“Let the one 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.
The world has always been quick to encourage people to believe in and boast in themselves. In Paul’s day, as now, the more you were able to say about yourself, what you’d done, and what you were planning to do, the greater the possibility that you’d advance your career, be well-liked, and prove yourself a “success.” And this thinking, if we are not careful, pervades our perspective on our lives, including our personal ministries. We ask ourselves, “Have I done ‘great’ things? Am I well-liked? Have I been a success?” But according to Paul, “What you say about yourself means nothing in God’s work. It’s what God says about you that makes the difference” (2 Corinthians 10:18, MSG).
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church is part of a very personal correspondence. Part of this letter involves a lengthy defense of his ministry in the face of strong criticism. While Paul isn’t concerned for his own reputation, he is concerned for the members of the body of Christ under his shepherding care. And out of that care emerge significant truths concerning boasting and humility, which we must take to heart.
Paul could easily have matched his critics in their own boasting (2 Corinthians 11:21b-23a), but instead he took a different approach (v 23b-29). Instead of bragging about his status and his service to God, he ran through an extensive list of his sufferings and weaknesses. He shared these failures, these weaknesses, because he viewed them as assets, as the key to knowing and experiencing God’s power and the ways in which God had weakened him before working through him. The principle here is often lost. We want everybody to know that we have it together, that we’re successful, that we don’t have any problems. But what are we doing? We’re making much of our accomplishments instead of making much of Christ! We’re giving the impression of our strength rather than relying on God’s. We put a fake shine on our old clay pots (2 Corinthians 4:7), forgetting that the beauty and usefulness come from what the pot holds: Christ’s power, which fills and flows over and through our cracks, our weaknesses.
We cannot boast in what God is doing as though we deserve it or boast in what God is doing through us as though we did it all ourselves. There is nothing uglier than spiritual pride—a boasting in something not our own, a boasting in something God-given. Where there is spiritual pride, there is no view of the cross. Make sure that in your successes and in your failings your song remains the same:
Naught have I gotten but what I received;
Grace hath bestowed it when I have believed;
Boasting excluded, pride I abase;
I’m only a sinner, saved by grace! 
Questions for Thought
How is God calling me to think differently?
How is God reordering my heart’s affections — what I love?
What is God calling me to do as I go about my day today?
2 Corinthians 11:21-33
Topics: The Cross Pride Suffering
1 James Martin Gray, “Only a Sinner” (1905).
Devotional material is taken from the Truth For Life daily devotional by Alistair Begg