own foolish boasting?
  12. How did your answer show his wisdom in the use of boasting as a technical word?

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